Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Reflections

I read 54 books in January 2012!!! True, 17 of them were picture books or board books. But I'm still happy with that number. And not just because of the number. But because of how amazing most of these books are! There were so many books I loved this month. Usually, I finish a month and there are about three to five titles that top my list, that are obvious favorites. That number is much, much higher this month.


My favorite middle grade historical: A Diamond in the Desert. Kathryn Fitzmaurice.
My favorite young adult historical:  My Family for the War. Anne C. Voorhoeve.
My favorite young adult romanceThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Jennifer E. Smith.
My favorite young adult science fiction novel: The Pledge. Kimberly Derting.
My favorite adult science fiction novel based on a television show: Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: The Long Night of Centauri Prime. Peter David.
My favorite adult science fiction novel with time travel: To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis.
My favorite nonfiction: Born and Bred in the Great Depression. Jonah Winter.
My favorite poetry: Every Thing On It. Shel Silverstein.
My favorite board book: You Are My Cupcake. Joyce Wan.
My favorite picture book: A Boy Called Dickens. Deborah Hopkinson.
My favorite short story from a short story collection: "Fire Watch" from Firewatch. Connie Willis.
My favorite animal fantasy:  The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright.
My favorite book in translation:  All Our Worldly Goods. Irene Nemirovsky.
My favorite Christian nonfiction: Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Michael Horton.
My favorite Christian fiction: The Healer's Apprentice. Melanie Dickerson.

Board Books, Picture Books, Early Readers 
  1. A Boy Called Dickens. Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by John Hendrix. 2012. Random House. 40 pages.
  2. I Want My Hat Back. Jon Klassen. 2011. Candlewick Press. 40 pages.
  3. Chilly Milly Moo. Fiona Ross. 2011. Candlewick. 32 pages.
  4. My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee. 2011. Scholastic. 32 pages.
  5. You Are My Cupcake. Joyce Wan. 2011. Scholastic. 14 pages.
  6. Cupcake Surprise (BOB Books/Level 1) Lynn Maslen Kertell. Illustrated by Sue Hendra. 2012. (February 2012) Scholastic. 32 pages.
  7. Yawn. Sally Symes. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. 2011. (December 2011) Candlewick Press. 24 pages.
  8. Noodle Loves Bedtime. Nosy Crow. Illustrated by Marion Billet. 2011. (September 2011). Candlewick Press. 10 pages.
  9. Good Night, I Love You. Caroline Jayne Church. 2012. Scholastic. 20 pages.
  10. The Things I Love About Bedtime. Trace Moroney. 2012. Scholastic. 16 pages.
  11. Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite. Anna Harwell Celenza. Illustrated by Don Tate. 2011. Charlesbridge.  32 pages.
  12. And The Soldiers Sang. J. Patrick Lewis. Illustrated by Gary Kelley. 2011. Creative Editions. 32 pages.
  13. What Can I Hear? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages. 
  14. What Can I Taste? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.
  15. What Can I Feel? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.
  16. What Can I See? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.
  17. What Can I Smell? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.


Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels:
  1. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Jennifer E. Smith. 2012. Little, Brown. 236 pages.
  2. My Family for the War. Anne C. Voorhoeve. Translated by Tammi Reichel. 2012. February 2012. Penguin. 412 pages.   
  3. A Diamond in the Desert. Kathryn Fitzmaurice. 2012. February 2012. Penguin. 256 pages.
  4. The Pledge. Kimberly Derting. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 336 pages.
  5. The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. Illustrated by Barry Moser. 2011. Peachtree Publishers. 228 pages. 
  6. The Fault In Our Stars. John Green. 2012. Penguin. 336 pages.
  7. How To Save a Life. Sara Zarr. 2011. Little, Brown. 342 pages.
  8. A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2). Beth Revis. 2012. Penguin. 400 pages.
  9. Ashfall. Mike Mullin. 2011. Tanglewood. 476 pages.  
  10. The Predicteds. Christine Seifert. 2011. Sourcebooks. 352 pages.
  11. Scored. Lauren McLaughlin. 2011. Random House. 230 pages.
  12. My Brother's Shadow. Monika Schroder. 2011. FSG. 224 pages.

Adult Books
  1. All Our Worldly Goods. Irene Nemirovsky. 1947/2008. Vintage Books. Translated from the French by Sandra Smith. (French title: Les Biens de ce Monde.) 265 pages.
  2. Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: The Long Night of Centauri Prime. Peter David. 1999.
  3. Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: Armies of Light and Dark. Peter David. 2000. Del Rey. 255 pages.
  4. Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: Out of the Darkness. Peter David. 2000. Del Rey. 266 pages.
  5. Babylon 5: In the Beginning. Peter David. 1998. Random House (Del Rey). 260 pages.
  6. (Babylon 5) The Shadow Within. Jeanne Cavelos. 1997. Random House (Dell) 260 pages.
  7. To Dream in the City of Sorrows. (Babylon 5: Book #9). Kathryn M. Drennan. Based on the series by J. Michael Straczynski. 1997. Random House. 352 pages.
  8. Shadows in Flight. Orson Scott Card. 2012. TOR. 240 pages.
  9. Firewatch. Connie Willis. 1985. Bantam Books. 271 pages.
  10. To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. Bantam (Random House). 495 pages.
  11. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages.
  12. All Clear. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 645 pages.
  13. Death at Wentwater Court. Carola Dunn. 1994. Kensington. 254 pages.
  14. David Copperfield. Charles Dickens. 1850. 877 pages.

Nonfiction
  1. Charles Dickens: England's Most Captivating Storyteller. Catherine Wells-Cole. 2011. Candlewick. 32 pages.   
  2. Born and Bred in the Great Depression. Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
  3. In the Garden of Beasts. Erik Larson. 2011. Crown. 464 pages.

Poetry
  1. Every Thing On It. Shel Silverstein. 2011. HarperCollins. 208 pages. 

Christian Fiction and Nonfiction:
  1. The Healer's Apprentice. Melanie Dickerson. 2010. Zondervan. 272 pages.
  2. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Michael Horton. 2008. Baker Publishing. 272 pages.
  3. Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. Kyle Idleman. 2011. Zondervan. 224 pages.
  4. His Steadfast Love. Golden Keyes Parson. 2011. Thomas Nelson. 336 pages.
  5. The Maid of Fairbourne Hall. Julie Klassen. 2012. Bethany House. 416 pages. 
  6. The Accidental Bride. Denise Hunter. 2012. January 2012. Thomas Nelson. 304 pages.
  7. The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments. Marty Machowski. 2011. Illustrated by A.E. Macha. New Growth Press. 328 pages.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2) (YA)

A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2). Beth Revis. 2012. Penguin. 400 pages.

"This isn't going to be easy," I mutter, staring at the solid metal door that leads to the Engine Room on the Shipper Level of Godspeed.

A Million Suns is the sequel to Beth Revis' Across the Universe. It is narrated by Elder, the 'leader' of the space ship, Godspeed, and Amy, a young woman awakened too early from her frozen sleep. In this novel, Elder struggles with leading a ship; he discovers that it isn't easy to lead people who aren't drugged, that people have ideas of their own, that some people will do anything and everything to stir up trouble for him. Amy has struggles of her own. She misses her parents. She fears that the ship will never reach its destination and that she'll never see them again. She even thinks about disobeying Elder and awakening them before they arrive. But something always stops her from direct rebellion. She also struggles with something that almost happened in Across the Universe. She's still keeping that secret from Elder because she doesn't quite trust him not to abuse his power. And, as you might expect, she struggles with her feelings for Elder. Does she or doesn't she like him like that? Is she attracted to him because he's the only boy her own age who doesn't think she's a freak? Or would she still choose to be with him if there were dozens, hundreds, thousands of other guys to choose from?

