Friday, February 28, 2014

February Reflections

In February, I read 44 books.

Board books, Picture books, Early Readers:

  1. A Home for Mr. Emerson. Barbara Kerley. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2014. Scholastic. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. My Lucky Little Dragon. Joyce Wan. 2014. Scholastic. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. Giraffes Can't Dance Number Rumba Counting Book. Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. 2014. Scholastic. 12 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. A Big Hug for Little Cub. Lorie Ann Grover. Rosalinda Kightley. 2014. Scholastic. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. Tickety Toc Count Our Friends! 2014. Scholastic. 12 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  6. How Does Baby Feel? Karen Katz. 2013. Simon & Schuster. 14 pages. [Source: Library]   
  7. Lego Super Heroes Phonics. Quinlan B. Lee. 2014. Scholastic. Includes 10 Books and 2 Workbooks. [Source: Review copy]  
  8. There, There. Sam McBratney. Illustrated by Ivan Bates. 2013. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  9. Bear In Love. Daniel Pinkwater. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. 2012. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  10. I Haiku You. Betsy E. Snyder. 2012. Random House. 28 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  11. Pigs in Pajamas. Maggie Smith. 2012. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Rain! Linda Ashman. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  13. The Day The Crayons Quit. Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. 2013. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Middle grade and Young adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. The Dolphins of Shark Bay. Pamela S. Turner. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. Beauty's Daughter. Carolyn Meyer. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. Half A Chance. Cynthia Lord. 2014. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. 1978. 182 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War. Helen Frost. 2013. FSG. 160 pages. [Source: Library]
  6. The Impossible Knife of Memory. Laurie Halse Anderson. 2014. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. The Long Winter. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1940. 334 pages. [Source: Library]  
  8. The Grimm Conclusion. Adam Gidwitz. 2013. Penguin. 368 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. Bubble World. Carol Snow. 2013. Henry Holt. 352 pages. [Source: Library]  
  10. Hideous Love: The Story of The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. Stephanie Hemphill. 2013. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. The New Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit. 1904. 252 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  12. Angel Island. Russell Freedman. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 81 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13. The Wouldbegoods. E. Nesbit. 1901. 156 pages. [Source: Book I Bought] 
Adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. The Eustace Diamonds. Anthony Trollope. 1873. 794 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee. 1960. 281 pages. [Source: Book I Own] 
  4. Edenbrooke. Julianne Donaldson. 2012. Shadow Mountain. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
  5. Colonel Brandon's Diary. Amanda Grange. 2009. Penguin. 304 pages. [Source: Library]   
  6. The Second Confession (Nero Wolfe). Rex Stout. 1949. 256 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  7. Dick Turpin: The Myth of the English Highwayman. James Sharpe. 2004. Profile Books. 258 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
  8. Sword in the Storm. David Gemmell. 1998. Del Rey. 448 pages [Source: Library] 
  9. Midnight Falcon. David Gemmell. 1999. Del Rey. 448 pages. [Source: Library]
Christian fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Where Courage Calls. Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan. 2014. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Library]  
  2. Knowledge of the Holy. A.W. Tozer. 1961/1978. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  3. Rachel. Jill Eileen Smith. 2014. Revell. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Love's Sweet Beginning. Ann Shorey. (Sisters at Heart #3). 2014. Revell. 345 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. Isaiah 36-66 (Thru the Bible #23). J. Vernon McGee. Thomas Nelson. 204 pages. [Source: Book I bought]  
  6. Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone. Valerie Lawrence. 2013. Carpenter's Son Publishing. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  7. A Heart Like His: Intimate Reflections On The Life of David. Beth Moore. 1996. B&H. 297 pages. [Source: Book I bought] 
  8. A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology. Kelly M. Kapic. 2012. IVP. 126 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  9. More Precious Than Gold: 50 Daily Meditations on the Psalms. Sam Storms. 2009. Crossway. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Reread #9 Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages. [Source: Library]

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those rare, rare books where you could almost open it up to ANY page and find something to smile about. And that, of course, is something to be treasured and applauded because it makes for a completely satisfying read from start to finish. This novel is told completely through letters. Readers get to know characters in their own words, for better or worse. Readers can try to read between the lines and make connections perhaps. They might attempt to play "Miss Marple" like one of the minor characters and spy out what is really going on...

The heroine of the novel is a young author named Juliet Ashton. During the war, she wrote a regular column under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff. Now that the war is over (finally!!!), her columns have been published together in book form. She's happy. Of course she's happy. Why wouldn't she be happy. The war is over. Her book is being received positively. Sure, she feels the need to move on, to write a book under her own name, to write a very different book. And true, she's a bit in doubt as to what that next book will be and if that book will live up to the success of the first one, but...

So most of her letters are to her publisher, Sidney, or to her best friend, Sophie. But. One letter she receives changes her life. And it wasn't an obvious change-of-life letter. It was a friendly, down-to-earth letter from a complete stranger. He'd read "her" book. No, not the book she'd written. But a book that had been in her library, a book with her name and address in it. It was a book by Charles Lamb. This used book found and read during the war, really, really effected him. He connected with Charles Lamb, and he thought she might have book recommendations and such.

So. Juliet discovers almost by accident several things. First, that Guernsey was occupied during the war. (If she'd known during the war, it had slipped her mind because it didn't really impact her--not because she was selfish, but just because when your own world is a big tumbling-down uncertain mess, you don't really think of the island of Guernsey in the big-scheme-of-things.) Second, that a group had come together through desperation and lust (for a pig dinner!!!) to form the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". Though for the record, the Potato Peel Pie part came later! Of course, she HAS to know more, and she wants all the details. She NEEDS more. She wants to hear more from men and women in this "literary society." She wants their stories--about books and reading, about the Nazi occupation, about the war, about their hardships (hunger, separation from children, etc), about their joys and sorrows. Of course, all this will take time and trust...

And that is what makes this one so great, in my opinion. I loved the getting-to-know experience. I loved the relationship building. I loved seeing friendships form. I especially, especially loved the bond that formed between Juliet and Kit (a war orphan). There were so many giddy-making moments in this book!

I would definitely recommend this one! It is so wonderful, so charming, so perfect!!!!  


I first reviewed this one in August 2009.  

Favorite quotes:
I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with.
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.
I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers-- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one-- the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it-- along with first dibs on the new books.
Isola doesn't approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stomping on it.

It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good?
Will Thisbee gave me The Beginner's Cook-Book for Girl Guides. It was just the thing; the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints - "When adding eggs, break the shells first.”
“What on earth did you say to Isola? She stopped in on her way to pick up Pride and Prejudice and to berate me for never telling her about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why hadn't she known there were better love stories around? Stories not riddled with ill-adjusted men, anguish, death and graveyards!”
The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways--when you began writing me dizzy letters about Alexander, I didn't ask if you were in love with him, I asked what his favorite animal was. And your answer told me everything I needed to know about him--how many men would admit that they loved ducks?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014)

The Impossible Knife of Memory. Laurie Halse Anderson. 2014. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

The Impossible Knife of Memory is an intense read. Hayley Kincain, our heroine, has endured more than her fair share of problems. Her father, a soldier with PTSD, is incapable of taking care of himself. He's unable to hold a job. He's unable to keep his word. Hayley has to be the responsible one, she's raising herself essentially, and looking out for her dad too. It isn't easy. He has drug and alcohol issues. He can be violent and start fights. He can be a stubborn, fierce opponent. Hayley and her dad have returned to his hometown. They are living in her grandma's house. She is attending a (real) school for the first time that she can remember. She is struggling to learn the rules that most of her classmates have known for years. But she's got one great best friend, and, a potential love interest as well.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is a wonderful novel about broken people, very broken people. I definitely liked Hayley. I really, really loved Finn, her boyfriend. I really liked Gracie, her best friend. I was glad we got to know some adults as well: Andy (the dad) and Trisha (the "stepmother").

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Westing Game (1978)

The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. 1978. 182 pages. [Source: Library]

Characters matter more to me than plot most of the time, which is why I probably found The Westing Game a disappointment. I thought the book lacked characterization. Superficial characterization abounded: readers learned at least two or three facts per person. But did any one character EVER reach the point of humanity? In my opinion, not really. The characters that probably came closest were Angela (the reluctant bride whose wedding shower was bombed), and Turtle (the one who connected the dots that no one else was even looking for). So this is a plot-driven book, the focus being on sixteen (or so) people working together or against each other as the case may be to solve the mystery of who murdered Sam Westing. There are eight teams of two people each. Each team is given $10,000 and a handful of word-clues. The clues are a mix of letters, words, and numbers. On the one hand, if they work together and share resources, the inheritance might be won. But. If they do that, then the inheritance would be divided up. The book, I admit, has more than enough plot twists. At the end while I wasn't exactly overwhelmed or confused, I was still left saying WHY and HOW?! The book just did not make any sense to me. The rushed epilogue-of-sorts didn't help me make peace with it either.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Salt: A Story of Friendship in Time of War

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War. Helen Frost. 2013. FSG. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely liked this verse novel set in the Indiana Territory during the War of 1812. I liked the dual narration. I liked reading about the times from the perspective of the Native Americans (Anikwa, is our young hero) and from the perspective of the white settlers (James, our second young hero). These two boys can be on the best of terms: doing plenty of things side by side, learning from each other, laughing at each other, too. But their are forces pulling these two cultures apart. There are people in James life telling him that the Indians are NOT their friends, that the peaceful coexistence is done with, the Indians will join with the British any day now, and then there will be trouble, then there will be blood. But James is unsure. He knows what he knows, what he has experienced, and he feels that Anikwa and his family could never really be their enemies. Misunderstandings do occur in the novel, and the danger is real on both sides. But there is a theme of friendship and trust in the novel which I enjoyed.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Dick Turpin: The Myth of the English Highwayman

Dick Turpin: The Myth of the English Highwayman. James Sharpe. 2004. Profile Books. 258 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
At least he died well, in what the eighteenth century considered the appropriate manner for its condemned criminals. Determined to look his best when he met his end, he had, a few days previously, bought himself a new frock coat and a pair of pumps. He had also, as a further preparation, on the day before his execution appointed five men as his mourners, and given them three pounds and ten shillings to be shared among them for following the cart that would carry him to the gallows and for overseeing his subsequent interment. He distributed hatbands and gloves to several other people, and left a gold ring and two pairs of shoes and clogs to a married woman with whom he had consorted, despite reports that he had a wife and child living in the south, while he lived under an assumed identity at the Humberside township of Brough.
I found this book to be mostly fascinating. It isn't just a book about eighteenth century criminals; it isn't just a book about romanticizing the past and creating legends out of thin air; it isn't just a book about the role of history in culture. Yes, it does all three things to some extent. It focuses on what we do know about Dick Turpin. It places Dick Turpin into a larger context by discussing crime rates, law and order, and famous criminals. Readers will learn about other highwayman: men that were more popular and well-known in their day, men like Claude Duval. Turpin, for example, was largely forgotten for a century.

But at the same time it examines culture and popularity: in other words what sells and what entertains. Why was there an INCREDIBLE market for books about criminals--specifically highwaymen? What was it that readers found so exciting? What was it that others feared about this popular form of entertainment? What connections did people make then between reading about crime and committing crime. While a third of this nonfiction book examines the facts of 'the real' Dick Turpin, I would say that probably two-thirds of this one focuses on HOW the legend of "Dick Turpin" came to be; how this one person came to personify the ultimate highwayman. This speaks of the culture. The legend of Dick Turpin was crafted--well-crafted--intentionally crafted. And the legend became something above and beyond what anyone could have predicted.

Since I read Rookwood by William Harrison Ainsworth last fall, I found that chapter to be very interesting indeed! Ainsworth's novel is discussed in depth--its strengths and weaknesses. Also Sharpe examines--perhaps more briefly--the other writers who followed. He discusses penny dreadfuls, plays (good and bad), folk traditions, collectibles (did you know there were porcelain figures, toys, and games?!), comic strips, movies, parodies, TV shows and miniseries. And pubs. He definitely mentions all the "Dick Turpin drank here" pubs.

It concludes by focusing on the shaping and reshaping of history, and what happens when pop culture becomes involved--perhaps too involved--playing historian.

I sought out this book, I admit, because the Horrible Histories' Dick Turpin song is just too much fun. The song both tells the truth--some facts about the real Dick Turpin--and celebrates the legend. It does this through the costumes and acting. He may be saying he was no romantic hero, but, he looks every bit the romantic hero. I was mostly curious to see if the last part was true. Was he REALLY "stitched up by a postie"?! Did a postman really recognize John Palmer's handwriting as being none other than Dick Turpin's handwriting? This book answered that question and so many more!!!

Quotes:
Dick Turpin is one of that select band of figures from England’s past (others might include Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, Sir Winston Churchill and, interestingly, Robin Hood) who are instantly recognisable to everyone.
Turpin is a figure who is instantly recognisable to the bulk of the population, and around whom a potent mythology has gathered. None of this would have been apparent to those who apprehended, guarded, executed, or gave evidence against him in 1739. Yes, he was a notorious criminal: but one or two of those emerged every year in the eighteenth century, to enjoy a brief fame before they, too, ended their career on the gallows... But it is Turpin we remember, Turpin who has passed into the popular consciousness, not the dozens of others. So with Dick Turpin we encounter two other issues. The first is the nature of legend, of how it gets created and perpetuated, an issue that also leads us into contemplating the nature of fame. The second is the relationship between history and legend, and, by extension, of how the two operate in our modern culture, and how we draw on both of them to imagine our past.
Overall, it is clear that most highwaymen, particularly those based in the London area, were firmly locked into the unglamorous world of pickpocketing, street robbery, burglary, prostitution, and the fencing of stolen goods, all of these facets of the well-developed criminal underworld in the capital. Thus the modern observer is left wondering how, why and when the highwayman was selected as the romantic figure of later, and to some extent seventeenth- and eighteenth-century, legend.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Second Confession (1949)

The Second Confession (Nero Wolfe). Rex Stout. 1949. 256 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The Second Confession might just be my new favorite, favorite Nero Wolfe novel. I didn't think it was possible to love Wolfe and Goodwin more than I already did, but spending two days with this book proved that I had more love to give. I loved, loved, loved every minute of this mystery.

Mr. Sperling hires Wolfe as a private detective "to prove" that his daughter's boyfriend is a communist. Wolfe is reluctant to take on a case with those terms. He argues that what Sperling desires is not proof that this Louis Rony is a Communist, instead what he wants is his daughter to end things with him, period, Communist or not. Wolfe agrees to take the case on his own terms. He will help find proof that will convince this young woman that Rony's not the man for her; he'll even strongly encourage Archie to flirt with the daughter in question and distract her.
"Get invited to his home, socially. Meet Mr. Rony and form an opinion of him. More important, form one of the daughter, as intimately and comprehensively as possible. Make appointments with her. Seize and hold her attention. You should be able to displace Mr. Rony in a week, a fortnight at the most--and that's the objective."
"I'll be damned." I shook my head reproachfully. "You mean to make a pass at her."
"Your terms are yours, and I prefer mine. Mr. Sperling said his daughter is excessively curious. Transfer her curiosity from Mr. Rony to you."
"You mean break her heart."
"You can stop this side of tragedy."
"Yeah, and I can stop this side of starting." I looked righteous and outraged. "You've gone a little too far. I like being a detective, and I like being a man, with all that implies, but I refuse to degrade whatever glamour I may--"
"Archie!" He snapped it.
"Yes, sir."
"With how many young women whom you met originally through your association with my business have you established personal relationships?"
"Between five and six thousand. But that's not--" (9-10)
But the case doesn't go exactly as planned. The relationship is ended. That part was a success. Then again, it's hard to have a relationship with a corpse. Yes, Rony ends up dead, apparently run over by a car in the Sperling driveway. Who murdered him? What was the motive?

This case was very exciting and intense. I loved following it from beginning to end. It was a lot more exciting than most of Wolfe's cases. I love how full of personality it was. It was also very quotable!!!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Fourth Trip in February

New Loot:
  • Locomotive by Brian Floca
Leftover Loot:
  • Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder, the Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda De Lisle
  • The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir 
  • The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Week In Review: February 16-22

The Long Winter. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1940. 334 pages. [Source: Library]
The Grimm Conclusion. Adam Gidwitz. 2013. Penguin. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
Bubble World. Carol Snow. 2013. Henry Holt. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
Hideous Love: The Story of The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. Stephanie Hemphill. 2013. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
A Home for Mr. Emerson. Barbara Kerley. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2014. Scholastic. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Eustace Diamonds. Anthony Trollope. 1873. 794 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
Where Courage Calls. Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan. 2014. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Library]
Knowledge of the Holy. A.W. Tozer. 1961/1978. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

This week's favorite:

It is a hard choice this week. Do I choose The Long Winter a book I've read dozens of times? Or do I choose an almost book? A book that I almost love but not quite? I found The Eustace Diamonds to be mostly satisfying but slightly frustrating at the same time! Trollope is a delight to read, a pure joy. But then again so is Laura Ingalls Wilder. I choose The Long Winter!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Reread #8 The Long Winter

The Long Winter. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1940. 334 pages. [Source: Library]

While I enjoy almost all of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I must admit that The Long Winter is probably my favorite and best. (I still have never read Farmer Boy.) I think one of the reasons why I love it so much is that it's one of the books that you experience. When Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace are hungry and cold, YOU feel hungry and cold alongside them. This is also the novel that introduces Almanzo.

The Long Winter is set in 1880/1881. It is a fictional account of one of the hardest (longest) winters. It is definitely a book about hardship and survival and the human spirit. It's very intense in places.

I first reviewed it in February 2008.

The first chapter is called "Make Hay While the Sun Shines" and if it's found within a book called THE LONG WINTER, the reader knows what to expect even if the characters don't. The book opens with Ma and Pa and family getting ready for harvest and winter. Laura is helping out Pa. Mary and Carrie are helping out Ma. Laura is especially pleased that she's old enough (around 14 now) to help Pa and do outdoor chores.

The Ingalls family is living in their claim shanty. This would be the first fall/winter they've been there. And they know it will be tough, but when the first blizzard comes in October, they know that it wouldn't only be tough to survive but impossible to survive if they were to try to stay on their homestead. Fortunately, Pa owns property in town. A place where they can be nice and warm and cozy for the winter. Or so they think.

What no one could know is just how hard, how long, how tough this winter was going to be. Some folks are prepared--the Wilder boys for instance--but most are not. Most are relying on the train making regular stops in town. The trains are essential for stocking the stores of supplies. But when almost every day brings a blizzard--with clear days coming only one at a time and never on a predictable schedule--it soon becomes clear that the trains will not be saving the day. Not til spring. The town's survival, the Ingalls' family survival, is a big if at this point.

Cold. Hunger. Starvation. No supplies. What's not to love?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Grimm Conclusion (2013)

The Grimm Conclusion. Adam Gidwitz. 2013. Penguin. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved the first book in this series, A Tale Dark and Grimm. I loved the "Hansel" and "Gretel" siblings. Seeing their story told and retold and expanded and adapted. The writing was unique and fresh and just fun. I struggled through the second book, In a Glass Grimmly. The focus was again on a pair of siblings: Jack and Jill, I believe. But for some reason, the book was a chore for me. The writing that had so delighted me in book one was just obnoxious to me (remember, reading is so subjective!). I just didn't connect to the characters or delight in any of the plot twists. So I had low expectations for the third book, The Grimm Conclusion. Would I love it? Would I hate it? Would I be annoyed or delighted? The answer? I liked it. If I were to compare it my reaction to the first book, "like" is the perfect word. To clarify, the first half of the book I would have dared say LOVE. However, the second half of the book had some problems. (When the characters start hearing the narrator in their heads, when the characters visit the narrator in his classroom and meet his students, when they hear the teacher/narrator tell stories, when they listen to the narrator/teacher/author READ A Tale Dark and Grimm and In a Glass Grimmly out loud. When they have a heart-to-heart discussion on emotional health. Maybe not all readers will disconnect from the story at those points and find fault.) If I were to compare it to my reaction to the second book, I would say it might be really really close to love. While I didn't love, love, love every single chapter in this third book, I connected and engaged with it in a way that I never did with the second. So it was definitely more successful for me!

Jorinda and Joringle. The third book focuses on this pair of siblings. I liked the stories touched upon and twisted and adapted and expanded.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bubble World (2013)

Bubble World. Carol Snow. 2013. Henry Holt. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I liked many things about Bubble World. I didn't think it was the most amazing novel ever, but, as a whole, I thought it was an intriguing world. Especially if you consider the characters as products of their environment.

The main character of Bubble World is a young teen girl named Freesia (Francine). Think of some of the scenes from Clueless (especially in terms of closets and friends) and you wouldn't be wrong. Her perfect island life is what it is: completely superficial and ridiculous. It becomes apparent from the start that Freesia has never really had any uncomfortable stressful moments in her life; all ease, all pleasure, all the time. Take her school, for example, no homework, no tests, the language teachers switch to English whenever a student asks, they can have classes indoor or outdoor, again depending on what the student wants, and the whole point seems to be eating, drinking, and talking. Some of the classes Freesia takes are foreign languages, but, other courses are on applying eyeliner. It sounds over-the-top because it is. In Freesia's defense, this is her normal, this is the only life she knows, she's never questioned it because she's never been encouraged to ask real questions, her slight questions always always go in her favor. Freesia's life is essentially boundary-and-authority free. It turns out that it's not a life at all, for better or worse, when glitches occur throwing Freesia out of her perfect world, she lands in reality and it is not good news for anyone.

Her parents have spent three years or so with their daughter in a virtual reality box in a recliner, essentially dead to them as far as interactions go. Their daughter being gone is their normal. And they want to help her get back to her perfect life very, very quickly. It becomes apparent to readers that Freesia and Angel (the younger sister) have questionable parents. They seem just as selfish and clueless as Freesia at times. Sure, they live in the "real world" but the father is so stuck in the past and stuck in his ways and doesn't really care about anything but shoe insoles that it's hard to find a good role model in him. And the mother is all about promotion and popularity. She vlogs, I believe. And her online reputation is ALL that matters to her. She is definitely exploiting her daughter, in my opinion, while ignoring the basic needs of her other daughter. What the whole family needs--besides some common sense--are communication skills. Long story short, Freesia is forced due to various circumstances to spend a week or two in the real world and the shock of it all is fierce. She attends public school. She meets real teachers with real expectations (of sorts). She meets people her own age. There are so many awkward moments. She just doesn't have a clue on how to live: how to talk, how to walk, how to make friends, how to actually work. Being in the real world is putting pressure on her giving her her first opportunity to learn and grow. (For an example of an awkward moment: Freesia is completely, completely overwhelmed by stairs. She just cannot walk down them, she's too terrified. She scoots down stairs on her bottom one step at a time, and she crawls on her hands and knees back up stairs.)

The world-building was nicely done, in my opinion. The characters were shallow and stupid, but, that was part of the whole premise. Teens were drugged before entering the game, erasing their memory, and they were kept happy with drugs during the game, and the only world they knew was the created world with the shallow, materialistic focus. Their parents were essentially paying someone to brainwash their children and make them incapable of real life. For some money, they could essentially stop parenting their children, they could let go of all their responsibilities.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hideous Love (2013)

Hideous Love: The Story of The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. Stephanie Hemphill. 2013. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I am familiar with the story of Mary Shelley. I am probably more familiar than the target audience would be of Mary Shelley, her sister, Claire, her lover-husband, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, etc. I took a whole semester focusing primarily on these Romantic authors. (Claire was an extra bonus. You can't cover the lives of Mary, Percy, without mentioning Claire and her lovechild.) I was curious how the story would be presented. I am not usually a big fan of verse novels. I think some work really, really, really well. And I think others are absolutely awful. This falls into the "why is this a verse novel?" category. I think the story could have been told just as well, if not better, in prose format, in journal format in particular. We do know that Mary Shelley kept a journal, of sorts.

That being said, I do think the book did a fairly good job at capturing the ANGST that is Mary Shelley's private life. Her life was a BIG, BIG MESS. Oh, what she had to put up with! Oh, what she had to endure! Oh, the consequences of leaping into love without being ready for it! As a teenager, she runs away from home with a married man, a poet or would-be poet. She takes her sister. Because she took her sister, well, her STEP sister, with her, she'll be stuck with the sister for what seems like forever. With her husband's notion of free-love this and free-love-that, the LAST thing Mary needs is another woman in their lives who is constantly there and wanting/needing attention. Mary also suffered so very many losses. So many of her children died, died in their infancy or toddler years. And some of that was just the times they lived, and some of that was due to her husband's stupidity and stubbornness. Anyway, it is an emotionally demanding story. Far from boring. Because her husband was a poet, because she spent so much time with poets, it would be nice if this format of verse novel worked in telling her own story. However, I did not feel the verse format was one of the book's strengths. If the book works, which I think it does in a way, it is because of the emotion behind the words, not the words themselves. The writing didn't seem especially lyrical or lovely or poetic.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 17, 2014

A Home for Mr. Emerson

A Home for Mr. Emerson. Barbara Kerley. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2014. Scholastic. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 More than anywhere else, Ralph Waldo Emerson loved his home in Concord, Massachusetts. As a boy, he'd moved with his family again and again as they struggled to make ends meet. He wandered the narrow, noisy streets of Boston, dreaming of "a home, comfortable and pleasant." He longed to live amid broad, open fields and deep, still woods--in a place he could make his own. In college, he still dreamed of fields and woods and home. But by his junior year in 1820, he also found new things to love: reading stacks of books, discussing them with friends, and recording "new thoughts" in a journal. He named his journal The Wide World. His thoughts took him everywhere. And when he finished school and set out on his own, he wondered: Could he build a life around these things he loved?
I definitely enjoyed reading Barbara Kerley's picture book biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The end papers share lovely thought-provoking quotes. And the richness of the quotes continue throughout the text. Kerley pulls in many quotes and provides readers with sources for each one. But the quotes never weigh down the text, the text remains lively and inviting--just what a nonfiction book should offer young people. The book celebrates more than a life, it celebrates a community and a lifestyle. One of my favorite things about this one was how it celebrated reading and writing and learning. I also liked that it covers many decades. Readers see him first as a young boy and student and then as an old man. I liked the continuity of it: how his love of community and learning remained strong and passionate throughout his life.

I found the author's note fascinating. It shares many things that the text does not. For example, it mentions the loss of his first wife (the book only mentions his second wife, and fails to mention the fact that she's a second) and the loss of his first child, Waldo. I also liked the list of suggested activities.

The illustrations are very distinctive. I liked that they were recognizable. I immediately thought of Those Rebels John & Tom, The Extraordinary Mark Twain, and What To Do About Alice.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Eustace Diamonds (1873)

The Eustace Diamonds. Anthony Trollope. 1873. 794 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

It was admitted by all her friends, and also by her enemies,—who were in truth the more numerous and active body of the two,—that Lizzie Greystock had done very well with herself. We will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning, but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her.

The Eustace Diamonds is the third novel in Anthony Trollope's Pallisers series. The first two being Can You Forgive Her? and Phineas Finn. (The series is, in my opinion, only loosely connected to one another.)

Lizzie Greystock (Eustace), our "heroine," is selfish and conniving and lacking self-awareness. One of her more annoying habits is her tendency to start believing her own lies. Since she tells a lot of lies, you can see how this could get annoying. What else do you need to know about Lizzie? Well. She's a widow. She sought out to marry a wealthy man whom she knew was dying, and she did. Her husband suspected his wife to be heartless by then, but, it was too late. She had his child, and that was, I suppose, her good deed in that regard. Is she a tender, loving mother? Not really. Out of sight, out of mind. The big thing you should know, of course, is that she inherited some of her husband's money, his Scottish estate during her life, and supposedly a diamond necklace. The Eustace family is not convinced on that last one. Those diamonds belong to the family, they should be kept in the family; physically, they should be kept secure in the bank. Threat of prosecution, threat of a trial might be persuasive to other women, "weaker women" but Lizzie is one stubborn woman.

Frank Greystock, our "hero," is smarter when he's away from his cousin, Lizzie. The closer he gets to Lizzie, the weaker he becomes: morally and mentally. What is it about his cousin that makes him forget his moral and ethical duties? What is it about his oh-so-beautiful cousin that makes him leave his common sense behind? Supposedly, he's her closest relation, he's all she has in this world to hold onto. The whole world is after her, he's her only hope, don't you know?! She trusts his legal advice, it's true, but the lies seem to come more quickly when they're together.

Lucy Morris is a "childhood friend" of Lizzie. (I doubt Lizzie ever actually had any genuine friends. She sees people only in terms of their usefulness to her.) She falls in love with Frank. And Frank despite his better judgment--after all Lucy is dreadfully poor, she's a governess after all--falls in love with her. His confession was a bit unplanned. But his letter a few days later did the job nicely, he's decided that he wants to marry her anyway. Lucy perhaps chooses to not notice that Frank is a plaything for Lizzie.

The Fawn family. Lucy is a governess in the Fawn household. Lord Fawn, the son and heir, is engaged to be married to Lizzie. But this would-be second husband wises up faster than the first. He decides that the relationship though financially beneficial to him would cost him much too much. Lizzie is TROUBLE. And Lord Fawn doesn't want to have anything to do with anything that even hints of trouble. Some might say he lacks spirit or gumption. In this case, I think he shows a bit of common sense. He is firm: if Lizzie will give up her diamonds quietly and avoid a scandal, he'll stay true to his word. If she persists in trying to rule the whole world and making a fuss, then he won't. He has a lovely mother who is a good friend to Lucy, though Lucy doesn't always appreciate the advice.

In terms of plot:

Will Lizzie give up her diamonds? Will they be safe in her possession? How big will the scandal be?
Will Frank marry Lucy or will he be weak and marry Lizzie for her money? Will Lord Fawn successfully escape from his promise? Will Lucy's heart break?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Week in Review: February 9-15

Colonel Brandon's Diary. Amanda Grange. 2009. Penguin. 304 pages. [Source: Library] 
The Dolphins of Shark Bay. Pamela S. Turner. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Beauty's Daughter. Carolyn Meyer. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Midnight Falcon. David Gemmell. 1999. Del Rey. 448 pages. [Source: Library]
The New Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit. 1904. 252 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee. 1960. 281 pages. [Source: Book I Own]
Rachel. Jill Eileen Smith. 2014. Revell. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Love's Sweet Beginning. Ann Shorey. (Sisters at Heart #3). 2014. Revell. 345 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

This week I chose To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it. I watched it. I listened to it. I would DEFINITELY recommend listening to the audio book. It is narrated by Sissy Spacek, and it is wonderful! So beyond wonderful! Over the course of a month, I became absorbed in the story. It is a story that just resonates. Loved all three formats for getting the story!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in February

New Loot:
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
  • Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder, the Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda De Lisle
  • A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
  • Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint

Leftover Loot:
  • The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir 
  • The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.   

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Reread #7 To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee. 1960. 281 pages. [Source: Book I Own]

To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite, favorite books. I love, love, love the movie. And I adore the book as well. It's a simple novel rich in truth. I love the narrative voice of Scout. I think Scout is one of the most memorable narrators ever.

One of the things that I think makes the book work so well is how it is able to be serious and dramatic AND comical. It captures the little every-day moments so well. Family relationships. Community relationships. Nosy neighbors or spooky ones. A good balance of summer-time freedom and the structure of school. It's definitely one of the best coming-of-age stories. At the same time, it is a very honest examination of racism and injustice.

To Kill A Mockingbird has a great, compelling story to tell. And Harper Lee knew how to tell a story. But it isn't the story alone that is unforgettable: it is the characters. Such characterization!!! Such depth!!! Who could not love Scout, Jem, and Atticus?! Who could not love Calpurnia, Dill,  Miss Maudie, and Boo Radley?!

I first reviewed it in October 2007. I also reviewed it in August 2010.

Favorite quotes:
Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. (18)
"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--"
"Sir?"
"--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (30)
"If you shouldn't be defendin' him, then why are you doin' it?"
"For a number of reasons," said Atticus. "The main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent the county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again."
"You mean if you didn't defend that man, Jem and me wouldn't have to mind you any more?"
"That's about right."
"Why?"
"Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least once in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one's mine, I guess. You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change...it's a good one even if does resist learning. (76)
Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"Your father's right," she said. "Mockinbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. (90)
It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. (112)
In Maycomb County, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly, as opposed to yearly lavations: Mr. Ewell had a scalded look; as if an overnight soaking had deprived him of protective layers of dirt, his skin appeared to be sensitive to the elements. Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I was reminded of the row of red geraniums in the Ewell yard. (179)
"How could they do it, how could they?"
"I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it--seems that only children weep. Good night." (213)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The New Treasure Seekers (1904)

The New Treasure Seekers. E. Nesbit. 1904. 252 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The New Treasure Seekers is a collection of short stories starring the Bastable siblings. Some stories are set BEFORE The Story of the Treasure Seekers; some stories are set AFTER The Wouldbegoods. The stories vary in quality, in my opinion. On the one hand, there are a few stories that are truly wonderful. I absolutely adore "The Conscience Pudding," even though the end of the story has a not-so-nice word in it, a product of its time perhaps. If you'd like to read my favorite parts, I shared them as my Christmas gift to you! I do enjoy Oswald's narration. But reading The New Treasure Seekers and The Wouldbegoods so close together, while nice in some ways, was a bit too much. I found myself getting a bit bored by the misadventures after a while.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Midnight Falcon (1999)

Midnight Falcon. David Gemmell. 1999. Del Rey. 448 pages. [Source: Library]

I am so glad I happened to reread Sword in the Storm by David Gemmell. I had almost forgotten how very good it was. After reading the first book, I knew I would need to read the sequel, Midnight Falcon.

The hero of Midnight Falcon is a young man named Bane; he is the illegitimate son of Connavar. Bane's life has been far from easy especially since the death of his mother. Few would call him friend, but, few would want him as an open enemy. Bane is strong, fast, and a skilled warrior with some anger issues, perhaps, but with a developing sense of justice. It didn't take me long to love Bane. Yes, he might be a bit rough about the edges, but, he's a good guy.

The novel opens with Bane and Banouin (Vorna's son) traveling to Stone, deep within the Stone Empire. It is the first time for both of them to be traveling this far from home. Bane absolutely loves and respects Vorna, one of the few people in his tribe who have loved and supported him. He's always been welcome in their home, and, he's more than happy to help her son, who's a bit weak, a bit different, make it safely to Stone. But something will come between these two friends. The two befriend a beautiful young woman and her father. The two are trying to outsmart the Stone Knights hunting down followers of the Source, a "tree worshiping" cult forbidden in Stone by the emperor. The two have taken refuge in a little town on the outskirts of the empire. Bane and Banouin are welcomed into their home, and they enjoy each other's company for a day or two. Bane falls madly in love with the young woman; he wants to stop for her on his way back home; he wants to take her back with him as his wife. Bane and Banouin leave one morning, Banouin is acting very peculiar indeed. Turns out, Banouin has had his first ever vision, and he knows that this father-and-daughter will be slaughtered by Stone soldiers (or knights) that very morning. Bane eventually gets this information out of his friend, he rushes back, but he's a little too late. He's not in time to save lives, just in time to have his own life taken. His wounds should be the death of him, without the intervention of the Seidh they would have been. But he recovers and finds purpose. He knows the man who killed his love. He will do whatever it takes to kill him. That means for Bane years of training under a gladiator, Rage, and years fighting as a gladiator in Stone. He needs the training and the experience.

Two-thirds of this one is spent in the Stone Empire. Readers meet new characters, like Rage and his granddaughter. I absolutely loved, loved, loved Rage. I love how Rage and Bane bond, I do. I like seeing this relationship develop. Connavar was NOT a father to Bane, but, Rage can be. He teaches Bane a lot more than fighting skills and discipline. I liked spending time with "the enemy." I liked a glimpse of the Stone Empire: its luxury and its corruption.

The last third of the book sees Bane traveling back home and preparing for the ultimate battle to come. Will the Rigante and the other Keltoi tribes come together to defeat the Stone Armies?! 

The ending of Midnight Falcon was bittersweet. It would have to be bittersweet since it's about two armies battling it out. War means death. I won't lie this book is violent, there are fights and battles large and small. For a book with so much action, it has great characterization. I think readers would definitely need to have read Sword in the Storm first.  

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beauty's Daughter (2013)

Beauty's Daughter. Carolyn Meyer. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Beauty's Daughter is the story of Hermione and Helen of Troy. I'll be honest, Helen of Troy is more of an afterthought. The book has very little to do with her directly. Indirectly, I suppose, there is plenty having to do with Helen. The story follows Hermione and her father during the Trojan War. She goes with the armies. She befriends some of the other women. She falls in love. After they win the war, her father arranges a marriage for his daughter. She is angry but submissive. The novel then follows her through this mess of a marriage. She cannot forget her first love, Orestes, and when she learns the mess he's in, she sets out to rescue him. Accompanying her are a few of her best friends. The journey won't be easy, of course, but with the help of a god, perhaps they will succeed.

Beauty's Daughter makes Greek mythology accessible. I enjoyed it for that reason alone. Hermione may not be beautiful like her mother. But she is strong-willed and brave. She is not a particularly emotional heroine. The book isn't so much about how she feels at any given time as what she does.

Beauty's Daughter is not my favorite Meyer novel, but it is a good read. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Dolphins of Shark Bay (2013)

The Dolphins of Shark Bay. Pamela S. Turner. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoy reading nonfiction with a true narrative. The Dolphins of Shark Bay has personality. This nonfiction book for young readers presents research about bottlenose dolphins in Australia's Shark Bay. But. It is done with great enthusiasm. There are plenty of general facts included, of course, about dolphins: female dolphins, male dolphins, dolphin calves, the general socialization, the mating of dolphins, various things putting the dolphins at risk, etc. But the reason why this one is oh-so-compelling is because of the personalization, the fact that individual dolphins are the focus, their personalities revealed. Big questions are explored, I suppose, one being why are dolphins so very, very intelligent. We know that they're super-smart. DID YOU KNOW that some dolphins use tools to hunt? If, like the scientists in this book, you consider a sponge-on-the-nose a tool. This book tries to examine the why of their intelligence. The book was certainly an entertaining read. I didn't love all of this one, however, I could have done without some of the evolution-talk and the illustration. But still, for the most part, well worth the time.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

My Year with Jane: Colonel Brandon's Diary

Colonel Brandon's Diary. Amanda Grange. 2009. Penguin. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

When I decided to reread Jane Austen in 2014, I had a feeling that I'd also end up rereading Amanda Grange's Diary series. After finishing Austen's Sense and Sensibility, I felt the need to reread Colonel Brandon's Diary. It was just as lovely as I remembered; I first read it in November 2009. In fact, if I hadn't fallen in love with Amanda Grange's novel, I might not have gone back to Austen's novel again and again. The first time I read Sense and Sensibility, something was missing. I suppose I wasn't in the proper mood to read it and appreciate it, to savor and treasure each page. I rushed through it vaguely dissatisfied. Every time I've reread it since, I've loved it, really truly loved it. I've been surprised that I could have ever found it unsatisfying.

I love and adore Colonel Brandon. I love getting his story. I love seeing things through his point of view. I love getting to know the two Eliza's in his life: mother and daughter. I love how Grange gives a whole new perspective to his courtship with Marianne. I love seeing Colonel Brandon's reaction to Mrs. Jennings too. I love that he wasn't as quick to fall madly, deeply in love with Marianne as Mrs. Jennings is to suspect him of doing just that. His conversations with Marianne in the last part of the novel really worked for me. Marianne's "transformation" does not come across as so sudden, so dramatic. The relationship feels to be moving along at just the right pace; a relationship built on friendship and respect and love.

I would definitely recommend this one! I only wish that Amanda Grange would write more Diaries. I would love to see Edward Ferrars' Diary. I'd love his perspective, to catch a glimpse of his past, of his relationships with his family, of his infatuation with Lucy Steele, and his first impressions of Elinor! I also admit that I'd want to read Willoughby's Diary! After all, Willoughby is at least as interesting as Wickham!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Library Loot: Second Trip in February

New Loot:
  • The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle
  • Rosie's Riveting Recipes by Daniela Turudich
  • Where Courage Calls by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan
  • One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Leftover Loot:
  • Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Boy on the Wooden Box with Marilyn J Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson
  • Heart beat by Elizabeth Scott
  • Ruth, Mother of Kings by Diana Wallis Taylor 
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir 
  • The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
  • The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck
  • The River Between Us by Richard Peck
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.   

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Week in Review: February 2-8

Angel Island. Russell Freedman. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 81 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Sword in the Storm. David Gemmell. 1998. Del Rey. 448 pages [Source: Library]
Half A Chance. Cynthia Lord. 2014. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Edenbrooke. Julianne Donaldson. 2012. Shadow Mountain. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Wouldbegoods. E. Nesbit. 1901. 156 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
My Lucky Little Dragon. Joyce Wan. 2014. Scholastic. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Giraffes Can't Dance Number Rumba Counting Book. Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. 2014. Scholastic. 12 pages. [Source: Review copy]
A Big Hug for Little Cub. Lorie Ann Grover. Rosalinda Kightley. 2014. Scholastic. 18 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Tickety Toc Count Our Friends! 2014. Scholastic. 12 pages. [Source: Review copy]
How Does Baby Feel? Karen Katz. 2013. Simon & Schuster. 14 pages. [Source: Library]  
Lego Super Heroes Phonics. Quinlan B. Lee. 2014. Scholastic. Includes 10 Books and 2 Workbooks. [Source: Review copy] 
There, There. Sam McBratney. Illustrated by Ivan Bates. 2013. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Bear In Love. Daniel Pinkwater. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. 2012. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
I Haiku You. Betsy E. Snyder. 2012. Random House. 28 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Pigs in Pajamas. Maggie Smith. 2012. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Rain! Linda Ashman. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Day The Crayons Quit. Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. 2013. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
Isaiah 36-66 (Thru the Bible #23). J. Vernon McGee. Thomas Nelson. 204 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone. Valerie Lawrence. 2013. Carpenter's Son Publishing. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
A Heart Like His: Intimate Reflections On The Life of David. Beth Moore. 1996. B&H. 297 pages. [Source: Book I bought]




This week's favorite:

My favorite book this week is David Gemmell's Sword in the Storm.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Reread #6 Sword in the Storm

Sword in the Storm. David Gemmell. 1998. Del Rey. 448 pages [Source: Library]

On the night of the great man's birth a fierce storm was moving in from the far north, but the lowering black clouds still were hidden behind the craggy, snow-capped peaks of the Druagh mountains. The night air outside the birthing hut was calm and still and heavy. The bright stars of Caer Gwydion glittered in the sky, and the full moon was shining like a lantern over the tribal lands of the Rigante.

I first read Sword in the Storm in January 2008. I loved it. I loved it because of the characterization. I loved it because of the relationships. I loved it because of the storytelling. I loved it because of the world-building. I loved it because of the writing. I found it to be a very rich fantasy novel: I loved the historical details, and the hint of the supernatural. I had every intention of reading more in the series, but, I never did.

I recently reread Sword in the Storm. I love it just as much if not a little more. I appreciate the characterization even more, I believe. Not many authors have the gift: the gift of bringing to life all their characters--major and minor. Not many authors trust their characters with humanity: with allowing every character to have strengths and weaknesses, of giving even the greatest heroes opportunities to reveal their flaws. That is certainly the case with Sword in the Storm.

Connavar is our young hero. One night he rescues a fawn in the woods; that night will change his life forever, for he will attract the attention of the Seidh. It will not be his only encounter, for they will follow his life with great interest offering many opportunities, but these opportunities are not without risk or cost. The idea of "Fate" definitely plays a role in this fantasy novel.

One of the things I love most about this fantasy novel is how grounded it is. Readers are presented with a whole world, whole cultures and tribes, whole communities and families. I loved spending time in this world. I loved watching Connavar grow up. I loved, loved, loved his stepfather (Ruathain), for example. Another favorite character is Banouin, a foreigner who lives among the Rigante most of the year, though he travels back and forth lands. He is a former Stone soldier; he warns Connavar that the Stone army will come, that the Stone army may be occupied with other tribes (Perdii and Gath, to name two), but the Rigante need to be aware that war is coming. I also really enjoyed Vorna for the most part. I was so pleased that she became a part of the community and the role that she played in the story.

From my first review:
 Never has a book been so rich, so fully immersed in culture WHILE at the same time being so full of action and intensity. The characters are well-developed. It doesn't matter if they're major or minor. All the characters have a life, a spark of their own. Each plays a role in the drama. Each is important. The whole community--the whole tribe--is given life. His characters are so human, so believable. They're full of flaws, but they're still--for the most part--so likable. You understand them. If they do good. If they do bad. You feel you know why. You understand why. The action? Intense. Whether plotting a romance or preparing for great battle scenes, the pacing is unbelievable. All of it is so good. It really keeps the pages turning.
 Favorite quotes:
"May I fetch you water, old one?"
Her head came up, and he found himself looking into the darkest eyes he had ever seen, pupils and iris blending perfectly, her orbs like polished black pebbles. "I need  no water, Connavar. But it was kind of you to ask."
"How is it you know me?"
"I know many things. What is it you wish for?"
"I don't understand you."
"Of course you do," she chided him, laying aside the net. "Every man has a secret wish. What is yours?"
"He shrugged. "To be happy, perhaps. To have many strong sons and a handful of beautiful daughters. To live to be old and see my sons grow and their sons."
She laughed scornfully, the sound rasping like a saw through dead wood, "You have picked your wishes from the public barrel. These are not what your heart desires, Sword in the Storm."
"Why have I never seen you before? Where do you live?"
"Close by. And I have seen you, swimming in the lake, leaping from the falls, running through the woods with your half brother. You are full of life, Connavar, and destiny is calling you. How will you respond?"
He stood silently for a moment. "Are you a witch?"
"Not a witch," she said. "That I promise you. Tell me what you wish for."
A movement came from behind him, and Conn spun. Standing behind him was the Rigante witch Vorna. Her hands were held before her, crossed as if to ward off a blow. But she was not looking at him. She stood staring at the old woman.
"Move back with me, Conn," she said. "Come away from this place. Do not answer her questions."
"Are you frightened to voice your wish, boy?" asked the crone, ignoring Vorna.
Conn was indeed frightened, though he did not know why. But when fear touched him, it was always swamped by anger. "I fear nothing," he said.
"Conn! Do not speak," warned Vorna.
"Then tell me!" shrieked the old woman.
"I wish for glory!" he shouted back at her.
A cool wind whispered across the clearing, and a bright light flashed before his eyes. He fell back, blinking.
"And you shall have it," whispered a voice in his mind. (68-9)
"You may not be good at making friends," whispered Parax. "But by heaven, you are second to none when it comes to making enemies." (319) 
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Half A Chance (2014)

Half A Chance. Cynthia Lord. 2014. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really enjoyed Cynthia Lord's new novel, Half A Chance. Lucy and her family have just moved to New Hampshire. It is summer. Lucy is new and nervous about finding friends. She meets Nate and his family on her first night there. Lucy and Nate and Emily become friends quickly. But one of Nate's friends isn't so happy to see him spending time with Lucy: Megan. And if the truth is admitted, Lucy does seem to monopolize Nate's time with this new and exciting photography contest. Lucy and Nate have teamed up on this scavenger hunt and are trying to take amazing photos. Lucy is contemplating entering the contest even though her father is the judge of the contest.

Half A Chance is a very nature-friendly book. The kids are always, always outside and doing something. One of the stories in the book has them observing loons (and recording their observations and sending them off to a society).

What I enjoyed even more than the photography or the bird-watching was the focus on family and friendship. I really liked Nate's family. I loved his Grandma Lilah. I thought the handling of her dementia was nicely done. It was honest and bittersweet.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Wouldbegoods

The Wouldbegoods. E. Nesbit. 1901. 156 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

“Children are like jam: all very well in the proper place, but you can’t stand them all over the shop — eh, what?” These were the dreadful words of our Indian uncle. They made us feel very young and angry; and yet we could not be comforted by calling him names to ourselves, as you do when nasty grown-ups say nasty things, because he is not nasty, but quite the exact opposite when not irritated. And we could not think it ungentlemanly of him to say we were like jam, because, as Alice says, jam is very nice indeed — only not on furniture and improper places like that.
The Wouldbegoods is the further adventures of the Bastable children: Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H.O. Add in a few neighbors for a recipe of trouble and mishap. It is not that the Bastable children set out to be bad, to make trouble for themselves and for their father, far from it. The children intend to be really, really good, which is why they form a club about being good, recording and rewarding their good deeds. The chapters read more like a collection of stories than a novel. Each chapter contains an adventure or misadventure!
For readers looking for old-fashioned family-oriented stories, this one is a quick, fun read. It is not my favorite E. Nesbit novel. But. Oswald is a good friend.  

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Edenbrooke (2012)

Edenbrooke. Julianne Donaldson. 2012. Shadow Mountain. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]

In September, I reviewed Julianne Donaldson's second novel, Blackmoore. I adored it. I absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I am less enthusiastic about her first novel, Edenbrooke, but I think that has more to do with the fact that I GUSHED so much about Blackmoore that my merely enjoying Edenbrooke pales in comparison.

Edenbrooke is a thoroughly satisfying Regency romance novel. If you are always on the look out for CLEAN but satisfying romance novels to read, especially if you love historical romances, then Julianne Donaldson might be a great match for you! I'd certainly recommend these two! Personally, I love finding authors that write clean romance novels. That is something I value and appreciate. I know people who are always looking for more of these types of books, so more recommendations are always welcome! Shadow Mountain, the publisher, has a line of clean romance novels published under the proper romance brand.

The heroine of Edenbrooke is Marianne. Since the death of her mother, Marianne has lived with her grandmother in Bath. Marianne doesn't exactly find Bath ideal. She'd much rather have stayed with her father, stayed in her own home. Marianne has a twin sister, Cecily, that lives elsewhere. When the novel opens, Cecily is enjoying a season in London.

The book tells of what happens when both twins, Cecily and Marianne, are invited to Edenbrooke to the home of one of their mother's friends. Marianne arrives first. But there were a few moments when Marianne doubted even that! For on her way, their coach was stopped! Stand and deliver!!! A highwayman robs Marianne of her locket, her most prized possession. Their driver was injured, Marianne and her maid are able to get help and they stop at a nearby inn. It is at the inn that she meets a fascinating stranger... 

The hero of the novel is Philip, or, Sir Philip as she discovers days after her arrival. She'd assume that he was the younger son, not "the heir" her very own sister is trying to "catch."

Marianne and Philip have many scenes together; a good many of them are satisfying. Donaldson is good at dialogue at capturing the back-and-forth of developing relationships. For me, Philip isn't quite as swoon-worthy as Henry (the hero of the second novel), but I think if I'd read this one first, he might have been.

Donaldson isn't quite as good as say Georgette Heyer in terms of complete character development, but her Regency romances have potential! (Donaldson is great at developing the couple, the hero and heroine, it is only the secondary characters that feel a bit flat at times.)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain (2014)

Angel Island. Russell Freedman. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 81 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Alexander Weiss had just started his job as a California state park ranger on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay when he came across an old abandoned building. Off-limits to the public, its windows boarded up, the two-story wooden structure stood dark and deserted behind a barbed-wire fence. On an impulse, Weiss decided to venture inside and look around. He pulled open the door. The floor creaked as he entered. The electricity had long since been turned off, so he found his way through the empty rooms and up the stairs with his flashlight, stepping over litter and broken glass. Paint was peeling from the walls and ceiling. The building smelled musty.
In a large room on the second floor, Weiss noticed markings that seemed to be carved into the walls. Moving closer, he saw that the marks appeared to be Chinese calligraphy, covered by a thin layer of chipped paint.

Angel Island is a compelling nonfiction read. This nonfiction book for young readers tells the story of Angel Island; it is the story of Asian immigrants (mainly Chinese) entering the United States. While immigrants on the East Coast faced their own problems and to some extent discrimination, it is nothing compared to the West. The story begins in the nineteenth century around the time of the California Gold Rush. The narrative focuses on the history of immigration and discrimination. It has a very personal feel to it, Freedman uses many primary resources in his account, some of these resources were poems written on the very walls at Angel Island. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Six Picture Books

There, There. Sam McBratney. Illustrated by Ivan Bates. 2013. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Little Hansie Bear, who loved to pretend, thought it would be fun to walk like a duck. Unfortunately he fell over sideways into a deep-down ditch. He hurt his knee and couldn't get out again. His dad came to help. 

I am not usually one who gushes over Sam McBratney. Guess How Much I Love You is not my favorite or best book ever. But. I really did find myself liking his newest book, There, There. It is the story of a father and son. It is the story of two not-so-good days. It is a tender story about comfort: showing love, giving support, cheering up.

Little Hansie is not having a good day. It starts when he's pretending to walk like a duck, but, that's just the first injury of the day. His father comforts him with hugs and a calm there, there. But Hansie isn't the only one who needs some love. His father, who was NOT pretending to be a duck, needs some love too. And Hansie knows just what to say and do to make his dad feel all better.

I really loved, loved, loved the illustrations. If I didn't love the illustrations so very much, I might not love the book so much. The text is good: very sweet. But the illustrations, for me, make it extra-special.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

Bear In Love. Daniel Pinkwater. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. 2012. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

A bear lived in the woods. He had a little cave, just big enough for him. Every morning, the bear would crawl out of his cave, rub his eyes, stretch, and feel the morning sun. Then he would look around for something to eat.

I really, really adored Bear in Love. Bear is a lovable character. I love, love, love the fact that he likes to make up his own songs and hums. I love his personality. I just do. Someone else must have been watching Bear too. Someone else must think he's special too. For Bear has a secret admirer. Someone who leaves him presents. It starts with one little carrot. But that's just the beginning. Bear likes having a friend, even if he doesn't know who his new secret friend is. Soon Bear starts leaving gifts in return. Will Bear ever stay awake long enough to discover who his new friend is?!

I loved this one. I thought it was a great story. The illustrations, well, I loved them too. There was just something charming about them!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

I Haiku You. Betsy E. Snyder. 2012. Random House. 28 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Your everyday song,
my favorite alarm clock--
good morning to you!

I found this collection of poems charming. I did. The poems are short, of course, because they're haiku. I like the emotional nature of the poems. These are poems of joy, of love, of friendship, of family.

For example, I just love this one:
you hug away tears,
making boo-boos all better--
best teddy ever 

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

Pigs in Pajamas. Maggie Smith. 2012. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Penelope Pig has been planning a party, a sleepover party for Saturday night. All around town, pigs are putting on pj's. They're packing and snapping and zipping up tight. We're pigs in pajamas, to Penny's we go--in prints, plaids, and pinstripes, a sleepywear show!

Pigs in Pajamas is playful, very playful. It is a celebration of the letter P. If the alliteration in the text doesn't convince you that P is a wonderful letter, perhaps, the illustrations will. Yes, this picture book has illustrations worth paying attention to every little detail.

Overall, I liked it.

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

Rain! Linda Ashman. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Rain!
Rain!
"Nasty galoshes."
"Blasted overcoat."
"There goes my hair..."
"Is it raining cats and dogs?"
"It's raining frogs and pollywogs!"
"Hippity-hop!"

Rain has dual narrators. One narrator is a very grumpy old man who does NOT like the rain, not at all. The rain is ruining his day. He's a complainer through and through. The other narrator is a child who LOVES the rain, who is so very excited to go out in the rain and play. When these two cross paths that morning, something happens. Will the old man lose a bit of his crankiness?

I liked this one. It is simple. There isn't a lot of text. The illustrations are very expressive.

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

The Day The Crayons Quit. Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. 2013. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One day in class, Duncan went to take out his crayons and found a stack of letters with his name on them. 
Hey Duncan,
It's me, Red Crayon. We need to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out coloring FIRE ENGINES, apples, strawberries, and EVERYTHING ELSE that's RED. I even work on holidays! I have to color all the Santas at Christmas and ALL the hearts on Valentine's day! I NEED A REST! Your overworked friend, Red Crayon

Quite simply, I loved, loved, loved this one. I read it months ago, but, I put off reviewing it because I knew that I could never do it justice in a review. I knew that I could never express just how clever and fun it was. I also knew that I would be tempted to quote from every crayon's letter. I knew that would be too much.

Have you read this one? What did you think? I loved the premise of this one. I liked the creativity of it. I liked the personality of it. And I adored all the "kid art." The ending was very fun!

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


© 2014 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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