Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August Reflections

I've read some great books this month! I've read a LOT of E. Nesbit! If you haven't read any of her books, you really should give her a try!!!

I read 22 books this month.

Children's books: 1; Middle Grade: 8; Young Adult: 2; Adult: 5; Christian Fiction: 2; Christian Nonfiction: 1; Nonfiction: 3.

Review copies: 7; Library books: 13; Books I bought: 1; Books I borrowed: 1.

My top five:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. E. L. Konigsburg.
The Story of the Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit.
The Railway Children. E. Nesbit.
Into the Parallel. Robin Brande.
The Colonel's Lady. Laura Frantz.


Reviews at Becky's Book Reviews:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. E. L. Konigsburg. 1967. Simon & Schuster. 162 pages.
The Boxcar Children. Gertrude Chandler Warner. 1942. 155 pages.
The Book of Dragons. E. Nesbit. 1900. 180 pages.
Five Children and It. E. Nesbit. 1902/2004. Puffin Classics. 240 pages.
The Phoenix and the Carpet. E. Nesbit. 1904. 224 pages.
The Story of the Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit. 1899. Puffin. 250 pages.
The Railway Children. E. Nesbit. 1906/2011. Penguin. 304 pages.
Sarah's Ground. Ann Rinaldi. 2004. Simon & Schuster. 192 pages.
The Twenty-One Balloons. William Pene du Bois. 1947. Viking 180 pages.
Huge. Sasha Paley. 2008. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages.
Into the Parallel. Robin Brande. 2011. Ryer Publishing. 392 pages.
They Do It With Mirrors. (Miss Marple). Agatha Christie. 1952/2011. HarperCollins 224 pages.
Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck. 1939. Penguin. 619 pages.
Further Chronicles of Avonlea. L.M. Montgomery. 1920/1989. Bantam Classics. 200 pages.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne. 1870. Puffin Classics. 280 pages.
Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1955/2011. Sourcebooks. 368 pages.
By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. Edited by John D.W. Guice. Contributions by James J. Holmberg, John D.W. Guice, and Jay H. Buckley. Foreword by Elliott West. Introduction by Clay S. Jenkinson. 2006. University of Oklahoma Press. 208 pages.
The Private World of Georgette Heyer. Jane Aiken Hodge. 2011. Sourcebooks. 256 pages.
The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared. Alice Ozma. 2011. Hachette. 304 pages.


Reviews at Operation Actually Read Bible:

A Most Unsuitable Match. Stephanie Grace Whitson. 2011. Bethany House. 336 pages.
Let God Change Your Life: How To Know and Follow Jesus. Greg Laurie. 2011. David C. Cook. 288 pages.
The Colonel's Lady. Laura Frantz. 2011. Revell. 412 pages.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 29, 2011

The Ultimate Top Ten - Blogiversary Edition

I thought I would celebrate turning five by composing the ultimate top ten list. A list celebrating the TEN books that I've loved the most of all since I began reviewing in August 2006. I'm thinking it's fair to include one from 2006, one from 2011, and two apiece from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. November 2006. I've reviewed this one SO many times since the initial review because this book has become one of my favorite-and-best books of all time.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. October 2007. I think my reading experience of this one is almost as good as the book itself. This is one that I read for Dewey's read-a-thon. I remember starting it in the wee hours of the morning--definitely past 1AM--and I just fell completely in love with it. I mean this book was my new best friend. I was so in love with it that I reread it within a few days. It's just one of those practically perfect middle grade novels!!!

Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker. December 2007. If A Crooked Kind of Perfect reminds me of Dewey and read-a-thons, Billie Standish Was Here reminds me of Cybils! My very first year of working on a Cybils panel actually. This book truly was one of the best books I read that year, and it was all thanks to the Cybils that I discovered it!!!

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. June 2008. I'll be honest with you. For some reason 2008 was the best, best, best reading year for me. Just looking at the end of the year best-of lists, I could have picked at least ten or twelve books that were worthy of attention here. Books that I just love and adore even after three years. Books that I feel more of a connection to than any I've read this year. It was the year I read Jane Eyre. It was the year I discovered Georgette Heyer. It was the year I read Hunger Games. And that's just getting started. So why did I choose The Underneath? Well, this one wowed me. And it wowed me upon rereading just as much. It's a beautiful, beautiful novel. And if nothing else, it proved to me that a dog can be on the cover of a book without me hating it.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. November 2008. I know not everyone loves this one. Or loves, loves, loves this one as much as I do. It's a book that if you love, you love with all your heart. It's also a difficult read. I won't lie.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. March 2009. While it was slightly easier to choose from 2009, there were still easily six or seven that came to mind as being the best of the best of the best. I chose this book because I loved it. True, there were other books that I loved--that I still love. But this one deserves all the attention it can get.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness. September 2009. With as much passion as I loved this one, a second in the series, I hated the first book The Knife of Never Letting Go. You might think that it would just be weird--crazy--for me to pick up the sequel to a book I hated. So it's a good thing I have my own sense of logic, because I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. As in it restored my faith in reading. So, of course, it has to be on this list!

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. May 2010. This is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite books. So even though this list hasn't been about sharing my favorite-and-best classics, if ever an exception was to be made, it should be made for North and South.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer. July 2010. Just as this hasn't been a list focusing on my love for classics, it hasn't been a list for me to gush about Georgette Heyer. Knowing that it would really only be fair to include one--at the most--of her books, I've saved it for now. This is the most giddy-making of her romances, in my opinion.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. February 2011. Surprised to see Charles Dickens on the list? He's certainly not anyone I would have dreamed of reading back when I started in 2006. In fact, I thought I would NEVER willingly pick up any of his novels. But. I've changed SO MUCH as a reader through the five years I've been blogging. I just loved this one. It was just a perfect, perfect read for me.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week In Review #34


Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

Sarah's Ground. Ann Rinaldi. 2004. Simon & Schuster. 192 pages.
The Twenty-One Balloons. William Pene du Bois. 1947. Viking 180 pages.
Huge. Sasha Paley. 2008. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages.
Into the Parallel. Robin Brande. 2011. Ryer Publishing. 392 pages.
Further Chronicles of Avonlea. L.M. Montgomery. 1920/1989. Bantam Classics. 200 pages.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne. 1870. Puffin Classics. 280 pages.
The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared. Alice Ozma. 2011. Hachette. 304 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Reading Promise

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared. Alice Ozma. 2011. Hachette. 304 pages.

It started on a train. I am sure of it. The 3,218-night reading marathon that my father and I call The Streak started on a train to Boston, when I was in third grade.

The Reading Promise itself--the promise shared between this father and daughter--was quite simple. The father would read aloud at least ten minutes every day to his daughter. He must get the reading in before midnight. It could--if necessary--be done over the phone. But for the most part it was a commitment to share quality time with one another, and with books, each and every day. Of course, at the very, very beginning neither could have predicted that this hundred-day challenge would become several thousand nights long!

The chapters of this memoir cover the time of The Streak. From a young child (third grade) to a very-soon-to-be-freshman in college. The Streak ended the day the father dropped his daughter off for her first year of college. During this time a LOT happened in the family as you can imagine. The book is a book about reading, a book about family coming together, but it is also a book about growing up. We see quite a few changes as the family goes from four to three to two, to one. As the mom leaves and it becomes a single-parent household. As the older sister goes to college and starts her own life. As Alice Ozma herself leaves to go to college.

