Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Nutcracker Mice

The Nutcracker Mice. Kristin Kladstrup. Illustrated by Brett Helquist. 2017. [October 24] 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There were mice at the Mariinsky.

Premise/plot: The Nutcracker Mice is set in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1892. It takes place mostly in the theatre. A new ballet is about to premiere, The Nutcracker. The humans and the mice are hard at work on their productions. The mice face a more difficult challenge. They fear mice will not come to see--pay to see--a play where mice are the villains and are killed. They also fear that mice that are interested in seeing the new ballet, would choose to see the humans--with their elaborate costumes and sets--perform for free. And then there's the challenge of staying alive in the first place--finding enough food and avoiding mouse traps.

The heroine of The Nutcracker Mice is a young mouse named Esmerelda. She befriends a young girl, Irina, the daughter of a janitor and costume maker. Esmerelda's quick-thinking may just save the day.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I loved, loved, loved that Esmerelda and the mice decided to rewrite the Nutcracker, to adapt it to suit their audience. This one was just satisfying to read. I loved every minute of it. Much like I love every minute of the Nutcracker Suite. 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

2018 Reading Challenges: Old School Kidlit

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge
Host: Read-at-Home-Mom (sign up)
Check in at the end of each month with a list of what you've read and links to any reviews you have posted. When you post on social media, tag your posts with #OldSchoolKidlit2018
January - December 2018
# of books: 42

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© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Mr. Dickens and His Carol. Samantha Silva. 2017. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: On that unseasonably warm November day at One Devonshire Terrace, Christmas was not in his head at all. His cravat was loose, top button of his waistcoat undone, study windows flung open as far as they’d go. Chestnut curls bobbed over his dark slate eyes that brightened to each word he wrote: this one, no, that one, scribble and scratch, a raised brow, a tucked chin, a guffaw. Every expression was at the ready, every limb engaged in the urgent deed. Nothing else existed. Not hunger or thirst, not the thrumming of the household above and below—a wife about to give birth, five children already, four servants, two Newfoundlands, a Pomeranian, and the Master’s Cat, now pawing at his quill. Not time, neither past nor future, just the clear-eyed now, and words spilling out of him faster than he could think them. 

 Premise/plot: Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a fictionalized account of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. It contains several true facts: the necessity of writing/publishing a Christmas book in such a short period of time; the name of Charles Dickens and his family members; quotes from A Christmas Carol. But it is largely fictional.

It is just a few weeks before Christmas. His wife has just given birth. His publisher has come to him with a demand: write a Christmas book...or else. His last book--his current book, Martin Chuzzlewit--isn't doing well...at all. His publishers NEED a successful book. There is no other way.

Dickens finds himself in need of a MUSE.

My thoughts: This was an extremely entertaining and mostly satisfying read. It is divorced from truth, perhaps. But I found it almost impossible to put down. The chapters just beg to be read right then and there. It helps that they are short chapters too. The writing was delicious. I'll do my best to show you what I mean:
“To whom shall I make it?” “Marley, sir. Jacob. A man who’s never missed a word you’ve written.” “My favorite sort of reader.” Dickens signed with a flourish. He sensed his children watching, felt Mamie squeeze his arm. He handed the album back with a satisfied smile. “Jacob Marley, I am ever in your service.” The gentleman flipped to the page to review his newest get. “Dickens? I thought you was Thackeray!” He tore it out, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it into the street, stomping away.
The children watched their father’s autograph be further insulted by the wheel of an omnibus clip-clopping past. Dickens narrowed his eyes. “Well. How sad Mr. Marley will be when I introduce him in my new number, only to kill him off in the next.” “He should be dead to begin with,” said young Charley. “Dead as a doornail,” said Katey. “So he shall. So he shall.” The matter settled, Dickens turned for home. His children trooped behind in cautious silence. 
“A tree?” demanded Dickens. “Inside the house?” “A Christmas tree. From Germany.” “Have we no trees in England?” “The Queen and Prince Albert insist on it. It’s a new tradition.” “Traditions are not new, Catherine. They are old. And we cannot afford the ones we have!” 
  “Your past is quicker than you are and will catch you soon enough.”
“Writers told what to write. Readers told what to read. People who do whatever you do … told what to do!” Dickens waved his arms like a windmill gone mad. “And once again, everyone making money on me but me!” 
She nodded, her voice quiet as a prayer. “But every book you’ve ever written is a book about Christmas. About the feeling we must have for one another, without which we are lost.”
Ebenezer Scrooge was waking to a new world, a new self, tears still wet on his face. For a miserable bean counter who had long made a business out of men, he now knew that his business was all mankind. Dickens wept and laughed and wept again. 


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, December 11, 2017

The Battle of Life

The Battle of Life. Charles Dickens. 1846. 88 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Once upon a time, it matters little when, and in stalwart England, it matters little where, a fierce battle was fought. It was fought upon a long summer day when the waving grass was green.

Premise/plot: Doctor Jeddler has two daughters, Grace and Marion. Marion, the younger daughter, is engaged to Alfred Heathfield. No one could be happier for the couple than Grace. In fact, Grace talks about Alfred morning, noon, and night. The engagement is to be a long one, of several years. As the time nears for Alfred's return, Marion begins acting strangely. This is about the same time that Michael Warden makes plans to leave the country--due to financial disgrace/ruin. Could these two be in love? Perhaps. One thing is certain, Marion does meet secretly with him before Alfred's return. Clemency Newcome, a servant in the home, witnesses this arrangement.

My thoughts: I loved this one. I at least loved it more than I ever thought possible. Dickens introduces some great characters. Dr. Jeddler has a STRANGE philosophy about the meaning of life. As do some of the other characters in this one. (I can't remember now if it was Snitchey or Craggs that philosophizes. But here is the man's philosophy: "Everything appears to me to be made too easy, now-a-days. It’s the vice of these times. If the world is a joke (I am not prepared to say it isn’t), it ought to be made a very difficult joke to crack. It ought to be as hard a struggle, sir, as possible. That’s the intention. But, it’s being made far too easy. We are oiling the gates of life. They ought to be rusty. We shall have them beginning to turn, soon, with a smooth sound.") I really loved Clemency Newcome and Ben Britain, the two servants. They may be my favorite characters in the novella. I hoped that these two would end up together. I was so SATISFIED when they did.

The relationship between Marion and Grace was interesting and strange. I was certainly fooled by Dickens' presentation of Marion. For most of the novella, Marion is portrayed as being completely disinterested in Alfred and matrimony. Certainly there was not any indication that she's madly in love with him. Grace's crush on Alfred was obvious, and once Marion was out of the picture, it was equally obvious that these two would console each other all the way to the altar. Is it a good sign or a bad one that they choose Marion's birthday to be their wedding day?! Marion's big reveal was surprising--when it came. Is it realistic? Is it romantic? Or is it just all kinds of strange?

It did begin in an odd way, I admit. Several pages spent describing in detail a bloody battlefield.  Centuries later--I'm supposing, though it could just be decades--all traces of the battle, of the blood and gore, are gone. What remains is a village full of life.

 Quotes:
My private opinion is, and I hope you agree with me, that we might get on a great deal better than we do, and might be infinitely more agreeable company than we are.
‘Don’t you know it’s always somebody’s birth-day? Did you never hear how many new performers enter on this — ha! ha! ha! — it’s impossible to speak gravely of it — on this preposterous and ridiculous business called Life, every minute?’
She was about thirty years old, and had a sufficiently plump and cheerful face, though it was twisted up into an odd expression of tightness that made it comical. But, the extraordinary homeliness of her gait and manner, would have superseded any face in the world. To say that she had two left legs, and somebody else’s arms, and that all four limbs seemed to be out of joint, and to start from perfectly wrong places when they were set in motion, is to offer the mildest outline of the reality. To say that she was perfectly content and satisfied with these arrangements, and regarded them as being no business of hers, and that she took her arms and legs as they came, and allowed them to dispose of themselves just as it happened, is to render faint justice to her equanimity. Her dress was a prodigious pair of self-willed shoes, that never wanted to go where her feet went; blue stockings; a printed gown of many colours, and the most hideous pattern procurable for money; and a white apron. She always wore short sleeves, and always had, by some accident, grazed elbows, in which she took so lively an interest, that she was continually trying to turn them round and get impossible views of them.
Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency Newcome; who was supposed to have unconsciously originated a corruption of her own Christian name, from Clementina (but nobody knew, for the deaf old mother, a very phenomenon of age, whom she had supported almost from a child, was dead, and she had no other relation); who now busied herself in preparing the table, and who stood, at intervals, with her bare red arms crossed, rubbing her grazed elbows with opposite hands, and staring at it very composedly, until she suddenly remembered something else she wanted, and jogged off to fetch it.
‘The combatants are very eager and very bitter in that same battle of Life. There’s a great deal of cutting and slashing, and firing into people’s heads from behind. There is terrible treading down, and trampling on. It is rather a bad business.’ ‘I believe, Mr. Snitchey,’ said Alfred, ‘there are quiet victories and struggles, great sacrifices of self, and noble acts of heroism, in it — even in many of its apparent lightnesses and contradictions -not the less difficult to achieve, because they have no earthly chronicle or audience — done every day in nooks and corners, and in little households, and in men’s and women’s hearts — any one of which might reconcile the sternest man to such a world, and fill him with belief and hope in it, though two-fourths of its people were at war, and another fourth at law; and that’s a bold word.’ 
Snitchey and Craggs were the best friends in the world, and had a real confidence in one another; but Mrs. Snitchey, by a dispensation not uncommon in the affairs of life, was on principle suspicious of Mr. Craggs; and Mrs. Craggs was on principle suspicious of Mr. Snitchey. 
‘What! overcome by a story-book!’ said Doctor Jeddler. ‘Print and paper! Well, well, it’s all one. It’s as rational to make a serious matter of print and paper as of anything else. But, dry your eyes, love, dry your eyes. I dare say the heroine has got home again long ago, and made it up all round — and if she hasn’t, a real home is only four walls; and a fictitious one, mere rags and ink. What’s the matter now?’
‘Lor!’ replied his fair companion, with her favourite twist of her favourite joints. ‘I wish it was me, Britain!’ ‘Wish what was you?’ ‘A-going to be married,’ said Clemency. Benjamin took his pipe out of his mouth and laughed heartily. ‘Yes! you’re a likely subject for that!’ he said. ‘Poor Clem!’ Clemency for her part laughed as heartily as he, and seemed as much amused by the idea. ‘Yes,’ she assented, ‘I’m a likely subject for that; an’t I?’ ‘YOU’LL never be married, you know,’ said Mr. Britain, resuming his pipe. ‘Don’t you think I ever shall though?’ said Clemency, in perfect good faith. Mr. Britain shook his head. ‘Not a chance of it!’ ‘Only think!’ said Clemency. ‘Well! — I suppose you mean to, Britain, one of these days; don’t you?’
‘I can’t help liking you,’ said Mr. Britain; ‘you’re a regular good creature in your way, so shake hands, Clem. Whatever happens, I’ll always take notice of you, and be a friend to you.’ ‘Will you?’ returned Clemency. ‘Well! that’s very good of you.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ said Mr. Britain, giving her his pipe to knock the ashes out of it; ‘I’ll stand by you. Hark! That’s a curious noise!’
A month soon passes, even at its tardiest pace. The month appointed to elapse between that night and the return, was quick of foot, and went by, like a vapour. The day arrived. A raging winter day, that shook the old house, sometimes, as if it shivered in the blast.
We count by changes and events within us. Not by years.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up)
January - December 2018
# of books: minimum 3,

Love reading? Love family? Love researching family history? Want a family-friendly reading challenge? 

Goal: To read a book from the birth year of your selected family members. You do not have to mention them by name, unless you want. But do please list the years you'll be reading. You may include yourself in your 'family tree.'

Minimum of three books (and three family members). You can read more, of course.

Sign up by leaving a comment.

What books count towards the reading challenge?
  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Board books
  • Picture Books
  • Early Readers
  • Early Chapter Books
  • Chapter Books
  • Graphic Novels
  • Middle Grade Books
  • Young Adult Books
  • Adult Books
  • Poetry
  • Short Stories
  • Plays
Is a blog required? Are reviews required? No. If you do blog, I'd love a link to your blog so I can read your reviews and book recommendations. If you review books on GoodReads, leave a link to your profile so I can friend you and follow your reviews!

If you're on twitter, you can contact me @blbooks and talk cats OR books!

You can comment on this post or any challenge-related post to update others on your progress.



© 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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