Friday, September 30, 2011

September Reflections

I read 44 books this month. Twice as many as in August. Of course, that's because I read so many picture books. The last week of the month, I know, and I decided to try to read twenty picture books to bring my totals up for the year.
 
Picture books: 21; Middle Grade: 2; Young Adult: 5; Adult: 8; Christian Fiction: 7; Graphic Novels: 1.

Review copies: 27; Library Books: 15; Books I Bought: 2.

My top five six:

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (#1 Heroes of Olympus)
The Five Red Herrings. Dorothy L. Sayers.
Mister Creecher. Chris Priestly.
A Murder on the Links. Agatha Christie.
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Melanie Benjamin.
Home to Harmony. Philip Gulley.

Reviews at Becky's Book Reviews


Torn. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (#1 Heroes of Olympus) 2010. Hyperion. 576 pages.
My Life Undecided. Jessica Brody. 2011. FSG. 320 pages.
Wrapped. Jennifer Bradbury. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages.
Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster. 2011. Egmont USA. 240 pages.
Mister Creecher. Chris Priestly. 2011. Bloomsbury. 390 pages.
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Kenneth Oppel. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.
Katherine. Anya Seton. 1954/2004. Chicago Review Press. 512 pages.
The Five Red Herrings. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1931. HarperCollins. 325 pages.
A Murder on the Links. Agatha Christie. 1923.  272 pages.
A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie. 1953. 256 pages.
Home to Harmony. Philip Gulley. 2002. HarperCollins. 225 pages. 
I, Claudius. Robert Graves. 1934. 480 pages.
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Melanie Benjamin. 2011. Random House. 425 pages.
Just Shy of Harmony. Philip Gulley. 2002. HarperCollins. 272 pages.

Reviews at Young Readers

Binky Under Pressure. Ashley Spires. 2011. Kids Can. 64 pages.
11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Charlie the Ranch Dog. Ree Drummond. Illustrated by Diane Degroat. 2011. HarperCollins. 40 pages.
All The Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. Dan Yaccarino. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Be Quiet, Mike! Leslie Patricelli. 2011. Candlewick. 40 pages.
The Best Birthday Party Ever. Jennifer LaRue Huget. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Shoe-La-La. Karen Beaumont. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2011. Scholastic. 40 pages.
Edwin Speaks Up. April Stevens. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
Reaching. Judy Ann Sadler. Illustrated by Susan Mitchell. 2011. Kids Can Press. 32 pages. 
ZooZical by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Marc Brown. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.
The Princess and the Pig. Jonathan Emmett. Illustrated by Poly Bernatene. 2011. Walker. 32 pages. 
The Yellow House. Blake Morrison. Illustrated by Helen Craig. 1987/2011. Candlewick Press. 32 pages.
The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans. Mary Quattlebaum. Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.
Naamah and the Ark at Night. Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Illustrated by Holly Meade. 2011. Candlewick. 32 pages.
Welcome to the World by Valerie Wyatt. Photographs by Lennette Newell. 2011. Kids Can Press. 24 pages.
The Call of the Cowboy. David Bruins. Illustrated by Hilary Leung. 2011. Kids Can Press.  32 pages.
The Busy Beaver. Nicholas Oldland. 2011. Kids Can Press. 32 pages.  
The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Jim LaMarche. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.
Pretty Princess Pig. Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Sam Williams. 2011. Simon & Schuster. (Little Simon). 24 pages.
My Name is Elizabeth! Annika Dunklee. Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. 2011. Kids Can Press. 24 pages.
Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. 2011. Candlewick Press. 32 pages.
17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Anymore. Jenny Offill. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. 2007. Random House. 32 pages.


Reviews at Operation Actually Read Bible


Wings of a Dream. Anne Mateer. 2011. Bethany House. 319 pages.
The Doctor's Lady. Jody Hedlund. 2011. Bethany House. 384 pages.
A Heart Revealed (Winds of Change Series #2) Julie Lessman. 2011. Revell. 500 pages.
Deeply Devoted. Maggie Brendan. 2011. Revell. 335 pages.
Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart. 2011. Tyndale. 400 pages.
Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1980/2011. David C. Cook. 160 pages.
Treasures from Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1984/2011. David C. Cook. 160 pages.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in September

New loot:

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis
17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Anymore by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
The Victory Club by Robin Lee Hatcher
Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life's Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian
Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald
The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
Charlie the Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond
A Lady of Hidden Intent by Tracie Peterson
Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina by Robert Graves
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
Look to the East by Maureen Lang

Leftover loot:

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Unnatural Causes by P.D. James
Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
Grave Expectations by Sherri Browning Erwin and Charles Dickens
The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women, 1800-World War II edited by A. Susan Williams
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Frankenstein the 1818 text by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.  

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Just Shy of Harmony

Just Shy of Harmony. Philip Gulley. 2002. HarperCollins. 272 pages.

Sam Gardner sat on the porch the Monday after Easter. 

Home to Harmony delighted me. It was a story collection with heart. There were stories that made me laugh, smile, and almost cry. Just Shy of Harmony is not a collection of stories; it is a novel set in Harmony. Readers follow this small town from Easter to Easter--the course of one year. There are essentially three or four stories:

The pastor Sam Gardner is having a crisis of faith: he no longer believes in the God he's supposed to preach about. He's realized that he has at least eight of ten signs of depression, and he finds the church much too overwhelming. And those feelings keep him from being able to pray. When he confesses to the elders of the church, they decide to take turns preaching each week. Which is good--the first few weeks--but Sam learns that not everyone has more than one (or two) good sermons in them. Will stepping back from the chaos of the church--the endless meetings, etc.--help him believe in God's goodness again?

Asa and Jessie Peacock won the lottery in Home to Harmony, but they refused to accept the money. In this novel, they struggle with their decision when EVERYTHING goes wrong all at once. If they accept the money, can they use it wisely?

Wayne Fleming has started dating Deena Morrison. But that relationship is threatened by the return of Wayne's wife, Sally. Sally thought she had a very very good reason for leaving Wayne and their kids last year. She wanted to spare them the pain of watching her die. But now she's having second thoughts about that decision, now she wants her family back. The community thinks they know everything about Sally, but what they don't know about her health, well, it surprises almost everyone. Can this community come together to help this family in need?

Dale Hinshaw feels "led" to start a Scripture egg ministry. By feeding chickens small pieces of paper with Bible verses on them, he hopes that the eggs they lay will minister to people, to shock them perhaps, into the faith. But this ministry is just a little too weird for the town to get behind and support.

While I didn't love this book--at least not as much as Home to Harmony--it was a nice read.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Lost Hero (MG)

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (#1 Heroes of Olympus) 2010. Hyperion. 576 pages.


Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.

I had my doubts. Even though it's Rick Riordan, I had my doubts. How could The Lost Hero hope to compete with The Lightning Thief. It could be good, it could even be really good. But how could it really compare with such a great book?! For me, that was THE best book, the one that was the best of them all. Yes, the series as a whole was a good adventure, but the first one? Well it was OH-SO-MAGICAL!

I was surprised by how much I loved this one. I thought it was a great read. Compelling, exciting, and magical!!! It has multiple narrators. Now practically every book with multiple narrators has me sharing with you how much I really don't like that element in books, but with this one it WORKED and worked well. It didn't feel awkward or silly like it does in Rick Riordan's other series--The Kane Chronicles, The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire.

Our narrators, our heroes and heroines, are Jason, Piper, and Leo. Two have been under the protection of Coach Hedge, the third appears out of nowhere on a school field trip. The mist effecting everyone's memories--even Piper and Leo. (Piper just KNOWS that Jason has been her boyfriend for weeks. She can almost remember every moment they've ever shared.) But trouble is coming and the three will have to fight to survive long enough to reach the safety of Camp Half-blood. To complicate matters, Jason has NO MEMORY at all of who he is or where he came from.

So the book does feature a quest, and it is EXCITING. I won't go into the details of this one. Chances are if you're familiar with Percy Jackson and his series, then you'll want to read this new series anyway. And if you haven't read Percy Jackson yet, if you've yet to discover the joys of The Lightning Thief, then this is NOT the place to start your journey with Rick Riordan.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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What's On My Nightstand (September)

What's On Your Nightstand is hosted at 5 Minutes for Books. Here's what I'm reading currently:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I am just LOVING this book! This isn't my first attempt to read it. But the first attempt I didn't get past the first fifty pages, just the wrong time, I suppose. But this time, it has become almost impossible to put down! I am just LOVING it!!! I love how it's told from so many perspectives!

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. I may not be making much progress in this one--it is close to a thousand pages. But I am still trying to make progress! I have NOT given up on it. I'm actually about 300 to 350 pages away from the end. So I hope to finish it soon.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I have not been given this one my full attention--or I would have finished it by now. I only have a hundred pages to go after all. This is for the Classics Circuit book tour in late October.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Torn (MG)

Torn. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.

"We didn't know what we were doing," a voice whispered near Jonah's ear. 

I really loved this fourth novel in the Missing series. I can't say that I've loved each of the novels equally. Though each has had its moments. But I can say that I've really enjoyed the series--or the idea behind the series. I love the time travel element. I love how each novel--or to be more precise, the second, third, and fourth novels--have focused on one time in particular. In the fourth novel, Jonah and his sister have been sent to 1611. They arrive on board Henry Hudson's ship just hours before a mutiny occurs. Jonah is posing as Hudson's son, and, well there is a lot depending on him. For the two have been told--and they have every reason to believe it--that time is falling apart and that they are the only two in position to repair the damage.

I would say that this is definitely a series you need to read in order. I'm not sure that Torn would be such a great read if you weren't familiar with the previous books.

If you enjoy action, adventure, history, mystery, and science fiction, then this series is definitely worth trying.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week In Review #38

What I Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

Mister Creecher. Chris Priestly. 2011. Bloomsbury. 390 pages.
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Kenneth Oppel. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.
I, Claudius. Robert Graves. 1934. 480 pages.
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Melanie Benjamin. 2011. Random House. 425 pages.
 Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart. 2011. Tyndale. 400 pages.

What I Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

Deeply Devoted. Maggie Brendan. 2011. Revell. 335 pages.




© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in September

New Loot:

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
The Ultimate Frankenstein by Byron Preiss, editor.
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
Signs and Wonders by Philip Gulley
Life Goes On by Philip Gulley
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Leftover Loot:

Pride & Prejudice graphic novel by Nancy Butler
Sense & Sensibility graphic novel by Nancy Butler
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Almost Friends by Philip Gulley
A Change of Heart by Philip Gulley
Unnatural Causes by P.D. James
Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
Grave Expectations by Sherri Browning Erwin and Charles Dickens
The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women, 1800-World War II edited by A. Susan Williams
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Frankenstein the 1818 text by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba


 Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.  


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, September 23, 2011

2011 Challenges: Fall Into Reading

Fall Into Reading hosted at Callapidder Days. The info post is here. The sign up post goes up September 23rd. (I'll link to it when I can). 
The challenge is from 9/23 to 12/21.

My goal is to read six to eight books. I'll probably list twice that much! But I hope to read at least six of the following:

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. I've been reading this one since August--I think it's been that long--but it's a LONG, LONG book, close to a thousand pages. And you do have to be in the right mood for it. I definitely want to finish it up this fall!

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. I admit I obsessively checked my library's catalog just to make sure I got a good spot on the waiting list. (It worked!) So I definitely plan on reading the second in Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This is not a new read to me, though I do try to read it "new" each time. I have signed up to read this one for the Classics Circuit tour. But I was planning on reading it anyway. I just love it so.

And Be A Villain by Rex Stout. I discovered Rex Stout last spring, and I'd love to spend some time this fall reading more of his Nero Wolfe mysteries. There are three books that go together--And Be A Villain, Second Confession, and In The Best Families. I don't know if I'll get to all three for this challenge. But I would love to get a good start on it!!!

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers. My goal is to read all the Lord Peter books in order. The next to come--for me--is Murder Must Advertise. Then if I'm feeling ambitious, I need to read The Nine Tailors and Busman's Honeymoon. Sayers is another discovery new to me in 2011! I discovered her and Agatha Christie in January, and, well, things have DEFINITELY changed around here.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I've wanted to read this one for a few years now. I have really enjoyed almost all of Collins' novels, so I'm looking forward to this one!

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin. I am a big fan of Lynn Austin! And this one is about a librarian!

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. I discovered Agatha Christie this year and I would love to read her autobiography.

Claudius the God by Robert Graves. I'd love to read the sequel to I, Claudius.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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This Dark Endeavour (YA)

This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Kenneth Oppel. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.

We found the monster on a rocky ledge high above the lake. For three dark days my brother and I had tracked it through the maze of caves to its lair on the mountain's summit.

What if Victor Frankenstein had a twin? A dying twin desperately in need of a cure. What if Victor Frankenstein's passion for "science" was the result of his desire to save his brother--no matter the cost. Is it that simple? What do you think? This is VICTOR Frankenstein after all!

This is a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Is it perfect? Or should I say a perfect-perfect match to Shelley's original novel? No, I can't say that it is. Perhaps because the original does not take the time to TRULY develop the Frankenstein family. Yes, we get a very, very, very strong idea of who Victor is--or was--but as for his immediate family, do we really get to know them in the original novel? Get to know them in a meaningful way? I don't know that we ever do. Is Elizabeth anything more than a picture or a symbol of a beautiful, innocent woman tragically sacrificed? And his brothers, well, we know their names essentially. Henry Clerval, well, we get a little more--but we get it through the eyes of Victor. And CAN WE REALLY TRUST ANYTHING AT ALL HE SAYS ABOUT ANYONE? (Not that I have opinions.) Anyway, this novel is a chance to meet the characters--or one author's idea of those characters.

Don't expect the details to match Shelley's story. Just don't. But if you can take it for what it is--a good adventure story with plenty of action and suspense--then you may just find yourself enjoying it.

Do I like Oppel's Frankenstein more than Shelley's? I can't say that I did. For even at a young age he seems a bit mad, a bit dark, a bit evil. Not in an oh-so-obvious way perhaps. It's just that his feelings for his brother...and his feelings for Elizabeth...are obviously complex. The way his brother loves, loves, loves Elizabeth, and the way she loves, loves, loves him in return. Well, Victor can't STAND that for a moment.

I am very glad I read this one. I was very curious about it. And I am thrilled to see an adaptation of Frankenstein. I wouldn't say that this one wowed me or that I thought it was the best book ever. But it certainly gave me something to think about. Mainly that Elizabeth was one very strong, very strong-willed, very spunky character. She has faith--it's true--and she's essentially good. But she's a FIGHTER. And she's not afraid to speak her mind. The Elizabeth of this novel cannot easily be reconciled with Shelley's original.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mister Creecher (YA)

Mister Creecher. Chris Priestly. 2011. Bloomsbury. 390 pages.

Billy pulled his clammy coat collar tightly to his throat. It was damp with the fog and felt like the tongue of a dead animal lolling against his neck. His thin body shivered and trembled. He was fifteen but looked eight. A fever sweat glistened on his forehead. His breaths were short; they puffed from his mouth in feeble wisps.

When the novel opens, our hero, Billy, is getting ready to rob a corpse. The corpse in question turns out not to be a corpse at all, but a "Mr. Creecher." A dead-looking man of large proportion. He "saves" Billy just moments later when a mean gang of thieves (Billy's also a thief of course) shows up threatening him. But his "savior" wants Billy to do a little work for him. He wants Billy to follow two men about town. A Mr. Frankenstein and a Mr. Clerval. Billy easily agrees to this. And so it begins...an odd friendship of sorts...partly based on convenience and circumstance.

At first Billy barely knows a thing about Creecher. And he doesn't mind not knowing. What little he has heard, what little mumblings (or grumblings) he's heard, he's been able to ignore. And even when the truth--the Creecher's truth--is revealed, Billy has a hard time REALLY believing that such a thing is so, that something like that is even possible. But as the story progresses, Billy hears more and more of the Creecher's tale. At times Billy thinks he talks WAY TOO MUCH. He accuses him of talking like a girl, a woman. Of being too in-touch with his feelings, of loving novels and reading too much. I didn't agree with every little thing Billy said. (I was later very glad I didn't!!!) But. It provided an interesting perspective of viewing Mary Shelley's creation or creature.
'Shut up!' Billy snapped. 'Why do you have to be such a...'
He snarled and kicked a moss-covered branch and sent it tumbling into the darkness. Without the coachlights, the moon provided the only illumination to the scene.
'You see how it is for me,' said Creecher. 'I try to help and--'
'It's always about you, isn't it?' said Billy. 'Oh, poor me--I'm ugly and no one likes me. Boo hoo, boo hoo. Well, life ain't a bowl of cherries for the rest of us neither!'
'But you can live among them...'
Billy fumed for a few moments, unable to express his feelings. The truth was he had never felt part of 'them.' He had never belonged.
'Oh yeah. I can get treated like filth,' he replied. 'I can starve or steal. I can hang. If you want someone to feel sorry for you, you've come to the wrong place.' (191)
The novel is set in the middle of Frankenstein. The creature has requested Frankenstein create a mate for him, and Victor has agreed. The novel ends with them on their way to Scotland.

I liked this one. I really, really liked it. I'm not sure that I absolutely loved it. I'm not sure it will make my favorites list. But I am SO GLAD I read it. I found it a great read. Very quick, very enjoyable. The tone of this one was just right. It was just a great, great read. It definitely made me think!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beneath the Night Tree

Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart. 2011. Tyndale. 400 pages.

Daniel hummed in his sleep. It was an unconscious song, a midnight lullaby, as familiar to me as the sigh of my own breath. I fell asleep at night listening to the cadence of his dreams, and when I woke in the morning, his quiet melody was a prelude to birdsong. 

Julia DeSmit, our heroine, is a single mom essentially raising two kids. One, Simon, is her half-brother, who's now ten. The second, Daniel, is her son. She isn't all on her own. She lives with her grandmother--the woman who raised her.

Julia DeSmit is used to feeling a bit lost, a bit of a wanderer--though that isn't really the case. She has strong family roots and unlike her mother she knows how to be responsible and loving and compassionate. Still, she has certain dreams of her own, a vague idea on how she wants her life to go. And so when one of those dreams seemingly starts to come true--a marriage proposal from Michael, her boyfriend, well, you'd think she'd be happier.

But Julia is learning that love isn't always simple, that some people are worth giving second chances. Parker, the biological father of her son, contacts her and wants to know if their one night together resulted in a child. And slowly--one or two words at a time--she catches him up on all he's been missing. But the decision to allow him into their son's life isn't automatic.

Parker may be just what Simon and Daniel need. A strong, smart father figure who gives his time and attention...he is the exact opposite of Michael in oh-so-many ways.

And that's just the beginning...

This is the third novel in the series and I enjoyed it very much. The first two are After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. Melanie Benjamin. 2011. Random House. 425 pages.

I suppose it would be fashionable to admit to some reservations as I undertake to write the History of My Life. Popular memoirs of our time suggest a certain reticence is expected, particularly when the author is female. We women are timid creatures, after all; we must retire behind a veil of secrecy and allow others to tell our stories. To that, I can only reply, "Rubbish!" I have let others--one other, in particular--tell my story for far too long. Now is the time to set the record straight, to sort out the humbug from the truth, and vice versa.

Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump (Vinnie) is the star of Melanie Benjamin's novel The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. The novel begins with a quick reflection of her life mentioning her celebrity wedding with Tom Thumb (Mr. Charles Stratton) and honeymoon. (On their honeymoon tour they stayed over at the White House.) They married during the Civil War, but their wedding was THE BIG STORY of the day. For some the details of what she was wearing, of what she was buying, was more important than news of the battles. But the novel soon goes back to the beginning of the story. Readers learn of her childhood, of her school years, of her one (or possibly two terms) as school teacher before she was "discovered" and left her quiet life for show business.

Her first exposure to the 'real world' to show business, may not have been the best. (But it could have been a lot, lot worse). But she was determined to be somebody, to be somebody no one would ever forget. A dream that led her to writing P.T. Barnum. And she did indeed become famous! Her fame only grew when she married General Tom Thumb.

The novel focuses on her life, on her relationships. Specifically her relationship with P.T. Barnum. There were many, many things she loved about her life, about being famous, about touring and performing. But she didn't love everything.

The novel, this fictionalized autobiography, is a reflection. It shows a grown woman reflecting on the choices she's made in her life. And one of the things she regrets in this novel is the fact that she brought her younger sister with her into the world, into her crazy touring-and-performing life. She blames herself for her sister's death.

I found the novel fascinating. I found it impossible to put down. It was so captivating, so emotional, so exciting.

The novel mainly focuses on the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 19, 2011

I, Claudius

I, Claudius. Robert Graves. 1934. 480 pages.

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled.

This was an impulse read--or reread. I first read it in 2008 and I liked it. I didn't quite love it. I remember thinking at some point I want to read the sequel, one day I want to finish the story. But I wasn't in a rush. Obviously. But a few weeks ago, I saw it on the library shelf, and, well, I just HAD to read it. (I picked up both books because of course I wanted to read them both.)

What did I think the second time through this one? Well, I just LOVED it. I just loved, loved, loved it. Perhaps because I've changed as a reader. Perhaps because I knew the basic story and was free to enjoy the details more. I don't know why some books are just better the second time around. I would say the biggest difference--for me--was that there was no confusion the second time round. I wasn't lost with the names, I wasn't struggling with piecing together the story. The more I read, the more right it felt.

Anyway, the essentials remain:

Narrated by Claudius, I, Claudius is an often bloody memoir of the Roman empire under Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. (It might reference pre-Augustan Roman history, but it does so in a flashback kind of way.) What can I say about this one? The narration varies between being very witty and dry and sarcastic and just downright fun in that sort of way. But I won't lie either. There are hundreds of names from first to last. Some turn out to be key players, some disappear a page or two later--and it's hard to distinguish between the two. I did get lost in more than a few places trying to puzzle out who was who. But at the same time, it was enjoyable. Even though I didn't pick up on every single little detail, what I did pick up on and follow I enjoyed for the most part. The book is full of politics, plots, crimes, murders, and plenty of drama both small and grand in scale. Claudius had three wives and two main mistresses, for example, (one at a time though) and a few of them were truly scary. Livia, Claudius's grandmother, is one of the stars of the novel. She's a truly despicable character--poisoning and plotting to kill off most of the opposition even if the opposition were completely innocent and were her own flesh and blood.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week In Review #37

What I reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:

A Murder on the Links. Agatha Christie. 1923.  272 pages.
A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie. 1953. 256 pages.
Home to Harmony. Philip Gulley. 2002. HarperCollins. 225 pages. 

What I reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible:

Wings of a Dream. Anne Mateer. 2011. Bethany House. 319 pages.
The Doctor's Lady. Jody Hedlund. 2011. Bethany House. 384 pages.
A Heart Revealed (Winds of Change Series #2) Julie Lessman. Revell. 500 pages.


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Library Loot: Second Trip in September

New Loot:

Home to Harmony Philip Gulley
Just Shy of Harmony by Philip Gulley
Christmas in Harmony by Philip Gulley
Pride & Prejudice graphic novel by Nancy Butler
Sense & Sensibility graphic novel by Nancy Butler
Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage by Glyn Williams
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Almost Friends by Philip Gulley
A Change of Heart by Philip Gulley
The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt
Aftermath by LeVar Burton

Leftover Loot:

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James
Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
Grave Expectations by Sherri Browning Erwin and Charles Dickens
The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women, 1800-World War II edited by A. Susan Williams
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Armada by Garrett Mattingly
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Frankenstein the 1818 text by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Claudius the god and his wife Messalina by Robert Graves
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

 Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Home to Harmony

Home to Harmony. Philip Gulley. 2002. HarperCollins. 225 pages.

When I was in the second grade, my teacher, Miss Maxwell, read from The Harmony Herald that one in every four children lived in China. I remember looking over the room, guessing which children they might be. I wasn't sure where China was, but suspected it was on bus route three. 

One of the best, best, best books I've read lately. One of those books that had me at hello. It may not appeal to every one. I suppose you might say it is a little sentimental now and then. But. It is truly one of those cozy books that make you feel oh-so-happy. Or, I should say it made me feel oh-so-happy. There were chapters that had me laughing--really laughing hard. There were chapters that had me close to tears. And almost every chapter had something worth quoting. I realized this right away and didn't even try to mark them all. (Some books are like that.)

So the premise of this one is simple. Sam Gardner lives in the small town of Harmony. He went away--to school, to seminary--but now he's back. And unlike some in the town, he's very happy to be back, very happy to be living in Harmony. He understands--better than some--why it may not be a town for everyone, but to him it's right where he wants to be.

The book is a collection of stories. Some set in the past, some set in the present. The stories are arranged by season--spring, summer, fall, winter. And the stories are about the community, the people who live there or who have lived there. We meet Bob Miles Sr. and Dale Hinshaw. The narrator is a Quaker minister.

My favorite stories were: Miss Rudy, Wilbur, and Friday Nights; Burma-Shave; The Birds and the Bees; This Callous Pride; Mutiny; The Twins; Miriam and Ellis; and The Spelling Bee. 

"He had been inoculated with a small dose of Christianity, which had kept him from catching the real thing." (51)

"When love takes you by the hand and leaves you better, that is home." (63)

"The Dale Hinshaw Effect is simply this: If there is a bad idea to be thought, Dale Hinshaw will think it." (67)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Pocket Full of Rye

A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie. 1953. 256 pages.

I really enjoyed this Miss Marple mystery. I'm not sure what more I can add to that. I mean, it's a mystery. A mystery with multiple victims. A mystery that kept me guessing until the very end--or close to it.

I always enjoy Miss Marple, she's such a delightful character. And I enjoyed this Miss Marple mystery very much. I wouldn't say it is my favorite and best Marple--but it's certainly worth a read or reread!!!

The first victim, Rex Fortescue, is a business man who dies in his office after drinking his tea. They're almost positive he was murdered--poisoned. But they're also positive the poison was not in the tea. Someone in his family--someone close to him--murdered him. But can they figure out just who the murderer is?

One puzzling clue--you may have guessed it--is a pocket full of rye in his pocket. But that's just one of many puzzling clues that abound in this novel!

I definitely liked this one!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Doctor's Lady

The Doctor's Lady. Jody Hedlund. 2011. Bethany House. 384 pages.


"Indians!"

The Doctor's Lady is a fictionalized account of a missionary couple. The hero/heroine of this one is based on Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Some of the names have been changed--though not all according to the author's note--but many of the events of the novel really happened.

The Doctor's Lady stars Priscilla White a woman oh-so-eager to be a missionary--to India--who is very reluctant to marry anyone. But when she learns that she won't be able to serve as a missionary--anywhere--if she remains single, she accepts the marriage proposal of a man in somewhat similar circumstances. Dr. Eli Ernest longs to return to Oregon territory to start a mission. But he's just learned that he'll need to take a wife. To answer God's call, these two may just have to wed...

The Doctor's Lady is a detailed accounting of the wagon trip west. For those that love pioneer stories, it's a good read! I definitely enjoyed it.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Murder on the Links

A Murder on the Links. Agatha Christie. 1923.  272 pages.

I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this mystery novel starring Hercule Poirot and his close friend Arthur Hastings. The novel, I believe, is narrated by Hastings, the same narrator introduced in Poirot's first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles.

I usually find Christie's Miss Marple novels to be more delightful, more charming, more satisfying than those starring Hercule Poirot. But this one is definitely an exception. I just loved it from cover to cover.

This mystery, for the most part, occurs in France. And it just works really, really well. I don't want to say too much about the mystery itself. I mean the less you know the better...but you really should give Agatha Christie a try!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Wings of A Dream

Wings of a Dream. Anne Mateer. 2011. Bethany House. 319 pages.

"Rebekah Grace, if you don't hurry we'll be late for the lecture."

 I had my doubts about Wings of a Dream after reading the first chapter. But. I kept reading. And it didn't take me long to realize that I had judged it much, much too soon. This one hooked me. I ended up loving this sweet historical romance. Was it predictable? Yes. I won't lie. If you demand that your romance, your historical romance, be absolutely original and unpredictable...then you may be disappointed with this one. But if what you're looking for is a feel-good story, a satisfying read that is oh-so-cozy, then Wings of a Dream may just be for you.

This historical romance is set in Texas in 1918 during the last months of World War I. Our heroine, Rebekah Grace, travels to a small Texas town to care for her sick aunt. She arrives just in time--to meet the woman she barely knew, to make a difficult promise, to care for the children in her aunt's care. Rebekah is forced to grow up as she becomes the caregiver of four young children--one just a baby. (Their father is in the army, their mother is dead.)

There is plenty of drama in Wings of a Dream, and I must say that I liked it much more than I thought I would. I wouldn't say it is the best, best book I've ever read. But it was certainly enjoyable!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Week in Review #35 and #36

What I reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews:


My Life Undecided. Jessica Brody. 2011. FSG. 320 pages.
Wrapped. Jennifer Bradbury. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages.
Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster. 2011. Egmont USA. 240 pages.
Katherine. Anya Seton. 1954/2004. Chicago Review Press. 512 pages.
The Five Red Herrings. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1931. HarperCollins. 325 pages. 


© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Library Loot: First Trip in September

It's not really the first library trip in September. Just the first one I've taken the time to blog about.

New Loot:

Unnatural Causes by P.D. James
Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James
Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart
Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
Grave Expectations by Sherri Browning Erwin and Charles Dickens

Leftover Loot:

The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women, 1800-World War II edited by A. Susan Williams
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Armada by Garrett Mattingly
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Stories of Ray Bradbury
Lighthouse by Eugenia Price
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Frankenstein the 1818 text by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Claudius the god and his wife Messalina by Robert Graves
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

 Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Human.4 (YA)

Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster. 2011. Egmont USA. 240 pages.

When Danny Birnie told us that he had hypnotized his sister we all though he was mad. Or lying. Or both.

Our narrator, Kyle Straker, is living in a strange, strange world where he and three others have suddenly become irrelevant. It started when he volunteered at a local talent show to be hypnotized. It wasn't that he wanted to volunteer, just that in a moment of weakness he had pity on Danny while he was doing his act. His former girlfriend, Lilly, also happened to volunteer just about the same time he did. Two adults, Mrs. O'Donnell and Mr. Peterson, also volunteered. All were hypnotized. All woke up in this strange, strange new reality.

This book is part science fiction, part horror, and part mystery. It was a quick read! I liked it. I wouldn't say I loved it. But for a quick premise-driven read, it was a good choice.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Five Red Herrings

The Five Red Herrings. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1931. HarperCollins. 325 pages.

If one lives in Galloway, one either fishes or paints. "Either" is perhaps misleading, for most of the painters are fishers also in their spare time. To be neither of these things is considered odd and almost eccentric. 

The Five Red Herrings is the seventh mystery starring Lord Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter is a character that I just love and adore. He's just one of my favorite, favorite, favorite characters ever. So I was so happy to read another mystery in this series.

In The Five Red Herrings, Lord Peter Wimsey is on vacation in Scotland. Though he neither paints or fishes, he is accepted--for the most part--by the community. It's hard to not like him, after all! Early in the novel--though I'm not sure if it's early in his holiday--a murder is committed. The "victim" is someone EVERYONE hates; threats against this guy were so common that they were hardly worth taking seriously. I mean Campbell, the victim, was just impossible to get along with. But now that he's dead, it is up to the police (the constables and detectives, etc.) to solve the crime. And since Lord Peter just happens to be very, very good at detecting, he offers to help them out.

There are six suspects--all artists. Hugh Farren, Henry Strachan, Matthew Gowan, Jock Graham, Michael Waters, and Ferguson. All had motive, all had opportunity. All of them are lying, all of them are hiding things from the police. Since there are so many suspects, since they all appear equally capable of committing the crime, it's just a matter of discerning the truth. Which theory--which plausible theory--is the truth? Which is most likely? Which uses all the clues that have been left behind?

Five Red Herrings is set in Scotland. And, for me, it was a delightful mystery.

Lord Peter Wimsey:

I was born looking foolish and every day in every way I am getting foolisher and foolisher. (52)

One of these days I shall write a book in which two men are seen to walk down a cul-de-sac, and there is a shot and one man is found murdered and the other runs away with a gun in his hand, and after twenty chapters stinking with red herrings, it turns out that the man with the gun did it after all. (114)

The essence of detection is secrecy. It has no business to be spectacular. But you can watch me if you like. (218)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Wrapped (YA)

Wrapped. Jennifer Bradbury. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages.

"Put the book down, darling," my mother said from her chair beside the mirror. 

Wrapped is a great read! I wouldn't say it is a perfect read, but it is so much fun. I wouldn't change a thing. It was just a joy to spend time with this book, with these characters. It's a mystery-romance set in Regency England--1815 to be exact.

Our heroine, Agnes Wilkins, is a delight! I just loved her! I loved almost everything about her. True, I solved the mystery before she did, but I'm not holding that against her. For I think, in many ways, she proves her smarts. She just happened to be a little distracted by her new friend Caedmon.

I definitely loved this one and am happy to recommend it!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, September 02, 2011

My Life Undecided (YA)

My Life Undecided. Jessica Brody. 2011. FSG. 320 pages.

The sirens are louder than I anticipated.

I really enjoyed My Life Undecided. It is a fun read, very light, a bit silly, a bit predictable. But there are many satisfying moments in it. And once you've started it, well, it might be difficult to be put down. Not every book has to be oh-so-serious, right?

The heroine of this one, Brooklyn Pierce, struggles with making good decisions. Her life is full of mistakes and regrets. She always thinks she's doing the 'right' thing--like having a party in her mother's model home, while her parents are out of town. But she almost always makes the wrong decision, she chooses what feels good in the moment, and, well, she usually has to face the consequences.

The novel opens with her having to face the consequences...yet again. She's sentenced to community service.

Anyway, she decides early on that since she is horrible at controlling her own life, she'd open up all her decisions to others. She'd start a blog and let readers vote on how she should live her life. Any time she needs to make a decision, she writes a post and creates a poll.


But this decision to blog may not be the best way to live her life after all...

Can Brooklyn grow up and take responsibility for her own life?

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

R.I.P. VI

There are plenty of books I want to read for Carl's R.I.P challenge this year. Not all books will make it to the list--I simply couldn't list them all. And I'm sure there will be a few surprises or 'impulses.' But I do have a vague idea of what I'd like to read this year:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley*
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte**
The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women 1800-World War II edited and introduced by A. Susan Williams.
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers
A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
The Francise Affair by Josephine Tey
The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side by Agatha Christie
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Grave Expectations by Sherri Browning Erwin and Charles Dickens
Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Kill Shakespeare, Volume 1

*Could I go a year without reading Frankenstein? Maybe? But why would I want to do something like that?! This is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite books!
**I would LOVE to reread Jane Eyre this year!

The review site for sharing links.

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.


I'm signing up for the first peril--which is four books of any length that qualify.

1. A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie.
2. A Murder on the Links. Agatha Christie.
3. Human.4 Mike A. Lancaster.
4. The Five Red Herrings. Dorothy L. Sayers.
5. Mister Creecher by Chris Priestly
6. This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Katherine

Katherine. Anya Seton. 1954/2004. Chicago Review Press. 512 pages.

In the tender green time of April, Katherine set forth at last upon her journey with the two nuns and the royal messenger.

Katherine is the third Anya Seton novel I've read, and it is probably my favorite so far. It is the 'love story' of Katherine de Roet and John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster). It's definitely a 'love story' with complications!

The book opens with Katherine traveling with several nuns to visit her sister, Philippa, who is in the service of the Queen. Her arrival catches the attention of at least two guys. The most persistent being Hugh Swynford. Her sister just hopes that her sister has enough sense to know that these men are after one thing and only one thing. And Katherine does know that. But she can't protect herself from unseen dangers.

One day, Katherine takes a walk in the garden thinking that she is alone, that she is safe, only to discover that Hugh Swynford is there and he means to get his way. They struggle. And only fate in the form of John Gaunt, the Duke, saves her. He demands to know what is going on and Hugh stammers something about how he really truly means to marry the penniless girl. The Duke takes the poor woman home to his wife, Blanche, who takes pity on the girl and offers her friendship and kindness.

But within days Katherine learns her fate. She will be the wife of Hugh Swynford. For better or worse, she'll be stuck with him. But it's not like she has much of a say in her future. And a good match is a good match.

Katherine is a novel of medieval England. Readers get more than a quick and easy 'love story.' It's a novel about war and politics and social class. The novel follows the lives of Katherine and John through four decades. The 1360s through the 1390s.

There are plenty of characters to love and hate in this one. And it's a pleasant read. Not too dry, not too boring. But not completely romance either. There is history and politics and talk of war and riots, etc. If you're just looking for romance, this may not be the one for you. But if you want substance to your romance, then you should give it a try.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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