Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden. 2017. 322 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was late winter in Norther Rus', the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

Premise/plot: The Bear and the Nightingale is historical fantasy set in medieval Russia. For some, that might be enough to get you curious! For others, it will take a bit more work. I'm not sure my review can do the book justice, however. Where to start? With the two chapters of prologue that do a great job of setting up the story? Or do I jump right in and tell you about the heroine, Vasya?! I really feel the less you know the better.

Essentially, The Bear and the Nightingale is historical fantasy that draws on Russian folklore and fairy tales. The struggle is between the old ways and the new, the pagan and the christian. Vasya was born with a gift--a blessing or curse, as you will--she can see the 'pagan' 'demons' (gods and goddesses that inhabit the world (in the household, in the barn, in the forest, etc.) She is not afraid of them, and actually is on speaking terms with many. But. Danger is coming, and coming fast. The BEAR has been awakened, and, he's desperate to break the bonds that Lord Winter (Lord Frost, Morozko) placed on him long, long ago. The BEAR is eager to kill Vasya before she comes into her own, into her powers, before she realizes who she is and what she's capable of. Lord Frost passes along a talisman--a jewel--to help the girl survive...but he can't provide her with courage, strength, determination, fierceness. But that she has aplenty!

My thoughts: I like fantasy novels. I like historical novels. This one was an enjoyable read to me. My only complaint--and it's a small one--is that the chapters were a little on the LONG side.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hiroshima

Hiroshima. John Hersey. 1946/1989. 152 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sad down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asabi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order's three story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimin for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb and these six were among the survivors.

Premise/plot: Hiroshima by John Hersey chronicles the dropping of the first atomic bomb. It was first published in 1946. Later editions of the book provided more up-to-date information on all six survivors.

The first three chapters closely follows events in August 1945. Through the eyes of six survivors, the reader bears witness to the unthinkable: the initial bomb, the wreckage left behind, the injuries, the fires, the floods, etc. The fourth chapter follows the first few months--or perhaps even the first year after the bomb. Again, through the survivors' accounts readers learn of the effects of the bomb. The day in and day out effects of the bomb on men, women, children, babies. If you're ill--very ill, perhaps even dying--how do you find work, keep a job, earn enough money to pay for food to feed your family? How do you recover your life--and have things return to normal? It's a learning process not just for victims but for the medical community as well. The fifth and final chapter was added to the book in the 1980s, this chapter serves as an epilogue. Readers see how the six managed to live for the next few decades after the bomb.

My thoughts: This one left me speechless. How can I do it justice? It is a difficult read--an intense one. Hiroshima would pair well with Alas, Babylon or Your Sins and Mine.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chicken Story Time

Chicken Story Time. Sandy Asher. Illustrated by Mark Fearing. 2016. (Dec) 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Story time at the library. One librarian. One story. Children. And a chicken. The children like the chicken. The chicken likes the children. "Let's begin," says the librarian. Everyone loves story time. One week later. Story time at the library.

Premise/plot: What would you do--as a librarian--if CHICKENS started showing up for story time?!?! Essentially that's the premise of this silly book celebrating reading and libraries.

My thoughts: I loved this one!!! I love the premise. Seeing the chicken crowd grow larger and larger week by week made me smile. The librarian grew more and more flustered until she thought of a good solution.

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

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Adolescent

The Adolescent. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. 1875/2004. 647 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Unable to restrain myself, I have sat down to record this history of my first steps on life's career, though I could have done as well without it. One thing I know for certain: never again will I sit down to write my autobiography, even if I live to be a hundred. You have to be all too basely in love with yourself to write about yourself without shame. My only excuse is that I'm not writing for the same reason everyone else writes, that is, for the sake of the reader's praises.

Premise/plot: Written in the first person, The Adolescent is the 'notes' of Arkady Makarovich Dolgoruky. He has recently come St. Petersburg to see his family. His upbringing was unhappy and strange. He is illegitimate. His mother still married to another man, his legal father. His father is Andrei Petrovich Versilov. He was raised not by his mother--who ran off with Versilov, having another child with him, Liza--and not even by his legal father. His upbringing was scattered--raised by people here and there, and never with love or tenderness. To say he was angry and bitter would be an understatement. His parents are strangers to him as is his sister, as are his half siblings, Versilov's legitimate children. But he's answering a summons to come. His family is under great stress when the book begins. His father, his sister, and his half-sister are all in the middle of a passionate, dramatic, mysterious, scandalous scenario. Readers learn a little here, a little there. Nothing direct and straightforward. Everything having to be pieced together one puzzle piece at a time. Add in the fact that the narrator is on an emotional roller coaster and in the midst of searching for the meaning of life and that sums up the chaotic disorder that is this book. But keep in mind this is intended.

My thoughts: I personally prefer the Karamazov Brothers to this one. I am not a big fan of this first person narrative style. When the narrator is mentally and emotionally a mess, it reads like a crazy mess of a book with no real purpose.
But it was intentional.

Dolgoruky may have not been a 'literary man' writing for a 'literary marketplace' but he is the creation of Fyodor Dostoevsky. One theme in this one is that no man is an island; no one escapes the influence of others. Dolgoruky may think he's driven by one simple IDEA, but he's bound to his family and friends, even to his frenemies. It is a lot harder to live--and die perhaps--for one idea than this young man realizes. Human nature is complex, and the human heart is depraved. There isn't a saint to be found within the pages of The Adolescent. That is not a bad thing.

Can you really truly know someone, love someone, understand someone, trust someone. Dolgoruky doesn't even know himself, understand his own heart and mind so how can he really make good decisions and treat others kindly?

Quotes:
  • A literary man writes for thirty years and in the end doesn't know at all why he has written for so many years. (5)
  • Every man has the right to voice his conviction into the air. (31)
  • No one ponders; rarely does anyone live his way into an idea. (63)
  • Ah! So you,too, suffer sometimes because a thought won't go into words! It's a noble suffering, my friend, and granted only to the chosen; a fool is always pleased with what he says, and besides, he always says more than he needs to; they like extras. (122)
  • A great thought is most often a feeling that sometimes goes without a definition for too long. (218)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Penguin Day

Penguin Day. Nic Bishop. 2017. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Morning has come and baby penguin is hungry. Baby penguin is too little to get breakfast, so mama penguin will go hunting.

Premise/plot: Penguin Day is a nonfiction picture book by Nic Bishop. It is illustrated--beautifully illustrated--with photographs. The book is written with young readers--or should I say young listeners--in mind. There is just the right amount of text, and just the right amount of information provided.

My thoughts: I love penguins. I do. And this book is just lovely. I love, love, love, LOVE the photographs. The text is concise. Bishop packs a good bit of information into this one, but, keeps it a story.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations (Photographs): 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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