Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April Reflections

In April I read 51 books.

Board books, picture books, early readers:

  1. The Very Cranky Bear. Nick Bland. 2008/2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. Mighty Dads. Joan Holub. Illustrated by James Dean. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Jon J. Muth. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Hot Rod Hamster Monster Truck Mania. Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Derek Anderson. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. The End (Almost) Jim Benton. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]      
  6. Peppa Pig: My Mommy. 2014. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  7. Best Friends Pretend. Linda Leopold Strauss. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  8. Who Can Jump? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  9. Who Can Swim? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  10. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter. Illustrated by David McPhail. Text from 1902. Illustrations from 1986. Board book format 2014. Scholastic. 28 pages.     
  11. Planets. Scholastic Discover More, Level 1. Gail Tuchman. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  12. Dolphin Dive. Scholastic Discover More, Level 2. James Buckley, Jr. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13.   Where In the World? World-Famous Landmarks. Scholastic Discover More, Level 3. Laaren Brown. 2014.
Middle grade and young adult:
  1. The False Prince. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2012. Scholastic. 342 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. The Runaway King. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2013. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2014. Scholastic. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Starstruck. Rachel Shukert. 2013. Random House. 339 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. Love Me. (Starstruck #2). Rachel Shukert. 2014. Random House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Melisande. E. Nesbit. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch. 1901/1988/1999. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]   
  7. A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library] 
  8. Starters. Lissa Price. 2012. Random House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  9. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. By Tracy Kidder. Adapted for Young People by Michael French. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  10. Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair. Robert Jackson. 2004. HarperCollins. 144 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  11. The House of Arden. E. Nesbit. 1908. 242 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]  
  12. Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. 2013. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13. Ten Cents A Dance. Christine Fletcher. 2008/2010. Bloomsbury USA. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  14. Lady Thief. A.C. Gaughen. 2014. Walker Books. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  15. Switched at Birthday. Natalie Standiford. 2014. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  16. The Good Lie. Robin Brande. 2014. Ryer Publishing. [Source: Review copy]
  17. The Trouble with Magic. Ruth Chew. 1976/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  18. Magic in the Park. Ruth Chew. 1972/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  19. Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. Douglas Florian. 2014. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library] 
Adult:
  1. Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought] 
  2. The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Jane Ridley. 2013. Random House. 752 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. 1994. Random House. 746 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  5. Phineas Redux. Anthony Trollope. 1874. 768 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
  6. Miss Pym Disposes. Josephine Tey. 1946. 238 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
Christian fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Sincerely Yours. A Novella Collection. Jane Kirkpatrick. Amanda Cabot. Laurie Alice Eakes. Ann Shorey. 2014. Revell. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  2. Taking God At His Word. Kevin DeYoung. 2014. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Everyone's A Theologian. R.C. Sproul. 2014. Reformation Trust. 360 pages. [Source: Borrowed from friend] 
  4. In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. J.I. Packer and Mark Dever. 2008. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John. A.W. Tozer. 2009. Regal. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  6. Saved In Eternity (The Assurance of Salvation #1) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1988. Crossway. 187 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  7. Safe in the World (The Assurance of Salvation #2). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1988. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  8. The Life of Our Lord: Written For His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849. Charles Dickens. 1934/1999. Simon & Schuster. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]
  9.  Sanctified Through the Truth. (The Assurance of Salvation #3) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1989. Crossway. 153 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  10. Growing in the Spirit (Assurance of Salvation #4) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1989. Crossway. 158 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  11. For Such A Time. Kate Breslin. 2014. Bethany House. 430 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Love Comes Calling. Siri Mitchell. 2014. Bethany House. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy
  13. Pelican Bride. (Gulf Coast Chronicles #1) Beth White. 2014. Revell. 367 pages. [Source: Review copy]
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles (2014)

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. Douglas Florian. 2014. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved Douglas Florian's Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. I just LOVED it. After finding five or six poems that I loved, I thought this one would be well worth recommending. But as I kept reading, I kept finding more and more poems to LOVE. This isn't a "good" collection with a handful of poems to love. Generally, that is how I think of poetry books: find one with a handful of poems to LOVE, really LOVE, and you've got yourself a good book worth reading and rereading. To find a poetry book with so very many poems that you love and enjoy--poems with the potential to turn children of all ages into POETRY LOVERS--and you've got something magical, something worth GUSHING about!!! Poem Depot is worth gushing about!!!

Poems I Loved: "Insect Asides," "Driven," "More," "My Closet," "I Hate Broccoli," "Mean Meat Loaf," "Soup of the Day," "Water Water," "What A Monster Ate," "Hair Scare," "This Chair," "Where My Cat Sleeps," "Hold Your Horses," "I Am A Robot," "The Computers Are Down," "Zero," "Alphabetter," and "My Mother Has Two Voices."

Poems I Really Loved: "Train to Nowhere," "Exercise," "Appetite," "Alligator Calculator," "Rome and Room," "The Greatest Invention," and "Windshield Wipers."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Love Me (2014)

Love Me. (Starstruck #2). Rachel Shukert. 2014. Random House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Love Me is the sequel to Rachel Shukert's Starstruck. I enjoyed Starstruck. I am not sure if I enjoyed Love Me as much. On the one hand, I could not put it down. I kept cheating. I would go to the end of the book, read a bit, and then go back to where I was. I don't ever really do that. So it did keep my interest, which, I suppose, is a good thing, right?! My favorite character is NOT a main character.

On the other hand, I found myself yelling at the characters from start to finish. I also found myself frustrated at times with the dialogue and the writing. Little things like name-dropping all the big, big stars and how they all were desperately mad to interact with these fictional characters. There were things that were just impossible to take seriously.

Love Me is definitely "darker" and messier than Starstruck. Every single character falls or fails in this one. Amanda, it turns out, had not reached her low point in Starstruck, far from it. And Gabby, well, I'm not sure Gabby makes even one good choice in this second novel. It's not that she doesn't try, it's just that her trying is hindered by her addictions. Margo's expectations are so out of control. After making one movie, she wants validation that she's the center of the universe. It doesn't happen. She whines and nags all the time. Readers, like Dane, may find themselves tuning her out.

The content of Love Me is definitely more adult than in Starstruck.

The men of Love Me:

Harry. Leftover from book one. Is there anything he does in this novel that does not make me angry?! I do NOT care for him at all. I HATE him.

Eddie. A musician. A band leader. Hints of trouble. I didn't mind him as much as Harry, because, at least he was honest about who he was and where he came from and what he was looking for. There is something refreshing about what you see is what you get.

Dexter. Another jazz musician. Not really seen as a love interest, but, an interesting guy I'd be curious to see again in a sequel if the author chooses to follow up with this character. I liked his scenes a good bit.

Dane. What can I say?! It has to be frustrating to be forced into a serious relationship with Margo. So I don't fault him for finding her annoying and frustrating and not who he hoped her to be. He wanted a girl who was smart enough not to fall for all the lies and concoctions the studio produced, and she is not that girl at all. That being said, he is far from perfect.

Don't expect Jimmy to have any scenes in this one. His name is mentioned a few times, sure, but that is it. This has me worried that Dexter won't be around in following books.

I mentioned that I "yelled" at the characters...

Dear Amanda,

Please stop obsessing over Harry. He is not worth it. Seriously. I know you want to feel loved and accepted. But it will NEVER happen with Harry no matter how much you put yourself into debt. A new dress will not change his mind. Your problems cannot be solved by going shopping every day. You've had to deal with so much, I just wish you'd be a little more grounded.

Dear Gabby,

You are the one least likely to listen, but the one who needs to hear the truth the most of all. Your mother would drive almost anyone crazy, so I don't blame you for wanting to escape it all. But the way you're doing it--drugs--is NOT the right answer.

Dear Margo,

You're so clueless that it hurts to be around you. Yes, I mean that. It hurts to see you act like a fool. Especially when it comes to Dane. You're so blinded by your so-called "love" for Dane. I have to ask: do you really love the real Dane OR are you in love with the Dane you've imagined in your own head? Do you even know there is a real Dane? Do you listen, really listen, when he talks? Do you see the way he acts around you? The way he treats you? Because I think if you had a little common sense and would just pay attention a fraction of the time, you would realize that your "relationship" with Dane is in trouble.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Three 2014 Scholastic Nonfiction Readers

Planets. Scholastic Discover More, Level 1. Gail Tuchman. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

What's out there? Ready? Let's go! Let's zoom into space. Let's zoom past the Moon. Let's visit the shining stars and their planets. Most stars have families of planets. The planets in a family orbit, or travel around, the star. Our Sun is a star. Earth orbits the Sun. Earth is a rocky planet. Gas planets and rocky planets orbit our Sun. They are all part of the Sun's family.

Level one readers are for beginning readers who are just beginning to learn to read for information. Level one readers consist of 200-500 words, are written in simple sentences, feature new vocabulary, contain key facts, introduce first infographics, and may mention famous people. This book on planets include a glossary and index.

Planets is a good introduction to the subject for young readers. There will be plenty more books for them to grow into as their reading skills improve year by year. The information is simple, straight-forward, and up to date. The writing style is simple, it's true, but it's not boring, in my opinion.

Dolphin Dive. Scholastic Discover More, Level 2. James Buckley, Jr. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Here come the acrobats of our seas! With flicks of their tails, dolphins leap high into the air. Dolphins love to show off for one another. They may even do somersaults! Watch them porpoising, or jumping in arches. They race across the water. 
Have you seen a bottlenose dolphin doing flips? There are 42 kinds of dolphin. Most are between 5 and 8 feet long. The orca is the biggest. It can be the size of a school bus! There are a few kinds of dolphin that live in freshwater rivers. They have long beaks. The Amazon River dolphin can be pink!

Level 2 readers are written for developing readers. Level 2 readers are much more complex: more text, harder vocabulary, longer sentences, longer paragraphs, etc.

Dolphin Dive is an interesting read. Each page is packed with information and photographs. I love the use of photographs; I think photos can definitely appeal to readers and make the book more inviting and less intimidating. Good nonfiction will almost always offer images (photos or illustrations) to draw readers in.

One interesting thing I noted about this book is that the author seems to LOVE exclamation points. I counted twenty-two exclamations! The narration is factual and enthusiastic!

Where In the World? World-Famous Landmarks. Scholastic Discover More, Level 3. Laaren Brown. 2014.

Let's take a trip around the world. Let's go and see the most amazing landmarks on Earth. Landmarks are famous buildings or structures.

Level 3 Readers are for independent readers who can read fluently for information.

I like the concept of this one. But the organization could use a little help perhaps. It felt a little zig-zag, here-and-there to me. That could just be my perception.

Here are the locations "visited" on the readers' "best vacation ever!"
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Hoover Dam
  • Machu Picchu
  • Colosseum
  • The Parthenon
  • Tower of London
  • Eiffel Tower
  • The Great Pyramid
  • Great Wall of China
  • The Taj Mahal
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Montreal Biosphere
  • McMurdo Station
  • Robben Island
  • Millau Viaduct
  • United Nations Headquarters
  • Burj Khalifa
Facts are included for each location. Some get more attention than others. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Miss Pym Disposes

Miss Pym Disposes. Josephine Tey. 1946. 238 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Miss Lucy Pym is visiting an 'old friend' who is now a principal at a physical training college. The occasion for her visit is her successful bestselling status as an author of a popular psychology book. Her book is the new "it" book of the moment, Miss Pym gives guest lectures. The students of this college, particularly the juniors and seniors, take a real liking to her. They beg and plead and urge her to stay. So she postpones leaving. (I'm not sure her old college friend is as enthusiastic about keeping her around for the last few weeks of the semester until graduation or not. I'm sure by the end she's thinking: why oh why did I think it would be a good idea to ask her to visit!) It's a super busy time for all. One class is preparing to graduate; there is stress and distress as they prepare for finals and critiques. Some students will be placed in a new job before graduation, others will have to make their own applications after graduation. A really ideal job opportunity arises, and, for some reason this causes great rumbles on the staff and among students. One student is chosen over another. Almost everyone disagrees with the decision. Even Miss Pym is argumentative and opinionated. As graduation approaches the inevitable happens. Inevitable ONLY because it's a mystery book and there is the expectation that at some point a crime, probably murder, but at the very least attempted murder, will occur. This happens extraordinarily late in the novel. One of the graduating seniors has an "accident" that ultimately leads to her death. Miss Pym knows the accident was no accident, and she has proof. But will her proof ever be turned over to the authorities?! Will Miss Pym play god and decided that she has no ethical obligation to turn in the murderer--the girl she's convinced is guilty?!

Miss Pym Disposes is a strange little mystery. I found the academic setting interesting, at least in the beginning. But overall, I was not impressed with this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Captains of the City Street by Esther Averill
  • The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill
  • Jenny Goes to Sea by Esther Averill
  • The School for Cats by Esther Averill
  • Jenny's Moonlight Adventure by Esther Averill
  • School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott
  • After the River the Sun by Dia Calhoun
  • Tink in A Fairy Fix by Kiki Thorpe
  • A Beginning, A Muddle, and An End by Avi
  • The End of the Beginning by Avi
  • What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren
  • Monkey and Me Emily Gravett
  • The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
  • Disney Fairies #6 A Present for Tinker Bell
  • Disney Fairies #7 Tinker Bell, The Perfect Fairy
  • Disney Fairies #10 Tinker Bell and the Lucky Rainbow
  • Disney Fairies #11 Tinker Bell and the Most Precious Gift
  • Disney Fairies #12 Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
  • Disney Fairies #13 Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games
Leftover Loot:
  • English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
  • Mommy & Me Craft (DK)
  • Mommy & Me Start Cooking (DK) 
  • The Diary of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler; translated by Susan Massotty.
  • How The Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
  • Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckhoff
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Week in Review: April 20-26

Melisande. E. Nesbit. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch. 1901/1988/1999. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Book I Bought] 
Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair. Robert Jackson. 2004. HarperCollins. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]
The House of Arden. E. Nesbit. 1908. 242 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. Liesl Shurtliff. 2013. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. 1994. Random House. 746 pages. [Source: Bought]
Ten Cents A Dance. Christine Fletcher. 2008/2010. Bloomsbury USA. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Phineas Redux. Anthony Trollope. 1874. 768 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
Sanctified Through the Truth. (The Assurance of Salvation #3) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1989. Crossway. 153 pages. [Source: Bought]
Growing in the Spirit (Assurance of Salvation #4) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1989. Crossway. 158 pages. [Source: Bought]
For Such A Time. Kate Breslin. 2014. Bethany House. 430 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Love Comes Calling. Siri Mitchell. 2014. Bethany House. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

It was a very tough decision this week! I loved, loved, loved Melisande by E. Nesbit! I also loved The House of Arden. I wouldn't say I loved it as much as Melisande or as much as The Phoenix and the Carpet, but E. Nesbit is WONDERFUL. I also loved Kate Breslin's For Such A Time. This historical romance is set during World War II. It was quite the read! I highly recommend it! But. Meet Me in St. Louis is a GREAT nonfiction read. One of the few nonfiction books I've wanted to read again, again. I found it to be well researched and very fascinating.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Melisande (1901)

Melisande. E. Nesbit. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch. 1901/1988/1999. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

When the Princess Melisande was born, her mother, the Queen, wished to have a christening party, but the King put his foot down and said he would not have it. 
"I've seen too much trouble come of christening parties," said he. "However carefully you keep your visiting book, some fairy or other is sure to get let out, and you know what that leads to. Why, even in my own family the most shocking things have occurred. The Fairy Malevola was not asked to my great-grandmother's christening, and you know all about the spindle and the hundred years' sleep."
"Perhaps you're right," said the Queen. "My own cousin by marriage forgot a stuffy old fairy when she sent out the cards for her daughter's christening, and the old wretch turned up at the last moment. The girl drops toads out of her mouth to this day."

 Don't you just love stories that start out like this?! I know I do! E. Nesbit's Melisande is practically perfect in every way. It's pure delight through and through. The premise is simple: a king and queen are so sure that a christening party is a bad idea that they decide to skip it all together. But in their eagerness to escape everything-you'd-expect, they didn't take into account every possible scenario. Seven hundred not-so-happy fairies turn up! All thinking that there had been a christening without them! Malevola is the loudest and boldest. She declares that the new princess will be bald. The king shows his cleverness and the remaining fairies are dismissed; he asserts, only ever ONE fairy is forgotten and since that ONE fairy has already given her ill-wishing gift, the others can all go back home.The King lessens his wife's sorrow, to a certain extent, by promising to give Melisande, his daughter, a wish he never used himself. (His fairy godmother gave him a wish for his wedding.) He wants to WAIT until Melisande is all grown up and can decide her own wish.

The Queen strongly influences Melisande's wish when the time comes. Melisande's wish has consequences!
I wish I had golden hair a yard long, and that it would grow an inch every day, and grow twice as fast every time it was cut...
Poor Melisande! Within a few weeks, she has realized how HORRIBLE and TERRIBLE this wish of hers was.
When it was three yards long, the Princess could not bear it any longer, it was so heavy and so hot, so she borrowed Nurse's scissors and cut it all off, and then for a few hours she was comfortable. But the hair went on growing, and now it grew twice as fast as before so that in thirty-six days it was as long as ever. The poor Princess cried with tiredness, and when she couldn't bear it any more she cut her hair and was comfortable for a very little time. The hair now grew four times as fast as at first, and in eighteen days it was as long as before, and she had to have it cut. Then it grew eight inches a day, and the next time it was cut it grew sixteen inches a day, and then thirty-two inches and sixty-four inches and a hundred and twenty eight inches a day and son, growing twice as fast after each cutting.
Soon Melisande and her parents are desperate for help! Is there a way to stop the madness?! Will she ever be happy again?!

I definitely recommend getting an illustrated edition of Melisande. The illustrations by P.J. Lynch are WONDERFUL.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Reread #17 Ten Cents A Dance

Ten Cents A Dance. Christine Fletcher. 2008/2010. Bloomsbury USA. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I first read and reviewed Ten Cents A Dance in November 2008. It was almost love. I loved the idea of loving it. I loved the setting: Chicago 1941-1942, both BEFORE and AFTER Pearl Harbor. It is narrated by Ruby Jacinski, our heroine. Ruby may not always make the best choices, the wisest in the long-term choices, but she's got gumption and fight in her.

Ruby is exhausted and frustrated by poverty. Even if she were to get a "nice" job in the meat-packing factory, she would still stink at the end of the day. And Ruby, though pretty, is feisty. (Her "nice" job in bacon didn't last long.) She IS the earner in her family; after her mother lost her job, Ruby dropped out of school and got a job.

In the opening chapters, readers see just how feisty Ruby is. Fights just seem to find her. And the opening fight, well, it just happens to bring her to the attention of a gangster-wanna-be, Paulie Suelze. He just happens to mention HOW she can earn some real money doing something she loves: dancing. He tells her of how she could be bringing home fifty dollars a week instead of ten. He tells her exactly where to go.

Ruby goes for it. It opens up a whole new world for her: for better or worse...nothing is the same after she starts working...

Ruth Etting singing "Ten Cents A Dance." Doris Day singing "Ten Cents A Dance." There is also a movie with this name from 1931.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

House of Arden (1908)

The House of Arden. E. Nesbit. 1908. 242 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The House of Arden is a delightful fantasy novel. The big surprise for Nesbit fans may be that it stars just two siblings: Edred and Elfrida.

Nesbit provides readers with some family background, introduces the siblings and their aunt guardian, and then the magic begins. Edred has just learned that he is Lord Arden, he's inherited the run-down estate with crumbling-castle. (He's also recently learned that his father has died.) The good news? There are stories, legends, about the place, about treasure. The children are determined to explore the place thoroughly, learn what they can, and find that treasure! It seems providential.

Edred and Elfrida discover they are not alone. There is a magical mole (Mouldiwarp). He can be summoned several ways, but, most commonly by poetry--original poetry. He will help the two children, but, he has his conditions. The magical adventures, in a way, depend on them not arguing with one another. The magical adventures start in an attic that they can only find when they haven't quarreled recently. The attic is full in trunks, they open one trunk at a time, for the most part. What they find are a lot of clothes, clothes that seem very very strange to these contemporary characters. When they put on these clothes from the past, they discover the time-traveling aspect of the magic. Traveling to the past may give them all they need to know to find the treasure in the present day.

I liked the time traveling. I did. I liked the time periods explored. I liked the characterization. I liked meeting various people in the past. I liked how this fantasy all fit together. Most of all, I enjoyed the writing!

Some of my favorite bits:

Edred and Elfrida went to school every day and learned reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, spelling, and useful knowledge, all of which they hated quite impartially, which means they hated the whole lot–one thing as much as another... The only part of lessons they liked was the home-work, when, if Aunt Edith had time to help them, geography became like adventures, history like story-books, and even arithmetic suddenly seemed to mean something.
“Spelling next,” said Aunt Edith. “How do you spell ‘disagreeable’?” “Which of us?” asked Edred acutely. “Both,” said Aunt Edith, trying to look very severe.
But it is much more difficult than you would think to be really nice to your brother or sister for a whole day. Three days passed before the two Ardens could succeed in this seemingly so simple thing. The days were not dull ones at all. There were beautiful things in them that I wish I had time to tell you about–such as climbings and discoveries and books with pictures, and a bureau with a secret drawer. It had nothing in it but a farthing and a bit of red tape–secret drawers never have–but it was a very nice secret drawer for all that... It is wonderful how much more polite you can be to outsiders than you can to your relations, who are, when all’s said and done, the people you really love... After tea they decided to read, so as to lessen the chances of failure. They both wanted the same book–”Treasure Island” it was–and for a moment the niceness of both hung in the balance. Then, with one accord, each said, “No–you have it!” and the matter ended in each taking a quite different book that it didn’t particularly want to read.
It is always difficult to remember exactly where one is when one happens to get into a century that is not one’s own.
THEY both meant what they said. And yet, of course, it is nonsense to promise that you will never do anything again, because, of course, you must do something, if it’s only simple subtraction or eating poached eggs and sausages. You will, of course, understand that what they meant was that they would never again do anything to cause Mrs. Honeysett a moment’s uneasiness, and in order to make this possible the first thing to do was, of course, to find out how to set the clock back.
What do you usually do when you are shut up in a secret room, with no chance of getting out for hours? As for me, I always say poetry to myself. It is one of the uses of poetry–one says it to oneself in distressing circumstances of that kind, or when one has to wait at railway stations, or when one cannot get to sleep at night. You will find poetry most useful for this purpose. So learn plenty of it, and be sure it is the best kind, because this is most useful as well as most agreeable.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rump (2013)

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. Lisel Shurtliff.  2013. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

What a fun book! I really, really enjoyed Liesl Shurtliff's Rump which boasts of being, of course, the TRUE story of Rumpelstiltskin. From page one, Rump makes a delightful hero in this middle grade fantasy. Here's the first paragraph: "My mother named me after a cow's rear end. It's the favorite village joke, and probably the only one, but it's not really true. At least I don't think it's true, and neither does Gran. Really, my mother had another name for me, a wonderful name, but no one ever heard it. They only heard the first part. The worst part." Rump lives in a world where your NAME leads to your destiny, so, you can imagine that Rump struggles with what destiny has in store for him since it "blessed" him with a name like that. Rump is NOT friendless, however. His two biggest supporters are his Gran, who has raised him from his birth, and Red, his best friend and sidekick who has a Granny of her own in the forest. The situation is relatively bleak when the novel opens. Rump lives in a poor community that is easily oppressed by the king. The local miller dispenses food to the community based on how much gold the person (family) has contributed. So hunger is a part of life for many. One day, however, Rump discovers something in his Gran's woodpile: his mother's spinning wheel. His Gran is NOT pleased that Rump wants to keep it, to learn to use it. Rump gives it a try, and, he discovers the magic within. Yes, he learns he has the magic inside him to spin straw into gold. But what does NOT come naturally is the wisdom on when to use and when NOT to use magic. He has NOT learned that all magic comes with a price. That his oh-so-delightful talent might come with a big, big price that he won't want to pay.

I love this one. I do. I love the narration. I love the storytelling. I love how the story was adapted and changed. I loved that magic had consequences. I loved seeing Rump grow and mature into Rumpelstiltskin.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Christ And His Saints Slept (1994)

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. 1994. Random House. 746 pages. [Source: Bought]

I've been meaning to read more of Sharon Kay Penman's work for years now. When Christ and His Saints Slept is set in the twelfth century. It begins with the tragic sailing of The White Ship and ends with Henry II ready to be crowned king of England. For readers who like numbers, that would be 1120-1154. It covers the later part of Henry I's reign: his grief and desperation over the loss of his son and heir, his wanting his daughter, Maude, to be his successor; it covers the war--which lasted over ten years--between Stephen and Maude for the crown of England. Readers also get a chance to see Maude's son, Henry, grow up to become "Henry II."

It is a novel with many strengths. One of its greatest strengths, perhaps, is in the wide range of characters or narrators. Stephen and Matilda, on one side, Maude and Geoffrey, on the other. Readers meet the men (and women) who supported Maude, including many of Henry I's illegitimate sons. Readers meet the men (and women) who supported Stephen's claim to the throne. If there is a point to When Christ and His Saints Slept, it is this: war is ugly and cruel and pointless. Readers see Stephen and his supporters--his army--do horribly cruel things in the name of war. Readers see Maude's army do some equally horrid things. One side is not holier than the other. While neither army was as cruel as they possibly could be all the time, without ceasing, year after year, the truth was that England suffered greatly during this tug of war. The truth was very few cared WHO ruled England, so long as England was ruled peaceably and practically. The burning. The stealing and looting. The raping. The killing. The holding of hostages. England was in a BIG BIG mess if this was the best either side could manage.

If the novel has one hero, one "main" character, it would be Ranulf. Ranulf is a fictional illegitimate son of Henry I. It is not a stretch to fit him in historically since Henry I recognized over twenty such sons! Ranulf along with Robert and Gilbert and Miles and Brien, and countless others supported Maude and her claim to the throne. While the novel does focus on the battles, the war, the political mess--it also gives a personal side to the time period. Readers see Ranulf grow up a bit, fall in love, make mistakes, find true love, and settle down to marry and raise his own family.

If the novel is allowed to have more than one hero, well, an obvious choice to me is Henry II. The book covers his teenage years: 14 to 19. The last third of the novel truly focuses on Henry, on his relationship with his parents, with his relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Those last few chapters are far from clean.

I loved how many characters we get to meet and know. I loved that we get to know men AND women from the time period, most of them historical figures, though not all. I loved that readers get introduced to real history. Penman's pacing was wonderful, I felt!

For readers who ENJOY history, When Christ and His Saints Slept is easy to recommend. She gives you enough context so that you're not lost (or at least not lost past all hope!) but it never weighed the text down in my opinion. I admit that "being lost" in a history book is all a subjective matter based on what one does or doesn't know heading into a book, but, I thought she did a good balancing job.


Quotes:
And so began for the wretched people of England, a time of suffering so great that they came to fear "Christ and his saints slept." (171)
If ever there was a woman unable to learn from her mistakes, it was this one for certes. No more than Stephen could. If the Lord God plucked him out of his Bristol prison on the morrow and restored him to power at Westminster, nothing would change. He'd still go on forgiving men he ought to hang, promising more than he could deliver, failing to keep the King's Peace. Maude and Stephen, a match made in Hell. What was it Geoffrey de Mandeville had once said--a lifetime ago? Ah, yes, that Maude would listen to no one and Stephen to anyone. Had there ever, he wondered, been a war like this? Was there a single soul--not related to them by blood or marriage--who truly wanted to see either one of them on England's throne? (281)
"I am truly glad to have you safe, Robert. But tonight I feel as if... as if we'd struggled and panted and clawed our way up a mountain, only to stumble just as we neared the summit and fall all the way down, landing in a bloodied, bruised heap at the bottom. What in God's Name do we do now?"
"I suppose," he said, "we start climbing again."
"How many of our men will have the heart for it?" Rising, she began to pace, "To come so close and then to have it all snatched away like this...it is so unfair, Robert, so damnably unfair!"
"Life is unfair," he said, sounding so stoical, so rational, and so dispassionate that she was suddenly angry, a scalding, seething, impotent rage that spared no one--not herself, not Robert, not God.
"You think I don't know that? When has life ever been fair to women? Just think upon how easy it was for Stephen to steal my crown, and how bitter and bloody has been my struggle to win it back. Even after we'd caged Stephen at Bristol Castle, he was still a rival, still a threat...and why? Because he was so much braver or more clever or capable than me? No...because I was a woman, for it always came back to that. I'll not deny that I made mistakes, but you do not know what it is like, Robert, to be judged so unfairly, to be rejected not for what you've done but for what you are. It is a poison that seeps into the soul, that makes you half crazed with the need to prove yourself..."
She stopped to catch her breath, and only then did she see the look on Robert's face, one of disbelief and then utter and overwhelming fury, burning as hot as her own anger, hotter even, for being so long suppressed.
"I do not know what it is like?" he said incredulously. "I was our father's firstborn son, but was I his heir? No, I was just his bastard. He trusted me and relied upon me and needed me. But none of that mattered, not even after the White Ship sank and he lost his only lawfully begotten son. He was so desperate to have an heir of his body that he dragged you back--unwilling--from Germany, forced you into a marriage that he knew was doomed, and then risked rebellion by ramming you down the throats of his barons. And all the while, he had a son capable of ruling after him--he had me! But I was the son born of his sin, so I was not worthy to be king. As if I could have blundered any worse than you or Stephen!"Maude was stunned. She stared at him, too stricken for words, not knowing what to say even if she'd been capable of speech. Robert seemed equally shattered by his outburst: his face was suddenly ashen. He started to speak, then turned abruptly and walked out. (343-44).
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis (2004)

Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair. Robert Jackson. 2004. HarperCollins. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]

Meet Me in St. Louis is a fascinating book about the 1904 World's Fair. I found this nonfiction book for young readers to be entertaining and wonderful from cover to cover. It was well-organized. The narration was great--never a dull moment. It was detailed. If you love discovering "I didn't know that?!" facts, this is one to treasure. I found myself wanting to find people to enlighten. I learned so much from reading it.

Chapter one is a direct appeal to readers. Jackson writes in second person. He wants YOU to join him at the fair. This chapter gives a brief overview of the fair, inviting you to "experience" it through your five senses.
"The giant wheel lurches into motion; you hold your breath and feel yourself moving. How is it possible for such a large car, stuffed to the gills with sixty people, to rise into the air like this? You bravely take a first peek out the windows. Off to the near right, you spot the Abraham Lincoln Exhibit, which houses the actual log cabin where Lincoln lived as a child in Kentucky. Then the rolling gardens and peaceful ponds of the Japanese Pavilion opens up in front of you. A bit higher and you can see all of the Jerusalem Exhibit, a miniature version of that Middle Eastern city filled with replicas of ancient buildings. Can this be St. Louis, or have you been transported to a whole new world?" (10)
Chapter two chronicles the preparation and construction.
Chapter three tells of opening day.

Chapters four and five tells of buildings and exhibits. It tells about each of the palaces at the World's Fair. There was, for example, the palace of mines and metallurgy, palace of varied industries, palace of education and social economy, palace of fine arts, palace of liberal arts, palace of manufactures, palace of transportation, palace of electricity and machinery, palace of agriculture, palace of horticulture, palace of forestry, fish, and game. One of my favorite places to read about was the Model Playground.

Chapter six is a great for capturing the unique entertainments. It focuses on "the Illusions on the Pike." Jackson writes,
 "Plays, concerts, circus tricks--more than forty different shows were staged in all, some in theaters and others right in the center of the wide walkway. Fifteen hundred animals, from zebras to polar bears, lived on the Pike during the fair, and many of them were entertaining performers too. Without a doubt, the Pike was the loudest area on the fairgrounds. Dozens of men called "spielers" or "barkers" shouted into megaphones for hours, trying to attract people to rides and shows." (73) This chapter also mentions Geronimo. "He signed autographs for ten cents each; depending on his mood, the price for his photograph ranged between fifty cents and two dollars. Geronimo would even sell his hat for the wildly expensive price of five dollars--then coolly pull a new one from under the table, place it on his head, and wait for another buyer." (83)
Chapter seven focuses on the debut of the Ferris Wheel, or "Observation Wheel."

Chapter eight is titled, "Faces of the Fair." I thought this was a well done chapter that examines, with honesty, the diversity of the Fair; in many places, it addresses racism and exploitation. The fair, as we've read so far, may have been educational, and it may have been FUN, but, it wasn't always fair and just.
"While blacks were not the only minority group treated with disrespect, at least they were free to boycott the fair if they wanted. Others were not able to protest. Several ethnic groups had been brought from their homelands to St. Louis--in some cases by force. Men, women, and children were put on display so that fairgoers could take a first-hand look at them and, in theory, learn about their cultures. The largest of these "anthropological" exhibits came from the Philippines. Hundreds of exploited Filipinos lived on the fairgrounds in open huts and flimsy thatched cabins. Cramped and filthy, the housing offered almost no privacy. The Filipinos were forced by fair managers to sit quietly while crowds of curious visitors gawked at them; they were also told to sing, dance, and perform other activities against their will. Instead of learning about the Filipinos and gaining respect for this culture, most fairgoers concluded they were a primitive race of inferior beings." (100)
And later from the same chapter,
 "Some people were disturbed by the exploitation of ethnic groups, including a magazine reporter named Laura Ingalls Wilder. Long before the Little House on the Prairie books made her a well-known children's author, she traveled from her home in southern Missouri to write about the fair. Wilder enjoyed the palaces, foreign buildings, and the Pike, but she was appalled by the mistreatment of many of the foreign and Native American people. She reportedly even tried to stop exhibitors from forcing them on display. One day, a young man from Africa was being exploited during a typically cruel stage show. Wilder stood up in the middle of the audience and demanded that the show stop immediately." (103-4)
Chapter nine is about "special events." The chapter covers many such events. But the BEST, BEST, BEST part of this chapter is devoted to the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis!!! There were a dozen little things that I found fascinating in this section. At least a dozen!
"Because the Games were fairly new--and therefore disorganized--many bizarre and amusing things happened. After a disagreement over who won the fifty-meter race, two swimmers got into a brawl and just agreed to race again. There was no such thing as instant replay in 1904, of course. And American gymnast George Eyser ambled off with five medals, including two golds, after competing with a wooden leg. He had lost one leg after being run over by a train years earlier." (114) 
And
 "A pair of Zulu tribesmen, Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, became the first African athletes to compete in the Olympics, even though they were supposed to be part of the Boer War Exhibit. Taunyane might have won, but a fierce dog chased him nearly a mile off course, and he finished in ninth place." (116)
Chapter ten focuses on the last days of the fair.

I would definitely recommend this one!!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Phineas Redux (1874)

Phineas Redux. Anthony Trollope. 1874. 768 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

Phineas Redux is the fourth in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, and The Eustace Diamonds.

It has been a few years since Phineas Finn left the joys and sorrows of political life to settle down and marry. (For the record, he didn't really have much of a choice in giving up the politics). But now his luck, for better or worse, is changing. His wife has conveniently died, and there is a new opportunity for him to run for a seat in parliament. He's hesitant but as always ambitious. He leaps for it knowing that he could easily regret it.

It has also been a few years since Lady Laura has left her husband, Robert Kennedy, whom she detests. She is still very obsessed with Phineas Finn. She loves him dearly, she makes him--in her own mind--her everything. Phineas Finn, on the other hand, remembers her kindly but rarely. She is NOT his everything: she hasn't been since she turned down his proposal all those years again. He would never--could never--think of her like that again. He respects her, but, he's content to keep his distance. Her confessions to him are improper, in a way, and prove embarrassing to him.

Lady Laura is not the only woman who has given away her heart to Phineas. Madame Max Goesler still loves him though she's at least discreet or more discreet. At the very least, she has a life outside her daydreams; her social life is active and she has many good friends. She's not as isolated, so, her love for Phineas perhaps does not come across as obsession.

While I was indifferent to Madame Max in Phineas Finn, I grew to really like her in Phineas Redux. Other female characters I enjoyed were Lady Chiltern (whom we first met in Phineas Finn as Violet Effingham), Lady Glencora (whom we first met in Can We Forgive Her?), and Lizzie Eustace (whom we first met in Eustace Diamonds). It was interesting to me to see which heroines Trollope allowed a happily ever after. I was so very pleased to see Lord and Lady Chiltern settling down quite happily. It was LOVELY to spend time with both of them. I still adore Lady Glenora and Plantagenet Palliser together. Lizzie reaps what she sows, but is fortunate in many ways!

There was a new romance introduced in Phineas Redux. Two men are in love with Adelaide Palliser: Gerard Maule and Thomas Platter Spooner. Adelaide, of course, has her favorite. But the other is very persistent. 

In terms of plot: A MURDER. A politician is murdered. There are two suspects. One suspect is Phineas Finn. He is put on trial for the crime...but the evidence is all circumstantial. Will he be convicted? Will doubt and uncertainty of his guilt prevent him from politics in the future? 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Library Loot: Third Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckhoff
  • Kinfolk by Pearl S. Buck
  • The Living Reed by Pearl S. Buck
  • East Wind, West Wind by Pearl S. Buck
Leftover Loot:
  • Richard Scarry's Best Nursery Tales Ever by Richard Scarry
  • English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
  • Mommy & Me Craft (DK)
  • Mommy & Me Start Cooking (DK) 
  • The Diary of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler; translated by Susan Massotty.
  • How The Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Week in Review: April 13-19

The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2014. Scholastic. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Starstruck. Rachel Shukert. 2013. Random House. 339 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]
Starters. Lissa Price. 2012. Random House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. By Tracy Kidder. Adapted for Young People by Michael French. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John. A.W. Tozer. 2009. Regal. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
Saved In Eternity (The Assurance of Salvation #1) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1988. Crossway. 187 pages. [Source: Bought]
Safe in the World (The Assurance of Salvation #2). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 1988. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Life of Our Lord: Written For His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849. Charles Dickens. 1934/1999. Simon & Schuster. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's favorite:

I loved, loved, loved The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen. This series is oh-so-wonderful.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Reread #16: A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved A Year Down Yonder so much more than Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. And I definitely enjoyed A Long Way From Chicago! While A Long Way From Chicago was told from Joey's point of view, A Year Down Yonder is told from Mary Alice's point of view. Because of the Depression, Mary Alice has been sent by her parents to live with Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice has spent more than a few summers with her Grandma, alongside her brother, but this time she'll be there all year long, and without her brother.

While A Long Way From Chicago is fun, in many ways, it is a bit disjointed as well. Each chapter tells the story of a summer vacation. In A Year Down Yonder, the plot is more traditional. The book follows the course of an entire year. Readers get a better chance to KNOW the characters, to appreciate the characters and the small town setting. And Mary Alice is a great narrator!!! I loved her story. My favorite chapters were "Rich Chicago Girl," "Vittles and Vengeance," "Heart and Flour," and "A Dangerous Man." I loved the slight traces of romance. 


I would definitely recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Both books do stand alone, but, they do go together well.

I first reviewed A Year Down Yonder in May 2008.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Starters (2012)

Starters. Lissa Price. 2012. Random House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed this dystopian novel. Callie is our heroine. Early in the novel, Callie has to make a tough choice: should she rent out her body for profit and secure a life for herself and her younger brother, Tyler? Or should she continue the day-to-day struggle to survive when every single day brings danger and risk. Callie is older and stronger than her brother. If she goes to Prime Destination, it will be FOR him, not for greed. As you might have guessed, Callie DOES go to Prime Destination, she does sign the contract which allows Prime Destination to rent out her body to others (via neurochip). IN this society, "Enders" find enjoyment and thrills by renting the bodies of teenagers. The two are linked via the neurochip, but it is the Ender, the renter, who is in control of the young (newly made beautiful) body. Callie has signed on for three rentals, it will be the third that will change her life forever...

I enjoyed this one. I did. I enjoyed getting to know Callie AND the "voice in her head," Helena. I am looking forward to reading the second book!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Shadow Throne (2014)

The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2014. Scholastic. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Shadow Throne was the PERFECT conclusion to a near-perfect trilogy. I fell in love with this series from the very beginning. I absolutely loved The False Prince, which introduces the orphan Sage. Our hero is brave, strong, snarky, and clever. Technically, he's also good at lying. But some of that at least is due in part to the life he's been forced to lead for so long. Dare I say it's been NECESSARY lying?! Sage is a character I loved from the start. He's one of several orphan boys kidnapped by a rogue regent with his own agenda. Tobias and Roden are the other two boys. The regent's mad plan is to put an orphan onto the throne, trying to sell the other regents with the idea that this boy is THE LOST PRINCE thought to have been killed by pirates over four years before. Connor, the mad and bad regent, knows his schemes are ambitious. But he's very arrogant, confident that he can do the impossible: train an uneducated orphan how to be a prince in just TWO WEEKS. Sage, guessing that failure equals death, decides he will be THE ONE to win the job that when all is said and done he does not want. In book two, readers see Sage, King Jaron now, on the throne. But this transition has been anything but easy. His regents who are much, much older see King Jaron as a joke. I don't know that they'd openly admit that they regret his return from obscurity. But, more and more are willing to say they regret putting him on the throne WITHOUT a steward or regent to "GUIDE" him until he comes of age. Just a few weeks have gone by, and Jaron's future is looking bleaker and bleaker. Early on, it becomes obvious to Jaron that life cannot continue on as it is. Without his country's support, without his country's knowledge, King Jaron is determined to act in the best interests of Carthya, and try his best to prevent the war from starting NOW. Even Jaron knows that war will come. But war in a few months is better than war tomorrow if your country is as ill prepared as his is. This is the book with Pirates! In the third book, the war has begun. Jaron and Tobias and Roden (not to mention Imogen, Amarinda, Mott, and Harlowe) face incredibly difficult challenges; everyone will be pushed and challenged. It's VERY, VERY intense. I loved it.

There are so many reasons I loved this series.

I loved the characters. I loved how the characters developed throughout each book. I loved how the core of each character stayed the same, in a way, yet how they continued to grow and mature. I loved the main character, Sage/Jaron. I loved the minor characters. They never felt minor to me. I loved getting to know Tobias and Roden. Especially in this final book, I really appreciated these two! I also loved Harlowe, a character first introduced in the second book. Mott is another character I adored!!!

I loved the relationships. I loved how the relationships built. How respect and trust worked out in some of these relationships. I loved the theme of grace and redemption, of forgiveness. I loved the honesty. I loved see Jaron and Mott; loved seeing Jaron and Tobias; loved seeing Jaron and Roden. The friendships in this one are so very, very strong. And this isn't even including the light touch of romance!

I loved the world-building.

I loved the plotting. The twists and turns. This series has so many surprises! The plot is well-paced and a perfect blend of intensity and humor.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Starstruck (2013)

Starstruck. Rachel Shukert. 2013. Random House. 339 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Starstruck is delightful and fun. It is. It is set in 1938 in Hollywood. It features three heroines; the narration switches back and forth between all three throughout the novel. The three aren't always friends. But. They aren't always enemies either. Each girl has a dream, a hope, an idea of how they want their happily ever after to come about. Selfishness comes naturally, but, that doesn't mean the girls lack depth of feeling.

Margaret (Margo) Frobisher (Sterling) has dreamed of being discovered for years and years. She is more than a little obsessed with the movies, with the big stars. When she is discovered, her life will change forever. It wouldn't have to be FOREVER, but, her family makes it super-dramatic. If she signs a contract with Olympus Studios, if she chooses to become an actress, then they never want to hear from her again. No matter what. She can never come home. Margo doesn't even take a minute to consider. To be a star is her destiny!

Amanda Farraday has reinvented herself more than once. She is another hopeful under contract at Olympus. She has not had her moment to shine...yet. She is not as obsessed with BEING A STAR as Margo. I think Amanda would settle for happily ever after off screen. I think Amanda just wants to be loved. Unfortunately, she seems to be caught in a world where appearance is everything and secrets have to stay buried because no one wants to live in the real world. I really cared about Amanda's story.

Gabby Preston is a talented singer, and a fine actress. Is she a great dancer? Not really. And Olympus wants her to SING and DANCE and ACT. To make it big, she needs to have it all, and Gabby isn't quite there yet. They encourage her to lose weight. They send her to a special doctor with special pills. Gabby is enthusiastic, or, as enthusiastic as one can be when struggling. Is Gabby happy? No! She wants to be a big star. She wants a HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And that means a romance with a star. Even if that romance is dictated and scripted--the product of the studio. Gabby has never felt good enough, she's always felt like an almost. Gabby, like Amanda, could use some good unconditional love.

Starstruck also features MYSTERY and ROMANCE.

For me, this series has more potential than Luxe. I enjoyed Luxe, but, saw the flaws and weaknesses with each book. That didn't stop me from reading the series! I read each and every one. I remember liking some characters, hating some characters. There weren't any characters that I truly LOVED. In Starstruck, I actually cared about all three girls.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Mountains Beyond Mountains (2013)

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. By Tracy Kidder. Adapted for Young People by Michael French. 2013. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Some books are intimidating to review. They just are. Such is the case with Mountains Beyond Mountains. The book I read was the "adapted for young people" edition; it was adapted by Michael French. The book is good, very good. The subject is serious, but, the style is personal. The subject of the book is Dr. Paul Farmer. The book is not always in chronological order, but, essentially by the time you're done, you've got a good grasp on who he is, what he does, why he does it, how he grew up, how he balances (or not) his personal life and professional life, etc. The book seems very well-researched and quite detailed. I'm not sure all those personal details were essential. For example, I'm not sure readers need to follow every little fight he had with an ex-girlfriend and how that relationship developed and fell out. I suppose, it was interesting to have another strong opinion as to what he was like to be around on a day to day to day basis, but, was it essential? I'm not sure. 

 The book chronicles decades worth of work, mainly but not exclusively in Haiti. There is a lot of discussion about infectious diseases: how to treat them, how to make the most effective treatments available to everyone, how to decide who gets what and who pays what, etc. TB-MDR, HIV, AIDS among others.

The book has an honest, open approach to it. Many parts are narrated by the author who, over the years, accompanied him various places, observed him working and interacting, traveled with him to various conferences, etc. The author, of course, also was in contact with him at other times through email. The author, again, had access to interview those closest to Farmer. The book definitely reflects this.

I would recommend this one.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Year with Jane: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

I have read Mansfield Park three times. The first time I found myself frustrated and bored. Where was the romance? Where was the satisfaction? Who was supposed to be THE HERO?! Was it really supposed to be Edmund?! The second time I read it, I found myself entertained. I also found myself falling for the wrong hero, Henry Crawford and asking plenty of what might have been questions. The third time it was a joy to revisit. This isn't the first time that it has taken multiple readings to enjoy and appreciate and love an Austen novel. I haven't decided what this means exactly. If it is a good thing that Austen's novels are layered and complex and take some time to absorb, or, if it's a weakness. If you don't exactly "enjoy" something the first time, what is there to make you want to go back and read it again and again? I think Pride and Prejudice is the one big exception to the rule. Also perhaps Persuasion.

Fanny Price is the heroine of Mansfield Park. She is intelligent, observant, selfless, and considerate. Part of this is her upbringing, she's been brought up to put everyone else's wants and needs and whims ahead of her own. Part of this is just her nature, in my opinion. She treats everyone with kindness and respect regardless of whether they "deserve" it or not.  
It would be delightful to feel myself of consequence to anybody.
Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most of them.
Edmund Bertram is Fanny's cousin. He will be a minister. He falls madly in love (if it is truly love and not lust) with Mary Crawford. For almost the entire novel, he talks on and on and on and on about Mary to poor Fanny. He can at any given time give you a top ten list on why Mary is completely wrong for him and why it would never work out in the end. But she is the ONLY WOMAN IN THE WORLD HE COULD EVER LOVE. Of course, Fanny is in love with Edmund. Fanny's patience in listening to Edmund alone would make her worthy of being a saint.
I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it.
Mary Crawford is Fanny's opposite in many, many ways. She doesn't know how to be serious. She talks way too much. She shares way too much. She's rude and inconsiderate. And her first love, her forever love, will always be herself.
Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
Henry Crawford is Mary's brother. He is Fanny's opposite too. He has a very high opinion of himself. And he finds nothing so satisfying as making women fall in love with him. He loves being loved and adored. He determines at one point that it would be SOMETHING to have Fanny fall in love with him. He knows it will be the most difficult challenge he's faced so far. She's no fool. In the attempting, it is Henry who falls hard. He finds himself for the first time actually caring and loving someone else. Or does he? Austen is a bit ambiguous how far his reform goes.
I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, ‘I will not like you, I am determined not to like you’; and I say she shall.
They will now see what sort of woman it is that can attach me, that can attach a man of sense. I wish the discovery may do them any good. And they will now see their cousin treated as she ought to be, and I wish they may be heartily ashamed of their own abominable neglect and unkindness. They will be angry,” he added, after a moment’s silence, and in a cooler tone; “Mrs. Rushworth will be very angry. It will be a bitter pill to her; that is, like other bitter pills, it will have two moments’ ill flavour, and then be swallowed and forgotten; for I am not such a coxcomb as to suppose her feelings more lasting than other women’s, though I was the object of them. Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed: a daily, hourly difference, in the behaviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it, that I am the person to give the consequence so justly her due.
Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” “Nay, Henry, not by all; not forgotten by all; not friendless or forgotten. Her cousin Edmund never forgets her.” “Edmund! True, I believe he is, generally speaking, kind to her, and so is Sir Thomas in his way; but it is the way of a rich, superior, long-worded, arbitrary uncle. What can Sir Thomas and Edmund together do, what do they do for her happiness, comfort, honour, and dignity in the world, to what I shall do?”   
Mansfield Park is without a doubt one of the messier Austen novels. Messy isn't the perfect word, I know. The characters of Mansfield Park are so messed up, so in need of fixing. Readers never know exactly why Fanny loves Edmund with all her heart and soul. Readers just have to take Fanny's love on faith, believing that she knows best, that she knows her heart better than we do, and, that Edmund BEFORE Mary was worth loving. Austen's ending is far from romantic in that the romance between Fanny and Edmund is not developed on the page.

I can easily imagine Fanny in these words:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, "Hello."
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don't know me.


And with a big, big stretch, maybe Edmund in these words:

Are those your eyes
Is that your smile
I've been looking at you forever
Yet I never saw you before
Are these your hands holding mine
Now I wonder how I could have been so blind
And for the first time I am looking in your eyes
For the first time I'm seeing who you are
I can't believe how much I see
When you're looking back at me

 The first is "You Don't Know Me" and the second is "For The First Time."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Library Loot: Second Trip in April

New Loot:
  • Richard Scarry's Best Nursery Tales Ever by Richard Scarry
  • Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff
Leftover Loot:
  • English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons
  • Mommy & Me Craft (DK)
  • Mommy & Me Start Cooking (DK) 
  • The Diary of A Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler; translated by Susan Massotty.
  • The Pigeon Needs A Bath by Mo Willems
  • The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns And the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield
  • How The Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
  • The Last Forever by Deb Caletti
  • Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Week In Review: April 6-12

The Runaway King. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2013. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Jane Ridley. 2013. Random House. 752 pages. [Source: Library]
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]
The Trouble with Magic. Ruth Chew. 1976/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Magic in the Park. Ruth Chew. 1972/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Very Cranky Bear. Nick Bland. 2008/2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mighty Dads. Joan Holub. Illustrated by James Dean. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Jon J. Muth. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Hot Rod Hamster Monster Truck Mania. Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Derek Anderson. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The End (Almost) Jim Benton. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]    
Peppa Pig: My Mommy. 2014. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Best Friends Pretend. Linda Leopold Strauss. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Who Can Jump? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Who Can Swim? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter. Illustrated by David McPhail. Text from 1902. Illustrations from 1986. Board book format 2014. Scholastic. 28 pages.    
Everyone's A Theologian. R.C. Sproul. 2014. Reformation Trust. 360 pages. [Source: Borrowed from friend]
In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement. J.I. Packer and Mark Dever. 2008. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy. I do. The Runaway King is the second in the series. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Reread #15 The Runaway King

The Runaway King. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2013. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I have just finished rereading The False Prince and The Runaway King in anticipation of The Shadow Throne. In a perfect world, every single reader would be a rereader. In a perfect world, every one would find the time to go back and reread all the prior books in a series, in trilogies especially. I know it's not realistic. But I can dream, right?! I took the time this time. I am SO GLAD I took the time to go back and read these two books back to back. In three days, I read The False Prince, The Runaway King, and The Shadow Throne. It was WONDERFUL. It was all kinds of wonderful!!! It was so satisfying, so compelling. I really came to know and love all of the characters. I really started noticing all the stories within the BIG story. I definitely recommend this series!!!

I originally reviewed this one in March 2013

Original review:  

Jaron has only been on the throne a short while and already the kingdom is in great danger, Jaron's life is at risk. The regents of the kingdom want Jaron to go into hiding, "for his own good" of course. They would rather deal with a steward in the king's place than have a "boy" on the throne, a boy who isn't afraid of facing reality. Jaron looks at the facts and sees: WAR IS COMING, WAR IS COMING, WAR IS COMING. His regents seem to see a different reality: peace, peace, peace, we must have peace no matter what, peace, peace, always we must have peace. Jaron would feel absolutely alone--forsaken--if it wasn't for a few friends who knew him before, knew him as Sage...

Running away from the throne, from the kingdom, might be Jaron's best option...

The Runaway King is such an exciting book! I love, love, love the fact that we get to go with Jaron/Sage on his journey into enemy territory as his own cleverness is put to the test...

I am still loving the world-building, the characterization, the dialogue, the storytelling. It's a GREAT book.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Trouble with Magic (1976)

The Trouble with Magic. Ruth Chew. 1976/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I may not have loved Ruth Chew's Magic in the Park, but, I definitely LOVED her fantasy novel The Trouble with Magic. To think this little fantasy novel starts with a big stink! Barbara and Rick have sensitive noses, I suppose. They are so overwhelmed with disgust at the smell of cooking cabbage, that Rick easily persuades Barbara to spend her allowance money (fifty cents!) on air freshener. She doesn't have enough money for scented spray (that would cost sixty-nine cents), but, she does have enough for a bottle of something--something with a wick?--that will get the job done, or so they think. They take the bottle home...and that's when the adventure begins. For INSIDE the can is a wizard with a magical umbrella! This poor wizard has been TRAPPED. Harrison Peabody is more than happy to grant wishes (via the umbrella, though they don't know that at the beginning) to those lovely children who freed him. Barbara wishes for her room to be covered in roses! Rick wishes for his room to be covered in pine trees. Still the children are thinking of those noses and that CABBAGE. The children spend a few minutes quite pleased with themselves until they realize how impractical magic can be when it comes time to do homework and go to bed! It isn't long before they want the magic undone...

I thought this one was delightful. It definitely reminded me of other wish-related fantasy novels like Five Children and It and Half Magic. I love seeing WHAT these two children wish for and how it almost always goes wrong. I thought it was a fun twist that the wishes can only work IF the umbrella is used when it's raining.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Magic in the Park (1972)

Magic in the Park. Ruth Chew. 1972/2014. Random House. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Magic in the Park is a quick fantasy read. Jennifer, our heroine, has just moved to Brooklyn. At first, she is so focused on what she's missing, that she is more than a little bitter. However, after discovering nearby Prospect Park and meeting a new friend, a prone-to-falling-in-the-lake lad named Mike, she embraces her new life. It isn't just that Mike is great fun all on his own. It is, in part, that these two discover things together and keep secrets. They discover that Prospect Park is more than a little magical. They both happen to notice that there is one tree in particular, an old tree, a seemingly hollow tree, that MOVES around the park. You never know where you'll find it next. And some days...it's not there at all. On those days, the children see a friendly old man who feeds the birds. Birds are important in this one.

Magic in the Park is fantasy adventure. Mike and Jennifer are curious, of course. All children in fantasy novels seem to be extra curious, this helps them stumble into various adventures I suppose.

© 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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