Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Accomplishments

These are a few of my favorite 'first' lines read in April of 2009.

Sisters are overrated, she decided.

Like Moses, Meemaw had ten commandments.

I had a sister once.

It is the counting that saves him.

When I opened my eyes I knew that nothing in my miserable life prior to that moment could possibly be as bad as what was about to happen.

April's Top Five:

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner. 2009. Random House. 247 pages.
King's Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes. 1959/2009. 320 pages. (Adult/History)
Someone Like You. Sarah Dessen. 1998. Penguin. 281.
Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn. 2006. Square Fish. 194 pages
Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine by Francesca Simon. 2009. Sourcebooks. 88 pages.

Number of Picture Books: 0

Number of Board Books: 2

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway. 1972 (picture book version); this board book edition 2009) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. 1942. (picture book version; this board book 2009). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Number of Children's Books: 6

Dragon's Fat Cat by Dav Pilkey. 1992. Scholastic. 48 pages.
Cranky Paws (Pet Vet #1) by Darrel & Sally Odgers. 2009. Kane/Miller. 87 pages.
Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon. 2009. Sourcebooks. 90 pages.
Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy by Francesca Simon. 2009. Sourcebooks. 90 pages.
Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine by Francesca Simon. 2009. Sourcebooks. 88 pages.
Horrid Henry's Stinkbomb by Francesca Simon. 2009. Sourcebooks. 78 pages.

Number of YA Books: 26

Eon Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman. 2008. Viking. 531 pages.
The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins. 2007. Feiwel and Friends. 273 pages.
Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 by PJ Haarsma. 2006. Candlewick. 272 pages.
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. 2008. Simon & Schuster. 453 pages.
The Reformed Vampire Support Group. Catherine Jinks. 2009. Harcourt. 362 pages.
The Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby. 2009. 199 pages. Penguin.
This Is What I Want To Tell You by Heather Duffy Stone. 2009. 233. Flux.
Jessica's Guide to Dating On the Dark Side. Beth Fantaskey. 2009. Harcourt. 354 pages.
Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So Fabulous Life. Rachel Renee Russell. Aladdin. 276 pages.
City of Glass. Cassandra Clare. 2009. Simon & Schuster. 541 pages.
Someone Like You. Sarah Dessen. 1998. Penguin. 281.
Jumped. Rita Williams-Garcia. 2009. HarperCollins. 168.
Bird. Rita Murphy. 2008. Random House. 150.
The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum. 2009. Shadow Mountain. 416 pages.
SLOB by Ellen Potter. 2009. Penguin. 208 pages.
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner. 2009. Random House. 247 pages.
Doing It by Melvin Burgess. 2003. Henry Holt. 326 pages.
Fly On the Wall. E Lockhart. 2006. Random House. 182 pages.
Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn. 2006. Square Fish. 194 pages
Envy by Anna Godbersen. 2009. HarperCollins. 405 pages.
Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar. 2002. Little Brown. 199 pages.
Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus. 2009. Westside Books. 306 pages.
Running for My Life by Ann Gonzalez. 2009. Westside Books. 237 pages
Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal. 2009. Henry Holt. 256 pages
Gone by Michael Grant. 2008. HarperCollins. 558 pages.
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. 2002. Simon & Schuster. 380 pages.

Number of Verse Novels: 0
Number of Graphic Novels: 0
Number of Nonfiction: 0

Number of Christian books: 4

A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman. Revell. 477 pages. (Adult/Christian)
A Passion Redeemed by Julie Lessman. Revell. 477 pages. (Adult/Christian)
No Woman So Fair by Gilbert Morris. Bethany House. 350 (Adult/Christian)
Before the Season Ends. by Linore Rose Burkhard. Harvest House. 340 pages. (Adult/Christian)

Number of adult books: 5

To A God Unknown by John Steinbeck. 1933. 186 pages. (Adult/Classic)
King's Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes. 1959/2009. 320 pages. (Adult/History)
The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling. 2001. 524 pages. (Adult/Fantasy)
The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham. 2009. SourceBooks. 512 pages.
The Warden. Anthony Trollope. 1855. 294 pages.

Number of short story collections/anthologies/poetry books: 0

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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The House of The Scorpion

Farmer, Nancy. 2002. The House of the Scorpion. Simon & Schuster.

In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He studied them anxiously in the darkened room.

If you haven't read The House of the Scorpion, you really don't know what you're missing. It's as wonderfully complex and beautiful and thrilling as Frankenstein. (Which, if you remember nothing else about me, remember my love for Mary Shelley's monster.) The House of the Scorpion is science fiction. Set several centuries in the future, it revolves around the Alacran family, rulers of the empire of Opium which borders the United States and Mexico. Well, what used to be called Mexico. Our hero, Matteo Alacran, has an unusual upbringing. His first five or six years are almost spent in complete isolation. His only interactions being with his caregiver--not his mother, who was sacrificed--a woman, a servant, named Celia. But one day, in his cabin, he hears voices. He sees two children. A boy and a girl. And despite Celia's warnings, his curiosity gets the better of him. And he springs through the window--the doors and windows being locked--freeing himself, yes, but bloodying himself up in the process. What this teaches him--among other things--is that he is different. Not just a little different, but DIFFERENT. His very existence seems to repulse people. Why? What did he ever do to them? Thus Matt's struggles begin.

The book traces his childhood from birth through age fourteen or so. As I said, it's a unique one. The household being darkly twisted and as dysfunctional as can be. The few friends Matt make cannot ever overcome his great disadvantages. Though small threads of hope remain. Matt's future remains uncertain. And his present is full of dangers as well. Life is not easy, but it's all he knows. His very life depends on the conclusions he will come to draw, the observations he continues to make.

The House of the Scorpion is a thrilling science fiction novel that is intelligent and intense.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Awards 2 Completed

Book Awards Challenge Round 2

10 Months. 10 Award Winners.
August 1, 2008 - June 1, 2009
5 different awards represented (minimum)
List subject to change (and that's OK)
Overlaps with Other Challenges Allowed

1. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (National Book Award for Young People Literature)
2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Printz Award/Honor)
3. Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation: The Kingdom On the Waves by M.T. Anderson (National Book Award for Young People Literature/Printz Award Honor)
4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Man Booker Prize Finalist, Alex Award)
5. Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (Philip K. Dick Award)
6. The Winter Of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck (Nobel Prize)
7. Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Hugo Award)
8. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Printz)
9. Maus I by Art Spiegelman; Maus II by Art Spiegelman (Pulitzer Prize)
10. Doing It by Melvin Burgess (Los Angeles Times Book Prize)
11. The House of the Scorpion. (National Book Award; Printz Honor; Newbery Honor)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Grant, Michael. 2008. Gone. HarperCollins. 558 pages.

One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone. There. Gone. No "poof." No flash of light. No explosion.

I have mixed feelings on Gone by Michael Grant. On the one hand, it's an exciting thriller. A book based on an interesting premise--what if all adults (at least all adults that we know about within this one county at least) vanished. What remains are young adults under the age of 15 on down to the wee little newborns. Gone as well are all phone lines and Internet connections. And television. Effectively, these people are shut off from the world. They have no way of knowing--and neither does the reader--how widespread this vanishing is. If there is an outside world that can be reached or connected. It's a mad scramble to find food...and babies. (It's not always a happy picture. There were young children--babies and toddlers and preschoolers--left too long with horribly tragic results. I want to scream at them: Why didn't you think to look for the babies right away??? Why wait, can't you imagine that every hour counts?!)

But on the other hand, while the premise is intense and thrilling, I wasn't that impressed by the characterization. The characters themselves, their stories, their narratives, didn't impress me. The reader learns that a handful of these characters--over half of the ones we meet up close and personal--have superpowers. They have enhanced abilities--the power of healing, the power to shoot flames out of their hands, the power to transport themselves from room to room, the power to read minds, etc. Some of these characters are the "good" guys, others are the "bad" guys. And from the very start, the reader knows we're counting down until the Big Confrontation.

I'm honestly not sure if it was a personal disconnect or a more general one. Have you read this one? Am I missing something? Is it just my mood? Am I only supposed to care about the premise?

While the premise was intriguing and the plot was action-packed with a few thrilling reveals thrown in, I didn't really connect with any of the main characters. And because I didn't care about the characters, I had a hard time genuinely connecting with this one. It's not that I didn't "like" it. There was nothing about it that I could point at and say exactly what it was that didn't work for me. I think it will work for many--if not most--readers.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Travel the World: UK: The Warden

Trollope, Anthony. 1855. The Warden. Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages.

The Rev. Septimus Harding was, a few years since, a beneficed clergyman residing in the cathedral town of -----; let us call it Barchester.

This is a charming little classic concerning ethics. While that, strictly speaking, is true, it's not really the half of it. It's about one man, Mr. Harding, and his family: two daughters, one married, the other quite single. It's also about Harding's neighborhood and circle of friends. It's about the necessity of having a good reputation and a clean conscience.

Eleanor is the apple of her daddy's eye. Susan is married to an Archdeacon. (I *believe* his name is Grantley). Because of his eldest daughters good fortune in marriage, Mr. Harding, has been named warden of Hiram's Hospital (alms house). The 'enemy' of Mr. Harding (and the suitor of Eleanor) is a young man named John Bold. When we are first introduced to these characters, we are learning that Bold is encouraging a law suit against Mr. Harding. He feels that Mr. Harding is in violation of the will. (Way, way, way back when (several centuries past), a man left his (quite wealthy) estate to the church. The church followed the will for the most part, but as times changed, they changed the way they carried it out. They were following it through in spirit in a way: still seeking to take care of twelve poor men (bedesman) but over time the salary of the warden increased.) Bold has stirred up the twelve bedesmen into signing a petition demanding justice, demanding more money, demanding 'fairer' distribution of funds.

The book presents this case through multiple perspectives: through two Grantleys (father and son), a few lawyers, Mr. Harding and Mr. Bold, of course, and through a handful of the twelve men involved that would profit from the change. There is one man whose voice seems louder than all the rest. And that voice comes from the newspaper, the Jupiter, one journalist writes harsh, condemning words directed at Mr. Harding--he assumes much having never met Harding personally. These words weigh heavy on the heart and soul of Mr. Harding. (And they don't sit easy on Mr. Bold either.)

Can Mr. Harding get his reputation back? What is the right thing to do? Is he in violation of the will? Is the church? What is his moral responsibility in caring for these twelve poor-and-retired men? What is his responsibility to the community?

The Warden is a charming little book. In part because of the language and style. There's an easiness and rightness about it. It was one of those cases where I knew almost from the start that Trollope and I would come to be good friends. Though I'd never read any Trollope before, never seen a movie based on one of his books, reading Trollope felt like coming home. Trollope was good at characterization and equally good at storytelling.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Savvy In Context

Savvy by Ingrid Law received a Newbery Honor this year. Chances are, you can name the Newbery winner already. (Cough, cough: Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.) But can you name the other books sharing the honor with Savvy? I thought I'd write up a little introduction to some of this year's best books.

Kathi Appelt's The Underneath.

There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat. Her family, the one she lived with, has left her in this old and forgotten forest, this forest where the rain is soaking into her soft fur. (1)

The Underneath is about friendship, about love, about hate, about sacrifice, about revenge, about death, about life in all its shades and colors. It's bittersweet but beautiful. It's sorrows and joys are pure and heartfelt.

My interview in two parts: day 1, day 2

Margarita Engle's The Surrender Tree.

The Surrender Tree is well-written, powerful, and bold. Set in the last half of the nineteenth century (1850-1900), The Surrender Tree traces the struggle of Cuba's freedom and independence movements. Told through multiple narrators (Rosa, Silvia, Jose, etc.), the poems are strong, vivid, and powerful. They capture the gritty hardships of a life lived on the run, in hiding.

If you haven't read Margarita Engle before, you really don't know what you're missing! Highly recommended.

Jacqueline Woodson's After Tupac & D Foster.

Some books leave me a bit speechless. This is one of them. This is one of those strange books that is both about nothing and about everything. The book chronicles the friendship of three girls: the nameless narrator, Neeka, and D Foster over the course of a few years--around three years I think. These years--the middle years between eleven and thirteen--are difficult for most, but the friendship the girls share makes it bearable somehow despite their own individual problems--personal and family.

This one is all about friendship, family, and the meaning of life. It's a bittersweet book in some ways. But always well done.

Have YOU read any of these books? (The Graveyard Book, Savvy, After Tupac & D Foster, The Underneath, The Surrender Tree)

What did YOU think?

Do YOU have a favorite among them?

Where there any books YOU would have rather seen get awarded/honored?

Usually I am contrary. I think to myself, that won, really? (I'm almost always always of the opinion that the honor books are better than the winner itself.) But this year there is not a book there that I didn't feel deserved it. True, I would have loved to have Shooting the Moon get some love. But overall, I was really pleased with how everything turned out.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Hyperbole,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Also Known as Harper

Leal, Ann Haywood. 2009. Also Known As Harper. Henry Holt. 243 pages.

Winnie Rae Early followed ten steps behind me the entire way home from school. It was hard not to fall into rhythm with the noisy sniff she took every third step.

Harper Lee Morgan's world is about to be turned upside down. Again. This would-be-poet is a charming narrator with heart and gumption. She's the big sister of Hemingway, "Hem," a little boy who just doesn't get it. Doesn't understand that his father is gone and never coming back. Every day Harper watches Hemingway watching for her father to come up the driveway. He still listens for the sound of pickup truck. She feels just a tad guilty that she can't want him back, not like Hemingway does. She remembers the drinking, the yelling, the friction and tension that existed when he lived with them. What's going on in Harper's world? Well, their home is being foreclosed. They're facing eviction. Within a matter of days, Harper along with her mother--who works as a housekeeper/cleaner--and her brother will be homeless.

Harper is a would-be poet. Words heal her. Poetry just happens. It's more than a coping mechanism. It's a part of her very soul. To write down the world as she sees it. To write down her hopes and dreams and fears. One of her darkest memories is of her father discouraging and humiliating her. Of him refusing to sign a permission slip for her to participate in a poetry recital. It's been a year since that happened. And now the school is having the poetry recital again. But will being homeless mean another shattered dream?

Also Known As Harper is more than a story of one family. It's a story that is so much more than that. A story that introduces lovable but quirky characters all down on the luck. Also Known As Harper is a very human novel. It's multi-faceted and beautiful in its portrayal of life itself.

Amanda's review.

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What's On Your Nightstand--April

This is always interesting to me. Because what a difference a day makes. Some days, I have quite the traffic jam by the bed. Other times, it seems more manageable.

Currently reading:

Middlemarch by George Eliot (adult, classic)
Fixing Abraham by Chris Tiegreen (adult, christian nonfiction)
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (adult, classic)
A Passion Denied by Julie Lessman (adult, christian fiction)

I've got two bags of library books. These are the unread titles:

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
The Queen of Everything by Deb Caletti
Corydon & The Island of Monsters by Tobias Druitt
Cordyon & The Fall of Atlantis by Tobias Druitt
Cordyon & The Siege of Troy by Tobias Druitt
Percy Jackson: The Demi God Files by Rick Riordan
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Birth of a Warrior by Michael Ford (second in a series I have the first of)
The Sea of Tolls by Nancy Farmer
Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones
Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

These will be returned to the library this week. So I'd like to finish a few more of them.

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Interview with Ingrid Law

Today I'm happy to share with you my interview with Ingrid Law, author of the fabulous novel Savvy. Be sure to visit her site and blog.

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

I have been writing off and on since I was in my early twenties, but even before that, I always had stories in my head. I never took my writing very seriously until a few years ago, when someone encouraged me to start submitting my work. The first manuscript I tried to find representation for was rejected by 45 agents, but several who read the whole thing like my writing, and that inspired me to keep trying. When I finished Savvy, things happened very, very quickly--so quickly, I still feel as though I'm trying to keep up! But I found a wonderful agent right away, and an editor who was tremendously excited and really wonderful to work with on the book.

Were there any surprises along the way?

Every single day... and still nearly every other. I continue to marvel at the reception the book has received. I am very grateful. The movie option was a huge surprise, as was the foreign language interest! Not to mention the Newbery Honor, of course. I would never have imagined when I was sitting and writing that someday my words would reach so many people. There have been other surprises as well. For instance, I never expected to become a regular public speaker... it's not something you think much about when you're sitting alone for hours making up stories! But it's been fun talking to kids about the book and hearing the great questions they come up with all the time.

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

I love escaping into the worlds of my imagination. I love that story can give both writer and reader a safe way to explore all kinds of ideas. The easiest thing for me is character. I love creating my characters. The hardest is not spending all my time on character. Sometimes the internal worlds of my characters drive me more strongly than the external conflict. But both must exist to create a good story.

What inspired you to write Savvy?

I wanted to write a story about magical children without every using the word "magic." And I wanted to imagine what American "magic" might look like.

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

It can be difficult, especially while working hard to get my next book done. But I steal moments here and there... waiting for my daughter to get out of school, late at night when I'm too tired to write or answer email, at the airport or on airplanes. Sometimes I get audio books as well, so that I can listen while driving or doing the dishes. Right now, I am listening to The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, and really enjoying it. I also loved Red Glass, by Laura Resau, and A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban. I'm looking forward to reading the next Magic Thief book by Sarah Prineas as soon as it comes out.

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

Wow! So many possibilities. Maybe I'd pick an artist or composer who died in poverty and pick a day in his or her life to go back and create a trust for them... then come back and see if it changed anything about their paintings or their symphonies. Would there be more? Would there be fewer? Would that person have lived longer? Lived differently? The lives of artists and their relationship to their circumstances has always fascinated me. But what if I messed something up? What if? What if? That's what fiction is all about.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Hyperbole,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

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The Traitor's Wife

Higginbotham, Susan. 2009. The Traitor's Wife. Sourcebooks. 500 pages.

The good, the bad, the ugly. The Traitor's Wife did hold my interest. I was expecting--in a way--to find it a bit dry and, well, boring. But that is far from the case. I also assumed it would be a tricky book, one that would be so complex that I couldn't keep the characters straight. I didn't find that true either. It was way more accessible than I assumed it would be.

The Traitor's Wife is set during a time period that I am largely unfamiliar with: the reign of several Edwards. (Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III) The novel ranges several decades: 1306 to 1337. These were very turbulent years. And reading about the politics of the day only reaffirmed my belief that I'd never, ever, ever want to have lived back then. I suppose the better way to phrase it would be that I can't understand this thirst for power that would prompt people to WANT to raise themselves up and gamble their lives by interacting with the royal court and politicians.

Our heroine, Eleanor, doesn't have much choice being born into the royal family. Her grandfather is Edward I, king, and her uncle is Edward II. (Of course, she's also related to Edward II's son, Edward III.) She is the wife of Hugh le Despenser. Hugh, when we first meet him, seems a little distant from politics. It seems that the royal court is far removed from his concerns. His wife, Eleanor, is a lady in Queen Isabella's court. He seems more annoyed that his wife can't be a full-time wife and mother than pleased that she is a favorite of the current king and queen. But this doesn't last. Sadly.

Because Hugh becomes power-hungry. He becomes obsessed with getting what he wants. Having the best land, the most land. Accumulating wealth. Bossing others around. How does he get this power? He becomes the king's bedfellow. Being intimate with the king seems to give Hugh everything he ever wanted out of life. But this choice leads to several problems. For one, his gimme gimme attitude makes everyone at court (excepting the king and his wife) hate him. He has enemies. And every week, he gets more and more and more. Soon almost everyone hates him and begins demanding his exile and/or death.

Eleanor is no saint. She isn't a heroine that I entirely sympathized with. None of the characters were really. But while I may not have *loved* the characters, I was always ever fascinated by their choices. (Though almost always I disagreed with them.) It was interesting to see what choices people had, what choices women had especially. (Which, as you might have guessed, was almost nil.)

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Running for My Life

Gonzalez, Ann. 2009. Running for My Life. Westside Books. 237 pages.

My body knows which days I meet with my therapist even when my head tries to forget.

There is so much more to Running for My Life than I was expecting. I think the fault was mine. Our heroine, our narrator, is a young teen girl Andrea McKane (14) suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her mother is currently hospitalized for her schizophrenia. Andrea is seeing a therapist--though she's unable to speak or communicate most of the time--and she's trying to move on with her life. But the nightmares aren't going away, and her fears are only increasing as she learns that her mother may be released soon. True, the medication is supposed to be helping her mother. They don't feel she is a threat to herself or to others. But Andrea has a feeling that isn't quite right. In her visits with her mother, she is overwhelmed by the past. And her mother's words...aren't reassuring. Andrea isn't face this all alone. She's got a good support system--her father who is consistent and kind, her best friend who is encouraging her to try a new hobby: running, her new boyfriend who is understanding and sensitive. Running for My Life is intense in places. I like the complexity of it. I like the narrative structure how the reader has to assemble some of the pieces for themselves. It's a book I'd definitely recommend to those wanting to understand more about mental health.

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Review of Savvy

Law, Ingrid. 2008. Savvy.

Savvy is another book that had me at hello. "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." Isn't that a great first sentence? Puzzling enough to hook you? I think so. A few pages later we read, "Monday through Wednesday, we called our thin stretch of land Kansaska. Thursday through Saturday, we called it Nebransas. On Sundays, since that was the Lord's Day, we called it nothing at all, out of respect for His creating our world without the lines already drawn on its face like all my grandpa's wrinkles." (4) So right from the beginning, the reader knows to expect the unexpected. Our narrator, a young girl named Mississippi (Mibs), has quite a way with words. She's fantastic. She's fun. And she's almost thirteen.

Mibs comes from a "special" family. Around the age of 13, every member of the family comes into their own on their thirteenth birthday. They discover their savvy, their special know-how power. For Fish, it was power of water--rain, thunder, winds, etc. For her brother Rocket it was electricity. Her mother's savvy is perfection. She can do things perfectly or mess up perfectly. Each member of her mother's side of the family is special like that--all unique, all special, all a bit weird.

Mibs is curious, super-super curious to get her savvy. Listen to this description of her waiting, "The itch and scritch of birthday buzz was about all I was feeling on the Thursday before the Friday before the Saturday I turned thirteen." But a few days before--the very day this passage was taken from the narrative--her birthday, her father is in a serious car accident. He's in a hospital almost 100 miles a way. While her mother and brother, Rocket, go to be with him, the rest of the kids-- Fish, Mibs, Samson, and Gypsy--are left at home.

Soon Mibs becomes convinced that her savvy will cure her father, will heal him, make him all better. But as you might imagine, savvy powers, don't quite work like that.

The novel focuses on her impromptu journey to visit her father--no matter what--and the lives she changes along the way on her special birthday weekend.

Definitely recommended.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Hyperbole,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #17

Happy Sunday everyone! What have you been up to? I finished FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON this past week and APOLLO 13. I love both so very very much. Especially From the Earth to the Moon. Is it wrong that I've only been done a day or two but am already wanting to go back and revisit? It sure was nice to have something to look forward to each day. If you haven't seen this miniseries you really should. What else? Let's see, I've also watched Tale of Despereaux. That was fun. I like stories about brave little mouses. :)

For those curious about my yahoo woes, my problem seems to have resolved itself. *Hangs head in shame* I *think* I was the problem. My inbox hadn't been tidied up since the fall of 2004. So every email--including newsletters, yahoo group emails, along with the emails I'd collected during my time as a G.A grading papers (Graduate Assistant), every GoodReads friend request and book updates, not to mention all the comment notifications were sitting there in the inbox having to be loaded every day. I sorted them (without sorting) into folders by year. And since then I haven't had one little bit of trouble. I did hear back from yahoo twice (having written the emails to them before my little problem-solving brainstorm). And they didn't seem as condescending this time. Though by the time I'd heard from them, I'd already solved everything.

This past week I introduced a new feature at Becky's Book Reviews. I unveiled my "Adventures In Book Diving" scheme. If anyone wants to join me in my schemes of reading books from the farthest and deepest depths of your tbr pile, you're welcome to do so. I'm not going to make it "officially" something that needs to be hosted and rounded up each month. But if you want to join me in bookdiving, I won't turn you away. You can find graphics here and here. Neither says "one woman's quest" so they'd lend easily to others using. Both images were grabbed by google image searching. (I added the text of course.) The five books I'll be trying to read in the next week or so are:

A) Thirsty by M.T. Anderson
B) The Opposite of Music by Janet Ruth Young
C) To Catch A Mermaid by Suzanne Selfors
D) Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn
E) The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost

What I read in a previous week, but reviewed this week:

Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So Fabulous Life. Rachel Renee Russell. Aladdin. 276 pages.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

Doing It by Melvin Burgess. 2003. Henry Holt. 326 pages.
Fly On the Wall. E Lockhart. 2006. Random House. 182 pages.
Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn. 2006. Square Fish. 194 pages
Envy by Anna Godbersen. 2009. HarperCollins. 405 pages.
Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar. 2002. Little Brown. 199 pages.
Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus. 2009. Westside Books. 306 pages.
No Woman So Fair by Gilbert Morris. Bethany House. 350 (Adult/Christian)
Before the Season Ends. by Linore Rose Burkhard. Harvest House. 340 pages. (Adult/Christian)
King's Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes. 1959/2009. 320 pages. (Adult/History)
The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling. 2001. 524 pages. (Adult/Fantasy)

What I read this past week and haven't reviewed yet:

The Warden by Anthony Trollope. (1855) Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages.
Gone by Michael Grant. 2008. HarperCollins. 558 pages.
Running For My Life by Ann Gonzalez. 2009. Westside Books. 237 pages.
The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham. 2009. SourceBooks. 512 pages.

What I've read and really really need to review:

None this week!

What I'm currently reading:

The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. 2002. Simon & Schuster. 380 pages.

What I'm just fooling around that I'm reading:

The Secret Holocaust Diaries. Nonna Bannister. 2009. 120/299

What I've abandoned:

None this week.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Between Us Baxters

Hegedus, Bethany. 2009. Between Us Baxters. Westside Books. 306 pages.

Like Moses, Meemaw had ten commandments.

Meet Polly Baxter our twelve-year-old narrator. Being twelve is never exactly easy. But for Polly growing up in the late fifties in the South, it's a tricky business. You see, Polly and her mother are rule-breakers. Their best friends are negroes. They don't follow the social code of the South that would prohibit them from socializing outside their race. But it's even trickier than that in a way. Their best friends--the Biggses--are more affluent than they are. The Baxters rely on the Biggses in several ways--a mixture of friendship and charity. And Polly wears hand me downs from her best friend, Timbre Ann. Polly has mixed feelings about this. She's ashamed to be wearing hand-me-downs from a 'colored' girl and she's jealous that Timbre Ann can afford these store bought clothes in the first place. As the novel progresses, Polly becomes increasingly jealous that her friend though socially despised (and facing threats by the KKK) falls into the 'haves' while her family is struggling to get by, struggling to get food on the table. The Baxters seem destined to be in the 'have-nots.' And they're not the only ones. There seems to be an ever-increasing population of disgruntled whites--among them Polly's father--who doesn't think it fair that black businesses should be so successful while their own businesses are either failing or nonexistent. (For example, some of them don't work at all and just spend their days and nights getting drunk and complaining about how awful they have it.)

There is plenty of tension in Between Us Baxters. Plenty of complexity. The Baxters are looked down upon by many people. Including the mother's family. There is strife and frustration and anger flowing all the time. Polly is not living in a peaceful home.

Generally, I liked it. I thought it was interesting to see the world through Polly's eyes. On the one hand, she's grown up being best friends with Timbre-Ann. The two are so close they seem more like sisters in some ways. But on the other hand, there is rivalry and tension between them as jealousy and frustration and disappointment and fear come into the picture. Feelings that quite honestly are beyond race. To be twelve is to go through some of these things. Friendships and relationships are constantly being tried--put to the test--as angst comes out due to natural growing pains.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Countdown Challenge Completed

The Countdown Challenge.

Becky's List

1. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
2. Just One Wish by Janette Rallison
3. The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel
4. Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott
5. The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby
6. The ABC's of Kissing Boys by Tina Ferraro
7. What Would Emma Do by Eileen Cook
8. Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
9. Far From You by Lisa Schroeder
1. Audrey Wait by Robin Benway
2. Girl Hero by Carrie Jones
3. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
4. Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
5. Something Wicked by Alan Gratz
6. Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
7. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
8. The Humming of Numbers by Joni Sensel
1. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell
2. My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe
3. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
4. Cassandra's Sister by Veronica Bennett
5. Jazz On a Saturday Night by Leo and Diane Dillon
6. Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler
7. Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins
1. A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant
2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
3. Octavian Nothing vol. 1 by M.T. Anderson
4. The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau
5. A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve
6. This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt.
1. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
2. Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve
3. Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro
4. A Horn for Louis by Eric Kimmel
5. Jazz ABZ by Wynton Marsalis
1. The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
2. Montmorency Thief, Liar, Gentleman by Eleanor Updale
3. The Louis Armstrong You Never Knew by James Lincoln Collier
4. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
1. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
2. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
3. Predator's Gold by Philip Reeve
1. Ella Fitzgerald by Andrea Pinkney
2. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
1. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Gossip Girl

von Ziegesar, Cecily. 2002. Gossip Girl. 199 pages.

What can I say about this one? I was expecting more. More story? More plot? Actual characterization? More something. A something that would keep me, you know, actually tuned into the book and turning pages. And dare I say it? I was expecting more shock. I've heard for years and years how 'shocking' these books are. And it is usually Gossip Girl (and similar series) that are held up as everything that is wrong in the young adult market. So I was expecting more of everything: more obscenity, more drugs, more drinking, more sex, more talk of sex. I don't know. Maybe later books in the series take it there and back again. Don't get me wrong, if you want to take offense, you can take offense. The obnoxiousness of these spoiled brats with no parental supervision who are allowed to do drugs, drink alcohol, have sex, party all hours of the day and night, skip school, and buy anything and everything they could ever want or need is offensive. Offensive for the sense of entitlement and pure obnoxiousness of it more than anything else.

More than anything else I noticed the mediocrity of everything: the characterization, the dialogue, the plot. It read like a novelization of a TV show. Except sadly, the TV show came after the fact. I haven't seen the TV show, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had far more depth and substance and life to it. It must be more entertaining to watch than to read. It just has to be. Granted, this is the first in the series. And as such it was practically plotless in my opinion. Surely, something must happen in each and every book. Right?

What did happen? We met Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen. Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass. They partied. More than once. It is revealed to the readers (several chapters before Blair) that Nate had had sex with Serena several years earlier. Blair, Nate's current girlfriend, freaks out. The end. Okay, not really the end. I guess other stuff technically happens. (Like Chuck making out with a handful of different girls including Serena.) And we meet a few poor people. Okay maybe they're not "poor" poor, but they're not ever-obnoxious and dripping wealth.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Friday, April 24, 2009


Godbersen, Anna. 2009. Envy. HarperCollins. 405 pages.

For a certain kind of New York girl, everything must be always in its place.

I approached Envy by Anna Godbersen with a big old question mark. Would I like it? Would I hate it? Would I love it? You see, I'd read the first book, Luxe, and the second book, Rumors, with two extreme reactions. Loving one and hating the other. If you'd asked me last year if I'd bother picking this one up, I'd have laughed. But after reading this review of Envy over at Bookshelves of Doom, well, I became really really tempted.

They're back: Penelope. Diana. Elizabeth. And the men who love and hate them. Envy is the third in the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen. For those unfamiliar (so far) with the series, the books are set in turn-of-the-century New York. (I believe the first two were set circa 1899/1900. And this one is set in the winter/spring of 1900.) The characters are from the wealthy and the supposedly-weathy upper class. Young men and young ladies from the best families. (While marriage is supposed to be the goal in mind, these young ladies tend to indulge their desires and care only slightly about having a pristine reputation.)

There is no way to talk about Envy without spoiling Luxe and Rumors. So please stop reading if you have any interest in picking up this series.


Elizabeth, brokenhearted over the tragic ending of her first (and oh-so-secret) marriage, begins the novel by hiding out from society.

Penelope, ecstatic over the success of her marriage to Henry--never mind the fact that she had to blackmail the groom into saying 'I do'--begins the novel by gloating. Positively gloating over all her frenemies. Of course, the lack of sex is frustrating to her. Poor Penelope, she can't seduce Henry into her bed.

Diana, Elizabeth's younger sister, is frustrated as well. She starts the book off right being royally *issed at Henry for marrying Penelope after not only declaring himself madly, passionately in love with her, but showing her the "proof" of his affection as well. Yes, she's mad that after giving herself body and soul to the man she loves, she's been dumped for the ever-conniving Penelope.

Lina is optimistic, the ever-poser of the bunch, she's thrilled to have found financial backing that will support the lie that she is somebody and that she actually matters.

Henry. Poor Henry. Can't have the woman he loves (that would be Diana). So he's determined not to have the woman he hates. But can he really hold out? Seriously? How long will it be until he gives into his wife's demands for sex?

Teddy, Henry's friend and Elizabeth's would-be knight-in-shining-armor is present for a few scenes as well. Unfortunately, he never seems to do much in these books. I still feel like I know so little about him.

*End of Semi-Spoilers*

The thing I liked best about this one is that it's NOT set in New York for the most part. It's a turn-of-the-century road trip--luxurious train ride and all--bound for Florida's beaches. These characters (and a few more) are all on their way to Florida to vacation. One of the characters that enters into it is Penelope's brother, Grayson, who is being manipulated into being a manipulator. Penelope wants him to pursue Diana.

Here's how Leila summed it up, "So, the whole crew of non-friends heads down to Florida for a vacation where trysts are had, Elizabeth suffers from motion sickness on the train, Teddy makes laser beam eyes of love at Elizabeth, Diana and Henry make laser beam eyes of love at each other and Penelope makes laser beam eyes of death at both of them, Diana keeps losing her shoes, there is sea-bathing, much liquor is tossed back, money is gambled, secrets are found out and Life-Changing Decisions Are Made."

Not only did Envy redeem the mess that was Rumors (in my humble opinion) it made me actually care about the characters. I actually began to like some of them.

One note about the series as a whole. I don't know if I'm the *only* reader who feels like this or not. I could be completely alone. (The same thing bugged me about some of the Twilight books as well.) But I don't like the flash-forward beginnings where you get a glimpse of the ending-to-be. Even if you can't wrap your mind around how all the details will fall into place, I wish I could get there without any "help."

A second note about the series as a whole. I really, really hated one of the fonts used in the books. There is a handwriting font that is supposed to be snooty. I suppose it's to denote the fact that they can all write beautiful calligraphy and use it regularly in all their correspondence. But the thing is, it's the dickens to make out. It's hard to read. And the strain on the eyes is rarely worth it.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Bone Doll's Twin

Flewelling, Lynn. 2001. The Bone Doll's Twin. Bantam. 524 pages.

Iya pulled off her straw wayfarer's hat and fanned herself with it as her horse labored up the rocky trail toward Afra.

Fantasy. The Bone Doll's Twin is a compelling, almost-always interesting fantasy novel about a corrupt kingdom, divine prophecy, and magic. The legend (prophecy) goes that as long as the kingdom is ruled by a woman (warrior-queen), then all will be well and right. But all is not right, as the reader comes to see, because a usurper--half brother? brother?--has claimed the throne and begun a deadly massacre. All of the king's female relations are being killed off one by one by one.

The Bone Doll's Twin is the story of a would-be queen who must--her very life depends on it--grow up disguised (by magic, by blood magic) as a boy. (This is the work of Iya, Arkoniel, and Lhel). Tobin, our hero, has no idea that he is a she. He does know that he is haunted by the ghost/spirit of his twin "brother." Though he knows (can't remember if he was told directly or indirectly) that his twin was a girl, the ghost is always a he, his brother. (In fact, Tobin calls him "Brother.")

It's a strange little story about witches and wizards and magic. A story about power and corruption. A story about staying alive and fighting for justice. In this book, the first of a trilogy, we witness Tobin's childhood. His mother is changed--emotionally troubled--by the death of one of her babies. Her mother is never the same after that. She spends her time making strange little dolls. One doll in particular is most precious to her. It is a strange doll, a faceless doll. It seems to bind her to the child that is no more. When his mother dies--suicide brought on by shock and fear--Tobin is forced to grow up even quicker. (He also inherits this doll; but he gives it a face.) His father neglects him for the most part--then sadly is killed in battle. And if he hadn't wandered across a strange old witch of a woman, his childhood might have been lonelier and even stranger. It also helps that he acquires a companion, a boy around his own age, Ki, to be his squire and go through all this schooling/training with him. I won't go into all the details--there are too many, and it's hard to know which ones would be spoilers--but Tobin begins training for the royal court he must one day enter. Those raising him, training him, know that it is just a matter of time before the young boy they all love so much--place such great hope in--is forced to leave his lands, his home, and begin living life at Court under the watchful eye of his (evil) Uncle-King and his followers.

I've left out so many things. I didn't mean to be so scattered. But there is no way I could really do this one justice in just a few paragraphs. The book is way too complex for that. (Which can be a good thing when you think about it.) If you like fantasy, especially if you like fantasy with wizards and witches and magic and magic spells, then you will probably enjoy this one. It's rich in detail. (There were a few scenes I wished for a little less detail.) Did I like it? Yes, for the most part. I wished for a little less detail on the intimate relationship between a young wizard (Arkoniel) and an ugly witch (Lhel) a woman with questionable hygiene.* I found the characters to be intriguing at the very least. I loved the relationship between Tobin and Ki--their friendship--and it was interesting to see how Brother influenced the action. The pacing worked well, for the most part, it kept me hooked and turning pages.

*I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it was worthy of Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award. But it was bad. Of course, I guess it could have always been worse. This element of the book might take up five or six pages out of five hundred.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Jewish Reading Challenge Completed

1. Freefall by Anna Levine
2. In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke
3. Hanukkah by Roni Schotter
4. As Good As Anybody by Richard Michelson
5. Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal
6. Maus I by Art Spiegelman; Maus II by Art Spiegelman
7. Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Emil and Karl

Glatshteyn, Yankev. 2006. Emil and Karl. Square Fish. (Roaring Book Press) 194 pages.

There is an immediacy and urgency to Emil and Karl. Written in 1938--in Yiddish--it was only recently (2006) translated and published in English. Set in Austria, Vienna to be exact. The Third Reich is in power, yet the horror of World War II has not yet dawned. The full wrath unleashed during the Holocaust--the organized full-scale murdering of the Jewish people*--has yet to begin. Though the hate is strong and ever-present. Meet Emil and Karl. Best friends. One is Jewish. The other is not. But despite it being in Karl's "best interest" to forget about his Jewish friend, Emil, he can't brush him off.

The seriousness of the novel is apparent from the very beginning. When we first meet Karl, he is alone.

"Karl sat on a low stool, petrified. The apartment was as still as death. He looked at the pieces of the broken vase scattered on the floor. Several times he reached out with one hand to pick up an overturned chair lying beside him. The chair looked like a man who had fallen on his face and couldn't get up. But each time Karl tried, he could only lift the chair up a little bit, and then it fell down again. It was even quieter in the kitchen and the bedroom--so quiet he was afraid to go in there. It wasn't that Karl minded being in the apartment by himself. He'd been left alone there more than once before; he could even go to bed by himself without being afraid. He wasn't scared of spooks or devils. Instead, he loved to stare, wide-eyed, into the darkness and make up stories." (1)

Why is he afraid? He witnessed what I imagine would have seemed the unthinkable. He watched them take his mother. He watched them hurt her. He heard their threats. He heard them threaten to come back...for him. In one night, everything in Karl's world is turned upside down.

When he does move, act, it is to go see his friend, Emil. He seeks the comfort of a true friend. What he learns is that Emil too has changed. Emil and Karl have an enemy in common now. Both have been orphaned. Both have only each other. Can these two children find a way to survive in this topsy-turvy ever-dangerous world where hate rules supreme?

What makes Emil and Karl unique--in my opinion--is its urgency. When it was written, this wasn't a distant event in the past. This wasn't historical fiction. This was current events. This was the threat and danger facing the world. And at the time it was written, it was a threat that had not been conquered. There's a suspenseful quality to it. A sense of the unknown. There was no happy ending light at the end of the tunnel to brighten it up. In fact, the worse was yet to come. It's an emotional novel; it's brilliantly and intelligently written to make you feel that you are there, that you are witness.

*I'm not forgetting that the Holocaust also was about murdering other people as well. There were political prisoners as well as the targeting of gays and gypsies.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Talk Like Shakespeare Day

Today is Talk Like Shakespeare day.

Hamlet like you (may) have never seen him before:

Midsummer Night's Dream Becomes Faboo with the Fab Four

Shakespeare Sketch--"A Small Rewrite"

Animaniacs on Midsummer Night's Dream

Animaniacs on Hamlet

Animaniacs on MacBeth

And some Monsterpiece Theaters for good measure:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fly On The Wall

Lockhart, E. 2006. Fly On the Wall. Random House. 182 pages.

It seems to be hit and miss with E. Lockhart. I'll clarify. For me. I either really really love her books. Or else not so much. I've loved two of her books. And the few others that I've read have left me disappointed or disgruntled or sometimes just whelmed. I will say this. The books that left me a little cold were the ones that others seemed to love the most. The ones I didn't gush over were the ones that were getting all the love from others. So chances are, you'll like them even if I didn't. So if you haven't read her before, don't be frightened away on my account.

I think I might have liked the book more if my copy had had that new cover. I think that is one of the best covers I've ever this perfectly matches the book's content. Our heroine is into drawing comic book super heroes. Specifically, she's into drawing Spider Man. (Never, ever will you catch her drawing Super Man.) Our heroine's name, by the way, is Gretchen Yee. And she is a bit of a loner. She has a friend here and there. But most of the time, she's on her own. On her own and drawing. She attends the Manhattan High School for the Arts. And with everyone trying so hard--perhaps too hard--to be different, Gretchen feels ever-ordinary.

This is in one way at least, a very WEIRD book. I mean how many books about teens turning into bugs have you read? Yet, that is just the fate that awaits Gretchen. She wakes up one day to discover that she is a fly. But not just any fly, no she's a fly in the boy's locker room. She can see and hear everything that goes on. She goes from being a complete innocent to quite the lusty voyeur. And there are chapters and chapters and chapters describing what she sees and hears in great detail. For a while, she looks at the guys and comes to objectify them. It's only towards the latter part of the week of her life as a fly that she begins to see them as human--vulnerable with strengths and weaknesses. The mystery of what makes guys so different having begun to fade just a bit.

Once she's learned a few lessons, she awakens as herself ready to make a few changes in her life. In a way, the book is about one girl's transformation--no, not that transformation--but the realization that she doesn't know it all, that she can be wrong about her quick judgments of people, that she should be more open to accepting people as they are, for who they are. For example, early on we learn that her parents are getting divorced. She's quick to judge and comes to some harsh and hasty conclusions about who's to blame. But by the end of the novel, she's beginning to see that her parents are human.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Travel the World: UK: Doing It

Burgess, Melvin. 2004. Doing It. (Originally published in UK in 2003.) Henry Holt. 326 pages.

You should be able to tell from the start if Doing It will be to your liking. If the title doesn't clue you in, then surely the first chapter will leave you with no doubts. Doing It is "YA Romance" from the male perspective. (Well, if you can have it be a "romance" without it being particularly romantic.) I'd classify it as humor--and believe me I'm sure there will be some that find it quite humorous--but well, some of the jokes are a bit mean, but perhaps even more importantly it is so much more than bawdy humor. (For me, the elements of humor falls more into the cover-the-eyes, it's so embarrassing kind. You know the sort where you laugh at someone else's misery or humiliation or pain.) There is substance hidden under the first thirty layers of teen guys talking about sex--the sex they want to have but aren't always getting. It's a story of friendship, in a way, three guys: Dino, Ben, and Jonathan. And each guy is at a different place in their lives. Dino is a player pure and simple. He is dating, Jackie, a tease of a girl who will only go so far with him. She's always promising more...and more...and more. But always chickening out, getting angry, running away. Ben is a strange one. He's a guy with more than a few secrets. One involving an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Jonathan is mostly a good guy. Not perfect by any means, he listens to his friends more than his heart I think. He has a friend, Deborah, that is "plump" to some people but out and out fat to others. He's drawn to her. He wants her, there's no denying it. But he's afraid that everyone will laugh at him if he dates a fat girl. Dino especially can be harsh. So he's torn between his feelings--both like and desire--and his "reputation" as one of the guys. Some of the narrators are more likable than others. Jonathan was the one I liked best, generally speaking.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

King's Fool: A Notorious King, His Six Wives, and the One Man Who Knew Their Secrets

Barnes, Margaret Campbell. 1959/2009. King's Fool: A Notorious King, His Six Wives, and the One Man Who Knew Their Secrets. Sourcebooks. 320 pages.

I'll be honest. I think you have to be a certain kind of reader to appreciate King's Fool. This is a novelization of the life of Will Somers, the court jester of King Henry VIII and all six of his wives. This is a man who knew the king, knew his advisors, knew his wives, knew his children. If you're like me at all--if you love reading fiction and nonfiction about these very turbulent yet intriguing times in the royal court, then King's Fool is almost as good as candy. Rich in historical detail--religious, political, and lusty squabbles--the book provides a thorough insider's look at the life and times of Henry VIII. Will begins his time at court--quite by accident it turns out--during the King's first marriage. Will became quite devoted to both Katherine and her daughter, Mary. Of course, as the novel progresses and Henry begins desposing and obtaining wives with an almost madness, Will is there as a witness to it all. Not always approving--far from it--yet remaining in a position when those around him are losing their lives right and left. The fact that Will remained a constant--that no one maneuvered and plotted against him is remarkable. It was dangerous to be present at Court. Whether you're innocent or guilty of treason mattered little if someone decided to oust you. You could be set up just like that and lose your life. True, his role as jester made him the funny man. The man whose words had no perceived "power." Whether his words were meant as a jest or in all seriousness, he could always be presumed to be making a joke. Thus his true witticisms, his biting sarcasm wasn't perceived as dangerous or treacherous. Though the king may not have always laughed. The book, I feel, is very interesting. As the story progresses, my interest deepened. By the second half, it was a book I had a hard time putting down. Long story short, I just loved this one. But it's not one that I could recommend to just anyone. I think you have to love history.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Rescued From the Archives #2

Shug by Jenny Han. Originally reviewed in January 2007.

What is a twelve-year-old girl to do when she falls in love with her best friend who doesn’t even notice her in that way??? Jenny Han’s narrator, Annemarie Wilcox (aka Shug) is about to take such a journey. As the summer of her twelfth year comes to a close, she knows that her first kiss must be just around the corner. And she knows that her best friend, Mark, is just the boy to give it. But separating reality and fantasy are just some of the things our young and spirited narrator must learn as she begins to grow up....

It's Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. Originally reviewed in January 2007.

Craig Gilner thinks his acceptance into an elite high school will be the beginning of the best years of his life. But when the pressures of high school overwhelm him, he has no where to turn but to drugs. Thus his downward spiral begins at the height of his success. As academic and social pressures build, can Craig find a healthy way to cope with the anxiety? Or is he doomed to sleepless nights and days of vomiting? Can therapy and prescription drugs really be the answer? Or does the answer lay within himself? Is there a way out of his seemingly hopeless situation?

Larklight by Philip Reeve. Originally reviewed in February 2007.

[I'll be honest. I didn't *love* this one. I think it was a timing issue. In fact, I'm sure it was. Why? Because I just love, love, loved the second and third book in this series. It is a series that I would DEFINITELY recommend.] Set in the Victorian era, it answers the question...what could have happened if scientists like Isaac Newton had discovered space flight. The answer, the British would have sought to colonize and rule outer space much like she was known for colonizing earth. (Hence, the saying that the sun never sets on the British empire.) Arthur “Art” Mumby and his sister Myrtle live with their father in a rather unique house ‘Larklight’ that orbits the moon, I believe. With robotic servants and ancient gravity devices, the house is unique in many ways. When our story begins the children are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a visitor. But with the arrival of this visitor, the danger and adventure begins. With aliens of every shape and size, some ‘good’ and some ‘bad,’ the two must find a way to save the British empire before its too late.

Home and Other Big Fat Lies by Jill Wolfson. Originally reviewed February 2007.

Whitney is a narrator with a way for words. A foster kid all her life--from two months of age--she is as prepared as she'll ever be for her new foster home in the country. Full of advice on how to survive the worst, she is unprepared to give advice on how to expect the best. Hope is a dangerous thing when you're a foster kid and Whitney doesn't want to take any chances on getting hurt. But Whitney's luck may have just changed. Suddenly, in this new school she finds out she's not alone. There are other kids in her class--five or six at least--who are all foster kids. It seems the whole school is full of foster kids. Kids who understand her. Who know the rules of how to survive. Who welcome her. Life has never seemed so good...but can it last???

Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle. Originally reviewed February 2007

I've mentioned this before, but let me repeat myself...a test of a good book...particularly a good historical fiction book is when the reader picks up a book ABOUT a subject or event that they have had little or no interest in reading about before and having the book completely draw them in. In that regards, BLACK DUCK by Janet Taylor Lisle is a great book. [You'll have to read the review to find out more. It's way too long to cut and paste here]

Chris Wooding's Poison and Storm thief. Reviewed in February 2007.

Storm Thief: Orokos is a chaotic place to live--but it’s also the only place to live--at least that is what everyone young and old has always been told. But is that just one of the many secrets or lies that is being told to the public by the Protectorate? Rail and Moa are our young hero and heroine whose lives depend on what they don’t know. In this futuristic society there are three kinds of people: the wealthy citizens who live in fine houses, the so-called ‘worthless’ contained in the ghettoes, and the Taken.

Poison: Once upon a time there was a young lady who lived in a marsh, and her name was Poison. Life in the marsh--or the Black Marshes--isn’t exactly exciting. Sure, it’s full of dangers...swamp fever, poisonous creatures of every shape and size, etc...but what Poison longs for is real adventure. She wants to venture outside her community in the marsh. She wants to see the world outside. What’s left of it anyway. Set perhaps centuries after a disastrous war--the Many-Sided War--humans have become divided, weak, and fearful. They’ve gone to hiding in the mountains and living in marshes. Poison knows what is expected of her: to marry and have children year after year the rest of her life. But Poison wants more...needs more. But even with this dream for more, Poison never actually expected to leave her life in the village and go on a quest like in a storybook.

So what do you think of this week's picks? Have I convinced you to check out any of these from the library? Or to buy them for that matter!? Have I been a 'bad blogger'? I hope so!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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