Monday, May 23, 2022

63. One Good Deed



One Good Deed. (Archer #1) David Baldacci. 2019. 416 pages. [Source: Library]
 

First sentence: It was a good day to be free of prison.

Premise/plot: Aloysius Archer is out on parole; he’s been resettled in the small, rural town of Poca City. The community is small enough that everyone know everybody’s business. Ex-cons tend to stick out, but Archer isn’t like other ex-cons. He was innocent of the crime he was convicted of. He is determined to stay out of trouble that might lead him back to prison. In addition to being fresh out of prison, Archer is a war veteran. The novel is set in 1949. America—Archer included—is still very much impacted by the war. One doesn’t simply forget the war and jump back effortlessly into “normal“ life.

So on his first day in town he picks up an unusual job. He is collect the collateral of a debt. Both men—the one who made the loan and the one who took out the loan—are unsavory chaps. Neither man seems “good”. Both seem super dangerous and unreasonable. But he is desperate for a job and this one pays $100. Will accepting this job be the biggest mistake of his life? Will he escape with his life?

My thoughts: I love, love, love historical fiction. I love, love, love mystery novels. When an amateur detective happens to love reading detective novels...I find it giddy making. So much of this one was just happy making. It was a compelling and suspenseful read. But it wasn’t so much about the destination—at least for me. It was every step of the journey. I hope this is the start of a new series. I want to spend more time with Archer!

 ETA: I reread One Good Deed. It has been almost three years since I first read it. I still loved it. I think my favorite thing about it remains the narrative voice. I just LOVED spending time with Archer and seeing the world through his eyes. I thought the pacing was great.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, May 22, 2022

62. Meet the Malones


Meet the Malones. (Beany Malone #1) Lenora Mattingly Weber. 1943. 282 pages. [Source: Borrowed from a friend]

First sentence: MARY FRED MALONE had just bought a horse. He was black and his name was Mr. Chips and Mary Fred was riding him home.

Premise/plot: Meet the Malones is the first in a series of books that chronicles the [fictional] Malone family. Elizabeth, Mary Fred, Johnny, and Beany. The book is set during the Second World War in Colorado. Elizabeth's husband, Don, is overseas fighting. Their father, a journalist, has gone to Hawaii. The family is mostly on their own--except for when they aren't. Nonna, the grandmother, is a FIERCE force to be reckoned with when she does arrive. She does change the family dynamics quite a bit. 

The point of view in this one is all Mary Fred. She has her first misadventure with "love" in this one. As this "mop-squeezer" is swept off her feet by the super-popular football player who typically dates "queens." Elizabeth returns home with a newborn son to care for! The whole family helps out...not just with Elizabeth but with other children in need. There is a real spirit of hospitality and compassion in this one. (Though that may not extend all the way to the neighbor's dog.)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much! I enjoyed getting to know the family. At times I was left wanting more--which overall I think is better than reverse. Each chapter is a "snapshot." Some focus more on family life at home, their relationships with each other. Others focus more on school OR the community. You do get a sense of how life on the home front is during the war. The war is never far from their minds, they are always thinking of ways they can help out the war effort and encourage/support those serving. 

Quotes:

  • The young Malones made their own decisions about lamb chops and life.  He was the delight of his English Lit teacher, gray-haired, gray-eyed, gray-garbed Miss Hewlitt.
  • ‘The highest price you can pay for a thing is to get it for nothing.’ That’s the trouble with this generation; they want everything—” 
  • Mary Fred said softly, “I read some place where courage is fear that has said its prayers.” 
  • “Rabbits,” groaned Beany. “Why do people always poke rabbits at children when they’re too young to defend themselves?” “They’re beautiful blankets,” Elizabeth insisted. 
  • Shame was different from grief or anxiety. You could share those with the ones you loved.
  • Elizabeth said earnestly, “I don’t think they ought to end stories like that for children. It gives them the wrong idea. There’s happiness in love—oh, happiness that shakes you and enriches you, but love and marriage isn’t a happy-ever-after thing. Love and marriage has so much ache and emptiness and hurt with the happiness.” 
  • Elizabeth detained them for one last word of admonition. “Now listen, gals, be sure you go out there to this soldiers’ dance with only one idea—not to have a good time yourselves but to give them one. Because you’ve got other good times ahead of you. But these kids—we don’t know what’s ahead for them.”
  • “I didn’t bring you here to gloat over you,” he said quietly, as he swerved the car around and started home. “I wanted you to see for yourself. You’re always talking about Nonna and her being like a fairy godmother. I’m not up on my fairy tales but it seems to me I read about some old woman who fed a girl a poisoned apple and it stuck in her throat and she lay in a coma until something jolted her and it fell out. I wanted to jolt you.”
 
 
 
 
 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 20, 2022

61. Rivals (American Royals #3)


Rivals (American Royals #3) Katharine McGee. 2022. [May] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Beatrice pulled her arms overhead in a stretch. 

Rivals is the third novel in the American Royals series. For those not familiar with the series, the premise is that George Washington became King instead of President. The Washington family has been reigning since the Revolution. There are three Washington siblings: Beatrice, Samantha, and Jefferson. America is not the only nation that has been re-imagined with a royal family. I would say almost all nations/countries have a reigning royal family. Not that McGee spends the majority of her text filling in and filling up her world. The series specializes in the adventures/misadventures of the love lives of the three Washington siblings. Not surprisingly, the book is told with alternating narrators. Surprisingly, Jefferson is not one of the narrators. Instead of Jefferson's voice, readers are "treated" to two potential love interests Nina and Daphne. 

To "refresh" your memory, at the start of this novel:

  • Beatrice is NOT married to Teddy (though she spent all of book two engaged and planning a wedding). But the two are still together.
  • Samantha (a twin) is head over heels with Marshall (a man that she fell for while pretending to date). The two have some conflict because it is an interracial relationship.
  • Jefferson is "on" with Daphne. But his friendship with Nina is "on" as well. The previous two books has been very messy with these three. HOWEVER, in the first two books, it was not a triangle but a rectangle. Ethan was always on stand by to switch out with Jeff. Whichever girl wasn't currently with Jeff was secretly (or not so secretly) with Ethan. 

So what does the third book offer readers?

[sound of silence]

Honestly, I feel this third book is a huge step backwards from the first two books. Turns out, I must have a secret (or not so secret) liking for Ethan. I don't know if it is Ethan himself, or, the fact that he offers some tell-it-like-it-is chaos. I honestly don't know if that's the best description. But there is no pretense, not really, with Ethan. 

Beatrice. It's not that I hate Beatrice, I don't. I think it's just that the author seems BORED of this character and like her chapters are a chore to write. There seems to be a disconnect with the way this character is written and how the others are written. I don't know that it's fair to say that Beatrice is playing at being a grown up in this one. But I just found her scenes where she is being a FIERCE Queen a bit ridiculous. (There's one laughable scene, not meant as a joke, where she stands up and make a speech ... and I won't continue with spoilers, but seriously. Just no.) Still, I didn't like how this one ended for Beatrice. It was just like the author was like DONE.

Sam. I think Sam is by far a more interesting character. She's had a handful of interesting love interests. Her scenes can have some drama that feels a little CW, but, her chapters move quickly. I do like her relationship with Marshall. But at the same time, these serious "notes" seem a little disconnected with the series as a whole. I have a LOT of questions about this alternate American history. And how this alternate series of events--a royal family instead of elected Presidents (and elected Congress) usually from two differing political parties--would impact EVERYTHING in society/culture. I could think of dozens of questions. I'll narrow it down to two or three--WAS there a civil war? WHEN did slavery get abolished? WAS there a civil rights movement? I could go on and on. Not just about race. But about EVERYTHING. The changes seem to be so small and insignificant they are barely noticeable. 

Nina. I do like Nina. She may be even more of a favorite than Sam. But I don't always like how she's "stuck" just being a love interest for Jeff and a sidekick for Sam (when Sam wants one). I get that these three grew up inseparable and that before the series open, there are literally twelve to sixteen (ish) years of back story for these three being TIGHT. But I almost like Nina better when she's not in the shadow of the royal family.

Daphne. Would there be any action in any of the books without Daphne moving the plot forward???? She is the chaos that initiates anything and everything. Mostly. That being said, my FAVORITE FAVORITE part of this book was the new-found friendship between her and Nina. I never in a million years thought I'd be cheering for these two to be best friends. But for a couple of chapters, there was this excitement of what it could mean. What if both girls decided that there was more to life than hanging all over Jeff??? But I was unsatisfied with how these stories played out. 

 Would I like Jeff MORE if he narrated his love life??????? He just seems SO VERY VERY VERY empty. Like as full of life as Disney's Prince Charming (animated original)--in other words not at all. 

I was disappointed with this third book. I had extremely low expectations, mind you, I wasn't expecting sudden genius. But I wanted more entertainment--even if that is twists and turns throughout. 

This series is MOST irritating if you in any way like history. The more history you've read in your life, the more irritating the series will be. Same with if you are a genealogist. The idea that there could even be a Washington family to reign and rule for two centuries is absurd. But the wider you expand this fictional world, the more questions you have. Like with genetics. HOW do you get past all the genetic problems from ruling royals. So this book may be above my maturity in some aspects.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

60. American Shoes: A Refugee's Story


American Shoes: A Refugee's Story. Rosemarie Lengsfeld Turke and Garrett L. Turke. 2022. [February] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I was raised with the belief that life gives us a blank canvas on which to paint our lives.

Premise/plot: American Shoes is based on the author's own memories. Rosemarie (aka Rosel) was born in the United States of America to German parents. A family trip to Germany to visit grandparents--an ailing grandfather--has unintended consequences. This trip happened when Rosel was a young girl--four? five? six?--the family found themselves unable to leave the country. Though not Jewish, the family clearly faces some hardship in Nazi Germany. 

This story is not told in a linear manner. The framework of the story is Rosel as a teen girl--15, I believe--leaving Germany on her own. Her parents (and younger sister) having German citizenship and not American citizenship--are unable to get permission to re-enter the United States of America. As an American, Rosel has the ability to leave the country and return to her place of birth. She'll be one of many refugees on their way to the U.S.A. 

The "chapters" of the book chronicle her time on the ship AND include her flashbacks (often tied to specific nightmares). Her past is slowly revealed, perhaps unevenly revealed. Much of the book focuses on her mingling with other refugees and her experiences of preparing to begin a new life. Rightly so, she--and just about every single person she is meeting and talking with--are dealing with a LOT of baggage from the war. (PTSD) 

My thoughts: The book is based on the author's memories. I'm honestly not sure if this book is categorized as fiction (but based on a true story) or a memoir (straight up nonfiction). She is recounting memories from when she was very young. These are strong impressions she is sharing. It seems completely inappropriate to nitpick literary style or narrative because of the subject matter.

History matters. Voices matter. Her story is worth reading--especially if you read books set during this time period. Not every reader seeks out books about World War II. It can be a sensitive subject, a triggering subject. 

 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

59. Queen of The Tiles


Queen of the Tiles. Hanna Alkaf. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When Trina Low walks by, the world holds its breath.

Premise/plot: Najwa Bakri, our heroine, is returning to the world of competitive scrabble a year after the death of her best friend (and social media star) Trina Low. It's been one year since her friend literally dropped dead mid-game in competition. The experience was so traumatic that Najwa still can't remember exactly what happened that day; she's blocked it out. But when her dead friend's Instagram account starts posting again the weekend of competition, well, it's spooky and weird. Najwa and her frenemies (and a few legitimate friends) work together--or seemingly so--to solve the mystery of Trina's death. Is there a killer among them? Or was her death an accident?

My thoughts: Queen of the Tiles is a YA mystery. The list of suspects is long. I think the quicker a reader can speed through this one, the better it will be to become immersed in the story and go with the flow. Some characters blend together; others stand out. But beware red herrings!

There is a LOT of Scrabble talk--playing, planning, strategizing, etc. Each chapter starts with an [obscure] word and its [possible] points when played. 

I can see this appealing to some readers, but not all readers.

 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews