Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Reflections

In April, I read 42 books. I was able to read some fantasy this month! And I spent some time rereading favorite books!

My top five:

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. 
The Annotated Hobbit. Revised and Expanded Edition. J.R.R. Tolkien. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson.
Exclamation Mark. Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery 
The Tutor's Daughter. Julie Klassen.

Children's Books:

  1. Who's That...Playing? See How The Animals Play Kingfisher. 2013. 14 pages.  
  2. Who's That...Eating? See How The Animals Eat. Kingfisher. 2013. 14 pages. 
  3. Seek and Peek In the Rainforest. Kingfisher. 2013. 8 pages. 
  4. Seek and Peek On the Farm. Kingfisher. 2013. 8 pages. 
  5. Exclamation Mark. Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. 2013. Scholastic. 56 pages.
Middle Grade and Young Adult:
  1. A Little Princess. Frances Hodgson Burnett. 1905. 264 pages.  
  2. The Apothecary. Maile Meloy. 2011. Penguin. 356 pages.
  3. Chronicles of Egg #1: Deadweather and Sunrise. Geoff Rodkey. 2012. Penguin. 288 pages.
  4. The Grimm Legacy. Polly Shulman. 2010. Penguin. 325 pages.
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis. 1950. HarperCollins. 224 pages.
  6. The Annotated Hobbit. Revised and Expanded Edition. J.R.R. Tolkien. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. 2002. (1937, original Hobbit pub. date). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 416 pages.  
  7. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop. Kate Saunders. 2013. Random House. 304 pages. 
  8. Bliss. Kathryn Littlewood. 2012. HarperCollins. 374 pages.  
  9. A Dash of Magic. Kathryn Littlewood. 2013. HarperCollins. 384 pages. 
  10. Sever. Lauren DeStefano. 2013. Simon & Schuster. 371 pages. 
  11. The Wall. William Sutcliffe. 2013. Walker.  304 pages. 
  12. Anne's House of Dreams. L.M. Montgomery. 1917. 227 pages. 
  13. Rainbow Valley. L.M. Montgomery. 1919. 256 pages.
  14. Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery. 1921. 280 pages.    
  15. Little House in the Big Woods. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1932. 238 pages. 
  16. Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1935. 335 pages.  
  17. Invention of Hugo Cabret. Brian Selznick. 2007. Scholastic. 525 pages. 
  18. Whatever After: Fairest of All. Sara Mlynowski. 2012. Scholastic. 170 pages. 
  19. Pinocchio. Carlo Collodi.  1883. 272 pages.
  20. Stardust. Neil Gaiman. 1998. 368 pages.
Adult Books:
  1. Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated and Introduced by Norman Denny. 1862/1976/2012.
    Penguin. 1232 pages.
  2. Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw. 1912. 96 pages.
  3. The English Governess at the Siamese Court: The True Story Behind 'The King and I' by Anna Harriette Leonowens. 1870/1999. 320 pages. 
  4. Speaking from Among the Bones. Alan Bradley. 2013. Random House. 400 pages. 
Christian Books:
  1. Altar Ego by Craig Groeschel. February 2013. Zondervan. 240 pages. 
  2. The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. Nik Ripken. 2013. B&H. 384 pages. 
  3. Love At Any Cost. Julie Lessman. 2013. Revell. 416 pages. 
  4. The Tutor's Daughter. Julie Klassen. 2013. Bethany House. 412 pages.
  5. Love's Abiding Joy. Janette Oke. 1983. Bethany House. 240 pages. 
  6. Iscariot. Tosca Lee. 2013. Howard Books. 336 pages. 
  7. When Jesus Wept. Bodie Thoene and Brock Thoene. 2013. Zondervan. 304 pages.
  8. Miranda. Grace Livingston Hill. 1915. 224 pages. 
  9. Everlasting Righteousness. Horatius Bonar. 1872. 114 pages. 
  10. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells The Story of The Gospel. Mike Cosper. Foreword by Bob Kauflin. 2013. Crossway. 224 pages.
  11. The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness. R. Albert Mohler Jr. 2009. Multnomah. 194 pages.
  12.  The Truth of the Cross. R.C. Sproul. 2007. Reformation Trust. 168 pages. 
  13. Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew. J.C. Ryle. 408 pages.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Exclamation Mark (2013)

Exclamation Mark. Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. 2013. Scholastic. 56 pages.

Exclamation Mark is a fun, playful lesson on being yourself as well as a lesson on punctuation. The hero, the star, is an exclamation mark who doesn't feel comfortable in any situation. He tries to hang out with the periods, but he almost always sticks out--showing everyone just how different he is. Oh, he makes an effort, time and time again to fit in and not draw attention to himself in any way. But. The more he tries, the more he struggles, the more frustrated he gets. One day, this exclamation mark meets a question mark. EVERYTHING changes. It starts with a little, "Hello?" and then proceeds to,

 "Who are you? What grade are you in? What's your favorite color? Do you like frogs? What's your favorite ice cream? When's your birthday? Know any good jokes? Do you wanna race to the corner?"
 The question mark goes on and on and on and on with dozens of questions. Finally, the exclamation mark finds his purpose, finds his voice! True, his first time to use his voice was a little loud, perhaps even a little rude, but he's just as surprised and shocked as anyone. Little by little, he finds his true voice and purpose. And life is good...

I enjoyed this one!!!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Stardust (1998)

Stardust. Neil Gaiman. 1998. 368 pages.

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire. And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it. 

Stardust is probably my favorite Neil Gaiman novel. It's set during the Victorian time period, and it has a classic fantasy-adventure feel to it. There is definitely some romance to it--it isn't a children's book, there's some adult content after all. All the elements work together for an enjoyable read!

In Victorian novels, it isn't unusual for an author to begin his or her story with extensive background, providing readers with information that sooner or later may prove important. Details on where the story is set, what life is like in that community, the families that live there, the story--romantic or practical--of the main character's parents, perhaps even going into great detail on the successes and failures, hopes and disappointments. Wilkie Collins, for example, can spend fifty pages or so just setting up the background for his novel. Gaiman spends the first chapter of Stardust doing just that, he sets up the family history so he can move the story forward sixteen or seventeen years and get off to a proper start in chapter two with the actual hero of the story, Tristran. Is this necessary?! Yes, in Tristran's case for his parentage makes him very unique. Still, it was a little unsettling to me--the first time at least. But I think it works.

There is a loveliness to the writing, the storytelling. It is rich in detail, in places, and at times very creative. I definitely enjoyed following Tristran Thorn on his quest. I liked seeing him transform into someone a bit wiser and kinder. I thought we met plenty of interesting characters along the way. Some of these characters I liked more than others! But overall, I definitely liked it. I think I loved it more the first time I read it, however.

When I first read Stardust in 2008, I wasn't as familiar with the time period as I am now, so paragraphs like this one meant little to me:
The events that follow transpired many years ago. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, but she was not yet the black-clad widow of Windsor: she had apples in her cheeks and a spring in her step, and Lord Melbourne often had cause to upbraid, gently, the young queen for her flightiness. She was, as yet, unmarried, although she was very much in love. Mr. Charles Dickens was serializing his novel Oliver Twist; Mr. Draper had just taken the first photograph of the moon, freezing her pale face on cold paper; Mr. Morse had recently announced a way of transmitting messages down metal wires. (5)
Update: I've now seen the movie! It is quite different from the book! I enjoyed some of the changes, but not quite all of them. I think I definitely prefer the book to the movie. I thought the book was more clever, perhaps. I think one of my favorite things about the movie was the soundtrack! It was quite lovely!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading Pinocchio (1883)

Pinocchio. Carlo Collodi.  1883. 272 pages.

I've now read Pinocchio twice. It's certainly an odd little classic with dozens of morals within. While the book Pinocchio is many things, it's never boring.

Pinocchio, as a character, is rotten from the start: selfish, pleasure-loving, foolish, rebellious, ungrateful, disrespectful, slow to learn, slow to listen, slow to change. Living by the motto of if I want to do it, it must be right! Who are you to tell me it's wrong or it's a mistake or I'm hurting someone else!

But Pinocchio doesn't know best, he doesn't "know" much of anything of the world and its many dangers. He knows nothing about consequences natural or supernatural. (There are so many fantasy elements in Pinocchio.)

Pinocchio's creation revealing his naughtiness:
Now that he had found a name for his puppet, he set to work on the head, briskly carving out hair, forehead, and eyes. Once the eyes were finished, he stood back, amazed. They were moving. First they looked around a bit, then they stared at him, so intently that he felt quite annoyed.
"Hey! What are you looking at, wooden eyes?" he asked.
There was no reply.
Next he carved the puppet's nose. The moment it was finished, it began to grow. It grew and grew, so that in just a few minutes it was the longest nose he'd ever seen. Poor Geppetto kept trying to whittle it down, but the more he tried, the longer that mischievous nose became.
Next, he carved the puppet's mouth, but it wasn't even finished before it began to laugh and jeer at him.
"Stop laughing," Geppetto snapped. He might as well have been talking to a brick wall. "Stop laughing," he shouted, "or else!"
The mouth fell silent, but stuck its tongue out instead. Geppetto thought it wise to pretend he hadn't noticed. He went on to carve the puppet's chin, neck, shoulders, stomach, arms, and hands.
The moment the hands were finished, Geppetto felt something being whisked off his head. He looked up, and what do you think he saw? His yellow wig in the hand of his half-finished puppet.
"Pinocchio!" he yelled. "Give that back this instant!" The puppet did nothing of the sort. Instead he plonked the wig onto his own head, where it sank down over his eyes.
This was such insulting behavior that Geppetto felt more miserable than he'd ever felt in his life.
"You naughty, naughty boy!" he said. "You're not even finished yet, and already you show your father no respect! I'm disappointed in you, I really am." And as he said this, he wiped away a tear.
Last of all Geppetto carved the puppet's legs and feet. The moment they were finished, he received a sharp kick on the end of his nose.
"It serves me right, I suppose," he sighed. "I should have known that would happen. No use complaining now." (15-16)
Though there are plenty of moral lessons in the text, obvious moral instructions, the book can also be quirky and delightful and very unique.

Have you read Pinocchio? What did you think? Do you like the book or movie better? 


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Week In Review: April 21-27

A Little Princess. Frances Hodgson Burnett. 1905. 264 pages.
Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw. 1912. 96 pages.
The English Governess at the Siamese Court: The True Story Behind 'The King and I' by Anna Harriette Leonowens. 1870/1999. 320 pages.
Speaking from Among the Bones. Alan Bradley. 2013. Random House. 400 pages.
Chronicles of Egg #1: Deadweather and Sunrise. Geoff Rodkey. 2012. Penguin. 288 pages.

 The Truth of the Cross. R.C. Sproul. 2007. Reformation Trust. 168 pages.
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew. J.C. Ryle. 408 pages.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Pygmalion (1912)

Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw. 1912. 96 pages.

Pygmalion is another book I read for the book to movie reading challenge. There is a lovely 1938 movie starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. If you've only seen Leslie Howard in Gone With The Wind, you should really make a point to see either Pygmalion OR The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). Pygmalion was also the inspiration, of course, for the musical My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Don't ask me to choose between Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. I happen to LOVE musicals, but Leslie Howard is oh-so-good in this one!!!

Pygmalion is certainly the inspiration for My Fair Lady. And I feel the musical stays, perhaps until the very end, true to the spirit of the original play. The songs fill in the gaps between the acts and scenes. The songs are quite expressive and provide insight on the individual characters. Through song, we learn more about what is going on in the house and about the months of training involved. On the other hand, in the book, there's a big gap between when Henry Higgins agrees to the experiment with Eliza Doolittle and her first outing. The first outing in the book is to Professor Higgins' mother's house. (The racing scene isn't in the original play.) Another big difference is that readers don't witness the big scene, the triumphant scene firsthand. Readers simply see the three returning home all dressed up. Readers hear the boasting and learn of the success after the fact. I really enjoyed the way My Fair Lady added to the original while keeping up the spirit.

Pygmalion is a short read, and it's also quite enjoyable!  

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870)

The English Governess at the Siamese Court: The True Story Behind 'The King and I' by Anna Harriette Leonowens. 1870/1999. 320 pages.

I have been intending to read this "memoir" for a decade now; I decided to read it this year for the book to movie reading challenge. This memoir and the movie have very little in common, perhaps with two exceptions. First, the English governess (Anna) did want the King to fulfill his promise of a house outside the palace. Second, there is one conversation from the memoir that made it (to a certain degree) into the movie. It comes early in the film.
The king shook hands with us, and immediately proceeded to march up and down in quick step, putting one foot before the other with mathematical precision, as if under drill. "Forewarned, forearmed!" my friend whispered that I should prepare myself for a sharp cross-questioning as to my age, my husband, children, and other strictly personal concerns. Suddenly his Majesty, having cogitated sufficiently in his peculiar manner, with one long final stride halted in front of us, and pointing straight at me with his forefinger, asked, "How old shall you be?"
Scarcely able to repress a smile at a proceeding so absurd, and with my sex's distaste for so serious a question, I demurely replied, "One hundred and fifty years old."
Had I made myself much younger, he might have ridiculed or assailed me; but now he stood surprised and embarrassed for a few moments, then resumed his queer march; and at last, beginning to perceive the jest, coughed, laughed, coughed again, and in a high, sharp key asked, "In what year were you borned?"
Instantly I struck a mental balance, and answered, as gravely as I could, "In 1788."
At this point the expression of his Majesty's face was indescribably comical. Captain B—— slipped behind a pillar to laugh; but the king only coughed, with a significant emphasis that startled me, and addressed a few words to his prostrate courtiers, who smiled at the carpet,—all except the prime minister, who turned to look at me. But his Majesty was not to be baffled so: again he marched with vigor, and then returned to the attack with élan.
"How many years shall you be married?"
"For several years, your Majesty."
He fell into a brown study; then, laughing, rushed at me, and demanded triumphantly:—
"Ha! How many grandchildren shall you now have? Ha, ha! How many? How many? Ha, ha, ha!"
Of course we all laughed with him; but the general hilarity admitted of a variety of constructions.
For those expecting the "memoirs" to be personal (about herself, about her son, about the king, about the king's wives, about the king's children, about the royal court, etc.) you will likely be disappointed. For those expecting the "memoirs" to be entertaining, chances are you'll be disappointed as well. Travel writing does not have to be a bore. A travel writer can attempt to be objective and interesting at the same time.

I definitely preferred the musical, "The King and I" to the memoir. 

Personally, I found the book to lack narrative structure or flow. While a handful of the chapters were mildly entertaining and/or interesting, most were not. One chapter didn't necessarily flow into the next. And the subjects covered were all over the place. The tone of this one was unpleasant as well. At times, the narrator comes across as too condescending, too judgmental. For example:
In common with most of the Asiatic races, they are apt to be indolent, improvident, greedy, intemperate, servile, cruel, vain, inquisitive, superstitious, and cowardly; but individual variations from the more repulsive types are happily not rare. 
or
There were delightful discoveries of beauty in the artless, childish faces that greeted us every morning; and now the only wonder was that I had been so slow to penetrate the secret of their charm. 
or
No friend of mine knew at that time how hard it was for me to bear up, in the utter loneliness and forlornness of my life, under the load of cares and provocations and fears that gradually accumulated upon me.
But ah! if any germ of love and truth fell from my heart into the heart of even the meanest of those wives and concubines and children of a king, if by any word of mine the least of them was won to look up, out of the depths of their miserable life, to a higher, clearer, brighter light than their Buddha casts upon their path, then indeed I did not labor in vain among them.
There were some portions of text that could prove charming or interesting:
"I have sixty-seven children," said his Majesty, when we had returned to the Audience Hall. "You shall educate them, and as many of my wives, likewise, as may wish to learn English. And I have much correspondence in which you must assist me. And, moreover, I have much difficulty for reading and translating French letters; for French are fond of using gloomily deceiving terms. You must undertake; and you shall make all their murky sentences and gloomily deceiving propositions clear to me. And, furthermore, I have by every mail foreign letters whose writing is not easily read by me. You shall copy on round hand, for my readily perusal thereof." 
We found his Majesty in a less genial mood than at my first reception. He approached us coughing loudly and repeatedly, a sufficiently ominous fashion of announcing himself, which greatly discouraged my darling boy, who clung to me anxiously. He was followed by a numerous "tail" of women and children, who formally prostrated themselves around him. Shaking hands with me coldly, but remarking upon the beauty of the child's hair, half buried in the folds of my dress, he turned to the premier's sister, and conversed at some length with her, she apparently acquiescing in all that he had to say. He then approached me, and said, in a loud and domineering tone:—
"It is our pleasure that you shall reside within this palace with our family."
I replied that it would be quite impossible for me to do so; that, being as yet unable to speak the language, and the gates being shut every evening, I should feel like an unhappy prisoner in the palace.
"Where do you go every evening?" he demanded.
"Not anywhere, your Majesty. I am a stranger here."
"Then why you shall object to the gates being shut?"
"I do not clearly know," I replied, with a secret shudder at the idea of sleeping within those walls; "but I am afraid I could not do it. I beg your Majesty will remember that in your gracious letter you promised me 'a residence adjoining the royal palace,' not within it."
He turned and looked at me, his face growing almost purple with rage. "I do not know I have promised. I do not know former condition. I do not know anything but you are our servant; and it is our pleasure that you must live in this palace, and—you shall obey." Those last three words he fairly screamed.
I trembled in every limb, and for some time knew not how to reply. At length I ventured to say, "I am prepared to obey all your Majesty's commands within the obligation of my duty to your family, but beyond that I can promise no obedience."
"You shall live in palace," he roared,—"you _shall _live in palace! I will give woman slaves to wait on you. You shall commence royal school in this pavilion on Thursday next. That is the best day for such undertaking, in the estimation of our astrologers."
With that, he addressed, in a frantic manner, commands, unintelligible to me, to some of the old women about the pavilion. My boy began to cry; tears filled my own eyes; and the premier's sister, so kind but an hour before, cast fierce glances at us both. I turned and led my child toward the oval brass door. We heard voices behind us crying. "Mam! Mam!" I turned again, and saw the king beckoning and calling to me. I bowed to him profoundly, but passed on through the brass door.
 But his Majesty was notably temperate in his diet, and by no means a gastronome. In his long seclusion in a Buddhist cloister he had acquired habits of severe simplicity and frugality, as a preparation for the exercise of those powers of mental concentration for which he was remarkable. At these morning repasts it was his custom to detain me in conversation relating to some topic of interest derived from his studies, or in reading or translating. He was more systematically educated, and a more capacious devourer of books and news, than perhaps any man of equal rank in our day. But much learning had made him morally mad; his extensive reading had engendered in his mind an extreme scepticism concerning all existing religious systems.
 The love of children was the constant and hearty virtue of this forlorn despot. They appealed to him by their beauty and their trustfulness, they refreshed him with the bold innocence of their ways, so frolicsome, graceful, and quaint.
But it was my consolation to know that I could befriend the women and children of the palace, who, when they saw that I was not afraid to oppose the king in his more outrageous caprices of tyranny, imagined me endued with supernatural powers, and secretly came to me with their grievances, in full assurance that sooner or later I would see them redressed. And so, with no intention on my part, and almost without my own consent, I suffered myself to be set up between the oppressor and the oppressed. 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Tutor's Daughter (2013)

The Tutor's Daughter. Julie Klassen. 2013. Bethany House. 412 pages.

It wasn't quite love at first sight--or love at first sentence, I suppose. But within a few chapters, I knew it was LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. The more I read, the more I loved. This was one of those oh-so-magical, giddy-making historical romances for me. The Tutor's Daughter is a regency romance. (I would DEFINITELY recommend it for fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.) The heroine is a young woman, Emma Smallwood. She has for the last few years greatly helped her father in his teaching or tutoring. In the past, they've taught from their own home or school. But business has been poorly lately, and when he is offered a tutoring position at the home of his would-be-pupil, and that offer extends to his daughter, he accepts. The Smallwoods will be leaving their own home to live with the Weston family. They know the two oldest Weston sons--they are former students now grown to adulthood. But they don't know their new pupils, Rowan and Julian. And nothing prepares them for the reality of living in such a strange and sometimes unwelcoming home. (It feels more like Northanger Abbey than Jane Eyre, perhaps, but there are some secrets, some clues, some mysteries.) The Weston household can be oh-so-strange and not at all what it appears.

When she was younger, Emma was perhaps drawn to the second son, Phillip. But now that she's become reacquainted with both Phillip and Henry, well, she's surprised by how much she does admire and respect Henry! This is SHOCKING to her at first because she perhaps didn't realize that he would grow out of his childishness, his obnoxiousness, his pranks. But he is all grown up now, and he's oh-so-responsible.

I absolutely loved this one so much. It was so compelling, so dramatic, so perfectly perfect!!!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Speaking from Among the Bones (2013)

Speaking from Among the Bones. Alan Bradley. 2013. Random House. 400 pages.

I've enjoyed each of the Flavia de Luce mysteries written by Alan Bradley. This young detective is quite original, though her mystery novels have, in a way, become more predictable. I mean that readers know almost exactly what to expect of the series, of the main characters, of the writing. (Not the details of the actual mysteries, the murder mysteries.) If you love the character of Flavia de Luce, it can be a good thing--comforting, satisfying--to know that nothing ever changes. Still, a little character growth wouldn't be a horrible thing in any of the main characters. (There are two significant things readers learn by the conclusion of this book. These potentially could change things up a bit.) It probably won't surprise anyone that Flavia discovers a dead body in this newest mystery. She found it in an ancient tomb they (the church) were getting ready to excavate. There were plenty of peculiar details about it, plenty of clues for a young girl detective to follow. These clues lead her into great danger, perhaps the greatest danger she's known thus far in the series.

If you have enjoyed the series in the past, this one is worth reading. Others include: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Deadweather and Sunrise (2012)

Chronicles of Egg #1: Deadweather and Sunrise. Geoff Rodkey. 2012. Penguin. 288 pages.

What I enjoyed most in Geoff Rodkey's novel, Deadweather and Sunrise, (the first in the Chronicles of Egg series) was the writing or storytelling. For example, I loved how this pirate-adventure (set in an alternate--though at times familiar--world) began:
 "Nobody lived on Deadweather but us and the pirates. It wasn't hard to understand why. For one thing, the weather was atrocious. Eleven months out of twelve, it was brutally hot and humid, with no wind at all, so on a bad day the air felt like a hot, soggy blanket smothering you from all sides. And the other month was September, which meant hurricanes. Then there was the volcano. It hadn't actually blown in ages, but it belched smoke and shook the earth enough to scare away anybody who might've overlooked the pirates and the weather." 
There are plenty of descriptive details in this coming-of-age adventure quest.

Egbert (Egg) is often mistreated by his immediate family (his father and older brothers). Kindness and compassion being foreign concepts to him. He's only known one way of being treated, only one way of "being" or "belonging" in a family. So when life as he knows it changes dramatically, he's at a loss. His ENTIRE family went up in a hot-air balloon, never to return. They are presumed dead after several weeks of presumed searching. The man who takes Egg into his own home and introduces him to his own family has layers of secrets as Egg discovers. There is one person that Egg comes to love dearly during his stay. The daughter, Millicent. She's an interesting character, in a way. And I appreciated her perhaps a little more than the other sidekick, Guts.

If you enjoy action-adventure stories with secrets, mysteries, pirates, and an ultimate hunt for treasure, then this may be a good match.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading A Little Princess (1905)

A Little Princess. Frances Hodgson Burnett. 1905. 264 pages.

I really enjoyed reading A Little Princess. I think I loved it even more than Secret Garden. (Which is your favorite?) The novel begins with a sad goodbye: Captain Crewe is placing his daughter, Sara, in a boarding school. Their parting is perhaps necessary, but, difficult all the same. Neither know that it is forever. For Sara Crewe's status will change from daughter of a wealthy well-respected man to penniless orphan girl. Only Sara's truest friends will be with her to support her. Through it all, Sara holds on to her dignity. Is Sara as spirited as some of the other heroines we've read about? I think she has great spirit to her. 

I love A Little Princess because of the writing--the descriptions, the characterization, the storytelling. It's a great story. 

Just as Pollyanna reminded me of the story of Joseph (from Genesis), A Little Princess reminds me of the story of Job (from Job). 

Sara with her father:
Then he went with Sara into her little sitting room and they bade each other good-by. Sara sat on his knee and held the lapels of his coat in her small hands, and looked long and hard at his face. "Are you learning me by heart, little Sara?" he said, stroking her hair. "No," she answered. "I know you by heart. You are inside my heart." And they put their arms round each other and kissed as if they would never let each other go.
Other favorite quotes:
"Why," she said, "we are just the same—I am only a little girl like you. It's just an accident that I am not you, and you are not me!"
"I've often thought," said Sara, in her reflecting voice, "that I should like to be a princess; I wonder what it feels like. I believe I will begin pretending I am one."
"She says it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have. It has only to do with what you THINK of, and what you DO."
If Nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that—warm things, kind things, sweet things—help and comfort and laughter—and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.
"You are always supposing things," said Lavinia, and her air was very superior. "I know I am," answered Sara, undisturbedly. "I like it. There is nothing so nice as supposing. It's almost like being a fairy. If you suppose anything hard enough it seems as if it were real." "It's all very well to suppose things if you have everything," said Lavinia. "Could you suppose and pretend if you were a beggar and lived in a garret?"
You see how true it is. There's no difference now. I'm not a princess anymore." Becky ran to her and caught her hand, and hugged it to her breast, kneeling beside her and sobbing with love and pain. "Yes, miss, you are," she cried, and her words were all broken. "Whats'ever 'appens to you—whats'ever—you'd be a princess all the same—an' nothin' couldn't make you nothin' different."
"You are nicer than I am," said Sara. "I was too proud to try and make friends. You see, now that trials have come, they have shown that I am NOT a nice child. I was afraid they would. Perhaps"—wrinkling her forehead wisely—"that is what they were sent for." "I don't see any good in them," said Ermengarde stoutly. "Neither do I—to speak the truth," admitted Sara, frankly. "But I suppose there MIGHT be good in things, even if we don't see it. There MIGHT"—DOUBTFULLY—"Be good in Miss Minchin." Ermengarde looked round the attic with a rather fearsome curiosity. "Sara," she said, "do you think you can bear living here?" Sara looked round also. "If I pretend it's quite different, I can," she answered; "or if I pretend it is a place in a story."
"Oh, Sara!" she said. "You ARE queer—but you are nice." "I know I am queer," admitted Sara, cheerfully; "and I TRY to be nice." She rubbed her forehead with her little brown paw, and a puzzled, tender look came into her face. "Papa always laughed at me," she said; "but I liked it. He thought I was queer, but he liked me to make up things. I—I can't help making up things. If I didn't, I don't believe I could live." She paused and glanced around the attic. "I'm sure I couldn't live here," she added in a low voice.
When people are insulting you, there is nothing so good for them as not to say a word—just to look at them and THINK.
Then it was Sara's turn again. "I will attend to you tomorrow. You shall have neither breakfast, dinner, nor supper!" "I have not had either dinner or supper today, Miss Minchin," said Sara, rather faintly. "Then all the better. You will have something to remember. Don't stand there. Put those things into the hamper again." She began to sweep them off the table into the hamper herself, and caught sight of Ermengarde's new books. "And you"—to Ermengarde—"have brought your beautiful new books into this dirty attic. Take them up and go back to bed. You will stay there all day tomorrow, and I shall write to your papa. What would HE say if he knew where you are tonight?" Something she saw in Sara's grave, fixed gaze at this moment made her turn on her fiercely. "What are you thinking of?" she demanded. "Why do you look at me like that?" "I was wondering," answered Sara, as she had answered that notable day in the schoolroom. "What were you wondering?" It was very like the scene in the schoolroom. There was no pertness in Sara's manner. It was only sad and quiet. "I was wondering," she said in a low voice, "what MY papa would say if he knew where I am tonight." 


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Week in Review: April 13-20

The Annotated Hobbit. Revised and Expanded Edition. J.R.R. Tolkien. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. 2002. (1937, original Hobbit pub. date). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 416 pages.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis. 1950. HarperCollins. 224 pages.
Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery. 1921. 280 pages. 
The Apothecary. Maile Meloy. 2011. Penguin. 356 pages.
Who's That...Playing? See How The Animals Play Kingfisher. 2013. 14 pages.
Who's That...Eating? See How The Animals Eat. Kingfisher. 2013. 14 pages.
Seek and Peek In the Rainforest. Kingfisher. 2013. 8 pages.
Seek and Peek On the Farm. Kingfisher. 2013. 8 pages.
The Grimm Legacy. Polly Shulman. 2010. Penguin. 325 pages.
Love At Any Cost. Julie Lessman. 2013. Revell. 416 pages.
The Tutor's Daughter. Julie Klassen. 2013. Bethany House. 412 pages.
Iscariot. Tosca Lee. 2013. Howard Books. 336 pages.
Miranda. Grace Livingston Hill. 1915. 224 pages.
Everlasting Righteousness. Horatius Bonar. 1872. 114 pages.
Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells The Story of The Gospel. Mike Cosper. Foreword by Bob Kauflin. 2013. Crossway. 224 pages.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
  • When Jesus Wept by Bodie & Brock Thoene
  • The Thistle and the Rose by Jean Plaidy
  • All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Leftover Loot:
  • Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen
  • Catherine by April Lindner
  • The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe
  • A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
  •  Secret Agent Mater by Melissa Lagonegro
  • The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington 
  • Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton
   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

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Grimm Legacy (2010)

The Grimm Legacy. Polly Shulman. 2010. Penguin. 325 pages.

 The Grimm Legacy has an intriguing premise. Wouldn't it be fun if fairy tales were true and there were magical artifacts gathered together in a library collection in New York? Wouldn't it be fun to work in such a library, such a collection? To be able to 'try' some of these artifacts yourself. But it isn't all fun as our heroine, Elizabeth Rew, and her fellow pages (Marc Merrit, Anjali Rao, Aaron Rosendom) learn. For someone is attempting to steal the real magical objects and replace them with fakes. And the attempt is succeeding. These four teens (Elizabeth, Marc, Anjali, and Aaron) must learn to work together--despite great personality conflict--to solve the mystery of WHO is stealing from the Grimm Collection. This fantasy novel has mystery and drama for it's a dangerous task before them.

While I liked the book well enough to keep reading, I didn't love it. I just didn't make a good connection with the characters. Some of the characters were interesting; for example, Anjali has a very spirited sister that plays an important role in the novel. But I wasn't satisfied with their development; the characters just didn't feel believable enough.

Read The Grimm Legacy
  • If you enjoy YA fantasy
  • If you enjoy fantasy 
  • If you are interested in the second novel in the series which involves time travel! It's called The Wells Bequest!
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Four Board Books (2013)

Who's That...Playing? See How The Animals Play.  Kingfisher. 2013. 14 pages.
Who's that playing?
Tip tap
I am a kitten.
I have long fur and pointed ears.

Who's that splashing?
Splish splosh
I am a duckling.
I have a beak and webbed feet.
Who's That...Playing is a fun board book for young readers--toddlers and preschoolers. Each two-page spread focuses on a different animal at play: kittens, puppies, ducklings, bear cubs, lambs, penguin chicks, piglets. Real photographs are used throughout. It is in a series of board books published by Kingfisher. Other titles include: "Who's That? Roaring," "Who's That? Jumping," "Who's That? Eating."

Who's That...Eating? See How The Animals Eat. Kingfisher. 2013. 14 pages.
Who's that eating?
Chomp
I am a giant panda.
I have black and white fur and I like munching bamboo.

Who's that gnawing?
Gnaw
I am an otter.
I have whiskers and I use my tail to help me swim.
If you're looking to share simple animal facts with your little one, this new series by Kingfisher would be a great choice. There are four books in this series, each focusing on a different aspect of animal life. Different animals are featured in each book. In this title, the focus is on eating. The animals featured include pandas, otters, caterpillars, squirrels, anteaters, chickens, and giraffes.

Seek and Peek In the Rainforest. Kingfisher. 2013. 8 pages.

Another series published by Kingfisher is the Seek and Peek series. There are four titles in the series: Seek and Peek in the Rainforest, Seek and Peek On the Farm, Seek and Peek Dinosaurs, and Seek and Peek at the Zoo. The books are oddly shaped, which may appeal to young readers who love to grasp. Readers can choose which animal they want to read about--learn about--and turn directly to that page. But some pages feature more than one animal. And some animals are not featured on the cover.

Seek and Peek On the Farm. Kingfisher. 2013. 8 pages.

The final book I'll be reviewing today is another in the Kingfisher's Seek and Peek series. I'm curious if little hands will appreciate the oddly shaped board book--it is almost a circle. It is easy to grasp and turn pages, which may be a plus! Farm books are almost always fun, and this one isn't an exception. Little ones can learn simple facts about farm animals like pigs, horses, chickens, cows, ducks, etc.




© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Annotated Hobbit (2002)

The Annotated Hobbit. Revised and Expanded Edition. J.R.R. Tolkien. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. 2002. (1937, original Hobbit pub. date). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 416 pages.

The Hobbit is one of my favorite books even though I didn't discover it until I was an adult. It's a children's book that I've read several times as an adult. One of those feel-good books that you can happily, joyfully read each and every year without tiring of it. The Annotated Hobbit makes a lovely present for people who can't get enough of The Hobbit!

After viewing The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, I picked up The Annotated Hobbit. It was just what I needed! The film "covers" the first six chapters of the novel: "An Unexpected Party," "Roast Mutton," "A Short Rest," "Over Hill and Under Hill," "Riddles in the Dark," and "Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire." The most significant chapter in this annotated edition may just be "Riddles in the Dark." Fans most likely know already that the story of Bilbo's ring varies greatly from the original publication in 1937 and the later editions published after Tolkien wrote The Lord in the Rings, the variations even becoming a part of the story in a way. But this was the first time I was able to read the full, original ending to the story. (This is found in the notes on pages 128-131 and page 134.)

I came to the text needing to "check" the "faithfulness" of the film to the movie. True, I wanted to spend time with the characters, and, of course, I wanted to read it (again) because it's a great story. But. I wanted to see if the movie got it "wrong" or "right." While that was my original intention, I didn't always keep to it. I found the characters and story so irresistible. I was reminded once again of all the lovely little things that I just ADORE about the book. Things that didn't always translate as faithfully as I would have liked in the movie. Of course, some of what I ADORED about the book made it into the film, sometimes very faithful both in tone and detail.

There were some things that are technically "from the book" but taken completely out of proportion and focus, things that were made BIG AND SIGNIFICANT that barely got more than a sentence or two at most in the novel. The thing that stands out, for example, is how the party is HUNTED in the movie. Almost from the start, the journey is perilous because of a specific threat. And every single stage of the journey is equally dangerous and life-threatening. There is a purposeful, intentional darkness (evil) beginning to move in Middle Earth. In the novel, this isn't the case. The party faces danger, yes, sometimes a little danger, sometimes a lot of danger. But it isn't of an intentional hunted sort of danger. More of a being in the wrong place at the wrong time danger. They stumble almost on the trolls. (They also stumble upon the meeting place of the wolves or wargs.) And they face danger from rock slides and bad storms--but this is a natural threat. And yes, the stone giants exist but not so absurdly as in the movie:
There they were sheltering under a hanging rock for the night, and he lay beneath a blanket and shook from head to toe. When he peeped out in the lightning-flashes, he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out, and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang. Then came a wind and a rain, and the wind whipped the rain and the hail about in every direction, so that an overhanging rock was no protection at all. Soon they were getting drenched and their ponies were standing with their heads down and their tails between their legs, and some of them were whinnying with fright. They could hear the giants guffawing and shouting all over the mountainsides.
"This won't do at all!" said Thorin. "If we don't get blown off, or drowned, or struck by lightning, we shall be picked up by some giant and kicked sky-high for a football."
"Well, if you know of anywhere better, take us there!" said Gandalf, who was feeling very grumpy, and was far from happy about the giants himself. (104)
The book doesn't exactly stay focused on the danger in any particularly threatening situation. The focus is on the adventure, the quest, the journey. There are plenty of in-between moments in the book. Moments where they might not be physically in danger from an enemy (goblins, trolls, angry elves, giant spiders), but might be facing discouragement, doubt, depression. Not to mention hunger, thirst, and exhaustion!!! 

There were isolated scenes that were especially faithful to the book and lovely to watch! But there were plenty of scenes that were pure interpretation. For better or worse. The film shows that there is more than one way to "read" a book or story.

Reading The Annotated Hobbit was beneficial. It reminded me of the creative process involved in writing and storytelling. Reading the annotations showed me that Tolkien never stopped creating this story. It was NOT "the end" of the story when it was published in 1937. The story kept changing and transforming and evolving through the decades. Tolkien stayed involved in the story. If Tolkien himself kept changing the story as his fantasy world kept growing and expanding, then it only makes sense that the film would be free to do the same.

I personally enjoyed reading almost all of the annotations. Some notes are mainly textual revision notes, letting readers know the differences between the different editions of the text (1937, 1951, 1966, etc.) Other notes tend to be scholarly and focused on literature. But some provide insights on The Hobbit or Middle Earth. (I liked notes about authors that influenced Tolkien.)



© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (1950)

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis. 1950. HarperCollins. 224 pages.

Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is one of my favorite, favorite children's books. Lucy Pevensie is one of my favorite, favorite heroines. And I love and adore this oh-so-delightful fantasy-adventure novel.

It is THE FIRST book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. It is the only book worthy of being considered as THE FIRST book in the series.

In The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, four children are sent into the country during World War II. Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund are just beginning to settle into their new home when Lucy stumbles into the magical world of Narnia. At first, Lucy is the only one. But Edmund also comes into Narnia before the others. And while there he is fooled by the "Queen" of Narnia. But Narnia soon sees all four children.

Narnia is not a land at peace. Not at all. For the land is under a spell--an enchantment--the White Witch--the supposed Queen of the land--has made it always winter and never Christmas. And the lives of the children--all four children--are in grave danger when they're in Narnia. For there is a prophecy that four humans--two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve--will come to rule the land as Kings and Queens and restore peace and order to the kingdom. The children's journey to Narnia, their quest to meet Aslan at the Stone Table, and their battle to save Narnia and their brother from the grasp of the evil and wicked witch....are unforgettable adventures that deserve to be experienced again and again by readers of all ages. You're never too old to experience the magic of Narnia.

While the movie depicts them as being doubtful and regretting setting foot in Narnia and shows them wanting to go home all the time and leave the fighting for others to do, the book tells a different story.
The children are mostly welcoming to the adventure before them. The book perhaps has less drama, the adventure seems to go smoother at times. The movie adds SO MUCH INTENSITY whenever possible. Dramatic scenes are added throughout, sometimes keeping in full spirit with the book, other times not so much. There are things that I absolutely LOVE AND ADORE about the film. (One of my favorite, favorite scenes, for example, is the meeting between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus. The film gets it so right!!!) I LOVE AND ADORE the entrance to Narnia and the first impressions of this strange-but-lovely world. And there are so many things about the movie that are just charming and just about perfect. (I think the soundtrack is just about perfect!!!) The movie doesn't just add drama, humor is added as well, especially with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. The film deviates from the book in places so that it can be a good movie. Lewis did not waste time spend time writing battle scenes or strong confrontations. The focus is on the characters and the ultimate outcome, and not necessarily how every little thing worked towards that end.

I love The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for the characters, for the writing, and for the world-building. Narnia is not always a safe place to be, but I always found it beautiful and inviting, always memorable. I always found Aslan to be quite interesting as a character! I loved hearing the other characters talk about him and interact with him. I especially love seeing Lucy with Aslan! Their relationship is perhaps the strongest or deepest. Perhaps I feel that way because Lucy is the one who gets the most time with him throughout the whole series.

I had read the book dozens of times before seeing the movie, but I'm curious if the book would make the same impression, resonate the same way, if one watched the movie first?

Favorite quotes:
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning--either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
“If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most, or else just silly.”

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Apothecary (2011)

The Apothecary. Maile Meloy. 2011. Penguin. 356 pages.

I enjoyed Maile Meloy's delightfully odd historical fantasy novel, The Apothecary. The year is 1952, the Scott family is moving to London, England. Our heroine, Janie, is fourteen and not so happy about the move. At least not at first. But after a few weeks, Janie finds herself in the middle of an almost unbelievable adventure, an adventure that will lead her straight into danger, but also leading to her very first kiss.

I would have loved The Apothecary just as much if it had not turned magical or supernatural. The first half of the novel focuses on Janie's new life: her new school, her new classes and new subjects (Latin!), her friend possibilities. There are some delightfully descriptive passages that are just fun! The second half of the novel focuses on her friendship with Benjamin Burrows (the local apothecary's son). He likes to play chess in the park and "spy" on a Russian man. What he spies one Saturday, changes everything...for it leads them a little too close home!

When Benjamin discovers his father's big-big secret, a secret that Janie gets drawn into as well, the novel becomes quirky and fantastical. Danger, action, drama, mystery and a hint of first love...

Favorite quotes:
It's safe to say I was not graceful about the move to London. I was no witty, patient, adaptable Jane Austen. And if I was anything like Katherine Hepburn, it was in the scenes where she's being a giant pest. (12)
"We're looking for three hot water bottles," my father told him.
"Of course."
"And how about some chocolate bars?"
The apothecary shook his head. "We have them sometimes. Not often, since the war."
"Since the war?" my father said, and I could see him calculating: twelve years without a steady supply of chocolate. He looked a little faint. I wondered if he could get a prescription for chocolate from a doctor. Then I could have some, too. (16)

The school was in a stone building with arches and turrets that seemed very old to me but wasn't old at all, in English terms. It was built in 1880, so it was practically brand-new. (19)

Two teachers walking down the hall wore black academic gowns, and they looked ominous and forbidding, like giant bats. (19)

The school secretary, whose tight gray curls reminded me of a sheep, gave me my class schedule. (19)

"My mother said moving here would be like living in a Jane Austen novel, but it isn't really."
"But your story couldn't be Austen, with an American heroine," he said.
I couldn't help smiling at him. "That's what I said!"
"More of a Henry James novel," he said. "The American girl abroad. Are you an Isabel Archer or a Daisy Miller?"
I blushed, but told the truth. "I don't know. I haven't read any Henry James novels."
"You will soon enough," he said. "But you wouldn't want to be Isabel or Daisy. They come to bad ends, those girls. Confide tibia, Miss Scott. Far better to be who you are." (24)

The apothecary looked out at the drizzle. "It would be strange not to think about orange trees and blue sky on a day like today," he said. "No matter what powder you took."
"And my new school is pretty awful," I said.
The apothecary laughed. "The man who develops a tincture against the awful new school will win the Nobel Prize. It would be far more useful than the cure for the common cold." (30)


Read The Apothecary
  • IF you enjoy historical fiction OR historical fantasy
  • If you enjoy books about magical books
  • If you enjoy spy-adventure, action-adventure books

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading Rilla of Ingleside (1921)

Rilla of Ingleside. L.M. Montgomery. 1921. 280 pages.

IT was a warm, golden-cloudy, lovable afternoon. In the big living-room at Ingleside Susan Baker sat down with a certain grim satisfaction hovering about her like an aura; it was four o'clock and Susan, who had been working incessantly since six that morning, felt that she had fairly earned an hour of repose and gossip. 

 I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Rilla of Ingleside. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful, memorable, and compelling. It is everything it should be. It closely follows World War I--from the Canadian home front; and at times it shows just how ugly and frightening war can be. It's a patriotic novel, however. Rilla of Ingleside is also an unforgettable coming of age story. Readers watch Rilla mature from a laughter-loving fourteen year old girl into a strong, resilient young woman ready for life and love. This is Rilla's story from cover to cover. Rilla is forced to say goodbye to three brothers (Jem, Walter, Shirley), two childhood friends (Jerry, Carl), and her young love (Kenneth Ford) as they go off to war and uncertain futures. And she has to do with a smile on her face and no tears. Will she ever see any of them again? Will they return whole? Will life ever be the same for any of them again?

But Rilla is ever-busy. Not only is she doing work for the Red-Cross, she's adopted a war orphan! Though she's just fourteen, this young baby boy will be HER responsibility. For Rilla who has never really "liked" babies or found them cute and adorable, this is a challenge...at least at first. But as he starts to grow and change...her heart melts.  

My favorite characters were Rilla, Susan Baker, Walter, Miss Oliver, and Dog Monday. If you've read this one, don't you agree that the Dog Monday parts are incredibly moving?

From chapter one:
There was a big, black headline on the front page of the Enterprise, stating that some Archduke Ferdinand or other had been assassinated at a place bearing the weird name of Sarajevo, but Susan tarried not over uninteresting, immaterial stuff like that; she was in quest of something really vital.
Well, that is all the notes and there is not much else in the paper of any importance. I never take much interest in foreign parts. Who is this Archduke man who has been murdered?" "What does it matter to us?" asked Miss Cornelia, unaware of the hideous answer to her question which destiny was even then preparing. "Somebody is always murdering or being murdered in those Balkan States. It's their normal condition and I don't really think that our papers ought to print such shocking things. 
Wherever Rilla Blythe was, there was laughter.  
There was another occupant of the living-room, curled up on a couch, who must not be overlooked, since he was a creature of marked individuality, and, moreover, had the distinction of being the only living thing whom Susan really hated. All cats are mysterious but Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde–"Doc" for short–were trebly so. He was a cat of double personality–or else, as Susan vowed, he was possessed by the devil. To begin with, there had been something uncanny about the very dawn of his existence. Four years previously Rilla Blythe had had a treasured darling of a kitten, white as snow, with a saucy black tip to its tail, which she called Jack Frost. Susan disliked Jack Frost, though she could not or would not give any valid reason therefor.
"Take my word for it, Mrs. Dr. dear," she was wont to say ominously, "that cat will come to no good."
"But why do you think so?" Mrs. Blythe would ask.
"I do not think–I know," was all the answer Susan would vouchsafe.
"The only thing I envy a cat is its purr," remarked Dr. Blythe once, listening to Doc's resonant melody. "It is the most contented sound in the world."
Rilla is the only one of my flock who isn't ambitious. I really wish she had a little more ambition. She has no serious ideals at all–her sole aspiration seems to be to have a good time.
 From chapter two,
Rilla was the "baby" of the Blythe family and was in a chronic state of secret indignation because nobody believed she was grown up. She was so nearly fifteen that she called herself that, and she was quite as tall as Di and Nan; also, she was nearly as pretty as Susan believed her to be. She had great, dreamy, hazel eyes, a milky skin dappled with little golden freckles, and delicately arched eyebrows, giving her a demure, questioning look which made people, especially lads in their teens, want to answer it. Her hair was ripely, ruddily brown and a little dent in her upper lip looked as if some good fairy had pressed it in with her finger at Rilla's christening. Rilla, whose best friends could not deny her share of vanity, thought her face would do very well, but worried over her figure, and wished her mother could be prevailed upon to let her wear longer dresses. She, who had been so plump and roly-poly in the old Rainbow Valley days, was incredibly slim now, in the arms-and-legs period. Jem and Shirley harrowed her soul by calling her "Spider." Yet she somehow escaped awkwardness. There was something in her movements that made you think she never walked but always danced. She had been much petted and was a wee bit spoiled, but still the general opinion was that Rilla Blythe was a very sweet girl, even if she were not so clever as Nan and Di.
Rilla loved Walter with all her heart. He never teased her as Jem and Shirley did. He never called her "Spider." His pet name for her was "Rilla-my-Rilla"–a little pun on her real name, Marilla...
 Dog Monday was the Ingleside dog, so called because he had come into the family on a Monday when Walter had been reading Robinson Crusoe. He really belonged to Jem but was much attached to Walter also. He was lying beside Walter now with nose snuggled against his arm, thumping his tail rapturously whenever Walter gave him a pat. Monday was not a collie or a setter or a hound or a Newfoundland. He was just, as Jem said, "plain dog"–very plain dog, uncharitable people added. Certainly, Monday's looks were not his strong point. Black spots were scattered at random over his yellow carcass, one of them blotting out an eye. His ears were in tatters, for Monday was never successful in affairs of honour. But he possessed one talisman. He knew that not all dogs could be handsome or eloquent or victorious, but that every dog could love. Inside his homely hide beat the most affectionate, loyal, faithful heart of any dog since dogs were; and something looked out of his brown eyes that was nearer akin to a soul than any theologian would allow. Everybody at Ingleside was fond of him, even Susan.
"There's plenty of time for you to be grown up, Rilla. Don't wish your youth away. It goes too quickly. You'll begin to taste life soon enough."
"Taste life! I want to eat it," cried Rilla, laughing. "I want everything–everything a girl can have. I'll be fifteen in another month, and then nobody can say I'm a child any longer. I heard someone say once that the years from fifteen to nineteen are the best years in a girl's life. I'm going to make them perfectly splendid–just fill them with fun."
"There's no use thinking about what you're going to do–you are tolerably sure not to do it."
"Oh, but you do get a lot of fun out of the thinking," cried Rilla.
"You think of nothing but fun, you monkey," said Miss Oliver indulgently, reflecting that Rilla's chin was really the last word in chins. "Well, what else is fifteen for?"
From chapter three,
"The new day is knocking at the window. What will it bring us, I wonder.... "I think the nicest thing about days is their unexpectedness," went on Rilla. "It's jolly to wake up like this on a golden-fine morning and day-dream for ten minutes before I get up, imagining the heaps of splendid things that may happen before night."


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Library Loot: Second Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen
  • Catherine by April Lindner
  • Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
  • The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe
  • A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
  • Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans 
Leftover Loot:
  • The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
  • Secret Agent Mater by Melissa Lagonegro
  • Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  • Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould
  • The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington 
  • Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton
  • The Great Race by Rev. W. Awdry
  • Secret of the Green Engine
   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.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Week in Review: April 7-12

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated and Introduced by Norman Denny. 1862/1976/2012.
Penguin. 1232 pages.
Rainbow Valley. L.M. Montgomery. 1919. 256 pages.
Little House in the Big Woods. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1932. 238 pages.
Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1935. 335 pages.
Invention of Hugo Cabret. Brian Selznick. 2007. Scholastic. 525 pages.
Whatever After: Fairest of All. Sara Mlynowski. 2012. Scholastic. 170 pages.
The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness. R. Albert Mohler Jr. 2009. Multnomah. 194 pages.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Les Miserables (1862)

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated and Introduced by Norman Denny. 1862/1976/2012. Penguin. 1232 pages.

Reading Les Miserables was an experience! For six or seven days, I kept good company with the novel. I definitely was not expecting to finish this chunkster in one week! But I found the story so compelling. Political, philosophical, spiritual, dramatic, and romantic. Each word describes the novel, in part. While there are many characters in this novel, I loved the narrator the best of all. Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, and Gavroche--just to name a few.

Jean Valjean is an ex-convict who seeks shelter from Bishop Myriel one night. Though he's been treated only with kindness, Valjean in his bitterness (he was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread), he steals the bishop's silver. When the theft is discovered, the bishop is all compassion telling the officials that there has been a misunderstanding. Valjean did not steal the silver; it was given as a gift. In fact, he's happy to give Valjean his silver candlesticks as well. Valjean is shocked and overwhelmed. The meeting turns out to be quite life-changing.

When readers next meet Valjean, he has a new name and life. Monsieur Madeleine is a successful business man. He has a BIG heart. He's always giving. He's always thinking of others. He's always doing what he can, when he can to make a difference when and where it matters most. One woman he is determined to help is a young, single mother, Fantine. Circumstances have separated Fantine from her child, Cosette, but, Valjean is determined to correct as many wrongs as he can in this situation. He will see to it personally.

Unfortunately, his past catches up with him. He learns that a man has been arrested; "Jean Valjean" has been caught. Of course, Madeleine knows this is nonsense. Can he let another take his place in prison? If he tells the truth then he can no longer help the poor, but if he doesn't tell the truth, how could he live with himself? He does the honorable thing--though it is one of the greatest challenges he's faced so far.

But that means, for the moment, that Cosette is left in unpleasant circumstances...

There comes a time, an opportunity for Valjean to escape. What he does with his freedom--this time he's assumed drowned, I believe--is go and find Cosette. The two become everything to one another. Cosette is the family he's never had, never even knew he needed or wanted... the two end up in Paris.

Almost half of the novel follows the love story between Marius and Cosette. But it isn't only a love story. Marius is a poor man in conflict with his rich grandfather. The two disagree about many things. But their main source of disagreement is politics. At first, Marius is swept up in his father's politics, with a new awareness of who his father was as a soldier, as a man, as a possible hero. But later, Marius begins to think for himself, to contemplate political and philosophical things for himself. He becomes friendly with a political group at this time. But his love of politics dims when he falls in love with Cosette...and she becomes his whole reason for being. For the longest time these two don't even know each other's names! This romance isn't without challenges...

This novel has so much drama! I found it beautifully written. So many amazing passages! Such interesting characters! I'm not sure I loved the ending. And I was frustrated with Marius at times. But. I definitely loved this book!

Favorite quotes:
What is reported of men, whether it be true or false, may play as large a part in their lives, and above all in their destiny, as the things they do. (19)
We do not claim that the portrait we are making is the whole truth, only that it is a resemblance. (25)
The flesh is at once man's burden and his temptation. He bears it and yields to it. He must keep watch over it and restrain it, and obey it only in the last resort. Such obedience may be a fault, but it is a venial fault. It is a fall, but a fall on to the knees which may end in prayer. To be a saint is to be an exception; to be a true man is the rule. Err, fail, sin if you must, but be upright. To sin as little as possible is the law for men; to sin not at all is a dream for angels. All earthly things are subject to sin; it is like the force of gravity. (29-30)
'The beautiful is as useful as the useful.' Then, after a pause, he added: "More so, perhaps.' (38)
I was not put into this world to preserve my life but to protect souls. (40)
Conscience is the amount of inner knowledge that we possess. (52)
The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced. (56)
He pondered on the greatness and the living presence of God, on the mystery of eternity in the future and, even more strange, eternity in the past, on all the infinity manifest to his eyes and to his senses; and without seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible he contemplated these things. He did not scrutinize God but let his eyes be dazzled. (67)
There are no bounds to human thought. At its own risk and peril it analyzes and explores its own bewilderment. (68)
We can no more pray too much than we can love too much. (69)
There are men who dig for gold; he dug for compassion. Poverty was his goldmine; and the universality of suffering a reason for the universality of charity. 'Love one another.' To him everything was contained in those words, his whole doctrine, and he asked no more. (69)
The bishop, seated at his side, laid a hand gently on his arm.
'You need have told me nothing. This house is not mine but Christ's. It does not ask a man his  name but whether he is in need. You are in trouble, you are hungry and thirsty, and so you are welcome. You need not thank me for receiving you in my house. No one is at home here except those seeking shelter. Let me assure you, passer-by though you are, that this is more your home than mine. Everything in it is yours. Why should I ask your name? In any case I knew it before you told me.'
The man looked up with startled eyes. 'You know my name?'
'Of course,' said the bishop. 'Your name is brother.' (87)
Is there not true evangelism in the delicacy which refrains from preaching and moralizing? To avoid probing an open wound, is not that the truest sympathy? (90)
'Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.'
Valjean, who did not recall having made any promise, was silent. The bishop had spoken the words slowly and deliberately. He concluded with a solemn emphasis: 'Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.' ( 111)
Gold and pearls were her dowry, but the gold was on her head and the pearls were in her mouth. She worked in order to live, and presently fell in love, also in order to live, for the heart, too, has its hunger. (125)
Animals are nothing but the portrayal of our virtues and vices made manifest to our eyes, the visible reflections of our souls. (164)
What is the riddle of these countless scattered destinies, whither are they bound, why are they as they are? He who knows the answer to this knows all things. He is alone. His name is God. (180)
There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky; there is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul. (208)
To make a poem of the human conscience, even in terms of a single man and the least of men, would be to merge all epics in a single epic transcending all. (208)
We can no more prevent a thought from returning to the mind than we can prevent the sea from rising on the foreshore. To the sailor it is the tide, to the uneasy conscience it is remorse. God moves the soul as He moves the oceans. (213)
The sisters, then, had this in common when they were girls, that each had her dream, each had wings, those of an angel in the one case and those of a goose in the other. (519)
He never left home without a book under his arm, and often came back with two. (593)
Our imaginings are what most resemble us. Each of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible in his own way. (597)
There comes a moment when the bud bursts overnight into flower and yesterday's little girl becomes a woman to entrap our hearts. This one had not merely grown but was transformed. Just as three April days may suffice for some trees to cover themselves with blossom, so six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April had come. (606)
Of all things God has created it is the human heart that sheds the brightest light, and alas, the blackest despair. (844)
'After all, what is a cat?' he demanded. 'It's a correction. Having created the mouse God said to himself, "That was silly of me!" and so he created the cat. The cat is the erratum of the mouse. Mouse and cat together represent the revised proofs of Creation.' (995) 
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Little House on the Prairie (1935)

Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1935. 335 pages.

 Little House on the Prairie is such a dramatic read, especially when compared with the first in the series, Little House in the Big Woods. The first half of the novel focuses on the Ingalls family journeying to Kansas (Indian Territory). It's a trip filled with MANY dangers. (When Jack becomes lost in the river and the worst is feared, well, it's hard to handle.) Even after they settle into their new place, things stay messy. At one point, the whole family becomes horribly ill, all at the same time. If not for kind neighbors (distant neighbors) checking on them because the illness is widespread, then they might all have died.

Their new home doesn't ever quite feel like home, doesn't feel right. And as tensions between white settlers and the Native Americans increase with each chapter, it's upsetting. It's quite a relief, in a way, to see them [the Ingalls] go.

If I were to judge the entire series by this one book, I'm not sure the series would be among my favorites. While there was a happy peacefulness to the first novel, this book is anxious, dramatic, full of tension and uncertainty. There isn't the assurance that everything will always work out well. (Though that could be Laura as the narrator growing up a little.) I think the novel does a good job showing Laura's unease. Laura is thoughtful and curious--at times--always observant. That doesn't mean Laura is wise or always right. (In one instance, if Laura had done what she felt to be right, things would have gone very, very wrong.) 

Of course one of the main conflicts of the book is the tension between the white settlers and the Native Americans. The way that it is presented while historically accurate and socially acceptable for the times (both the 1870s and the 1930s) can prove problematic for modern readers. My first review covers this aspect of the novel. Little House on the Prairie is not the only problem novel from the time period. Not all books in the series are equally offensive.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Little House in the Big Woods (1932)

Little House in the Big Woods. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1932. 238 pages.

It's been almost five years since I last read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These are pure comfort reads. Though not every single book in the series is equally satisfying. I've never finished Farmer Boy, for example.

Little House in the Big Woods is an enjoyable, nostalgic read celebrating "the good life" of a young family. It is a way of life being celebrated or remembered. The focus is just on much on how Ma and Pa used to do things, as it is on the characters themselves.

Attention and detail given to preparing for all seasons of the year, washing, cleaning, cooking, baking, hunting, storing and saving for winter months, celebrating with family and extended family, etc. In the first chapter alone, the reader learns the joys of smoking venison and playing with a pigs' bladder not to mention the how-to's of making head cheese. Each episode, each observation offers the reader a window into the past. Some things have changed--and changed a lot--other things have remained the same. One of the things that resonates in this book--in this series is the love and joy of family life. Pa. Ma. Mary. Laura. Carrie. Each are part of the family. Each are important, valued, loved. The relationship of Laura with her parents and Laura with her sisters and Laura with her beloved dog, Jack, are timeless.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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