Saturday, July 21, 2018

Keep It Short #28

I read two stories in Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book: Prince Darling and Blue Beard. I can't imagine two stories being more different from one another!

Prince Darling

First sentence:
ONCE upon a time there lived a king who was so just and kind that his subjects called him “the Good King.” It happened one day, when he was out hunting, that a little white rabbit, which his dogs were chasing, sprang into his arms for shelter. The King stroked it gently, and said to it:
“Well, bunny, as you have come to me for protection I will see that nobody hurts you.”
And he took it home to his palace and had it put in a pretty little house, with all sorts of nice things to eat.

Premise/plot: The good King has a not-so-good son whose worth will have to be tested before he can have his happily ever after. The 'bunny' his father saved was the fairy TRUTH. And TRUTH will do her best to guide the new king--the prince--when the time comes for him to reign. But will he be guided by the truth and rule wisely? OR will he become a selfish, cruel king who needs to be taught a lesson or two?

My thoughts: I really liked this one. It's for stories like this one that I keep reading.

Blue Beard
First sentence:
There was a man who had fine houses, both in town and country, a deal of silver and gold plate, embroidered furniture, and coaches gilded all over with gold. But this man was so unlucky as to have a blue beard, which made him so frightfully ugly that all the women and girls ran away from him.
One of his neighbors, a lady of quality, had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He desired of her one of them in marriage, leaving to her choice which of the two she would bestow on him. They would neither of them have him, and sent him backward and forward from one another, not being able to bear the thoughts of marrying a man who had a blue beard, and what besides gave them disgust and aversion was his having already been married to several wives, and nobody ever knew what became of them.
Blue Beard, to engage their affection, took them, with the lady their mother and three or four ladies of their acquaintance, with other young people of the neighborhood, to one of his country seats, where they stayed a whole week.

Premise/plot: Blue Beard may be ugly but this is no Beauty and the Beast or East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

My thoughts: This may be one of the most disturbing stories I've read so far. I don't particularly like horror stories--and this is a horror story. Would this latest wife of Bluebeard gotten a happily ever after with Bluebeard if she hadn't been so curious and disobeyed her husband? I doubt it. Obviously Bluebeard is a dark, twisted, violent soul. It would have just been a matter of time, in my opinion. Having the knowledge even just for a short time of who her husband really was probably gave her just enough time to contact her brothers and gotten HELP to get out.


© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Rachel Ray (My Victorian Year #28)

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

First sentence: There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees; — for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary;

Premise/plot: Rachel Ray would be wooed by Luke Rowan--if only her mother and older sister would allow it. But will they?

Rachel's older sister, Dorothea, aka MRS. Prime, is a busy-body, aka "charitable church woman" whose number one business seems to be making sure that her sister says single and under her management. Is that a fair assessment? Perhaps not. It isn't Rachel she wants to control her so much as everyone within her power--notably her mother. If Rachel won't be bossed by her--dictated to by her--then she'll try applying pressure to their mother. Rachel is the type of daughter who would never, ever, ever, ever disobey her mother.

Is Mrs. Ray easy to manipulate? Yes. No. Usually. Sometimes. Mrs. Ray is equally impressed by whomever she's talking to. So for Mrs. Prime to have an influence on her, she has to stick to her constantly and not let anyone else get a word in. That proves impossible--so Mrs. Ray gains some freedom and independence from her daughter. But will it be enough?

It seems to be once Luke meets Mrs. Ray and the two begin to be friendly with one another. But that's not taking into account his family. And his family seems to be just as dysfunctional as hers.

Will these two ever come together long enough to make a match of it? Probably--it is Trollope and not Hardy. But it will literally take the whole village to sort it out.

My thoughts: I'm so glad that Trollope is Trollope and not Hardy. If Thomas Hardy had written Rachel Ray then Dorothea would have been proven right. Luke Rowan likely would have been a smooth talker who seduced a young naive girl, Rachel Ray, and left her with promises of a ring but no actual intentions. Rachel Ray would have ended up pregnant and the shame of the village--if she didn't kill herself before the town knew she was with child. Luke's rumored debts would not have been rumors but the truth. Mrs. Ray would have probably cried equal amounts in both versions because some things are just unavoidable.

Rachel Ray--the character--is not a feisty heroine. She's not a rule-breaker or a rebel. If her mother says don't write this fellow, she's not going to write him. If her mother says the engagement is off, then Rachel is going to accept it as fact even if it breaks her heart. Does she take the 'honoring her parents' thing a little too much to heart? Perhaps for the modern reader's taste. To submit to the authority of one's parents--especially in love--seems to make you weak and stupid...according to the world today. But what makes Rachel weak by today's standards make her morally good by older standards.

Rachel reminds me a bit of Jane Bennet.

Descriptions of Mrs. Prime:
Her fault was this; that she had taught herself to believe that cheerfulness was a sin, and that the more she became morose, the nearer would she be to the fruition of those hopes of future happiness on which her heart was set.
Such a one as Mrs. Prime is often necessary. But we all have our own pet temptations, and I think that Mrs. Prime’s temptation was a love of power.

Her sister was, in truth, only seven years her senior, but in all the facts and ways of life, she seemed to be the elder by at least half a century.
"Flirting" in Rachel Ray:
“I never knew anybody before called Rachel,” said he. “And I never knew anybody called Luke.” “That’s a coincidence, is it not? — a coincidence that ought to make us friends.
 “one word, and then I will let you go.” “What word?” “Say to me, ‘Dear Luke, I will be your wife.’“
“I don’t dislike you,” she whispered. “And do you love me?” She slightly bowed her head. “And you will be my wife?” Again she went through the same little piece of acting.
“Call me Luke,” he said. “Call me by my own name.”
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Me? Listen to Audio?! #28

Uglies. Scott Westerfeld. Read by Carine Montbertrand. 2006. Recorded Books. 12 hrs and 22 minutes.

I'm stubborn. I am. If I wasn't so stubborn I wouldn't stick with good books with bad narrators.

I have very good memories--happy, happy--memories of first reading Scott Westerfeld's Uglies. When Rose Brock tells you that you should read a book, you should read it. It will be fabulous.

My memories of the audio book won't be so happy. I didn't mind her Tally voice. But almost every other single voice she does is incredibly annoying, obnoxious, irritating. Her Shay voice is the absolute worst character voice I've ever heard for any audio book.

I believe the book has been done with other narrators. That would be a GREAT thing. Every book deserves a good audio book adaptation.

My original original review:

Set three to four hundred years in the future, Uglies, a dystopia, focuses on a global community of pretty people. Tally Youngblood introduces readers to this picture-perfect community where appearances are not a matter of one's genes but a matter of extensive plastic surgeries planned by the Community of Morphological Standards. Tally and Shay are best friends awaiting their sixteenth birthdays and their surgeries after which they'll leave Uglyville behind and join the New Pretties. But Shay doubts that the "Pretty Committee" is as concerned with equality and justice as it appears, suspecting that ulterior motives may lay behind the surface. Days before her sixteenth birthday, Shay runs away leaving a cryptic message for her friend to find the way to Smoke, the rebel community of "ugly" outsiders. When the authorities discover Shay's disappearance, Tally is asked to make the hardest decision of her life: betray Shay and the rebel community to the authorities or face living life ugly.

Uglies is a fast-paced novel taking a typical YA topic--self esteem, conformity, and the perception of beauty--and treating it in a new and ultimately satisfying way by speculating about where current values of beauty and perfection might lead us as a society if taken to the extreme. By setting Uglies in the future instead of a contemporary high school, Westerfeld is able to provide reflection and commentary on a serious topic in a new and original way.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, July 20, 2018

Ruthless Tide

Ruthless Tide: The Tragic Epic of the Johnstown Flood. Al Roker. 2018. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Johnny, who made the world?" The Sunday School teacher asked. That was easy. "The Cambria Iron Company!" the boy replied. That's the story they like to tell, anyway, in and around Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. Little Gertrude Quinn was only six that year, and even she, like the fictitious Johnny, knew how important iron and steel and the Cambria Works were to the life that she, her family, and everybody they knew were living here in the deep valley of the Conemaugh River under the abrupt rise of the Allegheny Mountains.

Premise/plot: Ruthless Tide is a new nonfiction book about the Johnstown Flood. The first third is about what led to the disaster. The iron and steel industry. The erosion of the land. The building of the dam and lake. The selfishness then negligence of the sports club. This section includes mini-biographies of men like Andrew Carnegie, Daniel J. Morrell, Benjamin Ruff, Henry Clay Frick, etc. The second third is about the disaster itself: first the flood, then the dam breaking, and finally the fires that burned as a result of the destruction. This section introduces or in some cases reintroduces readers to the men, women, and children of the town(s) in the path of the monster. It is a limited account, but, better to follow a few accounts that are based on published accounts than to follow hundreds of fictional accounts. The last third is devoted to the aftermath of the disaster. It's titled" Justice and Charity." Here readers see the Red Cross stepping into the scene of a disaster and gaining attention and respect for their relief response. Also readers read not of the justice of the legal system but the injustice of it.

My thoughts: I read this in one evening. I found it an interesting read. I've read reviews criticizing the writing, but for me I wasn't paying attention to the writing but to the content.

Do I ever read a book and count the words in a sentence? Do I ever consider the length of the sentences in any given paragraph? Am I hyper-critical of any writer? Oh, that sentence would have sounded better if it had had seven words instead of five.

Perhaps just perhaps people are super-critical of the "writing" because of the author being a celebrity, Al Roker. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Unicorn Magic

Unicorn Magic. Sabina Gibson. 2018. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Periwinkle lived in the Forever Forest with her unicorn friends. Every unicorn in the land was born with a magical power.

Premise/plot: Periwinkle, the blue unicorn, is sad, sad, super-sad because she doesn't think she has any magical powers. Her friend, Birdie, cheers her up by telling her to 'believe in magic and follow your heart.' Periwinkle is thankful for the friendship--and the advice--it's advice she passes on to all of her friends who just so happened to be facing their own discouragements that morning. Will her words be taken to heart?

My thoughts: Unicorn Magic may be an absolute must for little unicorn lovers. I would recommend it to unicorn-lovers for the illustrations alone. There is something mesmerizing about them. But does it have a wider appeal? I'm not sure. I'm not. Reading picture books is super-subjective after all.

For me I found the message to be predictable and generic. I'm just thankful it didn't include a SONG to sing the message at me with the turn of every page. Do we really need to hammer in the message that all of life's problems can be solved by 'following one's heart'? OR that all the magic you need to succeed comes from deep within?

I liked one theme in this one--friends encourage one another. But the other themes not so much.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Roller Skates

Roller Skates. Ruth Sawyer. 1936. 186 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Spring has come; windows are open.

Premise/plot: Roller Skates is set in New York City in the 1890s. Lucinda Wyman, our roller-skating heroine, will be staying with the Misses Peters (Miss Peters, Miss Nettie) while her parents go abroad for a year. She'll still have to visit her prim and proper relatives once a week, but, most of her time is her own...and she'll use it to make friends with anyone and everyone regardless of their age, gender, and/or social class.

My thoughts: If I'd read this book in one or two days instead of three or four weeks, would I have liked it better? Probably. Reading one or two chapters per week killed the enjoyment I might have gotten from the story.

To be honest the introduction also unsettled me a bit. Who is narrating the introduction? Who is the unnamed old friend Lucinda is visiting? How many years have passed? Were they children together? Or is the unnamed old friend one of the adult friends she made? Is the unnamed friend a man or a woman? Why did Lucinda give this person her diary? And why didn't the book END with her giving someone her diary? Why did the end absolutely not tie back to the introduction at all?

I will need to reread this at some point to give it a better chance to charm me.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

East of Eden

East of Eden. John Steinbeck. 1952. 601 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. 

Premise/plot: East of Eden is near-impossible to summarize in a few sentences. Other than the human condition--the human character itself--I'm not sure it is technically about anything. It examines why we are the way we are, how we justify the choices we make, how easy it is to deceive ourselves and others. Can you ever really know another person and love them unconditionally? Is every person a broken mess? Are some people better at hiding their brokenness?

Cyrus Trask has two sons--each by a different woman. Adam is his first born. Cyrus has IDEAS, fixed ideas about who Adam should be, what Adam should do. Charles is his second son. And Cyrus isn't any better at seeing the real Charles than he is the real Adam. The difference is that Cyrus doesn't even try the tiniest bit to love Charles. Charles from an early age knows that his father doesn't love him the same--treat him the same. And his deep hurt causes him to be mean. Self-control isn't his best quality--especially as a growing boy.

Adam and Charles do come to terms with each other--after their father's death. The two even become surprisingly close considering how volatile the relationship was when they were growing up. But someone does come between them again--a woman.

Cathy. Is Cathy the serpent in the garden of Eden? Perhaps. She's dangerous and manipulative, selfish and controlling. And she becomes the mother of Adam's twin sons: Caleb and Aron.

Caleb and Aron might have easily been orphans or near-orphans. Cathy's flight was interrupted by an extremely shocked Adam. She shot him when he got between her and the door, her and FREEDOM. After he was shot by his wife, he lost the will to live if by living you mean functioning in any normal, healthy way. For the first year--maybe even a little longer--the two boys didn't even have names.

But friends can take the place of family. Enter Samuel Hamilton and Lee. Lee is a "Chinaman" who worked for Adam since he moved to California. (Lee never really liked Cathy, found her unreadable, almost soulless. Samuel, a neighbor, also got a very vibe when around her.) Lee raised the boys, loved them like they were his own flesh and blood. Both Samuel and Lee were able to speak truth--the hard, cold, brutal TRUTH that he desperately needed to hear to wake him up and give him reason to live.

Many years pass in the novel. In fact, most of the novel takes place when Cal and Aron are near-grown sons, in their final years of high school. Readers see that Adam is blind to the fact that he's repeating the exact same mistakes his father made with him and Charles. Oh, he thinks he sees the situation clearly enough NOT to be making those same mistakes. Aron can do no wrong and Adam doesn't see any reason why Aron won't fulfill all his hopes and dreams. Cal's mistakes and brokenness are quite obvious to one and all. He's honest to everyone about his shortcomings. Surprisingly so in many ways. Cal seems all too self-aware; Aron, well, he lives in a dream world of his own making.

A large part of Aron's dream world is ABRA. The two met as children. It didn't take long for Aron to know that she was the one, that she was his storybook love, that their happily ever afters were tied to one another. But this fantasy story isn't enough for Abra. Not when she feels misunderstood and ignored. Aron, she thinks, has no interest in seeing the real her, the flesh-and-blood her, the her that is all-too-human. A future with Aron would mean being or becoming HIS version of Abra. She doesn't want that--but she's not quite sure how to break into Aron's dream world and introduce reality.

Cal accepts reality as is. Oh he has hopes and dreams. One hope is that his father might one day love him as he loves Aron. But he knows that may never happen. Fortunately, Cal has LEE and ABRA to keep him grounded.

Aron's dream world is destined to crash and crumble, and unfortunately Cal is responsible for throwing Aron into the deep end of reality leaving him to sink or swim. He feels that responsibility. One could argue that someone should have taken that responsibility much, much, much earlier. That the secret should never have been a secret that long. Still, it was not done from a place of loving concern but of misdirected anger.

Can Cal ever forgive himself? Can others forgive him too?

My thoughts: I found it a difficult read to get into at first. But by the end I was fully engaged. It is a well-written, thought-provoking read. It touches on the nature versus nurture argument. But what I enjoyed most were the themes of friendship and family.

It doesn't matter that Cathy was what I have called a monster. Perhaps we can't understand Cathy, but on the other hand we are capable of many things in all directions, of great virtues and great sins. And who in his mind has not probed the black water?
Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong. But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water? It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them. (447)
There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension. (482)
"The ways of sin are curious," Samuel observed. "I guess if a man had to shuck off everything he had, inside and out, he'd manage to hide a few little sins somewhere for his own discomfort. They're the last things we'll give up." (484)
When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else. (586)
Whenever a human has a nickname it is a proof that the name given him was wrong. (588)
"No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us." (594)
"IF a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule--a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting--only the deeply personal and familiar." (596)
In the dawn Dessie was awakened by the chill of pain that came to her at intervals. It was a rustle and a threat of pain; it scampered up from her side and across her abdomen, a nibbling pinch and then a little grab and then a hard catch and finally a fierce grip as though a huge hand had wrenched her. When that relaxed she felt a soreness like a bruise. It didn't last very long, but while it went on the outside world was blotted out, and she seemed to be listening to the struggle in her body. (730)
Nearly everyone has his box of secret pain, shared with no one. (815)
Try to believe that things are neither so good nor so bad as they seem to you now. (829)
Laughter at yourself comes last of all in a mad race with death, and sometimes it isn't in time. (835)
Nobody has the right to remove any single experience from another. Life and death are promised. We have a right to pain. (937)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, July 16, 2018

Currently #29

Something Old
The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by Richard Pevear. 1844/2006. 704 pages. [Source: Bought]
Rachel Ray. Anthony Trollope. 1863. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
The Romanov Empress. C.W. Gortner. 2018. 431 pages. [Source: Review copy]
More Than Meets the Eye. Karen Witemeyer. 2018. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Something Borrowed
The Year We Sailed the Sun. 2015. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
Something True 
Daily Chronological Bible: KJV Edition. Holman Bible Publishers. 2014. 1440 pages. [Source: Free giveaway]

Heaven. Randy Alcorn. 2004. Tyndale. 533 pages. [Source: Gift]

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew. J.C. Ryle. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, July 14, 2018

My Victorian Year #27

I'm currently reading Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers and Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray. I'm really enjoying both books. Though one is packed with more adventure than the other.

I'll start with The Three Musketeers.
"And now, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, without bothering to explain his conduct to Porthos, "all for one and one for all--that's our motto, isn't it?"
"But still..." said Porthos.
"Hold out your hand and swear!" Athos and Aramis cried at once. Defeated by example, grumbling quietly, Porthos held out his hand and the four friends repeated with one voice the formula dictated by d'Artagnan: "All for one and one for all." (105)
 "Young man," he said to d'Artagnan, "a piece of advice."
"You could be bothered because of what has just happened."
"You think so?"
"Yes. Do you have a friends whose watch runs slow?"
"Go to see him, so that he can testify that you were with him at half-past nine. In legal circles, that is known as an alibi." (114)
"If you could see into my open heart," said d'Artagnan, "you would read so much curiosity in it that you would have pity on me, and so much love that you would satisfy my curiosity that same instant. There is nothing to fear from those who love you."
"You are rather quick to speak of love, Monsieur!" said the young woman shaking her head.
"That is because love has come to me quickly and for the first time, and I am not yet twenty years old. (126)
Rachel Ray. Mr. Comfort's advice has been sought and he's changed sides. He now says that Mrs. Ray should not encourage Rachel and Luke's relationship. That Rachel should reply to his letter--but only to end things. Rachel does so, but in obeying her mother--who's obeying a minister--she's breaking her heart. A broken, sad Rachel is not a happy companion she finds. Mrs. Ray does have a chance encounter with Luke Rowan, however, when she goes into the city on business.
Of the truth, or want of truth in every word spoken to us, we judge, in great part, by the face of the speaker. By the face of every man and woman seen by us, whether they speak or are silent, we form a judgment, — and in nine cases out of ten our judgment is true.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Keep It Short #27

I read two tales this week from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book.

The Goose Girl

First sentence: Once upon a time an old queen, whose husband had been dead for many years, had a beautiful daughter. When she grew up she was betrothed to a prince who lived a great way off. Now, when the time drew near for her to be married and to depart into a foreign kingdom, her old mother gave her much costly baggage, and many ornaments, gold and silver, trinkets and knicknacks, and, in fact, everything that belonged to a royal trousseau, for she loved her daughter very dearly. She gave her a waiting-maid also, who was to ride with her and hand her over to the bridegroom, and she provided each of them with a horse for the journey. Now the Princess’s horse was called Falada, and could speak.
When the hour for departure drew near the old mother went to her bedroom, and taking a small knife she cut her fingers till they bled; then she held a white rag under them, and letting three drops of blood fall into it, she gave it to her daughter, and said: “Dear child, take great care of this rag: it may be of use to you on the journey.”

Premise/plot: A princess' happily ever after is put on hold when a maid revolts and demands to swap places with her. The princess--now dressed as a maid and in fear of her life--becomes a goose girl. the maid--now dressed as a princess and feeling quite smug--becomes a bride. But justice does prevail in the end. Even if things do NOT turn out well for the horse.

 My thoughts: I became familiar with this story because of Shannon Hale's novel adaptation of it.

Toads and Diamonds

First sentence: THERE was once upon a time a widow who had two daughters. The eldest was so much like her in the face and humor that whoever looked upon the daughter saw the mother. They were both so disagreeable and so proud that there was no living with them.
The youngest, who was the very picture of her father for courtesy and sweetness of temper, was withal one of the most beautiful girls ever seen. As people naturally love their own likeness, this mother even doted on her eldest daughter and at the same time had a horrible aversion for the youngest—she made her eat in the kitchen and work continually.

Premise/plot: You reap what you sow. The lovely younger daughter is rewarded for her kindness by a fairy. Every time she speaks diamonds, pearls, jewels come out. The older daughter with the rotten character is also rewarded by a fairy--for her attitude. Every time she speaks toads and snakes come out. There's no hiding her ugliness now.

My thoughts: I think I have read this one several times before. Though I didn't grow up with it, I think it's one of my new favorites.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Me? Listen to Audio?! #27

Celebrated Crimes, Volume III: Mary Stuart. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by George Burnham Ives. Before 1870. Read by John Van Stan for Librivox. 6 hours and 25 minutes.

This week I listened to volume three of Alexandre Dumas' Celebrated Crimes. (For the record, I have not read or listened to volumes one or two). The subject of the volume is Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

First sentence: Some royal names are predestined to misfortune: in France, there is the name "Henry". Henry I was poisoned, Henry II was killed in a tournament, Henry III and Henry IV were assassinated. As to Henry V, for whom the past is so fatal already, God alone knows what the future has in store for him.

In Scotland, the unlucky name is "Stuart". Robert I, founder of the race, died at twenty-eight of a lingering illness. Robert II, the most fortunate of the family, was obliged to pass a part of his life, not merely in retirement, but also in the dark, on account of inflammation of the eyes, which made them blood-red. Robert III succumbed to grief, the death of one son and the captivity of other. James I was stabbed by Graham in the abbey of the Black Monks of Perth. James II was killed at the siege of Roxburgh, by a splinter from a burst cannon. James III was assassinated by an unknown hand in a mill, where he had taken refuge during the battle of Sauchie. James IV, wounded by two arrows and a blow from a halberd, fell amidst his nobles on the battlefield of Flodden. James V died of grief at the loss of his two sons, and of remorse for the execution of Hamilton. James VI, destined to unite on his head the two crowns of Scotland and England, son of a father who had been assassinated, led a melancholy and timorous existence, between the scaffold of his mother, Mary Stuart, and that of his son, Charles I. Charles II spent a portion of his life in exile. James II died in it. The Chevalier Saint-George, after having been proclaimed King of Scotland as James VIII, and of England and Ireland as James III, was forced to flee, without having been able to give his arms even the lustre of a defeat. His son, Charles Edward, after the skirmish at Derby and the battle of Culloden, hunted from mountain to mountain, pursued from rock to rock, swimming from shore to shore, picked up half naked by a French vessel, betook himself to Florence to die there, without the European courts having ever consented to recognise him as a sovereign. Finally, his brother, Henry Benedict, the last heir of the Stuarts, having lived on a pension of three thousand pounds sterling, granted him by George III, died completely forgotten, bequeathing to the House of Hanover all the crown jewels which James II had carried off when he passed over to the Continent in 1688—a tardy but complete recognition of the legitimacy of the family which had succeeded his. In the midst of this unlucky race, Mary Stuart was the favourite of misfortune.
The introduction reminded me of the lovely Horrible Histories songs about the Stuarts, "The Blue Blooded Blues."

I found this a difficult one to listen to. I like history. I like biography. I like to think of myself of having a good attention span when it comes to both. It may not be Dumas' fault. It may be the reader of the audio book, John Van Stan, or this reader.

I may still be willing to read the book at some point.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, July 13, 2018

Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Collection. Scharles M Schulz. 2018. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
This graphic novel is a blend of new stories starring the Peanuts cast and classic Peanuts strips by Charles M Schulz.

The new stories are "Charlie Brown's Star" by Jeff Dyer, "Public Speaking" by Bob Scott, "Snowball's Chance" by Justin Thompson, "She Love Me, She Loves Me Not," by Jeff Dyer, "Dear Pen Pal" by Vicki Scott, "Blind as a Bat" by Jeff Dyer, "Football Basics" by Vicki Scott, "Fight for Flight" by Shane Houghton, "Spring Training" by Shane Houghton.

Longer stories by Schulz include: "The Carousel," "Poor Chuck," and "Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown."

 My favorite story in this new collection is "Dear Pen Pal." In this one, Sally takes over writing a letter for her big brother. He is writing a pen pal. Sally is quite proud of herself for having learned to write in cursive the letters A through N. But Sally's idea of what should go into a letter is quite different from Charlie Brown's idea. Will this letter ever get written?
Charlie Brown: If you can't write 'Dear Pen Pal,' what can you write?
Sally: "Thank you for the cookies!"
Charlie Brown: But he didn't send me cookies.
Sally: He didn't send you cookies?? Then why in the world are you writing to this kid?! The only reason to write a letter is to thank someone for sending a gift! And the only reason to thank someone for a gift is so they send another one! Until this kid sends you cookies, I don't see any reason I should learn to write the letter "P"!!
I enjoyed the book. Perhaps I'd have loved it even more with less sports. But this one still had some great moments.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rudi and the Distelfink

Rudi and the Distelfink. F.N. Monjo. Illustrated by George Kraus. 1972. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: On our farm, first of all, there's me Rudi Schimmelpfennig. Then there's my Vati--that's for Papa, in Pennsylvania Dutch, ja? And my Mutti, Mama. And Mutti's Mama Grossmutter Ritter--like you say, my granny. And plenty kinder. That's us Schimmelpfennig children. I mean you'd think there were plenty, except for what Mutti says.

Premise/plot: This book invites you to spend a year with the Schimmelpfennig family. Rudi, our narrator, is one of twelve children. It's set in Pennsylvania in the 1820s. What can happen to one family in the course of a year?! A lot.

My thoughts: Though published in 1972, I can't recall reading this one as a child. Would I have liked it? I did like historical fiction and family stories. So there's a chance I would have. I can easily say that I like it now. It is a quiet gem of a book.

I like the focus of family. I like the focus on culture--way of life--and traditions. I like that we get at least one page of text per month. (Some months like August and December get two pages of text.)

It would definitely be for older readers despite the picture book format.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Little Brothers and Little Sisters

Little Brothers & Little Sisters. Monica Arnaldo. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In nearly every neighborhood of almost every town, you will find little brothers and little sisters, all longing for the same few things...

Premise/plot: What do little brothers and little sisters want?! Arnaldo's new picture book explores just that in a fun and sweet way.

My thoughts: I love, love, love, LOVE this sweet and funny picture book. It is VERY true to life. The first half looks at some of the negatives of being a little brother or sister. The second half looks at some of the positives of being a little brother or sister. So much of the human story is communicated in just a few words.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, July 09, 2018

Currently #28

Something Old
The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by Richard Pevear. 1844/2006. 704 pages. [Source: Bought]

Roller Skates. Ruth Sawyer. 1986. 186 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]
Something New
The Year We Sailed the Sun. 2015. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Something Borrowed
Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Collection. Scharles M Schulz. 2018. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True 

Daily Chronological Bible: KJV Edition. Holman Bible Publishers. 2014. 1440 pages. [Source: Free giveaway]

Heaven. Randy Alcorn. 2004. Tyndale. 533 pages. [Source: Gift]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, July 07, 2018

My Victorian Year #26

What am I currently reading that was published during the Victorian period? Well, it should come as no surprise that I'm still reading Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray. I read several chapters in the past two weeks. (Yes, I missed last week's post but it was intentional. Really.)

I am also reading Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.

Rachel Ray

Rachel is missing Luke. He's gone away on business. Luke's mother and the Tappitts have made it their business to smear not only Luke's reputation but hers as well. They are telling everybody--and I do mean anybody with ears whether like gossip or not--that Luke is a scoundrel and that he's never, ever, ever, ever coming back to marry Rachel. They are hoping, of course, that the marriage doesn't happen. They want to speak that truth into the universe I suppose. The Tappitts have their motives. His mother has hers. The Tappitts want Luke to fail in his professional and personal life. His mother just wants to choose whom he marries and when he marries. She wants to be the only woman in his life--for now at least.

Luke wrote Rachel a letter. But Rachel hasn't been allowed to write back because her mother--Mrs. Ray--wants to show the letter around to her friends and get their advice on whether or not Rachel should write back. Rachel is like REALLY?!?!?! She doesn't voice it quite like that. But she is aggravated through and through with her mother's silliness. Though she would never call her mother a goose. (That's one of the accusations against Luke, don't you know, that he had the audacity to call his mother a silly goose.)

The Three Musketeers

First paragraph: On the first Monday of the month of April 1625, the village of Meung, where the author of the Romance of the Rose was born, seemed to be in as total an upheaval as if the Huguenots had come to make a second La Rochelle. Many of the townsmen, seeing women fleeing along the main street, hearing children crying on the doorsills, hastened to put on their breastplates and, backing up their somewhat uncertain countenances with a musket or a partisan, headed for the Jolly Miller Inn, before which jostled a compact group, noisy, full of curiosity, and growing every minute.

Father's advice to his son, d'Artagnan:
You are young, you must be brave for two reasons: first, because you are a Gascon, and second, because you are my son. Do not shrink from opportunities and seek out adventures. I have taught you to handle a sword; you have legs of iron, a fist of steel; fight whenever you can; fight all the more because duels are forbidden, and therefore it takes twice the courage to fight. (7)
Character description of d'Artagnan:
Don Quixote took windmills for giants and sheep for armies; d'Artagnan took every smile for an insult and every glance for a provocation. (8)
The scene that's in all the movies:
"Aha!" he said, "what's this?"
"This is the gentleman I am to fight with," said Athos, indicating d'Artagnan with his hand and greeting him with the same gesture.
"I am to fight with him, too," said Porthos.
"But not until one o'clock," said d'Artagnan.
"And I, too, am to fight with the gentleman," said Aramis, arriving on the scene in his turn.
"But not until two o'clock," d'Artagnan said with the same calm.
"But what are you fighting about, Athos?"
"By heaven, I don't quite know, he hurt my shoulder. And you, Porthos?"
"By heaven, I'm fighting because I'm fighting," Porthos replied, blushing.
Athos, who missed nothing, saw a slight smile pass over the Gascon's lips.
"We had a discussion about clothes," said the young man.
"And you, Aramis?" asked Athos.
"Me? I'm fighting for reasons of theology," replied Aramis, making a sign to d'Artagnan that he begged him to keep the cause of his duel secret.
Athos saw a second smile pass over d'Artagnan's lips.
"Indeed," said Athos.
"Yes a point in St. Augustine on which we disagree," said the Gascon. (54-5)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Me? Listen to Audio?! #26

The Three Musketeers (Version 2) Alexandre Dumas. Translated by William Robson. Read by Mark F Smith for Librovox. 1844. 26 hours and 40 minutes.

Is The Three Musketeers the longest audio book I've tackled to date? I think it might just be. I didn't find the length intimidating. Quite the contrary actually. It was comforting to know what I would be listening to as I work each day. It was comforting to know that I wouldn't have to make a decision--at least not about that.

Athos, Portos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan star in this action-packed adventure story set in France in the 1620s. Every other chapter or so there seems to be a crisis for them to face--a challenge to face together, of course.

I do not think any of the movie adaptations I've seen cover the whole book, the whole story, all the characters.

I was only planning on listening to this one for the Paris in July experience. But listening made me want to read the book. I think I'll enjoy reading it even more than listening to it.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Keep It Short #26

This week I read two tales from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book.

Hansel and Grettel

First sentence: Once upon a time there dwelt on the outskirts of a large forest a poor woodcutter with his wife and two children; the boy was called Hansel and the girl Grettel.

Premise/plot:  One day the children overhear their father and stepmother plotting together. The stepmother claims that great famine has driven her to this mad scheme: to lose the two children in the woods so that her and her husband won't starve as quickly. (Should he be worried that he's next?) Hansel comes up with a plan. But will that plan work indefinitely?

Can Hansel save Grettel? Can Grettel save Hansel? Will these two make it out of the woods alive?

My thoughts: This story doesn't really get less creepy no matter how many times you read it. And there are plenty of variations from storybook to storybook. Perhaps it was complete and total overlook on my part but I'd not noticed it was a stepmother and not a mother involved. I'd also never noticed the aid of a white duck who ferries them across--one at a time--a lake so they can return back home.

Last sentence: My story is done. See! there runs a little mouse; anyone who catches it may make himself a large fur cap out of it.

Can I just add, NO thanks.

Snow-White and Rose-Red

First sentence: A poor widow once lived in a little cottage with a garden in front of it, in which grew two rose trees, one bearing white roses and the other red. She had two children, who were just like the two rose trees; one was called Snow-white and the other Rose-red, and they were the sweetest and best children in the world, always diligent and always cheerful; but Snow-white was quieter and more gentle than Rose-red.

Premise/plot: Snow White and Rose Red live a good life but perhaps not a great life. But their luck might change after befriending a bear and welcoming it into their home.

My thoughts: I have read a novel adaptation of this one. But this is the first time I've read the original story. OR it's the first time as an adult blogger that I've read the story and can recall it. The length is just right for a fairy tale, but after reading the novel it feels short.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, July 06, 2018

The Tea Dragon Society

The Tea Dragon Society. Katie O'Neill. 2017. [Oct. 31, 2017] 72 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once upon a time, blacksmiths were as important as magicians. They made tools for the healers to cure the sick. Shoes to shod the hooves of working animals. Swords for adventurers to slay monsters. The world was forged in iron...Once upon a time.

Premise/plot: Greta is the heroine of Katie O'Neill's The Tea Dragon Society a middle grade graphic novel. It is a fantasy. Greta finds a small, injured dragon. The dragon is a tea dragon. Her father recognizes the dragon and knows the owner. Greta returns the dragon to its owner, Hesekiel. Seeing her interest in the tea dragon, he invites her to visit his tea shop anytime and learn more about tea dragons and how to take care of them. She also meets Minette and Erik. All three have tea dragons. The book is divided into four sections--the four seasons. Will Greta be lucky enough to get a tea dragon of her own one day?

My thoughts: Odd can be good. It can. I'm not sure that I love, love, love this one. It's not quite my cup of tea. But I liked it. So what makes a tea dragon a tea dragon? I can't tell you their origins of how they came to be, but, I can tell you a little bit about them. Tea dragons grow tea leaves off their horns. The tea leaves--when dried and brewed--offer tea drinkers (especially their owners) a magical trip down memory lane. The shared memories of tea dragons and their caretaker are imparted to the leaves themselves. Drink the tea and you'll be taking a trip.

There are many different kinds of tea dragons: Jasmine Tea Dragon, Rooibos Tea Dragon, Chamomile Tea Dragon, Ginseng Tea Dragon, Earl Grey Tea Dragon, Hibiscus Tea Dragon, Ginger Tea Dragon, and Peppermint Tea Dragon. Each has its own personality. I get the idea that no two tea dragons are alike. These dragons offer a rewarding relationship with their owners, but, it isn't easy-going especially in the beginning.

Katie O'Neill has without a doubt spent a great deal of time world-building. This especially comes through in the appendix. 

I love, love, love, love, LOVE tea. I've had all the teas listed above with the exception of Ginseng. (I've never drank Ginseng before.) I've never had a magical trip as a result of tea drinking. But I've made plenty of happy memories. I love to drink tea and read; I also love to drink tea and watch stuff. (For example, I love to watch Call the Midwife with a cup of tea in hand.)

If I had an equally strong attachment to dragons, I imagine this one would have delighted even more.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate. (Princess in Black #5) Shannon Hale. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2017. Candlewick Press. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It was a clear, crisp, comfortable afternoon. The Princess in Black and the Goat Avenger had just sent a monster back into the hole. The hole led to Monster Land. It was time for the victory dance. They slapped hands. They wiggled bums. They said "Callooo!" It was their thing.

Premise/plot: Princess Magnolia (aka the Princess in Black) has a playdate with Princess Sneezewort. But unbeknownst to the Princess a monster has followed her without detection. His intent to eat pets. If he can't have goats, why not pets? She's not in her kingdom; there is no monster alarm in Princess Sneezewort's castle. Yet she has a way of knowing when she's needed. So does Princess Sneezewort. Could this princess--who has a way of blending into her surroundings--have a secret of her own?

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I did. I do like the series as a whole. This was a good installment in the series. I appreciate series books. There's an age--or a stage--in reading where it's just pure HEAVEN to know that your favorite characters--your best friends and kindred spirits--appear in many, many books. That the fun does not have to come to an end as long as there's another book.

Shannon Hale is a fun and talented writer. LeUyen Pham has long been a favorite of mine!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, July 04, 2018


Barracoon: The story of the Last Black Cargo. Zora Neale Hurston. 2018. HarperCollins. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence of the preface: This is the life story of Cudjo Lewis, as told by himself.

Premise/plot: When he was a young man, Kossula was captured by the Dahomey and eventually sold to American slave traders. The year was 1860. Though a slave for just five years--give or take--the experience forever changed him. In 1927, Kossula (aka Cudjo Lewis) met--befriended--a young folklorist named Zora Neale Hurston. His story was important to capture, and Hurston wanted to be the one to do it--in his own words, in his own style. Which meant it was to be written in dialect, in a conversational style. The manuscript did not find a publisher in Hurston's lifetime. But it has now. 

He tells his story in his own way in his own words. He speaks of Africa. He tells of his family, his community, his childhood. He shares memories of visiting his grandfather's home, of his funeral, for example. He talks of learning to hunt and initial training to become a soldier. He was still too young to be a soldier, to join the grown-ups in his village; he was still too young to build his own house and marry. But he didn't get a chance to live the life he thought he would.

His life was interrupted--brutally so. The Dahomey attacked his gated village: capturing some, slaughtering the rest. He was among the captured young men and women. He was kept prisoner in the barracoons of Ouidah (Whydah) until he was purchased by slave traders and loaded as cargo onto the ship Clotilda. He tells of the journey and the destination. He shares his experiences as a slave. He talks of his experiences as a free man. There was no going back. There was no erasing those years. He was cut off from the future that should have been his--his home in Africa. There are stories about his wife, his children, his grandchildren. Make no mistake it's a hard life.

"My Grandpa, he a great man. I tellee you how he go."
I was afraid that Cudjo might go off on a tangent, so I cut in with, "But Kossula, I want to hear about you and how you lived in Africa."
He gave me a look full of scornful pity and asked, "Where is de house where de mouse is de leader? In de Affica soil I cain tellee you 'bout de son before I tellee you 'bout de father; and derefore, you unnerstand me, I cain talk about de man who is father till I tellee you bout  de man who he father to him, now, dass raight ain' it?" (20)
"Ole Charlie, he de oldest one come from de Afficky soil. One Sunday after my wife left me he come wid all de others dat come cross de water and say, 'Uncle Cudjo, make us a parable.'
'Well den,' I say, 'You see Ole Charlie dere. S'pose he stop here on de way to church. He got de parasol 'cause he think it gwine rain when he leave de house. But he look at de sky and 'cide hit ain' gwine rain so he set it dere by de door an' go on to church. After de preachin' he go on home 'cause he think de parasol at Cudjo house. It safe. He say, 'I git it nexy time I go dat way.' When he come home he say to one de chillun, 'Go to Cudjo house and tellee him I say sendee me my parasol.' 'De parasol it pretty. I likee keep dat one.' But I astee dem all, 'Is it right to keep de parasol?' Dey all say, 'No it belong to Charlie.' 'Well,' I say, 'my wife, she b'long to God. He lef' her by my door.'" (92)
 My thoughts: I am so glad I read this one. I have long been a fan of Zora Neale Hurston. I was introduced to her work in college and LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. I would recommend this one. It isn't necessarily easy reading. Some readers may struggle with the dialect. More readers may struggle with the content. I think many of us--if not most of us--want to look away from pain and cruelty and injustice. Even when we know we shouldn't. We don't want to know how it feels, what it looks like. We don't want to be witness to it. But his story deserves to be known and known widely.

I would recommend it.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, July 03, 2018

How It Feels To Be A Boat

How It Feels To Be A Boat. James Kwan. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Ahoy, ahoy! Raise your crooked anchor and head out to sea, as your foghorn howls and barnacles tickle your bottom.

Premise/plot: What does it feel like to be a boat? Well, Kwan's imagination has led him to explore just that in his new picture book.
In your belly everyone gets along, but sometimes they fight. When they yell your belly aches, your heart shrinks, and your rooms shiver. You are strong, but sometimes you tremble. 
From inside your belly you smell a delicious thing and hear your favorite doot-doot tune and feel everyone singing and moving together: lee lee lee doo.
My thoughts: My first thought upon reading this one is why does this book exist?! My second thought was who is the intended audience?! Fair or not fair those were my initial impressions.

Is this a story picture book for young children encouraging active--or over-active imaginations? Perhaps. Is this a picture book for young adults soon to graduate and enter 'the real world'?

It didn't work for me personally as either. Either as an imaginative storybook or as an allegory or metaphor for life it was just unsettling. Are the different "rooms" in the boat and the different characters who live on the boat representative of desires, needs, wants, opportunities? Do they represent multiple personalities? Because most of the challenging aspects of being a boat come from within the boat itself--not the stormy seas, not the obstacles at sea or near shore.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, July 02, 2018

Currently #27

Something Old
Roller Skates. Ruth Sawyer. 1986. 186 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]
Something New
The Preacher's Catechism. Lewis Allen. 2018. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Barracoon: The story of the Last Black Cargo. Zora Neale Hurston. 2018. HarperCollins. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True
Daily Chronological Bible: KJV Edition. Holman Bible Publishers. 2014. 1440 pages. [Source: Free giveaway]

Heaven. Randy Alcorn. 2004. Tyndale. 533 pages. [Source: Gift]

© 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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