Saturday, March 23, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #12

5 Stars
To Kill A Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel. Original text by Harper Lee. Adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham. 2018 [October 30] 208 pages. [Source: Library]
Stepsister. Jennifer Donnelly. 2019. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Number the Stars. Lois Lowry. 1989. (Won Newbery in 1990) 137 pages. [Source: Bought]
Refugee. Alan Gratz. 2017. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Miss Buncle's Book. D.E. Stevenson. 1934. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
Bicycle to Treachery: A Miss Mallard Mystery. Robert Quackenbush. 1985/2019. Simon & Schuster. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

4 Stars
Gondola to Danger: A Miss Mallard Mystery. Robert M. Quackenbush. 1983/2019. Simon & Schuster. 80 pages. [Source: Library]
Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and The Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever. Barbara Lowell. Illustrated by Dan Andreasen. 2019. Cameron Kids. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


March Share-a-Tea Check-In

The Ladies' Home Journal, 1889
What are you currently reading for the challenge?
Have you finished any books for this challenge this month?
Is there a book you're looking forward to starting next month?
Want to share any favorite quotes from a past or current read?
What teas have you enjoyed this month?

I'm currently reading Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, and Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken.

Yes. I've finished quite a few books since the last check-in post.

32. The Christian Book of Mystical Verse: A Collection of Poems, Hymns, and Prayers for Devotional Reading. A.W. Tozer, editor. 1991/2016. 177 pages. [Source: Bought]
33. Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1958/2009. Harlequin. 368 pages. [Source: Gift]
34. Three Men in a Boat. Jerome K. Jerome. 1889. 174 pages. [Source: Bought]
35. Knowing Christianity. J.I. Packer. 1995. 191 pages. [Source: Bought]
36. Shirley. Charlotte Bronte. 1849. 624 pages. [Source: Bought]
37. Alone in the Wild (The Oregon Trail #5) Jesse Wiley. 2019. Scholastic. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
38. God is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself. John Piper. 2005. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Bought] 
39. Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. Adapted by Ari Folman. Original text by Anne Frank. Illustrated by David Polonsky. 2018. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
40. Because. Mo Willems. Illustrated by Amber Ren. 2019. Hyperion. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
41. 31 Verses to Write On Your Heart. Liz Curtis Higgs. 2016. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
42. These Old Shades. Georgette Heyer. 1926/2008. Harlequin. 384 pages. [Source: Bought]
43. Miss Buncle's Book. D.E. Stevenson. 1934. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
44. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Abridged. John Calvin. (1536) Edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne (1987). Baker Books. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]

There will always be books I look forward to starting....the struggle for me is making myself finish "current" books before beginning new books.

I quoted so much in my review of Three Men in a Boat. If you haven't read that one yet, you should.
But the book I loved, loved, LOVED this month was D.E. Stevenson's Miss Buncle's Book.

She had lived for so long among these people and had suffered so many afternoon teas that she was able to say the expected thing without thinking about it at all. You simply put a penny in the machine and the expected thing came out at once, all done up in a neat little packet, and suitably labeled.
He had already noticed that Miss Buncle was either monosyllabic and completely inarticulate, or else overpowered by a stream of words which forced themselves between her lips like water from a bursting dam.
She tried to fix her mind on the sermon. It was all about loving your neighbor, and how you must seek out the good in people and only see the good. Mr. Hathaway said that was the way to make people good—by refusing to see the evil. Barbara wondered if this were true, and, if so, how deep it went. If you refused to see the evil in a murderer, did that cure him? Doubtful.
 Mr. Abbott had never before read a novel about a woman who wrote a novel about a woman who wrote a novel—it was like a recurring decimal, he thought, or perhaps even more like a perspective of mirrors such as tailors use, in which the woman and her novel were reflected back and forth to infinity. It made your brain reel if you pursued the thought too far, but there was no need to do so, unless you wanted to, of course. So much for the main theme.
I discovered a new favorite this month: Bigelow's Constant Comment GREEN. I'd tried the Constant Comment Black Tea years ago and enjoyed it well enough but it wasn't a love. The green one is. I also tried Bigelow's Pomegranate Green. I didn't care for it much. 

  • Honey Vanilla Camomile
  • Camomile
  • Perfect Peach
  • Pomegranate Green
  • Wild Raspberry Hibiscus
  • Constant Comment Green 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, March 22, 2019

To Kill A Mockingbird Graphic Novel

To Kill A Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel. Original text by Harper Lee. Adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham. 2018 [October 30] 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

Premise/plot: This is a graphic novel adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. It stars unforgettable characters: Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Cal, and Boo Radley--to name just a few. If you've read the novel or watched the movie, then you should definitely consider picking this one up. It is faithful to the spirit of the book--and the text is definitely recognizably Harper Lee's.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I am not saying that I love the graphic novel adaptation more than the original novel. I am not even saying that I love the graphic novel more than the movie. (Fordham's rendering of Atticus does not resemble Gregory Peck in the slightest, by the way.) But the book reminded me of all the reasons why I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the (original) book in the first place.

It is faithful to the actual book. It has scenes that are definitely not in the movie adaptation. I think this is important to know. At times with classics one rewatches the movie more than rereads the book. Especially perhaps in the case of To Kill A Mockingbird. Though for the record, my copy of To Kill A Mockingbird is looking a bit tattered. I am not sure how many more times it can hold up to a rereading. I would have bought a replacement copy years ago--if I ever came across it at a used book store. But this isn't one you see about in used bookstores. I think people tend to hold onto their copies forever and ever. It's just that good.

I love the writing. I love the characters. I do enjoy the illustrations.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, March 21, 2019


Stepsister. Jennifer Donnelly. 2019. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence of the prologue: Once upon always and never again, in an ancient city by the sea, three sisters worked by candlelight. 

First sentence from chapter one: In the kitchen of a grand mansion, a girl sat clutching a knife. Her name was Isabelle. She was not pretty.

Premise/plot: Stepsister is a retelling of the fairy tale Cinderella told from the point of view of one of the stepsisters. But is it more than that?

The prologue sets the stage: a battle is coming, a battle between FATE and CHANCE. (There are three FATE sisters, but, primarily this novel features the crone. Chance is Marquis de la Chance.) The setting is a French village--primarily.

Chance has stolen a map--a map of a particular mortal, Isabelle. He's hoping that HER map can be changed. That the destiny that Fate has written her--or drawn for her--can be thwarted. The Crone angered that Chance has dared to steal from her--from them--sets out on a journey to find the girl and make sure that Chance doesn't give the girl any ideas of trying to fight back or change her story, her destiny. Which is exactly what Chance hopes to do with a little help.

The novel opens AFTER the ball. Isabelle has witnessed the pain, the agony, the humiliation of her sister, Octavia (aka "Tavi"). Their mother's insistence that the girls cut their bodies--their feet--in order to fit into the glass slipper is about to lead Isabelle to a similar fate.
How many times had she cut away parts of herself at her mother's demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping, more gravy, a bigger slice of cake. If I marry the prince, I will be a princess, Isabelle thought. And one day a queen. And no one will dare call me ugly ever again. (11)
As you might have guessed, neither girl--neither stepsister--fools the prince, not for longer than a few seconds, a few minutes anyway.

Stepsister is the story of what happens next....what happens in the small village where everyone knows what you did, what you tried to do. It was bad enough everyone calling you they think you're evil and twisted too.

Can Isabelle write her own story? Can she find the strength, courage, and heart to be true to herself and become the person she's always wanted to be?

My thoughts: I love, love, love this one. Not because it is premise-driven. Not because it is a "feminist" retelling of a fairy tale. No, I love it because of the characters. I love Isabelle and Tavi. I love their relationship and conversations. I don't love their mother; if you thought she was only cruel to Cinderella, you'd be wrong. But though in some ways she's true to the evil stepmother stereotype, she's also a dimensional character. One you wouldn't want as a mother, as a neighbor, as a friend, or even an acquaintance--but one that must have a back story somewhere that would explain why she is the way she is. I don't love her--or even remotely like her--but there were a few scenes where I almost, almost, almost pitied her. I also enjoy seeing Isabelle and Tavi interact with a neighbor, Hugo. I could go on about all the characters I enjoyed meeting, but to do so would be to spoil the plot. That wouldn't be fair. The book isn't even released yet.

I also love it because of the writing.
Isabelle had a strong will. She did not know that this was a good thing for a girl to have because everyone had always told her it was a terrible thing. Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl's will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what's best for her. Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that everyone is a fool. (12)
One by one they'd all disappeared, each loss like the swipe of a carver's knife. Whittling her down. Smoothing her edges. Making her more like the girl Maman wanted her to be. Isabelle had cut off her toes, but sometimes she could still feel them. Maman had cut out her heart. Sometimes she could still feel that, too. (40)
The wolves in the woods have sharp teeth and long claws, but it's the wolf inside who will tear you apart. (43)
History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don't believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out of it, behave ourselves. The wrong thing, the cowardly thing, the easy thing. You do it fast. You put it behind you. It's over, you tell yourself as you hurry off. You're finished with it. But it may not be finished with you. (46)
Envy, resentment, shame--Maman had rubbed these things against Isabelle's heart, and Tavi's until they were raw. Maman was subtle; she was clever. She'd started early. She'd started small. She knew that even tiny wounds, left untended, can fester and swell and turn a heart black. (66)
Most people will fight when there is some hope of winning, no matter how slim. They are called brave. Only a few will keep fighting when all hope is gone. They are called warriors. Isabelle was a warrior once, though she has forgotten it. (75)
Fear is the most misunderstood of creatures. It only wants the best for you. It will help you if you let it. Isabelle understood this. She listened to her fear and let it guide her. He's faster than you! It shouted as the chicken thief rushed her. So she retreated under low-hanging tree branches, which scratched his face and poked his eyes, slowing him. He's stronger than you! her fear howled. So she led him over the tree's knobby roots and made him trip. (88)
Pretty hooks you fast and kills you slowly. (124)
Call a girl pretty once, and all she wants, forevermore, is to hear it again. (124)
Pretty's a noose you put around your own neck. Any fool can tighten it on you and kick away your footing. (125)

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

World at War: Number the Stars

Number the Stars. Lois Lowry. 1989. (Won Newbery in 1990) 137 pages. [Source: Bought]

 First sentence: "I'll race you to the corner, Ellen!" Annemarie adjusted the thick leather pack on her back so that her schoolbooks balanced evenly. "Ready?" She looked at her best friend.

Premise/plot: Annemarie Johansen stars in Lois Lowry's Number the Stars. She is a young girl living with her family in Denmark during World War II. She happens to have a Jewish best friend. She doesn't fully understand what is going on and why Hitler is the way he is; but she knows that Ellen's life is in danger. She must be brave and do her part.

My thoughts: Annemarie is the heroine of Number the Stars. I loved her. I loved her courage and loyalty. Ellen is Annemarie's best friend. I love that readers get an opportunity to see these two be friends before it gets INTENSE. I also love Annemarie's family. I do. I don't think I properly appreciated them as a child reader. One thing that resonated with me this time around was Annemarie's older sister, her place in the story. The setting. I think the book did a great job at showing what it could have been like to grow up in wartime with enemy soldiers all around. In some ways it was the little things that I loved best. For example, how Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirsti (Annemarie's little sister) play paper dolls together, how they act out stories, in this case they are acting out scenes from Gone with The Wind. I think all the little things help bring the story to life and make it feel authentic.

For a young audience, Number the Stars has a just-right approach. It is realistic enough to be fair to history. It is certainly sad in places. But it isn't dark and heavy and unbearable. The focus is on hope: there are men and women, boys and girls, who live by their beliefs and will do what is right at great risk even. Yes, there is evil in the world, but, there is also good.

© 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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Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
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Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
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