Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Salon: Birthday Weekend Edition

It's been busy the last few days--Thanksgiving, birthday (Saturday), birthday party (Sunday), baby shower*(Sunday). So I'm just a wee bit exhausted. I feel very drained--emotionally and physically. That plus all the mad obsessive blog redesigning going on. Turns out that what I went with wasn't that different from before. In fact, you may not have noticed--at least not right away--if I hadn't made a point of talking about it. I know I'm finally happy with it because when I asked for opinions, I decided to stick with what I wanted no matter which way the opinions went.

I've got three book tours supposed to be posting tomorrow. Oops. I have read all three books. But I've only written one of the posts--and scheduled it to appear. The other two will have to be done tomorrow unless I get super-motivated and do it tonight. Usually I'm much more on top of things. I need to make a note to self to never commit to doing three tours all on the same day.

If I get copies of Thanksgiving and the baby shower, I'll post a few. Tossy was *very* cute at Thanksgiving. But I don't know when my sister will upload the photos. And I've asked for a few pictures of the baby/baby shower. But I don't know if I'll get those or not. It wasn't my camera. And surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) there were no pictures of this year's birthday party. I don't think anyone thought to bring their cameras.

I was planning on posting a review (or two) this afternoon, but I haven't been stringing together thoughts well today and I don't think I can manage it.

*For baby Lily. :) And I did get to hold her which is always a good thing except for when it isn't.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Chances are if you've tried reading my blog (as opposed to rss feed) you've noticed I've been making changes like crazy. For the past hour--maybe a little less--I've experimented with backgrounds. While each change only took a few minutes--it was either love or hate from the start--there were times when my blog was completely unreadable due to the background and font colors not working together. It was a temporary problem, but unless you've gone through the same madness on your own blog...I don't know if you can relate. :)

Anyway, things are back. Slightly different. And I'm still not sure if I'll keep this new header or go back to the old one...but I promise not to change the background for at least a month or two.

What do you think? Header wise I mean.

The first one had about six or seven hours of published time--until about three minutes ago. The second had about twelve hours of published time (between midnight and noon). But I decided that while the font was pretty--it wasn't that readable. The third was what I had before. I've had it at least six months.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sister Wife

Hrdlitschka, Shelley. 2008. Sister Wife.
I am consumed with impure thoughts. My head is swirling with stories that would give the Prophet heart failure if he knew of them. I fear that I am destined for eternal damnation. I haven't always been like this. The stories started when Taviana came to Unity. she wasn't born and raised here like the rest of us, but was found on the outside, living on the streets, doing unspeakable things. Jacob, an elder, wanted to help her, so he brought her to us, and she was so grateful that she's worked hard to learn the rules of our faith. Now she understands and appreciates that obedience is the only path to Heaven, but sometimes she slips up, and when we're working side by side, she tells me stories she heard as a little girl. I know that the only stories I need to hear are ones that will keep my mind pure, and those ones are all contained in the sacred book so I shouldn't listen to Taviana. But the way she tells them! She puts on voices, and sometimes she even acts them out. I have to listen, and before you know it I hear myself begging for another one. Right now I'm filled with remorse just thinking about my part in this activity, but I can't seem to help myself. Today I'm reminded of the story she told a few weeks ago, the one of the boy named the Pied Piper. He was some sort of gypsy who wandered into town playing a flute. The music appeared to cast a spell on the children, and they followed him everywhere. When she told the story, I imagined that the Pied Piper looked just like Jon, tall and slim, with wind-tousled hair. He'd have soft brown eyes that looked right into your soul, and he wasn't a show off like the other boys. I don't have a flute, but I have a flock of small children following me from the school to the playground near the river, where I mind them until it's time to start with the supper chores...(1-2)
Sister Wife has multiple narrators--a teen girl, Celeste, on the verge of her fifteenth birthday which means that the Prophet will soon reveal which man is destined to become her husband; Taviana, a young teen who was rescued by one of the men in the community, she is now living with Celeste's family; Nanette, Celeste's younger sister, is dreaming of the day when she'll be assigned to marry one of the men. In fact, she's dreaming of one man in particular, Jacob, the man who first rescued Taviana, no matter that she'd just be wife number six or seven. Each narrator presents an insider's look at a polygamous community.

Celeste is dreading the idea of becoming a plural wife...for that matter...she is dreading the idea of marriage in general. Marriage means several things within the community: wives are assigned to men, the men are always older--significantly older than the teen brides, there are always plural wives within each household, marriage is for breeding--breed your way into heaven--a baby a year for all your childbearing years. Marriage brings with it work--the housekeeping, the cooking, the cleaning, the tending children. No wonder Celeste is a bit intimidated by the prospect. Celeste is dreaming of love. She is attracted by the idea of falling in love with a boy of her own choosing. Falling in love with a boy--not a man--someone her own age.

Taviana doesn't know whether she'll ever be marriage material or not. She was not born into this faith, into this community. And she wasn't trained up properly. She's seen and done it all. Having even worked as a prostitute on the street. Will the Prophet ever think she'd make a man a fit wife? No, Taviana feels that she won't be with this community forever. She'll one day be out in the world again. She doesn't miss her former life--though sometimes she wishes she could go on the internet or watch television or read a book--too many bad memories. But she knows this reprieve is temporary in all likelihood.

Nanette. Out of all the narrators perhaps I pity Nanette the most. Here is a girl--around the age of twelve or thirteen--who is idealizing marriage. Maybe that isn't the strange part. But it's who she's choosing to idealize that is a bit icky. Jacob, as far as they come, is a good man. He's a believer. He appears to treat his wives and his children kindly. That's not to say there is no discipline or structure, but he's not as tyrannical as he could be. Jacob seems to have picked Nanette out of the crowd. Though she is several years away from marriage, he seems to have taken a liking to her. He speaks with her at every opportunity. He hints in a veiled-not-so-veiled way that he wishes she could be his wife now.

Sister Wife is an excellent book, a fascinating book, a look at an oppressed culture. Oppressed in that the children are given no choices. To be in the faith means certain things--for girls it means being obedient and diligent. Girls are to obey their father, work hard and respect their mother(s), tend to the house, tend to the younger children, etc. When they reach a certain age--fourteen or fifteen--they are assigned husbands. Again no choice. No choice who to marry--or when to marry. But the community is oppressive to boys as well. The boys aren't allowed to develop relationships with girls. Aren't allowed to marry when they're young. The teen girls are for the older men, not the younger. Is it any wonder that there are a lot of boys running away from the community, choosing to be shunned and to become a part of the world at large. We see a glimpse of this in Sister Wife as we follow Jon to the city and to the refuge he finds there with a woman--a former sister wife herself--who seeks to help those leaving the community adjust to the modern world, to society.

The book is packed with ethical implications. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel. It's not that the book seeks to demonize this fictional community, all the characters are human--flawed, imperfect.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Initials Reading Challenge Completed

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Skin Deep by E.M. Crane
The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Magicians Nephew by C.S. Lewis
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Windy Poplars 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

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Series Challenge #2 Completed

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

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

The Anne series:

1) Anne of Green Gables
2) Anne of Avonlea
3) Anne of the Island
4) Anne of Windy Poplars
5) Anne's House of Dreams
6) Anne of Ingleside
7) Rainbow Valley
8) Rilla of Ingleside

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

Horse and His Boy
Magicians Nephew
The Last Battle

The rest of the Twilight series

1) Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

The Lord of the Rings


As you can see, I didn't finish Lord of the Rings. At one point--I think in August or September, I got about fifty pages in before I had to put it away to take care of other commitments. Maybe one day.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Faith 'n Fiction Saturdays: Nonfiction Gift Edition

Amy's question this week is simple but hard.

As you may know, I launched a campaign to encourage people to buy books for the holidays (you can visit that site here) and there are some fantastic blogger who have really contributed a lot of great ideas into the blog. I hope you check it out.

But now it's your turn to share some ideas! What books should be others be buying for Christmas? Do you need any gift help? You can handle this topic in two ways....either make a list of recommended books to give as gifts this year OR ask a question about what book you should get someone. (for whom you have been unable to think of a book gift for).

I've done several posts like this. But I'll keep it on the "faith" side of things.

Bibles. I don't know about you. But I LOVE Bibles. I admit it. I might love them a little too much. The more the merrier is my philosophy when it comes down to it.

The ESV Study Bible is new on the market this Christmas. Released in October. I don't have mine yet. Though it's been purchased :) I am having to be a good girl and wait til Christmas.

MacArthur Study Bible. This one isn't exactly new. But it is the best of the best.

The Reformation Study Bible. Again, it's a few years old now--maybe two or three--but it's still a good choice.

Favorite Christian Nonfiction Titles (My top-ten list)

Taking Back the Good Book by Woodrow Kroll
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
How You Can Be Sure That You Will Spend Eternity with God and One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer
Putting the Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton
Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
Hard to Believe by John MacArthur
The Sovereignty of God by Arthur W. Pink
Found: God's Will by John MacArthur

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, November 28, 2008

Still to come*

*Assuming that I can get copies of all the Cybils books that remain on my list** are the ones I have yet to read. I'm bolding the ones I have. And italicizing the ones I don't have access to. Which means I've got 31 out of the 63 to read at home. (49% of the remaining titles I've not read yet.) If I finish those 31 and add them to the 72 I've already completed, then I'll have met my goal--actually I'll have gone just a bit over. (76%)


A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti
Amor and Summer Secrets by Diana Rodriguez Wallach
The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little


Box Out by John Coy
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti


Child of Dandelions by Shenaaz Nanji
Crossing the Line by Dianne Bates
Cruel Summer by Alyson Noel


Daughter of War by Marsha Forchuk Skyrpuch
Dooley Takes the Fall by Norah McClintock
Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins
Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole


The Empty Kingdom by Elizabeth E. Wein
Everything You Want by Barbara Shoup


Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling
Feathered by Laura Kasischke
Forever Changes by Brendan Halpin
Freefall by Anna Levine
Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe


Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith
Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley
Give Me Truth by Bill Condon


Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith
The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples


I Am Apache by Tanya Landman
In Ecstasy by Kate McCaffrey


Jump the Cracks by Stacy DeKeyser


Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith


The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon
Libertad by Alma Fullerton
Locker Shock by Pamela Ripling
Love Laws by Mary Muhammad
Lucky by Rachel Vail
The Lucky Ones by Stephanie Greene
The Lucky Place by Zu Vincent


Me, The Missing and the Dead by Jenny Valentine
Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger


Nokosee by Micco Mann


O.Y. L. by Scott Heydt
The Opposite of Invisible by liz Gallagher
Ordinary Me by June Sproat
Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg


Perfect Cover by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Prom Kings and Drama Queens by Dorian Cirrone


Quest by Kathleen Benner Duble


Ringside, 1925 by Jen Bryant
Run Like Jager by Karen Bass


Seaborn by Craig Moodie
The Shape of Water by Anne Spollen
Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelley Hall
Split by A Kiss by Luisa Plaja
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
Swimming With the Sharks by Debbie Reed Fischer


That's What's Up by Paula Chase
Thaw by Monica Roe
The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff
They Called Me Red by Christina Kilbourne
Twisted Sisters by Stephanie Hale



Violet in Private by Melissa Walker


What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando
The Writing On the Wall by Wendy Lichtman


**Some publishers have already said they won't be sending books. And I know some of these aren't available at the library.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Blog Quiz

I took this little blog quiz (if you take it, feel free to share your results in the comments). Here is what it said about me ISFP: The Artists: The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of. They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living." IF you do try it, it's recommended (by them) that you do an archived link--a month's worth of posts as opposed to just a week's worth. The more posts they "analyze" the better.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

NYT: Notable Children's Books of 2008

Have you seen this list yet? The New York Times list of Notable Children's Books for 2008.

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 2, The Kingdom On the Waves by M.T. Anderson
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
ABC3D by Marion Bataille
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Fact of Life #31

Vega, Denise. 2008. Fact of Life #31.

Don't judge a book by it's cover. If you do, you might just miss a gem of a book like this one, Facts of Life #31. (Now I don't want to presume that every one will think this cover doesn't do the book justice, doesn't do the book justice. Yes, the cover makes sense after you read the book. But it doesn't scream out "read me, read me" either.)

I'll be honest, I don't know if I can do this book justice with my review. I love, love, love it. And the more I love a book, the more tongue-tied I become. Here's the basics: Kat Flynn, our heroine, is sixteen and frustrated with her mother. Her mom--not that she calls her mom--is Abra, a midwife whose feminine intuition is attuned to all of Colorado--with the exception of her own children Kat and Lucy. Kat's life consists of school--hanging with her best hat-wearing friend, Christy, crushing on classmate Manny Cruz, avoiding popular girl, Libby Giles, and being snarky with Libby's boyfriend, Mitch; work--she works at her mom's midwifery several days a week; hobbies--she loves to draw, especially murals, and training for a triathalon. She gets along well with her sister, Lucy, and her dad. It's her relationship with her mom, Abra, that complicates her life.

Friends. Family. Dating. School. Sounds pretty typical, doesn't it? But Kat is anything but typical. (And she's not one of those generically quirky heroines that are just as stereotypical as let's say cheerleaders or loners.) Kat and her entire circle of friends and family are complex individuals. I guess it was the depth and substance that surprised me most about this novel. That made it more than just enjoyable. I'm not saying this is the most perfect novel ever to have been published. I'm sure there are flaws somewhere--but the thing is that I loved Kat and her family so much that I just didn't care to go hunting for them. (Though I suspect that the hunt would start around Manny. He's the crush/boyfriend that I'm not quite sure I like or trust.) This one is a coming-of-age novel. Kat is on the journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance. It's also a story about first love--the bittersweetness, naivity, and wonder of it all.

In a way, this one reminds me of Dairy Queen and The Off Season though I'm not sure why my brain has made this leap. I suppose it is because of the depth of the characters--it's rare to fully explore family dynamics with such heart and soul and authenticity.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving...

I don't much like turkeys, but I just LOVE this gobble-gobble song :)

Tune of The More We Get Together the Happier We'll Be

Gobble, gobble, gobble, fat turkey, fat turkey!
Gobble, gobble, gobble, fat turkeys are we.
We're not here for living,
We're here for thanksgiving!
Gobble, gobble, gobble, fat turkeys are we.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

How Not To Be Popular

Ziegler, Jennifer. 2008. How Not To Be Popular.

Oh crap. What did I just do?

How Not To Be Popular begs the question how far would you go to not be popular. Maggie Dempsey hates her life, hates her parents. Okay, maybe hate is too strong a word. She hates the fact that just when she's getting settled down, making friends, having a love life, her parents decide it's time to move. Again. And again. And again. This time, Maggie has had it. She's definitely HAD IT. No more settling down. No more making friends. And no more trying to have a love life, hooking a boyfriend only to have to say goodbye.

So Maggie settles on a plan. A plan to make her the most UNpopular girl in Austin, Texas. She'll do the exact opposite of what comes naturally to her. She'll ignore the cute guys that flirt with her. No matter how cute. No matter how persistent. She won't make herself likable to the popular girls. Won't play into their games. Won't worship the ground they walk on. Won't hang on every word or friendly smile. But it's not enough--she soon realizes--to just be neutral. Soon she'll be seeking out the ugliest clothes and shoes to wear, joining the geekiest clubs, and hanging out with all the wrong people. Will it be enough then?

Maggie takes on the persona of the geekiest of the geeks, the weirdest of the weird. Doing cartwheels--in a dress at the movie theatre, flashing panties weird. Carrying a potted plant of rosemary to school to sniff because she has a headache weird. No matter what she does, Maggie finds herself liked and admired and the center of attention.

What does a girl have to do to make no one like her? Will telling the truth do it?

Read and see in How Not To Be Popular.

How Not To Be Popular is as silly as can be. Stretching credibility to the max. Would any teenage girl go to such extremes? Sacrificing dignity every single day of the school year? Not caring what ANY one thought of her? This isn't a novel of a girl being herself, finding herself, learning to love herself as she is. This is a story of a girl living a lie, being a lie. Though I suppose one could definitely argue that Maggie doesn't know herself well enough to distinguish what being real, being authentic, being genuine is...what it means. She could just as easily be living a lie when she's wearing the popular persona as well. Trading one lie for another. Who is she really? Will she ever know? Will we?

I liked elements of How Not To Be Popular. I did. But there were parts of me that hated Maggie as well. Hated her for her hypocrisy. Hated her for how easy it was for her. How easy everyone just "loved" and "adored" her.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SLJ Best Books 2008

Here is School Library Journal's list of best books of 2008. For having 67 books, they sure are missing some of the biggies--those that are my favorite and best. I'm skipping over (for now) the picture books and nonfiction. Here are the fiction titles they've highlighted:

The Seer of Shadows by Avi
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Coraline the Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman. Adapted by P. Craig Russell.
Paper Towns by John Green.
Well Witched by Frances Hardinge
My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath
The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Door of No Return by Sarah Mussi
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
The Leanin' Dog by K.A. Nuzum
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Clementine's Letter by Sara Pennypacker
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
Impossible by Nancy Werlin

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye

Caletti, Deb. 2008. The Fortunes of Indigo Skye.

I love the way The Fortunes of Indigo Skye is written. Deb Caletti has a way with words. It's almost a magical touch. A way of capturing perfectly ordinary observations--details of daily life--that just sparkles.

In its simplest, The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, is a story of a girl who loses and finds herself. Indigo Skye is a waitress. She's happily content with being a waitress. She loves her life in fact. But when one of her customers leaves her a big tip--as in crazy big--then Indigo's life becomes challenging. What would you do--as a teenager or adult for that matter--if you woke up to discover that someone gave you a little over two million dollars. Would you stay true to you? Or would you begin changing, transforming into a stranger? What makes you you? How grounded would you need to be to stay real?

The Indigo Skye we first meet is charming as can be. Her definition of happiness is simple, "an absence of wanting equals happiness" (44). She's got her waitressing job, school, friends, family, a boyfriend, Trevor. And for the most part, she's content. That's not to say she doesn't have times when she's restless and unsure. Moments when she wonders what she is going to "be" when she's grown up. But the money she receives changes everything...and everyone...especially herself.

I didn't love this one. Don't get me wrong. I loved the writing in parts. There are phrases that I marked as being oh-so-right and oh-so-true. But I wasn't loving the story of this one. Interesting premise. Indigo starts off with potential. But I didn't find myself connecting with her family--her mom and dad, her brother, Severin, and her sister, Bex. I didn't feel her relationship with Trevor was that developed. He seemed a complete bore. Someone she didn't feel much affection or devotion for. And there weren't many friendships--either with her classmates or with her fellow waitresses--that seemed to be important to her. The book was full of observations--vignettes of human personalities and nature. There were sprinklings of characters that were interesting. But none were fully developed. None were fully engaging.

The novel was enjoyable because of the writing--the language, the style. But the characters, the plot? Just so-so. I thought the book was sluggish in the beginning. It takes a little over hundred pages for her to receive the money. And I can see that as a good thing--in a way--it establishes a "before" so that there can be an "after." (In fact, I enjoyed the first half better than the last half.) But still, I felt it was a bit unevenly paced.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Travel the World: Australia: Jellicoe Road

Marchetta, Melina. 2008. Jellicoe Road.

My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted. It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I'd ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, "What's the difference between a trip and a journey?" and my father said, "Narnie, my love, when we get there, you'll understand," and that was the last thing he ever said.
We heard her almost straightaway. In the other car, wedged into ours so deep that you couldn't tell where one began and the other ended. She told us her name was Tate and then she squeezed through the glass and the steel and climbed over her own dead--just to be with Webb and me; to give us her hand so we could clutch it with all our might. And then a kid called Fitz came riding by on a stolen bike and saved our lives. Someone asked us later, "Didn't you wonder why no one came across you sooner?" Did I wonder? When you see your parents zipped up in black body bags on the Jellicoe Road like they're some kind of garbage, don't you know? Wonder dies.
Powerful, isn't it? I won't lie...Jellicoe Road is a difficult read in many different ways. But worth it? Yes! Resoundingly yes! Why is it difficult? It weaves two stories together. The stories are seemingly least in the beginning. And because you--the reader--don't know what is going's easy to get frustrated. Easy to get confused. We've got the past--from which the prologue serves as an introduction--and the present. (In a way it reminds me of Tamar.)

The present. We've got several teens whose lives intersect--Taylor Markham, Ben Cassidy, Jonah Griggs, Chaz Santangelo, Raffaela, Jessa McKenzie--of whom Taylor is the main character. Taylor doesn't know where she fits in, "One day when I was eleven, my mother drove me out here and while I was in the toilets at the 7-Eleven on the Jellicoe Road, she drove off and left me there. It becomes one of those defining moments in your life, when your mother does that. It's not as if I don't forgive her, because I do" (20). Taylor is one of many students at Jellicoe School, a boarding school; she's the leader of her dorm or "house". (There are six houses.) And the school tradition is that there are "wars" between three sects--those that live at the boarding school (led by Taylor), the Townies (led by Chaz Santangelo), and the Cadets (led by Jonah Griggs). These wars involve territories. And these games last six weeks or so. And they're a big deal for those involved. But what at first seems like a senseless, pointless book on children playing war--tactical strategies, trapping, pranking, and such--soon turns into an emotional journey of the heart, soul, and mind.

Taylor Markham is concerned, worried, anxious about Hannah, a woman who is the closest thing she has to family, when she disappears without a word. One day she's there, the next day she's gone. And Taylor can't get a straight word out of any of the adults around at the school or in the town about Hannah's whereabouts. Taylor--though Hannah is still missing--likes to take refuge in Hannah's house. She loves to read Hannah's manuscript, for example, which is the story of five kids who live on Jellicoe Road: Tate, Narnie, Webb, Fitz, and Jude.

I don't want to spoil this one in any way. But I think this *may* help readers out a bit. I didn't catch on that the italicized portions--the stories of Tate, Webb, Narnie, Jude, Fitz, etc.--were written down stories. That Taylor was reading something Hannah had written down. I'm still not sure all of them are meant to be. But I think some of them are. And it is these stories which help Taylor to piece everything all together. (I had assumed that they were flashbacks. That they were there for the reader's benefit, but not for the characters within the book.)

This is a book that had to grow on me. It wasn't one that I knew I would love--or thought I would love--from the very first page. But by the time the story comes together, by the finale, it had me completely won over. The story is intricately told and well written. Haunting, yes. Bittersweet, definitely. But one that I think is worth reading and recommending.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Just finished reading this post on people who prefer to wait to read books until the hype dies down. It got me to thinking of my own preferences--you know I'm bound to have them after all. Does a book's hype--buzz, whatever you want it--lead me to dislike it? To judge it more critically perhaps? To not see what everyone else sees? To not see what everyone wants me to see? Does it say more about me wanting to stand apart from the crowd or join in and follow? Can any book--no matter how well written--live up to the hype it generates?

I prefer to read books before the hype happens. I realize that not everyone has this luxury. And even if you have access to a book a month or so before publication, doesn't mean that you'll read the book before it becomes "the book" with a halo and faint glow about it. Sometimes a book's praises begin before publication. Sometimes they don't begin until several months after publication. And sometimes, a book can have a good start in smaller circles--listservs of librarians and booksellers for example--but not within larger ones. Sometimes a book doesn't hit it big until after awards and best lists have been announced. Or until movie deals are signed and announced.

I was fortunate to read The Lightning Thief, Twilight, Looking for Alaska, and Uglies before (or in one case very slightly after) they were published. The Lightning Thief had nothing to recommend itself--no awesome cover, no hype, no promise of sequels that I'd heard about anyway--just a plain and simple ARC. Nothing in the cover said read me necessarily. While Riordan was previously published, this was his first children's book. Yet something about it intrigued me. And I loved it. Read it several times loved it. Passed it on to my best friend loved it. She then passed it on--read it aloud I believe--to her two nephews who loved it. All before the book became established or popular.

With Twilight, I read it several weeks--I believe--before it was published. But the enthusiasm for this one wasn't immediate if I recollect. It grew week by week by week as people read it and recommended it to their friends. Those friends recommended it to their friends. And so on. And so on. And so on. But it didn't become a phenomenon just yet. By the time the sequels started releasing it was absolutely HUGE. Beyond anyone's expectations. I'm so very thankful I read it before all that. I'm not sure I would have picked it up otherwise. I read it because a trusted friend (and classmate) said you MUST read this book. No excuses of "I don't like vampires" would do. I stayed up with it into the wee hours--not able to put it down. And of course, I had to recommend it to all my friends. And write about it here, there, and everywhere.

And Looking for Alaska. I remember reading that before it was published. I remember waiting for my Amazon review to finally show up--it wouldn't be "up" until the release date. If other people had been telling me that I must read and love and adore this book, would I have been so enthusiastic about it? If I'd waited until after it won the big award, would I have overanalyzed it to see if I could find weaknesses. Would I find things to nitpick about just because? If I'd gone into it with any preconceived notions, would it have mattered?

That's the question...and it's one with no easy answers. Why do my reading experiences change? How can I hate Octavian Nothing the first time through and love it the second? How can I go from disliking The True Meaning of Smek Day one week, and then a mere two weeks later reread it and absolutely adore it? How can I love Looking for Alaska the first time through, and be all cooled off about it the second time? And don't get me going on The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I absolutely loved it the first time, three months later, it was a pain to sludge through? Yet there are books that I can reread over and over and over and over again and still love, adore, and lavish heaps of praise on? Why do some books have to grow on me? Does that mean it's possible for me to one day pick up Great Expectations, Silas Marner, or Jude the Obscure and actually like them? (I wouldn't hold my breath!!) Am I that fickle? How much does my mood play into my reading? That is just one reason why I review a book each and every time I read it (if it's a novel.) Every reading is DIFFERENT. Every reading is subjective.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

House of Dance

Kephart, Beth. 2008. House of Dance.

You cannot buy a man who is dying a single meaningful thing. You can only give him back the life he loved, and wake up his memories. (98)

Rosie, our narrator, is fifteen the summer she learns her grandfather is dying of cancer. And so begins Rosie's daily journeys, he lives across town. A walk or quick bike ride away. It is then that she begins to learn his life stories, to see him in a whole new light, to rediscover what his life was all about. She begins to take inventory of his life--of his house, of his possessions. With almost everything there is a story. Some things are placed "In Trust." Other things are thrown away. Each day is an adventure. Each day is a gift.

Rosie develops a special bond with her grandfather and begins to love him or understand him in a way she hadn't before. When she stumbles into a dance studio--near his home--she decides to do something uncharacteristic for her. She decides to take dance lessons, private dance lessons. She hopes to give him a party to celebrate his life, to show him just how much she loves him. "The dance was alive. That was what I knew. The dance was something whole. The dance was hope, and hope was what I needed most of all the summer my granddad died. Hope was what I began to put In Trust, above all other things. Hope, which comes in all the brightest colors." (92)

Why did she choose dance? Ballroom dance? Her grandmother loved to dance, loved to wear red, loved to be vibrant. And her grandfather loved to watch her. Loved to listen to music--music from the Rat Pack, for example, and other legends in jazz and swing.

Rosie's life is far from perfect. There is her absentee mother that is in a relationship with a married man. A woman who cares more for her foolish love affair than taking care of her own father. It is Rosie--not her mother--that tends to him, visits him, loves and adores him. We don't see a full picture of Rosie's life. We don't see her interacting with her best friends, flirting with cute guys, going shopping, etc. We see a small slice of Rosie's life. We see a tender and intricate relationship developing between grandfather and granddaughter.

Rosie may think her greatest gift was the gift of dance, the gift of celebrating him and his life one last time, but her greatest gift was her time, was herself. Their souls touched and danced that summer as they shared each day together.

Tender story. Loving portrayal of an ugly time. Dying isn't pretty. It can tear you up and bring you down. If you let it. Rosie found a way to bring hope and courage and integrity to the situation. And you've got to love that. I loved Rosie for her strength, her courage, her love. Great character. Great book.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Reluctant Widow

Heyer, Georgette. 1946. The Reluctant Widow.

The Reluctant Widow surprised me. Completely surprised me. You'd think by now that I'd be used to how good Georgette Heyer novels are. But no, I can be a bit dense sometimes. What threw me on this one, is that it added some mystery and suspense--and some gothic elements borrowed from classics as well--to the wit and romance I've come to expect. I am not a big mystery-suspense fan, but this one worked for me. Really really worked for me.

After her father committed suicide, Elinor Rochdale decides the best thing for her to do is to find herself a situation (employment) as a governness. She doesn't want to be a poor, helpless female relation to be traded around her few remaining relatives. Her mind is made up. Her bags are pack. She's ready to board the coach. Only problem is...she boards the wrong coach. Instead of arriving at Mrs. Macclesfield's estate to care for a six year old boy, she arrives at a strange estate owned by Lord Carlyon. He thinks she's there in reply to his advertisement. He is looking for a woman to marry his cousin Eustace Cheviot.

This mix up is not immediately evident to either party. And it makes for a rather comical dialogue. But once he realizes the mistake--he becomes convinced that this mistake was pure fate. His cousin, Eustace, they soon learn is on his death bed. A suitable woman must be found--so he claims--to marry him before he takes his last breath. And in Carlyon's (also "Ned") opinion, Miss Rochdale is quite the woman for the job. He does manipulate her in a way to say yes. To marry a complete stranger is an odd request. But his argument that he won't last through the night carries some weight. She won't be burdened by an actual husband. She'll be a widow soon enough. And there might just be enough money from her husband's estate to give her enough to live on--if she's economical--the rest of her life. It's a tempting offer. But one that she is almost always hesitant of.

But say yes she does. And soon Eustace is with us no more. His death--ruled accidental--came at his cousin's hand. Lord Carlyon has two brothers--John and Nicky. Nicky, quite in self defense, is responsible for Eustace's death. In the coming week--between his death and his funeral--it is revealed that Eustace had more than a few secrets he'd been keeping. The family soon suspects that he was involved in espionage. Mrs. Cheviot (Miss Rochdale, Elinor) has to live on her husband's estate--a place called Highnoons. There are a few servants remaining. And Carlyon is off to fetch Elinor's former governess, Miss Beccles (Becky). Nicky who took an instant liking to his new cousin wants to hang around the place as well with his dog, Bouncer, to protect them all.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Soon after Mrs. Cheviot moves in, she's greeted by a strange man--a man with a French accent--who appeared out of nowhere, with no introduction. He did not enter through the front door. No, she learns he entered through a secret passageway. And that scares her--as well it shoud. Telling Nicky of her unexpected visitor, he decides to leave Bouncer with her to protect her. (A job he is more than happy to take on.) And he soon comes (within a day) to the decision to remain there with her himself. He has a mind that the mystery man will be back to search the house. And he wants to be ready for him.

I'll stop there. Let me just say that I loved this one. Loved, loved, loved it. Loved all three of the brothers--Ned, John, Nicky. Loved Bouncer, the dog. Loved Becky, the former governess. Loved the main character Elinor. Loved the story.

Mystery. Suspense. Great wit. Great characters. Fast-paced. Everything to love, nothing to hate.

Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Season of Ice

Season of Ice by Diane Les Becquets. 2008.

In the beginning there was snow.

Season of Ice is a bittersweet novel--more bitter than sweet--about a teen girl, 17 to be exact, Genesis, coming-of-age after her father's tragic accident one winter day. Genesis is a strange-to-me character. She races cars on the ice--the frozen lake near her home. And she's good at it--really good at it. Often if not always beating the men she races against. Her father disappears one day in November. He left her at her Uncle Perry's auto shop. He was going out doing an odd job--a repair job--on the lake. His truck and his boat were found--one that day, one the next--but his body was never found. The search was called to a halt when the ice came, when the lake froze over. Nothing more can be done. Not till the thaw comes. A family's grief becomes frozen in place as well.

Genesis lives with her step mom, Linda, and her half-brothers, Scott and Alex, twins, age 8. Their relationship was tense to begin with, before her father disappeared, before he was presumed dead. Now that he's gone, they're in a holding pattern. Genesis does love her brothers--very much. And they are enough to tie her to this family. But her relationship with Linda is delicate and awkward.

The book is a story (fictional of course) of how she copes with the loss of her father--the grief in all its stages. It's a story of how she reconciles her current life--with all its changes--with her past. She can't go back. Her father is gone. There is no getting that love, that innocence, that happiness back. But she does have to learn to move forward. Somehow. As impossible as that seems. It is a story of her search for acceptance and peace.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, November 24, 2008

How To Be Bad

How To Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle. 2008.

How To Be Bad is a collaborative novel between three well-known, often-beloved YA authors. It is the story of three girls--three teens--three waitresses from a small-town Waffle House in Florida. Jesse is an uptight religious sort running away from her mom's diagnosis, Vicks is Jesse's best friend who is feeling more and more like a was. The growing distance between the two is unacknowledged, unspoken, but definitely present. Vicks has a boyfriend in Miami. He is also feeling more distant and lost than ever. His name is Brady. Mel is the third wheel. She's a hostess at the Waffle House. New to town. New in so many other ways as well. She's not really friends with anyone--but she wants to be. She wants to belong, to fit in, to be a part of something. These three head off on a road trip to Miami. Mel included only because she offers to pay...and because her presence will help disguise the tension between Vicks and Jesse.

This road trip will in many ways act as a catalyst for the girls' coming-of-age. Life. Friendship. Love. A few mistakes. A few embarrassing moments. A few fights. Can Vicks save her relationship with Brady? Can Vicks save her friendship with Jesse? Will Jesse ever come clean with the truth? Will Mel ever find a friend?

I'll be honest. I didn't much like this one. I guess I just felt the writing was bland...almost boring. (I've had difficulty getting into some of the authors' individual books in the past.)
I'm sure other readers would disagree with me in parts at least. Because I've seen this one get good reviews on other blogs. But it just wasn't for me.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Interview with Frances O'Roark Dowell

Today I bring you an interview with Frances O'Roark Dowell. You can visit her on the web here. One of her newest books is Shooting the Moon. It is one of my favorite, favorite books. Her previous works include: Phineas L. MacGuire...Blasts Off, Phineas L. MacGuire...Gets Slimed, Phineas L. MacGuire...Erupts: The First Experiment, Chicken Boy, The Secret Language of Girls, Where I'd Like To Be, and Dovey Coe. In January, watch for the release of The Kind of Friends We Used To Be.

Can you share with us a little bit about your background and your journey towards becoming a published author?

I am the daughter of an Army lawyer and a homemaker, attended eight schools growing up, including three high schools, have deep roots in Kentucky but have never actually lived there, and consider myself a quasi-Southerner. My love of liver mush and pimento cheese alone should qualify me as the real deal, but sadly it is not enough.

I always loved to write—it was a happy day in school for me when we were assigned an essay—but I was never much of a fiction writer. I started writing poetry at an early age and after college went on to get an MFA in creative writing in poetry. It wasn’t until I started re-reading my favorite childhood books in my mid-twenties—Harriet the Spy, The Changeling, the Great Brain books—that I thought about writing fiction, specifically for middle grade readers.

I wrote my first book, put it in a drawer, and then wrote Dovey Coe, which I also put in a drawer. I kept writing while I went on to do any number of things, including getting married, moving to east Tennessee, working as a hotel maid, a paralegal and a copywriter for Laura’s Lean Beef. A few years after I wrote Dovey Coe, my best friend from grad school, the novelist Nancy Reisman, met an editor from HarperCollins Children’s Books, told her about me, and got me in the door. It’s good to have friends! Ultimately, Dovey Coe went to Caitlyn Dlouhy at Atheneum, who initially rejected it, but accepted it later, after I’d revised.

I’ve worked with Caitlyn for ten years now. She is a genius and has taught me almost everything I know about writing novels.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

As a poet, I love the music of language. I love the sound of people’s voices. The joy of writing is finding really good words and sounds and rhythms. What I find the hardest is coming up with plausible plots. I would be very happy to write novels where characters just wander around and talk and think interesting thoughts, but readers (and editors) tend to like stories where something happens. Interestingly, I find it pretty easy to revise—in fact, I find it highly enjoyable--even when I’m tearing out huge chunks of the first draft and trashing them.

What is a typical day-in-the-life like as a writer?

When I’m working on a book, I get up, make breakfast for my children, drive them to school, come home and walk the dog, then sit down to work. Usually I work for two to three hours. I can’t do much longer than that, especially if it’s a first draft. I really tear my hair out on first drafts. When I’m revising and it’s going well, I can work for longer stretches.

I used to work at night, in part because my children were small and that was the only time available to me (I am decidedly not a morning person). Now I tend to work from 9 a.m. until noon.

What inspired you to write Shooting the Moon? (Or how did this novel come to be…?)
It was my husband’s idea, really. He suggested I write a book about life as an Army brat. I resisted at first, just because I wasn’t sure that anyone would be interested. But then I became intrigued by the notion of writing something so autobiographical.

It took a long time to get a workable draft, though. At first the story was set in Germany (where I lived when I was in middle school) and Jamie’s older brother TJ declares himself as a conscientious objector. But that wasn’t working, so I brought the story Stateside and had TJ decide to enlist.

Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene?

I like Jamie’s father, the Colonel. I think he’s an honorable, flawed human being. I tend to let my characters go their own way, so I was prepared for him to be a bad guy if that’s how it played out, but fortunately his dark side wasn’t too dark. Too often in books and movies military officers are depicted as brutes and abusers. I’m not saying men (and women) like that don’t exist, but they are the exceptions, in my opinion, not the rule.

I like the scene where Jamie finally builds up the courage to ask the Colonel to keep her friend Private Hollister out of Vietnam. I thought it stayed true to both of their characters.

What songs would be on Jamie‘s playlist? Does she have a theme song?

I think Creedence Clearwater Revival would have loomed large on Jamie’s playlist. When my dad came home from Vietnam, he was a huge Creedence fan. She might have been listening to Sly and the Family Stone, since Sly was an Army brat, too. I suspect the Colonel was a Tom Jones fan, so Jamie would have been as well.

Don’t know about a theme song. Something by Creedence. John Fogerty was a Vietnam Vet, and to me, songs like “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and “Fortunate Son” are a part of the war’s soundtrack. (See my post here.)

Why photography? What do you think pictures can say that words can’t express?

When I was in seventh grade and living in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, I used to go to the Rec Center on post and develop film and print photographs. So it was something I knew a little bit about (and my husband is a documentary photographer, so I had his expertise to rely on as well) and it gave Jamie something interesting to do while she volunteered at the Fort Hood Rec Center. From the necessity of giving Jamie an interesting job came the idea that TJ could send her film to develop.

With photography, there are no filters. It’s visceral and immediate. If I write a story in which I describe a wounded soldier being carried to a helicopter, you may or may not be affected by it. My words might move you, or they might bore you. You might get bogged down in my endless description. But if I show you a photograph, even if it’s not the greatest photograph in the world, through the mere act of looking, you will be affected and perhaps even changed.

I loved the first sentence. “The day after my brother left for Vietnam, me and Private Hollister played thirty-seven hands of gin rummy, and I won twenty-one.” Did this line come easily or did you struggle with getting it just right?

Oh, I played around with it for a long time to get it right. I really care a lot about rhythm and sound and cadence. It’s the poet in me. I’m glad you think it’s a good first line.

What was your first impression of the cover art for Shooting the Moon?

I thought it was a beautiful piece of art. It looks just a touch old fashioned to me—more Great Depression era than Vietnam era—but I trust the art department folks and the marketing folks to know what they’re doing.

What would you say (if anything) to critics who would label the book as anti-war or propaganda?

There is a scene in which Jamie’s father, the Colonel, explains the rationale for the US’s involvement in Vietnam and why he agreed with it. He doesn’t think the US was wrong to go to Vietnam, but he acknowledges that it’s turning out to be an unwinnable war. He doesn’t suddenly become antiwar—that would be propaganda. I’m not sure that ultimately Jamie is anti-war. I think she finally realizes that war is not a game or a romantic situation. It’s real and it’s ugly. But a lot of people recognize the ugliness of war and still see the necessity of it. I consider myself a Christian pacifist, but I’m hard pressed to say what we could have done about Hitler except send over troops.

I’ve actually wondered if anyone would see Shooting the Moon as pro-military propaganda simply because the soldiers—including the officers—aren’t bad guys.

Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress? Do you have any upcoming releases?

I just finished the second draft of a book that’s very different for me. My editor is calling it a light fantasy—a girl falls through the closet in the school nurse’s office and finds herself in a completely different world. It’s in the third person and was incredibly fun to write. Not easy, but definitely fun.

The sequel to The Secret Language of Girls is going to be published in January 2009. It’s called The Kind of Friends We Used to Be.

How do you find time—do you find time—to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

It’s hard! I’m busy in the mornings, either writing or running errands or volunteering at my sons’ school. When I try to read after lunch, I inevitably fall asleep on the couch. I try to sneak in reading in the early evening, while the boys are taking their baths or playing before bedtime. I’m almost done with The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is fascinating—what a great book for discussion! And I’ve just started The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and can’t wait to pass it on to my fourth grader. It’s wonderful. A book I love for its art and its story is We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson.

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

Yikes! There are tons of folks I’d want to time-travel to meet—everyone from Jesus to the first Queen Elizabeth to Walt Whitman. I’d like to go to Monticello while Thomas Jefferson still lived there. I’d love to hang out with all those radicals in Greenwich Village in the 1920s (“Reds” is one of my favorite movies). I’d march in the Selma-to-Montgomery march and go to D.C. to hear Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech live. It would be fascinating to walk (climb?) back through my family tree—especially to meet the women. I’m very interested in domestic history—the day to day of how people have lived through the years.

But could I do all that in twenty-four hours? Hmmm …

With my limitless supply of money, I’d buy art, books, quilts and yarn, and a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Nonfiction Monday: The Trouble Begins at 8

Fleischman, Sid. 2008. The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain In the Wild, Wild West.

I loved Trouble Begins at 8. Loved it. Which is to say that I more than appreciated what it had to offer. More than saw it as a good nonfiction title. I mean really and truly loved, loved, loved it. Something I usually only reserve for fiction. Sid Fleischman is awesome. His writing is just amazing. His gift with words, his literary style, was just brilliant on this one. Listen to the first sentence of chapter one: "Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth." Open it up to almost any chapter, and you'll find that Fleischman has a way with words, with communicating simple facts in a unique and thoroughly charming way:

"Sam landed a dream job. He was fourteen years old, as Mark Twain was later to calculate. Scholars question his arithmetic. They add a couple of years. Apprenticed to a printer who published one of the two Hannibal newspapers, the Courier, he had the privilege of sweeping up, of running and fetching, and even of learning to set newspaper type--all without being burdened with a salary. Not a cent." (25)

In addition to the great biographical narrative, the book is liberal in its use of graphics--photographs, illustrations, etc. It also has all the bells and whistles it needs: Mark Twain's short story of the celebrated frog, a time line, references (end notes), bibliography, index, etc.

Read Sarah Miller's review. She's the one that alerted me to this one.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Lockhart, E. 2008. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

I may get a few boos for this one. But I couldn't quite like it*. Blame it on the tense. Third person past tense (as far as I can reckon). Or blame it on the expostulating tone, purposefully pretentious and off-putting. A blend of intelligence and condescension. It's not like every page was of this style, but there were little asides by the narrator--I suppose it's the narrator--that just intruded in on the story. Created too much distance for my taste. Added in too much reflection.
How does a person become the person she is? What are the factors in her culture, her childhood, her education, her religion, her economic stature, her sexual orientation, her race, her everyday interactions--what stimuli lead her to make choices other people will despise her for?
This chronicle is an attempt to mark out the contributing elements in Frankie Landau-Banks's character. What led her to do what she did: things she would later view with a curious mixture of hubris and regret. Frankie's mental processes had been stimulated by Ms. Jensson's lectures on the panopticon , her encounters with Alpha, her mother's refusal to let her walk into town on the Jersey Shore, her observation of the joy Matthew took in rescuing her from her bicycle accident, and her anger at Dean for not remembering her. All these were factors in what happened next... (107)
I do like several things about it however. I just have a love-hate relationship with the narrative style. There are paragraphs that I love, and there are paragraphs that I hate. Phrases that I think are a bit too much, and phrases that I think are just right. I like how the first chapter begins, for example, "Though not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock." I think both the prologue and the first few chapters offer quite a hook or incentive to readers.

Frankie is a boarding school student whose sophomore year presents great opportunities for adventure and misadventure. She'll experience the ups and downs of having a relationship with a "popular" boy, a real somebody. Rich too. Her old friendships will be threatened by the aforementioned relationship and all that brings about. Frankie is smart. She's determined. She's got her own way of seeing the world. And none of those things are bad. All quite good actually.

It's not Frankie that I dislike but the meddling narrator who likes to tell instead of show.

*I'll qualify this statement. Based on the all the buzz, the hype, I couldn't "like" it as much as I "should". See, this is one that has been getting love all over the place. People saying it's the best of the best, one of the year's must-reads. A book people are just raving about. I didn't think it was that good, that deserving. But it's a good read. A solid read. I wouldn't put this one in my top ten of the year. I probably wouldn't even have it in the top twenty. But it is a good book all the same. In other words, I've read dozens and dozens that I disliked more than this one.

This is neither here nor there. But one of the things I found unbelievable was that Frankie's sister, Zada, took her under her wing. Zada's a senior. Frankie was a freshman. She let Frankie sit with her and her junior and senior friends at lunch. She allowed Frankie to tag along with her. To be a part of her "cool" set of friends. I have a hard time believing that even a good sister would do this. I shared two years of school with my sister, we overlapped two years I mean, and never once would I have been encouraged/allowed to sit with her at lunch. To hang out with her friends at school. It was one thing to be allowed to tag along after school (on occasion) or at home.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Regency Buck

Heyer, Georgette. 1935. Regency Buck.

"Newark was left behind and the post-chaise-and-four entered on a stretch of flat country which offered little to attract the eye, or occasion remark."

Georgette Heyer was a wonderful writer. A beloved writer, in fact, known for her regency romances in particular. Her books are rich in detail--but not in a burdening, cumbersome way. And her characters are always nicely drawn from human nature--flaws abound, but that's always a good thing. Vices and temptations abound in her works--drinking, gambling (be it at the gaming table or in a sporting arena), keeping bad company, and fashion to name just a few examples. (How is fashion a vice? Well, if you're too vain or selfish and spend too much time primping in front of a mirror, then chances are you're in for a comeuppance. Also, spending too much money on fashion--clothes, hats, gloves, jewelry, etc.--is just one way it can be a vice.)

In Regency Buck, we've got the story of a brother and sister newly arrived in London. Peregrine Tavener, the brother, and his older sister, Judith Tavener. They are coming to set up house, and perhaps even more importantly to meet their guardian. (Both of their parents have died. And the father's will left them under the care of Lord Worth.) They are expecting an older gentleman. A man that would have been the contemporary of their father. Someone with gout presumably. What they find is that Lord Worth is a young man--just a handful of years older. He isn't particularly pleased with this added responsibility, and he's not shy admitting this to his wards. But for one year at least--until Judith's birthday--Lord Worth is their official guardian.

The Taveners do set up their own house. Mrs. Scattergood, a relation (cousin???) of Lord Worth, is Judith's companion. Needed during that time to protect young women and provide them with counsel on how to behave in society. An older woman to act as chaperone. Of course, Peregrine, offers protection to his sister as well. But who's protecting him? Peregrine being prone to gambling and partying. When Peregrine becomes engaged to a young woman, Harriet, then a few strange coicidences occur to threaten his life which convinces Worth that someone is out to kill his ward.

The two stand to inherit much money when they come of age. And for this reason, suitors abound for Judith's hand. One of her most persistent suitors is her cousin, Bernard Tavener. But Lord Worth turns them all away. Saying that no man will marry her while he is still her guardian. Something that both repulses and pleases her. She's known some of the men are completely unsuitable--some as old as her father, all looking for a wealthy wife--but the idea of being controlled by a man irritates her at the same time.

Worth (Julian) and Judith (whom he persists in calling Clorinda) are always bickering. The banter flows easily between these two. While both tend to be a bit cranky around the other, the reader knows without any doubts that these two secretly feel very differently about each other.

I love Worth and Judith. I love the rich-layers of Regency Buck as well. For example, Judith's reading of Sense and Sensibility. And the presence of Lord Byron and the discussion of his poetry. There are a dozen or so other things I could point out, but those are just two examples of bits that made me smile.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon: Playlist for Shooting the Moon

On Monday I'll have an interview with Frances O'Roark Dowell to share with you. I am VERY excited! I just loved, loved, loved her book Shooting the Moon.

Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell. $13.59 (hardcover) 9+ My review. "Beautifully written--almost lyrical in fact--Shooting the Moon is the story of a girl, Jamie Dexter. Twelve-and-going-on-thirteen, Jamie has a lot to learn about life, about love, about family, and about friendship." (Set during the Vietnam War).

How did I arrive at this playlist? I asked the author for a few suggestions. Then I relied on finding a top 100 list for the year. (Also on my own knowledge of music--having Billboard's 1969 album). But the *main* factor was whether the songs could be found on Project Playlist.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Last week's question answered today

Amy wrote this question for her Faith 'n Fiction Saturdays feature last week, November 14, 2008.

The past couple of days there has been a big flare-up in the broader book blogging community regarding review policies and a blogger's obligation to an author once they've received a review copy. For those of you who belong to the blogging alliance FIRST, we've also discussed this issue a little bit.

I decided to make today's question about this, because I think this is an even tougher situation for Christian reviewers who review Christian books. So here you receive review copies of Christian books? If so, do you review them honestly? How do you handle it when you don't like a book but are obligated to provide a review? Who do you see your first commitment being to in book reviewing (besides God)? Yourself? The author? Your readers? Does your review change based on the spiritual content of the book or is it solely based on technical or artistic merit? Have you ever had a negative experience with an author after giving them a negative review? (please don't name names)

I do receive a few Christian books for review. I do the occasional CFBA tour. I get a few books from Bethany House. A handful from Barbour now and then. Still it's just a fraction comparatively speaking.

My philosophy is simple. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I think Christian books should be read just as critically as any other book. That doesn't mean slam the author in any case. But it does mean that flaws in writing--the characterization, the plot, the pace, the literary style or tone--should not be forgiven and forgotten just because the author is a Christian. (If you think about it, would that be insulting as a writer? For a Christian writer, it isn't half bad. For a Christian writer, these characters are pretty good. Writers should just be writers.)

The good news? If I review a Christian picture book and pick on it because of its lack of rhythm and flow. That author would just have to look over on my other reviews to see that plenty of mainstream books get the exact same criticism. So I'm not just picking on them. I have standards that need to be met.

I'll be honest. I think certain stereotypes of Christian fiction exist. One of them is that it's dinky. Dinky characters. Cheesy plots. Cliche central. Corny dialogue. Too-sickly-sweet-to-be-true tone. Another is that it's didactic or preachy. I may be a Christian. But that doesn't mean I want dinky. I may believe wholeheartedly in the gospel, but I don't want an overly didactic sickeningly sweet roll-your-eyes pathetic sermon embedded into my fiction.

There are GOOD Christian authors. Some are so very, very good. You want to recommend them to EVERY one you know regardless of whether they're a Christian or not. The writing can stand up to it. And while the faith issues may not be veiled, the tone isn't preachy.

I can name half a dozen or so that I just love. Whose works I follow. Whose books I can count on for being well-written, enjoyable, compelling.

But sometimes you come across dinky books. Dinky books with predictable plots, implausible characters, roll-your-eyes-a-monkey-could-do-better dialogue. If I were to review that book side by side with a book that actually was a good book...and not let you know that there is a great distinction in quality...I'd feel like a cheat. Granted, I will NEVER EVER say that a monkey could have done a better job in writing a book (no matter how bad I find it). But I will admit to it being a disappointment. Or admit to it being dinky. Or I might mention that I found the characters unbelievable. Or say that it was too didactic for my taste.

I don't assume that everyone will agree with what I write in a review. That would be laughable. And for every Christian book I label dinky, I have no doubt that there are a few people at least (maybe hundreds of them) that would say that that author is among their favorites. That they love that book. That author.To each their own.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

Kuehnert, Stephanie. 2008. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

Altars. Saviors. Rock'n'roll. I braved my fear of spiders, dust plumes as thick as L.A. smog, and the stench of dog piss that the last owner of the house had let permeate the basement to tirelessly search my father's record collection for my next holy grail.

I liked this one. It was well written. Stephanie Kuehnert has a way with words, and she can spin a good story. No doubt about it. For those that love music--particularly punk--and angst will find much to delight them in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. Emily, our heroine, is a girl rocker with a band. Emily's choices aren't always wise. Often they're just the opposite. And she has to learn things the hard way. But through it all, I found myself liking her...flaws and all.

Emily has abandonment issues and justly so. Her mother abandoned her and her dad when she was just a few months old. Her parents had notoriously left Carlisle, Wisconsin, in 1974. But after she left, he decides to return--much to the dismay and delight of some of the residents. Emily's best friend is the daughter of her mother's best friend. Regan and Emily are inseparable. (Regan's part of the band as well.)

We get Emily's story, but we also get snippets of her mother's story. Both share certain similarities. Emily's story is sad and bittersweet in a way. As Emily chooses time and time again not to respect herself and her body. Her choices when it come to what men she lets in...are often all too regrettable.

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is an ambitious novel covering a great span of years--some of her childhood, all of her teen years, and even a little beyond when she's an adult. The plot revolves around her growing up and growing wise. Of course before she can do that, she has to hit rock bottom. She has to make all the wrong choices before she can start making the right ones. But even when Emily is down on her luck and spiraling out of control, you can't help but like her and want her to find happiness.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Faith 'n Fiction Saturdays

This is my first time participating in My Friend Amy's Faith 'n Fiction Saturdays.

Today's Question:
We've been blessed to finally start seeing some of our favorite Christian books come to life on film. So far, these have been largely low budget films, but they generally get the heart of the books across. But my question for you is...if you had an unlimited budget, what Christian fiction book would you like to see made into a film? Who would you cast in the main roles? Would you have a preference on director? Any songs you'd like to see on the soundtrack?

My Answer?

A Woman's Place by Lynn Austin. I just *love, love, love* this one. It's set in the 1940s. It's during World War 2. It features four women--four strangers, all from different generations--becoming friends and coming together. What they all have in common is their love of country and their desire to help the war effort by taking factory jobs.

The four women are Virginia (in her 30s, a housewife); Rosa (newlywed; 20's); Helen (50s), Jean (just out of high school; late teens). I don't really have preferences on the actresses--as long as the costuming and such is good and they can, you know, actually act. Same with directors. And screenwriters. But I wouldn't trust the team behind the nonsensical renderings of Janette Oke's series. The first one was okay. The second was a bit cheesy. The third was a lot cheesy. The fourth was almost unbearable. And the fifth I couldn't bring myself to watch because just by reading the premise you could tell bloody murder had been done.

I have lots of ideas on music soundtracks. Swing, swing, swing!!! As for the original score, I am a BIG, BIG fan of Harry Gregson-Williams. Or George Fenton. Those two are my favorites.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews