Friday, August 31, 2018

August Reflections

How many books have I read so far for the year? 387
How many board books or picture books have I read? 156
My favorite I read this month was: I'm Fun, Too! (A Classic Lego Picture Book). Jonathan Fenske. 2018. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
How many early readers or early chapter books have I read? 67
My favorite I read this month was: Chicken on Vacation. Adam Lehrhaupt. Illustrated by Shahar Kober.  2018. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
How many contemporary books have I read? 31
My favorite I read this month was: The Day They Came To Arrest The Book. Nat Hentoff. 1982. 176 pages. [Source: Book I bought]
How many speculative fiction books have I read? 26
My favorite I read this month was: The Hazel Wood. Melissa Albert. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
How many classics have I read? 36
My favorite I read this month was? Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Book I Bought] 
How many historical fiction novels have I read? 39
My favorite I read this month was? Al Capone Does My Shirts. Gennifer Choldenko. 2004. 225 pages. [Source: Bought]
How many mysteries? 29
My favorite I read this month was? The Boomerang Clue. Agatha Christie. 1934. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
How many nonfiction? 46
My favorite I read this month was?  Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon. Robert Kurson. 2018. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Library]
How many Christian fiction? 22
My favorite I read this month was?  Prophet. Frank E. Peretti. 1992. Crossway. 416 pages. [Source: Bought]
How many Christian nonfiction? 57
My favorite I read this month was? The Sovereignty of God. Arthur W. Pink. 1917. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]
How many "new" books for the Good Rule challenge? 239
How many "old" books for the Good Rule challenge? 148
How many pages have I read so far for the year? 59,612
Favorite short story or fairy tale of the month: didn't read any
Favorite audio book of the month: Persuasion
Favorite Victorian quote: didn't read any

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Boomerang Clue

The Boomerang Clue. Agatha Christie. 1934. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Bobby Jones teed up his ball, gave a short preliminary waggle, took the club back slowly, then brought it down and through with the rapidity of lightning.

Premise/plot: Bobby Jones, the vicar's son, is playing a round of golf with a friend when they discover a dying man. Did he fall to his death quite by accident, or was he pushed off the cliff? His death is ruled an accident, but Bobby and his friend, Lady Frances (aka Frankie) disagree. Primarily they disagree because soon after this incident an attempt is made on Bobby's life. There is a murderer about who seems to think that Bobby knows more than he actually does--that Bobby is a threat to him. Frankie and Bobby team up to find the murderer, but the clues are few and far between. They have so little to go on and the man--or woman--they're searching for is DANGEROUS. Will they discover the truth of his identity in time? And will he--or she--be brought to justice?

My thoughts: This one is also titled Why Didn't They Ask Evans? That phrase was the last thing uttered by the victim. Bobby the only one who heard it. (His friend had gone for help already). Who is Evans? What question should they have asked Evans? And for that matter WHO is this dead man? Bobby and Frankie are amateurs at best. This is, as far as I know, their only case.

I will say that this one kept me guessing until the very, very end. I don't know why I was so horrible at solving this one. Well, that's not true. The clues are so teeny tiny and there really isn't much to go on except instincts. And readers' impressions are formed largely from the impressions of the characters themselves. Have you read this one? Did you guess who did it?

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Day They Came To Arrest The Book

The Day They Came To Arrest The Book. Nat Hentoff. 1982. 176 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

First sentence: "He's going to be right inside the door," Luke said to Barney as they neared the entrance to George Mason High School. "He's going to be standing there with that big phony smile and that chocolate voice."

Premise/plot: When a history teacher assigns The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to her class to read, the book is challenged by angry parents. Will the book "be arrested" and removed from the reading list AND the school library? Or will the book remain available to students freely and without restrictions? Whose side is the principal on?

My thoughts: The Day They Came To Arrest The Book is a thousand and one times better than The Property of the Rebel Librarian. Primarily because it is more believable--both characters and situations. It is also more thought-provoking.

I appreciated the diverse opinions expressed in The Day They Came to Arrest The Book. The opinions cover a wide spectrum of thought. Perhaps with the exception of the unprincipled principal there are no villains, no bad guys. There are differences of opinion, yes, but no "good" guys and no "bad" guys. Not all opinions are informed opinions. But many are. That is, many people with strong opinions who are speaking up--on both sides--have actually read the book in question in its entirety. A few people have strong opinions and loud voices but haven't actually read the book--just bits and pieces. I think it's important to see that two good people can have differences of opinion.

