Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dr. Kittycat #5 Nutmeg the Guinea Pig

Nutmeg the Guinea Pig (Dr. KittyCat #5) Jane Clarke. 2017. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peanut stood on his hind legs with his back against the clinic wall and stretched his whiskery nose as high as it would go.

Premise/plot: Dr. KittyCat, with her assistant Peanut, is giving check-ups in the morning and attending a birthday party at the park in the afternoon. In fact they are bringing the food--a picnic. The two are just about done with the exams when they get an emergency call. Nutmeg has collapsed at her own party! The two pack the food and the medical bag/kit into the vanbulance and head on out. Will they be able to diagnose her?

My thoughts: This early chapter book is set in the summer and includes tips on staying safe. I love, love, love this series. I enjoy Dr. KittyCat and Peanut. The illustrations are adorable. This would have been a series I adored when I was a kid.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Hickory

Hickory. Palmer Brown. 1978. 42 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Halfway up the stairs of an old farmhouse, on the broad landing, bright with rose-patterned carpet, stood a tall grandfather clock, ticking time away.

Premise/plot: Hickory, a mouse, leaves his comfortable existence (in a clock in a house) and his family behind as he ventures to move outside into the country side following the example of the field mice. He becomes quite chummy with a grasshopper, Hop, as he makes a new life for himself. But life is fleeting, even more fleeting than he thought. Hop embraces life--every moment of it--fully aware that she'll not survive past summer. Hickory and Hop don't want to see summer come to an end--and set out on a quest to save her life by heading south.

My thoughts: Hickory is not cutesy animal fantasy. It isn't. This early chapter book is sad, bittersweet. The friendship between Hickory and Hop is wonderful to see. But opening the heart to love, to life, to friendship means opening the heart to loss and grief. Hickory will lose Hop. Death is certain and inevitable. How do you live life in face of coming death? How do you make the most of every day? These are heavy topics for an early chapter book. And the book is gentle, I suppose, in dealing with these philosophical questions.

I am so very glad I never read Hickory as a child. I am glad I read it as an adult.

Favorite quotes:
"All stories have their endings in their beginnings, if you know where to look." (10)
"Time is going, never staying, always flowing, ever saying: gone!" (41)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey. Ginger Monette. 2017. 413 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Captain Fitwilliam Darcy narrowed his gaze as the steamer carrying Elizabeth faded into the twilight.

Premise/plot: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey is the sequel to a book I reviewed earlier this year, Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes. Ginger Monette has created an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set during 'the Great War' (World War I). While most of the first book was set in Europe--relatively near the fighting--most of this second book is set in England. The first book ended well with Darcy and Elizabeth happily together. The second book upsets their happiness a good deal. Elizabeth perceiving a dangerous, scandalous threat to Darcy if she stays in his life, leaves him--well, his estate--with the intention of setting out for America and a new life. But her plans don't go smoothly. And whatever plans Darcy may have had are completely disrupted when he's injured during a battle. He needs a kind, understanding nurse....enter Juliet Thomas.

Will Darcy fall in love with the woman taking care of him? Will Elizabeth ever get her happily ever after?

My thoughts: I liked the first book. I did. But I think I loved the second one even more!!! Perhaps because it didn't feel as forced to include little details to make it more like P&P. Also this one was less about spying--about trying to capture enemy spies--and more of a traditional romance. (It also helps that the world-building was taken care of in the first book. Now it's time to PLAY with the characters.) I really enjoyed the characters more in this one. I loved seeing John Thornton and Margaret Hale in this one!!!  

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden. 2017. 322 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was late winter in Norther Rus', the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

Premise/plot: The Bear and the Nightingale is historical fantasy set in medieval Russia. For some, that might be enough to get you curious! For others, it will take a bit more work. I'm not sure my review can do the book justice, however. Where to start? With the two chapters of prologue that do a great job of setting up the story? Or do I jump right in and tell you about the heroine, Vasya?! I really feel the less you know the better.

Essentially, The Bear and the Nightingale is historical fantasy that draws on Russian folklore and fairy tales. The struggle is between the old ways and the new, the pagan and the christian. Vasya was born with a gift--a blessing or curse, as you will--she can see the 'pagan' 'demons' (gods and goddesses that inhabit the world (in the household, in the barn, in the forest, etc.) She is not afraid of them, and actually is on speaking terms with many. But. Danger is coming, and coming fast. The BEAR has been awakened, and, he's desperate to break the bonds that Lord Winter (Lord Frost, Morozko) placed on him long, long ago. The BEAR is eager to kill Vasya before she comes into her own, into her powers, before she realizes who she is and what she's capable of. Lord Frost passes along a talisman--a jewel--to help the girl survive...but he can't provide her with courage, strength, determination, fierceness. But that she has aplenty!

My thoughts: I like fantasy novels. I like historical novels. This one was an enjoyable read to me. My only complaint--and it's a small one--is that the chapters were a little on the LONG side.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hiroshima

Hiroshima. John Hersey. 1946/1989. 152 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sad down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asabi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order's three story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimin for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb and these six were among the survivors.

Premise/plot: Hiroshima by John Hersey chronicles the dropping of the first atomic bomb. It was first published in 1946. Later editions of the book provided more up-to-date information on all six survivors.

The first three chapters closely follows events in August 1945. Through the eyes of six survivors, the reader bears witness to the unthinkable: the initial bomb, the wreckage left behind, the injuries, the fires, the floods, etc. The fourth chapter follows the first few months--or perhaps even the first year after the bomb. Again, through the survivors' accounts readers learn of the effects of the bomb. The day in and day out effects of the bomb on men, women, children, babies. If you're ill--very ill, perhaps even dying--how do you find work, keep a job, earn enough money to pay for food to feed your family? How do you recover your life--and have things return to normal? It's a learning process not just for victims but for the medical community as well. The fifth and final chapter was added to the book in the 1980s, this chapter serves as an epilogue. Readers see how the six managed to live for the next few decades after the bomb.

My thoughts: This one left me speechless. How can I do it justice? It is a difficult read--an intense one. Hiroshima would pair well with Alas, Babylon or Your Sins and Mine.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chicken Story Time

Chicken Story Time. Sandy Asher. Illustrated by Mark Fearing. 2016. (Dec) 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Story time at the library. One librarian. One story. Children. And a chicken. The children like the chicken. The chicken likes the children. "Let's begin," says the librarian. Everyone loves story time. One week later. Story time at the library.

Premise/plot: What would you do--as a librarian--if CHICKENS started showing up for story time?!?! Essentially that's the premise of this silly book celebrating reading and libraries.

My thoughts: I loved this one!!! I love the premise. Seeing the chicken crowd grow larger and larger week by week made me smile. The librarian grew more and more flustered until she thought of a good solution.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Adolescent

The Adolescent. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. 1875/2004. 647 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Unable to restrain myself, I have sat down to record this history of my first steps on life's career, though I could have done as well without it. One thing I know for certain: never again will I sit down to write my autobiography, even if I live to be a hundred. You have to be all too basely in love with yourself to write about yourself without shame. My only excuse is that I'm not writing for the same reason everyone else writes, that is, for the sake of the reader's praises.

Premise/plot: Written in the first person, The Adolescent is the 'notes' of Arkady Makarovich Dolgoruky. He has recently come St. Petersburg to see his family. His upbringing was unhappy and strange. He is illegitimate. His mother still married to another man, his legal father. His father is Andrei Petrovich Versilov. He was raised not by his mother--who ran off with Versilov, having another child with him, Liza--and not even by his legal father. His upbringing was scattered--raised by people here and there, and never with love or tenderness. To say he was angry and bitter would be an understatement. His parents are strangers to him as is his sister, as are his half siblings, Versilov's legitimate children. But he's answering a summons to come. His family is under great stress when the book begins. His father, his sister, and his half-sister are all in the middle of a passionate, dramatic, mysterious, scandalous scenario. Readers learn a little here, a little there. Nothing direct and straightforward. Everything having to be pieced together one puzzle piece at a time. Add in the fact that the narrator is on an emotional roller coaster and in the midst of searching for the meaning of life and that sums up the chaotic disorder that is this book. But keep in mind this is intended.

My thoughts: I personally prefer the Karamazov Brothers to this one. I am not a big fan of this first person narrative style. When the narrator is mentally and emotionally a mess, it reads like a crazy mess of a book with no real purpose.
But it was intentional.

Dolgoruky may have not been a 'literary man' writing for a 'literary marketplace' but he is the creation of Fyodor Dostoevsky. One theme in this one is that no man is an island; no one escapes the influence of others. Dolgoruky may think he's driven by one simple IDEA, but he's bound to his family and friends, even to his frenemies. It is a lot harder to live--and die perhaps--for one idea than this young man realizes. Human nature is complex, and the human heart is depraved. There isn't a saint to be found within the pages of The Adolescent. That is not a bad thing.

Can you really truly know someone, love someone, understand someone, trust someone. Dolgoruky doesn't even know himself, understand his own heart and mind so how can he really make good decisions and treat others kindly?

Quotes:
  • A literary man writes for thirty years and in the end doesn't know at all why he has written for so many years. (5)
  • Every man has the right to voice his conviction into the air. (31)
  • No one ponders; rarely does anyone live his way into an idea. (63)
  • Ah! So you,too, suffer sometimes because a thought won't go into words! It's a noble suffering, my friend, and granted only to the chosen; a fool is always pleased with what he says, and besides, he always says more than he needs to; they like extras. (122)
  • A great thought is most often a feeling that sometimes goes without a definition for too long. (218)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Penguin Day

Penguin Day. Nic Bishop. 2017. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Morning has come and baby penguin is hungry. Baby penguin is too little to get breakfast, so mama penguin will go hunting.

Premise/plot: Penguin Day is a nonfiction picture book by Nic Bishop. It is illustrated--beautifully illustrated--with photographs. The book is written with young readers--or should I say young listeners--in mind. There is just the right amount of text, and just the right amount of information provided.

My thoughts: I love penguins. I do. And this book is just lovely. I love, love, love, LOVE the photographs. The text is concise. Bishop packs a good bit of information into this one, but, keeps it a story.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations (Photographs): 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Schoolhouse in the Woods

Schoolhouse in the Woods. Rebecca Caudill. Illustrated by Decie Merwin. 1949. 129 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was Saturday morning, the last day in July. It seemed like an everyday sort of day.

Premise/plot: Bonnie is the youngest in her family. But she's a baby no longer! Come Monday, she'll be heading off for school along with Debby, Emmy, Chris and Althy. She'll be entering first grade! She'll own her very first book--a reader--her very own slate and slate pencil. There are three other first graders in this one room school house in Kentucky. The book follows the school term: August through December. The book closes with a Christmas play. The teacher is Miss Cora.

My thoughts: Schoolhouse in the Woods is the sequel to Happy Little Family. If you enjoy reading the Little House books OR watching the Little House series, then I'd consider this one a must. It focuses on the one-room school house experience: getting to and from school in all weather conditions, learning lessons and doing recitations, sharing lunches, recess games, school songs, having the teacher stay with them an ENTIRE week. There is a LOT of singing in this one. (Just as there is in Little House). Overall, it is a FUN book for historical fiction lovers of all ages.

Favorite quote:
School was like the biggest storybook in the world, and it would go on and on, story after story, until she had heard every story that had ever been told. (29)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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When Jackie Saved Grand Central

When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Natasha Wing. 2017. HMH. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]


First sentence: When Jackie became First Lady of the United States in 1961, she moved into the White House with President John F. Kennedy and their children.


Premise/plot: In Natasha Wing's newest book, she tells the story of how Jacqueline Kennedy helped to save Grand Central Terminal when it was threatened with destruction in the late 1960s. The battle to save this oh-so-famous train station in New York City went ALL the way to the Supreme Court. It was a battle that would take over a decade! And even once the battle was won, there was a lot of work to be done to restore it. Wing writes of Kennedy's contribution, her enthusiasm, her determination. It's a lovely story.

My thoughts: Who doesn't love a good story where a woman stands strong and determined and fights for what she believes to be right? I definitely enjoyed this one. I really loved the illustrations by Alexandra Boiger. She did a great job illustrating Jackie Kennedy.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

R, My Name Is Rosie

R, My Name is Rosie. Barbara Cohen. 1978. 188 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

First sentence: A rose is a rose is a rose. Rachel said that to me all the time. I didn't know what it meant. It was from some writer. Rachel was always talking about some writer. I tried to keep up, but I wasn't all that interested. Rachel and I are much less alike than she thinks. We care about different things. Her favorite book is Jane Eyre; mine is The Wind in the Willows. But I needed Rachel. There was so much I didn't know.

Premise/plot: R, My Name is Rosie is historical fiction set in either the very late 1940s or very early 1950s. It is definitely a coming of age novel. Rosie's family own an inn. Her mom manages the inn; her dad is dead. She has a brother (Dan) and a sister (Rachel). She's overweight. She doesn't have any friends her own age. She's feeling that different is always a bad thing. Rosie doesn't know exactly how to make her life a happy one, but, she knows one thing: A DOG WOULD HELP A LOT. Her birthday is coming up--as is Christmas. (But the family is Jewish and doesn't celebrate Christmas as a family, just Christmas as a business.) Will she get a dog?!

WARNING. There is a dog on the cover. I repeat a dog on the COVER. Proceed with caution.

My thoughts: Rosie doesn't have any friends her own age, but, the bartender, Tex, at the inn is her friend. The two make up stories together--a fantasy land. Every few chapters, this fantasy story unfolds for readers. So far the two have yet to finish a whole story and get to a happily ever after because one of them always gets bored and wants to start another story. I think these fantasy interludes were my favorite part!!!

One of the guests at the inn has a dog that Rosie sometimes gets to walk. (That's the dog on the cover.) Not much happens in this one in terms of plot. (Rosie goes to school. Rosie gets home from school. Rosie wants to go to a birthday party. Rosie doesn't get to go to a birthday party.) It is definitely character driven.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Europeans

The Europeans. Henry James. 1878. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: A narrow grave-yard in the heart of a bustling, indifferent city, seen from the windows of a gloomy-looking inn, is at no time an object of enlivening suggestion; and the spectacle is not at its best when the mouldy tombstones and funereal umbrage have received the ineffectual refreshment of a dull, moist snow-fall.

 Premise/plot: Eugenia (Baroness Munster) and her brother, Felix Young, have come to America to visit their American cousins. She is separated from her husband, but it's a morganatic marriage. She has papers to sign--or not sign--that will determine her future. 

The cousins they visit are: Gertrude, Charlotte, and Clifford Wentworth. A few others play an important role in the novel: a brother and sister, Robert and Lizzie Acton; and a Mr. Brand.  

Eugenia is very different from Gertrude and Charlotte and Lizzie. She is a puzzle to Clifford and Robert. Both men pursue her, perhaps not with the intent to marry her and change her, but, pursue her because she's so different, mysterious, evasive, elusive. Neither Clifford or Robert are a good match--an equal match--for Eugenia. Robert may be rich, but, five minutes alone with him is four minutes too long. He's a BORE quite simple. Her act of deciding to leave America and turn down his marriage proposal might be called selfless if she'd not disliked him so much!!!

Gertrude is 'the troubled' one of her family. Her father and her sister keep trying their best to mold her, to train her, to conform her, to tame her, to control her. Gertrude doesn't really like their continued efforts--though she puts up with a great deal. They ideally want her to marry Mr. Brand. They think he's suited to this difficult task of fixing Gertrude. But Gertrude doesn't want to be fixed: she wants to be free to be herself, free to think her own thoughts. Felix is the first person, I gather, that accepts Gertrude for Gertrude, and finds her a wonderful WONDER. He doesn't feel the need--at least before the marriage vows--to put Gertrude in a box. 

I definitely liked Felix. I would never assume that Felix is a perfect person, that he's an ideal hero. But. I do think Gertrude's chances of happiness are greater paired with Felix than with Mr. Brand. 

My thoughts: This was a quick read. I think the characters were purposefully kept distant from the reader. It is less melodramatic and emotional than The American definitely!!! 

Favorite quotes:
Not to recognize one’s mistakes — that would be happiness in life,” the lady went on, still looking at her pretty foot.
“I don’t count upon their being clever or friendly — at first — or elegant or interesting. But I assure you I insist upon their being rich.”
“I can easily be French, if that will please you.” “You are a foreigner of some sort,” said Gertrude. “Of some sort — yes; I suppose so. But who can say of what sort? I don’t think we have ever had occasion to settle the question. You know there are people like that. About their country, their religion, their profession, they can’t tell.”
“Well,” she said, “I didn’t think we should ever see you again.” “And pray what did you think would become of me?” “I don’t know. I thought you would melt away.” “That‘s a compliment to my solidity! I melt very often,” said Felix, “but there is always something left of me.” “I came and waited for you by the door, because the others did,” Gertrude went on. “But if you had never appeared I should not have been surprised.”
There are a thousand different ways of being good company.
“Do you think us good company?” asked Gertrude. “Company for a king!” Gertrude was silent a moment; and then, “There must be a thousand different ways of being dreary,” she said; “and sometimes I think we make use of them all.” Felix stood up quickly, holding up his hand. “If you could only keep that look on your face for half an hour — while I catch it!” he said. “It is uncommonly handsome.”
“My dear uncle,” said Felix, “excuse me if your question makes me smile a little. To begin with, I have never entertained an idea. Ideas often entertain me; but I am afraid I have never seriously made a plan. I know what you are going to say; or rather, I know what you think, for I don’t think you will say it — that this is very frivolous and loose-minded on my part. So it is; but I am made like that; I take things as they come, and somehow there is always some new thing to follow the last. 
“No time is lost in which one has been happy!” said Felix, with a bright sententiousness which may well have been a little irritating.
“You have lost an illusion!” said Felix. “What do you call an illusion?” “The belief that you really know — that you have ever really known — Gertrude Wentworth. Depend upon that,” pursued Felix. “I don’t know her yet; but I have no illusions; I don’t pretend to.”

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Blueberries for Sal

Blueberries for Sal. Robert McCloskey. 1948. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries.

Premise/plot: Little Sal and Little Bear both love, love, love to eat blueberries. Little Sal's mother is picking blueberries to can for winter; Little Bear's mother is eating blueberries--and encouraging Little Bear to eat blueberries--so they can save up lots of fat for hibernating that winter. Little Sal becomes tired, and ultimately becomes separated from her mother. Little Bear also becomes separated. Both follow clues to find their mothers...but a mix-up results anyway!

My thoughts: I grew up listening to my mom read this one. So many good memories! I adore this one. It is easy to recommend.

Text: 4.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Millions of Cats

Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn't be happy because they were so very lonely.

Premise/plot: A very old man seeking to please his wife (who thought one cat might be nice) 'accidentally' brings home millions of cats.

My thoughts: In some ways, I can relate to the old man's weakness. He has a weakness for pretty cats; I have a weakness for stuffed animals (cats in particular). But. More isn't always better. And sometimes one of something is all you really need. This one could also be advocating humility. It is the one humble cat who remains after all the quarreling.

My favorite part of this one is the refrain: Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mandy

Mandy. Julie Andrews Edwards. 1971. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: On the outskirts of a pretty country village called St. Martin's Green, there stand a large, white house called St. Martin's orphanage.

Premise/plot: Mandy, the heroine, is a ten year old orphan. Soon after the novel opens, Mandy climbs over the wall near the orphanage and discovers a hidden-away-in-the-woods cottage. She decides the place is hers--and goes about creating a special place inside-and-out where she belongs. She cleans. She gardens. She collects. But most of all: she guards and protects her secret. Mostly.

My thoughts: I love, love, love Mandy. This book is one of my favorites from childhood. Years before I discovered The Secret Garden, I was best friends with Mandy. I think I loved Mandy because she may have been the first heroine who dealt with some of the darker (but natural) emotions like sadness, loneliness, and disappointment.

She was a dreamer. Most of the time she lived in a make-believe world of her own. She loved to read. She exchanged books at the local library at least once a week. The wonders of Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels were very real to her and offered far more excitement than the reality of her life could ever provide. (6)
She occasionally experienced sad, disturbing feelings. Sometimes she felt an ache inside that would not go away. It seemed then as though her life were very empty. She would cry for no reason at all, seemingly, and it frightened her when she did. She tried to be brave and put away her feelings.
"I'm having one of my attacks again," she would think, trying hard not to let people see her tears.
Her attempts to keep busy were mostly an effort to fill her life so that she had no time to feel disconsolate. But the nagging sadness was persistent, and it would envelop her when she least expected it.
As Mandy grew, her longings grew stronger and sometimes she felt as though she must surely break apart with so much going on inside her. It was as though she were searching for something though what or where it was she could not say. (7-8)


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Picture Book Parade

Option 1:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which squares did you fill?
  • Which squares are you having trouble with?
  • How many until you bingo?
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?

Option 2:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which categories did you check off your list?
  • What is your goal? How close are you to meeting that goal?
  • Which categories are you having trouble with?
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?

Option 3:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which letters have you read?
  • How many more to go until you've read the alphabet?
  • Which letters are you having trouble with? 
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?
My own answers:

  1. Thunder Boy Jr. Sherman Alexie. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. 2016. Little, Brown. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service. Annette Bay Pimentel. 2016. Charlesbridge. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Yellow Umbrella. Jae-Soo Liu. Music composed by Dong II Sheen. 2002. Kane/Miller. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. Purim Chicken. Margery Cuyler. Illustrated by Puy Pinillos. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
  5. Before Morning. Joyce Sidman. Illustrated by Beth Krommes. 2016. HMH. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. Al Perkins. 1969. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Bought]
  7. Beauty and the Beast. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Meg Park. 2017. Disney-Hyperion. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. Ashley Bryan. 2016. 56 pages. [Source: Library]
  9. Freedom in Congo Square. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. 2016. 34 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. Umbrella. Taro Yashima. 1958/1977. 40 pages. [Source: Bought]
  12. Language of Angels. Richard Michelson. 2017. Charlesbridge. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13. The Quilting Bee. Gail Gibbons. 2004. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  14. Peppa Pig and the Camping Trip. 2016. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  15. Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  16. Blueberries for Sal. Robert McCloskey. 1948. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. Al Perkins. 1969. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Hand hand fingers thumb. One thumb one thumb drumming on a drum. One hand two hands drumming on a drum. Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum.

Premise/plot: What starts out as one monkey joyfully drumming ends with millions of monkeys jamming away on their drums. Perkins' book is a jazzy treat that delights readers old and new.

Favorite quotes:
"Hello Jack." "Hello Jake." Shake hands shake hands. Shake! Shake! Shake!
Hand in hand more monkeys come. Many more fingers. Many more thumbs. Many more monkeys. Many more drums. Millions of fingers! Millions of thumbs! Millions of monkeys drumming on drums!
My thoughts: Everything I learned about rhythm and rhyme I learned by reading this one. An exaggeration perhaps, there is also Dr. Seuss. But I tend to judge the quality of all other picture books attempting rhythm with this one. Most fail horribly. There is just something magical about this one. Yes, I grew up with it. Yes, I quote it all the time. I think the book is timeless and just about perfect.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Meg Park. 2017. Disney-Hyperion. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There lived three sisters and a father in a humble house in the country. They had once known great riches. But the father's business had failed, and now they lived a spare, hard life.

Premise/plot: A father asks each of his daughters what they would like him to bring them as a present when he returns from a business trip. His youngest daughter asks for a rose, just a rose. When the business trip fails--and he's lost all hope of financial success--he faces a hard trip back. He can't even bring a rose home. But after taking refuge in a stone castle--he never sees his host, but is treated well--he spots a rose in the garden and takes it. His host? So not happy.

This is the original story of Beauty and the Beast retold by Cynthia Rylant. It is not Disney's Beauty and the Beast retold by Cynthia Rylant. (I think that's a great thing actually.)

My thoughts: I love this story, the original story, I mean. The Beast is a dear from cover to cover. And it's just a magical story. It's not crazy-dramatic. It's not over-the-top. It's just good and simple and lovely.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 13, 2017

The Roar

The Roar. Emma Clayton. 2008. Scholastic. 496 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The sun was setting over the Atlantic, and as it ran like molten gold into the waves a girl in a Pod Fighter ripped through the scene like graffiti sprayed across a landscape painting.

Premise/plot: You can trust the news to tell you the truth, right? The news would never lie to you and try to manipulate you, right? In Emma Clayton's The Roar, Readers meet inhabitants of a future London living behind a wall. Life is dismal and bleak. The rich have built up and up and up. The poor well they live below, living in fold-out apartments, eating fake food, and trying to survive the effects of mold.

Mika is the only one in his family that believes his sister Ellie is still alive. The government said she died, that she drowned, but he knows she is still alive. He still feels connected to his twin especially when he's asleep. Readers know she's alive too for the first few chapters are from her point of view.

Mika is one of the few skeptics, he doesn't trust many people. So when officials show up at his school with free sandwiches and other so-called treats including a new powdered drink that will be a requirement for ALL children to drink daily, he thinks the worst. Why do people suddenly care about the children? Why are they making such a big deal about a brand new game for them to play? Shouldn't arcade games be voluntary?!

Soon a competition is announced, six children will be chosen, and if you're one of the lucky ones, your life and the lives of your family members will improve dramatically in quality. An apartment above in the Golden Turrets, real food, a hover car, these are just a few of the perks. But the game is more dangerous than anyone knows.

Readers are teased with a big secret, and this one is action packed as well.

My thoughts: This is a quick, compelling read. I definitely enjoyed it. I liked the world building especially.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Freedom Over Me

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. Ashley Bryan. 2016. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I mourn the passing of my husband, Cado Fairchilds. He managed our estate alone. Eleven Negro slaves, they carried out the work that made our estate prosper.

Premise/plot: After the death of her husband, Mrs. Fairchilds decides to sell her estate--all of her estate including eleven slaves--and return to Britain. The eleven slaves were: Peggy, John, Athelia, Betty, Qush, Jane, Stephen, Mulvina, Bacus, Charlotte and Dora.

What you should know: Ashley Bryans, the author and illustrator, was inspired to write this picture book by slave documents he'd acquired. This estates appraisal dates from 1828. This picture book is written almost exclusively in verse. The book begins with Mrs. Fairchilds poem, her reasoning as to why she's selling the slaves and leaving the South. The remaining poems are all from the point of view of the eleven slaves. Each slave gets two poems. One poem for how things are; one poem for their dreams, how they want things to be.

From John:
Secretly, Stephen and Jane
are teaching me to read and write.
They say, "We'll be free one day!
And you will teach others."
My thoughts of escaping
to freedom
grow stronger every day.
Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom,
Oh Freedom over me!
From John Dreams:
I plan one day
to draw freely
from free Negro people.
I will create
loving portraits
of their strength
and beauty.
 You should also know that this is a Newbery Honor book, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book.

My thoughts: Freedom Over Me is worth reading no matter your age. (By that I mean you're never too old to read a 'children's book.' You can definitely be too young for a book, but never too old.) It would pair well with Julius Lester's Day of Tears--if memory serves--or his To Be A Slave. This is such compelling, emotional book.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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La Vendee

La Vendee. Anthony Trollope. 1850. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The history of France in 1792 has been too fully written, and too generally read to leave the novelist any excuse for describing the state of Paris at the close of the summer of that year.
Premise/plot: Trollope's only historical novel is set in France during the French Revolution. It has, at best, a bittersweet ending so be warned. The heroes of La Vendee are Royalists, men determined to fight against the Republic and bring back a King. These men, as you might imagine, are supported by others: fathers, mothers, sisters, and lovers. Romance does play a role in this one.

M. de Lescure (Charles, I believe) is happily married but circumstances are leading him away from his wife and sister (Marie) and the life he's always treasured. He's called--by necessity--to take up arms and fight for what he believes in: the monarchy. 

Henri de Larochejaquelin is his cousin and best friend. Henri truly loves Marie and wishes that times were different. He could easily imagine himself marrying Marie and living peacefully and happily. But the times are not peaceful but turbulent. The Republic is not content to manage Paris but wants to "fix" the whole nation. Henri has a sister, Agatha, and an aging father.   

Adolphe Denot is another friend. He madly loves Agatha. But she doesn't return his feelings, and, when faced with rejection on the eve of leaving for war, he loses first his courage, then his sanity, and at last his loyalty. 

Jacques Chapeau is Henri's oh-so-faithful servant who really rises to the occasion throughout the novel. The woman he loves is Annot. Her father is less than enthusiastic to see his own sons go off to war. The idea of his daughter marrying a soldier--and a SERVANT--proves troubling. But love for his daughter wins out with this blacksmith. 

These are just a handful of the men (and women) we meet throughout the novel. Most of the characters we meet are Royalists, but, Trollope also takes the time to give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Republican army and convention.

My thoughts: This one was a compelling read certainly. I never really held out much hope for happy endings for one and all. The soldiers feel fated to die for their cause either in battle or by guillotine. The women feel fated to--at the very least--mourn the loss of their lovers, and, at worst face death as well by the hands of the Republicans.

I definitely came to care for the characters. (I haven't even mentioned Cathelineau and Father Jerome.) 

Quotes:
The peasants declared that they would not obey the orders of the Convention — that they would not fight the battles of the Republic. This was the commencement of the revolt.
“We cannot have war without the horrors of war,” said Henri. 
“You must be very good to Victoriana,” he said to his sister; “you must be very good to each other, Marie, for you will both have much to bear.” “We will, we will,” said Marie; “but you, Charles, you will be with us; at any rate not far from us.” “I may be near you, and yet not with you; or I may soon be placed beyond all human troubles. I would have you prepare yourself; of all the curses which can fall on a country, a civil war is the most cruel.”
“His will be done. He may yet turn away from us this misery. We may yet live, Charles, to look on these things as our dearest reminiscences.” “We may; but it is not the chance for which we should be best prepared. We are not to expect that God will raise his arm especially to vindicate our injuries; it would be all but blasphemous to ask Him to do so. We are but a link in the chain of events which His wisdom has designed. Should we wish that that chain should be broken for our purposes?” “Surely not. I would not be so presumptuous as to name my own wishes in my prayers to the Creator.”
We must fight our battles by inches, and be satisfied, if, when dying, we can think that we have left to our children a probability of final victory.
Don’t be afraid of our lacking courage. Do not be afraid that the truth will frighten us. Agatha, and Victorine, and I, have schooled ourselves to think of death without flinching.” “To think without flinching of the death of others, is the difficulty,” said Agatha. “I fear we have none of us as yet brought ourselves to that.” “But we must think of the death of others,” said Henri.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Garvey's Choice

Garvey's Choice. Nikki Grimes. 2016. 120 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When I was seven/ and crazy for Mr. Spock,/ a Star Trek lunch box/ was all I craved. Instead, Dad/ bought one blaring the logo/ of some football team/ I'd never heard of./ I shoved that thing in/ the coal black of my closet,/ then celebrated with cake.

Premise/plot: Garvey's Choice is a verse novel. (The verse is written in tanka.) Garvey is an overweight teen who'd much rather sing or read than play sports. There exists between father and son a gap that nothing seems to fill. At least at first. Garvey tries--unsuccessfully--to fill this gap with food. Garvey's dad may talk about sports--a lot--but I don't get the impression that he's actually cruel to his son. The two just aren't speaking the same love languages.

My thoughts: In the novel, Garvey makes several choices. Will he choose to try out for chorus and risk rejection or humiliation? He ultimately decides that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. After all, he's already being teased by his classmates; he's already hating lunch time. What he finds out is that he's really talented at singing; and his singing not only makes him happy in the process, but makes others happy too. That and he makes a second friend. Another choice he makes regards his weight. Will he try to lose weight? Should he try to lose weight? How should he go about it? What can he change in his life to be healthier and happier?

This aspect of the verse novel was a bit iffier for me. I hated to see him get in the cycle of dieting in unhealthy ways, ways that are doomed to fail. I was yelling DON'T DO IT. JUST DON'T. I think the verses are authentic in that many, many, many, many people turn to food as a way to deal with emotions they don't know how to handle any other way. It's not the best way perhaps, but it is the easy way. I liked how singing took the place of food in some ways as a way to cope with the ups and downs of life.

One of the songs mentioned throughout the book is "Dance with My Father." I encourage you to give it a listen if you pick this one up.

One of my favorite poems: "Summer Lost and Found"
Stories are breadcrumbs.
Just follow the trail of books
and you will find me
lost among the galaxies
of scorched stars and ships to Mars. (4)
And here's another: "Alien"
Over breakfast, Dad
eyes me like an alien
never seen before.
Sometimes, I could swear that he's
hoping to make first contact. (17) 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Worthing Saga

The Worthing Saga. Orson Scott Card. 1992. Tor. 463 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In many places in the Peopled Worlds, the pain came suddenly in the midst of the day's labor. It was as if an ancient and comfortable presence left them, one that they had never noticed until it was gone, and no one knew what to make of it at first, though all knew at once that something had changed deep at the heart of the world.

Premise/plot: Imagine living in a world where there is no pain, no suffering, no grief, no fear, no anger, no violence, no injury. Wrong actions, in a sense, have ceased to have consequences. If a person were to hurt himself/herself chopping wood or tending the fires, then there would be instant--almost magical--healing. Even morally wrong actions are prevented, on this world there are no children out of wedlock; and the child is always the husband's never the lover's if you're an adulteress. Yes, there is an occasional death, but never for the very young, never for the able-bodied. It is hard to imagine for us this life of easy contentment. A life with no struggles? A life truly worry-free? A world where fire doesn't burn you and ice doesn't freeze you? Surely there must be a catch, right? Some reason why this world isn't a perfect paradise...

The change came in the middle of the night. Imagine going to bed with everything being quite all right, and waking up to find that life is not what you thought it was. Pain. Grief. Suffering. Worry. Fear. Anger. And it wasn't just emotional, as the village learned. It was physical, too. As one accident after another occurred, the villagers soon realized that they could not only be hurt, but they could also DIE. With the whole village (and indeed the whole world) in confusion, no one knows quite what to think. Is God dead? If God is still watching over them, why then is there suffering? Why suffering after all these centuries of watchful care? Folks are going along muttering that God doesn't look out for them anymore.
The old clerk trembled and nodded and his voice quivered as he spoke. 'I have read the books of ancient times,' he began, and all eyes turned to him. 'I have read the books of ancient times, and in them the old ones spoke of wounds that bleed like slaughtered cattle, and great griefs when the living suddenly are dead, and anger that turns to blows among people. But that was long, long ago, when men were still animals, and God was young and inexperienced. (5-6)
Yes, no one understands this Day of Pain. Least of all, Lared, our young hero. But it is Lared who will become the chosen speaker that will write the story and tell the tales that will explain this Day and give it meaning. Two strangers come to the inn, the inn that Lared's parents own, and it is Lared and his sister, Sala, who befriend them. Jason. Justice. A man and woman. The two are mysterious, no doubt about it, and more than one person suspects that they're coming is linked with the Day of Pain.

The two share their stories mostly through dreams and waking visions. Jason will occasionally share one the old-fashioned way, but most are transmitted directly into Lared's mind. Lared doesn't know what to think. He doesn't like the dreams. He doesn't like the uneasy feelings they leave him with...but he also knows that he has been called, chosen, if you will, to write this down. To record them. It is not his place to understand everything, just to write it down as it's been given to him.

Lared and his village provide the framework for the stories that Jason and Justice share. It is a story of two men, one empire, and one powerful drug.

Abner Doon. A name that still strikes fear in people thousands of years after his death. Some even say that he was the devil himself. But was he really? His name is associated with death and destruction, and in some ways, it is easy to understand why. He caused the death and destruction of the EMPIRE. The very arrogant, often corrupt, very stagnant empire. But was the fall of the empire really that bad? Wasn't it better for humanity in general? Jason Worthing certainly thinks so.

Jason Worthing. Another name that people fear to speak aloud. Why? It is a name of reverence. Many people feel that Jason Worthing is God. The creator of life. The sustainer of the universe, even. But was he really? Yes, he had a hand in establishing life and building civilization, at least on one planet, but the creator of all life? No. Just an ordinary man with unusual psychic powers who came from a technologically advanced society.

The empire. It's not that the empire was completely evil. Sure the empire had its fair share of corrupt and power-hungry politicians. More than its fair share. Every branch of the empire had its corrupt officials. And there was nothing that couldn't be bought--as long as you had money. But that wasn't the real crime of the empire. The real crime was that humanity was being robbed of its very soul, its very essence. They had lost the point of living. They were corrupting the very nature of our existence.

Somec. Perhaps the most powerful drug the empire had ever known. What did it do? It put the user into a deep sleep, a coma, if you will. First, the user would have his/her memories downloaded or recorded, if you will, onto a tape or into a bubble. I forget quite how they did it. I just know that there was a way of downloading and uploading memory. Then the assistant would inject somec. It wasn't a pretty picture. It burned. It hurt. It caused severe physical problems--sweating, discomfort, pain--but the user would forever be unaware of it because the memories would never include this part of the experience. Who was it for? At first, it was just for starship pilots. Their skills would be needed throughout a long voyage. And if a trip took hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, then they'd need Somec to function. The computer would always be able to wake them up in case of an emergency. But they'd arrive at their destination intact. So for colonization vessels, it really couldn't be any better. A ship would carry three hundred or so passengers and all the supplies needed to create and establish a civilization on another planet. So there were a few valid uses of the drug, I suppose. But the real corruption began when somec became a common necessity for the people.

Imagine the possibility of immortality. Somec offered immortality. The wealthy. The elite. The powerful. The brilliant minds of society were all given the chance for immortality. The more valuable society deemed you, the longer you would sleep between waking cycles. The common people lived and died naturally enough. But a good portion of society, became obsessed with immortality. But is living a thousand years natural if you spend 70% of it or so asleep? What does it accomplish really? You're not able to have friendships with others unless you're on the same sleep cycle. You're not able to maintain family relationships either. People could theoretically outlive their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren. Love becomes to a certain extent irrelevant. Most things become irrelevant. No time for the finer things in life. Love. Romance. Music. Art. For not only do most people spend most of their times asleep, what little time they're awake they're obsessed with power, money, fame, greed, control. They always want more, more, more. Never content. There is no longer any joy in living life. But really too few people notice what they're missing. Except for one. The aforementioned Abner Doon.

Abner "rescues" Jason, if you will, and offers him a chance to become a part of something great. Jason becomes a starship pilot, a very famous starship pilot, and he eventually leads a colonization ship. Abner's big plan--besides the fall of the Empire--is to recreate life as it used to be. His plan? To spread humanity throughout the galaxy. To have human civilizations sprout up on thousands of planets. He knows that with the fall of the Empire, with the fall of technology, it will be thousands upon thousands of years before ANY civilization becomes advanced enough for star flight. He sees this as a way for humanity to wipe the slate clean and begin anew.

The Worthing Saga is the story of Jason's planet. How Jason "fathered" or "created" that world. And what happened to its inhabitants. What happened to his descendants. All these stories--and there are many--span thousands of years. Everything is leading the reader back to Lared. Back to the Day of Pain.

The Worthing Saga contains the previously published The Worthing Chronicle and nine short stories.

My thoughts: The Worthing Saga is about the meaning of life. It is about what it means to be human. It asks important questions. It goes where few novels do. It asks what the meaning of pain and suffering is. It asks what the meaning of struggles are. It is ethical in nature. It asks the hard questions. But it is philosophical as well.

I love the world-building. I find the three settings within the book to be fascinating. (There is Lared's home planet which is the present-day setting; there is Capital, the planet from Jason Worthing's memory and stories, Capital becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences Worthing's memories through dreams; there is Worthing, the planet that Jason colonized with a handful of colonists thousands of years before the novel opens, again this planet becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences other people's memories through Justice, Jason's descendent.) Readers get a taste of all these societies and communities.

I love the characterization. I love getting to know Lared, Sala, Jason, and Justice. Not to mention all the men and women from the memories and stories. (I have a soft spot for Hoom.) I love the storytelling. I love the dialogue. I love how everything is layered together. How the story all comes together. How Lared slowly but surely pieces things together and comes to understand--if understand is the right word--the world. Card's characters are so very human, so vulnerable, so fallible. Readers see humans at their best and at their absolute worst within The Worthing Saga. Moments of compassion and redemption make it so worth while.

I love the ideas. I love the depth and substance. That is not to say that I agree absolutely with every single philosophical idea within the book. But it goes places most fiction doesn't. It asks real questions, tough questions. It explores ideas. One also sees the consequences (or possible consequences) of ideas.



© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Carve the Mark

Carve the Mark. Veronica Roth. 2017. 468 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Hushflowers always bloomed when the night was longest.

Premise/plot: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth is YA science fiction. Two peoples share a planet, or war over a planet more like it. The Thuvhe and the Shotet. Cyra is Shotet and her currentgift feels more a curse than a gift. Hers is the gift of pain; pain builds up in her body--especially when she's emotional--and with a touch she can dispense it to another. Her brother sees her not as a person to be loved and respected but a tool or weapon. Akos is Thuvhe. His currentgift is to break the current, stop the current, with a touch. These two might never have met if he and his brother had not been kidnapped. His service to Cyra's family is far from voluntary, but these two have a common enemy: her brother.

My thoughts: I think the world she has created is vaguely interesting. It is an ice planet with two distinct cultures and languages. We hear of other planets and peoples. We even visit one--Pitha, a water planet. The two main characters are nicely done at least. What didn't quite work for me is the confusing progression of time. I didn't love this one, but, I didn't hate it either.

Like the Worthing Saga, Carve the Mark does ask some questions about the meaning of pain. The heroine is "blessed" with the "gift" of pain. She thinks of it as a curse, as does everyone around her, except perhaps for her brother who sees her pain as a blessing to him because he can manipulate her into hurting other people and watch gleefully. She's tested through struggles but eventually realizes that her pain is what makes her strong and capable and wise. 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Freedom in Congo Square

Freedom in Congo Square. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. 2016. 34 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Mondays, there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop. Slavery was no ways fair. Six more days to Congo Square. Tuesdays, there were cows to feed, fields to plow, and rows to seed. A moment without work was rare. Five more days to Congo Square.

Premise/plot: Freedom in Congo Square received a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrators Honor. It was well deserved. This picture book is set in New Orleans. One day a week, on Sunday, slaves and free blacks could meet together in Congo Square. It was the slaves only day off. The book explains how music and dance continued to be influential during these years.

My thoughts: I loved this one. It was simple enough that I think you could share it as a read-aloud. It didn't lack complexity, by any means, but it wasn't overly wordy. (Older readers can appreciate the foreword and the author's note.) I loved the counting down, the building up of excitement. I loved learning more about the historical roots of jazz music.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Kelly Barnhill. 2016. 388 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Yes. There is a witch in the woods. There has always been a witch.

Premise/plot: There are two sides to every story. The villagers of the Protectorate believe that it's a necessary evil to sacrifice the youngest baby to the witch in the woods every year on a certain day. Sorrow hangs about the village certainly even driving a few mad now and then. Xan, who lives in the woods along with a dragon and swamp monster, wonders why the crazy villagers abandon a baby every year leaving it in a particular place. It's nonsense from her perspective. Who would do such a thing? She happily takes the baby through the woods to the safety of one of the free cities. The baby is adopted, loved, cared for.

One year something changes. Xan accidentally draws power from the moon--the full moon--instead of the stars to nourish the baby on the trek through the woods. The baby--soon named Luna--becomes enmagicked. Xan decides that she had better raise the child herself! Luna's real mother forgets her own name, the name of her child, her life before that terrible day when she spoke up against those who were cruelly taking her baby. She's locked away in a tower, kept prisoner by the Sisters.

The truth seems buried, but by the child's thirteenth birthday the truth will shine through the darkest of sorrows and hope will take root.

My thoughts: To readers who are thrilled by all things witchy, this may prove fun. I certainly enjoyed the tiny dragon who truly believed he was simply enormous. The paper birds were truly terrifying but unique in my opinion. The struggles were many for all the characters, and the author didn't give easy solutions. But. As a Christian I found this book less than ideal. There were several places that proved too much for me to ignore. I'm thinking of chapter twelve and forty-seven.
"In the beginning there was only Bog, and Bog, and Bog. There were no people. There were no fish. There were no birds or beasts or mountains or forest or sky. The bog was everything, and everything was the Bog....and so the Bog created a Body: a great Beast that walked out of the Bog on its own strong, boggy legs. The beast was the Bog, and the Bog was the Beast. The Beast loved the Bog and the Bog loved the Beast...the Beast's chest was full of warm and life-giving compassion. He felt the shine of love radiating outward. And the Beast wanted words to explain how he felt. And so there were words." (83-84) 
Clearly drawing from the literary style of the Bible....to turn God into a boggy swamp monster is just too much for me to personally overlook. I would never discourage anyone from reading the book and judging its merit on their own. I do wish this Bog element had been left out though.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 06, 2017

Twelve Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men. Reginald Rose. 1954/2006. 79 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: ...and that concludes the court's explanation of the legal aspects of this case. And now, gentlemen of the jury, I come to my final instructions to you.

Premise/plot: Twelve Angry Men is a play by Reginald Rose. The setting is New York, 1957, a closed jury. Twelve men will decide if a man--the defendant--lives or dies. After the room settles down, after a few minutes go by, the first vote is cast. Eleven men vote within minutes to find him guilty. One man, the 8th juror, votes not guilty. The play is about all that follows next. Will the jury ultimately decide to vote guilty or not guilty? What will be revealed about human nature during that deliberation process?

My thoughts: I saw the movie probably twenty years ago, maybe nineteen. I thought it was outstanding. I thought it was about time I read the play for myself. It was GOOD. I will be rewatching the movie soon. I have a feeling that the movie at least is timeless. (I think sometimes--often times--people are more likely to watch a movie then read a play).

I will say this, not as a warning not to read it, but just so you know: this one does have bad language in it--blasphemy mostly. I would never let that keep me from reading such a compelling, timeless piece of literature.

Favorite quotes:
  • I have always thought that in this country a man was entitled to have unpopular opinions...(27, 11th juror speaking)
  • Facts may be colored by the personalities of the people who present them. (36, 11th juror speaking)
  • It's very hard to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And no matter where you run into it, prejudice obscures the truth. (66, 8th juror speaking)


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The Horne family tree was laden with achievers: teachers, activists, a Harlem Renaissance poet, the dean of a black college, and Lena's grandmother Cora Calhoun Horne, a college graduate.

Premise/plot: Carole Boston Weatherford has written a picture book biography of Lena Horne. It is beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. It would be appropriate for elementary students certainly. (Not as certain that it would hold the interest of say the preschool crowd.)

My thoughts: I loved this one. I did. To be fair, I love a good biography. But I had a special interest in the subject as well. This one spans decades and reflects the times--before, during, and after the civil rights movement. I loved that the author included quotes by Lena Horne.
  • You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way. ~ Lena Horne
  • They didn't make me into a maid, but they didn't make me into anything else either. ~ Lena Horne
 But above all, I loved all the information packed into the narrative. I'm not saying that the narrative is text-heavy or bulky. Far from it. It's very much still a narrative story woven together with facts. But I love learning as I read.

Did you know?
  • That Lena Horne, at age 2, became one of the youngest members of the NAACP? That she was in fact a 'cover girl' for the NAACP Branch Bulletit in 1919!
  • That Lena Horne was a life-long reader and lover of books?!
  • That she spent some of her childhood years on the vaudeville circuit with her mother.
  • That she started her career on the chorus line...before moving on to Broadway, orchestras, and the movies...
  • That she was one of the first black vocalists to front an all-white big band.
  • That she received the first ever studio contract for a black actress.
  • That she refused to play stereotypical roles in movies--maids and mammies.
  • That she often appeared only in singing numbers that could be edited out in Southern theaters.
  • Here's what I found most disturbing: Max Factor created makeup just for her to wear on screen, and, white actresses started wearing it and getting roles for light-skinned black women.
  • That performing for the troops during World War II was segregated and that she eventually became so upset by it that she paid her own way to perform just for black troops. 
  • She was blacklisted during the McCarthy years.
I could go on and on. It was just a super-fascinating read. I think the illustration I loved best was Lena Horne with Kermit the Frog because that I remember!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Umbrella

Umbrella. Taro Yashima. 1958/1977. 40 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Momo is the name of a little girl who was born in New York.

Premise/plot: Momo received two gifts for her third birthday: red rubber boots and an umbrella. She loves, loves, loves her presents and she wants to use them right away! But of course it is not raining! Momo reluctantly waits and waits for the rain to come. One day it does!

Favorite quotes:
On the umbrella, raindrops made a wonderful music she never had heard before--
Bon polo
Bon polo
Ponpolo ponpolo
Ponpolo ponpolo
Bolo bolo ponpolo
Bolo bolo ponpolo
Boto boto ponpolo
Boto boto ponpolo
My thoughts: Whenever I'm asked what my favorite picture book from childhood is, I know exactly how to answer! Umbrella! I love, love, love the rhythm of it. The illustrations are amazing! I think I judge all other books by this one!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Double Fudge

Double Fudge. Judy Blume. 2002. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When my brother Fudge was five, he discovered money in a big way.

Premise/plot: Double Fudge is the fifth book in the Fudge series by Judy Blume. Peter's younger brother, Fudge, is OBSESSED with money in this one. And that love of money is fueling his selfishness, his greed, and his rudeness. (Not that he was super polite and selfless BEFORE discovering the green stuff. He wasn't. I'm not a reader who finds Fudge's misbehavior cute or charming or funny.) Peter is embarrassed by his brother. (That isn't new either. Peter has always tried to distance himself from Fudge.) So why is this one Double Fudge? Well, it turns out that Farley Hatcher isn't the only Farley! Peter's dad's cousin and his family are introduced in this one. And one of their children shares Fudge's first, middle, and last name. They are looking to "steal" Fudge's nickname. Peter calls this other Farley, "Mini." They meet their cousins on a trip in Washington D.C., the cousins then invite themselves to STAY with them in New York City. This family is something else. Think the Flanders' family perhaps from the Simpsons? Peter also starts seventh grade in this one....

My thoughts: Plenty happens in this one. (There's at least one chapter focused on Halloween.) And I did like it. But I'm not sure the series as a whole is so wonderful that it's a must-read. A little Fudge goes a long way. Also this one might be more for actual children than adults who read children's books. In other words, adults might see Fudge for who he is....and think about how the book in terms of good and bad parenting. Children might just laugh off Fudge and see him as comic relief.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Language of Angels

Language of Angels. Richard Michelson. 2017. Charlesbridge. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Once there was a child without a friend. Two boys his age lived nearby, but they spoke Yiddish. In the morning they said "guten tog" to each other.

Premise/plot: Set in Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century, Language of Angels is a picture book about the reinvention of an ancient language: Hebrew. Ben-Zion's father Eliezer wanted his son to only speak Hebrew. The problem was no one spoke it as a living language, a common, everyday language. What Hebrew was known were the formal holy prayers that had been passed down for ages. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda zealously sought to bring back a language starting in his own home and then spreading elsewhere. It was a big dream, but this is a happy story! Teachers can be incredibly passionate and determined!

Readers see how Hebrew grew as a living language once more. Since new words had not been added in almost eighteen hundred years, it had some catching up to do! But this process was thoughtful, deliberate, and logical. I also imagine it was fun! The book says children helped him in this process.

Also of note, it was children not adults he was interested in teaching!

My thoughts: I really loved this picture book for older readers. The book is well researched; it includes an author's note providing much more information. The story has a personal touch. The family was fascinating in my opinion! There are enough details to make it interesting and compelling, but not in a dreary, fact heavy way.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10  

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Fudge-a-mania

Fudge-a-mania. Judy Blume. 1990. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Guess what, Pete?" my brother, Fudge, said. "I'm getting married tomorrow."

Premise/plot: Fudge-a-mania is the fourth book in the Fudge series by Judy Blume. Though the series is named after Peter's brother, Fudge, the stories are told from Peter's perspective.

It is the summer before Peter (and Sheila's) seventh grade year. The two families will be vacationing in Maine together. Peter and Sheila (to refresh your memory) do not like each other. In fact, they practically HATE each other. Peter doesn't realize that "vacationing next door" to the Tubman family means essentially sharing a duplex. One week will be brightened by Peter's best friend, Jimmy, coming to stay--with his (uninvited) Dad. Readers get to know the Hatcher and Tubman families very, very well. Even the grandparents. This summer vacation is anything but dull.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I'm not sure I loved, loved, loved it because to be honest, Fudge is not my favorite or best. But I did enjoy aspects of this one: the romance between the grandparents that will link the two families now; also "Tootsie" is a delight and I'm glad that Mr. Fargo will benefit quite a lot from his vacation!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 03, 2017

The American

The American. Henry James. 1877. 400 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: On a brilliant day in May, in the year 1868, a gentleman was reclining at his ease on the great circular divan which at that period occupied the centre of the Salon Carré, in the Museum of the Louvre.

Premise/plot: Christopher Newman, a successful American businessman, is visiting Europe. The novel opens with him in Paris, France. His short term mission is to spend money and enjoy himself. His long term mission is to find a beautiful, perfect wife in the process of visiting Europe and taking in "culture" and "class." He meets a friend, Tom Tristram who takes him home to meet his wife. Mrs. Tristram takes it upon herself to help Newman with his short and long-term goals! She has just the potential wife in mind, a countess from an ancient family, a widow: Madame de Cintré.

He meets her; he meets her family; he goes about wooing her family in hopes that with her family's approval, all will be well.

Her family is SCARY. Not just slightly odd and off-putting, but, the stuff of nightmares. Well. There's one brother who has potential, but...expect this courtship to be anything but smooth.

My thoughts: The American is very depressing. I wonder if Thomas Hardy read it and approved of its bleakness?! I'm so glad that it was the third novel I'd read by James and not the very first.

Did I like Christopher Newman? I'm not sure I did. He was very materialistic and talked about money non-stop. His wooing left a little to be desired in my opinion. He was all, I'm rich; My money makes me quite a catch; You'll never want for anything because I have money, MORE money, EVEN more money. My money will make us both extraordinarily happy. We can live anywhere we want and do anything we want because I have MONEY. I'm not sure if he genuinely loved for all the right reasons. She met his checklist of ideals--but his ideals were all superficial to begin with. She was much more complex than he was expecting. And money couldn't buy him understanding on how to deal with a complex woman.
“Present me to a woman who comes up to my notions,” said Newman, “and I will marry her tomorrow.” “You have a strange tone about it, and I don’t quite understand you. I didn’t suppose you would be so coldblooded and calculating.” Newman was silent a while. “Well,” he said, at last, “I want a great woman. I stick to that. That’s one thing I can treat myself to, and if it is to be had I mean to have it. What else have I toiled and struggled for, all these years? I have succeeded, and now what am I to do with my success? To make it perfect, as I see it, there must be a beautiful woman perched on the pile, like a statue on a monument. She must be as good as she is beautiful, and as clever as she is good. I can give my wife a good deal, so I am not afraid to ask a good deal myself. She shall have everything a woman can desire; I shall not even object to her being too good for me; she may be cleverer and wiser than I can understand, and I shall only be the better pleased. I want to possess, in a word, the best article in the market.” 
“I told her something about you,” said Mrs. Tristram. “That’s a comfort,” said Newman, placidly. “I like people to know about me.” 

Did I like Madame de Cintré? I pitied her at the very least. Here was a woman whose thoughts and feelings were never allowed to matter or count for anything. She was manipulated by her mother and her older brother. Commanded more than manipulated perhaps. Even as a widow she wasn't allowed to be herself. I wanted her to be respected and valued. Respected for who she was as a person, her character. Valued for who she was, not for what she looked like.
To be unhappy is to be disagreeable, which, for her, is out of the question. So she has arranged her circumstances so as to be happy in them. 
She was not the only unhappy female character. I think all of them--in varying degrees--were living stuck lives. But to be fair--with the exception of Tom Tristram, who was presented as just not getting it, men and women alike were more often than not miserable and unhappy. This novel definitely shares themes with the book of Ecclesiastes.

My favorite character was her brother, Valentin de Bellegarde. This was the good brother; not the horrible controlling one. This is the brother who genuinely enjoyed Christopher Newman's company and wanted the best for his sister.

Favorite quotes:
You may depend upon it that there are things going on inside of us that we understand mighty little about.
When you want a thing so very badly you had better treat yourself to it.
One’s theories, after all, matter little; it is one’s humor that is the great thing.
His mind could no more hold principles than a sieve can hold water.
It is better to laugh too much than too little.
People are proud only when they have something to lose, and humble when they have something to gain.
She got tired of thinking aright; but there was no serious harm in it, as she got equally tired of thinking wrong.
When the heart has a heavy weight upon it, it hardly matters whether the weight be of gold or of lead; when, at any rate, happiness passes into that place in which it becomes identical with pain, a man may admit that the reign of wisdom is temporarily suspended.
It must be confessed that the number of subjects upon which Newman had no ideas was extremely large, and it must be added that as regards those subjects upon which he was without ideas he was also perfectly without words.
“I shouldn’t like to resemble anyone. It is hard enough work resembling one’s self.”
“It is a proof of cleverness,” said Newman, “to be happy without doing anything.”
I suppose that a man who may be liked may also be disliked.
When was a man ever gloomy when he could say, ‘I told you so?’
  

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Superfudge

Superfudge. Judy Blume. 1980. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Life was going along okay when my mother and father dropped the news. Bam! Just like that.

Premise/plot: Peter Hatcher has changes in his future. This book is about those changes. First, his mom is going to have a baby. And the baby is a sister they call Tootsie. Second, the family is moving--for a year--to New Jersey. His father wants to take a break from the advertising agency and write a novel. He also wants to not miss out on Tootsie's first year. So, Peter has to deal with a) an annoying little brother, Fudge, whose vocabulary is ever-growing, but his naughtiness is keeping up with it; b) moving away from all his friends; c) making new friends and starting a new school year as "the new kid;" d) Fudge and Peter will be going to the same elementary school; Peter will be in sixth grade, and Fudge will be in kindergarten; e) having a new unwelcome-to-him addition to the family. Will Tootsie be anything like Fudge?!

My thoughts: I liked this one. I definitely did. Fudge's adventures at school are something. I'm sure he's talked about by the whole school--the staff, I mean. I don't envy his first or second kindergarten teacher. But Fudge didn't just make me laugh. I found him obnoxious in a his-parents-really-need-to-handle-him-better way. I think his parents make way too many allowances for his misbehavior and don't hold him nearly accountable enough. They just laugh at his antics and encourage him to seek all his attention this way. One funny thing in this book, however, is when a guest speaker visits the school and Fudge steps up to be his assistant. He's to describe a person as this guest speaker draws him. And he ends up describing the principal in not so flattering terms.

Peter does end up making friends, as does Fudge. Fudge's friend is Daniel. He does NOT eat peas or onions. And Daniel seems to have issues of his own. When Fudge makes his biggest mistake yet, Fudge's dad punishes BOTH Daniel and Fudge. I'm not sure how I felt about that honestly. Does a parent have a right to punish someone else's child?

By the end of the book, the whole family--including Tootsie--decides that New Jersey is NOT their home, and, they definitely want to return to New York City.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Marvels

The Marvels. Brian Selznick. 2015. Scholastic. 665 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Normally I begin each review by sharing the first sentence. That won't be happening with The Marvels, for better or worse! Except for the year "1766" there are no sentences until page 392. The first sentence from the prose section of The Marvels--following another year, 1990--is: "Joseph was lost."

Readers may or may not be lost as well depending on how well they do with reading wordless books. I'd say it was like following the action of a silent movie, but, silent movies gives you mood music and some text.

The first character we meet is Billy Marvel, a boy (dressed up as a girl for a play on a ship) who survives a terrible, terrible storm at sea. He's rescued, and eventually finds his way to the theatre--along with his dog--and the two find a place to BELONG on stage. Billy is the first of many Marvels who find their place at the theatre. This wordless section takes us through many, many generations.

The modern day character we meet is Joseph. He's run away from school. He's unhappy. He's in London, I believe, and is trying to find his uncle whom he's never actually met before. His uncle's house is one of a kind. And it's a house packed floor to ceiling in mysterious atmosphere. Joseph thinks he unravels his family tree by looking closely at his new environment, but, appearances can be deceiving.

If I had to sum up the Marvels, I'd call it a coming-of-age mystery about belonging and finding your special place in the world, about not letting others define who you are and what you do with your life.

Did I love it? Did I like it? Well. I definitely didn't love it. I think in some ways it's a premise-driven novel. It explores reality and fantasy, fact and fiction. It plays with what is "real" or "true." Without a doubt it plays with perception.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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