Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What's On Your Nightstand (June)

The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

I finished most of what I had on my nightstand last month. I finished the KJV Reformation Study Bible, Basic Christianity, Dawn's Early Light, Blood, Bullets, and Bones, The Portrait of a Lady, and 44 Scotland Street.

I've made a good deal of progress in Thomas Manton's Exposition of Psalm 119. I've started sharing from it at Operation Actually Read Bible. Right now, I'm sharing just on Thursdays, but I might increase that as the summer continues.

I have not made much more progress in Mallthew: All Authority in Heaven and On Earth. Douglas Sean O'Donnell. I think I've read two chapters since last month.

What's NEW.

The Bertrams. Anthony Trollope. 1859. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

I'm continuing to read Trollope chronologically. I hope to finish this one this week or weekend.

Fearless Living in Troubled Times. Michael Youssef. 2017. [August] Harvest House. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This is a very thought-provoking read. Youssef is teaching from the books 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. Deborah Heiligman. 2017. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

I've decided that his family would have been perfect guests on the Dr. Phil show. But if Dr. Phil had gotten Vincent the help he needed, would he still be remembered today? Would his masterpieces even exist?

The Heirloom Murders. Kathleen Ernst. 2011. 349 pages. [Source: Library]

I've not read the first Chloe Ellefson murder yet--this is the second in the series--but this series shows some potential. I am most interested in reading the sixth book Death on the Prairie which has the heroine going to visit all the historic sites associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, June 26, 2017

Board Book: Welcome A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals. Mo Willems. 2017. 30 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Our research indicates this is YOU. Take a good look. How remarkable it is that you are you. You are a unique combination of LOVE + Time + Luck. I am lucky, too. I am lucky that you are here with me...while we read this book together.

Premise/plot: Mo Willems has a new picture book. It is for "new arrivals." It is written in the second person, presumably to your new baby. It celebrates reading books together among other things.

My thoughts: I asked for a second opinion on this one. My mom said, "what a disappointment! I expect more from a Mo Willems' book!" I concurred--which is why I went to her in the first place. I was very disappointed. Still, I want to talk about what this book is and isn't.

There is a mirror at the front and back of the book. Many books for babies feature mirrors. Babies do like to look at themselves...usually. So this could be a plus.

Also the cover is thicker and sturdier which may invite a certain amount of sucking and chewing. The pages themselves are not as sturdy or as thick as a traditional board book.

The text of the book is wordy. Or should I say verbose?! It is the sound of your voice reading anything, that babies enjoy, or so I've been told. So the fact that the book is text-heavy wouldn't have to be a deal breaker. Comprehension isn't the goal, right? Not at the 'new arrival' stage.

There is some repetition. Nine times we see the refrain, "while we read this book together." Repetition goes hand in hand with being a book for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers.

The book is all about being honest.
Please enjoy your stay. Many activities are available for you to enjoy, including, but not limited to: SLEEPING and WAKING, EATING and BURPING, POOPING and MORE POOPING. Other options are available upon request and will be updated on a regular basis. Of our current offerings, I can personally recommend your being right here with me...while we read this book together.
If you have further questions do not hesitate to CALL or FLAIL ABOUT or SCREAM LIKE A BANSHEE. Someone is standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will be with you as soon as possible. Right now I am here with you...while we read this book together.
Honesty is good.

Is the book truly for newborns? for very young babies? Or is the book written for new parents? Is the message really written for--directed to--new arrivals to this thing called parenting. If the "new arrivals" in question are actually the parents, then, I think it would make more sense!

Parents can establish the habit, the routine, of reading books aloud to their newborns. It is never too early to start reading aloud. One shouldn't worry if the baby can understand, comprehend, the text. As a bond-builder this one can more than suffice.

I guess what I found so disappointing were the illustrations. I just was not amused or impressed by the illustrations. I did not find them appealing. I found them dull, boring, uninspired.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 1 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Prisoner's Base

Prisoner's Base. (Nero Wolfe #21) Rex Stout. 1952. 209 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In Nero Wolfe's old brownstone house on West Thirty-fifth street that Monday afternoon in June, the atmosphere was sparky. I mention it not to make an issue of Wolfe's bad habits, but because it is to the point. It was the atmosphere that got us a roomer.

Premise/plot: Priscilla Eads shows up at Nero Wolfe's house expecting--hoping--that she can stay there for a week, that she can pay him room and board. She's hiding out from someone--a lawyer, a business partner. Archie lets her in, and tells her she can stay temporarily at least. The final word will come from Nero Wolfe, and he's not to be disturbed at the moment. (Readers can guess why.) Before the evening is out, two things occur: someone comes looking for her and wanting to hire Wolfe to find her AND Wolfe kicks Miss Eads out of his house. The next day, can you guess who's dead?!

Archie blames himself and takes it upon himself to FIND THE KILLER NO MATTER WHAT. And Wolfe finds himself with Archie as a client!!! Miss Eads was an heiress and she was about to come into a lot of stock and money as her birthday approached...

My thoughts: I really enjoy Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series. I love, love, love, LOVE Archie Goodwin. This is a very satisfying, very quick read.

"If I had said I had read about you and seen a picture of you, and you fascinated me, and I wanted to be near you for one wonderful week, you'd have known I was lying." "Not necessarily. Millions of women feel like that but they can't afford the fifty bucks a day."
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Case of the Poached Egg

The Case of the Poached Egg. (Wilcox and Griswold #2) Robin Newman. Illustrated by Deborah Zemke. 2017. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: 10:00 am, Headquarters. "Headquarters. Wilcox, here." "This is Henrietta Hen. My precious Penny is missing." "Did she fly the coop?" I asked. "Oh no! She can't fly." "Did she run away?" I probed. "Oh no! She can't run." "Can't fly or run? I've never heard of a chicken who couldn't cross the road." "She's not a chicken." "Not a chicken? What is she?" "An egg." I sure had egg on my face. "Are you sure she's gone?" "Yes, Detective. I always count my chickens before they hatch." "We're on our way!" I said. "Captain, we've got a Code 0, a poached egg." The captain held up a pot of water. "Not poached as in boiled," I said, "poached as in stolen!" We jumped into our cruiser and flew to the coop.

Premise/plot: This is the second book in the early reader mystery/detective series by Robin Newman. Wilcox and Griswold have another case to solve on the farm. This time it's a kidnapping case. Someone stole an egg. But who? And why? Can these two solve the crime and return Penny to her mother before she's hatched?!

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this series. I loved the first book, and I love the second book just as much if not more. I love Robin Newman's writing. I love her puns. I love the dialogue. I love the pace. I also love just the energy these two bring to any case they are working on. I would definitely recommend this series to young readers.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Victorian Quarterly Check-In

  • What books for this challenge have you read (or reviewed) recently?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Are there any quotes you'd like to share?
  • Who would you recommend? Anyone you would NOT recommend?
  • Favorite book you've read so far...
What books for this challenge have you read (or reviewed) recently?

✔ 6. A book with illustrations
Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens. 1838/1839. 608 pages. [Source: Bought] 
9. A book published between 1850-1860
Doctor Thorne. Anthony Trollope. 1858. 639 pages. [Source: Bought] 
✔ 12. A book published between 1881-1890
Portrait of a Lady. Henry James. 1881. 656 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 33. A book with a number in the title
The Three Clerks. Anthony Trollope. 1858. 648 pages. [Source: Bought]
✔ 34. A book with a place in the title 
Washington Square. Henry James. 1880. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

 What are you currently reading?

The Bertrams by Anthony Trollope

 Are there any quotes you'd like to share?
  • Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. ~ Henry James
  • There are as many points of view in the world as there are people of sense to take them.  ~ Henry James
  • You must save what you can of your life; you mustn’t lose it all simply because you’ve lost a part. ~ Henry James
  • A mistake’s made before one knows it. ~ Henry James
  • “I’m rather ashamed of my plans; I make a new one every day." ~ Henry James
  • Don’t mind anything any one tells you about any one else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.” “That’s what I try to do,” said Isabel “but when you do that people call you conceited.” “You’re not to mind them — that’s precisely my argument; not to mind what they say about yourself any more than what they say about your friend or your enemy.” Isabel considered. “I think you’re right; but there are some things I can’t help minding: for instance when my friend’s attacked or when I myself am praised.” “Of course you’re always at liberty to judge the critic. Judge people as critics, however,” Ralph added, “and you’ll condemn them all!” ~ Henry James
  • You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please no one at all — not even yourself. ~ Henry James
  • When you’ve lived as long as I you’ll see that every human being has his shell and that you must take the shell into account. By the shell I mean the whole envelope of circumstances. There’s no such thing as an isolated man or woman; we’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances. ~ Henry James
  • Wherever there are two men, there will be two opinions. ~ Anthony Trollope
  • All persons who have a propensity to lecture others have a strong constitutional dislike to being lectured themselves. ~ Anthony Trollope
  • “it doesn’t take long to like a person — when once you begin.” Henry James
  • “The alphabet of common sense is something you will never learn,” the Doctor permitted himself to respond. ~ Henry James
  •  It is so much easier to preach than to practise. ~ Anthony Trollope
  • How is one to have an opinion if one does not get it by looking at the things which happen around us?  ~ Anthony Trollope
  • Our sheep have to put up with our spiritual doses whether they like them or not.  ~ Anthony Trollope
  • “You haven’t got another cup of tea, have you?” “Oh, uncle! you have had five.” “No, my dear! not five; only four — only four, I assure you; I have been very particular to count. I had one while I was—” “Five uncle; indeed and indeed.” “Well, then, as I hate the prejudice which attaches luck to an odd number, I’ll have a sixth to show that I am not superstitious.”  ~ Anthony Trollope
  • When one is impatient, five minutes is as the duration of all time, and a quarter of an hour is eternity.  ~ Anthony Trollope
  • We strain at our gnats with a vengeance, but we swallow our camels with ease. ~ Anthony Trollope
  • Wounds sometimes must be opened in order that they may be healed.  ~ Anthony Trollope
  • Love can only be paid in its own coin: it knows of no other legal tender.   ~ Anthony Trollope
Who would you recommend? Anyone you would NOT recommend?

I'm reading a lot of Henry James and Anthony Trollope this year!

Favorite book you've read so far...

The Karamazov Brothers. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Translated by Ignat Avsey. 1880/2008. 1054 pages. [Source: Library] 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, June 23, 2017

Piggy's Pancake Parlor

Piggy's Pancake Parlor. David McPhail. 2002. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Piggy grew up on a small farm just below the hilltop village of West Wee. He was the runt of a large litter of pigs. The farm was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Farmer Todd, who took Piggy in because he was weak and underfed.

Premise/plot: Piggy, a runt raised by a farmer and his wife, learns the family's secret recipe for making the BEST PANCAKES EVER. He goes into business with Fox and starts a pancake parlor. These two friends learn many, many things together as the business grows and their customers keep coming back for MORE, MORE, MORE.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It is an early chapter book: 48 pages in length, but nine chapters in total. It is illustrated. I love that the Fox--whom readers first meet IN a hen house stealing eggs--is not the automatic villain. I love that Piggy and his human parents are compassionate and generous. But my favorite FAVORITE aspect of this one was how they use Piggy's interest in TOY TRAINS in the restaurant--with mixed results!!! I loved the story, the characters, the writing.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Death of a Gossip

Death of a Gossip. M.C. Beaton. 1985. 179 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: 'I hate the start of the week,' said John Cartwright fretfully.

Premise/plot: Death of a Gossip is the first mystery starring Hamish Macbeth. The series is set in Scotland. The setting of the first book is largely a fishing school/club and its surrounding rivers and lakes. John and Heather Cartwright manage the school, most of the students are out-of-town tourists. The students this eventful week are: Marvin and Amy Roth, Lady Jane Winters, Jeremy Blythe, Alice Wilson, Charlie Baxter, Major Peter Frame, and Daphne Gore. By the end of the week, one of these guests/students will be dead. Though technically Chief Inspector Blair is the detective on the case, it is really Hamish Macbeth, local constable, that gets the job done.

My thoughts: My mom hasn't read this first book, but she has been LOVING the later books in the series. I remember reading this one and not being all that impressed. But. I wanted to give Hamish Macbeth another try. I hope to see the television series soon. I am still not all that impressed. SO MUCH FISHING. I'm hoping that the series will improve as it goes on.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Princess Cora and the Crocodile. Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Brian Floca. 2017. Candlewick. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When Princess Cora was born, her mother and father thought she was as perfect as a snowflake.

Premise/plot: Soon after she was born, Princess Cora's parents stopped thinking she was perfect and began to worry about training her to be the next queen. Cora's training is 24/7. Her nanny has her taking at least three baths a day; the queen has her reading dry, boring books and studying for hours at a time; the king has her skipping ropes for hours so that she'll be the strongest monarch ever. Cora doesn't have it in her to rebel against the system directly, but, she does write her fairy godmother with one little request. She wants a pet. (She really wants a dog, but her note doesn't specify that clearly.) She ends up ripping up the note--which then turns into a butterfly--because she can't go with it. But to her surprise, the fairy godmother responds to her plea for help and does send her a pet. The pet she gets? A crocodile, of course! Will her pet crocodile save her from a life of misery?

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. It was very silly, but also a lot of fun. It isn't your typical princess story, not really. This princess story has some bite to it. Overall, I'd say it was a very enjoyable early chapter book for young readers. The message is LIVE MORE, worry less. And sometimes that's the exact message parents need to hear. (Because it isn't just kings and queens who worry about training their child to BE SOMETHING.)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Last Word

One Last Word. Nikki Grimes. 2017. Bloomsbury. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I was thirteen years old when I read my poetry aloud in front of an audience for the first time.

Premise/plot: Nikki Grimes shares some of her favorite poems from the Harlem Renaissance in her newest book. After sharing the original poem, she follows it with one of her own. All of Grimes' poems are written in the poetry form Golden Shovel.
The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original.
The framework for this poetry collection is a brother and sister discouraged by watching the news come to find hope and inspiration from reading poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. The introductory poem asks, "Can I really find fuel for the future in the past?" In the last poem, we return to the framework. He has found his answer: "The past is a ladder that can help you keep climbing."

The collection includes poems from Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, William Waring Cuney, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Clara Ann Thompson, and Jean Toomer. (Biographies for each poet can be found in the back matter.) Each poem features an illustration. So many illustrators contributed to this book.

My thoughts: I really LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I was unfamiliar with the Golden Shovel form before picking this one up, but, WOW what an incredible idea. I imagine it is very challenging yet extremely satisfying to write. I loved the poems Grimes shared. I was familiar with some of these poets, but, not all of them. I think I'll have to seek out more Georgia Douglas Johnson. I also loved Grimes' new poems. What this collection does really well is show how timeless poetry is, and how relevant it remains in our lives.

If you read only one poetry book this year, I'd recommend it be this one. It's SO good.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Return to the Secret Garden

Return to the Secret Garden. Holly Webb. 2016 (November). 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The children marched down the street in a long line of twos, and only one of them looked back.

Premise/plot: Emmie Hatton, our heroine, is an orphan. The book opens--in London, 1939--with her orphanage being evacuated to the countryside. All are sent to Misselthwaite Manor. Emmie is upset. You might think naturally so. After all, the children are being sent to the countryside for their safety, in anticipation of London being bombed. It's not just orphans facing this potentially traumatic move. But Emmie is upset by the fact that she can't take "her" cat, Lucy, with her. She's been told that animals are being put down--killed--because there isn't enough food and resources. So to say that Emmie's distraught at the idea of being separated from Lucy isn't that much of a stretch. Life at Misselthwaite Manor is nice enough. She soon finds a DIARY in her bedroom. She reads it: it tells of a lonely miserable girl named Mary. A girl who learned to jump rope. A girl who found a key. A girl who went in search of a door...in a wall. A girl who slowly but surely made friends and found her place to belong. Emmie wants that to be her story as well. So she sets off to find the door. She too finds the Secret Garden. She too makes friends with the gardener, the birds, the flowers. But will she find a family in her new 'temporary' home?

My thoughts: Return to the Secret Garden is written for a much younger audience than the original The Secret Garden, in my opinion. The text is much simpler; the vocabulary much more accessible. Also there isn't as much complexity and depth to the story or to the characters. It definitely is NOT action-driven. I'm not sure I'd call it theme-driven either. But it is very much about belonging and finding a place to call your own. It was nice to revisit some of the original characters. It may not have been the exact book I was hoping for. But it was a pleasant enough, quick enough read.

It would be interesting to see--perhaps as a young adult or adult book--a more direct sequel to the book that focuses on Mary, Colin, and Dickon before, during, and immediately after the Great War, the War to End All Wars. It might prove to be a devastating book--one that you'd have to put in the freezer. But it would be worth reading...at least in the hands of the right author.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Buy My Hats

Buy My Hats. Dave Horowitz. 2010. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Buy my hats! Monday. Down at the City Market, Frank and Carl got ready to sell some hats. "Step right up," said Carl. "Who wants to buy a hat?" But nobody did. Frank and Carl sold only ONE hat all day.

Premise/plot: Readers spend a week with Frank and Carl as they try to sell hats. All week long, Frank and Carl witness other businesses succeed while theirs fails. Every day they ask the more successful business their SECRET for success...every day they hear something new. (For example, Mister Pig is all about advertising his brand.) Will these two ever learn how to sell hats?

My thoughts: I liked it. I think I may like the premise more than the actual book. But. I still really like it overall. The author includes a note about the inspiration for the story.
In elementary school we were given an assignment to choose a fictitious product and create an advertisement for it. One student brought in a hat. Her poster was just the words BUY MY HATS! I thought it was brilliant. The teacher disagreed and gave her an F. Thirty years later, I can't even remember the student (who I'm sure grew up to become an international hat magnate), but I still remember those three little words: Buy My Hats!
Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, June 19, 2017


Hat. Paul Hoppe. 2009. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day, Henry found a hat. "Can I keep it? Hat would be so cool!" Hat protects from the sun. Hat keeps off the rain. Hat is great for catching mice and performing magic tricks.

Premise/plot: Henry finds a hat on a park bench one day. He wants it as he imagines that it would be awesome to have. Henry has a BIG imagination. Hat--as seen through Henry's eyes--is anything but ordinary. Will Henry take the hat? Or will he leave it on the bench?

My thoughts: I love this one. I love, love, love the illustrations. I love the story and the writing. I love the joyfulness of this one boy's imagination. One of my favorite scenes in the book is..."Hat saves Henry's life." In the illustration, readers see a smug looking Henry. An alligator (or perhaps crocodile?!) has been foiled from eating Henry by this awesome red hat you see in its jaws. But I think what I love most of all is how we revisit all his original ideas in a new way after his mom asks him, "But, Henry, what if someone else needs this hat?"

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Good Day for a Hat

A Good Day for A Hat. T. Nat Fuller. Illustrated by Rob Hodgson. 2017. Abrams. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Today is a good day for a hat," said Mr. Brown. But when he stepped outside...it was raining. "I have just the hat for that," Mr. Brown said. But when he stepped outside...the rain had turned to snow. "I have just the hat for that," Mr. Brown said. But when he stepped outside...

Premise/plot: Mr. Brown has a LOT of hats. But which hat will he wear today? Every time he opens the door, he's surprised by what he sees. And what he sees leads him to get a different hat to wear! Will he ever make it out the door and be on his way? And where is he going anyway?! It's a fun reveal at the end that is JUST RIGHT for this playful book.

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. I do. I love the writing. I think the repetition is awesome. I think it would lend itself well to writing activities in the classroom. But I don't just think it's a book that lends itself to writing or drawing prompts. I think it would be a great 'just for fun' read aloud either one-on-one with little ones and their parents or in a group setting at the library or in the classroom. I think there's enough--in the illustrations and the text--that will make rereads just as delightful.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Snoopy Contact!

Snoopy Contact! Charles M. Schultz. 2015. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: (Lucy) How can you be happy when you don't know what this year has in store for you? Don't you worry about all the things that can happen? That's better...live in dread...and fear...be sensible... (Snoopy) He he he he he he he.

Premise/plot: Snoopy: Contact! is a collection of Peanuts comic strips. Probably half of the comics in this collection feature Snoopy as a World War I Flying Ace in pursuit of the Red Baron. The other half in this collection focuses on all the characters and takes readers through all four seasons.

One of my favorite Flying Ace strips has Snoopy imagining himself landing behind the trenches having to crawl over/under barbed wire before he's spotted by enemy machine gunners. The barbed wire is really a jump rope in action. That comic is on page 14.

Another favorite strip has Snoopy singing for his dinner. I could really RELATE to this one. Charlie Brown ends the strip saying, "I must admit he's a very satisfying person to cook for." This strip is on page 29. (Page 30 has a great summer-themed strip.)

A little later on readers see Snoopy going through a photo album. What's making him so happy? He's looking at pictures of all the supper dishes he's ever owned. (107)

Ever wondered if Snoopy is the kind of dog to make plans?
(Charlie Brown) Well, Snoopy, what are your plans for today?
(Snoopy) Plans? I hadn't even thought about it. But I suppose I'll sleep a little this morning...then this afternoon, I'll take a short nap, and later on I'll try to get more sleep...those are good plans. (54)
One of my favorite winter-themed strips has Snoopy skating. Snoopy has had to do a lot of his practicing at night...because otherwise he's "surrounded by flocks of admiring girls..." (141).

My thoughts: I really love this collection. Snoopy and Linus are my favorite characters from Peanuts. The book is a quick read. I often found myself wanting to share strips with others.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Case Against Sugar

The Case Against Sugar. Gary Taubes. 2016. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: What if Roald Dahl and Michael Pollan are right, that the taste of sugar on the tongue can be a kind of intoxication? Doesn't it suggest the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy, and can do so when taken by mouth. It doesn't have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to infants it provokes a feeling of pleasure so profound that intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Premise/plot: Taubes argues in his newest book that sugar--both sucrose and high fructose corn syrup--is the principal cause of several (in fact many) diseases that are most likely to kill us. Taubes' book is a thorough examination of the subject.

Chapters include:
  • Introduction: Why Diabetes?
  • Drug or Food?
  • The First Ten Thousand Years
  • The Marriage of Tobacco and Sugar
  • A Peculiar Evil
  • The Early (Bad) Science
  • The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  • Big Sugar
  • Defending Sugar
  • What They Didn't Know
  • The If/Then Problem: I
  • The If/Then Problem: II
  • How Little Is Still Too Much?
Essentially, he argues against the status quo of nutritionists and scientists, those that would say it's dietary fat that makes you fat. That it is fat and salt in our diets that lead to disease. He argues against the idea that it is overeating and sedentary lifestyles that are making us fat--obese--and leading to more health problems. He carefully examines the evidence, the research. Just because someone claims to back up their claims with "the latest research" doesn't make it legit. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of ways to approach studies for research. Some more reliable than others. The results of studies have to be interpreted. And two people looking at the same set of facts can reach two very different, often contradictory conclusions. Research studies with humans often fail to consider all the factors going on. And animal studies, well, they may prove how mouse or rat biology work, but, don't always correlate well with us. Taubes argues that there is bias involved as well. If your research is funded exclusively by the sugar industry, well....let's just say that the sugar industry has spent decades defending sugar and excels at public relations. (And the sugar industry is not alone.)

Taubes examines both sides in a way. He looks at the research that says dietary fat is to blame and that sugar is harmless. He critiques those studies, those conclusions. He then presents his own views. How does the body digest sugar? What is the effect of sugar on the body? What are the short-term effects? What are the long-term effects? What if scientists have gotten the cause and effect mixed up? What if its sugar which leads to obesity which leads to metabolic syndrome which leads to diabetes which leads to heart disease which leads to this that and the other? What if sugar isn't harmless? Why are people so unwilling to consider the idea that sugar is the culprit? Why are people more willing to give up meat than sugar--to blame fat than sugar? To blame ANYTHING than sugar? Why aren't people asking more questions and looking at things from a common sense approach?

Whether your interest is in history, science, nutrition, or culture, Taubes' book may keep you reading. One thing it is not is a diet book, a how-to-lose-weight-and-be-the-best-you book. I'd describe the book as thorough, well-documented, and logical. It is his attempt to reason with you--with skeptics, with critics, with anyone and everyone who assumes that sugar is harmless and that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.

My thoughts: I'll be honest. I wanted to file this one in the horror genre. Some of the facts are truly horrifying in terms of what it means to human society, to the human race. At times I felt Taubes was a bit pessimistic, abandon hope all ye who have ever eaten sugar.

I'm going to guess that most readers will find his "no amount of sugar is safe to consume" guideline a bit too unrealistic and strict. 

But regardless of whether Taubes motivates you to give up processed foods and sugar, his book is thought-provoking. He gets you thinking about what you're consuming that's for sure.

Diabetes is a subject that I care very deeply about. I think it's a dangerous disease because the dangers--the effects of the disease--are not immediate. It's really easy to think it doesn't really matter if I eat that cookie or not. It's easy to cling to the idea that you'll straighten out your diet tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. That there is always time to get it under control. But the truth is every day counts. That it is serious, that it should be taken seriously. That it can lead to head-to-toe health problems. If you've ever witnessed someone die from complications related to diabetes, you know what I'm talking about.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Picture Book Parade

Option 1:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which squares did you fill?
  • Which squares are you having trouble with?
  • How many until you bingo?
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?

Option 2:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which categories did you check off your list?
  • What is your goal? How close are you to meeting that goal?
  • Which categories are you having trouble with?
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?

Option 3:
  • What picture books did you read this month?
  • Which letters have you read?
  • How many more to go until you've read the alphabet? K and X
  • Which letters are you having trouble with? K and X apparently :)
  • Do you have suggestions for other participants?
Books reviewed since last time:
  1. How This Book Was Made. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Adam Rex. 2016. 44 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Matilda's Cat. Emily Gravett. 2012. 26 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. Lily Brown's Paintings. Angela Johnson. 2007. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History. Walter Dean Myers. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. 2017. HarperCollins. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Board book: So Many Feet. Nichole Mara. Illustrated by Alexander Vidal. 2017. Abrams. 34 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Mama Cat Has Three Kittens. Denise Fleming. 1998. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. I Don't Know What To Call My Cat. Simon Philip. Illustrated by Ella Bailey. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. The Cat Book. Silvia Borando. 2017. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  9. We're All Wonders. R.J. Palacio. 2017. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. The Queen's Handbag. Steve Antony. 2017. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. Harry by the Sea. Gene Zion. Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. 1976. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. Say Hello to Zorro! Carter Goodrich. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
  13. Pig the Pug. Aaron Blabey. 2014. Scholastic. 24 pages. [Source: Library]
  14. No More Bows. Samantha Cotterill. 2017. HarperCollins. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
  15. Dog Book. Lorenzo Clerici. 2017. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  16. Rolling Thunder. Kate Messner. Illustrated by Greg Ruth. 2017. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  17. Elephant Twins. Richard Sobol. 2014. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  18. Elephants Can Paint Too. Katya Arnold. 2005. 40 pages. [Source: Library] 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Button Girl

The Button Girl. Sally Apokedak. 2017. 394 pages. [Source: Review copy provided by author]

First sentence from the Prologue: REPENTANCE ATWATER STOOD BESIDE HER little sister, Comfort, studying the damp ground where all the mushrooms grew.

Premise/plot: Repentance has always been taught to reverence Providence; from the time she was a girl she's been taught the will of Providence, taught to submit to the will of Providence no matter the personal cost. But Repentance is sixteen, and, she has a decision to make. Should she accept the status quo and button with Sober? If she does the first two boys they have will belong to the Overlord and become slaves. (For Repentance and Sober both live in a breeder village.) If she does not button with Sober, then she herself--and Sober--will become slaves, will be carted away from their families and SOLD. A happy ending seems impossible, no one that she knows has fought back, resisted, persevered and won against the Overlords. Should she be the first from Hot Springs to do so?

As you might have gathered, The Button Girl is a fantasy novel. I would say it is best for young adults and adults. Repentance herself is sixteen, but, the decisions she makes thrust her into a very adult world. A world where young women, especially attractive young women are sold as sex slaves. The book isn't just about sex slaves, though, but about slavery itself. The world in which Repentance and Sober live, slavery is a harsh reality--the way things are, the way things have been for over two hundred years.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED the world-building in this fantasy novel. Readers learn alongside Repentance, the heroine. (This is a great way to show not tell, a way to avoid the info dump.) And the magical elements do, in part, make this a fascinating read.  But even more than the world itself, I love the story and the characters. I love Repentance. I love her determination, her feisty spirit. I love that she follows her heart, her conscience. I love that she doesn't accept that the way things are is the way things have to be forever and ever. I love her loyalty and selflessness. But even more than I love Repentance, I love and adore Sober. But the more I talk about Sober, the more I gush more likely, the greater the chance of spoiling this one. He's a GOOD guy. 

Favorite quotes:
Inside she’d been weeping and wailing all her life. She could go along with the buttoning, that’s what she could do. She could learn to be content like everyone else. But she was not like everyone else. She tried to be. She wanted to be. She had practiced the precepts of Providence since she was no bigger than a swamp rat. To be discontent is to complain against Providence himself, to call him a liar, to say he has not provided as he ought. And yet, Repentance Atwater was not content living in the breeder village. She was not content with the fog that clung like a burial shroud. She was not content with the muggy, oppressive heat, which threatened to smother her. And, most assuredly, she was not content to be buttoned to Sober Marsh and to bear sons for the overlords to take as slaves.
 Providence desires us to be honest, merciful, and joyous. Perfect! Except you couldn’t be all three at once. Honesty sucked all the joy right out of a body.
“I’m not really your merchandise, you know,” Repentance said, selecting another potato from the basket on the floor. “You can’t tell me what to think. What’s inside is the real me, and that’s between me and Providence. You can’t own that part.” Jadin burst out laughing. “You are welcome to your insides, Repentance. I cannot package and sell them. No man cares to buy the thoughts of a silly girl.”

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How This Book Was Made

How This Book Was Made. Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Adam Rex. 2016. 44 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: At first this book wasn't a book. It was an idea. Ideas can come at funny times. When I had the idea for this book, I went to a quiet place and I wrote. I wrote from early in the morning until late at night. It was very hard work. Soon I had a bunch of words on paper. Those words were a first draft. The first draft of this book was not so good. Neither was the second draft. Or the third. Or the twelfth.

Premise/plot: Love to write? Love to draw? Want to write your own books someday? This how-to picture book might just inspire the next generation to craft stories of their own. If it is nonfiction, it's OVER-THE-TOP meant to be hilarious to the audience nonfiction. (For example, he squeezes in some nonsense among his good advice. "But writing lots of drafts is a useful part of the writing process. For instance, when the tiger came back for revenge because I beat him in arm wrestling, I burned these drafts and scared him away.")

My thoughts: Barnett argues in this "message" book that a book is NOT a book until it has a reader. Once a book has a reader, then the book is MADE. I'm not sure I agree 100% with that. I would argue that there is a reader for most every book, and that every book has the potential to be some one's BEST BOOK EVER. I like this book, not sure that I love, love, love it.
Because a book can have words and pictures and paper and tigers, but a book still isn't a book, not really, until it has a reader. And then you came along, and you read this book through to the very last page, which was how this book was made.
Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It

Why We Get Fat. Gary Taubes. 2010. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from chapter one: Imagine you're serving on a jury.

Premise/plot: Taubes asks readers to forget everything they think they know about obesity, nutrition, and weight loss. At least everything that they may have picked up from the 1960s on. Taubes' theory on WHY we get fat may shock some, but, of course not all of his readers.

Here are a few of his potentially controversial claims:

Obesity is not caused by overeating and lack of exercise. If you're obese it is not because you're a lazy glutton with no self control.

There is a connection, of course, between obesity and overeating, but Taubes insists most people have it backwards. We overeat as a result of being fat. That is, there is something going on in our bodies--in our cells--that causes us to store fat, to hold onto fat, to not use the food we eat at fuel. It is our bodies quest for more fuel to burn that leads us to eat more, to overeat, if you will. It's a cruel cycle. Our bodies aren't getting what they need from food, but, our bodies keep trying. What causes this? Well, Taubes argues that there are a handful of factors: our genes, our hormones and enzymes, our insulin. (Specifically, he discusses having too little estrogen, and too much insulin.) Our bodies can--at any age really--become insulin resistant. And being insulin resistant leads to trouble, for one thing our bodies turn carbohydrates, sugars into fat. I know I'm forgetting something--I think LDL? Anyway, Taubes explains the science of how our bodies work. And reading it, well, it made sense at least at the time!

Taubes insists that both being obese and losing weight is not a matter of calories in/calories out. Of balancing how many calories are consumed by eating and drinking and how many calories are burned by exercise. He is emphatic about this: eating less calories does not make for successful weight loss AND increasing one's activity through exercise does not make for successful weight loss. Exercise makes you hungrier. Being hungrier makes you eat more. Eating more means more calories than you would have consumed had you not exercised. Eating less and doing less is not a long-term solution either. Yes, one can fast and lose weight. One can lose weight on bed rest. But not as part of a successful long-term solution to losing weight.

Some people are naturally lean. But that doesn't mean they will always, always, always be lean. At some point, they too may become insulin resistant. If that happens--when that happens--they too will start to store fat and pack on the pounds.

Many people, however, are not naturally lean. Though not a main point in his book, he did point out that the blood sugar levels of the mother effect the baby in the womb. (Very scary thought!!!) Their bodies can start out life being a bit insulin resistant. This is something that just progressively happens. Perhaps this is why children--even young children--are growing up overweight and obese. Perhaps this is why more children and teenagers are becoming type two diabetics.

As I was saying, unless you have incredible genes and are fortunate enough to be able to eat anything and everything you want, there's a very large chance that you're fat because of the carbohydrates you're eating. The only way to successfully lose weight--Taubes insists--is to eliminate carbohydrates from your life. Taubes attacks simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. He's not just targeting donuts, but, things like carrots and lima beans as well. Also fruit. Taubes really seems to have something against fruit.

To those that would say carbohydrates are essential fuel for your body, that your brain cannot function without carbohydrates, Taubes would respond with this: your body can and will learn how to use fat for fuel, and, that fat is a better fuel for your body, for your brain, anyway. 

Taubes insists, and, I fully concur, that this is not a diet book. This is a commit-to-do-something-for-life book. This is a book that asks readers to make difficult decisions. Give up almost all carbohydrates while losing weight, and, to once they reach their goal weight, possibly allow up to 72 carbohydrates a day. (Though I think he still would prefer you eat vegetables and fruits as opposed to grains.)

What would Taubes have you eat? A LOT OF MEAT. As much meat as you want, as often as you want. Don't worry about lean meat, any meat will do. GOOD QUANTITY of fat. Though he doesn't include a list of what fatty foods are healthy fat and which are not, he does emphasis that fat is not the problem. Eating fat does not make you fat. He recommends things like olive oil, avocados, eggs, etc. This book was written before the coconut oil craze, so he's silent on that issue. CERTAIN VEGETABLES. Essentially if it's a leafy green or a head of cabbage, you can eat however much you want. Acceptable vegetables are: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, jicama, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, pumpkin, shallots, snow peas, sprouts, sugar snap peas, summer squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, wax beans, and zucchini. (Two cups per day of leafy greens. One cup (measure uncooked) per day of other vegetables.)

My thoughts: Do I have thoughts?! YES. I think I agree with him up to a point. I do think that carbohydrates--especially overly processed, simple, turn-to-sugar-in-your-mouth carbohydrates are a big, big, big problem and should be the first thing to go if you're looking to be healthy and lose some weight.

However, Taubes has it in against complex carbohydrates. But some carbohydrates, I believe, are very slow to be digested and do not raise one's blood sugar or wreak havoc with insulin levels. And I do believe there is such a thing as resistant starch, and that resistant starch can be good for you. 

I believe that protein, fiber, and fat are KEY essentials in the weight loss journey. I do not believe that complex carbohydrates should be eliminated completely. Just measured. Eating a half-cup of lima beans is different than eating two cups after all. And so long as you don't go overboard and eat JUST carbohydrates at a meal, I think it all balances out in the end. I also am a big fan of fruit. Not eating just a meal of fruit. Not eating it in excess. But moderation is key.

Taubes definitely has something against sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, fruit, etc. But he did not say enough--in my opinion--against artificial sweeteners. He was, in fact, allowing them as substitutes. In my opinion, perhaps with the exception of stevia, and, I'll be honest organic stevia, artificial sweeteners should be avoided completely.

I do think it's wise to avoid sugar and sweets. But Taubes zero-tolerance is too much for me. I may not have a lot of sugar in my diet, some would say I have barely any, but no one will make me surrender my teaspoon of honey per day, and my 'starchy' (though measured) vegetables (lima beans are candy, don't you know!!!) and my fruit. If you give up the junky-sugar, there is plenty of naturally occurring sweet things to enjoy.

Another thing that Taubes does not mention--perhaps because the book is 'old' now--is probiotics and prebiotics, and the microbiome in general. The gut is the second brain, and, you might be surprised at how your GUT effects your brain. How essential a healthy gut is, and, how important GOOD BUGGIES are to your life and well-being. I do believe you have to starve off the bad guys, the guys telling you EAT SUGAR, EAT SUGAR, MORE SUGAR, NOW, NOW, NOW.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider. Ambelin Kwaymullina. 2015/2017. Candlewick Press. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I floated, adrift in my own consciousness. All alone in the peaceful dark. Except I wasn't really alone and I wasn't in the dark. Or my body wasn't.

What you should know about the series:

This is the third book in Ambelin Kwaymullina's Tribe series. The first two books are The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf and The Disappearance of Ember Crow. It is absolutely essential that you read the books in order.

It is YA speculative fiction. I'd say somewhere between dystopian and post-apocalyptic. Post-apocalyptic because it is set hundreds of years after 'the reckoning' that almost destroyed the planet and wiped out humanity. Dystopian because of the ordered--often cruel--society or government that has restructured the world. So if you like or love either genre, then you should pick this one up. It is also science fiction. Not all characters are flesh-and-blood humans. There is some romance, some mystery, a good bit of fantasy, and a LOT of action.

The premise is simple perhaps to make up for the complex storytelling and intense plot. The premise? Well, some people are born with special powers or abilities. These abilities manifest themselves over time, so, you essentially grow into your power/ability. Strength (intensity/power) and control (ability to direct, use at will) vary from person to person. These people are labeled 'illegal' and are targeted by the government. The book is about the conflict between Illegals and the Powers That Be. Questioning Authority and Being True To Yourself are some of the themes explored.  

Premise/plot: This third book while not told strictly from Georgie's point of view certainly focuses more on Georgie than the previous two books have. Georgie's special gift is seeing the future. The animals she has a special bond with are spiders. (Ashala, the main heroine, is bonded with wolves; Ember, another heroine, is bonded with crows. You'll find that most characters--each Illegal--have a special bond with a specific animal.)

Georgie's seeing the future--all the many, many, many possibilities of the future. And the future is bleak. In all of the futures she sees, Ashala dies, and, the world is thrown into what she calls a 'blizzard.' It is a future too cold, too bleak, too disconnected, too unbalanced to foresee anymore. Georgie has always thought that she could not, should not, try to change the future, to pick any one future over the others. But. She finds herself NEEDING to save her friend's life...if possible. And she can't do it alone. The future depends on the choices of her friends. And Georgie informs each friend that their choices MATTER, so they should choose wisely.

Enemies were introduced in the first two books, and, this is THE BOOK where it all comes together and the BIG SHOWDOWN has to happen.

My thoughts: I was drawn into the story with the first book. But I can't say that I love, love, love everything about the series. As a fantasy-influenced sci-fi novel, it works well. But the world-building is really world-view-building as well. And this one has a lot of elements that I personally don't care for. Let's just say that the "theology" of this one is more influenced by "I Am the Walrus" than the Bible. Everything--every animal, every human, every plant, every speck of dirt, every breath of air--is connected in a spiritual, philosophical way. So the well-being of everything is interconnected. Ashala and the others interact with an ancient spirit or too. And Ashala even believes that her ancient spirit guide is her "grandfather." One of the ancient spirits is actually my favorite character. I love Starbeauty. I don't love her because she's an ancient spirit; I don't love her because she's oh-so-wise. I love her because she's a cat, and she acts like a cat in many ways.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake. (Wilcox and Griswold #1). Robin Newman. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Boys and girls, this case is about thieves on Ed's farm. The names have been changed to protect the good guys. Over 100 animals live on this farm. Most work. Some horse around. Others steal. That's where I come in. My name is Detective Wilcox. I'm a policemouse. The boss is Captain Griswold. We're MFIs, Missing Food Investigators. It's our job to investigate cases of missing food. Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time. It was Monday morning. The captain and I were working the day shift when we got our first call.

Premise/plot: This is the first in a new early chapter book series by Robin Newman. It's a mystery series. I should add in a very FUNNY, well-crafted mystery series. In this first book, Miss Rabbit reports that her CARROT CAKE is missing. Wilcox and Griswold take the case, and the hard work begins. WHO is the thief? Can young readers solve the mystery before the big reveal?

My thoughts: I LOVE this one. I read plenty of early chapter books, and, while I appreciate many for what they do, I don't always love, love, love them for myself. I include myself in the target audience for this new series. I just adore the characters. And I LOVE the writing. Newman makes me LAUGH. My favorite line: "Truth to tell, this case was inching along slower than ketchup out of a bottle. Much slower indeed."

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Matilda's Cat

Matilda's Cat. Emily Gravett. 2012. 26 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Matilda's cat likes playing with wool, playing with wool, boxes, playing with wool, boxes and riding bikes!

Premise/plot: In this delightful picture book readers meet Matilda and her cat. Matilda, the heroine, is dressed as a cat. She is trying to play WITH her cat. She's brainstorming constantly. What should we do now? How can we have fun together? How about this? How about that? The truth is most of what Matilda tries to get her cat to do, most of what Matilda says her cat likes...is not really true. But all is not lost. Matilda's cat does love something very much: MATILDA.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. It's very expressive and creative. I loved the spread, "Matilda's cat likes drawing." Readers see Matilda sprawled out on the floor, surrounded by colored pencils, happily drawing. She's drawing a cat of course. But it's the expression on the cat's face that is almost priceless. It's also super-super cute to see all the kid-drawn art. Like there's one of Matilda's drawings that take THREE pieces of paper. The cat is knitting a sweater for Matilda. One of the sleeves covers three pieces of paper. If you look closely, Matilda's art reveals how the earlier activities should have gone. You see Matilda and the cat HAPPILY playing in boxes side by side. You see the cat bravely fighting a dragon. (Just the page before the text reads, "and fighting foes!") The picture of the tea party is adorable. As is the bicycle riding picture. And it is NOT easy to draw a bicycle. I think the book perfectly illustrates that our own interests sometimes dictate a little too much what we like to do with friends. Of course, the more obvious conclusion is that cats will be cats will be cats. And that you can't make a cat do something a cat doesn't want to do.

Another spread I really love is when Matilda tries to read a bedtime story to her cat. Her choice: Emily Gravett's DOGS. The cat REALLY, REALLY, REALLY doesn't want to do that!!!

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, June 09, 2017

Dawn's Early Light

Dawn's Early Light. Elswyth Thane. 1934/2017. Chicago Review Press. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: He stood remote and alone amid the cheerful bustle of the dock at Yorktown. Around his feet in their silver-buckled shoes was stacked enough luggage for two men. Behind him rose the proud, sharp prow and slender spars of the Mary Jones, which had brought him across the Atlantic from Southampton.

Premise/plot: Julian Day, one of our heroes, is a newly arrived Englishman. He's come to America, to Virginia, to be a school master. He becomes great friends with St. John Sprague. In fact he becomes almost one of the family--this in spite of the fact that he's on the 'wrong side' of the conflict or tensions. St. John is madly in love with Regina Greensleeves. Regina vows never to marry a man who'd fight against the King. This coming from the woman who'd flirt with any man within sight. (Think Scarlett O'Hara.) But St. John sees past the surface problems and is convinced he's the only man he'd be able to put her and keep her in place. (He may be right on that.) Julian, meanwhile, is blinded by two things: Regina's beauty AND Tibby's undying love for him. Who is Tibby? Well, she's a young girl, an abused and troubled girl, an impoverished girl who wants to be allowed to attend school with her twin brother. It's just not fair--she insists--that her brother gets an opportunity to go to school and she doesn't. After all, she's just as bright--if not more so--than her brother. After getting to know her better, Julian agrees. He becomes her greatest champion and supporter. It's no surprise that she loves, loves, loves, loves, LOVES him. But will he ever see her as a potential wife? It doesn't seem likely--at least not at first. But as the years go by, as the tensions turn into WAR, much changes.

My thoughts: I really loved this one. I love that it's a first in a series. I love that the series is a family saga that will span generations. I love that it's set in America. So often I'm drawn to books and series set in England, it is nice for me to be able to be swept away by American history. I love the historical aspects of it. I love that some of the characters interacted with real, historical people.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Portrait of a Lady (1968)

Portrait of a Lady (1968) starring Richard Chamberlain, Suzanne Neve, Edward Fox, Ed Bishop, James Maxwell, Rachel Gurney, Sarah Brackett, and Kathleen Byron.

 I recently read and reviewed Henry James' Portrait of a Lady. This is the film adaptation my library had. It is a six-part miniseries from 1968--a BBC production. So even though James is an American author, this is a British production of his work. The book begins and ends in England, so that makes sense to me.

If you are looking for a production that stays true to the original, then this miniseries is for you. It hasn't been that long since I read the book, and, I can tell you that I recognized lines of dialogue as coming straight from the book.

Isabel Archer, the heroine, seeks to see the world and make her own path. At first she is greatly helped by her aunt and cousin. Ralph, the cousin, becomes one of her best friends. He is her biggest advocate. He convinces his father--her uncle--to leave her a lot of money in his will. He does. And she uses that money to see much. Unfortunately, she's now become even more vulnerable. Gilbert Osmond, for example, wants to marry her for her MONEY. Her money will make him a man. Of course, his idea of a perfect wife is a woman with no thoughts, ideas, opinions of her own. And absolutely she must be void of all gumption and independence. Her money may be his salvation. But the marriage may prove her undoing. But Isabel doesn't take marriage lightly. And though she realizes after the fact that her charming suitor is a monster, she's in it for better or worse. But that doesn't mean she won't follow her heart, her conscience. The same conscience that won't let her leave him, is the same one that calls to her that she must attend her dying cousin's deathbed no matter what her husband dictates.

I definitely enjoyed this 1968 production. It is almost six hours in length. I will admit that it looks like an "old" production. You can definitely tell the difference between a BBC production say from the 60s or 70s and one from the 2000s. But I appreciate that nothing has been added to make it more dramatic and appealing. I have not seen the 1996 production, but it describes itself as sensual.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Lily Brown's Paintings

Lily Brown's Paintings. Angela Johnson. 2007. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Lily Brown loves her mama, daddy, and baby brother and the world they live in. Sometimes she spins around her room thinking about their world. And it's wondrous. But when Lily Brown paints, her world starts to change.

Premise/plot: Lily lives happily in two worlds. The second world she lives in is one of her own imagination, her own reckoning.
When Lily Brown paints fruit at the corner market, it is striped and polka-dotted. It speaks to people, then laughs out loud. When people put the fruit in bags to take home, the apples sing all the way there.
At the end of the day, when the painting--for now--has all been done, she happily returns to the real world and LOVES it just as much.

My thoughts: What doesn't this picture book celebrate? It celebrates art, freedom of expression, love of life, love of family, JOY, imagination. I'm sure I could think of more if I keep rereading it. It's just a joy to spend time with Lily.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History. Walter Dean Myers. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. 2017. HarperCollins. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This is the story of how one man's careful decisions and many accomplishments not only made his own life better but in many ways changed the history of America.

Premise/plot: This is a picture book biography of Frederick Douglass by Walter Dean Myers.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the narrative very much. Douglass' story is compelling, and, I believe Myers was able to do it justice.
Frederick watched as the Auld children received an education. He listened as they excitedly shared their ideas and dreams with friends. Theirs sounded like a good life, and he wanted the same chance to build a good life for himself.
If learning to read would make him unfit to be a slave, then that's what Frederick would do: He made the courageous decision to learn to read. It would be very difficult, because slaves were not allowed to go to school or have books to practice reading. When he could, he borrowed books from the young white friends he sometimes played with. He picked up old newspapers and flyers he found in the street. Anything that contained precious words was important to Frederick.
Not only could he tell of his experiences, but he could speak with an eloquence that stirred the souls of his audience. Douglass was often asked by the abolitionist society to speak at their meetings. Some people who heard him could hardly believe that he had ever been a slave. They wondered if all the black people working in the fields or on Southern plantations had the potential of this tall and handsome young man.
The careful and wise decisions made by Frederick Douglass--to learn to read, to escape from slavery, to speak out for justice for all Americans, and to aid the Union Army--had helped to write American history.

In telling Douglass' story, much of American history is touched upon. These are complex not simple subjects, yet, they're clearly and concisely presented to young readers.

I also really LOVED the illustrations.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Nate the Great

Nate the Great. Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Illustrated by Marc Simont. 1972. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My name is Nate the Great. I am a detective. I work alone. Let me tell you about my last case: I had just eaten breakfast. It was a good breakfast. Pancakes, juice, pancakes, milk, and pancakes. I like pancakes. The telephone rang.

Premise/plot: Nate the Great is on the case. Annie, the girl down the street, has hired him to find a lost picture. The picture is in yellow and it is of her dog, Fang. Can Nate find clues and piece together what happened to the picture?

My thoughts: I loved it! I wish I'd met Nate decades ago. I loved most his narrative voice.
"Now show me your room." We went to Annie's room. It was big. It had yellow walls, a yellow bed, a yellow chair, and a yellow desk. I, Nate the Great, was sure of one thing. Annie liked yellow.
I also loved the way the clues are revealed. There are plenty of details, but the book also doesn't waste words either.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, June 05, 2017

Champagne for One

Champagne for One. Rex Stout. 1958. 205 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: If it hadn't been raining and blowing that raw Tuesday morning in March I would have been out, walking to the bank to deposit a couple of checks, when Austin Byne phoned me, and he might have tried somebody else. But more likely not. He would probably have rung again later, so I can't blame all this on the weather.

Premise/plot: When Austin Byne calls Archie Goodwin asking him for a favor, to fill in for him at a charity event, Archie says yes. As a consequence, when a young woman, Faith Usher, dies at the event, Goodwin was there to testify to one thing with all certainty--it was not suicide, but murder. He had been warned that she had cyanide in her purse, so he was watching her and her purse all evening long. The police are unconvinced, especially at first, but they've learned not to rush things when Nero Wolfe is involved. Can Nero Wolfe and company (Archie, Saul, etc.) solve the case?! Who killed Faith and why?!

My thoughts: I ADORE Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. This was a reread for me. And before I reread it, I watched the adaptation of it. But even knowing all the details before picking it up, I have to say it is a fabulous read still.

"Archie." "Yes, sir." "Do I ever intrude in your private affairs?" "Yes, sir. Frequently. But you think you don't, so go right ahead." (11)
I'll try to be fair to him, and I know there is no law against a man having plucked eyebrows and a thin mustache and long polished nails, and my suspicion that he wore a girdle was merely a suspicion, and if he had married Mrs. Albert Grantham for her money I freely admit that no man marries without a reason and with her it would have been next to impossible to think up another one, and I concede that he may have had hidden virtues which I had missed. (18)
"I must apologize for that crack about salary. I forgot you were listening." He grunted. "Your memory is excellent and you shouldn't disparage it. What does that man want of me?" I covered a yawn. "Search me. If I had had some sleep I might risk a guess, but it's all I can do to get enough oxygen for my lungs so my brain's doing without... (60)
"You don't make it any easier, Wolfe." "I don't pretend to make things easier. I only make them manageable--when I can." (63)
 As I entered, my wristwatch said 4:12. Between then and a quarter past six, slightly over two hours, I ate five pieces of pie, two rhubarb and one each of apple, green tomato, and chocolate, and drank four glasses of milk and two cups of coffee, while seated at a table by the front window, from which I could see the entrance to 87, across the street and up a few doors. To keep from arousing curiosity by either my tenure or my diet, I had my notebook and pencil out and made sketches of a cat sleeping on a chair. In the Village that accounts for anything. (155)
"Do you know what a genius is? A genius is a guy who makes things happen without his having any idea that they are going to happen. It's quite a trick." (159)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, June 04, 2017

Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady. Henry James. 1881. 656 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

Premise/plot: The lady in question is a Miss Isabel Archer. James' novel chronicles her adventures and misadventures. Miss Archer is an American, but, most of the novel is set in England and in Italy. There must be something about Miss Archer, for, every man--no matter their age, no matter their prospects--seems to want her--to need her. The men in her life: Ralph, her cousin, who seems to genuinely care for her wellbeing; Lord Warburton, who is not the first or last apparently to fall in love with her at first sight. (I have a soft spot for both Ralph and Lord Warburton). Caspar Goodwood is an old suitor who is so besotted he follows her across the globe. Last but not least, there is Gilbert Osmond. Lady Merle, one of her aunt's friends, insists that she absolutely has to go to Italy to meet HIM. He is her most special friend, and, worthy of her acquaintance to be sure. Of course, she can marry only once--for better or worse. When the novel starts, Miss Archer is convinced that marriage isn't for her, and, that she may never marry at all. She's certainly not ready to say yes to just anyone who asks her. Even if she really, really, really likes someone. Even if she could see herself being happy with that person. She wants to make her own path and walk it. With the help of her uncle's money--he dies and leaves her a good portion of his fortune--she has a way to fund her way across Europe. But she finds it isn't easy to break free from convention altogether. She's wooed and courted wherever she goes. And marriage seems more and more inevitable despite her initial intentions. As to why she chooses WHO she chooses, James' lost me on that one!!! Readers see her as a happy, determined woman with strong opinions, then, later as an unhappy woman with a brave resilience, a if-life-gives-you-lemons-you-stay-and-make-lemonade resilience. I can see how readers might see her as both weak and strong. 

Of course, Miss Archer isn't the only woman in the novel. Readers also meet the aunt, Mrs. Touchett, Henrietta Stackpole, Madame Merle, Countess Gemini, and Pansy. Mrs. Touchett, how to describe her? A bit cold and definitely shallow, in my opinion. She lives an almost completely separated life from her husband. She travels between America, Europe, and England on a strict routine or schedule. Her friends are superficial friends only. If she has feelings for her son and husband, then she conceals them completely. She's certainly no role model wife. Henrietta Stackpole is SPUNKY and unpredictable. She is definitely a busy body, wanting into EVERYONE'S business. She's always looking for a story, a scoop. She wants DETAILS. And she's not at all your typical young woman. While the men all long for Miss Archer, plenty are frightened away by Henrietta's point of view, way of living. Madame Merle is calculating and ambitious. She lacks sincerity and warmth. She knows just what to say to gain the trust of unsuspecting folks, for sure. Yet, is there something more behind her mask? James won't let her put it down, so I'll never know. Countess Gemini is the sister of Gilbert Osmond. She's lonely and discontent. Being a wife hasn't brought her happiness. She like so many women in this novel are stuck with their lot. Last but not least, there is the young woman, Pansy. She is the daughter of Gilbert Osmond. Miss Archer becomes her stepmother. The last half of the novel she becomes a heroine of some importance. Two men are pursuing her. One has the father's approval. One has the daughter's approval. The father is absolute and the daughter is subservient and submissive. Readers are left to conclude that Pansy's fate won't be of her own choosing. Though Pansy may make the most of it and find her own way of being joyful and content. 

This novel is very much relationship-driven. There are deep friendships, not just romantic entanglements. 

My thoughts: I really loved both Ralph and his father. I liked Lord Warburton. I think Miss Archer would have been much happier if she'd said yes to his proposal in the opening chapters of the book! That being said, Miss Archer wanted something more than just to be someone's wife. And even though she ultimately failed, she did try. It was scary to try at this point in history. And not many women dared to make their own path and live on their own terms. It required money and eccentricity, I think, to comfortably succeed. Henrietta was a hoot. I didn't always agree with some of the 'wild' things she said and did. But she was always good at stealing a scene and bringing some lightness to the novel. 

Gilbert Osmond is a character I won't miss--not even slightly. There was one scene that just got under my skin. I am still furious with him. (Osmond is saying really horribly, utterly unforgivable things about RALPH.) 

Overall, even though I didn't love everything about this one, I am glad I read it.

“Have you drunk your tea?” asked the son. “Yes, and enjoyed it.” “Shall I give you some more?” The old man considered, placidly. “Well, I guess I’ll wait and see.” He had, in speaking, the American tone. “Are you cold?” the son enquired. The father slowly rubbed his legs. “Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell till I feel.” “Perhaps some one might feel for you,” said the younger man, laughing. “Oh, I hope some one will always feel for me! Don’t you feel for me, Lord Warburton?” “Oh yes, immensely,” said the gentleman addressed as Lord Warburton, promptly. “I’m bound to say you look wonderfully comfortable.”
“The fact is I’ve been comfortable so many years that I suppose I’ve got so used to it I don’t know it.” “Yes, that’s the bore of comfort,” said Lord Warburton. “We only know when we’re uncomfortable.”
His son broke into a laugh. “He’ll think you mean that as a provocation! My dear father, you’ve lived with the English for thirty years, and you’ve picked up a good many of the things they say. But you’ve never learned the things they don’t say!”
“I’ve never kept up with Isabel — it would have taken all my time,” she had often remarked; in spite of which, however, she held her rather wistfully in sight; watching her as a motherly spaniel might watch a free greyhound. “I want to see her safely married — that’s what I want to see,” she frequently noted to her husband. “Well, I must say I should have no particular desire to marry her,” Edmund Ludlow was accustomed to answer in an extremely audible tone. “I know you say that for argument; you always take the opposite ground. I don’t see what you’ve against her except that she’s so original.” “Well, I don’t like originals; I like translations,” Mr. Ludlow had more than once replied. “Isabel’s written in a foreign tongue. I can’t make her out. She ought to marry an Armenian or a Portuguese.” “That’s just what I’m afraid she’ll do!” cried Lilian, who thought Isabel capable of anything. 
Clearness is too expensive.
In matters of opinion she had had her own way, and it had led her into a thousand ridiculous zigzags.
There are as many points of view in the world as there are people of sense to take them.
“I shall always tell you,” her aunt answered, “whenever I see you taking what seems to me too much liberty.” “Pray do; but I don’t say I shall always think your remonstrance just.” “Very likely not. You’re too fond of your own ways.” “Yes, I think I’m very fond of them. But I always want to know the things one shouldn’t do.” “So as to do them?” asked her aunt. “So as to choose,” said Isabel.
Shall I love her or shall I hate her?” Ralph asked while they moved along the platform. “Whichever you do will matter very little to her,” said Isabel. “She doesn’t care a straw what men think of her.” “As a man I’m bound to dislike her then. She must be a kind of monster. Is she very ugly?” “No, she’s decidedly pretty.” “A female interviewer — a reporter in petticoats? I’m very curious to see her,” Ralph conceded. “It’s very easy to laugh at her but it is not easy to be as brave as she.”
“My poor Henrietta,” she said, “you’ve no sense of privacy.” Henrietta coloured deeply, and for a moment her brilliant eyes were suffused, while Isabel found her more than ever inconsequent. “You do me great injustice,” said Miss Stackpole with dignity. “I’ve never written a word about myself!” “I’m very sure of that; but it seems to me one should be modest for others also!”
“Yes, you’re changed; you’ve got new ideas over here,” her friend continued. “I hope so,” said Isabel; “one should get as many new ideas as possible.” “Yes; but they shouldn’t interfere with the old ones when the old ones have been the right ones.”
We see our lives from our own point of view; that is the privilege of the weakest and humblest of us;
“It seems to me I’ve told you very little.” “You’ve told me the great thing: that the world interests you and that you want to throw yourself into it.” Her silvery eyes shone a moment in the dusk. “I never said that.” “I think you meant it. Don’t repudiate it. It’s so fine!” “I don’t know what you’re trying to fasten upon me, for I’m not in the least an adventurous spirit. Women are not like men.” Ralph slowly rose from his seat and they walked together to the gate of the square. “No,” he said; “women rarely boast of their courage. Men do so with a certain frequency.” “Men have it to boast of!” “Women have it too. You’ve a great deal.”
I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me.
“I’m afraid there are moments in life when even Schubert has nothing to say to us. We must admit, however, that they are our worst.” “I’m not in that state now then,” said Isabel.
One can’t judge till one’s forty; before that we’re too eager, too hard, too cruel, and in addition much too ignorant. I’m sorry for you; it will be a long time before you’re forty. But every gain’s a loss of some kind; I often think that after forty one can’t really feel. The freshness, the quickness have certainly gone. You’ll keep them longer than most people; it will be a great satisfaction to me to see you some years hence. I want to see what life makes of you. One thing’s certain — it can’t spoil you. It may pull you about horribly, but I defy it to break you up.
A woman, it seems to me, has no natural place anywhere; wherever she finds herself she has to remain on the surface and, more or less, to crawl. You protest, my dear? you’re horrified? you declare you’ll never crawl? It’s very true that I don’t see you crawling; you stand more upright than a good many poor creatures. Very good; on the whole, I don’t think you’ll crawl.
When you’ve lived as long as I you’ll see that every human being has his shell and that you must take the shell into account. By the shell I mean the whole envelope of circumstances. There’s no such thing as an isolated man or woman; we’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances.
What shall we call our ‘self’? Where does it begin? where does it end? It overflows into everything that belongs to us — and then it flows back again. I know a large part of myself is in the clothes I choose to wear. I’ve a great respect for things! One’s self — for other people — is one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the books one reads, the company one keeps — these things are all expressive.
My clothes may express the dressmaker, but they don’t express me. To begin with it’s not my own choice that I wear them; they’re imposed upon me by society.” “Should you prefer to go without them?” Madame Merle enquired in a tone which virtually terminated the discussion.
“I never sacrificed my husband to another,” Mrs. Touchett continued with her stout curtness. “Oh no,” thought Madame Merle; “you never did anything for another!”
Whatever life you lead you must put your soul in it — to make any sort of success of it; and from the moment you do that it ceases to be romance, I assure you: it becomes grim reality! And you can’t always please yourself; you must sometimes please other people. That, I admit, you’re very ready to do; but there’s another thing that’s still more important — you must often displease others. You must always be ready for that — you must never shrink from it. That doesn’t suit you at all — you’re too fond of admiration, you like to be thought well of. You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking romantic views — that’s your great illusion, my dear. But we can’t. You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please no one at all — not even yourself.
“I don’t pretend to know what people are meant for,” said Madame Merle. “I only know what I can do with them.”
We know too much about people in these days; we hear too much. Our ears, our minds, our mouths, are stuffed with personalities.
Don’t mind anything any one tells you about any one else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.” “That’s what I try to do,” said Isabel “but when you do that people call you conceited.” “You’re not to mind them — that’s precisely my argument; not to mind what they say about yourself any more than what they say about your friend or your enemy.” Isabel considered. “I think you’re right; but there are some things I can’t help minding: for instance when my friend’s attacked or when I myself am praised.” “Of course you’re always at liberty to judge the critic. Judge people as critics, however,” Ralph added, “and you’ll condemn them all!”
“I’m rather ashamed of my plans; I make a new one every day.”
It’s one’s own fault if one isn’t happy.
The two words in the language I most respect are Yes and No.
Changing the form of one’s mission’s almost as difficult as changing the shape of one’s nose: there they are, each, in the middle of one’s face and one’s character — one has to begin too far back.
“My envy’s not dangerous; it wouldn’t hurt a mouse. I don’t want to destroy the people — I only want to be them. You see it would destroy only myself.”
Henrietta contracted friendships, in travelling, with great freedom, and had formed in railway-carriages several that were among her most valued ties. 
Doing all the vain things one likes is often very tiresome.
You could criticise any marriage; it was the essence of a marriage to be open to criticism. 
I’ve only one ambition — to be free to follow out a good feeling.
A mistake’s made before one knows it.
You must save what you can of your life; you mustn’t lose it all simply because you’ve lost a part.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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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