Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Reflections

In May, I read 33 books. I indulged in a few rereads this month--something that I just love to do!!! I reread The Schwa Was Here, Unwind, The Book Thief, Divergent, and Twelfth Night. I was also able to read a few mysteries this month, including two Rex Stout mysteries, and an Agatha Christie mystery. Not counting the books I reread, my two favorite-favorites were both biographies.

Favorite Couple: Four and Tris in Divergent
Favorite Narrator: Death in The Book Thief
Favorite Austen Adaptation: Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange
Favorite Verse Novel: Looking for Me. Betsy R. Rosenthal.
Favorite (Christian) BiographyKisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption. Katie Davis.
Favorite Biography: Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood. Mark Kurzem.
Favorite Christian Nonfiction: The Explicit Gospel. Matt Chandler. 2012. Crossway Books. 240 pages.
Favorite (Not-a-Reread) YA NovelThe Selection. Kiera Cass.

Board Books, Picture Books, Early Readers:
  1. A Nest in Springtime: A Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Book of Numbers. Belle Yang. 2012. Candlewick Press. 24 pages.
  2. Summertime Rainbow: A Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Book of Colors. Belle Yang. 2012. Candlewick Press. 24 pages.
  3. Mrs. Noodlekugel. Daniel Pinkwater. Illustrated by Adam Stower. 2012. Candlewick. 80 pages. 
Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels:
  1. The Schwa Was Here. Neal Shusterman. 2004. 240 pages.
  2. Unwind. Neal Shusterman. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 336 pages.
  3. The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 2006. Random House. 560 pages.
  4. Divergent. Veronica Roth. 2011. May 2011. HarperCollins. 496 pages.
  5. Looking for Me. Betsy R. Rosenthal. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages.
  6. The Selection. Kiera Cass. 2012. HarperCollins. 327 pages
  7. Enchanted. Alethea Kontis. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages.
  8. Miracle. Elizabeth Scott. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.
  9. My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer. Jennifer Gennari. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 119 pages.
  10. The Lunatic's Curse. F.E. Higgins. 2011. Feiwel & Friends. 352 pages.

Adult Books:
  1. The Secret of Chimneys. Agatha Christie. 1925/2012. HarperCollins. 336.
  2. Mr. Darcy's Diary. Amanda Grange. Sourcebooks. 2007. 320 pages.
  3. Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942. Joyce Dennys. 1985/2010. Bloomsbury. 176 pages.
  4. Henrietta Sees It Through. Joyce Dennys. 1987/2011. Bloomsbury. 208 pages.
  5. Glamour in Glass. Mary Robinette Kowal. 2012. Tor. 336 pages.
  6. The Lord is My Shepherd. (Psalm 23 Mysteries) Debbie Viguie. 2010. Abingdon Press. 320 pages.
  7. Twelfth Night. William Shakespeare. 1601-02. 272 pages.
  8. Too Many Women. Rex Stout. 1947/1985. Bantam Books. 176 pages.
  9. Champagne for One. Rex Stout. 1958/1995. Random House. 224 pages.
  10. Lady Baltimore. Owen Wister. 1906. 272 pages.
  11. The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Margot Livesey. 2012. HarperCollins. 447 pages.

Nonfiction Books:
  1. Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood. Mark Kurzem. 2007. Penguin. 432 pages.
Christian Fiction and Nonfiction:
  1. The Explicit Gospel. Matt Chandler. 2012. Crossway Books. 240 pages.
  2. Surprised by Grace. Tullian Tchividjian. 2010. Crossway. 192 pages.
  3. Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible. Edited by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner. Contributors: Vern S. Poythress, C. John Collins, Gordon Wenham, David Howard, David Reimer, Paul House, J. Julius Scott, Jr., David Chapman, John Delhousaye, Thomas R. Schreiner, Darrell Bock, Dennis Johnson. 2012. Crossway. 160 pages.
  4. Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption. Katie Davis. 2011. October 2011. Howard Books. 288 pages.
  5. Experiencing the Presence of God: Teachings from the Book of Hebrews. A.W. Tozer. 2010. Regal (Gospel Light) 224 pages.
  6. God's Pursuit of Man. A.W. Tozer. 1950/2007. Wingspread. 140 pages.
  7. The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. Olivia Newport. 2012. Revell. 304 pages.
  8. Retro-Christianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith. Michael J. Svigel. 2012. Crossway Books. 320 pages.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night. William Shakespeare. 1601-02. 272 pages.

If music be the food of love, play on;

I recently treated myself to a reread of Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night. Now Twelfth Night is not one of my favorite, favorite Shakespeare comedies. (That would be Much Ado About Nothing followed by A Midsummer Night's Dream.) But it is one I have read several times before. And it does have some GREAT scenes in it. (It is also the only Shakespeare I've seen performed on stage.)

Viola and Sebastian are brother and sister. Each think the other has perished in the shipwreck. Viola arrives in Illyria and decides to disguise herself as a young man taking the name Cesario. She enters the service of the Duke (Orsino). One of her tasks is to woo a young woman still in mourning, Olivia. Cesario delivers Orsino's messages just as he asks, but her heart isn't exactly in it. For she has fallen for the Duke herself, a matter only complicated by the fact that Olivia has fallen in love with her. Not that Olivia knows she's fallen in love with a woman-in-disguise. (I'm reminded of a Dorothy Sayers quote!!!) But still. Meanwhile, the audience becomes aware that Sebastian is very much alive and is also in Illyria. He has become friends with Antonio. That covers the "romance" of the play. (I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's truly-truly romance.) The comedy, for the most part, focuses on a cast of side characters mostly attached to Olivia's household. These include Malvolio, Maria, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Feste. Essentially, a group of people team up to make a big, big fool of Malvolio.

Read Twelfth Night
  • If you enjoy a light blend of romance and comedy; the language is very beautiful in places--love the opening line!!! And some of the scenes are just very funny! 
  • If you're a fan of William Shakespeare
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Lord is My Shepherd

The Lord is My Shepherd. (Psalm 23 Mysteries) Debbie Viguie. 2010. Abingdon Press. 320 pages.

More than anything, Cindy Preston hated Mondays. 

I was skeptical about this book, I'll be honest. I had no idea if it would be something I'd like. But I like to challenge myself to take risks...occasionally. And I am definitely glad I took a chance on Debbie Viguie's The Lord Is My Shepherd. This one is mystery-suspense-thriller. Cindy Preston, the heroine, is a church secretary who discovers--literally stumbles upon--a dead body in the sanctuary of the church one Monday morning. But it isn't just any Monday, no it's Holy Week, it's the Monday of Easter week. Her screams draw the attention of the Rabbi next door, Jeremiah Silverman. Together they meet the police detective...and so it begins.

I really, really, really enjoyed this one!!! It was so hard to put this one down. I definitely liked the heroine, Cindy Preston. I thought she was a good balance. On the one hand, she's terrified and in shock, on the other hand she's strong and strong-willed. She may be afraid--and she may have good reason to be afraid--but she isn't going to be ruled or enslaved by that fear. Not that she's careless. And as for Jeremiah Silverman, well, I loved him!!! I did. I just loved him!!!

Read The Lord Is My Shepherd
  • If you like murder mysteries OR thrillers OR suspense novels
  • If you enjoy "Christian fiction" on the light side; there is nothing heavy-handed or preachy about this one. 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 28, 2012

Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass. Mary Robinette Kowal. 2012. Tor. 336 pages.

Finding oneself a guest of honor only increases the presentiment of anxiety, should one be disposed to such feelings. Jane Vincent could not help but feel some measure of alarm upon hearing her name called by the Prince Regent, for though she fully expected to be escorted into dinner by someone other than her husband, she had not expected to accompany His Royal Highness and to be seated at his right hand.

 Sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey.

How much should you know going into a book? On the one hand, I had a difficult time getting into Glamour in Glass and just a hint of what it was REALLY about would have helped me so much. On the other hand, would knowing have taken out all the suspense and tension?

I enjoyed quite a few things about Glamour in Glass. I liked that it was a clean read, for the most part. It is so refreshing to read a honeymoon book that is not graphic in detail. I know that wouldn't be a plus for every reader, but, for me, it worked out well. And while this one is a 'honeymoon' book--meaning that everyone is waiting to see *when* the honeymoon would be over, when the couple would start fighting and getting annoyed with one another--it isn't just that though. If the real drama had not started, I might have given up on this one. If the book had just been about the tension between these two as business partners--as glamour partners--or if the book had just been about her getting annoyed with her husband for not sharing enough about his feelings, his memories, his doubts, his dreams, etc., then I would have probably given up on it.


But this book is set in Europe during a dangerous but exciting time (exciting to read about perhaps, not exactly exciting to live through). Napoleon's threatening return. And since this honeymoon just happens to be in his path--well, things get a bit exciting.

What I didn't exactly love in this one was all the talk about glamour, about *how* glamour worked, about the new experiments in glamour, about all the rules of glamour and what that meant for married women in particular. In some ways the talk was just too much, but in other ways even with all this talk, not enough was clearly said. For example, we're told that pregnant women could never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever use glamour. Ever. But we're not told why really. We're not told how using glamour effects the unborn baby, and what risks would be involved if a woman dared to break the rules.

Read Glamour in Glass
  • If you enjoy Regency romances, particularly clean romance
  • If you enjoy historical fiction
  • If you enjoy fantasy (though this is more alternate history...what if magic/glamour were real)
  • If you enjoy Jane Austen or other classic authors

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Salon: Mini-Reviews

Well, I thought I would do more mini-movie reviews. All of these have been watched in the past two months.

Watch Lucky Me (1954)
  • If you're a big, big, big Doris Day fan and you just have the need to see every single movie she ever made.
  • If you love musicals and are running out of new-to-you musicals, and you don't mind lowering your standards a bit. (Lucky Me is no Singin' in the Rain, no Showboat, no Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.) Personally, I found some of the songs so painful that I fast-forwarded...and I like musicals...and Doris Day. 
  • If you don't mind movies with the oh-so-predictable mistaken-identity plot.
  • The original trailer
Watch On Moonlight Bay (1951)
  • If you're a fan of Doris Day 
  • If you're a fan of Gordon MacRae
  • If you've seen the sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) two or three times but have never yet caught the original movie
  • If you like romantic comedies. This one is genuinely both, I think. Though perhaps in an old-fashioned way. Doris Day plays the young teen girl, Marjorie Winfield, who falls in love with a college man, William Sherman. He does not get along with her father because he's silly enough to go around boasting about how he doesn't believe in marriage! 
  • If you like movies about rascal-y little brothers. Marjorie's brother, Wesley, played by Billy Gray, is A RASCAL if I've seen one. He is something else. Oh the trouble this boy causes, the messes he makes!!! The lies he tells. One of the big scenes in the movies (for me) is when he sneaks out to the movies. The silent film is about the dangers of drinking alcohol. After watching the Prohibition series, I do believe that there were such propaganda films, but it was just very, very, very interesting to see!
  • If you like movies set during this time period, around the start of World War I. By the end of the movie, we see William Sherman as a soldier all ready to go to war. 
  • If you don't mind traditional, old-fashioned notions of love, romance, and women's roles. (Marjorie is definitely having to choose between a father who would control her and a would-be-husband who would control her.) 
  • Not a clip of the movie, but there are pictures and music
Watch Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951)
  • If you like sea-dramas, action-adventure films with big, big, big battle scenes at sea (like this one).
  • If you like or love  Gregory Peck.
  • If you have low expectations. This film doesn't come close to comparing with Errol Flynn at his very in Captain Blood (1935) and The Sea Hawk (1940). It is not the best romance, by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I'd rank it as a non-romance. For at the time, he's married and his wife is pregnant with their son AND she's engaged to another man. As a mindless sea adventure it works a bit better.
  • Original trailer;

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in May

New Loot:

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Farmer Boy Goes West by Heather Williams
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter
Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman by Chloe Schama
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
Murder in the First Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing by Kate Colquhoun.
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
Towards Zero by Agatha Christie
Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin 
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

Leftover Loot:

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer
The War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War II by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman
Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
We Two: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill.
The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War II by Denis Avey 

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, May 25, 2012

The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys. Agatha Christie. 1925/2012. HarperCollins. 336.

I definitely enjoyed The Secret of Chimneys. I picked this one up because I accidentally read The Seven Dials Mystery first. When I learned that Seven Dials Mystery starred so many characters first introduced in The Secret of Chimneys, I knew I would have to read this one right away!!! If I loved Seven Dials so, so, much, I knew I would probably love this one too. And I did enjoy it. And I definitely loved the characters, I probably would have loved them anyway even if I hadn't already known them, so I would definitely recommend these two books--and to recommend them in the proper order. Read Secret of Chimneys first.

The Secret of Chimneys is a bit over-the-top, I won't lie. I suppose you could call it a silly book that isn't exactly meant to be taken seriously. But it was a fun book, for the most part. I probably loved Seven Dials Mystery more than this one. But still, I liked it.

Anthony Cade travels to England as a favor for a friend. If he delivers a certain manuscript--a memoir--by a certain person (recently deceased) living in exile to a particular publisher by a certain day, he receives a good sum of money. Money that will be divided between them (Anthony and Jimmy). But that isn't the only package he's taking with him, he's also got a bundle of letters from a married woman to her lover. Jimmy has told him that these letters have been used (in the past) to blackmail the woman. He's gotten a hold of the letters, and he doesn't want to blackmail her, he wants to see them returned safely to her. Will his mission succeed? Well, it sounds easy enough, in a way, until you factor in all the different political factions that want to see him fail and the manuscript be destroyed.

The setting of this one is an estate called Chimneys. And we do meet many, many lovely characters. Including Eileen (Bundle) Brent, Superintendent Battle, Lord Caterham, George Lomax, Bill Eversleigh, Virginia Revel, Anthony Cade.

Read The Secret of Chimneys 
  • If you love Agatha Christie
  • If you love British mysteries, classic mysteries
  • If you like a little humor/sarcasm with your mystery/suspense

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rereading The Schwa Was Here

The Schwa Was Here. Neal Shusterman. 2004. 240 pages.

I am definitely glad I chose to reread Neal Shusterman's The Schwa Was Here. I'm not exactly sure I loved it as much this second time, but, I am glad I reread it.

My reaction the first time I read this one--back in 2005--was that THIS WAS THE BEST, BEST, BEST book least of 2004. I was wowed by the characters of Schwa and Antsy. And smirked at the developing relationship between Old Man Crawley and Antsy. I thought it had heart and humor and a great narrative voice. And I still do, for the most part. I definitely think that Antsy is a GREAT narrator. The narrative voice in this one is so strong. Antsy can be very very funny in his observations--particularly in his observations about life, like how he compares life to a bad haircut, or change in life to a bad haircut. But he can also be authentic in some very tense, uncomfortable situations. In particular the tension-filled dynamics of his family. Never do readers get the idea that Antsy's life is one big joke after another. Readers see a blending of humor and pain. Which I think is authentic.

So the premise of this one is simple, Calvin Schwa is a middle schooler who, for the most part, remains invisible to teachers and students alike. They just don't see him. It's like he's not even there. Antsy does notice him, though even Antsy sometimes slips, and begins to make the Schwa a project of his. He decides to experiment to see the properties of the Schwa effect. The first few experiments are funny. Over-the-top ridiculous. But the experiments don't last forever, and the joke doesn't stay funny for long. Schwa may have enjoyed a couple of weeks of particular attention (not being taken seriously, mind you, not being seen for who he is, really is, but being the focus of a joke, a bet, a fad), but soon Antsy is his only friend. Almost. (A girl does enter into this.) How long can the Schwa go on being unseen and unheard? When will enough be enough? Can he turn his tragic non-life around?

I suppose the only thing that has changed in my rereading is that it doesn't strike me as truly being the best, best, best, best, best book ever. I still love it, I still really love it. I still seeing it as being a strong novel with a lot of heart and soul to it--a blending of emotions that make up life as we know it. I still love Antsy. I still love seeing a novel that addresses the invisibility of some kids. I still love seeing all the family drama. 

Read The Schwa Was Here
  • If you love Middle Grade Fiction
  • If you love coming-of-age stories
  • If you love stories with great narrators
  • If you have room in your heart for a grumpy old man
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Mascot

Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood. Mark Kurzem. 2007. Penguin. 432 pages.

If I'm ever asked, "What's your father like?" a simple answer always escapes me. Even though I can look back on a lifetime spent in his company, I have never been able to take his measure. One part of him is a shy, brooding Russian peasant who shows a certain air of naivete, if not gullibility, with strangers. Then there is another side: alert, highly gregarious, and astonishingly worldly. His unexpected appearance on my doorstep in Oxford one May afternoon in 1997 left me more mystified than ever.

The Mascot is such a powerful and compelling biography. It is not your traditional biography--Holocaust or not. It is the story of how one man's past is revealed, how a father chooses to share his memories--some quite vivid, others very vague or fuzzy--with his adult son. The father's life is revealed to his son in a series of conversations and through the son's research to validate his father's story.

Mark, our narrator, always knew his father had his secrets. His father had a brown bag he carried with him everywhere. No one was allowed to see this bag's contents. But. Occasionally, the father would share with his family--his wife and sons--stories from the past. On these occasions, he'd pull out a photograph, an article, an item from the bag. Mark suspected that these stories were just that--stories, being part fact, part embellishment.

But one day his father tries to tell him the truth, the whole truth, the whole UGLY truth about his past. Pieces and fragments. A memory here and there. What is certainly understandable is just how much is missing, how much he doesn't know about who he is and where he comes from.

He was told by his rescuers (Latvian police men or Latvian soldiers?) that he was found in the woods or forest. Alone. Wandering. Obviously struggling to survive. He was taken in by the soldiers and "adopted" into their company. They gave him a name. They gave him a birthday. They gave him a small uniform--from 1941 to 1945 he was given three uniforms. Though he was taken into one man's home--"adopted" (though not legally) by a husband and wife--he stayed connected or associated with a unit of soldiers. He witnessed things NO CHILD of five, six, seven, eight, or nine should EVER witness. He saw men, women, children, babies being killed--in one instance herded together into a building which was then set on fire.

Though he doesn't remember his name--his family name, the names of his brother and sister, father and mother--or the name of his village, the name of his country--he does remember one thing: he witnessed the slaughter of his mother, his younger brother, his baby sister. He witnessed the slaughter of an entire neighborhood or village. At the time, he didn't realize this violence, this bloody slaughter, was because they were Jewish. In fact, his very "Jewishness" was buried deep inside him. At times he seemed aware that he too was Jewish, that his life was at risk if his Jewishness was revealed. But at the same time, the only way he could cope with his present--with his new reality, his new identity, the company he was keeping--was forced to keep in a way--was to bury his 'true' Jewish identity and become the boy others wanted/needed him to be. To survive, he had to deny so very very much.

So the story Mark hears from his father is fragmented, in a way, with very few clues. But it is emotional and intense. Almost too much for him to handle. In fact, it is almost too much for him--the father--to handle. And at one point, he asks himself and he asks his son why. Why bother remembering the past? What good--if any--can come from remembering, from seeking to remember, from uncovering the truth, from piecing everything together, from telling and sharing his story with his family, his friends, his community. For those expecting a clear answer to this, you might be disappointed. The truth is not that black and white. A son and father learn much about one another. The family is at times strengthened, but at other times put under great stress and pressure--by all this. There were things that seemed a little shocking to me, for one, that there were certain organizations (if organizations is the right word?) that denied and rejected his story. Who told him that he was NOT Jewish, that he did NOT suffer during the war, that his story was not part of the Holocaust. Still others (sometimes just individuals, other times groups of individuals) who denied his story, who essentially said that his story was all lies, that it could not happen, did not happen. I think this shocked the son as well, that people could hear the story, see the photographs, and come to the conclusion that this small child (he was found at the age of five) was a willing participant in the war, that he voluntarily joined the enemy, that he was a Nazi just like the others--the adult soldiers. Was he ethically responsible for the actions taken by others? True, you might argue, that the soldiers were trying to "train" him to be a little Nazi, a good, little soldier. But what choice--if any--would he have had? 

Read The Mascot
  • If you can't get enough nonfiction about World War II (like me)
  • If you enjoy reading Jewish books; Holocaust books.
  • If you are interested in family dynamics (relationships); this one is great at exploring a father-son relationship.
  • If you are interested in history and research; this one provides a behind-the-scenes look at how research is done in a very practical, personal way. (Research isn't just about getting a grade.)
  • If you enjoy biographies.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Miracle (YA) Spoilers

Miracle. Elizabeth Scott. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.

When I woke up the sky was burning. It was orange-red with flames, breathing hot all over me, and thick black smoke bloomed like clouds. I rose to my knees and the sky grew hotter and closer as water poured over me. I knew I should turn around, that there was something behind me. I didn't even know how I knew that. I just did. I didn't turn around, and in front of me, through the bright flame of the sky, I saw a hint of green. I started walking toward it. Smoke was winding itself inside me, slipping down my throat every time I breathed. 

I have a feeling that it isn't exactly fair to judge a book by an author's previous books. But. I can't help feeling that Miracle just isn't as wonderful as some of the author's previous books. Even if I exclude Elizabeth Scott's contemporary romances and only consider her darker YA novels like Grace, Living Dead Girl, Love You Hate You Miss You. Do I like her darker books? Yes and no. Grace wowed me, I won't lie. It was definitely a strong book for me. Same with Living Dead Girl. It was very, very, very, very dark. And not at all pleasant to read. But I did feel that it was a powerful story well told. I felt their was a certain strength in the writing, not anyone could write like that. And the fact that the same person who writes like that also writes giddy-making (seriously giddy-making) YA romances, it is a lot to keep in mind. Scott doesn't just write the same book over and over and over again. Although some fans might prefer her to keep writing giddy-making romances. I certainly wouldn't mind reading *more* YA romance from her. But neither do I expect her to just write one kind of a book and only one kind of book.

So. I didn't exactly love, love, love Miracle. I didn't dislike it. I really didn't. There were things I definitely liked, and things that I definitely didn't like. So what didn't I like? Well, I HATED (yes, hated) Megan's parents. I HATED the way they treated Megan's brother. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. The way the parents treat David was all kinds of wrong. And the way we're led to believe that before the plane crash the case was reversed, well, it convinced me that Megan's parents need HELP. (Before David got 100% of the attention.) Is not liking the parents of a narrator reason enough to not particularly "like" a book, probably not. And I did like a handful of the characters. I particularly liked Margaret. She was one of two people who really got Megan, well, post-crash Megan. She was one of the only people who saw Megan for herself, who saw Megan's need and looked at it without turning away. The other person was Joe, a next door neighbor with swoon potential. If Miracle had more Bloom to it, well, it would be a different book. Still. Joe was an asset to this book. I did like the way he got to know Megan, and how he helped her through some of her darkest times.

I think Miracle is more of an issue book than a romance. It does go dark places. Being the sole survivor of a plane crash would be traumatic. Being a survivor--sole or not--would be traumatic. So there is a reason this isn't a giddy-making romance... 

Read Miracle
  • If you're looking for a novel about PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • If you're looking for a dark and gritty novel about a young woman tortured by what she doesn't quite remember--she's the sole survivor of a plane crash. 
  • If you prefer contemporary/realistic YA to YA romance.
  • If you're a fan of Elizabeth Scott. Particularly if you're a fan of Grace, Living Dead Girl, or Love You Hate You Miss You.
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Selection (YA)

The Selection. Kiera Cass. 2012. HarperCollins. 327 pages.

When we got the letter in the post, my mother was ecstatic. She had already decided that all our problems were solved, gone forever. The big hitch in her brilliant plan was me. I didn't think I was a particularly disobedient daughter, but this was where I drew the line.

The key to enjoying this one may be to approach it with no expectations at all. If you've been told--and I'm not sure who is doing the telling--that this one is in any way like The Hunger Games, then you'll be disappointed most likely. I admit that both books do have a love triangle. And I suppose that both books have a reality-TV aspect to them to a certain degree. But really these are two completely different books.

If The Selection reminded me of any book at all, it was the book of Esther from the Old Testament. Our heroine, America Singer, is one of thirty-five young women chosen to be a potential princess. The Prince, the heir to the throne, is about to begin courting these women--one woman from each district in the realm. They will live at the palace--along with the royal family, though on a different floor. The women will receive makeovers, beauty treatments, wardrobes, etc. The women will also undergo some training. Training that will only increase as the Prince narrows down the women from thirty-five to six. (Ultimately, of course, he'll be choosing one woman. But this book is the first book in a series, and the end of this book only gets us down to six.) America soon realizes that for some, it's a matter of seeing the crown and only the crown. In other words, they want to be princess--ultimately queen--and they don't care who they have to marry to get it. But other women do seem to care for the prince as a person--America is one of them.

The Love Triangle. My feelings weren't torn between the two men at all. I don't know how much I can say about the romance of this one without spoiling things. But. This one is mostly dialogue between America and Prince Maxon. And I liked that. When I'm reading romance, I want dialogue. I want to get to know both the heroine and the hero. I want to see the relationship develop.

What would have made this book more satisfying is if it had been resolved in one book...

Is The Selection the absolute best book I've ever read? Of course not. Was the characterization amazing? Not really. But did I really enjoy it? Did I read it in one day? Were there scenes that made me smile? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Read The Selection
  • If you're looking for a very light, somewhat shallow romance with shades of dystopia, political unrest, and terrorism. 
  • If you like romance with LOTS of dialogue
  • If you love books with love triangles (If you HATE books with love triangles, or if you especially hate dystopias with love triangles, this one won't be for you).

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching Young Victoria (2009)

Last Sunday, I talked about watching Victoria and Albert. Today I'm going to be talking gushing about the movie Young Victoria. How much do I love Young Victoria? Well, I've seen it four times since the first week of March! IF I owned it, well, I'm sure the number would be even higher. For I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE and adore this movie!!! What do I love about this movie? Well, it might be simpler to ask what I don't love about this movie! I'm not sure I could think of anything either. Sure, I suppose, it goes a little over-the-top in places when it comes to DRAMA. I think they wanted it to be as DRAMATIC as possible. But some of the places in the movie where I thought it could have been a little too exaggerated to be true, well, I've found supported in biographies. Like the scene where her uncle, William IV, throws a temper tantrum at his birthday celebration when he screams at Victoria's mother in front of everyone. In the biography I'm reading Becoming Queen Victoria, I read about this and it has his words...and, yes, they got it right. So I've decided not to overthink the drama. To just take this movie as it is, to love it for what it is. And that won't be hard, trust me.

 What this movie has is what Victoria and Albert fall short on, ROMANCE. The Young Victoria is a giddy-making, oh-so-romantic, oh-so-magical, practically-perfect-in-every-way film. If you want romance, you'll get plenty of it in The Young Victoria. For this film shows these two falling deeply in love with each before they're married. It shows them spending a good amount of time together. Probably more time together than what is historically true--based on the opening chapters I read in We Two. But their scenes together are just so wonderful--like when they're playing chess, when they're dancing, when he's teaching her archery, or when soon after they meet he holds her hand going up the stairs (for that is a 'rule' in place, Victoria cannot walk up stairs (or down stairs) without someone (usually her governess or another lady of the household) holding her hand). The movie also highlights their correspondence. (Here's an example of the romance.)

One of the great strengths of the movie--beyond the acting, the writing, the sets and costumes--is the music. I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the music. The score is by Ilan Eshkeri. And it is beyond wonderful. I didn't think it possible for me to love a film score more than I loved Much Ado About Nothing (by Patrick Doyle)...but Young Victoria is by far my favorite and best score ever. It makes every scene that much better. I have listened to the soundtrack so many times!!!! (One example of the music.)

Watch The Young Victoria
  • If you want to watch a great movie
  • If you love costume/period dramas
  • If you love romance and drama
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mr. Darcy's Diary

Mr. Darcy's Diary. Amanda Grange. Sourcebooks. 2007. 320 pages.

Monday, 1st July
Have I done the right thing in establishing Georgiana in London, I wonder? The summer is proving to be very hot, and when I visited her this morning, I found her lacking her usual energy. I think I will send her to the coast for a holiday.

Do I have a favorite Amanda Grange novel? I'm not sure. I definitely LOVED this one, Mr. Darcy's Diary!!! The first Amanda Grange "diary" I read was Colonel Brandon's Diary.  I've since read Mr Knightley's Diary, Wickham's Diary, and Henry Tilney's Diary. (I'd love to make time to read Captain Wentworth's Diary and Edmund Bertram's Diary.)

I also JUST discovered there will be *new* Amanda Grange this year!!! Pride & Pyramids: Mr. Darcy in Egypt which releases in July. Also Dear Mr. Darcy: A Retelling of Pride and Prejudice which releases in August. I believe this gives an insider's look on Darcy's correspondence (as opposed to his diaries).

So I have high expectations for Amanda Grange. And she has never once disappointed me!!! She gets her Austen characters just right. True, I don't love *all* her books equally. But that is in part because I don't love  all of Jane Austen's characters equally. And since her characters are so very true-to-the-book and yet so vividly brought to life all at the same time, it is only natural that I have a similar reaction. At least to a certain degree. I will say this, she can make me appreciate characters that I have been indifferent to in the past. And she can make me appreciate even more characters that I already love and adore.

I loved many, many things about Mr. Darcy's Diary. The thing I love most is how it gives a new perspective on Darcy's relationship with Charles Bingley. In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, readers don't really get a chance to know--really know--Charles Bingley all on his own. I loved reading the scenes with Charles Bingley and Mr. Darcy. You really do get an impression of him, a clearer impression of him. And even though Bingley is far, far from perfect, I can't help smiling at his scenes. As for Mr. Darcy, well, that's only to be expected that there's a high degree of charm to be found. True, he can be smug and arrogant, a bit blinded to reality, but, his transformation is all that much more wondrous as seen slowly through the course of these diary entries.

Read Mr. Darcy's Diary
  • If you love Jane Austen
  • If you love Austen's characters, if you want to spend more time with them, if you want newer, fresher perspectives on their inner lives
  • If you enjoy clean Austen retellings/adaptations
  • If you're a fan of Amanda Grange
  • If you love the book or movie, Pride and Prejudice

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Library Loot Third Trip in May

New Loot:

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
True Sisters by Sandra Dallas
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer
The War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War II by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel

Leftover Loot:

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie 
Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman
Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
We Two: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill.
Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams
The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War II by Denis Avey

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

These Books Came Home

Well, today was the Friends of the Library book sale. And this is what came home with me:

  1. The Good News From North Haven: A Year in the Life of a Small Town by Michael L. Lindvall (HC)
  2. Lady of No Man's Land by Jeanne Williams (HC)
  3. The Unplowed Sky by Jeanne Williams (HC)
  4. The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life by Gene Logsdon (HC)
  5. Gossamer by Lois Lowry (HC)
  6. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (HC)
  7. Behave Yourself, Bethany Brant by Patricia Beatty (HC)
  8. All Together in One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick (HC)
  9. My Enemy the Queen by Victoria Holt (HC)
  10. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  11. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (HC) 
  12. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (HC)
  13. Trinity by Leon Uris
  14. The Pillars of the Earth by Kenn Follett
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rereading Unwind

Unwind. Neal Shusterman. 2007. Simon & Schuster. 336 pages.

The prologue:  The Second Civil War, also known as "The Heartland War," was a long and bloody conflict fought over a single issue. To end the war, a set of constitutional amendments known as "The Bill of Life" was passed. It satisfied both the Pro-life and the Pro-choice armies. The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively "abort" a child...on the condition that the child's life doesn't technically end. The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called "unwinding." Unwinding is now a common and accepted practice in society. 

First sentence: "There are places you can go," Ariana tells him, "and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen." Connor isn't so sure, but looking into Ariana's eyes makes his doubts go away, if only for a moment. 

Did you know there is going to be a sequel to Unwind?! I know!!!! It's very exciting news. As soon as I learned about Unwholly--which releases in late August 2012--I knew I just HAD to reread Unwind. It's been years since I read Unwind, and essentially I just remembered how great it was and how it was near impossible to put it down. It was just so intense, so compelling, so DIFFERENT from what I was used to reading--at least at the time.

And I am very glad I took the time to reread this one. It is just as great as I remembered.

Imagine living in a world where—if you're a teenager—your life is constantly in danger. If you anger your parents just one time too many, you could be on the next bus out of town heading to a Harvest camp or the "chop shop" as it's called in slang. Your organs—every single part of you (except maybe your appendix), stripped away and 'donated' to make someone else's life better. This scenario is about to become terrifyingly real to three teenagers.

Connor is a guy who hasn't always had the best temper or attitude. But he never thought his parents could be so cruel as to unwind him just because he's going through a "difficult" stage. After accidentally finding the papers that will end his life—at least as he knows it—he decides to run away. After all, if he can manage to survive for two or three years—until his eighteenth birthday—he'll be safe and legal.

Risa is a girl from the State Home. She is a musical prodigy, but after making a few mistakes at a concert, she's told she's reached her potential in life and that she can best serve society now as an Unwind. After all, they can only feed and house so many, and new babies arrive all the time. It's normal to eliminate at least 5% of the teen population every year.

 Lev is different from Connor and Risa. He's only thirteen. But the big difference? Lev has known all along that he was 'destined' to be unwound. He's a tithe. A baby set apart from birth—chosen from birth—to be sacrificed on his thirteenth birthday for the good of society. He is told that his is a holy service, a holy life. It's a "religious" and "spiritual" experience or gift. After all, there is no greater gift of love than when a man lays down his life, right? When these three meet for the first time, it is pure chaos. But their lives, their destinies, are woven together for better or worse. Can these teens escape their fate?

Told through many narrators, Unwind is a suspenseful, fast-paced read. While the premise is fascinating in and of itself, Shusterman manages to make this story resonate with strong characters. The world he creates is haunting yet not completely without hope and redemption as people—teens and adults—team up to change the world one step at a time.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is dystopia at its best.

"Funny but when he was little Connor was terrified of the boogeyman. He would have to sleep with the lights on, he would have his parents check his closet every night. They told him that the boogeyman wasn't real, but they lied. The Bill of Life made the boogeyman real, and he didn't need the closet; he came walking right in through the front door." (4) 
"What does it take to unwind the unwanted? It takes twelve surgeons, in teams of two, rotating in and out as their medical specialty is needed. It takes nine surgical assistants and four nurses. It takes three hours." (288)
Read Unwind
  • If you're a fan of dystopias, yes, it is YA dystopia, but I think adults will enjoy this one too.
  • If you're a fan of science fiction; if you like thought-provoking science fiction.
  • If you're looking for a book that's hard to put down.
  • If you're a fan of Neal Shusterman.
  • If you're looking forward to the sequel, Unwholly, and want to refresh your memory of the first book. 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Henrietta Sees It Through: More News From the Home Front 1942-1945

Henrietta Sees It Through. Joyce Dennys. 1987/2011. Bloomsbury. 208 pages. 

February 11, 1942
My dear Robert
Is there anything more fascinating than cutting the edges of a lawn?

I definitely liked this one! I'm trying to decide if I like it more than the first book, Henrietta's War, or if I just feel more comfortable liking it since most of the characters are familiar friends by this point. It definitely covers more than the first book. It speeds through the rest of the war. (Perhaps because this book doesn't publish every single letter originally published for the magazine these were originally written for during the war years.) Once again the setting is a small country village, the narrator is a doctor's wife, Henrietta Brown. The book deals not only with rations and war-worries but with everyday life like gossip, weddings, baby showers, dog shows, squabbles between "friends."

Read Henrietta Sees It Through
  • If you enjoyed Henrietta's War
  • If you enjoy books set in England, especially those set during World War II
  • If you enjoy books with a small, country village setting
  • If you like comedy; quirky characters, etc.
  • If you like epistolary novels 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942

Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942. Joyce Dennys. 1985/2010. Bloomsbury. 176 pages.

October 18, 1939
My dear Robert,
It was good to get your letter and hear that you are in a 'perfectly safe place,' though I wonder how much of that is true and how much intended to allay the alarms of your Childhood's Friend. And why, when I and everybody else know that you are in France, must I address my letters to Berkshire? Well, well, I suppose They Know Best, and Ours Not to Reason Why, but I seem to remember that when I wrote to you in the last war I used to put "B.E.F., France," quite boldly on the envelope, thereby no doubt endangering the safety of the British Empire.

I have been wanting to read this book for a year or so now. And in many ways it did not disappoint. It's set in the country, in a small country village. The main character is Henrietta Brown, a doctor's wife. The book is told through a series of letters to her childhood-friend-now-a-soldier, Robert. The first book covers October 1939 through December 1941. (Yes, the cover says 1939-1942, but the truth is the last entry is dated December 31, 1941.) Many letters (or sketches, depending on how you want to view them) are accompanied by small black-and-white drawings. What does Henrietta write about? Well, life in the village, in the country. Everything from tea parties, church rumble sales, various "concerts," and other events--big and small--that concern everyday folk. Simple things like gardening, shopping, rationing, knitting, gossiping, etc.

The setting is definitely enjoyable. I was reminded of Agatha Christie, in a way, especially the Miss Marple series. Because these are set in a small country village, because the characters presented are so quirky. But there are no murders, no mysteries to solve. So the comparison isn't quite fair. I was also reminded, in a way, of Erma Bombeck. Though I admit it that is a bit of a stretch. It's just that Dennys' sketches of what it is like to live in a small country village, in a small community where everyone knows everyone's business, her focus on being a housewife, a mother, a 'good' neighbor and friend, well, it is the finding humor in the common, everyday dealings of life that made me think of Bombeck. True, the humor is sometimes more understated and subtle than Bombeck, but, there are many funny scenes in this one. Is the humor for everyone? Probably not. Some might fight it too quiet.

So I definitely liked it. I'm not exactly, exactly sure I loved it. I am very, very glad I read it. And I'd definitely recommend it to some of my friends. But if you're looking for action, action, more's not going to be for you.

Read Henrietta's War
  • If you like books set in England, especially if you like the period in which this is set, World War II
  • If you like epistolary novels 
  • If you like quirky characters and humor

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Too Many Women

Too Many Women. Rex Stout. 1947/1985. Bantam Books. 176 pages.

It was the same old rigmarole. Sometimes I found it amusing; sometimes it only bored me; sometimes it gave me a pronounced pain, especially when I had had more of Wolfe than was good for either of us.  

With Rex Stout, it's merely a matter of determining if I liked a book or loved a book. There was never a question of if I would like it at all. For I've never read a Nero Wolfe mystery that I didn't at least like. There's just something enjoyable and wonderful about the detective team of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I love and adore both characters. In Too Many Women, Archie is the dominant character. While Wolfe is present in the novel, to a certain degree, it is Archie who is doing most of the work. (Now Archie would probably be the first to point out that he's always the one doing all of the work.) Too Many Women sees Archie Goodwin going undercover (well, at least at the start) at a company. He's been hired to investigate a death. One of the company's employees was killed in a hit and run accident. A few fellow employees at least feel that this was intentional and no accident. So Archie's job is to talk with just about all the employees--well, the ones who had dealings with the victim--and find out if it was murder, to catch the murderer if he is to be found. (The premise of this one reminded me of Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers, in that mystery the detective, Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at an agency to find a murderer.)

Was it enjoyable? Yes. Definitely. I never regret spending time with Nero and Archie.

Was it the best, best, best Wolfe mystery ever? Not really. I mean it was a good book, a good mystery. I think for those who like to see Archie flirt with women--he does have a way with women--this one will appeal, or not. (I did find it a little odd that so many women were begging for Archie's favors.) For those looking for great banter between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, well, this one isn't as good as some of the other novels I've read. In fact, it's probably my least favorite of the Stout novels I've read.
I don't regret reading this one. Perhaps because I would LOVE to read each and every Nero Wolfe novel, novella, short story ever published.

Read Too Many Women
  • If you're a big fan of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. If you already love the characters and are just looking to spend more time with them. This wouldn't be my first choice for a first introduction to Nero and Archie.
  • If you're a fan of mysteries and are looking for an office/company setting.
  • If you're not bothered by the stereotypical representations of women--especially secretaries.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 14, 2012

Champagne for One

Champagne for One. Rex Stout. 1958/1995. Random House. 224 pages.

If it hadn't been raining and blowing that raw Tuesday morning in March I would have been out, walking to the bank to deposit a couple of checks, when Austin Byne phoned me, and he might have tried somebody else. But more likely not. He would probably have rung again later, so I can't blame all this on the weather. As it was, I was there in the office, oiling the typewriter and the two Marley .38's for which we had permits, from the same can of oil, when the phone rang and I lifted it and spoke. 

 Last year I discovered mysteries, and I also discovered that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. While I haven't spent as much time in the mystery genre this year as I did last year, I do plan on reading some this year. I have got plenty of Rex Stout mysteries that I just can't wait to read!!!

Reading Champagne for One was an interesting experience for me since I had already seen the adaptation of it. (I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Nero Wolfe series--that show ended much too soon!!!) To read a mystery when you have a vague remembering of the details--the clues--is a different type of experience. Not a bad one necessarily. Just different.

In Champagne for One, Archie Goodwin attends a party in the home of one of Wolfe's former clients, Mrs. Robilotti. The dinner party is to "benefit" four single unwed mothers that had (in the past year) been helped by the charity (Grantham House) started by the woman's first husband, Mr. Grantham. Four gentlemen are invited to entertain the four young "unfortunate" women. Archie Goodwin was substituting at the last minute. Dinner and dancing. That's what is supposed to happen. Unfortunately, this year it is dinner, dancing, and murder. Of course, Archie Goodwin is the only one that KNOWS it was murder and not suicide. Why? Well. He was warned by one of the ladies that Faith Usher had a bottle of cyanide in her purse, so he keeps his eyes on that purse throughout the evening. Faith never goes near it. Yet, she still ends up dead--poisoned.

Who is the murderer? Can Goodwin and Wolfe outwit the murderer?

I loved this one. I think this is a GREAT Nero Wolfe mystery. It would be a great choice if you're new to the series. (The series can be read in any order, for the most part, I've been told there is a trilogy that go together, but the rest do stand alone.)

Read Champagne for One
  • If you're a mystery fan
  • If you're looking for mysteries set in the U.S. (as opposed to all the BRILLIANT British mysteries written by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers)
  • If you're a fan of Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe, and Archie Goodwin
  • If you're a fan of books set in the 1950s
  • If you like some comedy (banter) in your mysteries
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Salon: Watching Victoria and Albert (2001)

A few weeks ago I watched Victoria and Albert. I had just finished watching Young Victoria (I'll be reviewing that another week, I want to rewatch it just one more time...because two times just isn't enough, right?) and I was in the mood for more.

What can I say? This film is very, very, very different from Young Victoria, but, that isn't a bad thing really. Especially since the truth probably is somewhere between the two. In Young Victoria, viewers get treated to a giddy-making romance. From start to finish, Young Victoria delivers. The music. The costumes. The sets. The dialogue. The acting. The drama. It is just a great, great film.

While Young Victoria was all about the early years of her marriage (the movie ends with her first pregnancy), Victoria and Albert covers so much more. It covers their entire relationship from start to finish. It's got a framework to it as well. Viewers see Queen Victoria as an old woman remembering her life. And you definitely get the idea that it was a great love--for her. But what Victoria and Albert focuses on, in a way, is how that love was least for a time. Viewers see her fall in love with him almost from the start. Perhaps not their first, first meeting when he was still more of a boy than a man, but still. The movie captures her strong emotion, or connection, with Albert. And in fact it shows her proposing to him very soon after. It shows them marrying, starting a family, raising that family, but viewers see an Albert who is still hesitant to say that he's "in love." In fact, the film shows Albert asking around to see if other husbands feel the same way, if love comes with marriage--with time in marriage, or if it is necessary for a good marriage at all. There is a scene where he confesses his love for her, where he's honest with her--when confronted--that it hasn't always been love. And it was nice to finally get that scene, to see Albert "get" it...finally. But. As far as romance is concerned, Victoria and Albert is hardly giddy-making.

If the film has a strength, and I believe it does have strengths, it is in showing their lives more fully. We see Queen Victoria first as an overly-protected young woman waiting for the throne, we see her mature as a Queen. We see glimpses of her independence, her stubbornness, her resourcefulness. We see her as being strong and powerful. But we also see her as wife and mother. We see her in her quieter, tender moments. We see her with her children, with her husband. We get private family moments, moments where the focus is not on politics or a nation or an empire. And it was nice to get a fuller portrayal that covers more time, more areas of her life.

I also enjoyed seeing Victoria Hamilton as Queen Victoria. Though Victoria and Albert was filmed (or released) in 2001, I knew her best--knew her first--as Ruby Pratt from Lark Rise to Candleford. (I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Lark Rise to Candleford.) So it was great to see her earlier work, and I definitely appreciated it. While Jonathan Firth makes a nice Prince Albert, he's not quite Rupert Friend.

Watch Victoria and Albert
  • If you like historical/biographical films (though I'm not sure how true or how accurate this film is at capturing the real details of this royal couple)
  • If you are interested in Queen Victoria or Victorian England
  • If you like costume/period dramas 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Library Loot: Second Trip in May

New Loot:

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie
Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie
The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan
Following Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
We Two: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill.
Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Leftover Loot:

Ten Thousand Children: True Stories Told By Children Who Escaped on the Kindertransport by Anne Fox
The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain by Paul Preston
The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War II by Denis Avey
N or M? by Agatha Christie
Smuggled by Christina Shea
The Talk of the Town by Fran Baker
Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family: A Test of Will and Faith in World War I by Louisa Thomas
The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman 
Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman
Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
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

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rereading Book Thief (YA/Adult)

The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 2006. Random House. 560 pages.

First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: you are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. 
The Book Thief leaves me speechless. If humans leave Death, the narrator, feeling haunted, I can say the same of the narrator. Could a book have a better narrator? I doubt it. There is something so perfectly-perfectly-perfect about The Book Thief. It is beautiful and brilliant; absorbing and compelling. It goes ugly places, to be sure, but the language, the style, just can't be beat. I mean this is a novel that wows and amazes. The characters are so real, so vivid. I mean these characters are very real, very human, very flawed, but the connection is so intense. I mean how can you read Liesel Meminger's story and not be moved? How can you not care for Liesel, for her new Papa and Mama, for Rudy, for Max? It would probably be hard to pick a favorite character in this one. Would it be Death who tells the story so beautifully, so achingly, so straight-forwardly? Would it be Liesel, the girl-turned-woman, whom you just can't help loving? Her story is so heartbreaking. She is weak-and-strong. She's vulnerable and spunky. I mean she's got fight to her, fight in her. And there's something about her that you just can't ignore. But she's been hurt, she's carrying pain and loss. There's so much about her that I couldn't even begin to put into words. Would it be Hans Hubermann? It may just be. The way he tenderly loves Liesel, the way he's strong and gentle with her. So very, very understanding. How she becomes his world. How he does everything possible to be a true father to her, to heal her hurts, to piece her heart back together. There is something so very practical and down-to-earth about him, yet something so sensitive too. I mean Hans Hubermann and his accordion won't soon be forgotten by anyone who reads this novel. And then there's Max, the hidden Jew in the basement. I love Max for himself, it's true, but I love Max for what he brings out in Hans and Liesel. I love Max's role in the novel because of how he is able to connect with Liesel, how he is able to connect with this family. His story is powerful, the "books" he writes for Liesel are incredibly compelling, but, this isn't his story. He's a big part of the story, to be sure, because of the way Liesel takes him into her heart. But. This story is all about Liesel. As it perhaps should be.

The Book Thief is a book that everyone should experience twice: once in print, once in audio.  I've read it three times, I believe, and listened to it once. (Though I've listened to some sections of the audio more than once.) And it is one of the best, best, best books I've ever read. I don't love it because it's an easy read. I don't love it because it's a happy, happy novel. I love it because it is beautiful, haunting, ugly, yet hopeful.

Read The Book Thief
  • If you want to read a great book; it's compelling, emotional, haunting, beautiful and ugly.
  • If you want to read a book set during World War II.
  • If you are looking for a substantive book on love and loss and everything it means to be human.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer (MG)

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer. Jennifer Gennari. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 119 pages.

Unlike some people, Lake Champlain was a friend I could count on. I knew her every mood--sometimes she was flat like a cookie sheet, and other times she was whipped up like meringue on a butterscotch pie. That was the way I felt, too. Ever since Eva had moved in with Mom and me last month, I was as changeable as the lake.

June Farrell isn't quite having a perfect summer. Her mom's girlfriend, Eva, has moved in with them. And soon afterwards the two announce their plans to get married--Vermont's new civil union law has just been put in place. June isn't the biggest Eva fan. Sure she wants her Mom to be happy. But if she's honest, June doesn't quite feel comfortable around Eva, at least not yet. There is some personality clashing going on...

And the town's mood has definitely changed in recent months. There is a campaign, a movement, to "take back Vermont" and to undo what's been done. There are many in the town who are not exactly thrilled with Vermont's new law, and who feel it is their right to let this be known. Mainly through putting up signs and flyers about their campaign to "take back Vermont." But also through distributing a list of businesses owned and operated by gays so that those businesses can be boycotted in the future.

June is embarrassed that her mom's business is on that list. And that they are temporarily at least losing some of their customers. And she's also not thrilled that some of her friends parents are part of this campaign. That is that their political views do not match up with her family's. She doesn't want to lose friends because of this. But at the same time, she doesn't know if she's still welcome. She doesn't feel comfortable when her friends' parents express their views on homosexuality. Everything seems so complicated now, whereas just a few months ago, things seemed to be going so well.

This book isn't just about family drama and a tension-filled town. It is also about pies and the joy of baking.

Read My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer
  • If you're looking for lgbt books for elementary age children; the book is about how an eleven year old handles having two moms planning a wedding/civil union.
  • If you're looking for a little politics in your fiction;
  • If you're looking for books with young heroines who love to bake

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Looking for Me (MG)

Looking for Me. Betsy R. Rosenthal. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages.

Edith of No Special Place

I'm just plain Edith.
I'm number four, 
and should anyone care,
I'm eleven years old,
with curly black hair.

Squeezed / between / two / brothers,
Daniel and Ray,
lost in a crowd,
will I ever be more
than just plain Edith,
who's number four?

In my overcrowded family
I'm just another face.
I'm just plain Edith
of no special place.

I tend to assume that verse novels will be easy reads. And if by easy you just mean quick, then such is the case with Looking For Me. But there is emotional depth in this one. And the subject matter makes this one anything but easy--on the emotions. You might just be brought to tears. Of course, not every reader is so easily touched. But. Still it's best to be prepared.

Looking for Me is set in the 1930s during the Depression. It stars a very, very large Jewish family. Twelve children. Yes, twelve children. Edith has two older sisters and an older brother, but it is Edith who is the "little mother" to her younger siblings. She does take her family for granted, and at times, it is easy for Edith to be full of complaints. Which I suppose is only human. What Edith is missing is her own identity. Though others may think of her in certain ways, she's having a hard time deciding for herself just who she is, who she is beyond one of many daughters, beyond one of many sisters. Who is she apart from her role in the family? Does she have a voice? Does she have a choice?

I liked this one. I did. I'm not sure it is for every reader. I know that some people just don't like verse novels and can't understand why the stories are just not written in ordinary prose. And other readers do like verse novels. But even if you love verse novels, you might not like historical fiction. So. As I said, this one may not be for everyone, but I liked it well enough. It was definitely a difficult read--and it did bring me very, very close to tears.

Read Looking for Me
  • If you like historical verse novels
  • If you are looking for Jewish children's books
  • If you are looking for books set during the Depression
  • If you are looking for family books
  • If you don't mind really, really sad books

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Rereading Divergent (YA)

Divergent. Veronica Roth. 2011. May 2011. HarperCollins. 496 pages.

There is one mirror in my house. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.

What my original review couldn't tell you is how much I've continued to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Veronica Roth's Divergent.  I read this one last February, and it remained a favorite throughout the year. It definitely came close to topping my favorite-and-best list of 2011. And was by far the best YA book I read last year. There was something about Beatrice (Tris) and Tobias (Four) that stuck with me. I wanted to pick it up a half a dozen times at least to reread it, but I restrained myself. I wanted to save it up to read it close to the release date of the second book in the series, Insurgent. The truth is the moment I finished Divergent (the first and second time) I wanted, no, NEEDED, Insurgent to be right there for me to pick up. Of course, that was impossible.

From my original review:
Beatrice Prior, our sixteen-year-old narrator, is about to make the most important decision of her life. For two big days are coming: the day of the aptitude test and the Choosing Ceremony. Soon Beatrice will have to decide which faction she'll belong to for the rest of her life. If she chooses outside her parents' faction, she may never see them again. For ties to one's faction must come first. The five factions are as follows: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice has been raised Abnegation, but it's always felt like a wrong fit. Selflessness does not come easy for her. She has spent the first sixteen years of her life practically invisible--blending into the background. But Beatrice has secretly been watching her Dauntless classmates. Dare she admit it aloud? She's thinking of choosing the most rebel faction of all!

But not all initiates make it into the Dauntless faction. Only the bravest. Only the strongest. Only the best. Readers follow Tris (Beatrice) on her new journey. We meet fellow initiates--those born Dauntless, and those transferring from other factions. We follow their training through three stages. They will be challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally. We become familiar with their two trainers--Eric and Four. We see the faction's strengths and weaknesses. As does Tris. On the one hand, Tris realizes she is fierce. She can be strong, determined, brave. She is learning to face her fears, learning to face life. But she's also realizing that compassion and love are part of courage. That selflessness has prepared her for her new life. On the other hand, she sees how heartless, how cruel some are. Yes, the Dauntless have their flaws.

Divergent is an action-packed dystopia. It's exciting. It's compelling. It's impossible to put down. The futuristic Chicago setting has been well-crafted. While only two factions are explored in this first novel in the trilogy, the glimpses we get of this world are fascinating. I loved the setting, the world-building. I loved the characters. Tris is such a great heroine. And Four. Well, I don't want to spoil it. But he's definitely a large part of why I loved this one! I would definitely recommend this one. I think I loved it even more than The Hunger Games trilogy.
What I can add:

There's nothing more to think about. I definitely, definitely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one above and beyond the Hunger Games. It's no contest really for me. I love this one above and beyond almost all the YA Science Fiction I've ever read. And maybe even more than I love most of the adult science fiction I've read.

And I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Four. I do. I just love every single scene he's in. He's giddy-making and oh-so-swoonworthy. (He even surpasses Marcus Flutie, something I thought near impossible. For those not familiar with Marcus Flutie--and why aren't you?--he's from Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series. The first book is Sloppy Firsts.)

Read Divergent
  • If you want to read a GREAT dystopian novel; I love it for the world-building; I love it for the characterization; I love it for its action and drama; I love it for its swoonworthy romance. This is NOT a romance book thinly disguised as dystopia. It's not. I promise.
  • If you want to read a great YA book. I know not every adult will pick up a YA book. I know some are prejudiced against reading YA. But. This book deserves to be read no matter your age!
  • If you want a book that you just CAN'T PUT DOWN. 

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 07, 2012

Two Bilingual Board Books

A Nest in Springtime: A Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Book of Numbers. Belle Yang. 2012. Candlewick Press. 24 pages.

Wild geese come to nest.
Busy, busy.
How many eggs?

A Nest in Springtime celebrates the arrival of spring. Two wild geese have arrived and they are preparing to hatch eight eggs. This one is a concept book--readers count from one to ten; eight goslings, the goose, the gander. But it is also a simple story just celebrating spring and nature. The art is very nice, very gentle.

For those ambitious enough who want to read the story aloud in Chinese, the book includes some help. The last page includes pinyin pronunciations for the Mandarin Chinese text.

Summertime Rainbow: A Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Book of Colors. Belle Yang. 2012. Candlewick Press. 24 pages.

Blue sky, white clouds. 
Yummy green grass.
Little flowers like yellow stars.
They smell sweet.
They're honeysuckle.

Belle Yang's second board book also celebrates nature. It is a concept book, "teaching" colors. I'm not sure if it is teaching so much as pointing out how beautiful and wonderfully colorful nature is. I think it also "teaches" you to look at the world around you and appreciate what you see. I am really enjoying Belle Yang's art.

For those ambitious enough who want to read the story aloud in Chinese, the book includes some help. The last page includes pinyin pronunciations for the Mandarin Chinese text.

Read Summertime Rainbow and A Nest in Springtime
  • If you're looking for bilingual books to share with little ones; especially if you're looking for Mandarin Chinese books to share with young ones.
  • If you're looking for concept board books that teach numbers and colors
  • If you are looking for board books that celebrate nature and the natural world
  • If you are looking for seasonal board books--spring and summer!

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching North and South

North and South is something I could gush about for hours, days, and weeks. I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the book. It's one of those truly-perfectly-perfect-oh-so-magical books for me. The kind that you want to read again and again and again and again.

The book is by Elizabeth Gaskell. And she is one of my favorite Victorian writers. The only film adaptation I've seen was done by the BBC in 2004/2005. (According to Wikipedia, it aired in November and December 2004, and was released on DVD in spring 2005.)  It stars Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe as Mr. John Thornton and Miss Margaret Hale. And it is OH-SO-MAGICAL. But. It's one of those films that I have to keep separate from the book it's based on. Because as wonderful as the movie is in many, many, many ways. It is NOT the book. It doesn't come close to the book. Not really. And the way the characters are depicted does differ. Some changes are small but significant. Some changes are quite obvious, others not so much. But here's what makes this one a success, I think, the changes work in the film's favor. If that makes sense. As a movie it just works really, really well. Everything is just magical. The setting. The costumes. The music, oh the music, I could gush on and on and on about how perfectly-perfectly-perfect the score of this film is. It is MAGICAL. The dialogue. The romance. The drama. Everything is just so well done. And the ending is just about the best ending to a movie that I've ever, ever, ever, ever seen. It goes beyond giddy-making. It takes giddy to a whole other level!!! So any faults I find in the movie--as I'm watching it, small things really about how it differs from the book--are completely erased by the ending.

I do think this movie will appeal to non-readers or to non-classic readers. I think it would appeal to those who most likely would never have the time or desire to read the book. To those who might be intimidated by classics, or those who might think that classics are boring.

If you love costume all...then this is a must. If you like your romance with more drama than comedy, then this one is for you too!

Watch North and South
  • If you like/love costume dramas.
  • If you like drama/tragedy with your romance.
  • If you love BBC miniseries and programs (and what's not to love?) 
  • If you're looking for a great movie
  • For Richard Armitage--if you watch it only for Richard Armitage, you probably won't be disappointed, and chances are you'll be surprised by just how much you enjoy all of it.
  • For Brendan Coyle. I believe this was the first I saw of Brendan Coyle, and I did LOVE him in this. I then went on to love him in other things!!! 
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews