Friday, March 24, 2017

Diary of a Beautiful Disaster

Diary of a Beautiful Disaster. Kristin Bartzokis. 2017. KiCam Projects. 162 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:  My name is Kristin. Some people call me Kris, KB, Bart, or the girl who can do no-handed cartwheels. After all, I was a champion gymnast. Unfortunately, I was born with a facial deformity, a problem that seems to define the person I am no matter what else I might accomplish in life.

Premise/plot: The book is a memoir. From the preface, "These pages tell the story of my life, the life of a woman in her early thirties who is afflicted with an unusual facial anomaly known as Treacher Collins syndrome." There are two narrative styles--techniques--in this one. Some chapters read like journal entries. These chapters are dated and focus on specific surgeries. They're meant to be give an intimate behind-the-scenes look at what it's like--for parent and child--to be hospitalized and endure such physical and emotional pain. (Physical and perhaps emotional for Kristin, and emotional for the parents.) Other chapters cover more time, and are more general while still being reflective.

My thoughts: It was a compelling, engaging read. If there's a lesson to be learned, it is never make assumptions. For example, never assume that because a person looks different that they are "special needs" or "disabled" or "mentally challenged." Don't assume that because a person looks different that they are friendless loners in need of pity and a reassuring "Jesus Loves You." Bartzokis writes from the heart in this one.

Each person has their story to tell. And each person who looks "different" has their own story to tell. It is a balancing act in this one. Tension between making it very personal, this is what it was like for me, and speaking up as a representative of the syndrome, giving voice to others. Too much on one side or the other could weaken the narrative perhaps. 

  • My flaws make me noticeable, but my strength makes me memorable. (5)
  • One day in middle school, I sat at the mall food court with a friend. A woman came up to us as we ate our Chinese food, looked me straight in the eyes, and proclaimed, "Jesus loves you." Then she disappeared as quickly as she came. She never acknowledged my friend, never said, "Hello" or "Have a nice day." She simply ruined my meal with a solitary phrase. Apparently she felt I needed to know that the Lord still loved me even with my imperfections, which gave me no comfort at all. Let me say this to anyone who agrees with this woman's actions: Singling someone out because of her uniqueness, even if doing so is well intended, is not an appropriate act. It does not promote self-love and acceptance; instead, it fosters feelings of self-doubt and isolation. Having a stranger single me out in a crowded establishment made me even more aware of my flaws. It was like tunnel vision. When she spoke, it was only she and I in the moment. The world around me had faded to black, and her eyes bore into me. That occurrence, that single phrase, scarred me. It serves as a reminder that some people will always see me as flawed or damaged. Or perhaps, it's something deeper. Maybe it's a reminder that I will always see myself as flawed or damaged. (21)
  • But what others need to understand is that for people like me, pain, whether physical or emotional, is a way of life. It is an everyday, every-hour, every-minute occurrence. If I let every instance of pain get to me, I'd be in tears all day long...So the way I deal with pain is to make it my enemy, to fight it, to not let it rule my life. (31)
  • Over the years, especially when I was younger, I received many inquisitions of, "What happened to your face?" (93)
  • My story might be unique to me, but my struggle with confidence is universal. (142)
  • It is time for me to recognize that I am more than just a beautiful disaster. I am beautiful. (162)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trumpet of the Swan

Trumpet of the Swan. E.B. White. Illustrated by Fred Marcellino. 1970. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Walking back to camp through the swamp, Sam wondered whether to tell his father what he had seen.

Premise/plot: Louis is a trumpeter swan who can't trumpet. But with the help of his human friend, Sam, and his father (a cob) who steals a trumpet from a music store, his handicap is overcome. Sam helps him by taking him to school, to his public school and enrolling him in first grade. He learns to read and write. When he returns to his family it is with slate and slate pencil. His father thinking of his future happiness--how can he woo a mate without a voice of his own--steals a trumpet. Louis practices on his own before turning to Sam for advice and help. At this time Sam teaches him about money and working to earn it. Louis feels guilty that his trumpet is stolen and not paid for. Until this wrong has been righted, Louis is very active with the human world around him. He becomes a musician with an agent taking jobs in Boston and Philadelphia. But it is freedom and love he longs for most. Will Serena ever be his?!

My thoughts: I first read this one the summer before sixth grade. It was a great read. I don't know why it's taken me so long to reread it. Loved Sam and Louis. Louis's father was very amusing in his pontificating.

Curiosity is celebrated throughout the book. Sam is a curious person. Because of this quality he becomes a good friend and even at times a hero. He discovers his life's calling as well. Life is wonder-filled to him. He treasures what he sees and hears. His observations are kept in a daily journal. Seeing the world through the eyes of both Sam and Louis is a treat.

  • The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. (50)
  • "Great Caesar's ghost!" cried the teacher. "Look at those wings! Well, his name is Louis--that's for sure. All right, Louis, you may join the class. Stand right here by the blackboard. And don't mess up the room, either! If you need to go outdoors for any reason, raise one wing." (71)
  • "Sam, if a man can walk three miles in one hour, how many miles can he walk in four hours?" "It would depend on how tired he got after the first hour," replied Sam. (76)
  • Everyone is entitled to his likes and dislikes and to his prejudices. Come to think of it, I don't care for pistachio ice cream. I don't know why I don't like it, but I don't. (114) 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Horizon #1. Scott Westerfeld. 2017. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Next question," Molly said. "How many miles of wire are in this airplane?"

Premise/plot: A plane is on its way to Japan and goes down over the Arctic circle. There are survivors--eight, I believe. But of the survivors, none are adults. Four of the survivors are the members of a school team on its way to a robots competition. The others are strangers to Molly, Javi, Anna, and Oliver. Yoshi is on his way home to his father. He doesn't really get along with either parent. And the fact that he's returning something--a sword--he stole from his father's house during the last visit doesn't make him that thrilled to be on the plane. Caleb is the odd one out. Two young girls, two sisters, speak Japanese and French but no English: Kira and Akiko. The other passengers--hundreds of them--were sucked out of the plane--seats and all, I believe--when the ceiling was ripped open. The crash site is strange. It's a JUNGLE, a jungle with strange animals and plants. Within hours of the crash, the kids stumble across a remote control device with alien-like symbols. This remote control does strange things to the law of nature. For example: changes the law of gravity.

My thoughts: In some ways it's all action and mystery and science fiction. In other words, a lot like LOST. (Well, if you switch out the fog monster with killer birds and killer vines. Also no flashbacks so far!!!) But this place is strange and unpredictable. It is a place that invites millions of questions but provides very few--if any--answers.

There is a game--an app, I believe, for readers who get really invested in this survivor story.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Ugly. Robert Hoge. 2016. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Imagine you're in art class. The teacher drops a lump of wet, sticky clay on the bench in front of you. "You've got thirty minutes to sculpt a newborn baby's face," she says.

Premise/plot: Ugly is a memoir by Robert Hoge. This very personal story is about growing up 'ugly' or 'different' in Australia in the 1970s and 80s. Readers learn about his life at home and at school. The focus is on his family, his friends, his classmates and teachers. Not everyone was nice....or accepting. But. He made a way, found a way, to be comfortable in his own skin. His journey included some surgeries, but, not as many as you might expect. (I loved, loved, LOVED the ending.) His journey also included sports. 

Perhaps readers have heard the phrase, "He has a face only a mother could love..." Well, in Hoge's case, his mother had a hard time accepting him--and his face--at first. For the first month of his life, she refused to take him home from the hospital and didn't want anything to do with him. She later became loving and accepting--a true supporter--but at first she struggled.

My thoughts: What I appreciate most about it is its warmth AND truth. He tackles a subject that could be very melodramatic and emotional, perhaps even manipulative. You'll be moved, but not with pity. At least I was. I loved, loved, loved the writing. He has a way with words that won me over from the start.

Favorite quotes:
I'm the ugliest person you've never met. (3)
I knew I was ugly. But everyone is uglier than they think. We are all more beautiful too. We all have scars only we can own. (200)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, March 20, 2017

Strega Nona

Strega Nona. Tomie dePaola. 1975. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant "Grandma Witch."

Premise/plot: When Strega Nona hires Big Anthony to help out, she warns him NOT to touch the pasta pot. Human nature being what it is, Big Anthony instantly NEEDS to get a hold of that pot. He watches Strega Nona while she's using the pasta pot. He thinks he knows its secret. That's only partially true. When she leaves town for a few days, he brags all about this pot and what it can do. Which leads to TROUBLE. Will Big Anthony regret his disobedience and his boasting?

My thoughts: HOW VERY FUN! I can't believe I am only now discovering this one. I loved the pasta pot. And seeing pasta practically take over the town was awesome! I would pity Big Anthony his tummy ache, but, he did have no business meddling with magic.

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