Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Kolyma Tales

Kolyma Tales. Varlam Shalamov. Translated by John Glad. 1978/1994. 508 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: How is a road beaten down through the virgin snow? One person walks ahead, sweating, swearing, and barely moving his feet.

Premise/plot: Kolyma Tales is a collection of short stories and essays; what these short stories and essays have in common is a shared setting--Kolyma, a forced-labor camp in the Soviet Union. The stories are not connected to one another; there are no main characters. Some stories are long; some stories are short. All of them are bleak though perhaps some are bleaker than others. The style throughout is matter of fact, almost like there's no extra emotion to spare to dress up the stories. The edition I read has five sections: "Kolyma Tales," "The Left Bank," "The Virtuoso Shovelman," "Essays on the Criminal World," "Resurrection of the Larch."

My thoughts: I wanted to love this one, or at the very least really like it. I almost wish it had been a novel, novella, or memoir. I think I would have connected more with the text if it had not been short stories. Each story was a variation of a theme; each story was the same, yet, not the same. Like no two snowflakes are supposed to be identical, yet snow is snow is snow. There are no words--were no words--for how bad conditions were. Yet here's a whole book of words that makes the attempt.

I am glad I read this one. I don't regret my time by any means. But I would have felt more if they'd been a greater connection. I didn't want to get to know a hundred or two hundred characters a little bit. I wanted to get to know three or four characters really, really well.

Knowing how to live is a real skill. (260)
Death was replaced not by life, but by semi-consciousness, an existence which had no formula and could not be called life. Each day, each sunrise brought with it the danger of some new lurch into death. (285)
Oh, how distant is love from envy, from fear, from bitterness. How little people need love. Love comes only when all other human emotions have already returned. Love comes last, returns last. Or does it return? Indifference, envy, and fear, however, were not the only witnesses of my return to life. Pity for animals returned earlier than pity for people. (287)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What's On Your Nightstand (April)

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.

Good news! I finished the NIV Tozer Bible, The Three Clerks, Oliver Twist, Here I Stand, and Gosnell. All of these books appeared on March's nightstand post.

Reformation Heritage Study Bible--KJV. Edited by  Joel R. Beeke, Gerald Bilkes, and Michael Barrett. 2014. Reformation Heritage Books. 2218 pages. [Source: Birthday Gift in 2014]

Ginger is helping me out once again in introducing my newest Bible reading project. This is my fourth Bible to select as project this year. I am LOVING it. You can read about my initial impressions at Operation Actually Read Bible.

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

I was looking for something to walk to and put my Nero Wolfe series in the DVD. I fell in love with Archie Goodwin--swoon--almost immediately. I questioned WHY I had ever taken a break from reading and rereading this series. OR watching and rewatching the series. I might be tempted to reread all the ones I own.

Doctor Thorne. Anthony Trollope. 1858. 522 pages. [Source: Bought]

Yes, I'm still tackling Anthony Trollope chronologically. This is a re-read.

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

I am really excited to start this series. I've only read the last in the series (Williamsburg is the name of the series), and that was in high school--twenty-something years ago. (It was the only one in the series the school library had.)

An Exposition of Psalm 119. Thomas Manton. 2025 pages. [Source: Bought]

Still enjoying this one. I try to read a sermon or two per week.

Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and On Earth. Douglas Sean O'Donnell. 2013. 1090 pages. [Source: Bought]

I've been reading this commentary since February. I am making some progress. I think I'm around Matthew 16 or Matthew 17. So I'm hopeful that another month will see it done. If I can stay consistent!

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Headed for Home

Headed for Home. Mary Helen Brown. 2016. 178 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Tommy Austin getting killed by the angel was the first strange thing to happen that summer, but it certainly wasn't the last.

Premise/plot: Enjoy Southern fiction? Enjoy coming of age stories? Enjoy mysteries with a touch of the supernatural? Enjoy family dramas? Headed for Home might be the best book that you've not heard least not yet. Speedy is the narrator of this small-town charmer. Speedy's sister, affectionately nicknamed SISTER, is home for the summer and she's brought some college friends with her. They aren't taking the summer off, however, but are instead working collectively on a research project.

They are doing research on their hometown (Rowja, Texas), on their families, on local folklore, etc. All but one of the girls have definite connections to the town's past--for several generations. But one doesn't. She thinks there is a slight chance than a great-uncle might have visited the town based on a photograph or maybe a postcard. The background is Rowja's courthouse, I believe. But she doesn't really know anything at all about this distant relation. Just that he disappeared around the time of World War I and never communicated with the family again.

Speedy will be staying with Sister and her classmates at the Big House. On their first night of "research," they have a seance of sorts and hear from a spirit identifying himself as Tom. He was murdered. He's buried. The girls--young women--think it would be compelling--good for their grade--if they used this angle to make their research more interesting. At first, no one actually believes that Tom is a disgruntled spirit--ghost--trying to communicate with them. But by the end, most everyone does believe.

My thoughts: On the one hand, I loved it. Mary Helen Brown's short novel is super-entertaining and the characters are so developed and fascinating. The little details have a just right feel to them. The way she writes--the way her characters talk--feels authentically Texan. I was drawn into the story from the very beginning. On the other hand, I really didn't love it. There were spiritual "danger, danger" signals going off now and then. I did not like the seances, or the use of Ouija boards. While I wanted Tom's story to be told, the facts to be discovered, I just wish the clues they'd followed hadn't been received the way they had. Because it is a matter of faith--and reading is subjective--I went with a full five stars. My objection to the book's content in that one area is completely subjective. Another reader may think the mystery is amazing. And the writing was so strong, so good.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, April 24, 2017

Goin' Someplace Special

Goin' Someplace Special. Patricia McKissack. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 2001. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: 'Tricia Ann was about to burst with excitement.

Premise/plot: Goin' Someplace Special is based on the author's childhood. It is set in Nashville in the 1950s. For younger readers unfamiliar with the way things were before (and during) the Civil Rights movement, this is a lovely introduction. The heroine, Tricia, is going by herself to "someplace special." To get to someplace special, she'll face some obstacles, these obstacles mainly exist because of the color of her skin. But the trip will be worth it. The destination? The public library. Someplace special indeed. An author's note points out that the public library was one of the few places in town that was integrated.

My thoughts: What a lovely book! I remember loving this one when I was in library school which was years before I had a blog to keep track of what I read. I have been wanting to reread it for years, but, I couldn't think of the author or the title. I stumbled across this one recently, and, I'll never let myself forget it again!!!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God

The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God. Lise Lunge-Larsen. Illustrated by Jim Madsen. 2007. HMH. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Long, long ago, when the Vikings ruled the seas, people loved to tell stories about gods and giants. Renowned as warriors and sailors, the Vikings were also great storytellers. Their most treasured stories were about a god named Thor.

Premise/plot: This is a story book for elementary readers. It contains nine stories--all generously illustrated. The stories are: "Why Thor Is Called the Thunder God," "The Giants," "Thor's Family," "Loki's Bet," "Tialvi and the Billy Goats," "A Duel," "Outwitted," and "Stolen Thunder."

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't perhaps love, love, love it like I did Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology. But this is a children's book. And the focus isn't on ALL the gods, but specifically on Thor. Some stories are in both books. I really enjoyed some of these stories. My favorites were "Outwitted," "Stolen Thunder," and "Loki's Bet." The stories are action-packed and most are packed with humor as well.

© 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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