Wednesday, February 28, 2018

2018 Newbery Announcements, My Thoughts

I have now read the 2018 Newbery winner, Hello Universe, and all three Newbery Honor books: Crown, Piecing Me Together, and Long Way Down.

Of the four books by far my favorite is Piecing Me Together. I read it in March of 2017. It stayed with me and was my first choice when it came to nominating books in the Young Adult category of the Cybils. (It won in its category.) In addition to the Newbery Honor and the Cybils win, it also won the Coretta Scott King Author Winner. 

I did love the book. If you'd ask me if it was Newbery material, I wouldn't have made that connection--not on my own. I think of it as a young adult novel. And I don't think of the Newbery as being for young adults. The Printz is for young adults. The Newbery is for elementary and middle grades. That's my admitted bias.

Crown was an enjoyable enough read. It also was a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. It is a picture book. But it is a picture book for older readers. And perhaps it will prove appealing to those reluctant readers who "have" to read a Newbery book. But again, this isn't a connection I would have ever made on my own. I don't think of picture books as contenders.

Long Way Down. I grew up watching The Twilight Zone. I could easily have seen on the title page: The Twilight Zone presents Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down. There was something compelling about this dark, disturbing read. The images created in verse of that elevator ride are haunting. This book also was a Printz Honor and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor. I would definitely classify Long Way Down as a young adult book, a book for older more mature readers. I wouldn't see Long Way Down as being a right-fit for (most) elementary libraries. So I never saw it as a contender for the Newbery award. But clearly, this year was not about obvious choices.

The three Honor books I can honestly say I enjoyed. The Newbery winner....not so much. I reviewed this one yesterday. Reading is subjective. I want to state the obvious that one person's "disliking" of a book is no reason to keep it from being part of a library's ever-expanding collection. No person--no librarian, no teacher, no parent, no author--will ever like or love every single book currently on the shelves.

When a book you dislike wins a Newbery it is disappointing. It is disappointing because you start thinking of all the dozens--if not hundreds--of books that you read and actually LOVED that, in your opinion, "deserved" it more in a given year. That's not fair to the author, of course. But I think it is typical. It happens every single year. It has probably been happening since the very first awards were announced decades ago.

Do you have thoughts on this year's winner and honor books?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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February Reflections

How many books have I read so far for the year? 100

How many board books or picture books have I read? 33

My favorite I read this month was: Buster and the Baby. Amy Hest. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. 2017. [October 24, 2017] Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

How many early readers or early chapter books have I read? 19

My favorite I read this month was: Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy. Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

How many contemporary books have I read? 7

My favorite I read this month was: Just Dance. Patricia MacLachlan. 2017. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

How many speculative fiction books have I read? 6

My favorite I read this month was: Long Way Down. Jason Reynolds. 2017. [October 24] 320 pages. [Source: Library] 

How many classics have I read? 11

My favorite I read this month was? The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola. 1883/2012. Oxford University Press. 438 pages. [Source: Library]

How many historical fiction novels have I read? 11

My favorite I read this month was? The Sea Before Us. (Sunrise at Normandy #1) Sarah Sundin. 2018. Revell. 375 pages. [Source: Review copy]

How many mysteries? 3
My favorite I read this month was? I didn't read any this month. But I'm almost finished with Daughter of Time. So maybe March will have more mysteries!

How many nonfiction? 12

My favorite I read this month was?  Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton. Sherri Duskey Rinker. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

How many Christian fiction? 7

My favorite I read this month was?  When Tides Turn. (Waves of Freedom #3) Sarah Sundin. 2017. Revell. 285 pages. [Source: Library]

How many Christian nonfiction? 17

My favorite I read this month was? The Moment of Truth. Steven J. Lawson. 2018. Reformation Trust. 238 pages. [Source: Review copy]

How many "new" books for the Good Rule challenge? 63

How many "old" books for the Good Rule challenge? 37

How many pages have I read so far for the year? 16, 143

Favorite short story or fairy tale of the month: "Aunt Philippa and the Men"

Favorite audio book of the month: DAUGHTER OF TIME

Favorite Victorian quote:

Remember the old saying, You cannot touch pitch without being defiled. ~ Anthony Trollope

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hello, Universe

Hello, Universe. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2017. 313 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Eleven-year old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he'd only just finished sixth grade.

Premise/plot: Virgil Salinas has a problem. He has a big crush on Valencia Somerset, but he's gone the whole school year without even saying hello. For some reason, this shyness is not a crushing failure until the first day of summer school. He seeks the guidance of a child psychic--a fortune teller--Kaori Tanaka. Kaori only takes children for clients, and she's aided by her younger sister, Gen. Virgil is one of her clients, but she's got another client as well, a new one. Valencia Somerset has been having nightmares. Will Kaori be able to interpret her dreams and solve her problem? One thing her two clients have in common is that they are both being picked on by Chet Bullens. What happens in the woods one Saturday morning may change all of their lives forever.

My thoughts: Hello, Universe won the Newbery Medal for 2018. If it hadn't won the Newbery would  I have been as disappointed with Hello, Universe? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for certain, I did not like this book. (My expectations would have been lower, and thus my disappointment not so big if it hadn't won the Newbery.)

The book has alternating narrators. My favorite narrator was probably Valencia Somerset. In fact, if the book was told solely through her perspective and if she never met Kaori Tanaka, I might have enjoyed the book. I did not care for the other narrators for the most part, though I liked Virgil just fine until the incident in the woods. (Virgil's grandmother was a character I liked.)

What didn't I like about the book? Well. I didn't like Kaori Tanaka's fortune-telling. I didn't like her reading the stars, playing with crystals, and being an amateur astrologist. I also didn't like Virgil's time in the well. I didn't like how the spirits talked to him, and how he talked to the spirits. I found all of that weird and out of place. I also am not sure why Virgil often took his guinea pig, Gulliver, with him in his back pack. Other than the fact that this was a necessary part of the plot to bring all the characters together. The plot just didn't work for me.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Before She Was Harriet

Before She Was Harriet. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illustrated by James Ransome. 2017. [November] Holiday House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Here she sits/ an old woman/ tired and worn/ her legs stiff/ her back achy/ but before wrinkles formed/ and her eyes failed/ before she reached/ her twilight years/ she could walk for miles/ and see clearly/ under a sky lit only with stars.

Premise/plot: Before She Was Harriet is a picture book biography of Harriet Tubman written in verse. The picture book opens and closes with Harriet as an old woman. The poem looks backwards on her life. Each section begins with "Before she was..." For example,
  • Before she was an old woman/ she was a suffragist/
  • Before she was a suffragist/ she was General Tubman/
  • Before she was General Tubman/ she was a Union spy/
The poem packs in a lot of information while remaining very much a poem. It is beautiful!

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much! I loved the writing. I loved the illustrations. This picture book was honored with a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. I must admit that I loved the text even more than the illustrations. But both are great.

The narrative is so beautiful!

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


© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Currently Reading #9

Something Old

Mary Barton. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1848. 437 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]

Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. 2018. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Brightly Burning. Alexa Donne. 2018. HMH. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 
Something Borrowed
Hello, Universe. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2017. 313 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True
The Gospel According to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament. John F. MacArthur. 2018. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

NASB Quick Study Bible. 2006. Thomas Nelson. 1920 pages. [Source: Bought]

Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification. Thomas R. Schreiner. 2015. 284 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Keep It Short #8

I have read two more L.M. Montgomery stories this week. I am LOVING the quality of these later stories.

Akin To Love
First sentence: David Hartley had dropped in to pay a neighbourly call on Josephine Elliott. It was well along in the afternoon, and outside, in the clear crispness of a Canadian winter, the long blue shadows from the tall firs behind the house were falling over the snow.


Premise/plot: David has been in love with Josephine for decades. Every few years he conquers his fears and proposes. She has said no each and every time. Soon after this short story opens, he proposes yet again. It goes badly--again. But this time something is different. He promises her that this will be the absolute last time he'll ever propose. He tells her that if she changes her mind, she'll have to propose to him. Will she change her mind?

My thoughts: This one is an enjoyable read. The theme of the story is that 'pity is akin to love.'

Quotes:
Every time David proposed to her he had begun by reciting poetry. She twirled her towel around the last plate resignedly. If it had to come, the sooner it was over the better. Josephine knew by experience that there was no heading David off, despite his shyness, when he had once got along as far as the poetry. "But it's going to be for the last time," she said determinedly. "I'm going to settle this question so decidedly to-night that there'll never be a repetition."
"Josephine," he said huskily, "I s'pose you couldn't—could you now?—make up your mind to have me. I wish you would, Josephine—I wish you would. Don't you think you could, Josephine?" Josephine folded up her towel, crossed her hands on it, and looked her wooer squarely in the eyes.
Mrs. Tom Sentner did not say much to Josephine. To herself she said complacently: "She's sorry for David. Well, I've always heard that pity was akin to love. We'll see what comes of this."
Aunt Philippa and the Men
First sentence: I knew quite well why Father sent me to Prince Edward Island to visit Aunt Philippa that summer. He told me he was sending me there "to learn some sense"; and my stepmother, of whom I was very fond, told me she was sure the sea air would do me a world of good. I did not want to learn sense or be done a world of good; I wanted to stay in Montreal and go on being foolish—and make up my quarrel with Mark Fenwick.

Premise/plot: The heroine of this little story is being sent away to visit good old Aunt Philippa. Aunt Philippa has a strong opinion of MEN in general--and in specifics if truth be told. Her father is hoping that Aunt Philippa will be enough of a distraction that she forgets about her love, Mark Fenwick. Her father doesn't know Aunt Philippa as well as he thinks!

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. It's a hoot of a story.

Quotes:
"So you want to get married?" she said. "You'd better wait till you're grown up." "How old must a person be before she is grown up?" I asked gravely. "Humph! That depends. Some are grown up when they're born, and others ain't grown up when they're eighty.

"There's a man you don't want to have much to do with," she said portentously. "He's a Methodist minister." "Why, Auntie, the Methodists are a very nice denomination," I protested. "My stepmother is a Methodist, you know." "No, I didn't know, but I'd believe anything of a stepmother. I've no use for Methodists or their ministers. This fellow just came last spring, and it's my opinion he smokes. And he thinks every girl who looks at him falls in love with him—as if a Methodist minister was any prize! Don't you take much notice of him, Ursula."
Even being a minister can't prevent a man from being a crank.
"Don't you know any good husbands, Aunt Philippa?" I asked desperately. "Oh, yes, lots of 'em—over there," said Aunt Philippa sardonically, waving her whip in the direction of a little country graveyard on a distant hill. "Yes, but living—walking about in the flesh?"
"There's Joseph," said Aunt Philippa. "I call him that because his coat is of many colours. But I ain't no lover of cats. They're too much like the men to suit me." "Cats have always been supposed to be peculiarly feminine," I said, descending.
That Methodist man preaches a lot of things that ain't true, and what's worse they ain't sound doctrine. At least, that's what I've heard. I never was in a Methodist church, thank goodness."
"Don't you think Methodists go to heaven as well as Presbyterians, Aunt Philippa?" I asked gravely. "That ain't for us to decide," said Aunt Philippa solemnly. "It's in higher hands than ours. But I ain't going to associate with them on earth, whatever I may have to do in heaven. The folks round here mostly don't make much difference and go to the Methodist church quite often. But I say if you are a Presbyterian, be a Presbyterian. Of course, if you ain't, it don't matter much what you do. As for that minister man, he has a grand-uncle who was sent to the penitentiary for embezzlement. I found out that much."
"I'm not going to run away to be married," I answered sullenly. "Well, no, I wouldn't advise you to," said Aunt Philippa reflectively. "It's a kind of low-down thing to do, though there's been a terrible lot of romantic nonsense talked and writ about eloping. It may be a painful necessity sometimes, but it ain't in this case. You write to your young man and tell him to come here and be married respectable under my roof, same as a Goodwin ought to." I sat up and stared at Aunt Philippa. I was so amazed that it is useless to try to express my amazement. "Aunt—Philippa," I gasped. "I thought—I thought—"
The young Methodist minister married us the next day in the presence of many beaming guests. Aunt Philippa, splendid in black silk and point-lace collar, neither of which lost a whit of dignity or lustre by being made ten years before, was composure itself while the ceremony was going on. But no sooner had the minister pronounced us man and wife than she spoke up. "Now that's over I want someone to go right out and put out the fire on the kitchen roof. It's been on fire for the last ten minutes." Minister and bridegroom headed the emergency brigade, and Aunt Philippa pumped the water for them. In a short time the fire was out, all was safe, and we were receiving our deferred congratulations.
"Aunt Philippa," I said, "tell me this: why have you helped me to be married?" The train began to move. "I refused once to run away myself, and I've repented it ever since." Then, as the train gathered speed and the distance between us widened, she shouted after us, "But I s'pose if I had run away I'd have repented of that too."

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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My Victorian Year #8

I finished The Ladies Paradise by Emile Zola this week! I read a few chapters in Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope. I read a few chapters in Mary Barton. I predict that I will finish Mary Barton in the next few days. If all goes to plan, I should have my review published by next Saturday! Orley Farm I'm less optimistic about finishing this week because it is a LONG book. I'm not even sure I'm to the halfway mark yet.

Jane Eyre is one of my FAVORITE, FAVORITE, FAVORITE books. So I was super-excited to see that it has been adapted into a YA science fiction novel. The novel has been reset IN SPACE. I began reading it this week and it is wonderful so far!!!

Quotes from The Ladies' Paradies:

Mouret on selling:

"You can sell as much as you like when you know how to sell! There lies our success." (75) 
If he could have found a way of making the street run right through his shop, he would have done so. (236)
One of the customers:
You're right, there's no system in this shop. You lose your way, and do all sorts of silly things. (260)
Mouret on life and love:
'Of course, I've never lived so intensely...Ah! Don't laugh, old man, the moments when you seem to die of suffering are the briefest of all!' (322)
I don't have new quotes to share from Mary Barton. The action is quick and intense, but not quotable.

I'm not sure how many I have from Orley Farm. The past few chapters have all occurred on Christmas day; we've seen Christmas in three very different households.
Nobody holds a good opinion of a man who has a low opinion of himself.
Is not additional eating an ordinary Englishman’s ordinary idea of Christmas-day?
Felix Graham’s lot in this life, as regarded that share which his heart might have in it, was already marked out for him; — marked out for himself and by himself. The future wife of his bosom had already been selected, and was now in course of preparation for the duties of her future life. He was one of those few wise men who have determined not to take a partner in life at hazard, but to mould a young mind and character to those pursuits and modes of thought which may best fit a woman for the duties she will have to perform. What little it may be necessary to know of the earlier years of Mary Snow shall be told hereafter. Here it will be only necessary to say that she was an orphan, that as yet she was little more than a child, and that she owed her maintenance and the advantage of her education to the charity and love of her destined husband.
Christmas-day was always a time of very great trial to Mrs. Mason of Groby Park. It behoved her, as the wife of an old English country gentleman, to spread her board plenteously at that season, and in some sort to make an open house of it. But she could not bring herself to spread any board with plenty, and the idea of an open house would almost break her heart. Unlimited eating! There was something in the very sounds of such words which was appalling to the inner woman.
He always put off till some future day that great contest which he intended to wage and to win, and by which he hoped to bring it about that plenty should henceforward be the law of the land at Groby Park.
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Me? Listen to Audio?! #7

Here's what I listened to this week.

Brothers Karamazov. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dramatized by Melissa Murray. Directed by Marc Beeby and Colin Guthrie. Starring Roy Marsden as Fyodor Karamazov. Five one hour episodes.



I listened to episodes two through five. I read the book last winter. Perhaps I should say I savored the book. I found it a wonderful read. I read it somewhat slowly; I read it while drinking tea for the most part.

I didn't enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed reading it. Dramas--radio dramas--should be well-paced. In my head, I know this. They should focus on action and intensity and, well, DRAMA. They shouldn't focus on the internal dialogue of a single character.


From my review of the book:

If you're looking for DRAMA and philosophy, look no further than Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.

If Jerry Springer had had a talk show in the nineteenth century, the Karamazov family would have been his guests. Where to start?!

The father Fyodor has three sons by two different wives. Dmitry (Mitya, Mitry) is his oldest son, but, the two are VERY, VERY estranged. Why, you ask!!! Because both of them are chasing the same woman--Grushenka (Agrafena). She is possibly the town's most notorious 'loose' woman. Dmitry is not really free--in terms of honor--to chase her. He's technically engaged to another woman, Katerina Ivanovna. But for the past month--before the novel opens--he's seen only Grushenka. Ivan (Vanya) has fallen in love with his brother's cast off fiancee. And Katerina doesn't know which role she wants to play in this: the heartbroken victim or the strong survivor who moves on with her life and makes a new start.

On a fateful day, the three brothers, and, the has-no-shame father meet Starets Zosima privately at a monastery. Zosima is a local legend, a local holy man, and Aleksei (Alyosha) reveres him. (Alyosha is a monk at the time, and he remains so until Zosima's death). This family has brought a few tag along friends with them to witness the spectacle. And it is a spectacle. A cover-your-eyes and squirm-a-little spectacle where the father offends everyone but himself. Alyosha is soon torn in a dozen directions by his brothers. He's the perfect mediator it seems, too bad he never seems to find whatever brother he's looking for at the time! Still. He always listens and listens well as each brother confides in him. In fact, it's just not his brothers who confide in him, it seems the whole town knows he's a good listener.

Dmitry is absolutely desperate for money. But is he desperate enough to kill his father, and to steal his father's envelope of money? Yes, he's got a temper. Yes, his temper is made worse when he's been drinking. Yes, he makes dozens--if not hundreds--of "I'm going to kill him one of these days" statements. But is he capable of murder? And is love--or lust--motivation enough to kill a man he hates?

My thoughts: This one is a GREAT read. I loved the writing; I loved the increasing level of suspense. I loved, loved, loved Alyosha. I felt for many of the characters and genuinely wanted to see justice done. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton. Sherri Duskey Rinker. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is Virginia Lee, but everyone in seaside Folly Cove simply calls her Jinnee. Anyone who meets Jinnee will tell you that she is quite magical.

Premise/plot: Big Machines is the story of how Virginia Lee Burton--artist, dancer, wife, MOTHER--came to create "magical" children's picture books. The author's note at the back of the book gives biographical background and context. The text of the picture book focuses on the how and the why. The how and the why largely involve her two sons, Michael and Aris. 
But for her sons, Aris and Michael, she makes the most wonderful things of all...the things they love best: BIG MACHINES. It begins with a line: black and rough. Then a squiggle...and a rub. As little Aris watches, a puff of smoke appears, clears, and then.... WHOOOoo oo oo! a whistle cries. "Do more! Do more!" Aris shouts in return.
My thoughts: I loved this one. I did. I loved the personal aspect of it. I loved seeing the process of creation. How a simple sketch of a 'big machine' becomes a character, then becomes a story, and then becomes a beloved icon. I loved how the illustrations show mother and son--or mother and sons--interacting with her illustrations. Her creations are life-size and "real."

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


© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Long Way Down

Long Way Down. Jason Reynolds. 2017. [October 24] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Don't nobody believe anything these days which is why I haven't told nobody the story I'm about to tell you. And truth is, you probably ain't gon' believe it either...

Premise/plot: Will Holloman is about to take an elevator ride into the Twilight Zone. If I had to give a one sentence summary of the book, that's what I'd go with. Will is a young boy--young man--ripped apart by grief. His brother, Shawn, was murdered the day before. Will thinks he knows who did it; he knows what he must do. He knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Always take revenge. On his way to get revenge, he takes an elevator ride.

Long Way Down is written in verse.

My thoughts: Long Way Down was named a Newbery Honor Book, a Printz Honor Book, and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.

When I think of Newbery and Newbery Honor books I think of books that are the exact opposite of Long Way Down. Long Way Down is a dark book featuring a troubled, broken narrator. A narrator that is open and honest about a crime he's about to commit: premeditated murder. (That is if he's a reliable narrator in the first place.) All of the poems either directly or indirectly deal with guns, violence, murder. Many show the impact of violence on the family, on the community and neighborhood. My impression wasn't that Reynolds was trying to influence readers with WHAT to think, just to get them THINKING in the first place.

The subject matter wouldn't be my first choice to read about in general, or more specifically in a Newbery Honor Book. But the world that kids are growing up in these days is dramatically different than the world I grew up in. It only makes sense that the Newbery Medal would adapt along the way.

The writing was compelling. I was surprised at how much characterization Reynolds was able to achieve in so few words. Many of the poems are VERY short.

Is Will a reliable narrator? Is the story he's telling true? What happened in the book? What didn't happen? Was he alone on the elevator? Did he go through with his plan? What were the ghosts trying to teach him--if anything? Was he perhaps already dead? If he is dead--who is he telling his story to? If he isn't dead--what choice did he make? Was it all a dream?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Ladies' Paradise

The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola. 1883/2012. Oxford University Press. 438 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Denise had come on foot from the Gare Saint-Lazare. She and her two brothers had arrived on a train from Cherbourg and had spent the night on the hard bench of a third-class carriage. She was holding Pepe by the hand, and Jean was walking behind her, all three exhausted from the journey, frightened, and lost in the midst of the vast city of Paris.

Premise/plot: Denise Baudu and her two brothers have come from the country to the big city believing that their uncle will make room in his heart and his home for them. That is not the case. But Denise is able to be hired on as a sales girl at the Ladies Paradise, a one-stop-shopping-palace that is bedazzling. At first she struggles enormously. The others hate her, tease her, torment her. Because of how her fellow sales girls treat her, she barely makes any commissions and doesn't receive a salary. She is working to support herself and her two brothers. And one of her brothers is selfish and greedy and a PEST. Denise's boss is Octave Mouret; he is the charismatic "genius" behind the Ladies' Paradise. His presence gets Denise a bit flustered--first from severe shyness and embarrassment, then from attraction. The attraction is mutual, though not from the start. Mouret is not used to being flustered himself. It doesn't take much chasing, much effort, on his part to get what he wants: until Denise.

My thoughts: I LOVED this one. I did. It is different from the recent BBC adaptation. It is set in Paris, not London, and the mentalities and moralities reflect that difference. That is not to say that The Ladies Paradise is a smutty, sensual read. It isn't. Anything that occurs of that nature happens off the page or behind the scenes.

Other than Denise and Mouret, there are very few characters in common. Mouret does have a wealthy love interest in the book. But she is a widow who has for years had various lovers come and go. Mouret is one of those lovers, but he's never seen as a suitor. And the idea of marriage hasn't occurred to either.

Another difference is Denise's uncle. In the adaptation, he is sweet, gentle, and stubborn bachelor. He's even given a love story of his own. In the book, he's married with a wife and daughter. He is even MORE stubborn than in the show. And he's selfish and thoughtless. He's so focused in on "saving" his business that he doesn't care about his family. His daughter has spent most of her life engaged to a storekeeper, an apprentice of her father, this of her father's doing. He keeps the two from wedding, and the guy falls madly, deeply, passionately in love with a hussy salesgirl from across the street. This does NOT end well.

Is it a romance? I would say yes. It is perhaps a slow-moving romance. But once the romance starts, it really gets started. If I'd read this as a young teen, I'm sure I would have read my copy until it was battered and falling apart.

Quotes:

Mouret describes himself:

'What! Do I enjoy myself! What's this nonsense you're saying? You're in a sorry state! Of course I enjoy myself, even when things go wrong, because then I'm furious at seeing them go wrong. I'm a passionate fellow; I don't take life calmly, and perhaps that's just why I'm interested in it.' (67)
Mouret's potential investor makes an observation about the Paradise:

'You sell cheaply in order to sell a lot and you sell a lot in order to sell cheaply....But you must sell, and I repeat my question: whom will you sell to? How do you hope to keep up such colossal sales? (74)
Mouret on selling:
"You can sell as much as you like when you know how to sell! There lies our success." (75) 
If he could have found a way of making the street run right through his shop, he would have done so. (236)
One of the customers:
You're right, there's no system in this shop. You lose your way, and do all sorts of silly things. (260)
Mouret on life and love:
'Of course, I've never lived so intensely...Ah! Don't laugh, old man, the moments when you seem to die of suffering are the briefest of all!' (322)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America

Alexander Hamilton:The Hero Who Helped Shape America. 2017. Harry Abrams. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:  On a mild summer morning just after dawn, two men met on the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Premise/plot: Teri Kanefield has written a biography of Alexander Hamilton for children. (I'd say the intended audience was the eight to twelve age group.) In a way, the book is both a biography of a man, Alexander Hamilton, and a nation, the newly formed United States of America. How did Alexander Hamilton help shape America? What legacy did he leave behind him? Are his ideas still impacting and influencing our nation and our politics today?

My thoughts: I love HAMILTON. I would recommend this one to any fan of the musical. It is well-written and researched, and the pacing is great. It's a quick read. Books like this one give nonfiction a good reputation. Where were books like this when I was a kid?!?!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Currently Reading #8


Something Old
Mary Barton. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1848. 437 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]

Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]

Something New
How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. 2018. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Long Way Down. Jason Reynolds. 2017. [October 24] 320 pages. [Source: Library]
 Something Borrowed

The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola. 1883/2012. Oxford University Press. 438 pages. [Source: Library]
When Tides Turn. (Waves of Freedom #3) Sarah Sundin. 2017. Revell. 285 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True 

NASB Quick Study Bible. 2006. Thomas Nelson. 1920 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Soul's Conflict with Itself and Victory Over Itself By Faith. Richard Sibbes. 328 pages. [Source: Bought]

Biblical Theology: How the Church Faithfully Teaches the Gospel. Nick Roark and Robert Cline. 2018. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification. Thomas R. Schreiner. 2015. 284 pages. [Source: Bought]
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Week in Review: February 11-17

Favorite book of the week:

Book Reviews:
Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy. Laurel Snyder. Illustrated by Emily Hughes. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
Buster and the Baby. Amy Hest. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. 2017. [October 24, 2017] Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Gorilla Did It. Barbara Shook Hazen. Illustrated by Ray Cruz. 1974. 32 pages. [Source: Childhood copy]
Shake the Tree. Chiara Vignocchi. Paolo Chiarinotti. Silvia Borando. 2018. Candlewick Press. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Make and Play Easter. Joey Chou. Nosy Crow. 2018. 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Jane Austen at Home. Lucy Worsley. 2017. 387 pages. [Source: LIBRARY]So Big. Edna Ferber. 1924/2005. Kessinger Publishing. 376 pages. [Source: Library] 
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Derrick Barnes. Illustrated by Gordon C. James. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Kings and Queens of Britain: A Victorian Mneumonic or Learning Verse. New lines by Frances Barnes-Murphy. Illustrated by Rowan Barnes-Murphy. 1996. 40 pages. [Source: Bought]
John Bunyan's A Pilgrim's Progress. Geraldine McCaughrean. Illustrated by Jason Cockcroft. 1999/2005. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
The Sea Before Us. (Sunrise at Normandy #1) Sarah Sundin. 2018. Revell. 375 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Moment of Truth. Steven J. Lawson. 2018. Reformation Trust. 238 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Features:
My Victorian Year #7 (Becky's Book Reviews)
Keep It Short #7
Me? Listen to Audio?! #6
Currently #7
My Victorian Year #7 (Operation Actually Read Bible)
True or False with Steven Lawson

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Victorian Year #7

I'm continuing to make some progress in each of my three Victorian novels.

The one I must finish first is The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola. I had not realized the due date for this inter-library loan was so soon! I have now read over half the book. Most of that being read in one day. Having something that good to read helped me get over my increasing frustration at the lack of figure skating coverage at the Olympics.

I have two quotes to share with you. In the first, Mouret describes himself:
'What! Do I enjoy myself! What's this nonsense you're saying? You're in a sorry state! Of course I enjoy myself, even when things go wrong, because then I'm furious at seeing them go wrong. I'm a passionate fellow; I don't take life calmly, and perhaps that's just why I'm interested in it.' (67)
In the second, Mouret's potential investor makes an observation about the Paradise:
'You sell cheaply in order to sell a lot and you sell a lot in order to sell cheaply....But you must sell, and I repeat my question: whom will you sell to? How do you hope to keep up such colossal sales? (74)
Mouret's answer, of course, is to sell to WOMEN. "You can sell as much as you like when you know how to sell! There lies our success." (75)

Mary Barton. I've read a few chapters this week. I would love to finish it this month as well.
It is the woes that cannot in any earthly way be escaped that admit least earthly comforting. Of all trite, worn-out, hollow mockeries of comfort that were ever uttered by people who will not take the trouble of sympathising with others, the one I dislike the most is the exhortation not to grieve over an event, "for it cannot be helped."
I mourn because what has occurred cannot be helped. The reason you give me for not grieving, is the very sole reason of my grief.
Oh! surest way of conversion to our faith, whatever it may be— regarding either small things, or great—when it is beheld as the actuating principle, from which we never swerve! When it is seen that, instead of overmuch profession, it is worked into the life, and moves every action!
Oh! how often I've been hurt, by being coldly told by persons not to trouble myself about their care, or sorrow, when I saw them in great grief, and wanted to be of comfort.
Our Lord Jesus was not above letting folk minister to Him, for He knew how happy it makes one to do aught for another. It's the happiest work on earth.
 Orley Farm. Oops! I didn't read a single chapter in that book this week. Oh well.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Keep It Short #7

I have read two L.M. Montgomery short stories this week. Both were good. One was fantastic.

A Soul That Was Not At Home

First sentence: There was a very fine sunset on the night Paul and Miss Trevor first met, and she had lingered on the headland beyond Noel's Cove to delight in it.

Premise/plot: Miss Trevor meets a young imaginative boy, Paul, who is being raised near the shore by his single father. His best company is his father and the ROCK PEOPLE he meets daily--or near daily. Miss Trevor is charmed and wants to adopt him, but, can Paul leave the shore behind him? Or would Nora and the other rock people miss him too much. (His 'father' is not his biological father, more of a foster father.)

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this first glimpse of Paul. He is not quite the same Paul Irving we later meet in Anne of Avonlea or the same Paul that would come back to visit in Anne's House of Dreams. But you can recognize this story as being the birth of him. Miss Trevor is not of any great importance. She is no Anne Shirley or Miss Lavendar.

Abel and His Great Adventure

First sentence: "Come out of doors, master—come out of doors. I can't talk or think right with walls around me—never could. Let's go out to the garden." These were almost the first words I ever heard Abel Armstrong say. He was a member of the board of school trustees in Stillwater, and I had not met him before this late May evening, when I had gone down to confer with him upon some small matter of business. For I was "the new schoolmaster" in Stillwater, having taken the school for the summer term.

Premise/plot: A young school master learns life-lessons from an old soul, Abel Armstrong. The two meet together often in his garden.

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. Abel Armstrong relates most clearly and strongly to Captain Jim from Anne's House of Dreams. 

Quotes:
This man had given up much and felt it deeply; but he had outlived the pain and the blessing of sacrifice had come to him.
"Now, you needn't talk if you don't want to," he said. "And I won't. We'll just sit here, sociable like, and if we think of anything worth while to say we'll say it. Otherwise, not. If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and feel comfortable, you and that person can be friends. If you can't, friends you'll never be, and you needn't waste time in trying."
"Great place for dreaming," said Abel complacently. "Being young, no doubt, you dream a-plenty." I answered hotly and bitterly that I had done with dreams. "No, you haven't," said Abel meditatively. "You may think you have. What then? First thing you know you'll be dreaming again—thank the Lord for it. I ain't going to ask you what's soured you on dreaming just now. After awhile you'll begin again, especially if you come to this garden as much as I hope you will. It's chockful of dreams—any kind of dreams. You take your choice. Now, I favour dreams of adventures, if you'll believe it. I'm sixty-one and I never do anything rasher than go out cod-fishing on a fine day, but I still lust after adventures. Then I dream I'm an awful fellow—blood-thirsty."
Abel shook his head. "I had a dog once. I cared so much for him that when he died I couldn't bear the thought of ever getting another in his place. He was a friend—you understand? The Captain's only a pal. I'm fond of the Captain—all the fonder because of the spice of deviltry there is in all cats. But I loved my dog. There isn't any devil in a good dog. That's why they're more lovable than cats—but I'm darned if they're as interesting."
Do you think any man could keep mad if he sat and looked into the heart of a pansy for ten minutes? When you feel like talking, I'll talk, and when you feel like thinking, I'll let you. I'm a great hand to leave folks alone.
You're young and I'm old, but our souls are about the same age, I reckon, and we'll find lots to say to each other.
Pain should not depress us unduly, nor pleasure lure us into forgetfulness and sloth.
Abel used to say. "My father held that we should never talk of things we couldn't understand. But, lord, master, if we didn't the subjects for conversation would be mighty few."
Life may be a vale of tears, all right, master, but there are some folks who enjoy weeping, I reckon.
But when I reached the arbour I saw that he was not asleep. There was a strange, wise little smile on his lips as if he had attained to the ultimate wisdom and were laughing in no unkindly fashion at our old blind suppositions and perplexities. Abel had gone on his Great Adventure.
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Me? Listen to Audio? #6

Here's what I listened to this week.

Moll Flanders. Daniel Defoe. Adapted by Nick Perry. Starring Ben Miles as Daniel Defoe and Jessica Hynes as Moll Flanders.Two episodes, an hour each.

I read Moll Flanders in college during my undergraduate years. I enjoyed it then, perhaps because it was the exact opposite of the types of classics I'd been assigned to read in high school--in particular, Robinson Crusoe. I have no doubt it would fail to meet my standards today in terms of content. Moll Flanders is the story of a fallen woman. She was abandoned by her mother, raised in poverty, manages somehow, someway to get into service, is seduced by her master's son, marries the other master's son....long story short. It's a tangled tale. Perhaps the low point is when Moll realizes she's married to her brother and has had several of his children. Perhaps. There are actually many low points. This adaptation portrays Daniel Defoe having writer's block. He's stumped for what to write and publish next after the success of Robinson Crusoe. He meets a prostitute, gets inspired, and uses her as his muse for his next book. If I wouldn't read it again--because of smut levels--why would I listen to it? Well. I blame it solely on Ben Miles. I adore him.

Brothers Karamazov. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dramatized by Melissa Murray. Directed by Marc Beeby and Colin Guthrie. Starring Roy Marsden as Fyodor Karamazov. Five one hour episodes.

I listened to the first episode this week. I haven't gotten to the other episodes yet. But I need to do better about listening because I am running out of time!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Derrick Barnes. Illustrated by Gordon C. James. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When it's your turn in the chair, you stand at attention and forget about who you were when you walked through that door. You came in as a lump of clay, a blank canvas, a slab of marble. But when my man is done with you, they'll want to post you up in a museum! 

Premise/plot: A young boy--a man in the making--talks about the pride and happiness he feels every time he walks into and out of a barber shop. 

My thoughts: This past Monday, Crown got a lot of love on awards day. How much love? A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. A Coretta Scott King Author Honor. A Caldecott Honor. A Newbery Honor. I had actually noticed this one at the library on display, picked it up and turned a few pages, and put it back down a few days before. So I can't boast that I knew about the book before it won all the glory.

My recommendation: Before you read a single word of this one, read the author's note. But if you can't help reading it cover-to-cover, at the very least don't skip the author's note. I had never really thought of the picture book format as being a place for a coming-of-age story, but after reading this one, I see that it can be.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

So Big

So Big. Edna Ferber. 1924/2005. Kessinger Publishing. 376 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Until he was almost ten the name stuck to him.

Premise/plot: So Big won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924. After her father's death, Selina Peake, the novel's heroine, becomes a school teacher in the High Prairie of Illinois. The settlement is mostly--if not exclusively--Dutch Reformed. That first winter she begins teaching a young farmer, Pervus DeJong, in the evenings. They fall in love and marry. A year later they have a son, Dirk, who is nicknamed "So Big" when he's a toddler. Most of the novel focuses on what happens to this mother and son after Pervus dies. Selina has grit, determination, and smarts. But will it be enough to thrive in the world? Selina's driving ambition: make it possible for Dirk to have a better life than hers with more opportunities for success and happiness.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one in parts and pieces. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the book actually had an ending. Whether or not the ending was happy or sad, I need books to have a proper ending...and not just end with a character taking a nap, or trying to take a nap.

As for the writing, it was okay for me. I didn't find it "rollicking" or "stunning" or "brilliant" or "unforgettable." Perhaps there should be a law that I never read back covers.

Quotes:
Except you stop living you can't run away from life. (77)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Kings & Queens of Britain

Kings and Queens of Britain: A Victorian Mneumonic or Learning Verse. New lines by Frances Barnes-Murphy. Illustrated by Rowan Barnes-Murphy. 1996. 40 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: William the Conqueror long did reign/ William Rufus by an arrow was slain/ Henry I was a scholar bright/ Stephen was king without any right/

Premise/plot: This is a picture book adaptation of a Victorian mneumonic verse that has been updated by Frances Barnes-Murphy. The purpose of the original--and of the update--is to aid in the memorization of the kings and queens. Each monarch has his or her own page. The line of the poem about that monarch is on the top of the page. Facts--or opinions--about each monarch further litter the heavily illustrated pages. I could find no original author or source. I believe there are variations. I've included the original below, but NOT the updated text which is new.
William the Conqueror long did reign,
William, his son, by an arrow was slain;
Henry the First was a scholar bright;
Stephen was king without any right.
Henry the Second, Plantagenet's scion;
Richard the First was as brave as a lion;
John, though a tyrant, the Charter signed;
Henry the Third had a weakly mind.
Edward the First conquered Cambria dales;
Edward the Second was born Prince of Wales;
Edward the Third humbled France in its pride;
Richard the Second in prison died.
Henry the Fourth for himself took the crown;
Henry the Fifth pulled the French king down;
Henry the Sixth lost his father's gains.
Edward of York laid hold of the reins;
Edward the Fifth was killed with his brother;
Richard the Third soon made way for another.
Henry the Seventh was frugal of means;
Henry the Eighth had a great many queens.
Edward the Sixth reformation began;
Cruel Queen Mary prevented the plan.
Wise and profound were Elizabeth's aims.
England and Scotland were joined by King James.
Charles found the people a cruel corrector;
Oliver Cromwell was called Lord Protector;
Charles the Second was hid in an oak,
James the Second took Popery's yoke.
William and Mary were offered the throne,
Anne succeeded and reigned alone.
George the First from Hanover came;
George the Second kept up the name;
George the Third was loved in the land,
George the Fourth was pompous and grand,
William the Fourth had no heir of his own,
So Queen Victoria ascended the throne.
My thoughts: I'll be honest. I am fairly confident I know my Kings and Queens in order. I'd much rather be quizzed on that than on the order of American presidents. More honesty for you: I'm glad the days of pop quizzes are over for me.

I wanted to really love this one. I did. But. The illustrations are HORRIBLE. And not in a horrible history way. Someone should have told the author/illustrator/publisher that more isn't always better. In fact, sometimes it's much, much worse. The problem for me is the layout is so cluttered, so busy. The font choice is difficult to read. The font is printed often in curves and waves instead of a straight line. Sometimes the font is printed in the wrong direction altogether.

The text itself was enjoyable. Just not the layout or design.


© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Jane Austen at Home

Jane Austen at Home. Lucy Worsley. 2017. 387 pages. [Source: LIBRARY]
First sentence: The world of Jane Austen's novels, seen in countless feature films, is domestic, well-ordered and snug. Her characters inhabit neat, genteel cottages, gentleman-like country mansions, and elegant townhouses in London or Bath. And her life is often seen through the same lens.

Premise/plot: Lucy Worsley examines Jane Austen's life through the lens of the homes she lived and the domestic circles she was a part of. Worsley writes, "For Jane, home was a perennial problem. Where could she afford to live? Amid the many domestic duties of an unmarried daughter and aunt, how could she find the time to write? Where could she keep her manuscripts safe? A home of her own must have seemed to Jane to be always just out of reach. With only a tiny stash of capital hard earned by her writing, the death of her father forced her into a makeshift life in rented lodgings, or else shunted between the relations who used her as cheap childcare. It's not surprising, then, that the search for a home is an idea that's central to Jane's fiction."

The book focuses on her Austen's personal and professional life. She pays careful attention to both, taking careful consideration of the details and what they might show us today about her life. While the main focus is on Austen, some attention is also given to her fictional creations and the homes they lived in.

My thoughts: I would describe this one as personal but not presumptuous. I think it makes for compelling reading. I appreciated the amount of detail included. These are things that most biographies would spend very little--if any--time discussing and considering.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Currently reading #7

Something Old
Mary Barton. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1848. 437 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]

Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]

Something New

The Sea Before Us. (Sunrise at Normandy #1) Sarah Sundin. 2018. Revell. 375 pages. [Source: Review copy]

How To Stop Time. Matt Haig. 2018. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola. 1883/2012. Oxford University Press. 438 pages. [Source: Library]
So Big. Edna Ferber. 1924/2005. Kessinger Publishing. 376 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True

NASB Quick Study Bible. 2006. Thomas Nelson. 1920 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Moment of Truth. Steven J. Lawson. 2018. Reformation Trust. 238 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification. Thomas R. Schreiner. 2015. 284 pages. [Source: Bought]
© 2018 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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