Readers also get a small glimpse into the father's profession: school librarian. He loves, loves, loves his job reading aloud to children. He sees reading aloud as fundamental to his job, to his role in these children's lives. But by the end of the book, times have changed significantly--and not for the better. His position as school librarian is being undervalued--to say the least. And he's told that he will not be allowed to read aloud to children. And that even the very youngest need no more than five to ten minutes of a picture book. He's told that his job is to teach these kids how to use computers and the internet. Books are out of the picture--in the eyes of the administration. He fights for what's right, but ends up retiring a half-a-year early.

As I said, it's an interesting book. Readers get a good coming of age memoir that happens to focus on books now and then. The back of the book shares a list of books that she remembers being a part of The Streak.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne. 1870. Puffin Classics. 280 pages.

In the year 1866 the whole maritime population of Europe and America was excited by a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon.

I didn't seek out an abridged version of this Jules Verne classic. But when I discovered that the edition I'd checked out from the library was abridged--after I was four or five chapters into it--I didn't try to 'fix' it either.

I'll start with the good news. I definitely liked this one more than Journey to the Center of the Earth! There were times I actually thought Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was a good read. That the story had action and adventure and mystery.

Basic plot: A professor and his servant are 'captured' by a 'sea monster' created by the cranky Captain Nemo.

While reading this one, I started thinking about Frankenstein--which is a good thing, I think. I never did quite decide how the characters matched up between the two. But I think that there are definite similarities in theme. Frankenstein is one of my comfort reads--a book I love and adore. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a good read, but I'm not sure I'll ever want to reread it. If I ever do read it again, I might try the unabridged version.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 21 Balloons

The Twenty-One Balloons. William Pene du Bois. 1947. Viking 180 pages.

There are two kinds of travel. The usual way is to take the fastest imaginable conveyance along the shortest road. The other way is not to care particularly where you are going or how long it will take you, or whether you will get there or not. 

I should have believed my mother. She's been trying to tell me that this was a good read for many, many years. And she was right. This is a good read. I'm not sure I'd say it was the best, best book I've ever read. Or the best Newbery I've ever read. But this book is anything but boring! It surprised me in all the right ways.

The hero of this one is Professor William Waterman Sherman. This teacher-turned-adventurer left San Francisco in August of 1883 hoping to spend about a year in his balloon. He'd chosen his design carefully and thoughtfully. And he was so excited at the thought of being away from it all--all the cares, all the stress, all the worries of this world. He wanted FREEDOM and then some. But that wasn't to be...

For an accident leaves him stranded on a "deserted" island. The island's community does NOT want to be discovered by the world, so any visitors are welcomed permanently in the community and renamed. I don't want to give away all the quirks of this one though! But I found this one to be quite a read!

Enjoyable and satisfying...a great way to spend the afternoon.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Library Loot: Third Trip in August

New Loot:

Kill Shakespeare. Vol. 1: A Sea of Troubles created and written by Conor McCreey and Anthony Del Col.
Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer
The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women, 1800-World War II edited by A. Susan Williams
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Agatha Christie an Autobiography
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Armada by Garrett Mattingly
A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being The First Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Lady Susan; The Watsons; Sandition by Jane Austen
The Stories of Ray Bradbury

Leftover Loot:

Lighthouse by Eugenia Price
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Frankenstein the 1818 text by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Emma by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Claudius the god and his wife Messalina by Robert Graves
Travels with my aunt by Graham Greene
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
False colours by Georgette Heyer
Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
Wet Magic by E. Nesbit


 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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Into the Parallel (YA)

Into the Parallel. Robin Brande. 2011. Ryer Publishing. 392 pages.

They said it couldn't be done.
Well, that's not exactly true.
They said it couldn't be done by a 17-year-old girl sitting alone in her bedroom on a Saturday morning.
Well, that's not exactly true, either, since it's not like there's some physicist out there who specifically made that prediction--"A seventeen-year-old girl in her pajamas? Never!"--but the point is, no one is going to believe me even if I can prove what happened, which I'm not really sure I can. 
But I know I did it. I was there. I didn't imagine it or dream it or go into some sort of altered state that confused me. I felt the wind. I smelled the dog's breath. I saw our mother. I drank some tea. It all happened. 
So if she's real--and I know she is--I just have to prove it. Go there again and this time bring something back. Like a strand of her hair or a piece of her fingernail.
Something with her DNA on it. To prove that she is me. 

Audie Masters, our heroine, dreams big. She wants to prove that parallel universes exist. She wants to be accepted into Columbia. She wants her best friend's brother, Will. Of course, all three have seemed impossible--at one point or another. But one day one of her dreams does come true.

She travels to a parallel universe. She meets her alternate-self, Halli. And the two become friends--good friends. They like meeting one another. They like comparing and contrasting their realities. It seems that while some things remain the same, there are many, many differences. There are some things about Halli's world that sound really appealing. Then again, there are a few things that seem a little off.

Audie can't help becoming a little obsessed with her discovery, can't help wanting to spend all her free time in this parallel universe, sacrificing sleep and homework. (Not that it is really a sacrifice to her to sacrifice homework!)

But some secrets are too good to keep to yourself, and she contacts a physicist, Professor Whitfield, and she shares her discovery with him, her excitement with him. He is just as thrilled as she is. Especially when he sees her video. But he has some reservations about experimenting too much with travel between worlds (or universes or realities or whatever you want to call it). But isn't that a little too much to expect?

So the novel is about Audie's adventures in both universes, how she balances her two lives. This is the first in the series.

I'm not so sure my review is doing this one justice. I can only say that the characters were well-developed, and the premise was fascinating. This book is easy to spend an afternoon with! Robin Brande is a talented writer. She creates characters that you care about, characters that you feel like you know. It never takes me long to get hooked on one of her books, and Into the Parallel was no exception.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sarahs' Ground (MG)

Sarah's Ground. Ann Rinaldi. 2004. Simon & Schuster. 192 pages.

My older sister, Fanny, put me in a closet once when we were children. She, being the elder, had her reasons, I suppose. 

Sarah's Ground opens in the spring of 1861. Our heroine, Sarah Tracy, is a young woman with a unique opportunity. Having lied on her application, she's been hired by a preservation association (or society?) to oversee Mount Vernon, George Washington's home. The estate isn't in the best condition, and, it needs some attention, some care, to restore and preserve the legacy of this historic home. Sarah Tracy is the woman for the job. And this novel focuses on the first year of the War Between the States as she fights for Mount Vernon to remain neutral--to remain safe from both armies.

I thought the story was interesting. While I didn't love this one, I was never bored by it. I may not think it the best book ever written about the Civil War, but I did think it worth the read. I learned a few things I didn't know, for example. And so I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction, of the civil war era in particular. As historical fiction, I think it works, as a romance, not so much. So it depends what you're looking for in a book.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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What's On My Nightstand (August)

These are the books I'm currently reading--or thinking about currently reading! (5 Minutes for Books--What's On My Nightstand)

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. This one is definitely a chunkster--at a little over 900 pages--but so far it's good. So good I don't even mind how heavy it is!

Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer. I am enjoying this more the second time around. I don't know that I'll finish it this month--though I hope to--but I am enjoying this one.

Lighthouse by Eugenia Price. Yet another historical fiction. This time set in America. I am liking it so far. I just wished that my library had the rest of the books in the series!

I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Historical fiction, again. A reread, again. But the second Claudius book said "read me, read me, read me" the last time I was at the library. And at first I thought this was a just-in-case book, just-in-case I need to look up something. But I started reading it and I just couldn't put it down!


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Further Chronicles of Avonlea

Further Chronicles of Avonlea. L.M. Montgomery. 1920/1989. Bantam Classics. 200 pages.

I love L.M. Montgomery. I do. I just love, love, love her books--her novels and her short stories. Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea are short story collections set on Prince Edward Island during Anne's time. (I get the impression that these stories are set around the time of Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, etc. She has NOT married Gilbert yet.*)

There are fifteen short stories:

Aunt Cynthia's Persian Cat
The Materializing of Cecil
Her Father's Daughter
Jane's Baby
The Dream-Child
The Brother Who Failed
The Return of Hester
The Little Brown Book of Miss Emily
Sara's Way
The Son of His Mother
The Education of Betty
In Her Selfless Mood
The Conscience Case of David Bell
Only a Common Fellow
Tannis of the Flats

This collection features one of the best, best, best short stories, one that practically brings me to tears each and every time: The Brother Who Failed. There is a lot of variety in the stories. Comedy and tragedy and everything in between.

Aunt Cynthia's Persian Cat is the charming story of two sisters, Sue and Ismay, who absolutely hate their aunt's cat, Fatima. But the two are pressured into taking care of the cat while their aunt goes on holiday. One day the cat goes missing, and, well the two are at a loss to know what to do about it. They have to have a Persian cat--the real Fatima or not--to give to their aunt. But how will they find one that is a close enough match...and how will they pay for it?! Sue has been pursued by Max for many, many years. He's proposed over eleven times...he has a solution to the problem...but he wants a different answer to his twelfth proposal...

The Materializing of Cecil is another charming story--another romantic comedy. Charlotte Holmes, our heroine, is an old maid. And she wouldn't mind too terribly being an old maid if anyone had ever wanted her, courted her, etc. If she'd had an opportunity to marry but didn't. So one day--I believe on her fortieth birthday--she tells a little lie to one of the young women in the sewing circle. Before she knows it the whole room is her audience. She spins this tragic tale of a failed love affair. She invents the whole thing, of course, even gives him a name, Cecil Fenwick, and a profession, lawyer. A few months later, however, Charlotte is just shocked--and incredibly embarrassed--that a Cecil Fenwick, a lawyer, has come to town to visit his sister, Mrs. Maxwell. All the details seem to match--that's the odd part. Everyone just knows that this is Charlotte's Cecil. What will she do when she's confronted by Mr. Fenwick?!

Her Father's Daughter is a sadder story, perhaps, because of all the missed opportunities. It's the story of a broken family. Our heroine, Rachel Spencer, has never known her father, David, because her parents quarreled months before she was born. Her parents won't even talk to each other, won't even talk about one another. But Rachel feels the loss. One day she accidentally finds her father and the two share one perfect, perfect day together. She's stumbled across his home in the Cove, and he shows her his place and they talk and laugh, etc. She, of course, wants to come back again, wants to visit him now that she's found him. But he seems to know that her mother will find out about and forbid it. So he tells her not to feel guilty if she can't return, if she can't be a part of his life. Now that Rachel is grown up, now that she's getting married herself, she has a LOT to say about it. And she knows exactly what she wants for her wedding--a wedding with both parents there. Will anyone ever forget her wedding day?!

Jane's Baby isn't my favorite or best. It's about another feud--there are so many feuds it seems in Montgomery's fiction. In this case it is a fight between Miss Rosetta Ellis and Mrs. Charlotte Wheeler. I believe the two are sisters? Anyway, these two are fighting over a baby--an orphaned baby. And Miss Rosetta gets there first. She names the child Cordelia Jane. She takes her home. She loves her dearly and cares for her a few months at least. And then when no one quite expects it, Charlotte kidnaps the baby. She takes the baby home with her, renames it Barbara Jane. But she doesn't let the baby leave her sight for even a minute. She doesn't want Rosetta to have even a few seconds opportunity to get the baby back. But when the baby gets sick, Charlotte knows that Rosetta can help; she may be the only one who can help in time. Will these two women put aside their differences and let this baby have a happy home?

The Dream-Child is definitely a sadder story. It is about a couple who loses their child, David, when he is twenty months old. The two are devastated. But while the husband is deeply saddened by the loss, while he is genuinely in mourning for the child, the wife begins to lose touch with reality. Her loss--her grief, her depression--sends her to a dangerous place. She hears a 'dream-child' call to her by the sea every night. Each night she goes out searching for this child, desperate to reach him in time, fearing that her child doesn't know that his mother is searching--desperately searching--for him. So one night the two are out walking--much like every other night--but this time the crying is real. This time the couple discovers a real toddler. And he DESPERATELY needs a home--a good, safe, loving home. The wife believes that this boy is her boy, that obviously this child has been gifted to her. But the husband wants to find out the truth--where did this baby come from? who are his parents? There is a happy ending--but it is bittersweet, at least to me.

The Brother Who Failed is my favorite, favorite, favorite story of the bunch. It is about the Monroe family. The oldest brother, Robert Monroe, overhears his Aunt Isabel talking to one of his sisters, I believe, about how Robert is a failure, a disgrace to the family. Everyone else in the family has made a success of it, they are somebody. But Robert? What does Robert have going for him except the fact that he's not in debt? Robert doesn't want to believe that his whole family feels this way about him--but part of him fears it just the same. The sister "in conversation" with the mean aunt knows that Robert heard this nonsense. And so she arranges a surprise for Christmas. Readers hear from each member of the family--each brother, each sister--and their testimony speaks volumes!!!! This one is such an emotional story--a true feel-good story. I just LOVED it. You can read the entire story online.

The Return of Hester is a short story about how an older sister, Hester, keeps her younger sister from marrying. Having turned down the love of her life once, the sister agrees to never marry him. This promise being demanded of her while Hester is dying. A few months after Hester's death, this promise is put to the test. Will she ever get her happily ever after?

The Little Brown Book of Miss Emily is a short story narrated by Anne Shirley. There's even mention of Diana! The two young women have never really "liked" Miss Emily. She's old. She's red-faced. She's cranky. How could she have ever been young? How could she have ever been beautiful? So the two are surprised when Miss Emily leaves them something after her death. This chest holds some of Miss Emily's cherished memories--including a little brown book. And the two are forced to realize how much they don't know--can never know--about the people in their lives.

Sara's Way is about a stubborn young girl, Sara, who refuses to consider marriage with the oh-so-perfect Lige Baxter, but who is more than happy to consider marriage with the down-on-his-luck Lige Baxter.

The Son of His Mother is about a mother who will NOT LET GO of her son. Not even a little bit. This woman even hates her son's dog because she sees it as competition for his love, attention, affection. This unpleasant woman demands everything from her son. He must never, ever, ever, ever, ever court a woman--must agree to never even consider marriage. It would be impossible for her to live at all if her son were to think of such a thing... This story is not my favorite or best.

The Education of Betty is an odd story. At least Betty is named Betty and not Renesmee. It's narrated by a man disappointed in love. He sees his best friend, Jack, marry his best girl, Sara. When the story opens, he just knows that Sara is the love of his life. Ten years later, Jack dies leaving Sara a single mom. He proposes again--and is refused again. But he takes an interest in Betty. He tells Sara--let me educate your daughter, let me make all the important decisions about her life, her future, let me shape her. The years go by. She grows up. She becomes a beautiful woman--very smart. Her mother is SHOCKED and a bit disappointed that her daughter has a mind and is capable of actually thinking. And her mom worries that no man will ever want her now that she's been "ruined" by thinking deep thoughts. But someone does want her, of course, do you know who?!

In Her Selfless Mood is about a selfless sister who will do anything to take care of her brother.

The Conscience Case of David Bell is the story of what happens when a revival comes to Avonlea.

Only a Common Fellow is about a not-so-common fellow who lets the woman he loves break her promise to marry him so that she can marry her one true love whom she thought was dead.

Tannis of the Flats is without a doubt the WORST story of the bunch. I thought it a horrible, horrible story. It's rich in phrases like, "There is no worse enemy in all the world than a half-breed. Your true Indian is bad enough, but his diluted descendant is ten times worse."

*L.M. Montgomery wrote and published the Anne books in this order:

Anne of Green Gables (1908)
Anne of Avonlea (1909)
Chronicles of Avonlea (1912) -- not that you have to count it as part of the Anne series, but she is a character in some of the stories
Anne of the Island (1915)
Anne's House of Dreams (1917)
Rainbow Valley (1919)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920) -- again not that you have to count it, but Anne is in a few of the stories
Rilla of Ingleside (1921)
Anne of Windy Poplars (1936)
Anne of Ingleside (1939)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Huge (YA)

Huge. Sasha Paley. 2008. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages.

"Faster, faster!" Wil Hopkins's trainer, Heather, yelled over the sound of crashing waves.

Huge is the story of two girls at fat camp. Wil Hopkins who is understandably angry, bitter, rebellious, and generally unpleasant to be around, and April Adams whose issues may be a little less obvious. Both girls are at Wellness Canyon for the summer. Wil against her will; April because she has worked and worked and saved and saved. The two, of course, are roommates. Their "success" at the camp depends on their ability to work together as a team, to work through any issues, to learn to trust one another, etc. But how do you do that when you can't stand the other person?!

The cover reads, "at fat camp even the drama is huge," and that gives you a fair description of what to expect. Two teen girls who are first brought together when they compete for the attention of a guy, Colin, and then brought together by the need for revenge when that guy turns out to be a big jerk. Perhaps because of the "boy drama" going on, Wil forgets temporarily that she desperately wants to gain weight at fat camp so her parents can't have the satisfaction of her success. So by the end of camp, Wil has lost weight too.

Huge has two narrators. And to be completely honest I had a hard time liking either of them. Wil, the richer of the two, seems to be the biggest pain. She's angry, bitter, rebellious. She acts out--speaks out--in anger a good deal of the time. And she seems to like being rude and hurting people. But her pain is obvious to anyone who's ever been there. Her parents have hurt her repeatedly--hurt her with their words, their actions, etc. What she's hearing is that she's not good enough as she is, that they are ashamed of her, embarrassed of her, etc. She feels that her parents just don't love her, accept her, understand her. I think the more her parents force the issue, force her to try to feel ashamed about her body, the worse it will be for her. I think FORCING her to go to fat camp against her will, forcing her to deal with her weight when she's clearly not ready to deal with it,  may not be the best in the long term. Losing weight is a LOT more complicated than it might appear.

If you're expecting "Biggest Loser" insights--break down moments where they get it, they really get it...then you'll be disappointed.

As for April, I think she's lost in her own dream world. She's equated being skinny with being perfect, being popular, being happy. She doesn't really seem to realize that she'll still be herself when she's lost the weight. She can't escape her issues just by losing weight. I think she desperately wants to be someone else. I think her shallowness may be hidden by her cheerfulness. I think she's able to hide her issues easier than Wil. But April has her own troubles, and they are revealed to a certain extent by the end of the novel.

The drama didn't exactly wow me. It was light and fluffy, a bit silly. The "conflict" over the jerk--to see which girl he liked best. The answer--he loves ONLY himself, and any girl with a pulse is good for a few minutes of attention, but not much else. And while I'm glad the two girls were able to bond over their plans for revenge, I thought that was silly too.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week in Review #33

What I reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

The Book of Dragons. E. Nesbit. 1900. 180 pages.
Five Children and It. E. Nesbit. 1902/2004. Puffin Classics. 240 pages.
The Phoenix and the Carpet. E. Nesbit. 1904. 224 pages.
The Story of the Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit. 1899. Puffin. 250 pages.
The Railway Children. E. Nesbit. 1906/2011. Penguin. 304 pages.
Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck. 1939. Penguin. 619 pages.
Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1955/2011. Sourcebooks. 368 pages.
The Private World of Georgette Heyer. Jane Aiken Hodge. 2011. Sourcebooks. 256 pages.

What I reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

The Colonel's Lady. Laura Frantz. 2011. Revell. 412 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Library Loot: Second Trip in August

New Loot:

Lighthouse by Eugenia Price
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Frankenstein the 1818 text by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Emma by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Claudius the god and his wife Messalina by Robert Graves
Travels with my aunt by Graham Greene
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
False colours by Georgette Heyer
Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

Leftover Loot:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster 
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
Wet Magic by E. Nesbit


 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 Railway Children (MG)

The Railway Children. E. Nesbit. 1906/2011. Penguin. 304 pages. 

They were not railway children to begin with.

I loved this one. I did. I don't know how I'd ever choose a favorite, favorite E. Nesbit because all of her books are oh-so-good. The Railway Children stars three siblings: Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis. This one features a strong mother figure, an involved parent. (Or at least the most involved parent I've encountered in Nesbit's fiction.)

This family is under stress. The father disappears quite suddenly from his children's lives. The mother won't explain just why their father has to go away, and why the family has to move to a little place in the country. The children just know that everything is changing--little things and big things. For example, they now must choose between jam or butter for their toast--they can't afford to have both.

But while many things are changing, not all of the changes are bad. For the children discover a new way of living life. And they become involved in their new community! For better or worse! Not every person is instantly charmed by these three children, but, it's hard to resist them for long.

There were many things I enjoyed about this one. I enjoyed the children. I enjoyed their mother. I loved that she was a writer, that she was supporting her family by writing stories. I enjoyed their community, I loved meeting the different characters. It was just a satisfying story with a lot of heart.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Story of the Treasure Seekers (MG)

The Story of the Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit. 1899. Puffin. 250 pages.

This is the story of the different ways we looked for treasure, and I think when you have read it you will see that we were not lazy about the looking. 

I just loved The Story of the Treasure Seekers. I loved the Bastables. There are six children: Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Noel and Alice, and H.O. (Horace Octavius). The children have a father, but no mother. But the father, for the most part, is absent from their day to day lives. This one has a simple plot. The children know that the family is in desperate need of money, and, well, they decide to look for treasure. Each child has an opportunity (or two) to come up with a plan for 'finding' treasure (getting money). Some of the plans are silly and over the top. (Like Noel's plan to marry a princess when he grew up.) But many of their plans lead to a FUN adventure!

I definitely enjoyed this one and would recommend it! It's a great adventure story with many satisfying moments. IF you've only read Nesbit's fantasy, you should give this one a try.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Phoenix and the Carpet (MG)

The Phoenix and the Carpet. E. Nesbit. 1904. 224 pages.

It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November, and a doubt arose in some breast--Robert's, I fancy--as to the quality of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration.

I first read The Phoenix and the Carpet last June, but completing the trilogy last week really made me want to revisit them all. I just love and adore the fantasy world created by E. Nesbit! All three of the novels are magical. The children meet several magical creatures (the Psammead, the Phoenix) and find several magical objects (the Carpet, the Charm).

The children--Cyril, Robert, Anthea, Jane, and Lamb--can be naughty. Not so much Lamb. But the other four, well, they can be TROUBLE.

So how do they meet the Phoenix? How do they get a magic carpet? Well, it all starts when the children decide that it would be a very good idea, a very fun idea, to try out their fireworks--to make sure they work properly--INSIDE the house, inside the nursery to be precise. And when one of the fireworks seems to not be lighting, one of the children pours paraffin on it while another lights it again. While the results are not horribly tragic, the nursery must be repainted/repaired, and a new carpet is a must. The carpet that replaces the old is magical, of course. And inside this roll of carpet is an egg. But not an ordinary egg. Though of course, they don't know that until it accidentally falls into the fire in their nursery. And the Phoenix emerges....

And thus the adventures begin. The Psammead is not completely absent from this second adventure, though the children themselves never ask him directly (face-to-face) for wishes. Still, the Phoenix makes good use of him...because truth be told...the children need to be rescued more than once!!!

There were many things I loved about this one. I loved the trouble that comes about when the wishing carpet makes its own wish--and brings back one-hundred and ninety-nine Persian cats. Of course, that is only the start of that particular mishap...

I also LOVED Lamb's scenes in this novel. In particular when this little one crawled onto the wishing carpet and started babbling. The carpet, of course, understands all languages--even baby ones--and Lamb and the carpet vanish. This puzzles the children, how will they get their baby brother back?! How can they ever explain to their mom what happened?! I won't tell you how this one resolves, but I just loved it!

I loved this one. I don't know that I love it any more than I do Five Children and It. I just know that I love E. Nesbit. I love her narrative style. I love her descriptions. And I am so very thankful I've discovered her! And I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.

Favorite passages:

You can always keep the Lamb good and happy for quite a long time if you play the Noah's Ark game with him. It is quite simple. He just sits on your lap and tells you what animal he is, and then you say the poetry piece about whatever animal he chooses to be. Of course, some of the animals, like the zebra and the tiger, haven't got any poetry, because they are so difficult to rhyme to. The Lamb knows quite well which are the poetry animals. (34)

On this particular Sunday there were fowls for dinner, a kind of food that is generally kept for birthdays and grand occasions, and there was an angel pudding, when rice and milk and orange and white icing do their best to make you happy. (52)

Mother was really a great dear. She was pretty and she was loving, and most frightfully good when you were ill, and always kind, and almost always just. That is, she was just when she understood things. But of course she did not always understand things. No one understands everything, and mothers are not angels, though a good many of them come pretty near it. The children knew that mother always wanted to do what was best for them, even if she was not clever enough to know exactly what was the best. (73)

When people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest. I wonder why. (102)

"I wish we could find the Phoenix," said Jane. "It's much better company than the carpet."
"Beastly ungrateful, little kids are," said Cyril.
"No. I'm not; only the carpet never says anything, and it's so helpless. It doesn't seem able to take care of itself. It gets sold, and taken into the sea, and things like that. You wouldn't catch the Phoenix getting sold."
It was two days after the bazaar. Everyone was a little cross--some days are like that, usually Mondays, by the way. And this was a Monday. (117)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Venetia

Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1955/2011. Sourcebooks. 368 pages.


'A fox got in amongst the hens last night, and ravished our best layer,' remarked Miss Lanyon. 'A great grand-grandmother, too! You'd think he would be ashamed!'

 I treated myself to a reread of Georgette Heyer's Venetia this week. And if you've read this one--or any Georgette Heyer's historical romances--you'll understand why it's a treat. For there is something oh-so-delightful, oh-so-satisfying about reading one of Heyer's romances. She has a way with her characters, and a way with dialogue.

If Heyer's romances have a flaw--and I don't really think of them as flawed--it would be that they require a bit of patience. You can't rush Heyer. Or, if you do try to rush Heyer, you end up missing the point. For it's all about the journey.

You can skim romances by contemporary authors. You can skim entire paragraphs or entire pages and not miss a thing. You can almost read an entire romance novel of several hundred pages without engaging any thought, any attention to the book in hand. That's why you can read several a day if you're an addict. But you can't skim Georgette Heyer. Not really. Not if you want to really enjoy it. And why bother if you don't want to enjoy yourself?

I've read almost all of Heyer's romances--all but seven, I believe. And Venetia is definitely one of my favorites, one of those in my top five. Now don't ask me to name my absolute favorite and best because I couldn't. I wouldn't even try.

Venetia, our heroine, has spent all of her life in the country having very little to do with society. She's known to two or three families in the neighborhood, perhaps, but for the most part her life has been secluded. She keeps company with her younger brother, Aubrey, whom she adores despite his flaws. He always, always, always has his nose in a book. But her lonely days are about to come to an end...

One day while taking a walk, she meets Lord Damerel. A man with an oh-so-dreadful reputation. He enters the novel in a spectacular way--for better or worse. For he sees the heroine strolling along on his land and impulsively grabs her and kisses her. Leaving her a bit shocked to say the least. They argue. They enjoy arguing. Readers know that Venetia won't be forgetting Damerel any time soon, and vice versa.

But the two really don't get to know one another--and I mean nothing improper by the word know--until her brother, Aubrey, is injured. Aubrey is taking to Damerel's home to recover, and Venetia, good sister that she is, must be near his side. Damerel and Venetia have plenty of time to talk--to really talk--and it's oh-so-obvious that these two are meant to be. That the two are soul mates. But his reputation, his past, is something he can't forget. She knows he's been a bad, bad boy, but she just knows that she loves him, that she accepts him as he is.

Of course, Lord Damerel isn't the only man in love with Venetia. She suffers through two suitors Oswald Denny and Edward Yardley. These two are laughable really. And if you take the time to appreciate them for what they are, for what they add to the novel, then you won't find their scenes boring.

Of course I haven't even mentioned the plot of this one, not really, but I'm not sure that matters so much. For it is the characters that are the heart and soul of this one. I loved, loved, loved the characters in this one. The dialogue of this one is so much fun!!!
"Who are you?" he demanded abruptly. "I took you for a village maiden--probably one of my tenants."
"Did you indeed? Well, if that is the way you mean to conduct yourself amongst the village maidens you won't win much liking here!"
"No, no, the danger is that I might win too much!" he retorted. "Who are you? Or should I first present myself to you? I'm Damerel, you know."
"Yes, so I supposed, at the outset of our delightful acquaintance. Later, of course, I was sure of it."
"Oh, oh--! My reputation, Iago, my reputation!" he exclaimed laughing again. "Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!"
"You can't think how deeply flattered I am!" she assured him. "I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn't suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory."
"More like a hundred! Am I never to learn your name? I shall, you know, whether you tell me or no!" (33)
He released her hands, but only to pull her into his arms. "When you smile at me like that, it's all holiday with me! O God, I love you to the edge of madness, Venetia, but I'm not mad yet--not so mad that I don't know how disastrous it might be to you--to us both! You don't realize what an advantage I should be taking of your innocence!" He broke off suddenly, jerking up his head as the door opening on to the passage from the ante-room slammed. (235)



© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Five Children and It (MG)

Five Children and It. E. Nesbit. 1902/2004. Puffin Classics. 240 pages.

The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, 'Aren't we nearly there?' And every time they passed a house, which was not very often, they all said, 'Oh, is this it?' But it never was, till they reached the very top of the hill, just past the chalk-quarry and before you come to the gravel-pit. And then there was a white house with a green garden and an orchard beyond, and mother said, 'Here we are!'

It has been almost two years since I first discovered E. Nesbit. Five Children and It was the very first of her novels that I read, and it was definitely LOVE from the very beginning.

