Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Reflections

This month I read 50 books. 

My top 5:
Sophie's Squash. Pat Zietlow Miller.
That Is Not A Good Idea. Mo Willems.
Prince of Foxes. Samuel Shellabarger. 
Venetia. Georgette Heyer.
The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabeth England. Ian Mortimer.

Children's Books
  1. Sophie's Squash. Pat Zietlow Miller. Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. 2013. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  2. That Is Not A Good Idea. Mo Willems. 2013. HarperCollins. 48 pages. [Source: Library] 
  3. I'm A Frog. (An Elephant and Piggie Book) Mo Willems. 2013. Hyperion. 58 pages. [Source: Library] 
  4. Little Bear's Little Boat. Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.  2003/2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. Big Bear's Big Boat. Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  6. The Invisible Boy. Trudy Ludwig. Illustrated by Patrice Barton. 2013. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  7. Tiny King. Taro Miura. 2013. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  8. The Silver Button. Bob Graham. 2013. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]     
  9. Handel, Who Knew What He Liked. M.T. Anderson. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. 2004/2013. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Middle Grade and Young Adult
  1. Through the Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll. 1871. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. North of Nowhere. Liz Kessler. 2013. Candlewick. 272 pages. [Source: Library] 
  3. The Fantastic Family Whipple. Matthew Ward. 2013. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl. 1964. 155 pages. [Source: Library] 
  5.  Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Roald Dahl. 1972. 166 pages. [Source: Library] 
  6. The Wild Queen. Carolyn Meyer. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 420 pages. [Source: Review Copy]  
  7. Loving Will Shakespeare. Carolyn Meyer. 2006. Harcourt. 272 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  8. Divergent. Veronica Roth. 2011. May 2011. HarperCollins. 496 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9.  Insurgent. Veronica Roth. 2012. HarperCollins. 525 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. Noah Barleywater Runs Away. John Boyne. 2010/2012. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
  11. The Last Dragonslayer. Jasper Fforde. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 296 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  12. Mistress Pat. L.M. Montgomery. 1935. 288 pages. [Source: Bought].
  13. Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team. Warren St. John. 2012. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Adult Books
  1. Great Tales From English History, vol. 2. Robert Lacey. 2004. Little, Brown. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Great Tales from English History, volume 3. Robert Lacey. 2008. Little, Brown. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabeth England. Ian Mortimer. 2013. Viking. 416 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Caroline the Queen. Jean Plaidy. 1968. 415 pages. [Source: Library] 
  5. Sylvester, Or, The Wicked Uncle. Georgette Heyer. 1957/2004. Harlequin. 350 pages. [Source: Bought]
  6. Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1958/2009. Harlequin. 368 pages. [Source: Gift]  
  7. Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People's Princess. James Chambers. 2007. 256 pages.
  8. Unknown Ajax. Georgette Heyer. 1959. 384 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. Civil Contract. Georgette Heyer. 1961/2009. Harlequin. 432 pages. [Source: Library]  
  10. Prince of Foxes. Samuel Shellabarger. 1947. 433 pages. [Source: Library] 
  11. Antony and Cleopatra. William Shakespeare. 1608. [Source: Bought]
  12. Twelfth Night. William Shakespeare. 1601-02. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  13. All's Well That Ends Well. William Shakespeare. 1605. [Source: Bought] 
  14. Drood. Dan Simmons. 2009. Little, Brown. 784 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  15. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1886. 144 pages. [Source: Bought] 
Christian Fiction and Nonfiction
  1. Return to Me. Lynn Austin. 2013. Bethany House. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain. Matt Chandler. 2013. David C. Cook. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  3. A Call To Spiritual Reformation. Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. D.A. Carson. 1992. Baker. 232 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  4. When Comes The Spring. Janette Oke. 1985. Bethany House. 252 pages. [Source: Library]  
  5. A Wreath of Snow. Liz Curtis Higgs. 2012. Waterbrook. 224 pages. [Source: Library]
  6. Under A Blackberry Moon. Serena B. Miller. 2013. Revell. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  7. Does Prayer Change Things? (Crucial Questions) R.C. Sproul. 1998. Reformation Trust. 88 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  8. The Strength of His Hand. Lynn Austin. 2005. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  9. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. Eric Metaxas. 2007. HarperCollins. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
  10. Faith of My Fathers. Lynn Austin. 2006. Bethany House. 320 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  11. Among the Gods. Lynn Austin. 2006. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  12. Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. Sally Lloyd Jones. 2013 (Leather). Zonderkidz. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13. The Cat in the Window And Other Stories of the Cats We Love. Callie Smith Grant, ed. 2013. Revell. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Handel Who Knew What He Liked

Handel, Who Knew What He Liked. M.T. Anderson. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. 2004/2013. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Oh, how I loved this little chapter-book biography of Handel!!! M.T. Anderson should write more books just like this! I loved the book's liveliness. It was clever and full of personality. I love the touch of humor and wit!

Favorite quotes:
Right from an early age, George Frideric Handel knew just what he liked. He wanted to study music. His father said he couldn't. His father said nobody ever made any money as a musician. He told the boy to study something that would make him money. Handel's father was a doctor. But little Handel knew what he liked. What he liked was music. So he smuggled a clavichord up into the attic without his parents knowing. Late at night, he taught himself to play. Handel was an unusual boy. Not everyone has the courage to smuggle a clavichord past their parents. (1)
Handel studied first in his own city of Halle, and later, when he was eighteen, in the city of Hamburg. One of his best friends in Hamburg was a composer named Mattheson. They both loved music. In particular, they loved operas. Sometimes they even performed operas together. Mattheson couldn't get enough opera--especially his own. He would write an opera, and then he would star in it himself. He would often arrange to play a character who died partway through the opera. That way he could jog down and lead the orchestra from the harpsichord. Handel, who'd be playing when Mattheson got there, would have to stop and move aside for his friend. Handel thought Mattheson was a bit of a pain. One night when Mattheson had killed himself onstage and come down to play the harpsichord, Handel refused to get up. Mattheson threatened him. Handel was very stubborn; he kept right on playing. So right there and then, Mattheson challenged Handel to a duel. They walked out of the theater into the cold winter's night. They drew their swords and set upon each other in the square. Mattheson thrust his rapier right toward Handel's heart--but luckily the blade hit Handel's coat button, and broke. Later that night, they went out for a big dinner. After all, they were still good friends. Big dinners always made Handel feel a lot better. (6, 8)
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rereading Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra. William Shakespeare. 1608. [Source: Bought]

The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra isn't among my favorite Shakespeare plays--not even close. Still, I thought it would be worth rereading at least once. I find this a messy read simply because it is so complex. Not the "tragic romance" of Antony and Cleopatra, but the constant changing of scenes and the extremely large cast. The play covers several years at least and it is all over the place in terms of setting. Here is my first review

Antony and Cleopatra are madly in love with each other. So they say. But actions sometimes speak louder than words. I found Antony to be flawed--greatly flawed in some ways. Cleopatra was equally flawed. I'm not sure there is a "better" person in the relationship. She was manipulative and cruel and prone to nagging. Antony was at the very least selfish and inconsiderate. These two enjoyed fighting and making up again. They may have even loved all the drama.

Lines from the play:
Antony: She is cunning past man's thought.
Enobarbus: Alack, sir, no: her passions are made of nothing but the finest part of pure love: we cannot call her winds and waters, sighs and tears; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report: this cannot be cunning in her; if it be, she makes a shower of rain as well as Jove.
Antony: Would I had never seen her!
Cleopatra: Eternity was in our lips and eyes,
Cleopatra: My salad days, When I was green in judgment:--cold in blood, to say as I said then!
Enobarbus: That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Enobarbus: Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety: other women cloy The appetites they feed; but she makes hungry where most she satisfies
Cleopatra: Give me some music,--music, moody food of us that trade in love.
Antony: If I lose mine honour, I lose myself
Antony: Come, let's have one other gaudy night: call to me all my sad captains;
Antony: Thou art the armourer of my heart.
Agrippa: And strange it is that nature must compel us to lament our most persisted deeds.
Agrippa: A rarer spirit never did steer humanity. But you, gods, will give us some faults to make us men.
Iras: The bright day is done, and we are for the dark. 
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Outcasts United (2012)

Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team. Warren St. John. 2012. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

I did not know what to expect from Outcasts United. On the one hand, I do not like sports--watching sports or reading about sports. On the other hand, I do like compelling personal accounts, people working, struggling, hoping, believing. The hero of Outcasts United is Luma Mufleh, a woman soccer coach. Mufleh was born and raised in Jordan; she came to the United States for college and decided that this is where she wanted to live. Staying in the U.S. meant breaking apart the family, and angering her family. But she'd had a taste of freedom, and wanted more. She knew it would be work, work, work. She knew it would not be easy, but she knew this would be her best chance. This isn't her story alone, it is the story of lives touching and connecting--immigrant stories. Readers learn a handful of stories about boys mainly, these are those Luma came to know in her role as coach. She wasn't just teaching soccer, she was also teaching discipline, self-control, responsibility, and respect.

Mufleh's three teams are mentioned: her under 17, her under 15, and her under 13 teams. But for the most part, it is the two younger teams that are the focus of the book. The book highlights specific players from specific seasons of the game.

This one has a definite sports emphasis. It is a book dedicated to the sport of soccer. If you have zero interest in that subject, you may or may not get enough satisfaction from the other stories. I liked some chapters better than others.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England (2013)

The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabeth England. Ian Mortimer. 2013. Viking. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England. I was excited to learn of his newest book, The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England. Like the first book, it is broken down into sections:

The Landscape
The People
Basic Essentials
What To Wear
Where To Stay
What to Eat and Drink
Hygiene, Illness, and Medicine
Law and Disorder

Each chapter is broken down into sections as well. This makes it perfect for skimming and browsing. Of course, it is a fascinating read almost cover to cover. Personally, I'm not as excited about "landscape" as I am "entertainment." But for the most part, the book was packed with interesting information and presented in a conversational way. It was easy to read. It was fun! The premise is to provide readers with the information they would need IF they were to themselves travel back in time. So the focus is different than other history books. The focus is on the ordinary and every day. It is on the little details. 
"It is often said of Shakespeare that he is "not of an age but for all time" -- a line originally penned by Ben Jonson. But Shakespeare is of an age--Elizabethan England. It makes him. It gives him a stage, a language, and an audience. If Shakespeare is "for all time," then so too is Elizabeth England." (325)
The chapter "Character" is subdivided into these sections: "Violence and Cruelty," "Bribery and Corruption," "Wit," "Literacy and Printing," "Education," "Knowledge of the Wider World," "Attitudes to Foreigners," "Racism," "Scientific Knowledge," "Superstition and Witchcraft," and "A Sense of History." There is a lot of information! And 'Character' doesn't really do justice to it!!!

From the division, "Wit"
Let one more example suffice, for quickness of wit on the spur of the moment. John Manningham of the Middle Temple records in his journal for March 13, 1602, a performance of Shakespeare's play Richard the Third, in which Richard Burbage plays the title role. A female member of the audience grows so smitten with Burbage that she urges him to come to her that same night. She tells him to knock on her door and announce himself as "Richard the Third." Shakespeare overhears their conversation, and goes to the lady's chamber first. When the appointed hour arrives Burbage knocks on the door and announces that "Richard the Third" has arrived--only to hear Shakespeare reply from within: "William the Conqueror came before Richard the Third." (84)
The chapter Entertainment is subdivided into these sections: "Sightseeing," "Alehouses and Taverns," "Games," "Music and Dancing," "Literature," "The Theater."

From "Music and Dancing"
Although no one has yet conclusively proved that music is the food of love, there is little doubt that Shakespeare himself thinks it is. More than 170 passages in his plays allude to music or musicians, airs or madrigals, and nearly all do so in a positive way. The words for many songs are reproduced verbatim in the plays. (301)
There were sections of this book that I just LOVED. I didn't love every chapter equally. But what I loved, I really loved. I really only found one chapter boring.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll. 1871. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]

I love, love, love Through the Looking Glass. I think I might even love it more than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Together they are just a JOY to read. The thing I love the most about Through the Looking Glass is the language, the writing, the style. The book is just so very quotable!!! The scenes are fun, playful, and memorable.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday--but never jam today.
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
They gave it to me--for an un-birthday present.
I beg your pardon? Alice said with a puzzled air.
I'm not offended said Humpty Dumpty.
I mean, what is an un-birthday present?
A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course.
Alice considered a little. I like birthday presents best, she said at last.
You don't know what you're talking about cried Humpty Dumpty. How many days are there in a year?
Three hundred and sixty-five said Alice.
And how many birthdays have you?
And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what remains?
Three hundred and sixty-four of course.
When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less.
The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master--that's all.
I see nobody on the road said Alice.
I only wish I had such eyes, the King remarked in a fretful tone. To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!
Always speak the truth -- think before you speak -- and write it down afterwards.
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in October

New Loot:
  • The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
  • Bits & Pieces by Judy Schachner
  • Perfectly Matched by Maggie Brendan

Leftover Loot:
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne 
 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.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Week in Review: October 20-26

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Roald Dahl. 1972. 166 pages. [Source: Library]
That Is Not A Good Idea. Mo Willems. 2013. HarperCollins. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
I'm A Frog. (An Elephant and Piggie Book) Mo Willems. 2013. Hyperion. 58 pages. [Source: Library]
Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People's Princess. James Chambers. 2007. 256 pages.
Unknown Ajax. Georgette Heyer. 1959. 384 pages. [Source: Library]
Civil Contract. Georgette Heyer. 1961/2009. Harlequin. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
Prince of Foxes. Samuel Shellabarger. 1947. 433 pages. [Source: Library]
All's Well That Ends Well. William Shakespeare. 1605. [Source: Bought]
Drood. Dan Simmons. 2009. Little, Brown. 784 pages. [Source: Bought]
Return to Me. Lynn Austin. 2013. Bethany House. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Drood. Dan Simmons. 2009. Little, Brown. 784 pages. [Source: Bought]

My name is Wilkie Collins, and my guess, since I plan to delay the publication of this document for at least a century and a quarter beyond the date of my demise, is that you do not recognise my name. Some say that I am a gambling man and those that say so are correct, so my wager with you, Dear Reader, would be that you have neither read nor heard of any of my books or plays. Even so, I would wager my current fortune, such as it is, and all future royalties from my plays and novels, such as they may be, on the fact that you do remember the name and books and plays and invented characters of my friend and former collaborator, a certain Charles Dickens.

I wish Drood had not had such an intriguing beginning. The opening chapters of Drood fooled me into thinking that Drood would be my kind of book. If I hadn't been convinced to buy based on these chapters, then I wouldn't have felt the almost-obligation to finish no matter what. I would say I definitely enjoyed the first third, for the most part; the middle third, well, I began to have some doubts and things began to annoy me; the last third, well, I was forcing myself to finish because I didn't want to fail at having read it. There were times I thought I was going to love this one, and then it started--slowly but surely--to turn to dislike.

Drood may not be for me, but that doesn't mean it won't be for you. Drood didn't work for me for a few reasons: 1) I don't like unreliable narrators 2) I don't like books with no likeable characters 3) I have little tolerance for horror novels. I thought perhaps my love for Dickens and Collins was enough, but, I think the opposite proved true. Because the more Simmons' characters deviated, the more angry I became. I found the narration tedious and repetitive among other things. Readers are reminded in almost every chapter of Collins inferiority complex and jealousy. He rambles on and on about how he's better, so much better, than Dickens. His envy and hatred of his friend gets old really quickly. He picks apart Dickens' books and elaborates on his own. I don't mind the discussion of these books: I've read most of them already and have opinions of my own. But what seemed quirky but charming the first few times became too much by the end. Especially when these two men would bicker it out as to who was best. And then there's Collins constant drug use.

For readers who enjoy dark mysteries or horror novels, this one does have spooky, creepy, horrific moments.

Favorite Quotes:
The man was such a convincing fictionalist, not to mention one of the most self-righteous fellows ever to have trod the Earth, that I doubt if he ever confronted and acknowledged his own deeper motivations, except when they were as pure as springwater.
One might have responded that Charles Dickens invariably gave his audiences credit for too much and, through his self-indulgent flights of impenetrable fantasy and unnecessary subtlety, left far too many ordinary readers lost in the thick forest of Dickensian prose.
I am… was… almost certainly always shall be… ten times the architect of plot that Charles Dickens ever was. For Dickens, plot was something that might incidentally grow from his marionette-machinations of bizarre characters; should his weekly sales begin slipping in one of his innumerable serialised tales, he would just march in more silly characters and have them strut and perform for the gullible reader, as easily as he banished poor Martin Chuzzlewit to the United States to pump up his (Dickens’s) readership. My plots are subtle in ways that Charles Dickens could never fully perceive, much less manage in his own obvious (to any discerning reader) meandering machinations of haphazard plotting and self-indulgent asides. Impudent and ignorant people, such as this orphan-whelp Edmond Dickenson, were always saying that I was constantly “learning from Charles Dickens,” but the truth is quite the opposite. Dickens himself admitted, as I have mentioned earlier, that his idea for self-sacrificing Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities had come from my character of Richard Wardour in The Frozen Deep. And what was his “old woman in white” in Great Expectations, the much-ballyhooed Miss Haversham, if not a direct steal from my central character in The Woman in White?
The conversation was mostly from Dickens, of course, but was as animated and higgledy-piggledy as most conversations with the Inimitable.
For years—decades now—the fiction of Charles Dickens had grown darker and more serious, allowing themes to dictate the structure of his novels and causing his characters to fit neatly (too neatly) into the pigeonholes of the overall thematic structure much like library cards might be shuffled into the proper drawer. (This is not to say that even the most serious Dickens novels of recent years had been without humour; I do not believe that Dickens could write something totally devoid of humour, any more than he could be trusted to stay completely serious at a funeral. He was truly irrepressible in that regard. But his topics had been increasingly serious as he abandoned the largely unstructured Pickwickian celebrations of life that had made him the Inimitable Boz and as social critique and social satire—all-important to him personally—had moved more towards the centre of his work. But in Our Mutual Friend, Dickens had created a sustained comedic novel of more than eight hundred cramped pages without striking—as far as I could tell—a single false note. This was incredible. It made my joints ache and my eyes burn with pain. In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens had abandoned the grand motifs of Little Dorrit and Bleak House and Great Expectations and almost completely subordinated his personal and social opinions into a masterful display of language and nuance that came very close to perfection. Very close. The complexity of his characters in this book far surpassed anything he had done before; indeed, Dickens seemed to have resurrected many of his earlier characters and reimagined them with the focus of a newly gained maturity and a newly found sense of forgiveness. Thus the evil lawyer Tulkinghorn from Bleak House reappears as the young lawyer Mortimer Lightwood, but redeems himself as Tulkinghorn never could have.
THE TURKEY WAS good. Some people have written that no one in England had been more responsible in the past decades for turning English families gathering around their tables on Christmas away from the bony and greasy goose and towards the rich, plump turkey than had Charles Dickens. His ending to A Christmas Carol alone seems to have pushed thousands of our previously goosified countrymen over the poultry bodice brink onto the white breast of true turkey feasts.
All authors’ public readings are exhausting for the author. A Dickens reading is exhausting for the author and for everyone around him.
Even in the glare of those brilliant gaslights, a strange, iridescent cloud seemed to hover around Charles Dickens as he read from his most recent Christmas tale. That cloud, I believe, was the ectoplasmic manifestation of the many characters whom Dickens had created and whom he now summoned—one at a time—to speak and act before us. As these ghosts entered him, Dickens’s posture would change. He would jerk alert or slump in despondency or laziness as the character’s spirit dictated. The author’s face would change immediately and totally—some facial muscles used so frequently by Charles Dickens going lax, others coming into play. Smiles, leers, frowns, and conspiratorial glances never used by the man who lived at Gad’s Hill flitted across the face of this spirit-possessed receptacle in front of us. His voice changed from second to second, and even in rapid-fire exchanges of dialogue Dickens seemed to be inhabited by two or more possessing demons at once. 
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 25, 2013

All's Well That Ends Well

All's Well That Ends Well. William Shakespeare. 1605. [Source: Bought]

I first read All's Well That Ends Well in the summer of 2009. It was, I believe, one of the first Shakespeare plays I read on my own without being in a class and having structured discussions and analysis. It was an interesting read. And an interesting reread for that matter. For Helena, our heroine, is a puzzlement. Is her undeniable love for Bertram her greatest strength or her biggest weakness? Is being willing to go to such great lengths to be with the one you LOVE especially when considered with the obvious fact that he clearly despises you ever a good thing? a healthy thing? And yet, Helena, is resourceful, bold, clever, determined. She has plenty of supporters, people who love and respect her. But Bertram, the man she's OBSESSED with, clearly does not like her--let alone love her. He does not want to be anywhere near her. He is repulsed by her even. Readers know that Bertram is so not worthy of Helena. He doesn't deserve a woman that good. Bertram is clearly a JERK. He's bad news through and through. (I don't know what Helena sees in him! Seriously. It's one thing for his mother to put up with him. But why would any woman choose to look past Bertram's obvious immaturity and jerkiness?!) 

Love all, trust a few,
Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemy
Rather in power than use; and keep thy friend
Under thy own life's key: be check'd for silence,
But never tax'd for speech. 
'I have sent you a daughter-in-law; she hath recovered the king and undone me. I have wedded her, not bedded her; and sworn to make the "not" eternal. You shall here I am run away: know it before the report come. If there be breadth enough in the world, I will hold a long distance. My duty to you. Your unfortunate son, Bertram
Look on this letter, madam; here's my passport. 'When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a "then" I write a "never." 
'Tis not the many oaths that makes the truth,
But the plain single vow that is vow'd true.
The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues. 
Who knows himself a braggart,
Let him fear this; for it will come to pass
That every braggart shall be found an ass.
My first review:

 What does a girl have to do to catch a husband? Apparently a lot if you're a young maiden named Helena. In All's Well That Ends Well, the readers meet a young woman, Helena, who is madly in love with a young man, Bertram. Bertram is, in my opinion, an ass. He is stupid and lusty, and lusty and stupid. And he hangs out with with a truly annoying guy named Parolles. What is keeping these two apart? I mean, besides the fact that Bertram has no interest in her? Well, Helena, though well-beloved by her guardian, The Countess of Rousillon, is not noble by birth. She's the daughter of a very good (but now dead) doctor. And she can't reasonably hope to marry well--let alone marry her dream guy, Bertram, who is a Count (the son of the (above) Countess). So what's a girl to do, I say?!

Well, if you're Helena, you'll think up a couple of schemes. Scheme #1 being that you will head off to the King of France, who is conveniently dying, cure him with your father's wonderful secret remedies, and earn his devotion, respect, and favor. Once you've been granted the hand of ANY man in the kingdom, then you can go about nonchalantly (or maybe not so much) choosing the man you've loved all along, which in Helena's case is Bertram. Is Bertram extra-stupid, or is he just a typical guy in need of a couple years maturity? I'll leave that up to others to decide. Meanwhile, his response to Helena--and to the King--is to throw a temper tantrum, sulk and pout, and stomp off stealthily (again, not so much) to a whole other country--but not before he says, "I do."

Having won her husband in name only, Helena returns to the Countess who is pleased to see her but annoyed with her son for being the way he is. (He probably needed more spankings, perhaps?) After receiving a letter from him that he will not be her true husband until she has his ring on her finger and his child in her womb, she runs away to plot more schemes. The Countess is upset to see her go, but not too distressed since she has a full-time Clown to entertain her and make bawdy jokes night and day.

Bertram and his companions are in Florence, in the army, and when they're not off, you know, fighting, he is busy trying to have his way with various women. One woman that he is wooing is named Diana, she is the daughter of a widow woman. This widow-woman just happens to meet up with Helena--Helena has followed her husband secretly to Florence--and oh the plotting that these two do!

Can Helena (with some help, of course) win her husband's heart?

My thoughts on All's Well That Ends Well:

This is my first time with this play. I was a little nervous tackling it all on my own. But it was surprisingly easy to follow. At least surprisingly easy to follow....for being Shakespeare. I think the fact that it is a comedy, and that the jokes still translate (at least relatively so) as funny all these centuries later just shows you how some things never change. Is Helena stupid for loving a man who doesn't love her back? Should the Countess--or the King, or the Widow--have just told her that 'he's just not that into you'? Does Helena's loving Bertram make her weak by today's standards? Shouldn't Bertram have some say in who he marries? After all, it is his life. And couldn't Helena's persistent devotion be seen as proof of how stubborn she is? And if she's stubborn about this, she could very well turn out to be stubborn in everything else. I'm not saying Helena's wrong, not really, every single character--almost every single character anyway--seems to praise Helena as being the essence of a good woman, a great woman, an amazingly wonderful woman. But does the reader have enough proof that this is so? She does save the King's life, and that is something, and while her motives may be double in nature--wanting the king's favor to grant her Bertram--she probably does want to see him live for his own sake. And she does save the king by her own skill, her own smarts, so that says something: she is smart in some things at least. Why does she love Bertram? Why is he 'the one' for her? What makes him so wonderful in Helena's eyes? (Fortunately, Shakespeare was no Stephenie Meyer else all Helena's speeches would talk about his eyes.) Do we as readers need to know? It's always nice if we're shown why a hero and heroine belong together. (I think that is why I heart Much Ado About Nothing so much!!!) If the reader comes to feel what the heroine feels, then we have a connection with both hero and heroine. It makes for a more satisfying story. And that is something that is definitely lacking in All's Well That Ends Well. Helena loves him. End of story. Throw a party.


With a title like "All's Well That Ends Well," I feel it's not much of a surprise that things end well. For me to be convinced that things were really well, I'd need to feel that Bertram grew least grew up a little. What has Bertram done to prove to readers that he is good-husband-material? Nothing. At all. Sure, he says he'll be a good and true husband to her. But really, what else can he say with all his boasting of how he came to care for her only after Helena's "death"? He could talk big to his mother and to his king when he thought his wife was dead. Yes, I repented of not loving her. Yes, I'm a fool. But having come to love her though too late, I'm a better man now. Can I get married to this other chick, now? I'm suspicious of Bertram still. Why? Because he's not honest. That and he's stupid. He's stupid for thinking he can get away with telling lie after lie. (I wouldn't have been surprised to hear him say emphatically and imploringly, I did not have sex with that woman.) Bertram's also insulting. Not only does he insult Helena (a few times to her face, but mostly by letter), he's insulting to Diana as well. When Diana is before the king, confessing all, he uses the old sure-but-she's-just-a-whore excuse. Of course, Diana wasn't a whore. She's a maiden still, as the reader well knows. (I personally would have written in a few face slaps. You know how Jack Sparrow is always getting his face slapped by women he's done wrong, well, Bertram needs a comeuppance.) Can Helena change Bertram? Really? Truly? Is a happily ever after likely here?

Have you read All's Well That Ends Well? Did you like it? What do you think are the chances for these two being happy together? Have you seen a good production of this play? I'd love to hear about it if you have! If you've not read the play (or even if you have, I suppose), what is it about Shakespeare that you love or hate most?

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Civil Contract (1961)

Civil Contract. Georgette Heyer. 1961/2009. Harlequin. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Three years ago when I first read A Civil Contract, I'm not sure I appreciated it as it deserves. The romance between this husband and wife is a bit more subtle and less spectacular than some of Heyer's other romances, the ones without formulaic marriage of conveniences. This sub-genre can be charming, stories where husband and wives marry for whatever reason and only long after saying I do is love discovered and cultivated. Other similar Heyer titles include A Convenient Marriage and April Lady. A Civil Contract differs mainly in the fact that the heroine, Jenny, is thoroughly sensible and intelligent. She is NOT silly or flighty or incapable of rational thought and feeling. She is not gullible and foolish. In other words, she is not annoying to spend time with! She is actually a comfortable heroine. I really liked her!!!

A Civil Contract highlights all the reasons I just love and adore Georgette Heyer. I love her characters. I love the main characters, the hero, Adam, and the heroine, Jenny. I love almost all of the minor characters. Readers get to meet so many family members and friends. I love the glimpses into society. A Civil Contract is oh-so-rich in historical detail. This is something that I completely failed to appreciate until I began reading nonfiction books on the Regency period. After reading adult biographies on Caroline, the Princess of Wales, and George IV (Prince of Wales, Prince Regent), and Princess Charlotte (their daughter), I could really appreciate Heyer even more. Little sentences here and there that ground the book in reality.
'I can't tell you how refreshing it is to encounter a female who doesn't fall into ecstasies at the mere mention of Byron's name!'
'Are you quizzing me?' she asked bluntly.
'Of course I'm not! I'm no great judge of poetry, but surely Lord Byron's verses are extraordinarily over-rated?'
'Well, that's what I think,' she replied. 'But I have for long been aware that, try as I may, I don't appreciate poetry as I should. I did make the greatest effort to read the Bride of Abydos, however.'
'Unavailing, I collect?'
She nodded, looking a little conscience-stricken. 'Yes, though I daresay I should have persevered if the library had not sent me a parcel containing two books which I most particularly wanted to read. I found I could no longer concentrate my mind, and so abandoned the attempt. And one was perfectly respectable!' she said defensively, adding, in response to his lifted eyebrows: 'Mr Southey's Life of Nelson: has it come in your way?'
'Ah, yes! That is a noble work, indeed!...But what Miss Chawleigh, was the other work--not so respectable!--which lured you away from Abydos?'
'Well, that one was a novel,' she confessed.
'A novel preferred to Lord Byron! Oh, Miss Chawleigh! exclaimed Mrs. Quarley-Bix archly.
'Yes, I did prefer it. In fact, I turned to it with the greatest relief, for it is all about quite ordinary, real persons, and not about pirate chiefs, or pashas, and nobody kills anyone in it. Besides, it was excessively diverting, just as I guessed it would be.' She glanced shyly at Adam, and said with a tiny stammer: 'It is by the author of Sense and Sensibility'... (62-3)
Nor did Jenny recall that when she first saw him she suffered a considerable disappointment. At the age of two-and-fifty little trace remained of the handsome Prince...over whose beauty elderly ladies still sighed. Jenny beheld a middle-aged gentleman of corpulent habit, on whose florid countenance dissipation was writ large. He was decidedly overdressed; his corsets creaked audibly; he drenched his person with scent; and, when in repose, his face wore a peevish expression. But whatever good fairy had attended his christening had bestowed upon him a gift which neither time nor excesses would ever cause to wither. He was an undutiful son, and a bad husband, an unkind father, an inconstant lover, and an uncertain friend, but he had a charm which won forgiveness from those whom he had injured, and endeared him to such chance-met persons as Jenny, or some young officer brought to him by Lord Bathurst with an important dispatch. He could disgust his intimates, but in his more public life his bearing was always right; he never said the wrong thing; and never permitted a private vexation to impair his affability. Unmistakably a Prince, he used very little ceremony, his manners, when he moved amongst the ton, being distinguished by a well-bred ease which did not wholly desert him even when, as sometimes happened, he arrived at some party in a sadly inebriated condition. His private manners were not so good; but no one who saw him, as Jenny did, at his mother's Drawing-room, could have believed him capable of lying to his greatest supporter, taking a crony to listen to his father's ravings, treating his only child with boorish roughness, or floundering like a lachrymose porpoise, at the feet of an embarrassed beauty. (131-2)

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Prince of Foxes (1947)

Prince of Foxes. Samuel Shellabarger. 1947. 433 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger. (Thanks Semicolon for the recommendation!) This historical novel was originally published in 1947. It is set circa 1500 during the Italian Renaissance. It features glimpses of four Borgias: Pope Alexander VI, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Angela--a cousin. The hero is an ambitious but not ruthless young man initially in the service of Cesare Borgia. His name is Andrea Orsini. He's been sent to Ferrara in order to pave the way for Lucrezia's third marriage. (The potential groom--or the potential in-laws--are NOT thrilled or receptive to the idea of this marriage.) But Andrea Orsini is good at what he does. He even compels the assassin who was sent to kill him to switch sides. (His name is Mario Belli). But while he is satisfied to stay in Cesare's service when it suits him, when it gets a little too personal, well, he takes a stand for better or worse.

Prince of Foxes is historical romance at its best. Andrea Orsini is a great little hero. He falls hard for the (married) woman that Cesare Borgia promised him. If or when Cesare conquers that city (kingdom-state), Orsini will receive her as his reward for loyal service. Her name is Lady Camilla. She becomes very friendly with him, even flirty, I suppose. But she is a good wife who never leaves Orsini's company without urging him to do EVERYTHING in his power to protect her husband's life. Because his love for her is so strong, so transformative even, he no longer wants to "win" her as a prize. He knows that this husband's death is practically essential to his ambitions, and more importantly to Cesare's ambitions, and, so the conflict will end with him having to make a big decision.

I really loved this one! It is so well written too!

Orsini did not conceal the twinkle in his eyes. "No doubt. There are few who can match the divine genius of my lord Cesare."
"Of course," Lorenzo agreed. He would have liked to add: "Fratricide! Assassin! Bandit!" but he said merely, "Divine genius is well put."
"And let me tell you," smiled Orsini, "that he is not the monster that you people of Venice make him. Is not gossip the mother of monsters, Maestro? He has great ends and lets nothing distract him. Perhaps merely he's too consistent. Hard, if necessary; selfish, yes (and who isn't?); but able, of great virtue and splendor. A valiant prince...I'd wager you'd love him, Messer Lorenzo, unless you stood in his ways."
"Probably," said Lorenzo, doubting it. "I rejoice to learn about him."
"Look you" -- Orsini leaned forward -- "if he were a painter, he would use rich colors. Life is his canvas." (7)
Decidedly, thought Andrea, the illustrious Duke Valentino played in luck. He did not even have to pursue his victims: they came to him. But what could Orsini do about it? Indeed, what did he wish to do? (85)

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Unknown Ajax (1959)

Unknown Ajax. Georgette Heyer. 1959. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading The Unknown Ajax. This Heyer romance focuses on a set of cousins. Vincent and Claud, Anthea and Richmond, and Major Hugo Darrocott (the 'unknown ajax'). The book opens with a family waiting for the arrival of Major Hugo. Most have only recently learned of his existence, which is significant because it comes with the knowledge that he is now the next heir. How will his cousins receive him? Will The Unknown Ajax turn into a Quiet Gentleman? Fortunately it didn't!!!

I really liked all the characters in this one. I liked seeing each cousin come to form a relationship with Hugo. I liked seeing them all get to know one another. I liked Hugo's secret-keeping. I liked the way he played along with the others and let time reveal all.

The romance. I didn't find the romance giddy-making. I didn't hate it, but it didn't wow me. Anthea and Hugo had interesting scenes together, but, nothing WOW.

Unknown Ajax is another Heyer title that has a smuggling theme in it. I enjoyed this one, but I didn't love it.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 21, 2013

Charlotte & Leopold

Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People's Princess. James Chambers. 2007. 256 pages.

During her life, Princess Charlotte was the most popular member of the royal family. She was more popular than her grandfather, George III, and her father, the Prince Regent (George IV). Her life was certainly interesting. Her father and mother were CHARACTERS. They often made fools of themselves to the media and society in general. They were always fighting one another, always bickering, always trying to outdo one another. I'd already read a biography of Caroline. The focus on her parents is almost necessary to explain her childhood and upbringing. It also helps explain her popularity, to a certain degree.

The second half focuses on her love life, on her suitors and would-be suitors. The book focuses, of course, on the man she married, Prince Leopold. He's an interesting character as well! And his story does not end with his wife's death. The last chapters of the book follow his life...

I liked this one. I did. I also really loved Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain's Greatest Monarch. The books overlap on their focus of Princess Charlotte. Both books bring the Georgian royalty to life, highlighting some of the more interesting members of the family!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New Mo Willems!

That Is Not A Good Idea. Mo Willems. 2013. HarperCollins. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

That is NOT a Good Idea is a funny new picture book from Mo Willems. Sometimes I merely "love" Mo Willems. Other times, well, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE his work. I really loved That Is NOT A Good Idea. It is so different from his Elephant and Piggie series, and so different from his Pigeon books too.

A fox and a goose meet in Mo Willem's latest. The plot unfolds like a silent movie, with the dialogue occurring separate from the illustration (action). For example, there is a spread showing them seeing each other for the first time. The next page reveals:
"What luck!"
The story seems predictable, but is it? The story is also constantly being interrupted by a handful of young baby geese. They have a LOT to say about what is going on in the unfolding story. This story begs to be read aloud again and again and again.

I would definitely recommend this one!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

I'm A Frog. (An Elephant and Piggie Book) Mo Willems. 2013. Hyperion. 58 pages. [Source: Library]

Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit! 
What are you doing, Piggie?
I'm a frog.

Gerald and Piggie are back for another adventure in Mo Willem's latest early reader, I'm A Frog. In this super-fun adventure, Gerald learns about pretending. If you love Elephant and Piggie, this one will not disappoint. Piggie is still fabulously fun, and Gerald is still oh-so-wonderful! There are dozens of things to love about the series, about individual books in the series. But one of my favorite things is the expression, the emotion, to be found in each and every illustration. Do you have a favorite from I'm A Frog? I think mine may be Gerald's ongoing anxiety attack ending with I DO NOT WANT TO BE A FROG.

Definitely recommended. I love and adore (all but one) the books in this series!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon: Reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Roald Dahl. 1972. 166 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I never loved the sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. It is quirky and odd, but it failed to delight in the same way. The plot just didn't work for me. Half the book takes place in space or on/near a space hotel--all within the glass elevator. And the other half of the novel takes place back in the factory and involves one of Wonka's inventions. The humor of the space section just did not work for me. It felt dated and off, a bit inappropriate.
The president threw the phone across the room at the Postmaster General. It hit him in the stomach. "What's the matter with this thing?" shouted the President. "It is very difficult to phone people in China, Mr. President," said the Postmaster General. "The country's so full of Wings and Wongs, every time you wing you get the wong number." "You're not kidding," said the President... The President again picked up the receiver. "Gleetings, honorable Mr. Plesident," said a soft faraway voice. "Here is Assistant Plemier Chu-On-Dat speaking. How can I do for you?" "Knock-knock," said the President. "Who der?" "Ginger." "Ginger who?" "Ginger yourself much when you fell off the Great Wall of China?" said the President. "Okay, Chu-on-Dat. Let me speak to Premier How-Yu-Bin." "Much regret Premier How-Yu-Bin not here just this second, Mr. Plesident." "Where is he?" He outside mending a flat tire on his bicycle." "Oh no, he isn't," said the President. "You can't fool me, you crafty old mandarin! At this very minute he's boarding our magnificent Space Hotel with seven other rascals to blow it up!" "Excuse pleese, Mr. Plesident. You make big mistake." "No mistake!" barked the President. "And if you don't call them off right away I'm going to tell my Chief of the Army to blow them all sky high! So chew on that, Chu-on-Dat!" "Hooray!" said the Chief of the Army. "Let's blow everyone up! Bang-bang! Bang-bang!" (30-1)
 It's not that I hated every page of this one. I just didn't find enough positives to overcome the negatives.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Week In Review: October 13-19

Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1958/2009. Harlequin. 368 pages. [Source: Gift] 
Insurgent. Veronica Roth. 2012. HarperCollins. 525 pages. [Source: Library]
Sophie's Squash. Pat Zietlow Miller. Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. 2013. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Great Tales from English History, volume 3. Robert Lacey. 2008. Little, Brown. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
The Fantastic Family Whipple. Matthew Ward. 2013. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1886. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]
Noah Barleywater Runs Away. John Boyne. 2010/2012. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl. 1964. 155 pages. [Source: Library]
To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain. Matt Chandler. 2013. David C. Cook. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Call To Spiritual Reformation. Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. D.A. Carson. 1992. Baker. 232 pages. [Source: Bought]
When Comes The Spring. Janette Oke. 1985. Bethany House. 252 pages. [Source: Library]
A Wreath of Snow. Liz Curtis Higgs. 2012. Waterbrook. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

Last month, I believe, I mentioned my eagerness to answer questions that you leave on my blog. Well, Sherry asked a great question today on my Venetia post. She asks, "How do you choose what to read next? Is is totally by whim and what captures your interest on any given day?"

I've discovered that--for better or worse--I have a bit of Toad (The Wind in the Willows) in me.
I know him her from old. He She is now possessed. He She has got a new craze, and it always takes him her that way, in its first stage. He'll She'll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him her.
I read whimsically for the most part, following my 'crazes' and 'passions.' I have three or four genres that I'm just crazy about (historical romances (clean not smutty), historical fiction (for all ages), especially if its set in Britain OR during one of the world wars. (I have a new passion for the Italian Renaissance if anyone has further recommendations! I've got a review of Prince of Foxes coming this week. I am super excited about that one!!!) I really LOVE vintage mysteries. I tend to reach for dystopias, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic fiction. I have a weakness for classics--particularly those from the Victorian period. Middle Grade Fiction is one of my favorite genres. I definitely try to keep up with it!

But I also follow certain authors. There are authors I keep up with faithfully; there are authors I read and reread and reread. There are books I read again and again and again. Rereading is part of who I am as a reader. If I love it and truly think it is "best book ever" I am GOING to read it again and again.

The library plays a big part too! I check the library site to see what's new and coming soon. I put things on hold sometimes weeks or even months in advance. So the library list definitely determines what I read and when I read it!

This year I had three BIG goals. 1) READ OR REREAD all of Georgette Heyer's historical romances IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. 2) READ OR REREAD all of L.M. Montgomery's novels in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.  3) Read and review a children's classic each Sunday. It has been lovely to have some structure!!!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Library Loot: Third Trip in October

This is the I-returned-everything-because-I-have-a-cold-and-can't-imagine-reading-anything edition of Library Loot.

New Loot:
  • I'm A Frog by Mo Willems
  • UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
  • Ye Olde Weird But True! 300 Outrageous Facts From History by Cheryl Harness
Leftover Loot: 
  • The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
   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
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1886)

Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1886. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]

I first read this classic in 2007. (I read it for my first R.I.P. challenge.) I enjoyed revisiting it. I remember being surprised that I liked it. I mentioned how it was impossible to read without this Arthur song popping up in my mind!

The story is simple. Dr. Jekyll's lawyer, Mr. Utterson, begins to worry about his client because he names Mr. Hyde in his will. Mr. Hyde, he has just learned, is a strange man that almost everyone has a bad vibe about. He is described as "pure evil" by some. Utterson worries that Hyde must be blackmailing Jekyll into making those provisions in his will. The more worried and anxious he becomes, the more involved he gets in trying to solve the mystery between the two men. He especially becomes worried when Mr. Hyde commits a murder. Will Dr. Jekyll be next? Is there a way to save his friend and put Mr. Hyde away for good?

You start a question, and it's like starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others; and presently some bland old bird (the last you would have thought of) is knocked on the head in his own back garden and the family have to change their name.
"Hm," said Mr. Utterson. "What sort of a man is he to see?" "He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can't describe him. And it's not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment." Mr. Utterson again walked some way in silence and obviously under a weight of consideration. "You are sure he used a key?" he inquired at last. "My dear sir..." began Enfield, surprised out of himself. "Yes, I know," said Utterson; "I know it must seem strange. The fact is, if I do not ask you the name of the other party, it is because I know it already. You see, Richard, your tale has gone home. 
It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it;
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Fantastic Family Whipple (2013)

The Fantastic Family Whipple. Matthew Ward. 2013. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
All the members of the Whipple family had managed to be born in the same month on the same day: March the first. All, of course, but one. Arthur Whipple had been so eager to join his amazing family that he decided to make a surprise arrival into the world at eleven thirty-four P.M. on February the twenty-ninth, just twenty-six minutes ahead of schedule. But to Arthur's astonishment, his family was not as delighted by the surprise as he had hoped. When the doctor placed Arthur in his mother's arms, she smiled lovingly down at him--but he could sense a hint of sadness in her eyes. And when the nurse came and carried him out for his first bath, he turned back to catch a glimpse of his mother quietly crying as the door shut behind him.
The Fantastic Family Whipple is strange, odd, quirky, and perhaps for the right reader perfectly delightful from cover to cover. It's certainly over-the-top and beyond-belief. It has a huge cast of characters. The Whipple family is a large one. Every single person in the family is a grand success. All except for our narrator, Arthur. He is the failure, the shame, of the family. For he alone is the one who has yet to break any world record. The other members of the family, his older siblings and younger siblings, his parents, well, they break records practically every day. In fact, in a single year, they probably break a thousand records. A chronicler even lives with them for convenience. And that's not all. (For example, there's also an animal trainer (the world's hairiest man) and an elephant!)

The book focuses on a time when all is not well in the Whipple house. For a series of accidents has left them all wondering if there is a curse, a family curse, working against them. Some members of the family are more superstitious than others. And it doesn't help that a new family has moved next door. A record-breaking family that rivals their own in many ways; a super-competitive family. A family that also has one outsider in it. (These two become friendly!)

If you enjoy mystery, bizarre humor, and lots of action, then The Fantastic Family Whipple is for you.  

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Noah Barleywater Runs Away (2010)

Noah Barleywater Runs Away. John Boyne. 2010/2012. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

Noah Barleywater left home in the early morning, before the sun rose, before the dogs woke, before the dew stopped falling on the fields.

Would I have enjoyed Noah Barleywater Runs Away if I'd read it as a child? No, I'm sure I wouldn't have. Did I enjoy it as an adult? Yes. I've learned to handle those kinds of books now; I can even predict them early on. Plus I've read a certain children's classic twice now!

John Barleywater is running away from home. It becomes obvious within a few pages that this novel has some magical elements in it. By the time readers meet the talking dog and donkey, it's clear that readers are in for a fantastical treat. They may be disappointed that all the adventure happens in story format as an "old man" shares his life story with sprinkles of advice to John in the quirky corners of an old toy shop. I happened to enjoy this aspect of it. I think they have something to learn from one another; I think 'the gift' worked both ways. The old man was able to persuade the 8 year old boy to return home to his parents; and the young boy was able to give the old man some resolution, perhaps.

I guessed the reason why John Barleywater was running away from home. This is revealed to readers in several stories throughout the novel. While most of the stories concern the life of the "old man," he is able to coax the young boy into sharing stories of his own.

'You should never want to be anything other than you are,' the old man said quietly. 'Remember that. You should never wish for more than you have been given. It could be the greatest mistake of your life.' (191)
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rereading Venetia Again

Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1958/2009. Harlequin. 368 pages. [Source: Gift] 

This is my third review of Venetia. (I've read the book three times and listened to the audio book once. It was narrated by Richard Armitage.)

It is my FAVORITE Georgette Heyer novel. There are many I'd place in my top five, but, really no other book comes close to being consistently in the top slot.

Venetia is our heroine. I love her. I do. She is twenty-five and managing the estate in her older brother's absence. She is also looking out for her younger brother, Aubrey, who is just seventeen. There is something very practical and matter-of-fact about Venetia. For example, she's very honest about herself, about her family, about life as she sees it. She says things that maybe would shock others in society. She has never been "in society." She's lived an extremely sheltered life in some ways. But she'll be having a grand adventure soon enough!

Venetia is out for one of her daily walks when she is surprised by the....Wicked Baron....Lord Damerel himself. Their first meeting is interesting and dramatic...

The two meet when she is trespassing on his land. He has no idea who she is. But she has a fairly good idea who he is. Especially after he kisses her! Yes, he kisses her.
"Who are you?" he demanded abruptly. "I took you for a village maiden--probably one of my tenants."
"Did you indeed? Well, if that is the way you mean to conduct yourself amongst the village maidens you won't win much liking here!"
"No, no, the danger is that I might win too much!" he retorted. "Who are you? Or should I first present myself to you? I'm Damerel, you know."
"Yes, so I supposed, at the outset of our delightful acquaintance. Later, of course, I was sure of it."
"Oh, oh--! My reputation, Iago, my reputation!" he exclaimed laughing again. "Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!"
"You can't think how deeply flattered I am!" she assured him. "I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn't suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory."
"More like a hundred! Am I never to learn your name? I shall, you know, whether you tell me or no!" (33)
He intends to know her better while he's in the neighborhood. When her brother, Aubrey, has a riding accident and is saved by none other than Damerel...well, she can't help getting to know him much, much better. And soon they become great friends.

Lord Damerel isn't the only newcomer to the neighborhood. Soon Venetia and Aubrey welcome TWO very unexpected house guests. Conway has gotten married--her name is Charlotte. And Charlotte and her mother have come to stay at Undershaw. And the mother is quite the character. How long can Venetia stand to share a home with such a woman? Venetia begins to think about her options...and wishing it was more socially acceptable for her to set up her own home.

I love this one so much. I love Venetia. I love Lord Damerel. I love Aubrey. I love picking on Edward Yardley and Oswald Denny. It's such a fun and satisfying romance!!! 

Startled, she turned her head, and found that she was being observed by a tall man mounted on a handsome gray horse. He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance. His brows rose, and he swung himself out of the saddle, and came towards her with long, easy strides. She was unacquainted with any men of mode, but although he was dressed like any country gentleman a subtle difference hung about his buckskins and his coat of dandy gray russet. No provincial tailor had fashioned them, and no country beau could have worn them with such careless elegance. He was taller than Venetia had at first supposed, rather loose-limbed, and he bore himself with a faint suggestion of swashbuckling arrogance. (30)
He laughed out at that, flinging back his head in wholehearted enjoyment, gasping, "why, oh why did I never know you until now?"
"It does seem a pity," she agreed. "I have been thinking so myself, for I always wished for a friend to laugh with."
"To laugh with!" he repeated slowly.
"Perhaps you have friends already who laugh when you do," she said diffidently. "I haven't, and it's important, I think--more important than sympathy in affliction, which you might easily find in someone you positively disliked."
"But to share a sense of the ridiculous prohibits dislike--yes, that's true. And rare! My God, how rare! Do they stare at you, our worthy neighbors, when you laugh?"
"Yes! Or ask me what I mean when I'm joking!" She glanced at the clock above the empty fireplace. "I must go." (64)
"Oh, no, nothing of that nature!" she replied, getting up.
"I allow you all the vices you choose to claim--indeed, I know you for a gamester, and a shocking rake, and a man of sadly unsteady character!--but I'm not so green that I don't recognize in you one virtue at least, and one quality."
"What is that all? How disappointing! What are they?"
"A well-informed mind, and a great deal of kindness," she said, laying her hand on his arm, and beginning to stroll with him back to the house. (99)
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rereading Insurgent (2012)

Insurgent. Veronica Roth. 2012. HarperCollins. 525 pages. [Source: Library]

I wake with his name in my mouth.
Before I open my eyes, I watch him crumple to the pavement again. Dead.
My doing.

Reading Insurgent the first time was an experience. A book that is felt and not "just read." (My first review.) I am so glad I decided to reread both Divergent and Insurgent before the release of Allegiant later this month.

Some novels stand on their own; Insurgent is not one of them. Divergent MUST be read first. Readers may remember that Divergent had quite an ending! The last third of the novel was so intense, so action-packed, so emotional; it was impossible to put down. Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left us.

If you've not read Divergent, this review will be full of spoilers. 

Tris, Tobias (Four), Peter, and Marcus (Tobias' father) on the run, on the way to unite with the Abnegation refugees seeking the mercy of the faction Amity. Tris is definitely in shock, and with good reason!!! Her mother was killed; her father was killed; she was wounded; she had to kill one of her friends, Will; she saw most of her friends mindlessly killing her old faction; she accomplished her one mission: to get the simulations shut off, but, it came at a high price. Yes, she's got Four back, but, still...a physically, mentally, emotionally overwhelming day! But her stamina cannot sustain her forever; the thoughts are coming. She is haunted by what she's seen and heard; she's haunted by what she's done, what she's chosen to do. And it's not over. She knows it. She knows the worst is still to come. There will be no easy peace. There will be no time to rest. Hard decisions will be demanded of her for days, weeks, perhaps months to come. And Tris isn't sure she's dauntless enough to handle it.

Insurgent is a thoughtful novel. It is suspenseful, dramatic, action-packed. It is emotional with plenty of surprises. But it is a thoughtful novel as well. What is right? What is wrong? Who is trustworthy? Who is telling the truth? Who is telling lies? Who is being the most manipulative? Who is twisting the truth? Can Tris discern the truth? Is she brave enough to act on what she perceives to be true even if it means going against those she loves?

Insurgent was a WOW novel for me. I absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Tris. It's a complicated situation--very messy. And Tris is courageous and vulnerable. She's her own person. And being in love with someone else isn't going to make her mindless and compliant. 

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 14, 2013

Great Tales From English History, vol. 3

Great Tales from English History, volume 3. Robert Lacey. 2008. Little, Brown. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

This is the third volume in Robert Lacey's Great Tales from English History. I have reviewed both previous volumes: one, two. It covers the years 1690-1953. Diverse subjects are covered as well: religion, politics, science, philosophy, war, inventors and inventions, explorers and travelers. One thing I definitely noticed was the focus is less on royalty and the aristocrats.
The job of the historian is to deal objectively with the available facts. But history is in the eye of the beholder and also of the historian who, as a human being, has feelings and prejudices of his own... So let me try to be candid about some of my own prejudices. I believe passionately in the power of good storytelling, not only because it is fun, but because it breathes life into the past. It is also through accurate narrative--establishing what happened first and what happened next--that we start to perceive the cause of things, and what influences human beings to act in the noble and cruel ways that they do. I believe that nobility actually secures more effective outcomes than cruelty, though the story of the slave trade in the pages that follow might seem to challenge that. I also believe that ideas matter, that change is possible, that knowledge dispels fear, and that good history both explains and facilitates all those things. (3)
Overall, this series has been wonderful. I've loved these short tales. I've loved the focus on individuals, loved the chronological arrangement, loved seeing the big picture come together. I enjoyed the first two volumes in this series a little bit more than this third and final volume. But I am so glad I discovered the series!!!

Highlights from this volume include:
  • John Locke and Toleration
  • Union Jack
  • Britain's First Prime Minister
  • Born Again
  • Dick Turpin -- Stand and Deliver
  • God Save the King!
  • Dr. Johnson's Dictionary
  • The Madness of George III
  • Wellington and Waterloo
  • Stone Treasures Mary Anning and the Terror Lizards
  • I Will Be Good -- Victoria Becomes Queen
  • Prince Albert's Crystal Palace
  • Women and Children First -- The Birkenhead Drill
  • The Lady of the Lamp and the Lady with the Teacup
  • The Great Stink and the Tragedy of the Princess Alice
  • The King's Horse and Emily Davison
  • The Greatest History Book Ever
  • Dunkirk -- Britain's Army Saved by the Little Boats
  • Battle of Britain -- the Few and the Many
  • Code-making, Code-breaking - 'The Life That I Have'
  • Decoding the Secret of Life
Horrible Histories connections:

Dick Turpin
George the I Doesn't Understand English (Creation of First Prime Minister)
Born 2 Rule (The 4 Georges) (song)
Bonnie Prince Charlie
Queen Victoria and Albert(song)
Victorian Inventions (song)
Transportation Song
Florence Nightingale 
Mary Seacole Song
Suffragettes Song
RAF Song
Stinky Parliament
Napoleon Report

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sophie's Squash (2013)

Sophie's Squash. Pat Zietlow Miller. Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. 2013. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One bright fall day, Sophie chose a squash at the farmers' market. Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas. It was just the right size to hold in her arms. Just the right size to bounce on her knee. Just the right size to love. "I'm glad we met," Sophie whispered. "Good friends are hard to find." 

 I loved, loved, loved this one! It is both unusual and practically perfect in every way. You almost have to read it yourself to get it, to understand just why it works, why it is so thoroughly charming. I'm sure this review won't be able to do it justice!

At its simplest, it is the story of a girl who has a squash for a best friend. But, because of the way the story is told, the way it unfolds, it seems PERFECT. The writing is brilliant. For example,
When it was time to make supper, Sophie's mother looked at the squash. She looked at Sophie. "I call her Bernice," Sophie said. "I'll call for a pizza," said her mother. After that, Bernice went everywhere with Sophie. To story time at the library. To visit other squash at the farmers' market. To practice somersaults by the garden.
I also love the line, "Well, we did hope she'd love vegetables..."

A word or two about the illustrations. While, I don't "love, love, love" the illustrations, after reading and rereading this one, I will say this: I can't imagine the story with different illustrations. So even though I don't "love" this style of illustration on its own, it somehow works well with *this* story, it is part of the magic.

Definitely recommended.

Text: 5 out 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon: Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl. 1964. 155 pages. [Source: Library]

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favorite books to reread. I adore this one. Each chapter feels like a good friend. The text, the illustrations, everything just feels so right, so cozily right about this one.

Willy Wonka is an eccentric factory owner; he manufactures candy, chocolate mostly. He has a contest with five winners; he hides five golden tickets within his candy bars. Charlie Bucket, our hero, is desperate. Not necessarily desperate to win so much as desperate for a miracle. His family is starving. His father, his mother, all four grandparents, and himself--all are starving. If any boy deserves a life time's supply of chocolate, it's Charlie.

The book is quirky, delightful, and full of messages or morals. These messages aren't exactly hidden, they are obvious, especially in the lyrics of the songs. For example, Mike Teavee's song. No reader could miss that message! Is it a message for children or parents?!
"The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set–
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all the shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink–
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY...USED...TO...READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic takes
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy–Winkle and–
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole–
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks–
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start–oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hears. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
P.S. Regarding Mike Teavee,
We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can't–it serves him right."
Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene?

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews