Friday, October 31, 2014

October Reflections

In October, I read 52 books.

Board books, picture books, early readers:

  1. The Midnight Library. Kazuno Kohara. 2014. Roaring Brook. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. Say Hello Like This! Mary Murphy. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. The Good-Pie Party. Elizabeth Garton Scanlon. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. 2014.Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. My Pet Book. Bob Staake. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. A Bunny in the Ballet. Robert Beck. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  6. Frances Dean Who Loved To Dance and Dance. Birgitta Sif. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]   
  7. Druthers. Matt Phelan. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  8. Alexander, Who's Trying His Best To Be The Best Boy Ever. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Isidre Mones. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. The Way to the Zoo. John Burningham. 2014. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  10. The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. Petr Horacek. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]    
  11. Can You Say It Too? Roar! Roar! Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  12. Can You Say It Too? Growl! Growl!  Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  13. Open Wide. Stephen Krensky. Illustrated by James Burks. 2014. Scholastic. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  14. Bizzy Bear's Big Building Book. Benji Davies. 2014. Candlewick. 8 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. West of the Moon. Margi Preus. 2014. Abrams. 224 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. The Right Fight. Chris Lynch. 2014. Scholastic. 192 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle. George Hagen. 2014. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  5. Grave Mercy. Robin LaFevers. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 560 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Sky Jumpers. Peggy Eddleman. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  7. Howl's Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones. 1986. 336 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  8. Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (And Their Noses) Save The World. Nancy F. Castaldo. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  9. The Case of the Stolen Sixpence. Holly Webb. Illustrated by Marion Lindsay. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  10. The Only Thing To Fear. Caroline Tung Richmond. 2014. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2) Peggy Eddleman. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  12. A Creature of Moonlight. Rebecca Hahn. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 313 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  13. The Madman of Piney Woods. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2014. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  14. The Magic Half. Annie Barrows. 2007. Bloomsbury. 212 pages. [Source: Library] 
  15. Magic in the Mix. Annie Barrows. 2014. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  16. The Orphan and the Mouse. Martha Freeman. Illustrated by David McPhail. 2014. Holiday House. 220 pages. [Source: Library] 
  17. Thursdays with the Crown. (Castle Glower #3) Jessica Day George. 2014. Bloomsbury. 224 pages. 
Adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. An Autobiography. Agatha Christie. 1977/1996. Berkley. 635 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  2. Children in the Holocaust: Their Secret Diaries. Laurel Holliday, ed. 1996. 432 pages. [Source: Library]  
  3. Silver Like Dust. Kimi Cunningham Grant. 2012. Pegasus. 288 pages. [Source: Library] 
  4. Frankenstein. Mary Shelley. 1818/1831. Oxford World's Classics. 250 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  5. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition. Jane Austen. 1975. Penguin. 211 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  6. A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]
  7. Dancers in Mourning. Margery Allingham. 1937. 337 pages. [Source: Bought]
  8. The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) Robert Jordan. 1990. Tor. 814 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  9. All Clear. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 645 pages. [Source: Bought]
Christian fiction and nonfiction: 
  1. The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom. With John and Elizabeth Sherrill. 1971/1984/1995. Chosen. 228 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  3. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. J.I. Packer. 1961/1991. IVP. 126 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. The Wall Around Your Heart: How Jesus Heals You When Others Hurt You. Mary DeMuth. 2013. Thomas Nelson. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  5. Key Words of the Christian Life. Warren W. Wiersbe. 2002. Baker Books. 130 pages. [Source: Bought]
  6. The Adventure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions. Lisa Whelchel. Illustrated by Jeannie Mooney. 2004. Multnomah Books. 72 pages. [Source: Library] 
  7. When Love Calls. (The Gregory Sisters #1) Lorna Seilstad. 2013. Revell. 338 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  8. While Love Stirs. Lorna Seilstad. 2014. Revell. 341 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  9. Loving Jesus More. Philip Graham Ryken. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Crossway.]  
  10. Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (A Devotional Biography). James Bryan Smith. 2000. B&H. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]
  11. Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word. George H. Guthrie. 2011. B&H Books. 338 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  12. A Bride in Store. Melissa Jagears. 2014. Bethany House. 363 pages. [Source: Review copy]
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Reread #44 Frankenstein

Frankenstein. Mary Shelley. 1818/1831. Oxford World's Classics. 250 pages. [Source: Bought]

Almost every time I read it, I focus on something new, something that I might have missed, something that I hadn't considered before. I thought I would share my observations with you instead of a traditional review.

Stories. Frankenstein is a story within a story. But it's more than that. It's a text that utilizes stories and storytelling even within that framework. The first story, of course, is the one Robert Walton is communicating to his sister, Margaret, through letters. After the first few letters, Walton stops being so introspective and focuses on telling someone else's story. Victor Frankenstein's story. This is written in the letters in first person, as if Victor himself were telling the story--sharing it. Within that big story, are dozens of little stories. The story of how his parents met. The story of his birth and childhood. The story of how Elizabeth was adopted. The story of how he became interested in science. The story of his mother's death. The story of his going away to university. The story of his madness--his obsession--and how he came to create life. The story of his sickness and recovery. The story of his learning about his brother's death/murder. The story of Justine. You get the idea. Each story is crafted and shaped. These stories are how he sees himself and the world, his place in it. Some of the stories are personal and a vital part of the plot. Other stories are more like asides. But this isn't Victor's story alone. Midway through the book, readers learn the creature's story. Even though this is written in first person though the eyes of the creature--the monster--the words are for better or worse being filtered through Victor Frankenstein's memory. He's telling what the monster said. He's telling what the monster heard. And Robert Walton is then passing along Frankenstein's story of the events and conversations. The creature is a storyteller as well. He recalls his life, his memories, his desires and needs. But he also focuses in particular on one family, one French family living in exile. This section has multiple stories. Including one focusing on a young woman. Though it may seem like an aside to readers, the stories matter very much to the narrator, the creature. The stories are providing for him a framework of the world, of how it works, of what life and love are all about. The stories resonate with the creature. He has seen love. He has seen family. He has seen fellowship and community. Because he has seen this, he feels the lack of it in his own life. But it isn't just the unfolding story that he personally witnesses. He is also shaped by the stories--the words--in the books he oh-so-conveniently is able to read. Words and stories matter. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the stories we share with others, they all matter. For example, I think the story the creature told himself over and over and over again was it is all Victor's fault. He made me. He gave me life. He made me this ugly, this revolting. He made me this large and strong. He left me--he abandoned me. He didn't love me. He never loved me. He rejected me. He made it so everyone would reject me. Why does everyone reject me? It's his fault. It's all his fault. He made me have killing-hands. He made me have killing-thoughts. He didn't show me a better way. He didn't teach me. He didn't raise me. I had to learn everything all by myself. It is his fault. I'm not responsible. Why would I be? It is his fault! If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be so miserable, so alone, so full of angst. I wouldn't feel pain or hunger or thirst. I wouldn't feel at all. The monster has his Job moments. One last thing, Victor Frankenstein speaks of the power of words, of persuasion. He warns that the creature has a way with words, that he can manipulate people by his persuasiveness. He warns Walton not to let himself be manipulated by the creature's story--his words and pleas. Is there any truth to this? Is the creature trying to masquerade himself as an angel of light? His actions say one thing: he's a killer, a murderer, he premeditates at least some of his crimes. His words say another: no one loves me, everyone runs from me, it's all HIS fault.

Questions. It's hard to read Frankenstein without questions. Who is the real monster? Who should be held responsible? Is there anyone who shouldn't be held responsible? Why is human life valued so little by ego-obsessed people? Why does Walton idolize Frankenstein?

Victor Frankenstein, Robert Walton, and the creature share a few things in common. They are introspective, moody, obsessed, and lonely. True, there are differences in their obsessions. Robert Walton is obsessed with glory, with adventure, with discovering the Northwest Passage. Walton has spent years if not decades obsessed with the North Pole, with the arctic regions. This started as a boy with books, with stories and words. His dream shifted slightly for a brief period of time when he wanted to be a poet, but, ultimately he came back to his first love. He didn't give up his poetic personality/nature however. Victor Frankenstein is first obsessed with science, with electricity, with creating life. This playing God leads to no good--it leads to madness and murder. I believe the madness started long before he was successful. I have never understood how he could piece together this creature--this eight-foot creature--and it is only when he is alive that he realizes that it is monstrous and ugly and unnatural and threatening. Why make it eight-feet? Why make it so unhuman? Regardless, having created life, he then becomes obsessed with destroying it--with murdering his demon-creation, his monster. His only reason to live is to track down and kill the monster. The monster's obsession? Well, he's driven by anger and pain. He wants to HURT Frankenstein. He is acting out, having murderous temper-tantrums all to get the attention of the one who gave him life, his father, his creator. He wants what he can't have. He wants love and acceptance. He wants to belong. He wants companionship and family. He wants to be happy. He wants to be treated fairly and humanely. He doesn't want to be judged based on appearances. He taunts and haunts his creator. He wants Frankenstein to be just as miserable and desperate as he is.

Quotes:

Robert Walton meets Victor Frankenstein:
In the morning, however, as soon as it was light, I went upon deck and found all the sailors busy on one side of the vessel, apparently talking to someone in the sea. It was, in fact, a sledge, like that we had seen before, which had drifted towards us in the night on a large fragment of ice. Only one dog remained alive; but there was a human being within it whom the sailors were persuading to enter the vessel. He was not, as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but a European. When I appeared on deck the master said, "Here is our captain, and he will not allow you to perish on the open sea." On perceiving me, the stranger addressed me in English, although with a foreign accent. "Before I come on board your vessel," said he, "will you have the kindness to inform me whither you are bound?" You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a question addressed to me from a man on the brink of destruction and to whom I should have supposed that my vessel would have been a resource which he would not have exchanged for the most precious wealth the earth can afford. I replied, however, that we were on a voyage of discovery towards the northern pole. Upon hearing this he appeared satisfied and consented to come on board. Good God! Margaret, if you had seen the man who thus capitulated for his safety, your surprise would have been boundless. His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so wretched a condition. We attempted to carry him into the cabin, but as soon as he had quitted the fresh air he fainted. We accordingly brought him back to the deck and restored him to animation by rubbing him with brandy and forcing him to swallow a small quantity. As soon as he showed signs of life we wrapped him up in blankets and placed him near the chimney of the kitchen stove. By slow degrees he recovered and ate a little soup, which restored him wonderfully. Two days passed in this manner before he was able to speak, and I often feared that his sufferings had deprived him of understanding. When he had in some measure recovered, I removed him to my own cabin and attended on him as much as my duty would permit. I never saw a more interesting creature: his eyes have generally an expression of wildness, and even madness, but there are moments when, if anyone performs an act of kindness towards him or does him any the most trifling service, his whole countenance is lighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolence and sweetness that I never saw equalled. But he is generally melancholy and despairing, and sometimes he gnashes his teeth, as if impatient of the weight of woes that oppresses him.
 Robert shares his big, big dream with Victor:
I was easily led by the sympathy which he evinced to use the language of my heart, to give utterance to the burning ardour of my soul and to say, with all the fervour that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race. At first I perceived that he tried to suppress his emotion; he placed his hands before his eyes, and my voice quivered and failed me as I beheld tears trickle fast from between his fingers; a groan burst from his heaving breast. I paused; at length he spoke, in broken accents: "Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!"

And so it begins...
Yesterday the stranger said to me, "You may easily perceive, Captain Walton, that I have suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes. I had determined at one time that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won me to alter my determination. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been. I do not know that the relation of my disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may direct you if you succeed in your undertaking and console you in case of failure. He then told me that he would commence his narrative the next day when I should be at leisure. This promise drew from me the warmest thanks. I have resolved every night, when I am not imperatively occupied by my duties, to record, as nearly as possible in his own words, what he has related during the day. If I should be engaged, I will at least make notes. This manuscript will doubtless afford you the greatest pleasure; but to me, who know him, and who hear it from his own lips—with what interest and sympathy shall I read it in some future day! Even now, as I commence my task, his full-toned voice swells in my ears; his lustrous eyes dwell on me with all their melancholy sweetness; I see his thin hand raised in animation, while the lineaments of his face are irradiated by the soul within. Strange and harrowing must be his story, frightful the storm which embraced the gallant vessel on its course and wrecked it—thus!
I've reviewed Frankenstein several times in the past. 2007. 2009. 2010. 2011

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

West of the Moon (2014)

West of the Moon. Margi Preus. 2014. Abrams. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Margi Preus' West of the Moon. Astri and her younger sister, Greta, have been left in the care of their aunt and uncle. Their father has gone to America. If all goes well, he will send for them. But their aunt and uncle aren't thrilled to have two additional mouths to feed, to put it kindly. The novel opens with the aunt selling Astri to a stranger, a goat farmer. Her time as his servant is unpleasant, horrible in fact. But she's planning an escape. Not just an escape, but a rescue mission too. She is planning on escaping, rescuing her sister, and somehow, someway, making it to America to find their father. Ambitious, yes, very much so. But Astri is resilient, strong, and determined.

The novel is titled West of the Moon. Throughout the book, Astri makes comparisons between her own life--her own miserable life--and fairy tales or folk tales. The one she uses most often is East of the Sun and West of the Moon. But there are other references as well.

West of the Moon is a historical coming of age story. It is a tale of survival. Astri is many things, as I've mentioned, but she's not perfect. Throughout the entire book, Astri is put into difficult situations, and sometimes a choice is required of her. Choices that will ultimately have consequences. Astri's decisions give readers something to think about perhaps.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gabriel Finley & The Raven's Riddle (2014)

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle. George Hagen. 2014. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

I would say I enjoyed Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, but, I'm not sure enjoyed is the right word. It kept me reading. I found it hard to put down. I wanted to know what happened next. Even if part of me didn't want to know. The book is creepy, or middle grade creepy which may or may not be satisfying enough for adult readers. There are ravens and valravens (vampire ravens), owls, robins, and perhaps a handful of other birds. Some working for good, some working for evil. There is some mythology and world-building. Gabriel Finley is the hero. This is his coming-of-age story. He's being raised by an aunt. She's strange and secretive and NEVER talks about his parents--well, in particular his father. As his birthday approaches, he begins to find out a bit about his family's past for better or worse. Turns out his father and uncle are a bit different or unique. Turns out he is different too. He can understand birds--ravens. He can hear them talking in his mind. Their is one in particular that is apparently destined to be his best friend, his other half.

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is part coming of age novel and part adventure-quest-fantasy. The quest is both to save his father AND to save the world. All adventure quest stories have friends who help. Gabriel has several that he lets in on the secret. Abby and Pamela. And then there is Somes, a sometimes bully that just happens to come along at the right time to fall into this adventure.

I wanted to know what happened next. But at the same time, this one irritated and annoyed me. The hero didn't always seem so bright and clever.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Right Fight (2014)

The Right Fight. Chris Lynch. 2014. Scholastic. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

 I enjoyed Chris Lynch's The Right Fight. Roman, the protagonist, loves, loves, LOVES baseball. But he loves his country even more. That is why he enlisted even before America entered the war--the second world war. The book chronicles his early experiences in the war as a tank driver. Readers see him through training, war games, and going overseas, his various assignments and missions. (Most of the book sees him in North Africa). Readers experience it from his point of view and from a few letters as well. One sees how his fellow soldiers--the men in his tank specifically--form a family. One also sees the many (often-ugly) sides of war.

I enjoyed this one. I thought there was a good balance of action (war) and characterization. I liked getting to know Roman, his fiancee, his war buddies.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Children in the Holocaust and World War II

Children in the Holocaust: Their Secret Diaries. Laurel Holliday, ed. 1996. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries is an almost must-read in my opinion. It is incredibly compelling and emotional. Memoirs are great. They are. I have loved many autobiographies and biographies. But diaries are a bit unique. They tend to stay in the moment; there is a rawness perhaps in the emotions. They capture specific moments in time. They record the best and worst and everything in between. These diary entries are well worth reading.
These children's diaries are testimonies to the fact that telling the truth about violence is not harmful. In fact, one wonders how much greater harm these boys and girls would have suffered had they not written about the horrific events they were experiencing. Far more dangerous than reading about atrocities, I believe, is the pretense that atrocities do not occur. To turn our eyes away and refuse to see, or to let children see, what prejudice and hatred lead to is truly to warp our collective psyche. It is important for all of us--adults and children alike--to acknowledge the depths to which humankind can sink. The children teach us, by sharing their own direct experience of oppression, that nothing is more valuable than human freedom. This lesson alone is reason enough to read and to encourage children to read, these diaries.
This book gathers together diary entries from twenty-two writers. The countries represented include: Poland, Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, England, Israel, and Denmark. Seven of the twenty-two writers are from Poland. Some writers survived the war. Others did not. I believe that all of these entries have been previously published in some format, in at least one language. The listed age refers to the writer's age for the first diary entry printed in the book. This book provides excerpts from diaries. None of the diaries, I believe, are reprinted in full. These excerpts represent the diaries as a whole, and provide a bigger picture for understanding the war.
  • Janine Phillips, Poland, 10 years old
  • Ephraim Shtenkler, Poland, 11 years old
  • Dirk Van der Heide, Holland, 12 years old
  • Werner Galnick, Germany, 12 years old
  • Janina Heshele, Poland, 12 years old
  • Helga Weissova-Hoskova, Czechoslovakia, 12 years old
  • Dawid Rubinowicz, Poland, 12 years old
  • Helga Kinsky-Pollack, Austria, 13 years old
  • Eva Heyman, Hungary, 13 years old
  • Tamarah Lazerson, Lithuania, 13 years old
  • Yitskhok Rudashevski, Lithuania, 14 years old
  • Macha Rolnikas, Lithuania, 14 years old
  • Charlotte Veresova, Czechoslovakia, 14 years old
  • Mary Berg (pseudonym), Poland, 15 years old
  • Ina Konstantinova, Russia, 16 years old
  • Moshe Flinker, Belgium, 16 years old
  • Joan Wyndham, England, 16 years old
  • Hannah Senesh, Hungary and Israel, 17 years old
  • Sarah Fishkin, Poland, 17 years old
  • Kim Malthe-Bruun, Denmark, 18 years old
  • Colin Perry, England, 18 years old
  • The Unknown Brother and Sister of Lodz Ghetto, Poland, Unknown Age and 12 years old
I won't lie. This book is difficult to read. Difficult in terms of subject matter. It is an emotional experience. Readers are reading private diary entries. The entries capture the terror and horror of the times. They capture the uncertainty that almost all felt: will I survive? will I survive the day? will I survive the war? will my family? will my friends? will I witness their deaths? will I have ANY food to eat today? tomorrow? how much worse can it get? when will this all be over? will I be alive to see the end of the war? what if the Nazis win? The diaries capture facts and details. But they also capture feelings and reactions.
Shootings have now become very frequent at the ghetto exits. Usually they are perpetrated by some guard who wants to amuse himself. Every day, morning and afternoon, when I go to school, I am not sure whether I will return alive. I have to go past two of the most dangerous German sentry posts..., Mary Berg, February 27, 1942, p. 233
Dr. Janusz Korczak's children's home is empty now. A few days ago we all stood at the window and watched the Germans surround the houses. Rows of children, holding each other by their little hands, began to walk out of the doorway. There were tiny tots of two or three years among them, while the oldest ones were perhaps thirteen. Each child carried a little bundle in his hand. All of them wore white aprons. They walked in ranks of two, calm, and even smiling. They had not the slightest foreboding of their fate. At the end of the procession marched Dr. Korczak, who saw to it that the children did not walk on the sidewalk. Now and then, with fatherly solicitude, he stroked a child on the head or arm, and straightened out the ranks. He wore high boots, with his trousers stuck in them, an alpaca coat, and a navy-blue cap, the so-called Maciejowka cap. He walked with a firm step, and was accompanied by one of the doctors of the children's home, who wore his white smock. This sad procession vanished at the corner of Dzielna and Smocza Streets. They went in the direction of Gesia Street, to the cemetery. At the cemetery all the children were shot. We were also told by our informants that Dr. Korczak was forced to witness the executions, and that he himself was shot afterward. Thus died one of the purest and noblest men who ever lived. He was the pride of the ghetto. His children's home gave us courage, and all of us gladly gave part of our own scanty means to support the model home organized by this great idealist. He devoted all his life, all his creative work as an educator and writer, to the poor children of Warsaw. Even at the last moment he refused to be separated from them. ~ Mary Berg, August, 1942, p. 239
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in October


New Loot:
  • Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks  
  • Missing Pieces of Me by Jean Van Leeuwen
  • The Animals' Santa by Jan Brett
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas 
  • Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
  • On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells
  • The Mangle Street Murders by M.R.C. Kasasian
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.c. Benison
  • Claude at the Circus by Alex T. Smith
  • Claude at the Beach by Alex T. Smith
  • The Animals' Santa by Jan Brett
  • Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer
Leftover Loot:
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
  • Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
  • The Dark Lady by Irene Adler, translated by Chris Turner
  • 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
  • Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
  • The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer
  • A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • When Santa Fell To Earth by Cornelia Funke 
  • The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones
    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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Dancers in Mourning (1937)

Dancers in Mourning. Margery Allingham. 1937. 337 pages. [Source: Bought]
 When Mr. William Faraday sat down to write his memoirs after fifty-eight years of blameless inactivity he found the work of inscribing the history of his life almost as tedious as living it had been and so, possessing a natural invention coupled with a gift for locating the easier path, he began to prevaricate a little upon the second page, working up to downright lying on the sixth and subsequent folios.
The book appeared at eighteen-and-sixpence, with frontispiece, in nineteen thirty-four and would have passed into the limbo of the remainder lists with thousands of its prototypes had not the quality of one of the wilder anecdotes in the chapters dealing with an India the author had never seen earned it a place in the news columns of a Sunday paper.
This paragraph called the memoirs to the attention of a critic who had not permitted his eminence to impair his appreciation of the absurd, and in the review which he afterwards wrote he pointed out that the work was pure fiction, not to say fantasy, and was incidentally one of the funniest books of the decade.
The public agreed with the critic and at the age of sixty-one William Faraday, author of Memoirs of an Old Buffer (republished at seven-and-six, seventy-fourth thousand), found himself a literary figure.
I was disappointed with this vintage mystery. While I absolutely loved the opening pages, by the end I found the whole book to be a mess. I admit it could be a mood thing. As much as I wanted to like it, even love it, perhaps I didn't have the patience to remember the large cast of suspects. Or perhaps the problem is that the characters aren't well drawn enough, aren't unique enough, to distinguish between. There were three or four characters that I could remember. But for the others, it was who is she again? who is he again? how does he fit into the group again? where did she come from?

Albert Campion has been invited into the inner circle of Jimmy Sutane and his friends. Sutane is in show business--the theater. Uncle William is, I believe, a mutual friend? Regardless, Uncle William is one of Campion's closest friends in the book. Anyway, Sutane invites Campion to his country house. There are many, many people there. Mostly his guests are in show business too--in the same currently running production. But a few are in his employ or in his family. By the end of the day, tragedy will strike and one of the guests will be dead.

The main reason I found this book to be a complete mess is Albert Campion. He is a horrible detective in this one. Why? Because at the party, he falls madly, deeply in LOVE with Jimmy Sutane's wife. He believes that they share a meaningful moment. In fact, he gets so swept up in the moment...he finds himself almost rushing across the room and taking her in his arms. At least he doesn't do that. But. Regardless. His inappropriate interest in Linda--Jimmy's wife--keeps him from using his brain for hundreds of pages. He doesn't want the murder to be solved just in case the murderer is someone that she cares about, just in case bringing the murderer to justice would make her feel bad. It's RIDICULOUS.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week in Review: October 19-25

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]
Silver Like Dust. Kimi Cunningham Grant. 2012. Pegasus. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
Grave Mercy. Robin LaFevers. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 560 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2) Peggy Eddleman. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Magic in the Mix. Annie Barrows. 2014. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
While Love Stirs. Lorna Seilstad. 2014. Revell. 341 pages. [Source: Bought]
Loving Jesus More. Philip Graham Ryken. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Crossway.]
Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (A Devotional Biography). James Bryan Smith. 2000. B&H. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's favorite:

I love, love, LOVE Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite book published in 2014. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Reread #43 Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy. Robin LaFevers. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 560 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I have now read Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers three times. (The first review; the second review.) It is a book that is a pleasure to reread. (Not every book is.) I enjoy Grave Mercy because it is intriguing and compelling.

It is set in Brittany in the late 1480s. You can read more about the time period in which this historical novel is set. One of the central characters is Anne of Brittany. Some might feel it is heavy on politics, but, I enjoyed the politics and the tension.

I wish the author had included more, at the very least more real names. For example, instead of "king of England" or "England's king" I wish she'd named him: Henry VII. There were places she could have been more specific, grounded the book more into history. I'd have LOVED an author's note. I'd have also loved an indication of which characters were historical people and which weren't. 

Grave Mercy is not your traditional historical romance. (Well, now that I think about it. If Philippa Gregory can have witches and curses in her Cousins' War series, and be considered "historical" romance, then Grave Mercy might rightly be included as well.) For those that love, love, love romance, I think there is plenty of it in Grave Mercy. I think that is one of its most satisfying features. For those that love fantasy and/or mythology, I think it has some appeal as well. The heroine, Ismae, is Death's daughter and his handmaiden. She lives in a convent, of sorts, dedicated to serving Death. She is a trained assassin. She kills those that her lord (Death) has marked for death.

One of her assignments brings her close to Duval, the half-brother of Anne of Brittany. They share a common goal: to protect Anne, to protect Brittany. But she's been taught--trained--to trust no one, to love no one. So this assignment will test her certainly!

The book has plenty of action, drama, mystery, and politics.
"Are you drunk?" I try to put as much scorn into my words as he did.
"No. Yes. Perhaps a little. Definitely not enough." The bleakness is back and he turns to stare into the flames.
I am torn between wanting to leave him to wallow in his despair and wanting to rush to his side and chase that look from his eyes. That I long to do this appalls me, sets panic fluttering against my ribs.
"I suggest you return to your room," Duval says, his gaze still fixed woodenly on the fire. "Unless you have come to practice your lessons of seduction on me?" His mouth twists in bitter amusement. "That could well entertain me till sunrise."
I jerk my head back as if I have been slapped. "No, milord. I had thought only to pray for your soul if Madame Hivern had seen fit to poison you. Nothing more." And with that, I turn and flee the room, then bolt the door against the disturbing glimpse of both his soul and mine. Whatever games are being played here, he is master at them, and I will do well to remember that. (155)
"What is my fair assassin so afraid of? I wonder."
"I'm not afraid."
Duval tilts his head to the side. "No?" He studies me a long moment, then rises out of his chair. I hold my breath as he crosses to my bed. "Are you afraid I will draw closer, perhaps?" His voice is pitched low, little more than a purr. My breath catches in my throat, trapped by something I long to call fear but that doesn't feel like fear at all. (174)
His smile flashes, quick and surprising in the darkness. "When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice. I bid you good night." (218)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sky Jumpers: Forbidden Flats (2014)

The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2) Peggy Eddleman. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

In the first book, Sky Jumpers, readers are introduced to Hope, Aaren, and Brock. Three kids who risked their lives to save their community of White Rock. Bandits had come, threatened everyone, threatened to steal the drugs that keep them safe from a deadly plague. Against all odds, these three manage it all. They take risks. They take chances. They face the elements. They cling to hope. They think of the people they love whom they are trying to save. It's an intriguing, dramatic read.

In the second, Hope, Brock, and Aaren will have to do it all over again. The world-saving. Not from bandits, mind you. An earthquake has occurred. This quake changes their community. It opens up a crevice, I believe, that releases gases into the air which interact with the Bomb's Breath. Life as they knew it is over. The Bomb's Breath is dropping lower and lower and lower day by day. Within a month, their community will lose its healthy pocket of air. But there is a tiny bit of hope. One of the adults knows of a mineral (or metal?) that can counteract and reverse everything. Their town can be saved if a) they send a team to a far-away community in the Rocky mountains b) if the team is able to travel to the town and back within the time period c) if the trade goes well in the first place. They send adults. They send kids. It's a good thing they send kids. Their guide is Luke. And for better or worse, Luke seems to dominate most of this book. Luke and Hope. The book is their journey to and from. Will they be able to save White Rock?

Did I love The Forbbiden Flats as much as I loved the first novel in the series? No. Not really. I wanted to. I did. But I was a bit disappointed in the sequel.

As the title suggests, this one takes place almost exclusively out of the community of White Rock. As this group travels together new communities and settings are introduced. We get a glimpse here. We get a glimpse there. Nothing deep or substantive. Mainly what the book is about is Hope's newfound interest in rocks. Do you enjoy reading about a person who becomes passionately interested in rocks? I wasn't. The main relationship focus of this book is between Hope, the heroine, and Luke, the guide they hire. Hope's relationships with Brock and Aaren are less important, I'd say. Hope has struggled with belonging in her own community, and, I suppose this book is suggesting that maybe Hope will one day choose differently, that she may find where she belongs someplace out there.

So I said I was disappointed. That doesn't mean I hated it. That doesn't mean I disliked it. It means I didn't love, love, love it the same way as the first book.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Magic in the Mix (2014)

Magic in the Mix. Annie Barrows. 2014. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Magic in the Mix is the sequel to Magic Half. I enjoyed both Magic Half and Magic in the Mix. Both books star Miri, a middle child. In the first book, Magic Half, Miri travels back in time and "rescues" Molly, a girl living in 1935. Molly fits right in with Miri's family when the two return. In fact, Miri and Molly are the only two that remember Molly's true origin. To everyone else, Miri and Molly are twins. Molly has always been a part of their family. In the second book, Molly and Miri do more time traveling. First, they travel back in time to 1918. Molly recognizes her mother, Maudie, and her aunt, Flo. The two are teens. Flo sees Molly and Miri as unwelcome intruders--gypsies, she calls them. Maudie, on the other hand, while still thinking of them as gypsies, sees them as potential friends. Second, they travel back in time to the Civil War era. I'm not exactly sure the book names a year. If it does, I can't recall it. Here's where everything turns tricksy. Molly and Miri aren't the only ones doing time travel. (view spoiler)

I liked the book fine. However, there were several things that didn't charm me. I don't necessarily enjoy the family scenes. I don't know about the two youngest, but the oldest four children are irresponsible, disobedient, and disrespectful. All of the children are rude and insult one another. I didn't like some of the phrases they use. The children think absolutely nothing of lying and sneaking around. The dad. Has he had even a sentence or two in either book that could count as characterization? The mom. On the one hand, her children are always, always doing something they shouldn't be, and are very proud of the fact. But she seems to have only one tone: angry. The time travel also seemed even less realistic to me. I'm not sure how either girl managed to fool anyone in the Civil War era. (Rolling up your pants so they just see your T-shirt doesn't seem very a very authentic way of passing, even if you go the extra step and take off your glasses.)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Night Gardener (2014)

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite new book published in 2014. I loved so many things about it: the atmospheric setting, the creepy world-building, the storytelling, the writing, and the characterization. (Yes, those overlap, I imagine.) I could just say that I loved all the elements of this one; that I loved it absolutely from cover to cover. (Which does more justice for the book?)

Here's how the story opens. I'm curious if it will grab you like it did me!
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths. This, at least, was what Molly had been told by no fewer than a dozen people as they traveled from farm to farm in search of the Windsor estate.
I loved Molly and Kip. It wasn't that either protagonist was perfect. It was that I felt both were oh-so-human. These two do find the Windsor estate. And they do manage to stay on as help. Even though they don't necessarily receive wages--just room and board. This country estate is...well, I don't want to spoil it. But the people who warned them to stay away from the estate, from the sour woods, well they had good intentions. The book is creepy in all the right ways. It is a WONDERFUL read if you love rich, detailed storytelling.

I also loved Hester Kettle. She is the old woman--Kip thought she was a witch at first glance--who tells them the directions to the estate. She also proves to be a friend and kindred spirit. She is, like Molly, a story-teller.
Hester touched the button, "Funny things, wishes. You can't hold'em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world." She looked up at Molly. (214)
"You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: What marks the difference between the two?"
Agitated as she was, Molly couldn't help but consider the question. It was something she had asked herself in one form or another many times in her life. Still, Molly could tell the difference between the two as easily as she could tell hot from cold--a lie put a sting in her throat that made the words catch. It had been some time, however, since she had felt that sting. "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em."
"True enough! But helps them do what?" She wagged a finger. "That's the real question..." (214)
I loved the story. I loved the pacing. It was a great read!!! Definitely recommended!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Silver Like Dust

Silver Like Dust. Kimi Cunningham Grant. 2012. Pegasus. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Silver Like Dust focuses on the relationship of a grandmother and granddaughter. The author--the granddaughter--wants to strengthen her relationship with her grandmother. At the start, she feels like she barely knows her. She knows a few things, perhaps, but not in a real-enough way. For example, she knows that her grandmother spent world war 2 in an internment camp. She knows that that is where her grandparents met, and also where her uncle was born. But her grandmother has never talked about the past, about the war, about her growing-up years. In fact, her grandmother has always been a private, quiet person. So she focuses her attention and begins to do things intentionally. She sets out to get to know her grandmother, she sets out to get the story, the real story. The book isn't just telling readers about the grandmother's experiences in the 1940s. The book is telling readers about the process, the journey, to getting to the story. That was unique, I thought. Not every nonfiction book lets readers in behind the scenes. I also thought it kept the book personal. This is very much family history, taking an interest in your family, in the past, of making sense of it all.

I found it an interesting read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities (1854)

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]

I didn't love A Tale of Two Cities. Or should I say I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would OR even thought I would. A Tale of Two Cities is definitely a subject-driven novel. The focus, I would even say sole focus, is on the French Revolution. We meet individual characters within that setting, to make the French Revolution more personal, perhaps, but, in my opinion, Dickens characterization is not as strong in A Tale of Two Cities as it is in some of his other novels. That doesn't mean his characters are not memorable. In fact, I imagine that there are at least two or three characters in this one that are very memorable indeed. A Tale of Two Cities is also a very heavy novel thematically. It's just dark and oppressive. Dickens won't be bringing any smiles to readers in this one. Personally, I love it when Dickens makes me laugh!

The novel begins with a reunion. A daughter, Lucie Manette, learns that the father she has long presumed to be dead is, in fact, alive. His existence seems to be news to quite a few people. Lucie Manette and Mr. Jarvis Lorry travel to France from England to meet him and bring him back. The name of this section is "Recalled to Life." And it's a very fitting title, in my opinion. Lorry and Lucie never really learn the whole story, all the ugly details of the past. Seeing Lucie with her father reminded me--in a good way--of the relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette.

The second book, "The Golden Thread," introduces readers to Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These two men become very well known to Dr. Manette and his daughter. Both men love and admire her, as you would expect. But she can only love one of them, and, her heart belongs to Charles. Of course, this is a very simple summary!

The third book is "The Track of A Storm." Let's just say, Dickens can do bleakity-bleak. This book follows Charles Darnay into France during the early days of the French Revolution. I had a hard time reading this section, because I didn't want to experience it. Darnay is NOT alone in France. And he's far from forgotten. Dr. Manette and his daughter and granddaughter are there, for one, and so is Sydney Carton. Of course, there are others as well to round out the plot.

Throughout all three sections, readers have also followed a few people from France, mainly Monsieur Defarge and his not-so-lovely wife, Madame Defarge. I'm not sure I've ever hated a character more. I am sure that I have. Probably. Still, this book made me so very angry in places!!!

I won't talk about the ending. I won't. I don't want to. I probably don't even need to. A Tale of Two Cities left me needing a comfort read as a follow-up.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Week in Review: October 12-18

An Autobiography. Agatha Christie. 1977/1996. Berkley. 635 pages. [Source: Bought] 
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) Robert Jordan. 1990. Tor. 814 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Creature of Moonlight. Rebecca Hahn. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 313 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Madman of Piney Woods. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2014. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
The Magic Half. Annie Barrows. 2007. Bloomsbury. 212 pages. [Source: Library]
Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sandition. Jane Austen. 1975. Penguin. 211 pages. [Source: Bought]
Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word. George H. Guthrie. 2011. B&H Books. 338 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Bride in Store. Melissa Jagears. 2014. Bethany House. 363 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 This week's favorite:

I loved, loved, LOVED Agatha Christie's Autobiography. It was so very GOOD from cover to cover--not dull for a moment. The Eye of the World was a great re-read, I'm glad I made time for it this year. But. It can't really compete with Agatha Christie's Autobiography.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in October

New Loot:
  • Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
  • The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
  • My New Friend Is So Fun by Mo Willems
  • The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones
  • Tsla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman
  • The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
  • Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
Leftover Loot:
  • Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • A Cat of A Different Color by Steven Bauer
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  • The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson 
  • End Times by Anna Schumacher
  • Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
  • The Dark Lady by Irene Adler, translated by Chris Turner
  • 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
  • A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, Carolyn Eberhart
  • Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
  • Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
  • Through the Skylight by Ian Baucom
  • The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer
  • A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Ivan: The Remarkable true Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
  • Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor
  • What Cats Want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Wombat Divine by Mem Fox
  • Santa Clauses: Short Poems From the North Pole. Bob Raczka
  • Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel
  • When Santa Fell To Earth by Cornelia Funke
    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, October 17, 2014

Reread #42 The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) Robert Jordan. 1990. Tor. 814 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

The Eye of the World is the first in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I first reviewed this one in October 2012. I thought the book was promising, that it had great potential. As the first book in a long series, it also serves as an introduction. An introduction not just to the world or to the main characters, but an introduction to the writing style: the details, the descriptions, the narration, the foreshadowing. It also hints at the complexity. Hints. (If you think there are a lot of names--both people and place--to keep up with in the first book, then you should know it only becomes more challenging in later books. It isn't necessarily good or bad that this is so. It just is.)

To keep it very simple, The Eye of the World is a coming-of-age adventure-quest story. It is all about the journey, or, you could just as easily say it is all about the chase. Eye of the World is essentially setting the stage for a big battle between the forces of good and evil.

The Eye of the World introduces readers to a handful of characters. Three young men who could potentially change the world for better or worse: Rand, Perrin, and Mat. Two young women who follow them into danger: Egwene and Nynaeve. Both have significant roles to play in the books ahead. Neither really steal the show in this first book. We learn that both women are able to touch the True Source (One Power) though they've not received training. Both women intrigue Moiraine, the Aes Sedai who has promised to protect them all--to the best of her ability. She knows that the Dark One seeks to destroy these three men, and quite possibly all those that stand in his way. Moiraine and Lan, her warder, will do what they can but they know it will be a continual struggle, a challenge, to stay a step or two ahead of the evil that pursues them.

There are also other characters introduced in this book that I'd like to mention. I love, love, love Loial. He's introduced relatively late in this one. But I adore him! He's an Ogier. There is also Thom Merrilin. He's a gleeman--an entertainer, storyteller, musician, juggler, etc. He travels with this group at the very beginning. There's also a young girl, Min, who is able to a certain degree to see the future. Readers also briefly meet Elayne, Gawyn, and Galad. And Queen Morgase. And the queen's Aes Sedai, Elaida.

It had been two years since I'd read this one. It was interesting to see what I remembered, and what I'd completely forgotten. I liked this one very much upon rereading. I enjoyed so many things about it still.

Quotes:
Not more than twenty spans back down the road a cloaked figure on horseback followed them, horse and rider alike black, dull and ungleaming. It was more habit than anything else that kept him walking backward alongside the cart even while he looked. The rider’s cloak covered him to his boot tops, the cowl tugged well forward so no part of him showed. Vaguely Rand thought there was something odd about the horseman, but it was the shadowed opening of the hood that fascinated him. He could see only the vaguest outlines of a face, but he had the feeling he was looking right into the rider’s eyes. And he could not look away. Queasiness settled in his stomach. There was only shadow to see in the hood, but he felt hatred as sharply as if he could see a snarling face, hatred for everything that lived. Hatred for him most of all, for him above all things.
He was hoping his father had not noticed he was afraid when Tam said, “Remember the flame, lad, and the void.” It was an odd thing Tam had taught him. Concentrate on a single flame and feed all your passions into it—fear, hate, anger—until your mind became empty. Become one with the void, Tam said, and you could do anything.
Strangers and a gleeman, fireworks and a peddler. It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.
Aes Sedai and wars and false Dragons: those were the stuff of stories told late at night in front of the fireplace, with one candle making strange shapes on the wall and the wind howling against the shutters. On the whole, he believed he would rather have blizzards and wolves. Still, it must be different out there, beyond the Two Rivers, like living in the middle of a gleeman’s tale. An adventure. One long adventure. A whole lifetime of it.
“What kind of need would be great enough that we’d want the Dragon to save us from it?” Rand mused. “As well ask for help from the Dark One.”
“I still think you shouldn’t come,” he said. “I wasn’t making it up about the Trollocs. But I promise I will take care of you.” “Perhaps I’ll take care of you,” she replied lightly. At his exasperated look she smiled and bent down to smooth his hair. “I know you’ll look after me, Rand. We will look after each other. But now you had better look after getting on your horse.”
The Aes Sedai you will find in Tar Valon are human, no different from any other women except for the ability that sets us apart. They are brave and cowardly, strong and weak, kind and cruel, warm-hearted and cold. Becoming an Aes Sedai will not change you from what you are.
But hope is like a piece of string when you’re drowning; it just isn’t enough to get you out by itself.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Creature of Moonlight (2014)

A Creature of Moonlight. Rebecca Hahn. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 313 pages. [Source: Review copy]

A Creature of Moonlight is an enjoyable fantasy novel for young adults. Marni, the heroine, is being raised by her grandfather (Gramps). The two live an isolated life, in a way. They don't mingle with the villagers as often as one might expect. Marni, for the most part, is too interested in her garden and the woods. And Gramps, well, he's a lot older than he used to be. Still people come. Some important people. Nobles and such. Some villagers. Now that Marni is nearly grown up, men of all classes are beginning to see her as more than a flower girl, more than "Tulip." Does this make Gramps happy or worried? And how does Marni feel about it herself?

A Creature of Moonlight is fantasy. In the world Hahn has created, the woods are magical and mysterious and more than a little dangerous. There are stories--new stories, old stories, long-handed-down stories--of young women who entered the woods and were never seen again. Marni herself knows one such case. One of her friends disappeared in the woods. But Marni knows the woods. I wouldn't say she feels absolutely at home in the woods. There is a part of her that loves the woods, loves the danger and mystery. There is a hesitant part of her as well, that part keeps her coming home again. As she says so well later in the novel, "You can want a whole slew of things. It's what you choose that ought to matter."

Choices. Marni has difficult choices to make. Does she belong in the woods? Does she belong at the palace? For you see, Marni is no ordinary village girl. Her grandfather was the king. Her uncle IS the king. She is the daughter of a princess--a murdered princess. Neither choice appeals completely to Marni. The novel introduces readers to both settings. Readers see Marni reclaim her place in the royal family. They see her being courted by one of the lords. Readers also see her come into her own in the woods. These chapters in the woods are fascinating in a dark way. Marni learns what happens to young women who WANT to be taken by the dragon of the woods. But is either place right for her?

I liked this one very much. I thought it was beautifully written. There are sentences that are just WOW. The storytelling was nicely done. I liked quite a few of the characters. The characters all seemed appropriately flawed. That being said, not all the characters were given equal depth and substance. Even more characterization might have made this one great. But as it is, it is an enjoyable read.

Quotes:
"But she always kept on until the end. She knew, as I knew, that you don't stop a story half done. You keep on going, through heartbreak and pain and fear, and times there is a happy ending, and times there isn't. Don't matter. You don't cut a flower half through and then wait and watch as it slowly shrivels to death. And you don't stop a story before you reach the end" (11).
"My breath catches. Not just because I thought we'd gone over this, but because as he says it, for one crazy instant I think about saying yes. I think about living with this man, who's always taken my side, who melts me right away with his kisses, who believes in me and my innocence even when he really shouldn't. He really shouldn't. Before I can stop myself, I throw my sewing back on the floor and push myself out of my chair. Edgar rises to his feet as well, wary. "How many times is this?" I say, my voice shriller than I mean it to be, but I push my anger on, fall gladly into it. "What is it with you, my Lord of Ontrei, that makes you think that when I'm telling you no, and no, and no again, what I really must be meaning is ask me again? Could be I'm crazy, but I've no wish to be the stone you step on to reach the throne..." (181)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Armchair Cybils -- I'm Participating

I am super-excited that Hope is The Word is hosting the Armchair Cybils Reading Challenge!!!

The categories:

I will not be reading from every category--just most of them. The rules as listed on her post.
  • Read as many or as few of the Cybils nominated titles as you care to and write up your thoughts on your blog.  You can do this on a title-by-title basis or in one big ol’ post–it’s up to you!
  • Come back here on the following dates to link up your Armchair Cybils posts:
    • October 15 — your “I’m participating!” post
    •  November 15–reviews
    •  December 15–reviews
    •  January 1–shortlist thoughts
    •  January 15– reviews and thoughts
    • February 14–reviews and thoughts about the winners
Elementary/MG Speculative Fiction

1) A Snicker of Magic. Natalie Lloyd.
2) Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle. George Hagen.
3) Greenglass House by Kate Milford (review coming in December)
4) Oliver and the Seawigs. Philip Reeve
5) Ophelia and the Marvelous Boys. Karen Foxlee.
6) Platypus Police Squad: The Ostrich Conspiracy. Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
7) Seven Stories Up. Laurel Snyder.
8) Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale. Charles de Lint.
9) Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman (review coming in January)
10) Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (review coming in January)
11) The Children of the King. Sonya Hartnett.
12) The Fourteenth Goldfish. Jennifer L. Holm.
13) The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage (review coming later in November)
14) The Glass Sentence. S.E. Grove
15) The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier.
16) The Orphan and the Mouse. Martha Freeman.
17) The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen.
18) Thursdays with the Crown. (Castle Glower #3) Jessica Day George.
19) Winterfrost by Michelle Houts (review coming in December)

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is...Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. I loved it SO MUCH, I've read it TWICE!!! My second favorite would have to be Laurel Snyder's Seven Stories Up.



YA Speculative Fiction

1) A Creature of Moonlight. Rebecca Hahn.
2) Allegiant by Veronica Roth (reviewed in 2013)
3) Dangerous by Shannon Hale (reviewed in 2013)
4)Don't Even Think About It. Sarah Mlynowski.
5) Free to Fall. Lauren Miller.
6) The Glass Casket. McCormick Templeman.
7 Kiss of Deception. (The Remnant Chronicles #1) Mary E. Pearson.
8) The Living by Matt de La Pena
9) Independent Study. Joelle Charbonneau.

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is... Lauren Miller's Free to Fall. My second pick would be either The Glass Casket or Kiss of Deception.
 

Middle Grade Fiction

1) Absolutely Almost. Lisa Graff.
2)Courage for Beginners. Karen Harrington.
3) Half A Chance. Cynthia Lord.
4) I Kill the Mockingbird. Paul Acampora.
5) My Friend the Enemy by Daniel Smith (review coming in December)
6) Tell Me. Joan Bauer.
7) The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Jessica Lawson.
8) The Madman of Piney Woods. Christopher Paul Curtis
9) The Magic Trap. (Lemonade War #5) Jacqueline Davies.
10) The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days. Michele Weber Hurwitz.
11) The Swift Boys & Me. Kody Keplinger.
12) West of the Moon. Margi Preus.
13) What the Moon Said. Gayle Rosengren.

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is... Lisa Graff's Absolutely Almost. My second pick would be either I Kill the Mockingbird or The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher.


YA Nonfiction

1) The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
2) The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
3) Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins
4) Boundaries by Sally M. Walker (review coming in December)

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is... Steve Sheinkin's The Port Chicago 50.


YA Fiction

1) A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (review coming later in November)
2) Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen.
3) Love by the Morning Star. Laura L. Sullivan.
4) The Chapel Wars. Lindsey Leavitt.
5) The Impossible Knife of Memory. Laurie Halse Anderson.
6) We Were Liars. E. Lockhart.

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is... A.C. Gaughen's Lady Thief. My second pick would be The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt.


Elementary/MG Nonfiction

1) A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley
2) Angel Island by Russell Freedman
3) Ivan the Remarkable True Story by Katherine Applegate (review coming in December)
4) Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell
5) Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo
6) Stand There by Susan Goldman Rubin (review coming later in November)
7) The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is... Katherine Applegate's Ivan The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla.


Picture Books

1) E-I-E-I-O by Judy Sierra
2) Frances Dean Who Loved To Dance by Birgitta Sif
3) Help! We Need A Title by Herve Tullet
4) I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz
5) I'm My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein
6) Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show
7) Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs
8)  The Book With No Pictures. B.J. Novak.
9) The Good Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon
10) Weasels by Elys Dolan
11) The Pigeon needs a bath by Mo Willems

11/15/14: My favorite in this category so far is... Mark Sperring's Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show. My second favorite is Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Magic Half (2007)

The Magic Half. Annie Barrows. 2007. Bloomsbury. 212 pages. [Source: Library]

Miri is the middle child in a large family. She has twin older brothers--Ray and Robbie--and twin younger sisters--Nell and Nora. The family has just moved into a new house, a not-so-new house. Miri's room used to be part of the attic, it is a bit unusual, and not just because of the super-ugly wallpaper. But Miri only comes to realize this a week or two after the move. One afternoon after a horrible fight that ends in punishment for Miri, she discovers something that will change everything. The discovery? A single lens from a pair of glasses taped to the wall near the floor. She looks through the lens. She's curious like that. And that's when it happens. She finds herself in 1935. She meets Molly. Molly's mom is dead, her dad is out of the picture--has been out of the picture for six years. Molly is "being raised" by her aunt alongside her cousins. Think Jane Eyre. That's really all I have to say about Molly's situation! Molly is convinced that Miri is her savior, could Molly be right? Has Miri traveled to the past to save Molly? And what does it mean to save Molly? Does that mean taking her back to the future? How would that even work? So many questions Miri has! She'll need to brainstorm if she's going to succeed.

I liked The Magic Half. I like fantasy novels. I like time travel stories. Is it the best book ever? Is it the best time travel story ever? Probably not. But it doesn't have to be the best for me to like it, to enjoy it. This one might pair well with Laurel Snyder's Seven Stories Up.

© 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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