The five children are Robert, Cyril, Anthea, Jane, and Lamb. The 'it' is a sand fairy--a Psammead. The four children discover him one day during their summer vacation while they're digging in a nearby sand pit. They're quite delighted to learn that he can grant wishes. Though it's easy for anyone to see that he doesn't like granting wishes all that much. Still, the children are happy to think of one wish after another after another. A wish per day is what they're allowed. And oh the wishes they think up!!! But it doesn't take them very long to realize that they're not all that smart and clever with those wishes. For almost every day their wish leads them into TROUBLE. If wishing leads to trouble, why wish for anything? Well, even bad wishes make for a way to spend the day.

This book is so much fun! Just a delight to spend time with these characters. I'd definitely recommend it!

My favorite quotes:
Grown-up people find it very difficult to believe really wonderful things, unless they have what they call proof. But children will believe almost anything, and grown-ups know this. That is why they tell you that the earth is round like an orange, when you can see perfectly well that it is flat and lumpy; and why they say that the earth goes round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun as it is, and the earth knows its place, and lies as still as a mouse. (5)

I daresay you have often thought what you would do if you had three wishes given you, and have despised the old man and his wife in the black-pudding story, and felt certain that if you had the chance you could think of three really useful wishes without a moment's hesitation. These children had often talked this matter over, but, now the chance had come suddenly to them, they could not make up their minds. (17)

But the happening of strange things, even if they are not completely pleasant things, is more amusing than those times when nothing happens but meals, and they are not always completely pleasant, especially on the days when it is cold mutton or hash. (54)

Lending ears was common in Roman times, as we learn from Shakespeare; but I fear I am getting too instructive. (59)

When the frock was darned, the start for the gravel-pit was delayed by Martha's insisting on everybody's washing its hands -- which was nonsense, because nobody had been doing anything at all, except Jane, and how can you get dirty doing nothing? That is a difficult question, and I cannot answer it on paper. In real life I could very soon show you -- or you me, which is much more likely. (59)

It is very wise to let children choose exactly what they like, because they are very foolish and inexperienced, and sometimes they will choose a really instructive thing without meaning to. (85)

The people who decide what the weather is to be, and put its orders down for it in the newspaper every morning, said afterwards that it was the hottest day there had been for years. They had ordered it to be 'warmer -- some showers', and warmer it certainly was. In fact it was so busy being warmer that it had no time to attend to the order about showers, so there weren't any. (86)

'I was always generous from a child,' said the Sand-fairy. 'I've spent the whole of my waking hours in giving. But one thing I won't give --that's advice.'
'You see,' Anthea went on, 'it's such a wonderful thing -- such a splendid, glorious chance. It's so good and kind and dear of you to give us our wishes, and it seems such a pity it should all be wasted just because we are too silly to know what to wish for.'
Anthea had meant to say that -- and she had not wanted to say it before the others. It's one thing to say you're silly, and quite another to say that other people are.
'Child,' said the Sand-fairy sleepily, 'I can only advise you to think before you speak--'
'But I thought you never gave advice.'
'That piece doesn't count,' it said. 'You'll never take it! Besides it's not original. It's in all the copybooks.' (89-90)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Private World of Georgette Heyer

The Private World of Georgette Heyer. Jane Aiken Hodge. 2011. Sourcebooks. 256 pages. 

Georgette Heyer was born on 16 August 1902, in the prosperous London suburb of Wimbledon. She was called after her father, George Heyer, who had been called after his. 

I am a big fan of Georgette Heyer, so I was pleased to read Jane Aiken Hodge's biography. Because Heyer was a private person, an author who did not seek much publicity--she let her books speak for themselves--this biography focuses on her writing career. Readers get a glimpse--a behind the scenes picture--of her life as a writer. They learn details about when each book was written, the how, the where, the why. Readers get to read Heyer's thoughts on her own books, her thoughts on other authors, her thoughts on the publishing industry.

The more familiar you are with Heyer's novels--her romances and mysteries--the more you'll enjoy this one. I remember picking this one up a year or two ago and losing interest because all it was--all it seemed to be--was talk about one book after another after another. Now that I've read most of her romances, I have a better appreciation for the biography as a whole. (It could also be a mood thing! For example, after recently reading Anya Seton's Katherine, it amused me to see Heyer call it 'unhistorical' fiction. And I really enjoyed reading Heyer's thoughts on Jane Eyre!!! And the book also includes Heyer's thoughts on some of her book covers!!!)

I would recommend this one to fans of Georgette Heyer. I found it very interesting!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck. 1939. Penguin. 619 pages.

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. 

It is finished! After three or four false starts, after two library editions and two paperback editions, it is finished. If one word could sum up my experience with this one, it would be sluggish. Of course, I can think of a few other words to describe it. But I'll share just one more: bleak. (Or perhaps bleakity-bleak.)

To sum this one as quickly as possible: The Joad family, devastated by losses in Oklahoma, are forced to pack it all up and head to California where they find that life is just as hard if not harder than they could have ever imagined. There is no happy welcome awaiting them, they are viewed--at best--as mere animals. The only way out of the harsh ugly reality is death. And even death doesn't come easy. The end.

I'm not going to try to convince you that The Grapes of Wrath is a horrible book. I'm not going to try to convince you that The Grapes of Wrath is a wonderful book. I can--at best--only share with you why we're not a good match for one another.

The language. There are certain words that offend me each and every time they're used. It doesn't matter the circumstances. It doesn't matter who or where or why. The Grapes of Wrath uses a great many of these words. (Or should I say repetition of the same word.) Are the words realistic? Probably. But that doesn't change my reaction to those words.

I had big, big, big problems with the character of Jim Casy. This "former preacher" annoyed me every time he opened his mouth. Though annoy isn't quite the right word. I'm not sure offended is the right word either. Simply because people can't use the word offended without people judging them. It's just that his language is so crude, so vulgar. That his "story" is so vulgar--how every time he got worked up "in the spirit" preaching, he had to find sexual release with young women from his church (or audience or wherever). Yes, that was mostly in the past, and yes, this "sin" is what led him to eventually give up faith and religion. Casy, when we meet him, doesn't believe in God, doesn't believe in the church or religion, doesn't believe in prayer, doesn't believe in sin, doesn't believe in the concept of right or wrong, or heaven and hell. Casy doesn't believe in anything at all really. There are no answers, there will never be any answers. Suffer, suffer, suffer, why have hope at all that you will ever do anything but suffer. Any time Casy talked about matters of faith or matters of the heart or anything remotely connected to spirituality or religion or even morals and ethics, I just wanted to yell at him. It doesn't help that according to "experts" Jim Casy is a "Christ figure." I read this on Wikipedia and Spark Notes. There are almost no words for how that makes any sense whatsoever. How someone so foul, so crude, so vulgar, so given-over-to-sin, someone who doesn't believe ANYTHING at all, someone who has no hope, no love, no peace, whose only message is now is all we got, and now is ugly is a "Christ figure." In what way at all--does he resemble Christ? Now, I'm not saying that everyone should hate Jim Casy. I am saying that as a reader I could not stand him.

