Monday, October 31, 2011

October Reflections

I read 21 books in October.

Picture books: 2; Children's Books: 2; Middle Grade: 6; Adult: 4; Christian Fiction: 4; Christian Non-fiction: 2; Non-fiction: 1.

Review copies: 9; Library books: 12.

My top five:

The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins. 1860. 672 pages.
Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens.  1838. 425 pages.
A Year Without Autumn. Liz Kessler.  (October 11, 2011). Candlewick Press. 304 pages.
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. James Rollins. 2009. HarperCollins. 400 pages.
Wonderland Creek. Lynn Austin. 2011. Bethany House. 400 pages.

Reviews at Becky's Book Reviews:

Darth Paper Strikes Back. Tom Angleberger. 2011. Harry N. Abrams. 176 pages.
The Unforgotten Coat. Frank Cottrell Boyce. Photographs by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. 2011. Candlewick. 112 pages.
A Year Without Autumn. Liz Kessler. 2011. (October 11, 2011). Candlewick Press. 304 pages.
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. James Rollins. 2009. HarperCollins. 400 pages.
Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx. James Rollins. 2011. HarperCollins. 370 pages.
The Wikkeling. Steven Arntson. Illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini. 2011. Running Kids Press. 235 pages.
Signs and Wonders: A Harmony Novel. Philip Gulley. 2003. HarperCollins. 224 pages.
Frankenstein. Mary Shelley. 1818. Oxford World's Classics. 250 pages.
The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins. 1860. 672 pages.
Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens.  1838. 425 pages.
The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. Ree Drummond. 2011. HarperCollins. 341 pages.


Reviews at Young Readers:

Umbrella by Taro Yashima. 1958/2004. Penguin. 40 pages.
Is Everyone Ready for Fun by Jan Thomas. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages.
Toys Come Home. Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. 2011. Random House. 144 pages.
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss. 2011. Random House. 72 pages.

Reviews at Operation Actually Read Bible 

Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. Tony Reinke. 2011. Crossway Books. 208 pages.
Wonderland Creek. Lynn Austin. 2011. Bethany House. 400 pages.
Love on the Line. Deeanne Gist. 2011. Bethany House. 365 pages.
Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life's Most Important Relationship. Tullian Tchividjian. 2007. 215 pages.
A Necessary Deception. Laurie Alice Eakes. 2011. Revell. 346 pages.
Who Stole My Church? Gordon MacDonald. 2007. Thomas Nelson. 250 pages.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Challenge Completed: RIP

Here's what I read for the challenge:

1. A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie.
2. A Murder on the Links. Agatha Christie.
3. Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster.
4. The Five Red Herrings. Dorothy L. Sayers.
5. Mister Creecher by Chris Priestly
6. This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
7. The Wikkeling. Steven Arntson.
8. Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. James Rollins.
9. Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx. James Rollins.
10. The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins.
11. Frankenstein. Mary Shelley.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week In Review #43

What I Reviewed At Becky's Book Reviews

Frankenstein. Mary Shelley. 1818. Oxford World's Classics. 250 pages. 
The Wikkeling. Steven Arntson. Illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini. 2011. Running Kids Press. 235 pages.
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. James Rollins. 2009. HarperCollins. 400 pages.
Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx. James Rollins. 2011. HarperCollins. 370 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Classics Circuit: Frankenstein

Frankenstein. Mary Shelley. 1818. Oxford World's Classics. 250 pages.

I am happy today to be reviewing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for October's Classic Circuit Tour on Gothic Lit. Frankenstein just happens to be one of my favorite novels--though that hasn't always been the case. If you want to read a long ramble about how this short little novel became a favorite of mind, you may read my first review published in 2007. My second review of the novel was in 2009. If you want to read my thoughts on the graphic novel, I reviewed it just last year.

I'll be honest. If you have NOT read Frankenstein, then this discussion probably isn't for you. I don't know how to talk about Frankenstein without talking spoilers. 

Before I read Frankenstein (this time), I happened to read two young adult novels: Mister Creecher by Chris Priestly and This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel. Both novels challenged me to rethink the original novel. Mister Creecher urged me to examine excuses. And This Dark Endeavour showed me just how much we don't know about some of the characters. Specifically, how much we DON'T know about Henry (Clerval) and Elizabeth. I wouldn't say reading these two books exactly guided me in this rereading. I, of course, noticed a few things on my own.

Frankenstein is a great little novel. Readers meet two fully developed characters in Victor Frankenstein and the creature (or monster, if you must see him in that way). I've always been so caught up in their story--the dual narration--that I've never really noticed how undeveloped other characters are. What do we know of Elizabeth? She's sweet. She's beautiful. She's pure. What do we know of Henry? He's Frankenstein's best friend. The man who shows up when Frankenstein is in great need. But does he have much of a personality? Do we ever get a glimpse of who he is apart from the faithful friend? Elizabeth and Henry are the two people nearest and dearest to Victor. Because he's close to these two, the creature is able to use them to get to Victor. Then there is Robert Walton. His letters provide the framework for the novel. Walton himself is experiencing some loneliness and anxiety. He WANTS to be successful as an explorer. He wants to be the one to discover the Northwest Passage. It's a dream that is all risk. If he's successful, of course, it would all be worth it. But if he's not, well, at best that means disappointment and frustration, at worst, death. He LISTENS to the story--this incredible story. He's found Victor Frankenstein on the ice, he's sick and mad. He's not exactly a picture of mental health. And physically, he's in terrible shape. As Walton spends time--a LOT of time with Frankenstein, he records his story. Readers do get to know a little about Walton. We know he's determined, ambitious, curious. We know he's got some stubbornness to him. Some pride. Some desire for fame. But we also know that he has feelings. That he feels lonely and isolated. That he wants more than anything to find a friend, a true friend. He wants to be understood. He wants companionship. So there are THREE characters that Shelley really explores in her novel.

This Dark Endeavor was an interesting prequel to Frankenstein for many reasons. I won't mention all of them, don't worry. But what intrigued me most was the characterization of Elizabeth. Oppel's Elizabeth was strong, resilient, brave, and very smart. And Shelley's Elizabeth, well, she was oh-so-passively good and pure and sweet. Readers do know she loves Victor. Readers do know that she loves her Uncle and her cousins. We do know that she is a compassionate person because she pities Justine to the very end. But I still can't help seeing her existing just so she can be the ultimate victim.

Mister Creecher like John Kessel's short novellette, "Pride and Prometheus," is an expansion of Mary Shelley's original novel. Both are set in the waiting period. Victor Frankenstein has promised his creation, his creature, a mate. He travels to England--to London, to Oxford, etc.--and eventually Scotland with his friend Clerval. All the while struggling with his promise. Should he repeat his mistake? Do two wrongs make a right? Can Frankenstein take his creature at his word? Can Frankenstein take for granted that the creature can predict (and/or control) his potential mate? Can he play with fate like that? If the first creation turned his life upside down and ruined him completely, can the creation of a second really change that? undo it?

So Mister Creecher introduces a friend. A young teen boy named Billy. A thief. Billy himself is an outcast of sorts. He's dirty, despised, looked down upon, chased away. People judge him all the time too. The truth is, if he died no one would miss him. Not at all. He has no one in the world to look out for him, no one to call friend. He's a nobody too. So the two do potentially have some things in common. But Billy CANNOT stand how pitiful the creature is, how full of excuses. He hears Mr. Creecher go on and on and on and on and on about his sad and lonely and miserable existence. How friendless he is. How hopeless he is. How he is rejected by one and all. Mr. Creecher may LOOK different from others, but his story isn't all that unique. He's not the only one to EVER feel so dejected, lonely, and depressed.
'Shut up!' Billy snapped. 'Why do you have to be such a...'
He snarled and kicked a moss-covered branch and sent it tumbling into the darkness. Without the coachlights, the moon provided the only illumination to the scene.
'You see how it is for me,' said Creecher. 'I try to help and--'
'It's always about you, isn't it?' said Billy. 'Oh, poor me--I'm ugly and no one likes me. Boo hoo, boo hoo. Well, life ain't a bowl of cherries for the rest of us neither!'
'But you can live among them...'
Billy fumed for a few moments, unable to express his feelings. The truth was he had never felt part of 'them.' He had never belonged.
'Oh yeah. I can get treated like filth,' he replied. 'I can starve or steal. I can hang. If you want someone to feel sorry for you, you've come to the wrong place.' (191)
So when I read Frankenstein this time, I began noticing that this was more than a little true. The creature does complain a lot, and he does have an exceedingly long list of excuses. He blames Victor for everything. He sees each one of his crimes as being Victor's fault. "Victor made me do it. Victor created me. Victor's responsible for every (bad) decision I make. Yes, I knew it was wrong. But he made me. He made me with these big, strong hands. It couldn't possibly be my fault that I use them to kill. I couldn't hurt anyone at all if I didn't exist." And then there's "If only Victor had loved me..." "If only Victor had taken time to teach me, nurture me, show me how to be a good 'little' monster...I wouldn't have possibly strayed from the straight and narrow." When the creature is not blaming Victor, he's blaming the victims, or blaming the rest of humanity. He never really takes responsibility for his crimes. He does confess. I'm not saying he doesn't admit to being a killer. But he has excuses. He would rather be the victim--the "real" victim--than a killer, a murderer. He wants Victor to be the bigger bad guy, the ultimate bad guy.

It's hard not to pity the creature. It's really, really hard not to feel compassion for him. Especially at the beginning as his story unfolds. It is easy to see his point. It is easy to see that Victor's rejection of him wounded him deeply and warped him a bit. Each rejection just pushes him a little closer to the edge. The more education he receives--through observation, through reading, etc--the more difficult it is for him to just be. He learns of love, of family, of friendship, of joy, of happiness, of laughter. These ideas haunt him because they are unattainable. He'll never feel any of these 'lighter' emotions, he'll feel--and plenty--but he turns to anger, frustration, bitterness, revenge, hate. He gives himself over to hate and revenge. And once he goes bad, pity may remain but it's not exactly a healthy compassion. The truth remains. Did the creature have a choice? Did he know right from wrong and knowingly choose to commit wrong time and time again? The creature felt that becoming a murderer was his only choice, that there was no other choice he could have made. But is that true?

I do think that the creature was acting like an immature child. Maybe a well-read immature child. But I do think he was acting out to get Victor's attention. Victor is a character, on the other hand, that is troublesome almost from the start. It is easy to relate to the creature's loneliness, his outcast state, his wanting a friend. It is harder to relate to Victor's mad obsession to create life, to play at being a god, to gain too much control over the natural world, to venture too far into the unknown, to act without ANY thought at all, to be completely reckless and foolish. Victor seems like a tragically flawed character who couldn't have known any other destiny. And readers really don't know WHY Victor made the decisions he made. Not really. (At least this reader can't fathom.)

So Frankenstein is an emotional read--very powerful, very haunting.

You may also find these books helpful:

Frankenstein's Monster by Susan Heyboer O'Keere.
The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd.
A Monster's Notes by Laurie Sheck.
Mister Creecher by Chris Priestly
This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel
"Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel
AngelMonster by Veronica Bennett.
Wildly Romantic by Catherine M. Andronik.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wikkeling (MG)

The Wikkeling. Steven Arntson. Illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini. 2011. Running Kids Press. 235 pages.

Prologue: The Old City lies on a long, low hill. It is dangerous and dilapidated.

Chapter one: "Sensible students succeed splendidly!" said Ms. Span, a primly dressed teacher sitting behind a computer at the front of the class, her thick, black eyebrows arching over the top of her reading glasses. "Yes, Ms. Span!" said the students. They sat in neat rows that filled the room, faces lit yellow from the light of their own computers.

I'm not sure that The Wikkeling is right for every reader, but I think some readers will find it deliciously creepy and haunting. This dystopian fantasy focuses on education, on the education system. (Though the focus isn't exclusively on schools and classrooms and tests. We do get a wider glimpse of this society, and all the "corrections" they've made.)

In this society, almost every one lives in the Addition, lives in plastic houses, I believe. But that isn't the case for our heroine, Henrietta, or her much younger friend, Rose. She still lives with her family in an older house, though there is still pressure for them all to move to a safer house, a house that wouldn't be a 'danger'. And, Rose, well, she lives in a GREAT place. But that is a big, big secret. These two are friends with Gary, Ms. Span's son. And these three discover something mysteriously wonderful in Henrietta's attic. And it all begins with a discovery of a cat.

I enjoyed this one. I'm not sure I loved it exactly. It was a little too weird. (Like Coraline was a little too weird for me to love.) But I certainly enjoyed it; I'm glad I read it. I think this novel had a great blend to it. I definitely found it interesting. And the chapter on the test is a great example of that. (I also loved the relationship between Henrietta and her grandfather, and how he becomes involved in this mystery.)


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What's On Your Nightstand (October)

What's On Your Nightstand is hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. Here's what I'm currently reading:

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist was such a satisfying read for me that I just HAD to read more Dickens right away. Though David Copperfield is a long book--a big commitment--it has been a good fit for me so far. I'm almost halfway through it!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Do I really need a reason to reread Jane Eyre?! It's just such a comfortable book that I love and adore.

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. I just finished The Fellowship of the Ring. And I am very eager to read the second book!!! This was always my favorite of the movies.

The Autobiography of Agatha Christie. I'm enjoying this one--for the most part. But it is SO VERY VERY long, and incredibly detailed. I think it's best perhaps to try to take this one slow--at its own pace.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx (MG)

Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx. James Rollins. 2011. HarperCollins. 370 pages.

Most days people don't kick you in the head. For Jacob Bartholomew Ransom, it was just another Monday.

If the second book hadn't caught my attention, I don't know that I would have picked up the first novel in the series, Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. This is Jake's second adventure, and it is just as action-packed as the first. I definitely recommend you read the series from the beginning. Because many--if not most--of the characters are introduced in the first book. Even though this book has a different setting, in a way. The books do share a villain.

I don't know how to talk about this one without spoiling the first novel. With fantasy series that is often the case. I can only say that it was a quick read, a very quick read, and quite a satisfying one! I am still liking Jake and his sister, Kady. I'm liking their resourcefulness, their strength. The pacing, the plot, the characters, everything works.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow (MG)

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. James Rollins. 2009. HarperCollins. 400 pages.

First sentence of prologue: The man fled down the steep slope of the jungle mountain.

By the second page of the prologue, I was hooked. He had me with: "Few people had ever set eyes on the giant mountain; even fewer had ever walked its slopes. And only one man knew its secret. He had learned the truth. The Mountain of Bones...was no mountain." Even before the real story of this one started, I just had to know what happened next.

First sentence chapter one: From his school desk, Jake Ransom willed the second hand on the wall clock to sweep away the final minutes of his sixth period history class.

This fantasy novel stars Jake Ransom and his sister, Kady. Their parents were great adventurers, great archaeologists, but they've been missing (and presumed dead) for just over three years. The novel opens with the two children being invited to a museum exhibit (in London) featuring some of their parents' last finds. Jake definitely wants to go; in fact, he feels he NEEDS to go. Kady, well, she isn't sure how she feels about it. She isn't sure if seeing the exhibit will make her feel better or worse about her parents deaths.

But this is no ordinary exhibit, it holds great excitement, great danger, for the two...it is the beginning of all their adventures...

I really, really enjoyed this fantasy novel. I thought it was very compelling, very exciting, very difficult to put down. It so easily could have been a premise-driven novel with underdeveloped characters, but, for me, I thought the characters were done nicely. It's still a plot-driven novel--very action-packed with danger and thrills--but the characters do matter.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week in Review #42

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens.  1838. 425 pages.

What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible:

Love on the Line. Deeanne Gist. 2011. Bethany House. 365 pages.
Wonderland Creek. Lynn Austin. 2011. Bethany House. 400 pages.
Who Stole My Church? Gordon MacDonald. 2007. Thomas Nelson. 250 pages.
Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life's Most Important Relationship. Tullian Tchividjian. 2007. 215 pages.
A Necessary Deception. Laurie Alice Eakes. 2011. Revell. 346 pages.
 


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Library Loot: Third trip in October

New Loot:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Complete Novels of Charlotte and Emily Bronte (checked out for Shirley and/or Vilette)
Llama Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol and Other Stories by Charles Dickens
Here Lies Linc by Delia Ray
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Higher Higher by Leslie Patricelli


Leftover Loot:

Ågatha Christie an Autobiography
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries by Emily Brightwell
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
All The Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel
Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wonderland Creek

Wonderland Creek. Lynn Austin. 2011. Bethany House. 400 pages.

If my life were a book, no one would read it. People would say it was too boring, too predictable. A story told a million times. But I was perfectly content with my life--that is, until the pages of my story were ripped out before I had a chance to live happily ever after.

Our heroine, Alice Grace Ripley, has spent most of her life in Illinois taking things for granted. Things like her job at the library, even though it's the middle of the Depression, Alice assumes that work at the library will continue on. After all, don't people need to read more than ever? And she completely takes her boyfriend, Gordon, for granted. Assuming that he will always be by her side--even though the two have little in common. She's not interested in his work--he's an undertaker, or at the very least he works in the funeral home business. And he's definitely not interested in her work, the number of books she's read that week, the characters in those books, plot elements and twists, etc. So when Gordon discovers her reading a book at a funeral, well, he makes the decision that their relationship would never work. Soon after this disappointment, she learns that the library will have to change its hours and let go of their newest hire; yes, that would be Alice.

Her parents--her father in particular--are big on lists. So Alice won't be allowed time at home to be depressed. So when her Aunt and Uncle mention a trip to a spa--a trip that will take them through Kentucky, well, she asks--almost begs--to join them. For there is a small town (a mountain town) in Kentucky in need of books. Alice has been having a book drive for them, and she's got five boxes of books. She'd love to deliver them herself.

What Alice couldn't predict was her welcome in that town. And how VERY different this rural life would be from everything she's ever known. The librarian, Leslie MacDougal (Mack), isn't all that thrilled with her when she arrives. Where will she stay? Where will she sleep? There isn't exactly a hotel or boarding room about?! And Alice is shocked to discover that the librarian is a man! Which definitely complicates things!

But soon SOMETHING happens that changes everything, it seems that God had a very clear purpose for Alice coming to stay just when she did...

Will her friends and family ever believe her story?!

Wonderland Creek is a great book. Alice is a librarian, a book lover. Though her life in Kentucky does not offer much opportunity to read. The book is a fascinating look at packhorse librarians. Librarians who deliver books to their patrons--by horse. And, of course, it's an interesting look at Appalachian life as well.

If you enjoy historical fiction--set in the 1930s--or mysteries, or romance, then you should try Wonderland Creek. I loved the setting. (It reminded me--in a good way, of course--of Christy.) I loved the characters. And the story.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens.  1838. 425 pages.

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictional name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

While Oliver Twist isn't my new favorite Dickens's novel, I must say that I really really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the characters; I enjoyed the storytelling. The recent movie adaptation may have been slightly more compelling, but for me there was something just right about the book.

Oliver Twist is the hero of this one. This young orphan boy has a few misadventures before finding his happily ever after. But those misadventures make for quite a read, I must admit! He meets a lot of interesting characters, some more villainous than others. There are quite a few sympathetic characters, however.

I found Oliver Twist a great read, a surprisingly quick one! Perhaps because I just did not want to put it down! Generally, Dickens is one of those authors whose books I savor over two to three weeks, but that wasn't the case with Oliver Twist!


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Love on the Line

Love on the Line. Deeanne Gist. 2011. Bethany House. 365 pages.

"Everybody off the train."

Love on the Line had me hooked from the start. Texas Ranger, Lucius Landrum, is trying his best to catch a gang of train robbers, a gang led by Frank Comer. His quest leads him on an undercover job. He'll be coming to the small Texas town as Luke Palmer, a troubleman for the phone company. He'll be putting up new lines for the company, repairing lines, trying to get new customers, etc. The town has a phone operator, Georgie Gail, who's VERY independent and a bit unsure about Luke--at least in the beginning.

Luke is trying to catch the bad guys, but he's undercover, so he has to go about it in a certain way. He has to become very friendly with all sorts of different people in the town. Including Miss Gail.

Miss Gail is trying to fight injustice in her own way. The milliner in town infuriates her by his use--his over-use--of bird parts on his hats and accessories. She thinks ANY use of a dead bird is over use. And she's appalled that fashion is so out of control that it is threatening the bird populations. She LOVES birds and wants to see a change. So she's out to organize the women and children in the community.

I enjoyed both characters very much. Loved how the story came together.

The novel is set at the turn of the century.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week In Review #41

What I Reviewed At Becky's Book Reviews:

A Year Without Autumn. Liz Kessler. 2011. (October 11, 2011). Candlewick Press. 304 pages.
The Unforgotten Coat. Frank Cottrell Boyce. Photographs by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. 2011. Candlewick. 112 pages.
The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins. 1860. 672 pages.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Library Loot: Second Trip in October

New Loot:

The Doghouse by Jan Thomas
What Will Fat Cat Sit On by Jan Thomas
Ågatha Christie an Autobiography
Just a Little Critter Collection by Mercer Mayer
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries by Emily Brightwell
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Splat the Cat and the Duck with No Quack by Rob Scotton
Little Critter Storybook Collection by Mercer Mayer
Good Night Sleep Tight by Natalie Engel
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins
Harry and the Lady Next Door by Margaret Bloy Graham
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
Splat the Cat Sings Flat by Chris Strathearn
I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloane
Murder Past Due by Miranda James
Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems

Leftover Loot:

Henderson, the Rain King by Saul Bellow
Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop edited by Otto Penzler
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Junonia by Kevin Henkes
All The Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel
The Wikkeling by Steven Arntson
Lucky for Good by Susan Patron
Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor
Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx by James Rollins
Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Is Everyone Ready for Fun by Jan Thomas
A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life's Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian
Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald
Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina by Robert Graves
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
Betty Crocker Ultimate Bisquick Cookbook: Hundreds of New Recipes plus back-of-the-box favorites

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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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Year Without Autumn (MG)

A Year Without Autumn. Liz Kessler. 2011. (October 11, 2011). Candlewick Press. 304 pages.

"Stop the car!"
"What?" Dad swivels around in his seat. The car swerves.
"Good grief, Tom!" Mom squeals, gripping her armrest as she pulls a wad of tissues out of her purse.
"Stop the car!" I repeat. It's going to be too late in a minute. I grab the tissues and shove them over Craig's mouth.

Time travel. Need I really say more?! For me, that was enough--more than enough--to seek out this one! Jenni is best friends with Autumn. These two friends are quite different from one another, but they have a few things in common. They both have little brothers. Jenni is big sister to Craig and Autumn is big sister to Mikey. Though the two don't attend the same school anymore, they've sworn to be best friends forever. And they mean it. Of course they mean it! What could ever come between them?! It does help that the two see each other every year the last week of August. The families vacation together at the same place, each has a time-share condo. The vacation is just getting started when IT happens...
Jenni impatiently decides to take the old elevator up to visit her best friend. She saw the owner fixing the old elevator, so she's relatively sure it's working again. But the truth is this old elevator has been out of order for many decades and it isn't really for guests' use. It takes Jenni a few hours to realize the truth of the matter...she learns it when she arrives back at her place and everyone--including herself--is a year older. Where did the year go?!

A Year Without Autumn is dramatic, very dramatic. For SOMETHING happens in that 'missing' year that changes everything. Jenni will have to put the pieces together herself--for the most part--because asking questions may not be an option. The more she tries to explain about what happened, the crazier she sounds. Can Jenni find the answers to her questions? Can she find a way to go back in time? Can she get her life back?

As I said, A Year Without Autumn is dramatic. It's a very compelling read. I think Jenni is a LOT braver than I would be in that elevator. Especially once she learns the truth of it--what it does. But she's determined and loyal and I can't help liking her for that.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Unforgotten Coat

The Unforgotten Coat. Frank Cottrell Boyce. Photographs by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. 2011. Candlewick. 112 pages.

I hadn't seen this photograph since the day it was taken, until now. Even so, I can tell you anything you want to know about it. 

Julie, our narrator, remembers two Mongolian boys who joined her class the second week of summer term. The novel has a reflective feel to it. She remembers their strangeness at first. Their coats. Who wears coats in summer?! But there is something fascinating about their strangeness, their newness too. And the two ask Julie to be their good guide.

These two boys act really strange. They do. Julie does try to understand their culture, their country, their beliefs, their customs. But it's a strange new world, in a way. For example, like the time they invite themselves over to her house, and beg Julie's mom to let them do an emergency baking so they can bake a dough boy to trick the demon that is after them. (They want to trick this demon into eating the dough boy instead of one of them.) And that isn't the only unusual incident.

I can't tell you exactly what happens next, if these two "vanish" as they fear they might or not. But I can say that it is a one weird story about (illegal) immigration.

Honestly, this one left me confused. I almost feel silly for being so confused. But if this one was supposed to wow me or charm me, I just didn't get it. The use of photographs was nice, but I'm not sure exactly what story they're telling. How they fit in with the whole story.

I did like the author's note, for the most part. And I wanted to like this one more than I did.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Woman in White

The Woman in White. Wilkie Collins. 1860. 672 pages.

This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.

I loved this one. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one by Wilkie Collins. This isn't my first (mystery) novel by Wilkie Collins, and it won't be the last. Each new read makes me want more, more, more. If you're a fan of this bearded Victorian, I'd love to hear from you which of his I should try to read next. (My library has Basil, No Name, and The Dead Secret.)

The first narrator we meet is Walter Hartright. He is a drawing teacher. He is on his way to a new job--new position--in the country when he meets a strange woman on the way to London. It's the middle of the night. The woman appears from nowhere. She's acting a little peculiar. She's dressed all in white. But there is something about her that makes him sympathetic to her cause, even before he knows her story. By pure chance, so it seems, this woman happens to mention the countryside, the house, where he is to begin his new job that autumn. A fact that makes this meeting a little more memorable perhaps. Memorable enough to mention to Miss Marian Halcombe, one of the two young women he'll be teaching. The other young woman is Miss Laura Fairlie. She is oh-so-beautiful. (Miss Marian is not. Though I'd NEVER be as mean about it as Wilkie Collins.) Laura and Walter fall madly in love with another. Though he won't tell her and she won't tell him. Still. Marian sees how these two feel about one another. And she tries her best to tell Walter that that just can't be. Not because Marian is mean and cruel. But because Laura has been engaged for some time to an older man, Sir Percival Glyde. It was one of her father's wishes that the two wed. Before she fell for Walter, Laura was ready to wed without love, without hope of love. But now that she knows what it feels to love someone, she is having some major regrets about her promises. And the doubts will only grow when she's warned anonymously by letter NOT TO MARRY Sir Percival. She's warned that her husband to be is evil and then some. Marian tells Walter of this anonymous letter, and he believes--they both believe--that the woman in white may just be the writer of this one. If only she would say more, give out the reasons why. They want to know the truth, but they have so little to go on. And a gentleman's word that the letter was written by a crazy woman and that of course he's never had an evil thought in his entire life is accepted as gospel truth. Poor Laura!!!

I found it well-written. I found it suspenseful. I loved the details, the descriptions, the characterizations. I loved how the story unfolded. I loved having the story told by so many different people. Some narrators I preferred to others. But. I think they all added a little something to make this one just right.

The Woman in White was one of those books that I just know I will want to reread again and again. It's just that good.

Previous Collins: Man and Wife, Armadale, The Moonstone, Evil Genius.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday Salon: Week in Review #40

What I reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. Ree Drummond. 2011. HarperCollins. 341 pages.
Darth Paper Strikes Back. Tom Angleberger. 2011. Harry N. Abrams. 176 pages.
Signs and Wonders: A Harmony Novel. Philip Gulley. 2003. HarperCollins. 224 pages.  

What I reviewed at Young Readers

Is Everyone Ready for Fun by Jan Thomas. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages.
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss. 2011. Random House. 72 pages.
Toys Come Home. Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. 2011. Random House. 144 pages.
 
What I reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. Tony Reinke. 2011. Crossway Books. 208 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. Ree Drummond. 2011. HarperCollins. 341 pages.

Forget this, I said to myself as I lay sprawled on the bed in which I grew up. In my Oklahoma hometown on a self-imposed pit stop, I was mired in a papery swamp of study guides, marked-up drafts of my resume, and a J.Crew catalog, from which I'd just ordered a $495 wool gabardine winter coat in olive, not chocolate, because I'm a redhead, and because Chicago, I reminded myself, is a tad more nippy than Los Angeles, which I'd just left weeks earlier.

Ree Drummond, the "Pioneer Woman," shares her love story with readers in this memoir. She met her Marlboro Man around Christmas. In a bar. And the meeting, well, it was magical. But. He. Didn't. Call. She'd just about given up hope of ever hearing from him again, when he calls four months later. But there's a slight little problem. She's a week (or two) away from moving to Chicago. Now that he's finally asked her out, does she want to bother with going knowing that she's going to be leaving for Chicago so soon? But he's oh so cute. And she can't imagine not saying yes. I mean every time she thinks of him, well, she swoons. So she agrees to see him even though the timing isn't the best in the world. The more she sees him--they see each other daily, from the very start, the more she wants to keep seeing him. She puts off her move to Chicago, always telling herself it's not a permanent decision to not go. No, she'll go, just give her a little more time with him. But. There comes a time when she knows that Chicago is not in her future plans...at all. That she loves her Marlboro Man...and it's a forever kind of love.

So this true romance is about her courtship, wedding, and first year of marriage. A first year of marriage that bring a baby girl! Readers get a glimpse into her life. There's plenty to laugh about! From Ree's first experiences on the ranch with the cows, to her experiences meeting his family, etc.

I liked this one. I did. It was a light read. A fun read. If you're a fan of the TV show or the blog, then chances are you'll be charmed by this one too.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Library Loot: First Trip in October

New Loot:

A Full Moon Rising: Poems by Marilyn Singer
Henderson, the Rain King by Saul Bellow
Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop edited by Otto Penzler
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Junonia by Kevin Henkes
All The Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel
The Wikkeling by Steven Arntson
Lucky for Good by Susan Patron
Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx by James Rollins
Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Is Everyone Ready for Fun by Jan Thomas
A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Leftover Loot:

Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life's Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian
Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald
Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina by Robert Graves
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
Betty Crocker Ultimate Bisquick Cookbook: Hundreds of New Recipes plus back-of-the-box favorites

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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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Darth Paper Strikes Back (MG)

Darth Paper Strikes Back. Tom Angleberger. 2011. Harry N. Abrams. 176 pages.

It is a dark time at McQuarrie Middle School...when did it start? I can tell you exactly when it started.
The first day of school. The very first day of seventh grade. We didn't even get one good day. We got, like, five minutes.

Darth Paper Strikes Back is the sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Sixth grade is over, seventh grade is just beginning. And it seems the wisdom of everyone's favorite origami Yoda isn't as revered or respected as in previous days. Teachers and administrators aren't so fond of the "disruptions" made by Dwight and his paper puppet. And there are some in the class who are oh-so-tired of it all. Or at least tired of Dwight getting all the attention. Harvey a student who can be a little mean at times--but isn't quite a complete bully at heart--comes to school with Darth Paper. And thus a NEW saga begins.

So the novel begins with bad news. Dwight has been kicked out of school. He may or may not be allowed to return after a few weeks. His case has to come before the school board. His friends want to help him, of course. And so they set about writing this casebook as to why Dwight and his origami Yoda are positive influences on the school, on the class. They're defending their friend.

So the book has multiple narrators. And there are many stories to tell. If you liked the first book, then you'll definitely want to read this one! It's an entertaining read!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Signs and Wonders

Signs and Wonders: A Harmony Novel. Philip Gulley. 2003. HarperCollins. 224 pages. 

The summer Barbara Gardner turned sixteen, she was crowned the Tenderloid Queen by the Lawrence County Pork Producers.

While I enjoyed the first Harmony book very much, I haven't quite been able to appreciate the later books in the series. (The Christmas novella was nice, however.) Signs and Wonders, the fourth book, is the biggest disappointment to me yet. I am finding things that made me laugh out loud in the first book--the 'observations' about how church meetings go--are making me cringe now. Because what I took for light fun in the first book--and even, to a certain degree, in the second book, I now feel is over-the-top mocking. In a condescending, mean-spirited way. To laugh with characters that are quirky are one thing--to make them be 'the joke' five hundred thousand times in a row--is another. The sentimentality lessons which I found more charming than annoying in the first book are now much too much for me to endure. Because I now feel he is pushing an agenda, that he has a message, and if you don't agree with him, well, you'll end up being the next big joke.

I don't know if I'll continue on with the series or not.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week In Review #39

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

Torn. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (#1 Heroes of Olympus) 2010. Hyperion. 576 pages.
Just Shy of Harmony. Philip Gulley. 2002. HarperCollins. 272 pages. 

What I Reviewed at Young Readers

Umbrella by Taro Yashima. 1958/2004. Penguin. 40 pages.  
Binky Under Pressure. Ashley Spires. 2011. Kids Can. 64 pages.
11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Charlie the Ranch Dog. Ree Drummond. Illustrated by Diane Degroat. 2011. HarperCollins. 40 pages.
All The Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. Dan Yaccarino. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Be Quiet, Mike! Leslie Patricelli. 2011. Candlewick. 40 pages.
The Best Birthday Party Ever. Jennifer LaRue Huget. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Shoe-La-La. Karen Beaumont. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2011. Scholastic. 40 pages.
Edwin Speaks Up. April Stevens. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Reaching. Judy Ann Sadler. Illustrated by Susan Mitchell. 2011. Kids Can Press. 32 pages. 
ZooZical by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Marc Brown. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
The Princess and the Pig. Jonathan Emmett. Illustrated by Poly Bernatene. 2011. Walker. 32 pages. 
The Yellow House. Blake Morrison. Illustrated by Helen Craig. 1987/2011. Candlewick Press. 32 pages.
The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans. Mary Quattlebaum. Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.
Naamah and the Ark at Night. Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Illustrated by Holly Meade. 2011. Candlewick. 32 pages.
Welcome to the World by Valerie Wyatt. Photographs by Lennette Newell. 2011. Kids Can Press. 24 pages.
The Call of the Cowboy. David Bruins. Illustrated by Hilary Leung. 2011. Kids Can Press.  32 pages.
The Busy Beaver. Nicholas Oldland. 2011. Kids Can Press. 32 pages.  
The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Jim LaMarche. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.
Pretty Princess Pig. Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Sam Williams. 2011. Simon & Schuster. (Little Simon). 24 pages.
My Name is Elizabeth! Annika Dunklee. Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. 2011. Kids Can Press. 24 pages.
Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. 2011. Candlewick Press. 32 pages.
17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Anymore. Jenny Offill. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. 2007. Random House. 32 pages. 

What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1980/2011. David C. Cook. 160 pages.
Treasures from Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1984/2011. David C. Cook. 160 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Time to Nominate for Cybils!

I just wanted to let everyone know that it is time to nominate books for Cybils!!! Nominations close October 15th. Be sure to read the NEW eligibility rules

The categories are:

Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
Fantasy and Science Fiction (Middle Grade)
Fantasy and Science Fiction (Young Adult)
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Nonfiction Picture Books
Nonfiction Middle Grade and Young Adult
Graphic Novels (Middle Grade)
Graphic Novels (Young Adult)
Poetry
Book Apps

All nominations must be intended for children or young adults.
To be eligible the book must have been published between October 16, 2010 - October 15, 2011.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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