Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Victorian Year #16

Good news! I finished Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I wish I could say that I also finished Orley Farm as well. It feels like I've been reading it for three or four months! As of last night, I have exactly twenty chapters to go! (Unless my maths failed me. Entirely possible.)

I have also begun a reread of Little Women.

Quotes from Orley Farm
“I cannot understand Madeline,” Lady Staveley went on, not caring overmuch about Felix Graham’s acquirements.“Well, my dear, I think the key to her choice is this, that she has judged not with her eyes, but with her ears, or rather with her understanding. “But I must acknowledge that I cannot feel angry with Madeline.” “Angry! no, not angry. Who would be angry with the poor child?” “Indeed, I am somewhat proud of her. It seems to me that she prefers mind to matter, which is a great deal to say for a young lady.”
“Wit and intellect and power of expression have gone further with her than good looks and rank and worldly prosperity. If that be so, and I believe it is, I cannot but love her the better for it.”
Half-hours between young ladies and young gentlemen before breakfast are very serious things.
I believe that schoolmasters often tell fibs to schoolboys, although it would be so easy for them to tell the truth. But how difficult it is for the schoolboy always to tell the truth to his master!
But I believe that people can never really love each other merely because they are told to do so.
Friendship between true friends must extend to all the affairs of life.
Unhappiness and a melancholy mood suited him perhaps better than the world’s ordinary good-humour. He was a man who looked his best when under a cloud, and shone the brightest when everything about him was dark.
And Sophia also was not unequal to the occasion. There was, however, this difference between them. Lucius was quite honest in all that he said and did upon the occasion; whereas Miss Furnival was only half honest. Perhaps she was not capable of a higher pitch of honesty than that.
I cannot understand how any gentleman can be willing to use his intellect for the propagation of untruth, and to be paid for so using it.
“Yes, he is clever enough,” repeated the judge, “clever enough; and of high principles and an honest purpose. The fault which people find with him is this, — that he is not practical. He won’t take the world as he finds it. If he can mend it, well and good; we all ought to do something to mend it; but while we are mending it we must live in it.”
High position and a plentiful income are great blessings in this world, so that they be achieved without a stain. But even in this world they are not the greatest blessings. There are things much sweeter than them.
“Money and rank are only good, if every step by which they are gained be good also. I should never blush to see my girl the wife of a poor man whom she loved; but I should be stricken to the core of my heart if I knew that she had become the wife of a rich man whom she did not love.”
But what I say is this: you should never give up as long as you live. There’s a sort of feeling about it which I can’t explain. One should always say to oneself, No surrender.
“Nobody should ever knock under of his own accord.”
Quotes from Little Women
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. “It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
He will stay and do his work faithfully as long as he can, and we won’t ask for him back a minute sooner than he can be spared. Now come and hear the letter.
 I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.
Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City.
Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home.” “Really, Mother? Where are our bundles?” asked Amy, who was a very literal young lady. “Each of you told what your burden was just now, except Beth. I rather think she hasn’t got any,” said her mother.  “Yes, I have. Mine is dishes and dusters, and envying girls with nice pianos, and being afraid of people.” Beth’s bundle was such a funny one that everybody wanted to laugh, but nobody did, for it would have hurt her feelings very much.
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Keep It Short #16

This week I read two L.M. Montgomery short stories.

The Romance of Jedediah.

First sentence: Jedediah was not a name that savoured of romance. His last name was Crane, which is little better. And it would be no use to call this story "Mattie Adams's Romance" because Mattie Adams is not a romantic name either.

Premise/plot: Jedediah is a tin peddler. He's new to the job. He decides to pay a call at the home of his old sweetheart never dreaming that she'd still be living there after all those years. She invites him in. He accepts. The neighbors begin to talk--as neighbors do in Montgomery's stories. Will their romance be rekindled?

My thoughts: I definitely liked this one!

Romance cares not for appearances and apparently delights in contradictions. The homely shambling man you pass unnoticed on the street may have, tucked away in his past, a story more exciting and thrilling than anything you have ever read in fiction.
"What a fool you are, Jed Crane," he told himself. "You used to be a young fool, and now you're an old one. Sad, that! Get up, my nag, get up. It's a poor lookout for a man of your years, Jed. Don't get excited. It ain't the least likely that Mattie Adams is here yet. She's married and gone years ago, no doubt. It's probable there's no Adamses here at all now. But it's romantic, yes, it's romantic. It's splendid. Get up, my nag, get up."
When Selena had come over Mattie had not the slightest idea of resuming her former relationship with the romantic Jedediah. She had merely shown him kindness for old friendship's sake. But so well did the unconscious Selena work in Jed's behalf that when she flounced off home in a pet Mattie was resolved that she would take Jed back if he wanted to come. She wasn't going to put up with Selena's everlasting interference. She would show her that she was independent.
"Well, this is romance. What else would you call it now? Me, poor, scared to speak—and Mattie ups and does it for me, bless her. Yes, I've been longing for romance all my life, and I've got it at last. None of your commonplace courtships for me, I always said. Them was my very words. And I guess this has been a little uncommon—I guess it has. Anyhow, I'm uncommon happy. I never felt so romantic before. Get up, my nag, get up."
The Tryst of the White Lady
First sentence: "I wisht ye'd git married, Roger," said Catherine Ames.

Premise/plot: Does Roger fall in love with a ghost? A beautiful, impossible to obtain phantom? An old family haunt? Roger definitely is in love--or at the very least in love with love--by the end of the story. But who is the mystery girl?

My thoughts:  This is a strange story. But at least the girl is real enough.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Me? Listen to Audio #15

Crime and Punishment: A BBC Radio 4 Full Cast Dramatisation.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Adapted by Mike Walker. 3 hrs.

This one was available through my local library. 

I began reading Crime and Punishment because it was my Classics Spin winner. I believe I started reading the book in March. I finished it this week. (Hurray!!!) I celebrated by listening to an abridged audio book of it. I often award myself by either watching a film adaptation or listening to an audio adaptation. This one was a treat!

Crime and Punishment definitely comes across as a psychological drama--or thriller. I'm not sure "thriller" is the right word. But I'm not positive it's the wrong word either. DRAMA is the perfect word however.

The book keeps you very much inside the head of the narrator--Raskolnikov. That is not unusual in and of itself. But Raskolnikov is a tortured soul. And his inner voice comes across as quite mad or tortured throughout the production. In some ways I think the audio DRAMA does a better job of conveying this even more so than the book itself. (Though it is abridged.)

My review of the book.

I also listened to ORSON WELLES "War of the Worlds" Radio Broadcast. October 30, 1938. Mercury Theatre on the Air. 1 hour.

War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. It was directed by Orson Welles; it also starred Orson Welles. Did listeners really hear the radio broadcast and panic? Maybe. Maybe not. I am slightly skeptical that anyone could hear it and be fooled...for long. For one thing, I believe it says at least two to three times that it is a radio drama. Second, you'd have to REALLY suspend your disbelief to think that all of the action and drama was happening in real time. It spans WEEKS. I think the panic element of it has become a dramatic legend that is part of our culture. True or not, people may enjoy believing it. Sensational drama sells. And the idea of "the public" "the masses" going crazy is certainly sensational. I'm not convinced either way in terms of if the panic was "real" or a fabrication that grows larger and larger as the story is told and retold.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, April 20, 2018

Missing May

Missing May. Cynthia Rylant. 1992. Scholastic. 89 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.

Premise/plot: Missing May won the Newbery Medal in 1993. This novel for young readers explores grief. Summer and Ob are the central characters; they are the ones most 'missing' May. All the happiness Summer has known has been in the home of her aunt and uncle. May and Ob took her in and adopted her; times were good, love abounded. But May died in her garden, and life hasn't been the same since she's left.

Ob wants more than anything to make contact with May's spirit. Summer isn't sure that that is even possible, but she hopes it is for Ob's sake. Cletus is relatively new friend of the family. He's around Summer's age. But he has a way--a knack--with Ob that is healing and comforting. Together these three set out on a road trip. The destination? A spiritualist church that Cletus read about with a medium as a pastor. Will May reach out from beyond the grave with a message for Ob? for May?

My thoughts: Did I like it? No. Yes. No. Maybe. I'll start with what I did like. Rylant is a strong writer. She did a great job with the setting. It's set in West Virginia a place where she herself grew up. She captures a specific place--if not a specific time. Which brings me to her characterization. Her characters were human--there's a rawness to them, a take-me-like-I-am rawness. I think Cletus may just be my favorite among them. Her writing was GREAT.

Here is one of her descriptions of May:
She understood people and she let them be whatever way they needed to be. She had faith in every single person she ever met, and this never failed her, for nobody ever disappointed May. Seems people knew she saw the very best of them, and they'd turn that side to her to give her a better look. (15-16)
And one of Cletus:
Cletus had some gifts--I was learning this bit by bit--and knowing when to talk and when not to was turning out to be one of them. (37)
I can certainly see why it was honored with the Newbery award.

So what didn't I like? I didn't like the content, the story. Specifically, I did not like the ongoing quest to make contact with the dead--either through Cletus (that attempt failed) or through a professional medium (that one failed as well). In a way, it is thought-provoking. When someone you love dies--where is your hope? Is your hope in making contact with them again in the here and now? Is your hope in finding messages in feelings, signs, visions, dreams? Is your hope in mediums and psychics?

Or is your hope found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is your hope in heaven? That you will spend eternity with them in heaven because you both believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life--the only way to the Father? Is your comfort found in the Word of God? Can you find peace and comfort through the Spirit and the fellowship of believers?

Summer and Ob are both searching for peace and comfort. Specifically Summer wants Ob to come to a place of peace so that he will start living again. She fears that he has lost all the will to live. And if he's lost the will to live, then who will take care of her? who will love her?

As a Christian, I saw the lost-ness, the despair of Summer and Ob. Ob is in need of answers, in need of peace, in need of comfort. But he's seeking in the wrong places in the wrong ways. Summer is young and confused. She doesn't believe strongly--one way or the other--about the after life. I pitied them both. I'm not sure readers are supposed to pity them. I'm not sure readers are not supposed to pity them either.

Grief wears many faces. There isn't one right way to grieve. Each person is different. Christian or not--every person grieves in his or her unique way. And it's not like anyone--insider or outsider--can say a handful of phrases to 'snap someone out of their grief' to 'fix them' or 'heal them.' There are plenty of WRONG things to say that hurt instead of help. I think everyone could learn from Cletus--a bit--in just BEING there and listening. (But to be fair, Cletus is far from perfect, it is Cletus who suggests going to a professional medium.)

Would I have liked Missing May as a child? I probably would not have read it. a) I was still AVOIDING all books that had the potential for sadness. b) I was certainly reading in 1992/1993, but probably not books for this age group. c) I attended a Christian school with a small library budget and high standards of what was appropriate and inappropriate. I don't think a book with talk of mediums and contacting the dead would have made the cut. But I could be wrong. It DID win the Newbery. And I honestly can't say if the librarian was reading every book before it was ordered and placed within the collection.

Christian families shouldn't necessarily avoid the book at all costs. But if you do read it, you may want to read it together and use it as a discussion opportunity. As I said, it is thought-provoking.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by David McDuff. 1866/2002. 671 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: At the beginning of July, during a spell of exceptionally hot weather, towards evening, a certain young man came down on to the street from the little room he rented from some tenants in S--- Lane and slowly, almost hesitantly, set off towards K---n Bridge.

Premise/plot: Rodion Raskolnikov, the "hero" of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, has major issues. He's become convinced, mostly, that murder is justifiable if it's for the 'greater good' of mankind. He has thought a lot about this--even written an article about it. His abstract theory becomes his one consuming obsession.

Does he have what it takes to kill someone? More importantly perhaps, does he have what it takes to kill someone and get away it. In his mental state, he does not believe that the crime IS a crime. His "victim" (he doesn't see her as a victim) is a pawnbroker who "takes advantage" of the poor. The world would be a better place without her, wouldn't it? If it would be--and he is convinced it would be--it's the right thing to eliminate her. He plans everything out--to the best of his ability--but things don't go according to plan. He didn't plan on the victim's sister returning to their home mid-crime; he didn't plan on a second victim; he didn't plan on nearly being caught by young men who'd come to pawn their goods. He also didn't plan on his physical health coming unhinged just as his mental and emotional health was breaking down. Is his madness caused by illness? Is his illness caused by madness? Is his illness real or in his head? Is there a cure for what ails him?

His family--his mother and sister--come to St. Petersburg. His sister is newly engaged to a young man, a man Rodion disapproves of and despises. (It is mutual.) His mother is perhaps rightly worried about her son's well being. Fortunately one of Rodion's friends, Razumikhin, is there to provide comfort, support, and encouragement. 

Another family is central to the novel as well. Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov is an out-of-luck drunk whom Rodion meets early in the novel. This drunk tells the tragic story of his tragic family to anyone and everyone who will listen; he tells it with drink in hand of course. Rodion witnesses his new friend's death and makes sure that he's taken to his own home to die. He meets the soon-to-be widow, Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova, and more importantly one of his daughters, Sonya. (She's been "forced" into prostitution in an effort to keep her family alive. Her father is an incompetent drunk and her mother is dying of consumption. She has, I believe, three younger siblings.) Rodion gives the family money for the funeral. He's not trying to cause a scandal; he's moved with compassion--pity--for their plight. Sonya becomes one of the main characters of the book. She is also the first person to whom he confesses his crime. (At this point he still doesn't see it as a crime.)

Most of the novel is about the cat-and-mouse game being played by Rodion Raskolnikov and the detective Porfiry Petrovich. Rodion becomes suspicious that the detective suspects him and is trying to trap him. So he tries to stay a couple of steps ahead of him. Likewise, Porfiry KNOWS that Rodion suspects that he's suspected. He knows that Rodion is trying to stay a few steps ahead. He also knows that ultimately Rodion will fail and that justice will be done. It doesn't matter to him if the case is resolved today or next week or next month.

My thoughts: Are ideas dangerous? Can a germ--a seed--of an idea become dangerous and deadly? Do ideas have consequences? What if theories and ideas and philosophies are carried out in day to day life and bear fruit?

I don't always "like" unreliable narrators. I haven't decided if the category applies here or not. Is he mentally ill? Is he mad? Did he know right from wrong when he committed the crime? If he was insane--was the insanity long-lasting? or was it temporary? When did his madness start? And what caused it? Was the idea fermenting in his mind the root cause? Is there a cure for his madness? Even if he's punished by the state, will he ever admit moral responsibility? That is will he ever come to see his crime as a CRIME. Will he come to see that his idea of justifiable murder is reprehensible? Or will he continue to think that the only crime--the crime he's being punished for--is the crime of getting caught, the crime of being incompetent, the crime of being weak?

According to Wikipedia, Dostoyevsky was inspired by a French murderer, Pierre Francois Lacenaire.

I have shared quotes from the novel in my weekly 'My Victorian Year' posts. 

Here are my quotes from the last part of the book.
Power is given only to those who dare to lower themselves and pick it up. Only one thing matters, one thing: to be able to dare! (499)
All human beings need air, air, air...That above all else! (525)
There is nothing in the world more difficult than plain speaking, and nothing easier than flattery. If when a man is trying to speak plainly one-hundredth part of a false note creeps into what he is saying, the result is an instant dissonance, and following it--a scandal. In the case of flattery, however, even if everything in it, right down to the very last note, is false, it sounds agreeable and is received not without pleasure; even though it's a crude sort of pleasure, it's pleasure nevertheless. And no matter how crude the flattery may be, at least half of it always seems genuine. (568)
Everyone must look out for himself, and the best time is had by those who're best able to deceive themselves. (574)
But those people had the courage of their convictions, and so they were right, while I didn't, and consequently had no right to take the step I did. (649)

And here are my overall favorite quotes:
One can always forgive a man for telling lies; lying's a harmless activity, because it leads to the truth. (163)
"We've got facts," they say. But facts aren't everything: at least half the battle consists in how one makes use of them! (164)
Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human. Not one single truth has ever been arrived at without people having talked a dozen reams of nonsense, even ten dozen reams of it, and that's an honorable thing in its own way; well, but we can't even talk nonsense with our own brains! Talk nonsense to me, by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall love you for it. To talk nonsense in one's own way is almost better than to talk a truth that's someone else's; in the first instance you behave like a human being, while in the second you are merely being a parrot. (242)
We've got accustomed to making do with other people's intelligence--we're soaked in it! (242)
The harmonious individual, it needs to be said, hardly exists at all. (270)
The living soul demands to live. (305)
It's impossible to leap over nature solely by means of logic! (305)
Pain and suffering are inevitable for persons of broad awareness and depth of heart. The truly great are, in my view, always bound to feel a great sense of sadness during their time upon earth. (315)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mama Seeton's Whistle

Mama Seeton's Whistle. Jerry Spinelli. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The first whistle happened one day when Skippy Seeton was two years old. Mama Seeton came to the back door to call him in for dinner. He wasn't there. Mama Seeton was puzzled. From the kitchen window, she had been watching him play.

Premise/plot: Mama Seeton's whistle, which is described as "not a loud whistle. Or a fancy whistle. Just a simple, two-note whistle," is magical. When she whistles her children come home. Her whistle travels far and wide; her whistle proves irresistible.

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. It spans several decades. When the picture book opens, Mama Seeton is a young mother with one child: a son named Skippy. By the end, she has MANY children and MANY grandchildren.
Every day from then on, Skippy Seeton came to dinner when he heard his mother's whistle. And that's how it was when little brother Sheldon came along. And brother Stewart. And finally a sister--Sophie.
Time went by, as time does. And now the Seeton children have children of their own. And when they call them in for dinner, they do it with a whistle. It is not loud. It is not fancy. Just two simple notes that fly through the talk of people and the noise of cars and buses...until they find...every one...of Mama Seeton's grandchildren.
The story is sweet and compelling. It packs a LOT of emotion into its pages.

The illustrations are AMAZING. LeUyen Pham is without a doubt my favorite, favorite illustrator. Read the details of the illustrations. And do read the illustrator's note.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Busy Creature's Day Eating!

A Busy Creature's Day Eating! Mo Willems. 2018. Disney-Hyperion. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
A Apples!
B Berries!
C Cereal!
D Doughnuts
E Eggs
? !
F Furniture
Premise/plot: The 'creature' that stars in Mo Willem's newest book EATS just about anything and everything--whether it's good for him or not. Will there be consequences for his LARGE and CRAZY appetite?

My thoughts: This book is definitely over-the-top silly and designed to make children of a certain age giggle. For example, he is beginning to regret his life around the letter O. And P is for POTTY. I'll leave it to your imagination what V is for.

I would say there's a practical lesson in here somewhere, BUT, in all honesty the last thing you need to put on a queasy stomach is RICE, SALTINES, and TEA. Those foods are for after you've emptied out, not before.

Also, I have to wonder where his parents were while he was eating. Surely a parent should have stepped in and stopped him from eating a HUGE HOT-SAUCE HALIBUT HOAGIE.

I did not care for the illustrations--for the style of the illustrations. But I must admit the creature himself was drawn expressively.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, April 16, 2018

The Conquering Family

The Conquering Family. Thomas B. Costain. 1949. 291 pages. [Source: Library]

From the introduction: It must be said at the outset that there is no need for another history of England unless it can be given popular appeal. History, on which people depended once for enlightenment and entertainment in reading, is now little read except in classrooms, and this is due to the stern limits which historians have set for themselves.

From chapter one: It was late in September, the year was 1066, and that section of the great north highway which crosses the Aire and the Wharfe and rolls on to the city of York was black with marching soldiers.

Premise/plot: Thomas Costain wrote four (nonfiction) books on the Plantagenets. This is the first in that series. It begins with William the Conqueror and ends with the death of King John. It is packed with drama and adventure. It is an entertaining read. Plenty of familiar details--of course--but I learned many things as well.

From chapter two: The strongest of the three men had won. Never in history, perhaps, have the qualities which make a successful dictator been combined more perfectly and completely in one vigorous frame and one keen brain. William was a great warrior as well as an astute general. (13)

From chapter three: There is only one good thing to be said about the reign of William II, called Rufus or the Red. It was brief. (30)

From chapter four: Good news travels fast, even in a land where most of the roads are no better than cow trails. The word which swept over England immediately after the accession to the throne of the youngest son of William the Conqueror was so good that it set the whole countryside ablaze with joyful expectations. Henry wanted to take a Saxon princess as his bride. (43)

From chapter five: Henry I was not a great man, but was in many respects a great king. (62)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much! I would recommend it to anglophiles everywhere! I enjoyed the narrative style. I enjoyed the stories. It is written to be entertaining to the masses, if you will.

The overall 'so what' of the book is that Costain believes that England was ultimately better off because of the Norman invasion led by William the Conqueror. That it was the blending of Anglo-Saxons and Normans that made the English people GREAT. Yes, these turbulent years might have been bloody at times, unfair to some perhaps--but the ends justify the means.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Currently Reading #16

Something Old
Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]

Short Stories of Lucy Maud Montgomery from 1909-1922. L.M. Montgomery. 2008/2010. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God. (Theologians on the Christian Life). Joe Rigney. Edited by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor. 2018. Crossway. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by David McDuff. 671 pages. [Source: Library]

Here Be Dragons. Sharon Kay Penman. 1985. 704 pages. [Source: Borrowed]
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.
Renewing Your Mind: Basic Christian Beliefs You Need To Know. R.C. Sproul. 1973/1998. 218 pages. [Source; Bought]
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Keep It Short #15

This week I read three L.M. Montgomery short stories.

The Life-Book of Uncle Jesse.
First sentence: Uncle Jesse! The name calls up the vision of him as I saw him so often in those two enchanted summers at Golden Gate; as I saw him the first time, when he stood in the open doorway of the little low-eaved cottage on the harbour shore, welcoming us to our new domicile with the gentle, unconscious courtesy that became him so well.

Premise/plot: A rehearsal piece for Anne's House of Dreams. In this one, a young woman befriends a retired sea captain whose written down--in bits and pieces--his life story. It's full of adventure, drama, and heartache. He needs a writer to polish it up and make it a 'real' book. With a little help, he finds such an author and he gets to see the book published before he dies with a smile on his face.

My thoughts: This is the second 'rehearsal' for one of my favorite characters.

His tales were all literally true, and Uncle Jesse had the gift of the born story-teller, whereby "unhappy, far-off things" can be brought vividly before the hearer and made to live again in all their pristine poignancy.
A man can't pick his time for dying, Mary—jest got to go when the Captain gives his sailing orders. But if I could I'd go out when the morning comes in there at the Gate. I've watched it a many times and thought what a thing it would be to pass out through that great white glory to whatever was waiting beyant, on a sea that ain't mapped out on any airthly chart. I think, Mary, I'd find lost Margaret there."
The Little Black Doll
First sentence: Everybody in the Marshall household was excited on the evening of the concert at the Harbour Light Hotel—everybody, even to Little Joyce, who couldn't go to the concert because there wasn't anybody else to stay with Denise. 
Premise/plot: Joyce is being raised by her grandmother. She is not her grandmother's favorite; in fact, her grandmother has little affection for her. Joyce is nursing 'the French girl' Denise who is dying. Denise's 'dying' wish is to hear Madame Laurin sing. Of course, she cannot go to the concert. But can Joyce convince Madame Laurin to come to their house and sing?! She's heard that the famed singer LOVES to collect dolls and her 'little black doll' is one of a kind--a find from an Egyptian tomb.
My thoughts: Joyce gets a chance to shine in this one. It was okay for me. But it wasn't a WOW that is the best short story ever reaction either.
The Man on the Train
First sentence: When the telegram came from William George, Grandma Sheldon was all alone with Cyrus and Louise. And Cyrus and Louise, aged respectively twelve and eleven, were not very much good, Grandma thought, when it came to advising what was to be done. Grandma was "all in a flutter, dear, oh dear," as she said. 
Premise/plot: GRANDMA stays a-flutter in this amusing short story. She travels by train and is a bundle of nerves especially at the start--because you never know WHO you might meet on a train. But at one point she takes to a stranger. She talks his ear off essentially. He listens, but doesn't contribute much. But he is friendly enough to pay for her ticket--when her own gets lost--and to make sure she arrives safely to her destination (a family member's house). It isn't until a few days later that she learns WHO she met on a train.
My thoughts: Enjoyed this one very much!!!
"I shall fall and break my neck getting off the train," said Grandma pessimistically. But she was wondering at the same time whether she had better take the black valise or the yellow, and whether William George would be likely to have plenty of flaxseed in the house.
Why, she was just as comfortable as if she were in her own rocking chair at home! And there was such a lot of people to look at, and many of the ladies had such beautiful dresses and hats.
After all, the people you met on a train, thought Grandma, are surprisingly like the people you meet off it. If it had not been for wondering how she would get off at Green Village, Grandma would have enjoyed herself thoroughly.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


My Victorian Year #15

Still reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope.

Quotes from Crime and Punishment:
No, it's better in Russia: here, at least, one can blame other people for everything, and find excuses for oneself. (341)
Human nature is a mirror, sir, a mirror of the most transparent kind! (408)
Quotes from Orley Farm:
But the judge was an odd man in many of the theories of his life. One of them, with reference to his children, was very odd, and altogether opposed to the usual practice of the world. It was this, — that they should be allowed, as far as was practicable, to do what they liked. Now the general opinion of the world is certainly quite the reverse — namely this, that children, as long as they are under the control of their parents, should be hindered and prevented in those things to which they are most inclined. Of course the world in general, in carrying out this practice, excuses it by an assertion, — made to themselves or others, — that children customarily like those things which they ought not to like. But the judge had an idea quite opposed to this.
“Mr. Chaffanbrass no doubt is a very clever man, and it may be wise in such a case as this to have the services of a barrister who is perhaps unequalled in his power of cross-examining a witness.” “Does his power consist in making a witness speak the truth, or in making him conceal it?”
There are things one can’t talk about, — not to anybody. One feels as though one would burst in mentioning it. I do, I know.” Martha Biggs could not but feel that this was hard, but she knew that friendship is nothing if it be not long enduring.
Mrs. Furnival would tell Rachel but would not tell her. This was very, very hard, as Miss Biggs felt. But, nevertheless, friendship, sincere friendship is long enduring, and true patient merit will generally receive at last its appropriate reward.
There is no human bliss equal to twelve hours of work with only six hours in which to do it.
Success is the necessary misfortune of life, but it is only to the very unfortunate that it comes early.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, April 13, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #14

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. 1974.  4 LP Record Set, Abridged Audio Book. Performed by Nicol Williamson. Produced by Harley Usill. 3 hours and 30 minutes. 

I took a break this week from listening to BBC Radio dramas. I sought out an audio recording of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was DELIGHTED with this production. Yes, it's abridged. But it's well-paced and a JOY to listen to. One can always go read the book itself if you want every single word.

Listening to this one made me want to reread it again soon. I can't believe I haven't read (and reviewed) it since 2014?!

First sentence from the book: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.


“Good Morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat. “What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” “All of them at once,” said Bilbo.
“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off.”
He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he—as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful—he might have to go without.
“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
He was altogether alone. Soon he thought it was beginning to feel warm. “Is that a kind of a glow I seem to see coming right ahead down there?” he thought. It was. As he went forward it grew and grew, till there was no doubt about it. It was a red light steadily getting redder and redder. Also it was now undoubtedly hot in the tunnel. Wisps of vapour floated up and past him and he began to sweat. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him. It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.
“You have nice manners for a thief and a liar,” said the dragon. “You seem familiar with my name, but I don’t seem to remember smelling you before. Who are you and where do you come from, may I ask?” “You may indeed! I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen.” “So I can well believe,” said Smaug, “but that is hardly your usual name.” “I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number.” “Lovely titles!” sneered the dragon. “But lucky numbers don’t always come off.” “I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.” “These don’t sound so creditable,” scoffed Smaug. “I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider,” went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling. “That’s better!” said Smaug. “But don’t let your imagination run away with you!”
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, April 12, 2018


Amanda. (Sunfire #1) Candice Ransom. 1984. Scholastic. 368 pages. [Source: Library book sale]
First sentence: It had been raining forever, endless rain that dripped down the windowpanes. Amanda Bentley could not stand the cramped hotel room another minute.

Dear Scholastic:
If I thought begging would do any good, I would plead with you to republish the Sunfire romance series originally published in the 1980s. The "name" books were my favorite-and-best books from my middle years--my first introduction to the wonderful genre of historical romance. It's a love that's still going strong, by the way. I know the Sunfire books don't contain vampires, werewolves, fairies, or demons. But why should romance novels contain such in the first place. If they were worth publishing in the first place--which they so clearly were--they are worth republishing.

I have given it a lot of thought. I have. And I think it would be wonderful if the books were republished as e-books for the same price as the original paperback books were released. Granted, I would love to see PRINT copies as well. But I imagine that they would cost more than the lovely $2.95 of the originals! But for an e-book, the thought is IT'S WORTH EVERY PENNY.


Dear Candice Ransom:

Thank you a million times for being the awesome writer that you are. (Thank you for being awesome in general!) I will forever be a fan of yours--your picture books, your early readers and chapter books, and your novels. My first introduction to your work was through the Sunfire romance series. They were--they are--some of my favorite books ever. You gave me a glorious gift--a love of reading.

I still get giddy thinking about the fact that you know who I am. That in 2009 Winchester came to visit me for a few days.

As long as you keep writing, I'll keep reading.


Premise/plot: Amanda's hopes and dreams are thwarted by her father's gambling ways and big dreams. He decides to steal away from Boston--with her--and start again. On their journey south, he gets a fever to go WEST, to go to Oregon. Amanda does NOT want to go, yet, she finds herself heading west in a wagon, in a wagon train, all the same. It will be the most challenging time in her life, but will the journey change her for the better?

My thoughts: Is Amanda my favorite Sunfire romance?! Maybe. Perhaps my favorite Sunfire romance is the one I've read most recently. Though I will say Amanda is probably always in my top five.

I enjoy a good wagon train story. Why can't wagon train stories become trendy again?!

Amanda brings to mind the only western that I love. You see, I am allergic to westerns in general. The western that is an exception to the rule is WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951). 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Wonder. R. J. Palacio. 2012. Random House. 320 pages.

First sentence: I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an Xbox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go. If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing. Here's what I think: the only reason I'm not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.

Premise/plot: Wonder has many narrators but one central focus: August Pullman. Auggie is a wonder-ful kid but is he ordinary or extraordinary? Does looking different from everyone else make you abnormal and less human?

The book opens with August about to begin fifth grade at a new school. He's been home-schooled previously. Both for practical--medical--reasons and for personal--more emotional--reasons. But. The time has come. He is as ready as he'll ever be to enter the 'real' world and face the best and worst of human nature.

Before the school year begins, he meets the middle school principal, Mr. Tushman, and three of his future classmates: Julian, Jack Will, and Charlotte. But Auggie's first friend isn't a "buddy" assigned from the principal. It is a girl named Summer who joins him at the lunch table that first difficult day of school.

Via, August's older sister, has her own terrible first day of school. She's lost her best friend, Miranda, to an edgy "popular" crowd. Both Via and Auggie struggle to find that just-right "belonging" place in the wild and crazy jungle of school. Her story, in a small way, goes to show that looking normal, being pretty, isn't a guarantee of a problem-free life.

In fact, if the book has a message, it is that every single person struggles and faces challenges.

My thoughts: It is surprising that I'm just now rereading Wonder considering how much I loved, loved, loved it. Looking back, I see I reviewed it one month after its release. (Perhaps that was the best time of all to read it. Before the hype. Before the movie. I'm speaking generally.)

I loved the story, the writing, the characterization, the happy ending. What I didn't quite love was the not-so-happy ending for the dog. Don't get attached.

Favorite quotes:
When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. (48)
"Why do I have to be so ugly, Mommy?" I whispered.
"No, baby, you're not..."
"I know I am."
She kissed me all over my face. She kissed my eyes that came down too far. She kissed my cheeks that looked punched in. She kissed my tortoise mouth. She said soft words that I know were meant to help me, but words can't change my face. (60)
August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun. The only celestial body that doesn't orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that's only because to her little doggy eyes, August's face doesn't look very different from any other human's face. (82)
"Dad, I loved that helmet! It meant a lot to me! I was bummed beyond belief when it got lost--don't you remember?"
"Of course, I remember, Auggie," he said softly. "Ohh, Auggie, don't be mad. I'm sorry. I just couldn't stand seeing you wear that thing on your head anymore, you know? I didn't think it was good for you." He was trying to look me in the eye, but I wouldn't look at him. "Come on, Auggie, please try to understand," he continued, putting his hand under my chin and tilting my face toward him. "You were wearing that helmet all the time. And the real, real, real, real truth is: I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don't always love it, but you have to understand...I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately. And it kind of broke my heart that you were always covering it up." (291)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Currently Reading #15

Something Old

Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]

Short Stories of Lucy Maud Montgomery from 1909-1922. L.M. Montgomery. 2008/2010. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]

Amanda. (Sunfire #1) Candice Ransom. 1984. 368 pages. [Source: Childhood copy]

Something New
A Breath of Hope. Lauraine Snelling. 2018. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Wonder. R.J. Palacio. 2012. 316 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by David McDuff. 671 pages. [Source: Library]

The Conquering Family. Thomas B. Costain. 1949. 291 pages. [Source: Library]

Here Be Dragons. Sharon Kay Penman. 1985. 704 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

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.
Renewing Your Mind: Basic Christian Beliefs You Need To Know. R.C. Sproul. 1973/1998. 218 pages. [Source; Bought]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, April 07, 2018

Keep It Short #14

This week I read two L.M. Montgomery short stories.

The Gossip of Valley View
First sentence: It was the first of April, and Julius Barrett, aged fourteen, perched on his father's gatepost, watched ruefully the low descending sun, and counted that day lost.

Premise/plot: Julius Barrett starts a rumor that Adelia Williams and Young Thomas Everett are getting married. He tells it to the ever-serious Dan Chester. Because the source of the story is Dan, EVERYONE in town believes it. How will the gossip impact the lives of Thomas and Adelia?!?!

Young Thomas was a confirmed bachelor of fifty, and Adelia Williams was forty; they were not supposed to be even well acquainted, as the Everetts and the Williamses had never been very friendly, although no open feud existed between them.
Young Thomas laughed his big jolly laugh. Valley View gossip had been marrying him off for the last thirty years, although never before to Adelia Williams.
Young Thomas looked rather serious, however, when the minister and his wife called that evening and referred to the report. Young Thomas gravely said that it was unfounded. The minister looked graver still and said he was sorry—he had hoped it was true. His wife glanced significantly about Young Thomas's big, untidy sitting-room, where there were cobwebs on the ceiling and fluff in the corners and dust on the mop-board, and said nothing, but looked volumes.

Next Sunday in church Young Thomas looked at Adelia Williams. He caught Adelia looking at him. Adelia blushed and looked guiltily away. "Dang it all," reflected Young Thomas, forgetting that he was in church. "I suppose she has heard that fool story too. I'd like to know the person who started it; man or woman, I'd punch their head." Nevertheless, Young Thomas went on looking at Adelia by fits and starts, although he did not again catch Adelia looking at him.
If wedding presents were beginning to come, it was high time something was done. The matter was past being a joke. This affair of the present would certainly get out—things always got out in Valley View, dang it all—and he would never hear the last of it.
"I've been kind of supposing that you must be going to marry somebody, and folks just guessed it was me," said Young Thomas—he said it anxiously. "No, I'm not going to be married to anybody," said Adelia with a laugh, taking up her knitting. "I'm glad of that," said Young Thomas gravely. "I mean," he hastened to add, seeing the look of astonishment on Adelia's face, "that I'm glad there isn't any other man because—because I want you myself, Adelia."
My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. It was satisfying in every way!!!!!

The Letters
First sentence: Just before the letter was brought to me that evening I was watching the red November sunset from the library window. It was a stormy, unrestful sunset, gleaming angrily through the dark fir boughs that were now and again tossed suddenly and distressfully in a fitful gust of wind. Below, in the garden, it was quite dark, and I could only see dimly the dead leaves that were whirling and dancing uncannily over the roseless paths.

Premise/plot: Isobel is mourning the loss of her father--her only family, I believe--when she receives an unexpected letter. With that letter comes HOPE.

My thoughts: I loved and adored this story. Readers can guess early on WHO is writing the letters. But the contents of the letters are so wonderful that it's just a beautiful, satisfying, romantic story.
It was three weeks since Father had died—my proud, handsome, unrelenting old father, whom I had loved so intensely and who had never loved me. I had always accepted this fact unresentfully and unquestioningly, but it had steeped my whole life in its tincture of bitterness.

Father had never forgiven me for two things. I had cost my mother's life and I was not a son to perpetuate the old name and carry on the family feud with the Frasers.
I only knew that I grew older and that it did not matter since there was nobody to care.
After that every week brought me a letter; soon those letters were the greatest interest in my life. I had given up all attempts to solve the mystery of their coming and was content to enjoy them for themselves alone. From week to week I looked forward to them with an eagerness that I would hardly confess, even to myself.
Well, everybody has, or should have, a pet nonsense in her life. I did not think mine was any sillier than some others I knew, and to myself I admitted that it was very sweet. I knew if those letters ceased to come all savour would go out of my life.
I felt as if I were being drawn into the writer's life, admitted into the most sacred recesses of his thoughts and feelings. Yet it was all done so subtly, so delicately, that I was unconscious of the change until I discovered it in reading over the older letters and comparing them with the later ones.
From the first letter:
The pain and suffering of the world never dies, and while it lives there will be work for such as you to do, and in the doing of it you will find comfort and strength and the highest joy of living. I believe in you. I believe you will make of your life a beautiful and worthy thing. I give you Godspeed for the years to come. Out of my own loneliness I, an unknown friend, who has never clasped your hand, send this message to you. I understand—I have always understood—and I say to you: "Be of good cheer."
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Me? Listen to Audio?! #13 My Victorian Year #14

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. Dramatized by Michael Butt. Directed by Claire Grove. Originally broadcast in 1999. Three one hour episodes. Starring Benedict Sandeford as Paul Morel, Elizabeth Estenson as Gertrude Morel, Clive Russell as Walter Morel, and Fiona Clarke as Miriam.

Sons and Lovers was one of the novels by D.H. Lawrence that I was required to read in college. I honestly can't remember if it was as an undergraduate and graduate since I had Dr. Greer as an undergrad and a grad student. I had largely forgotten the story. Though I did remember enough about it to know it didn't have a tidy, happy-happy ending.

My thoughts now...there is something SO creepy about this story. I felt an almost instant dislike to the mother in story. Paul, the narrator, first shares the unhealthy attachment between his brother, William, and their mother. After William's death, the role of most-favored son and reason for her existence is transferred to him. The book is about his relationships with the women in his life. His mother, primarily. But also the women whom he lusts after. Paul has an easy time lusting, but a near impossible job respecting women. The idea of marrying is so far removed from his head as is the idea of actually LOVING a person mind, body, soul. He doesn't want to "belong" to anyone but his mother.

I can't say it was a pleasure to revisit the novel. But I think the production was well done.

Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy. 1877. Dramatized by Ed Thomason. Originally broadcast in 1997. Four one-hour episodes. Stars Teresa Gallagher as Anna Karenina, Toby Stephens as Alexis Vronsky, Nicholas Farrell as Alexis Alexandrovich Karenin, etc. Directed by David Hitchinson. 

Anna Karenina was another novel I was assigned to read in college. Again for one of Dr. Greer's classes. I will say this: everything moves MUCH, MUCH faster in the audio drama! I think they cut out some of the side stories and minor characters. I don't remember them mentioning hay even once. The story is not a romance in my opinion. Unless you're one of those types that equate romance solely with tragedy. If a novel has to have a death or two or three for it to be romantic, then yes, it's a romance. I do feel it's more of a tragedy or drama. It is compelling in its own way.

As I was listening to this one, I was thinking how it would be near impossible to update and adapt this to a contemporary setting. For those few who may not be familiar with the story: Anna is a married woman who falls in love with a military officer, Alexie Vronsky. Her love for him will drive her to despair...the 'end' begins when she realizes she's pregnant with his child. She doesn't want to live with her husband anymore, yet, she doesn't feel able to actually be with her lover either...

The Old Curiosity Shop. Charles Dickens. 1841. Dramatized in 25 episodes by Mike Walker. Originally broadcast in 2002. Twenty-five fifteen minute episodes OR Five episodes of 75 minutes. Starring Emily Chennery as Nell, Alex Jennings as the Narrator, Trevor Peacock as Grandfather, Phil Daniels as Daniel Quilp and Ben Crowe as Dick Swiveller.

I've been listening to this one as it aired since March. I can't say that it makes me want to rush out and read the book. I'm sure it has some good points in its favor, but...I can't stand the villain. And WHY did Nell have to die?!?!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Other Recommendations

Movie Recommendations

Wonder may just be my new favorite movie EVER. I love, love, love, love, love and adore it.  I should put myself back on the hold list. I watched it twice before I turned it into the library.

The Man Who Invented Christmas. I LOVED it. I really did. It made me want more movies about Dickens. Like a movie for each book he wrote! I am going to pretend that this movie is true and that it really happened just this way! And by pretend I mean "suspend my disbelief." My very first crush was on Christopher Plummer--think Sound of Music--and seeing him in anything is a TREAT. I really want to fit in another watch before turning it back into the library.

Goodbye Christopher Robin. This movie made me think. What was right for the world--the world did *need* Pooh desperately--wasn't right for Christopher Robin. I can't imagine a world without Winnie the Pooh. Yet seeing how the book--the fame--affected the family and the 'real' Christopher Robin (aka Billy Moon) was heartbreaking. This movie was so well done.

TV Shows

Mom and I finished binge-watching Call the Midwife series 1-6. Seasons 1-4 we'd probably seen two to three times before. It was our first time to rewatch season 6 since it aired. And we are LOVING that Call the Midwife is back on with season 7 on Sunday nights! Without a doubt, it's our favorite-and-best show.

Merlin. I've seen about two or three more episodes of season three. I have two episodes left in the season. I love this show but that almost works against it. I am probably a lot more anxious than I should be about the fates of my favorite characters. But I can't help it.

Great British Baking Show.
I'm not sure *which* season I'm in. I just know it's the newest season available via NetFlix.

Timeless. I am trying to stay caught up with this second season as it airs. But inevitably I'm always a few days late.


I haven't really been trying "new" teas lately. But my favorite combination of the moment is Cozy Camomile and Buttermint. I don't like Buttermint on its own. And Cozy Camomile on its own isn't quite enough for me either. But together--magic.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, April 06, 2018

Night Out

Night Out. Daniel Miyares. 2018. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: All alone. An invitation? A decision.

Premise/plot: A lonely boarding school student has a once-in-a-lifetime adventure leading to a fantastical story to relate to his classmates the next morning.

My thoughts: How many times should you have to read a picture book to know if you liked it? I know two times wasn't enough to persuade me to like-like it. But I did like it more the second time than the first.

The text is sparse to say the least. One is really "reading" the illustrations. The pictures do a good job of conveying the themes of this story: loneliness and a longing to belong. One of the first spreads shows the boy eating dinner all alone. This isolation continues through the evening. But by the next morning, things have started to shift--a new day with new opportunities has dawned for the boy. The difference? An adventure that only a dreamer could have.

I wanted to like this one more than I did. I should like a book where the ADVENTURE ends up in a tea party. But it is such an odd gathering. I had trouble suspending my disbelief if I'm honest.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, April 05, 2018


Zucchini. Barbara Dana. 1982. 160 pages. [Source: Childhood Copy]

First sentence: Zucchini was born in the rodent house at the Bronx Zoo. When he was six weeks old, the rodent man put him in a cage of his own, separating him from his mother. It was time for him to be independent.

Premise/plot: Zucchini is a black-footed ferret who longs for freedom and a home of his own choosing. Will he get his happily ever after? Billy is a young boy, a shy boy, who needs to find his own place to belong.

My thoughts: I have a love/hate relationship with animal fantasy. I was hoping that Zucchini would not be another Stuart Little. I wanted--needed--a good, solid ending that had a point. I was satisfied with both stories.
Billy had always been shy. At least that's the way it had been for as long as he could remember. Sometimes, when he had nothing better to do, he would try and figure out what it was that had started the shyness, or when it was that it started, but he couldn't remember. His teachers at school said it was because Billy's parents were divorced. They had been divorced two years, and Billy lived with his mother and stepfather. His real father was an actor in Los Angeles, California, and Billy didn't get to see him very much.
It's hard getting used to a stepfather," Billy's teachers would say. "That's why William is withdrawn."
Billy didn't like being called William, and he didn't think his teachers were right, not completely right anyway. He remembered always liking to be quiet. Even as a tiny boy there was so much to look at and listen to, so much to understand. Too much talking got in the way. (42)
I love how Billy's love for Zucchini pushes him out of his comfort zone and he learns that he can be okay, that he can talk to strangers, that he can speak up and speak out. I love how friendship changes Zucchini and he realizes that some things are more important than independence. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Find A Stranger, Say Goodbye

Find A Stranger, Say Goodbye. Lois Lowry. 1978/2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

"If you get a fat letter, it means you've been accepted. If you get a thin letter, forget it."

Natalie Armstrong is about to graduate from high school. The year is 1977. Before she begins college, Natalie wants to search for her biological mother. She loves, loves, loves her parents. Her father is a doctor, and she wants to be one too. Her mother is wonderful kind of crazy. Her younger sister, Nancy, is a true friend. She's not wanting to find her mother out of emptiness or loneliness. Not really. But the need to know her mother, her mother's story, is strong.

Her parents gift her--for graduation--a box with all the information they have on her adoption. Her grandmother gifts her with correspondence. (Letters from her mother to Natalie's grandmother).

Where will her journey take her?

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much. It is a thoughtful character-driven novel. I loved spending time with Natalie and her family. My two favorite characters were Natalie and her grandmother, Tallie. I especially loved their conversations together. I also love how it captures the promise and potential of that time of life. Everything is in a state of change, the only thing certain is that one door has closed forever. 
"Sometimes we have to hurt people, in order to keep ourselves whole. We must just do it with love, that's all."
"That doesn't make much sense to me," admitted Natalie.
"Where is it written that anything has to make sense? All I mean is that when you have to hurt someone you love, do it honestly. And you're doing that. You could have sneaked around and done what you're doing. It would have been more difficult, of course, but you could have done it, Natalie. And you didn't. You told them exactly what you were doing. And it hurt, but they know you love them." (63)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Uneasy Terms

Uneasy Terms. (Slim Callaghan #7) Peter Cheyney. 1947. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: The wind came in from the sea, driving the rain before it. It descended in sheets beating down on the rolling Sussex Downs, forming little rivulets that ran swiftly down the gutters of the winding roads about Alfriston. The wind howled dismally through the woods that topped the long rise of downland behind the village.

Premise/plot: If only the mother could have foreseen that her will would lead to murder...

Viola Alardyse is the oldest daughter. Her inheritance will be lost IF she is married at the time of her mother's death or if she gets married.
Corinne Alardyse is the middle daughter. She gets the inheritance if her older sister marries, but only so long as she remains unmarried herself.
Patricia Alardyse is the youngest daughter. Again, she gets the inheritance if and only if both of her sisters have married and if she herself remains unmarried.

If all three sisters marry, then everything goes to charity.

The book begins with an argument over dinner. The sisters live with their maternal aunt--their mother's sister--and their stepfather--their mother's second husband. The sisters are fighting with each other but also with their stepfather. He shares a startling bit of news: he has heard some rumors and he's going to hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of it.

Enter Slim Callaghan, a private investigator. What will he make of Viola? of Corinne? of Patricia? He won't have a chance to form an opinion of the stepfather--Colonel Stenhurst. Before they can meet, his body is found.

My thoughts: Peter Cheyney is a new-to-me author. This was my first introduction to the British private investigator, Slim Callaghan. He seems to love women and booze. But he stays on task--mainly. Even if he's led in part by his lusty intuition.

I saw a few of the twists coming early on. But I didn't mind because it can be quite satisfying to guess right in a mystery.

'I never take advice, Miss Alardyse,' he said. 'I've found that other people's advice doesn't often interest me. I prefer to make my own mistakes.' He grinned at her, almost insolently. (57)
'I've always believed that as between a client and a private detective there is nothing like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.' (101)
'I have broad shoulders and I like a lot of clients.' (193)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, April 02, 2018

Currently Reading #14

Something Old
Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]

Short Stories of Lucy Maud Montgomery from 1909-1922. L.M. Montgomery. 2008/2010. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]

Uneasy Terms. (Slim Callaghan #7) Peter Cheyney. 1947. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]

Something New
A Breath of Hope. Lauraine Snelling. 2018. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life: Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire. Jason Meyer. 2018. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by David McDuff. 671 pages. [Source: Library]

The Conquering Family. Thomas B. Costain. 1949. 291 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. 

 The Glory of Christ. R.C. Sproul. 1990. 223 pages. [Source: 223 pages.]

Old Paths. J.C. Ryle. 536 pages.

© 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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