What makes the principal so unprincipled? He's a sneaky guy. He does not want to fill out forms and paperwork. He doesn't want to go through the proper channels when it comes to book challenges. He'd rather pressure the teacher or the librarian into voluntarily removing the book with no fuss and no publicity. Because of his powerful position, because they fear losing their job, many go along with his "suggestions" that aren't really suggestions. But not this history teacher and not this librarian. The guidelines are in place and they will be followed...this time at least.

The book offers much food for thought--not only about banned books and censorship but also intellectual freedom in general. One of the arguments in the book is that it should be up to educators to choose wisely what to make available to their students. What to teach in their classrooms. What to have available in their libraries. Just because a book is published doesn't mean that it belongs in a school. The opposition claims that this 'choosing wisely' is a form of censorship. That to 'choose wisely' is limiting the student body's freedom to choose.

Personally, I think it makes the most sense. So long as school budgets are limited, it just makes the most sense to spend wisely and thoughtfully. I'll clarify that a tiny bit. Audience is key. Knowing your specific audience. A school librarian should have some idea on what students need, what students want, what teachers need, what teachers want. They should know which authors are popular and stay in circulation. They should know which genres circulate best. They should also read widely themselves. Quality should matter. That is what I mean by spending wisely. Making the most of each dollar. I don't mean that librarians should only buy books that they personally love, love, love and are custom-fit to their tastes and preferences.

One of the examples in the book is the hypothetical question: should a school library buy books written from the perspective that the holocaust never happened? Or should a library keep such 'trash' out of the library. Yes, such books exist--and others like them. But should a school library spend money on books like that because students should have the freedom to decide for themselves what is true and what is a lie?

I would classify this one as a YA book. Readers should know that it does use the n-word a lot in the context of discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are many times when Twain's novel is quoted. The novel also contains blasphemy--taking the Lord's name in vain. In terms of profanity it reminds me of Fahrenheit 451. The book is well worth reading in my opinion.

Show me a book that offends no one, and I will show you a book that no one, in the whole history of the world, has ever willingly read. (34)
You know, it's never the book that's really on trial. It's the author, even if he's dead. Remember that, Barney. Every time this sort of thing happens, it's a person who's being tried. For his ideas, his feelings, his memories, his fantasies, his yearnings, his language, which is his very self. To tell you the truth, I don't care what the book is. I hate to see words on trial. (83)
Once you give people, any group of people, the power to censor books, you're opening up quite a can of worms. And sooner or later, they can turn on you. (107)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Property of the Rebel Librarian

Property of the Rebel Librarian. Allison Varnes. 2018. Random House. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You're going to read a lot about me and the things I've done. Most of it's true. I can't help that, not that I'd want to. I would do the exact same thing all over again if I had the chance.

Premise/plot: June Harper loves, loves, loves to read, but when her parents catch her reading her latest check out from the school library, The Makings of a Witch, her worst nightmare begins. What is her worst nightmare? It's not that she's grounded, though that does happen a lot in this one. No, it's the fact that her parents strip her room of every single book, and not satisfied with that proceed to strip the school library of every single book as well.
June Harper a book glutton finds herself cut off from every source. But that won't stay the case. She discovers a free little library on her walk to school. She takes books...and shares them with other students. Thus becoming the REBEL LIBRARIAN.


It had all the makings of a great TWILIGHT ZONE episode. It was an eery alternate reality.

Unfortunately, that's not the ending. June Harper's reality is supposed to be believable to readers. It wasn't. Not even slightly. Her parents weren't just following their own convictions and practicing their parental rights. They were EVIL. And they were good at it--surprisingly good at it. Somehow convincing the principal, the school board, the PTA, the rest of the staff, and a good percentage of the student body that BOOKS WERE BAD and that the LIBRARY needed to be closed indefinitely because it was SUPER-DANGEROUS. No one apparently argued against June's parents. They were powerfully persuasive it seems! The whole community was united in a goal to make sure that their kids never opened a book unless it was a textbook.

A more thoughtful, more complex approach to the topic would have been a welcome read. Do people find books offensive at times? Yes. From all walks of life. Liberals. Conservatives. Atheists. Christians. Every shade of person in between. Though it may be tempting to paint one stereotype of a "book banner" lunatic, it wouldn't be fair or realistic. There is also a HUGE difference in my opinion between a book being assigned reading within a classroom AND a book being available--on the shelf--in the school library. On the one hand, every student would have to read a book, and on the other hand any book read would be completely voluntary. Some books circulate a lot. Some books not at all.