Another big issue I had with The Grapes of Wrath has to do with style. The narrative style of this one is a bit odd. You have chapters that are clearly narrated by members of the Joad family, chapters that carry this story forward. Then you have chapters that read more like an out of body experience. These may focus on turtles or waitresses or car salesmen. But. They are clearly not like the other chapters in the novel. I never could quite figure out if the people in these chapters were the Joads--as seen from the outside perspective--or if the people (when the focus was on people not trees or turtles, etc.) were meant to represent any family facing this crisis, any family who had been devastated. I don't know that it matters. I just felt a great big disconnect every time we lost the main story, the real story. However, there were a couple of exceptions. There were times when these chapters were beautifully done and the text is richer for them--for the perspective they add to it. (Chapter fourteen comes to mind.)

I struggled with the first sixteen chapters. I did. I wasn't liking it. I wasn't liking it at all. But things began to shift a little with chapter seventeen. I don't know if the story truly improves once the family crosses into California, or if I just was in a better mood that day, but something changed. From that point on, the story while not always pleasant was more compelling. There was still violence to deal with, still some harsh realities to endure, but the second half definitely improved my impressions of the novel.

I am SO GLAD that this wasn't my first introduction to John Steinbeck. If it was, I never would have picked up any of his other books. I would have walked away knowing that I was right, that Steinbeck was not for me. The truth is, that Steinbeck was a good writer--at times great. That he wrote in many, many styles. That he had MANY stories to share with readers. Not just one story over and over and over again. Some of the stories he tells are very funny, very true-to-life, and even in their earthiest moments, there's something there worth reading. His stories can be very raw, very perceptive. The Grapes of Wrath was not for me. Perhaps the message was some things in life are so ugly that no amount of imagination can make them beautiful. I found the lack of hope and the vulgar language to be too much for me. But the very things that I dislike about it--the realistic portrayal of humanity at its weakest and worst--may be the very things some one else loves about it.

I read this book for the Classics Circuit tour. 

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Book of Dragons (MG)

The Book of Dragons. E. Nesbit. 1900. 180 pages.

The Book of Dragons is a collection of eight short stories by E. Nesbit. While I enjoy fantasy--especially when I'm in the right mood for it, especially when it is written by someone as talented as E. Nesbit--I am not always a big fan of short stories--no matter the genre.

I did enjoy this collection. I didn't love every story within the book, but I enjoyed many of them. The writing was just so delightful, so right, so satisfying. The eight stories are: The Book of Beasts, Uncle James or the Purple Stranger, The Deliverers of Their Country, The Ice Dragon Or Do As You Are Told, The Island of the Nine Whirlpools, The Dragon Tamers, The Fiery Dragon Or the Heart of Stone and the Heart of Gold, and Kind Little Edmund Or The Caves and the Cockatrice.

My favorite stories were The Island of The Nine Whirlpools and The Book of Beasts.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Sunday Salon: Week In Review #32

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. E. L. Konigsburg. 1967. Simon & Schuster. 162 pages.
What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

A Most Unsuitable Match. Stephanie Grace Whitson. 2011. Bethany House. 336 pages.
Let God Change Your Life: How To Know and Follow Jesus. Greg Laurie. 2011. David C. Cook. 288 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Top Ten Rereads

I love Daniel Pennac's Readers Bill of Rights. I do. Of the ten rights listed, my favorite is probably #4, the right to reread. While I know that not every reader values rereading books, I can't help but feel sorry for those that just don't get it. Yes, there are many, many books in the world to read, that you're going to want to read, but there is something extremely satisfying about rereading books. Part of what distinguishes a good book from a great book is the desire to want to read it again, to revisit it again. To read such a great book only once, that would just be so wrong!

My favorite books to reread

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I know, I know. Frankenstein might not seem like a great comfort book, a book that someone would love oh-so-much that they just have to read it every year or every-other-year. But. For me, Frankenstein is one of those wonderfully, beautiful books that just gets better each and every time. I detail this a little in my first post about the book, How I Came To Love A Monster.

Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. Can such a bleak book truly be a comfort book? I don't know that I call it a comfort book exactly. It's just that every year--since it was first released--I've found myself needing to pick it up again. I crave this book, the intensity of it. You can't not lose yourself in it. You can't help but feel cold and hungry and isolated. I suppose, if nothing else, the book shows you how much you have to be thankful for.

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind. I'm including this one not because it is my favorite-and-best novel to reread now. But. How can I ignore the seven or eight years of my life where I read this book like crazy over and over again? Through junior high and high school and the first year or so of college, any time I felt stressed at all...I'd seek out GWTW.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. Another 'old friend' I'm including more for the past than the present. It's not that I've stopped liking (or even loving) Ender's Game. I even still have good intentions on rereading it again--rereading the whole series again. But I've just come to like (or love) other books a little more. Or in some cases a lot more!

Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. A relatively new friend, I know. I've read this one only twice. BUT. If I'm being honest, this one has THE potential to become the chosen one, the one book that I read every year. The kind of book so satisfying it feeds your heart, mind, and soul.

L.M. Montgomery's Anne series. I could pretend that I mean just the first book in the series, Anne of Green Gables. But that wouldn't be the truth, would it? Because, for me, the series as a whole is so wonderful, so charming, so perfectly perfect that I wouldn't dream of stopping at one! No, Anne and I are kindred spirits. (I just hope she doesn't mind how I feel about Gilbert.)

Lois Lowry's The Giver. Was The Giver my first dystopia? It probably was. My memories of 1984 are way too fuzzy to know for sure. Though my memories for 1984 are a different kind of fuzzy from Great Expectations. With Great Expectations, I remember there is a crazy lady with the decaying wedding cake. I remember nothing at all from 1984. Anyway, The Giver was my first dystopia that I LOVED and adored. The one that I thought was the best book ever.

C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I do have opinions on Narnia. How could I not? These are books I have read at least half a dozen times. Of course, my strongest opinion may just be that they should be read in the PROPER ORDER. With none of this nonsense about The Magician's Nephew being first. Really! Seriously! How could anyone think that order makes any sense at all? Anyway, this book is one of those oh-so-magical books for me!

Beverly Cleary's Ramona series. It wasn't a difficult decision to include this series on my list. It was a given. I don't know that I could ever, ever choose just one as my favorite-and-best, but the series as a whole, well, they are just so much FUN to read again and again and again.

Jane Austen. Okay. I can't pick one Jane Austen either. I could eliminate Emma if you'd like. But as for the others, well, I need them all. Persuasion probably is my favorite and best if I had to pick just one. But there is just something so happy-making, so satisfying, so pleasant, so right, about all of her books. And I've discovered that they only improve with rereads. Books that were only okay for me for first time, mean so much more the second time through!!!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Most Unsuitable Match

A Most Unsuitable Match. Stephanie Grace Whitson. 2011. Bethany House. 336 pages.

Kneeling before the tombstone, eighteen-year-old Fannie Rousseau retrieved the scrub brush from the water bucket she'd just settled in the grass. First, she attacked the dried bird droppings on the back side of the stone, then moved on to the deep grooves carving the name Rousseau into the cool gray surface. She'd just finished cleaning out the second s when a familiar voice sounded from across the cemetery.

I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Stephanie Grace Whitson's Sixteen Brides which I reviewed last year. So I was super-excited to read her newest novel, A Most Unsuitable Match. And I must say it did not disappoint! It was just as wonderful.

The heroine of this historical romance is Miss Fannie Rousseau of St. Charles, Missouri. The novel opens soon after her mother's death. Though her mother's death is more recent, it is the loss of her father that has broken her heart or spirit. Now with her mother's death, she's being forced to wake up a bit, to realize that she needs to start taking charge of her life, to start managing the house--or managing the staff--and looking into her financial situation. The family lawyer isn't one for talking--or at least not talking honestly and openly with her. His advice has been--for months and months--just get married, when you get married your husband will take care of you and your finances, I'll work with him about your estate. Needless to say, Miss Fannie does NOT want to take his advice. And she doesn't want him to pick out her husband for her.

After a failed burglary attempt, Miss Fannie is urged to gather her mother's jewels to put in a safe under her lawyer's keeping. While going through her mother's things, she discovers a secret. She finds over twenty letters from a woman, Edith LeClerc, and a photograph. It seems her mother has a twin sister. Why didn't her mother ever tell her about her aunt? Why keep something so big a secret? She takes the photograph and the letters to her lawyer, and his advice is whatever you do, don't try to contact her. She may want your money if she finds out her sister is dead. And besides there is probably a good reason your mother wanted nothing to do with her. So leave it alone.

While she went into the lawyer's office wanting to write her aunt a letter at her last known address, she leaves his office almost determined to do something more! What if she were to go looking for her aunt herself....

So Miss Fannie Rousseau and Hannah, her faithful servant, a woman who has almost always been dearer to her than her mother, decide to travel by steamship. On the ship, they meet a young man, Mr. Samuel Beck, and thus this romance begins. He is on a quest as well. He's looking for someone too.

I loved this one. I just LOVED this one. I loved the characters. I loved the story. I though Miss Fannie was just a lovely heroine. And I loved seeing her grow up a bit on her journey. I loved seeing her deepen her faith as she gave up her comfortable life and trusted God to lead her. I loved Sam Beck (or Brother Sam). I loved seeing him grow into his mission and discover his gift for reaching people right where they are with the gospel. And I also loved so many of the characters we meet along the way, Lamar, Doctor Lamotte and his son, Patrick, Honest Abe Valley, etc.

This one is set in 1869/1870.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 08, 2011

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. E. L. Konigsburg. 1967. Simon & Schuster. 162 pages.


Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Claudia Kincaid, our heroine, wants to run away, but she knows she can't do it alone so she recruits her younger brother, Jamie, to go with her. He may just be her favorite brother, and he's definitely her richest brother. Their plan is successful...and they do manage to have quite the adventure.

I really, really liked this one. I thought it was great fun. I loved Claudia. I loved Jamie. I loved the writing of this one. I loved the way we got to know the characters. This brother-sister relationship is done so well. I love that I can relate to both Claudia and Jamie. While we don't get to know anything really about the rest of the Kincaid family--about the parents, about the other kids, we do get to know these two very, very well! Which was enough for me!

Here is one of my favorite scenes between the two:

Upon their return to the museum, Claudia informed Jamie that they should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity they had to learn and to study. No other children in all the world since the world began had had such an opportunity. So she set forth for herself and for her brother the task of learning everything about the museum. One thing at a time. (Claudia probably didn't realize that the museum has over 365,000 works of art. Even if she had, she could not have been convinced that learning everything about everything was not possible; her ambitions were as enormous and as multi-directional as the museum itself.) Every day they would pick a different gallery about which they would learn everything. He could pick first. She would pick second; he third; and so on. Just like the television schedule at home. Jamie considered learning something every day outrageous. It was not only outrageous; it was unnecessary. Claudia simply did not know how to escape. He thought he would put a quick end to this part of their runaway career. He chose the galleries of the Italian Renaissance. He didn't even know what the Renaissance was except that it sounded important and there seemed to be an awful lot of it. He figured that Claudia would soon give up in despair.
When she gave Jamie first pick, Claudia had been certain that he would choose Arms and Armor. She herself found these interesting. There was probably two days' worth of learning there. Perhaps, she might even choose the same on the second day. (47)
Jamie's choice of the Italian Renaissance leads them on their biggest adventure yet. It leads them to a statue. A statue that may have been done by Michelangelo. A small statue of an angel that they learn was donated by a Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Once they become curious about this statue, once they decide they want to "solve" the mystery, well, that's when their adventure finds a purpose, a dream.

I really loved this one. It was such a great read--very satisfying. I would definitely recommend it.

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around. (151)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week in Review #32

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

They Do It With Mirrors. (Miss Marple). Agatha Christie. 1952/2011. HarperCollins 224 pages.
The Boxcar Children. Gertrude Chandler Warner. 1942. 155 pages.
By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. Edited by John D.W. Guice.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Library Loot: First Trip in August

New Loot:

Avalon by Anya Seton
Those That Wake by Jesse Karp
Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier: An Original Science Fiction Anthology
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Leftover Loot:

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
The Lovely Shoes by Susan Shreve
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek
Paradise by Jill S. Alexander
Lunch-box Dream by Tony Abbott
My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace
My Life, The Theater, and Other Tragedies by Allen Zadoff
Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster
Devil Water by Anya Seton
The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Sarah's Ground by Ann Rinaldi
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit
The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
Wet Magic by E. Nesbit
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Du Bois
Whittington by Alan Armstrong


 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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They Do It With Mirrors

They Do It With Mirrors. (Miss Marple). Agatha Christie. 1952/2011. HarperCollins 224 pages.

Mrs. Van Rydock moved a little back from the mirror and sighed. 

Ruth Van Rydock wants her good friend, Jane Marple, to do her a favor. She's worried about their mutual friend Carrie Louise Serrocold. She has a feeling that Carrie Louise is in trouble or in danger. And so she's arranged a visit for Miss Marple. After a few small lies are told to smooth the way, Carrie Louise is happy to welcome her old friend into her home. Miss Marple is introduced to the STRANGE, STRANGE bunch of folks living or working on the estate. Her husband, Lewis. Her daughter, Mildred. Her granddaughter, Gina, and her husband, Walter. Her stepsons from her second marriage, Stephen and Alex Restarick. Her companion-caretaker, Juliet Bellever. Her husband's assistant, Edgar Lawson. (Carrie Louise has been married three times--and it shows. She's carried over wealth and property, but, also children and grandchildren, etc.) Her husband's pet project has him working with juvenile delinquents with part of the estate being converted into a school of sorts. I won't lie, it was a bit confusing at first to see how these characters connect to one another--if they connect to one another. It helps that almost every character seeks out Miss Marple in the days after her arrival. One by one they "unburden" themselves and complain freely about anything and everything.

Of course, it turns out that Ruth had VERY good reason to worry about her friend. And Miss Marple it seems arrived just in time for the drama. Soon there's a murder to be solved...can she solve it in time before more lives are lost?

I enjoy Miss Marple. I do. There is just something satisfying about reading Agatha Christie. While They Do It With Murders isn't my new favorite or anything, it is an enjoyable mystery. Not perfect. But definitely enjoyable enough to recommend.

Ruth to Miss Marple:
"You've always been a sweet innocent looking creature, Jane, and all the time underneath nothing has ever surprised you, you always believe the worst."
"The worst is so often true," murmured Miss Marple.
"Why you have such a poor idea of human nature, I can't think--living in that sweet peaceful village of yours, so old world and pure."
"You have never lived in a village, Ruth. The things that go on in a pure peaceful village would probably surprise you."
"Oh I daresay. My point is that they don't surprise you." (9)

Inspector Curry and Miss Marple:
"This is all very distressing I know. But we've just got to get the facts clear. Get it all clear."
"Oh yes, I know," said Miss Marple. "So difficult, isn't it? To be clear about anything, I mean. Because if you're looking at one thing, you can't be looking at another. And one so often looks at the wrong thing, though whether because one happens to do so or because you're meant to, it's very hard to say. Misdirection, the conjurers call it. So clever, aren't they?" (90)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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