Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Small Spaces

Small Spaces. Katherine Arden. 2018. 218 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples.

Premise/plot: Olivia Adler stars in this super-spooky middle grade mystery. Olivia “Ollie” is an angsty heroine. She’s fine being a bit of a lonely outsider. She doesn’t need anybody, right?! Well when a school field trip goes horribly wrong—in an amplified Twilight Zone way—she may find herself having to work together with a few classmates struggling to survive. The eerie nature of the book begins early on the night before the field trip to a nearby farm. She saves a book from being thrown into the river(or lake or pond). She starts reading it...and this gives her a slight advantage over her classmates and teacher. But will it be enough to see her safely home?!?!

My thoughts: Is it a mystery? Is it horror? I’m not confident enough to untangle the delicate distinctions between these two genres. It’s incredibly spooky and suspenseful. Readers have an opportunity to try to figure out what is going on and who the Smiling Man is. It is without a doubt a page turner. I don’t love horror typically. I don’t seek out scares. I really don’t. But I found this spooky read to be enjoyable all the same. It can be good to take baby steps outside your comfort zone. I wouldn’t necessarily push this one on kids who don’t like scary/spooky books. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, November 11, 2019

Best Friends

Best Friends (Real Friends #2) Shannon Hale. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2019. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

  First sentence: In summer, nothing ever seemed to change. The sky stayed blue. The air stayed warm. And friends stayed friends forever.

Premise/plot: I’m tempted to keep it simple and short and merely say Shannon Hale’s newest book should be required reading for humanity. It’s one of those meaning of life books. Those aren’t as common as you might believe. So what is this one about? It is the follow up to her previous graphic novel, Real Friends. Both books are inspired by her childhood. Both books are set in the mid-80s. This one covers her sixth grade year, 1985/86. But it does feature a few flashback sequences to earlier years. A young Shannon is trying to figure out the rules: rules about how to be liked, how to avoid being laughed at, how to make friends, how to keep friends, how to be true to yourself yet not so true as to be deemed a weirdo. Is there a way to stay popular/semi-popular and still be kind? Why does being kind require such bravery? Is lying ever justified?

Throughout it all, she’s also struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and a bit of OCD. Whether you personally struggle with these exact mental health issues or not—I think the book is an honest and thought provoking way for readers to experience what it is like and perhaps gain a bit of empathy.

Who hasn’t struggled at one age or another with friends—making, keeping, forgiving friends. It can be a traumatic, troubling thing—some may struggle a year or two before finding their people, their crowd, where they actually belong; some may spend decades struggling to find “real” or “best” friends. This book keeps it real, keeps it honest, and stays ever-relevant.

My thoughts: I love, love, love this one so much. It is so honest at times that it stings when bringing up memories from the past—my past. I think no matter where you fit on the spectrum of popular or unpopular, bully or bullied, it will give you food for thought. I hope it is an empathy builder especially for children reading the book. The book is incredibly amazing. I loved the glimpse into Shannon’s past. This one will be hard to beat as a favorite of the year.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, November 09, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #45

5 Stars
Enchanted Air. Margarita Engle. 2015. 192 pages. [Source: Library]
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions. (Kopp Sisters #3) Amy Stewart. 2017. 374 pages. [Source: Library]
You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood. Aimee Reid. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. 2019. Harry N. Abrams. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
I Will Race You Through This Book. Jonathan Fenske. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Westering Women. Sandra Dallas. 2020 [January 7] 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

4 Stars
Mr. Adam. Pat Frank. 1947. 184 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, November 08, 2019

Westering Women

Westering Women. Sandra Dallas. 2020 [January 7] 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hidden beneath her black umbrella, Maggie stood in the shelter of the church and stared at the woman reading the broadsheet.

Premise/plot: Maggie is one of dozens of women signing up to travel west via wagon train to Goosetown, California, a mining town in 1852. The women will face challenges great and small along the way.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved this one. I did. I requested a review copy because the title was close to one of my all-time favorite movies, Westward the Women. Those who know me well, know that I do not do westerns. I don't. I don't like them--never have, never will. But Westward the Women has long been an exception to the ALLERGIC TO WESTERNS rule. Dallas' novel imitates the movie in the best possible ways. I do not mean it in anyway as an insult to compare the two. 

I loved that the focus was on FRIENDSHIP and not particularly on romance. The characterization was incredibly well done. This book is authentic in a raw, gritty way. The lives these women led--both before joining up, during the trek west, and afterwards in California--were ROUGH. Maggie, one of our main heroines, has had a rough life. She's had to make some incredibly difficult decisions. As have some of the others. This isn't a book appropriate for younger readers (tweens and younger teens.) There are a couple of #metoo instances that while completely realistic and authentic make it an intense read. 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Mr. Adam

Mr. Adam. Pat Frank. 1947. 184 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I suppose it is up to me to tell the story in its entirety, because I broke it in the first place, and I lived with it from then on, and I grew to know Mr. Adam. My name is Stephen Decatur Smith, and before I got involved in the most important story in the world I was a feature writer on the New York staff of AP.

Premise/plot: What if all the men in the world—minus one Homer Adam—were sterile?! Stephen Smith stumbles into a story with global implications. The lead he follows—there are no births scheduled after June 22 in New York City hospitals. Why? Is this true only in New York? Only in the North? Only in the U.S.? Only in the Northern hemisphere? Will any babies ever be conceived again? Is the human race doomed to die out? Many months go by, and then...a baby is born—a baby girl. Turns out that one man at least has not been effected by the nuclear disaster that has completely eradicated the state of Mississippi. His life will never be the same again. Everyone wants to own Mr. Adam and control him. Everyone wants to have a say in how the world is to be repopulated or populated. Not really differing in how—AI. Is artificial insemination the only hope for the human race?

My thoughts: Mr. Adam is a comedy written in 1946. Yes, it’s about a serious subject—the short term and long term effects of nuclear experimentation and use. Will the development of nuclear power and nuclear bombs lead to man’s extinction? Is sterilization a just consequence of man’s rashness or stupidity? At the time it was written, it was assumed that all women wanted to be mothers and that motherhood was the sole way women could lead satisfying or happy lives. Another assumption is that men don’t really care one way or another if they ever have children or not. Fatherhood is not that big a deal. Men don’t need babies in the same way that women do.

The novel is set in an unspecified future year. Frank probably could not have foreseen how AI would actually change the world giving barren couples hope. It was new and experimental, uncertain and controversial. Was it ethical? Should doctors and scientists be “playing God”? Wasn’t conception in God’s hands?

One thing is timeless about the novel—politics and politicians.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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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