June's parents are generically opposed to books; if there's an inner motivation behind their objection readers remain clueless. They seek the removal of EVERY SINGLE BOOK in the school library so that the books can be evaluated for content. No profanity, no drugs, no violence, no rock/rap music, no witchcraft, no drinking, no smoking, no rebellion of any kind. The list is generic but incomplete. Did you notice what isn't included? Sex or sexuality. It seems odd that these two would have a vendetta against rock or rap music but be okay with the other. And they're not consistently strict. They care what June READS but not what she watches on TV.

The book also fails to be believable in another way. There seems to be no standards, guidelines, rules and procedures in place to deal with conflict and challenges. I'd be surprised at a library not having a collection development policy. And the school and school board should have clear, written-down procedures in place for what happens when a parent--or concerned citizen--objects to a book either a) in the school library in general b) in the classroom as an assigned reading. It is plausible that a parent could object to ONE book being in the library collection and have it successfully removed. At least temporarily removed until the conflict can be resolved and the book reevaluated. But the idea that a parent could have every single library book removed from the library altogether and have the books boxed up and shipped out is beyond ridiculous.

A book written that thoughtfully reflects a child's struggle in a difficult position would have been a great addition. A child who loves, loves, loves to read and welcomes words like she does oxygen. A child who loves her parents BUT doesn't understand their rules. There is no genuine struggle for June. Her parents are presented as that extremely evil. You might as well hang a sign over their front door saying ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, August 27, 2018

Currently #34

Something Old
The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by Richard Pevear. 1844/2006. 704 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]

Small House at Allington. Anthony Trollope. 1864. 695 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
The Romanov Empress. C.W. Gortner. 2018. 431 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Unbound. Ann E. Burg. 2016/2018. 347 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Something Borrowed
The Grave's A Fine and Private Place. Flavia de Luce #9. Alan Bradley. 2018. 365 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True
NIV Rainbow Study Bible. 2015. Holman Bible Publishers. 1632 pages. [Source: Review copy]

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

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

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born. D. James Kennedy. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Hand of God. Alistair Begg. 1999/2018. 204 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio #32

The Murder at the Vicarage. Agatha Christie. 1930. Dramatised in five thirty-minute parts by Michael Bakewell. Directed by Enyd Williams. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1993. Starring June Whitfield as Miss Marple.

First sentence: It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage. The conversation, though in the main irrelevant to the matter in hand, yet contained one or two suggestive incidents which influenced later developments.

I almost discovered this one too late. I just had twenty-three hours before it expired on the BBC Radio 4 site!!! Because it is so close to expiring, I won't be sharing the links to each episode.

I had read the book--I've read most of the Miss Marple mysteries--and it was a JOY to listen to this one.

From my review of the book:

Murder at the Vicarage is the first Agatha Christie novel starring Miss Marple. And it was a delight. A pure and simple delight. It is narrated by the vicar, a Mr. Clement. His narrative was just right--for me. It was a perfect blend of humor and charm. And, of course, suspense! Mr. Clement is shocked to discover a dead man in his study. Colonel Protheroe had his moments--he's a man most would find difficult to live with. But no one *really* expected him to be murdered! He was supposed to be having a private meeting with the vicar that evening. But a phone call changes all that...

Inspector Slack is the "official" detective on the case. The man responsible for solving this crime and bringing the murderer to justice....

Miss Marple, one of the elderly women in the community, tells Mr. Clement that there are seven people she suspects capable of the murder. But she's not naming names--at least not yet. Which leaves Mr. Clement trying to guess the identity of the murderer as well.

Chapter by chapter, readers find clues. Can they guess the identity of the murderer before Miss Marple's big reveal?

I found both Mr. Clement and Miss Marple charming. I just LOVED the characterization in this one. The humor, the wit, the drama. It was just a satisfying read.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

"Dear Vicar," said Miss Marple, "you are so unworldly. I'm afraid that, observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to expect very much from it. I daresay idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn't it?" (23)

Thursday started badly. Two of the ladies of my parish elected to quarrel about the church decorations. I was called in to adjudicate between two middle-aged ladies, each of whom was literally trembling with rage. If it had not been so painful, it would have been quite an interesting physical phenomenon. (40)

"Ah!" said Miss Marple. "But I always find it prudent to suspect everybody just a little. What I say is, you really never know, do you?" (154)

"I remember a saying of my Great Aunt Fanny's. I was sixteen at the time and thought it particularly foolish."
"Yes?" I inquired.
"She used to say, "The young people think the old people are fools--but the old people know the young people are fools!" (282)

At that moment Anne Protheroe entered the room.
She was dressed very quietly in black. She carried in her hand a Sunday paper, which she held out to me with a rueful glance.
"I've never had any experience of this sort of thing. It's pretty ghastly, isn't it? I saw a reporter at the inquest. I just said that I was terribly upset and had nothing to say, and then he asked me if I wasn't anxious to find my husband's murderer, and I said 'Yes.' And then whether I had any suspicions and I said 'No.' And where I didn't think the crime showed local knowledge, and I said it seemed to, certainly. And that was all. And now look at this!"
In the middle of the page was a photograph, evidently taken at least ten years ago--Heaven knows where they had dug it out. There were large headlines.


Mrs. Protheroe, the widow, of the murdered man, is certain that the murderer must be looked for locally. She has suspicions but no certainty. She declared herself prostrated with grief, but reiterated her determination to hunt down the murderer.

"It doesn't sound like me, does it?" said Anne.
"I daresay it might have been worse," I said handing back the paper. (201-02)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Conqueror

The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer. 1931/2008. Sourcebooks. 469 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There was so much noise in the market-place, such a hubbub of shouting and chaffering, that Herleva dragged herself to the window of her chamber and stood peeping down through the willow-slats that made a lattice over the opening.

Premise/plot: The Conqueror is a historical novel about William the Conqueror. It begins with his birth and ends with his coronation in December of 1066. It is not told from his perspective; it is told from the perspective of one of his loyal men--servants, warriors--Raoul.

My thoughts: Would The Conqueror conquer me or would I conquer The Conqueror?  I knew from the start it would be a close call. Indeed it was. If I have biases, I thought they would work in favor of The Conqueror. I love history. I love historical fiction. I often enjoy novels about 'the royals.' It was also written by Georgette Heyer. I love and adore her, right?!?! (I can honestly say that if this was the first Heyer novel I picked up, I would never pick up another one.)

I didn't care about the characters for the most part. I don't blame Raoul, not really. One developed character cannot make a good novel. And essentially that's what we get. We may learn enough about Raoul to find him believable as a human being, but, the other characters not so much. Duke William, aka William the Conqueror remains distant, disconnected, unknowable, unlikable. Scenes vary--alternate--from battle scenes to groups of his men sitting around talking about how distant the Duke is. And perhaps that is how it should be. He's the ruler of Normandy. He's an illegitimate son. He's not overly liked or popular in some circles. Every person is a potential threat, a potential enemy, a potential betrayer. Raoul has proved himself loyal where other men had failed him. Raoul is easily part of his inner circle, but Raoul isn't necessarily an equal-equal either.

The one relationship I liked was between Raoul and Edgar. 

Duke William has one thing--possibly two--on his mind. He's an ambitious, greedy man who lusts for the throne of England from a relatively early age. I'm not convinced that Heyer wants us to like him. Actually, I'm not sure of what Heyer intended. I doubt her intentions were to put readers to sleep. I doubt her intentions were to make a 470 page novel feel like 2,000 pages. Were we supposed to be cheering William on throughout the novel? Were we supposed to find the battle scenes thrilling? And his quest to be the next king of England noble and admirable?

I felt relief upon finishing the novel.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Me? Listen to Audio?! #31

Persuasion. Jane Austen. 1817. Dramatised by Michelene Wandor. Stars Juliet Stevenson as Anne Elliot, Tim Brierley as Captain Wentworth, Sorcha Cusack as Jane Austen, etc. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1986. 3 one hour episodes. "Old Friends and New Meetings," "Accidents and Encounters," and "Friendly Persuasion."

 This is my first time to hear an audio of Persuasion, and for the record it is a RADIO DRAMA and not an unabridged audio book. I thought they did a GREAT job with the drama adaptation. It was enjoyable through and through.

Anne Elliot is the heroine of Persuasion. If you haven't read Persuasion before let me add this, please, don't expect Anne to be Elizabeth Bennet. Just don't. You'll be happier for letting Anne be Anne and not comparing her to Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor, Marianne, Catherine, or Fanny. Plenty of people misunderstand Anne--the top offenders being her very own family--I don't want you to be one of them. Don't let her family persuade you that Anne is someone to easily dismiss, a nobody.

As I was saying, Anne is the heroine of Persuasion. Eight years before the novel opens, Anne fell in love. It was a forever-love. She wanted to marry Frederick Wentworth. He wanted to marry her too. They loved each other very much. But he had no way to support her. It wasn't just that he couldn't support her in style. Her family disapproved. Her friends disapproved. Long story short, the engagement was broken off. Persuasion is all about her second chance. When Anne and Captain Wentworth meet again, eight years later, can these two come together and make it work, can they have their happily ever after? That is the very simplified version, I suppose! Austen being Austen, there are plenty of characters and stories introduced in Persuasion. It is a very enjoyable read. In places, it is quite giddy-making.

Do you have a favorite Austen hero? Captain Wentworth is perhaps one of the strongest Austen heroes. Of course, everyone is familiar with Darcy. But Wentworth has his fans as well! Perhaps in large part due to his letter to Anne:

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. (234)
Personally, I love Henry Tilney, Mr. Knightley, and Captain Wentworth.

Favorite quotes:
Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste.
No, it was not regret which made Anne’s heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!
She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Rocket Men

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon. Robert Kurson. 2018. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Three astronauts are strapped into a small spacecraft thirty-six stories in the air, awaiting the final moments of countdown. They sit atop the most powerful machine ever built.

Premise/plot: Rocket Men is a GREAT new nonfiction read. Primarily it tells the story of Apollo 8. It also provides an interesting overview of the space program, the cold war, and the sixties. The first half focuses on the men--the astronauts--Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders. The second half focuses on the mission itself. Readers get the perspective of the astronauts, those of mission control, and the families of the astronauts. The epilogue rushes through nearly five decades of history.

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. If it has a weakness it would be that it made me REALLY want to watch From the Earth to the Moon. I restrained myself. How could I watch and read at the same time?! I love watching and reading about the space program. Though I've probably watched more than I've read. Perhaps I need to fix that soon! Which books would YOU recommend?

This is not a clean read. It has a few bad words--a few REALLY bad words. But the subject more than makes up for that as far as I'm concerned. One might even make the argument that the "current events" of 1968 call for strong language.

I believe the epilogue points out--or maybe it's the last chapter--that there was a failed attempt of a law suit regarding the astronaut's reading of Genesis 1 on the television broadcast of Apollo 8.

The book was full of fascinating details! Highly recommended.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #30 My Victorian Year #30

Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. Read by Elizabeth Klett for Librivox in 2008. 18 hours and 37 minutes.

First sentence: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

I underestimated how much time it would take me to listen to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte! 

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite novels of all time. I love it. This was my first time to listen to it in audio. I thought the reader did a GREAT job. You never know with free audio books. Will the readers be as professional? In this case, I would definitely recommend this version, version 2.

The story is a gothic romance. Jane Eyre, our heroine, is an orphan. She finds some solace at school, but, it isn't until she becomes a governess that she finds her happily ever after. She didn't go looking for it, nor was she expecting it. And to be honest, it came with struggles before, during, and after.

Some of my favorite quotes:

He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy. “You examine me, Miss Eyre,” said he: “do you think me handsome?” I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—“No, sir.” “Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you,” said he: “you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?” “Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort.” “You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?” “Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder.” “Just so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?” He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen. “Now, ma’am, am I a fool?” “Far from it, sir. You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a philanthropist?”
“You looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.” With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face; his unusual breadth of chest, disp
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Greatest Adventure

The Greatest Adventure. Tony Piedra. 2018. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Eliot was a great adventurer. After it rained, he sailed the high seas. And in the shadows, he tracked the trails of wild beasts.

Premise/plot: Eliot is a little boy on a quest for BIG adventures. He won’t be satisfied until he has a REAL adventure. Will his grandfather help him out? Can these two adventurous souls set out on an adventure of their own?

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I was charmed by it. I think in large part because of the illustrations. I liked Eliot. I liked the grandpa. I liked how these two got to know each other better. And I just found the story satisfying.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts. Gennifer Choldenko. 2004. 225 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. Alcatraz sits smack in the middle of the bay--so close to the city of San Francisco, I can hear them call the score on a baseball game on Marina Green. Okay, not that close. But still.

Premise/plot: Moose Flanagan, our narrator, has just moved with his family to Alcatraz. His father is an electrician and part-time prison guard. The year is 1935, and there is a certain trendiness or "coolness" about big crime bosses. Al Capone is the most famous resident at the time. Other kids from the island--notably Piper--try to cash in on the situation.

As for Moose, he's more concerned about his sister, Natalie, and BASEBALL. Natalie IS a concern for the whole family because she's autistic at a time when no one knew what it was and everyone was clueless as to how to best help. Moose's mother spends 98% of her time deep in worry about Natalie. There is nothing she won't try in an effort to fix her daughter. Moose's father spends his time working, working, working trying to support the family. Moose has a complex relationship with Natalie. His big sister has become his litter sister. And instead of her watching over him, her bossing him around, he is the one who is on Natalie duty when he's not at school. He hates that this responsibility seems to be falling completely on him. (His mother has started working too.) His island friends seem to be okay with Natalie tagging along--most of the time. On a few occasions, they are even more patient with her than Moose. But it's a huge responsibility and one that he cannot manage on his own.

Baseball. Moose is a kid at heart. He loves, loves, loves playing--and playing baseball tops his list. He would love nothing more than to be involved in a good baseball game a couple of times a week. His dream friends may all be boys his own age, boys equally obsessed with baseball. But his actual friends that he makes on the island--the children of those who work for the prison--turn out to be good friends indeed.

My thoughts: Al Capone Does My Shirts is a great read. It is a perfect blend of light and dark. It can be laugh out loud funny. But it can also be intense and serious. I love, love, love the characters. I do. I can't believe it took me nine years to reread this one. I'm hoping to reread the whole series this year because there is a new book!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood. Melissa Albert. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.

Premise/plot: Alice and her mother, Ella, have spent years running and hiding. Alice has never known quite what they are running from or why. What was it in Ella's past that has led to her being so afraid to just live? But Alice thinks it may have something to do with her grandmother--Ella's mother. Althea Prosperine is a reclusive oh-so-famous author. Her book of fairy tales is super-rare and near impossible to find. But those who do find it and read it--well, they often become extreme fans. Alice may never have read the book herself, but, she's encountered the fans. And what she's seen has scared her.

When Ella is kidnapped and their apartment ransacked, Alice teams up with a classmate to discover the truth about her past. How far is she willing to go to find her mother? Is it worth risking her own life?

My thoughts: I found The Hazel Wood to be a compelling read. It is not necessarily inspired by any one fairy tale. It isn't yet another adaptation of this or that. Stories are often dark and happily ever afters are not assured. If Alice herself wants a happily ever after she'll have to fight, fight, fight to break free from her story, from her story as the storyteller decreed it.

I am glad I read it. As far as language goes, this one isn't clean so it may not be for everyone.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Currently #33

Something Old
The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by Richard Pevear. 1844/2006. 704 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer. 1931/2008. Sourcebooks. 469 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]

Small House at Allington. Anthony Trollope. 1864. 695 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
The Romanov Empress. C.W. Gortner. 2018. 431 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Unbound. Ann E. Burg. 2016/2018. 347 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Something Borrowed
Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon. Robert Kurson. 2018. Random House. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True 
Living Insights Study Bible. 1996. 1606 pages. [Source: Bought]

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

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

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born. D. James Kennedy. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Hand of God. Alistair Begg. 1999/2018. 204 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Road to Oregon City (The Oregon Trail #4)

The Road to Oregon City. (The Oregon Trail #4) Jesse Wiley. 2018. HMH. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are a young settler headed out West by wagon train in the year 1850.

Premise/plot: This is the fourth book in this choose your own adventure series inspired by the classic computer game Oregon Trail. There are either twenty-three or twenty-four possible endings, but only one sees you reach your dream destination of Oregon City. Some endings are more bleak and dismal than others.

My thoughts: I have enjoyed this series. I have. I've read one a day. I've read all the possible endings for each book in the series. I can easily recommend the series as a whole.

The narrator, the "you" is obviously a child within the story. We don't know if the you is a young man or a young woman. But for better or worse the YOU is trusted with some mighty big decisions. Not just within the family--what will your wagon do--but ultimately what the wagon train does. I don't think that is realistic to the real world. (However it is so realistic to a game.)

The endings tend to be bleak and dismal OR unrealistically cheerful. For example, more than once the family decides to settle elsewhere. Ma is always selling FRUIT PIES and QUILTS wherever the family ends up settling. Often they end up settling because a) someone gets injured or sick b) the wagon is in too poor condition to go on c) the author wanted an excuse to end the story early. Pa is good at hunting and building furniture and repairing things. It is not that I want every ending to end in the grave--I don't. But where is Ma getting the fruit? If fruit trees were that readily available along the trail you'd never have endings where you die of scurvy. Where is Ma getting an endless supply of SUGAR and FLOUR? True, they have a cow. But would one cow really forever and ever produce enough milk and butter to start a bakery? Where is Ma getting fabric? Yes, you can make quilts from old clothes, old blankets, flour sacks, etc. But where would new clothes and new blankets come from? Where would your essentials come from to decide if you're out in the middle of nowhere not close to any forts or settlements?  

But overall, I do like the books!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Search for Snake River (Oregon Trail #3)

The Search for Snake River. (Oregon Trail #3) Jesse Wiley. 2018. HMH. 160 pages. [Review copy]

First sentence: You are a young pioneer headed West by wagon train in the year 1850. You and your family have already braved nearly half of the perilous frontier path known as the Oregon Trail, crossing 820 miles of territory in what will later become the states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Premise/plot: The Search for Snake River is the third book in this Choose Your Own Adventure series inspired by the classic computer game Oregon Trail. There are twenty-three possible endings, but only one ending that will bring you and your family closer to your dream of reaching Oregon City.

The first decision you'll be asked to make is should you head to Fort Bridger OR should you take the Greenwood Cutoff. One choice will lead to four endings. The other closer to twenty possible endings.

Risks abound in this choose your own adventure book. Some of the risks directly relate to your decisions in a logical way. Others not so much. 

My thoughts: These books are fun and enjoyable. In spite of the many deaths you might die. Not all failures result in death which I suppose is a good thing. I imagine in the game that is not the case.

  • It will be several months before Pa can walk again, and he's likely to limp for the rest of his life. In the meantime, he'll have to give up his dream, which has become your dream, too, of getting to Oregon.
  • Your family decides to stay for a few days in the cave while Pa hunts for food. But then you'll have to figure out how to go on without your wagon or any supplies. 
  • By the time the oxen are ready to go, you are ready to move on, too...only not to Oregon Territory. You die of dysentery.
  • Ma and Pa are so concerned about you that they tell the wagon train to go ahead while they try to nurse you back to health. But soon they have to leave you behind. You die of dysentery.
  • But as the water hisses and steams, your insides burn, and you realize that your dreams of getting to Oregon have just evaporated into thin air. 
  • Hannah and Samuel cry because their legs hurt, and because they are scared to end up looking and feeling like you. They're right to be scared, because you will eventually die of scurvy.
  • Without your food supply, the risks of starving on the Trail are too great to continue. In a flash, your dreams of Oregon are over. 
  • You hate the fort and the idea of being there any longer, but for now it's where your dreams end. Be sure to keep an eye out for snakes!
  • But what is real is the fact that you've been wandering in the hot desert for a while and no one knows where you are. Your chances of being found are extremely low. 
  • "It was a rattler," you manage to whisper. Your eyes start to roll back in your head, and the last thing you see is Pa's stricken face as he cradles you in his arms. 
  • Even if you make it back to solid land, you'll have to make some hard choices about what to do next. Getting to Oregon City seems impossible now. 
  • Your family is stranded without any water, any animals to pull your wagon, and, soon, any hopes of survival. 
  • Pa explains that he wants to start a business with the local people, offering services to other pioneers. "We can help people who have lost animals, want guides, or need food and water," Pa says. "And I'm sure people will want to trade and buy things from us, which will make us a good living!" Your family's dreams of getting to Oregon aren't gone forever, just on hold for a little while. 
  • Luckily you do wake up, but you are much too weak to continue on this journey. And pretty soon, without any water, the rest of your family is feeling the same as you. You never imagined that something as simple--but as precious--as water would end up destroying your dreams of Oregon.
  • You search desperately for water. But there is nothing. Your family cannot survive. As you lie down for the night, parched and weak, you wonder who will pass by your bones. 
  • While you're waiting, Pa discovers a freshwater spring with clear and delicious water. As you camp there, Ma and Pa start to sell fresh pies, quilts, and other goods to thirsty travelers who stop to rest. By the time Caleb is ready to move on, your family is settled, happy, and convinced that this is a better life than the one on the Trail. You watch the rest of the wagon train roll away, as you help yourself to a big piece of pie.
  • Bam! the next rocks are too big to avoid. You crash into them, and right before you are knocked out forever, you wonder if the wagon wheel will still make it to shore.
  • But you're wrong. Within moments the fire catches up to all of you and you are engulfed in flames. 
  • In one dream, you have taken too much medicine and ended up poisoning yourself. Or is that your fate?
  • As your oxen start to die, you realize that you won't ever make it to Oregon. 
  • You never wished for the veggies you used to leave on your plate more than right now. 
  • You have water in your lungs and will die of pneumonia.
Some endings sound happy enough until you start to overthink them. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Danger at the Haunted Gate (Oregon Trail #2)

Danger at the Haunted Gate. (Oregon Trail #2) Jesse Wiley. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are a young pioneer headed by wagon train to Oregon Territory in the year 1850. You've already traveled almost six hundred miles from Independence, Missouri, to Chimney Rock, in what is now Nebraska. You and your family are on the second leg of your journey across the wild frontier--and you're aiming to reach Devil's Gate, mysterious cliffs in what later becomes Wyoming. Once you get there, your journey West will be nearly over.

Premise/plot: Danger At The Haunted Gate is the second book in Scholastic's OREGON TRAIL series by Jesse Wiley. All four books are choose-your-own-adventure. There are twenty-two possible endings but only ONE ending will see you successfully past Devil's Gate.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the first book. I did. I enjoyed the second one as well. I think that the books are in part a way to test if young readers will follow directions. At the start of each book, the author tells young readers to read the guide to the trail at the end of the book. This guide contains obvious hints on how to make the right choices. Some of the decisions then become obvious. Emphasis on some. There are some things the guide couldn't possibly help you predict!

While some of the twenty-one endings lead to DEATH or almost certain death, not all of them are that dismal. Some just allow for dreams to change OR circumstances. For example, if you become paralyzed...chances are you're not going to keep going to Oregon.

I would recommend the series.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Race To Chimney Rock (The Oregon Trail #1)

The Race to Chimney Rock. (The Oregon Trail #1) Jesse Wiley. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: You are loading up your covered wagon to head out to Oregon Territory, where a square mile of free farmland awaits your family. It's 1850 and there aren't any planes or trains yet, so you'll have to walk while your oxen pull your jam-packed wagon across North America's Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and the lands of many First Nations tribes, like the Otoe-Missouria, Osage, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Arapaho, and Shoshone.

Premise/plot: The Race to Chimney Rock is the first in a four book series based on the classic computer game Oregon Trail. It is a choose-your-own adventure book with over twenty possible endings. I believe only one will lead you to Chimney Rock and set you up for book two.

Your biggest decision is your first decision. Will you choose to start your journey west in April or May?

If you want a REALLY short story to read, always decide to leave in April. You'll be done with the story in no time. There are just four possible stories with an April beginning.  

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I was determined to keep reading until I made it to Chimney Rock.

Are the decisions obvious? Yes. No. Sometimes. Not really. A few do seem easier to discern "wise" from "foolish" actions.

Do all the wrong/foolish decisions lead to death? No. Don't get me wrong. While all wrong decisions hinder you from reaching Chimney Rock and thus keep you from reaching Oregon, not all wrong decisions lead to a grave for you and/or your whole family. I was happily surprised to see some genuinely happy endings. I didn't feel so bad reading the words "The END" if I managed to still be alive. That being said, there were some horrible, horrible endings where you did end up dead.

While I understand that it's necessary to restrict EVERY decision to just two choices in the book and in the game, life doesn't really work like that. A third option makes sense sometimes.


If you want to reach Chimney Rock
  • DO leave in May
  • DO buy extra wagon parts
  • DO let Joseph help you catch rabbits
  • DO go to Papan's Ferry
  • DO make friends with an Indian boy
  • DO admit to not feeling well
  • DO stay with the train instead of following a soldier-guide
  • DO go to the Pawnee nation for help with muddy wheels
  • DO lower the wagons by your own strength
  • DO stop climbing the rock and go back to the wagon when it's time for supper
  • DO stand up taller and face the bear

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, August 13, 2018


Pretties. (Uglies #2) Scott Westerfeld. 2005. Simon & Schuster. 370 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Getting dressed was always the hardest part of the afternoon.

Premise/plot: Pretties is the second book in Scott Westerfeld's futuristic dystopian series. In the first book, Uglies, Tally, our heroine, decides to become PRETTY so that she can be the guinea pig for the cure for the brain lesions. She wrote herself a note explaining everything--or almost everything. But what she didn't take into account was how being pretty would change your thinking and reasoning ability. Instead of taking the two-pill cure herself Tally decided to split the cure with her new friend, Zane. She took one pill; he took the other. Now they are awaiting the results. Will they be cured of their pretty-thinking? Will they stay bubbly all the time? Is it time for the PRETTIES to revolt against the system?

My thoughts: This is a reread. I believe this is the third time I've read it and the second time I've blogged a review. I do like Tally Youngblood. She's flawed but believably so in my opinion. If the series has a flaw--emphasis on if--it's the LOVE TRIANGLE aspect of it that some readers might be annoyed by. The first book was all David. This second book is all Zane. One she loved as an ugly. The other she loves as a pretty. She's endured a lot of hard circumstances with both--situations that draw you close to someone.

I listened to UGLIES on audio a few weeks ago. It was such a relief to read PRETTIES. Shay is much less annoying in print. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Currently #32

Something Old

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

The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer. 1931/2008. Sourcebooks. 469 pages. [Source: Review copy]

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

Small House at Allington. Anthony Trollope. 1864. 695 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New

The Romanov Empress. C.W. Gortner. 2018. 431 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Unbound. Ann E. Burg. 2016/2018. 347 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
The Hazel Wood. Melissa Albert. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
Something True

Living Insights Study Bible. 1996. 1606 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Sovereignty of God. Arthur W. Pink. 1917. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]

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

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

What If Jesus Had Never Been Born. D. James Kennedy. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Hand of God. Alistair Begg. 1999/2018. 204 pages. [Source: Review copy]  

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews