Monday, September 30, 2013

September Reflections

This month I read 55 books.

My top five:

Every Day After. Laura Golden.
The Phantom Tollbooth. Norton Juster.
Blood & Beauty: The Borgias. Sarah Dunant
Blackmoore Julianne Donaldson.
The Life of Cesare Borgia: A History and Some Criticisms. Rafael Sabatini.

Children's Books:

  1. Lost Cat. C. Roger Mader. 2013. (October 2013). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Summer Saltz: I'm So Hollywood. Connie Sewell. Illustrated by Elyse Whittaker-Paek. 2013. Tiny Hands Publishing. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  3. The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair. Kate Bernheimer. Illustrated by Jake Parker. 2013. Random House. 40 pages.
  4. Things That go (Pop & Play) Simon Abbott. 2013. Kingfisher. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  5. Zoo Animals. (Pop & Play). Simon Abbott. 2013. Kingfisher. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  6. How To Train a Train. Jason Carter Eaton. Illustrated by John Rocco. 2013. Candlewick Press. 48 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  7. Squirrels on Skis. J. Hamilton Ray. Illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre. 2013. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  8. A Pet Named Sneaker. Joan Heilbroner. Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre. 2013. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  9. Dig, Scoop, Ka-Boom! Joan Holub. Illustrated by David Gordon. 2013. Random House. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. Here Comes Super Grover! Sesame Workshop. Illustrated by Ernie Kwiat. 2013. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. Abby Cadabby Up and Down. Sesame Workshop. Illustrated by Ernie Kwiat. 2013. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Twin Magic: School Bully, Beware! Kate Ledger. Illustrated by Kyla May. 2013. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13. Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2013. Harcourt. 44 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Middle Grade and Young Adult:
  1. A Little Maid Of Provincetown. Alice Turner Curtis. 1913. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. All-of-a-Kind-Family. Sydney Taylor. 1951. 190 pages. [Source: Bought]
  3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. 1865. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. Pat of Silver Bush. L.M. Montgomery. 1933. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]
  5. The Phantom Tollbooth. Norton Juster. Illustrated by Jules Feiffer. 1961/2011. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  6. Creative Writing: The Plot Thickens. Mary Budzik. 2013. Kingfisher. 64 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  7. No Shame, No Fear. Ann Turnbull. 2003. Candlewick. 304 pages. [Source: Library] 
  8. The Wicked History of the World: History With the Nasty Bits Left In. Terry Deary. Illustrated by Martin Brown. 2006. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
  9. Gold in the Days of Summer. Susan Pogorzelski. 2013. Brown Beagle Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  10. Every Day After. Laura Golden. 2013. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Review Copy] 
  11. The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield. John Bemelmans Marciano. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2013. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  12. The Elite. Kiera Cass. 2013. HarperCollins. 323 pages. [Source: Library] 
  13. Middle Ground. Katie Kacvinsky. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 336 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  14. The Year of the Baby. Andrea Cheng. Illustrated by Patrice Barton. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Adult Books:
  1. Great Tales from English History, vol. 1. Robert Lacey. 2003. Little, Brown. 272 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/2003. Random House. 190 pages.
  3. The Black Robe. Wilkie Collins. 1881. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. Blood & Beauty: The Borgias. Sarah Dunant. 2013. Random House. 528 pages. [Source: Library]  
  5. The Life of Cesare Borgia: A History and Some Criticisms. Rafael Sabatini. 1912. 326 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  6. Blackmoore Julianne Donaldson. 2013. Shadow Mountain (Proper Romance). 282 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  7. Madonna of the Seven Hills: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Broadway. 320 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  8. Light on Lucrezia: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Crown. 384 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  9. Iola Leroy. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. 1892. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]
  10. A Houseboat on the Styx. John Kendrick Bangs. 1895. 194 pages. [Source: Bought]   
  11. The Pursuit of the Houseboat Being Some Further Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades. John Kendrick Bangs. 1897. 108 pages. [Source: Bought]   
  12. The Enchanted Typewriter. John Kendrick Bangs. 1899. 90 pages. [Source: Bought]
  13. Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. Margaret Powell. 1968/2012. St. Martin's Press. 224 pages. [Source: Library]
  14. Bath Tangle. Georgette Heyer. 1955/2011. Sourcebooks. 368 pages. [Source: Review Copy] 
  15. Sprig Muslin. Georgette Heyer. 1956/2011. Sourcebooks. 304 pages. [Source: Library] 
  16. April Lady. Georgette Heyer. 1957/2005. Harlequin. 270 pages. [Source: Library]
  17. Rookwood. William Harrison Ainsworth. 1834. 464 pages. [Source: Bought]
Christian Books:
  1. Which Bible Translation Should I Use? A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions. Andreas J. Kostenberger, ed. 2012. B&H. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. Love's Awakening. Laura Frantz. 2013. Revell. 416 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  3. The Invention of Sarah Cummings. 2013. Revell. 304 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  4. A Surprise for Lily. Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher. 2013. Revell. 268 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  5. Sovereign Grace Its Source, Its Nature, and Its Effects. Dwight Lyman Moody. 1891. 90 pages. [Source: Bought.] 
  6. One With Christ. An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. Marcus Peter Johnson. 2013. Crossway. 256 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  7. The Romance of Grace. Jim McNeely III. 2013. Libertary Co. 148 pages. [Source: Bought]
  8. Prophet by Frank Peretti. 1992/2004. Crossway. 416 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  9. God & Kings. Lynn Austin. 1995/2005. Bethany House. 317 pages. [Source: Bought]
  10. Song of Redemption. Lynn Austin. 2005. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  11. When Calls the Heart. Janette Oke. 1983/2005. Bethany House. 224 pages.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Great Tales From English History (2003)

Great Tales from English History, vol. 1. Robert Lacey. 2003. Little, Brown. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved this history book. From the start, I knew it was just the book for me.
'History' and 'story' derive from the same linguistic root, and if history can never escape its authorship, it should at least try to make the authorship readable and bright. (xiv)
and
But personality -- human nature -- is surely the essence of history, and I have deliberately made personalities the essence of this book. Brief though each chapter is, Great Tales seeks to create a coherent, chronological picture of our island story, while following the guiding principle that all men and women have heroism inside them -- along with generous and fascinating measures of incompetence, apathy, evil and lust. (xv)
This is the first of three volumes. This book concentrates on the dark ages (or early medieval if you prefer) and the first part of the middle ages. Only three stories are dated BEFORE the birth of Christ (AD). Highlights from this volume include:
  • Boadicea, Warrior Queen
  • Arthur, Once and Future King
  • Caedmon, The First English Poet
  • The Venerable Bede
  • Edward the Confessor
  • The Legend of Lady Godiva
  • The Domesday Book
  • The Mysterious Death of William Rufus
  • Stephen and Matilda
  • Murder in the Cathedral
  • Richard the Lionheart
  • John Lackland and Magna Carta
  • Simon de Montfort and His Talking-place
  • The Fair Maid of Kent and the Order of the Garter
  • The Great Mortality
Angles, Saxons, Celts, Romans, Vikings, Normans...all are to be found in this first volume. Reading this little book will give you a starting place to grasp the English rulers. (William the Conqueror to Richard II in this volume).

Each story is just a few pages long; it is all so reader-friendly! There is nothing dry and boring in this little volume!!!

Love Horrible Histories? Then these videos pair well with this little book.

Boudicca
Celtic Boast Battles
Saxon Invasion, Invasion, Invasion
Kidnapped and Kidnapped 2
Anglo-Saxons Ordeals
Monks Song
Viking Song "Literally"
Domesday Book
Normonoply
Death of William Rufus
English Rulers
Norman Family Tree Song
King John Online
Plague Song

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blogging Advice from William Shakespeare

No legacy is so rich as honesty ~ All's Well That Ends Well
Small to greater matters must give way. ~ Antony and Cleopatra
To business that we love we rise betime, and go to 't with delight. ~ Antony and Cleopatra
This above all -- to thine own self be true; ~ Hamlet
Brevity is the soul of wit ~ Hamlet
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; Words without thoughts never to heaven go. ~ Hamlet
I must be cruel, only to be kind ~ Hamlet
We know what we are, but know not what we may be ~ Hamlet
A good wit will make use of anything; I will turn diseases to commodity. ~ Henry IV, Part 2
Past, and to come, seem best; things present, worst ~ Henry IV, Part 2
My thoughts are whirled like a potter's wheel; I know not where I am nor what I do. ~ Henry VI, Part 1
Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest ~ King Lear
Truth is truth to the end of reckoning ~ Measure for Measure
This is the short and the long of it ~ Merry Wives of Windsor
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6 Early Readers...and 1 Early Chapter Book

Squirrels on Skis. J. Hamilton Ray. Illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre. 2013. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Nobody knew how the mania grew. First there was one, and then there were two. Three more came gliding from under the trees. LOOK! On the hill. Those are squirrels on skis! Below lay the town, snow-covered and still. Not a sound could be heard. All was silent until... 
swwwishhhh swooped the skiers, all dressed for play. Eighty-five squirrels and more on the way! 

Squirrels on Skis is so much fun! It is over-the-top, that's true enough, but it is just so imaginative! Squirrels on Skis tell the story of a town overwhelmed by hundreds of squirrels on skis. The residents of the town are not pleased overall. One or two squirrels on skis is cute enough, but this many?! Well, something has to be done...NOW!!! But the squirrels are at risk too. Their skiing is out of control. They're so busy skiing that they're not eating or sleeping! An intervention is clearly needed...

Sally Sue Breeze is a good heroine. She's a reporter that may just be able to solve the problem and bring about a happy resolution for everyone!

I would definitely recommend this one!

A Pet Named Sneaker. Joan Heilbroner. Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre. 2013. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

There once was a snake named Sneaker. He lived in a pet store. It was a nice store. But Sneaker was not happy. He wanted a home. Many people came into the store. They took home fish. They took home birds. They took home hamsters. But they did not take home Sneaker. No one wanted a snake. Then one day, a boy came into the store. His name was Pete.

A Pet Named Sneaker is a fun beginner book. Most of the adventures occur out of the pet store. Readers see Sneaker at home with Pete, attending school with Pete, accompanying him to the swimming pool in the summer, etc. Sneaker is quite a pet! This pet snake even learns to read...

I liked this one. It definitely has more of a story to it than you might suspect.

Dig, Scoop, Ka-Boom! Joan Holub. Illustrated by David Gordon. 2013. Random House. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Here's the site and the crew. They have a mighty job to do! Dozer's blade shapes the land. Push it. Shove it. Move that sand! Digger's teeth bite the ground. Crunch, crunch, scoop! Tracks skid around. Rocks are big. They can't stay. Loader lifts them all away. 

I think Dig, Scoop, Ka-boom! works. I like the rhythm and rhyme. I like the simplicity of the words and sentences, the varying lengths of sentences. I also like the point of view leading up to the surprise ending.

The book is part of Random House's Step Into Reading series. It is a step one book, "ready to read."

Here Comes Super Grover! Sesame Workshop. Illustrated by Ernie Kwiat. 2013. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Candlewick Press publishes a handful of brand new readers. One of the series in this brand new readers series is Sesame Street. Here Comes Super Grover has four small stories: "Super Grover's Basket," "Super Grover and the Bike," "Super Grover and the Rock," and "Super Grover to the Rescue." A summary of each book is given before the story.

From Super Grover to the Rescue: "Elmo has a wagon. He sees the steps. Oh, no!"
From Super Grover and the Rock: "Super Grover sees a big rock. He tries to sweep the rock. He tries to push the rock."
From Super Grover's Basket: "Cookie Monster puts cookies in a basket. Super Grover pulls the basket up."
From Super Grover and the Bike: "Abby's bike has just one big wheel. "Try this!" says Super Grover. "That is a square," says Abby.

The book is simple and silly. Often stories have a small twist at the end. My favorite is probably Super Grover's Basket.

Abby Cadabby Up and Down. Sesame Workshop. Illustrated by Ernie Kwiat. 2013. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Abby Cadabby Up and Down features four stories: Abby and Elmo and the Basket, Abby and Elmo's Picnic, Abby's Boat, and Abby Comes To Visit. Each story is summarized before the story properly begins. The stories are very simple, but there are traces of humor in a few of them.

From "Abby's Boat": Abby floats her boat in the pool. Elmo puts an apple on the boat. The boat tilts. Abby puts her apple on the boat. The boat balances...

The book includes eight tips for parents on how to help your brand new reader.

Twin Magic: School Bully, Beware! Kate Ledger. Illustrated by Kyla May. 2013. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Lottie and Mia are twins. Their best friend is named Toby. He lives next door. 

I was not overly impressed by this early reader though I could see why other readers might find it charming enough. Lottie and Mia are twins with (secret) magical powers. These powers come in useful with solving every day problems the pair encounters. This second book in the series is all about a new kid at school, a boy named Max. Max is a mean bully. The book resolves very quickly, a bit too quickly in my opinion. Of course, Max isn't really a bully. He just is having a bad day. And of course, he's super cool and good friend material. The lack of characterization bothered me a bit as did the simplifying of a big problem. This one just didn't feel authentic, even without considering the magic.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball. Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2013. Harcourt. 44 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Mr. Putter and his fine cat, Tabby, loved to nap in the summertime. They loved napping in the garden. They loved napping on the porch. They loved napping in the car. "It seems that we nap all the time," Mr. Putter said to Tabby one day. Tabby was old and her frisky days were over. She loved napping. "I think we need a sport," said Mr. Putter. Tabby opened one eye. "I think we need baseball," said Mr. Putter...

I loved, loved, loved this one! I love Mr. Putter and Tabby. I love the baseball team they join. I love Mrs. Teaberry and her dog, Zeke, who plays quite a big role on the team for better or worse! The team Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry join is the Yankee Doodle Dandies. It's just fun and sweet all at the same time!

 This early chapter book has five chapters.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday Salon: Reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. 1865. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a great book to read again and again no matter your age. I think I've always adored this one and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Each chapter feels so familiar and welcome. I love that books become friends. I think that is why I absolutely HAVE to reread books. It's a way of life for me.

The chapter titles: "Down The Rabbit-Hole," "The Pool of Tears," "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale," "The Rabbit Sends In a Little Bill," "Advice From A Caterpillar," "Pig and Pepper," "A Mad Tea-Party," "The Queen's Croquet-Ground," "The Mock Turtle's Story," "The Lobster Quadrille," "Who Stole the Tarts?" and "Alice's Evidence." I love that simply reading the chapter titles takes you right into the heart and soul of this one!

What is your favorite thing about Alice in Wonderland? I think my favorite thing is the dreaminess of it. How perfectly bizarre and wonderful it is. It is whimsical, quirky, delightful. It is also very quotable! 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Library Loot: Third Trip in September

New Loot:
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester
Leftover Loot:
  • Avalon by Anya Seton
  • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
  • Queens' Play by Dorothy Dunnett
  • Dynasty: The Stuarts, 1560-1807 by John Macleod
  • Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser
  • The Duchess of Drury Lane by Freda Lightfoot
  • If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley
  • The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer
  • I, Hogarth by Michael Dean
     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: September 22-28

A Little Maid Of Provincetown. Alice Turner Curtis. 1913. 192 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Wicked History of the World: History With the Nasty Bits Left In. Terry Deary. Illustrated by Martin Brown. 2006. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
Gold in the Days of Summer. Susan Pogorzelski. 2013. Brown Beagle Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield. John Bemelmans Marciano. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2013. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
The Black Robe. Wilkie Collins. 1881. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]
Iola Leroy. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. 1892. 256 pages. [Source: Bought] 
Lost Cat. C. Roger Mader. 2013. (October 2013). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Summer Saltz: I'm So Hollywood. Connie Sewell. Illustrated by Elyse Whittaker-Paek. 2013. Tiny Hands Publishing. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair. Kate Bernheimer. Illustrated by Jake Parker. 2013. Random House. 40 pages.
Which Bible Translation Should I Use? A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions. Andreas J. Kostenberger, ed. 2012. B&H. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
Love's Awakening. Laura Frantz. 2013. Revell. 416 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Song of Redemption. Lynn Austin. 2005. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Bought] 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Black Robe (1881)

The Black Robe. Wilkie Collins. 1881. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Black Robe is slightly similar to Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right (1869) and Kept in the Dark (1882). All three books deal with the hazards and drama of marriage.

Lewis Romayne travels to France with his friend Major Hynd. While in France, Lewis goes gaming. At a card game, he accuses a man of cheating. The man insists on a duel. For whatever reason, the man is unable but his (grown) son insists on taking his place. This son is rumored to be quite good at shooting. Lewis, for better or worse, fires a "lucky" shot. His opponent dies. Now there is unbeknownst to all, a younger brother on the scene who witnesses his older brothers death. He screams out. These screams haunt Lewis. A good percentage of the novel focuses on how haunted and disturbed Lewis is psychologically. His friends fear the worse, they fear he will become insane. One of his friends thinks that marriage is the answer. If Lewis would only find a wife, surely, he will become suddenly sane. Right?! It makes perfect sense. If Lewis is unstable and unbalanced, of course, he needs a wife. And his friends have just the woman in mind. Fortunately, she fell in love with him at first sight. She's drawn to him precisely because he looks so fragile and vulnerable. Not everyone thinks marriage is the answer, however.

Father Benwell is a Jesuit priest with an agenda. (Well, why wouldn't he have an agenda?!) Romayne has inherited property that centuries before (think Henry VIII) had belonged to the Catholic church. Benwell is determined to have that property (Vange Abbey) back. He has a main plan and several back-up plans just in case his original schemes fail. One of his plans involve another Jesuit priest, Arthur Penrose, Penrose is one of the nicest characters in the book. Penrose has been instructed to convert Lewis, to do whatever it takes to turn him Catholic. Penrose's approach doesn't suit Benwell. But his gentleness and sincerity make a lifelong friend out of Lewis.

Lewis marries Stella Eyrecourt. Benwell needs a good plan B. He decides to see if he can dig up a scandal concerning the wife. If he can separate the couple, surely, he will be weakened and even more vulnerable. He would be eager to turn from his wife to the church. He might love the church so much he voluntarily gives Vange Abbey back! But can Benwell find anything scandalous in Stella's past?!

My favorite character was definitely Bernard Winterfield. The last half of the novel is told through his diary entries.

If you have enjoyed Wilkie Collins in the past, chances are you'll enjoy this novel too. While I didn't love it as much as Armadale or Woman in White, I did find it compelling! There are plenty of secrets!

Quotes:
Art has its trials as well as its triumphs. It is powerless to assert itself against the sordid interests of everyday life. The greatest book ever written, the finest picture ever painted, appeals in vain to minds preoccupied by selfish and secret cares. 
Whether we only express our opinions of pictures or books in the course of conversation or whether we assert them at full length, with all the authority of print, we are really speaking in either case, of what personally pleases or repels us. 
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gold in the Days of Summer (2013)

Gold in the Days of Summer. Susan Pogorzelski. 2013. Brown Beagle Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Gold in the Days of Summer is a lovely coming-of-age novel set in the summer of 1979. Annie, our heroine, is almost thirteen, and in her opinion, too much is changing too fast. She's definitely questioning why can't more things stay the same, stay predictable and familiar and perfect. Her best friend went to camp this summer instead of staying at home, and she has missed her horribly. Her grandmother isn't coming back home from the nursing home. Her house is probably going to have to be sold after all. But more troubling than the fact that her Grandma won't be nearby, that her health isn't what it was just a few years ago, is the fact that Grandma's memory is fading away from her. If her parents and older sister would just be honest with her, then even that might seem like it's going to be okay.

Gold in the Days of Summer is not a depressing novel. Annie might have a lot of emotions to process, but, she's stronger than she thinks. Gold in the Days of Summer is middle grade romance. I enjoyed it very much. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield (2013)

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield. John Bemelmans Marciano. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2013. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield is strange, dark, quirky, and depressing. For me, it was an uneven read. There were a few places that I thought had promise. They would be a couple of sentences here or there that I thought worked, that I thought had potential. But ultimately, the book did not satisfy me. The good news is the book is quite honest. It begins and ends with Alexander in his grave.
But now you say to yourself, "Aha! I know: the twist is that the boy is not really dead. It says it right there in the title--Alexander has nine lives. He will be reborn again and again, so that by his ninth life this awful child will have learned his lesson. His heart will fill with love for his fellow man, and he will become a Not-so-Baddenfield, or even a Goodenfield, and he will turn all his money over to the poor and dedicate his final life to charitable good works." If this were a Hollywood movie, or a fairy tale, or a run-of-the-mill chapter book, this would undoubtedly be the case. But in the real world such things rarely happen. The truth of the matter is that Alexander Baddenfield used up all of his lives without the least bit of remorse or redemption, because Alexander Baddenfield only ever cared about one thing: himself. And that, dear friends, is the most Baddenfield trait of them all. (2-3, ARC)
This is a book that prides itself on the fact that there are no moral lessons or general instructions imparted to the characters OR to the readers. A book that celebrates the fact that there was no redemption. It is a very depressing though at times slightly humorous novel. I'm sure there are some readers out there who will find this one interesting. But for me, it did not work. 


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Iola Leroy (1892)

Iola Leroy. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. 1892. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

I've been meaning to read Iola Leroy for several years now. Iola Leroy is one of the first novels written by an African American woman. The novel isn't arranged chronologically. It starts during the Civil War. Readers meet a handful of slaves who are deciding whether or not to leave their plantations and join the Union army or to stay on their plantations and continue to serve. A chapter or two keeps us with the army, following a few soldiers. The character of Iola Leroy is then introduced. She's a young woman who could easily pass as a white woman--if she wanted; one doctor with the army, a Dr. Gresham falls madly in love with Iola Leroy. He knows "the truth" about her ethnicity, her background, and it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to him. She is THE ONE for him; he knows it. But can he convince her that his love is the real thing?

After briefly meeting Iola Leroy and Dr. Gresham and a handful of others, the novel then takes us back several decades in time. Readers meet Iola's mother, Marie (a slave), and her father, Eugene (a slave-owner). This portion of the novel feels forced, scripted, a bit unnatural. It begins with a conversation between Eugene Leroy and Alfred Lorraine. He is telling Lorraine of his intentions to free Marie, marry her, and bring her back to the plantation as his wife, his hopes to raise his family in the south.
"You never saw Marie?"
"No; and I don't want to."
"She is very beautiful. In the North no one would suspect that she has one drop of negro blood in her veins, but here, where I am known, to marry her is to lose caste. I could live with her, and not incur much if any social opprobrium. Society would wink at the transgression, even if after she had become the mother of my children I should cast her off and send her and them to the auction block."
"Men," replied Lorraine, "would merely shrug their shoulders; women would say you had been sowing your wild oats. Your money, like charity, would cover a multitude of faults."
"But if I make her my lawful wife and recognize her children as my legitimate heirs, I subject myself to social ostracism and a senseless persecution. We Americans boast of freedom, and yet here is a woman whom I love as I never loved any other human being, but both law and public opinion debar me from following the inclination of my heart. She is beautiful, faithful, and pure, and yet all that society will tolerate is what I would scorn to do."
"But has not society the right to guard the purity of its blood by the rigid exclusion of an alien race?"
"Excluding it! How?" asked Eugene.
"By debarring it from social intercourse."
"Perhaps it has," continued Eugene, "but should not society have a greater ban for those who, by consorting with an alien race, rob their offspring of a right to their names and to an inheritance in their property, and who fix their social status among an enslaved and outcast race? Don't eye me so curiously; I am not losing my senses."
"I think you have done that already," said Lorraine. "Don't you know that if she is as fair as a lily, beautiful as a houri, and chaste as ice, that still she is a negro?"
"Oh, come now; she isn't much of a negro."
"It doesn't matter, however. One drop of negro blood in her veins curses all the rest."
"I know it," said Eugene, sadly, "but I have weighed the consequences, and am prepared to take them."
"Well, Eugene, your course is so singular! I do wish that you would tell me why you take this unprecedented step?"
Eugene laid aside his cigar, looked thoughtfully at Lorraine, and said, "Well, Alfred, as we are kinsmen and life-long friends, I will not resent your asking my reason for doing that which seems to you the climax of absurdity, and if you will have the patience to listen I will tell you."
"Proceed, I am all attention."
"My father died," said Eugene, "as you know, when I was too young to know his loss or feel his care and, being an only child, I was petted and spoiled. I grew up to be wayward, self-indulgent, proud, and imperious. I went from home and made many friends both at college and in foreign lands. I was well supplied with money and, never having been forced to earn it, was ignorant of its value and careless of its use. My lavish expenditures and liberal benefactions attracted to me a number of parasites, and men older than myself led me into the paths of vice, and taught me how to gather the flowers of sin which blossom around the borders of hell. In a word, I left my home unwarned and unarmed against the seductions of vice. I returned an initiated devotee to debasing pleasures. Years of my life were passed in foreign lands; years in which my soul slumbered and seemed pervaded with a moral paralysis; years, the memory of which fills my soul with sorrow and shame. I went to the capitals of the old world to see life, but in seeing life I became acquainted with death, the death of true manliness and self-respect. You look astonished; but I tell you, Alf, there is many a poor clod-hopper, on whom are the dust and grime of unremitting toil, who feels more self-respect and true manliness than many of us with our family prestige, social position, and proud ancestral halls. After I had lived abroad for years, I returned a broken-down young man, prematurely old, my constitution a perfect wreck. A life of folly and dissipation was telling fearfully upon me. My friends shrank from me in dismay. I was sick nigh unto death, and had it not been for Marie's care I am certain that I should have died. She followed me down to the borders of the grave, and won me back to life and health. I was slow in recovering and, during the time, I had ample space for reflection, and the past unrolled itself before me. I resolved, over the wreck and ruin of my past life, to build a better and brighter future. Marie had a voice of remarkable sweetness, although it lacked culture. Often when I was nervous and restless I would have her sing some of those weird and plaintive melodies which she had learned from the plantation negroes. Sometimes I encouraged her to talk, and I was surprised at the native vigor of her intellect. By degrees I became acquainted with her history. She was all alone in the world. She had no recollection of her father, but remembered being torn from her mother while clinging to her dress. The trader who bought her mother did not wish to buy her. She remembered having a brother, with whom she used to play, but she had been separated from him also, and since then had lost all trace of them. After she was sold from her mother she became the property of an excellent old lady, who seems to have been very careful to imbue her mind with good principles; a woman who loved purity, not only for her own daughters, but also for the defenseless girls in her home. I believe it was the lady's intention to have freed Marie at her death, but she died suddenly, and, the estate being involved, she was sold with it and fell into the hands of my agent. I became deeply interested in her when I heard her story, and began to pity her."
"And I suppose love sprang from pity."
"I not only pitied her, but I learned to respect her. I had met with beautiful women in the halls of wealth and fashion, both at home and abroad, but there was something in her different from all my experience of womanhood."
"I should think so," said Lorraine, with a sneer; "but I should like to know what it was."
"It was something such as I have seen in old cathedrals, lighting up the beauty of a saintly face. A light which the poet tells was never seen on land or sea. I thought of this beautiful and defenseless girl adrift in the power of a reckless man, who, with all the advantages of wealth and education, had trailed his manhood in the dust, and she, with simple, childlike faith in the Unseen, seemed to be so good and pure that she commanded my respect and won my heart. In her presence every base and unholy passion died, subdued by the supremacy of her virtue."
"Why, Eugene, what has come over you? Talking of the virtue of these quadroon girls! You have lived so long in the North and abroad, that you seem to have lost the cue of our Southern life. Don't you know that these beautiful girls have been the curse of our homes? You have no idea of the hearts which are wrung by their presence."
"But, Alfred, suppose it is so. Are they to blame for it? What can any woman do when she is placed in the hands of an irresponsible master; when she knows that resistance is vain? Yes, Alfred, I agree with you, these women are the bane of our Southern civilization; but they are the victims and we are the criminals."
"I think from the airs that some of them put on when they get a chance, that they are very willing victims."
"So much the worse for our institution. If it is cruel to debase a hapless victim, it is an increase of cruelty to make her contented with her degradation. Let me tell you, Alf, you cannot wrong or degrade a woman without wronging or degrading yourself."
"What is the matter with you, Eugene? Are you thinking of taking priest's orders?"
"No, Alf," said Eugene, rising and rapidly pacing the floor, "you may defend the system as much as you please, but you cannot deny that the circumstances it creates, and the temptations it affords, are sapping our strength and undermining our character."
"That may be true," said Lorraine, somewhat irritably, "but you had better be careful how you air your Northern notions in public."
"Why so?"
"Because public opinion is too sensitive to tolerate any such discussions."
"And is not that a proof that we are at fault with respect to our institutions?"
"I don't know. I only know we are living in the midst of a magazine of powder, and it is not safe to enter it with a lighted candle."
Eugene does exactly as he plans. Marie is freed; the two are married; they have three children. But his plans are set aside after his death. Alfred Lorraine, his closest white relative, insists that Marie is a slave, and that her three children are slaves too. He gets his way. Iola is tricked into coming home, but her brother is safe at school in the North. (The youngest child dies.)

Most of the novel focuses on life AFTER the war is over, AFTER the slaves are freed, during the messy period of Reconstruction. Iola Leroy and her uncle (whom she just happens to meet) are searching desperately for their families. There are plenty of happy reunion moments in between the social commentary. There's also a romance squeezed in for Iola Leroy. (It is NOT Dr. Gresham.)

The narrative falls into two types: dialect and lecture. I found the dialect to be more interesting and more enjoyable. The narrative style in the 'lecture' sections reminded me of A Pilgrim's Progress.
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Wicked History of the World

The Wicked History of the World: History With the Nasty Bits Left In. Terry Deary. Illustrated by Martin Brown. 2006. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

The Wicked History of the World is a reader-friendly introduction to world history. A lot of subjects are introduced and discussed quite briefly; it is not a complete and thorough introduction to any time period. This one seems perfect for browsing. It isn't just prose; there are quizzes, "diary entries," and comics too.

This is one of many books published in the "Horrible Histories" series. (Before the television show, there were books.) For those wanting to make a connection to the WONDERFUL show...

Roman Funerals 
Vikings Song "Literally"
Blackbeard's Song
Dick Turpin's Song

I liked this one. I wish my library had more of the series. 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three 2013 Picture Books

Lost Cat. C. Roger Mader. 2013. (October 2013). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Ever since Slipper was a tiny kitten, she'd lived with a little old lady in a little old house in a little old town. Slipper was well cared for: tasty food, a brushing every day, and a little rug to sleep on, right beside the lady's bed, next to the fluffy slippers she loved so much. Life was good.

The title says it all. Slipper, the cat, is forgotten on moving day. Her owner whom we simply know as "Mrs. Fluffy Slippers" appears to have forgotten her in her packing. Slipper tries to follow the moving van, but soon tires. Mrs. Fluffy Slippers returns to the house for Slipper, but the cat is gone. Many people see Slipper and want to take her home. But she doesn't want to go with just anyone...

This book has the happiest of endings. A nice twist that adults might predict but might surprise younger readers. I like the story just fine. But I really like the illustrations. The illustrations are so beautiful. Cat lovers should be quite pleased! One thing you'll notice is that they provide a cat's point of view in that everything is seen on the level of a cat. All the humans in the story are only seen from the knees down.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

Summer Saltz: I'm So Hollywood. Connie Sewell. Illustrated by Elyse Whittaker-Paek. 2013. Tiny Hands Publishing. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

My name is Summer Saltz. My mom says she loves summertime and that's why she named me Summer. My dad says my name fits me to a tee. "Fits me to a tee?" I ask. My mom says that's a figure of speech and it means my name fits me perfectly. Well, I think what fits me perfectly is anything Pink. I love Pink! And another thing that fits me to a tee are my new white sunglasses.

Summer Saltz, our heroine, is given the compliment that she is "so Hollywood." Not quite understanding the figure of speech, Summer decides to be so Hollywood all the time. She loves dressing up and showing off! She wants to be one-of-a-kind. But things don't always go as planned. Her best friend? Well, she has the exact same sunglasses. And when Summer's own glasses break, well, Summer is understandably upset...

The text of this one is quite fun. The repeating trend seems to be Summer not quite understanding all the phrases (the figures of speech) that her parents and relatives use around her. She repeats them quite well, but, interprets them her own way. The illustrations are super-cute. My favorite is probably the illustration of her (big) dog Penelope. The text reads "How do you put a DOG in a purse?" (Summer had a brand new pink cupcake purse!)

I liked getting to know Summer, Penelope (her dog) and Molly (her best friend).

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair. Kate Bernheimer. Illustrated by Jake Parker. 2013. Random House. 40 pages.

There once was a girl who wouldn't brush her hair. Her hair was wonderful--bear-brown and wavy. The girl also had a doll that looked just like her, except the doll had no hair and was only a baby. The doll's name was Baby. After the girl's bath every evening, she'd pile a turban upon her head and pretend she was queen. At bedtime, she would unravel the turban and let her hair fall down in a tangled heap. No brushing. "It's just my way," she explained to the grown-ups.

This book has a good premise: a little girl who refuses to brush her hair learns a lesson slowly but surely. She does seem slow in learning it, however. It is not enough for one mouse to make a nest in her hair and take up residence. It's not even enough for three dozen mice to take up residence in her hair. The mice are unruly, bossy, and nocturnal...

It's a fun and playful story starring a very stubborn heroine. The illustrations, in a way, are just as fun as the text itself. I liked seeing what the mice were doing in each picture. The story has a good resolution too. This story reminded me--in a good way--of a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle story.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday Salon: Reading Little Maid of Provincetown

A Little Maid Of Provincetown. Alice Turner Curtis. 1913. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

A Little Maid of Provincetown is a delightful little children's book set around the times of the American Revolution. After her father leaves her, Anne Nelson seeks shelter with the Stoddards, a happy-but-childless family. She soon adjusts to her new life, though she is unhappy that some of the other children in Provincetown tease her. There are children who say that her father, John Nelson, is a spy and a traitor. There are children who call Anne a beggar-child. But with the assurance of her new family--Enos and Martha Stoddard, she is secure and happy enough. Not that she believes the reports about her father. Not that she stops wanting him to come back to her. But she begins to be content with her new life, to like spending time with Brownie, the cow, and Martha, her wooden doll. She even makes friends with two of the children who teased her: Amanda and Amos Carey. But there are things happening around her that warn of danger: the British soldiers on their ships, etc. Anne knows that war could come sooner or later.

A Little Maid of Provincetown is a book with plenty of adventures. And some of the adventures involve more than hunting a missing cow. Anne is a spunky heroine who can get into mischief if not closely watched. She's brave and resourceful as well.

I liked this story.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Week in Review: September 15-21

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias. Sarah Dunant. 2013. Random House. 528 pages. [Source: Library]
The Life of Cesare Borgia: A History and Some Criticisms. Rafael Sabatini. 1912. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]
Blackmoore Julianne Donaldson. 2013. Shadow Mountain (Proper Romance). 282 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Madonna of the Seven Hills: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Broadway. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]
Light on Lucrezia: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Crown. 384 pages. [Source: Bought]
All-of-a-Kind-Family. Sydney Taylor. 1951. 190 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Houseboat on the Styx. John Kendrick Bangs. 1895. 194 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Pursuit of the Houseboat Being Some Further Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades. John Kendrick Bangs. 1897. 108 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Enchanted Typewriter. John Kendrick Bangs. 1899. 90 pages. [Source: Bought]
Things That go (Pop & Play) Simon Abbott. 2013. Kingfisher. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Zoo Animals. (Pop & Play). Simon Abbott. 2013. Kingfisher. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Invention of Sarah Cummings. 2013. Revell. 304 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Prophet by Frank Peretti. 1992/2004. Crossway. 416 pages. [Source: Bought]
God & Kings. Lynn Austin. 1995/2005. Bethany House. 317 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Three for R.I.P

A Houseboat on the Styx. John Kendrick Bangs. 1895. 194 pages. [Source: Bought] 

Earlier this year, I read The Autobiography of Methuselah by John Kendrick Bangs. I enjoyed it very much. I knew he had a series of books set in the underworld that would be PERFECT for R.I.P reading.

Thanks to an amazing college professor (who was a wee bit obsessed with Samuel Johnson and James Boswell) AND Horrible Histories, I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this collection of short stories. The first story starring Charon sets up the rest. This ferryman is asked to run or manage a houseboat, the other shades use this houseboat as a club. The 'associated shades' are famous historical and/or literary figures: Dr. Johnson, James Boswell, William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Demosthenes, Blackstone, Confucius, Sir Francis Bacon, Nero, Cassius, Diogenes, Mozart, Napoleon, Homer, Ptolemy, Baron Munchausen, Noah, Adam, etc. The book is humorous, full of lighthearted gossip and teasing among ghosts. The book has a surprising cliffhanger ending.

Here is a bit from chapter two. It will give you a taste of what to expect. I can't promise that you'll find it as giddy-making as I did. But I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the banter and spirit of it.
How are you, Charon?" said Shakespeare, as the Janitor assisted him on board. "Any one here to-night?"
"Yes, sir," said Charon. "Lord Bacon is up in the library, and Doctor Johnson is down in the billiard-room, playing pool with Nero."
"Ha-ha!" laughed Shakespeare. "Pool, eh? Does Nero play pool?"
"Not as well as he does the fiddle, sir," said the Janitor, with a twinkle in his eye.
Shakespeare entered the house and tossed up an obolus. "Heads-- Bacon; tails--pool with Nero and Johnson," he said.
The coin came down with heads up, and Shakespeare went into the pool- room, just to show the Fates that he didn't care a tuppence for their verdict as registered through the obolus. It was a peculiar custom of Shakespeare's to toss up a coin to decide questions of little consequence, and then do the thing the coin decided he should not do. It showed, in Shakespeare's estimation, his entire independence of those dull persons who supposed that in them was centred the destiny of all mankind. The Fates, however, only smiled at these little acts of rebellion, and it was common gossip in Erebus that one of the trio had told the Furies that they had observed Shakespeare's tendency to kick over the traces, and always acted accordingly. They never let the coin fall so as to decide a question the way they wanted it, so that unwittingly the great dramatist did their will after all. It was a part of their plan that upon this occasion Shakespeare should play pool with Doctor Johnson and the Emperor Nero, and hence it was that the coin bade him repair to the library and chat with Lord Bacon.
"Hullo, William," said the Doctor, pocketing three balls on the break. "How's our little Swanlet of Avon this afternoon?"
"Worn out," Shakespeare replied. "I've been hard at work on a play this morning, and I'm tired."
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," said Nero, grinning broadly.
"You are a bright spirit," said Shakespeare, with a sigh. "I wish I had thought to work you up into a tragedy."
"I've often wondered why you didn't," said Doctor Johnson. "He'd have made a superb tragedy, Nero would. I don't believe there was any kind of a crime he left uncommitted. Was there, Emperor?"
"Yes. I never wrote an English dictionary," returned the Emperor, dryly. "I've murdered everything but English, though."
"I could have made a fine tragedy out of you," said Shakespeare. "Just think what a dreadful climax for a tragedy it would be, Johnson, to have Nero, as the curtain fell, playing a violin solo."
"Pretty good," returned the Doctor. "But what's the use of killing off your audience that way? It's better business to let 'em live, I say. Suppose Nero gave a London audience that little musicale he provided at Queen Elizabeth's Wednesday night. How many purely mortal beings, do you think, would have come out alive?"
"Not one," said Shakespeare. "I was mighty glad that night that we were an immortal band. If it had been possible to kill us we'd have died then and there."
"That's all right," said Nero, with a significant shake of his head. "As my friend Bacon makes Ingo say, 'Beware, my lord, of jealousy.' You never could play a garden hose, much less a fiddle."
"What do you mean my attributing those words to Bacon?" demanded Shakespeare, getting red in the face.
"Oh, come now, William," remonstrated Nero. "It's all right to pull the wool over the eyes of the mortals. That's what they're there for; but as for us--we're all in the secret here. What's the use of putting on nonsense with us?"
"We'll see in a minute what the use is," retorted the Avonian. "We'll have Bacon down here." Here he touched an electric button, and Charon came in answer.
"Charon, bring Doctor Johnson the usual glass of ale. Get some ice for the Emperor, and ask Lord Bacon to step down here a minute."
"I don't want any ice," said Nero.
"Not now," retorted Shakespeare, "but you will in a few minutes. When we have finished with you, you'll want an iceberg. I'm getting tired of this idiotic talk about not having written my own works. There's one thing about Nero's music that I've never said, because I haven't wanted to hurt his feelings, but since he has chosen to cast aspersions upon my honesty I haven't any hesitation in saying it now. I believe it was one of his fiddlings that sent Nature into convulsions and caused the destruction of Pompeii--so there! Put that on your music rack and fiddle it, my little Emperor."
Nero's face grew purple with anger, and if Shakespeare had been anything but a shade he would have fared ill, for the enraged Roman, poising his cue on high as though it were a lance, hurled it at the impertinent dramatist with all his strength, and with such accuracy of aim withal that it pierced the spot beneath which in life the heart of Shakespeare used to beat.
"Good shot," said Doctor Johnson, nonchalantly. "If you had been a mortal, William, it would have been the end of you."
"You can't kill me," said Shakespeare, shrugging his shoulders. "I know seven dozen actors in the United States who are trying to do it, but they can't. I wish they'd try to kill a critic once in a while instead of me, though," he added. "I went over to Boston one night last week, and, unknown to anybody, I waylaid a fellow who was to play Hamlet that night. I drugged him, and went to the theatre and played the part myself. It was the coldest house you ever saw in your life. When the audience did applaud, it sounded like an ice-man chopping up ice with a small pick. Several times I looked up at the galleries to see if there were not icicles growing on them, it was so cold. Well, I did the best could with the part, and next morning watched curiously for the criticisms."
"Favorable?" asked the Doctor.
"They all dismissed me with a line," said the dramatist. "Said my conception of the part was not Shakespearian. And that's criticism!"
"No," said the shade of Emerson, which had strolled in while Shakespeare was talking, "that isn't criticism; that's Boston."
"Who discovered Boston, anyhow?" asked Doctor Johnson. "It wasn't Columbus, was it?"
"Oh no," said Emerson. "Old Governor Winthrop is to blame for that. When he settled at Charlestown he saw the old Indian town of Shawmut across the Charles."
"And Shawmut was the Boston microbe, was it?" asked Johnson.
"Yes," said Emerson.
"Spelt with a P, I suppose?" said Shakespeare. "P-S-H-A-W, Pshaw, M- U-T, mut, Pshawmut, so called because the inhabitants are always muttering pshaw. Eh?"
"Pretty good," said Johnson. "I wish I'd said that."
"Well, tell Boswell," said Shakespeare. "He'll make you say it, and it'll be all the same in a hundred years."
Other quotes:
The first guest to arrive was Confucius, and after him came Diogenes, the latter in great excitement over having discovered a comparatively honest man, whose name, however, he had not been able to ascertain, though he was under the impression that it was something like Burpin, or Turpin, he said. 
"You ought to be up-stairs in the lecture-room, Boswell," said Shakespeare, as the great biographer took his seat behind his friend the Doctor. "Doesn't the Gossip want a report of the debate?"
"It does," said Boswell; "but the Gossip endeavors always to get the most interesting items of the day, and Doctor Johnson has informed me that he expects to be unusually witty this evening, so I have come here."
"Excuse me for saying it, Boswell," said the Doctor, getting red in the face over this unexpected confession, "but, really, you talk too much."
"That's good," said Cicero. "Stick that down, Boz, and print it. It's the best thing Johnson has said this week."
Boswell smiled weakly, and said: "But, Doctor, you did say that, you know. I can prove it, too, for you told me some of the things you were going to say. Don't you remember, you were going to lead Shakespeare up to making the remark that he thought the English language was the greatest language in creation, whereupon you were going to ask him why he didn't learn it?"
"Get out of here, you idiot!" roared the Doctor. "You're enough to give a man apoplexy."
"Hullo! here's Hamlet."
As the Doctor spoke, in very truth the melancholy Dane appeared in the doorway, more melancholy of aspect than ever.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Cicero, addressing the new-comer. "Haven't you got that poison out of your system yet?"
"Not entirely," said Hamlet, with a sigh; "but it isn't that that's bothering me. It's Fate."
"We'll get out an injunction against Fate if you like," said Blackstone. "Is it persecution, or have you deserved it?"
"I think it's persecution," said Hamlet. "I never wronged Fate in my life, and why she should pursue me like a demon through all eternity is a thing I can't understand."
"Maybe Ophelia is back of it," suggested Doctor Johnson. "These women have a great deal of sympathy for each other, and, candidly, I think you behaved pretty rudely to Ophelia. It's a poor way to show your love for a young woman, running a sword through her father every night for pay, and driving the girl to suicide with equal frequency, just to show theatre-goers what a smart little Dane you can be if you try."
"'Tisn't me does all that," returned Hamlet. "I only did it once, and even then it wasn't as bad as Shakespeare made it out to be."
"I put it down just as it was," said Shakespeare, hotly, "and you can't dispute it."
"Yes, he can," said Yorick. "You made him tell Horatio he knew me well, and he never met me in his life."
"I never told Horatio anything of the sort," said Hamlet. "I never entered the graveyard even, and I can prove an alibi."
"And, what's more, he couldn't have made the remark the way Shakespeare has it, anyhow," said Yorick, "and for a very good reason. I wasn't buried in that graveyard, and Hamlet and I can prove an alibi for the skull, too."
"It was a good play, just the same," said Cicero.
"Very," put in Doctor Johnson. "It cured me of insomnia."

In all the clubs I have known the house committees have invariably taken the ground that the complaint-book was established to guard them against the annoyance of hearing complaints.

An Authors' Club, where none but authors are admitted, is a good thing. The members learn there that there are other authors than themselves. Poets' Clubs are a good thing; they bring poets into contact with each other, and they learn what a bore it is to have to listen to a poet reading his own poem.


The Pursuit of the Houseboat Being Some Further Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades. John Kendrick Bangs. 1897. 108 pages. [Source: Bought]

In the last chapter of the first book, the women sneak aboard an unoccupied houseboat. They'd been wanting to see what this men's club was all about. The idea of having a ladies day had come up and been discussed, but not quite settled yet. While on board, the houseboat is commandeered by pirates, by Captain Kidd to be exact. Part of the story is told by the women, but most of the story is still told by the men. Introduced in this one is Sherlock Holmes. I still enjoyed this one! I'm not sure I loved it quite as much as the first book. But it had some good parts!!!

If you enjoy writers poking fun at Holmes, then this one will delight!
"I have made a hobby of the study of cigar ends," said the stranger, as the Associated Shades settled back to hear his account of himself. "From my earliest youth, when I used surreptitiously to remove the unsmoked ends of my father's cigars and break them up, and, in hiding, smoke them in an old clay pipe which I had presented to me by an ancient sea-captain of my acquaintance, I have been interested in tobacco in all forms, even including these self-same despised unsmoked ends; for they convey to my mind messages, sentiments, farces, comedies, and tragedies which to your minds would never become manifest through their agency."
The company drew closer together and formed themselves in a more compact mass about the speaker. It was evident that they were beginning to feel an unusual interest in this extraordinary person, who had come among them unheralded and unknown. Even Shylock stopped calculating percentages for an instant to listen.
"Do you mean to tell us," demanded Shakespeare, "that the unsmoked stub of a cigar will suggest the story of him who smoked it to your mind?"
"I do," replied the stranger, with a confident smile. "Take this one, for instance, that I have picked up here upon the wharf; it tells me the whole story of the intentions of Captain Kidd at the moment when, in utter disregard of your rights, he stepped aboard your House-boat, and, in his usual piratical fashion, made off with it into unknown seas."
"But how do you know he smoked it?" asked Solomon, who deemed it the part of wisdom to be suspicious of the stranger.
"There are two curious indentations in it which prove that. The marks of two teeth, with a hiatus between, which you will see if you look closely," said the stranger, handing the small bit of tobacco to Sir Walter, "make that point evident beyond peradventure. The Captain lost an eye-tooth in one of his later raids; it was knocked out by a marine-spike which had been hurled at him by one of the crew of the treasure-ship he and his followers had attacked. The adjacent teeth were broken, but not removed. The cigar end bears the marks of those two jagged molars, with the hiatus, which, as I have indicated, is due to the destruction of the eye-tooth between them. It is not likely that there was another man in the pirate's crew with teeth exactly like the commander's, therefore I say there can be no doubt that the cigar end was that of the Captain himself."
"Very interesting indeed," observed Blackstone, removing his wig and fanning himself with it; "but I must confess, Mr. Chairman, that in any properly constituted law court this evidence would long since have been ruled out as irrelevant and absurd. The idea of two or three hundred dignified spirits like ourselves, gathered together to devise a means for the recovery of our property and the rescue of our wives, yielding the floor to the delivering of a lecture by an entire stranger on 'Cigar Ends He Has Met,' strikes me as ridiculous in the extreme. Of what earthly interest is it to us to know that this or that cigar was smoked by Captain Kidd?"
"Merely that it will help us on, your honor, to discover the whereabouts of the said Kidd," interposed the stranger. "It is by trifles, seeming trifles, that the greatest detective work is done. My friends Le Coq, Hawkshaw, and Old Sleuth will bear me out in this, I think, however much in other respects our methods may have differed. They left no stone unturned in the pursuit of a criminal; no detail, however trifling, uncared for. No more should we in the present instance overlook the minutest bit of evidence, however irrelevant and absurd at first blush it may appear to be. The truth of what I say was very effectually proven in the strange case of the Brokedale tiara, in which I figured somewhat conspicuously, but which have never made public, because it involves a secret affecting the integrity of one of the noblest families in the British Empire. I really believe that mystery was solved easily and at once because I happened to remember that the number of my watch was 86507B. How trivial and yet how important it was, to what then transpired, you will realize when I tell you the incident."
The stranger's manner was so impressive that there was a unanimous and simultaneous movement upon the part of all present to get up closer, so as the more readily to hear what he said, as a result of which poor old Boswell was pushed overboard, and fell, with a loud splash into the Styx. Fortunately, however, one of Charon's pleasure-boats was close at hand, and in a short while the dripping, sputtering spirit was drawn into it, wrung out, and sent home to dry. The excitement attending this diversion having subsided, Solomon asked:
"What was the incident of the lost tiara?"
"I am about to tell you," returned the stranger; "and it must be understood that you are told in the strictest confidence, for, as I say, the incident involves a state secret of great magnitude. In life--in the mortal life--gentlemen, I was a detective by profession, and, if I do say it, who perhaps should not, I was one of the most interesting for purely literary purposes that has ever been known. I did not find it necessary to go about saying 'Ha! ha!' as M. Le Coq was accustomed to do to advertise his cleverness; neither did I disguise myself as a drum-major and hide under a kitchen-table for the purpose of solving a mystery involving the abduction of a parlor stove, after the manner of the talented Hawkshaw. By mental concentration alone, without fireworks or orchestral accompaniment of any sort whatsoever, did I go about my business, and for that very reason many of my fellow-sleuths were forced to go out of real detective work into that line of the business with which the stage has familiarized the most of us--a line in which nothing but stupidity, luck, and a yellow wig is required of him who pursues it."

The Enchanted Typewriter. John Kendrick Bangs. 1899. 90 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Enchanted Typewriter is a bit different from the two previous books: it is set in the mortal world. It has a wonderfully creepy beginning.
It is a strange fact, for which I do not expect ever satisfactorily to account, and which will receive little credence even among those who know that I am not given to romancing--it is a strange fact, I say, that the substance of the following pages has evolved itself during a period of six months, more or less, between the hours of midnight and four o'clock in the morning, proceeding directly from a type-writing machine standing in the corner of my library, manipulated by unseen hands. The machine is not of recent make. It is, in fact, a relic of the early seventies, which I discovered one morning when, suffering from a slight attack of the grip, I had remained at home and devoted my time to pottering about in the attic, unearthing old books, bringing to the light long-forgotten correspondences, my boyhood collections of "stuff," and other memory-inducing things. Whence the machine came originally I do not recall. My impression is that it belonged to a stenographer once in the employ of my father, who used frequently to come to our house to take down dictations. However this may be, the machine had lain hidden by dust and the flotsam and jetsam of the house for twenty years, when, as I have said, I came upon it unexpectedly. Old man as I am--I shall soon be thirty--the fascination of a machine has lost none of its potency.
The whole premise behind the book being this man owns in his attic, I believe, an old typewriter that types out pages in the middle of the night. The pages reveal the goings on of the underworld.
It was on the morning of the 26th of March last that I discovered the curious condition of affairs concerning which I have essayed to write. My family do not agree with me as to the date. They say that it was on the evening of the 25th of March that the episode had its beginning; but they are not aware, for I have not told them, that it was not evening, but morning, when I reached home after the dinner at the Aldus Club. It was at a quarter of three A.M. precisely that I entered my house and proceeded to remove my hat and coat, in which operation I was interrupted, and in a startling manner, by a click from the dark recesses of the library. A man does not like to hear a click which he cannot comprehend, even before he has dined. After he has dined, however, and feels a satisfaction with life which cannot come to him before dinner, to hear a mysterious click, and from a dark corner, at an hour when the world is at rest, is not pleasing. To say that my heart jumped into my mouth is mild. I believe it jumped out of my mouth and rebounded against the wall opposite back though my system into my boots. All the sins of my past life, and they are many--I once stepped upon a caterpillar, and I have coveted my neighbor both his man-servant and his maid-servant, though not his wife nor his ass, because I don't like his wife and he keeps no live-stock--all my sins, I say, rose up before me, for I expected every moment that a bullet would penetrate my brain, or my heart if perchance the burglar whom I suspected of levelling a clicking revolver at me aimed at my feet.
"Who is there?" I cried, making a vocal display of bravery I did not feel, hiding behind our hair sofa.
The only answer was another click.
"This is serious," I whispered softly to myself. "There are two of 'em; I am in the light, unarmed. They are concealed by the darkness and have revolvers. There is only one way out of this, and that is by strategy. I'll pretend I think I've made a mistake." So I addressed myself aloud.
"What an idiot you are," I said, so that my words could be heard by the burglars. "If this is the effect of Aldus Club dinners you'd better give them up. That click wasn't a click at all, but the ticking of our new eight-day clock."
I paused, and from the corner there came a dozen more clicks in quick succession, like the cocking of as many revolvers.
"Great Heavens!" I murmured, under my breath. "It must be Ali Baba with his forty thieves."
As I spoke, the mystery cleared itself, for following close upon a thirteenth click came the gentle ringing of a bell, and I knew then that the type-writing machine was in action; but this was by no means a reassuring discovery. Who or what could it be that was engaged upon the type-writer at that unholy hour, 3 A.M.? If a mortal being, why was my coming no interruption? If a supernatural being, what infernal complication might not the immediate future have in store for me?
My first impulse was to flee the house, to go out into the night and pace the fields--possibly to rush out to the golf links and play a few holes in the dark in order to cool my brow, which was rapidly becoming fevered. Fortunately, however, I am not a man of impulse. I never yield to a mere nerve suggestion, and so, instead of going out into the storm and certainly contracting pneumonia, I walked boldly into the library to investigate the causes of the very extraordinary incident. You may rest well assured, however, that I took care to go armed, fortifying myself with a stout stick, with a long, ugly steel blade concealed within it--a cowardly weapon, by-the-way, which I permit to rest in my house merely because it forms a part of a collection of weapons acquired through the failure of a comic paper to which I had contributed several articles. The editor, when the crash came, sent me the collection as part payment of what was owed me, which I think was very good of him, because a great many people said that it was my stuff that killed the paper. But to return to the story. Fortifying myself with the sword-cane, I walked boldly into the library, and, touching the electric button, soon had every gas-jet in the room giving forth a brilliant flame; but these, brilliant as they were, disclosed nothing in the chair before the machine. The latter, apparently oblivious of my presence, went clicking merrily and as rapidly along as though some expert young woman were in charge. Imagine the situation if you can. A type-writing machine of ancient make, its letters clear, but out of accord with the keys, confronted by an empty chair, three hours after midnight, rattling off page after page of something which might or might not be readable, I could not at the moment determine. For two or three minutes I gazed in open-mouthed wonder. I was not frightened, but I did experience a sensation which comes from contact with the uncanny.
I liked this one, but I didn't love it. Perhaps reading three Bangs novels in two days was a bit too much?! I would definitely recommend this author though!!! 

Here's another quote:
I don't know how far you are acquainted with home life, but I do know that there is no greater homesickness in the world than that of the man who is sick of home.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Light on Lucrezia (1958)

Light on Lucrezia: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Crown. 384 pages. [Source: Bought]

Light on Lucrezia is the sequel to Madonna on the Seven Hills. The novel opens with the moody Lucrezia preparing for her second marriage. The marriage has been arranged for her by her father, the Pope. She happens to be marrying Sanchia's brother, Alfonso. (Sanchia is her sister-in-law.) The two are a great couple; however, Lucrezia isn't to be allowed her happily ever after for politics and family interfere once again. After her husband's murder, Lucrezia's life is a bit of a mess. A third marriage is arranged after a time, but, it's less than ideal. At least as depicted by Plaidy! But though Lucrezia's fate is the happiest of the Borgia family, that really is not saying much considering what happens...

Reading Light On Lucrezia is like suffering through the last half of Gone With The Wind. There are highlights, of course, but overall it just gets more depressing and hopeless with every single chapter until the dreariest of endings. Is the ending inevitable? Sure. It is (very loosely) based on history. Cesare's fate is set in stone. And Lucrezia's childbearing misfortunes are realistic enough, but it was so very sad to read of all the miscarriages and the babies that died so very young. 

Madonna of the Seven Hills and Light on Lucrezia have recently been published as one novel. Plaidy's depiction of the Borgias is interesting. They have their fascinating-but-troubling moments to shine. And the first novel, at least, had some lightness and frivolity to it. I think Plaidy's characterization is better than say, The Borgia Bride, but not as wonderful as Blood and Beauty.  I really want Sarah Dunant to write another Borgia novel!!!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Madonna of the Seven Hills (1958)

Madonna of the Seven Hills: A Novel of the Borgias. Jean Plaidy. 1958/2011. Broadway. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]

What disturbs me most about Madonna of the Seven Hills is that Jean Plaidy bothered listing The Life of Cesare Borgia by Rafael Sabatini in her bibliography. If indeed she read the biography, she chose to disregard it completely. For this novel breaks all of Sabatini's rules. This novel thrives on the LEGENDARY sins of the Borgia family. It builds up this fantastical, sensational notion of what the family was like.  The most sympathetically presented is, of course, Lucrezia.

Two of Plaidy's novels are devoted to Lucrezia Borgia. The second is Light on Lucrezia. This novel tells her story up to the point of her (supposed) mysterious pregnancy following her scandalous divorce. It ends with her learning that the father of the child (supposed father, I should say) has been murdered by her family (presumably Cesare) and so has her maid because she knew too much.

Obviously, Madonna of the Seven Hills is SO MUCH BETTER than a certain romance novel I read in the summer, The Borgia Bride.  (That one was so awful). The characterization might be a bit biased, assuming that Cesare and Rodrigo are always up to no good and almost certainly being immoral or unwise, but it wasn't completely unpleasant either. Cesare comes across as mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Plaidy was perhaps, in her own little way, presenting him as the ultimate swoon-worthy bad boy. So Cesare and Rodrigo though they are presented as murderers and poisoners come across as quite likable at times. I found her presentation of Sanchia to be quite entertaining!

The book was a quick read. I didn't necessarily agree with her conclusions and presentation. But it was entertaining.

Quotes:
She, who had known so many men that she read them easily, was aware of this, and she determined now to make Cesare forget his ambitions in his pursuit of her. They were both experienced, and they would find great pleasure in surprising each other by their accomplishments. Each was aware of this as they danced; and each was asking: Why delay longer? Delay was something which neither of them would tolerate.
"You are all that I heard you were," Sanchia told him.
"You are all that I hoped you would be," he answered her.
"I wondered when you and I would be able to talk together. This is the first time it has happened, and all eyes are on us now."
"They were right," said Cesare, "when they said you were the most beautiful woman in the world."
"They were right when they said there was something terrifying about you."
"Do you find me terrifying?"
She laughed. "No man terrifies me."
"Have they always been so kind?"
"Always," she said. "From the time I was able to talk, men have been kind to me."
"Are you not weary of my sex, since you know it so well?"
"Each man is different from all others. That is what I have found. Perhaps that is why I have always discovered them to be so fascinating. And none that I have ever known has been remotely like you, Cesare Borgia; you stand apart."
"And you like this strangeness in me?"
"So much that I would know it so well that it ceases to be strangeness and is familiar to me."
"What tales have you heard of me?"
"That you are a man who will never take no for an answer, that men fear your frown, and that when you beckon a woman she must obey, in fear if not in desire. I have heard that those who displease you meet ill fortune, that some have been discovered in alleys, suffocated or with knives in their bodies. I have heard that some have drunk wine at your table and have felt themselves to be merely intoxicated, only to learn that they are dying. These are the things I have heard of you, Cesare Borgia. What have you heard of me?"
"That you practice witchcraft so that all men whom you desire fall under your spell, and that having once been your lover none can ever forget you."
"And do you believe these tales of me?"
"And do you believe the tales of me?"
She looked into his eyes and the flame of desire in hers was matched by that in his.
"I do not know," she said, "but I am determined to discover."
"Nor do I know," he answered; "and I think I am as eager to make my discoveries as you are."
His hand tightened on hers.
"Sanchia," he said, "this night?"
And she closed her eyes and nodded. (190-91)
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Blackmoore (2013)

Blackmoore Julianne Donaldson. 2013. Shadow Mountain (Proper Romance). 282 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

I absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this Regency Romance novel by Julianne Donaldson. I admit it wasn't immediate love. It took me a few chapters to settle into the story, get acquainted with the author's style, her use of flashbacks, and the building of the mystery, but soon it was LOVE. Blackmoore stars an independent heroine, Kate Worthington. (Don't dare call her Kitty!) Kate is sure of one thing: she will NEVER marry. It doesn't matter what her mother says, what she threatens. She will never marry. But just because she's firm and determined on this matter doesn't mean that her dreams of traveling to India with her aunt are certain. Kate isn't sure how she can break completely free from her family and follow her dreams. Her acceptance of her mother's challenge is completely impulsive. Her mother will allow her daughter freedom--the freedom to go to India--IF she receives and rejects three marriage proposals during her country visit to Blackmoore, the estate of a good friend. At first all Kate seems to hear is India. It is only later that she realizes that she must act in such a way that three men will propose to her in just a few weeks. How is she going to accomplish that?! But Kate loves a challenge, and she is clever.

The main reason I loved this romance novel is the hero, Henry. I adored him. I adored them together I should say. Every single scene with the two of them worked. Most were completely giddy-making in fact. The dialogue was wonderful! The storytelling was just what I needed. This was a purely satisfying historical romance. I can't think of a single thing I'd change!!! I think this is one I'll definitely want to reread again and again!!!

The author has also written Edenbrooke. I definitely want to read that one soon!

Blackmoore is on tour this September. Other bloggers reviewing it today, September 18th:

Raising Memories – REVIEW
Writing, the Universe and Everything Books – REVIEW
Reading Girls – REVIEW
Becky’s Book Reviews – REVIEW
So Many PreciousS Books, So Little Time – FEATURE / GIVEAWAY
Tressa’s Wishful Endings – REVIEW
About To Read – REVIEW

© 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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