Friday, May 25, 2018

The Orphan Band of Springdale

The Orphan Band of Springdale. Anne Nesbet. 2018. Candlewick. 448 pages. [Source: Library.]

First sentence:  Gusta Neubronner hadn't expected to be on a bus in Maine when she lost her father. She hadn't expected to be sitting alone scrunched up next to the dark blue coat of a woman she didn't know, or to have her French horn case balanced between her ankles, or for the weight of a night's worth of not sleeping to be pulling at her eyelids and making her mind slow and stupid just at the moment when she needed to be even more alert than her usual quick-brained self.

Premise/plot: The Orphan Band of Springdale is set during World War II in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, to America officially joining the War. It's set in a small town in Maine. Nesbit does a MARVELOUS job with the setting.

Gusta--or Augusta--is our heroine. She has gone to live with her grandmother. Her father has fled the country--he's being hunted down by officials who dislike his union leanings. (Remember this is when standing for 'the union' and workers' rights means being a communist). Her mother has sent her to her grandmother for safekeeping. She soon finds friends her own age--a cousin who lives near by and a houseful of foster children that her grandma is caring for. (Some are not truly orphans, just children whose parents can no longer care for them. Remember this is during the Depression.)

School is school. She loves some aspects of it; not all aspects of it. There are a few SNOBS in her class that assume the worst about her, that accuse her of being an alien, of being a foreign spy, of being THE ENEMY.

Gusta needs glasses. Since money is hard to come by and the need is pressing, Mr. Bertmann, the oculist offers her a deal. She'll work for him in the afternoons in exchange for her glasses. Part of her work will include taking care of pigeons.

The other story has to do with 'the band.'

My thoughts: The Orphan Band of Springdale is a character-driven historical novel with HEART. Some books are ALL about the journey and not the destination. Such is The Orphan Band of Springdale. (I loved spending time with Gusta and her friends Delphine, Bess, and Josie.) I loved her at home and at school. I loved her when she was trying to be brave and do the right thing. I loved her when she got into messes. I loved all the banter between the competing milk company kids. It's just a great coming-of-age story.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Three Edwards

The Three Edwards (The Plantagenets #3) Thomas B. Costain. 1958. 480 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: The Crusades were running down like an unwound clock.

Premise/plot: The Three Edwards is the third volume in the nonfiction series by Thomas B. Costain on the Plantagenets. It covers the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. It covers the politics, the wars, and the personal dramas. It highlights various men and women who were influential during these years. 

Except perhaps for the reign of Edward II--that had its own dramas and conflicts--much of the book is spent on wars at home and abroad. Wars with Scotland and Wales. Wars with France.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one--for the most part. My interest in specific battles is low I admit. I have no interest in battle tactics, etc. But there was also plenty of personal drama: wives and husbands, fathers and sons, and daughters being used as bargaining tools. Costain does a good job of presenting the strengths and weaknesses of each Edward. No person is solely good or evil. Holding onto power can be tricky, and power can go to one's head and corrupt.  

Other books in the series: The first volume is The Conquering Family. The second volume is The Magnificent Century.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Thirteen at Dinner

Thirteen at Dinner. Agatha Christie. 1933. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The memory of the public is short. Already the intense interest and excitement aroused by the murder of George Alfred St. Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware, is a thing past and forgotten. Newer sensations have taken its place. My friend, Hercule Poirot, was never openly mentioned in connection with the case. This, I may say, was entirely in accordance with his own wishes.

Premise/plot: Thirteen at Dinner is the ninth novel in the Hercule Poirot mystery series by Agatha Christie. It is narrated by Poirot's good friend Captain Hastings. He is recounting for readers a case that Poirot himself was a bit ashamed of being involved in.

It begins with a performance: Hastings and Poirot witness a one-woman show, Carlotta Adams. One of the imitations she does is of actress Jane Wilkinson. Wilkinson has married into the nobility, Lord Edgware, but it has not been a successful match--at all.

Later that evening, Poirot meets Jane Wilkinson for himself. She has come to him--pleading with him. Will he be willing to go to Lord Edgware and ask him to grant her a divorce so she can remarry? If not she doesn't know what she'll do. Poirot agrees to go. Lord Edgware agrees to a divorce promptly. In fact, he claims that he agreed over six months ago letting her know by letter!

The next day Lord Edgware is DEAD. Who murdered him and why?!

My thoughts: If you've read Lord Edgware Dies, you've read Thirteen at Dinner. But. If you're like me, you won't mind a bit rereading this Christie mystery. It is one of my favorites. Why? Not because of the details of the mystery. But because of the WRITING. I love Hastings' narration. I love the banter between Hastings and Poirot. Poirot can be such a hoot! It was a TREAT to reread this one.

"Do you not know, my friend, that each one of us is a dark mystery, a maze of conflicting passions and desires and aptitudes? Mais oui, c'est vrai. One makes one's little judgments--but nine times out of ten, one is wrong."
"Not Hercule Poirot," I said smiling.
"Even Hercule Poirot! Oh! I know very well that you have always a little idea that I am conceited, but indeed, I assure you, I am really a very humble person."
I laughed.
"It is so. Except--I confess it--that I am a little proud of my moustaches. Nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them. (5-6)
"Stop Poirot!" I cried. "You are making my head spin. "
"No, no, my friend. We are only considering possibilities. It is like trying on the clothes. Does this fit? No, it wrinkles on the shoulder? This one? Yes, that is better--but not quite large enough. This other one is too small. So on and so on, until we reach the perfect fit--the truth." (65)
"I always find alibis very enjoyable," he remarked. "Whenever I happen to be reading a detective story I sit up and take notice when the alibi comes along." (101)
"Between the deliberate falsehood and the disinterested inaccuracy it is very hard to distinguish sometimes.."
"What do you mean?"
"To deceive deliberately--that is one thing. But to be so sure of your facts, of your ideas and of their essential truth that the details do not matter--that, my friend, is a special characteristic of particularly honest persons." (107)
"The positive witness should always be treated with suspicion, my friend. The uncertain witness who doesn't remember, isn't sure, will think a minute--ah! yes, that's how it was--is infinitely more to be depended upon!"
"Dear me, Poirot," I said. "You upset all my preconceived ideas about witnesses." (107-8)
"My good friend," he said. "I depend upon you more than you know."
I was confused and delighted by these unexpected words. He had never said anything of the kind to me before. Sometimes, secretly, I had felt slightly hurt. He seemed almost to go out of his way to disparage my mental powers.
Although I did not think his own powers were flagging, I did realize suddenly that perhaps he had come to depend on my aid more than he knew.
"Yes," he said dreamily. "You may not always comprehend just how it is so--but you do often, and often point the way."
I could hardly believe my ears.
"Really, Poirot," I stammered. "I'm awfully glad, I suppose I've learnt a good deal from you one way or another--"
He shook his head.
"Mais non, ce n'est pas ca. You have learnt nothing."
"Oh!" I said, rather taken aback.
"That is as it should be. No human being should learn from another. Each individual should develop his own powers to the uttermost, not try to imitate those of someone else. I do not wish you to be a second and inferior Poirot. I wish you to be the supreme Hastings. In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated." (111)
"You are like someone who reads the detective story and who starts guessing each of the characters in turn without rhyme or reason." (112)
"You have a theory, then?"
"A detective, M. Martin, always has a theory. It is expected of him. I do not call it a theory myself. I say that I have a little idea. That is the first stage."
"And the second stage?"
"If the little idea turns out to be right, then I know! It is quite simple, you see." (129)
"Do not antagonize your son! He is of an age to choose for himself. Because his choice is not your choice, do not assume that you must be right. If it is a misfortune, then accept misfortune. Be at hand to aid him when he needs aid. But do not turn him against you." (145)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Saving Fiona

Saving Fiona: The Story of the World's Most Famous Baby Hippo. Thane Maynard. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is Fiona. She is a baby hippopotamus, but not just any baby hippopotamus. She is the first premature hippopotamus to be raised by humans. She is a survivor. This is her story.

Premise/plot: Saving Fiona is a nonfiction picture book for young readers. The Cincinnati Zoo was super-excited to welcome hippos to their new African animal habitat. The first two hippos in the exhibit were Henry and Bibi. They were hoping that these two would have a baby. They did! No one expected Fiona would be born several months premature, however. The zookeepers had to step in and raise her....until she was ready to be reunited with her parents. This book is about how they took care of Fiona in those early months.

My thoughts: I have watched Fiona's videos with great enthusiasm and interest. I found the picture book to be fascinating. It is full of pictures. It is full of facts. It's just an absorbing, compelling story. Readers of all ages might find Fiona's story a must read.

Text: 5 out of 5
Photographs: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, May 21, 2018

Who's a Pest?

Who's a Pest? Crosby Newell Bonsall. 1962. Harper & Row. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:  Lolly, Molly, Polly and Dolly all looked at Homer. Homer was their brother. "I didn't do it," said Homer. "Yes, you did," they said. "Yes, you did. And you're a pest!" Then Lolly and Molly and Polly and Dolly all turned their backs. "Beans," said Homer, "I'm not a pest."

Premise/plot: Who's A Pest is a dialogue driven early reader from the early 1960s. It stars Homer, his sisters, and a LOT of animals. How very easy it is to be misunderstood!

My thoughts: I could not resist this one when I saw it in my local charity shop. The dialogue was so funny. Perhaps not ha-ha funny. But funny nonetheless.

Homer sat down.
Soon he heard a sound.
"Help," it said.
"Help! Help! Help!"
Homer looked around.
"Help who?" he asked.
"Help me," said the sound.
"Who's me?" Homer asked.
"Me is me. I don't know who you are," said the sound.
"I'm Homer," said Homer.
"Please help me, Homer," said the sound.
"Where are you?" cried Homer.
"Here," said the sound.
"Where's here?" asked Homer.
"Here is here," said the sound.
"Oh, my," cried Homer, "I'll never find you. I don't know where here is."
Homer soon enlists others to help him search for ME. Anyway, I found the book delightful. I'm not sure children will equally be delighted by this vintage I Can Read book. (It does have a LOT of text per page.) 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Currently Reading #21

Something Old
Little Women. Louisa May Alcott. 1868. 566 pages. [Source: Bought]

Rachel Ray. Anthony Trollope. 1863. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]

East of Eden. John Steinbeck. 1952. 601 pages. [Source: Bought]

Thirteen at Dinner. Agatha Christie. 1933. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]

Something New
More Than Meets the Eye. Karen Witemeyer. 2018. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Between the Lines. Nikki Grimes. 2018. 216 pages. [Source: Library]

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire. Susan Tan. Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte. 2017. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

Something Borrowed
The Three Edwards (The Plantagenets #3) Thomas B. Costain. 1958. 480 pages. [Source: Library]

The Life of Mary, Queen of Scot: An Accidental Tragedy. Roderick Graham. 2008. 542 pages. [Source: Library]
Something True
Beyond Suffering Bible NLT: Where Struggles Seem Endless, God's Hope Is Infinite. Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni & Friends, Inc. 1016. Tyndale. 1696 pages.

Old Paths. J.C. Ryle. 536 pages.
The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness. Erwin W. Lutzer. 2018. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #19

The first thing I listened to this week was...

The Wings of the Dove. Henry James. 1902. Adapted for BBC Radio 4 by Linda Marshall Griffiths. Directed by Nadia Molinari. Starring Aisling Loftus as Kate Croy, Nico Mirallegro as Merton Densher, Jodie Comer as Milly Theale. 

I listened to the omnibus edition. Each broadcast contains five parts. Part one. Part two.

I have never read the book. (Though I have read a few of Henry James' novels in the past.) I came to the audio drama with no expectations.

I found the drama to be confusing. I think it was purposefully so. I think they dramatized the psychological aspects of it. And it isn't easy to audibly capture one's INTERNAL struggles. I'm not sure if James was using stream of consciousness in the novel, but certainly the radio drama makes use of the concept. Once I read a summary (or two) of the novel, I was able to piece together the story and enjoy it. For better or worse.

My favorite character was the dying Milly Theale. My least favorite character was Kate Croy. At first, I was trying to make Kate Croy be the heroine, a sympathetic heroine. But she just was not staying in that mold, in that little box.

The Secret Garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett. 1911. Librovox. Read by Karen Savage. 7 hours. 

I have read this one several times. I enjoy so many things about the book. I love quite a few of the characters. It genuinely has a feel-good feeling to it. I don't love, love, love everything about the story. Some elements are slightly weird. (How Magic seems to take the place of God, for example.) But such a treat to listen to this one. Thought the reader did a GREAT job with the accents.

 What I really remember is the movie from 1987. Do you have a favorite adaptation of The Secret Garden?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


My Victorian Year #20

I finished The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson by Anthony Trollope. I started the next Trollope book, Rachel Ray.

I also continued reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. 

Quotes from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:
Amy was having hard times at Aunt March’s. She felt her exile deeply, and for the first time in her life, realized how much she was beloved and petted at home. Aunt March never petted any one; she did not approve of it, but she meant to be kind, for the well-behaved little girl pleased her very much, and Aunt March had a soft place in her old heart for her nephew’s children, though she didn’t think it proper to confess it.
Finding the child more docile and amiable than her sister, the old lady felt it her duty to try and counteract, as far as possible, the bad effects of home freedom and indulgence. So she took Amy by the hand, and taught her as she herself had been taught sixty years ago, a process which carried dismay to Amy’s soul, and made her feel like a fly in the web of a very strict spider.
The evenings were the worst of all, for Aunt March fell to telling long stories about her youth, which were so unutterably dull that Amy was always ready to go to bed, intending to cry over her hard fate, but usually going to sleep before she had squeezed out more than a tear or two.
“I’ve thought a great deal lately about my ‘bundle of naughties,’ and being selfish is the largest one in it, so I’m going to try hard to cure it, if I can. Beth isn’t selfish, and that’s the reason everyone loves her and feels so bad at the thoughts of losing her.
“Do you think Meg cares for him?” asked Mrs. March, with an anxious look. “Mercy me! I don’t know anything about love and such nonsense!” cried Jo, with a funny mixture of interest and contempt. “In novels, the girls show it by starting and blushing, fainting away, growing thin, and acting like fools.
“I did wrong to sigh, Jo. It is natural and right you should all go to homes of your own in time, but I do want to keep my girls as long as I can, and I am sorry that this happened so soon, for Meg is only seventeen and it will be some years before John can make a home for her. Your father and I have agreed that she shall not bind herself in any way, nor be married, before twenty.
Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort it is.
There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat turkey was a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up, stuffed, browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, which melted in one’s mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled like a fly in a honeypot.
“Rather a rough road for you to travel, my little pilgrims, especially the latter part of it. But you have got on bravely, and I think the burdens are in a fair way to tumble off very soon,” said Mr. March, looking with fatherly satisfaction at the four young faces gathered round him.

“I’ll wait, and in the meantime, you could be learning to like me. Would it be a very hard lesson, dear?” “Not if I chose to learn it, but. . .” “Please choose to learn, Meg. I love to teach, and this is easier than German,” broke in John, getting possession of the other hand, so that she had no way of hiding her face as he bent to look into it.

“Oh, do somebody go down quick! John Brooke is acting dreadfully, and Meg likes it!”
“In most families there comes, now and then, a year full of events. This has been such a one, but it ends well, after all.”
“It can never be the same again. I’ve lost my dearest friend,” sighed Jo. “You’ve got me, anyhow. I’m not good for much, I know, but I’ll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life. Upon my word I will!” and Laurie meant what he said.
 Don’t you wish you could take a look forward and see where we shall all be then? I do,” returned Laurie. “I think not, for I might see something sad, and everyone looks so happy now, I don’t believe they could be much improved.”
The girls gave their hearts into their mother’s keeping, their souls into their father’s, and to both parents, who lived and labored so faithfully for them, they gave a love that grew with their growth and bound them tenderly together by the sweetest tie which blesses life and outlives death.
 “I don’t want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self.”
So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart. Her sisters braided up her pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies of the valley, which “her John” liked best of all the flowers that grew.
“Then I am satisfied. But please hug and kiss me, everyone, and don’t mind my dress. I want a great many crumples of this sort put into it today,” and Meg opened her arms to her sisters, who clung about her with April faces for a minute, feeling that the new love had not changed the old.
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, May 18, 2018

Keep It Short #20

I read two fairy tales from The Blue Book this week.

Why the Sea is Salt.
First sentence: Once upon a time, long, long ago, there were two brothers, the one rich and the other poor.

Premise/plot: This one begins on Christmas Eve. The 'poor' brother begs the 'rich' brother for food. The rich brother begrudgingly gives him a ham--not a ham to eat, but a ham to sell. This is implied, I think. The rich man told the brother to take the ham to 'Dead Man's Hall.' On his way, the poor brother meets an old man. The old man gives advice. EVERYONE will want to buy the ham, but only agree to sell if if you can get the hand-mill behind the door. That is some very specific advice. But it's advice the poor man is willing to take. He returns to the old man--whom we now learn is an old woodcutter--and he teaches the poor man how to use the hand-mill. This is the most important aspect of the story--how to properly use the magical hand-mill.

The poor man's life changes with the hand-mill in his life. And the rich brother gets jealous. He NEEDS the hand-mill. It changes hands--for money. But the rich brother doesn't ask for instructions--and regrets it! The hand-mill changes hands again--for money. The poor brother gets paid to take it back!

The hand-mill changes hands one more time...this time to a skipper. Again the instructions are not passed along. We're told that the skipper is afraid the poor man would change his mind and so he rushed away to his boat. This time the hand-mill is asked to grind SALT. But with no instructions on how to stop can see why the sea is salt.

My thoughts: What a super-fun story. If I have read this one before, I've completely forgotten it. I have read stories like it. I seem to remember a magical pot or kettle? Anyway, I'd recommend this one!

The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots
First sentence: There was a miller who left no more estate to the three sons he had than his mill, his ass, and his cat.

Premise/plot: The youngest son is upset that his legacy is a cat. He thinks that the other brothers are better off. But is that true?! No, not really. The cat is a talking cat. And he wants to be a well-dressed cat at that. If he trusts this cat, then his fortunes might change completely. And with very little effort on his part.
The Cat, who heard all this, but made as if he did not, said to him with a grave and serious air: "Do not thus afflict yourself, my good master. You have nothing else to do but to give me a bag and get a pair of boots made for me that I may scamper through the dirt and the brambles, and you shall see that you have not so bad a portion in me as you imagine."
Monsieur Puss came at last to a stately castle, the master of which was an ogre, the richest had ever been known; for all the lands which the King had then gone over belonged to this castle. 
"I have been assured," said the Cat, "that you have the gift of being able to change yourself into all sorts of creatures you have a mind to; you can, for example, transform yourself into a lion, or elephant, and the like."
"That is true," answered the ogre very briskly; "and to convince you, you shall see me now become a lion." Puss was so sadly terrified at the sight of a lion so near him that he immediately got into the gutter, not without abundance of trouble and danger, because of his boots, which were of no use at all to him in walking upon the tiles. A little while after, when Puss saw that the ogre had resumed his natural form, he came down, and owned he had been very much frightened.
"I have been, moreover, informed," said the Cat, "but I know not how to believe it, that you have also the power to take on you the shape of the smallest animals; for example, to change yourself into a rat or a mouse; but I must own to you I take this to be impossible."
"Impossible!" cried the ogre; "you shall see that presently." And at the same time he changed himself into a mouse, and began to run about the floor. Puss no sooner perceived this but he fell upon him and ate him up.    
My thoughts: I enjoyed this one too!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson

The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, by One of the Firm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 254 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It will be observed by the literary and commercial world that, in this transaction, the name of the really responsible party does not show on the title-page. I — George Robinson — am that party.

Premise/plot: Brown, Jones, and Robinson may have failed miserably in their business venture BUT George Robinson's account of their attempt is a delightful treat. 

Mr. Brown is an older man, nearing retirement, let's say. He brings the money--the capital--to the business. He has two partners each with a twenty-five percent share. Mr. Jones is Mr. Brown's son-in-law. He's married to Sarah Jane, I believe. But Mr. Brown has ANOTHER daughter: Maryanne. Mr. Robinson has hopes to marry her one day. If she'll say yes and actually mean it. 

You see, Maryanne has ISSUES. First, she thinks the world revolves around her. Second, she doesn't like having just one suitor begging for her hand in marriage. Third, she doesn't care WHERE or HOW her father gets the money to pay her potential groom, so long as he does it SOON. Mr. Brisket is the other suitor. And he wants MONEY before saying I do. More money than Mr. Brown has. Perhaps more money than Mr. Brown can earn in the next year. 

Now don't be thinking that Maryanne is the only selfish person in the novel. She's not alone. Mrs. Jones--Sarah--is a piece of work as well. She wants what she wants when she wants it. And she's not above TAKING what she wants and hoping that no one else will notice. Her husband is like-minded. In fact, Robinson is all but sure that these two have been helping themselves to the store's money. That Mr. Brown probably WOULD have the money to pay Mr. Brisket if Mr. Jones wasn't such a scoundrel. The store seems destined for bankruptcy. 

Will she or won't she become Mrs. Robinson? Will she or won't she become Mrs. Brisket? Will Mr. Brown lose his home and his business? Will George Robinson land on his feet and find happiness and success elsewhere? Will lessons be learned?

My thoughts: George Robinson is far from perfect. He has mixed up priorities. But his narrative voice is so delightful. Even when the situation is dire--serious--there's a touch of humor to be found. I enjoyed this one so much. It was a GREAT reminder as to why I love Trollope. Orley Farm was a CHORE. But this one was a treat. 

Advertise, advertise, advertise; — and don’t stop to think too much about capital.
Capital is a very nice thing if you can get it. It is the desirable result of trade. A tradesman looks to end with a capital. But it’s gammon to say that he can’t begin without it. You might as well say a man can’t marry unless he has first got a family. Why, he marries that he may have a family. It’s putting the cart before the horse.
To obtain credit the only certain method is to advertise. Advertise, advertise, advertise. That is, assume, assume, assume. Go on assuming your virtue. The more you haven’t got it, the more you must assume it.
 Smile sweet enough, and all the world will believe you. Advertise long enough, and credit will come.
 O Commerce, how wonderful are thy ways, how vast thy power, how invisible thy dominion! Thou civilizest, hast civilized, and wilt civilize. Civilization is thy mission, and man’s welfare thine appointed charge. The nation that most warmly fosters thee shall ever be the greatest in the earth; and without thee no nation shall endure for a day. Thou art our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our end; the marrow of our bones, the salt of our life, the sap of our branches, the corner-stone of our temple, the rock of our foundation. We are built on thee, and for thee, and with thee. To worship thee should be man’s chiefest care, to know thy hidden ways his chosen study. “Buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.” May those divine words be ever found engraved on the hearts of Brown, Jones, and Robinson!
 “George,” said he, “all the world wears stockings; but those who require African monkey muffs are in comparison few in number.
The whole world wants stockings, [he began, not disdaining to take his very words from Mr. Brown] — and Brown, Jones, and Robinson are prepared to supply the whole world with the stockings which they want. One hundred and twenty baskets of ladies’ Spanish hose, — usual price, 1s. 3d.; sold by B., J., and R. at 9¾d. “Baskets!” said Mr. Brown, when he read the little book. Four hundred dozen white cotton hose, — usual price, 1s. 0½d.; sold by B., J., and R. at 7¼d. Eight stack of China and pearl silk hose, — usual price, 3s.; sold by B., J., and R. for 1s. 9¾d. Fifteen hundred dozen of Balbriggan, — usual price, 1s. 6d.; sold by B., J., and R. for 10½d. It may not, perhaps, be necessary to continue the whole list here; but as it was read aloud to Mr. Brown, he sat aghast with astonishment. “George!” said he, at last, “I don’t like it. It makes me quite afeard. It does indeed.”
“But, George,” said Mr. Brown, “I should like to have one of these bills true, if only that one might show it as a sample when the people talk to one.” “True!” said Robinson, again. “You wish that it should be true! In the first place, did you ever see an advertisement that contained the truth? If it were as true as heaven, would any one believe it? Was it ever supposed that any man believed an advertisement? Sit down and write the truth, and see what it will be! The statement will show itself of such a nature that you will not dare to publish it. There is the paper, and there the pen. “Did you ever believe an advertisement?” Jones, in self-defence, protested that he never had. “And why should others be more simple than you? No man, — no woman believes them. They are not lies; for it is not intended that they should obtain credit. I should despise the man who attempted to base his advertisements on a system of facts, as I would the builder who lays his foundation upon the sand. The groundwork of advertising is romance. It is poetry in its very essence. Is Hamlet true?”
Brown, Jones, and Robinson have sincere pleasure in presenting to the Fashionable World their new KATAKAIRION SHIRT, in which they have thoroughly overcome the difficulties, hitherto found to be insurmountable, of adjusting the bodies of the Nobility and Gentry to an article which shall be at the same time elegant, comfortable, lasting, and cheap. B., J., and R.’s KATAKAIRION SHIRT, and their Katakairion Shirt alone, is acknowledged to unite these qualities. Six Shirts for 39s. 9d. The Katakairion Shirt is specially recommended to Officers going to India and elsewhere, while it is at the same time eminently adapted for the Home Consumption.
 “There is nothing so fickle as the taste of the public. The most popular author of the day can never count on favour for the next six months.”
Would that women could be taught to hate bargains! How much less useless trash would there be in our houses, and how much fewer tremendous sacrifices in our shops!
As far as I can see, everything is mostly lies. The very worst article our people can get for sale, they call ‘middlings;’ the real middlings are ‘very superior,’ and so on. They’re all lies; but they don’t cost anything, and all the world knows what they mean.
Bad things must be bought and sold, and if we said our things was bad, nobody would buy them.
“Fourteen hours’ work a day is nothing, if you don’t do anything. A man may sweat hard digging holes and filling them up again. But what I say is, he does not do any good.
It’s only the sheep that lets themselves be shorn. The lions and the tigers know how to keep their own coats on their own backs.
The world of purchasers will have cheap articles, and the world of commerce must supply them.
The world of purchasers will have their ears tickled, and the world of commerce must tickle them.
Could it be that a man had a double duty, each separate from the other; — a duty domestic and private, requiring his devotion and loyalty to his wife, his children, his partners, and himself; and another duty, widely extended in all its bearings and due to the world in which he lived?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Door in the Alley (The Explorers)

The Door in the Alley. Adrienne Kress. 2017. Random House. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This story begins, like most stories do, with a pig wearing a teeny hat. And I'm sure right now you're thinking to yourself, I've read this story before. But please let me assure you that this isn't that pig in a teeny hat story you're reading, but the other one. The one you haven't read. Yet. Unless you've read this story before.

Premise/plot: Sebastian is NOT looking for adventure...or excitement. And he's especially not looking for DANGER and INTRIGUE. He likes things just-so; he has a precise way of living. Everything in his world belongs in a perfectly-perfect logical way. But he stumbles into an adventure, and that stumbling begins--you guessed it--with a pig wearing a teeny hat. There are other things that coax him into a BIG, DANGEROUS adventure. Including a girl named Evie.

Evie is not looking exactly for ADVENTURE. But she is tired of her incredibly boring and predictable existence. It wouldn't be so bad if she felt loved, wanted, accepted. But since her parents death, she's had no one. She lives at a boarding school, I believe. And she's not friends with the other boarders or the other students. Her teachers have tried coaxing her out of self-pity and into a friendship with her peers. But, alas, Evie sees no way out of her despair. But when her oh-so-ordinary weekly dinner ends in a FIRE and men chasing her... well...she finds herself in the middle of a huge adventure. Sebastian joins her on this adventure. She talks him into it. He is still most reluctant.

This is an action-packed adventure story with DRAMA and DANGER. It does end in a cliff hanger.

My thoughts: I liked it. I probably will read the second book in the series. Sebastian and Evie are pleasant to spend time with. And the Explorers Club sounds intriguing.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bronx Masquerade

Bronx Masquerade. Nikki Grimes. 2001/2017. Penguin. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I ain't particular about doing homework, you understand.

Premise/plot: Mr. Ward is exciting a high school class about poetry. He is giving his students ongoing opportunities to share their own poetry. Writing and sharing poetry changes them in immeasurable ways. This YA novel is told in multiple voices in prose and poetry. The novel spans a school year, I believe.

 Black Box
by Devon Hope
In case I forgot to tell you,
I'm allergic to boxes:
Black boxes, shoe boxes
New boxes, You boxes--
Even cereal boxes
Boasting champions.
(It's all a lie.
I've peeked inside
And what I found
Were flakes.)
Make no mistake,
I make no exceptions
For Cracker Jack
Or Christmas glitter.
Haven't you noticed?
I'm made of skeleton,
Muscle and skin.
My body is the only box
I belong in.
But you like your boxes
So keep them.
Mark them geek, wimp, bully.
Mark them china doll, braniac,
Or plain dumb jock.
Choose whatever
Box you like, Mike.
Just don't put me
In one, son.
Believe me,
I won't fit. (84-5)

My thoughts: What a great novel!!! I would recommend this one even to those who think they HATE--abhor--poetry. Is there a difference between thinking you hate something and actually hating something? I think so. Until you've tried something--genuinely tried something--it's not fair to say you hate it. I think poetry comes in so many different shapes and sizes. And disliking one doesn't mean disliking all. Anyway, what I was trying--and failing--to say was that poetry can speak soul to soul and have relevance in or out of a classroom.

The book was honored with the Coretta Scot King Author Award in 2003.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

For Every One

For Every One. Jason Reynolds. 2018. Simon & Schuster. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dear Dreamer, this letter is being written from a place of raw honesty and love but not at all a place of expertise on how to make your dreams come true. I don't know nothing about that.

Premise/plot: For Every One is a poetic essay on the meaning of life. Is that an exaggeration? Maybe. It is a motivational--though realistic and honest--piece on ATTITUDE and PERSPECTIVE. If attitude and perspective don't play a major role in how you define the meaning of life, I don't know what does. Reynolds' piece is above all grounded in reality yet saturated in hope or optimism. This essay is written in verse.

My eyes
are swollen with exhaustion,
my body sputtering
on its way down,
but my dream
won't stop crying,
like a colicky
Sometimes I think
it needs to be changed.
It just needs to be fed.
So I feed it everything
I have.
And it feeds me everything
I have. (52-3)

My thoughts: I read this one twice. I really, really liked it. I hope it gets some love from readers of all ages.

The book celebrates the journey that all dreamers find themselves on. It's a journey that most--if not all--can relate to easily. It is a book for everyone. But even the author acknowledges that not every single book is for every single person. There are many books on dreams, on dreaming, on pursuing your dreams, on pursuing this evasive thing called SUCCESS. Not every book is a keeper. I hope this one is a keeper.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, May 14, 2018

Currently Reading #20

Something Old

The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, by One of the Firm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 254 pages. [Source: Bought]

Little Women. Louisa May Alcott. 1868. 566 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
The Orphan Band of Springdale. Anne Nesbet. 2018. Candlewick. 448 pages. [Source: Library.]

More Than Meets the Eye. Karen Witemeyer. 2018. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
The Life of Mary, Queen of Scot: An Accidental Tragedy. Roderick Graham. 2008. 542 pages. [Source: Library]

The Explorers #1: The Door in the Alley. Adrienne Kress. 2017. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

Bronx Masquerade. Nikki Grimes. 2001. 167 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True 

Beyond Suffering Bible NLT: Where Struggles Seem Endless, God's Hope Is Infinite. Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni & Friends, Inc. 1016. Tyndale. 1696 pages.

Old Paths. J.C. Ryle. 536 pages.
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


I Am Loved

I Am Loved. Nikki Giovanni. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan. 2018. Simon and Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
I wrote a poem
for you because
you are
my little boy
I wrote a poem
for you because
you are
my darling daughter
and in this poem
I sang a song
that says
as time goes on
I am you
and you are me
and that's how life
goes on

Premise/plot: I Am Loved is a collection of poems by Nikki Giovanni newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan.

My thoughts: I want to like poetry more than I actually like poetry. I wanted to enjoy this collection. I did. But with the exception of one or two poems, I didn't. The poems I did like were "Quilts" and "Three/Quarters Time." Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. All books are subjective; perhaps poetry is even more so. You may enjoy this collection more than I did. (I hope you do!)

Personally, the lack of punctuation--and the lack of proper capitalization in some cases--bothered me way too much. I realize that poetry is ART. There is no one "right" way to do it.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Victorian Year #19

Last week I finished ORLEY FARM by Anthony Trollope. I started the next book in chronological order--The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson. I have also been reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

Quotes from The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson.
It will be observed by the literary and commercial world that, in this transaction, the name of the really responsible party does not show on the title-page. I — George Robinson — am that party.
Advertise, advertise, advertise; — and don’t stop to think too much about capital. It is a bugbear. Capital is a bugbear; and it is talked about by those who have it, — and by some that have not so much of it neither, — for the sake of putting down competition, and keeping the market to themselves.
They who’s up a bit is all for keeping down them who is down; and they who is down is so very soft through being down, that they’ve not spirit to force themselves up. Now I saw that very early in life.
Capital is a very nice thing if you can get it. It is the desirable result of trade. A tradesman looks to end with a capital. But it’s gammon to say that he can’t begin without it. You might as well say a man can’t marry unless he has first got a family. Why, he marries that he may have a family. It’s putting the cart before the horse.
Capital, though it’s a bugbear, nevertheless it’s a virtue. Therefore, as you haven’t got it, you must assume it. That’s credit. Credit I take to be the belief of other people in a thing that doesn’t really exist.
To obtain credit the only certain method is to advertise. Advertise, advertise, advertise. That is, assume, assume, assume. Go on assuming your virtue. The more you haven’t got it, the more you must assume it.
Smile sweet enough, and all the world will believe you. Advertise long enough, and credit will come.
 One cannot touch pitch and not be defiled.
O Commerce, how wonderful are thy ways, how vast thy power, how invisible thy dominion! Thou civilizest, hast civilized, and wilt civilize. Civilization is thy mission, and man’s welfare thine appointed charge. The nation that most warmly fosters thee shall ever be the greatest in the earth; and without thee no nation shall endure for a day. Thou art our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our end; the marrow of our bones, the salt of our life, the sap of our branches, the corner-stone of our temple, the rock of our foundation. We are built on thee, and for thee, and with thee. To worship thee should be man’s chiefest care, to know thy hidden ways his chosen study.
 “Buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.” May those divine words be ever found engraved on the hearts of Brown, Jones, and Robinson!
Mr. Brown should put his “capital” into the business, and be entitled to half the profits. Mr. Jones and Mr. Robinson should give the firm the advantage of their youth, energies, and genius, and should each be held as the possessor of a quarter.
 “I’ll tell you what,” said Robinson; “there’s nothing like colour. We’ll call it Magenta House, and we’ll paint it magenta from the roof to the window tops.” This beautiful tint had only then been invented, and it was necessary to explain the word to Mr. Brown.
“And, I’ll tell you what,” said Robinson— “nine times nine is eighty-one.” “Certainly, certainly,” said Mr. Brown, who delighted to agree with his younger partner when circumstances admitted it. “You are right there, certainly.”
“But they must be paid some day, George.” “Of course they must; but it will never do to think of that now. In twelve months or so, when we have set the house well going, the payment of such bills as that will be a mere nothing, — a thing that will be passed as an item not worth notice.
“Morals above everything. In such an establishment as this, if we are not moral, we are nothing.” I supposed he was right, but it seemed to me to be very hard on the young men and women. I could only hope that they walked home together in the evening.
To startle men and women to any purpose, and drive them into Bishopsgate Street, you must startle them a great deal. It does not suffice to create a momentary wonder.
He had pledged himself to the firm, and was aware that it would ill become him to allow private sorrows to interfere with public duties.
Quotes from Little Women
 “Aunt March is a regular samphire, is she not?” observed Amy, tasting her mixture critically. “She means vampire, not seaweed, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too warm to be particular about one’s parts of speech,” murmured Jo.
“Don’t let us do any lessons, Beth, for a while, but play all the time and rest, as the girls mean to,” proposed Amy.
“May we, Mother?” asked Meg, turning to Mrs. March, who sat sewing in what they called “Marmee’s corner.” “You may try your experiment for a week and see how you like it. I think by Saturday night you will find that all play and no work is as bad as all work and no play.”
No one would own that they were tired of the experiment, but by Friday night each acknowledged to herself that she was glad the week was nearly done. Hoping to impress the lesson more deeply, Mrs. March, who had a good deal of humor, resolved to finish off the trial in an appropriate manner, so she gave Hannah a holiday and let the girls enjoy the full effect of the play system.
“Mother isn’t sick, only very tired, and she says she is going to stay quietly in her room all day and let us do the best we can. It’s a very queer thing for her to do, she doesn’t act a bit like herself. But she says it has been a hard week for her, so we mustn’t grumble but take care of ourselves.” 
So a tray was fitted out before anyone began, and taken up with the cook’s compliments. The boiled tea was very bitter, the omelet scorched, and the biscuits speckled with saleratus, but Mrs. March received her repast with thanks and laughed heartily over it after Jo was gone.
“Poor little souls, they will have a hard time, I’m afraid, but they won’t suffer, and it will do them good,” she said, producing the more palatable viands with which she had provided herself, and disposing of the bad breakfast, so that their feelings might not be hurt, a motherly little deception for which they were grateful.
Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertions which Jo underwent that morning, and the dinner she served up became a standing joke.
Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone, and discovered that something more than energy and good will is necessary to make a cook.
She boiled the asparagus for an hour and was grieved to find the heads cooked off and the stalks harder than ever.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Beth retired to her room, overcome with emotion and lobster, but there was no place of repose, for the beds were not made, and she found her grief much assuaged by beating up the pillows and putting things in order.
“Are you satisfied with your experiment, girls, or do you want another week of it?” she asked, as Beth nestled up to her and the rest turned toward her with brightening faces, as flowers turn toward the sun. “I don’t!” cried Jo decidedly. “Nor I,” echoed the others. “You think then, that it is better to have a few duties and live a little for others, do you?” “Lounging and larking doesn’t pay,” observed Jo, shaking her head. “I’m tired of it and mean to go to work at something right off.” So I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don’t you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?”  
My Dear: I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction I watch your efforts to control your temper. You say nothing about your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps, that no one sees them but the Friend whose help you daily ask, if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guidebook. I, too, have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity of your resolution, since it begins to bear fruit. Go on, dear, patiently and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizes more tenderly with you than your loving . . . MOTHER
I’ll work hard and not trouble anyone, and you’ll take care of me, Jo, so I’ll go.” “That’s my good girl. You do try to fight off your shyness, and I love you for it. Fighting faults isn’t easy, as I know, and a cheery word kind of gives a lift.
“My sister Beth is a very fastidious girl, when she likes to be,” said Amy, well pleased at Beth’s success. She meant “fascinating,” but as Grace didn’t know the exact meaning of either word, fastidious sounded well and made a good impression.
“Wouldn’t it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true, and we could live in them?” said Jo, after a little pause. “I’ve made such quantities it would be hard to choose which I’d have,” said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at the squirrel who had betrayed him.
“Are you going to deliver lectures all the way home?” he asked presently. “Of course not. Why?” “Because if you are, I’ll take a bus. If you’re not, I’d like to walk with you and tell you something very interesting.”
“November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden. “That’s the reason I was born in it,” observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.
Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace. Hope and keep busy, and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless.” “Yes, Mother.”
I rushed up garret when the letter came, and tried to thank god for being so good to us, but I could only cry, and say, “I’m glad! I’m glad!” Didn’t that do as well as a regular prayer? For I felt a great many in my heart.
“Oh, Jo, it’s not so bad as that?” cried Laurie, with a startled face. “Yes, it is. She doesn’t know us, she doesn’t even talk about the flocks of green doves, as she calls the vine leaves on the wall. She doesn’t look like my Beth, and there’s nobody to help us bear it. Mother and Father both gone, and God seems so far away I can’t find Him.”
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Keep It Short #19

I read two fairy tales from The Blue Fairy Book this week.

Beauty and the Beast
First sentence: Once upon a time, in a very far-off country, there lived a merchant who had been so fortunate in all his undertakings that he was enormously rich.

Premise/plot: A man has three sons and three daughters. But of all his children, there is no one so good, so kind, so wonderful as his youngest daughter nicknamed Beauty. He faces increasing hardships, but Beauty never loses heart or hope. There comes a time when he sets out with new hope: perhaps one of his ships wasn't lost, perhaps one of his cargo ships made it home with loads of treasures, perhaps the family's fortune can be partially restored. But it's not to be. ON his way home from that disappointment, he stumbles across a magnificent castle where his every need is anticipated and every comfort given. He presumes upon his host's goodness. After all, if his host has provided him food, shelter, warmth, who would begrudge him one rose? But it's a presumption all the same. The host--a beast--demands the man give him one of his daughters. Beauty finds herself 'the one' to go.

Beauty finds the Beast to be good and kind but also persistent. Every night he proposes to her. Every night she says no. Every night she dreams of a WONDERFUL prince.

Will Beauty and the Beast find their happily ever after together?

My thoughts: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this story. It is without a doubt my favorite and best fairy tale.

First sentence: Once upon a time there was a king who had many sons. I do not exactly know how many there were, but the youngest of them could not stay quietly at home, and was determined to go out into the world and try his luck, and after a long time the King was forced to give him leave to go.

Premise/plot: A prince takes a job as a giant's servant. But does the giant have good intentions? Or is his life in danger? Will he survive this adventure? Perhaps he will with the intervention of the giant's master-maid. She reveals just how to do the tasks the giant gives him. These are simple sounding tasks that are really super-dangerous and near-impossible. When the time to escape comes--and it does--he takes her with him. But will they live happily ever after?

My thoughts: I definitely liked this one. It was a new-to-me story. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Me? Listen to Audio?! #18

I listened to several books this week. 

The Enchanted April. Elizabeth von Arnim. 1922. Dramatised by Vivienne Allen. Directed and produced by Tracey Neale. 1 hour and 15 minutes.  

I've seen the movie. I've now heard the drama. I still haven't read this one...yet. I keep meaning to read it. I really do. I enjoyed the radio drama, but I think the movie was easier to follow. If I'm honest--and I do try to be honest in all my posts--it was hard to keep all the women straight in the radio drama. I think if I'd read the book it would have been easier.

Essentially, the plot is that four women--essentially strangers to one another before--agree to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April. No one can afford to do it on their own; but together anything is possible. Will this vacation live up to their expectations?!

Episode one, two, three, four, five.

Ender's Game. Orson Scott Card. 1985. Over eleven hours. Narrated by Scott Brick, David Birney, Christian Noble, Don Schlossman, M.E. Willis, Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, Gabrielle de Cuir, etc. [Library]

I haven't read this one in ages. But there was a time I read it once a year or so. It was great to revisit an old favorite. One thing I noticed is that I tend to skim over language--bad language--as I'm reading. That's a lot harder to do in an audio book. Certain words are jarring to my ears. And this book is far from clean--in terms of language.

As for the book itself, I love it. I'm not sure if I'm more of an Ender's Game or Speaker for the Dead fan. But the books are really dependent on one another, I think. I will have to seek out Speaker now.

While I've reread Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead multiple times. I haven't really reread the other books Ender's Shadow and those sequels. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, May 11, 2018

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. Jeanne Birdsall. 2008. 308 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: Their mother had been here in the hospital with the new baby for almost a week.

First sentence from chapter one: Four years and four months later.

Premise/plot: The Penderwicks are back home from summer vacation. School has started again. And life is settling down. Or is it?! Aunt Claire comes with presents and a surprise. The surprise? A letter to Mr. Penderwick from his dead wife; she is pleading with him to start dating again, to love again, to be happy. Aunt Claire is insistent that he goes on FOUR dates. After four dates, she'll leave him again in peace. The Penderwick sisters come up with a Save-Daddy plan: a plan that sets him up with four horrible women so that their dad can get the dating over and done with. What the Penderwick sisters don't count on is the next door neighbor. She's a widow with a young son--a baby named Ben. She's a professor too.

Speaking of next door neighbors....can Rosalind and the boy next door be falling in love?

What will be the consequences when Jane and Skye do each other's homework assignments?

Will Hound make a new friend?

My thoughts: I enjoyed the first book in the series. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this second book. I love that Mr. Penderwick starts dating Marianne Dashwood. I love spending time with all four sisters. I don't know that I have a favorite. Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. They are just WONDERFUL girls to spend time with. 

One of my favorite scenes is when Batty stows away on her father's "date" with Marianne.
"Daddy, it's me!"
"What a lovely surprise," he said, not at all angry, or much surprised, either.
"Hound is here, too, on the floor." She threw aside his blanket, too.
"Of course he is, for whither you go, there he usually is, too. Let's go get some pizza."
"How did you know I was in your car?"
"There was no other logical reason for a large mound of blankets to appear in the backseat."
Batty was disappointed. Her hiding skills were not as great as she'd hoped. (197)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Queen of Scots

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. John Guy. 2004. 608 pages. [Source: Library]

From the prologue: Around eight o'clock in the morning on Wednesday, February 8, 1587, when it was light enough to see without candles, Sir Thomas Andrews, sheriff of the county of Northamptonshire, knocked on a door.

From chapter one: Mary Stuart was born in the coldest of winters.

Premise/plot: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart is a biography. Given that Mary, Queen of Scots' motto was 'In my end is my beginning,' it is fitting that it opens (and closes) with her last day. Chances are readers will come to the book with some idea about Mary's guilt or innocence; come with some idea about what kind of person Mary was. Will Guy's biography change your mind? Perhaps.

Was Mary guilty? Yes. Definitely. Guilty of marrying foolishly, recklessly. Guilty of making more than a few stupid decisions that would cost her her life. It is easy to look back on her life and pinpoint exactly where Mary made mistakes, ultimately fatal mistakes. It is easy to shout at Mary, DON'T DO IT. STOP. YOU'RE RUINING YOUR LIFE. THERE HAS TO BE ANOTHER WAY. But that's because we're far removed from the situation. We know the consequences. We can't walk in her shoes. We can't know what it was like to carry that weight, that burden, that responsibility.

But was Mary guilty of scheming and plotting her husband's death? That is much less certain. In fact, Guy spends more than a few chapters showing how all the so-called evidence against her was fabricated. The "casket letters" were manufactured "evidence" assembled by her enemies, assembled by men who were likely guilty themselves. At best, Guy shows that Mary was innocent of the worst charges against her: that she was in on the plot to kill her husband Darnley and that she was in on the plot to be abducted by Bothwell. At worst, Guy shows that there was no hard evidence, no real evidence, no persuasive evidence that PROVED beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was guilty.

For the record, you probably shouldn't marry someone who likely killed your husband and who definitely kidnapped you and raped you. It's likely that the marriage won't be a happy one. And it might even cost you your life.

Again, it is easy to judge Mary's decisions from afar. Her life is often seen in extremes. She's either an innocent pawn who was essentially powerless--in the hands of the power players around her either in France, Scotland, and England. OR she's seen as a guilty power-hungry whore who wanted--lusted--for more, more, more. Insert evil laugh here. She was always scheming and conniving and using her sexuality to make men do what she wanted. Guy's Mary is neither extreme. She's human.

My thoughts: I picked up Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart because I was watching Reign. (I don't recommend it overall.) One thing I knew for sure: the show was getting everything wrong. Not just a little wrong, not just a few liberties here and there, but every little thing and every big thing. It wasn't just the details they were getting wrong, but, I feared the personalities were wrong, wrong, super-wrong as well. (They were.)

I read reviews of several biographies. Many reviewers would point out the biases of the biographer. This person loves Mary and thinks she can do no wrong. This person hates Mary and thinks she can do no right. In all the descriptions of Mary none of them felt authentically human.

In his opinion, Mary's nemesis, her rival was NOT Queen Elizabeth, not directly. Instead her biggest enemy was William Cecil. (Cecil didn't even make it into the show Reign.)

I appreciate the work that went into this biography. He gives readers primary source material letting Mary speak in her own words. Letting those around Mary speak in their own words as well. He gives readers the ability to make their own minds up, to judge for themselves. And there are some areas of her life where we just don't know what she did or didn't know, or what she did or didn't feel. He doesn't force things into a neat and tidy little narrative.

The last chapter of the book is the epilogue where he talks about what happened after her death. He argues that even though Mary lost her life, she "won" the war in the end. It is HER son who ruled England. It is through Mary that all the monarchs have descended.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. Jeanne Birdsall. 2005. Random House. 262 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye. Who knew which was right?

Premise/plot: Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty are the four Penderwick sisters. They along with their widower father have come to stay in a small cottage for the summer. The cottage is part of a larger estate--Arundel. They become friends with the gardener, the two pet rabbits, the housekeeper, and perhaps most importantly with Jeffrey, the SON. But with Mrs. Tifton they cannot--will not--make friends. Or rather, she despises them.

Jeffrey becomes part of their family even if they don't become a part of his. They have marvelous adventures and misadventures together during their summer vacation. But. Of course it is a vacation. And it's just a matter of time for all of them. Jeffrey doesn't want the end to come any more than they do. Even more so really since he might have to go to military school.

This novel celebrates being yourself and finding people who like you for being you. It also celebrates the ups and downs of FAMILY.

My thoughts: I liked this one very much when I first read it. But upon second reading, I think I really love it. It has an old-fashioned, feel-good quality about it.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, May 08, 2018


Exo. Fonda Lee. 2017. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The boy was watching them. Donovan had seen him before: number 53 by his jersey, ginger-haired, stocky.

Premise/plot: Love science fiction? Looking to start a new series? Exo is a futuristic science fiction novel for young adults. It's set on Earth a hundred years after a successful alien invasion. There are a few stubborn humans still fighting for independence and freedom; humans who want their planet back. But Donovan, our hero, isn't one of them. He's an exocel; he's been hardened--quite literally--by alien technology, by Zhree technology. He can armor up and down in a second. His enemies claim the exos are not human at all, and that they are traitors. Soon after the novel opens, Donovan finds himself in trouble. He's been kidnapped by the enemy, by a terrorist group Sapience. He's not killed perhaps because of whose son he is. (His father is Prime Liason between the humans and the aliens. His mother, well, I'll leave that for readers to discover.) What will Donovan learn in his captivity? Will his allegiance be swayed?

My thoughts: I found this a quick read. I do enjoy science fiction. I'm not sure alien invasion is my absolute favorite and best sub-genre of science fiction. But I enjoyed this one. I did. I definitely liked Donovan. Science fiction can sometimes be action-driven or premise-driven. Science fiction can sometimes be so science-fiction-y that characterization just doesn't matter all that much. I would not say that is the case with Exo. Yes, there is plenty of action. But Donovan and his parents are definitely fleshed out well.

This is the first book. I would love to learn more about the aliens who have taken over Earth. Are they as benevolent and good as Donovan thinks? Are they keeping secrets from the humans? Is life truly better after the invasion? Do they truly know what is best for us?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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