Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Utopia Drive

Utopia Drive. Erik Reece. 2016. FSG. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The corner of Fifth and Elm Streets in Cincinnati, Ohio, has held a certain significance for me since the day I stood there with my parents, as an eight-year-old in 1976, and watched the Cincinnati Reds return to the city after their seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox in what was, as my father told me then and as I still believe, the greatest World Series ever.

Premise/plot: Erik Reece chronicles his ROAD TRIP through the Eastern United States. This isn't just any road trip. He's unpacking the IDEAS behind a handful of America's historical (for the most part) Utopian communities. (I believe only one or possibly two of the communities he visited were founded in the twentieth century and still active as utopian communities.) He includes biographical sketches of some really, really free or radical outside-the-box thinkers. There's some philosophy, politics, and economics as well. (And plenty of talk about nature and preserving nature and the environment.)

The first and last chapters essentially serve as an introduction and conclusion to the road trip. The remaining chapters chronicle the trip. He visited Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Bardstown Kentucky, New Harmony, Indiana, Cincinnati, Ohio, Utopia, Ohio, Louisa, Virginia, Queens, New York, Long Island, New York, Concord, Massachusetts, Oneida, New York and Niagara Falls, Canada.

My thoughts: It was interesting. No doubt about that. Did I agree with any of the founders of various Utopian communities? I'm not sure I did. I'm okay with that. Some communities were most interested in transforming religion and spirituality. Others seemed to be more concerned with economics and social class. A few really seemed focus on turning upside down social structures like marriage and parenting. (One, for example, banned sex completely. Men and women lived completely separate lives and rarely conversed. Another, for example, promoted sex and was all about free love and "complex marriage." Both communities, however, agreed that parents should not raise their own children. That children should be raised by the community and belong to no one in particular but to everybody to a certain extent.) I did not always agree with Reece's conclusions. Reece, in my reckoning, tried to find at least one or two positive things about every utopian community. And while he discussed how they "failed," or why they "failed," he was not quick to dismiss any of the ideas as actually being impossible.

Favorite quotes:
Americans live in a world we are too ready to accept. We acquiesce too easily to the inevitability of the way things are. indeed, many of us think of our consumer culture as its own version of utopia, where we are absolved of the responsibility to question where our food, our clothes, our cellular devices, our energy come from. (Erik Reece, 5) 
Erik Reece quoting Milton Friedman, "Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." (6) 
Utopia, by definition, is a product of the imagination, and therein lies its power: it imagines something better, then calls on us to enact that vision. (Erik Reece, 10)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Kite Is Stuck

My Kite Is Stuck and Other Stories. Salina Yoon. 2017. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Oh no! My kite is stuck in the tree!

Premise/plot: My Kite is Stuck! And Other Stories is the sequel to Duck! Duck! Porcupine! by Salina Yoon. This one offers young readers three new stories. The stories are "My Kite Is Stuck," "A New Friend," and "Best Lemonade Stand." In the first story, the three friends get a LOT of toys stuck in a tree. What will they do next?! In the second story, there is some disagreement on over who can and cannot be a friend. In the third story, Big Duck decides to open a lemonade stand. She thinks she has EVERYTHING she needs. Good thing Little Duck is there to help her out!!!

My thoughts: I really love these characters. I wouldn't mind a very LONG series. After all, I need a book series to cheer me up after the news that there will be no more Elephant and Piggie books. So please, Ms. Yoon, a VERY LONG SERIES! My favorite character is Little Duck. I really loved him in the first and third stories. He's so clever and so CUTE. My kind of fellow!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Kellys and the O'Kellys

The Kellys and the O'Kellys. Anthony Trollope. 1848. 537 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: During the first two months of the year 1844, the greatest possible excitement existed in Dublin respecting the State Trials, in which Mr O’Connell, his son, the Editors of three different repeal newspapers, Tom Steele, the Rev. Mr Tierney — a priest who had taken a somewhat prominent part in the Repeal Movement — and Mr Ray, the Secretary to the Repeal Association, were indicted for conspiracy.

Premise/plot: Anthony Trollope's second novel, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, chronicles the romances of two men, a Mr. Martin Kelly, and Frank O'Kelly (aka Lord Ballindine). Like Trollope's first novel, it is set in Ireland. Though from different social classes, there is a friendship, of sorts, between the two men. At various times, for various reasons, they seek out one another's company.

In fact, the novel opens with Mr. Martin Kelly going to Lord Ballindine for advice. He wants to marry Anty Lynch. He thinks she's say yes. But there's an obstacle: her brother, Barry. Neither thinks Barry will consent to the marriage. Martin doesn't know if he should try to get her to elope with him and deal with the brother after the fact, or, if he should try to get the brother's consent and risk losing Anty. One thing is clear, he doesn't want anyone thinking that he's trying to take advantage of Anty and manipulate her into marriage. Why? Because she is richer than him, she's recently benefited from her father's will. Barry has issues. Issues is an understatement. He's bitter, angry, and drunk ninety percent of the time. Angry and bitter that their father's will provided for Anty; angry and bitter that he didn't get it all. In truth, he begrudges Anty the air she breathes.

Barry finds out that Anty and Mr. Martin might marry, that there is some talk of a marriage between the two. Barry decides to beat up his sister--remember he has two states 'drunk' and 'asleep.' She's savagely attacked by him, and threatened. He'd rather see her dead than married. A brave servant girl slips out of the house the next morning to go and tell Mrs. Kelly--Martin's mother--what's happened. Mrs. Kelly comes and fetches the girl--while Barry's asleep--to her own home. Martin's mother and sisters will care for her and protect her--as best they can--from Barry. Mrs. Kelly is an awesome defender who can hold her own.

Martin Kelly returns from his visit to see Lord Ballandine and learns all that is happened.

Meanwhile, Lord Ballindine is entertaining the idea of marriage himself. He's in fact engaged to marry a Miss Fanny Wyndham. Soon after the novel opens, he hears from an acquaintance, that HIS match has been broken off. The marriage isn't to be after all. He rushes to Grey Abbey--where she is staying with her aunt and uncle, her guardians--and is confronted with all kinds of unpleasantness. Lord Cashel, the uncle, has changed his mind entirely, and, has persuaded Fanny that it's in her best interest to call off the engagement. The truth is UGLY. Fanny's brother has died; Fanny went from being moderately wealthy to ridiculously wealthy. Lord Cashel wants his own son, Lord Kilcullen, to marry Fanny. He needs Ballindine out of the way. Lord Cashel won't let him see her, and forbids him to come to the house or write.

Lord Ballandine loves Fanny and is determined to marry her. He won't be easily dissuaded.

The book alternates back and forth between these two dramatic love stories.

My thoughts: This one is DRAMATIC but good. Trollope created some memorable characters in this one. I really loved getting to spend time with Fanny especially! I liked Anty well enough, I suppose, but she spent a lot of time in bed almost dying. Anty is one of those good--practically saintly--characters. Imagine someone apologizing for still breathing, and you've got the right idea. Anty's biggest flaw is that she wants every single person to be happy and get what they want. And that's just not possible. Fanny was a strong character, for the most part. Yes, she was persuaded--for a day, maybe two, to follow her uncle's advice, but she remains true to her heart, and VOCAL about what she wants. Martin Kelly and Lord Ballandine (Frank) were GREAT heroes. I really enjoyed spending time with these two. I didn't prefer one story to the other really. Both were compelling.

I really enjoyed Trollope's writing. He sketches scenes and characters very well! Here's a description of Sally, one of Mrs. Kelly's servants.
Mrs. Kelly kept two ordinary in-door servants to assist in the work of the house; one, an antiquated female named Sally, who was more devoted to her tea-pot than ever was any bacchanalian to his glass. Were there four different teas in the inn in one evening, she would have drained the pot after each, though she burst in the effort. Sally was, in all, an honest woman, and certainly a religious one; — she never neglected her devotional duties, confessed with most scrupulous accuracy the various peccadillos of which she might consider herself guilty; and it was thought, with reason, by those who knew her best, that all the extra prayers she said, — and they were very many, — were in atonement for commissions of continual petty larceny with regard to sugar.
On this subject did her old mistress quarrel with her, her young mistress ridicule her; of this sin did her fellow-servant accuse her; and, doubtless, for this sin did her Priest continually reprove her; but in vain. Though she would not own it, there was always sugar in her pocket, and though she declared that she usually drank her tea unsweetened, those who had come upon her unawares had seen her extracting the pinches of moist brown saccharine from the huge slit in her petticoat, and could not believe her.
Favorite quotes:
Time and the hour run through the longest day.
It’s difficult to make an Irishman handy, but it’s the very devil to make him quiet.
“But the great trial in this world is to behave well and becomingly in spite of oppressive thoughts: and it always takes a struggle to do that, and that struggle you’ve made. I hope it may lead you to feel that you may be contented and in comfort without having everything which you think necessary to your happiness. I’m sure I looked forward to this week as one of unmixed trouble and torment; but I was very wrong to do so. It has given me a great deal of unmixed satisfaction.”
I tell you plainly, Selina, I will not forget myself, nor will I be forgotten. Nor will I submit to whatever fate cold, unfeeling people may doom me, merely because I am a woman and alone. I will not give up Lord Ballindine, if I have to walk to his door and tell him so. And were I to do so, I should never think that I had forgotten myself.” “Listen to me, Fanny,” said Selina. “Wait a moment,” continued Fanny, “I have listened enough: it is my turn to speak now. For one thing I have to thank you: you have dispelled the idea that I could look for help to anyone in this family.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn. Jacqueline Woodson. 2016. 177 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: For a long time, my mother wasn't dead yet.

Premise/plot: August, the heroine of the novel, reflects soulfully about growing up in the seventies in Brooklyn. Much of the plot revolves around her friendship with three other girls: Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela. Her father and younger brother are Muslim, but, August, well, her beliefs tend to float where the wind takes her. And her faith isn't the only thing a bit on the fluid side.

My thoughts: Dare I say this one is an odd book? What I mean is that it isn't necessarily a straight-forward book with a reliable narrator. The narrator seems to have the reliability of a dream. Just when things seem to be taking shape and going somewhere--things shift and change and you'll find yourself having to start again with the whole making sense of the world. Is August lost or found? When will August come to terms and make peace with who she is and what she wants and what she needs?

Personally, I did not care for this one as much as I'd hoped. I don't blame the book. Not really. I keep wanting YA books to be clean enough for me to read and actually enjoy. This one was just a bit too graphic for me. I'm not saying it's too graphic for other readers--for teen readers or adults--just for myself.

What kept me reading was the fact that it was at times quite lovely.
"That year, every song was telling some part of our story." (69)
"Where would we be now if we had known there was a melody to our madness? Because even though Sylvia, Angela, Gigi and I came together like a jazz improv--half notes tentatively moving toward one another until the ensemble found its footing and the music felt like it had always been playing--we didn't have jazz to know this was who we were. We had the Top 40 music of the 1970s trying to tell our story. It never quite figured us out." (2) 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Time Machine

The Time Machine. H.G. Wells. 1895. Penguin. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses.

Premise/plot: The (nameless) narrator shares with readers his encounters with 'The Time Traveler.' He's a guest in his home--a dinner guest. There are at least two visits recounted. The first focuses on the theories of time travel, reveals the existence of a time machine, and includes a lot of small talk. The second is very different! At that second dinner party, the Time Traveler does most of the talking--if not all the talking. He's back--recently back--from his time traveling. And it's a theory no more. He has STORIES, and what stories they are, to share with his guests.

My thoughts: This is a fun classic. This was the third time I've read it. Part of me wishes that more characters had names. But overall, I liked it very much indeed.

Favorite quotes:
There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it. 
'if Time is really only a fourth dimension of Space, why is it, and why has it always been, regarded as something different? And why cannot we move in Time as we move about in the other dimensions of Space?' 'My dear sir, that is just where you are wrong. That is just where the whole world has gone wrong. We are always getting away from the present moment. Our mental existences, which are immaterial and have no dimensions, are passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniform velocity from the cradle to the grave.
'You can show black is white by argument,' said Filby, 'but you will never convince me.'
I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all round him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness.

'I will,' he went on, 'tell you the story of what has happened to me, if you like, but you must refrain from interruptions. I want to tell it. Badly. Most of it will sound like lying. So be it! It's true—every word of it, all the same. I was in my laboratory at four o'clock, and since then … I've lived eight days … such days as no human being ever lived before! I'm nearly worn out, but I shan't sleep till I've told this thing over to you. Then I shall go to bed. But no interruptions!
At once a quaintly pretty little figure in chequered purple and white followed my gesture, and then astonished me by imitating the sound of thunder. 'For a moment I was staggered, though the import of his gesture was plain enough. The question had come into my mind abruptly: were these creatures fools? You may hardly understand how it took me. You see I had always anticipated that the people of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything. Then one of them suddenly asked me a question that showed him to be on the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children—asked me, in fact, if I had come from the sun in a thunderstorm! It let loose the judgment I had suspended upon their clothes, their frail light limbs, and fragile features. A flow of disappointment rushed across my mind. For a moment I felt that I had built the Time Machine in vain.
The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life—the true civilizing process that makes life more and more secure—had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!
Our agriculture and horticulture destroy a weed just here and there and cultivate perhaps a score or so of wholesome plants, leaving the greater number to fight out a balance as they can. We improve our favourite plants and animals—and how few they are—gradually by selective breeding; now a new and better peach, now a seedless grape, now a sweeter and larger flower, now a more convenient breed of cattle. We improve them gradually, because our ideals are vague and tentative, and our knowledge is very limited; because Nature, too, is shy and slow in our clumsy hands. Some day all this will be better organized, and still better. That is the drift of the current in spite of the eddies. The whole world will be intelligent, educated, and co-operating; things will move faster and faster towards the subjugation of Nature. In the end, wisely and carefully we shall readjust the balance of animal and vegetable life to suit our human needs. 'But with this change in condition comes inevitably adaptations to the change. What, unless biological science is a mass of errors, is the cause of human intelligence and vigour? Hardship and freedom: conditions under which the active, strong, and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall; conditions that put a premium upon the loyal alliance of capable men, upon self-restraint, patience, and decision. And the institution of the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the fierce jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion, all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers of the young.
'Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security, that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become weakness.
Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough—as most wrong theories are!
Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you will find clues to it all. 
The creature's friendliness affected me exactly as a child's might have done. We passed each other flowers, and she kissed my hands. I did the same to hers. Then I tried talk, and found that her name was Weena, which, though I don't know what it meant, somehow seemed appropriate enough. That was the beginning of a queer friendship which lasted a week, and ended—as I will tell you! 'She was exactly like a child. She wanted to be with me always. She tried to follow me everywhere, and on my next journey out and about it went to my heart to tire her down, and leave her at last, exhausted and calling after me rather plaintively. But the problems of the world had to be mastered. I had not, I said to myself, come into the future to carry on a miniature flirtation. Yet her distress when I left her was very great, her expostulations at the parting were sometimes frantic, and I think, altogether, I had as much trouble as comfort from her devotion. Nevertheless she was, somehow, a very great comfort. I thought it was mere childish affection that made her cling to me. Until it was too late, I did not clearly know what I had inflicted upon her when I left her. Nor until it was too late did I clearly understand what she was to me.
Darkness to her was the one thing dreadful. It was a singularly passionate emotion, and it set me thinking and observing. I discovered then, among other things, that these little people gathered into the great houses after dark, and slept in droves. To enter upon them without a light was to put them into a tumult of apprehension. I never found one out of doors, or one sleeping alone within doors, after dark. Yet I was still such a blockhead that I missed the lesson of that fear, and in spite of Weena's distress I insisted upon sleeping away from these slumbering multitudes.
But, gradually, the truth dawned on me: that Man had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals: that my graceful children of the Upper-world were not the sole descendants of our generation, but that this bleached, obscene, nocturnal Thing, which had flashed before me, was also heir to all the ages.
The too-perfect security of the Upper-worlders had led them to a slow movement of degeneration, to a general dwindling in size, strength, and intelligence. That I could see clearly enough already. What had happened to the Under-grounders I did not yet suspect; but from what I had seen of the Morlocks—that, by the by, was the name by which these creatures were called—I could imagine that the modification of the human type was even far more profound than among the "Eloi," the beautiful race that I already knew. 'Then came troublesome doubts.

The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship. The Eloi, like the Carolingian kings, had decayed to a mere beautiful futility. They still possessed the earth on sufferance: since the Morlocks, subterranean for innumerable generations, had come at last to find the daylit surface intolerable. And the Morlocks made their garments, I inferred, and maintained them in their habitual needs, perhaps through the survival of an old habit of service. They did it as a standing horse paws with his foot, or as a man enjoys killing animals in sport: because ancient and departed necessities had impressed it on the organism. But, clearly, the old order was already in part reversed. The Nemesis of the delicate ones was creeping on apace. Ages ago, thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back changed! Already the Eloi had begun to learn one old lesson anew. They were becoming reacquainted with Fear.

'I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes—to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed. 'It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.
He looked at the Medical Man. 'No. I cannot expect you to believe it. Take it as a lie—or a prophecy. Say I dreamed it in the workshop. Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this fiction. Treat my assertion of its truth as a mere stroke of art to enhance its interest. And taking it as a story, what do you think of it?'
© 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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