Thursday, October 18, 2018

I Lost My Tooth

I Lost My Tooth (Unlimited Squirrels #1) Mo Willems. 2018. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:  I lost my tooth! Th! What did you say, Zoom Squirrel? Th! Th! Th! I lost my tooth, Th-ip Squirrel. What did Zoom Squirrel say?

Premise/plot: Zoom Squirrel has lost a tooth. His squirrel friends have a hard time understanding what exactly this means. Their confusion goes on for over fifty pages. They imagine first that Zoom's tooth is MISSING. Then when Zoom explains that it was a baby tooth, his friends get really emotional. A BABY tooth is MISSING.

My thoughts: I think I would like this one more if it didn't go on so very long. The first fifty-eight pages are the 'big story.' But the book is ninety-six pages. The remaining pages are filled with junk. What kind of junk? Acorn-y jokes. There are a few non-fiction facts shared as well. I suppose these facts aren't technically junk. There's a page on HUMAN teeth. There's a page on SQUIRREL TEETH. And then there's the a bizarre page that shares facts about bear teeth and shark teeth. We also learn the oh-so-obvious-fact that plants do not have teeth. (Do we really need this quiz and answer page?!?!)

I am super-excited that Mo Willem is still writing books. I love his Pigeon series. I do. I love, love, love, crazy-love his Elephant and Piggie series. I enjoy Knuffle Bunny. There have been a few stand-alone books that I've enjoyed as well. This appears to be the start of a new series. I hope future books are better.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey. Anne Bronte. 1847. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.

Premise/plot: Agnes Grey is a young woman who challenges herself to leave home and become a governess. Her family needs income, true, but her parents are not telling her to work or even wanting her to work. The Bloomfields are her first family and the Murrays are her second. Neither situation is ideal.

The Bloomfield children are out-of-control. Master Tom and Mary Ann rule the schoolroom and they know it. Agnes Grey has been given no authority to discipline the children. The parents expect her to rule without power or authority. Any misstep, any fault, any misbehavior--no matter how big or small--is her fault by default. She shouldn't call herself a governess if she can't manage naughty children. She learns quickly not to run to the parents with tales of misbehavior OR even with pleas for support. She'll receive no support from either parent. She doesn't last long at this first job, though the fact that she lasts more than a month or two says something about her fortitude.

The Murray children are much older. There are two young ladies: Miss Rosalie and Miss Matilda. Rosalie is 'out' in society and FLIRTATIOUS. Matilda is a year or two younger. Her biggest fault is her love of swearing. These two don't "misbehave" in the same way as the Bloomfields. No throwing themselves on the floor and rolling about, for example. But they don't apply themselves to lessons. And the parents don't mind. They want their daughters to outwardly conform and if they learn a little now and then--almost by accident--so much the better. But no biggie if they never learn to think. This second job lasts for several years.

While staying with the Murrays, Agnes Grey meets a curate, Edward Weston. These two occasionally speak with one another. What little she knows about him is enough to warm her heart and make her giddy. She doesn't hope that he like-likes her in return. But she has heart-eyes for him for sure.

Will Agnes Grey remain in the schoolroom for ever? Do governesses ever get happily ever after endings?

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. Agnes Grey is a true kindred spirit. And her ideals are my ideals. I too would find Edward Weston swoon-worthy. She's a good woman who often finds herself in difficult circumstances. She has strong values, strong morals, strong beliefs. She knows right from wrong. She believes that children should be trained--disciplined. Boys and girls need to learn right from wrong, need to have their behavior corrected, need to apologize when they've misbehaved, need to learn kindness and compassion, need to take responsibility for what they say and do.

One of my favorite characters is Nancy Brown, a poor cottager that receives visits from Agnes Grey and Mr. Weston. Both read Scripture to her. 


On being a governess:
My pupils had no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt. The habitual fear of their father's peevish temper, and the dread of the punishments he was wont to inflict when irritated, kept them generally within bounds in his immediate presence. The girls, too, had some fear of their mother's anger; and the boy might occasionally he bribed to do as she bid him by the hope of reward; but I had no rewards to offer, and as for punishments, I was given to understand, the parents reserved that privilege to themselves; and yet they expected me to keep my pupils in order. (25)
To the difficulty of preventing him from doing what he ought not, was added that of forcing him to do what he ought. (26)
Patience, Firmness, and Perseverance were my only weapons; and these I resolved to use to the utmost. (26)
If I were quiet at the moment, I was conniving at their disorderly conduct, if, (as was frequently the case,) I happened to be exalting my voice to enforce order, I was using undue violence, and setting the girls a bad example by such ungentleness of tone and language. (38)
 You cannot expect stone to be as pliable as clay. (51) [Agnes' mother gives her daughter counsel.]
Rosalie and Agnes
"Oh, I don't mind his being wicked [Sir Thomas Ashby]; he's all the better for that; and as for disliking him--I shouldn't greatly object to being Lady Ashby of Ashby Park, if I must marry; but if I could always be young, I would be always single. I should like to enjoy myself thoroughly, and coquet with all the world, till I am on the verge of being called an old maid; and then, to escape the infamy of that, after having made ten thousand conquests, to break all their hearts save one, by marrying some high-born, rich, indulgent husband, whom, on the other hand, fifty ladies were dying to have." "Well, as long as you entertain those views, keep single by all means, and never marry at all, not even to escape the infamy of old-maidenhood." (77-8)
Agnes and Nancy
"Well, Miss Grey, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to hear that chapter in the First Epistle of Saint John, that says, 'God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'" With a little searching I found these words in the fourth chapter. When I came to the seventh verse she interrupted me, and with needless apologies for such a liberty, desired me to read it very slowly, that she might take it all in, and dwell on every word; hoping I would excuse her as she was but a simple body. "The wisest person," I replied, "might think over each of these verses for an hour, and be all the better for it; and I would rather read them slowly than not." (87)
Mr. Weston and Nancy
‘“Well,” says he, “you know the first and great commandment—and the second, which is like unto it—on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets? You say you cannot love God; but it strikes me that if you rightly consider who and what He is, you cannot help it. He is your father, your best friend: every blessing, everything good, pleasant, or useful, comes from Him; and everything evil, everything you have reason to hate, to shun, or to fear, comes from Satan—His enemy as well as ours. And for this cause was God manifest in the flesh, that He might destroy the works of the Devil: in one word, God is love; and the more of love we have within us, the nearer we are to Him and the more of His spirit we possess.”
‘“Well, sir,” I said, “if I can always think on these things, I think I might well love God: but how can I love my neighbours, when they vex me, and be so contrary and sinful as some on ’em is?”
‘“It may seem a hard matter,” says he, “to love our neighbours, who have so much of what is evil about them, and whose faults so often awaken the evil that lingers within ourselves; but remember that He made them, and He loves them; and whosoever loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten also. And if God so loveth us, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us, we ought also to love one another. But if you cannot feel positive affection for those who do not care for you, you can at least try to do to them as you would they should do unto you: you can endeavour to pity their failings and excuse their offences, and to do all the good you can to those about you. And if you accustom yourself to this, Nancy, the very effort itself will make you love them in some degree—to say nothing of the goodwill your kindness would beget in them, though they might have little else that is good about them. If we love God and wish to serve Him, let us try to be like Him, to do His work, to labour for His glory—which is the good of man—to hasten the coming of His kingdom, which is the peace and happiness of all the world: however powerless we may seem to be, in doing all the good we can through life, the humblest of us may do much towards it: and let us dwell in love, that He may dwell in us and we in Him. The more happiness we bestow, the more we shall receive, even here; and the greater will be our reward in heaven when we rest from our labours.” I believe, Miss, them is his very words, for I’ve thought ’em ower many a time. An’ then he took that Bible, an’ read bits here and there, an’ explained ’em as clear as the day: and it seemed like as a new light broke in on my soul; an’ I felt fair aglow about my heart, an’ only wished poor Bill an’ all the world could ha’ been there, an’ heard it all, and rejoiced wi’ me. (92-3)
Mr. Weston and Agnes
I like wild-flowers,’ said he; ‘others I don’t care about, because I have no particular associations connected with them—except one or two.  What are your favourite flowers?’
‘Primroses, bluebells, and heath-blossoms.’
‘Not violets?’
‘No; because, as you say, I have no particular associations connected with them; for there are no sweet violets among the hills and valleys round my home.’
‘It must be a great consolation to you to have a home, Miss Grey,’ observed my companion after a short pause: ‘however remote, or however seldom visited, still it is something to look to.’
‘It is so much that I think I could not live without it,’ replied I, with an enthusiasm of which I immediately repented; for I thought it must have sounded essentially silly.
‘Oh, yes, you could,’ said he, with a thoughtful smile.  ‘The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than anyone can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking.  You might be miserable without a home, but even you could live; and not so miserably as you suppose.  The human heart is like india-rubber; a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it.  If “little more than nothing will disturb it, little less than all things will suffice” to break it.  As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself that strengthens it against external violence.  Every blow that shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil, that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.
‘I speak from experience—partly my own.  There was a time when I thought as you do—at least, I was fully persuaded that home and its affections were the only things that made life tolerable: that, if deprived of these, existence would become a burden hard to be endured; but now I have no home—unless you would dignify my two hired rooms at Horton by such a name;—and not twelve months ago I lost the last and dearest of my early friends; and yet, not only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort, even for this life: though I must acknowledge that I can seldom enter even an humble cottage at the close of day, and see its inhabitants peaceably gathered around their cheerful hearth, without a feeling almost of envy at their domestic enjoyment.’
‘You don’t know what happiness lies before you yet,’ said I: ‘you are now only in the commencement of your journey.’
‘The best of happiness,’ replied he, ‘is mine already—the power and the will to be useful.’
Rosalie and Agnes
She left me, offended at my want of sympathy, and thinking, no doubt, that I envied her.  I did not—at least, I firmly believed I did not.  I was sorry for her; I was amazed, disgusted at her heartless vanity; I wondered why so much beauty should be given to those who made so bad a use of it, and denied to some who would make it a benefit to both themselves and others.
But, God knows best, I concluded.  There are, I suppose, some men as vain, as selfish, and as heartless as she is, and, perhaps, such women may be useful to punish them. (122)
Mr. Weston and Agnes

