Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September Firsts

Favorite first lines from the month of September.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Five minutes before she died, Grace Cahill changed her will.

T.S. Eliot was wrong.

Being dead became fashionable approximately forty-five minutes after Samantha "the Divine" Devereaux came back from summer break.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Diamond of Darkhold

DuPrau, Jeanne. 2008. The Diamond of Darkhold.

The Diamond of Darkhold is the fourth in the Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau. It begins shortly after the close of the second book in the series, The People of Sparks. The Emberites--now on their way to becoming full citizens of Sparks--are struggling side-by-side with the people of Sparks (their former enemies) to survive the harsh winter months. In the midst of this struggle, a roamer comes to town. Maggs, a woman roamer, a shepherdess, comes to barter, but with food being so precious, she's having a hard time of it. Until Lina and Doon spot something even more precious to them than food. A book. Well, remnants of a book anyway. Just eight pages in length, the book catches their attention because its title reveals that it is for the people of Ember. Further study proves that it this book is an instruction book for the people of Ember. But with just the last eight pages in place, who could ever puzzle out its meaning?

If you've read the first book--and chances are you have else you wouldn't still be reading this review--you know that Lina and Doon have experience in solving difficult and mysterious and seemingly impossible puzzles. Knowing that no adults in Sparks would give their approval to these two kids' crazy plan, Lina and Doon make secret plans to leave Sparks and head off to a place they thought they'd never see again. A place they fear will have long lost sunken into darkness. The city of Ember.

Can these two kids return to Ember and discover just what this book is all about? Can they make sense of this mystery? Can their journey lead to a discovery that could ultimately decide the fate of every man, woman, and child in Sparks? Can they save the day...again?

While The People of Sparks and The Prophet of Yonwood are more about ideas and philosophies, this one is pure action and adventure. More action, less philosophy. Less ambitious themes, more exciting pace. So in a way, perhaps, it is less thought-provoking than its predecessors, but in some ways, I think it is more satisfying for most readers. (Less moralizing going on, for example. Am I the only ones that see these books as being heavy in messages???)

I've seen a review or two of this one already. And I don't remember which one it was that mentioned you didn't need to have read The Prophet of Yonwood to make sense of this one. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that. I think you can enjoy 98% of the novel without having read the other, but there are a few elements especially in the novel's closing that only really make sense if you've read Prophet of Yonwood. The more important question may be is it necessary to have read the other books in the series recently. Confession time, I read The Diamond of Darkhold days within receiving it in the mail. I found it less than satisfying. Especially the last quarter of the book. Especially especially the ending. But I determined that this was probably due to the fact that it had been a while since I'd read the trilogy of books that precedes this one. So I went to my local library and checked out those three books--The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood. I read them again, all right after one another. And then I picked up The Diamond of Darkhold. This second time it proved to be an entertaining and satisfying read. I needed a reintroduction to make this one really work. That's not to say that every reader would need this immersion process...maybe your memory is better than mine...a lot better than mine. But I'd suggest rereading the other books. It won't be a waste of time because they're all (mostly) enjoyable books.

For more on Jeanne DuPrau and her latest book:

01 Charger, the 160acrewoods, A Childhood of Dreams, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children's Books, And Another Book Read, Becky's Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, Looking Glass Reviews, Never Jam Today,Comax Valley Kids

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 29, 2008

24 Hour Readathon...Contests and more...

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is coming up soon. October 18th. You've got just enough time to sign up and start thinking about what books you want to read! Find out all about it here on her FAQ page. This will be my third readathon, and I'm really looking forward to it. I've always had the best time participating!!!

Dewey's also holding a BAFAB contest. (Please mention that you saw the Readathon being promoted here!) :)

Speaking of BAFAB contests, Jennie is celebrating Banned Books week by giving away some books. Read more here.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Ember-Related Thoughts

This post contains further thoughts on the first three books in the Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau. I reread the series before tackling the fourth book.

I read this one, The City of Ember, in the Spring of 2007, I believe, along with its two sequels The People of Sparks and The Prophet of Yonwood. But I decided to reread these so I could fully appreciate the fourth novel in the series, The Diamond of Darkhold.

What can I say? I loved it. Still. You know how sometimes when you reread a book, it loses some of its magic. That didn't happen here. The world DuPrau created--Ember--from its people to its structures to its politics and culture--is remarkably well-executed. It's a complete world for the reader to explore. And it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief either. It just works.

Lina and Doon are great narrators. The narrative is told from both of their perspectives. And it's interesting how many adventure stories use dual narrators--male and female--to convey their stories. Perhaps having both genders increases the readership? Who knows! I think this one is exciting enough for both boys and girls to get hooked.

DuPrau created an unforgettable world. A fascinating world. I don't know about other readers. So maybe I'm the only one that has given this a lot of thought...but I want more. I want more stories set in this world. I know it's not going to happen. I know that DuPrau is finished with this series. That she has no intentions of exploring it further. But what I am most interested in hasn't been done yet. I want stories of what Ember was like before. I want stories about those first settlers. Those first generations. Those people--men, women, children, babies--that grew up in those two hundred years when they were living underground in Ember.

What we get in The City of Ember is a glimpse of Ember as it was dying. We see a city collapsing. We see a city on the verge of panic, of turmoil, of chaos. What I would love to see, what I would love to imagine is the creation and foundation of that city. I want to know about how that city came to be. Perhaps a book of short stories where we could get sprinklings of what life was like during those 200 years or so. Wouldn't that be something worth reading??? I think so!!!

This reader wants a prequel. Of course, it's not likely to happen.

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau is the second in the Ember series. It is very different (in a way) from the first novel, The City of Ember. It's an ambitious novel that goes where few have gone before. It beautifully portrays the "us" and "them" mentality of war-mongerers. It illustrates the kinds of behaviors that lead to war, to hate, to trouble, to catastrophe. It's a thought-provoking novel that asks hard questions--hard ethical questions. There is nothing "easy" about the questions it raises. It's about right and wrong, justice and injustice, love and hate, fear and courage. It's grander in scope than the others in the series. And I think that is why I loved it so much. It's an intelligent little piece on the distribution of resources, of immigration, of prejudice, of politics and policies, of war-making propaganda.

Of course it also continues the narrative of Lina and Doon. The two children have brought a little over four hundred people along with them out of Ember and into the great big world. And the community of Sparks is what the people stumble across. This meeting of two very different peoples is fascinating. We get an inside-out-upside-down-outside in look at society and at humanity. The Emberites have known technology--toilets, sinks, electric lights, electric stoves, canned foods, etc. They know about medicine, aspirin, vitamins. But they don't know the basics. They don't know about the sun and moon and stars. The trees. The animals. They've never seen chickens and eggs. They don't understand about fire. They don't know about the seasons. The natural world is foreign to them. They don't know how to manually work and labor and provide for themselves. They don't have the skills to survive on their own. Both cultures are foreign to us readers in a way. And both are somewhat familiar as well.

The book is about the clashing of two peoples. About the misunderstanding, the miscommunication, the willful hatred and propagation of propaganda and blame.

It's just a thought-provoking novel.

The Prophet of Yonwood. The third in the Ember series.

This one is a prequel--probably set 250 (or so) years before the opening of The City of Ember. Our narrator is a young girl--an eleven year old--named Nickie. She's come to the town of Yonwood (in North Carolina) with her aunt. They are closing up her grandfather's house after his death. It's a strange circumstance really. The town of Yonwood is all abuzz about some "Prophet" who speaks the word of God. The town busy-body, Brenda Beeson, has never had it so good.

This is a strange little book. All about gossip, slander, propaganda, the lack of common sense, religious zeal and extremism, conformity and nonconformity, the danger of being different, political threats, terrorism threats, war-makers, and end-of-the-world mania. It's a thought provoking book in many ways. Nickie asks some good questions. Questions about right and wrong. Questions about how you can *know* that something is right or wrong. How you can *know* if God is speaking to someone. If it is God's *will* for something to happen (or not.) This book (like in some ways The People of Sparks and even The City of Ember) examines the mob mentality and going with the flow. Of accepting what you've been told instead of thinking and deciding for yourself.

Jeanne DuPrau's first three books (especially these last two) are all about big ideas, about philosophies, about morality and ethics.

01 Charger, the 160acrewoods, A Childhood of Dreams, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children's Books, And Another Book Read, Becky's Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, Looking Glass Reviews, Never Jam Today,Comax Valley Kids

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TSS: Is Lack of Cohesiveness a Theme?

I've puzzled and puzzled over what I should write about for The Sunday Salon. And the truth is...that there is no one solidifying subject on my mind this week.

The Count of Monte Cristo is still disturbing me. It is the dullest (and thickest) book I've ever tried to push my way through. True, it's the unabridged version. I just can't believe that this is the same book--same story--that I found so thrilling and exciting and so wonderful years and years ago when I read the abridged. I am pondering giving up on the unabridged one. I just don't know how much more I can endure. Part of me feels bad for wanting to abandon, part of me just feels excited at the thought of release. My copy is due back at the library on the 8th of October, and I just don't know how I'd ever finish it on time.

I did finish Jane Eyre. And I did love it. Really really love it. Wish now I'd picked that for the online book group to read for this fall.

I did finish Pippi Longstocking. Again I loved it. Or mostly loved it anyway. A review of that will be coming soon.

I did make the Cybils YA panel which means I have less time for challenge books (and challenges in general) and other extra-reads. Essentially, I'll be needing to focus on only YA books published in 2008 by October 15th if not before. It will be fun.

Xenocide is one of the books I need to squeeze in if I'm to finish the A to Z challenge before life gets super busy.

Why is it that I read more Orson Scott Card books before I began the Orson Scott Card challenge, the Cardathon?

I did start using google calendar. So maybe that will make a difference :)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

My monkeys would like to say....

I'd like to send a big thank you to Sheri of A Novel Menagerie. She had a contest a few weeks ago. And my monkeys and I were the winners of a lovely gift card! My monkeys wanted in on the fun...so....

In case you can't read Bobo's message, he is proudly holding the Jane Eyre DVD we purchased!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

When You Wish

Harmel, Kristin. 2008. When You Wish.

I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. Typically books written about teens who have it all--money, popularity, good looks, etc--don't do much for me. And on the surface, this book is about that. About a teen girl who supposedly "has it all."

Star Beck. A sixteen year old pop star who already has more than a few bestselling, record-breaking albums to her name. A beautiful long-haired, red-haired princess of pop. But Star is missing a few things--a real mother who is there for her, who listens, who is kind, who is supportive, who isn't all about the money and fame; a real father, one who didn't abandon her when she was three only to resurface when she's one of the most famous teens on the planet; a real boyfriend, one who isn't all about showy kisses for the media and making a big entrance; a real friend, one who won't sell her out to the tabloids. Of course her job is far from average, and her schooling is as well. She's got her GED, but she's not been to a real school in forever. Not since Disney (I think it was Disney in the book, it might have been Nickelodeon.) plucked her out of her ordinary existence and made her the rich and famous "it" girl of the moment. The only girl who doesn't want to be Star Beck is Star Beck.

So after a particularly bad day, Star gives herself a hair cut (at least it wasn't a shave), dyes her hair, and runs away from her hotel room (she's on tour). Now calling herself Amanda, she is determined to make her way to Florida. On her way to see her dad for the first time in thirteen years. Can a pop star on her own survive in the real world? Can she survive without being surrounded by her entourage, her people? Will she like it? Will she love it?

This book is a coming-of-age story, in a way, of a girl realizing who she is and isn't. About a girl realizing that she should have some say in her own life.

I definitely liked it. I think it complements Audrey, Wait well.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Weekly Geeks 19: Favorite Books of 2008

I don't dare say this list is complete. As soon as I do, I'm sure to read ten great books that would reshuffle everything. But as of September 27, 2008, these are my favorites of the year...so far.

I've read 42 picture books this year. My top four are:

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett***
No, That's Wrong! by Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu***
Help Me, Mr. Mutt by Janet and Susan Stevens
The Story of Growl by Judy Horacek

I've read around 140 novels--a handful of easy readers, and half and half middle grade fiction and teen--my top fourteen are:

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer***
Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones***
Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt***
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry***
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson***
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Paper Towns by John Green
Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell.***
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank You Notes by Peggy Gifford***
No Cream Puffs by Karen Day
Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day by Meg Cabot
Found: The Missing Book 1 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This is the hardest list for me. Because I'd like to have one each for all sorts of genres and audiences.

I've pathetically read 7 poetry books this year.

My top pick (so far) should probably be Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford. But if I'm being honest, my true favorite is for a younger audience: Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex.

I've read ten nonfiction books this year.

My top pick so far is TROUBLE BEGINS AT 8 by Sid Fleischman. (Ignore the one star rating, that person has some serious issues.) The book is a biography of Mark Twain.

I've read under ten graphic novels.

My top pick is Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale.***

Dewey limits us to ten (note to self: read fine print) and so the *** reflect the top ten status.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Penderwicks

Birdsall, Jeanne. 2005. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.

For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye.

I liked this one. A lot. It was a nice and enjoyable novel. One that a whole family could enjoy. One that was meant to be read aloud and shared. It's not a loud story. Not crammed with action and explosions and bathroom jokes. But it's a good and pleasant one. It's a story of the Penderwick family--Mr. Penderwick, Rosalind (12), Skye (11), Jane (10), and Batty (4), and their dog, Hound. Mrs. Penderwick died when Batty was just a baby. (From cancer I believe.)

The book is about one of their summers. The summer that they visit Arundel, a cottage. It is owned by a rather grumpy and snooty woman Mrs. Tifton. But Mrs. Tifton has a son, Jeffrey, and a gardener, Cagney, and there is where the fun begins. New friends to make. Problems to create and solve. Life to be experienced.

Recommended for those who like a bit of old-fashioned charm in their lives.

About the book:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy is on many State Award Master Lists, including those for Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. Other awards and honors include:

  • National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • Book Sense National Bestseller
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice
  • Kirkus Reviews Editors’ Choice
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Child Magazine Best Kids’ Book of the Year
  • Children’s Book Sense Top Ten Pick
  • 2007 Kalbacher Klapperschlange (Germany)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Bronte Sisters Mini-Challenge Completed

Read and/or watch TWO works by any of the three Bronte sisters

For example:
Watching two movies
Reading two books
Reading one book; watching one movie

1) Jane Eyre's Daughter by Elizabeth Newark
2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (book and movie)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Herding Cats Challenge Completed

The three I’ve read

1. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas; Translated by Richard Pevear
2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Nineteenth Century Women Writers Completed

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Camilla by Fanny Burney
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Jane Eyre

Bronte, Charlotte. 1847. Jane Eyre.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

I was a bit of a skeptic. I didn't think it was really and truly possible for me to love Jane Eyre. Didn't I try to read it as a teen and give up on it halfway through? Didn't I try to watch some rather bad movies of it in college? Surely, I'd given it my all and Jane Eyre just wasn't my thing, right? Wrong! (Now that I think about it, I think the main prejudice I had against it was that I hated Wuthering Heights (which was required unlike Jane Eyre) and it was by a Bronte.)

I wanted the adult-me to give Jane Eyre a try this year. I put it on several challenge lists. (Nineteenth Century Women Writers, Herding Cats, 1% Challenge, Classics Challenge, Daring Girls Challenge, Bronte Sisters Mini-Challenge, R.I.P. III Challenge, Fall into Reading 08, etc.) I unburied it from the depths of my classics which hadn't seen the light in a good number of years. But I kept putting it off and putting it off. With somewhat good reason. Carl's R.I.P. III challenge. I didn't want to read it too soon.

Before I started this one, I made the decision to check out the latest Jane Eyre movie (2006) from the library. I watched it. I loved it. I didn't just love it. I loved, loved, loved it. And then I picked up the book. And guess what, I loved it too! The movie was great because it was well done and entertaining. Little did I know--at the time--that the dialogue, the script, was lifted largely from the book itself. But when I began reading it I saw just how true-to-the-book the script was in many many ways. (I'm not saying that it was the most perfectly true-to-the-book movie ever made. But it is far closer than most attempts I've seen. Much closer than say most of the Austen movies I've seen done recently.)

Jane Eyre is the story of Jane Eyre, obviously. We first meet her as a ten year old living quite unhappily with the Reed family. Her uncle made his wife, Jane's Aunt Reed, (boo, hiss) promise to look after the child, the orphan on his death bed. She might have said and said and said those words, she said them but she lied them. Jane is treated differently from her cousins--Eliza, Georgiana, and John. They're all dreadfully spoiled and horrible. And she's, well, they call her the spawn of the devil, they're forever going on about how she's going to go to hell because she's an evil, spiteful girl. She's soon sent away to school, to Lowood. She has plenty of rough times there, but she does see kindness for really the first time. She meets a teacher who is sympathetic. And she gains and loses a best friend, a Helen Burns. (She dies.)

We then fast forward quite a bit of time. We next meet Jane when she is eighteen. She is now a teacher at Lowood herself, but she wants more from life. She advertises to be a governess, and she's hired by a Mrs. Fairfax. She's on her way to Thornfield, to care for a young French girl, Adele. She has no idea that Thornfield (and its inhabitants) will change her life forever. For one thing, she doesn't know of Mr. Rochester's existence. And even if she did, she couldn't possibly dream that her employer would take an interest in her, an honorable interest in her at that.

Plain Jane Eyre, the governess, the woman who feels most at home working behind the scenes is in for a pleasant surprise or two upon meeting Mr. Edward Rochester. He's an ugly sort of person himself--on the outside--and he's not that easy a person to read. He's got secrets. Lots and lots of secrets.

This one is just right for Carl's R.I.P. III challenge, while I'm sure most of you know the mysteries and secrets lodging within the book, I won't spoil the book here.

Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones

Riordan, Rick. 2008. The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones.

First sentence: Five minutes before she died, Grace Cahill changed her will.

So, if you're like me, you're probably wondering...how does MAZE OF BONES compare to The Lightning Thief and the rest of the Percy Jackson series? Better than? Worse than? Bout the same? I'll try to answer that question in my review of this first book in a new series.

One of the things that first struck me about Riordan's writing way back when--before Percy Jackson became the ever-so-popular series that it's become--was how great he was at crafting sentences and hooking readers. The Lightning Thief impressed me because almost every single chapter began with a great first sentence. Something so clever, so witty, so catchy, so intriguing that you wanted to keep reading.

Here are a few of the first (chapter) sentences in The Maze of Bones.

"Dan Cahill thought he had the most annoying big sister on the planet. And that was before she set fire to two million dollars." (4)
"Amy Cahill thought she had the most annoying little brother on the planet. And that was before he almost got her killed." (21)
"Dan felt a dizzy rush, like the time he ate twenty packs of Skittles." (35)
"Amy could've lived in the secret library. Instead she almost died there." (47)

Of course, those are just the first few examples, and the pattern doesn't always hold up later on in the book...but by this point if you're not hooked in the story, then chances are you won't be.

The book is all about mystery and adventure. Dan and Amy are a brother-sister team who have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to discover the family secret and perhaps save the world. True, the premise is a bit of a stretch. Two kids from a crazy-wild-dysfunctional family--orphans, but what else would you expect--set out to prove themselves worthy of the challenge set forth by their grandmother's will. The Cahill family, the clan, has the secret of all secrets. And it's a secret that some feel holds the key to the world's fate--for better or worse.

Dan and Amy aren't the only ones looking to discover this secret--revealed one clue at a time--there are teams from within the Cahill family. And they're all in a race to be the first. There can only be one winner after all. And most teams will stop at nothing to win--even if it means turning evil and trying to kill the competition.

This first book reveals the first clue and its focus is on Benjamin Franklin.

There will be ten books in all. The second book, One False Note, will be out in December 2008, it is by Gordon Korman. The third book, The Sword Thief, will be out in March 2009. It is by Peter Lerangis. Seven more books will follow. The tenth one is *supposed* to be out in the fall of 2010.

My thoughts. The book is entertaining enough. The pacing seems to be about right. The characters don't have as much depth (at least not so far) as I'd hoped. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, some stories are all about the characters and others are all about the action. And if you're looking for action, adventure, mystery, (and plenty of explosions) then this one will satisfy. The series seems a bit gimmicky in all honesty. Not that I think kids will mind that. The books. The trading/collector cards. The games on the website. etc. It's important to keep in mind that I'm not the book's target audience. What is important is if this book--and the remaining books in the series--will appeal to kids and keep them reading. Books need to be exciting to read. And series books feel a certain need. An important one. [It's not that Babysitter's Club had any *true* literary merit, but as a reader at that age, at that time, they felt a very real need. And I think these books can do the same.]


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, September 26, 2008

28 Days Later...

I read about this on The Brown Bookshelf site,

Submissions for the 2009 28 Days later spotlights will open September 29, 2008.

I really enjoyed following this last year; I loved discovering new-to-me authors. I particularly loved Sundee T. Frazier's Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Poetry Friday: Dracula Poems

Two Dracula-inspired poems for you today:

"Hello, My Name is Dracula"

by Douglas Florian

Hello, my name is Dracula.
My clothing is all blackula.
I drive a Cadillacula.
I am a maniacula.
I drink blood for a snackula.
Your neck I will attackula
With teeth sharp as a tackula.
At dawn I hit the sackula.
Tomorrow I’ll be backula!

"Out From Darkest Transylvania"
by Douglas Florian

Out from darkest Transylvania
Comes a man, a man with a mania:
He’s looking for blood--
Type A, B, or O.
He’ll drink sitting down
Or take it to go.
He’s not very tall.
His skin is quite pale,
But going for blood,
He’ll fight tooth and nail!

From Laugh-eteria by Douglas Florian

Roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Secret Garden

Burnett, Frances Hodgson. 1911. The Secret Garden.

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable looking child ever seen. It was true too.

I don't have any clear memories of reading this one as a child. I could have. Or not. But I do remember the movie. This would have been the 1987 movie version (or was it made for TV???) of the classic.

In my investigating just now, I discovered that Colin Firth (yes, Colin Firth) plays a small role in that movie as the adult Colin Craven. Who knew? Anyway, I remember the movie. And I'm sure that I saw it before attempting to read the book. In many ways, the book is very very different from the movie. In other ways, it does get a few things right.

My hesitation from reading the book is that I always remember the movie ending. An ending that left me uncomfortable and unsatisfied. An ending where Dickon's fate is dismal. But I was quite happy and somewhat surprised to find out that this ending--this epilogue is complete nonsense. It doesn't exist except in this made-for-tv-wonderland where we meet Mary and Colin as adults.

Now on to the book itself. I liked it. It was an enjoyable read of some rather unenjoyable characters. Characters like Mary and Colin who are miserable and unhappy and isolated and friendless. Characters that come-of-age and become who they're meant to be. Reading about cranky characters who learn to become decent human beings can be enjoyable now and then. And both Mary and Colin are rather human characters. Dickon their strange animal-loving sidekick always seemed a bit too-good-to-be-true for me. A bit unhuman, unnatural. Not that he's not nice, he's just a bit other.

These two children are very spoiled, very selfish, very disagreeable, very prone to tantrum throwing. And I liked that the book was about how they overcame those naturally horrible tendencies. How though no one "liked" them at all in the beginning, they slowly but surely became liked, became loved, became a part of the greater world around them.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Cybils! YA Panel

I'm on the Cybils YA panel this year!! And I am looking forward to it for many reasons. Look who I get to work with! Great people and some potentially great books. Nominations begin on October 1. So start thinking now of which titles you'd like to nominate. The categories are: fantasy and science fiction, fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, easy readers, middle grade fiction, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, young adult fiction, poetry, graphic novels. For more on the cybils, visit the website.
The introductory post is here. (Two panels haven't been announced yet...graphic and fantasy and science fiction.) The post listing the rules (some new) for this year can be found here. One of the new rules is "This year, only books published in English between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15 are eligible."

Organizer: Jackie Parker Interactive Reader

Panelists (Round I judges)

Leila Roy Bookshelves of Doom
Rebecca Laney Becky's Book Reviews
Amanda Snow A Patchwork of Books
Trisha Murakami The Ya Ya Yas
Kate Fall Author2Author
Jocelyn Pearce Teen Book Review
Abby Johnson Abby (the) Librarian

Judges (Round II)

Jackie Parker Interactive Reader
Sarah Stevenson Finding Wonderland, Readers' Rants
Allie/Little Willow Bildungsroman
Lili Wilkinson Inside a Dog
Casey Titschinger Avid Teen Reader

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bookworms Carnival

Edition 16 hosted by: Becky
Deadline for submission: October 10
Theme: classic/literary gothic
To submit a post, email: laney_po at yahoo dot com
For ideas about what to read.

So I'm hosting the Bookworms Carnival in October. And I'm looking for submissions. If you're reading this, that means you. I want you to submit a post (link) to the carnival. While this is a themed carnival, I want to encourage mass participation. (Don't assume that your contribution won't be missed.)

What am I looking for? (Besides folks volunteering posts so I don't have to hunt them down!) I'm looking for posts about classic gothic literature. Of course the meaning of each of those words "classic" "gothic" and "literature" could be debated. But I'm looking for season-appropriate posts. Participants in Carl's R.I.P. III challenge may have a slight advantage. Chances are that they've ventured into gothic even if they may not have gone the classic literature route.

I'm looking for posts--new or old--about those wonderfully delicious and dark books. Books that evoke certain emotions, certain feelings.

Reviews of books. I always love highlighting reviews of books. But I'm also open to those that want to participate in other ways. Say that you're inspired to write a poem--sonnet, haiku, free verse, etc.--or want to write a more general post about your experiences reading this genre (or sub genre). You might want to talk about your first experiences reading "scary" or "spooky" books. You might want to compare and contrast your favorite books with movie versions of those books.
Or you might want to make a post with your favorite quotes from these types of books.

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.

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
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.
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Travel the World: England: Little Mouse

Gravett, Emily. 2008. Emily Gravett's Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears.

Everyone's scared of something, right? Well, Little Mouse has a special journal where she records her fears. This "journal" says, "it has been put together by an expert in worrying, who draws on a lifetime's experience of managing her fears through the medium of doodle." This book is an illustration masterpiece. Very clever. Very fun. It just works really well in evoking mood. From the cover to the end papers, to everything in between. You really MUST hold this one in your hands and read it yourself to see how wonderful it is.

Little Mouse's fears range from fear of accidents, sharp knives, birds, cats, dogs, shadows, loud noises, heights, etc. The art is just amazing. Amazingly fun and clever. This book is artistically as good as it gets...in my very humble opinion. There's just much too adore here. The amount of detail and design.

Here is one of the interior spreads:

The text reads, "I'm frightened I may get sucked down the drain or flushed down the toilet."

Here's another of my favorites,

The text reads, "Birds make me feel twitchy." I like how even the feathers are vicious with menacing eyes and pointy teeth.

This is a very smart book. And while Mouse uses simple words and phrases to express her fears, The top corners of each page use the correct terminology for those fears...

Ornithophobia (fear of birds); phagophobia (fear of being eaten).

I loved this one so much. Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Listmania List

I've been crafting my "best of 2008" list. If you want to take a peek, visit the listmania list.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Compound

Bodeen, S.A. 2008. The Compound.

T.S. Eliot was wrong. My world ended with a bang the minute we entered the Compound and that silver door closed behind us. The sound was brutal. Final. An echoing, resounding boom that slashed my nine-year-old heart in two. (1)

It has been been five years (or is it six?) since Eli and his family took refuge underground. Their father, an ultra-successful businessman, built a secret hideaway for his family to retire to in event of a nuclear holocaust. With enough provisions to last a full fifteen years, Eli and his family (mom, dad, older sister, younger sister) are now resting safe and secure sealed off from the world. But Eli can’t forget, won’t forget who he left behind. His twin-brother Eddie.

Eddie, the good twin to his evil, didn’t make it to the compound—the metal door—in time. He along with their grandmother are gone now. Along with the rest of the world, right? That’s what his father says anyway. Now after so many years of trusting his father, Eli is beginning to have his doubts, beginning to question everything he knows about his father, his family, and his world as he knows it.

The back of this one reads that, “this debut thriller is perfect for teens who like their movies scary and their books suspenseful.”

I’m not one for scary movies. I’m a chicken. But I do like a good suspense. I’ll admit that I couldn’t put this one down. The novel is a nice blend of predictable as well as unpredictable plot twists. I can’t say too much more!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


McMann, Lisa. 2008. Wake.

Janie has a problem. No, it’s not that she thinks she’s too fat. It’s not that her dream guy isn’t asking her to the prom. Her problem? She has been falling into other people’s dreams. She first discovered this ability as a child—on a subway I believe (or public transit of some sort)—but it’s been getting worse, a lot worse since she’s become a teen. At school, her classmates have a tendency of falling asleep. And that spells trouble for our heroine, Janie. It’s not that all the dreams she falls into are nightmares, but any dream can become tedious after awhile. After all, how many times has she lived through others dreams of falling, or of being naked in a crowd of people, or other people’s sex dreams. (Just imagine it! Having to face your friends, your classmates, your enemies on a day to day basis after witnessing their most embarrassing dreams!) Yes, Janie wish this ability, this power would disappear. Maybe then she could have a normal social life, normal dating life.

I enjoyed Wake. It is an interesting premise, and I am pleased there will be a follow-up novel called Fade. While it has an intriguing opening, Janie experiencing a dream during the study period at the library, the book perhaps spends too much time setting up the story through a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks were like vignettes. Loosely connected. As a reader, you don’t really realize their significance, their purpose, until later. It is through these flashbacks that Janie is revealed, her friends and enemies revealed, her home life revealed. Did I enjoy this one? Yes. I definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it. I enjoyed it more once the ‘action’ was back to the present year of 2005 because the narrative flowed more smoothly then and read more like a traditional novel.

First sentence: Janie Hannagan’s math book slips from her fingers. She grips the edge of the table in the school library. Everything goes black and silent. She sighs and rests her head on the table. Tries to pull herself out of it, but fails miserably. She’s too tired today. Too hungry. She really doesn’t have time for this. (1)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories...

Scieszka, Jon. 2008. Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka.

I loved this book. And more importantly, I think kids will love this book. Why? It's a book by Jon Sciezka about Jon Sciezka. It's funny. It's true. Mostly. At least that is what the title leads us to believe. As the second of six kids--all boys--some of his stories (if they're to be believed as "the truth") are just hilarious. There are pictures, lots and lots of pictures. (Which is one of the first things I looked for as a kid when it came time to choose biographies to write/give reports on.) And the chapters are short as well. (Always a bonus for drawing in readers.)

One of my favorite chapters is "Strange Books"
I learned to read by reading very strange books in school. They were brightly colored stories about a weird alien family. Nothing like my family of wrestling, tree-climbing, bike-smashing brothers. And nothing like the families of any of my friends either.
This family was always neat. There was a boy, two girls, a mom, and a dad. And they talked in the weirdest way. They repeated themselves a lot. Like they would never say, "Hey, look at that dog." They would say, "Look. Look. See the dog. That is a dog."
The alien kids were named Dick and Jane. Strangest kids I ever heard of. The little sister was named Sally. The mom and dad called themselves Mother and Father.
When I read the Dick and Jane stories, I thought they were afraid they might forget each other's names. Because they always said each other's names. A lot.
So if Jane didn't see the dog, Dick would say, "Look Jane. Look. There is the dog next to Sally, Jane. The dog is also next to Mother, Jane. The next is next to Father, Jane. Ha, ha, ha. That is funny, Jane."
Did I mention that Dick and Jane also had a terrible sense of humor?
At home my mom read me real stories. These were stories that sounded like my life. These were stories that made sense. She read me a story about a guy named Sam. Sam-I-am. He was a fan of green eggs and ham.
And then there was the story about the dogs. Blue dogs. Yellow dogs. Dogs that were up. Dogs that were down. Dogs that drove around in cars and met each other at the end of the book for a giant party in a tree. I cheered them on. Go, dogs. Go! I read about them all by myself because I wanted to. Go, dogs. Go!
So I guess I didn't really learn to read by reading about those weirdos Dick and Jane. I learned to read because I wanted to find out more about real things like dogs in cars and cats in hats. (26-27)*
The book includes stories on anything and everything. And while a few stories (like the one above) might mean a bit more to adults than kids, there are plenty of stories that are all about kid appeal.

*I'm quoting from an ARC, so it could be subject to change before the final version is published in October.

Other reviews: Fuse #8, Sarah Miller: Reading, Writing, Musing and Confessions of a Bibliovore

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

September's Carnival of Children's Literature...

The carnival is up now.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, September 21, 2008

24 Hour Readathon October 18th

I've signed up to be a reader for Dewey's 3rd 24 Hour Readathon. She has it starting at 5AM Pacific time (Noon GMT). If I am correct (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that would be 7AM Central time. To find out more read here and here.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Fall Into Reading Challenge

Fall into Reading 2008
Host: Callapidder Days
Dates: September 22nd - December 20th 2008
Books required: Participant Decides

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Madapple by Christina Meldrum
Something Wicked by Alan M. Gratz
The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau
Manga Shakespeare: MacBeth Illustrated by Robert Deas
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Windy Poplar by L.M. Montgomery
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery
Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Secret Garden by Frances Burnett
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Mind, Body, Soul Challenge

Mind, Body, Soul Challenge
host: Annie (Reading, Writing, and Ranting)
October 1, 2008 - October 31, 2008
required books: depends on the options the participant decides; 4 for me.

Mind: Option 2. Classic & Literary Variation of Said Classic. I will probably go with something Austen. I've got a handful of Austen sequels/prequels/companion books that I've been wanting to get to.

Body: Option 1. An audio book. I'm not sure which book this will be. Maybe Madapple. Maybe Adoration of Jenna Fox. Maybe An Abundance of Katherines. But something YA and audio. :)

Soul: Option 1. I'll read a Christian non-fiction book. Right now I'm thinking The Cure by Harry Kraus, MD.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews