Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May Reflections

Stand-Out Books Read in May 2016
  1. Louise Loves Art. Kelly Light. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]  
  2. Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still. Karlin Gray. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Happy Little Family. Rebecca Caudill. 1947. 107 pages. [Source: Bought] [Children's Classic, J/MG Historical Fiction] [Children's Classic, Historical Fiction, Family Fiction]
  4. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar. 290 pages. [Source: Library] [Adult] [Poetry]
  5. The Toymaker's Apprentice. Sherri L. Smith. 2015. 400 pages. [Source: Library] [MG/YA Fantasy]
  6. In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan. 2008. Penguin. 205 pages. [Source: Library] 
5 Places "Visited" in May 2016
  1. Prince Edward Island
  2. Ancient Greece
  3. Middle Earth
  4. London, England
  5. Yemen
Picture books:
  1. Louise Loves Art. Kelly Light. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. The Dot. Peter H. Reynolds. 2003. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 
  3. What's So Yummy? Robie H. Harris. Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. 2014. Candlewick Press. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. How to Be a Pirate. Sue Fliess. Illustrated by Nikki Dyson. 2014. Golden Books. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Early readers and chapter books: 0

Contemporary (General, realistic) fiction, all ages:
  1. Soldier Sister, Fly Home. Nancy Bo Flood. 2016. [August] Charlesbridge. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, etc., all ages:
  1. The Fellowship of the Ring. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 423 pages. [Source: Bought] [YA/Adult fantasy]
  2. The Two Towers. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 352 pages. [Source: Bought] [YA/Adult fantasy]
  3. The Girl in the Tower. Lisa Schroeder. 2016. Henry Holt. 256 pages. [Source: Library] [Middle grade fantasy]
  4. The Toymaker's Apprentice. Sherri L. Smith. 2015. 400 pages. [Source: Library] [MG/YA Fantasy]
  5. The City of Ember. Jeanne DuPrau. 2003. 270 pages. [Source: Library] [J/MG Science Fiction; Dystopia]
  6. Everland. Wendy Spinale. 2016. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy] [YA Science Fiction, Dystopia]
  7. The Children's Homer. Padraic Colum. 1918/1982. 256 pages. [Source: Bought] [MG Fantasy, Children's Classic]
  8. Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1934/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages. [Source: Review Copy] [J/MG Children's Fantasy; Children's Classic]
  9. The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat and Pokey, vol. 1 Ben McCool, Royal McGraw, Elliott Serrano, Ben Fisher, Steve Uy. 2016. Dynamite Entertainment. 104 pages. [Source: Review copy] [MG Graphic Novel]
Historical fiction, all ages:
  1. Happy Little Family. Rebecca Caudill. 1947. 107 pages. [Source: Bought] [Children's Classic, J/MG Historical Fiction]
  2. Cain His Brother. Anne Perry. 1995. 404 pages. [Source: Library] [Adult historical mystery]
Mysteries, all ages:
  1. Cain His Brother. Anne Perry. 1995. 404 pages. [Source: Library] [Adult historical mystery]
Classics, all ages:
  1. The Fellowship of the Ring. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 423 pages. [Source: Bought] [YA/Adult]
  2. The Two Towers. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 352 pages. [Source: Bought] [YA/Adult]
  3. Anne of the Island. L.M. Montgomery. 1915. 272 pages. [Source: Bought] [YA/Adult]
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. 1884. 327 pages. [Source: Library] [MG/YA/Adult Coming-of-Age]
  5. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar. 290 pages. [Source: Library] [Adult] [Poetry]
  6. A Midsummer Night's Dream. William Shakespeare. 1596. 181 pages. [Source: Library] [YA/Adult] [Play]
  7. Happy Little Family. Rebecca Caudill. 1947. 107 pages. [Source: Bought] [Children's Classic, J/MG Historical Fiction] [Children's Classic, Historical Fiction, Family Fiction]
Nonfiction, all ages:
  1. Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still. Karlin Gray. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui. Translated by Linda Coverdale. 2009. 188 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of the Victorian Child Murderer. Kate Summerscale. 2016. [July] Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan. 2008. Penguin. 205 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey From Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr. Duncan Hamilton. 2016. 400 pages. [Source: Library] 
  6. The Hunt for Vulcan...and How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered a Universe. Thomas Levenson. 2015. Random House. 229 pages. [Source: Library]
Christian fiction:
  1. Anchor in the Storm. Sarah Sundin. 2016. Revell. 400 pages. [Review copy]
  2. The Quieting. Suzanne Woods Fisher. 2016. Revell. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. The Rhyme Bible Storybook. L.J. Sattgast. Illustrated by Laurence Cleyet-Merle. 1996/2012. Zonderkidz. (Zondervan) 344 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
Christian nonfiction:  
  1. Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines. David Mathis. Foreword by John Piper. 2016. Crossway. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. The God We Worship. Edited by Jonathan L. Master. 2016. P&R Publishing. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Heaven and the Afterlife. Erwin W. Lutzer. 2016. Moody Publishers. 480 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey From Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr. Duncan Hamilton. 2016. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Severe Compassion: The Gospel According to Nahum. Gregory D. Cook. 2016. P&R Publishing. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones. Steven J. Lawson. 2016. Reformation Trust. 180 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
  7. Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation. Anthony J. Carter. 2013. Reformation Trust. 150 pages. [Source: Bought]
  8. I Wonder: Engaging a Child's Curiosity about the Bible. Elizabeth Caldwell. 2016. Abingdon. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30 Days of Books: Day 8

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: Most overrated book

Probably Twilight. Need I elaborate?! I think the problem I have with Twilight isn't necessarily Twilight but the sequels. Particularly Breaking Dawn. I don't know that I've ever been so disgusted and disappointed with a book in a series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, May 30, 2016

30 Days of Books Day 7

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: Most underrated book


I'm choosing this out-of-print picture book. IT NEEDS TO BE A BOARD BOOK. IT NEEDS TO BE REPUBLISHED. IT NEEDS MORE READERS.





Grump. Janet Wong. Illustrated by John Wallace. 2001. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Book I Bought]

Look how tired this Mommy is
Tired and frumpy
Grouchy chumpy
Oh, what a grump!

Look at Baby
Smart, good Baby
Happy Baby
Making gravy
Applesauce and ketchup gravy
Not too lumpy
Not too bumpy
Squish squish
DUMP!

Grump is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite books. I almost don't even need to make the qualification of favorite picture book. It's a book that begs to be read aloud again and again and again. The rhythm of it is almost magical--at least to me! I love the use of language, I do. I love the way it sounds, the way it feels on my tongue. It's real life. It's poetry. It just works.

The story of this one is simple. It's been a LONG, LONG, LONG day for this Mom and her Baby. And even if the Baby doesn't think he needs a nap, he needs a nap. But will this baby go down for a nap? Not without an all-too-familiar-struggle!

Baby's going to take a nap now
Baby's going to take a nap now
Baby's going to take a nap now
Take a nap now
Little lump.

She puts him in his crib and...

And oh of course that baby cries
Cries and whimpers
Cries and whimpers
Cries and whimpers
Play with me!
So Mommy sits 
And reads to Baby
Reads so pretty
Reads so softly
Reads and reads and reads until--

Can you guess what happened to the oh-so-tired, oh-so-grumpy Mommy?

This one is such a GREAT book. I loved how true-to-life it was. Not only for the baby, not only for the mommy--but it captures the ups and downs of the whole relationship.

This one has been a favorite going on ten years. Today I was looking to review some board books, hoping to find something great to share with you, when I thought again of Grump. Why isn't Grump still in print? Why hasn't it been reprinted? Why??? It's just a WONDERFUL book. And it would be a great board book!!! The combination of this story with that format would be just perfect!!!!

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




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Summer Intentions: Time Travel

I don't know about you, but my travel plans for this summer are TIME TRAVEL plans. I plan to hop around in the twentieth century, the nineteenth century, and the FUTURE.

Because Victorian books tend to be on the long side, I was thinking that I could spend all summer reading and reviewing these. No need to rush or be in a hurry after all.

For the twentieth century, I am thinking of devoting the month of June. Some of these time-travel inspired posts will be ordinary book reviews. But I thought of also pulling in some movie reviews, music reviews, top ten lists, etc.

For the FUTURE, I thought I would devote the month of July to reading speculative fiction, specifically science fiction, dystopias, apocalyptic, post-apocalpytic.

As for August, I do have some ideas. I want to REALLY celebrate my tenth blogiversary because I feel TEN is a huge number! I'm not sure if that means a lot of rereading in my future, or, if it means a lot of list-making! My one goal is to SCHEDULE AHEAD posts for every day of the Summer Olympics so that I don't spend those weeks on the computer blogging!

Since I also NEED to focus more on books published in 2016, maybe most of the pre-scheduled August posts can be for 2016 books?!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Completed Challenge: Back to The Classics

Back to the Classics 2016 Reading Challenge
Books and Chocolate (sign up)
January - December 2016
# of Books at least six

What I Read for the Challenge:

1. A Volume of Classic Short Stories: Silent Nights. Edited by Martin Edwards. 2015. Poisoned Pen Press. 298 pages. [Source: Review copy]
2. A classic by a woman author: North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1854-1855. 452 pages. [Source: Bought]
3. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959/2005. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 323 pages. [Source: Bought]
4. A 19th Century Classic. Joan of Arc. Mark Twain. 1895/1896. 452 pages. [Source: Library] HISTORICAL (Adult)
5. A classic which has been banned or censored.  Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/1991. Del Rey. 179 pages. [Source: Bought] *This one wasn't "banned" but censored in some editions--with certain words taken out.
6. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title. The Pastures of Heaven. John Steinbeck. 1932. 207 pages. [Source: Library] [short stories]
7. A classic in translation.   Doctor Zhivago. Boris Pasternak. Translated by John Bayley. 1957. 592 pages. [Source: Library]
8. An adventure classic. The Children's Homer. Padraic Colum. 1918/1982. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]
9. A 20th Century Classic: The Fellowship of the Ring. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 423 pages. [Source: Bought]
10. Classic detective novel: Murder in the Museum. John Rowland. 1938. Poisoned Pen Press. 250 pages. [Source: Review copy]
11. Classic by a non-white author. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar. 290 pages. [Source: Library]
12. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. 1884. 327 pages. [Source: Library]


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. 1884. 327 pages. [Source: Library]

I have been meaning to reread Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn since last August when I saw a production of BIG RIVER. At the time I saw Big River, it had been almost eight years since I'd last read the book. I was not sure what was "in the book" or "true to the book" and what was not. I loved, loved, LOVED, LOVED the local production of Big River. And if they had sold albums with that cast singing the songs, I'd have BOUGHT it and played it again and again and again and again. (Particularly Martin Clark as Jim. He was AMAZING).

So am I glad I reread it. Yes!!! Very much. I think this novel is lost--almost wasted--on younger audiences when it's "required" reading for schools. Both times that I've read it as an adult have been positive.

I love the character of Huckleberry Finn. I love the character of Jim. I think I paid even more attention to Jim's character this time around. Those two alone make this novel worth reading carefully. This one isn't one I'd want to listen too, however, or read aloud. The language in this one can be very harsh on the ears I'd imagine. Certain words are just ugly no matter what. That being said, the presence of a certain word is not reason enough to ban it or censor it!

The book is an coming-of-age adventure story with heart and humor. Neither Jim or Huck are book-smart or intellectual, but both are endearing and genuine. Two characters I hated were King and Duke. Tom Sawyer also got on my nerves a LOT in this one.

First sentence: You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.

An example of Huck's narrative voice:
Every night, now, I used to slip ashore, towards ten o'clock, at some little village, and buy ten or fifteen cents' worth of meal or bacon or other stuff to eat; and sometimes I lifted a chicken that warn't roosting comfortable, and took him along. Pap always said, take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you don't want him yourself you can easy find somebody that does, and a good deed ain't ever forgot. I never see pap when he didn't want the chicken himself, but that is what he used to say, anyway.
Well, then, says I, what's the use you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn't answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn't bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Thoughts on Two Dickens Adaptations

Bleak House (2005)

I was happy for an excuse to rewatch Bleak House. This adaptation saved me from abandoning the novel when I initially tried to read it six years ago.

What you should know:

It is fifteen episodes long. The first episode is about an hour long. The remaining fourteen episodes are thirty minutes each. Oddly enough, the fact that when you're binge-watching (and who doesn't binge-watch Dickens???) your progress is interrupted by opening and closing credits so often makes the drama feel much, much longer than it actually is.

It has a few familiar faces. (Anna Maxwell Martin, Carey Mulligan, Burn Gorman, Gillian Anderson, Pauline Collins, Philip Davis, Charles Dance, Timothy West, Alun Armstrong, Louise Brealey, Denis Lawson, and Richard Harrington.) I had just finished watching Lark Rise to Candleford, so I NOTICED right away that "Gabriel" was in this one as Esther's love interest.

There's some humor, some mystery, a LOT of drama, and a bit of romance.

The romance I found almost-but-not-quite satisfying the first time I watched it. I really loved John Jarndyce--perhaps carrying over from the book where he plays an even bigger role in some ways. In the book, the doctor isn't even NAMED for his first few appearances. He's just "a doctor" or "the doctor." The romance between Esther and Dr. Woodcourt--in the book--was practically nonexistent. In the movie, especially the second time around, the romance is there even if a tiny bit subtle. It helped me that Richard Harrington has become more familiar face to me. (Bleak House, Lark Rise to Candleford, Poldark). There is something about him--perhaps his eyes--that are just mesmerizing. I wouldn't mind him cast as Mr. Rochester if another Jane Eyre is made.

Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

This is a 'relatively' short adaptation of a Dickens' novel. Considering how long the novel is to begin with, the fact that one can watch it in just a little over two hours seems a bit questionable. Yet I found it enjoyable. I had no other adaptation to consider it by, that's true. But I think it's one of those adaptations where you don't really need prior familiarity with the book to make sense of it.

It stars Christopher Plummer as Ralph Nickleby. (Christopher Plummer was probably my first BIG, BIG crush. There were plenty of reasons I watched Sound of Music every single day for months.) Charlie Hunnam is Nicholas Nickleby and Romola Garai is Kate Nickleby. (She also stars in Emma and Amazing Grace). 

It also stars: Anne Hathaway, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, Tom Courtenay, Nathan Lane, Dame Edna, Philip Davis, to name just a few.

Did I love, love, love this one? Probably not. I don't know that we really get to know any of the characters fully. But it's an enjoyable movie to watch at least once.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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My Thoughts on Lark Rise to Candleford, Season 4

Previously, my thoughts on season one and two and season three.

Season four had a lot of potential. But sadly it was only six episodes. Seasons two and three had twelve episodes each. I'd become quite spoiled!!! (Season one had ten episodes).

Three wonderful things happened in season four:

Minnie and Alf are together as a couple and get married by the end of the show!

Gabriel Cochrane. This broken-hearted, down-on-his-luck, unemployed widower comes to town...and Dorcas life may never be the same. Yet. Even though the show is only six episodes, this romance, to me, did not feel forced or rushed. Viewers see him genuinely grieve his loss, and, yet see Dorcas and Gabriel come together in a natural, healthy way. This may be the healthiest romance depicted for Dorcas.

Thomas Brown and Margaret are going to be parents!!! This announcement scene--when the Pratt sisters try to let him know WHY Margaret has been acting the way she has--is so adorably cute!!!


My favorite episodes would probably me the third and sixth episode. My least favorite episode would definitely be the fifth one. The one with all the cricket. The scenes with Margaret dressing as a guy and attempting to walk and talk like a man were just awkward and cringe-worthy.

I would definitely recommend this series!!! I enjoyed the Lark Rise folk and the Candleford residents!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sing Along Saturdays (Book & Music Pairings)

I do not participate in memes often, but, this one caught my attention today.
It is hosted by Bookish Things & More

I thought I would use my recently reviewed, recently read, and currently reading as inspiration for this topic. 



Unforgettable by Nat King Cole (and Natalie Cole) goes well with Persuasion by Jane Austen
You Don't Know Me by Ray Charles goes nicely with Anne of the Island.
Flame goes with What Are the Summer Olympics? by Gail Herman
He's A Pirate is fun with How To Be A Pirate by Sue Fliess.
Aslan by Kendall Payne goes PERFECTLY with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair,  or any of the Narnia books.
The Havens Grey by Andrew Peterson goes along nicely with my rereading of The Lord of the Rings.
The Jolly Green Giant by The Royal Guardsmen might pair nicely with Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. (What I love about this one isn't the "story" of the song--the Jolly Green Giant's quest for love--but ALL the vegetable naming going on in the background. Especially the way they mispronounce asparagus.)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30 Days of Books: Day 6

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: A book that makes you sad

I'm going to go with Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. It is always an experience. I don't think I can improve upon my last review:

The Book Thief leaves me speechless. If humans leave Death, the narrator, feeling haunted, I can say the same of the narrator. Could a book have a better narrator? I doubt it. There is something so perfectly-perfectly-perfect about The Book Thief. It is beautiful and brilliant; absorbing and compelling. It goes ugly places, to be sure, but the language, the style, just can't be beat. I mean this is a novel that wows and amazes. The characters are so real, so vivid. I mean these characters are very real, very human, very flawed, but the connection is so intense.

I don't love it because it's an easy read. I don't love it because it's a happy, happy novel. I love it because it is beautiful, haunting, ugly, yet hopeful.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Soldier Sister, Fly Home

Soldier Sister, Fly Home. Nancy Bo Flood. 2016. [August] Charlesbridge. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Did I enjoy reading Soldier Sister, Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood? Yes, mostly. But not completely. I can see how there are certain scenes in this one that would greatly upset readers.

I'll start with what I did love. I loved the main character, Tess. She's a complex character, and this is her coming-of-age story. She's struggling to answer the "Who am I?" question. She's half Navajo, half-white; she doesn't feel comfortable anywhere. (When she's attending a mostly-white school, she feels out of place, she feels like she has been labeled as "Indian" as "other." And when she's at home on the reservation, she again feels out of place, like she isn't "Indian" enough.)

But she isn't completely clueless. Here are a few truths she knows to be true: 1) she LOVES to run. 2) she LOVES her family. 3) She doesn't understand how her older sister, Gaby, could join the army and go fight a war in Iraq. 4) She misses her sister terribly, and worries that something horrible might happen to her sister. She doesn't want to pretend that she's proud of her sister and happy to have a warrior sister. 5) She is scared of horses, particularly her sister's stallion, Blue. But scared as Tess is, she promised her sister, Gaby, that she'd take care of Blue while she was away.

The novel opens with the community coming together to mourn or memorialize a fallen soldier--the first Native American woman to die in combat: Lori Piestewa. Soon afterwards, her sister comes home supposedly for a two week leave. Tess is thrilled; she's got plans to spend as much time as possible with her sister. But that isn't to be: her sister will be leaving for Iraq in just a day or two.

In addition to focusing on the relationship between sisters, this one also focuses on Tess' relationship with her grandparents--particularly her grandmother. This relationship was lovely to see developed.

What didn't I love? There were a few scenes that were rough if you're an animal lover. For example, one scene has Tess slaughtering in great, graphic detail a sheep. It is a scene that comes at the end of a very emotional climax. And perhaps it is supposed to be scene as celebratory and significant. But to me, it was way too much. I won't mention the second scene because that would spoil the novel, something I wouldn't want to do.

Is it "fast" or "slow"? I don't know that it's fair to phrase it just like that. I know that some readers are ALL about the action: fast-paced, action-packed, adventure-filled DRAMA. But I know that other readers--myself included--focus more on characters: character development, exploring relationships between characters through dialogue, building authentic, believable settings, etc. I'd say that Soldier Sister, Fly Home is character-driven with a handful of intense scenes.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30 Days of Books: Day 5

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: A book that makes you happy

The Convenient Marriage OR Venetia read by Richard Armitage. These two Georgette Heyer romances are narrated by one of my favorites!!!!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

30 Days of Books: Day 4

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: Favorite book of your favorite series

Yesterday, I chose the Anne series as my favorite series. Today I'll choose--somehow--my favorite book from that series. I've got it narrowed down to three or so. I love, love, love Anne of Green Gables. It introduces us to Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Mrs. Lynde, Diana, and GILBERT. It is a coming-of-age story not only for Anne but for Marilla as well. And I can't read it without CRYING over Matthew. But. Just when I think I've decided that is "the one" I start thinking about the others. I love the character of Davy introduced in Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. And Anne of the Island has that incredible 'aha' moment where Anne realizes what we've known all along. Gilbert is the LOVE OF HER LIFE. But I also love, love, love, love Rilla of Ingleside. It is practically perfect in every way. And how it makes me cry!!! Both tears of happiness and sadness. It gets me every time.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Dot

The Dot. Peter H. Reynolds. 2003. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair. Her paper was empty.

Premise/plot: Vashti tells the art teacher, "I can't draw." Her teacher offers a suggestion--simple and pure--"Just make a mark and see where it takes you." So she makes a dot, a single dot. How far will that dot take her?!

My thoughts: I really, really love this one. I do. It is a fine story made great by the ending. I love how Vashti is able to both inspire and encourage another frustrated kid. When she hears, 'I can't draw,' she knows just what to say... I love how the book shows how a simple thing like a change in perspective can change everything. The book also, of course, celebrates expression and creativity.

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


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

30 Days of Books: Day 3

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: Your favorite series


Today I'll go with the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery. (Though I was tempted to go with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.) I have been reading and rereading Anne since I was in sixth or seventh grade. So a LONG time! I adore Anne and Gilbert.

What is YOUR favorite series?

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Louise Loves Art

Louise Loves Art. Kelly Light. 2014. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I love art! It's my imagination on the outside. So little time, so much to draw.

Premise/plot: Readers meet Louise, a little girl, who LOVES art. Actually, she loves art and Art. One day Louise creates a masterpiece. But. Before she can properly hang it in the gallery (on the refrigerator), her little brother Art gets a hold of it...with a pair of scissors. What will happen next?!?!

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I love Louise. I love Art. I love how their characterization comes through both in the text and in the art. I even love their cat. Her masterpiece is a drawing of their cat, and she finally captured his cat-ness. The use of language is wonderful. For example, "I've done it. So fierce! So feline! So fantastic...a masterpiece." I love the little details too. (For example, the "Herman Hermit" Louise passes on her way to the kitchen. The way Art is watching her create at the beginning, and actually drawing alongside her at the end. The use of color). And I love the double meaning of the title. It was very clever to name the little brother, Art!!!

Watch the Emily Arrow video. (I love the doll! Oh, how I wished I had one!!)

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

30 Days of Books: Day 2

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

(Those that *know* me know absolutely that I am a BIG, BIG, BIG rereader).

I could go with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Or. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Or practically anything by Jane Austen. Speaking of Jane, there's always Jane Eyre. And then there is almost anything by L.M. Montgomery. But. Instead I'm going with a chunkster that I've read three times. I am really hoping to read it again this year: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

What keeps me coming back to Les Miserables? I love, love, love the bigness of it.
This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite. Man is the second.
The book has depth. The story it tells is memorable and emotional. It is a book you EXPERIENCE. I love so many things about it: the depth and quality of the writing, the characterization, the narration, the themes.

There are many words that could be used to describe Les Miserables: compelling, political, spiritual, philosophical, dramatic, romantic. It is just as concerned about politics and social justice as it is romance and family. It touches on the subjects of education, crime, poverty, and injustice. It's a novel where ideas matter just as much as characters.

It's also a novel heavy on details. When it's good, it's REALLY good. But at times some of the details are too taste-specific. In other words, some of the details weigh the story down. At times Les Miserables is boring. It's worth reading. It is. It's worth pushing through to the end. It's okay to skim certain sections, in my opinion, because it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences overall. Not that I LOVE the ending, though I think I may have made peace with it this time around.

Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, Mabeuf, Monsieur Gillenormand, and Gavroche--just to name a few.  I don't know if I can say I have a favorite. I know which characters I don't like. But I really just like all of them--no matter their strengths and weaknesses.

Do you have a favorite character? a favorite scene?


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Where Do Steam Trains Sleep At Night

Where Do Steam Trains Sleep At Night. Brianna Caplan Sayres. Illustrated by Christian Slade. 2016. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Where do steam trains sleep at night after puffing down the tracks? Do their moms steam up hot cocoa for their just-before-bed snacks?

Premise/plot: Readers meet all sorts of trains--steam trains, snowplow trains, passenger trains, freight trains, monorails, fire trains, high speed trains, breakdown trains, trolleys, subway trains--as they prepare for bedtime. Two questions per spread is the routine.

My thoughts: True or false. For a kid who loves, loves, loves trains and truly has a one-track mind, there can never be enough train books. I like the fact that there are so many books about trains, else books wouldn't prove very appealing to those train-obsessed boys and girls. And the fact that there are so many to choose from may help parents out some. So I can't really say much against this one. But. As an adult who isn't particularly train-crazy, I wasn't thrilled by this one. I liked some of the spreads better than others. Some questions just worked better for me. For example:

Where do freight trains sleep at night when cargo's reached its destination? Do they rest on Daddy's flatbed as he chugs home to the station?
Careful readers will notice an engineer mouse on every spread of this one. It's like he loves to play peek-a-boo with little ones. The text doesn't mention him at all. How long will it take your little one to notice the playful mouse?

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


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower. Lisa Schroeder. 2016. Henry Holt. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely enjoyed reading this children's fantasy novel. Violet has spent almost all of her entire life locked away in a tower. Though she didn't grow up alone. Her and her mother have been locked away together in this tower. The two are visited by Maggie and George almost daily, they bring food among other things--news, forbidden luxuries like books or pen and paper. George, the palace gardener, even finds a way to help Violet escape the tower and find time in a secret garden, depending on the season. So Violet's life hasn't been completely absent of joy, but, it is difficult for the both of them who do long for freedom and reunion. Violet has never known her father. He left his pregnant wife at the castle, or near the castle, as her time of delivery was imminent. He returned the next day, I believe, or perhaps the next-next day, to find no real trace of them. They'd vanished. Of course, readers know what happened. But not all of what happened.

So the villain in this one is "Queen Bogdana." In her quest to be beautiful, I believe, she's willing to do anything--no matter how cruel or evil. And it is this quest that leads to Violet's unhappiness.

This has a very fairy-tale feel about it. And for young readers who can't get enough of fairy tales and adaptations and retellings and such this one will please and satisfy. It is a lovely well-written book. I thought the illustrations were charming.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30 Days of Books Day 1

I saw this at The Written World--a blog I've been following for most of the time I've been blogging--and I thought I'd join in the fun. I believe the most recent recurrence of this is from Jenni Elyse's blog.

Today's prompt: The best book you read last year

I could not pick *one* book as best from an entire year. I don't think I have it in me. So I'll choose one book that I would love to see get more readers, more love from readers.

The Cottage in the Woods. Katherine Coville. 2015. Random House. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

The Cottage in the Woods, they called it. Later on that became the gatekeeper's lodge, yet they had been so happy there that they kept the name for their grand new manor house. Mr. Vaughn couldn't have been any prouder if he had built that place with his own two paws. It was his vision, his will behind it all, as if he'd wrestled it from rock and timber himself. It was no cottage either. The very thought is laughable. 

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Katherine Coville's The Cottage in the Woods. It was giddy-making.

So, you may think you know the story of the Three Bears. But do you know the true story of The Three Bears? How would you like to learn the true story from someone who witnessed it all: the governess of Master Teddy (baby bear). Her name is Ursula. and The Cottage in the Woods is her story.

Ursula is a recent graduate from Miss Pinchkin's Academy for Young Ladies. Her first job is as a governess for the upper-class Vaughn family. For the most part, she finds the family welcoming--or welcoming enough as is proper their station and hers. Her first impression of Master Teddy is pleasant enough. But her first impression of Master Teddy's Nurse?! Well, she feels disturbed and threatened from the start. But first impressions can sometimes be deceiving, for example, her first impressions of MR. BENTLEY.

If you enjoy drama, mystery, and romance, then The Cottage in the Woods may be just right for you. It is a retelling of The Three Bears that reads like a classic Victorian novel. 

I loved the premise. I loved the writing--the storytelling. I loved the characterization and the dialogue. I loved everything about it!
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sing Along Saturday (Love Songs)

I do not participate in memes often, but, this one caught my attention today.
It is hosted by Bookish Things & More
The theme this week is songs that celebrate love.

Still the One ~ Orleans


I love and adore Orleans. I really, really do. I also love Dance With Me. You should give both a listen!

Can't Take My Eyes Off You ~ Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

There aren't enough "loves" to cover how giddy this one makes me! I'll save you some time. The link to the scene from 10 Things I Hate About You.

I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song ~ Jim Croce

I love Jim Croce's music very much. This is one of my favorites. I also love Time in a Bottle.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Two Towers

The Two Towers. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 352 pages. [Source: Bought]

I am still enjoying my reread of Lord of the Rings. The Two Towers consists of books three and four.

The fellowship has been broken, and, as a result the narrative has been completely split. The fourth book follows the adventures of Sam and Frodo (and Gollum).  The third book follows the adventures of everyone else: Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, etc.

The book opens with some drama: Merry and Pippin have been taken! Boromir has fallen valiantly in battle trying to protect them. He confesses all to Aragorn moments before he dies. (But the movie does it even better. That death scene in the extended edition is SOMETHING.)
Aragorn knelt beside him. Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. ‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,’ he said. ‘I am sorry. I have paid.’ His glance strayed to his fallen enemies; twenty at least lay there. ‘They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them. I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them.’ He paused and his eyes closed wearily. After a moment he spoke again. ‘Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.’ ‘No!’ said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. ‘You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!’ Boromir smiled. ‘Which way did they go? Was Frodo there?’ said Aragorn. But Boromir did not speak again.
The company also learns that Sam and Frodo have left, have "broken" the fellowship. The mission has changed without a doubt, but the remaining members still have purpose.
‘The rumour of the earth is dim and confused,’ he said. ‘Nothing walks upon it for many miles about us. Faint and far are the feet of our enemies. But loud are the hoofs of the horses. It comes to my mind that I heard them, even as I lay on the ground in sleep, and they troubled my dreams: horses galloping, passing in the West. But now they are drawing ever further from us, riding northward. I wonder what is happening in this land!’ ‘Let us go!’ said Legolas. 

They decide to pursue the orcs and attempt a rescue of the hobbits. In their quest to save Merry and Pippin, they meet an old friend in a surprising place!

In addition to meeting an old friend, readers also meet some new characters: Treebeard, Éomer, Théoden, and Éowyn. Merry and Pippin encounter the Ents! Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, (and Gandalf) go to Rohan. I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this third book.

The fourth book concerns Frodo, Sam, Gollum. Readers meet Boromir's brother as well. It's good, very good. But I can't help thinking that it is largely redeemed by SAM.

Favorite quotes:
Gimli ground his teeth. ‘This is a bitter end to our hope and to all our toil!’ he said. ‘To hope, maybe, but not to toil,’ said Aragorn.  
‘Awake! Awake!’ he cried. ‘It is a red dawn. Strange things await us by the eaves of the forest. Good or evil, I do not know; but we are called. Awake!’
‘You may say this to Théoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him, with Sauron or against him. None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own.
The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’ ‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’ ‘True indeed,’ said Éomer. ‘But I do not doubt you, nor the deed which my heart would do. Yet I am not free to do all as I would. It is against our law to let strangers wander at will in our land, until the king himself shall give them leave, and more strict is the command in these days of peril.
There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.
There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain’t, as you might say. I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.
‘Of course, it is likely enough, my friends,’ he said slowly, ‘likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts; and that is why we are marching now. 
‘My name!’ said the old man again. ‘Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think. Yes, you have heard it before. But come now, what of your tale?’ The three companions stood silent and made no answer. ‘There are some who would begin to doubt whether your errand is fit to tell,’ said the old man. ‘Happily I know something of it. You are tracking the footsteps of two young hobbits, I believe. Yes, hobbits. Don’t stare, as if you had never heard the strange name before. You have, and so have I. Well, they climbed up here the day before yesterday; and they met someone that they did not expect. Does that comfort you? And now you would like to know where they were taken? Well, well, maybe I can give you some news about that. But why are we standing? Your errand, you see, is no longer as urgent as you thought. Let us sit down and be more at ease.’  
They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say. At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!’ Gimli said nothing, but sank to his knees, shading his eyes. 
Hope is not victory. War is upon us and all our friends, a war in which only the use of the Ring could give us surety of victory. It fills me with great sorrow and great fear: for much shall be destroyed and all may be lost. I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still.’ 
Go where you must go, and hope! 
A king will have his way in his own hall, be it folly or wisdom.
Men need many words before deeds. 
 ‘Yet dawn is ever the hope of men,’ said Aragorn.
That must be my hope,’ said Legolas. ‘But I wish that he had come this way. I desired to tell Master Gimli that my tale is now thirty-nine.’ ‘If he wins back to the caves, he will pass your count again,’ laughed Aragorn. ‘Never did I see an axe so wielded.’ ‘I must go and seek some arrows,’ said Legolas. ‘Would that this night would end, and I could have better light for shooting.’ 
‘We will have peace,’ said Théoden at last thickly and with an effort. Several of the Riders cried out gladly. Théoden held up his hand. ‘Yes, we will have peace,’ he said, now in a clear voice, ‘we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished – and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just – as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired – even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Háma’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’ 
Now, Pippin my lad, don’t forget Gildor’s saying – the one Sam used to quote: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.’
‘Don’t hurt us! Don’t let them hurt us, precious! They won’t hurt us will they, nice little hobbitses? We didn’t mean no harm, but they jumps on us like cats on poor mices, they did, precious. And we’re so lonely, gollum. We’ll be nice to them, very nice, if they’ll be nice to us, won’t we, yes, yess.’
We only wish to catch a fish, so juicy-sweet! 
‘Yess, yess, nice water,’ said Gollum. ‘Drink it, drink it, while we can! But what is it they’ve got, precious? Is it crunchable? Is it tasty?’
‘I am commanded to go to the land of Mordor, and therefore I shall go,’ said Frodo. ‘If there is only one way, then I must take it. What comes after must come.’
Sam said nothing. The look on Frodo’s face was enough for him; he knew that words of his were useless. And after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed. Now they were come to the bitter end. But he had stuck to his master all the way; that was what he had chiefly come for, and he would still stick to him. His master would not go to Mordor alone. Sam would go with him – and at any rate they would get rid of Gollum. 

All hobbits, of course, can cook, for they begin to learn the art before their letters (which many never reach); but Sam was a good cook, even by hobbit reckoning, and he had done a good deal of the camp-cooking on their travels, when there was a chance. He still hopefully carried some of his gear in his pack: a small tinder-box, two small shallow pans, the smaller fitting into the larger; inside them a wooden spoon, a short two-pronged fork and some skewers were stowed; and hidden at the bottom of the pack in a flat wooden box a dwindling treasure, some salt. But he needed a fire, and other things besides. He thought for a bit, while he took out his knife, cleaned and whetted it, and began to dress the rabbits. He was not going to leave Frodo alone asleep even for a few minutes. 
Sam drew a deep breath. ‘An Oliphaunt it was!’ he said. ‘So there are Oliphaunts, and I have seen one. What a life! But no one at home will ever believe me. Well, if that’s over, I’ll have a bit of sleep.’
‘I don’t like anything here at all,’ said Frodo, ‘step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid.’ ‘Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’ ‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’
Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!” And they’ll say: “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?” “Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.”’ ‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. ‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. “I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?”’ ‘Now, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, ‘you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.’ ‘So was I,’ said Frodo, ‘and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: “Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.”’

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar. 290 pages. [Source: Library]

Last year I reviewed Jump Back, Paul a lovely biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar for middle grade and up by Sally Derby. I had never heard of Dunbar before picking up that book, and, it hooked me. I have been meaning to go and read MORE of his work ever since. Almost nine months later, I checked out The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

It includes:
  • An introduction to Lyrics of Lowly Life by William Dean Howells
  • Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896)
  • Lyrics of the Hearthside (1902)
  • Lyrics of Love and Laughter
  • Lyrics of Love and Sorrow
  • Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905)
  • Miscellaneous
Some of the sections seem to be titled after poetry collections published during his life. But not all. Since the book claims to be the COMPLETE poems, I'm assuming that poems from his other published books have been arranged and gathered into the other sections.

I enjoyed reading this one very much. Enjoyed may not convey how deeply I feel about this collection of poetry! I loved it. I truly LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. As in, why did NO ONE tell me about him before?!?! How could I have gone this long without knowing who he is and what he wrote?!?!

So roughly half of his poems--give or take--are written in dialect. Now readers may have valid reactions to this--either loving or hating it. I personally loved it. I did. I think the key to deciphering dialect is to HEAR it as you read.

Here is one of the first dialect poems that appears in Lyrics of Lowly Life. It is called Accountability.
FOLKS ain't got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits;
Him dat giv' de squir'ls de bushtails made de bobtails fu' de rabbits.
Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered out de little valleys,
Him dat made de streets an' driveways wasn't shamed to make de alleys.

We is all constructed diff'ent, d'ain't no two of us de same;
We cain't he'p ouah likes an' dislikes, ef we'se bad we ain't to blame.
Ef we'se good, we need n't show off, case you bet it ain't ouah doin'
We gits into su'ttain channels dat we jes' cain't he'p pu'suin'.

But we all fits into places dat no othah ones could fill,
An' we does the things we has to, big er little, good er ill.
John cain't tek de place o' Henry, Su an' Sally ain't alike;
Bass ain't nuthin' like a suckah, chub ain't nuthin' like a pike.

When you come to think about it, how it's all planned out it's splendid.
Nuthin's done er evah happens, 'dout hit's somefin' dat's intended;
Don't keer whut you does, you has to, an' hit sholy beats de dickens,--
Viney, go put on de kittle, I got one o' mastah's chickens.
Dunbar also wrote in "literary English." (That is how they are referred to by Howells in the introduction.) Half of the poems are written in this way, this style.

Here is one of his "literary" poems that appears early in that same collection. (It's the second poem.) It's called The Poet and His Song.
A SONG is but a little thing,
And yet what joy it is to sing!
In hours of toil it gives me zest,
And when at eve I long for rest;
When cows come home along the bars,
And in the fold I hear the bell,
As Night, the shepherd, herds his stars,
I sing my song, and all is well.

There are no ears to hear my lays,
No lips to lift a word of praise;
But still, with faith unfaltering,
I live and laugh and love and sing.
What matters yon unheeding throng?
They cannot feel my spirit's spell,
Since life is sweet and love is long,
I sing my song, and all is well.

My days are never days of ease;
I till my ground and prune my trees.
When ripened gold is all the plain,
I put my sickle to the grain.
I labor hard, and toil and sweat,
While others dream within the dell;
But even while my brow is wet,
I sing my song, and all is well.

Sometimes the sun, unkindly hot,
My garden makes a desert spot;
Sometimes a blight upon the tree
Takes all my fruit away from me;
And then with throes of bitter pain
Rebellious passions rise and swell;
But - life is more than fruit or grain,
And so I sing, and all is well.
Here are my favorite 'literary' poems:
  • The Seedling
  • We Wear the Mask 
  •  The Unsung Heroes (about African American soldiers) 
  • The Poet and His Song
  • Dawn
  • Christmas Carol
  • Riding to Town
  • If
  • Yesterday and Tomorrow
  • A Hymn 
  • By Rugged Ways
  • Sympathy
  • Roses 
  • Ione
Here are my favorite 'dialect' poems:
  • A Negro Love Song (with the refrain Jump back, honey, jump back)
  • Deacon Jones' Grievance
  • The Ol' Tunes
  • The Spellin'-Bee
  • Joggin' Erlong
  • When de Co'n Pone's Hot
  • Accountability
  • Signs of the Times (a poem about Thanksgiving) 
  • Soliloquy of a Turkey (a poem about Christmas)
  • Foolin' Wid de Seasons
  • James Whitcomb Riley


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui. Translated by Linda Coverdale. 2009. 188 pages. [Source: Library]

I am certainly glad I read this one. I wouldn't say it's one anyone could--or should--enjoy reading.

Things you should know:

 1) It is a memoir; there are two authors. 2) It opens with Nujood feeling vulnerable as she seeks justice at the courthouse. 3) Though the title gave it away, readers soon learn that she is ten--give or take a year or two--and she's desperate for a divorce. 4) Several months previous, her father announced he had found her a husband who was around 30. 5) Though his age has something to do with the distastefulness of it, HER age is what is shocking. 6) Though he agreed or should I say "agreed" not to consummate the marriage until one full year after her she comes of age--so to speak--he rapes her on their wedding night. 7) She is raped and abused repeatedly. 8) The couple lives with his family, but, Nujood receives no support or comfort from her in-laws. 9) Her case isn't an isolated one. Sadly, some children are forced into marriage by their families. 10) I probably should have mentioned this before, but, the book is set in Yemen. 11) The book has a definite framework. It opens with her seeking a divorce, and, then flashes back in time at several different points. 12) The book is dramatic and emotional. It may not be literary. But does a book have to be literary to be worth reading???

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Wicked Boy

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of the Victorian Child Murderer. Kate Summerscale. 2016. [July] Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Because I was expecting to love, love, love it, I find myself a bit disappointed in Kate Summerscale's latest book. I think if I'd had reasonable expectations of it, it would have proved much more satisfying to me!

I did enjoy reading her newest book. I love reading nonfiction about Victorian England. And this is a true-crime book, which should prove appealing enough to readers.

Who is the "Wicked" Boy and was he really, truly wicked?! The subject of this one is Robert Coombes. He was convicted of murdering his mother, Emily Coombes. He didn't exactly try to cover it up. He left her dead body on the bed, exactly where he stabbed her. He left the bloody knife on the bed as well. He merely locked the door to his mother's room, told his brother he'd killed their mother, and both boys went about their business. Not just for a day or two--but for a week or two. When the smell brought persistent visitors--his mother's friends--and the police to the house, he confessed openly that he did it. He was a boy, and, perhaps not quite sane.

In any case, readers learn about his life before and after the murder; the trial, his time in prison/asylum, his release, his eventual immigration to Australia, his time as a soldier in World War I, etc. Everything is placed into context. The book has dozens of little history lessons in it, little asides that take you off the path, if you will, but ultimately lead you back on it again.

The last section of the book goes behind the scenes in the writing and researching of the book. This section helped me appreciate the book more and make sense of the rambling. In other words, knowing the author's purpose and how she saw things helped me to like the book more.

The trial took place in the mid 1890s. He was released from the prison/asylum a few years before World War I started. He moved to Australia before the war started as well. He joined up as soon as England declared war. He was a musician in his regiment's band. There were lots of little details and asides that add depth to this one. But. It isn't a particularly quick and absorbing read.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan. 2008. Penguin. 205 pages. [Source: Library]

After watching the documentary In Defense of Food, I sought out the book. The documentary was released several years after the book, and, it may be a little more up-to-date, in my opinion. It also benefits from the video format. It is engaging, fascinating, and fun. The documentary is able to use photographs, print ads, and commercials throughout. That being said, there is something to be said for the book itself. One can read it at your own pace, slowly digesting the information within, and rereading if necessary to make sure you've truly gotten what you needed.

The book is divided into three sections: "The Age of Nutritionism," "The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization," and "Getting Over Nutritionism."

So. The book is an "eater's manifesto," and it begins with seven glorious words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan explains those seven words in the final section of the book. Also in the introduction.

The book explores the question: what should I eat? what should I eat to be healthy? He points out that there is something unnatural about even having to ask--a sign that our culture and society has been damaged or upset. Until recently, people everywhere have known what to eat, and relied upon culture and tradition and common sense. It is only in the past century that this question has been taken over by so-called experts--scientists, doctors, politicians, food marketers, etc. Or perhaps I should say it's only in the past century that the majority have people have decided to follow so-called expert advice.

Other questions addressed in the book:
  • What is the Western diet? How did it come to be? What role has technology and new science played in food production?
  • What diseases are linked to the Western diet?
  • What health risks exist in the present and the future for those on the Western diet?
  • What are the alternatives to the Western diet? In other words, how, does one escape eating the Western diet?
  • What is nutritionism? How does it differ from nutrition or nutrition science?
  • How does one know who to trust and what to eat?
  • Can common sense save you after all?
  • What is food? How does "food" differ from "edible-foodlike substances" that you find in grocery stores and restaurants?
  • What should you be buying? What should you be eating?
  • Is it easy to eat healthy? Or difficult?

The book is a true must-read. Or. Perhaps the documentary is the true must?! I haven't made up my mind which is best. What I love is embracing common sense and grounding everything in reality. It isn't snarky or pessimistic. It is encouraging and inspiring.

From the introduction:
My aim in this book is to help us reclaim our health and happiness as eaters. To do this requires an exercise that might at first blush seem unnecessary, if not absurd: to offer a defense of food and the eating thereof... I contend that most of what we're consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we're consuming it--in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly, alone--is not really eating, at least not in the sense that civilization has long understood the term. (7)
That eating should be foremost about bodily health is a relatively new and, I think, destructive idea--destructive not just of the pleasure of eating, which would be bad enough, but paradoxically of our health as well. Indeed, no people on earth worry more about the health consequences of their food choices than we Americans do--and no people suffer from as many diet-related health problems. We are becoming a nation of orthorexics: people with an unhealthy obessession with healthy eating. (9)
From part one:
The first thing to understand about nutritionism is that it is not the same thing as nutrition. As the "-ism" suggests, it is not a scientific subject but an ideology...A reigning ideology is a little like the weather--all pervasive and so virtually impossible to escape. Still we can try. In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. Put another way: Foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists reach the public) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. In form this is a quasireligious idea, suggesting the visible world is not the one that really matters, which implies the need for a priesthood. For to enter a world where your dietary salvation depends on unseen nutrients, you need plenty of expert help. (28).

We eaters, alas, don't reap nearly as much benefit from nutritionism as food producers. Beyond providing a license to eat more of the latest approved foodlike substance, which we surely do appreciate, nutritionism tends to foster a great deal of anxiety around the experience of shopping for food and eating it. (53)
From part two:
A diet based on quantity rather than quality has ushered a new creature onto the world stage: the human being who manages to be both overfed and undernourished, two characteristics seldom found in the same body in the long natural history of our species. (122)
From part three:
Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (148)
Avoid food products that make healthy claims. (154)
Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. (157)
Eat meals (188).
Do all your eating from a table (192).


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, May 16, 2016

The Hunt for Vulcan

The Hunt for Vulcan...and How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered a Universe. Thomas Levenson. 2015. Random House. 229 pages. [Source: Library]

If The Hunt For Vulcan had been a documentary instead of a book, I think it would have been even better for me. It captures what I love about a good documentary: human interest stories and a mystery to be solved.

This reader-friendly astronomy book is about how a planet, Vulcan, came in and out of existence.
This book tells Vulcan's story: its ancestry, its birth, its odd, twilit journey in and out of the grasp of eager would-be discoverers, its time in purgatory, and finally, on the 18th of November, 1915, its decisive end at the hands of Albert Einstein. (xii)
The story of Vulcan suggests something much deeper, an insight that gets to the heart of the way science really advances (as opposed to the way we're taught in school.) The enterprise of making sense of the material world turns on a key question: what happens when something observed in nature doesn't fit within the established framework of existing human knowledge? The standard answer is that scientific ideas are supposed to evolve to accommodate new facts....Ideas, though, are hard to relinquish, none more so than those of Isaac Newton. For decades, the old understanding of gravity was so powerful that observers on multiple continents risked their retinas to gaze at the sun in search of Vulcan. And, contrary to the popular picture of science, a mere fact--Mercury's misplaced motion--wasn't nearly enough to undermine that sturdy edifice. As Vulcan's troubled history reveals, no one gives up on a powerful, or a beautiful, or perhaps simply a familiar and useful conception of the world without utter compulsion--and a real alternative. (xiii)
But that's only one of many options of what the book is about. You could also say the book seeks to answer these questions:
  • how does the universe work?
  • how do we know what we know? and can we be sure of what we know?
  • what is the scientific method? and, How good are scientists at following through with it in their lives and their works?
  • who are some of the key scientists and astronomers since Isaac Newton?
I found this an interesting, relatively-quick read. Because the book was at the very least as equally concerned with human stories and history as it was abstract concepts and theories, I found it to be reader-friendly. It wasn't horribly bogged down with weighty science. That isn't to say it was stripped of all science. Just to say it's written to be understood by the 'average' reader.



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

What's So Yummy?


What's So Yummy? Robie H. Harris. Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. 2014. Candlewick Press. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Everybody everywhere needs to eat and drink.

Premise/plot: What's So Yummy is an informational picture book about being healthy: eating right, being active, getting plenty of rest. There is a slight story element to this one. Readers meet a family preparing to go on a picnic. Gus and Nellie are the kids in the story. What little story there is comes from their dialogue--all found in speech bubbles. The narrative is more focused on packing as much information as possible into each page. One definitely always knows that this is an EDUCATIONAL book rather than an entertaining one.

My thoughts: I thought the information in this one was fairly accurate. Even though it's published in 2014, it still seems to be (wrongly) advocate a low fat diet. Granted, I wasn't excepting a picture book to go into detail about distinguishing between good, healthy fat that is essential for your body and bad, unhealthy fat which is detrimental to your body. So perhaps if there is only going to be one sentence in the entire book about fat, I guess one could do worse than eat "just a little fat, oil, and salt."

The book never asserts how many servings per day of any one food group one should be eating. It uses words like "plenty," "some," and "just a little." The good news is that "whole grains, brown rice, cereal, and pasta aren't in the "plenty" category. I would have rather seen them in the "just a little" category, but one can't have everything. (I think two to three servings is as much as anyone really truly ever needs per day.) The only thing in the "plenty" group is fruits and vegetables.

Does the book have an opinion on sugar? Yes. I'm not sure it's quite strong enough. But it does warn against eating too much sugar and warns against drinking sugary drinks (fruit juices and soda). The book only focuses on the most obvious places to find sugar. The truth is sugar is a not-so-hidden hidden ingredient in many, many, many products. (Think of how many thousands of products high-fructose corn syrup is in.) Between sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners there are dangers everywhere. Sugar isn't just in cookies or candy. It's in yogurt, crackers, cereal, lunch meat, ketchup, dressings and sauces. To name just a few.

One statement struck me as a bit misleading or untrue. "Most everybody eats fruit and vegetables." While it's certainly true that most people don't object morally to eating fruit and vegetables, earlier sentences were about how some people choose to not eat any meat, I don't think one can say this sentence is actually true. The American diet, the so-called "Western" diet testifies to the fact that most people are not actually eating vegetables and fruit on a regular, consistent basis. French fries and potato chips are not vegetables. Tomato sauce and ketchup are not vegetables. True, one might find some lettuce, a tomato, a few pickles, a few onions on a hamburger or cheeseburger, but their slight presence does not make it a healthy meal by any stretch!

It does briefly--oh-so-briefly--talk about food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances. Since this is close to my heart--I'm allergic to eggs, intolerant of dairy and gluten--I appreciate their attempt at an explanation.  It is not the focus of the book by any stretch!

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, May 13, 2016

The Toymaker's Apprentice

The Toymaker's Apprentice. Sherri L. Smith. 2015. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved The Toymaker's Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith. It is a great example of how wonderfully satisfying children's fantasy can really be. It is also a retelling of The Nutcracker told in alternating points of view.

Readers first meet Stefan Drosselmeyer, the hero, shortly after his mother's funeral. He is an apprentice to his father, who is a toymaker, but he wants more from life. An unexpected visit from his uncle, Christian Drosselmeyer, gives him an opportunity for just that but it won't be without risks. To be in Christian's company is almost to invite disaster. For Christian has some mighty enemies, and, his enemies aren't all human either.

Ernst is our second narrator, and, he's a mouse. In his opening chapter, I believe, he is recruited to be the tutor for the heir to the mouse kingdom of Boldavia. The heir hasn't been born yet when Ernst arrives. And when the heir is born, Ernst is upset or troubled. The heir--due to the (evil) Queen's dabbling in dark magic HAS SEVEN HEADS. Why is the Queen evil? Well, she's out to rule the world. (Perhaps the Brain would understand and applaud her ambition?) And she's out to destroy humans. She's cursed the Princess of Boldavia. And she'll curse anyone who stands in her way...

Christian is out to find a cure for the princess, and he's enlisted Stefan's help. But before this story ends, Stefan will need a cure of his own....

I loved this one start to finish. I did. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I love the world-building. I love the atmospheric setting and tone. I love the writing, the dual narrators. I love the characters and their relationships. It was a perfect read for me.
© 2016 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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