Friday, October 20, 2017

On Reading Challenges

Saw Christine's post on reading challenges, and thought I'd take a look at my own reading challenge.

 She writes, " I love the idea of so many of the challenges, but I struggle with the follow-through. And I'm starting to wonder if participating is actually helping improve my reading life -- which was the whole point to begin with!

So I've decided that needs to be my litmus test of whether or not to re-join a challenge for 2018: has this particular challenge helped my reading life in the past? No matter how worthwhile the goal is, or how interesting the set-up, a reading challenge that hinders my reading life is not serving a worthwhile purpose for me."

Goodreads Challenge: YES. This isn't a no-maintenance reading challenge. You do have to add the books to Goodreads and be sure to add the date you finished it. But essentially, Goodreads does ALL the work. They even tell you how many books you're ahead or behind for the year. Since it's almost a sure bet that I'm on Goodreads at least a couple times a day, this one is an obvious yes.

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge. MAYBE. I've incorporated the alphabet into my picture book challenge and my middle grade challenge. I don't know if I'll be striving to read the alphabet in christian books in 2018. I've also done this one several years in a row, and you run out of books starting with difficult letters after a while. It may be time to take a break from this one. Maybe.

For this year, I lack the letters J, X, and Z in (Juvenile, MG, YA, Adult) and E, Q, V, and Z in (Christian Fiction and Christian NONfiction).

Back to the Classics. YES. This is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite challenges.

Birth Year Reading Challenge. No. I had good intentions. But this is a lot more challenging than it first appeared.

Blogger Shame Reading Challenge. NO. Again with the good intentions. But it turns out that shame is a HORRIBLE motivator. Or else I'm not really ashamed of anything I read or don't read at any given time!!! Let's go with that for the win.

Charity Reading Challenge. Yes. I love this one. I do. Yes, I'm the host. Yes, I could do a lot better at this one in terms of keeping up with what I've reviewed. But I love it. 

European Reading Challenge. Maybe. This one is super-challenging, and I think luck has just as much to do with whether I get five books read or not. I definitely like seeing what I accidentally read that counts toward the challenge. But I'm horrible at planning ahead for this challenge.

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Maybe. Probably. Historical is one of my favorite genres. I can read scores of historical novels in one year. The chances that I'll keep track of them on my post about the challenge? 50/50. The chances that I'll share my links at the host's site? NIL.

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge. Maybe. Probably not. I love the idea of reading vintage kid books. I adore that aspect of it. I'm HORRIBLE at challenges with monthly themes. It will come down to a couple of things. Is it being offered again in 2018? Will the graphic be just as adorable? Are there monthly themes?

Paris in July. Probably Yes. If it's offered, then I'll probably join again. I rarely read a lot for this challenge. But it can include non-bookish things. 

Picture Book Checklist. Yes. I love picture books. My goal is to read 100+ picture books a year.

RIP. Maybe. If I do it's more for nostalgia than actual interest. This was one of the first reading challenges I joined. And in the first few years, there was a definite sense of community.

Russian Literature. Maybe. I'm not sure it will even be offered again. It was in celebration of an anniversary--1917. But I am thankful I joined this year. I discovered a new favorite author!

Sci-Fi Experience. Yes. Some years I do better than others. But it isn't a challenge, it's an experience.

Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge. YES. I host this one. I love it. I celebrate it each and every day.

Victorian Reading Challenge. Yes. I love, love, love my Victorians ;)

War Bingo. No. I hosted it this year. Didn't even participate in my own challenge. Won't be hosting it again.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tinyville Town: Gets to Work

Tinyville Town: Gets to Work! Brian Biggs. 2016. Abrams. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Good morning! Welcome to Tinyville Town.

Premise/plot: In the town of Tinyville, everyone has a job to do. But one day, no one can do their job. The mayor asks why. The answer: TRAFFIC JAM. The solution: a new bridge! This picture book shows everyone in town working and coming together.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I like the board book series perhaps even better. But. I liked it. I love the illustrations. I like seeing all the details. If your little one loves construction stories, this one is worth reading.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Castle Richmond

Castle Richmond. Anthony Trollope. 1860. 500 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: I wonder whether the novel-reading world — that part of it, at least, which may honour my pages — will be offended if I lay the plot of this story in Ireland! That there is a strong feeling against things Irish it is impossible to deny. Irish servants need not apply; Irish acquaintances are treated with limited confidence; Irish cousins are regarded as being decidedly dangerous; and Irish stories are not popular with the booksellers.

Premise/plot: Castle Richmond is set in Ireland at the start of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). Is it solely about the potato famine? No. Not really. Would it be better if it were? Maybe. Maybe not. You see what the plot turns around mainly are two men in love with the same young woman: Herbert Fitzgerald and Owen Fitzgerald are cousins in love with the same woman, Lady Clara Desmond. If that were all, it wouldn't be all that surprising and unusual. But that's not all.

Lady Clara's mother--also named Clara, a countess and a widow--is madly in love with Owen Fitzgerald. It is for herself that she invites this man into her home, into their lives. She doesn't suspect that Owen will be more likely to fall in love with the young daughter instead of herself. Patrick, Clara's brother, is best, best friends with Owen. So Owen is at their place a lot of time. day he declares his love for Lady Clara. Lady Clara says YES, I'll marry you. Her mother and brother say NO, NEVER. GET OUT AND STAY OUT. Why the rejection? Owen Fitzgerald is a poor man. He has no estate, no wealth, no title. And Lady Clara deserves an estate, wealth, and title.

Herbert Fitzgerald will have an estate, wealth, and title--when his father, Sir Thomas, dies. When the story opens, that is looking like it will happen soon. Sir Thomas is STRESSED. It seems that his wife's first husband is very much alive and that Herbert--and his other children--are illegitimate. Herbert will not inherit after all. And the next in, of course, Owen.

You would think, Owen will win the approval of the family now! Owen and Lady Clara will live happily ever after. All will be well. But I forgot to mention one little thing. While the potato crop is failing, and Owen is sad and depressed--Herbert Fitzgerald starts wooing Lady Clara. Though she swore to be true to her love forever and ever, her mother has said that the marriage is impossible. And Lady Clara finds herself more and more okay with that. When Herbert proposes, she says YES. This happens days--maybe a couple of weeks--before the big reveal. And it isn't long after the big reveal that Sir Thomas dies.

Lady Clara has said I love you to two different men. She's accepted two proposals. Now that the poor man will be the rich man, and the rich man will be the poor man....who will she stand by? who do we want her to stand by?

Owen doesn't want the estate. Owen wants Lady Clara. Herbert does want the estate. He wants Lady Clara too. So when Owen offers to sign the estate back over to Herbert in exchange for Herbert breaking the engagement, Herbert says NO. Owen pouts. But that doesn't really change anything. Owen still doesn't want the estate. Owen still loves and wants Lady Clara.

Meanwhile, Clara (the mother, the countess) is breaking her heart over Owen. If she can't have him for herself, maybe Lady Clara can still have him. At least he'd be part of her life. Maybe that would be enough. Patrick returns (oh so briefly) but Lady Clara says she won't break her engagement with Herbert (no matter how poor) to marry Owen (no matter how rich). Patrick and Lady Clara are a bit confused. Could Lady Clara really have fallen out of love so quickly with Owen and into love so quickly with Herbert?!

Herbert runs away to London, and begins to study law. But this study is cut very short because of two letters the family lawyer receives. One is from Owen saying he has no plans whatsoever to accept the estate. The other is from the book's villain. The son of Lady Fitzgerald's first husband. He has news that will change everything....or so he claims.

Throughout the book, readers get a few sketches here and there of how the failure of the potato crop has disastrous effects on the poor. It is very here and there coverage. And it's mainly on how the gentry and clergy come together to offer "relief" to the poor. One minor plot revolves around whether Catholics and Protestants can come together to help the poor. 

My thoughts: This book reminded me of Spin Doctors' Two Princes. "I ain't got no future or a family tree. But I know what a prince and lover ought to be. I know what a prince and lover ought to be." I had a hard time connecting with Lady Clara. I feel there was a definite lack of development. I know that both men loved and adored her. But we're not shown why exactly. Other than the obvious: she's young; she's presumably beautiful.

It wasn't clear--at least to me--which direction Trollope would take with Owen and Herbert. Would this be a story of young lovers overcoming the objections of their families to be together and live happily ever after? Would Lady Clara prove loyal to her first love and not be persuaded by her family, or by the lure of money?

Trollope never clearly shows us the moment when Herbert and Lady Clara fall in actual love with one another. It's more a matter of  Lady Clara accepting an invitation to visit his estate and get all chummy with his mother, his aunt, his two sisters. The visit lasts a few days, and after that visit he proposes and she says yes. They'd never really had a relationship before that visit.

 Personally, I could see why Owen would be like WHAT'S GOING ON?!?! IS SHE SERIOUS?!

Lady Clara doesn't appear to be a gold digger; she does appear--to me--to be FICKLE. Perhaps readers are supposed to be oh-so-impressed by the fact that when Herbert loses his inheritance, she sticks like glue to her man and refuses to end the relationship. I wasn't. I wasn't sure why she was in relationship with him--so quickly--to begin with.

Both Owen and Herbert are good men. Neither is a villain necessarily. Lady Clara wouldn't be throwing away her life by marrying Owen. She wouldn't be throwing away her life by marrying Herbert. She has in many ways equal chances of happiness with either man. My question: DOES SHE LOVE EITHER MAN? I'm not sure Lady Clara is old enough, wise enough to know her own mind and her own heart. I think she was "caught up" in a moment--twice. I'm not sure she knew either man well enough to say yes.

Lady Clara's mother--pathetic as she may come across--is more developed. One of the sad, awkward moments of the novel comes when Clara pours out her heart and soul to Owen confessing that he is the love of her life. There will be no happy ending for Clara....or for Owen.

Young men among us seldom go quite straight in their course, unless they are, at any rate occasionally, brought under the influence of tea and small talk.
When wars come, and pestilence, and famine; when the people of a land are worse than decimated, and the living hardly able to bury the dead, I cannot coincide with those who would deprecate God’s wrath by prayers. I do not believe that our God stalks darkly along the clouds, laying thousands low with the arrows of death, and those thousands the most ignorant, because men who are not ignorant have displeased Him. Nor, if in his wisdom He did do so, can I think that men’s prayers would hinder that which his wisdom had seen to be good and right. But though I do not believe in exhibitions of God’s anger, I do believe in exhibitions of his mercy. When men by their folly and by the shortness of their vision have brought upon themselves penalties which seem to be overwhelming, to which no end can be seen, which would be overwhelming were no aid coming to us but our own, then God raises his hand, not in anger, but in mercy, and by his wisdom does for us that for which our own wisdom has been insufficient. If He be wise, would we change his wisdom? If He be merciful, would we limit his mercy?

We none of us wish to be drowned; but nevertheless there are some good qualities in water.
Men and women when they are written about are always supposed to have fixed resolves, though in life they are so seldom found to be thus armed.
It was marvellous how well Herbert Fitzgerald could lay down the law on the subject of Clara’s conduct, and on all that was due to her, and all that was not due to Owen. He was the victor; he had gained the prize; and therefore it was so easy for him to acquit his promised bride, and heap reproaches on the head of his rejected rival. Owen had been told that he was not wanted, and of course should have been satisfied with his answer. Why should he intrude himself among happy people with his absurd aspirations? For were they not absurd? Was it not monstrous on his part to suppose that he could marry Clara Desmond?
Everybody should use their own judgment in everything they do or say, more or less.
If we are to sympathise only with the good, or worse still, only with the graceful, how little will there be in our character that is better than terrestrial?
It is the first plunge into the cold water that gives the shock. We may almost say that every human misery will cease to be miserable if it be duly faced; and something is done towards conquering our miseries, when we face them in any degree, even if not with due courage. 
We generally use three times the number of words which are necessary for the purpose which we have in hand; but had he used six times the number, she would not have interrupted him.
What is in a man, let it come out and be known to those around him; if it be bad it will find correction; if it be good it will spread and be beneficent.
A lawyer has always a sort of affection for a scoundrel, — such affection as a hunting man has for a fox. He loves to watch the skill and dodges of the animal, to study the wiles by which he lives, and to circumvent them by wiles of his own, still more wily. It is his glory to run the beast down; but then he would not for worlds run him down, except in conformity with certain laws, fixed by old custom for the guidance of men in such sports. And the two-legged vermin is adapted for pursuit as is the fox with four legs. He is an unclean animal, leaving a scent upon his trail, which the nose of your acute law hound can pick up over almost any ground. And the more wily the beast is, the longer he can run, the more trouble he can give in the pursuit, the longer he can stand up before a pack of legal hounds, the better does the forensic sportsman love and value him. There are foxes of so excellent a nature, so keen in their dodges, so perfect in their cunning, so skilful in evasion, that a sportsman cannot find it in his heart to push them to their destruction unless the field be very large so that many eyes are looking on. And the feeling is I think the same with lawyers.
It is my opinion that nothing seasons the mind for endurance like hard work.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Baby Goes to Market

Baby Goes to Market. Atinuke. Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank. 2017. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Baby goes to market with Mama. Market is very crowded. Baby is very curious. Baby is so curious that Mrs. Ade, the banana seller, gives Baby six bananas. Baby is so surprised. Baby eats one banana...and puts five bananas in the basket. Mama does not notice. She is busy buying rice.

Premise/plot: Come along with Mama and Baby for a BUSY, BUSY day at the market. This one is set in Nigeria.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. The Baby is ADORABLE. It was fun to follow his story to see what gift he'd receive next. He would always eat *some* and then put the rest into his mama's basket. I enjoyed the text. I did. But I really loved, loved, loved the illustrations.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Among the Impostors

Among the Impostors. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2001. 172 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Sometimes he whispered his real name in the dark, in the middle of the night. "Luke. My name is Luke."

Premise/plot: Among the Impostors is the second book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The first novel, Among the Hidden, ended with Luke Garner's life in danger. The second book opens with Lee Grant preparing to enter a school for troubled boys, Hendricks School for Boys. He's been slipped a note by his rescuer, but, he's disappointed when he finally gets a chance to read it. How is a shadow child supposed to blend in seamlessly with other boys his own age? How is he supposed to look like he belongs in a school, in a classroom, in a cafeteria?! He's only ever known his own house, and mainly the attic at that. Still, Lee does his best. It turns out that he's not the only boy struggling to blend in. Could all the boys have something in common? Could they all be shadow children? Is it safe to admit to another shadow child your own real name? Lee wants more than anything to find a true friend, but, he's been taught not to trust.

My thoughts: I am not sure that I loved, loved, loved this one. It could be I'm always in a rush to get through the whole series and experience all the books. So this book is just a stepping stone in a way. Definitely worth reading to get you from one point to another. But is it special on its own? Maybe, maybe not. I did notice some similarities to MANDY. I definitely recommend the whole series. This one introduces two new characters: Nina and Jason. Nina is from a girls school nearby. Jason is one of his roommates.
© 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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