Sunday, May 31, 2009

Visit A Peek At My Bookshelf

I love reading A Peek At My Bookshelf. And starting tomorrow, she'll be celebrating her blog hitting over 60,000 hits by giving away 60 books in 6 weeks! (The introduction post). This looks to be a pretty amazing start to the summer! Be sure to bookmark her site (or follow) so you won't miss out on any opportunities!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #22

Happy Sunday everyone! I am still having a hard time believing that May is over. (You can read my "May Accomplishments" post if you like.) I've gone from being overwhelmed to calm to a little whelmed to overwhelmed and back again. I've been all over the place essentially. I've joined a handful of new challenges. Take A Chance. (You can sign up here.) Beowulf on the Beach. (You can sign up here.) Book Awards 3. (You can sign up here.) Southern Reading Challenge. (You can sign up here.) And last but not least, the Summer Reading Blitz. (You can sign up here.) And I should not forget the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Hosted by MotherReader. Sign ups are still going on. It's not too late. And it's next week, by the way. Start on Friday and finish up on Sunday. Or start on Saturday and finish up on Monday. But by Monday at 7AM, your time is up. Do I know what I'm reading yet? It might be wise to read some of my library loot. I know a certain someone wants me to read Howl's Moving Castle. And there is a person (maybe two?) on twitter that highly recommended Skellig a while back. And was it Renay that wanted me to read The Body of Christopher Creed? I think it was. I know someone was pushing it :) I'm always torn between reading my review copies and reading some of these slightly older (but not really that old considering) titles that I haven't read but really, really want to like Tender Morsels. And Nation. Are you planning on participating? If you are, I'd love a hint as to what you plan to read next weekend! If you're not participating and want to chime in with what you want me to read, feel free to do that as well. I love getting recommendations!

I thought I'd take a few minutes to explain the categories by which I'm sorting and presenting what I'm doing. "What I Read In A Previous Week, But Reviewed This Week." Pretty self-explanatory. These are books that I read anywhere from eight to thirteen days ago. These are just books that I've reviewed in the past week. "What I Read This Past Week and Reviewed." These are the books that I've both read and reviewed since the last Sunday Salon post. "What I Read This Past Week And Haven't Reviewed Yet." These are books that I've read (in the past week, since the last Sunday Salon) but not reviewed yet. "What I've Read And Really Really Need To Review." This one's a deceptive pile really. Because it contains books that I've already reviewed (and not posted the review yet). OR books that I sincerely, desperately need to review. Books that I may have read two or even three weeks ago. Books that if I don't get written up soon, I might get hazy on. "What I'm Currently Reading" contains books that I'm actively reading. "What I'm Just Fooling Around That I'm Reading." This category started out as the "What I'm Semi-Reading" category. And this is probably the most dangerous category of all that I list. Because it contains books that I've NOT abandoned; (Books that I'm not planning on abandoning, by the way.) Yet at the same time, I'm not actively reading them either. These are books that are neither here nor there. They're not quite in the to be read pile--I've started them--but they're not in the currently reading pile either. What's the difference between this stack and currently reading? Well, currently reading means it sees action just about every day or every other day. These semi-reading books are books that are on my to-do list. They're on my radar. I have every intention of reading them. Just not at that precise minute. So if you're an author and you see your name on the list. Don't jump to conclusions. Don't assume the worst. The truth is, it doesn't mean that much. Because the turnaround between the two is constant. What's 'current' one week may be 'semi' the next. And vice versa. Sometimes it means I'm busy and overcommitted. Sometimes it means my focus was on the library books that were due. Sometimes it means I was anxious about completing a challenge and shifted my attention away for awhile. Sometimes it means I was simply indecisive and ambitiously curious. So don't assume your book appearing there is my final judgement of it and that it's doomed for either abandoning or a negative review.

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

Starfinder by John Marco. 2009. Daw Books. 326 pages.
Sprout by Dale Peck. 2009. Bloomsbury. 277 pages.
Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee. 2009. Bloomsbury. 368 pages.
Fat Cat by Robin Brande. 2009. Random House. 336 pages.
The Convenient Marriage. Georgette Heyer. 1934/2009. Sourcebooks. 307 pages.
Frederica. Georgette Heyer. 1965/2009. Sourcebooks. 437 pages.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

1000 Times No. Mr. Tom Warburton. 2009. HarperCollins.
Mousie Love by Dori Chaconas. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2009. Bloomsbury.
Itty Bitty by Cece Bell. 2009. Candlewick.
Maisy Goes To Preschool. Lucy Cousins. 2009. Candlewick
Gone With The Wand. Margie Palatini. 2009. Illustrations by Brian Ajhar. Scholastic.
Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root. Illustrated by Jill Barton. 2001. Candlewick Press.
Mind-Rain: Your Favorite Authors on Scott Westerfield's Uglies Series. Edited and Original Introductions by Scott Westerfeld. 2009. Smart Pop (Benbella) 236 pages.
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. 1936/2009. Sourcebooks. 303 pages.

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

The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen
The House in Grosvenor Square by Linore Rose Burkard
The Summoning
by Kelley Armstrong
When the Whistle Blows
by Fran Cannon Slayton

What I've read and really really need to review: (none this week)

What I'm currently reading:

Darkwood by M.E. Breen. 2009. Bloomsbury. 273 pages.
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson. 2009 (Late June?) Tor. 416 pages.
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Adult)
The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein.

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

Evermore by Alyson Noel (YA)
Middlemarch by George Eliot (Adult)
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (Adult)

What I've abandoned: (none this week)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

May Accomplishments

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

The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car. Up until then, I was having a great afternoon.

So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of Evil Librarians.

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.

I have a secret. And everyone knows it.

In the spring, there are vampires in the wind.

May's Top Five:

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Brandon Sanderson.
The Queen of Everything. Deb Caletti.
Fat Cat by Robin Brande
Where's Tumpty? by Polly Dunbar.
1000 Times No. Mr. Tom Warburton.

Number of Picture Books: 23

Hello Tilly by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick. 2008.
Happy Hector by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick. 2008.
Pretty Pru by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick. 2009.
Where's Tumpty? by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick. 2009.
Yes Day by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. 2009. HarperCollins.
Ten Days and Nine Nights by Yumi Heo. 2009. Random House.
Grizzly Dad by Joanna Harrison. 2009. Random House.
Sugar Would Not Eat It by Emily Jenkins. 2009. Random House.
Crocodaddy by Kim Norman. 2009. Sterling.
A Small Surprise by Louise Yates. 2009. Knopf
Being A Pig Is Nice by Sally Lloyd Jones. 2009. Random House.
The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Lardsen. 2009. Kids Can Press.
Stanley's Beauty Contest by Linda Bailey. 2009. Kids Can Press.
My Uncle Emily by Jane Yolen. 2009. Penguin.
Edward and the Eureka Lucky Wish Company. Barbara Todd. 2009. Kids Can Press.
Do You Want A Friend? by Noel Piper. 2009. Crossway.
Princess Pig. Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. 2009. Knopf (Random House)
1000 Times No. Mr. Tom Warburton. 2009. HarperCollins.
Mousie Love by Dori Chaconas. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2009. Bloomsbury.
Itty Bitty by Cece Bell. 2009. Candlewick.
Maisy Goes To Preschool. Lucy Cousins. 2009. Candlewick
Gone With The Wand. Margie Palatini. 2009. Illustrations by Brian Ajhar. Scholastic.
Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root. Illustrated by Jill Barton. 2001. Candlewick Press.

Number of Board Books: 3

Bow-Wow's Colorful Life
. Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash. 2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bow-Wow 12 Months Running. Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash. 2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
My Mother Is Mine by Marion Dane Bauer. Little Simon (Simon & Schuster) 2009.

Number of Children's Books: 2

To Catch A Mermaid by Suzanne Selfors. 2007. Little, Brown Young Readers. 246 pages.
Mommy's Having a Watermelon by Danny and Kim Adlerman. 2009. The Kids At Our House.

Number of YA Books: 21

The Fire of Ares. Michael Ford. 2008. Bloomsbury/Walker Books. 245 pages.
The Birth of a Warrior. Michael Ford. 2008. Bloomsbury/Walker Books. 262 pages.
Thirsty. M.T. Anderson. 1997. Candlewick. 237 pages.
The Demigod Files. Rick Riordan. 2009. Disney/Hyperion. 151 pages.
The Queen of Everything. Deb Caletti. 2002. Simon & Schuster. 322 pages.
Forest Born by Shannon Hale. 2009. Bloomsbury. 400 pages.
The Opposite of Music by Janet Ruth Young. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 346 pages.
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. 2009. Disney/Hyperion. 381 pages.
Starfinder by John Marco. 2009. Daw Books. 326 pages.
The Genie Scheme by Kimberly K. Jones. 2009. Simon & Schuster. 179 pages.
The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost. 2006. Scholastic. 224 pages.
The Princess Plot by Kirsten Boie. 2009. Scholastic. 378 pages.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. 2009. Random House. 208 pages.
Dragon Spear by Jessica Day George. 2009. Bloomsbury. 248 pages.
Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman. 2009. HarperCollins. 274 pages
Morbito Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi. 1996/2008. Translated into English by Cathy Hirano. Scholastic Books. 248 pages.
The Silenced. James DeVita. 2007. HarperCollins. 502 pages.
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Brandon Sanderson. 2007. Scholastic. 306 pages.
Sprout by Dale Peck. 2009. Bloomsbury. 277 pages.
Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee. 2009. Bloomsbury. 368 pages.
Fat Cat by Robin Brande. 2009. Random House. 336 pages.

Number of Verse Novels:

Number of Graphic Novels:

Number of Nonfiction: 1

Mind-Rain: Your Favorite Authors on Scott Westerfield's Uglies Series. Edited and Original Introductions by Scott Westerfeld. 2009. Smart Pop (Benbella) 236 pages.

Number of Christian Books: 3

Fixing Abraham by Chris Tiegreen. 2009. Tyndale. 190 pages.
A Passion Denied by Julie Lessman. 2009. Revell. 466 pages.
The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister. 2009. Tyndale. 300 pages.

Number of Adult Books: 6

The Convenient Marriage. Georgette Heyer. 1934/2009. Sourcebooks. 307 pages.
Frederica. Georgette Heyer. 1965/2009. Sourcebooks. 437 pages.
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. 2008. Random House. 514 pages.
Marsbound by Joe Haldeman. 2008. Ace Books. 296 pages.
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence. 1928.
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. 1936/2009. Sourcebooks. 303 pages.

Number of Short Story Collections, Anthologies, Poetry Books:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weekly Geeks: 2009-20: Guilty Pleasures

So. Weekly Geeks, we're going into the confessional this week.

What's your non-reading guilty pleasure?
Trashy TV?
Trashier movies?
Junk food?

One of my guilty-pleasures is blog related. It all started with the wonderful Melissa. First, she taught me how to get favicons on all my blogs. Then she was kind enough how to share the magic of how to make sidebar widgets scroll. Then at some point, I can't remember if this is Melissa's fault or not, but I stumbled upon Man, that place is evil. Evil in that after discovering it, I just couldn't leave it alone. I had to keep going back again and again and again and again. I added a comment icon to the post footer. I did the tutorial on how to make a comment link more "attractive and visible." Added a signature under posts. Added dividers between posts. Added an icon beside the post title. And Used his fix on how to get embedded comments to show up on a customized template. Discovered My Live Signature. This past week--I think it started last Sunday?--I've probably spent a good fifteen to twenty hours working on codes for my blog. (It could be pushing twenty-five, actually. If you count all the time spent working on customizing colors and such.) Speaking of which, one site that I've relied on probably for about a year at least is Big Huge Lab's Palette Generator. It is the BEST site ever. Just upload an image and wait for it to give you all the matching and complimentary colors (color codes which you can use (by cutting and pasting and hitting enter (I don't know why the enter is so important. But you hit enter and voila the color is added. If you don't hit enter, then the color stays whatever it was before.) into your "fonts and colors" layout page) I haven't had any feedback on the color changes yet. But I haven't asked for any either. Not that I'm opposed to hearing feedback, but I'm not a slave to it either. I can't promise to change colors based on polls ;)

Becky's Book Reviews Before:

Becky's Book Reviews After:

Young Readers got a complete redesign. It went from a perfectly ordinary minima +cutest blog on the block design to a customized three column design. By the time I got through with it, it's a bit different than the template I downloaded.

Template I used for Young Readers (Original, As Downloaded)

Template as Implemented on Young Readers Now

You can't tell how cute it is. But visit it. I like the greenness and polka-dottness of it all. And the sidebars are a delicious cream color. It was not easy to customize. You had to search the html code to find each little element's color. This wasn't a case where you could just use the fonts and colors layout page. The elements I wanted to change the color of were not editable. So it was a matter of perseverance and stubbornness on my part to get it to do what I wanted.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Mind-Rain (YA, Adult)

Mind-Rain: Your Favorite Authors On Scott Westerfeld's Uglies Series. Edited by Scott Westerfeld. With original introductions (to each piece) by Scott Westerfield.

Featuring the essays of: Lil Wilkinson, Robin Wasserman, Diana Peterfreund, Sarah Beth Durst, Gail Sidonie Sobat, J. Fitzgerald McCurdy, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Janette Rallison, Linda Gerber, Will Shetterly, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Delia Sherman. And featuring two special short stories. "Beautiful People" by Charles Beaumont. "Liking What You See: A Documentary" by Ted Chiang.

How to review a collection of essays? Each piece is different. Each has a different focus. Some are Shay related, others David or Zane related, and some are all Tally, all the time. Some focus on the science and technology of the Uglies universe. Other focus on the relationships. Others focus on the society and philosophy behind it all.

I enjoyed almost all of the essays. Some more than others, of course, as is only natural. But I will say that almost all of them made me think. They engaged me and had me reevaluating how I felt about the books, the characters, etc. Some introduced new ideas to me. Ways of seeing the books in a whole new way. And so I think that is clearly an indication of success.

I will say that I just love, love, loved the inclusion of those two short stories. "The Beautiful People" is a short story by Charles Beaumont. He wrote in in 1952. And it was adapted for a Twilight Zone episode, Number Twelve Looks Just Like You, in 1964. (Condensed YouTube version below)

You can see all of the episode as well. one. two. three.

Liking What You See: A Documentary by Ted Chiang inspired Scott Westerfeld. It was the inspiration that led to the Uglies books, the Uglies universe. It is a complex, thought-provoking story. And I loved getting the chance to read it. Both short stories are really. Thought-provoking. I'd definitely recommend these two stories to everyone to read regardless of whether or not they've read the Uglies books.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fat Cat (YA)

Brande, Robin. 2009. (October 2009) Fat Cat. Random House. 336 pages.

"You're all good little machines," Mr Fizer told us. He sat there this afternoon in his tweed jacket and his white shirt and plaid bow tie and glared at us over the top of his half-glasses.

Cat hearts science. And she's thrilled to be in Mr. Fizer's class--Fizer's Special Topics In Research science class. A class that is legendary, "not the least because every few years someone has to run out of there on the first day and vomit because of the stress." On the first day of class, each student randomly selects a picture/photo from Mr. Fizer's hands. Your research topic for the year? A complete gamble. No matter your interest, you'll be forced to be "inspired" by the picture you select. No wonder there is stress! What does fate have in store for Cat?

It was an artist's rendering of how these early humans might have lived. There were three men and a woman out in a meadow of some sort. They were all lean and muscular and tan--and did I mention naked? They were gathered around a dead deer, guarding it from a pack of saber-toothed hyenas who were trying to move in and snatch it. One of the men was shouting. The woman had the only weapon--a rock--and she stood there poised to pitch it at the hyenas. It was a great action scene if you're into that sort of thing--the whole anthro-paleo field of studies where you care more about the dead then the living.

Can prehistoric men and women inspire Cat to greatness? Read and see for yourself in Fat Cat. A transformative story about living life to the fullest.

What did I love about this one? Practically everything. I'm not a science person. Not even a little bit. But I loved this novel. Loved that the heroine's passion for science was so strong and intellectual yet always relevant to real life, to the real world. I liked that the novel made me think. Really think. You see, it in a way goes to the science of nutrition, the science of healthy living. And I think every reader can benefit from that exposure. No, reading Fat Cat didn't make me want to become a vegan, I still love my meat. But it did make me think about what changes I would be willing to make. Encouraged me to stick with those changes I've already made. I also loved that science wasn't Cat's only interest. She was passionate about many things--including cooking and swimming. People were also important to her. Her friends. Her family. Especially her little brother. Loved the development of that relationship. Cat was a complex, very human, character that I just loved.

But this isn't just a novel about a diet or lifestyle change. How a fat girl can go from not to hot...It's so much more than that. It's a reflective and smart coming of age novel. It's a romance too. I love Matt. I do. While our heroine, Cat, was loving-to-hate and hating-to-love him, I was loving to love him and cheering this reluctant couple on. It reminded me of some of my favorite reluctant romances--like Anne and Gilbert, for example. This is one giddy-making romance...

They say your muscles have memory. Once you've trained your arms to swing a tennis racket or your legs to ride a bike, you can quit for a while--for years, even--and all it takes is picking up a racket or jumping on a bike again and your muscles remember what to do. They snap right back to performing the way you taught them.
The heart is a muscle, too. And I've been training mine since I was a kid to fall in love with one particular person.... (313)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Say the Word (YA)

Garsee, Jeannine. 2009. Say the Word. Bloomsbury. 368 pages.

When the phone slashes a machete through my brain at six fifteen a.m. it can mean only one of two things: Dad somehow found out I was sucking face with Devon Connolly last night. Or somebody's dead.

The heroine of Say the Word is people-pleaser Shawna Gallagher. And no, her father isn't omniscient. The phone call is not good news. Her mother, her lesbian mother, the woman Shawna has been trained to hate, has had a stroke. She's dying. Remember that song in South Pacific, the one about where you have to be taught to hate? Well, Shawna's life has been like that. Her mom left her and her father when she was only six or seven. Left them for another woman. Left to have another family, a family with two little boys. Part of the anger is legitimate. I think it's only natural that that pain of being abandoned would translate into anger and bitterness. But for Shawna, the anger has been turned to hating her mother for being a lesbian. Her father, all her family really, has raised her to hate homosexuality. The words they speak, the words Shawna herself speaks are of that hate and anger. These words are ugly. These words are powerfully ugly.

Shawna has issues. Issues with her father. A man who is at times neglectful and ever-absent, and at other times controlling and manipulative. Issues with her mother. Her mother, when she visited her through the years, was equally neglectful. Out of touch with her daughter. Uncaring. She never tried to bridge the gap. It was always work, work, work. (Much like her father is all work, work, work.) Now, as a teen (16? 17?), she hasn't seen her mother in three or four years. And their last meeting, their last conversation was pure ugly. But she's dying. And she has to come to terms with that. The mother who has been so ignorable in life, becomes impossible to ignore in death. Did her mother's leaving have to do with her father? Or was she really so head-over-heels-in-love with another woman? Why didn't she try harder to have a relationship with her? What can Shawna learn about her mother from the other family? Can this other family help heal the pain? Can they help provide closure? Can she come to love and understand her last?

If the characters weren't so human, if they weren't so complexly drawn and brought to life, then this novel might be too issue-driven. A novel about all the shades of prejudice and discrimination. A novel about the inadequacies and injustices of life.

How her mother's life partner and her family are cut out of everything. No legal right to make decisions about her mother's treatment. No legal right to make the funeral arrangements. How her ex-husband, whom she hated, ruled and bullied and gloried in this horrible situation. Took advantage. True, some of this--most of this--could have been prevented if Shawna's mother had drawn up a a will and other legal papers. But she didn't foresee her own death--it was too unexpected, it was too sudden. And now it's too late.

What's right? What's wrong? Shawna has a sinking feeling that her father is wrong. Not just a little wrong, but unforgivably, undeniably wrong. Shawna sees how ugly her father can be, how horribly selfish and controlling he is. And seeing his ugliness makes her reflect on her own life.

Say the Word is about Shawna's coming of age. Her growing up and growing wise. In a way, to borrow from the Grinch, it is about Shawna's heart growing three sizes.

Say the Word is thoughtful and well-written.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Talisman Ring

Heyer, Georgette. 1936/2009. The Talisman Ring. Sourcebooks. 303 pages.

How to introduce this one? Think, think, think. I could mention that it has a heroine that reminds me of Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen fame. Because it does. Eustacie de Vauban is silly and impulsive and much too much into romantic novels with daring adventures and dashing, swoon-worthy heroes. She, like Catherine, has an over-active imagination. But, this book isn't her story alone. So maybe that wouldn't quite be fair.

The book opens with a dying old man, the family patriarch, Sylvester, calling his family together. He wants his granddaughter, Eustacie, whom he rescued from France before the revolution got started with all the guillotining, to be safely married. He wants his great-nephew (Sylvester is Tristam's great-uncle), Tristam Shield, to marry her. He decidedly does not want Basil "The Beau" Lavenham to be the man for the job. Though since Ludovic Lavenham's "death" there is really no one closer in the line to inherit his title and his lands. But is Ludovic really dead?

The more time Eustacie spends with Tristam, the more she knows that he is not the one for her. He is not adventurous. He is not romantic. He is not impressed with her storytelling and imagining. He is much too grounded in reality to ever be dashing and heroic. He's simply put not hero material. So Eustacie makes up her mind to run away. In the middle of the night. On horseback. What could be wrong with that?

Well, maybe just maybe as she's running away...she runs right into the middle of a pack of smugglers. Instead of being scared silly. She's in love with the notion. An adventure worthy of any real heroine! Fortunately for her, her kidnapper is none-other than her cousin Ludovic. He's a man already on the outs with the law--charged with a murder several years previous. But is he guilty of that crime?

Can Eustacie (and company) prove Ludovic's innocent of murder? Can they redeem his name, enable him to come out of hiding, and claim what is rightfully his?

This one is silly and fun. A pure delight. It's just comical.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 28, 2009

2-in-1 Booking Through Thursday

btt button

For May 28, 2009: Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?
For May 21, 2009: What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?


Definitely a trilogy by Phillipa Gregory. I believe the order of the books is Wideacre, The Favored Child, and Meridon. These books aren't only deviantly disturbing--imagine the worst and then multiply it a couple of times, and just when you think you've sunk as low as you can go, go some more.) There's not any redeeming qualities in these books. These books are masquerading as historical fiction, but they're trash plain and simple. (And I'm not alone, the book has 66 one star ratings on Amazon, 26 two stars, 24 three stars, 26 4 stars, and 57 five stars.)


It would be awesome if I could read Gone With The Wind with fresh eyes. I almost wish that there was a 'refresh' button that you could push before starting the novel that would erase the movie from your memory. Completely. It's not that I hate the movie. I wouldn't go that far. But it's not the book. It gets so many things wrong. And I think people often mistake the two. Think they're more similar than they actually are. I think people assume that the book is like the movie, and it isn't. If you've only seen the movie, then you don't know the half of it. Not that I'm cranky. I'm not. Well, maybe a little.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

John Marco Interview

I'm happy to be a part of John Marco's blog tour for Starfinder. While Starfinder is his first YA novel--fantasy, by the way--he has written many books. For a full listing, visit his website. (He also blogs.)

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

My background is rather average, to be honest. I wasn't a great student and I didn't get serious about college until I was in my thirties. But I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Even the term "writer" seemed glamorous to me when I was a kid. I personally believe that writers are born rather than made, and all I mean by that is almost all people who become writers had the desire to do so from an early age. It kind of starts off with a compulsion to tell stories, or at least it did for me. I used to bang away at my sister's portable typewriter (typewriter? What the heck is that?), churning out atrociously written adventure tales. I say atrocious because they were, but that's perfectly okay--that's how writers learn.

As I got older my life took a detour into having to make a living. I was lucky enough to become a technical writer, which at least had the word "writer" in the title, and I did that for years, kind of drifting between jobs, always wanting to return to the dream of fiction writing but never really doing so until I was closing in on turning 30. At that point something just clicked and I got serious about it, and started writing my first novel, "The Jackal of Nar." Luck intervened here as well, because I found an agent online on Compuserve who was actively looking for new clients. I sent her what I had written so far on my book, and she really loved it. She waited another two years almost for me to finish it, then sold it to Bantam Spectra. And that's basically how I got started.

What inspired you to write Starfinder?

Oh, so many things. Having a child for one thing. Having a kid is such an eye-opening experience. All of the books I wrote before Starfinder were kind of dark and grim. They were fantasy books, certainly, but they lacked that sense of wonder that I see in my son. It awakened that in me. I really don't think I could have written the book without him, odd as that might sound. Plus, I had always wanted to write a YA book, because for a while now YA books have been the bulk of the novels that I've been reading. Not all of them have been great, but some of them have been amazing, so memorable and poignant that it was just something I needed to tackle. I hope I can keep on writing in the YA genre because I truly love and admire it.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?
The first part of your question is probably the easiest for me to answer--what I love most about writing is the solitude. Everyone who knows me knows that I like quiet and being alone, especially when I'm working. And for me there's just nothing like getting into a story all by myself. Sometimes I talk to myself as I'm writing, or stand up and act things out. It gets pretty weird, and I wouldn't want to do that with people watching.

I can't honestly say that any part of the writing process comes easily to me. On the other hand, I don't want to say it's extremely difficult either. Writing can be a lot of fun and I try not to lose sight of them. Perhaps the easiest thing for me is getting inside the heads of the characters. I seem to do this instinctually. There's the old question of which comes first, character or story, and for me it's always the characters. I enjoy creating them and getting to know them, and I always ask myself what he/she is after.

The hardest part of writing for me is probably the time it takes. Everything in publishing is slow. It takes a long time to write a book, naturally, but then it takes another long stretch of time to have it edited, and the whole back and forth of the production process. It's tedious and I don't enjoy it at all, because I don't have a lot of patience.

Can you describe what a typical day is like as a writer?

Sure. Just imagine your own day at work, and that's pretty much what it's like to be a writer. I get my son off to pre-school, come home and have something to eat, and then I sit down to work. I might be outlining or researching or actually writing, but basically it's me sitting at a computer until lunch time, then back at it until it's time to pick up my son. I used to write at night a lot, but not so much nowadays. Night time for me now is spent with my wife and son, or maybe catching up on emails and such. It's a routine, but it's need to be a if I'm going to make headway. Writing, like anything, takes discipline.

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

When people say they don't have the time to read I say that's nonsense. There's an old expression that I learned many years ago from some self-help guy--people give time to the things that are important to them. That immediately struck me as so obviously true. Everyone has some time to read. Some folks just choose not to do so. Maybe they prefer TV or sports or the internet, and I have no problem with that. I just don't think they should blame reading as though it's some kind of all-consuming actively that they couldn't possibly find the time for. If you want to read, you will.

Besides YA novels I also read a lot of memoirs. Good ones, though, and not the celebrity kind which are almost always pointless. I also read the occasional book about psychology. It's hard to pick a favorite, though. My all time favorite books are books I read a long time ago, which I like to reread from time to time.

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

Okay, so I've given this some thought, and I realized that money doesn't have much to do with what I'd want to do with a time machine. I wouldn't choose to do something grand, like install myself as emperor for a day or build my own space ship. I'd probably want to go back in time, not forward, and if I could see anything at all then I'd want to go back to Independence Hall and watch all those founding fathers thrash out the Declaration of Independence. That would be amazing, to be there with Adams and Jefferson and everyone else. I'd also love to meet George Washington--a personal hero of mine--but I'm not sure he ever made it to Independence Hall, since he was out fighting the British at the time. Or as we history buffs like to call them, the "lobsterbacks!"

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Starfinder (MG)

Marco, John. 2009. Starfinder. Daw Books. 326 pages.

Moth was flying his kite near the aerodrome when he heard the dragonfly crash.

Starfinder is a fantasy novel for young adults. It's a typical fantasy in many ways. It stars a young boy--an orphan of course--who is thrust into a mysterious quest which ends up changing his destiny. Full of adventure and fantastical creatures--centaurs, dragons, mermaids, etc., the novel picks up pace after Moth, our narrator, loses his caregiver (grandfather-figure) Leroux. Soon Moth and his best friend, a young girl named Fiona, are off on a quest to fulfill an old man's dying wish. A wish that they can't quite wrap their minds around, but a promise is a promise is a promise. So off they go into the unknown and along the way they may just discover the unknown about themselves.

I'll be honest, the first few chapters dragged for me. I wasn't particularly inspired to keep reading. But once the quest had begun, once the adventure started, once they met the dragon, it began to pick up for me. I actually became connected with the story. (Or at least better connected with the story.) Though it got off to a rough start--for me--it did improve enough for me to be thankful that I stuck with it. And I think that now the world and characters have been created--have been set up--it will only get better from here.

John Marco’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, May 20th: Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ News & Reviews
Saturday, May 23rd: Fantasy Book Critic
Tuesday, May 26th: Steph Su Reads
Wednesday, May 27th: Shooting Stars Mag
Thursday, May 28th: Becky’s Book Reviews
Monday, June 1st: Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Wednesday, June 3rd: Juiciliciousss Reviews
Friday, June 5th: Beth Fish Reads
Monday, June 8th: Books By Their Cover
Wednesday, June 10th: In Search of Giants
Friday, June 12th: The Tome Traveller
Monday, June 15th: At Home With Books
Wednesday, June 17th: The Written World
Friday, June 19th: Medieval Bookworm
Tuesday, June 23rd: The Magic of Ink
Thursday, June 25th: Reader’s Respite
Monday, June 29th: Drey’s Library

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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More Waiting on Wednesday

Because I just couldn't wait until next Wednesday:

A Monster's Notes by Laurie Sheck.

The description as found on Amazon:

What if Mary Shelley had not invented Frankenstein’s monster but had met him when she was a girl of eight, sitting by her mother’s grave, and he came to her unbidden? What if their secret bond left her forever changed, obsessed with the strange being whom she had discovered at a time of need? What if he were still alive in the twenty-first century?

This bold, genre-defying book brings us the “monster” in his own words. He recalls how he was “made” and how Victor Frankenstein abandoned him. He ponders the tragic tale of the Shelleys and the intertwining of his life with that of Mary (whose fictionalized letters salt the narrative, along with those of her nineteenth-century intimates) in this riveting mix of fact and poetic license. He takes notes on all aspects of human striving—from the music of John Cage to robotics to the Northern explorers whose lonely quest mirrors his own—as he tries to understand the strange race that made yet shuns him, and to find his own freedom of mind.

In the course of the monster’s musings, we also see Mary Shelley’s life from her childhood through her elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley, her writing of Frankenstein, the births and deaths of her children, Shelley’s famous drowning, her widowhood, her subsequent travels and life’s work, and finally her death from a brain tumor at age fifty-four. The monster’s fierce bond with Mary and the tale of how he ended up in her fiction is a haunted, intense love story, a story of two beings who can never forget each other.

A Monster’s Notes is Sheck’s most thrilling work to date, a luminous meditation on creativity and technology, on alienation and otherness, on ugliness and beauty, and on our need to be understood.

I really, really want to get my hands on this one. I wonder if the publishers know how very very much I love me some monster. I mean, Frankenstein is only one of my favorite, favorite books of all times.

AngelMonster by Veronica Bennet

How I Came To Love A Monster: A Rambling Review of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Wildly Romantic by Catherine M. Andronik

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sprout (YA, Adult)

Peck, Dale. 2009. Sprout. Bloomsbury. 277 pages.

I have a secret. And everyone knows it. But no one talks about it, at least not out in the open. That makes it a very modern secret, like knowing your favorite celebrity has some weird eccentricity or other, or professional athletes do it for the money, or politicians don't actually have your best interests at heart.

Meet Sprout. The green-haired wonder of a boy who doesn't have it all figured out. He's got some things figured out: he knows he's gay; he knows his father is an alcoholic. But he doesn't have his life all figured out. (Does anybody? If they say they do, are they are lying?) Since his mom died, Sprout's life has been, well, weird. It starts with a sudden move across the country.

"My dad and I moved here four years ago, when I was twelve. Long Island to Kansas. Fifteen hundred miles, most of it on I-70. We drove it in twenty-three hours, pausing only for food--McDonald's, Cracker Barrel, more McDonald's--and gas. There was no reason we didn't stop. It's not like there was anything waiting for us in Kansas. It was more like we were trying to get away--or he was trying to get away, and I was his hostage. I'm not even sure Kansas was our destination, or if it's just where my dad ran out of steam. Maybe it's just where he realized he couldn't run away from his memories."

Sprout is an eccentric teen, no doubt. And it's more than just his green hair. One teacher, Mrs. Miller, notices his genius, his gift for writing, his gift with words. She sees in him a chance to win big. The essay-writing contest. He just needs some polishing, something that she's more than willing to do day after summer day. And since Sprout isn't that popular a kid, he's got the time to spare. Will a summer spent in private with the teacher change a boy's life forever? Maybe, maybe not.

The narrative is practically perfect. Wit. Humor. Heart. This book has everything that I needed and wanted. Loved the writing of this one.

There were a lot of lies in our life, and if I end up telling a few, it's only because I'm repeating what I heard (13)

Mrs. Miller's detentions were famous: thousand-word essays on the history of the wheat; dramatic monologues on the Homestead Act of 1846; or just copying the complete definition of the verb to be from the dictionary--by hand, in crayon, using a different color for each letter. (16)

Sometimes my dad liked to drive. Sometimes my dad liked to take me with him when he drove. Sometimes I didn't manage to sneak into the forest before he found me. This must've been one of those times. So... (22)

I have to admit, though, in the two weeks since Mrs. Miller had put the idea in my head, it had grown on me. The truth is, I do enjoy playing around with words (if you're still reading, you might've noticed that). And I was also beginning to think maybe I had something to say. Like, you know: I'm a creep, I'm a loser, I smell like Teen Spirit but I'm beautiful no matter what they say, and I'm bringing sexy back, yeah! Does that make me crazy? Probably. But now it seemed Mrs. M. was telling me I couldn't write what I wanted. That I had to discuss a topic someone else picked out. This was starting to sound less like an extracurricular activity, more like, well, school. (45)
Should Sprout be allowed to write what he wants? To have the freedom to be himself? The freedom to just be. It's a charming novel about a boy's coming of age...and his first real relationship. This relationship is tastefully portrayed--much more tasteful than what I was expecting. (After reading The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second, that is). The emotions are there, but we're not privy to every single detail about Sprout's intimate life. The relationship just is, it doesn't feel like it's there for shock value or anything.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Waiting on Wednesday: A Season of Gifts

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck.

September 2009.

I so want this book! Listen to the description (found at Amazon):

The return of one of children's literature's most memorable characters is a gift indeed.

The eccentric, forceful, big-hearted Grandma Dowdel is the star of the Newbery Medal–winning A Year Down Yonder and Newbery Honor–winning A Long Way from Chicago. And it turns out that her story isn’t over—not even close.

It is now 1958, and a new family has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel: a Methodist minister and his wife and kids. Soon Mrs. Dowdel will work her particular brand of charm—or medicine, depending on who you’re asking—on all of them: ten-year old Bob, who is shy on courage in a town full of bullies; his two fascinating sisters; and even Bob’s two parents, who are amazed to discover that the last house in town might also be the most vital.

As Christmas rolls around, the Barnhart family realizes that they’ve found a true home—and a neighbor who gives gifts that will last a lifetime.

I so loved A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Loved, loved, loved them. I'm so excited that another one is coming soon :)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Question for Readers Everywhere

How patient are you as a reader? Does a book have to hook you from the start? If you're not 'into' the story by the end of the first or second chapter, do you abandon? Do you stick with it--if it's a slow starter--if it's been recommended to you by a friend? What if it's an award winner? Do you stick with it then? What--in your opinion--makes for a slow start? What are your reasons for staying....or going? How often does it pay off? I mean, if you stick with a slow-book, how often do you end up loving it...and how often do you wish you had your time back? Do you like to be warned ahead of time?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

What's On Your Nightstand--May

It's time for one of my favorite community events. What's on my nightstand? The better question may be what is not on my nightstand.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
A Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen
The Circle of Friends: Book 1: Lori by L. Diane Wolfe
Mind-Rain: Your Favorite Authors on Scott Westerfeld's Uglies Series
When The Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton*
The House in Grosvenor Square by Linore Rose Burkard
Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson*
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier*
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link*
Tyndale New Testament (only 8 more books to go!)

* = By my bed. Have been by my bed for two or three weeks. Need to be reading. But haven't actually started quite yet.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Heyer, Georgette. 1965/2009. Frederica. Sourcebooks. 437 pages.

Not more than five days after she had despatched an urgent missive to her brother, the Most Honorable the Marquis of Alverstoke, requesting him to visit her at his earliest convenience, the widowed Lady Buxted was relieved to learn from her youngest daughter that Uncle Vernon had just driven up to the house, wearing a coat with dozens of capes, and looking as fine as fivepence.

I love Georgette Heyer. I know not every reader will find her writing a traditional, delightful treat to savor slowly but surely. But for me, it's just as much about the experience as the end result. I won't lie. Georgette Heyer never offers an easy read, a fluffy read. If the modern day romance novel is the wonder bread of the literary world, Georgette Heyer would offer readers the fiber-heavy complexity of whole grains.

It's romance. Never doubt that. Her books are all about (often unlikely) heroes and heroines finding love. And her books almost always have more than one couple finding love and deciding for marriage. But her books are never just about romance. They're about society and family and life itself. Her characters are human: in other words, she's smart enough to make her characters--all her characters--flawed. I think the fact that they're so complex makes the comparisons to Austen so natural and so right.

And her books are satisfying. But instead of the quick-and-easiness of modern romance novels, her books offer a lingering satisfaction. (I'm not knocking modern romance novels. Not really. I'm as guilty as can be of enjoying a nice smutty book now and then. But you've got to admit that at least some modern romance novels are mindless and forgettable often starring mix and match heroes and heroines.

Frederica Merriville is a charming heroine who doesn't want to be the heroine. As an older sister, and as a woman in her mid-twenties, she feels the spotlight should always ever be on her younger and oh-so-beautiful younger sister, still in her teens, Charis. She has come to London in hopes that she can launch her sister into society, into the ton. She wants her sister to have a chance to find love and happiness and marriage and family. You know, all the things she thinks she'll never have for herself. And Charis isn't her only consideration. She's got three brothers: Harry, Jessamy, and Felix.

Lord Alverstoke is frustrated and amused. In the past few days, he's had both of his sisters beg him to give a ball in honor of their daughters coming-of-age. He's said no, not once but twice. But the third time may just be the charm. When Frederica--the daughter of a slight acquaintance--shows up unexpectedly, asking him for his help, he's surprised to hear himself say yes. In part because he knows that launching the oh-so-beautiful Charis into society will annoy his sisters because their daughters are oh-so-plain. Yes, his nieces will get the ball. But he'll expect Lady Buxted to introduce the Merriville sisters. To welcome them both into her fold and take them along with her own daughter into society. It's blackmail of the amusing sort: his money will pay for her daughter's chance--the clothes, the shoes, the hats and bonnets, the gloves, etc.--but he will get to see her squirm at having to 'help' these strangers.

Soon Lord Alverstoke is acting as guardian of the Merriville family. He proclaims them distant cousins, and society opens their arms...true, Charis, is quite beautiful, and true, Frederica knows how to hold her own in conversation. But it is his wealth and his prestige that get the ball rolling so to speak.

What did I love about Frederica? How fully-fleshed the characters are. We don't just see Lord Alverstoke falling in love with Frederica. We see him come to love the whole family. We see Frederica's brothers up, close, and personal. We see the lovable but troublesome Felix have one adventure after another. We see the lovable eagerness of Jessamy. Both brothers became favorites of mine.

I loved the characters. I loved the slow-and-easy (in no hurry to get there) pace of the romance. The book is not boring--far from it--but it's comfortable not excitable.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Trial run on embedded comments

I want to give embedded comments another try. If I hear back from you (via email or comment) that you are unhappy with the switch and that you're not able to leave a comment, then I'll change back. I know that there had been a few glitches last fall with it, but I've been reading up on how to 'fix' said glitches and I want to see if this will work :)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Convenient Marriage

Heyer, Georgette. 1934. The Convenient Marriage. Reprinted by Sourcebooks, 2009.

"Lady Winwood being denied, the morning caller inquired with some anxiety for Miss Winwood, or, in fact, for any of the young ladies. In face of the rumour which had come to her ears it would be too provoking if all the Winwood ladies were to withhold themselves."

We meet the Winwood family early on in The Convenient Marriage. We spy on them (in a way) as Mrs. Maulfrey comes to call--or should I say get the juicy gossip on the latest news in the family. Elizabeth, the oldest sister is upset and rightfully so. Her mother, Lady Winwood, has just agreed to an engagement between her and the rich Earl Rule. The problem? Elizabeth is in love with a poor (at least relatively speaking) soldier, a Mr. Edward Heron. Charlotte, the middle sister, doesn't see what the big deal is. After all, in her way of thinking marriage doesn't amount to much. She has no interest--so she claims--in becoming someone's wife. But the youngest sister, Horatia feels her sister's pain. And she's determined--though she stutters or stammers and has thick eyebrows--to do something to solve this dilemma. She gives Mr. Heron her word that she will not let their hearts be broken. Her plan is quite bold and quite wonderful. By that I mean it is deliciously entertaining. The first few chapters of this one are so full of promise. Especially the second and third chapters. If there was an award for the best-ever-second-chapter-in-a-book, I'd nominate The Convenient Marriage.

However, the book soon settles down. As you can probably guess from the title, it is about a marriage--a husband and wife. Marcus Drelincourt (a.k.a. The Earl, or Marcus, or simply 'Rule') and his wife, Horatia (or Horry). And since the marriage occurs early in the book--by page sixty--the reader knows that there must be some drama in the works. And indeed there is. There's the former (and somewhat still current) mistress who's jealous and spiteful, Lady Massey. There's the cousin-who-would-inherit-it-all-if-only-Rule-would-hurry-up-and-die, Mr. Crosby Drelincourt, a cousin. And the villainous and cold-hearted Lord Lethbridge. All three of these people add to the drama--each in their own little way. All want to get revenge on Rule. All want to see the happy little couple become miserable. And oh the plotting that goes on that tries to break up this pair!

Horatia's closest friend is her brother, Pelham. Though he's a bit of a gambler--and often an unlucky one at that--he's got a good heart. I don't know if it was Heyer's intent to make him so likable, so enjoyable, but I just really liked him in spite of his flaws. He truly had his sister's best interests at heart. And she does need someone to look out for her with all the villains roaming about the town (or should that be ton) out for revenge.

None of the characters in The Convenient Marriage are perfect. All are flawed in one way or another. But the relationships are genuinely enjoyable, and are quite well done. The atmosphere of The Convenient Marriage--much like Heyer's other novels--is so rich, so detailed, so luxuriously drawn. The society. The fashion. The wit. The charm. The dangers of being unique in a world where conformity reigns. The delicate balance between being respectable, being boring, and being the Talk or Toast of the ton.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Want to come with me to Tara?

Come June, I'll be going to Tara. Again. Want to come with? Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell is the book selection for June/July in my google reading group, Reading With Becky. If you want to join in, just send me an email. (use the address found in the profile).

All are welcome to join in...whether you're a newbie, a skeptic, or a life-long fan. If you've only seen the movie, then the book just might surprise you!

Anyway, here's the schedule:

Part One: Chapters 1 through 7; Due June 12th
Part Two: Chapters 8 through 16; Due June 19th
Part Three: Chapters 17 through 30; Due July 10th
Part Four: Chapters 31 through 47; Due July 24th
Part Five: Chapters 48 through 63; Due August 7th

This would be a GREAT chance for participants in this year's Southern Reading Challenge. (It's hosted by the fabulous Maggie.) And of course it would go with the Romance Challenge as well. And the Classics Challenge. And the Casual Classics Challenge. And if there were a Books-to-Movie Challenge going, you'd know it'd be perfect there too :) (Speaking of which I really, really, really want this one to be held again.) A to Z Challenge: And if you want to state the obvious, G Title, M Author! Decades Challenge: 1930s. And the Banned Books Challenge. And it did win the Pulitzer--Putlitzer Project. (Battle of the Prizes.) And it made The Guardian's 1000 Greatest Novels List which means it's great for Biblio File's challenge. And the 1001 List. 1% Well Read Challenge.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lawrence, D.H. 1928. Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

According to what I've read on the internet, though it was written in 1928, this was one was deemed 'too smutty' to be published (at least widely published) until the 1960s. And even then, it took some trials to do it. Is it obscene? Is it literature? Is it both? Can a book legitimately be both? No doubt, it was shocking then. But is it still 'shocking' now?

I didn't know quite what to expect from this one. It doesn't start off horribly shocking. It starts off rather beautifully. Smooth and beautiful. Poetic. It feels like truth. Even if you disagree with the philosophy in general, it still feels true. Words have a way of doing that. That's why words are often considered dangerous. The reader is introduced to Constance "Connie" Chatterley, the wife of a paralyzed war veteran, Clifford Chatterley. The two are married. The two are seemingly wealthy. Better off than most in any event. He is a nobleman, a "lord" and by marriage that makes Connie a "lady." But she doesn't feel comfortable with that title and the responsibilities of being 'above' everyone else. Her wealth and position are a burden, little else, to her.

In a way, Lady Chatterley's Lover asks the question, can "modern" men and women be happy? What does it mean to be happy? What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to really live? Is life really truly about the earning and spending of money? Is the quality of life really and truly measured by how much stuff you have? Is money itself evil? Is industry and technology evil?

In regards to happiness, the novel addresses the issue of love and sex and successful careers in terms of 'making' people 'happy.' Clifford, since the accident, throws himself into trying to be "successful." At first this success is all about fame and acclaim. He wants to write. He wants to be heard. He wants to be known. He wants people to see him as a success. When this proves unsatisfying, he turns to industry. He turns to being a business man. For Clifford, this means getting involved in the coaling industry. The pits and mines and dealing with the working class. Connie, on the other hand, throws herself into several things. At first thinking that if she can find love on an intellectual level she'll be happy...then thinking if she can find satisfaction on the physical level...then thinking if she could only have a child to love and nurture...and so forth. Connie is always changing the definitions of what it takes for her to be happy and satisfied with her life. Early in the book, she thinks that if she can intellectually love her husband but find some relief with another man (she does have needs after all) then all will be well. But as Clifford changes as well, she realizes she doesn't want anything at all from him. The less she has to do with her husband, the less her life is connected with his the better.

Oliver Mellors, the lover of Lady Chatterley and the game-keeper of Lord Chatterley, is an interesting character. (Probably the most interesting character in the entire novel.) His dialect makes him a bit hard to understand, for one thing, and his personality is more abrasive than the others in a way. He's more tell-it-like-it-is than the rest. In a way, he's tender, but in other ways he's very rough around the edges. Very gruff. And he's definitely got a grudge against the world, though in all honesty all the characters seem to have a grudge against the world. Mellors is definitely cynical about love and marriage and committing to one woman. And he's not really a family man either. It's not that he's a heart-breaker necessarily. He's not a player in that way. It's more he's a guy who's up front that he wants sex, needs sex, loves sex. And he's not going to put up with a woman who doesn't share that. That is one reason why his marriage didn't work out right.

The novel isn't just about this adulterous affair. A novel that stretches the limits in what you can talk about in that regards. Far from it. It's about social class, economics, philosophy, gender differences, society, you know, meaning of life type stuff. Here are two quotes about money which I think just scream relevance:

"Anyhow, nobody knows what should be done in spite of all the talk, the young ones get mad because they've no money to spend. Their whole life depends on spending money, and now they've got none to spend. That's our civilization and our education: bring up the masses to depend entirely on spending money, and then the money gives out." (268)

"If you could only tell them that living and spending isn't the same thing! But it's no good. If only they were educated to LIVE instead of earn and spend, they could manage very happily on twenty-five shillings." (268)
The novel has its sections where it lays out an argument against this 'modern' life. This philosophy of spend, spend, spend. A philosophy of I want it, I deserve it, I need it...NOW! So it was refreshing to see the novel in that light. It was also weird, in a way, to see the juxtaposition of reason and intellect versus animal instinct (if it feels good do it--and keep doing it) battle it out to see which way makes a person happiest.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Do you think it too pornographic to be literature? Do you think it is just as shocking today as when it was first written? What did you think about that ending?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. (MG, YA, Everybody Else Too)

Sanderson, Brandon. 2007. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. Scholastic. 307 pages.

So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of Evil Librarians. As you might imagine, that sort of situation can be quite disturbing. It does funny things to the brain to be in such danger -- in fact, it often makes a person pause and reflect upon his life. If you've never faced such a situation, then you'll simply have to take my word. If, on the other hand, you have faced such a situation, then you are probably dead and aren't likely to be reading this.

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians is one of those rare gems of a book where you could open it to practically any page and find treasure. It's funny. It's fun. It's exciting. It's clever. Take for instance, this little treasure found at the beginning of chapter four:

Hushlanders, I'd like to take this opportunity to commend you for reading this book. I realize the difficulty you must have gone through to obtain it -- after all, no Librarian is likely to recommend it, considering the secrets it exposes about their kind.

Actually, my experience has been that people generally don't recommend this kind of book at all. It is far too interesting. Perhaps you have had other kinds of books recommended to you. Perhaps, even, you have been given books by friends, parents, or teachers, then told that these books are the type you "have to read." Those books are invariably described as "important" -- which in my experience, pretty much means that they're boring. (Words like meaningful and thoughtful are other good clues.)

If there is a boy in these kinds of books, he will not go on an adventure to fight against Librarians, paper monsters, and one-eyed Dark Oculators. In fact, the lad will not go on an adventure or fight against anything at all. Instead, his dog will die. Or, in some cases, his mother will die. If it's a really meaningful book, both his dog and his mother will die. (Apparently most writers have something against dogs and mothers.)

Neither my mother nor my dog dies in this book. I'm rather tired of those types of stories. In my opinion, such fantastical, unrealistic books -- books in which boys live on mountains, families work on farms, or anyone has anything to do with the Great Depression -- have a tendency to rot the brain. To combat such silliness, I've written the volume you now hold -- a solid, true account. Hopefully, it will help anchor you in reality.

So, when people try to give you some book with a shiny round award on the cover, be kind and gracious, but tell them that you don't read "fantasy," because you prefer stories that are real. Then come back here and continue your research on the cult of evil Librarians who secretly rule the world.

I think everyone should read this book. Seriously. It's the story of a boy--Alcatraz Smedry--who receives his inheritance--a bag of sand--on his thirteenth birthday. His parents are dead, and he's been in the foster care system for years. He has difficulties in settling down with families--he's been moved from foster home to foster home--because he has a way of breaking things just by touching them. When we first meet Alcatraz, he accidentally has broken a stove and set the kitchen on fire. Most would say this 'gift' makes Alcatraz extremely unlucky. But, it may just be his saving grace. When a mysterious old man claiming to be his Grandpa Smedry appears the day after his birthday, the boy is in for a shock or two. Fortunately for us readers, we're along for the ride! What follows is one exciting adventure. Grandpa Smedry claims this world is controlled by a cult: a cult of evil Librarians. Evil librarians that have stolen Alcatraz's inheritance: the bag of sand is missing! Can these two team up and reclaim what is rightfully theirs?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Friday, May 22, 2009

LIbrary Loot Week Something in Last Part of May

I checked out six books this time. Let's hope I have better luck this go round. I didn't finish most of what I checked out last time. In fact, I think I only finished one book.

Skellig by David Almond
The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.
Mars Life by Ben Bova

****Library Loot is a weekly meme hosted by Alessandra from Out of the Blue and Eva from A Striped Armchair****

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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When You Reach Me (MG)

Stead, Rebecca. 2009. When You Reach Me. Random House. 208 pages.

So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She's going to be a contestant on The 20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark.

I really, really loved Rebecca Stead's first novel, First Light. So I was excited to get the opportunity to read her second novel, When You Reach Me. It has a completely different feel to it than her first one.

The novel is historical fiction--set in 1978/1979 in New York City. It's not strictly historical fiction. There's some mystery involved, a twist here and there that makes it unique. If I were trying to sell this book--book talk it if you will--I'd say that it was a loving tribute to the children's classic, A Wrinkle In Time. Our heroine, Miranda, just loves A Wrinkle In Time. Loves it to pieces. She probably feels about it the same way I feel about Ender's Game. That's love and devotion folks!

Part mystery. Part historical fiction. Part coming-of age. The plot focuses in on Miranda and her friends and classmates, her family and neighborhood. What's the mystery? Miranda receives a series of mysterious letters through the course of a few months. Letters that are personal and prophetic. Here's the first letter she receives:


This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, that you write me a letter. Second, that you remember to mention the location of your house key in the letter. The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.

The letters are always slightly weird and found in unexpected places. As the novel unfolds, Miranda accepts these strange offerings as a weird but cool part of her life. Who else receives notes predicting the future in an all-too-personal-and-meaningful way?

While I enjoyed First Light more, I still enjoyed this one. It was just so completely different than any other book I've read.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Winner of Crocodaddy

The winner of Crocodaddy is WindyCindy. I've sent you an email letting you know. If you haven't received it, please email me with your mailing address so I can pass it along to the author!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Quick Test

Is anyone having trouble viewing the blog? It's loading on my end--and faster than usual. I'm really loving the scrolling sidebars! I've heard from a loyal reader that there was some difficulty in having the blog open and/or load properly. And just yesterday my friend was saying she was having trouble viewing all blogspot blogs. Anyway, I was just curious if this was a widespread problem or it it is a temporary glitch.

Edited to add: I *think* it may be an Internet Explorer issue. So if you usually use IE and are having trouble reading this blog and other blogger blogs... Using another browser and/or using a feed reader may solve your issues. I *hope* this isn't a long-term problem because I know a lot of people use IE.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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First In A Series Completed

I’m joining this one. The goal is to read twelve books that are first in a series.

1. The Dangerous Days of Daniel X by James Patterson
2. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
3. The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost
4. The Fire of Ares by Michael Ford
5. Eon Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman.
6. The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins.
7. Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 by PJ Haarsma.
8. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar.
9. Gone by Michael Grant.
10. A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman.
11. The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling.
12. The Warden. Anthony Trollope

13.Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

© Becky Laney of Becky’s Book Reviews

Guest Post: David Ebershoff on The 19th Wife

Since the initial publication of The 19th Wife last August, I have received hundreds of emails from readers eager to share with me an interesting and often poignant story about their own connection to American polygamy. Typically these stories are about Pioneer ancestors who, in the 19th century, embraced the practice of plural marriage as part of their belief. I have heard the story of the great-great-great grandmother who was a 12th wife and I have heard the story of the great-great aunt who was a 6th wife and I have heard from many, many direct descendants of Brigham Young, which is not wholly surprising given that he had 57 children. I’m always happy to receive these emails because with each story told our understanding of American polygamy grows more complex and rich.

But the most unsettling emails, and the ones I both dread and appreciate the most, are those from people who know about polygamy today. While writing The 19th Wife I spoke with a number of people who told me about their experiences as either a plural wife or as a child of a polygamous household. (It’s worth pointing out that not a single man with plural wives was willing to speak to me.) Their stories inform the contemporary portion of the novel, Jordan’s story. It is from these generous people that I learned how a polygamous household works, how the dynamics among the sister wives play out, and how children go about their day, from rising early to get in line for breakfast to begging their fathers for a minute of affection.

But since the book has appeared, I have met via the Internet even more people from polygamous families – plural wives and children of polygamy. Their emails often begin by telling me that The 19th Wife more or less reflects their lives and the world they come from. Although this is artistically gratifying it also upsets me because there is a part of me that wishes I had gotten it all wrong and that in fact such abuse, deprivation, and degradation do not exist. Alas, fiction can be true.

About two months ago I received an email from a woman who grew up in a polygamous community similar to Mesadale, the fictional community Jordan is from in the book. She said that she had read the novel and that the world I described is an accurate depiction of the community she was born into and had lived in as plural wife until 2003. But the real reason she was writing me was more harrowing: One day her younger brother, a boy in his late teens, was found dead under mysterious circumstances. The woman felt certain that her brother had been murdered although she did not know by whom or why. Fearing for her own life, she fled, leaving behind her family and friends – everyone she knew and loved. Now, six years later she was writing me because she knew I had been back to this world and that I had some contacts within. As an apostate, she no longer had any communication with her loved ones and she was writing to me to ask if I could tell her about the people she missed and feared for. She concluded by telling me that she knew some day soon she would have to return to this world to find out the truth about her brother’s death and to seek justice.

Being a writer in 2009 means I can communicate instantly and directly with readers. I never know what will be in my inbox in the morning: a salutation from Salt Lake, a greeting from Galveston, or a cry for help from a woman who has just read about herself in my novel. Writing a book is a lonely act: for a few years I was at my desk writing The 19th Wife, alone except for my dog, Elektra, who is always at my feet. I often wondered who might read the book and how it would be perceived. With each email, I have a sense of how the book sits in someone’s lap and someone’s life. I’m grateful to everyone who has sought me out to share something of themselves with me, whether the story is sad or happy or, as often is the case, something in between.

I hope to hear from many more readers. Don’t be shy! You can reach me at

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