Monday, April 30, 2012

April Reflections

In April, I read 34 books. Looking at January, February, and March, it is easy to see this is my slowest month yet. But. I'm not discouraged. I read some great books this month. Also some almost-but-not-quite books. But still. Every month can't be super-amazing.

Favorite Classic: North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell.
Favorite Diary Adaptation:  Henry Tilney's Diary. Amanda Grange.
Favorite Verse NovelThe Wild Book. Margarita Engle.
Favorite Poem: "Thanksgiving Math" by Jack Prelutsky
Favorite Picture Book:  Zoe Gets Ready. Bethanie Murguia.
Favorite Board Book:  I Love To Sleep (J'aime dormir; Me encanta dormir) Amelie Graux
Favorite MG Historical:  The Wide Horizon. Loula Grace Erdman.
Favorite YA novel: Out of Sight, Out of Time. Ally Carter.
Favorite nonfiction: The Great Influenza. The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. John M. Barry.
Favorite Christian Nonfiction: The Root of the Righteous: Tapping The Bedrock of True Spirituality. A.W. Tozer.
Favorite essay: "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged" by Dorothy Sayers
Favorite Bible: A.W. Tozer Bible, KJV, (my favorite quotes)

Board books, Picture Books, and Early Readers:
  1. The Duckling Gets a Cookie. Mo Willems. 2012. Hyperion. 40 pages.
  2. Zoe Gets Ready. Bethanie Murguia. 2012. Scholastic. 40 pages.
  3. Dinosaur Thunder. Marion Dane Bauer. Illustrated by Margaret Chocos-Irvine. 2012. Scholastic. 32 pages.
  4. Jungle Run. Tony Mitton. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. 2012. Scholastic. 32 pages. 
  5. Pluto Visits Earth! Steve Metzger. Illustrated by Jared D. Lee. 2012. Scholastic.   
  6. I Love To Eat (J'aime manger; Me encanta comer) Amelie Graux. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 pages.
  7. I Love To Sleep (J'aime dormir; Me encanta dormir) Amelie Graux. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 pages.
Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels:
  1. Out of Sight, Out of Time. Ally Carter. 2012. Hyperion. 304 pages.
  2. Article 5. Kristen Simmons. 2012 Tor. 368 pages.
  3. Partials. Dan Wells. 2012. HarperCollins. 480 pages.
  4. Pandemonium. Lauren Oliver. 2012. HarperCollins. 384 pages.
  5. The Wild Book. Margarita Engle. 2012. Harcourt. 144 pages.
  6. The Wind Blows Free. Loula Grace Erdman. 1952/2006. Bethlehem Books. 271 pages.
  7. The Wide Horizon. Loula Grace Erdman. 1956/2007. Bethlehem Books. 279 pages.
    The Good Land. Loula Grace Erdman. 1959/2007. Bethlehem Books. 185 pages.  
  8. The List. Siobhan Vivian. 2012. Scholastic. 336 pages.
  9. Radiate. Marley Gibson. 2012.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 416 pages.
  10. Parallelogram: Book 2: Caught in the Parallel. Robin Brande. 2011. (Dec. 2011). Ryer Publishing. 334 pages.
  11. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again. Frank Cottrell Boyce. 2012. Candlewick Press. 192 pages. 
Adult Books:
  1. Strangers on a Train. Patricia Highsmith. 1950. 281 pages.
  2. North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1855/1998. 454 pages. 
  3. Midnight in Austenland. Shannon Hale. 2012. Bloomsbury. 288 pages.
  4. Henry Tilney's Diary. Amanda Grange. 2011. [December 2011] Penguin. 288 pages.
  5. Dreamers of the Day. Mary Doria Russell. 2008. Random House. 254 pages. 

Nonfiction Books:
  1. The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir. Gaby Rodriguez and Genna Glatzer. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.
  2. The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction. Alan Jacobs. 2011. Oxford University Press. 176 pages.
  3. Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999.  Michael Korda. 2001. Barnes & Noble. 256 pages.
  4. The Great Influenza. The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. John M. Barry. 2004. Penguin. 546 pages. 
Poetry Books:
  1. I've Lost My Hippopotamus. Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. 2012. HarperCollins. 144 pages.
Christian Fiction and Nonfiction:
  1. The Root of the Righteous: Tapping The Bedrock of True Spirituality. A.W. Tozer. 1955/2006. WingSpread Publishers. 186 pages.
  2. The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine. A.W. Tozer 1948/2006. WingSpread Publishers. 70 pages
  3. Nature of God (Formerly published as Gleanings in the Godhead). Arthur W. Pink. 1975/1999. Moody Publishers. 347 pages.
  4. Letters To A Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. Dorothy Sayers. 2004. Thomas Nelson. 280 pages.
  5. It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement. Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence. 2010. Crossway. 224 pages.
  6. Precious Blood: The Atoning Work of Christ. Edited by Richard D. Phillips. 2009. Crossway Books. 240 pages

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching The Valley of Decision (1945)

I recently watched The Valley of Decision starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck. It was definitely a treat, for the most part. Greer Garson, of course, I knew from Pride and Prejudice. And then there's Gregory Peck. Need I really say more?! The movie, as I've come to learn, was based on a novel by Marcia Davenport. Though I believe the movie only covers the first section or the first generation of the Scott family saga. (I think I'd remember if there was mention of World War I.) I'm basing this not on my own familiarity with the novel--though I'd love to read it if I can find it--but on the summary on Amazon and Wikipedia.

Like North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, it is a blend of workers' rights, strikes and unions, and romance. There are a few similarities between The Valley of Decision and North and South, but in many, many, many ways the two are completely different from one another. Both are set in the 19th century. Both are about mills--though one is a cotton mill, one is a steel mill. Both have good masters: Mr. Thornton in North and South and Mr. Paul Scott in The Valley of Decision. Both masters face rejection of marriage proposals--at various points. Both feature a strike and angry mob scenes. But it is how they are different from one another that matters. Of course, I could tell all. I'm tempted to list their differences, but I don't want to spoil the movie.

The Valley of Decision also reminded me of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. (With ONE very big difference.) The heroine is Mary Rafferty (Greer Garson) a young Irish woman who has just been hired as a maid for the Scott family. Her father, Pat Rafferty (Lionel Barrymore) is very, very, very angry and bitter. There is no one in the world he hates more than the William Scott (Paul's father). Her father, at one time, worked in Scott's mill, but he was injured on the job. The Scott family did do the right thing, they are providing for him and his family now that he can't work. But hate has poisoned him body and soul. So he's less than pleased that his daughter will be a maid in their household. But Mary has soon charmed herself right into the family. Especially with the son, Paul Scott. But also with the sister, who when we first meet her is a spoiled brat. Paul falls in love with Mary--as you might have guessed. And she falls in love with him. But she feels that they can never marry because of their different backgrounds. He's rich. She's poor. His family has social standing. Hers, well, her father is a mess to say the least. How can a maid really marry a master and be happy?

And that's just the beginning of this drama...

Watch The Valley Of Decision
  • If you love Gregory Peck, Greer Garson, Donald Crisp, or Lionel Barrymore. It also stars Jessica Tandy.
  • If you enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton or North and South
  • If you enjoy romances with a lot of DRAMA
  • If you enjoy historical films with costumes

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Two 2012 Board Books

I Love To Eat (J'aime manger; Me encanta comer) Amelie Graux. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 pages.

I Love To Eat is a simple board book, a touch-and-feel board book, that highlights familiar words. For example, I Love To Eat highlights familiar words like: high chair, bib, sippy cup, glass, fork, spoon, bowl, cereal, little jar, peas, bottle, and cookie. Each word, each item has a touch-and-feel aspect to it. (The peas are sticky, for example, the little jar is hard plastic, the bottle has a soft plastic feel, etc. But this board book goes above and beyond. It doesn't just give these words in English, each word is in English, French, and Spanish. The book is very simple. There is no story to it. But I can't help liking this one because it is so simple. I like learning how to say these words in French and Spanish. (Little peas is le petit pot in French.) 

Read I Love To Eat
  • If you are looking for simple board books to share with little ones
  • If you are looking for board books in French and/or Spanish
I Love To Sleep (J'aime dormir; Me encanta dormir) Amelie Graux. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 pages. 

I Love to Sleep is a simple board book. I am always looking for good touch-and-feel books to recommend to parents, and these two books definitely qualify. This board book highlights familiar words associated with the bedtime routine: bottle, pacifier, toy, diaper, music player, book, pajamas, blankie, mobile, crib, night light, and sleep sack. Each word is presented in English, French, and Spanish. Each word or item has a touch-and-feel aspect to it. And trust me, the touch-and-feel elements are WONDERFUL on this one. I just LOVED the oh-so-soft cover. The little boy's blue pajamas are so very, very soft. The pacifier also has a very pleasant feel to it! The diaper truly does make a scratchy noise when you rub it. While I Love To Sleep may not have enough story to be an official bedtime story book, I do like it and do recommend it.

Read I Love To Sleep
  • If you are looking for a simple board book to share with little ones
  • If you are looking for board books in French and/or Spanish

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Duckling Gets A Cookie

The Duckling Gets a Cookie. Mo Willems. 2012. Hyperion. 40 pages.

I really enjoyed this latest picture book starring Pigeon. As long as I remember that Pigeon is Pigeon and Piggie is Piggie, I really, really love it. The moment I start to compare my love for Pigeon with my LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, OBSESSIVE LOVE with Elephant and Piggie, I start to question how much I care for Mo Willems' other series. (For me, there's just no comparison.) I do think the Pigeon books have to grow on you. If this is your first and only introduction to Pigeon, well, you may not "get" it. And you may not understand why Pigeon is so Pigeon-y. He definitely has a quirky personality that just somehow fits him so well. So the books are best read in combination so that readers can get the full Pigeon experience. (This may not be the one to start with either.)

Anyway, in this adventure, Pigeon is OH-SO-JEALOUS that this cute little duckling (cute and little being my adjectives) has gotten a cookie--with NUTS--just by asking politely. Why doesn't Pigeon ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get what he asks for?! Why?! He is the "asking-est" pigeon around. So why does the Duckling get a cookie?!

Anyway, readers soon learn the truth--or is it the truth?--the Duckling wanted to give this cookie to Pigeon.

I definitely thought this one was fun and playful. I do think that this one is best appreciated by those who already know Pigeon. But this could always be a good opportunity to introduce little ones to the whole series.

Read The Duckling Gets A Cookie
  • If you're a fan of Pigeon
  • If you're a fan of cookies--with or without nuts
  • If you're a fan of Mo Willems
  • If you're looking for playful, quirky picture books

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Out of Sight, Out of Time (YA)

Out of Sight, Out of Time. Ally Carter. 2012. Hyperion. 304 pages.

"Where am I?" I heard the words, but I wasn't sure I'd said them. The voice was too rough, too coarse to be mine. It was as if there were a stranger in my skin, lying in the dark, saying, "Who's there?"

Out of Sight, Out of Time is the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls Series. Did it disappoint? No!!! It was just as fabulous as I expected, as I hoped. Am I growing tired of this series? No, not yet! I'm not sure I ever will. What do I like best about this series? Well, to be honest I love the balance. How it's plot-driven, premise-driven, to a certain extent, so much does depend on pacing, action, and mystery. But. The main character, the narrator, is such a GREAT character. I mean there's nothing flat about her at all. She's so fascinating. I feel about Cammie Morgan the same way I used to feel about Georgia Nicholson. (These two series are SO VERY DIFFERENT from one another, I don't want you to get the wrong idea about either one.) I suppose what I mean is that I enjoy her character so much that I'm just always glad to spend more time with her. There's also a good balance between action/adventure/mystery and humor/romance.

What can I tell you about this specific adventure? Well. Not much. Not much at all. Because it is the FIFTH book. And you need to read books one through four to meet the characters, to get to know the plot, to know what the big, big mystery is that we're trying to solve. I do think the books are getting even better. (And I loved the first ones!)

Read Out of Sight, Out of Time
  • If you're a fan of the Gallagher Girls series
  • If you're looking to find a boarding school full of girl spies
  • If you're looking for action/adventure with plenty of danger and plenty of fun
  • If you're a fan of Ally Carter

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Pregnancy Project (YA)

The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir. Gaby Rodriguez and Genna Glatzer. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.

I'm not really sure what to say about this one. It is a book based on a true story; there is also a movie about this 'project.'

Did it hold my attention/interest? Yes.
Was it a quick read? Yes.
Was the back story a little too long--in other words, does it take half the book to get to the project itself? Yes. Some of the back story was important. But was it half-the-book important? I'm not sure.
Did the writing get a little preachy? Yes. At times. The whole book was about how people shouldn't stereotype other people. And how if people make mistakes, you shouldn't keep banging them on the head with those mistakes and pounding in your judgments over and over and over again. You should be more supportive and encouraging. The other message, perhaps, is that you can overcome the negative messages that surround you. If your parents, siblings, family members, teachers, friends, enemies, whoever, are telling you that you're worthless and can't do something and that you'll never ever ever ever ever get anywhere in life, then you don't have to believe it and stay trapped in that. You can be better than what others say you can be.
Were the messages good ones? Yes, for the most part. Not truly new or original, but practical enough I suppose that you can always hear them one more time.
Could the author get a little annoying with her judgments? At times. I won't lie.
Is it the best-best-best book ever written? No. Of course not. It is what it is. It is straight-forward, nothing deep or literary. The prose won't amaze you. You probably won't be gushing about this one.
But did it overall interest me until the end? Yes. For the most part.

Generally speaking, this one had plenty of details, just not the exact details I was hoping for. I wanted more details on the project itself. How she really went about faking the pregnancy day by day, week by week, month by month. What effect this truly had on her relationships--not just the summing up at the very end. In the end, this one definitely was all about tell and not much showing.

So how do you rate a book that held your interest well enough but isn't that breath-taking in the end?

Read The Pregnancy Project
  • If you're looking for a YA memoir
  • If you're curious to learn more about Gaby Rodriguez; the story leading up to her fake-pregnancy-project 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I've Lost My Hippopotamus

I've Lost My Hippopotamus. Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. 2012. HarperCollins. 144 pages.

I was disappointed in some ways with Jack Prelutsky's I've Lost My Hippopotamus. While there were a handful of poems--and yes, I mean just a handful--that I really loved and enjoyed, most of the poems were of the not-for-me variety. The good news? Well, I think the audience for these poems are young kids--early elementary. The humor that makes adult readers groan might just make some kids giggle. Take for instance, the play on words for "centipede."

A centipede was thirsty,
But to satisfy its need,
It drank too much for it to hold--
And so the centipede.

Here are a few of the poems I definitely enjoyed:

  • "Thanksgiving Math" (112)
  • "I'm Knitting a Napkin of Noodles" (96)*
  • "The Scritchy Scratchy Scrootches" (9)**
  • "Let's Make as Much Noise As We Possibly Can" (92)***
  • "Mister Snoffle" (111)****

*Because I just love the first sentence, "I'm knitting a napkin of noodles, because I don't have any yarn." That is just too fun to say.
**Again, I love the sound of this one. It just feels right.
***Because I think parents AND teachers can relate
****Okay, this isn't the best-ever poem about waffles. It will never be able to top, "Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast" by John Ciardi. But at least this poem didn't make me groan. And it was one of the better ones in the collection.

Read I've Lost My Hippopotamus
  • If you're a fan of Jack Prelutsky
  • If you're a fan of juvenile poetry
  • If you're looking for a poetry collection to share with first and second graders; though maybe other elementary grades as well; I think the humor is best for this age group.  
  • If you are looking for very, very, very silly poems with an abundance of puns 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Handful of 2012 Picture Books

Dinosaur Thunder. Marion Dane Bauer. Illustrated by Margaret Chocos-Irvine. 2012. Scholastic. 32 pages.

When lightning flares in the faraway sky
and clouds growl like lions waking...
...big brother Chad dances a dance right in the middle of the room. 
"A storm is coming. A storm is coming!" Chad shouts.
Brannon looks for a place to hide.

Brannon is SCARED of storms. He is truly scared of the loud, loud thunder. And storms make him want to HIDE. Each family member tries to coax him out of hiding, tries to calm his fears and reassure him. But one person can succeed where others can't. His big brother, Chad, knows JUST what to say to get his brother excited about storms. Can you guess what Chad compares thunder to?!

Read Dinosaur Thunder
  • If you've got a little one of your own that LOVES dinosaurs and HATES thunder. If your little one is scared of thunder and scared of dinosaurs, well, this wouldn't be the one for you. 
  • If you've got a dinosaur-lover that is always looking for just one more book about dinosaurs. (Or maybe that is you who are looking for a new book)
  • If you like imaginative picture books
Zoe Gets Ready. Bethanie Murguia. 2012. Scholastic. 40 pages.

On school days, soccer days, and rainy days, someone else always chooses what Zoe will wear. But today is Saturday, and that means Zoe gets to decide. 

I absolutely LOVE AND ADORE Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Murguia. I do. I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Zoe!!! She's cute and adorable, and I can completely understand why this pig-tailed cutie is having such a tough time choosing just what to wear on this particular Saturday. (My personal favorite would probably be the purple dress. "I might have a twirling day, a dizzy, whirling day. I'll spin and spin till I'm as light as a feather.") Everything about this picture book is just right. It's just one of those oh-so-perfect, oh-so-true-to-life books that just gets it. 

Read Zoe Gets Ready
  • If you've got a child like Zoe who LOVES to pick out her own clothes, who LOVES to "organize" her own clothes, who makes a non-messy mess just like Zoe!
  • If you love fun, playful books that celebrate the simple joys of daily life
Jungle Run. Tony Mitton. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. 2012. Scholastic. 32 pages. 

Here come the animals, one by one, 
all getting ready for the Jungle Run. 
Cub turns up to take her place, 
but the others say, "You're too small to race." 

The smallest of them all, Cub, shows she's got what it takes to win it all in this new picture book by Tony Mitton. Not one of the jungle animals--at least the jungle animals in the race--take Cub seriously. She's too small to be competition. There is no way she could win, no way at all. Yet as the runners encounter one obstacle after another on their race course, Cub proves that she belongs.

There is something cutesy about The Jungle Run. Perhaps the cartoonsy art, perhaps the rhyming, for me it didn't quite work. Picture books are so subjective. There are picture books that you read once, and picture books that you read dozens and dozens of times. For me, this was a one-timer. It's okay. It's nice enough. But there's nothing oh-so-magical about it.

Read The Jungle Run
  • If your little one LOVES jungle animals; this one has hippos, zebras, elephants, rhinos, and, of course, a lion cub. 
  • If you're looking for a rhyming book with plenty of encouragement for small ones that are getting overlooked by others.
Pluto Visits Earth! Steve Metzger. Illustrated by Jared D. Lee. 2012. Scholastic. 

It was a quiet day in the universe when Pluto got the news.

Do planets have feelings? Well, in Steve Metger's Pluto Visits Earth! they do. Especially Pluto who is very, very, very mad (and I imagine sad) to learn that he is no longer considered a planet. He feels every bit as much a planet as he always has. And he's going to let everyone know just how unfairly he's been treated. (He talks to the planets along the way, and some moons, too, I believe.) What can make him accept his "new identity"? Perhaps some kindly spoken words by a child.

I am not a fan. I am sorry. I'm just not a fan of personifying objects and things. (Granted, I can take talking animals on occasion, but I've got to draw the line somewhere.)

Read Pluto Visits Earth!
  • If you've got a big imagination and are looking for fictional treatment of the planets of the solar system

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Article 5 (YA)

Article 5. Kristen Simmons. Tor. 368 pages.

Beth and Ryan were holding hands. It was enough to risk a formal citation for indecency, and they knew better, but I didn't say anything. Curfew rounds wouldn't begin for another two hours, and freedom was stolen in moments like these.

If you enjoy YA dystopias, then you should give Kristen Simmons' Article 5 a try. There's no guarantee that you'll love it or even like it. You may not even want to finish it. But. I think it's worth trying for yourself--especially if your library has a copy. There are so very, very many dystopias available now that it is easy to tire of them. You do have to be in the proper mood to enjoy a dystopia, and if you're already tired of the genre, well, give it time--plenty of time. It's better to wait and get back in the mood than to push it.

And if romance annoys you, well, Article 5 may be one that you're never in the mood to read. BUT. That isn't a bad thing. I am not against *some* dystopias having *some* romance. I'm just of the opinion that the romance should be natural, should feel authentic and not forced. Romance should never, ever, ever be a requirement for dystopian novels. And when 90% of the focus is on romance and only 10% given over to world-building, well, it can get annoying very quickly. If you LOVE romance, then there shouldn't be a problem with Article 5. (Though I'm not saying that every reader will love this hero and heroine.)

I honestly don't know how I feel about Article 5. So I'll stick with what I do know. Article 5 was not a painful read. I read it in two days. And it was, for the most part, an easy read. It was a book that I definitely wanted to finish. And at the end of it, I didn't regret my time. But did I like it enough to say that I liked it? I'm not sure. Ember, our heroine, was an odd heroine. She didn't seem all that smart. And some of her rigid ideas of right and wrong seemed a little out of place considering the world she lived in. I can't really give an example without spoiling the book. But when you're trying to survive, fighting to live, and there are people hunting you down, people who are very brutal, who wouldn't hesitate to shoot you dead no questions asked, then you shouldn't be lecturing your boyfriend on how he was wrong to use violence to protect you from being raped and possibly killed. You just shouldn't. There were a couple of scenes where Ember was just impossible to like, impossible to understand. Chase is the boyfriend that she has a love/hate relationship with. (She feels she always knows what is best, what is right, what they should do, how they should do it, even though Chase has way, way, way more experience in dealing with the real world.)

Read Article 5
  • If you enjoy YA dystopias, YA science fiction
  • If you like YA romances
  • If you like action/survival novels
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 23, 2012

Partials (YA)

Partials. Dan Wells. 2012. HarperCollins. 480 pages.

Newborn #485GA18M died on June 30, 2076, at 6:07 in the morning. She was three days old. The average lifespan of a human child, in the time since the Break, was fifty-six hours. They didn't even name them anymore. Kira Walker looked on helplessly while Dr. Skousen examined the tiny body. The nurses--half of them pregnant as well--recorded the details of its life and death, faceless in bodysuits and gas masks. The mother wailed despondently from the hallway, muffled by the glass. Ariel McAdams, barely eighteen years old. The mother of a corpse.

It has been eleven years since a deadly virus (RM) killed most of the human race. The survivors who had--for one reason or another--a natural immunity to the virus have joined together and resettled on Long Island. The youngest human alive is a little over fourteen. Not long after the novel opens, the school shuts down because there are no more students to teach, and the teens are deemed old enough to go into a trade or be apprenticed into a trade. (Kira is in the medical field. She's not quite eighteen yet, so she's not "required" to be pregnant yet. But the Hope Mandate legislates women's lives. Humanity must be saved. And that means every woman old enough must do her part. True, no baby has survived past a few days old in eleven years. But they have to keep trying, right? They just can't give up on finding a cure and successfully reproducing, right? Well, hope isn't easy to come by. But when Kira's best friend becomes pregnant, she becomes DETERMINED to find the cure that will save her baby. Nothing is more important to Kira than the cure.

Once Kira's plan is formed, Partials is quite the compelling read!!! Kira and a handful of her friends set out to do something risky--something that appears to be quite insane. But Kira knows it is the only hope for finding a cure.

I enjoyed this one. I did. I'd definitely recommend it.

Favorite quote:
Happiness is the most natural thing in the world when you have it, and the slowest, strangest, most impossible thing when you don't. (78)
Read Partials
  • If you enjoy science fiction, dystopias, or post-apocalyptic novels
  • If you enjoy fiction with a survival theme
  • If you enjoy unique coming-of-age stories 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Salon: Watching It Happened to Jane (1959)

A few weeks ago I watched It Happened to Jane starring Jack Lemmon and Doris Day. What did I think? Well, I enjoyed it for the most part! Not that you should have high expectations that this is the BEST MOVIE EVER or anything. Because if you approach almost any movie like that, you'll be disappointed. But if you're looking for a movie to watch and enjoy once....then I think It Happened to Jane is worth your time. Just don't judge a whole movie based on the credits because the opening song is my opinion.

Doris Day is Jane Osgood a single mom just getting started with her small business--selling live lobsters to restaurants, etc. The movie begins with a tragedy. The train company did NOT unload the live lobsters when they arrived, when they were supposed to. No, a few days went by before the train station discovered their mistake. The lobsters--the dead lobsters--were then returned to Jane. The extremely angry Jane turned to her childhood friend, George Denham, who is also a lawyer. (An untried lawyer perhaps because their small town doesn't see many cases, but still a lawyer.) They decide to sue the train company because it is the right thing to do, it is only right that the train company pay Jane for her lobsters since they were at fault. The train company agrees, at first, they agree to pay her the exact price she'd have gotten if her lobsters had been delivered live to the club. But by this point Jane has learned that her reputation is damaged and that she's lost some of her business permanently. So she wants more than just the cost of one shipment of lobsters. She wants something more.

She wins and loses all at the same time. For the train company has plenty of lawyers who will appeal this case and stretch it out as long as it takes. George urges her to let it go, but then Jane gets sneaky...very, very, very sneaky. And it becomes much too complicated to try to explain here.

In short, Jane takes on the meanest man in the world, the director of the train company. And since Harry Foster Malone plays mean, she plays mean too. And this battle gets a LOT of publicity. Soon everyone starts cheering Jane on....but that isn't exactly to the town's benefit. What these two need is resolution....

Who will win?

Of course, this movie isn't only concerned about business. There is the matter of who will win Jane's heart...George Denham who has not proposed to her since they were children or Larry Hall, a big city reporter who comes to town to interview Jane.

Watch It Happened to Jane
  • If you're a fan of Doris Day
  • If you're a fan of Jack Lemmon
  • If you're a fan of Ernie Kovacs
  • If you like David vs. Goliath stories
  • If you like romantic comedies

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in April

New Loot:

One, Two, Buckle my Shoe by Agatha Christie
The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse
The Star Wars Craft Book by Bonnie Burton
Crater: A Helium 3  Novel by Homer Hickam
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
I Want to Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalin's Russia by Nina Lugovskaya
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Diary of Ma Yan

Leftover Loot:

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous     
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Clarity by Kim Harrington
Perception by Kim Harrington 
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.    

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Good Land (MG)

The Good Land. Loula Grace Erdman. 1959/2007. Bethlehem Books. 185 pages.

Carolyn Pierce, pulling the white linen cloth straight on the long dining-room table, thought that perhaps the worst problem a girl could have was for people to think she didn't have any at all. 

I really, really, really liked this one. It is the last in Loula Grace Erdman's historical trilogy set in the Texas Panhandle. It concludes the hint of romance between Katie and Bryan--from the second book. And Carolyn herself has an admirer! I definitely liked the lightness, the sweetness, the innocence of these three romances. (Melinda and Dennis met in the first book, were married in the second book, and had a boy and a girl by the third book.)

Carolyn is looking forward to going to high school in Amarillo, but that is a year away still when the novel opens. And while it may seem like 'nothing happens' in her own community--farming and ranching community--that isn't exactly true. They've got new stand-offish neighbors for one thing...

The Good Land may not be an adventurous novel with one thrill after another. (The big event is a prairie fire.) But it is a quiet-and-happy novel all the same. For people who love historical fiction, I think it holds enough interest.

Read The Good Land
  • If you love historical fiction set in Texas
  • If you love historical fiction with the lightest, sweetest touches of romance
  • If you enjoy coming-of-age stories 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Wide Horizon (MG)

The Wide Horizon. Loula Grace Erdman. 1956/2007. Bethlehem Books. 279 pages.

Katie Pierce was sure she must be the luckiest girl in the whole Panhandle of Texas. Luckier even than her older sister Melinda who, after five years of waiting, was going to marry Dennis Kennedy in June and go with him to live in Amarillo. Dennis was a real doctor now, driving around the town and the surrounding country, looking after sick folks. 

The Wide Horizon is my favorite, favorite, favorite book in Loula Grace Erdman's Texas Panhandle trilogy. (It might have something to do with the fact that I read it a dozen times as a child. I never got a chance to read the first or last book in this series.)

The narrator is Katie Pierce. She's excited because she's not only going to be singing at her sister's wedding, she'll be a bridesmaid too. And then that fall, she'll be going back to East Texas to live with her grandmother and attend a fancy academy for young ladies. But except for the singing, nothing quite goes like plan. For on the day of a wedding, a stranger-soon-not-to-be-a-stranger, Bryan Cartwright, interrupts bringing Dr. Kennedy urgent news. He must leave the wedding ceremony so he can see one of his patients. (The ceremony continues when he returns.) The other unexpected news of the summer is that Katie won't be going away after all. Her grandmother has fallen and broken her hip. Katie's mom will be going to nurse her back to health. Katie is needed right where she is. She'll need to take care of her brothers and younger sister. Katie will have to learn fast how to fill her mother's place on the farm! And it's quite a learning experience. The chapter on cooking beans was hilarious!

There were so many things I loved about this one!

Read The Wide Horizon
  • If you enjoy historical fiction, if you enjoy pioneer stories with a "Little House" feel
  • If you like stories with blizzards in them! (Katie finds herself responsible for caring for the children left behind at the school)
  • If you like coming-of-age stories
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Wind Blows Free (MG)

The Wind Blows Free. Loula Grace Erdman. 1952/2006. Bethlehem Books. 271 pages.

Melinda Pierce sat on the green plush seat of the railroad car, listening to the mocking song the wheels of the train were singing. All the way up from East Texas they had said the same thing--"Going away. Going away. Going away," they wailed. And sometimes they added, "Poor Melinda. Poor, poor Melinda." 

In the 1950s, Loula Grace Erdman wrote a historical trilogy set in the Texas Panhandle. Each book was narrated by a Pierce sister. The first book by the oldest, Melinda, the second book by the middle sister, Katie, the third book by the youngest, Carolyn. The novels are not necessarily dependent on one another. The age of each heroine happens to be fifteen. So in some cases, quite a few years have gone by since the previous book. But of course, if you've got access to all three books, I'd recommend reading them in order!

After their father loses his store in a fire, the Pierce family resettles in the Texas Panhandle. It will require some adapting by each family member, of course, though the twins, Bert and Dick, seem to have it best of all the children. They just can't stop from saying 'oh golly' every time they enter a scene. But for Melinda, the move is doubly hard. She can't stop thinking that she was meant to stay in East Texas and attend the same ladies academy as her best friends. And the move west seems to have doubled her responsibilities. Melinda's "new life" doesn't get off to the best of starts. For while she's busy daydreaming, her youngest sister wanders away. And it takes hours and hours to find her. But the afternoon isn't a complete loss for there is one special young man, Dennis Kennedy, who helps Melinda search for her sister.

For those interested in pioneer stories, this will prove an interesting read. It isn't quite the same time period of the Little House books (it's set a few decades later), but the pioneer-feel is the same. I liked the first book, The Wind Blows Free. It is Melinda's coming-of-age story, readers see how she comes to accept the move and even come to love her new life. But it probably isn't the best of the trilogy.

Read The Wind Blows Free
  • If you are looking for more pioneer stories with a "Little House" feel
  • If you are looking for historical fiction set in Texas, in the Texas Panhandle
  • If you can get past dated (or outdated) references to Native Americans. (The book has Melinda recounting her great-grandmother's oh-so-scary experience with Indians as a child in Georgia. Melinda does seem worried that she might accidentally see an Indian, but everyone assures her that Indians are only to be found on reservations these days, so she need not worry about that.)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The List (YA)

The List. Siobhan Vivian. 2012. Scholastic. 336 pages.

From the prologue: For as long as anyone can remember, the students of Mount Washington High have arrived at school on the last Monday in September to find a list naming the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade. This year will be no different.

The List has an interesting enough premise. It is a novel with eight narrators. The prettiest freshman, ugliest freshman, prettiest sophomore, ugliest sophomore, prettiest junior, ugliest junior, prettiest senior, ugliest senior. Each girl, of course, has a name, but at least at first, names and personalities don't matter oh-so-much. The focus is on the label, the judgment. It is a question-driven novel, in a way.

How do others see me? Is that how I see myself? Do I care what everyone else thinks? Who is this 'everyone' else anyway? Do I feel prettier or uglier than I did the day before the list was posted? Am I going to let the list change me? Am I going to let myself be defined and objectified by others?

One of the strengths of the novel is showing that every single person on the list is a human being. No matter the appearance, no matter the popularity ranking. A pretty girl can have just as many problems and issues going on in her life as the next person. Being pretty doesn't mean living life problem-free without a concern or care in the world. The prettiest junior girl, for example, has an eating disorder. This problem popped up over the summer. And others may see her as beautiful, as pretty, as having everything she could possibly want or need. But all she knows is that food is the enemy, that fat is the enemy, that eating means that she will no longer be beautiful. She cannot accept herself or see herself as she truly is. She doesn't love herself. Her daily life is a torment to her in many ways. Yet she is supposed to be thrilled, happy, ecstatic that she is the most beautiful girl in her class.

I think at least five or six of these characterizations would have been strong enough to carry an entire novel. With eight narrators, little justice can be done to each story. So at times it was all a little too much.

The ending. I didn't really like this ending at all. I thought the last fifty or so pages of this one was a mess. Yes, books can have tricks; twists or turns that you aren't supposed to see coming. But. I felt that the ending would ruin any rereading of the novel. (Of course, I haven't tried it myself.) It's just that the semi-big-reveal doesn't feel right to me. It doesn't feel natural to how the character was presented up until that point. If it had just been a story or conflict between these two characters--the prettiest senior and the ugliest senior--if the whole novel had been about these two, then I think it might have worked better. It could have shown the necessary depth. These two were friends--close friends--in junior high. But before the start of high school, the prettiest dumped the ugliest. This relationship--past and present--could have been explored more. I think that just enough was revealed to create a spark of interest, but then it all ends right there.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Read The List
  • If you like high school dramas set during Homecoming Week
  • If you like realistic YA
  • If you like books about mean girls and/or bullies
  • If you are looking for 'issue' books (bullying, eating disorders, etc.)
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train. Patricia Highsmith. 1950. 281 pages.

The train tore along with an angry, irregular rhythm. It was having to stop at smaller and more frequent stations, where it would wait impatiently for a moment, then attack the prairie again.

Strangers on a Train was both compelling and repelling. On the one hand, I think the characterization of the "hero" (Guy Haines) and his nemesis (Charlie Bruno) was intriguing. Disturbing and super-creepy, but effectively so. I think the whole point of the novel was to show what could be lurking deep inside (or not-so-deep inside, perhaps just barely under the surface) of the person sitting next to you, the stranger.

Guy Haines is an architect taking a not-so-pleasant trip back to his small hometown in Texas. He meets a stranger on a train. The stranger--Charles Bruno--asks him to join him for dinner and a couple of drinks. Guy doesn't really want to be social. He's feeling cranky and anti-social. He's thinking about his wife, Miriam, who is carrying another man's baby, and his girlfriend, Anne, who happens to be going to Mexico on vacation. He isn't in love with his wife--they've been separated quite a while. He's anxious to get a divorce more than anything else. He's not at his emotional best though. So reluctantly, perhaps to avoid thinking or over-thinking things, he agrees to spend some time with this stranger. This was his first mistake, the mistake that would cost him almost everything in the end.
Why? Well, Bruno is all kinds of evil. And he's not even all that subtle about being evil and creepy.  I mean here is a guy that goes around muttering about how he wants to murder his father, how he has all these plans and schemes to kill his father, how he's just looking for the best way to kill his father so that he doesn't get caught. It's like he's got a one-track mind, and murder is all he can talk about. I honestly can't remember if the dialogue went from "do you want to have a drink with me?" to "do you want to kill my father for me?" in a matter of seconds, minutes, or hours. But. Guy has all the signs right in front of him that he should have been able to read properly. But. For whatever reason, he stays, he listens, he doesn't react. Somehow or other--perhaps before the murder babbling begins--Bruno learns that Guy is on a trip to see his wife. He also learns that she's pregnant. That she's been cheating on Guy for quite a while. Did Guy volunteer all this information willingly? Or did it come out piece by piece by piece by piece? Did Bruno keep pestering him with questions? Well, I'm not sure. Even if it was voluntary on his part. Even if Guy was talking about his wife, it was not with the intent that the stranger on the train should kill her. Because as Guy learns, this is where the conversation is headed. Bruno has  a plot, a plan. He would just love, love, love to kill Miriam. It would make him oh-so-happy to do this as a complete-and-total favor for his new-best-buddy, Guy. Haines was so not expecting this ultra-weird, ultra-creepy offer. And he does say, no, thank you, I don't want my wife murdered. And, I'm not the murdering type. I don't know what you think you see in me. But I'm not the guy. I'm not the one you want to kill your father. I don't want to murder anyone, anywhere. But the obsession has become all-too-firmly-planted in Bruno's mind.

Strangers on a Train is a tragic suspense, a psychological thriller. Haines' sanity is tested in the upcoming months after Bruno murders his wife, after Bruno continues to haunt him--first by letters, then in person. Wherever he goes, Bruno is there watching him, trying to talk to him, trying to coerce or bully him into murdering his father. Bruno starts pestering the people close to him too. Bruno is an obsessed stalker-blackmailer with a history of murder. Haines is worried what will happen if he doesn't murder Bruno's father.

Strangers on a Train reminded me so very much of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Except that the creature-figure Bruno is so not sympathetic not by any, any, any stretch of the imagination. And the Victor-Frankenstein-figure, Guy Haines, is actually sympathetic for most of the novel.

To read more of my thoughts, visit my GoodReads review.

Read Strangers on a Train
  • If you're looking to read a classic mystery/suspense/thriller novel of the 1950s
  • If you've seen the movie and are interested in now reading the book
  • If you enjoy psychological elements in your novel; Highsmith created some twisted, disturbed characters
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction. Alan Jacobs. 2011. Oxford University Press. 176 pages.

I was not exactly the target audience for The Pleasures of Reading In an Age of Distraction. I don't exactly struggle with reading, with finishing books. Do I struggle with individual books now and then? Sure. I think everyone does. There are books that you pick up and realize--either on page ten, page thirty, page eighty-eight--that it's just not working, that you have NO INTEREST in picking that book up and finishing it. At least not anytime in the near-future. But who says you have to finish a book just because you started it? It doesn't matter if you borrowed it from the library, received it for review, or bought it yourself. Your time is too valuable to waste on a not-for-you-right-now book.

So the target audience of this one is former readers or want-to-be readers. Those who "want" to be reading, but who find themselves unable to stay focused on reading, those who instead of losing themselves deeply in a book, giving in to the experience of reading, stay distracted or too-aware of the world around them.

Also he addresses those who feel guilty or stressed. Those who burden themselves down with the notion that they have to read certain books because someone said that they should. Those who are weighed down with the idea that only a few, elite books are worth reading. Those who feel that books have to be read academically, analytically.

The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction is one long ramble. Some might see the word ramble and think I mean something negative by it. I don't. I really don't. Ramble is not a bad word! Jacobs doesn't exactly stay on-task exactly. He jumps from subject to subject to subject to subject. Sometimes he returns to a part earlier in his argument. But for the most part, he's just casually, comfortably rambling about how wonderful, how marvelous, how thrilling it is to read a book for the pure delight, pure joy, pure pleasure of it. He doesn't dismiss entertainment or enjoyment. He doesn't think that this is a 'lesser' form of reading.

If you've been turned off from reading in the past, Jacobs is there to encourage you to try again. To try reading for yourself and only for yourself. To let reading be fun again.

There is also much discussion of the idea of "Whim" reading. Letting yourself be guided by pure Whim. In other words, let your reading take you where it naturally takes you. Don't worry about reading from lists--lists made by others. He may have defined Whim more precisely at one point, but essentially, it is knowing yourself, knowing what you need, knowing what will give you delight.

"not to teach, not to criticize, just for love" (15)
"just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn't help himself" (15)
"let one part of our nature follow its natural desires" (16)
"it's never too late to begin this new life as a free reader" (24)
"it should be normal for us to read what we want to read, to read what we truly enjoy reading" (33)
"it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge" (41)

I definitely loved parts of this one. There were paragraphs that just were wonderful. I'm not sure the whole book is a love, love, love for me. But I'd definitely recommend this one.

Read The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction
  • If you like reading books about reading
  • If you want validation that reading is something that is supposed to be joyful and delightful
  • If you want permission to stop reading books that you don't like
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Mini-Movie "Reviews"

I know I usually only talk about one movie per week, but I've got a couple of movies that I haven't talked about yet.  So I thought I would combine them into one post.
Watch Harold Teen (1934)
  • If you're really bored and are tired of reality TV and repeats of reality TV
  • If you are looking for a good example of a mostly outdated musical
  • If you're interested in the time period, the early 1930s
  • If you are looking for a really early comic book to film adaptation example, though this was NOT the first Harold Teen film, the first was a silent film.
Watch The Prince of Persia (2010)
  • If you believe in giving movies the benefit of the doubt and are willing to take a chance on movies that weren't exactly loved, loved, loved in the reviews. Low expectations can be a very good thing. Because then you can be surprised more often. 
  • If you like action movies with good storytelling and good characterization (Yes, it might take you until the end of the movie to see how everything fits together. But I think the ending is the best part of this movie. Without this redeeming ending, I would not have been satisfied.  I don't know how I can say more without spoiling it. 
  • If you like movies with strong heroines; I enjoyed Princess Tamina because not only was she strong, she was strong with good reason. There was a very, very important reason she wasn't going to let Prince Dastan have the dagger or misuse the dagger. 
  • If you like movies with good supporting roles; I just LOVED Richard Coyle and Alfred Molina. 
Watch The First Grader
  • If you're thinking this is only a feel-good film, you might be surprised at how tough this one is to view. It is so violent in places. As in I had-to-turn-my-eyes-away violent. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good movie. Just know that if you see it, it's going to have some scenes that are disturbing. But essentially, if you can handle the violence, this is a good eye-opening film. 
  • If you want to watch out-of-the-ordinary films that take you away from what you know
  • If the trailer hooks you. All the scenes that make you curious and happy in the trailer are just as good, just as wonderful in the movie itself.
  • If you like watching movies based on true events/real people

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 14, 2012

North and South Revisited (Again)

I've spent a lovely month revisiting Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. This is a novel that I love and adore. Well, I more than love and adore it. I more than love, love, love it. With each rereading, I love this one even more. And this is a book that deserves to be read again and again and again and again. Because not only does it grow more wonderful with each visit, each rereading will probably bring you new insights as you notice more details. Characters that I merely liked the first time around, became good, good friends by the third reading. And as for the main characters, Margaret Hale and John Thornton, my love for them just grows deeper and deeper and deeper with each visit.

So. If you haven't read this one, what should you expect? A blending of the industrial revolution, family drama, and romance. In equal portions. For better or worse. For those truly looking to read about the industrial revolution, class differences between masters and employees, unions and strikes, economic and social issues, then the added romance may be a bonus that you may or may not want. For those who are looking for the BEST ROMANCE EVER--and you'll get it in North and South, I promise--then you may find all the talk about strikes and workers' rights a bit dry. The first time I read the novel, I admit, I wanted the romance to get started. I didn't want to wait. I didn't want to have to be patient. I wanted it to be giddy-making from start to finish. But. Now, I'm not sure I'd want it any other way. Because everything is just right just as it is. Every little detail, every little thing, adds to the whole, and makes this romance oh-so-perfect. And the more I read North and South, the more I love the "minor" characters like Nicholas Higgins and his two daughters, Bessy and Mary, and Mr. Bell.

So should you see the movie first or read the book first? Well. That is up to you. But regardless of whether you plan on reading the MUST, MUST, MUST see the movie adaptation of this one. It is different from the book. There have been some minor changes that seem more major the more often you read the book. But. It is so, so, so, so, so good. It is one of those miniseries that the very moment it ends you want to put the first disc back in. (I average two viewings for every reading of the novel.) The good news is that the movie makes me love and appreciate the book even more. And reading the book makes me love and appreciate the movie. And the movie ending is OH-SO-MAGICAL.

Why should you reread this one? Well. I know that there are two types of people: those that reread and those that don't. And for those that reread, they don't need convincing as to the merits of rereading, of how most 'great' books only improve with each rereading. How rereading is the most gloriously-rich and slightly-self-indulgent but oh-so-rewarding thing you can do if you're a book lover. And this one DOES deserve a reread because there are details about John Thornton that you just might miss the first time around. And other characters as well. But specifically in terms of Margaret and John. For those that don't reread...I'm tempted to just say why?!?! or you don't know what you're missing or how could you possibly get everything a book has to offer with just one reading?!

Read North and South
  • If you're a fan of the BBC Drama starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe (not to mention Brendan Coyle)
  • If you're a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell (Wives & Daughters; Cranford; etc.)
  • If you're a fan of Victorian literature 
  • If you're a fan of classics with strong romance and a bit of tragedy (this one is oh-so-bittersweet)
  • If you look for strong characterization and emotion

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Library Loot: Third Trip in April

New Loot:

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
Clarity by Kim Harrington
Perception by Kim Harrington
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Spindle's End by Robin McKinley
Beauty by Robin McKinley

Leftover Loot:

Blue Thread by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill
A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous    

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.    

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 13, 2012

Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999

Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999.  Michael Korda. 2001. Barnes & Noble. 256 pages.

Making the List is a good example of a book that makes for good skimming. This is not one you need to read word-for-word. And the better you are at skimming, the more forgiving you are as a reader, well, the more you'll enjoy this one. The book has a couple of weaknesses. One, Michael Korda is a little too fond of mentioning Michael Korda and Michael Korda's time on the bestseller list. He mentions the title of one of his 'bestselling books' as often as he can. Or at least it felt like it. It feels intrusive on the text to be discussing the statistics and patterns of trends and genres or discussing the popularity of certain authors through the decades, and then suddenly the text becomes all-about-him either as an author or as a publisher, someone inside the publishing field. Some of his commentary feels a little odd, a little too random. Once he begins his job in the late fifties, I believe, he couldn't resist mentioning which books came from his publisher, how he felt about those books, his reaction to a book making it or not making it on the list. I don't know about all readers, but this reader, didn't want to know anything and everything he could possibly say on every book that made the list.

But. Making the List remains an interesting book. It is interesting because of what it has to offer readers: a list of fiction and nonfiction from each year. It is interesting because it does the work for you. You might be able to find the information online at various places--but it would probably be work. And it would definitely take more time and energy. And reading the lists is in itself interesting. To see which authors were repeats. To see how many years a book could stay on the list. To see which 'genres' dominated year by year, decade by decade. To see some strange titles--fiction and nonfiction. To see which books and authors became forgotten by time, by the reading public. To see which books are still in print. To see how many books were adapted into plays or movies. To see how many books were children's books (Pollyanna, etc.) To see the tension between "literary" books and "popular" books. It was interesting at a very basic level to see how many I'd read.

Read Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999
  • If you like lists
  • If you like participating in reading challenges, particularly challenges that challenge you to find books from specific years, decades, etc.
  • If you're always looking for older books, classic books, titles that may be available for free online 
  • (This would probably be only a quarter of the list, but still, it may give you ideas.)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Henry Tilney's Diary

Henry Tilney's Diary. Amanda Grange. 2011. [December 2011] Penguin. 288 pages.

Wednesday 14 April 1790
No lessons, no tutors, no Latin, no Greek! How glad I am to be home again, with time to spend with my horses and dogs, my brother and sister, my mother and father. No more school for a month! Instead time to wander the abbey and roam the grounds.

Out of all the Austen heroes, Henry Tilney is probably my favorite and best. "Even more than Captain Wentworth?!" you might ask...
Well, that's like deciding between chocolate cake and chocolate cheesecake. Both are too good, too satisfying, too giddy-making to resist. Why would anyone ever even try...

So. Henry Tilney is a swoon-worthy Austen hero, in my opinion. His strength is his charm, his wit, his friendliness, his teasing-manner. He has a way of making people feel at ease, of making people feel good about themselves. I'm not even sure he has a weakness. He's not proud or anti-social. He's not insincere or deceitful or manipulative. He doesn't flirt with (other) women for fun or sport, or to make anyone jealous. He's not a bore. He's just a fun-loving, novel-loving, light-hearted guy. Who wouldn't want to spend time with him?!

So Henry Tilney's Diary presents his side--and to some extent his sister's side--of the story found in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Half of the novel takes place before he travels to Bath and meets Catherine Morland. Readers learn about his relationship with his sister, Eleanor, his father and mother, and his older brother. (Does Amanda Grange try to redeem this bad-boy brother? Well, she gives just enough background that empathetic readers can put together an argument of sorts. But is it enough for your average reader? Well, I'm not sure that it is. Not that that matters horribly to the enjoyment of the novel.)

Henry Tilney spends MUCH of his time reading aloud to his sister, Eleanor. Both just LOVE Ann Radcliffe. Both just LOVE novels--gothic novels, in particular. Amanda Grange gives us multiple reading scenes. In fact, some might say too many reading-together scenes. On the one hand, she's definitely showing instead of telling. These two love to read. And since these two will in a period of time be meeting Catherine Morland, a heroine who LOVES, LOVES, LOVES to read, it makes a certain amount of sense to show that Henry Tilney is the oh-so-perfect match for her.  On the other hand, by quoting so much from a gothic novel--it appears to be the actual text of A Sicilian Romance--it just made this reader want to pick up the original.

The strength of this one is the background it provides readers. It doesn't add to Austen's Northanger Abbey, that is it doesn't improve it. As far as building his relationship with Catherine Morland. It doesn't make the story, the romance, 'better.' Tilney isn't more swoon-worthy or giddy-making in Grange's retelling. Neither is he less swoon-worthy. Where it adds to the enjoyment of Northanger Abbey is in its imagining of the close, caring relationship between brother and sister.

I liked this one. I definitely liked it. It made me want to spend time with the original. It even made me want to pick up an Ann Radcliffe novel.

Read Henry Tilney's Diary
  • If you're a fan of Amanda Grange
  • If you're a fan of Jane Austen
  • If you like historical romance
  • If you like gothic romance

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Midnight in Austenland

Midnight in Austenland. Shannon Hale. 2012. Bloomsbury. 288 pages.

No one who knew Charlotte Constance Kinder since her youth would suppose her born to be a heroine.

While I didn't love this one, I certainly liked it. Charlotte Kinder ("Mrs. Cordial") is a divorced mom of two. She's got a very successful business, but her husband left her for another woman, a woman named Justice, and her two children just don't appreciate her at all. Especially her fourteen-year-old daughter. Her personal life is anything but successful. She's even resorted to stalking her daughter's boyfriend because she doesn't trust him not to break her daughter's heart. So a two-week vacation could be just what she needs to gain a little perspective on her life...
And vacationing Austen style, well, it may change her life completely. By adding in some unexpected thrills. She expected a phony romance, a suitor all her own, a Regency gentleman, who knows all the ways to flatter a woman and make her feel giddy. But what she didn't expect was an all-too-real dead body in a secret room. What she didn't expect was to fall in all-too-real love with her "brother," the actor posing as her brother, that is!

I liked this one. It is equal parts romance and mystery. It is definitely seeking to pay tribute to Northanger Abbey. But this modern romance doesn't really have a proper Mr. Henry Tilney, a giddy-making, witty, oh-so-charming, just-can't-help-but-loving-him hero.

Read Midnight in Austenland
  • If you are a fan of Shannon Hale, particularly Austenland
  • If you are a fan of Jane Austen
  • If you are a fan of mysteries with a touch of romance
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day. Mary Doria Russell. 2008. Random House. 254 pages. 

I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: my little story has become your history. You won't really understand your times until you understand mine.

There were a few things that I just loved about Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell. For example, I loved the first few chapters. Readers see the impact of World War I and the 'Spanish' influenza on our heroine, Miss Agnes Shanklin. She truly lost everyone. Her mother. Her sister. Her brother-in-law. Her two nephews. Her brother. These chapters spent describing both the war and the influenza were truly fascinating. Here she is as a young woman trying to make sense of the world, of the war, of her place in it all, she's just an ordinary woman, a school teacher, and within weeks or at the very most months, to face such sudden devastation.
A few months after these losses, she decides to visit the Middle East, to visit Egypt, Cairo, in particular. She wants to see the land where her brother-in-law and sister spent their happiest years together before the War. Her sister was friends with T.E. Lawrence, and soon she is too. She is soon mingling with other famous people too--like Winston Churchill and Lady Gertrude Bell. She is listening to their heated discussions on the Middle East. Everyone has an opinion on what is best for the many people who live there, an opinion on who should rule, how they should rule, how many countries or nations, etc.
She also makes a "special" friend while in Cairo. A man who is very, very interested in what she has to say. A man who listens intently. A man who always treats her with such kindness and respect. But this "relationship" has its basis in politics too, as she later realizes.
But as much as I loved a few things about this novel, there were other things that I just did not like at all. And these weren't small things that were bothering me. For example, I did NOT care for the narration at all. I do not like dead-narrators, for the most part. People who are telling their life story from beyond-the-grave. I do not like dead people narrating on the present, and sharing their so-called wisdom. I especially do not like opinionated dead narrators who treat Christianity with disdain and contempt.

Read Dreamers of the Day
  • If you are interested in novels set during the 1920s, this one, I believe, is set in 1920/1921.
  • If you are interested in reading about World War I, the 'Spanish' influenza, etc.
  • If you are interested in politics and history
  • If you are interested in the Middle East, the formation of the Middle East; much of this one is set in Egypt, but they also travel to Palestine.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 09, 2012

Pandemonium (YA)

Pandemonium. Lauren Oliver. 2012. HarperCollins. 384 pages.

Alex and I are lying together on a blanket in the backyard of 37 Brooks. The trees look larger and darker than usual. The leaves are almost black, knitted so tightly together they blot out the sky. 

Pandemonium is the sequel to Lauren Oliver's Delirium. To get the most out of Pandemonium, you probably should make a point of reading the first book, though I don't think it's essential. It had been a full year since I'd read Delirium, so much so that I was, "Alex, who?!" But then again I remember being unimpressed with the romantic storyline in Delirium to begin with. Which made Pandemonium a VERY interesting read for me!!!

The novel definitely has a different format. The chapters are arranged "now" and "then." Readers are thrown in the middle of two stories with no idea really how the main character, Lena, got from one to the other.  In both realities, Lena is still missing Alex, the man she loved and lost in the first novel. But one reality is set in the wild and has Lena interacting with "Invalids" those who have not had the cure, those who don't want to be cured of love or passion. These chapters are all about survival, learning the skills it takes to survive. The other reality has Lena back in society...and mingling with the enemy.

The "now" story definitely proved more my opinion! Once she meets Julian Fineman. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone. I really don't. Maybe I just don't remember enough about Alex to care, but I definitely enjoyed Julian! These two had some great scenes--very exciting, very intense--together!

Read Pandemonium
  • If you enjoy dystopias, particularly YA dystopias. (The premise is that love is a disease that needs to be cured--with surgery. Strong emotions are bad--not just for society, but for individuals as well. Love is too dangerous to be allowed to exist.)
  • If you enjoyed Lauren Oliver's Delirium
  • If you enjoy your science fiction with a bit of mystery, action, and romance
  • If you enjoy YA books

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching George Washington Slept Here (1942)

Why oh why oh why oh why hasn't anyone put this on DVD yet?! Seriously?! This black and white comedy from 1942 is SO SO SO good. It stars Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan as Bill and Connie Fuller. (Hattie McDaniel plays their maid; you'd probably recognize her from her role in Gone With The Wind. Joyce Reynolds plays Connie's younger sister; I recognized her from Wallflower which I reviewed earlier this year. And if you've watched many classic comedies, you'd probably recognize Percy Kilbride of Pa Kettle fame.) This wife "surprises" her husband by buying a "historic" house--a house that George Washington supposedly slept in during Revolutionary times. The house doesn't have water--no well, the well has gone dry. The kitchen is even missing a wall. There are no bathrooms, no closets, and the flooring of the upstairs, well, let's just say that Jack Benny takes more than a few falls. The movie is all about the couple's attempt to fix this house up and make it a true home. Will they succeed?! Or will it cost them everything they have and then some?!

Watch George Washington Slept Here
  • If you're fortunate to catch it when it's on TV. In a perfect world, it would be available on DVD. It's definitely DVD worthy, in my opinion.
  • If you enjoy classic comedies, black and white films
  • If you're a fan of Jack Benny
  • If you're a fan of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Library Loot: Second Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Zeina by Nawal El Saadawi, translated from the Arabic by Amira Nowaira
  • Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
  • The Dog Who Danced by Susan Wilson
  • Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
  • Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter
  • The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson
  • The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems
  • The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
Leftover Loot:
  • Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin
  • A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont
    Blue Thread by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
  • No Cooperation from the Cat: A Mystery by Marian Babson
  • Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
  • Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
  • Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    The Lunatic's Curse by F.E. Higgins
    We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill
    A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous   

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.   

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews