Wednesday, July 15, 2020

95. Before The Crown

Before the Crown. Flora Harding. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]

First sentence: He’s not there. Elizabeth has her eye pressed to the chink in the curtains.

Premise/plot: Before the Crown by Flora Harding is for any and every fan of Netflix's The Crown. It opens in 1943 and concludes with the wedding of Elizabeth and Philip. The book chronicles their relationship and is told by both the Princess and Prince. It includes some flashback scenes, especially when Philip is narrating that fills in some of his background.

My thoughts: For the most part, I love, love, love, love, love the Crown. Especially the first season of the Crown. I don't love, love, love everything about it. (Some of the scenes are a bit too graphic now and then. And I don't think nudity is really ever necessary to the plot.) But the stories and drama, well, that I love to watch. I was so happy to read and review Before the Crown. I would recommend it to viewers who love the show, to readers who love historical fiction, to readers who love all things royal.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

94. Running with The Wind

Running With The Wind. Dionne Haynes. 2019. 344 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]

First sentence: Soldiers pressed towards the harbour, forcing their way through the crowd. Jed turned his back towards them and came face-to-face with a young man, their noses so close they were almost touching. ‘Who are you? Haven’t seen you before.’ The young man’s tone was abrasive. ‘I can’t believe Master Jones let you board an overcrowded ship. What’s so special about you?’ Jed shook his head. ‘There’s nothing special about me.’ Passengers crammed onto the deck. Every man, woman and child jostled for an unobstructed view of those gathered to wave goodbye. Jed pressed his palms against the smooth wood of the gunwale behind him and pushed his body forward to avoid being crushed.

Premise/plot: Jedediah Trelawney is the protagonist of Dionne Haynes' new historical novel chronicling the voyage of The Mayflower in 1620. He is a young man with a secret that may or may not come back to haunt him. It seems SOMEONE on board knows the secret he is running from. But he doesn't know who or what they intend. He works for his keep on board and eventually becomes assistant to the doctor and the barber/surgeon on board. He plans to continue his 'apprenticeship' of sorts when they land. The book covers almost all aspects of life on board. And there is nothing glamorous and charming about it. It gets gritty and gross at times. (For example, when he's popping boils on personal locations of others.)

My thoughts: I liked this one well enough. It was a big graphic medically. There was one sexual fantasy/dream that was a bit graphic. But it was clear that it was his fantasy and not actually happening. Since it was such a small snippet of the book, that I can overlook. But some of the gritty perhaps all too realistic scenes of medical treatments turned my stomach a bit. Boil popping should not be the stuff of fiction!!!! 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, July 09, 2020

93. Madeleine

Madeleine. Elvi Rhodes. 1989/2011. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence: Walking along the narrow street, her hand resting lightly in the crook of George Carter’s arm, Madeleine was filled to the brim with rebellious thoughts. They coursed through her body and tingled in her fingertips until she felt sure that they must be conveyed to the man beside her. The sensation was so physical that she found herself compressing her lips into a tight line as if to prevent her feelings spilling out into words; words which she knew would surprise, even shock, George, coming from someone on her way home from chapel. But then he was easily shocked, wasn’t he? He was so good, so upright. She doubted if he had ever had a rebellious thought in his life. And since he continued to walk along without so much as turning to look at her she doubted that he had the slightest inkling of how she was feeling at this moment.

Premise/plot: Madeleine is a historical romance novel set in the 1850s in Yorkshire. Madeleine, our heroine, is a servant for the Parkinson family. Readers are told that this is the wealthiest family in the small town of Helsdon. But they only ever mention two possibly three servants: a cook, Mrs. Thomas, and Madeleine. (If there's a butler or stable boy, he's never named. I wouldn't be surprised if there was one or the other or both. But maybe because they don't figure into the story they're not named or mentioned. I have a hard time believing that an actually wealthy family at that time would only have two to four servants.) Madeleine is first and foremost rebellious and angry. She's rebelling against her father who is religious and attends chapel whenever its doors are open. She's rebelling against the Parkinsons though really her conflict is just with the so-called spoiled daughter, Sophia, with whom she clashes upon occasion. Sophia our antagonist, if you will, is actually spoiled. (But I couldn't help feeling that I liked her better for the first half of the book. Because I'd take flighty and vain over rebellious, brooding anger and resentment any day.) Mr. Parkinson, a mill owner, brings home a french man, Leon Bonneau, who is in a similar line of work in France. Sophia falls head over heels in love--think Scarlett's obsession with Ashley. Madeleine waits upon Mr. Bonneau while he is staying there and the two become slightly slightly friendly. (Though neither is exactly swooning for the other....yet). But after a trip abroad goes WRONG, Madeleine finds herself quitting that job and taking up work as a weaver at a mill (you know, as you do). Will Madeleine be happier as a mill worker? Will Leon and Sophie marry? Will the Parkinsons continue to be "wealthy"?

My thoughts: I liked this one well enough to keep reading. At no point did I say enough is enough is enough I can't stand the characters anymore. But I did have a few thoughts. First, I think the author must really love Gone With The Wind. The dialogue seems a bit modeled after Scarlett O'Hara. Along with one or two elements. Second, there is a LOT of cocoa drinking going on. You would think that they'd be more tea drinking! Third, do romance writers purposely make their characters dim-witted so that obstacles loom larger and seem impossible?! I mean that would be one explanation why things with obvious and mostly easy solutions would seem IMPOSSIBLE AND AGONIZING. I'd rather believe the characters are silly and dim then the author is unaware. Fourth--and finally--Madeleine seems to be a relatively contemporary woman (perhaps born circa 1950 or 1960) than one born in the 1830s. She just seems a bit off. The other characters--perhaps because we don't live inside their minds--seem to be a slightly better fit with the 1850s.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


92. Arsenic with Austen

Arsenic with Austen. Katherine Bolger Hyde. 2016. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A gentle late-spring breeze ruffled the tender leaves of the maple and cherry trees on Reed College's front lawn, flirted with the skirts of the graduates' robes and tugged at the edges of their mortarboards, then swirled up three stories to tease Emily's upswept hair as she stood at her open office window.

Premise/plot: Emily Cavanaugh, our heroine, inherits a LARGE fortune and estate from her great-aunt Beatrice. (It includes a large house, a HUGE book collection, and many, many, many properties about town.) She takes up residence in Stony Beach, Oregon, and begins her new life by embarking to solve a few mysteries. Did Beatrice die of natural causes? Could she have been poisoned? Who would want her dead? Why is the town so divided on what is in its best interest moving forward?

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I loved it in spite of its almost obnoxious first sentence. Fortunately, the writing doesn't really keep on like that!!! I read this one quickly and found it a satisfying book. There's quite a few mysteries to solve, and a side dish of romance with an old summer love. I appreciated the fact that our heroine isn't all that young--in her mid to late fifties. It's not all that common to have romances starring an older couple. It was nice.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

91. The Virginian

The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Some notable sight was drawing the passengers, both men and women, to the window; and therefore I rose and crossed the car to see what it was. I saw near the track an enclosure, and round it some laughing men, and inside it some whirling dust, and amid the dust some horses, plunging, huddling, and dodging.

Premise/plot: The Virginian is a collection of interconnected stories. Some are more "connected" than others. Some of the stories are told through a first person account, a first person narrator, whom we come to know simply as Tenderfoot or The Tenderfoot. He's an Eastern man that has come west to Wyoming territory. And The Virginian, our real hero, is his protector as this newbie is learning his way. But other stories are told in third person. Through a series of adventures, we get to know The Virginian; we get to know the people close to The Virginian. The men he works with and respects. The men he works with and doesn't respect. His friends. His enemies. My favorite of these may just be the woman, the "school teacher spinster" whom he falls in love with, Miss Molly Wood. 

My thoughts: It was dramatic. It was suspenseful. It was humorous. It was emotional. It was romantic--in places. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones between The Virginian and Miss Molly Wood. I loved their courtship. How steady he was, how stubborn she was. How he took the time to read *most* of the books she loaned him. How he was fond of a good book--Shakespeare especially. But how he really didn't get why she loved Jane Austen so much! I liked their conversations on the books he read. I liked his conversations with her in general.

But The Virginian isn't just a romance. I mean there is a happily ever after at the end. But in between all the courting scenes--and there are really only a handful--The Virginian is busy working and riding and managing the Judge's ranch--he's foreman--and generally seeing that justice is done. (Because there are cattle thieves about!) So there is plenty of action and adventure and humor. There's plenty of good fun in this one. But it's not without its darker moments, its life-and-death moments.

We cannot see ourselves as other see us, or I should know what appearance I cut at hearing this from the tall man. I said nothing, feeling uncertain. "I reckon I am looking for you, seh," he repeated politely. "I am looking for Judge Henry," I now replied. He walked toward me, and I saw that in inches he was not a giant. He was not more than six feet. It was Uncle Hughey that had made him seem to tower. But in his eye, in his face, in his step, in the whole man, there dominated a something potent to be felt, I should think, by man or woman.
  "It's two hundred and sixty-three miles," said the Virginian...Yes, I was dazed. How did they count distance in this country? You spoke in a neighborly fashion about driving over to town, and it meant—I did not know yet how many days. And what would be meant by the term "dropping in," I wondered. And how many miles would be considered really far?
By reason of something,—my clothes, my hat, my pronunciation, whatever it might be, I possessed the secret of estranging people at sight.
Upon the grocery side there stood a cheese too large and strong to sleep near comfortably, and I therefore chose the dry-goods side. Here thick quilts were unrolled for me, to make it soft; and no condition was placed upon me, further than that I should remove my boots, because the quilts were new, and clean, and for sale.
 Sardines were called for, and potted chicken, and devilled ham: a sophisticated nourishment, at first sight, for these sons of the sage-brush. But portable ready-made food plays of necessity a great part in the opening of a new country. These picnic pots and cans were the first of her trophies that Civilization dropped upon Wyoming's virgin soil.
I was soon at the wash trough. It was only half-past six, but many had been before me,—one glance at the roller-towel told me that. I was afraid to ask the landlady for a clean one, and so I found a fresh handkerchief, and accomplished a sparing toilet. In the midst of this the drummers joined me, one by one, and they used the degraded towel without hesitation. In a way they had the best of me; filth was nothing to them.
Thieves are presumed innocent until proved guilty, but a starched collar is condemned at once.
 "I reckon," said he, "you're feelin' about halfway between 'Oh, Lord!' and 'Thank God!'"
 "We are taking steps," said Mr. Taylor. "Bear Creek ain't going to be hasty about a schoolmarm." "Sure," assented the Virginian. "The children wouldn't want yu' to hurry."
 Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it anywhere been set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In what various vessels of gossamer it can float across wide spaces? Or upon what different soils it can fall, and live unknown, and bide its time for blooming?
 I was not called by my name after the first feeble etiquette due to a stranger in his first few hours had died away. I was known simply as "the tenderfoot." I was introduced to the neighborhood (a circle of eighty miles) as "the tenderfoot."
 "I fear she has not," said I. "Mighty hon'ble intentions," he observed. "If she can't make out to lay anything, she wants to hatch somethin', and be a mother anyways." "I wonder what relation the law considers that a hen is to the chicken she hatched but did not lay?" I inquired.
Em'ly scratched and clucked, and the puppies ran to her, pawed her with their fat limp little legs, and retreated beneath her feathers in their games of hide and seek. Conceive, if you can, what confusion must have reigned in their infant minds as to who the setter was!
 There always have been such people, I suppose, because the world must always have a rubbish heap.
 Molly Wood was regarding him saucily. "I don't think I like you," said she. "That's all square enough. You're goin' to love me before we get through. I wish yu'd come a-ridin, ma'am."
For this journey she had provided him with Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth. Shakespeare he had returned to her. He had bought Shakespeare for himself. "As soon as I got used to readin' it," he had told her, "I knowed for certain that I liked readin' for enjoyment."
 There can be no doubt of this:— All America is divided into two classes,—the quality and the equality. The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it. Both will be with us until our women bear nothing but kings.
"It's mighty hard to do what your neighbors ain't doin'," pursued the Virginian. 
 "Do you think there ought to be fifteen varieties of good people?" His voice, while it now had an edge that could cut anything it came against, was still not raised. "There ain't fifteen. There ain't two.
There's one kind. And when I meet it, I respect it. It is not praying nor preaching that has ever caught me and made me ashamed of myself, but one or two people I have knowed that never said a superior word to me. They thought more o' me than I deserved, and that made me behave better than I naturally wanted to.
But I'll tell yu' this: a middlin' doctor is a pore thing, and a middlin' lawyer is a pore thing; but keep me from a middlin' man of God."
 If words were meant to conceal our thoughts, melody is perhaps a still thicker veil for them.
"Oh, no! The wild man you're taming brought you Kenilworth safe back." She was smooth. "Oh, as for taming him! But don't you find him intelligent?" Suddenly I somehow knew that she didn't want to tame him. But what did she want to do? The thought of her had made him blush this afternoon. No thought of him made her blush this evening.
 "Science! He doesn't know what Christianity is yet. I've entertained many guests, but none—The whole secret," broke off Judge Henry, "lies in the way you treat people. As soon as you treat men as your brothers, they are ready to acknowledge you—if you deserve it—as their superior. That's the whole bottom of Christianity, and that's what our missionary will never know."
One can look respectfully at a preacher and be internally breaking all the commandments.
We all know what birds of a feather do. And it may be safely surmised that if a bird of any particular feather has been for a long while unable to see other birds of its kind, it will flock with them all the more assiduously when they happen to alight in its vicinity.
"When a man ain't got no ideas of his own," said Scipio, "he'd ought to be kind o' careful who he borrows 'em from." 
But his first message to his lady was scarcely written with ease. It must be classed, I think, among those productions which are styled literary efforts. It was completed in pencil before it was copied in ink; and that first draft of it in pencil was well-nigh illegible with erasures and amendments.
I have read that play Othello. No man should write down such a thing. Do you know if it is true? I have seen one worse affair down in Arizona. He killed his little child as well as his wife but such things should not be put down in fine language for the public. I have read Romeo and Juliet. That is beautiful language but Romeo is no man. I like his friend Mercutio that gets killed. He is a man. If he had got Juliet there would have been no foolishness and trouble.
"if yu' could read me something that was ABOUT something, I—I'd be liable to keep awake." And he smiled with a certain shyness. "Something about something?" queried Molly, at a loss.
 Staring ain't courage; it's trashy curiosity.
 "I expect in many growed-up men you'd call sensible there's a little boy sleepin'—the little kid they onced was—that still keeps his fear of the dark. You mentioned the dark yourself yesterday. Well, this experience has woke up that kid in me, and blamed if I can coax the little cuss to go to sleep again! I keep a-telling him daylight will sure come, but he keeps a-crying and holding on to me."
 I cannot say that I believe in doing evil that good may come. I do not. I think that any man who honestly justifies such course deceives himself. But this I can say: to call any act evil, instantly begs the question. Many an act that man does is right or wrong according to the time and place which form, so to speak, its context; strip it of its surrounding circumstances, and you tear away its meaning.
© 2020 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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