Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Accomplishments

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

June's Top Five:

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.
A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen.
A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist.

Number of Picture Books: 18

Tonka Phonics Reading Program (12 Mini-Books, Flashcards) 2007. Scholastic
When I Grow Up. Leonid Gore. 2009. Scholastic.
My Dad and Me by Alyssa Satin Capucilli. 2009. Simon & Schuster.
When Papa Comes Home Tonight. 2009. Simon & Schuster
My Father The Dog by Elizabeth Bluemle. 2006. Candlewick Press.
A Day With Dad by Bo R. Holmberg. 2008. Candlewick Press.
Hook. Ed Young. 2009. Roaring Brook Press.
Egg Drop by Mini Grey. 2009. Random House.
Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa. Illustrated by Ed Young. Penguin. 2009.
Dogs on the Bed by Elizabeth Bluemle. Candlewick. 2008.
Dog Day by Sarah Hayes. 2008. FSG.
Critter Sitter by Chuck Richards. 2008. Walker (Bloomsbury)
Bad Dog, Marley by John Grogan. 2007. HarperCollins
Really Truly Bingo by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Candlewick Press. 2008.
Finding Susie by Sandra Day O'Connor. 2009. Random House.
Natalie & Naughtily by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2008. Bloomsbury.
Peanut by David Lucas. 2008. Candlewick.
Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman. 2009. HarperCollins.

Number of Board Books:

Number of Children's Books: 1

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman. 2009. Candlewick.

Number of YA Books: 16

The Dragon of Trelian. Michelle Knudsen. 2009. Candlewick Press. 407 pages.
The Summoning. Kelley Armstrong. 2008. HarperCollins. 390 pages.
When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton. 2009. Penguin. 162 pages.
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. 1986. 329 pages.
Darkwood by M.E. Breen. 2009. Bloomsbury. 273 pages.
Skellig by David Almond. 1998. Thorndike Press (Large Print Copy) 204 pages.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. 2004. 186 pages.
Two Parties, One Tux, And A Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath. Steven Goldman. 2008. Bloomsbury. 307 pages.
Liar by Justine Labaralestier. 2009. Bloomsbury. 388 pages. Bloomsbury.
Body of Christopher Creed. Carol Plum-Ucci. 2000. Hyperion. 331 pages.
Alcatraz Versus The Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson. 2008. 322 pages. Scholastic.
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. 2009. Viking (Penguin) 400 pages.
The City In the Lake. Rachel Neumeier. 2008. Knopf (Random House) 294 pages.
Ghost Town by Richard W. Jennings. 2009. Houghton Mifflin. 165 pages.
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd. 2009. Penguin. 309 pages.
Cashay by Margaret McMullan. Houghton Mifflin. 2009. 208 pages.

Number of Christian Books: 6

The House in Grosvenor Square
by Linore Rose Burkard. 2009. Harvest House. 338 pages.
Tyndale's New Testament. 1534. Translated by William Tyndale.
A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist. 2009. Bethany House. 365 pages.
Eyes Wide Open by Jud Wilhite. 2009.
Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell. Bethany House. 2009. 329 pages.

Number of Adult Books: 7

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. 1966. 382 pages.
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery. 1925. 325 pages.
The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein. 2008. 416 pages.
Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery. 1927. 228 pages.
A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery. 1931. 257 pages.
Middlemarch by George Eliot. 1871/1872. 795 pages.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. 1926. 218 pages.
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. 1857. 525 pages.

Number of Verse Novels:

Number of Graphic Novels:

Number of Nonfiction: 3

The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for The Truth. Susan Goldman Rubin. Holiday House. 40 pages.
Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With The Wind by Marianne Walker. 1993. 554 pages.

Number of Short Story Collections, Anthologies, Poetry Books: 4

When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne. 1924.
Now We Are Six. A.A. Milne. 1927.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. 2008.
Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery. 1912.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Love's Pursuit

Mitchell, Siri. 2009. Love's Pursuit. Bethany House. 329 pages.

"Do you never tire of being good, Susannah? Do you never think any rebellious thoughts?"

I turned my eyes from my sister and back to my work in the blueberry canes. "Aye. I do."

Mary gasped, though I detected laughter in the sound. "'Tis not possible."

Poor Puritans. They hardly ever get a good rep in fiction. In Love's Pursuit, readers meet a community of Puritans (Stoneybrooke Towne) living in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1640s. More specifically we meet two sisters, Susannah and Mary Phillips. We also meet a woman who wears a cloak of invisibility. (Well, she wears her shame and humiliation as a cloak of invisibility.) Susannah is in love with a man, John Prescotte. But he hasn't proposed yet. And he may never get the chance.

Susannah is a beautiful young woman, and there are other men in town--including a visiting Captain (Daniel Holcombe)--that have noticed just how beautiful and wonderful she is. One of her would-be suitors is Simeon Wright a well-respected man in Stoneybrooke. A man who could have his pick of many of the young ladies in town. They all think he's swoon-worthy. Take for example Susannah's own sister, Mary. Mary thinks that Simeon Wright would make a fine husband...for herself. But when Simeon proposes to Susannah instead, then things begin to crumble for Susannah. She does not love Simeon. She loves John. She doesn't appreciate the fact that Mary is angry with her because he proposed to the 'wrong' sister. Susannah doesn't want to wear any blame there. She didn't "steal" him from her because she doesn't want him!

Despite the fact that her father did NOT consent to his proposal--accepting on his daughter's behalf--the Wrights have the banns published in church. An unfortunate event since John had just days before proposed to Susannah with the blessings of both families. But with the announcement that she's to marry Simeon being read publicly in the church assembly, John Prescotte withdraws his offer of marriage and shuns her. Since John is now refusing to marry her, what choice does Susannah have but to marry Simeon? Other than every bone in her body telling her that Simeon is the wrong man for her, that he is not a good man, period, she has no "logical" reason to refuse her father's request to marry Simeon. The captain sure has a few ideas of how to fix the matter. But will she listen to him? There are a few in town who could warn Susannah about Simeon. A few who could tell her that he is not what he seems. That beneath the surface, he's hiding some cruel tendencies. It's looking like they'll never be a happily ever after for Susannah...no matter what she decides.

I'm not sure I "liked" this one. The narration was first person. But here's the odd bit, it had multiple narrators. Each narrator spoke in the first person. And there was no clear separation marking who was speaking. I think if this had been indicated somehow (it is possible, I've seen other books do it) it would have been an easier read. Readers just have to piece together for themselves the narration the best they can. I do think it gets easier as it goes on. But those first few chapters are a bit rough because things are just beginning to unfold.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Reading Blitz Completed!

Read 30 books in 30 days in the month of June. Hosted by Reading and Ruminations.

1. The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen
2. Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery
3. When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
4. Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne
5. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
6. All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
7. Liar by Justine Larbalestier
8. Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson
9. Skellig by David Almond
10. Bound by Donna Jo Napoli
11. Two Parties, One Tux, etc. by Steven Goldman
12. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
13. The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
14. The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein
15. When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton
16. Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery
17. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
18. The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
19. Darkwood by M.E. Breen
20. Ghost Town by Richard W. Jennings
21. A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery
22. Middlemarch by George Eliot
23. The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier
24. A Bride in the Bargain by DeeAnne Gist
25. The Wall by Peter Sis
26. Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With The Wind by Marianne Walker
27. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
28. Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
29. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
30. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Victorian Challenge Completed!

1. Silas Marner by George Eliot
2. The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
4. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
5. Middlemarch by George Eliot
6. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Barchester Towers

Trollope, Anthony. 1857. Barchester Towers. 528 pages.

In the latter days of July in the year 185--, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester, and answered every hour in various ways. Who was to be the new Bishop?

Barchester Towers is the second novel in Trollope's Barset series. The first in the series, The Warden, I reviewed several months ago. What characters carry over to the second one? Mr. Harding, the former warden, and his two daughters: Susan, married to Dr. Grantly, the archdeacon, the son of the very recently deceased Bishop, and Eleanor Bold, a (somewhat-recent) widow and the mother of young Johnny Bold.

Barchester Towers is about how complicated and convoluted relationships can become. It's not just about church politics. It's about social relationships as well. Though church politics does capture much of it. Who will be the new Bishop? Who will be the new warden of Hiram's Hospital? Who will be the new Dean?

The novel is a romantic comedy of sorts. Eleanor, a widow, is quite the catch and there are plenty of men in the neighborhood who would do almost anything to win her heart. But not all of them are worthy of it. And some of them are more interested in her money than in her. Her three suitors are Mr. Obadiah Slope (boo, hiss if you like, trust me he deserves it!), Mr. Bertie Stanhope, and Mr. Francis Arabin. Two of the three are church men. Mr. Slope is chaplain and in the employ of the new bishop, Mr. Proudie. And Mr. Arabin is the vicar of St. Ewold. Mr. Stanhope is a gambler mostly, an idle man who thinks only of living in the moment. Does Eleanor want to be courted? Is she looking for a second husband? A step-father for young Johnny? Whether or not this is the case, it can't be denied that the men in the neighborhood are looking at her.

I said Barchester Towers is a comedy, and that is very much the case. Comical characters abound in Barchester Towers! Mr. Slope. Dr. Proudie. Mrs. Proudie. Those three can get into so much trouble all on their own! I feel a bit sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful and their fourteen (living) children, a family that gets caught in this tug-of-war power play. Will he or won't he be named the new warden? And those are just a handful of the characters we meet in this second novel. There are the Stanhopes (including the married and attention-grabbing Madame Neroni), the Thornes, and the lower-class sort including the Lookalofts and the Greenacres. I believe Miss Thorne's party is the delight of the novel--spanning about eight chapters.

The order of the day was to be as follows. The quality, as the upper classes in rural districts are designated by the lower with so much true discrimination, were to eat a breakfast, and the non-quality were to eat a dinner. Two marquees had been erected for these two banquets: that for the quality on the esoteric or garden side of a certain deep ha-ha; and that for the non-quality on the exoteric or paddock side of the same. Both were of huge dimensions—that on the outer side was, one may say, on an egregious scale—but Mr. Plomacy declared that neither would be sufficient. To remedy this, an auxiliary banquet was prepared in the dining-room, and a subsidiary board was to be spread sub dio for the accommodation of the lower class of yokels on the Ullathorne property.

No one who has not had a hand in the preparation of such an affair can understand the manifold difficulties which Miss Thorne encountered in her project. Had she not been made throughout of the very finest whalebone, riveted with the best Yorkshire steel, she must have sunk under them. Had not Mr. Plomacy felt how much was justly expected from a man who at one time carried the destinies of Europe in his boot, he would have given way, and his mistress, so deserted, must have perished among her poles and canvas.

In the first place there was a dreadful line to be drawn. Who were to dispose themselves within the ha-ha, and who without? To this the unthinking will give an off-hand answer, as they will to every ponderous question. Oh, the bishop and such-like within the ha-ha, and Farmer Greenacre and such-like without. True, my unthinking friend, but who shall define these such-likes? It is in such definitions that the whole difficulty of society consists. To seat the bishop on an arm-chair on the lawn and place Farmer Greenacre at the end of a long table in the paddock is easy enough, but where will you put Mrs. Lookaloft, whose husband, though a tenant on the estate, hunts in a red coat, whose daughters go to a fashionable seminary in Barchester, who calls her farm-house Rosebank, and who has a pianoforte in her drawing-room? The Misses Lookaloft, as they call themselves, won't sit contented among the bumpkins. Mrs. Lookaloft won't squeeze her fine clothes on a bench and talk familiarly about cream and ducklings to good Mrs. Greenacre. And yet Mrs. Lookaloft is no fit companion and never has been the associate of the Thornes and the Grantlys. And if Mrs. Lookaloft be admitted within the sanctum of fashionable life, if she be allowed with her three daughters to leap the ha-ha, why not the wives and daughters of other families also? Mrs. Greenacre is at present well contented with the paddock, but she might cease to be so if she saw Mrs. Lookaloft on the lawn. And thus poor Miss Thorne had a hard time of it.

And how was she to divide her guests between the marquee and the parlour? She had a countess coming, an Honourable John and an Honourable George, and a whole bevy of Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, &c; she had a leash of baronets with their baronnettes; and, as we all know, she had a bishop. If she put them on the lawn, no one would go into the parlour; if she put them into the parlour, no one would go into the tent. She thought of keeping the old people in the house and leaving the lawn to the lovers. She might as well have seated herself at once in a hornet's nest.
Anthony Trollope is fast-becoming one of my favorite authors. I am just falling in love with him. His style, his wit, his humor, his characterizations. The way he can talk about anything (and everything) and make me care. Even the bad guys. Trollope develops these scummy characters with such grace and charm that even though you know they're no good, you enjoy spending time with them.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Cashay (YA)

McMullan, Margaret. 2009. Cashay. Houghton Mifflin. 208 pages.

We walk the same speed. Everything's in time.

I'll be completely honest with you. Cashay was a tough read for me, a painful read for me. Almost like it was too close, too raw. You know how it is when you see news crews interviewing people after traumatic things--crashes, fires, hurricanes, the like. I don't know about you, but I always feel that they should back off, that they should give people privacy. Don't go asking how it feels to lose everything they own five minutes after their home has burned down. Or asking how they feel after their loved one has been murdered. In Cashay we get an insider look. Cashay and Sashay are inseparable. Until the shooting. Until one of them dies.

We are not OK.
Nothing is right at all anymore.
There is no more Sashay. It's like nothing.
And then, then I hear the sirens.

The book is an up, close, and personal look at grief. Cashay's life was never easy (no father, lazy and drug-addicted mother), but with Sashay, her sister and best friend, things were working. Now Cashay is lost and confused and angry. It doesn't help that she knows who shot her sister. That she was there, witness to it all. True, the bullet wasn't meant for Sashay. But she's the one whose life was stolen that day. And it's Cashay who has to live with it. So many angsty things--and rightly angsty in some ways--going on in this one. Like I said, it was a painful read. I didn't want to be a witness to these scenes. I didn't want to put myself in Cashay's shoes. I didn't want to feel her pain and grief. It was a very ugly novel. The way I feel about this one is the same way I feel about the Elvis song "In the Ghetto."

One thing did bother me a tiny bit about the novel. The way the white characters played heroes and all the African-American characters were either victims or criminals. Of course, not every character can fall so clearly into one category or the other. But the African-American characters seemed to be stuck in one place and unable to help themselves out of bad situations.

There was an interesting review of this one at Barnes & Noble. A one star review that raises some interesting (and valid) questions. Cashay is a "problem" novel in a way. An issue-driven book. Anyway, the reviewer suggests that the novel relies on too many stereotypes. (African American family living in the projects in Chicago; sisters with different fathers--neither one of which stuck around; a drug-addicted mother who isn't responsible enough to support her family; a poverty-stricken family relying on food stamps; drive-by shootings, etc.)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #26

Curious about what I watched this week? Maybe, maybe not! But I'll tell you good folks just the same:

Bringing Up Baby
Cary Grant: A Class Apart (documentary film)
Monkey Business
Night and Day
Please Don't Eat the Daisies
Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House
By The Light of the Silvery Moon
Teacher's Pet
Gentleman's Agreement

Have you seen any of these? Do you have a favorite among them? All of these--with the exception of Please Don't Eat the Daisies--were new to me. (I had only the vaguest memories of Please Don't Eat The Daisies from when I watched it as a kid.) I really enjoyed Gentleman's Agreement (1947). It's a movie about antisemitism and prejudice. Gregory Peck plays a writer/reporter (a widower with a young son) going undercover, pretending to be Jewish, in order to write a series of articles. In the process, he falls in love and becomes engaged. But his girl isn't so happy with his "angle" of writing. She wishes he wasn't pretending to be Jewish. She's worried what her friends (and family) will think of her. The two do bicker over this...a lot. And I found myself stubbornly rooting for the underdog played by Celeste Holm. She loves him, accepts him, respects him...and she's not in on the secret. Of course, he just sees her as best-good-friend material. Oh well. Anyway, this movie was released several years prior to the publication of The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank in America (1952). And it was interesting to see this film. All the while I was thinking what it was that changed--or helped change the mindsets of Americans. There's a powerful scene in the movie between Peck's character and his mother, played by Anne Revere.
"I suddenly want to live to be very old. Very. I want to be around to see what happens. The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it. Maybe that's why it's so troubled. Other centuries had their driving forces. What will ours have been when men look back? Maybe it won't be the American century after all... or the Russian century or the atomic century. Wouldn't it be wonderful... if it turned out to be everybody's century... when people all over the world - free people - found a way to live together? I'd like to be around to see some of that... even the beginning. I may stick around for quite a while."
Here's the trailer for the movie:

I'm still looking for recommendations for old movies, classic movies, so keep them coming!

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

The City In the Lake. Rachel Neumeier. 2008. Knopf (Random House) 294 pages.
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd. 2009. Penguin. 309 pages.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. 1926. 218 pages.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. 2008.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

Dogs on the Bed by Elizabeth Bluemle. Candlewick. 2008.
Dog Day by Sarah Hayes. 2008. FSG.
Critter Sitter by Chuck Richards. 2008. Walker (Bloomsbury)
Bad Dog, Marley by John Grogan. 2007. HarperCollins
Really Truly Bingo by Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Candlewick Press. 2008.
Finding Susie by Sandra Day O'Connor. 2009. Random House.
Natalie & Naughtily by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2008. Bloomsbury.
Peanut by David Lucas. 2008. Candlewick.
Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman. 2009. HarperCollins.

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

Old Man's War by John Scalzi. 2005. 314 pages.
Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell. 2009. 329 pages. Bethany House.
Local News by Miriam Gershow. 2009. 360 pages.

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

Cashay by Margaret McMullan. 2009. 208 pages.

What I'm currently reading:

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

What I hope to start reading soon:

Nation by Terry Pratchett
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
God's Little Princess Devotional Bible by Sheila Walsh
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What I've abandoned:

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Vast Fields of Ordinary (YA)

Burd, Nick. 2009. The Vast Fields of Ordinary. Penguin. (Dial). 309 pages.

I spent a good part of my senior prom drawing DH +PS in a giant heart in the last stall of the Cedarville High boys' bathroom. It covered the entire wall and took two red markers and almost an hour to complete.

Dade Hamilton's prom isn't going all that well. You see, his boyfriend, Pablo Soto, is there with his girlfriend. Yes, Pablo, Dade's lover, has a serious girlfriend. A bit ironic, in a way, that Pablo the one who's so firmly in the closet, was the aggressor in the relationship, the initiator of the affair. What is clear to the reader--though not necessarily to Dade--is that this "relationship" is only about the sex (and power), and it's more than a little unhealthy. Pablo is seriously bad news. Fortunately, a better guy is just around the corner for Dade. The summer after graduation he meets Alex Kincaid. And in this first 'real' relationship, Dade begins to better understand what love is all about. But his past--Dade's past--keeps intruding into the present. Pablo is a bitter ex. A serious manipulator. And Dade isn't finding him so easy to ignore. Even if he can avoid falling back into Pablo's bed, he can't so easily stop thinking about him.

What did I like about this one? I liked the healthier choice, Alex.

What didn't I like about this one? Pablo. There's something dark and twisted about Pablo and his relationship with Dade. And Dade has problems recognizing this clearly. And I'm not sure how I feel about it that it takes Dade meeting Alex and realizing that there are other guys out there to love that makes him realize that he's worth more than that. That it takes an Alex for Dade to realize that Pablo is wrong for him. If he'd never met Alex, would he have stuck with Pablo? If Alex had been straight, if he'd not been interested in Dade, would Dade still be taking abuse from Pablo?

I think Dade has other issues as well. He's not a particularly nice guy. He's a bit selfish and short-sighted. A bit me-me-me. He's not so considerate of others. He doesn't like being picked on, but he likes to pick on others. He wants people to treat him with respect and dignity, but he's not above using and abusing others. I didn't like the way Dade treated others. There were places he was meaner that I wanted him to be. Is this authentic? Yes and no. Dade's being selfish and inconsiderate doesn't make him unique, it just makes him human. Okay, it makes him a bit immature, and you keep hoping he'll grow out of it and realize it. But no one's perfect.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Banned Books Challenge Completed

The Pelham Library is once again hosting its annual Banned Books Challenge for 2009. February 22, 2009 THROUGH June 30, 2009

My goal is to read two books. Fortunately, Don Quixote is on the list. So I just need to choose one more...and Of Mice and Men is on list. As is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
2. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, June 26, 2009

The City in the Lake (MG, YA)

Neumeier, Rachel. 2008. The City in the Lake. Random House. 294 pages.

The City is beautiful at sunset, almost as beautiful as the Lake itself.

I had a tough time with this fantasy novel. I'll be honest, I didn't really like this one. I will say this. I am not sure--even now--who is to blame for this. Part of me feels that I was just too dumb for this one. I just didn't get it. There were many elements that were just miles over my head. I was left confused and frustrated. I expect graphs, maps, and math to leave me perplexed like this. But not really fantasy novels. So it was surprising that there were things that I couldn't grasp. I kept reading because I hoped that I would reach a point where everything would click and fall into place. I think Rachel Neumeier was just too imaginative. So is it the way the book is written? I'm not sure. I'd be curious to hear from other readers.

When a prince goes missing, the kingdom begins to unravel. You see, the prince is the heart of the kingdom, and without the heart how can a kingdom survive? Then the king goes missing--he's off to search for the prince. The kingdom gets even worse--more desperate, the older brother (Neill)--half-brother--of the prince begins his rule of the kingdom. It's not that he's power-hungry. But someone has to take charge. A kingdom without any rule or authority? That couldn't be a good thing. And the queen is a bit too heartbroken, upset, and illogical to get the job done.

Timou is the daughter of a magician. When her father goes missing, she leaves home and heads towards the City. It will be a dangerous journey. And she doesn't know what she'll find when she arrives. Is her father dead or alive? How will the king receive her? (She doesn't know that the king has gone missing too.) Jonas, the young man in love with Timou, doesn't want her to go. At least not go alone. But Timou is sneaky like that. And she doesn't want company on her quest. But Jonas can't make peace with her decision. So a few days later--after her journey has begun--he goes on a journey of his own. Again it will be dangerous and risky.

So other than being about a LOT of missing people what is this one about? It's about the heart and soul of a kingdom. It's about magic and fantasy and worlds within worlds within worlds within worlds. It's about the fluidity of reality perhaps. I'm not sure. As I said, this one kept me lost a bit of the time.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Pretty Monsters (YA)

Link, Kelly. 2008. Pretty Monsters. Penguin (Viking) 389 pages.

Pretty Monsters is a short story collection by Kelly Link. The stories are speculative fiction, or to be more precise, fantasy. There are nine short stories in this collection--eight of these have been published previously. The only new story is "Pretty Monsters." (It's entirely possible that you might have read a few of these stories before.) The stories featured in this collection are:

  • The Wrong Grave: "Anyone might accidentally dig up the wrong grave."
  • The Wizards of Perfil: "Wizards are always hungry"
  • Magic for Beginners: "It's night in the Free People's World-Tree Library. All the librarians are asleep, tucked into their coffins, their scabbards, priest-holes, button holes, pockets, hidden cupboards, between the pages of their enchanted novels."
  • The Faery Handbag: "Faeries live inside it. I know what that sounds like, but it's true."
  • The Specialist's Hat: "First they played Go Fish, and then they played Crazy Eights, and then they made the babysitter into a mummy by putting shaving cream on her arms and legs, and wrapping her in toilet paper."
  • Monster: "After a while, everyone had become a zombie. So they went for a swim."
  • The Surfer: "Everybody knew what the aliens looked like."
  • The Constable of Abal: "The devils were full of little spiky bones. Zilla ate two."
  • Pretty Monsters: "'Not just the ocean!' Clementine said. 'The things in it. There might be, you know, sharks. Or mermaids. The world is full of things and nobody ever sees them! Nobody except for you and me.'"

The quotes are the caption-teasers which accompany Shaun Tan's drawings for the stories.

I'll start with the 'bad news' of the review. I really, really disliked the last story "Pretty Monsters". It's sad that the only original (new) story of the collection is one that I disliked. Sad but very true. Maybe other readers will enjoy this one. Maybe they can begin to comprehend it. But for me, not only did I not understand it the first time round, I didn't think it worth trying to make sense of. It seems the intention was to confuse and scramble readers. Maybe Link was hoping that this confusion would lead readers to the conclusion that she was a genius storyteller. Or maybe she was just trying to challenge her readers to really think and question everything. I think perhaps if this one had been shuffled into the middle of the collection, with better stories coming before and after, it would have worked better...for me. With the last story leaving such an impression on me, it didn't speak so well for the whole.

Now to the good news. The other eight stories. I found myself really liking "The Faery Handbag", "The Wizards of Perfil," and "The Constable of Abal." And I liked "The Wrong Grave" and "Magic for Beginners." Those five stories were enjoyable ones. I had positive reactions to them all. I really enjoyed the quality of the stories. The plot. The characters. The storytelling. I liked Link's narrative style in these stories. I thought they were really strong, well-done pieces. I think quite a handful of these could be expanded into a full-length novel. I think it would be a good thing to spend more time with these characters and explore these new worlds further.

"The Specialist's Hat," "Monster," and "The Surfer" were stories that I was more indifferent too. I think "The Specialist's Hat" will appeal more to other readers. (Readers participating in Carl's R.I.P challenge this fall perhaps. And it would make for one spooky and atmospheric novel if it was expanded.) "Monster" was an okay story. It just didn't capture my interest as much as some of the others. "The Surfer" was the one story I was already familiar with going into the collection. I liked elements of it--no doubt--the part that included a suitcase or two full of paperback science fiction. But I didn't enjoy it as much as the others in the collection--with the exception of Pretty Monsters that is.

Short story collections are hard to describe, in a way. All reading is subjective. But short story collections are even more subjective. There are nine stories for readers to judge: to love or hate or be indifferent too. Nine chances to engage the reader. Each story can be hit or miss with the reader. And each reader is different. There's no predicting how you will like a story.

I found much to enjoy in this one. Yes, I felt really strongly about the story "Pretty Monsters." But I don't want to negate the positive reactions I had to earlier stories in the collection. I really enjoyed some of the stories. And some of these stories are ones I'd happily recommend to readers.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Second Canadian Book Challenge Completed

The challenge was to read 13 books by or about Canadians. I chose to focus on L.M. Montgomery. It was hosted by John of The Book Mine Set.

1) Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
2) Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
3) Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
4) Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
5) Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
6) Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery
7) Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
8) Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
9) Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery
10) Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery
11) A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery
12) Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
13) The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Nerds Heart YA: Updates

Curious about how the first round of voting has gone?

  1. My Most Excellent Year v. The Last Exit to Normal – to be judged by Heather
  2. Feathered v. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before – to be judged by Amy
  3. Cracked Up to Be v. The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second – to be judged by Laza
  4. The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine v. The City of the Lake – to be judged by Stephanie

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Blue Castle

Montgomery, L.M. 1926. The Blue Castle. 218 pages.

If it had not rained on a certain May morning Valancy Stirling's whole life would have been entirely different. She would have gone, with the rest of her clan, to Aunt Wellington's engagement picnic and Dr. Trent would have gone to Montreal. But it did rain and you shall hear what happened because of it.

With The Blue Castle I had one of those wonderful this-book-was-written-just-for-me moments. Have you had one of those? Have you had one lately? It is the story of Valancy Stirling and what happens when she receives some surprising news...

Who is Valancy? She's an old maid, an unhappy woman afraid of living.
Deerwood and the Stirlings had long since relegated Valancy to hopeless old maidenhood. But Valancy herself had never quite relinquished a certain pitiful, shamed, little hope that Romance would come her way yet--never, until this wet, horrible morning, when she wakened to the fact that she was twenty-nine and unsought by any man. Ay, there lay the sting. Valancy did not mind so much being an old maid. After all, she thought, being an old maid couldn't possibly be as dreadful as being married to an Uncle Wellington or an Uncle Benjamin, or even an Uncle Herbert. What hurt her was that she had never had a chance to be anything but an old maid. No man had ever desired her. (1)
When Valancy decides to secretly go to the doctor regarding her chest pains and heart palpitations, she receives--by letter--the news that she is dying. Instead of this news crippling her, she almost sighs a breath of relief.

Valancy did not sleep that night. She lay awake all through the long dark hours--thinking--thinking. She made a discovery that surprised her; she, who had been afraid of almost everything in life, was not afraid of death. It did not seem in the least terrible to her. And she need not now be afraid of anything else. Why had she been afraid of things? Because of life. Afraid of Uncle Benjamin because of the menace of poverty in old age. But now she would never be old--neglected--tolerated. Afraid of being an old maid all her life. But now she would not be an old maid very long. Afraid of offending her mother and her clan because she had to live with and among them and couldn't leave peaceably if she didn't give in to them. But now she hadn't. Valancy felt a curious freedom. But she was still horribly afraid of one thing--the whole jamfry of them would make when she told them. (37-38)
So she decides not to tell them. And she decides to change the way she's living. Decides that the last months of her life should--for once--be lived according to what she wants. She wants her chance to be happy.

"I've never had one wholly happy hour in my life--not one," she thought. "I've just been a colourless nonentity. I remember reading somewhere once that there is an hour in which a woman might be happy all her life if she could but find it. I've never found my hour--never, never. And I never will now. If I could only have had that hour I'd be willing to die." (39)
One of the first things she does--besides beginning to live for herself--is to get out from under her family. She becomes housekeeper/nurse for "Roaring" Abel and Cissy, a 'disgraced' and now dying woman. While there she meets a strange man, Barney Snaith, whom her family does not approve of. But he is charming--to her--and she loves him. When Cissy dies, and Valancy finds herself out of a job and a place to live, she does the unthinkable: she proposes marriage to Barney.

"I thought I'd run down and ask if there was anything I could do for you," said Barney.
Valancy took it with a canter.
"Yes, there is something you can do for me," she said, evenly and distinctly. "Will you marry me?"
For a moment Barney was silent. There was no particular expression on his face. Then he gave an odd laugh.
"Come, now! I knew luck was just waiting around the corner for me. All the signs have been pointing that way today."
"Wait." Valancy lifted her hand. "I'm in earnest--but I want to get my breath after that question. Of course, with my bringing up, I realize perfectly well that this is one of the things 'a lady should not do.'"
"But why--why?"
"For two reasons." Valancy was still a little breathless, but she looked Barney straight in the eyes while all the dead Stirlings revolved rapidly in their graves and the living ones did nothing because they did not know that Valancy was at that moment proposing lawful marriage to the notorious Barney Snaith. "The first reason is, I--I"--Valancy tried to say "I love you" but could not. She had to take refuge in a pretended flippancy. "I'm crazy about you. the second is--this."
She handed him Dr. Trent's letter.
Barney opened it with the air of a man thankful to find some safe, sane thing to do. As he read it his face changed. He understood--perhaps more than Valancy wanted him to.
"Are you sure nothing can be done for you?"
Valancy did not misunderstand the question.
"Yes. You know Dr. Trent's reputation in regard to heart disease. I haven't long to live--perhaps only a few months--a few weeks. I want to live them. I can't go back to Deerwood--you know what my life was like there. And"--she managed it this time--"I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That's all." (127, 128)

Will he say yes? Will she finally get her one happy hour? Will her last months be happy ones? What does life have in store for Valancy? Read and see for yourself in The Blue Castle.

The Blue Castle is all about wish-fulfillment. It's a romantic story full of heart. Highly recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Darkwood (MG, YA)

Breen, M.E. 2009. Darkwood. Bloomsbury. 273 pages.

Annie Trewitt, our heroine, has much to learn in M.E. Breen's Darkwood. For one, she'll learn just how strong and brave she really is. An orphan, quite naturally, she is being raised by her "Aunt Prim" and "Uncle Jock." Her sister, Page, went missing several years earlier. Thought to have been eaten by the kinderstalk, the savages that roam round at night. These kinderstalk are the stuff of legends, warnings given to children young and old. But when her uncle threatens to sell her, Annie flees. At night. Heads towards the forest. Is she crazy for thinking that she stands a better chance there than in her own home? With only a pet cat (or two) for company, Annie's adventure is only beginning.

The book is quite atmospheric, especially in the beginning. Breen has created a fantasy world and gone to the trouble of presenting her readers with a five-senses-tour of it. Something I appreciate as a reader. I think it makes for a quick read, a fun read. I'm curious to see how quick readers are at predicting the twists in this one. Curious to see if it is something that only adults (and avid readers) pick up on, or if this one isn't as suspenseful as it should be. Overall, I liked it.

Other stops on the tour:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Should I Read Next?

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
"The question of how long someone believed in Santa Claus is a worthless topic that would never come up in idle conversation. Having said that, if you're going to ask me how much of my childhood I spent believing in an old man in a red suit, I can confidently say that I never believed in him to begin with."

Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari
"Just 'cause I was a girl in 1941, don't think I was some sissy. Shoot, I saw stuff that would've made that bully Farley Peck pee right through his pants."

Tales of The Madman Underground by John Barnes
"I had developed this theory all summer: if I could be perfectly, ideally, totally normal for the first day of my senior year, which was today, then I could do it for the first week, which was only Wednesday through Friday. And if I could be normal for that first short week, I could do it for the next long week. After that I'd just have to repeat the have-a-normal-week process seven more times. I'd worked that out on a calendar."

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
"If I hear one more syllable about spindles, I shall surely die!"

Which of these four books should I read next?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

What's On Your Nightstand? June Edition

What's On Your Nightstand?

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.

(I'm about halfway through Barchester Towers. And I'm about a third through with Gone With The Wind.) Grapes of Wrath is a classic I have checked out of the library that I *should* be reading soon. But I haven't gotten past the second or third chapter.

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran is one I'm excited to get back to. I'm five chapters into it.

Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell. I've read ten chapters of this one. The blog tour for this one is coming up soon. (June 29th)

The Local News by Miriam Gershow. The blog tour for this one is creeping up on me. July 8th.

These two books are ones that I need to get to in July. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer and The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer.

I'm in between YA books at the moment. But that will be remedied very soon. I tend to finish one of those every other day or so. I'm thinking I might type up a what-should-I-read-next post and let you help me decide. And then there are my latest finds at the library.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Interview with M.E. Breen

Today I'm hosting M.E. Breen on her blog tour for Darkwood, a fantasy novel for tweens and teens. You can visit her on the web at her official site.

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

I was in a PhD program in English Lit and failing miserably at it. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Everyone in my family has a PhD in English Lit. I started writing Darkwood and it felt like stepping on a train headed in a direction I wanted to go. I’m still not sure where that is, exactly. But – bear with me, I’m from California: I trust the process. I’m not on the train alone. My agent, my editor, my family and my friends are all fellow passengers. Maybe my agent is the station agent and my editor is the conductor? I guess this analogy makes me the engineer.

What inspired you to write Darkwood?

A Rorschach blot that I thought looked like a wolf. I saw wolves all over those inkblots and it got me thinking about the forms that imagination gives to the things we fear, and also to the things we want. Sometimes, of course, those things are the same.

What came first, the premise or the characters? How important was it for you to have resonating characters that readers care about?

The premise, since I had this idea about a world of sudden and terrifying darkness populated by wolfish creatures. But right away I needed someone to navigate that world, to discover it as I did. So Annie and Howland developed together, an internal landscape and an external one, I guess you could say. This is my first novel, and, as many first books are, it’s sort of autobiographical, though obviously more in emotional content than action. I have never met a kinderstalk, but there is a guy I run into walking my plump yellow mutt who has a dog he swears is three quarters wolf. It looks it. But to answer your question: it’s incredibly important to me to create characters readers care about. Sympathy has always been the main joy of reading for me. I don’t know if I always manage it. If a genie gave me three wishes, that would be one of them.

Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite quote from the novel? What is your favorite bit that you're extra-proud to have written?

Devour the witch!

What was your first impression of the cover art for Darkwood?

Heart attack. My experience writing Annie was essentially the experience of dreaming, where you are always the main character, though sometimes in a body other than your own. Sometimes you see yourself from the outside, but not in a physically detailed way. The parts of Annie I could really picture were things she would see about herself without a mirror: the end of her braid, scratches on the backs of her hands. So seeing the cover art was sort of like looking in the mirror for the first time. I was surprised by how beautiful she is. I love the woods. I really love the cats. Alexander Jansson, the cover artist, is a very talented guy.

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

Writing is the only thing I do alone that makes me unself-conscious. I value that more than I can say. The easiest part, what I would call the most natural part, is thinking up weird plants and creatures. I love doing that. I’ve had to work on dialogue. My first draft had almost no dialogue because I didn’t know how to write it. I’m a better inventor than I am a listener.

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

Almost every night I read a comic book or a fairy tale or a few picture books. Hooray for Pig! and Pudding is Nice are both on my bedside table now. I just finished the second issue of the book The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. It’s about a grown-up, Harry Potter-esque character in the real world – sort of. It’s scary and great. I’m perpetually reading Moby Dick. I’ll get to a part with too much man-on-whale violence and have to put it down for six weeks. I just started Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. I open Ovid’s Metamorphoses at random pretty often. It’s nutty, over the top, beautiful. As a rule of thumb, if something has monsters in it, I like it.

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

The Ray Bradbury story “A Sound of Thunder” scared the pants off me in seventh grade and the idea of time travel still makes me nervous. So here’s what I’d do: I’d jerry-rig the time machine to take me into Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. I love 18th century England. The empire waist is my friend, for one thing, but I also think that was a bizarre, unsettled, fascinating time for literature, with the novel just being born and not knowing what to do with itself. Crusoe would let me be in England and also on a sunny island with cats and goats. I’d probably live across the way from Robinson – he’s not my favorite guy. I’d keep a diary and find out what kind of a survivor I really am.

Other stops on the tour:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top Ten(nish) Reasons Why Your Uncle Might Be Evil

Darkwood by M.E. Breen gets off to an atmospheric start.

The sun sets so quickly in Howland that the people who live there have no word for evening. One minute the sky is blue or cloud gray, the next minute it is black, as though someone has thrown a heavy blanket over the earth. Nowhere is the sky darker or the night longer than Dour County, a hatchet-shaped region on Howland's western border. A swift river runs through Dour County. Slippery cliffs overhang the river. An icy sea roils off the coast. But worse than these is the forest that grows to the north. No roads mark the forest and no human footprints. Like the dark, it has lives of its own.
M.E. Breen is big on description. That's obvious. And this is especially apparent in the first chapter when it comes to creating the atmosphere for her dark-and-scary fantasy world.

Our heroine is Annie Trewitt. And though she may not know it quite yet, her uncle is evil. She's not as fast as readers in catching all the clues, but right from the start, we know something is up.

Signs that you may have an evil uncle yourself...
  • he takes three naps a day
  • he drools
  • he wears "a battered tin cup like a ring" with the "residue of whisky at the bottom"
  • he gets all the cream from the milk, while the others get none
  • your aunt warns you to be on your best behavior--and makes you swear you heard her warning
  • his bowl is twice the size of anyone else's
  • he grunts
  • he digs in his ear with his pinkie finger
  • he has long dirty fingernails
  • he bangs the table with his fist
  • he plots to sell you
  • he welcomes strange men into his home after you're supposed to be asleep in bed
For other stops on the blog tour, visit:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading, Read, To Read #25

Happy Sunday everyone! I am so happy that Chris is back online. As is Debi! I've missed both of them terribly. Now that that is out of the way, let's see if there is anything I need to catch you up on...

I discovered the glory of It Happened One Night. This little gem from 1934 starring Clark Gable is just delightful. I highly recommend it. I'm having such a great time "finding" old black and white movies. I'm a total newbie, so feel free to recommend some of your favorite classic movies. And if my library has them, I'll make time to watch them!

Second Canadian Reading Challenge. For this challenge I chose to read L.M. Montgomery exclusively. A fun little treat for me! Most of these I hadn't read since I was a teen. This weekend, I finished up my last book, my thirteenth book, for the challenge. A review of The Blue Castle will be coming in the next day or so.

The Banned Books Challenge will be ending soon as well. There's a good post over at Stephanie's about a recent book challenge that you might be interested in. It's never hard for me to have an opinion--especially when it comes to intellectual freedom. There are so many different takes on this. But simply put, every reader (no matter what) deserves the chance to be able to find themselves in books, see themselves in books. To be able to recognize characters that are "like them." Libraries serve diverse populations, and their collections should reflect that. Does that mean every book belongs in every library? No, not necessarily. (That is where community and age-appropriateness comes in. There are books that are appropriate for teens and adults that are not appropriate for children. Does Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist belong in an elementary school library? Never. That's not censorship, that's common sense.) And just because a book belongs in a public library or a school library doesn't mean it's the best choice for required reading in a curriculum. Believing in intellectual freedom means trusting that readers are smart enough and responsible enough to decide for themselves what they want to read and if they so choose what they want their own children to be able to read. The problem always comes up that people want to expand their authority, they want to be able to say who should have access to what. And that's not right.

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

A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist. 2009. Bethany House. 365 pages.Ghost Town by Richard W. Jennings. 2009. Houghton Mifflin. 165 pages.

What I read this past week and reviewed:

My Father The Dog by Elizabeth Bluemle. 2006. Candlewick Press.
A Day With Dad by Bo R. Holmberg. 2008. Candlewick Press.
Hook. Ed Young. 2009. Roaring Brook Press.
Egg Drop by Mini Grey. 2009. Random House.
Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa. Illustrated by Ed Young. Penguin. 2009.
Eyes Wide Open by Jud Wilhite. 2009.
A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery. 1931. 257 pages.
Middlemarch by George Eliot. 1871/1872. 795 pages.
The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for The Truth. Susan Goldman Rubin. Holiday House. 40 pages.
Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With The Wind by Marianne Walker. 1993. 554 pages.
Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery. 1912.

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

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd. Dial (Penguin) 309 pages.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Bantam. 218 pages.

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

Darkwood by M.E. Breen. 2009. Bloomsbury. 273 pages.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. 2008. (Do I need a more in-depth review?)
The City In the Lake. Rachel Neumeier. 2008. Knopf (Random House) 294 pages. (Again, do I need a more in-depth review?)

What I'm currently reading:

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Cashay by Margaret McMullan. Houghton Mifflin. 208 pages.
The Local News by Miriam Gershow. Spiegel & Grau. 360 pages.

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

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran (I'm very interested in this one. It just got books stacked up on top of it and I couldn't find it for a few days.)
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (Again, the interest is there, but the time is not.)

What I need to start reading this week:

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell
God's Little Princess Devotional Bible by Sheila Walsh

What I hope to start reading soon:

Nation by Terry Pratchett
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

What I've abandoned: none this week

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Concluding the Bloggiesta

What was I able to accomplish this weekend of the Bloggiesta.
I probably spent about six hours this weekend.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Montgomery Mini-Challenge Completed

This mini-challenge is hosted by Maria. The challenge is to read FOUR books by L.M. Montgomery. The challenge is January 1, 2009 through November 30, 2009.

1. Emily Climbs
4. Chronicles of Avonlea

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Weekly Geeks 2009-23: Reading Challenges

This week's Weekly Geeks topic was suggested by Sheri of A Novel Menagerie. She writes:

"Reading Challenges: a help or a hurt? Do you find that the reading challenges keep you organized and goal-oriented? Or, do you find that as you near the end of a challenge that you've failed because you fell short of your original goals? As a result of some reading challenges, I've picked up books that I would have otherwise never heard of or picked up; that, frankly, I have loved. Have you experienced the same with challenges? If so, which ones? Do you have favorite reading challenges?"
As we pass the halfway point of 2009, how are you doing with your reading challenges? Did you participate in any challenges this year?

My answers

Do you find that the reading challenges keep you organized and goal-oriented?

Organized? Not so much. Oh, I can try. I always have good intentions for staying on top of reading challenges and lists. But end dates always tend to sneak up on me.

Goal-oriented? I'm not so sure I'm a goal-keeper. I have general goals for my reading: more, more, more. And I can do the occasional specific goal: read this book by Monday. But I'm not a good juggler. I can't have twenty goals at a time.

Or, do you find that as you near the end of a challenge that you've failed because you fell short of your original goals?

I fail at challenges all the time. The audio book challenge? The one where you're supposed to listen to twelve audio books in 2009? How many have I read? 0. The Unshelved Reading Challenge. The one I was hosting. How many books did I read? 0. Sometimes I sign up for a challenge and forget about it. But I never sit and wallow in the failure of it. Life's too short for that.

As a result of some reading challenges, I've picked up books that I would have otherwise never heard of or picked up; that, frankly, I have loved. Have you experienced the same with challenges? If so, which ones?

Yes and no. Yes in that it follows the blogging trend. I see reviews of books on blogs and when I see the book at the library, then I want to pick it up and give it a try. I don't know that it is just reading-challenge books. It's just books in general. Sometimes reading challenges have expanded my reading, increased my comfort zones. I might enter a challenge thinking that 'those kinds of books' aren't my thing. But I'll find out that 'those kinds of books' are my kind of books. So reading challenges motivate and encourage me to try new things.

Examples of this would be the Once Upon A Time challenge and the R.I.P challenge.

Do you have any favorite reading challenges?

Yes. I like many reading challenges. Love them. I don't know that I can name names.

How am I doing with my reading challenges?

Some I'm doing well in. Others not so much. I am NOT trying to compete with anyone when it comes to reading challenges. I'm not trying to match what I did in previous years. I've finished twenty-one so far this year. And two or three more will be ending in the next week or so. The Banned Books Reading Challenge. The Victorian Reading Challenge. The Second Canadian Reading Challenge.

I am keeping up with most of my challenges on my blog Behind The Scenes With Becky.

I am definitely signed up for a lot of challenges in 2009.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Chronicles of Avonlea

Montgomery, L.M. 1912. Chronicles of Avonlea. Bantam Classics. 183 pages.

Chronicles of Avonlea is a short story collection by L.M. Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables. These stories are all set on Prince Edward Island. Several of them are set in Avonlea and feature references to the unforgettable red-headed orphan, Anne Shirley. At the time this book was originally published, the Anne series consisted of two books: Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Anne of Avonlea (1909).

There are twelve stories included in this collection:
The Hurrying of Ludovic
Old Lady Lloyd
Each In His Own Tongue
Little Joscelyn
The Winning of Lucinda
Old Man Shaw's Girl
Aunt Olivia's Beau
The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham's
Pa Sloane's Purchase
The Courting of Prissy Strong
The Miracle at Carmody
The End of a Quarrel

Several of these stories are quite memorable. Especially "The Hurrying of Ludovic," "Old Lady Lloyd," "The Winning of Lucinda," and "The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham's."

What makes these stories memorable? Well, it could be that they're full of eccentric characters. Montgomery had a way of writing eccentric that made eccentric a good thing.

The Hurrying of Ludovic, for example, is about the slow courtship of Theodora Dix. Ludovic Speed has been courting Theodora for fifteen years. An indecisive man to say the least, he needs to be "speeded" up according to Anne. And that is just what Anne sets out to accomplish. Will she do it? Can Theodora get her happily ever after with a little help from Anne?

Old Lady Lloyd is a more sentimental short story. Perhaps it's the most melodramatic of the bunch. It features an old woman, "Old Lady Lloyd" who is quite poor but proud. Her neighbors think she is rich but stingy. But her pride is about to be tested when she learns that the daughter of an old beau of hers, Sylvia Gray, is in town. She's the new music teacher. She loves her. She represents the daughter she could have had--would have had--if not for her foolish pride. So she becomes a "fairy" god-mother of sorts to the girl. She gives her presents--anonymously--and watches her from afar. As the summer progresses, Old Lady Lloyd's heart begins to thaw and she becomes more and more in touch with her humanity, with her feelings. (I warned you it was sentimental.)

"The Winning of Lucinda" is a great story because it is funny. It's about two very stubborn people: Lucinda and Romney. These two cousins courted and quarreled. In fact, they were engaged--still are engaged. It's been years--fifteen years to be exact. But Lucinda said she would never say another word to Romney, and Romney said he wouldn't speak to her until she spoke to him first. Is there hope for this couple yet?

"The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham's" is about two very cranky people finding love. One is a man-hater, cat lover, Angelina Peter MacPherson. And the other is a woman-hater, dog-lover named Alexander Abraham Bennett. Through chance, these two along with William Adolphus (cat) and Mr. Riley (dog) get quarantined together when there is an outbreak of small pox. It's a great story--a fun story.

I enjoy L.M. Montgomery. Whether she is writing novels or short stories, her work is always amazing. Even if you're not a short story lover, even if you think you hate short stories, I would suggest giving L.M. Montgomery a try.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews