Monday, June 30, 2008


Here's a contest going on at In Spring It Is the Dawn.
Here's another great contest going on at HarperCollins. I'd be much more excited if it was young adult books or children's books. But free books are free books. So I thought I'd mention it.
Yet another giveaway going on--this time for a gift card!

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Favorite Firsts of June

Here are some of my favorite first lines in the month of June. It was in some ways an incredible month.

On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing "The Battle Hymn of the Rupublic."

I shoulda listened to my brother. Right follows Zach like a shadow, but wrong wears me like a skin.

When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.

I used to be someone. Someone named Jenna Fox. That's what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch. More. But I'm not sure what.

Death disturbed the night.

There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat. Her family, the one she lived with, has left her in this old and forgotten forest, this forest where the rain is soaking into her soft fur.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Nonfiction Monday: What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy?

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy?

Cocovini, Abby. 2008. What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy?

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? is a "nine-month guide for parents and kids to share!" according to the cover description. As soon as I saw this one, I knew I'd have to read and review it. It's oversized. It uses illustrations and simple text. There is a spread for each of the nine months. Each page is sprinkled with facts. For example, on month four, the reader learns that "the baby pees 15 times a day" and for month seven one of many things we learn is that the baby's "weight can double this month. That's like a ten year old boy turning into a man in just four weeks." But as informative as the book may be, where it really delivers is in the illustrations. See for yourself:

I'd definitely recommend this one for those with expanding families.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth

Today is my sister's birthday. And unfortunately, I'm of the age where no one thinks I *need* a present to celebrate the occasion. My sister is very special to me, obviously, and we get along like peas and carrots most of the time anyway.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Life Books Challenge

Life Books Challenge
Host: SmallWorld Reads
Dates: Now - September 30, 2008
Books Required: 2

Part I: Choose Your Life Books
What are the books that, in some aspect, define you? Think about who you are in terms of spirituality, love, economics, values, worldview--the list could go on and on. These might be nonfiction, self-help, fiction, picture books, children's books, etc. Give us your life in books. To see my example, click here. After you've picked your life books, write a post and leave the link on Mr. Linky. Be sure to copy and paste the button above on your blog somewhere!

Part II: Discover Something New
Check out the blogs of other participants and find at least two titles to add to your TBR list. Let us know what books you are adding by linking a second time to Mr. Linky with (Something New) by your name.

Part III: Read the Books
When you've read the new books, write a review and leave a link to your post in the comments here.

__________________Becky's Life Books________________


The Bible

Knowing God by J.I. Packer
How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity with God by Erwin Lutzer
Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton
Chosen By God by R.C. Sproul
Hard To Believe by John MacArthur
10 Lies About God And How You May Already Be Deceived by Erwin Lutzer
Why One Way? by John MacArthur

Picture Books

Umbrella by Taro Yashima
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Just For You by Mercer Mayer
More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Children's Books

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
The World of Pooh (Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner) by A.A. Milne
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Adult Nonfiction Books

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
How To Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa

Adult Fiction Books

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Now for some explanations:

The Christian section. These are *somewhat* self-explanatory. The Bible I've been reading since 1986. And those nonfiction books are mostly theological in nature. I *love* theology. I'm not so much into the fluffy books. (No offense to the Lucado fans out there. But I want meat.)

The picture books. Umbrella is my favorite favorite favorite picture book. Corduroy and Just For You represent the special bonding and happy memories of mom and me. Just for You describes me perfectly too. I am and always will be Little Critter. More, More, More captures my infectious "again, again" nature. And my affectionate nature as well. Same with Kissing Hand. And Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day...well, that one's obvious. We all have days we wish we could move to Australia.

Children's Books. I am Ramona. No doubt about it. Pooh. I've got to have Pooh. Pooh is the key to understanding life. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But it does capture *so so so* much.
Alice. I love Alice and her crazy world. Just love her. Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wanted to be her. So she's got to be on the list. And Narnia. Oh how I love Narnia. These books definitely shaped my life.

Adult nonfiction. The reading books are great. Really great. And I feel "called" to connect people and books. So these three speak a lot about my passion when it comes to literacy and education and life. The Girl With The White Flag. War as seen through the eyes of a child. It definitely stuck with me. I could have put a dozen or more Holocaust books on the list. But I restrained myself.

Adult fiction. Ender because he's my favorite favorite favorite book. I've read it at least six times in the past eight years if not eight. And A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because Francie is so wonderfully bookishly me. Frankenstein because that book is all about the meaning of life. Seriously. It is about what it means to be human.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Sunday Salon: June Favorites

This is my second Sunday Salon post. And I thought I would take a relaxed approach this week (and every week in all honesty) to reflect back on June's reading. If my numbers seem a bit larger than usual, blame it on the 48 Hour Readathon and the 24 Hour Readathon hosted by MotherReader and Dewey.
  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
  2. Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks.
  3. Never On These Shores by Stephen R. Pastore.
  4. The After Hours (Twilight Zone)
  5. Walking Distance (Twilight Zone)
  6. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
  7. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.
  8. Secrets of the Cirque Medrano by Elaine Scott.
  9. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman.
  10. Blue Like Friday by Siobhan Parkinson.
  11. Take Me There by Susane Colasanti.
  12. The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner.
  13. Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden.
  14. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.
  15. Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs.
  16. Aurelia by Anne Osterlund.
  17. Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus.
  18. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson.
  19. Savvy by Ingrid Law.
  20. Confessions of A Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen.
  21. The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer.
  22. The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen.
  23. Summer Snow by Nicole Baart.
  24. A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson.
  25. Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst.
  26. A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz.
  27. Peeled by Joan Bauer.
  28. Christy by Catherine Marshall.
  29. Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott.
  30. In Mozart's Shadow by Carolyn Meyer.
  31. I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields.
  32. The Lost Queen by Frewin Jones.
  33. The Queen's Soprano by Carol Dines.
  34. Looks by Madeleine George.
  35. Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler.
  36. In the Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein.
  37. The Trials of Kate Hope by Wick Downing.
  38. The Sherlock Files: The 100 Year Old Secret by Tracy Barrett.
  39. Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee.
  40. Coraline the Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell.
  41. Skin Deep by E.M. Crane.
Looking back, I read some incredibly amazing and wonderful books that I just can't praise highly enough.

Favorite opening line: On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing "The Battle Hymn of the Rupublic."

Favorite girl character: Jenna Fox from Adoration of Jenna Fox
Favorite boy character: Kyle Cox, Rosie's boyfriend, in Artichoke's Heart

Top 5 (in no particular order)

Adoration of Jenna Fox
The Willoughbys
Drowned Maiden's Hair
Artichoke's Heart

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

End of 24 Hour Challenge

Post-Event Survey:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? The wee morning hours (2-3) are always going to be the most daunting for me because as soon as I finish the current book, the book of the moment, choosing the next book, getting started, getting hooked requires a bit too much energy.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Frozen Fire was great, is great, I should say. The Stephenie Meyer books would probably work great. And Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Adoration of Jenna Fox would be a great choice too.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? I think things went relatively mostly smoothly. :) I don't know if the mini-challenges ever got ironed out or not. There were one or maybe two missing there for a while. But those weren't biggies for me.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I think things worked well. I think Darcie did a great time with the cheerleaders. And I think Renay did really really well in organizing those two feeds and creating that one page that listed all the participants. Those were *super* helpful.

5. How many books did you read? 7 books; 1, 926 pages

6. What were the names of the books you read? Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler, The Trials of Kate Hope by Wick Downing, The Sherlock Files by Tracy Barrett, In the Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein, Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee, Coraline the Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, Skin Deep by E.M. Crane.

7. Which book did you enjoy most? Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

8. Which did you enjoy least? I liked them all. I did. Sherlock Files was probably the least sophisticated of the bunch so I'll go with that.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I didn't cheer.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Yes. Definitely a reader. I might one day consider being a cheerleader. But I like the reading too much to really want to give that up or try to balance it.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Awake Again! Hour ???

I *tried* to stay up longer. But I just couldn't do it. I've been up since 8:30 now. But I haven't touched a book. Not really. Not unless picture books count. So my wee morning status stands final.

The challenge does go on until 11AM Central (for me). But unfortunately, I have "responsibilities" elsewhere (Sunday School) that can't be put off. The teacher really shouldn't just play hookie because she wants to stay home and read and blog....should she??? I'm tempted. I'd love to squeeze in another book. I *know* I could do it.

But I'll be a 'good' girl and go.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wee Morning Update?

Books: 7
Pages: 1, 926

*One of the books was a graphic novel
**The fourth book had pages with short quotes (a few sentences) and had pages of photographs
***The fifth book was for the eight to ten crowd--so it had big print that was easy on the eyes.
****The seventh book I *couldn't* put down no matter how droopy my eyelids were getting.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Frozen Fire

Bowler, Tim. 2008. Frozen Fire.

"I'm dying," said the voice. Dusty clutched the phone. She had no idea who this was. A boy about her own age, by the sound of him--fifteen, sixteen, maybe a bit older. (1)

Frozen Fire is a psychological thriller that is fast-paced, tension-filled, and just unputdownable. Dusty, the girl receiving the phone call, is a great narrator. She has more questions than answers, and her choices aren't always the wisest choices--the choices we as readers would likely make--but she's so likable. She's a young teen struggling with some hard losses in her life--the mysterious disappearance of her brother, Josh, and the loss of her mother. Her mother walked out on her and her dad after Josh vanished. Living with just her dad, Dusty wants to believe the best about a mysterious young man who seems to haunt her. There's no reason to trust him, and every logical reason not to...and yet Dusty can't help feeling drawn to this stranger that is so out-of-this-world strange.

Weird. Strange. Supernatural. Whatever you want to call it, if you pick it up, you probably won't be able to put it back down...

Winner of the Hull Book Award, 2007

Winner of the Highland Book Award, 2007

Winner of the Redbridge Book Award, 2007

Winner of the Stockport Schools Book Award 2007

Winner of the South Lanarkshire Book Award 2008

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour??? Update Now

Books: 6
Pages: 1, 598

*One of the books was a graphic novel
**The fourth book had pages with short quotes (a few sentences) and had pages of photographs
***The fifth book was for the eight to ten crowd--so it had big print that was easy on the eyes.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Trials of Kate Hope

Downing, Wick. 2008. The Trials of Kate Hope.

This one was just too much fun. Fun might not be the right word. By fun, I don't mean it's fluff. I don't mean it lacks any in substance or heart. I just meant that I liked spending time with it. That I really really enjoyed it. I loved Kate. And I loved her Grandpa. More than I ever thought I would to tell you the truth. Set in 1973 in Denver, Colorado, it follows the life of a most unusual fourteen-year-old. Kate Hope. Lawyer. Yes, lawyer. She's the law partner of her eighty-something year old grandfather. The book focuses in on two cases. It's really much more interesting than the book cover might suggest.

Another review: Feminist Review, Richie,
Author website:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Sherlock Files: The 100 Year Old Secret

Barrett, Tracy. 2008. The Sherlock Files: The 100 Year Old Secret.

Much like The Sisters Grimm series only for young mystery lovers. Xena and Xander Holmes discover, shortly after moving to England, to London to be specific, that they are descendants of Sherlock Holmes. They "inherit" a book of unsolved cases, and decide to have a go with it.

It is the first in a new series. It's written for younger readers--those in the eight to ten crowd I imagine. It was a nice, fun mystery. I really enjoyed the premise.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour 13/24 Mini-Challenge Poetry

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee (my new favorite favorite book) had a heroine who was discovering the glory of Emily Dickinson. I thought I'd share some for this mini-challenge:

Part One: Life


I ’M nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there ’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They ’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody! 5
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Part One: Life


HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 5
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea; 10
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour 12/24 Meme Mini-Challenge

1. What are you reading right now? Frozen Fire. I can't remember the author off hand. But I posted a list earlier today that should have it in case anyone is dying of curiosity.

2. How many books have you read so far? 4 so far.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I can't think that far ahead. I'm always in-the-moment with my books.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Not really. I didn't go to a wedding shower. But I didn't see that as a problem. I'm not really the shower-type. I *really* dislike shower games. Cringe.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Some. But mainly people gave up after I didn't respond. ;)

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How relaxed it seems to be this time round.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Not really. It seems good to me :)

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? Nothing.

9. Are you getting tired yet? I took about an hour nap. The power kept flickering, all the lights going dim. I'm just glad I'd had my computer off. So the nap helped rejuvenate me a bit. And by the time I woke up, things were good again.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? I can't think of anything.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour 11 Mini-Challenge

This mini-challenge was fun for me. I *love* designing buttons.

As far as updates go:

Books: 4
Pages: 1, 112

*One of the books was a graphic novel
**The fourth book had pages with short quotes (a few sentences) and had pages of photographs

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

In the Company of Whispers

Lowenstein, Sallie. 2008. In the Company of Whispers.

Weird. Weird. Weird. There is really no other way to describe this one. Weird doesn't equal bad. Not really. Especially not in this case. But it does mean different, very very different. That is unless you can name a list of novels that are part memoir and part science fiction that focus on Burma's troubled past in the 1950s and a Big-Brother type government of the 2040s. Certainly none came to my mind.

I'll try to give you an impression of what you'll find IN THE COMPANY OF WHISPERS. First, you'll find lots of quotes. These are drawn from the Burmese culture--history, mythology, etc. Second, you'll find lots of photos. Black and white photos. There is a list (an appendix perhaps?) of photo credits. That's something you don't find every day. Third, you'll find letters, personal letters, from 1958. These letters are based on those from the author's family from their time in Burma. Fourth, you'll find a fictional story of a family and society in turmoil. This is where the science fiction elements come more into play.

So it was interesting and fascinating in a way. But very strange and other-ly as well.

Three strange characters share this futuristic story--Zeyya, a teen girl, Granna, her grandmother, I think her name might be Louise but I'm not 100% sure, and Jonah, a tattooed stranger that appears on their doorstep soon after Zeyya's parents are "quarantined."

Another review: Wands and Worlds.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Some storms will probably keep me off the computer/online for a bit. I'll be back when I can though. And I should still be able to read unless we lose power.
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Hour 6 or 7??? An update nonetheless :)

Number of Books: 3
Number of Pages: 732

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Artichoke's Heart

Supplee, Suzanne. 2008. Artichoke's Heart.

I love, love, love this one. I do. Rosemary Goode is our narrator. And she's a great one. Here's how it begins: "Mother spent $700 on a treadmill 'from Santa' that I will never use. I won't walk three blocks when I actually want to get somewhere, much less run three miles on a strip of black rubber only to end up where I started out in the first place. Aunt Mary gave me two stupid diet books and three tickets for the upcoming conference at Columbia Stated called "Healing the Fat Girl Within." (I'm sensing a theme here). Normally, I'm not a materialistic sort of person, but lets just say this was one disappointing Christmas. At least Miss Bertha gave me something thoughtful, a complete collection of Emily Dickinson poems (so far my favorite is I'm Nobody!), and Grandma Georgia sent money." (3)

Weight. I'm not denying this one is about weight. Rosemary, "Rosie," is struggling with weight, it's true. But she's struggling with so much more than just weight. This novel is just as much about family--dysfunctional and strange and lovable--as it is about weight. Set in a small town in Tennessee, Rosemary is the "fat" daughter of a single mom with a very bossy and nosy sister. (Don't even get me started on Aunt Mary!!!) They own a beauty shop where Rosie often works helping out.

Rosie authentically captures what it is like to be a teen who is unsatisfied with herself, her family, her life. It captures the experience of growing and becoming and transforming. Blending humor and sarcasm with glimpses of raw truth, Artichoke's Heart is practically perfect in capturing both the angst and hope of teen life.

I loved Rosie. Loved her. I loved Kyle. (Loved, loved, loved him.) And I loved the developing relationships throughout the novel especially the changes that occur between Rosie and her mom. It is difficult, extraordinarily difficult to love and appreciate someone who constantly nags and criticizes. Rosie learning to move past and look beyond her mother and her aunt's often-cruel-and-harsh treatment and seeing the bigger picture is unbelievably wise beyond her years.

This is a novel with heart and soul and substance. It's a novel that gets it right. I'm not saying that Rosie could accurately represent *every* 'fat girl' experience. Each individual is different, of course, and there are always differing circumstances and issues and back stories. (Rosie tends to binge. Not every overweight person does. Portion control is not the issue with some folks.) But the novel does do a good job in realistically portraying the fact that weight isn't really about food--either eating too little, too much, or not the right kinds of food. It's emotional. It's psychological. It's so much more than just food.

This scene, one of my favorites, occurs just after Kyle, a cute basketball playing jock asks Rosie if she'd like to come to see him play in a game:

"Get to class, Miss Goode!" I heard Mr. Lawrence shout from behind me. "Climbing a few stairs won't kill you!" Two thoughts pulsed through my head simultaneously. 1) What would become of all the fat girls in the world if people just treated them nicely? 2) The only people who call me Rosie instead of Rosemary are the ones who loved me. Kyle had just called me Rosie. (80)

Other reviews: Oops, wrong cookie, enduring romance, YA New York,

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour 4/24 Mini-Challenge #3 Favorite Quotes

Oh, magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words!

For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters, sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word. But one day, she looked at a page and the word "mouse" had instantaneous meaning. She looked at the word, and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind. She looked further and when she saw "horse," she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat. The word "running" hit her suddenly and she breathed hard as though running herself. The barrier between the individual sound of each letter and the whole meaning of the word was removed and the printed word meant a thing at one quick glance. She read the pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement. She wanted to shout it out. She could read! She could read!

From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.

From A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith, p. 166-167

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Coraline the Graphic Novel

I read the novel Coraline last summer. This was my initial review:
Coraline is an interesting but odd book. The main character, Coraline--never call her Caroline unless you want to get on her bad side--is a young girl who loves adventure. She loves to explore. She loves to hunt out adventure. One day she gets a little more than she bargained for. When Coraline unlocked the ‘fourteenth’ door in her house, she opens up a magical but dangerous world. This other world has her other mother and other father. This seems like fun for a few hours. But soon Coraline is weirded out by the whole otherness of the experience and wants to go home. The problem? The other mother is pure evil and is not going to let her go easily. Sure Coraline makes her get away easily the first time. But that’s only because this other mother knows she’ll be back. When Coraline returns to the real world, she finds her parents are missing. Vanished. But Coraline has a feeling--a bad feeling--that it is all her fault. Could her other mother have kidnapped her parents in order to force her to return? Can she find a way to save her parents--and other lost souls--without losing her own? One exciting, slightly creepy, adventure has begun!
As much as I enjoyed the novel, I loved the graphic novel that much more. It made the spooky parts that much spookier. It just translated really really really well into the graphic novel format. The color artwork by P. Craig Russell is great.

Highly recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour 3/24 Update

So far I've read Skin Deep by E.M. Crane and Coraline the Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell.

Number of Books: 2
Number of Pages: 456

*However the graphic novel (186) is considerably lighter reading than the traditional novel.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Skin Deep

Crane, E.M. 2008. Skin Deep.

First sentence: My name is Andrea.
Last sentence: Then it goes dark again.

Andrea Anderson is a nothing, a nobody, but she's fortunate to be an unnoticed nobody. "That's one thing about high school I've learned--even when you're unnoticed, there's usually someone else with a more painful role than loneliness. Girls who get their bras snapped in gym class, boys who endure a fist squashing their brown-bag lunches in the cafeteria. Both noticed and hated. Sometimes that's a solace, to not be one of them." (7)

She's a sophomore in high school. And her life is about to change forever.

Mrs. Menapace. That "crazy" neighbor down the street. When her neighbor is hospitalized, Andrea ends up with the "duty" (that soon becomes a pleasure) of taking care of Mrs. Menapace's dog. A young teen girl. A large and lovable dog. A woman dying of cancer. (And that's just the start of it.) All the makings for a good coming-of-age novel, right? Well, I think so at least!

The writing is really good. Descriptive yet sparse. Very stylistically pleasing.

270 pages.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Hour 2/24 Mini Challenge 2

Nymeth is hosting this second mini-challenge. And the challenge is to spend ten minutes of this hour reading webcomics.

What I read:

The Unshelved Book Club: Ender's Game.

I just had to see how they did my favorite favorite book of all time.

From there I went to  The City of Ember.

Then to Coraline.

I thought Farmer Boy was an unusual choice. But it worked in a strange way.

Then Lightning Thief. It was fun :)

Little Brother.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.


Tale of Despereaux.

I thought this was very fun.

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Hour 1/24 Introduction Meme Mini-Challenge

This mini-challenge comes from Darcie and it is an introduction meme.

Where are you reading from today? My home in Texas. More specifically, my bedroom.

3 Facts About Me...

Most (but not all) of the books on my reading list today are borrowed books from the Texas Woman's University review center. Our next Librarians Choices meeting is July 8th. So this readathon is good motivation to get to those specific books.

I was super super excited when Coraline the graphic novel came in the mail this week!!! It was really hard to try to save it for this weekend.

I love to read, obviously, but reading during the day makes me super sleepy. While reading at night keeps me up. I'll try to keep from napping, but one good nap wouldn't be a bad idea possibly.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

  1. Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee, 276, ARC
  2. The Sherlock Files: The 100 Year Old Secret by Tracy Barrett, 157, ARC
  3. From A Distance by Tamera Alexander, 269, ARC
  4. Coraline the Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, 186, review copy
  5. In The Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein, 379, review copy; slip of paper says doesn't release until September.
  6. Skin Deep by E.M. Crane
  7. The Hanging Woods by Scott Loring Sanders
  8. Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
  9. Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff
  10. Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler
  11. Black Pearls by Louise Hawes
  12. Mariah Mundi (Midas Box) by G.P. Taylor
  13. Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi
  14. The Richest Doll in the World by Polly Robertus
  15. Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott
  16. The Trials of Kate Hope by Wick Downing
  17. Girlwood by Claire Dean

Those are the books in my TBR pile. But I'd be happy to get to six or seven.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (number of books, number of pages, number of hours, number of comments on blogs)

I didn't plan on having any goals. I want to read as many books as possible WHILE actively participating in the blogosphere. I like commenting. I like it when people comment on my posts. It gives me energy and makes me happy. So I like to do the same for others. I like the mini-challenges too. I know I could read more if I was online less. But I'd rather do both.

Any advice for people doing this for the first time...

read your longer books during the day when you're most awake, save your shorter books for when you're sleepy
don't be afraid to abandon boring books for this weekend at least
have fun by going with the flow don't worry about sticking to plans

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

It's Almost Almost Here

I am joining in Dewey's 24 hour Readathon today. And there are 25 minutes to go until it begins.

The books I'm hoping to get to this weekend:

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee, 276, ARC
The Sherlock Files: The 100 Year Old Secret by Tracy Barrett, 157, ARC
From A Distance by Tamera Alexander, 269, ARC
Coraline the Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell, 186, review copy
In The Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein, 379, review copy; slip of paper says doesn't release until September.
Skin Deep by E.M. Crane
The Hanging Woods by Scott Loring Sanders
Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff
Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler
Black Pearls by Louise Hawes
Mariah Mundi (Midas Box) by G.P. Taylor
Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi
The Richest Doll in the World by Polly Robertus
Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott
The Trials of Kate Hope by Wick Downing
Girlwood by Claire Dean

I know I can't get to all of them, but I'm hoping to get to six or seven.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, June 27, 2008

Poetry Friday: Sugarplum Tree

Today I have a review of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod over at my Young Readers site. The book is newly illustrated by Giselle Potter, but the text is the classic poem by Eugene W. Field. Reading this book led me to search out another Field favorite from childhood.


by: Eugene Field (1850-1895)

      AVE you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
      'T is a marvel of great renown!
      It blooms on the shore of the Lollipop sea
      In the garden of Shut-Eye Town;
      The fruit that it bears is so wondrously sweet
      (As those who have tasted it say)
      That good little children have only to eat
      Of that fruit to be happy next day.
      When you 've got to the tree, you would have a hard time
      To capture the fruit which I sing;
      The tree is so tall that no person could climb
      To the boughs where the sugar-plums swing!
      But up in that tree sits a chocolate cat,
      And a gingerbread dog prowls below--
      And this is the way you contrive to get at
      Those sugar-plums tempting you so:
      You say but the word to that gingerbread dog
      And he barks with such terrible zest
      That the chocolate cat is at once all agog,
      As her swelling proportions attest.
      And the chocolate cat goes cavorting around
      From this leafy limb unto that,
      And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground--
      Hurrah for that chocolate cat!
      There are marshmallows, gumdrops, and peppermint canes,
      With stripings of scarlet or gold,
      And you carry away of the treasure that rains
      As much as your apron can hold!
      So come, little child, cuddle closer to me
      In your dainty white nightcap and gown,
      And I 'll rock you away to that Sugar-Plum Tree
      In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.
"The Sugar-Plum Tree" is reprinted from Poems of Childhood. Eugene Field. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1904.

Roundup is at BiblioFile.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Queen's Soprano

Dines, Carol. 2006. The Queen's Soprano. (Released as paperback in 2007).

Set in seventeenth century Rome during the rule of Pope Innocent XI, The Queen's Soprano is the story of Angelica Voglia, a young woman, a talented woman, who ultimately ended up taking refuge in Queen Christina's court when it became too dangerous for her to remain with her own family. At the time, women were forbidden by the Pope to sing in public. For a woman to take the stage--no matter how talented--would be the undoing of men. Even women singing sacred songs--religious ones--led men to feel "lustful" thoughts or so the Pope's argument went.

Angelica's story is simple really. She's just a young woman who wanted to sing, who loved to sing, who couldn't imagine going through life without singing. She didn't want to entangle men. It was her mother's crafty plans to use her voice to ensnare a rich husband, a noble husband. Angelica didn't want that, didn't need that. She wanted someone to love, yes, but not be possessed by someone she didn't love, could never love.

The Queen's Soprano is rich in detail. Angelica's story is fascinating especially in the realization that this--while fiction--is based on a true historical figure. What we actually know of her we learn from Queen Christina's records. Of course fiction has been blended in as well. But still it makes for a good read, an enjoyable read.

For those that love historical fiction, I'd definitely recommend this one.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Btt: Defining Readers

btt button

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

A reader is someone who loves to read. It's not someone who merely can read. It's not someone who reads on occasion. A reader is someone who loves to read, who needs to read. Someone who makes reading a priority in their lives. It's not just being literate. The mere ability to read. Reading is a way of life for a reader.

A reader cannot go days without a book. If you can go weeks or months without picking up a book, I'm questioning your "reader" status.

That's not to say that readers can't take breaks when life gets in the way. But if they take breaks and don't miss reading, don't lament their own lack of reading, then maybe they're not as much a reader as they thought. The desire to read must come through even if the follow through isn't always as strong.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


George, Madeleine. 2008. Looks.
Start in the sky. Look down at the valley. Green, plush, peaceful landscape. Drop down a little, towards the town, then skim over it, past the low beige buildings of the university, the clean white spires of the Congregational churches, the flat green welcome mat of the town common, out towards the edge of town, towards Valley Regional High School, a rambling, one-story brick building surrounded by soccer fields, field hockey fields, football fields, parking lots. Hover above Valley Regional High. Watch the crowd of kids as it streams into the school like water sucked down a storm drain. And listen: Even from high up you can hear the hum of a school on the first day back in September.
Now drop, plummet straight down like a stone, through the pebbly roof and the air-conditioning ducts and the bundles of wiring and the soft acoustic tiles, until you burst into the teeming front hall of the school. Float up by the ceiling where you can take it all in, the blended smoothie of backpacks and T-shirts and freckled shoulders and tank tops, ponytails and crew cuts and hoop earrings and knotted leather necklaces. Wince at the noise, the crashing surf of screeching, laughing, yelling.
Now pivot, face the light blue cinderblock wall next to the main doors of the school. Someone is standing there, pressed into the auditorium door alcove, someone so huge and still she might be mistaken for a piece of architecture if it weren't for the sky blue windbreaker that marks her as human, the backpack sitting limply on the floor by her feet. Look at her. Nobody else is, but you look at her. Look at Meghan Ball. (1-2)
Meghan Ball, one of our two narrators, is obese. "Meghan Ball is at once the most visible and invisible person in school. In the obvious way, she is unbearably visible. She takes up the most space of any person in the entire school--in the entire town, in fact. She is impossible to overlook in class pictures or on the risers during chorus concerts--they always make her stand in the back row, where her round head hovers above a space big enough to accommodate three normal-sized kids. She has a back as wide as a basketball backboard, perfect for spitting on and pelting things at. In this way, Meghan is a walking bull's-eye target. But then, just when she feels like she can't get any bigger, when she's feeling brontosaurically huge and exposed, someone will walk right past her--right past her--saying something totally private they would never want anyone else to hear, just as if Meghan wasn't there at all--like right now, right this very second, watch." (3)

Heavy on descriptions and details, Looks examines high school life through two sets of eyes. Meghan, whom we've already met, and Aimee Zorn, a girl with an obvious eating disorder, a girl obviously in pain who is struggling with her life the only way she knows how: by controlling what goes in and out of her mouth and by writing poetry. In alternating voices, Looks explores most facets of high school life.

There are moments when the observations, the descriptions, are right on:

"It's amazing what people will say right in front of you when you're obese, like you're deaf or something, like you're retarded. Or like you don't even speak the language, like you're a tourist lost in the land of the thin." (5)

"The fat girl who loses her only friend sees, all at once, how everything works. She sees that all promises are fictions, all friendships are games with winners and losers. The fat girl left alone in the world sees that every human being has a value assigned to them that they are helpless to change no matter what they do, and she sees that people trade each other like baseball cards: three cheap friends for two valuable friends, a whole group of worthless friends for one popular friend. It's like dying and coming back to life, being a fat girl who loses her only friend; it gives you an insight into the people around you that the average person couldn't bear to have.
But if it doesn't break her, this insight makes the friendless fat girl strong. The fat girl left alone in the world becomes the ultimate outsider, and outsiders always know the insiders' secrets, because insiders don't care what's happening on the outside--they never check to see what the outsiders know. They usually don't even know who the outsiders are. The person on the bottom sees what's happening on top, the person at the back sees what's happening in front, the person on the outside sees what's happening at the center, and the fat girl who loses her only friend is under, behind, and outside all at once; if she cares to look, she can see everything in every direction. God must be a friendless fat girl, because only friendless fat girls are as omniscient as God." (144)
But for me, the narrative was too detached. The third person present tense which surprisingly blended seamlessly with passages written directly to address the reader (that would be second person plural???) just didn't work well for me all the time. I became impatient. I became annoyed. While I wanted to love this book--really wanted to love it--I found myself increasingly annoyed by a few things. Nothing major. But the fact that "the fat girl" was always "the fat girl" and sometimes the "friendless fat girl" or the "lonely fat girl" but hardly ever just Meghan was something that really really really really annoyed me. Fat wasn't only a label, it was the defining characteristic for Meghan. And that just doesn't sit well with me. I felt that a bit more fleshing out for all the characters was in order. I felt Aimee Zorn got the better treatment, better back story, more heart and soul. At the end of the book, I felt I still didn't know Meghan. She was still just the fat girl. She may be the fat girl who now has a friend. But still. I didn't feel that way with Aimee. I felt she was more developed as a character. This was her story. Fat girl was just there along to help skinny girl win the day.

Based on what reviews I've read, I'm alone in seeing that this one has a few flaws. Most seem to really really enjoy it. And it's not that I didn't enjoy aspects of it. But it seemed impersonal and detached in places. Unemotional even in a few spots. And while detachment doesn't make a novel good or bad or whatnot. It does make it slightly less satisfying. Would I recommend it? Yes. Other people seem to be enjoying this one a good deal. And the story is a good one even if it reads closer to a parable (is that the right word???) than an actual story.

Other reviews: Little Willow, Bookshelves of Doom, Sarah Miller, Teen Book Review.

Also of interest: Publishers' Weekly article, author's website.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Weekly Geeks #9 Part Two

If you're not a challenge-addict or weekly geek, you'll just have to forgive this challenge-mania of a day. Our assignment for weekly geeks this week was to update our challenges and do some housekeeping. In doing so, I realized that I'd finished a good many (six) challenges. Here are the challenges that remain on my list:

Summer Reading Challenge

Rock Creek Rumblings
June - August
participant decides

So far: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, Peeled by Joan Bauer. Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs. Take Me There by Susane Colasanti The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner, The Lost Queen by Frewin Jones, Savvy by Ingrid Law, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry, Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden, Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus, The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen, Blue Like Friday by Siobhan Parkinson, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, Secrets of the Cirque Medrano by Elaine Scott, Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott, Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman, The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.

Irresistable Reviews Challenge
Host: Books & Other Thoughts
dates: May - September 1, 2008
books required: 8

So far I've read 6 of the 8 books.

6 / 8 books. 75% done!

Nonfiction Five
Host: Joy
Dates: May – September 2008
Books required: 5

So far I've read 4 of the 5 books.

4 / 5 books. 80% done!!

It's The End of the World (As We Know It) Challenge
Host: Me
Dates: May 2008 - September 15, 2008
Books Required: at least three

I've read five books so far: The Host by Stephenie Meyer, The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Fearless by Tim Lott, and Neptune's Children by Bonnie Dobkin.

Twain Challenge
host: Becky
dates: May - November 15, 2008
books required: 2

1 / 2 books. 50% done!

Gaskell Challenge
host: Becky
dates: May - November 15, 2008
books required: 2

1 / 2 books. 50% done!

Dumas Challenge
host: Becky
dates: May - November 15, 2008
books required: 2

1 / 2 books. 50% done!

Dickens Challenge
host: Becky
dates: May - November 15, 2008
books required: 2

I have read ZERO books for this one. And I may not attempt it even.

Bronte Sisters Challenge
host: Becky
dates: May - November 15, 2008
books required: 2

I have read ZERO books for this one. I may try. But I don't know if I can do it.

Initials Reading Challenge
host: Becky of Becky’s Book Review; But has own site for reviews
dates: April 1, 2008 - November 30, 2008
books required: 5

I've read 7 so far. But I've still got the Lewis and Tolkien series...not to mention the L.M. Montgomery books to I'm not ready to call it finished yet.

Herding Cats Challenge
host: Renay
dates: May through November 30th 2008
books required: 3

2 / 3 books. 67% done!

Series Challenge Season 2
Crazy Cozy Murders
dates: June 1, 2008 - November 30, 2008
books required: participant decides

I've only read one book for this so far. But my goals are specific. Anne books. Narnia books. LOTR. Twilight series.

Chunkster Challenge
host: So Many Books, So Little Time
dates: January 7th- December 20th
books required: 4

I've read this many. However the challenge isn't completed because you are supposed to read a book for each quarter of the year. So I've got at least one or two more books to add in order to do this one properly.

Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
London by Edward Rutherfurd
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Camilla by Fanny Burney
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Christy by Catherine Marshall

Triple-8 Challenge
host: own website
dates: all of 2008
books required: 64 (or is it 56?)

Still need:

4 audio books
1 book by woman author pre-1950
3 Nonfiction Books
7 books by L.M. Montgomery

49 / 64 books. 77% done!

Short Story Challenge
host: Kate’s Book Blog
dates: all of 2008
books required: participant decides

I've read six short story collections so far. I don't know how many more I want to do or need to do.

The A to Z Challenge for 2008
host: Thoughts for Joy
dates: all of 2008
books required: 52

Author Letters Needed: U
Title Letters Needed: Q, X, Z

48 / 52 books. 92% done!

Mythopoeic Award
host: Foxy writer
dates: all of 2008
books required: 7

3 / 7 books. 43% done!

Nineteenth Century Women Writers
host: Becky’s Book Reviews
dates: all of 2008
books required: 4-6

5 / 6 books. 83% done!

2008 TBR Challenge
host: Mizbooks
dates: all of 2008
books required: 12

8 / 12 words. 67% done!

Printz Award Challenge
host: Hidden Side of A Leaf
dates: all of 2008
books required: 6

5 / 6 books. 83% done!

Inklings Mini-Challenge
host: Becky’s Book Reviews
dates: all of 2008
books required: 4

Technically done, but still not finished with the not really.

By the Decades 2008
host: 3M
dates: all of 2008
books required: 8

I've read more than 8.

Super-long ambitious goals: need 1770s, 1780s, 1800s, 1830s, 1850s, 1870s, 1880s, 1880s

In Their Shoes Reading Challenge
host: own site
dates: all of 2008
books required: participant decides

I set a goal of 8 books.

5 / 8 books. 63% done!

Celebrate the Author Challenge
host: Becky’s Book Reviews
dates: all of 2008
books required: 12

6 / 12 books. 50% done!

Cardathon Challenge
host: me (but has its own site)
dates: all of 2008
books required: participant decides

I'm barely keeping track of this one. It's mostly ongoing. I'm not too worried about it.

2k8 Challenge
host: Teen Book Reviews
dates: all of 2008
books required: at least 8

I've read 8 already. But I'd like to keep this one active until the end of the year.

100+Book Reading Challenge
host: its own blog, its own yahoo group, its own shelfari group
dates: all of 2008
books required: 100 or more

Same here. I've read more than 100 books this year already. But the point is to record all you've read. So I'm not going to be closing it anytime soon.

Stephenie Meyer Mini-Challenge
host: Becky of Becky’s Book REviews
dates: June 1, 2008 - January 30, 2009
books required: 2

I've read one of the two. Breaking Dawn doesn't release until August. But I've read The host.

1% Well-Read Challenge
host: 3M/ Michelle
dates: May 1, 2008 - February 28, 2009
books required: 10

1 / 10 books. 10% done!

Arthurian Challenge
host: Becky (own blog)
dates: April 1, 2008 - March 31, 2009
books required: 6-12

3 / 6 books. 50% done!

Hans Christian Andersen Award Reading Challenge
host: me (own blog for challenge)
dates May 2008 through May 2009
books required: 4

One out of four.

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

0 books read yet.

42 Challenge
host: Becky; own blog
dates: officially Jan 1, 2009 - December 3, 2009
books required: 42

11 / 42 somethings. 26% done!

A Fairy Tale Challenge
host: Judy
dates: perpetual
books: all of Andrew Lang’s color fairy books

I haven't read any yet.

About to Begin Challenges:

July Book Blowout
Host: Blue Archipelago Dates: July 1, 2008 - July 31, 2008 books required: participant decides

Classics Challenge
host: Trish
dates: July 1, 2008 - December 31, 2008
books required: 6

A Well Rounded Challenge
host: Jan (own blog)
dates: July 1, 2008 - December 31, 2008
books required: 6

YA Romance Reading Challenge
host: me; own blog
dates : July 1, 2008 - February 28, 2009
books required: 6

Book Awards II Challenge
host: 3M
dates: August 1, 2008 - June 1, 2009
books required: 10

2nd Canadian Book Challenge
host: John of The Book Mine Set
dates: July 1, 2008 - July 1, 2009
books required: 13

Raved About Reads
Host: MizB (but has its own blog)
dates: June 30, 2008 - June 30, 2010 (changed to perpetual challenge)
books required: 3