A Million Suns is a compelling read. It definitely offers reader a mystery to solve. I recommend that you don't read too many reviews of this one or you might just guess too much. I happened to guess the big-big mystery of this one. I even guessed some of the smaller mysteries. And so it didn't offer me many surprises. I think if I'd not guessed, if everything had remained a mystery for a little bit longer, then I would have enjoyed this one just a little bit more.

While I'm not sure A Million Suns is a novel that will stay with me, it was a very good way to spend an afternoon. In some ways it reminded me of all the reasons I love to read science fiction. So even though I don't find this title the most amazing book I've ever read, I am glad to have read it.

Read A Million Suns
  • If you're a fan of science fiction, particularly if you like novels set in space on colony ships
  • If you're a fan of Across the Universe
  • If you're looking for science fiction with a little romance and a lot of drama
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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My Brother's Shadow (MG)

My Brother's Shadow. Monika Schroder. 2011. FSG. 224 pages.

I definitely enjoyed this one. It was so emotional, so intense. This historical novel is set in Germany--in 1918--during the last few months of the war. The narrator, Moritz, is sixteen and working as a printer at the Berliner Daily. Moritz struggles with many, many things throughout the novel. For example, he loves his older brother, Hans, so much. Yet he can't quite be okay with some of his older brother's friends--his brother was part of a gang. And he feels horribly guilty wanting the war to be over--no matter who wins or loses--because his brother is a soldier. And he's more embarrassed than impressed by his mother's socialist leanings. Why does his mother have to be a LEADER in the Socialist/Democrat party?! Why must she call for such radical changes?! So what does he believe to be best for Germany? Will he side with his mother, his sister, his aunt? Or will he side with his older brother who returns home from war a changed man--very angry, very cruel, very bitter?

I liked this one. I thought it was very well-written. I liked the characterization. I liked the powerful story. It was interesting to see the German perspective of the war.




Read My Brother's Shadow

  • If you're a fan of historical fiction
  • If you're a fan of war stories
  • If you're a fan of stories set in Germany during this time period

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Board Books for the 5 Senses

What Can I Hear? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.

Clitter,
clatter,
crashing!
Bing, bong bashing!

What Can I Taste? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.

Soft,
fruity
banana...
...and sweet
trickles
of juice.

What Can I Feel? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.

Tingling toes...
...shivery, 
quivery snow
on my nose.

What Can I See? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.


butterfly,
flutter
by.


Jiggling bugs
going round
and round
and round.

What Can I Smell? Annie Kubler. 2011. Child's Play. 12 pages.

Soapy
smells
and...
fresh towels
for bathtime
cuddles.

Today I am sharing with you five board books that were recently published by Child's Play. These five board books work best together. Each board book focuses on one of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Each board book uses descriptive language--it's very rich in adjectives--to illustrate the sense. The images--or objects--being described in each book are familiar ones to young ones.

From What Can I Taste?

Sweet
chocolate
splats...
...and crumbly
cake.


Swirly, twirly spaghetti tangles...
...and
munchy,
crunchy
vegetable
sticks.


Not all of the descriptions are as fun--to me--as "swirly, twirly spaghetti tangles" but I think that is one of the best examples. Because that is almost poetic. You can definitely visualize that...AND it is fun to say!


My two favorites are What Can I Hear? and What Can I Taste? The others are just okay.


Read these board books
  • If you've got a little one two or under that you love and want to read to
  • If you're looking for examples--for better or worse--of descriptive language
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts. Erik Larson. 2011. Crown. 464 pages.

Once, at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitler's Berlin.

In the Garden of Beasts is nonfiction. It is a biography of the Dodd family--primarily of William Dodd, the U.S. Ambassador to Berlin, and his daughter, Martha. The book focuses--a bit unevenly--on the four and a half years the family lived (and served) in Berlin, 1933-1938. (The author meant the narration to focus more on the beginning than the middle and the end.) It's an account that is both personal and political. The book does deal with politics--American, Nazi, Soviet--during this time period. But it is also personal. For the most part, it gets personal with the daughter's love life. Much focuses on her friendships and relationships with various men--both in the U.S. and Germany. Trying to keep track of who she was seeing at any one time was quite confusing. (I eventually gave up.)

I'm sure the book is meant to accomplish many things with readers--in addition to informing and/or entertaining. But. For me, I saw it as highlighting human frustration. Being ambassador was not a grand adventure. Trying to please even a handful of men from each country proved absolutely impossible. There were so many people saying do this, don't do that, say this, don't say that. So many people judging him, criticizing him, and in some cases, wanting him to fail. He was supposed to tell the truth, but, at the same time he was supposed to be all about peace, peace, peace. He was supposed to tell the truth, but not at the cost of offending anyone. He was supposed to tell the truth, but not necessarily the unpleasant truth.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about Martha's story in all this. Was it necessary to include every little detail? Were we supposed to like her? to sympathize with her? I'm not sure I can do either. The way she jumped in and out of relationships, the way she manipulated men, well, it bothered me. The way she would resort to trying to make every man she was involved with jealous by seeing someone else. Perhaps she grew out of her immaturity. I don't know.

I didn't love In the Garden of Beasts. I'm glad I read it. I was interested in some of the details included in this one. But for me it was a little too long.

Read In the Garden of Beasts

  • If you're looking to read nonfiction about this time period--Germany in the 1930s
  • If you're looking to read biographies of American Ambassadors
  • If you're interested/fascinated by politics

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Watching David Copperfield

I recently watched the 1935 adaptation of David Copperfield. And from the start, I knew it was going to be very interesting! I must say I just LOVED the introduction of Aunt Betsey played by Edna May Oliver. It was such a comical scene. Just a delight. And it's surprisingly faithful to the book, I think!

The book is so very, very, LONG and complex. The movie is much simpler, more direct. Which isn't a bad thing. It eliminates many, many things, it's true. And this does effect the characterization. But. I felt it was just one interpretation of events.

In the novel, readers sometimes see things that the young David can't see, can't understand. Readers pick up on things--some small clues, some very, very big clues--about the people in David's life. The movie portrays them exactly as David imagines--or first imagines--them to be.

Dickens' characters were very human, very complex. Many characters had strengths and weaknesses. They weren't all good; they weren't all bad. They had flaws and quirks. In the movie, the characters tended to be less complex. We didn't see their strengths and weaknesses. There just wasn't time to get to know them.

This adaptation just isn't as good as the book. It can't really replace the book...at all. It has its enjoyable moments though!


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Library Loot: Fifth Trip in January

New Loot:

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos [Newbery Winner 2012]
Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin [Newbery Honor Book 2012]
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai [Newbery Honor Book 2012]
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley [Printz Award Winner 2012; William C. Morris Award 2012]
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson [William C. Morris Honor Book 2012]
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey [Printz Honor Book 2012]
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen [Schneider Family Book Teen Award 2012]
The Returning by Christine Hinwood [Printz Honor Book 2012]
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall [Pura Belpre Author Award 2012; William C. Morris Honor Book 2012]
Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin [Alex Award Winner, 2012]
Talk Funny Girl by Roland Merullo [Alex Award Winner, 2012]
Wheels of Change: How Women Rode The Bicycle to Freedom by Sue Macy [YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Finalist 2012]
Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal [Yalsa Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Finalist 2012]
Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider [Geisel Award 2012]
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Crossed by Ally Condie
Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
All Good Children by Catherine Austen
If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff
What Will Fat Cat Sit On by Jan Thomas
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
If you Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff
If you Give a Pig a Party by Laura Numeroff
If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff


Leftover Loot:

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II by Joanne Oppenheim
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World To War by Catrine Clay

Book Trailers For This Week's Loot:


















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.  

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Pledge (YA)

The Pledge. Kimberly Derting. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 336 pages.

From the prologue: The air crackled like a gathering thunderstorm the moment the girl entered the chamber. She was just a child, but her presence changed everything.

From chapter one: I gritted my teeth as Mr. Grayson's voice grew louder and louder, until there was no mistaking that he meant for the people in the congested street to hear him, despite the fact that he knew full well they couldn't understand a single word he spoke.

I just LOVED The Pledge. I did. From the very start, this one had me hooked. The prologue was great at setting the tone and atmosphere of this one. And once the novel started, it just kept getting better and better!!!

The heroine of The Pledge, Charlaina, (Charlie) has a secret, a BIG, BIG secret that only her closest family members know. For if her secret was revealed, she could be killed. Her secret? Well, she understands all the languages--both spoken and written--no matter what the class. In her world, in her society, EACH class has their own language. The classes communicate together using Englaise, but each class has their own language that is their own. It keeps everyone in place, in line. You're never to make eye contact with someone in a higher class, you're supposed to show the most formal respect at all times. And that includes NEVER looking up when someone is speaking in a different language than you're own. So Charlie has grown up having to be super-careful. She can't let on that she understands every single word uttered in her presence. But her secret is becoming trickier to hide--perhaps she's grown a little too confident? Regardless Charlie's secret becomes known to one or two others...and what they do with that knowledge, well, it changes everything...

So I don't want to say too much about this one. It's such a great book. The world created by Kimberly Derting is oh-so-fascinating. And the storytelling was quite good too. I found myself caring about these characters so much. It was almost impossible to put this one down!!!

Read The Pledge
  • If you're a fan of science fiction, dystopia
  • If you want action, adventure, mystery, drama, and a little romance in your dystopia
  • If you are looking for an intense read

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, January 27, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (YA)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Jennifer E. Smith. 2012. Little, Brown. 236 pages.

From the prologue:
There are so many ways it could have all turned out differently. Imagine if she hadn't forgotten the book. She wouldn't have had to run back into the house while Mom waited outside with the car running, the engine setting loose a cloud of exhaust in the late-day heat. Or before that, even: Imagine if she hadn't waited to try on her dress, so that she might have noticed earlier that the straps were too long, and Mom wouldn't have had to haul out her old sewing kit, turning the kitchen counter into an operating table as she attempted to save the poor lifeless swath of purple silk at the very last minute...

From chapter one: Airports are torture chambers if you're claustrophobic.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight has to be one of the best, best YA romances I've read in years. This one is seriously giddy-making. It was practically perfect in every way. One of those oh-so-satisfying novels that keep you happy and satisfied from start to finish. One of those that almost from the start you know you're going to absolutely love.

So. The heroine of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is Hadley Sullivan. She is ever-so-reluctantly flying to London to be in her father's wedding. She's never met the woman destined to be her stepmother. Never wanted to have to meet such a woman. But she's to be in the wedding--a bridesmaid. So no matter how much she doesn't want to go, she has to go.

The big question...did she miss her flight on purpose?! No, not really. Not intentionally. But those four minutes--the four minutes that kept her from her scheduled flight turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. For she happens to meet Oliver at the airport. He's on his way to London. He's actually from there, he's just studying at Yale, as to why he's going back just now...well...that's best left a surprise.

If you love romances where it is all about the dialogue, then this one will make you oh-so-happy. So much is revealed about both Oliver and Hadley through their conversations. The whole novel just covers a little over twenty-four hours. And these two are sitting side-by-side on an airplane, so that is just one reason why there is so much conversation in this one...

One thing that I just LOVED, loved absolutely about this one, was the fact that a book came to symbolize so very, very much. And the book in question is Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend, my favorite-and-best Dickens. And the novel even quotes some of my very, favorite lines. And these lines help clarify things for the heroine. So it was just a lovely thing for me!!!

I loved everything about this one. The writing. The setting. The dialogue. The characters. How their stories unfold...it's just a GREAT book, a great romance.

Read The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight
  • If you want a new book, a new romance, to gush about!
  • If you're a fan of teen romances
  • If you're looking for a romance with substance, with actual character development
  • If you're a fan of Jennifer E. Smith






© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Ashfall (YA)

Ashfall. Mike Mullin. 2011. Tanglewood. 476 pages. 

I was home alone on that Friday evening. Those who survived know exactly which Friday I mean. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing, in the same way my parents remembered 9/11, but more so. Together we lost the old world, slipping from that cocoon of mechanized comfort into the hellish land we inhabit now. The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones, and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness, and hunger. 

Just in case Susan Beth Pfeffer's moon trilogy was NOT bleak enough for you, may I recommend Mike Mullin's Ashfall?!

Ashfall is a YA novel--a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel--that is incredibly intense. The America Mullin imagines after a super-volcano erupts in Yellowstone is....not quite for everyone. But. For those that can handle it, those who like things ugly and gritty and very life-and-death, Ashfall is quite the read!!!

The hero of Ashfall is a young guy named Alex. His family is out of town for the weekend. Alex had been invited, of course, but he chose to not go with his family to visit his aunt and uncle in Illinois. The event happens suddenly...and it does change everything. But as intense as it was for Alex in the first 48 hours, it doesn't even begin to come close to what the future holds for him...as he decides to travel to Illinois on his own--on foot--to try to find his family.

Ashfall highlights the best and worst in humanity. There are opportunities for great acts of mercy and kindness--as people share what little they have, as people come together and work to survive. But there are hundreds of opportunities for evil as well. Alex encounters both in his journey. For Alex, the best thing to come out of this catastrophe is meeting Darla. But you have to look hard and search deep to find the hope in this novel.

Read Ashfall
  • If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction
  • If you don't mind a LOT of blood--both human and animal. If you don't mind graphic depictions of violence, of slaughter, of rape. This one goes to very DARK places
  • If you enjoy gritty novels where every day presents a new challenge to survive
  • If you're looking for a post-apocalyptic read WITHOUT zombies

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Predicteds (YA)

The Predicteds. Christine Seifert. 2011. Sourcebooks. 352 pages.

From the prologue: The rose-patterned carpet of the room reminds me of the guest room in my grandmother's house. When I was a kid there, I used to hop from petal to petal. If I landed on white space or a leaf, I had to start over again. 

Even though I found this one a bit predictable, it was such an entertaining read, I didn't mind that I guessed who the 'bad guy' was so early on.

Daphne Wright, our heroine, has recently moved with her mother to Quiet, Oklahoma. What she doesn't know--at the beginning--is that Quiet is a test town for Profile, a project that her mother worked on and developed for several years. Her mother didn't like the direction the project was taking, and left it behind her. Or so it seems. But after a school shooting--the only fatality being the shooter, the rest were just injuries--things begin to change. Officials at the school decide to release the results of Profile--the names of individuals that certain tests have "shown" to be future offenders. These fall generally into two categories: potentially violent (rape, murder, etc.) and self-destructive (teen pregnancies, drug addictions, alcoholism, gambling addictions, etc.) Many "believe" that if Profile has predicted such a fate--then your failure is just a matter of time. You may not be a criminal today, but next year? five years from now? ten years from now? It's all a matter of time. As you might have guessed, once these results are made public, NO ONE wants to be near a Predicted. And the adults agree deciding that it just isn't right that Predicteds share a classroom with everyone else. They shouldn't even be in the same building. All contact between the two groups should stop. These people are designated too dangerous to know.

So. Our heroine, Daphne, has some issues with what is going on because her love interest, Jesse, turns out being one of those on the list. Her so-called "friends" urge her to dump him immediately. (Don't get me started on her "friends.") And she does let doubt stop her from using common sense there for a couple of chapters, but in the end when everything is-oh-so-obvious she regrets that she missed her chance with him and asks him to forgive her and give her another chance.

I liked this one. I did. I may not love it. But I thought it was an interesting read on an interesting topic: profiling, segregation, and discrimination. If future crimes could be "predicted" at an early age--between fourteen or eighteen, for example--would that effect how they are treated by people--not just their peers, but by everyone? Is knowing the result of a test validation to judge someone for something they haven't done...at least not yet? And wouldn't telling someone that they were going to grow up to be a certain way be a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy? So it was a thoughtful dystopia novel with a school setting.

Read The Predicteds

  • If you're a fan of science fiction and dystopia
  • If you like books with a school setting 
  • If you like your YA with a little drama and romance
  • If you're a fan of Scored

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Shadows in Flight

Shadows in Flight. Orson Scott Card. 2012. TOR. 240 pages.


The starship Herodotus left Earth in 2210 with four passengers. It accelerated nearly to lightspeed as quickly as it could, and then stayed at that speed, letting relativity do its work. On Herodotus, just over five years had passed; it had been 421 years on Earth. On Herodotus, the three thirteen-month old babies had turned into six-year-olds, and the Giant had outlived his life expectancy by two years. On Earth, starships had been launched to found ninety-three colonies, beginning with the worlds once colonized by the Formics and spreading to other habitable planets as soon as they were found. 

I may not have loved Shadows In Flight, but I am glad I kept reading because by the end it was starting to grow on me. Shadows in Flight is a novel that essentially only has four characters. The character that fans know as "Bean" is "The Giant" to his three young children. Readers meet his three children that share his genetic fate. (Genius giants with very short life spans.) His daughter, Carlotta, his son, Andrew "Ender", and his son, Cincinnatus "Sergeant." These three may bring to mind another family of siblings: Peter, Valentine, and Ender. When readers first meet these three, they may be surprised that a six-year-old is plotting to kill his father--supposedly to their benefit claiming that his giant body is consuming more than a fair share of the ships resources and supplies. Ender does not really believe that for a moment. And he does put a stop to the nonsense.

So. This novel was not thrilling me for the first half. But then they discover another ship, a strange ship, and a planet that may just be habitable. And from there things improve considerably. For the aliens encountered--are remnants from the Formics. And this novel does examine that race once again. In a new way.

Read Shadows in Flight
  • If you're a fan of Orson Scott Card
  • If you're a fan of the Ender/Bean series. BUT. Don't expect this one to be about politics and war. Other titles in the Bean series have been about politics and war strategies. They've also had some thriller elements to them. Not this one. 
  • If reading about the family dynamics of Ender, Valentine and Peter so thrilled you that you just have to have a repeat
  • If you're a fan of novels set in space, novels that star aliens

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Out of the Darkness

Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: Out of the Darkness. Peter David. 2000. Del Rey. 266 pages.

Prologue: Hiller of the planet Mipas had always been an enthusiast about Earth history.
Chapter one: It is with some degree of shock and personal disappointment that I must conclude that I am losing my mind. I know this because, for the first time in...well...ever, I must admit...I actually felt sorry for Mariel.

Out of the Darkness concludes the Legions of Fire trilogy. And it answers so many questions fans may have about the characters. Including the prophecies and visions of the future hinted at in "War Without End" parts one and two, and "Point of No Return" in season three. Not to mention "Objects at Rest" from season five.

So, Vir has become a strong leader. A behind-the-scenes leader, perhaps, since his movement is oh-so-secretive. If he was known to be the leader of these 'terrorists' sabotaging Centauri's plans, well, he'd pay for it with his life. But the time to act is coming...and soon. And Londo knows this as well. As does G'Kar. All the pieces are coming together for the oh-so-dramatic, oh-so-tragic conclusion. Is it a tragedy with redeeming qualities? Yes. I think so.

It was definitely a compelling read! Very emotional. Especially if you LOVE the characters. This trilogy is definitely a must read. I'm so glad I read it! It made me love certain characters even more. And it gave me a new appreciation for some other characters. Characters that we just barely saw a glimpse of in the series. (Like Londo's wives from "Soul Mates".) And it also fit very nicely (as it should) with In The Beginning.

Read Out of the Darkness
  • If you want to see a more personal, more behind-the-scenes look at the fate of Londo and G'Kar as seen in "War Without End." 
  • If you want to know what happens to your favorite Babylon 5 characters (Londo, G'Kar, John, Delenn, their son, David, Garibaldi, Vir, etc.)
  • If you want to know the fate of Timov and Mariel. (I was definitely surprised by Mariel in the past two novels! I think you might be too.)
  • If you love science fiction with a little drama, a little romance.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Armies of Light and Dark

Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: Armies of Light and Dark. Peter David. 2000. Del Rey. 255 pages.

Prologue: My 'masters' are pleased with me this day.

Chapter one: Vir stood before the giant, crackling energy gate. The ground around him was littered with bodies.

Armies of Light and Dark is the second in the Legions of Fire trilogy. It is definitely a must read! Once you've read The Long Night of Centauri Prime, you're going to want to continue the story. Trust me. So Vir is learning more and more about the darkness surrounding Centauri Prime, learning more about what--or should that be who--the Shadows left behind. He's learning more about the plans--the grand plans--being set in motion. And he's got a little help. True the 'help' is a bit cranky at times, and oh-so-mysterious. (He may NEVER understand technomages.) But Vir is determined--for better or worse--to battle the darkness, the evil forces that no one quite wants to acknowledge just yet.

Read Armies of Light and Dark
  • If you're a fan of Babylon 5, if you just have to know what the future holds for all our characters--well, most of our characters
  • If you're a fan of science fiction with a focus on politics, ethics, good and evil
  • If you're a fan of Vir, if you want to see him transformed into a hero, if you want to see him make tough, tough choices
  • If you're a fan of Londo, if you want to see what happens to him during his reign as emperor
  • If you're a fan of Senna, if you want to see how her character grows and develops 
And now for the quotes,

Vir on the craziness of life:

For the men he passed in the settlement town of K0643, it seemed, the line between truth and fiction, between the easily understood and the incomprehensible, had become blurred. For Vir himself, the line had long ago been completely erased. Anything was capable of happening to him. He felt that this was the only possible mind-set for him to maintain, since anything--more or less-generally did have the habit of happening to him. (14)

Vir and Rem Lamas:

Vir quickly put up his hands and forced a grin. "That's...that's quite all right, I get the idea. I don't really need to know more than you've told me. In fact, I wouldn't have been upset to know less." He cleared his throat, and then said, "So you were going to tell me about..." (16)

Vir being profound:

That was the trouble with knowing what lurks within the shadows, he realized. One can't figure out where to look anymore. If you gaze into the shadows, you blanch at whatever may be in there looking back at you, and you jump as the shadows move. If you look into the light, not only are you blinded by its intensity, but also it serves to remind you that you should be doing everything you can to expunge the darkness. Light does not allow for excuses. (24)

And now a word from Londo:

It is not fit, or meet, or responsible for Centauri to rejoice in the misfortune of others. Throughout our history, we have dealt with other races with compassion, always with compassion. Granted, there have been races that did not see that compassion for what it was, and rebelled. The Narn, naturally, come to mind. In dealing with them, however--in dealing with any who operated in a manner contrary to the interests of the great Centauri Republic--we did exactly what we had to do. No more and no less. (68)

Londo to Senna:

"There are battles that can and should be fought, and there are battles that should not be. In the case of the former, let nothing stop you. In the case of the latter, let nothing start you." (85)

Galen to Vir:

"For every action, however, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That is an immutable rule of the universe. You are to be the opposite reaction." (98)

Londo and G'Kar

"You," Londo said, "are the single most irritating individual I have ever met."
"You see?" G'Kar replied."What could be more proof of friendship than that? Who but a friend could be anywhere near as irritating as I am?" (196)


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Long Night of Centauri Prime

Babylon 5: Legions of Fire: The Long Night of Centauri Prime. Peter David. 1999.

Prologue: The Drakh felt sorry for him. Londo Mollari would have been surprised to learn that such considerations went through the Drakh's mind. Had the Drakh's sentiments been relayed to him, he would have been even more surprised to learn precisely why the Drakh felt sorry for him. 


Chapter one: When Londo saw the creature emerging from the chest of the Drakh, it was all he could do not to scream.

The Long Night of Centauri Prime is the first in a must-read trilogy of books for Babylon 5 fans. For this trilogy answers so many questions! This trilogy addresses so many prophecies and visions seen in the show! Because it is a continuation of the story, the drama, I feel it is a must read for anyone who watched the show from start to finish.

Is this book all about Londo? Yes and no. It is about what happens to him after he becomes emperor of Centauri Prime. It is from his perspective--for the most part. But to say it is all about him, well, that just wouldn't be the case. It features characters we've met before (Vir, Timov, Mariel, etc.) and introduces new characters (Shiv'kala, Durla, Senna, etc.) It also reintroduces the technomages.

Centauri Prime is in very bad condition. And what they need is a good leader, a strong leader, a leader not under the influence.

I loved so many things about this one. I did. I loved how Peter David captured the characters just right. Especially in how he depicts Londo and Vir. Their separate scenes are good, some are even great, but to see these two together again, well, there's just something wonderful about it all. My favorite new character was Senna. 

Read The Long Night of Centauri Prime
  • If you're a fan of Babylon 5
  • If you're a fan of science fiction
  • If you're a fan of science fiction focusing on politics and war, good and evil
  • If you want to know what happens to Londo after he becomes emperor, after his nightmarish reign begins,
  • If you want to know what happened to Londo's wives
  • If you want to know what happens to Vir.  If you LOVE Vir, this book will make you LOVE, LOVE, LOVE him.
  • If you want to see the long-term effects of the Shadow War
And now to share some quotes:

When Londo first meets Senna...

"She simply uses words now, not stones. It is a funny thing about words. They cannot harm you unless you allow them to...unlike rocks, which tend to act as they wish." (35)

Londo and Vir speaking about Durla:

"Well, here's a late development. I do not like him, Londo. This Durla. Not one bit." Vir was speaking in a whisper, albeit an angry one.
"Durla? What is wrong with Durla?" Londo sounded almost shocked.
"Look, don't take this wrong, but...in some ways, he reminds me of you. That is, the way you used to be."
"He doesn't remind me of me at all."
"Are you kidding? All those things he was saying about what he wants us to be? Doesn't that sound like something you might have said once?"
"No. I never would have said any such thing."
Vir rolled his eyes in annoyance as Londo guided him down one of the large corridors. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"On a tour. Much work has been down on the palace since you were last here." He glanced at Vir. His vision appeared a bit bleary. "So let me understand this: you say that Durla reminds you of me, and on that basis you don't like him. I suppose I should be insulted, no?" (89)

Vir on lying:

As Zack checked through the computers, Vir's mind was racing. Lying simply was not his strong suit. He felt tremendously uncomfortable and very exposed whenever he was trying to do it. One would have thought that, working with Londo for so long as he had, he would have acquired a knack for it. The one thing he had going for him was that he tended to babble to the point where people would accept whatever he was saying, just to shut him up. With one lie, he was ineffective. With an avalanche of lies, he could squeak by. (101)

Yet another starring Vir!

"Nervous?" laughed Vir. "Why would you say that?"
"Well, when you're nervous about something, you tend to flap your hands about a bit...kind of like you're doing right now."
"What? Oh, this. No, no...I'm just having some minor circulation problems, so I'm trying to get the blood flowing." He flailed his hands for a moment, then said, "Well, that seems to have done it," and folded his arms tightly across his chest. (105)

And another...

Time flies when you're having fun. Or when you're having...well...whatever it is that I have. (214)

Mariel and Vir:

"You made me laugh. It's not always easy for a man to get a woman to laugh, but you managed it so easily. You had a charming facade you created back then, although I could see through it rather easily, of course."
"What...facade would that be?"
"An air of barely controlled panic."
"Ah. Well," and he laughed uncomfortably, "you saw right through that, I guess. Clever you." (217)


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Fourth Trip in January

New Loot:

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) by Mei-Ling Hopgood
Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
Walt Disney's Cinderella as retold by Cynthia Rylant
Walt Disney's Peter Pan retold by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland as retold by Jon Scieszka
The Pledge by Kimberly Derting
Away by Teri Hall
And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Ashfall by Mike Mullin
The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine
The Predicteds by Christine Seifert
A Million Suns by Beth Revis
The Bridge to Never Land by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card
The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World To War by Catrine Clay
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka



Leftover Loot:

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II by Joanne Oppenheim
Beyond Infinity by Gregory Benford
Psychoshop by Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio; translated by Guido Waldman

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

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Charles Dickens: England's Most Captivating Storyteller

Charles Dickens: England's Most Captivating Storyteller. Catherine Wells-Cole. 2011. Candlewick. 32 pages. 

About this 'notebook':

Charles Dickens's books are known and loved the world over. From Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Micawber to Oliver Twist and Little Nell, Dicken's characters spring from pages that are rich with detail of life in Victorian times.
With extracts from his novels and correspondence, Charles Dickens: England's Most Captivating Storyteller leads you from the streets of nineteenth century London to the shores of the United States, revealing the lives of the rich and the poor at a time of great social reform and industrial progress. Discover Dickens's extraordinary life, times, and work in this lavish volume.


For those wanting to know more about Charles Dickens and the life and times in which he lived, this short picture book (or notebook) is a treat. Especially if you are not curious enough or patient enough or brave enough to attempt reading a full-length biography.

Each two-page spread gives you the basics, the essentials. And the facts are anything but boring.

The topics are:
  • Childhood
  • Family Life
  • Fame
  • School
  • Prisons
  • Workhouses
  • Orphans
  • London
  • Industry
  • Theater
  • Christmas
  • Social Life
  • America
  • Legacy
There are many, many details included in this book. But one of the most useful features--perhaps--are the book summaries. For one little paragraph, they're surprisingly complete. The only reason that might not be such great news is if you don't want any of the books spoiled for you. Because these summaries have big, big spoilers! Of course, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This book was user-friendly. I think that is its greatest strength. The presentation of the facts, the details, makes this an engaging read.

Read Charles Dickens: England's Most Captivating Storyteller
  • If you are a fan of Charles Dickens
  • If you are a fan of Victorian literature
  • If you are a history lover wanting more details about life--for rich and poor--in Victorian England
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, January 23, 2012

All Our Worldly Goods

All Our Worldly Goods. Irene Nemirovsky. 1947/2008. Vintage Books. Translated from the French by Sandra Smith. (French title: Les Biens de ce Monde.) 265 pages.

They were together, so they were happy.  

What All Our Worldly Goods lacks in characterization, it more than makes up for in beautiful writing. Nemirovsky's novel has great atmosphere: a rich, detailed setting. The characters are more simple than complex human beings, but, I think there are enough presented to get a flavor of what life was like across the generations in the troubled decades between the start of World War I and the beginning of World War II. They're more sketched than developed.

The novel begins with the love story of Agnes and Pierre. These two aren't exactly from the same class. And his mother has arranged his marriage with someone else, a young, rich woman named Simone. But Pierre and Agnes are deeply in love, and Pierre chooses to go against his family's wishes and marry for love not money.

A few years later--after their new family has grown to include a baby boy, Guy--war is declared. Pierre becomes a soldier, and Agnes along with his family must learn to deal with the new reality. The first third of the novel, at least, deals with the first world war. We get to see the war from multiple viewpoints. There were many great scenes--including scenes from Pierre's parents' perspectives--about the war. Pierre does survive the war. Though like many soldiers, many people touched by the war, he's not quite the same innocent as before.

The rest of the novel takes us from the end of the first world war through the beginning of the second world war. When the novel ends, part of France is occupied. These chapters are sketches. Good sketches, for the most part, of how families change, villages change, how life goes on. Readers see Pierre and Agnes' children all grown up. (They also have a daughter, Colette). Part of the novel focuses on the late 1930s and captures the uncertainty of it all. Will there be another war? Can peace be maintained? Can diplomacy stop a war before it begins? Is the war inevitable?

Pierre may be too old to go to war a second time, but his son, Guy, is not. And war once again is changing everything.

My favorite quotes:

It was the very beginning of the war, when the heart bleeds for everyone who dies, when tears are shed for each man sent to fight. Sadly as time goes on, people get used to it all. They think only of one soldier, theirs. But at the start of a war the heart is still tender; it hasn't hardened yet. (55)

The other one...the other war...People said these words in a stunned tone of voice: it was a new phrase. Another war...Twice in one lifetime, it was too much. But everyone was bowed beneath the same destiny, and courage was born out of their communal ordeal. (202)
The war was already trying to create its own legend. It was understood that the women had to prove themselves worthy of the soldiers through their calmness, their courage, their blind confidence that fate would smile on them. For Agnes it was easier; she had played the role before. For four years she had lowered her head, waited, fought back her tears in silence, smiled at young and old; she had hoped. But for the younger women it was all much harder. Stubborn, anxious, passionate, they had believed until now that it was easy to control their destiny. (206) 
The author's story is interesting--though tragic. Irene Nemirovsky was a French novelist of Russian and Jewish heritage who did not survive Auschwitz. I cannot imagine writing this novel at such a time. Can you?


Read All Our Worldly Goods
  • If you are a fan of historical fiction
  • If you are a fan of love stories (though this isn't exactly a traditional romance novel)
  • If you are interested in World War I and/or World War II
  • If you are interested in French village life
  • If you are interested in multigenerational stories or family sagas
  • If you like literary fiction
This was the second book I read for the War Through the Generations reading challenge.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching Thirdspace

I watched my third Babylon 5 movie recently, Thirdspace. And while Thirdspace wasn't as good as In The Beginning, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon! The movie occurs AFTER the end of the Shadow war but BEFORE the beginning of the war with Earth Alliance. ("Into the Fire" is the season four episode that concludes the Shadow War, and "Moments of Transition" is the season four episode that begins the war with Earth Alliance. There isn't a perfectly-perfect way to fit the movie into this sequence of episodes.)

What I liked best about this movie was John Sheridan. Season three and season four have changed him in oh-so-many ways. His character, his personality. He's got the weight of many worlds on his shoulders. And it began to show. In this movie, there is a lightness, an exuberance almost. Here I saw the John that I remembered from earlier days. The John that I first came to love--just as Delenn came to love him. The John that made her start skipping.

And. I almost forgot. It has the MOST WONDERFUL--BUT PERHAPS WONDERFULLY AWKWARD SCENE--between Lyta and Zack in an elevator. It's a beautiful but heartbreaking scene, in my opinion. (You can watch it without it spoiling the movie.)



In this movie, Susan Ivanova (and some others from a flight squadron) discover an enormous artifact in hyperspace. They don't know what it is--or just how dangerous it may prove to be--but they bring it back with them for further study. And that's when things get a little interesting on the station.

The first part of movie.

This movie felt like a good, strong episode of the show. So that was nice. Is it the best science fiction movie ever? No, it's not meant to be. But if you do like the show--or LOVE the show--I think you'll find plenty to enjoy. The only thing that would have made this movie even better would have been Marcus!!! Oh how wonderful it would have been to see Marcus again!!!

Watch Thirdspace
  • If you like science fiction movies
  • If you're a fan of Babylon 5
  • If you want more John Sheridan, more Vir, more Lyta, more Susan, or more Zack.
  • If you want to know more about the Vorlons

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Family for the War (YA)

My Family for the War. Anne C. Voorhoeve. Translated by Tammi Reichel. 2012. February 2012. Penguin. 412 pages. 

I would never find another friend like Rebekka Liebich. she crouched on the narrow windowsill, one hand holding tight to the frame, and held the other hand stretched out in front of her, as if that would somehow shorten the distance of almost five feet between her and the trunk of the birch tree. I stood in the courtyard three floors below and would have liked to close my eyes, but I couldn't even manage that. I stared up at her, hypnotized. 

I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED My Family for the War. I just loved it. It is beautifully written and stars unforgettable characters. I loved the heroine, Franziska Mangold. (Her nickname, in Germany, is Ziska. When she travels to England, she's renamed Frances.) I loved her narrative voice. I found it compelling and haunting. The events of the novel can be dramatic--here and there--but I never felt it was too much. I felt it was done very realistically. It made me think, but more importantly it made me feel.

So. My Family For the War opens with Ziska and her best friend, Bekka, working on their survival plans. The year is 1938. The setting is Berlin, Germany. Bekka and Ziska are Jews. Though I believe both are Christian, their families having converted to the Christian faith several generations previously. But Hitler and his Nazis don't care what a person believes, any one with even a trace of Jewish blood in their family--no matter how past, no matter how distant--is considered Jewish. And to be Jewish in Nazi Germany is a dangerous thing. It is a matter of life and death. Which is why their parents are doing anything and everything to get out of the country--filling out applications to migrate to any country still accepting Jews. Which is why their children don't exactly play. They make plans on how to survive attacks from bullies. Mapping out places to hide, mapping out different ways to get home, always wanting to find places they can disappear. They are not always successful. Ziska comes home beaten and bruised a time or two at least. But it isn't easy to "escape" Germany--not even in 1938. (Though perhaps it is easier in 1938 than it would be after the war officially starts).

One day Bekka tells Ziska about the kindertransports. There is hope for Jewish children under the age of sixteen. England is accepting Jewish children and placing them with foster parents. This option won't save entire families, but it will save some of the children at least. And some adults realize just what this could mean. That this means life, this means a future, for their child. At first, Ziska is angry that her mother would even consider--for half a minute--sending her away to strangers, sending her alone to a strange country where she doesn't speak the language. But Ziska is one of the children who finds herself being rescued through the kindertransports. Bekka is not. At least not yet...the two had hoped to go at the same time, but that didn't work out.

Most of the book follows her life...as Frances. As the young girl who grows into a young woman...in England. She's settled with an Orthodox family. The novel is about her experiences with her foster mom and dad, with her new brother, Gary. The novel is about what it's like to start a new life while being so very unsure about the old one. She is able to communicate with her mother...until the war starts. But then everything changes. Especially when the Germans start bombing England.

As I said, I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED My Family for the War. I absolutely loved the characters. I really just loved them all. I loved Frances. I loved Gary. (I just loved him, thought he was a GREAT brother. And just the right person to start the healing process for Frances.) I loved Amanda, the foster mom. I just felt for her so much. And to see these two grow together, well, it was magical. And her foster Dad was great as well. And then there are the friends she meets--including one from the kindertransport, Walter. There was so much to love about him as well!!! This novel is just so wonderful, so well-written.

Read My Family for the War
  • If you are looking for a great YA book
  • If you are looking for a great historical novel 
  • If you are looking for a compelling story set during World War II
  • If you are looking to read more about the London Blitz
  • If you are interested in reading Jewish books
  • If you are looking for an emotional, unforgettable read
  • If you are looking to read books in translation, this one was published in Germany in 2007

*All quotes are taken from an ARC. They may not match the final, printed version of the novel.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Two About Cupcakes

You Are My Cupcake. Joyce Wan. 2011. Scholastic. 14 pages.

You are my cupcake
My sticky little gumdrop
My mushy little sweet pea
My oven-baked cutie-pie...

The more you read You Are My Cupcake, the more you'll like it. I think. And it probably won't take you long to memorize this one! (Which is NOT a bad thing at all.) So this one doesn't offer many surprises, what you see is what you get. It is cute. It is sweet. It is fun and playful. A board book about the many, many nicknames a baby might collect from his/her friends and relations--though I wouldn't have ever thought to call someone an oven-baked cutie-pie. (Other nicknames include honey-roasted peanut and chubby little pumpkin.) I liked the art.

Read You Are My Cupcake
  • If you are looking to share a lovely sweet or super-sweet read with the little cupcakes in your life



Cupcake Surpise (BOB Books/Level 1) Lynn Maslen Kertell. Illustrated by Sue Hendra. 2012. (February 2012) Scholastic. 32 pages.

It is Dad's birthday.
What will Jack and Anna give to Dad?
Will they make a card?
Will they jot a note?
Will they sing a song?
Jack and Anna will make cupcakes for Dad.
Cupcakes will be a big surprise.

Jack and Anna love their Dad very much. And they really, really, really want to make him some yummy cupcakes. But things don't go exactly as planned. It starts when the two realize they are out of flour. They head to the store--with their mom, of course, who doesn't really get all that involved in the story until it's time to put the cupcakes in the oven--to buy flour...and cookies. At home at last...will these two follow the recipe exactly? What do you think?! It starts with a little assistance from their dog, Buddy, who "accidentally" adds the cookies. What will happen next?

While Cupcake Surprise won't be a thrilling reads to adults, I think it does offer something to young readers. I think that if you're looking for a simple book with simple text that kids can start reading on their own, this is a nice choice. I think it definitely works as a read aloud for much younger listeners as well.

Read Cupcake Surprise
  • If you have little ones that love to cook and bake this one works great as a read aloud
  • If you are looking for level one readers for your child to read
  • If you don't mind lower quality art

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Born and Bred in the Great Depression

Born and Bred in the Great Depression. Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.

Where you grew up, on the edge of town,
next to the tracks,
you could hear the trains going by
at night.


East Texas,
the 1930s--
the Great Depression.

Set in Texas in the 1930s, Born and Bred in the Great Depression is based on the stories Jonah Winter heard about his father and his childhood during the Depression. The storytelling is simple--poetic, even. I found the text to be engaging as well. It's as if he's writing--or speaking--directly to his father. I think that keeps things interesting. I found the text to be well written. It was simple--yet beautiful. It felt honest. Like a celebration of love and family.

I also enjoyed the illustrations by Kimberly Bulcken Root. I felt they matched the text well. Beautiful, detailed, yet simple and sweet.

Read Born and Bred in the Great Depression
  • If you like family stories
  • If you like historical picture books
  • If you like honest, beautiful, yet simple, stories of the heart

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Fire watch

Firewatch. Connie Willis. 1985. Bantam Books. 271 pages.

Firewatch by Connie Willis is the FIRST short story collection I've read for the 2012 Short Story Reading Challenge.

I am SO GLAD this was not my first introduction to Connie Willis. I've discovered that I enjoy her novels so much more than her short stories.

With one little exception, the title story "Fire Watch."

Fire Watch is the FIRST story set in the world of Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear. It introduces readers to the alternate-world where time travel is the way historians LEARN their subject. Readers meet Mr. Dunworthy and Kivrin, though the narrator is another historian, one who is accidentally going to St. Paul's during the London Blitz of 1940. His original assignment had him traveling WITH St. Paul! Quite a difference! This novella is great. It won both a Hugo Award and Nebula Award. And I would recommend this story to just about anyone who likes science fiction and time travel.
There are no guidelines for historians, and no restrictions either. I could tell everyone I'm from the future if I thought they would believe me. I could murder Hitler if I could get to Germany. Or could I? Time paradox talk abounds in the history department, and the graduate students back from their practica don't say a word one way or the other. Is there a tough, immutable past? Or is there a new past every day and do we, the historians, make it? And what are the consequences of what we do, if there are consequences? And how do we dare do anything without knowing them? Must we interfere boldly, hoping we do not bring about all our downfalls? Or must we do nothing at all, not interfere, stand by and watch St. Paul's burn to the ground if need be so that we don't change the future? All those are fine questions for a late-night study session. They do not matter here. I could no more let St. Paul's burn down than I could kill Hitler. No, that is not true. I found that out yesterday in the Whispering Gallery. I could kill Hitler if I caught him setting fire to St. Paul's. (12-13)
You may read the novelette online.

Other stories in the collection include:
  • Service for the Burial of the Dead
  • Lost and Found
  • All My Darling Daughters
  • The Father of the Bride
  • A Letter From the Clearys
  • And Come from Miles Around
  • The Sidon in the Mirror
  • Daisy, in the Sun
  • Mail-Order Clone
  • Samaritan
  • Blued Moon
My second favorite story was The Father of the Bride. This short story is a fairy-tale retelling. It is the Sleeping Beauty story from the father's perspective. It was very enjoyable! Definitely one of the highlights of the book for me. 

I would say that most of the other stories just weren't me. Service for the Burial of the Dead, Lost and Found, A Letter from the Clearys, and And Comes from Miles Around while not quite wowing me had some enjoyable qualities to them.

My least favorite has to be All My Darling Daughters.

Read Fire Watch
  • If you're a fan of Connie Willis
  • If you're a fan of short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres
  • If you're wanting to read the first Willis time-travel story

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

All Clear

All Clear. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 645 pages.

By noon Michael and Merope still hadn't returned from Stepney, and Polly was beginning to get really worried. Stepney was less than an hour away by train. There was no way it could take Merope and Michael--correction, Eileen and Mike; she had to remember to call them by their cover names--no way it could take them six hours to go fetch Eileen's belongings from Mrs. Willett's and come back to Oxford Street. 

All Clear is the sequel to Connie Willis' Blackout. And as I mentioned yesterday, you are going to want to read these two books as if they were one. (There's a good reason these two books were the combined winner for the 2011 Hugo Awards. And the Nebula Awards. Doomsday Book also won both the Hugo and Nebula. To Say Nothing of the Dog just won the Hugo Award. I think it says quite a lot that each of Connie Willis' time travel books has won an award!!!)

So how much is it safe to say in a review of All Clear? Since even talking about the first few chapters of All Clear will spoil the drama of Blackout?! I was thinking about that yesterday as I wrote the review. Would that one review 'do' for both books? What more would I say about the second book? And essentially the only thing I thought of was that All Clear was even better, even more intense. If Blackout was dramatic and exciting, then All Clear is unbelievably dramatic and incredibly fast-paced. Almost dangerously so. In that, I was so WORRIED about the characters, about what was going to happen next, about what it all meant, about where it was all going, that I RUSHED, RUSHED, RUSHED through the chapters. I read a 645 page novel in one day. (Not to mention that it was the same day I finished Blackout.)

Together Blackout and All Clear were an amazing, amazing read. Just incredible. The characterization is great. There were just SO MANY characters I loved. The premise is interesting. And the intensity, the pace, the drama of it, well, few books can match it.

For those that may not have seen my review of Blackout, let me just keep it simple. Three historians (time travelers) have gone back in time to 1940. Each historian is researching or observing something different. Different locations--in England. Different months in 1940. But when SOMETHING happens that 'traps' them in that time period, well, they have to learn how to really live in that time period. Their research stops being research, and it becomes all about surviving.

Read All Clear
  • If you've read Blackout and just HAVE to know what happens next
  • If you're a fan of Connie Willis' other time travel books (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout. Just be sure you've read Blackout first. I've also just learned that there is a short story, Fire Watch, available to read here.)
  • If you're a fan of time travel novels
  • If you're a science fiction fan
  • If you're looking to read an award-winning book (Hugo, Nebula, Locus)
  • If you're looking for a novel with GREAT characterization
  • If you're looking for an intense, fast-paced plot
  • If you're a fan of Agatha Christie and mysteries from the time period
  • If you're a fan of historical fiction set in World War II
  • If you're interested in the details and drama of the war
  • If you're a fan of Shakespeare and the theatre

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blackout

Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages.

Colin tried the door, but it was locked. 

I thought I'd start with a word of warning. When you get to the end of Blackout, you're going to NEED to have a copy of All Clear ready to go. Because, chances are, you're going to want to pick it up right away. There is no 'real' ending in Blackout. There is no resolution. There's no peace to be had. Usually I might say that's not such a positive thing in a book, but in this case, I'm forgiving.

You might also find it helpful to know that Blackout can be read as part of a series of time travel books by Connie Willis. The books share some characters: Mr. Dunworthy is in Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear. Although he is only a main character in Doomsday Book. Badri is in Doomsday Book and Blackout. Finch is in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Colin is in Doomsday Book, Blackout, and All Clear. Verity and Kindle are in To Say Nothing of the Dog, but are mentioned (very) briefly in Blackout.

But you should also know that it's not essential that all of these books be read in order. It is definitely essential that you read Blackout and All Clear in the proper order. But you don't have to have read Doomsday Book or To Say Nothing of the Dog in order to enjoy or appreciate Blackout/All Clear.

There are three main characters--three main narrators--in Blackout. Each is a historian, a time traveler. Each has plans for multiple assignments in the twentieth century. Each is experiencing frustration as these drops are rearranged and rescheduled. The historians are Merope who is 'observing' the evacuation of children from London to the country. She 'becomes' Eileen O'Reilly and works as a nurse or maid in one of the homes. Under her care are two very, very wild children. Of course, she's responsible for more than two children. Her employer has taken in many children--over a dozen, I think? But those two are the ones that make her life more than a little unpleasant. Her assignment is for the spring of 1940. Polly "Sebastian" is a historian observing the London Blitz in the fall of 1940. Her assignment has her working in a shop on Oxford Street. She is curious in observing how the Blitz effects people. How they are able to cope with the bombs falling over their heads. How they are able to cope with the terror of it all--knowing each and every night that they could die. The third historian is Michael Davies. Since he was supposed to observe Pearl Harbor first, he's got an implant to give him an American accent. But with the shuffling of assignments, he's now observing the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940. His research has him observing heroes. He's looking to observe the qualities that make someone brave and heroic, what makes a person risk their lives to save others.

If all went according to plan, these three would NOT have met--in the past. Their assignments in 1940 would not have overlapped in time or place. But not all went according to plan...and now these three are going to need each very, very much if they're going to survive...

Read Blackout
  • If you are a fan of historical fiction set during World War II
  • If historical details fascinate you 
  • If you are interested in the London Blitz  
  • If you are a fan of historical fiction set in Britain
  • If you are a fan of science fiction and/or time travel
  • If you are looking for an extremely compelling read
  • If you're looking for an intense read; something very dramatic
  • If you are a fan of Connie Willis
  • If you read Doomsday Book and are interested in finding out what happens to Colin when he grows up...
  • If you're looking for memorable characters 
  • If you are a fan of Agatha Christie and other mystery writers of the time 
  • If you want a book you just CAN'T put down no matter what 
I loved this one. I just LOVED it. It was so intense, so dramatic, so emotional. It just held my attention. I cared about these characters so much! And to see them in danger, well, I just couldn't stand to put this book down!!!

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in January

New Loot:

A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson
Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II by Joanne Oppenheim
Beyond Infinity by Gregory Benford
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
Gather, darkness! Fritz Leiber
A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak
Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl
An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Girl Who Became a Beatles by Greg Taylor
Psychoshop by Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Nineteen eighty-four by George Orwell
Redwall by Brian Jacques

Leftover Loot:

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson 
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King
Loving, Living, Party Going by Henry Green
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio; translated by Guido Waldman
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

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

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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