‘I suppose it’s these things, Miss Grey, that make you think you could not live without a home?’
‘Not exactly.  The fact is I am too socially disposed to be able to live contentedly without a friend; and as the only friends I have, or am likely to have, are at home, if it—or rather, if they were gone—I will not say I could not live—but I would rather not live in such a desolate world.’
‘But why do you say the only friends you are likely to have?  Are you so unsociable that you cannot make friends?’
‘No, but I never made one yet; and in my present position there is no possibility of doing so, or even of forming a common acquaintance.  The fault may be partly in myself, but I hope not altogether.’
‘The fault is partly in society, and partly, I should think, in your immediate neighbours: and partly, too, in yourself; for many ladies, in your position, would make themselves be noticed and accounted of.  But your pupils should be companions for you in some degree; they cannot be many years younger than yourself.’
‘Oh, yes, they are good company sometimes; but I cannot call them friends, nor would they think of bestowing such a name on me—they have other companions better suited to their tastes.’
‘Perhaps you are too wise for them.  How do you amuse yourself when alone—do you read much?’
‘Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.’
From speaking of books in general, he passed to different books in particular, and proceeded by rapid transitions from topic to topic, till several matters, both of taste and opinion, had been discussed considerably within the space of half an hour, but without the embellishment of many observations from himself; he being evidently less bent upon communicating his own thoughts and predilections, than on discovering mine.  He had not the tact, or the art, to effect such a purpose by skilfully drawing out my sentiments or ideas through the real or apparent statement of his own, or leading the conversation by imperceptible gradations to such topics as he wished to advert to: but such gentle abruptness, and such single-minded straightforwardness, could not possibly offend me.
Agnes on Rosalie
And when I saw this, and when I beheld her plunge more recklessly than ever into the depths of heartless coquetry, I had no more pity for her.  ‘Come what will,’ I thought, ‘she deserves it.  Sir Thomas cannot be too bad for her; and the sooner she is incapacitated from deceiving and injuring others the better.’  (137)
Rosalie and Agnes
‘But could you not try to occupy his mind with something better; and engage him to give up such habits?  I’m sure you have powers of persuasion, and qualifications for amusing a gentleman, which many ladies would be glad to possess.’
‘And so you think I would lay myself out for his amusement!  No: that’s not my idea of a wife.  It’s the husband’s part to please the wife, not hers to please him; and if he isn’t satisfied with her as she is—and thankful to possess her too—he isn’t worthy of her, that’s all.  And as for persuasion, I assure you I shan’t trouble myself with that: I’ve enough to do to bear with him as he is, without attempting to work a reform. (177)
Mr. Weston and Agnes
‘I expect to like my parish better a year or two hence, when I have worked certain reforms I have set my heart upon—or, at least, progressed some steps towards such an achievement.  But you may congratulate me now; for I find it very agreeable to have a parish all to myself, with nobody to interfere with me—to thwart my plans or cripple my exertions: and besides, I have a respectable house in a rather pleasant neighbourhood, and three hundred pounds a year; and, in fact, I have nothing but solitude to complain of, and nothing but a companion to wish for.’
He looked at me as he concluded: and the flash of his dark eyes seemed to set my face on fire; greatly to my own discomfiture, for to evince confusion at such a juncture was intolerable.  I made an effort, therefore, to remedy the evil, and disclaim all personal application of the remark by a hasty, ill-expressed reply, to the effect that, if he waited till he was well known in the neighbourhood, he might have numerous opportunities for supplying his want among the residents of F--- and its vicinity, or the visitors of A---, if he required so ample a choice: not considering the compliment implied by such an assertion, till his answer made me aware of it.
‘I am not so presumptuous as to believe that,’ said he, ‘though you tell it me; but if it were so, I am rather particular in my notions of a companion for life, and perhaps I might not find one to suit me among the ladies you mention.’
‘If you require perfection, you never will.’
‘I do not—I have no right to require it, as being so far from perfect myself.’ (186)
 Mr. Weston and Agnes
‘My house is desolate yet, Miss Grey,’ he smilingly observed, ‘and I am acquainted now with all the ladies in my parish, and several in this town too; and many others I know by sight and by report; but not one of them will suit me for a companion; in fact, there is only one person in the world that will: and that is yourself; and I want to know your decision?’
‘Are you in earnest, Mr. Weston?’
‘In earnest!  How could you think I should jest on such a subject?’
He laid his hand on mine, that rested on his arm: he must have felt it tremble—but it was no great matter now.
‘I hope I have not been too precipitate,’ he said, in a serious tone.  ‘You must have known that it was not my way to flatter and talk soft nonsense, or even to speak the admiration that I felt; and that a single word or glance of mine meant more than the honied phrases and fervent protestations of most other men.’
I said something about not liking to leave my mother, and doing nothing without her consent.
‘I settled everything with Mrs. Grey, while you were putting on your bonnet,’ replied he.  ‘She said I might have her consent, if I could obtain yours; and I asked her, in case I should be so happy, to come and live with us—for I was sure you would like it better.  But she refused, saying she could now afford to employ an assistant, and would continue the school till she could purchase an annuity sufficient to maintain her in comfortable lodgings; and, meantime, she would spend her vacations alternately with us and your sister, and should be quite contented if you were happy.  And so now I have overruled your objections on her account.  Have you any other?’
‘You love me then?’ said be, fervently pressing my hand.
‘Yes.’ (192)
Happy ending time!
My Diary, from which I have compiled these pages, goes but little further.  I could go on for years, but I will content myself with adding, that I shall never forget that glorious summer evening, and always remember with delight that steep hill, and the edge of the precipice where we stood together, watching the splendid sunset mirrored in the restless world of waters at our feet—with hearts filled with gratitude to heaven, and happiness, and love—almost too full for speech. (192)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


My Victorian Year #43

I am still reading Anthony Trollope's Small House at Allington. I will be sharing some quotes from the book. I have finished two books since the last Victorian Year post. The first is Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell.  The second is Dracula by Bram Stoker. I've also watched an adaptation of Great Expectations (1946).

Great Expectations. 1946. Directed and adapted by David Lean. Starring John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Martita Hunt, Finlay Currie, Alec Guinness, Eileen Erskine, and Bernard Miles.

I feel I should first point out that this is the only adaptation of Great Expectations that I've seen. I have no other film with which to compare it. Is it faithful to the book? Somewhat. It does take liberties. With the ending it takes HUGE liberties. I'm not sure Estella is Estella enough--if that makes sense.

As I was watching it, Mom made the observation that Estella is in many ways similar to Scarlett O'Hara--in her selfish heartlessness. I don't know that Estella deserves a happily-ever-after ending. I would have more respect for Pip, perhaps, if he wasn't so head-over-heels with Estella and blind to her greatest faults. Oh, he knows she has faults. But he seems to ignore/dismiss them. Her insides don't match her outsides--and he seems okay with that, more than okay with that.

But when I really stop and consider Pip--is he a great judge of character in general? He is just as blind when it comes to Joe. The way Pip feels about Joe--the way he's ashamed of him, embarrassed by him, dismissive of him, at times rude to him--if only by default of complete and total ingratitude--makes me angry.

I liked the film okay. I do think they took a few liberties here and there. I'm not sure the film includes all my favorite dialogue-driven scenes. But I'd really have to watch the film again to double-check. (I don't want to.)

Quotes from Small House at Allington
A self-imposed trouble will not allow itself to be banished.
“Ah, that’s so like you. I always said you’d no feeling of real romance. If I cared for a woman I’d give her the coat off my back.” “I’d do better than that,” said Johnny. “I’d give her the heart out of my body. I’d be chopped up alive for a girl I loved; but it shouldn’t be for another man’s wife.”
We saw that he had difficulty in writing it, but the miracle was, that any man could have found it possible to write it.
Love does not follow worth, and is not given to excellence; — nor is it destroyed by ill-usage, nor killed by blows and mutilation.
“Mothers do not often get tired of their children, whatever the children may do of their mothers.”
“I don’t know that any good would be got by knocking him over the head. And if we are to be Christians, I suppose we ought to be Christians.”
“What sort of a Christian has he been?” “That’s true enough; and if I was Bernard, I should be very apt to forget my Bible lessons about meekness.” There are some things for which a man ought to be beaten black and blue.” “So that he shouldn’t do them again?” “Exactly.”

“I don’t know much about being in love with her,” said Johnny, turning very red as he spoke. “But I’d go through fire and water for her, my lord. I knew her years before he had ever seen her, and have loved her a great deal better than he will ever love any one. 
My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.
 There are certain maladies which make the whole body sore.
John Eames had reached his office precisely at twelve o’clock, but when he did so he hardly knew whether he was standing on his heels or his head.
No one thinks of defending himself to a newspaper except an ass; — unless it be some fellow who wants to have his name puffed.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Quiet. Tomie dePaola. 2018. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "My, oh my," the grandfather said. "Everything is in such a hurry."

Premise/plot: One thing I love about picture books is that often what you see is what you get. This is a story celebrating quietness and stillness. A grandfather is on a walk with his grandchildren and a dog. Once the grandfather points out how 'everything' is in a hurry, they all take turns pointing out the busyness they see in nature as they walk along. But soon it is time to sit down and rest, to slow down their minds and bodies, to just be still. Just as nature can be busy, it can also be restful.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I agree with the conclusion--the moral, if you will--of this one: To be quiet and still is a special thing. There is a timelessness to this one which makes it somewhat unique.  I think Mr. Rogers would approve of this one!

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, October 15, 2018

Currently #41

Something Old

Dear and Glorious Physician. Taylor Caldwell. 1958. 560 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]
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. Jeff Guinn. 2017. 454 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Season of Grace. Lauraine Snelling. 2018. Bethany House.  320  pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Always and Forever, Lara Jean. (To All The Boys I've Loved Before #3) Jenny Han. 325 pages. [Source: Library]

The Dollar Kids. Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Illustrated by Ryan Andrews. 2018. Candlewick. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True 

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

New American Standard Bible Reference Edition. 1971. Lockman Foundation. 1730 pages. [Source: Bought]

All That's Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment. 2018. Moody. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sylvia's Lovers

Sylvia's Lovers. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1863/1997. Everyman Paperbacks. 560 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: On the north-eastern shores of England there is a town called Monkshaven, containing at the present day about fifteen thousand inhabitants.

Premise/plot: The heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell's Sylvia's Lovers is Sylvia Robson. (Relatively) soon after the novel opens, Sylvia falls in love with a specksioneer Charley Kinraid. This frustrates the plans of her cousin, Philip Hepburn. He is also in love with Sylvia. He hasn't been courting her, but, he has been tutoring her. Philip has heard a few rumors that Kinraid essentially has left a string of girls all madly in love with him. (He is a sailor.) But Sylvia isn't going to be warned or lectured or bossed about by her cousin!

One day Philip witnesses Kinraid being pressed into service--being taken up by the press gang. (Military service not being all voluntary at that time). Charley begs Philip to tell Sylvia what has happened, begs him to let her know that his disappearance was not of his doing. By the time Philip makes his way to visit Sylvia and her family--his family too mind you--word has reached them--the town/village--that Kinraid is DEAD. Some of his belongings have washed up from the sea. Philip decides--for better or worse--to keep quiet.

But Kinraid's disappearance does not necessarily mean that Philip will succeed in his efforts to woo the young and beautiful Sylvia. In fact, if Sylvia's father, Daniel, had stayed out of trouble, I'm confident that his efforts would have continued to fail. But. Daniel Robson acted the fool--a noble fool, perhaps. He decided to participate in a RIOT. He was right there in the heart of the action--no mistaking his intentions.

Who was there to take care of the family when Daniel Robson was arrested? imprisoned? taken away to face trial and sentencing? Good, kind, dependable Philip, that's who. He was so good, so kind, so compassionate, so faithful. When he does propose, she says yes. Even if there's a tiny bit of doubt at the back of her mind if it's the right thing to do. She doesn't love-love Philip. But. She does care for him some.

Philip thinks that there's a good chance that Charley will die in action during the war--the English are fighting the French--or at sea--storms do happen. But Charley returns. And Philip and Sylvia are in for quite a SHOCK when he does...

My thoughts: I really enjoyed Sylvia's Lovers. If there was a movie adaptation of it, I would definitely watch it. (Most of Gaskell's other novels have been adapted for film.) I think fans of Poldark may enjoy this one.

Oddly enough, I was Team Philip for most of the book. In some ways, I find him the most developed character of the book. Sylvia was developed to some extent, but she felt a bit distant to me.

I loved the religious/spiritual themes of this one. 

  • Will our descendants have a wonder about us, such as we have about the inconsistency of our forefathers, or a surprise at our blindness that we do not perceive that, holding such and such opinions, our course of action must be so and so, or that the logical consequence of particular opinions must be convictions which at present we hold in abhorrence? (63)
  • Then he went on to wonder if the lives of one generation were but a repetition of the lives of those who had gone before, with no variation but from the internal cause that some had greater capacity for suffering than others. (218)
  • I tell thee my flesh and blood wasn't made for forgiving and forgetting. Once for all, thou must take me at my word. When I love I love, and when I hate I hate, and him as has done harm to me, or to mine, I may keep fra' striking or murdering, but I'll niver forgive. (300)
  • It seemed to be Sylvia's fate to captivate more people than she cared to like back again. (313)
  • God pities us as a father pities his poor wandering children; the nearer I come to death the clearer I see him. (445)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews



Dracula. Bram Stoker. 1897/2005. 448 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: 3 May. Bistritz. -- Left Munich at 8.35 PM on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6.46, but train was an hour late.

Premise/plot: This classic Victorian horror novel opens with Jonathan Harker's journal. He is soon to meet Count Dracula. He's yet unaware of how quickly his life is about to be turned topsy-turvy. The good news is that he won't have to face this epic battle between good and evil alone. He'll be surrounded by friends: Abraham Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward, Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood (aka Lord Godalming), and his wife, Mina Harker.

They were awakened to the danger through the tragic loss of their dear, dear friend and companion Miss Lucy Westenra.

The novel consists of diaries, journals, letters, records, etc.

My thoughts: I first read Dracula in 2007. That almost seems a lifetime ago. I reread Dracula because I needed a qualifying read for the 2018 #Victober reading challenge. Dracula could fulfill Katie's challenge or Kate's challenge.

  • "You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go. There is reason that all things are as they are, and did you see with my eyes and know with my knowledge, you would perhaps better understand." (31)
  • What does it all mean? I am beginning to wonder if my long habit of life amongst the insane is beginning to tell upon my own brain. (157)
  • "If I could, I would take on myself the burden that you do bear. But there are things that you know not, but that you shall know, and bless me for knowing, though they are not pleasant things. (190)
  • I suppose a cry does us all good at times--clears the air as other rain does. (206)
  • "My friends, this is much; it is a terrible task, that we undertake, and there may be consequence to make the brave shudder. For if we fail in this our fight he must surely win; and then where end we? Life is nothings; I heed him not. But to fail here, is not mere life or death. It is that we become as him; that we henceforward become foul things of the night like him--without heart or conscience, preying on the bodies of those we love best." (269)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, October 12, 2018

The Promise

The Promise. Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe. Illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rachel pulled herself out of her happy dream. In her sleep she was free to be with her friends and go to school. But now, the gong announced the beginning of another day in Auschwitz prison camp.

Premise/plot: Toby and Rachel are sisters held together by love and a promise: to stay together no matter what. Can these two sisters keep that promise even in Auschwitz? Is the promise worth risking everything for?

My thoughts: What an emotional story! The Promise is a nonfiction picture book for older readers. It is NOT for young readers, in my opinion. Of course one could ask when is the right age--the appropriate time--to introduce the subject of the Holocaust to children. I do think it's something that must be taught, shared. Those voices--in particular nonfiction--deserve to be heard in every generation.

There are a few picture books set during the Holocaust or World War II. But there aren't all that many. I do think it's worth reading.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Crocodile and the Dentist

The Crocodile and the Dentist. Taro Gomi. 1984/2018. Chronicle. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I really don't want to...but I have to.

Premise/plot: There are two sides to every story. Crocodile is TERRIFIED of the dentist. The dentist is TERRIFIED of Crocodile. Both are approaching this appointment with a definite "I REALLY DON'T WANT TO....BUT I HAVE TO." In fact, the dialogue is mirrored throughout the book. Will Crocodile and Dentist survive the dreaded dental visit?

This was originally published in Japan in 1984. This English translation is copyrighted 2018. I believe it has been translated into many different languages. 

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. It was very funny. I loved both points of view. I think many, many readers--of all ages--can relate to this one.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Heart In a Body in the World

A Heart in a Body in the World. Deb Caletti. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Annabelle Agnelli is trying to hold it together in the parking lot of Dick's Drive-In. After what just happened, she's stunned. Frozen. And then--imagine it--Annabelle's wrecked self suddenly takes off like a lightning bolt.

Premise/plot: If ever a book needs a freezer, then A Heart in the Body in the World does. Annabelle's story--her nightmare of a story--unfolds slowly throughout the book as she runs across the country. Is she running from her past? running from her present? or running towards her future? Annabelle herself couldn't tell you why she's running--just that she must keep going no matter what. She's supported--for the most part--by her family and friends. Grandpa Ed is driving his RV cross country. Every day these two meet up at the end of the day. (Grandpa Ed has his lady friend and her grandson meet up now and then with them as well. His name is Luke Messenger. Oh-so-reluctantly Annabelle lets herself make a new friend.)

My thoughts: At first I found the slow-reveal to be frustrating. Part of me wanted to know what traumatic event had shattered Annabelle's life and know it now. But as more of her story came out, I lost my frustration. By the time we know everything we are so completely engaged and connected with Annabelle (and those close to her) that her pain is our pain. This has all the feels--thus the need for a FREEZER.

Should every one read A Heart In a Body In the World? Yes. No. Yes. No. Maybe. I will say that this one is not a clean read. This one has language in it--blasphemy. It is not frivolous, trivial, or casual. And the subject matter is so important--so relevant--that I think it is probably worth reading for most. So many discussions could/should be had around this one. It is not age-appropriate for every one. Just because a reader isn't ready now doesn't mean that the reader will never be ready.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Monogram Murders

The Monogram Murders. (New Hercule Poirot Mystery #1) Sophie Hannah. 2014. 325 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: "All's I'm saying is, I don't like her," the waitress with the flyaway hair whispered.

Premise/plot: The Monogram Murders is the first in a new mystery series starring Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. The Monogram Murders is set in London--for the most part--in the 1920s. Poirot is retired and living in London. Detective (Edward) Catchpool is a new acquaintance. They both board at the same boardinghouse. Together they will set out to solve a murder; or MURDERS. Soon after the novel opens, three bodies are found at a hotel. All three victims have a monogrammed cuff link placed in their mouths.

The Monogram Murders, for the most part, is told from the perspective of Catchpool. There are only a few chapters where Catchpool is absent and Poirot is on his own detecting. (The first chapter, for example, is one such instance. But midway through the novel, the two separate. One goes to a village to investigate the home town of the three victims. One remains in London.)

I have not decided if Catchpool is exceptionally unobservant or if Hercule Poirot has superpowers.

My thoughts: I found this one compelling enough to keep reading but ultimately frustrating in the end. Silly me if I prefer my mysteries to have actual clues that readers can pick up on and make guesses--intelligent or not. It is just frustrating to have an arrogant, boasting detective who claims he knows who did it but won't share his clues or reasons until the last two pages of the book. What I found super-frustrating about this one is that Poirot never reveals who did it and the how and why of it. He sounds like a broken record: figure it out for yourself, Catchpool. Rehearse all the facts again, Catchpool. Keep at it, you'll be a better detective if you piece it together yourself. The primary suspect shares "the truth" at least three times and all readers know is that Poirot doesn't trust any of her versions of the truth. (Or does he, in the end?!) He has his own theories of what happened. But he mainly hints at what his theory is. I hated Poirot by the end. If that was Hannah's goal in resurrecting the oh-so-famous detective, then she was successful. Christie's Poirot was never this infuriating.

Favorite quote: "You should try drinking a cup of tea once in a while. Tea doesn't taste like mud, and there's no such thing as too much of it. Tea's only ever good for a person." (118)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing. Nancy Churnin. Illustrated by James Rey Sanchez. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Irving stood on tiptoe to see over the rail. Behind him, too far to glimpse, was Russia where angry Cossacks had burned his family's home to ashes. Ahead was America. What would they find there?

Premise/plot: Nancy Churnin has written a picture book biography of songwriter Irving Berlin. She begins his story with his family's journey to America. He was five. Life in the new country was hard--strange--but Berlin loved it. The picture book focuses on his early years: how he got started writing songs, how he got into the music business, his most popular songs. But the book specifically highlights his writing "God Bless America."

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I found it informative and compelling. I didn't realize how little I knew about his personal life until I read this one. I think we all tend to take certain songs for granted without really thinking about why/how they were written, without thinking about the songwriters behind them. It's a book worth reading.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, October 08, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #38 My Victorian Year #40

Great Expectations. Charles Dickens. 1860. Read for LibriVox by Mil Nicholson. 20 hours, 13 minutes. [Source: Librivox]

First sentence: My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Note: This was my fourth time to "read" the novel. The first and second times were in high school and college where I rushed through at lightning speed because I was a procrastinator. I remembered nothing. The third time I savored the novel and it finally CLICKED for me. The fourth time was as an audio book. Audio is always slightly different for me. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Sometimes listening doesn't feel like it should count as reading, then again sometimes it does. I was engaged with this audio for the most part--give or take a few interruptions. What I miss most about listening--as opposed to reading--is the inability to mark quotes. For that reason, I am referring back to my first review of the novel.

Premise/plot: Can any Charles Dickens' novel easily--painlessly--be condensed into a couple of sentences that summarizes the plot and introduces the characters in an enticing, compelling way? I say NO. But I'll try. (Because I'm stubborn like that!)

Pip is a young man being raised by his older sister and his brother-in-law--the Gargerys. Mrs. Joe isn't all that nice to him, but, Joe--a blacksmith--is a godsend. The novel opens with some excitement. Pip has been approached--in a cemetery--by a shady character, a grown man, a man readers learn to be an escaped convict. He wants a file--to rid him of his chains--and some food. He's depending on Pip for both. Does Pip have a choice in helping him? Not really. (Though Pip is used to threats since he lives with his sister.) Some time later, Pip is given another opportunity. This time an eccentric old lady, Miss Havisham, wants Pip to be a companion for her and her adopted daughter, Estella. Does Pip have a choice? Again I'll say not really. The meeting is memorable and life-changing. Both his meeting of Miss Havisham and of Estella will change him for better or worse. It is this meeting that brings about his angst--his discontent. After meeting these two, he's no longer content in his home being raised by Joe and Mrs. Joe. He's no longer content being barely literate. He's no longer content with the idea of apprenticing to Joe and following in his footsteps. He wants what seems to be impossible: to be a gentleman--to walk, talk, act, live as a gentleman. But never say never, right? One day--in the middle of his apprenticeship to Joe--his life takes another turn. A lawyer approaches him with glad tidings: he's now a man with expectations. The catch: his benefactor wants to remain anonymous. His life from that moment on will change dramatically. He's being given the opportunity to become a new man. But does new always mean better? And what about those he leaves behind? Joe and Biddy, in particular. (Biddy is a young woman who has come to live with the family after Mrs. Joe is seriously injured. Biddy is of their class but has some education.) He's thrust into a whole new world, and, his manners and morals can sometimes lag behind. Joe goes to live with the Pockets; he becomes best-best friends with Herbert Pocket. Herbert christens him "Handel." The two go through much together; their friendship is deep and sincere. Life seems to be going swell, going according to Pip's grand plan, when Pip learns an unsettling truth. He learns the identity of his benefactor. Pip is shaken, confused, and ANGSTy once again. What is he to do now?! The foundation of his hopes and dreams has collapses. His big plan of marrying Estella seems to be truly impossible now. But not just that plan but all his plans seem to be off-track now. Who can he depend on in this crisis? From this point on, in my opinion, the novel shifts from being a coming-of-age story to a dramatic MYSTERY. So much ACTION and DRAMA are packed into the last hundred or so pages.

My thoughts: I recommend reading Great Expectations at a steady pace. It is not one to rush through in one or two days. If you do, chances are you won't remember what you read, and the novel won't stir up your emotions. It is not one to read slowly hit-or-miss style. If you don't read in it every day or every other day, you might not remember much either. The greatest danger may be that you won't connect with the characters or care about them. And unless you become attached to a character or two, the book won't stay with you. This was my third time to read the novel. In high school, I waited until the day before it was due to open it. It was a NIGHTMARE reading experience. I hated every minute of it. In college, I don't think I made the same mistake twice. I don't think I procrastinated. I think my sin in that instance was holding a grudge and reading it with a closed mind and heart. Since graduating college, I've read Dickens voluntarily. And this year I decided to read Great Expectations--as if for the first time. The goal: to read it with fresh eyes, open heart, open mind, looking for what made Great Expectations GREAT.

What was great about Great Expectations? I really enjoyed the characters, the themes, and the contrasts. What kind of contrasts? Love and hate, foolishness and wisdom, bitterness and forgiveness, friends and enemies, pride and humility. For example, we have two characters that live for revenge and thrive on bitterness to a certain degree. Abel Magwitch and Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham may be the more memorable of the two. She is living in a her worst moment, perpetuating the agony of it. She was jilted at the altar, and from that moment on her life stopped. Instead of moving on with her life, instead of finding a reason to keep living, she became filled with hate, pain, anger, bitterness. Not far behind her is Abel Magwitch. He has an enemy and there is this constant need to get him, to get revenge, to come out on top, to win no matter what. And this enemy haunts him--taunts him. Abel has his good side, as does Miss Havisham. But their worldview is tainted more by hate than love, more by this need to hurt others than to love.

What unites this novel is Pip. And a large part of Pip's identity is his undying, never changing love for Estella. It's unrequited love at that. Pip loves Estella. Estella does not love Pip. Estella loves Estella. I'm not sure if Dickens was trying to enter into the debate of nature versus nurture or not. But Estella has been raised to hate, raised to hurt. Miss Havisham thinks she's protecting Estella from having her heart broken by showing her day in and day out what happens from trusting a man. But in reality, Estella doesn't have a heart to hurt. She doesn't even have a heart to love the woman who raised her. Pip has trouble seeing the real Estella. His Estella is an idealized version, perhaps a version of who she could be if she'd been raised differently, if she'd allow herself to be human, if she'd allow herself to be vulnerable.

"You must know," said Estella, condescending to me as a brilliant and beautiful woman might, "that I have no heart,—if that has anything to do with my memory." I got through some jargon to the effect that I took the liberty of doubting that. That I knew better. That there could be no such beauty without it. "Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt," said Estella, "and of course if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense."
Then, Estella being gone and we two left alone, she turned to me, and said in a whisper,— "Is she beautiful, graceful, well-grown? Do you admire her?" "Everybody must who sees her, Miss Havisham." She drew an arm round my neck, and drew my head close down to hers as she sat in the chair. "Love her, love her, love her! How does she use you?" Before I could answer (if I could have answered so difficult a question at all) she repeated, "Love her, love her, love her! If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces,—and as it gets older and stronger it will tear deeper,—love her, love her, love her!" Never had I seen such passionate eagerness as was joined to her utterance of these words. I could feel the muscles of the thin arm round my neck swell with the vehemence that possessed her.
"Hear me, Pip! I adopted her, to be loved. I bred her and educated her, to be loved. I developed her into what she is, that she might be loved. Love her!" She said the word often enough, and there could be no doubt that she meant to say it; but if the often repeated word had been hate instead of love—despair—revenge—dire death—it could not have sounded from her lips more like a curse. "I'll tell you," said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, "what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter—as I did!" When she came to that, and to a wild cry that followed that, I caught her round the waist. For she rose up in the chair, in her shroud of a dress, and struck at the air as if she would as soon have struck herself against the wall and fallen dead.
"Herbert," said I, laying my hand upon his knee, "I love—I adore—Estella." Instead of being transfixed, Herbert replied in an easy matter-of-course way, "Exactly. Well?" "Well, Herbert? Is that all you say? Well?" "What next, I mean?" said Herbert. "Of course I know that." "How do you know it?" said I. "How do I know it, Handel? Why, from you." "I never told you." "Told me! You have never told me when you have got your hair cut, but I have had senses to perceive it. You have always adored her, ever since I have known you. You brought your adoration and your portmanteau here together. Told me! Why, you have always told me all day long. When you told me your own story, you told me plainly that you began adoring her the first time you saw her, when you were very young indeed." "Very well, then," said I, to whom this was a new and not unwelcome light, "I have never left off adoring her. And she has come back, a most beautiful and most elegant creature. And I saw her yesterday. And if I adored her before, I now doubly adore her."
"O Estella!" I answered, as my bitter tears fell fast on her hand, do what I would to restrain them; "even if I remained in England and could hold my head up with the rest, how could I see you Drummle's wife?" "Nonsense," she returned,—"nonsense. This will pass in no time." "Never, Estella!" "You will get me out of your thoughts in a week." "Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since,—on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation, I associate you only with the good; and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. O God bless you, God forgive you!"
Favorite character: I think my favorite character was definitely Joe Gargery. Joe loved Pip unconditionally. Joe loved Pip even when Pip was being a brat or a snob--which was often especially in the first half of the book. Pip did nothing to earn Joe's unconditional love and support. Pip often thought of Joe as a fool, as ridiculous, as an embarrassment. But this reader saw him differently. I didn't need a late hour epiphany to see how awesome and amazing Joe was.

Favorite relationship: I really LOVED Herbert and Handel's friendship. I love how these two supported one another, confided in one another, wanted the best for one another. Herbert knew Pip--his strengths, his weaknesses--and loved him as a brother. That brotherly love was returned. When Pip came of age, he thought of Herbert first. How can I use my wealth to help Herbert get a start in life? When Pip's world started crashing in, I loved that Pip thought first of what this meant to Herbert and only secondly to what it meant for him and his dreams. I loved how these two seemed to understand one another. In hard, dangerous times or easy-going good times, these two were there for each other.

Favorite scene: I think one of my favorite scenes is between Pip and Miss Havisham. He is an adult now; he knows at last who his benefactor was; his own dreams are gone--his illusions shattered. He's come to ask for her help: he is not asking for money for himself, but money for his friend, Herbert, in setting him up in a career. His maturity in this scene effected me.
"If I give you the money for this purpose, will you keep my secret as you have kept your own?" "Quite as faithfully." "And your mind will be more at rest?" "Much more at rest." "Are you very unhappy now?" She asked this question, still without looking at me, but in an unwonted tone of sympathy. I could not reply at the moment, for my voice failed me. She put her left arm across the head of her stick, and softly laid her forehead on it. "I am far from happy, Miss Havisham; but I have other causes of disquiet than any you know of. They are the secrets I have mentioned." After a little while, she raised her head, and looked at the fire Again.
"It is noble in you to tell me that you have other causes of unhappiness, Is it true?" "Too true." "Can I only serve you, Pip, by serving your friend? Regarding that as done, is there nothing I can do for you yourself?" "Nothing. I thank you for the question. I thank you even more for the tone of the question. But there is nothing." She presently rose from her seat, and looked about the blighted room for the means of writing. There were none there, and she took from her pocket a yellow set of ivory tablets, mounted in tarnished gold, and wrote upon them with a pencil in a case of tarnished gold that hung from her neck.
She read me what she had written; and it was direct and clear, and evidently intended to absolve me from any suspicion of profiting by the receipt of the money. I took the tablets from her hand, and it trembled again, and it trembled more as she took off the chain to which the pencil was attached, and put it in mine. All this she did without looking at me. "My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name, "I forgive her," though ever so long after my broken heart is dust pray do it!" "O Miss Havisham," said I, "I can do it now. There have been sore mistakes; and my life has been a blind and thankless one; and I want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with you."

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses. Eleanor Estes. Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. 1944/2004. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 96 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Today, Monday, Wanda Petronski was not in her seat. But nobody, not even Peggy and Madeline, the girls who started all the fun, noticed her absence. Usually Wanda sat in the next to the last seat in the last row in Room 13. She sat in the corner of the room where the rough boys who did not make good marks on their report cards sat; the corner of the room where there was more scuffling of feet, most roars of laughter when anything funny was said, and most mud and dirt on the floor.

Premise/plot: The heroine of Eleanor Estes' The Hundred Dresses is a young girl named Maddie. The book chronicles her awakening of conscience. Peggy and Maddie began "having fun" with Wanda Petronski several months before this chapter book opens. Fun. That's how Peggy sees it. And perhaps that's how Maddie viewed it the first few times. But lately Maddie has been thinking the "fun" they're having is wrong--is in fact unkind. But if she spoke up to Peggy, would Peggy listen to her and stop? Or would Peggy turn her back on her? Would Maddie lose her best friend?

"The fun" started when Wanda said she had a hundred dresses in her closet. Wanda--the girl who has worn the same dress every single day of the school year. Wanda--the girl with the funny last name. Wanda--the girl who lives on the wrong side of town. How could that Wanda really, truly have hundred dresses in her closet. She has to be lying, right?! If she's going to tell such a bold lie as that, is teasing her all that wrong?

Maddie comes to think it is. But her change of heart may be too late. Will Wanda ever know that Maddie is sorry for the way she's behaved?

My thoughts: I first read this one a few years ago. I think I love it even more now upon second reading. The book has a gentleness to it, but don't underestimate the power of meekness. This book has a message for young readers.

Wanda. By the time the book opens, Wanda has essentially already left school. We see her through Maddie's eyes--in a flashback of sorts. We see her through her artwork. We see her through her letter to the teacher. The impression I get of Wanda is that she's incredible, a girl worth knowing and befriending. For it seems that despite the teasing, she is willing to forgive. She's not angry. She's not bitter. She's not hateful. She's kind. Turning the other cheek, kind. The embodiment of the golden rule: "do unto others."

Maddie. This is a coming-of-age for Maddie. It is her character growth the book chronicles. Maddie was not "the instigator" of the bullying. She was a follower--a somewhat reluctant participant. But by the end of the book Maddie realizes that even observing "the fun" and standing by and doing nothing--saying nothing--is a wrongful act. Maddie realizes her own cowardice, her own weakness. She makes a resolution to change, to be a better person, to make amends, to never follow the crowd again, to always do what is right no matter what.

Peggy. This is the girl we know the least about. We know that she is one who first started teasing Wanda. But we don't know her heart--just her actions. Did she know it was wrong? Did she stop "the fun" only because Wanda moved away, or did she too experience a change of heart? I get the impression that she feels guilty, but not the impression that she's genuinely repentant and wanting to make amends. If Maddie wasn't so eager to make amends, would Peggy's guilty feeling last all that long? We just don't know. We can guess. But we can't know.

Have you read the Hundred Dresses? What did you think of it?!

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Currently #40

Something Old

Dracula. Bram Stoker. 1897/2005. 448 pages. [Source: Bought]
Sylvia's Lovers. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1863/1997. Everyman Paperbacks. 560 pages. [Source: Bought]
Dear and Glorious Physician. Taylor Caldwell. 1958. 560 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]
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. Jeff Guinn. 2017. 454 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Something Borrowed
The Monogram Murders. (New Hercule Poirot Mystery #1) Sophie Hannah. 2014. 325 pages. [Source: Library]
A Heart in a Body in the World. Deb Caletti. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
Always and Forever, Lara Jean. (To All The Boys I've Loved Before #3) Jenny Han. 325 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True
Reforming Joy: A Conversation between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today. Tim Chester. 2018. Crossway. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

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

New American Standard Bible Reference Edition. 1971. Lockman Foundation. 1730 pages. [Source: Bought]
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, October 06, 2018

Little Men

Little Men. Louisa May Alcott. 1871. 329 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: "Please, sir, is this Plumfield?" asked a ragged boy of the man who opened the great gate at which the omnibus left him.
Premise/plot: Little Men is the sequel to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Jo has married her Professor Bhaer. They've started their own family AND a school. "Mother Bhaer" is much beloved by one and all. The school mostly consists of young boys with a few girls in attendance. Two of the students are her niece and nephew--Daisy and Demi Brooke. 
My thoughts: Little Men doesn't really have a plot. It has plenty of characters. It has plenty of lessons--morals. Not so much on plots and subplots unless you consider "boys will learn lessons--sometimes the hard way" a plot. I liked it okay. I did. I didn't dislike it. But there were so many characters, and none of the characters felt fully fleshed out. I did not have this problem with Little Women. Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Marmee, Laurie, etc. These are characters that stick with you; they live. 
Perhaps the teaching philosophies of the Bhaers would have been radical or unconventional at the time this one was published? 

I do still plan on reading Jo's Boys. Mom says it's her favorite. Maybe it will be my favorite too.

  • Latin, Greek, and mathematics were all very well, but in Professor Bhaer's opinion, self knowledge, self-help, and self-control were more important, and he tried to teach them carefully.
  • "Yes, I know many people think boys are a nuisance, but that is because they don't understand them. I do; and I never saw the boy yet whom I could not get on capitally with after I had once found the soft spot in his heart.
  • Sympathy is a sweet thing, and it worked wonders here, for each boy knew that Father Bhaer was interested in him, and some were readier to open their hearts to him than to a woman, especially the older ones, who liked to talk over their hopes and plans, man to man.
  • "I shall devote the whole of my plot to the largest crop of patience I can get, for that is what I need most," said Mrs. Jo, so soberly that the lads fell to thinking in good earnest what they should say when their turns came, and some among them felt a twinge of remorse, that they had helped to use up Mother Bhaer's stock of patience so fast.
  • "We will plant self-denial, and hoe it and water it, and make it grow so well that next Christmas no one will get ill by eating too much dinner. If you exercise your mind, George, it will get hungry just as your body does, and you will love books almost as much as my philosopher here," said Mr. Bhaer;
  • It takes so little to make a child happy that it is a pity, in a world so full of sunshine and pleasant things, that there should be any wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts.
  • I regret to say that Nat sometimes told lies. Not very black ones, seldom getting deeper than gray, and often the mildest of white fibs; but that did not matter, a lie is a lie, and though we all tell many polite untruths in this queer world of ours, it is not right, and everybody knows it.
  • "Salt is like good-humor, and nearly every thing is better for a pinch of it, Posy," and Uncle Fritz stopped as he passed, hammer in hand, to drive up two or three nails for Sally's little pans to hang on.
  • "You mustn't; it's wicked to say 'Damn!'" cried Tommy, who had followed his leader so far. "Oh, hang! don't you preach, but play away; it's part of the fun to swear." "I'd rather say 'thunder turtles,'" said Tommy, who had composed this interesting exclamation and was very proud of it.
  • Dear me, half the science of teaching is knowing how much children do for one another, and when to mix them.
  • Kindness in looks and words and ways is true politeness, and any one can have it if they only try to treat other people as they like to be treated themselves.
  • "Happy is the man who can put temptation in his pocket and learn self-denial from so sweet a little teacher!" added Mr. Bhaer.
  • Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes.
  • Daisy knew nothing about women's rights; she quietly took all she wanted, and no one denied her claim, because she did not undertake what she could not carry out, but unconsciously used the all-powerful right of her own influence to win from others any privilege for which she had proved her fitness.
  • Nan attempted all sorts of things, undaunted by direful failures, and clamored fiercely to be allowed to do every thing that the boys did. They laughed at her, hustled her out of the way, and protested against her meddling with their affairs. But she would not be quenched and she would be heard, for her will was strong, and she had the spirit of a rampant reformer.
  • "You must put swearing away in your fault-drawer, and lock it up; that's the way I do with my badness."
  • "I play that my mind is a round room, and my soul is a little sort of creature with wings that lives in it. The walls are full of shelves and drawers, and in them I keep my thoughts, and my goodness and badness, and all sorts of things. The goods I keep where I can see them, and the bads I lock up tight, but they get out, and I have to keep putting them in and squeezing them down, they are so strong."
  • It is never too early to try and plant them [good principles] in a child, and never too late to cultivate them in the most neglected person.
  • You are a sort of Berserker, Dan, and something to tussle with is as necessary to you as music is to Nat," said Mr. Bhaer, who knew all about the conversation between the boy and Mrs. Jo.
  • "He wasn't rich, was he?" asked Jack. "No." "He never did any thing to make a stir in the world, did he?" "No." "He was only good?" "That's all;" and Franz found himself wishing that Uncle John had done something to boast of, for it was evident that Jack was disappointed by his replies. "Only good. That is all and every thing," said Mr. Bhaer, who had overheard the last few words, and guessed what was going on the minds of the lads.
  •  Simple, generous goodness is the best capital to found the business of this life upon. It lasts when fame and money fail, and is the only riches we can take out of this world with us.
  • "Kindness is always better than force. Try it and see," answered Mr. Bhaer, rising.  Too many tales are as bad as too many bonbons. I have paid my forfeit and I go," and Mr. Bhaer ran for his life, with the whole flock in full pursuit.
  •  "I thought you must eat as much as ever you could on Thanksgiving. But Franz says you mustn't even then;" and Stuffy looked as if he had received bad news.
  • "I'll be careful; but everybody does eat lots, and I like it better than being moderate," said Stuffy, who leaned to the popular belief that Thanksgiving must be kept by coming as near apoplexy as possible, and escaping with merely a fit of indigestion or a headache.
  • Dear me! if men and women would only trust, understand, and help one another as my children do, what a capital place the world would be!
  • For love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive.
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac. Edmond Rostand. Translated by Gladys Thomas and Mary F Guillemard. 1897. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Hollo! You there! Your money!

NOTE: I've read Cyrano de Bergerac several times throughout the years. I believe this is the second time I've reviewed it for Becky's Book Reviews. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite plays. (The only one that might come close is William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.)

I decided to reread Cyrano de Bergerac for #Victober. One of the challenges is to read a book published in the last ten years of the Victorian period. Cyrano de Bergerac was published in 1897.

I am cutting and pasting the plot summary from my first review.  The "my thoughts" are new.

Premise/plot: Cyrano de Bergerac is in love with his cousin, Roxane. The problem? He lacks the courage to tell her so because he feels his nose--his hideous, ugliness--will prevent her from ever loving him in return. Also standing in his way is the fact that Roxane declares herself head over heels in love with oh-so-handsome Christian de Neuvillette. How does Christian feel about Roxane? He loves her of course. Why? Because she's beautiful. (At least Cyrano knows Roxane, and, his love isn't based on her beauty alone.) Roxane asks Cyrano to watch over Christian and be his friend. (Christian has just joined the same regiment.) Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane does love him, but, instead of that being the end of is just the start. For Roxane is determined that the man she loves will be brilliant and exceptionally well-spoken. He must win her heart through his words. The problem? Christian's idea of wooing is to say "I love you" and go in for a kiss. NOT WHAT ROXANE WANTS AT ALL. The solution is for Cyrano to give Christian the words to speak to win her heart for once and all. But is that a real solution?! Is a happily ever after possible in this love triangle?!

Cyrano de Bergerac is a five act (French) play by Edmond Rostand written/performed in 1897. It is set in seventeenth century France around the same time as The Three Musketeers. And like The Three Musketeers, it has sword fighting. Lots and lots of sword fighting.

 My thoughts: I love, love, love Cyrano de Bergerac. I'm not sure I equally adore Roxane. Cyrano is already madly in love with her before Act I. His love for her is never in question, and never in doubt. To him, she is absolute perfection. His longed-for ideal. But is he seeing only what he wants to see? How well does he know the real her? Does he love her because she is beautiful? Does he love her because she is so out of reach and unattainable? Does his love of her have roots from their shared childhood?

Roxane doesn't see the real him until it is too late. She has known him most of her life and never actually seen him. That is incredibly sad. I'm just trying to guess if she really was all that he imagined her to be. Was his love was a 'storybook love'--the stuff of daydreams only. Surely Roxane had flaws! Who doesn't have flaws?! Surely Roxane would have proved disappointing or irritating at times if they'd lived together closely.

Christian. How do I feel about him?! I think Cyrano and Christian are using each other--taking advantage of one another. This agreed upon dishonesty isn't all that healthy when all is said and done. Christian realizes--on a fateful day--that he needs more, deserves more. He doesn't want to be loved for his 'fairness' his fineness. He wants to be loved heart and soul for himself. He doesn't want to be an object of lust. Does Christian love Roxane for more than her looks? her body? Does he love her truly heart, soul, mind, body. I'm not sure. Perhaps the play--when scrutinized--reveals how silly "true love" is and how deceptive the human heart can be. Roxane didn't have a clue who Christian was--not really. She never saw him for who he really was. And if Christian had lived instead of died, chances are Roxane would have broken his heart.


A description of Roxane
When one looks at her one thinks of a peach smiling at a strawberry!
Cyrano to Christian
None is a fool who knows himself a fool. And you did not attack me like a fool.
Cyrano to Christian
Will you complete me, and let me complete you? Let me be wit for you, be you my beauty! 
Christian speaks for himself....
CHRISTIAN (sits by her on the bench. A silence): Oh! I love you!
ROXANE (shutting her eyes): Ay, speak to me of love.
CHRISTIAN: I love thee! 
ROXANE: That's The theme! But vary it. 
ROXANE: Vary it!  
CHRISTIAN: I love you so! 
ROXANE: Oh! without doubt!--and then?. . . 
CHRISTIAN: And then--I should be--oh!--so glad--so glad If you would love me!--Roxane, tell me so!  
ROXANE (with a little grimace): I hoped for cream,--you give me gruel! Say How love possesses you? 
CHRISTIAN: Oh utterly! 
ROXANE: Come, come!. . .unknot those tangled sentiments! 
CHRISTIAN: I am grown stupid! 
ROXANE (dryly): And that displeases me, almost as much As 'twould displease me if you grew ill-favored.  
ROXANE: Yes, you love me, that I know. Adieu. (She goes toward her house.) CHRISTIAN: Oh, go not yet! I'd tell you-- 
ROXANE (opening the door): You adore me? I've heard it very oft. No!--Go away!
  Cyrano "saves" the night by speaking for Christian in shadows...
ROXANE: To-day. . . Your words are hesitating.
CYRANO (imitating Christian--in a whisper): Night has come. . . In the dusk they grope their way to find your ear.  
ROXANE: Meseems that your last words have learned to climb. 
CYRANO: With practice such gymnastic grows less hard! 
CYRANO (more and more moved): Stay awhile! 'Tis sweet,. . . The rare occasion, when our hearts can speak Our selves unseen, unseeing! Your eyes Have beams that turn men dizzy!--But to-night Methinks I shall find speech for the first time!
ROXANE: Ay! I am trembling, weeping!--I am thine! Thou hast conquered all of me!
CYRANO: Then let death come! 'Tis I, 'tis I myself, who conquered thee! One thing, but one, I dare to ask--
CHRISTIAN (under the balcony): A kiss
Cyrano on kisses...
A kiss, when all is said,--what is it? An oath that's ratified,--a sealed promise, A heart's avowal claiming confirmation,--A rose-dot on the 'i' of 'adoration,'-- A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,-- Brush of a bee's wing, that makes time eternal,--Communion perfumed like the spring's wild flowers,-- The heart's relieving in the heart's outbreathing, When to the lips the soul's flood rises, brimming!
Cyrano before the last battle
CYRANO: Poets, at last,--by dint of counterfeiting-- Take counterfeit for true--that is the charm! This farewell letter,--it was passing sad, I wept myself in writing it!
CHRISTIAN: Wept? why?
CYRANO: Oh!. . .death itself is hardly terrible,. . . --But, ne'er to see her more! That is death's sting! --For. . .I shall never. . .
Cyrano confesses to Christian
CYRANO: You have. . .written to her oftener than you think. . .
CYRANO: Thus, 'faith! I had taken it in hand to express your flame for you!.  
CHRISTIAN: But how did you contrive, since we have been cut off, thus. . .to?. . . CYRANO: . . .Oh! before dawn. . .I was able to get through. . . 
CHRISTIAN (folding his arms): That was simple, too? And how oft, pray you, have I written?. . .Twice in the week?. . .Three times?. . .Four?. . . 
 CYRANO: More often still. 
CHRISTIAN: What! Every day? 
CYRANO: Yes, every day,--twice.
Roxane says a little too much...(abbreviated)
ROXANE: 'Tis your fault if I ran risks! Your letters turned my head! Ah! all this month, How many!--and the last one ever bettered The one that went before! Ah! you cannot conceive it! Ever since That night, when, in a voice all new to me, Under my window you revealed your soul-- Ah! ever since I have adored you! Now Your letters all this whole month long!--meseemed As if I heard that voice so tender, true, Sheltering, close! ROXANE: I read, read again--grew faint for love; I was thine utterly. Each separate page Was like a fluttering flower-petal, loosed From your own soul, and wafted thus to mine. Imprinted in each burning word was love Sincere, all-powerful. . . 
CHRISTIAN: At first I loved you only for your face! 
CHRISTIAN (horror-stricken): Roxane! 
ROXANE: And later, love--less frivolous-- Like a bird that spreads its wings, but can not fly-- Arrested by your beauty, by your soul Drawn close--I loved for both at once!
CHRISTIAN: I do not ask such love as that! I would be loved more simply; for..  ROXANE: Ah! how you err! 'Tis now that I love best--love well! 'Tis that Which is thy true self, see!--that I adore! Were your brilliance dimmed. 
ROXANE: I should love still! Ay, if your beauty should to-day depart. . . CHRISTIAN: Say not so!
ROXANE: Ay, I say it!  CHRISTIAN: Ugly? How?

Christian speaks his mind...
CHRISTIAN: I will be loved myself--or not at all! --I'll go see what they do--there, at the end Of the post: speak to her, and then let her choose One of us two!
Cyrano's aside...
CYRANO (aside--drawing his sword): Ay, and let me die to-day, Since, all unconscious, she mourns me--in him!
Cyrano reveals all to Roxane...
CYRANO: His letter! Ah! you promised me one day That I should read it.
ROXANE: What would you?--His letter?
CYRANO: Yes, I would fain,--to-day.  
CYRANO (reading): 'Roxane, adieu! I soon must die! This very night, beloved; and I Feel my soul heavy with love untold. I die! No more, as in days of old, My loving, longing eyes will feast On your least gesture--ay, the least! I mind me the way you touch your cheek With your finger, softly, as you speak! Ah me! I know that gesture well! My heart cries out!--I cry "Farewell"!'  
ROXANE: You read in such a voice--so strange--and yet-- It is not the first time I hear that voice!  
CYRANO: 'Here, dying, and there, in the land on high, I am he who loved, who loves you,--I. . .' 
ROXANE: How can you read? It is too dark to see!  
CYRANO: Roxane! 
ROXANE: 'Twas you! 
CYRANO: No, never; Roxane, no! 
 ROXANE: I see through all the generous counterfeit-- The letters--you! 
ROXANE: The sweet, mad love-words! You! 
ROXANE: The voice that thrilled the night--you, you! 
CYRANO: I swear you err. 
ROXANE: The soul--it was your soul!  
CYRANO: I loved you not. 
ROXANE: You loved me not? 
CYRANO: 'Twas he! 
ROXANE: You loved me! 
ROXANE: --Why, why keep silence all these fourteen years, When, on this letter, which he never wrote, The tears were your tears? 
CYRANO (holding out the letter to her): The bloodstains were his.
I loved but once, yet twice I lose my love!
Cyrano gets the last word in...
I would not bid you mourn less faithfully That good, brave Christian: I would only ask That when my body shall be cold in clay You wear those sable mourning weeds for two, And mourn awhile for me, in mourning him.

© 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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