Saturday, May 31, 2008

May Carnival of Children's Literature

Here's the link to the May Carnival of Children's Literature.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Looking Ahead To June...

As I just mentioned, The Worthing Saga discussion begins June 2nd at Becky's Online Reading Group.

MotherReader's 48 Hour Reading Challenge is only one week away! "To sign up, you'll need to visit her blog and leave a comment. While you're there you're probably going to want to make a note of all the rules and guidelines." And "The weekend is June 6–8, 2008. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the sixth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row."

I've got a Librarians Choices meeting the week of the 9th. That will be fun and exhausting I'm sure.

June's Bookworm Carnival is almost upon us..."you have until the 13th of June to submit your posts for the 12th edition of the Bookworms Carnival - that's two weeks from today. The theme is fairy tales, and your submissions should be e-mailed to untuneric at gmail dot com."

The Spring Reading Thing ends June 19th. I've still got quite a few books to go on that challenge. Though most would probably say I've done enough... Spring Reading Thing 2008 March 20-June 19th

The Once Upon A Time II Challenge also ends around there. (June 20th??? I think?) I've read way more than the five necessary books.

There's a new challenge--a short challenge--that you might be interested in...A Midsummer Night's Challenge; host: A Chain of Letters; dates: June 1, 2008 - June 25th, 2008; books required: 2--one by Shakespeare

Dewey's 2nd 24 Hour-Read-a-Thon..."The 2nd 24 Hour Read-a-thon will be June 28th to June 29th. It starts at 9AM Pacific DST. Here is a time zone map. It will help you figure out what time the Read-a-thon starts for you. If I calculated this correctly which is always debatable--someone could double-check for me if they like--it starts 11 AM Central time. You can find out more about the Read-a-thon challenge here. To find out about how you can help Dewey behind-the-scenes of the read-a-thon, go here. "

Both the Here Be Dragons Challenge and the Themed Reading Challenge end June 30th...a day that happens to be my sister's birthday.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Get ready for Monday!!!! Worthing Saga time...

I’m getting ready to cut and paste the schedule for June’s book-of-the-month The Worthing Saga. I posted it earlier, but I also *figure* that it is easier to post it again as a reminder than to have readers go about searching for it. (That’s if they remember that need to search for it.)

I am really looking forward to it. I know I say that with each book. But it’s more or less always sincere. I started reading this one this past week. And I just can’t wait for you to join me…to join in…it should be a lot of FUN. This one’s definitely got a lot that is discussion-worthy


Becky’s Online Reading Group will be reading The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card for the month of June. Orson Scott Card–as many of you know–is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite authors. And this book isn’t as widely known (and as widely read) as his Ender series. (Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender’s Shadow, etc.) I’m choosing this one because I love it, obviously, but also because I hope to encourage others to read it as well. You can read the first chapter online here. Discussions will be on Mondays and Fridays, except for the weekend of the 48 Hour Readathon. It will be one day early that week.

The Worthing Saga
by Orson Scott Card

Monday, June 2, 2008 Day One: Author’s Introduction - chapter 2 (roughly 1-37)
Thursday June 5, 2008 Day Two: Chapter 3 - chapter 4 (roughly 38- 92)
Monday, June 9, 2008 Day Three: Chapter 5 (93 - 119)
Friday, June 13, 2008 Day Four: Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 (120-153)
Monday, June 16, 2008 Day Five: Chapter 8 (154-205)
Friday, June 20, 2008 Day Six: Chapter 9 - 12 (206-271)
Monday, June 23, 2008 Day Seven: Chapter 13 - 15 (277-329)
Friday, June 27, 2008 Day Eight: Chapter 16 - 18 (330-401)
Monday, June 30, 2008 Day Nine: Chapter 19 - 21 (407-458 )

“This book brings together all the Worthing stories for the first time in one volume. In a way, the Worthing tales are at the root of my work in science fiction…”

…Orson Scott Card

It was a miracle of science that permitted human beings to live, if not forever, then for a long, long time. Some people, anyway. The rich, the powerful - they lived their lives at the rate of one year every ten. Somec created two societies: that of people who lived out their normal span and died, and those who slept away the decades, skipping over the intervening years and events, It allowed great plans to be put in motion. It allowed interstellar Empires to be built. It came near to destroying humanity.After a long, long time of decadence and stagnation, a few seed ships were sent out to save our species. They carried human embryos and supplies, and teaching robots, and one man. The Worthing Saga is the story of one of these men, Jason Worthing, and the world he found for the seed he carried.

Copyright © 1990 Orson Scott Card

New to Becky’s Online Reading Group. See the ‘about‘ page to answer your questions about participation.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Book Binge Challenge Completed--# of May Books Read

book bingeA Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. 148. 5/5
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. 130. 5/5
Blackness Tower by Lillian Stewart Carl. 367. 2.5/5
Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block. 478. 3.5/5
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. 330. 4/5
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan. 361. 5/5
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. 256. 5/5
Bronte's Book Club by Kristiana Gregory. 148. 3.5/5
The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle. 229. 5/5
Crispin: At the Edge of the World by Avi. 256. 3/5
Greetings From Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor. 208. 4/5
The Patron Saints of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante. 292. 4/5
The Sisters Grimm: Magic and Other Misdemeanors by Michael Buckley. 282. 4/5
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park. 201. 3.75/5
The Sisters Grimm: Tales From the Hood. by Michael Buckley. 274. 3.75/5
Once Upon A Prom: Dream by Jeanine Le Ny. 218. 3/5
The Host by Stephenie Meyer. 619. 4/5
East by Edith Pattou. 494. 4/5
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. 3/5
Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson. 389. 3.5/5
gods behaving badly by Marie Phillips. 292. 3/5
Good Enough by Paula Yoo. 322. 4/5
Once Upon A Prom: Dress. by Jeanine Le Ny. 217. 3/5
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters. 392. 3/5
Once Upon A Prom: Date by Jeanine Le Ny. 223. 3/5
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. 287. 4.75/5
Mandy by Julie Edwards. 279. 5/5
Fearless by Tim Lott. 263. 3/5
Manga Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, illustrated by Sonia Leong. 195. ???
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. 184. 3/5
Double-Click for Trouble by Chris Woodworth. 162. 3.5/5
Don't Know Where, Don't Know When by Annette Laing. 206. 3/5
The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers. 375. 4.5/5
The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. 336. 3.5/5
Rumors by Anna Godbersen. 423. 1/5
The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie. 224. 4.75/5
Neptune's Children by Bonnie Dobkin. 262. 3.5/5

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Neptune's Children

Dobkin, Bonnie. 2008. Neptune's Children.

From the jacket flap: "A dream vacation at the Isles of Wonder theme park becomes a nightmare when biological terrorism causes the death of every adult on the Islands. Younger teens and children survive, only to face the resulting horror and the chaos of a world without authority. The figure of King Neptune, symbol of the Islands, unites them as they begin to build a society within the park, safe from outside dangers. Led by a group called the Core, made up mostly of former park workers' children, the survivors slowly organize their world. But when mysterious events bring danger, some of the Islanders begin to wonder if their home is as safe as they think and if their leaders can really be trusted. As suspicions grow and rivalries intensify, the stage is set for a war that will determine the future of everyone on the islands."

Intrigued? I know I was. The plot centers around Josh and his "family." (He's an older younger teen--13 or 14--and he's caring for his younger sister, Maggie. From the very beginning, he pairs up with another set of siblings--Zoe and Sam. Together they form a family unit.) In the first few days after IT happens, there is confusion. But within 48 hours, order and structure and authority are introduced into the theme park. Josh is one of the contributors to the sanity. The "king," the boy behind King Neptune's oddly soothing voice, is Milo. He calls all the kids together and asks the older ones--minus the babysitters--to help him. Josh is one of his volunteers, and for a while he is one of the Core, but his "family" responsibilities soon prove more important than his social ones. Through the course of a year--a little over a year--these kids survive on their own without too many glitches, but soon that changes. Little questions, little doubts, a few things that rub our characters the wrong way. Why? Why is Milo so insistent that no one ever leave the theme park? Why can't they have the freedom to leave if they want? To explore the outside world for themselves?

While some adults (and a few teens) might find this one predictable, there is much to enjoy in Neptune's Children. I found that even if I was fairly certain where everything was going, I wanted to be along for the ride, for each step in the journey. It was definitely a page-turner for me. Reminiscent of both a Star Trek episode and a Twilight Zone episode, this one was a darkly fun read.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 30, 2008

About the October Bookworms Carnival

I will be hosting the October Bookworms Carnival here at Becky's Book Reviews. Why am I telling you now? Well, I have come to appreciate hosts that give participants ample preparation time. My theme is the literary gothic. My inspiration was this incredible web site. It provides an author index and a title index. The author link will take you to the page of most popular authors. But the sidebar will reveal that you can search/browse alphabetically. Just because an author appears doesn't mean that every work by that author is gothic...far from it. But at the bottom of each page, they list the gothic elements of that author's bibliography. For the record, your choice doesn't have to come from this list found on the web site. To give you some idea of what I'm looking for...

What makes a work Gothic is a combination of at least some of these elements:

  • a castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not,
  • ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy,
  • dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs which, in modern houses, become spooky basements or attics,
  • labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs,
  • shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing (a candle blown out or an electric failure),
  • extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather,
  • omens and ancestral curses,
  • magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural,
  • a passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain,
  • a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued–frequently,
  • a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel,
  • horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings.

The Gothic creates feelings of gloom, mystery, and suspense and tends to the dramatic and the sensational, like incest, diabolism, and nameless terrors. Most of us immediately recognize the Gothic (even if we don't know the name) when we encounter it in novels, poetry, plays, movies, and TV series. For some of us--and I include myself, the prospect of safely experiencing dread or horror is thrilling and enjoyable.

Elements of the Gothic have made their way into mainstream writing. They are found in Sir Walter Scott's novels, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and in Romantic poetry like Samuel Coleridge's "Christabel," Lord Byron's "The Giaour," and John Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes." A tendency to the macabre and bizarre which appears in writers like William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Flannery O'Connor has been called Southern Gothic.

I would prefer participants to limit their focus on "literary" or "classic" gothic pieces of literature (poetry, short stories, novellas, novels). (Published before 1960) But I won't exclude your entry if you focus on more modern gothic literature.

I would encourage you to browse the Literary Gothic site between now and September so you can plan your reading accordingly. There are plenty of novels, short stories, poems, and novellas to choose from. And many are e-texts. (Though you should be able to find many at Amazon or your local library.)

Here are just a few examples:

  • Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey
  • Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights
  • Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre
  • Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • Mary Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret
  • Samuel Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White
  • Wilkie Collins' The Haunted Hotel
  • Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent
  • Elizabeth Gaskell's Gothic Tales
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"
  • Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle
  • H.P. Lovecraft...
  • Matthew Lewis' The Castle Spectre
  • Matthew Lewis' The Monk
  • Edgar Allen Poe...
  • John Polidori's The Vampyre
  • Thomas Peacock's Nightmare Abbey
  • Ann Radcliffe's The Italian
  • Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho
  • Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market
  • William Shakespeare's Hamlet
  • William Shakespeare's Macbeth
  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
  • Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher
  • Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula
  • Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto
Submissions are due October 10th. Email laney_po at yahoo dot com

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Poetry Friday: Bad Original Poem...but Very Good News

On Tuesday, I heard some of the BEST news of the century. OK, I exaggerate. But it's still great news. The most joyful, uplifting news heard during the news hour...get this...beef of the gods as it actually good for you. The fat on beef brisket is GOOD for you! It made me want to do a little cheer, I admit. "Texas A&M researchers have found that favorite of barbecue lovers is high in a monounsaturated fatty acid that can aid in production of good cholesterol." Oleic acid in case you're wondering. My mom and I have been singing the glorious news about. And I thought I'd try my hand at haiku. But be warned, it may be my first and last attempt.

Health food Texas Style:
Melt-in-your-mouth beef brisket
Best news of the year!

Beef Brisket is a health food! See here as well. And here. And here.

Round-up is here. (Wild Rose Reader)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Midsummer Night's Challenge

A Midsummer Night's Challenge
host: A Chain of Letters
dates: June 1, 2008 - June 25th, 2008
books required: 2--one by Shakespeare

  1. Read A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Your copy from High School (if you still have it) is fine.

  2. Then read at least one other book/graphic novel connected to or based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (possible works listed below).

  3. Blog about this supplementary work, comparing it to the original

I've read the Manga Shakespeare edition of A Midsummer's Night Dream. I will *probably* be using that. There are a few books in my tbr pile, however, that feature Titania and Oberon. I might read those if time permits. (Frewin Jones' Faerie Path series. #2 The Lost Queen and #3 The Sorcerer King.)

I've already read this series. But if you're looking for more books that would probably qualify (check with the host, first) then Michael Buckley's Sister Grimm series is fun. I don't think the first book features Puck. But most of the sequels feature Puck. He's one of the main characters in fact. And in one of the books, the fourth one I believe, they go to New York City and meet King Oberon and Queen Titania.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

At long last...a meme...

I wonder if I was the only one feeling meme-deprived. It seemed that all the memes that kept popping up I'd already done before...sometimes more than once. So I was thrilled to see this little meme over at Things Mean A Lot.

Who's your all-time favorite author, and why?

Three guesses, anyone? Orson Scott Card is the winner! Since I first read Ender's Game back in the fall of 2000, I've been as faithful as can be. He still reigns supreme in that coveted spot of my favorite favorite favorite all-time favorite author. I love him because he's good. He's more than good, he's the best. Generally speaking, for an author to become "an all-time favorite" they have to meet certain criteria (or is it criterion?):

a) The author of more than one book. Preferably the author of more than three.
b) The author has to have more than one title sitting in my top-ten favorite favorite favorite spots. The more titles an author has on my list of "best books ever" the higher his/her ranking will be.
c) The author's books have got to pass the again-again test. Maybe I wouldn't *technically* need to have read one or more of the authors books multiple times. But I've got to want to. I've got to have that "again, again" thrill.

When it comes to OSC...Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, The Worthing Saga, and Pastwatch the Redemption of Christopher Columbus would all make my top twenty list of my all-time favorite favorite books. With Ender's Game being THE VERY top. And the rest appearing in a variety of slots.

But I still haven't answered why yet have I? It's his characters. No one does characters as good as Card. No one. He really really gets what it is all about. The plots and premises are good too. Really good. But it is because I care about the characters, love the characters, that I keep coming back for more.

Who was your first favorite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favorites?

This is a tough one. Really tough. How am I ever to decide between Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, Beverly Cleary, and L.M. Montgomery????? The first three (Wilder, Lewis, Cleary) belong so much in the realm of my childhood that to deny them would be to deny myself. I can't not be the person that loved them to pieces. Yet, I don't really spend any time with anymore either. I reread them this year because I wanted to. But I doubt I visit them again anytime soon...there's just too many other authors out there. L.M. Montgomery I seriously seriously love. I was reading Anne of Green Gables and I was thinking that it was one of the most perfectly perfect books ever. She'll always be in my top ten, maybe even in my top five.

Who's the most recent addition to your list of favorite authors, and why?

Neil Gaiman would be up for nomination certainly. I didn't read any of his until 2007...and I'm still reading him whenever I get the chance. His books are almost always checked out from the library.

Ray Bradbury was another 2007 discovery. I haven't read any Bradbury in 2008, but I'd like to.

H.G. Wells. Yet another 2007 discovery. Can't recommend him highly enough though :)

As to why? Well, when I read a book by an author and that one book makes me want to read more, more, more by that author...then he or she gets added to my list!

If someone asked you who your favorite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you'd add on a moment of further reflection.

Orson Scott Card. Stephenie Meyer. Susan Beth Pfeffer. Scott Westerfeld. Rick Riordan. Margaret Peterson Haddix. Lois Lowry. Sarah Dessen. Elizabeth Scott. L.M. Montgomery. C.S. Lewis. Jane Austen. Alexandre Dumas. Mary Shelley. Zora Neale Hurston. Ray Bradbury. Neil Gaiman. J.R.R. Tolkien.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Rumors by Anna Godbersen

Godbersen, Anna. 2008. Rumors: A Luxe Novel.

It's sad (but in this case sad-but-true) when the best thing about a novel is the cover. Releasing (according to Amazon) on June 3, 2008, Rumors is the sequel to the largely delightful but lusty teen novel Luxe. (Read my review here.) The first novel I found to be a guilty but highly enjoyable indulgence. A soap opera in historical costumes if you will. But this second one was a huge disappointment. Don't hate me. I'm just being honest. I found it boring. Really really boring. The characters seem lifeless. It's one thing for characters to be fleshed-out stereotypes. It's quite another when even the superficialness of the stereotypes lack the appearance of the appearance of life. Penelope. Diana. Lina. They all lacked the spark of life, of interest. Never have I been so bored with a novel. That along with the ending, killed any pleasure I might have gotten from reading this one.

Rumors, for me, is such a contrast to the first novel, Luxe. Luxe had life. It sparkled with interest. I cared about the characters--for the most part--and I wanted to know what happened next. Unfortunately that interest didn't transfer over to the sequel. The characters that before I had found so interesting, so were as dull and lifeless and as pointless as could be.

Penelope wants Henry. Diana wants Henry. Henry wants Diana but won't go after her because of Elizabeth's so-called "death." Henry's friends tell him NOT to go after Diana. No one is happy. Everyone is manipulative or calculating. There are a few new characters introduced, but it wasn't enough to keep me interested in this mindless entertainment.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

BTT: What Is Reading Fundamentally?

btt button

Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

I'm a flexible person in theory when it comes to defining reading. Reading technically speaking can be "reading" anything from newspapers, emails, instant messages, lists, blogs, etc.--to the more traditional types of reading--fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audio books. I'm not one of those that say that audio books aren't real books. Let's say I read 300 books a year. (I probably read more...but let's just say that's what I read.) I may use audio books for about five or six of those three hundred. It seems like a minuscule amount in comparison. But I'm not one to judge them as *unworthy* of being books. Some people prefer them because it's more convenient. It gives them something to do while commuting to and from work. It gives them something to do while walking/jogging or getting exercise. iPods and other mp3 players make audio books more convenient than ever. Some people choose audio books because they *need* to, the same way people *need* large print books. I make a point of allowing audio books in all my challenges because I feel it is unfair to exclude them. They are a truly viable option when it comes to reading. Similarly, graphic novels aren't something I read much of. But I do think they are books and they do qualify as books. I also think wordless picture books qualify as reading. Illustrations aren't less important, less valuable than words. You still have to interpret or "read" meaning into it. You still have to piece it together into a cohesive whole.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Series Challenge Season Two

Crazy Cozy Murders is hosting a second series challenge. It *officially* begins June 1rst, 2008. It ends November 30, 2008.

I'm going to try to make my goals very specific this go-round.

The Anne series:


The rest of the Chronicles of Narnia series (a continuation from round one of challenge)


The rest of the Twilight series

1) Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

The Lord of the Rings


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Series Challenge Wrap-up

Here are the series books I was able to get to. A few of the series I am still a few titles away from completing. But I still have every intention of getting to them this year...if all goes well.

C.S. Lewis:
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair

Brandon Mull:
Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star
Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague

Isaac Asimov:
Prelude to Foundation
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation’s Edge
Foundation and Earth

Laura Ingalls Wilder:
Little House in the Big Woods;
Little House on the Prairie;
On the Banks of Plum Creek;
By the Shores of Silver Lake;
The Long Winter;
Little Town on the Prairie;
These Happy Golden Years;
The First Four Years.

Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Dead and Gone

Conor Kostick

Libba Bray:
Sweet Far Thing

Ruth Stiles Gannett:
My Father's Dragon
Elmer and the Dragon
Dragons of Blueland

Beverly Cleary:
Beezus and Ramona
Ramona the Pest
Ramona the Brave
Ramona and Her Father
Ramona and Her Mother
Ramona Quimby Age 8
Ramona Forever

Julia Quinn:

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn
When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn

Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth

Sisters Grimm: Magic and Other Misdemeanors by Michael Buckley
Sisters Grimm: Tales from the Hood by Michael Buckley

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Margaret A. Edwards Challenge Completed

1. Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin
2. A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
3. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
4. Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
5. The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers

It would be really hard to pick a favorite among the five novels. Gifts was amazing. A Long Way From Chicago was amazing. And The Glory Field was amazing. Three books amazing in three mostly different ways. They all share the fact that they're all masterfully written with strong characterization.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Spring Reading Challenge (Rock Creek Rumblings)

Rock Creek Rumblings’ Spring Reading Challenge is now completed. Here are my list of challenge reads.

Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton Jackson
The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
London by Edward Rutherfurd
I, Claudius by Robert Graves.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
by Julie Edwards

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Daring Book Challenge

A Daring Book Challenge
host: Callista; Daring Book Challenge Blog
dates: vary but my tract is June 15, 2008 to June 15, 2009
books required: 9

You have 3 tracts to choose from plus you can choose to join me in trying to read them all.

1. Read one book from each category from June 15/08 to February 15/09 (6 books in 8 months)
2. Read any 9 books from the list from June 15/08 to June 15/09 (9 books in 12 months)
3. Read one whole series from this list starting June 15/08. If it contains up to 10 books, by June 15/09, if 20-30 books, by June 15/11 and for the Trixie Belden series and Nancy Drew series by June 15/12.
Becky's Tract 2

1) Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
2) The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
3) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
4) Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
5) Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
6) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
7) The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
8) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
9) The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Alternates: 1) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, 2) The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi 3) The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne 4) Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne 5) When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne 6) Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Becky's Tract 3 -- This is still a maybe???

Anne series by L.M. Montgomery
Emily series by L.M. Montgomery

This *challenge* is slightly frustrating. Many books on the list to choose from I've read just this year. But they don't count. (Like Mandy. Like Anne of Green Gables. Like Charlotte's Web. Like Alice in Wonderland. Like the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. Like All-in-the-Kind family. Like Island of the Blue Dolphins. Like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimph. Like Out of the Dust. Like Pride and Prejudice. Oh well.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


If you've got a minute or two...I'd appreciate some feedback. I'm contemplating making some changes to my template. This is scary. Very scary. I experimented with Reading With Becky this afternoon to play around with the concept and get used to it. But I still don't know if I'm ready (or able) to make the commitment. What do YOU think? I've got the three column format now over at Reading With Becky. I've transferred most of my sidebar goodies over there to see how big a job it would be and to have as backup in case I do make the change. Do you like the looks of it? Or are things good as is? Which do you prefer? Two column? Three column? Let me know.

In other news, you can now subscribe to BECKY'S BOOK REVIEWS and BECKY'S ONLINE READING GROUPS via email. See the sidebar!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Illustrated by Kate Brown. 2008.

Last Wednesday, I reviewed Manga Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. I liked it. I did. As much as I ever could like Romeo & Juliet anyway. This week, I'm happy to be reviewing Manga Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This has always been more of a favorite of mine. Not my absolute favorite Shakespeare mind you, but near the top at least where comedies are concerned. There is a certain playfulness, a whimsical flavor that is light and fun and more joyous. Love isn't deadly in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's playful, fun, silly, fickle, whimsical. It's the anti-Romeo-and-Juliet play.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is the story of multiple lovers, multiple couples. There isn't one main story--there are many teeny-tiny stories that are all woven together into a delightful mix. There is Oberon and Titania, Theseus and Hippolyta, Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius. And then there is the playful mixing of Lysander and Helena and Titania and Nick Bottom (the Ass of a man). There is much angst in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Much. Angst. You've got father-daughter conflict. You've got thwarted, forbidden love. You've got unrequited love. You've got secrets. You've got betrayals. You've got angry little spats. And at the heart of the whole mess is Puck. Puck is such a wonderful and delightful little fairy-type character. He is a prankster. Someone who takes enjoyment out of playing and interfering with mortals.

In Romeo-and-Juliet, love is taken too seriously. Here, one might argue that love isn't taken seriously enough. You've got these two men, Lysander and Demetrius, making all sorts of foolish speeches...but the reader is in on the inside joke this time around. The reader knows that all this talk of love is just foolish magic-talk. The reader knows that such talk isn't to be taken at face-value. Each of our characters is flawed. There isn't one among them that doesn't have something that keeps them just short of perfection.

Helena, lovable though she may be, is a bit too clingy, a bit too desperate, a bit too go-getter. As a modern reader, you want to tell her to show some pride, hold on to some dignity, to not be so obviously lovesick. And, Demetrius, well, he seems a bit too full of himself. Although the text doesn't necessarily come right out and say it, he comes across to this reader as thinking he's God's gift to women. In other words, he needs a comeuppance, to be put into his place. The work of Puck on Demetrius can only be a good thing that we hope can last. Oberon, same thing, he's arrogant; he's proud; he's got this whole domination thing going on...but I can't really dislike the guy because he has a heart when it comes to Helena. He sees the poor girl in need and sets out to help her. It's not his fault Puck helps a little too much.

The language, the style. It's Shakespeare. It's beautiful. It's memorable. It just works. Again, there is nice adaptation in this Manga edition.

The artwork. I love the colored illustrations of the beginning. But there were certain sequences that just didn't work for me with this one. I liked certain pages, certain spreads. But I can't really say that the ENTIRE book was utterly fantastic or anything. But look at this color spread? Isn't it wonderful?

My Oberon! what visions have I seen!
Methought I was enamour'd of an ass.

I pray you all, stand up.
I know you two are rival enemies:
How comes this gentle concord in the world,
That hatred is so far from jealousy,
To sleep by hate, and fear no enmity?
My lord, I shall reply amazedly,
Half sleep, half waking: but as yet, I swear,
I cannot truly say how I came here;
But, as I think,--for truly would I speak,
And now do I bethink me, so it is,--
I came with Hermia hither: our intent
Was to be gone from Athens, where we might,
Without the peril of the Athenian law.
Enough, enough, my lord; you have enough:
I beg the law, the law, upon his head.
They would have stolen away; they would, Demetrius,
Thereby to have defeated you and me,
You of your wife and me of my consent,
Of my consent that she should be your wife.
My lord, fair Helen told me of their stealth,
Of this their purpose hither to this wood;
And I in fury hither follow'd them,
Fair Helena in fancy following me.
But, my good lord, I wot not by what power,--
But by some power it is,--my love to Hermia,
Melted as the snow, seems to me now
As the remembrance of an idle gaud
Which in my childhood I did dote upon;
And all the faith, the virtue of my heart,
The object and the pleasure of mine eye,
Is only Helena. To her, my lord,
Was I betroth'd ere I saw Hermia:
But, like in sickness, did I loathe this food;
But, as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it.

Fair lovers, you are fortunately met:

Of this discourse we more will hear anon.
Egeus, I will overbear your will;
For in the temple by and by with us
These couples shall eternally be knit:
And, for the morning now is something worn,
Our purposed hunting shall be set aside.
Away with us to Athens; three and three,
We'll hold a feast in great solemnity.
Come, Hippolyta.


[Reads] 'The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.'
We'll none of that: that have I told my love,
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.


'The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.'
That is an old device; and it was play'd
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.


'The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.'
That is some satire, keen and critical,
Not sorting with a nuptial ceremony.


'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.'
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?

A play there is, my lord, some ten words long,

Which is as brief as I have known a play;
But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,
Which makes it tedious; for in all the play
There is not one word apt, one player fitted:
And tragical, my noble lord, it is;
For Pyramus therein doth kill himself.
Which, when I saw rehearsed, I must confess,
Made mine eyes water; but more merry tears
The passion of loud laughter never shed.

No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no
excuse. Never excuse; for when the players are all
dead, there needs none to be blamed.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Shadow Speaker

Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi. 2007. The Shadow Speaker.

I've held off on reviewing this one for a few days now. This is one I'm on the fence about. Part of me really likes it. Thinks of it as good-and-pleasant weird. The kind of weird that is fun and enjoyable. Part of me, however, thinks it's just weird weird. Not good, not bad, just weird. (For the record, the two sides of the fence are not like and dislike. Rather, they are like and love.) The Shadow Speaker has an interesting premise. A fun premise. It's a futuristic world. Set in Africa in 2070. It's been quite a few (maybe a decade but not quite two decades) years since the world has been forever changed by nuclear war. But the changes aren't all bad. Around the time the nuclear bombs went off, someone invented a "peace" bomb that was made to counter-act the effects. It was made to create or recreate out of chaos, out of mess. It was meant to make the world beautiful and life-giving again. In a way, it worked, and worked well. It has transformed the world in some wonderful ways. But there were some consequences. Magic. Magic entering the world from other worlds, other dimensions. Magic effecting humans, effecting genetics, creating special powers. Magical animals and magical objects and magical creatures as well. There are now holes, gaps, entrances between several different worlds. Some of the beings entering earth are nice and pleasant enough. Others aren't. Others are more bent on evil; set on going to war with humans. Our main narrator, our heroine, is a *special* human with special powers that set her apart, make her different. These differences make some fear her, some respect her, some hate her. She's a girl with possibilities and potential. If she can survive til adulthood that is. Her name is Ejii and this is her story.

The Shadow Speaker has all the traditional wrappings (or is it trappings???) of your classic adventure quest. It has one main character seemingly going off to do the impossible. The goal--like so many others before it--is to save the world. Along the way, she meets friends, gathers a team together, gets in and out of trouble countless times, and along the way becomes a wiser and better person. So if you like adventure-quests with a strong magical theme, The Shadow Speaker may just work well for you. It's not that I don't like adventure quests. I do. They're not my favorite, favorite, favorite narrative type. But I like them well enough. I guess I just had a hard time fully suspending my disbelief when it came to loving this world, this setting. Not the Africa part, but the magical fantasy worlds.

Still, I mainly only have positive things to say about The Shadow Speaker.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Glory Field

Myers, Walter Dean. 1994. The Glory Field.

Recently released in a new paperback edition, The Glory Field is a true must-read. Why? It's practically perfect in every way. It is a novel that traces a family from its Sierra Leone roots to what was at the time of its publishing modern-day, urban America. The Glory Field loosely weaves together the story of one family through multiple generations. Our story begins with a brief vignette (1753) focusing on Muhammad Bilal, a young boy who is captured and sold into slavery in the South. Many settings, many narrators, many individual stories and legacies that collectively capture the African-American experience. (1753, 1864, 1900, 1930, 1964, 1994). It is an emotional, well-written, almost poetic journey. Very heartfelt. Very real. Very moving. The characterization is wonderful. I really came to love, came to care for all the characters across the generations. I've read a few other novels through the years that have sought to tell a multi-generational story...but none have been so effective, so masterfully done.

If you love historical fiction, then you MUST read this one. It's a truly great novel.

"We come a long way and we got a long way to go. You can't make much progress if you don't leave home, but you can sure mess yourself up if you don't remember where home is." (232)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 26, 2008

Interview with Clare B. Dunkle!!!!

Today I am very pleased to bring you an interview with Clare Dunkle, author of The Sky Inside. While The Sky Inside is not the author’s first book—she has written the successful Hollow Kingdom trilogy, for example—it is in some ways a departure from her previous works. (The author’s previous works are The Hollow Kingdom, Close Kin, In The Coils of the Snake, (those three comprising the trilogy) and By These Ten Bones.) (You can read my review of The Sky Inside here.)

What inspired you to write The Sky Inside? Were you nervous or excited (or a little bit of both) about writing a science fiction novel—or dystopian novel—as opposed to continuing on writing fantasy?

I was ready to write something different. I had recently been to a conference with Neil Gaiman, and he had mentioned friends of his who are afraid to write outside their genre, who said, "Oh, my editor would kill me if I did that," or made other comments of that sort. And he said, "Who's doing the writing here? Whose career is this?" In effect, he said, "Grow a spine!"

And I thought, Neil's exactly right. If I'm going to be writing books for years, I can't start limiting myself to certain genres or styles. I'll feel stifled and bored. I've got to try new things, even if they seem like a little bit of a stretch.

I was nervous about it, sure, not just because The Sky Inside is SF but because it has my first boy protagonist. But I trusted my new editor's judgment, and she loved the book. She's never read my trilogy, so I knew she wasn't distracted by what I'd already accomplished. She's been focused throughout this process on what I'm accomplishing right now.

What came first, the premise or the characters? Personally, I feel that while the premise is strong—very strong—your novel does remain character driven. How important was it for you to have resonating characters that readers care about?

When I start a novel, I have a question I want to answer, not an answer I want to frame in a story. My novels start from "I wonder what would happen," not from "Here's what I want to show the world." If I already knew the answer to the question I had at the start, I wouldn't feel the need to write the book. So the premise, while important, doesn't interfere with where the characters want to take me.

The premise of The Sky Inside came from my mulling over Armageddon stories. So many SF books are about the end of the world. I thought, instead of that kind of a future, what if the future saw us having conquered our major problems of overpopulation, pollution, and aggression toward our neighbors? How would we have gotten there, and what would be the price? That's where Martin's suburb came from. We think of it as a dystopia because, let's face it, every society is a dystopia, but it's a world that works very well for a majority of the population—probably better than our society does today. Maybe we get bored at the thought of such a life, but a lot of our peers would describe it as the American dream.

It's very important to me to have strong, interesting characters because I have to spend so much time with them. I have a short attention span, and I can't imagine how boring it would be to try to work with characters who don't have a life of their own. Even though I have some dim idea of how I think a book will go before I start writing, my characters drive what actually happens. That's because, until I watch the characters living life minute by minute, I don't know much about them or their world. They often surprise me, and these surprises show up as plot twists in the books.

For instance, I had no idea that Martin would be attracted to William and be very touchy and super-sensitive about their differences as a result. That happened when he walked into the room with her. I had nothing to do with it. (William still isn't sure what to make of him. He's complicated her worldview.)

But the strangest example of the characters driving this story is the fact that I wanted The Sky Inside to be much more light-hearted, a boy and his dog having adventures in their neighborhood. I was even more taken aback than Martin was at the horrible reaction the Wonder Babies elicited. I thought the little children might be annoying, but I had no idea they'd be treated like pariahs. That wound up deeply affecting the entire plot. You'll notice that genetic engineering and the creation of children as consumer products is a long step away from my original premise. The answer to my original question evolved considerably.

I’ve often wondered when I was reading, and I don’t know if this will come out the right way or not. But in the writing process do prologues come first or last or whenever the inspiration strikes? Is it the first thing you write or the last? I’m always curious if writers—and I know you can only speak for yourself—write their books in order from first to last or if they have an outline and they write portions here and there. I ask this because your prologue seems so right. It has just enough spookiness or eeriness to unnerve the reader and serve as such a stark contrast to the opening chapters.

Sometimes prologues come last (or get rewritten multiple times), but when I wrote The Sky Inside, this prologue came first. I was very interested in the role the television played in this novel, and I wanted to get a feel for how it connected or disconnected the major characters, what it revealed and what it hid.

Besides, when I start a novel, I have to hook myself even before I hook the reader. If I don't get spooked out and fascinated by the world in the first couple of pages, I'll just drop the project and go write something else: survival of the fittest plot!

I always write my novels from start to finish. That's because the characters have to be allowed to do their own exploring as the novel progresses. It isn't about where I think I want to go, it's about what the characters want to get out of this process and how I can help them. They're the ones who have to live it, after all.

Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite quote from the novel? What is your favorite bit that you’re extra-proud to have written?

I debated several times whether I should leave in Cassie's review of Peter Pan, where she says, "Tinkerbell thought she could keep her job if enough little children believed in advertising." Let's face it, I wrote that to make myself laugh, and it works like a charm every time. But I doubted whether I should be so indulgent of my own tastes in a novel. If my editor had protested, I would have removed it.

I'm proudest of my writing in Martin's scene in the suburb park after the vote on the product recall, the scene where he hides out at the top of the slide and he's missing his sister so much. That whole scene is pure Martin. He and I were really in sync that day. And I loved the Jell-O dream he had. It made us both feel better.

I'm also proud that I noticed what Martin noticed in the ruined suburb, that it wasn't the look but the spacing and rhythm of things that made it familiar: sidewalk, driveway, sidewalk, driveway; or garage, kitchen, dining room, living room. I had never noticed this before, but once Martin noticed it, it made perfect sense. It's walking around in a space, the length of time from A to B, that sinks into our bones. That must be why some archaeological sites are never understood: we've lost the rhythm of life in and around them, so we can't figure out what they're for.

What was your first impression of the cover art for The Sky Inside?

I loved it from Day One. I had been very nervous about it because science fiction covers can be downright cheesy, and I really didn't want Martin to have a cheesy cover. I loved the use of the photographs, so that Martin could be a real boy and Chip a real dog.

Your website lists several of your work-in-progress novels. I must admit I grew quite excited to read that there would be a sequel to The Sky Inside. I know it’s still early, but can you tell us a bit more about that. And I was very very intrigued to see that you’re working on a prequel for Wuthering Heights! Can you share any little tidbits—tease us a bit with what’s in store for readers—I must say I’d be eager to read both of those!

When I sent off the manuscript for The Sky Inside, I had no idea that there would be a sequel, but there were so many things I didn't know about the world that a sequel made sense. I like to leave questions in a novel so that readers like me have "jumping off" places to explore it in their minds, and Sky has lots and lots of those. For instance, why did Martin get Chip in the first place, and what will happen when Chip's real purpose and proper owners come forward? You may remember from my website that Chip's direct inspiration is Ribsy in the Beverly Cleary "Henry & Ribsy" books, and Henry has to face the fact that he's taken in a lost dog and that Ribsy already has an owner.

In the sequel, The Walls Have Eyes, Martin winds up bringing both his parents out into the wilderness, and we learn why adventures of this sort are best left to orphans. Martin also has to come to terms with his fears of the past and his feelings of inferiority around the prototypes. The Sky Inside challenged him with a lot of new information, and in The Walls Have Eyes, we see him struggling with that information, whether he'll use it to make excuses or use it to grow as a person.

The Wuthering Heights prequel draft is done, and I think it horrified my editor when she got it—something like sending a rabid Chihuahua through the mail. It's based on a lifetime of mulling over that book; you might say its my own literary criticism of Emily Bronte's novel, but written in the form of another novel.

My take on Heathcliff is that he has no place in Wuthering Heights. He doesn't want to be there, nobody else wants him there, and aside from causing misery to everyone (including himself), he is largely powerless. Think about how the novel progresses: we're pretty sure Edgar would have married Cathy whether Heathcliff had come along or not, that she likely would have died having their first child, and that Cathy II and Hareton would have wound up engaged in order to unite the family fortunes. Heathcliff can't endure these turns of events, but they take place in spite of everything he does to prevent them. By the time Lockwood comes back to visit his landlord, Heathcliff has vanished from the book, leaving scarcely a trace.

For all Heathcliff's brilliance and ruthlessness, he can't change one bit of the plot. Clearly, then, he's a character who belongs in another story, a story where the ghostly and demonic forces that surround him make sense and where he can be who he really wants to be. I give the little boy Heathcliff that story in my prequel. And, just as an act of misplaced kindness at the beginning of Wuthering Heights delivers this imp into Emily Bronte's story, a similar act of misplaced kindness at the end of my book removes Heathcliff from his proper milieu and sets him on the path to Wuthering Heights.

Apparently, where Heathcliff is concerned, kindness doesn't pay. He never asks for it, and he certainly doesn't understand it.

Growing up, whose work did you admire most? Was there a particular author that made you say, “I want to grow up and do that!”?

Well, it's crazy, but I never wanted to be a novelist, so no one's work made me say, "I want to do that." I wouldn't have written a single book if my husband hadn't asked me to write one in 2001, just as a personal favor. It had never occurred to me to write.

That aside, though, I loved Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series and Ursula Le Guin's science fiction and fantasy and admired them both tremendously when I was growing up. I lived in Middle Earth for an entire year and memorized all of the poetry from Tolkien's four books, a great exercise in vocabulary building that I recommend to anyone. I loved Harlan Ellison's stories when I was in high school and read as many collections of SF short stories as I could get my hands on. I read Bram Stoker's Dracula over and over in middle school, and Stephen King's Night Shift, too.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest? What does a day in the life of a writer look like?

I write in hour-long blocks, with breaks in between, sometimes three, sometimes five, depending on what else is going on. It's taken years to convince my family to leave me alone while I'm writing, and I still take phone calls from my adult daughters in the middle of writing blocks. The ol' "Mom" role dies hard.

Every book is different, and every day is different. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get anything done, but that doesn't hinge on any one type of problem, it's just the unpredictability of the creative process. By and large, though, I enjoy the evolution of the book as it goes through drafts and revisions. I see the growth and celebrate that. And I love working with my editors. There's no ego on either side. It's all about getting to the best book.

Before becoming a writer—a published author—you were a librarian. What do you love (or what did you love) about being a librarian? Did you find the transition from librarian to author an easy one? Did you find that your passions crossed over between the two?

I loved loved *loved* being a librarian. How I came to be a librarian is kind of funny, in fact. I was a graduate student at Indiana University, and I would walk through the library school twice a day on my way to class. I said to myself, "These people look happy and well adjusted. I want to do whatever it is they do." And that's how I wound up switching degree paths and becoming a librarian.

The thing about librarians is that we're collaborative, not competitive. We're part of a team—even a movement. I loved the feeling of working as a team, of being part of a fine group of people. I miss that most of all. It has crossed over to my writing: I firmly believe that my editor and I are a team and that we craft the book together. But when it comes to facing the public, an author has to do that alone, and that can be very hard and lonely.

The Sky Inside is dystopian fiction at its best (in my opinion). Dystopian novels have always been a favorite sub-genre of mine. I’m wondering if you have a list of favorites to recommend. Which dystopian novels make your best list? What novels do you consider to be must-reads?

The novels that most influenced The Sky Inside are Yevgeny Zamyatin's We and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker books (not classic dystopian literature, I know, but Adams' galaxy is very grim in spite of his humor). I've read many dystopian short stories, but none of the major dystopian novels—no 1984, no Brave New World, no Giver. You'll laugh at the reason why: with my overactive imagination, I find that such books traumatize me, and so I hesitate to read the really painful ones. They can send me into a kind of despair for days.

But We was like a lightning bolt when I read it. A dystopian novel gains power when you realize that the author had to flee his homeland to escape a dystopia himself. And I would put other Soviet works onto a best list (for instance, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, or The Cancer Ward, or the short stories of Isaac Babel), precisely because they describe a dystopia in action, even though we don't think of them as dystopian novels.

Now going from specific to more general, what are some of your favorite books and favorite authors—past or present, any genre?

My favorite fantasy will probably always be Pope's The Perilous Gard. And if I'm depressed or sick, there's nothing better than P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner stories. On the other hand, if I'm feeling entirely too hopeful and happy, nothing creeps me out quicker than Robert Aickman's short stories, which I own in a beautiful compilation from Tartarus Press. That two-volume set holds every kind of weirdness there is, and it's a great spur to my imagination.

But most of what I read is nonfiction, and right now I'm devouring all the books by Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks is a deeply compassionate writer, and his stories of neurological disorder celebrate the dignity and humanity of his patients in the face of almost unimaginable trials. The more I read of them, the more I marvel. Of course, it's a little frightening to learn just how badly our brain can go wrong.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

v104n18cvr.jpgMy nobler nature whispers that I should do something grand, such as watch Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa, but the bald truth is that I'd probably use this opportunity to make a few judicious stock purchases. Apple, Disney right before The Little Mermaid, Microsoft, Pixar, Starbucks ... well, you get the idea!

Thanks so much for your time, Clare! I really appreciate it. Now my faithful readers, find yourself a copy of The Sky Inside, newly starred in Booklist, by the way, and read, read, read!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

In other news...

There is a contest at Devourer of Books' blog. Read here to find out how to enter!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't Know Where, Don't Know When

Laing, Annette. 2007. Don't Know Where, Don't Know When.
We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day. Keep smiling through, just like you always do, 'Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.
Don't Know Where, Don't Know When is the book that would have been perfect for the eight or nine year old me. It had everything I was looking for then: history, history, and time travel. Oh, and light mysteries to solve. How could I forget that little hook?! I've always always had a thing for time travel whether in tv shows, movies, or books. I've also always been fascinated with history. With learning the ins and outs of daily life in various time periods, in various locales. So this book so would have been right my speed at that age. That's not to say I don't have an appreciation for it now. But the degree has lessened to a certain extent. I enjoyed it now. I did. But I would have been crazy about it as a kid.

Set in three time periods, Don't Know Where, Don't Know When is the story of three children. Two of the children are brother and sister. The third child is a stranger whom the children meet just minutes before this exciting adventure begins. The siblings are Hannah and Alex Dias--though they later go by the names of Hannah and Alex Day. The third child is an African-American child named Brandon Clark. (Yes, race does play a role in this book.) He goes by several different names further along in the text--George Braithwaite, George Clark. The three meet seemingly by chance at the University library. They all three live in the (fictional) college town Snipesville, Georgia.

I mentioned three time periods. The first, the one in which we meet our narrators, is present day America. The other two time periods are a small town in England--Balesworth--both World War II and World War I. If it sounds confusing, don't worry. It flows smoother than it might at first appear. I promise.

These three children know very little about wartime Britain--but they're about to get an up, close, and personal tour of Britain during both World Wars, and the reader is along for the ride.

I won't say the book had me at hello. It didn't. I had to overcome my prejudice of the book cover. No offense is meant to whoever--or whomever--designed it. But it just doesn't say "read me, read me" for this particular reader. And it didn't have me hooked for the introduction and the prologue. However, by the second or third chapter, once the characters had mysteriously or magically time traveled back to 1940 England, I was one curious reader. And by the time Brandon/George vanished to time travel--on his own--to 1915 England, there was no doubt about it. I was liking it. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. So if you decide to pick up this one, please promise me to give it the fifty page test.

Don't Know Where, Don't Know When is an enjoyable treat of a novel. Proof that you NEVER should judge a book by the cover.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2nd Canadian Challenge

I did not participate in the first challenge. But I was excited to see it being offered again for this year. Beginning July 1, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009. The challenge is to read 13 books by or about Canadians. I'll be focusing on L.M. Montgomery. I don't know which thirteen. But I've included (for my own sanity) a list of all her works. I'd like to get to them all eventually. But probably won't have time to squeeze them all in. It's being hosted by John of The Book Mine Set.


These are the books written by L.M. Montgomery, categorized and ordered chronologically.


Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea (1909)
Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910)
The Story Girl (1911)
The Golden Road (1913)
Anne of the Island (1915)
Anne's House of Dreams (1917)
Rainbow Valley (1919)
Rilla of Ingleside (1920)
Emily of New Moon (1923)
Emily Climbs (1925)
The Blue Castle (1926)
Emily's Quest (1927)
Magic for Marigold (1929)
The Tangled Web (1931; English title - Aunt Becky Began)
Pat of Silver Bush (1933)
Mistress Pat (1935)
Anne of Windy Poplars (1936; Canadian title - Anne of Windy Willows)
Jane of Lantern Hill (1937)
Anne of Ingleside (1939)

Collected Short Stories

Chronicles of Avonlea (1912)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920)
The Road to Yesterday (1974)
The Doctor's Sweetheart, and Other Stories (1979)
Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans (1988)
Along the Shore: Tales by the Sea (1989)
Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side (1990)
After Many Days: Tales of Time Passed (1991)
Against the Odds: Tales of Achievement (1993)
At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales (1994)
Christmas with Anne: and Other Holiday Stories (1995)
Across the Miles: Tales of Correspondence (1995)


The Watchman and Other Poems (1916)
The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery (1987)


The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career (1974, Originally published from June-Nov. 1917 in Everywoman's World)


The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume I: 1889-1910 (1985; eds. Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston)
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume II: 1910-1921 (1987; eds. Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston)
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume III: 1921-1929 (1992; eds. Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston)
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume IV: 1929-1935 (1998; eds. Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston)
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume V: 1935-1942 (2004; eds. Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston)


The Green Gables Letters from L. M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber, 1905-1909 (1960; ed. Wilfred Eggleston)
My Dear Mr. M: Letters to G. B. MacMillan (1980; eds. Frances W.P. Bolger and Elizabeth R. Epperly)
After Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to Ephraim Weber, 1916–1941 (2005; eds. Hildi Froese Tiessen and Paul Tiessen)


Courageous Women (1934; with Marian Keith and Mabel Burns McKinley)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews