Friday, November 16, 2018

The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) Mary Robinette Kowal. 2018. Tor. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Do you remember where you were when the Meteor hit? I've never understood why people phrase it as a question, because of course you remember.

Premise/plot: The Calculating Stars is set in an alternate reality 1950s. There are two what-ifs. One is small. One is big. What if Dewey had won the presidential election instead of Truman? What if a meteor--an extinction event--had struck earth in 1952? The heroine of the book is a former WASP, a current computer for NACA, a wife of an engineer, Nathaniel York. Her name is Elma York and within Kowal's fictional universe she may be better known to the world as LADY ASTRONAUT.

In the weeks following he devastating event, Elma York realizes that the worst is yet to come. It's just a matter of time--mere decades--before the earth becomes uninhabitable. The earth will experience great climate change. The earth will begin to heat up and will keep heating up. If humanity is to survive, it needs to find a way to leave the planet. But can she--and her fellow scientists--convince the powers of the dangers? Or will politics get in the way? (For example, there are a few convinced that the meteor wasn't a meteor but something that originated from the Soviet Union. Yet another example, some are convinced that men should go into space and colonize--but only men. Don't they realize that women would be absolutely essential to any colony? How can you "save" the human race without women?)

The book is about the struggle to get men--and women--into space in an effort to save humanity. It won't be easy. There's the science and engineering aspect of it. There's also the political and social aspect. Issues of sexism and racism play a large role in the novel. It is interesting to consider how some things stay the same--in this alternate reality--and how other things change. (For example, the Soviet Union dissolves; the Korean war ceases; there is no space race between nations. The world comes together as one to solve the problem. Astronauts can come from all nations.)

My thoughts: I didn't love, love, love this one. In many ways it was a compelling read. I loved Hidden Figures. I do have an interest in the history of the space program. I enjoy science fiction. I found it interesting that our hero and heroine are Jewish. But two things kept me from loving it.

I prefer my fiction on the cleaner side. This one had profanity--blasphemy--and smut. Way too much detail is given about Elma and Nathaniel's intimate life. But even this isn't my number one complaint of the book....

My number one complaint is a technical one. Kowal consistently uses WASPs instead of WASP. WASP stands for Women Airforce Service Pilots. PILOTS plural. WASP is already plural--it never needs an S added to it. Never. Every time I saw WASPs in the text, it was like finger nails on a chalkboard. I am not sure how much Kowal actually researched the WASP. I think she spent her time researching other things. (She does have a bibliography, but she lists no books about the WASP.) There was also one place where she mentions a WASP delivering planes overseas during the war. This is not something WASP did. (I think she did this because it was a convenient way to have had two characters met in the past.)

I spent almost four years of my life editing and proofreading oral histories of the WASP. I read up on books about the WASP as job training (in addition to watching documentaries) and often read biographies and autobiographies as well. Writers would come to the special collections library and do research.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #42

Miss Mackenzie. Anthony Trollope. 1865. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2011. Dramatised by Martyn Wade. Directed by Tracey Neale. Starring David Troughton, Hattie Morahan, and Philip Franks. 2 hours.

I had never read the novel, but I couldn't resist listening to this radio drama anyway. I love Trollope. I was hoping that it would be easy enough to follow despite it being new-to-me...and it was...for the first part.

Essentially, it's the story of a young woman, Margaret Mackenzie, inheriting a LOT of money. When she's thought to be a heiress, she's got suitors begging for her hand in marriage. Notably three: Samuel Rubb (a business man), Mr. Maguire (a curate), and John Ball (a widower cousin). But is the money rightfully hers? And are the men "in love" with her for all the right reasons? Will this novel end with wedding bells?

It's a fun, light listen. I enjoyed it. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Boo-Boos That Changed the World

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!). Barry Wittenstein. Illustrated by Chris Hsu. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:  Once upon a time, in 1917 actually, a cotton buyer named Earle Dickson married his beloved, Josephine, and they lived happily ever after. The end. Actually, that was just the beginning. The newlyweds expected to live a quiet life in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Instead, Earle and Josephine ended up changing the world, one boo-boo at a time.

Premise/plot: This is a nonfiction book about the inventor of the band-aid. There is a personal story behind this invention.

My thoughts: I found this one to be a compelling read. I'd never thought about the person who invented band-aids. Like most, I imagine, I have taken them for granted never giving a moment's thought to WHO invented them and WHY. (Not to mention the WHEN and HOW). I am thankful for the invention--as a book lover prone to paper cuts they're an absolute necessity--and thankful for the book.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #41

The Shadow of A Doubt. (A Play) Edith Wharton. 1901.  Introduced by Laura Rattray. Adapted for radio by Melissa Murray. Directed by Emma Harding. BBC Radio 3. Aired October 2018. 1 hour and a half.

In 2017, two academics--Laura Rattray and Mary Chinery--discovered one of Edith Wharton's lost plays. "The Shadow of a Doubt" was written in 1901 but never performed on stage. It debuted on BBC Radio. And I believe there are current plans to stage it in 2019.

John Derwent has a new wife. Not everyone is pleased--some are quite skeptical. Is his second wife, Kate, as worthy as his first wife Agnes? Kate is from a different social class than his first wife. Kate was, in fact, the one who nursed his first wife during her last days. Some suspect that perhaps--just perhaps--Kate might have seen an opportunity and taken advantage of it. (Did she murder his first wife so she could step into her shoes and raise her child?)

Is she guilty? Is she innocent? Should her husband believe her beyond a shadow of a doubt--wholeheartedly giving himself to her? Or is he wise to hold back until he knows the whole story? Once he begins to doubt can he ever stop himself?

Can this marriage be saved?! Should it be saved?! At one point, Kate is in favor of separation--if her husband doesn't believe her, he doesn't believe her. She's not going to beg him to stay--not if he doesn't trust her. At another point, the father of the first wife--the grandfather of her step-daughter--is advocating for divorce and offering to bribe her with substantial amounts of money if she'll only agree to end the marriage permanently. But her biggest critic may end up being her biggest supporter....

I really enjoyed this one. I have not read any of Wharton's novels, but I have read quite a few of her short stories. I would love to see this one in print. But it made for a good listen. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

That's My Book! And Other Stories

That's My Book! And Other Stories. (Duck, Duck, Porcupine #3) Salina Yoon. 2017. Bloomsbury. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I am bored, Porcupine. Me, too, Big Duck. Hey, Little Duck. That looks like fun! Can we borrow some books?

Premise/plot: This early reader stars Big Duck, Little Duck, and Porcupine. Readers may know these three from previous titles in the series: Duck, Duck, Porcupine and My Kite is Stuck. Once again they appear in three stories. The stories in this collection are, "That's My Book!," "Let's Have A Talent Show!," and "Dress-Like-a-Pirate Day." In the first story, the three discover the many joys of books. (Not all of them involve actually reading books.) In the second story, the three decide to have a talent show. But do all three have talents worth showing off? In the third story, there is some misunderstanding about what they are playing. Are they playing pirates? OR are they playing doctor?

My thoughts: I really love these characters. I do. As I mentioned in my last review--the review of the second book--I hope this series is LONG. I would recommend this series. It's quite enjoyable.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, November 12, 2018

Marilla of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables. Sarah McCoy. 2018. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence:  The sun and moon shine alike during snowstorms.

Premise/plot: Ever wondered what Marilla Cuthbert's was like as a young girl? Sarah McCoy shares her version--her imagining--in her newest book.

The book is divided into three sections: "Marilla of Green Gables" is set in 1837, "Marilla of Avonlea" is set in 1838-1839; "Marilla's House of Dreams" is set in 1860.

When the novel opens Marilla is thirteen and Matthew, her older brother, is twenty-one.

My thoughts: I do have PLENTY of thoughts about Marilla of Green Gables. In some ways it meets expectations. Readers know to expect that at some point Marilla and John Blythe will start courting and also that at some point their romance will sour because of a big fight. Readers expect Marilla to share a close bond with her brother, Matthew. Readers will likely guess that Rachel--Marilla's best friend in her adult life--will appear. All these things do happen. Expectations met. But in other ways it doesn't meet MY expectations at all.


you've been warned


  • I wasn't expecting Marilla to be a book-loving, free-spirit, outspoken, take-action abolitionist and political activist. 
  • I wasn't expecting Marilla--at age thirteen or possibly fourteen--to be elected the first president of the LADIES AID SOCIETY. I can't fathom ANY community let alone Avonlea with such strong, stubborn, fierce women to choose a child to lead them. 
  • I wasn't expecting Matthew to have had a drunken past where he almost burns down Green Gables.
  • I wasn't expecting Matthew to have been courting an Andrews sister. She crushes his heart on more than one occasion.
  • I wasn't expecting Marilla to be courting John Blythe at age thirteen. The two go for BUGGY RIDES alone. At one point when he's tutoring her, he falls into a stream, takes off his shirt, and the two make out a lot. There is touching--lots of touching. 
  • I wasn't expecting Marilla's family to be the way they were. Her mother and aunt--are twins--and they wear make-up. I wasn't expecting ANY woman in Avonlea to be wearing makeup in the 1830s. (Maybe I read this wrong and just Aunt Izzy wears make-up?)
  • I wasn't expecting the novel to be 70% politics. Should Canada declare their independence and break away from Great Britain? Should they rebel and take up arms? Should they stay loyal to the Crown? 
  • I wasn't expecting Marilla to be so caught up in abolition. I knew, of course, that slaves would seek to reach Canada where they would be free--could live free. But I wasn't expecting Marilla to be right there in the middle of it. I wasn't expecting Marilla to be hiding "fugitive" slaves right there at Green Gables. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Currently #45

Something Old

Show Boat. Edna Ferber. 1926. 398 pages. [Source: Bought]

Ruth. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1853. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]

Can You Forgive Her? (Palliser #1) Anthony Trollope. 1865. 847 pages. [Source: Bought]

Christy. Catherine Marshall. 1967. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Something New
The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) Mary Robinette Kowal. 2018. Tor. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. Jeff Guinn. 2017. 454 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Something Borrowed
River to Redemption. Ann H. Gabhart. 2018. Revell. 336 pages. [Source: Library]
Something True
ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible. 2017. Crossway. 1904 pages. [Source: Gift]

KJV Single Column. 2010. Thomas Nelson. 1632 pages. [Source: Bought]
Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense. Paul David Tripp. 2018. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Leviticus 15-27 (Thru the Bible #7) J. Vernon McGee. 168 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, November 10, 2018

My Victorian Year #47

I am currently reading RUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell and CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? by Anthony Trollope. I am enjoying both of these books very much. Both are rereads.

Quotes from Can You Forgive Her?
  • The eschewing of marquises is not generally very difficult. Young ladies living with their fathers on very moderate incomes in or about Queen Anne Street are not usually much troubled on that matter.
  • It’s a very fine theory, that of women being able to get along without men as well as with them; but, like other fine theories, it will be found very troublesome by those who first put it in practice.
  • People always do seem to think it so terrible that a girl should have her own way in anything.
  • I haven’t much of my own way at present; but you see, when I’m married I shan’t have it at all. You can’t wonder that I shouldn’t be in a hurry. A person may wish for a thing altogether, and yet not wish for it instantly.
  • In this world things are beautiful only because they are not quite seen, or not perfectly understood.
  • Poetry is precious chiefly because it suggests more than it declares.
  • You are never cross, though you are often ferocious. 
  • A man never likes having his tooth pulled out, but all men do have their teeth pulled out, — and they who delay it too long suffer the very mischief.
  • I was thinking of something. Don’t you ever think of things that make you shiver?”  “Indeed I do, very often; — so often that I have to do my shiverings inwardly. Otherwise people would think I had the palsy.”
  • “What don’t you understand, aunt?” “You only danced twice last night, and once you stood up with Captain Bellfield.” “But what harm can Captain Bellfield do me?” “What good can he do you? That’s the question. You see, my dear, years will go by.
Quotes from Ruth
  • The daily life into which people are born, and into which they are absorbed before they are well aware, forms chains which only one in a hundred has moral strength enough to despise, and to break when the right time comes—when an inward necessity for independent individual action arises, which is superior to all outward conventionalities.
  • Well, my dear, you must learn to think and work too; or, if you can't do both, you must leave off thinking. Your guardian, you know, expects you to make great progress in your business, and I am sure you won't disappoint him. 
  • The night before, she had seen her dead mother in her sleep, and she wakened, weeping. And now she dreamed of Mr Bellingham, and smiled. And yet, was this a more evil dream than the other? 
  • The poor old labourer prayed long and earnestly that night for Ruth. He called it "wrestling for her soul;" and I think his prayers were heard, for "God judgeth not as man judgeth." 
  • The future lay wrapped in a golden mist, which she did not care to penetrate; but if he, her sun, was out of sight and gone, the golden mist became dark heavy gloom, through which no hope could come. He took her hand. 
  • Low and soft, with much hesitation, came the "Yes;" the fatal word of which she so little imagined the infinite consequences. The thought of being with him was all and everything.
  • I always think it right, for my own morals, to put a little scorn into my manners when such as her come to stay here; but, indeed, she's so gentle, I've found it hard work to show the proper contempt. 
  • Poor Ruth! her faith was only building up vain castles in the air; they towered up into heaven, it is true, but, after all, they were but visions. 
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, November 09, 2018


Joy. Corrine Averiss. Illustrated by Isabelle Follath. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Fern loved Nanna. She loved her butterfly cakes, her mantelpiece mice, and her cat, Snowball. Most of all, she loved her smile. But recently, Nanna had stopped baking cakes, the mice were dusty, and Snowball was more like a ball of fuzz. Worst of all, Nanna hardly ever smiled.

Premise/plot: In Corrine Averiss' Joy, Fern, our lovable narrator, goes on a mission--a mission to CATCH or capture joy. She wants to give this captured-joy to her grandmother--her Nanna. Will her hunt for joy succeed? Perhaps. Fern finds herself surrounded by whooshes of joy all over the place. But how do you capture a feeling? How can you give it away?

My thoughts: I really loved this one the first time I read it. I love it when picture books focus on the oh-so-special relationship between child and grandparent--in this case a girl and her grandmother. I loved, loved, loved seeing Nanna's huge SMILE when she was talking to her granddaughter. "You bring me all the joy in the world just by being you." It's SUPER-SUPER sweet.

I didn't love it quite so much the second time I read it. I don't suspect--I know--that I am now overthinking things. Is Fern genuinely worried about Nanna's mental and emotional health? Is Fern being empathetic and compassionate or selfish? Does Fern just want her fun playmate back? Does she just miss the butterfly cakes? Why are the butterfly cakes mentioned first in the things she loves about her grandmother? Doesn't she realize that there will be a time when her Nanna no longer is able to bake cakes?! Doesn't she realize that she's blessed just to have her Nanna around? The cakes are ultimately meaningless. It's Nanna that matters. Not what Nanna can do for her.  She probably doesn't. Fern is in a happy little innocent bubble. She's taking everything for granted. And perhaps that is the way it should be.

But what really bothered me the second time around were the illustrations. Nanna is in a wheel chair. Fern is pushing her chair through the park. The last spread shows Nanna and Fern relaxing on a blanket at the park. Surrounded by multiple cakes. No chair in sight. How did Nanna get down on the ground? How will she get back up again? Getting grandparents back up off the floor--even if they've never spent time in a wheel chair--usually isn't easy. I got down here but how am I going to get back up again. This conversation happens. It's real. So I'm worried even if Fern isn't.

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

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, November 07, 2018


Whiskerella (Hamster Princess #5) Ursula Vernon. 2018. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The castle of the hamster king was a bustle of activity.

Premise/plot: This is the fifth novel in Ursula Vernon's fantasy series for young readers starring Princess Harriet Hamsterbone. Harriet and her good friend, Wilbur, team up once again to save the day.

Depending on your point of view, Whiskerella has either been blessed or cursed by a fairy godmother. What matters in this story--and in any story really--is how she herself feels about it. Whiskerella is anything but pleased. She welcomes the assistance of her new friends. Unfortunately, the fairy godmother learns of Harriet's eagerness to help her break the spell...and well...Harriet and Wilbur face some challenges when a spell is cast over them. Can they persevere and still save the day?

My thoughts: This is a twist on the classic fairy tale Cinderella. Whiskerella has little interest in attending balls or marrying royal princes. I enjoyed it--for the most part. But I found it slightly tedious in places. (I would have found even one sentence about lizard pee tedious....let alone it being a running gag throughout the entire novel.)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, November 05, 2018

Mary's Monster

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein. Lita Judge. 2018. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

From the Prologue:
The Creature
Most people didn't believe Mary Shelley,
a teenage girl, unleashed me,
a creature powerful and murderous
enough to haunt their dreams.
They expected girls to be nice
and obey the rules.
They expected girls to be silent
and swallow punishment and pain.
She was cast out from society
because she loved a married man.
Her friends reviled her.
Her father banished her from his home.
But she did not hide.
She was not silenced.
She fought against the cruelty of human nature
by writing.
She conceived me.
I took shape like an infant,
not in her body, but in her heart,
growing from her imagination
till I was bold enough to climb out of the page
and into your mind.
Now Mary is the ghost
whose bones have turned to dust
and it is I who live on.
But hear her voice!
She wrote my story,
and now she will reach beyond the grave
and tell you her own. 
Premise/plot: This biography of Mary Shelley is written in free verse and features black and white illustrations from the author. Her story is told in nine parts--not counting a prologue and epilogue. The format of the book lends itself well to the drama--or melodrama--of Shelley's personal life. Judge does a good job placing her story within the larger context of the times in which she lived.

My thoughts: There have been MANY books published this year about Mary Shelley, and about the creation of Frankenstein. Some are for children; some are for young adults; some are for adults. The ones for children clean things up and focus on her writing and creativity. This one is for young adults. It isn't cleaned up.

Mary's background was radical for her times. Her mother--and to some extent her father--believed in free love (aka sexual freedom). Her father also--at one point at least--was a political radical. Mary was not raised to conform gently and neatly into a little box. She had opinions. She had passions. She had a strong will. Yet she could not escape--or at least not completely escape--the consequences of living out her beliefs. These consequences were largely social but also financial. Mentally, emotionally, Mary Shelley was strained. She endured. She survived. She persevered. But there was nothing easy or comfortable about her life or lifestyle. I'd say EXHAUSTING or DRAINING would sum it up well.

The book does focus on her creativity and imagination. But Shelley's talent is the only thing to catch my notice. Judge has done a great job in her storytelling.

I Am Seventeen
I am daughter to a ghost
and mother to bones. (160)

Shadows Touching
At first, writing feels like falling
where there is nothing to hold on to
to keep from slipping off the edge of the world.
But then the dark presence of another begins to whisper
from the corners of my mind,
and his shadow grows and touches my own.
Together, we take one step toward finding a word,
and then another,
and another,
until the struggle drops away
and the only thing that is left
is everything that matters. (228)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Currently #44

Something Old

Show Boat. Edna Ferber. 1926. 398 pages. [Source: Bought]

Ruth. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1853. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]

Can You Forgive Her? (Palliser #1) Anthony Trollope. 1865. 847 pages. [Source: Bought]

Christy. Catherine Marshall. 1967. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

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

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. Jeff Guinn. 2017. 454 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Marilla of Green Gables. Sarah McCoy. 2018. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

River to Redemption. Ann H. Gabhart. 2018. Revell. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

Something True 

ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible. 2017. Crossway. 1904 pages. [Source: Gift]

KJV Single Column. 2010. Thomas Nelson. 1632 pages. [Source: Bought]

Exodus 1-18 (Thru the Bible #4) J. Vernon McGee. 1975. 170 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Me? Listen to Audio?! #40 (My Victorian Year #46)

 Agnes Grey. Anne Bronte. 1847. Read for Librivox by Libby Gohn. 7 hours and 3 minutes.

I read Agnes Grey in mid-October. Almost immediately after reading it I decided that it would be great to listen to on audio book. (Can you tell I got attached to the characters?!) I am glad I did. It was great fun to hop back into the story. I don't quite understand people who don't reread books. Why make friends with characters if you never go back to hang out with them again?!

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. 

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Small House at Allington

Small House at Allington. Anthony Trollope. 1864. 695 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: Of course there was a Great House at Allington. How otherwise should there have been a Small House?

Premise/plot: The Small House at Allington is the fifth novel in the Barsetshire series by Anthony Trollope. It primarily focuses on the Dale family. Lily and Bell Dale are sisters--both worthy of being heroines. Mrs. Dale has done quite a good job raising them on her own since her husband's death. Of course they are not all alone in the world, the girls have an uncle--Christopher Dale--who is a squire. Also, one mustn't forget cousin Bernard.

Bernard and Bell would make quite a match of it--at least that's what the squire thinks. He'd LOVE to see these two marry and have children. (Bernard is his heir.) But Bell has different plans for her future--and marrying to please an uncle is decidedly not in her plans. Bell hasn't said NO NEVER to the idea of marriage in general, but she wants LOVE.

Lily. John Eames (aka JOHNNY) loves, loves, loves Lily with all his heart and soul. He has wanted to declare his love for her for years. But before he can speak to her from the depths of his heart, Bernard brings home a showy friend, Mr. Adolphus Crosbie. Crosbie makes a first great impression on a young and naive Lily. Soon the two are ENGAGED. Johnny is disappointed--broken-hearted.

When Crosbie realizes that Lily's dear old uncle has absolutely no intentions of blessing his niece financially--either now or at his passing--he reveals his true colors. CAN HE REALLY TRULY COMMIT TO MARRYING LILY KNOWING THAT SUCH A MARRIAGE WON'T MAKE HIM A DIME RICHER?!?! He is self-aware enough to know it's doubtful. But it's a doubt--not a certainty--so when she asks him if he wants out, if he wants his freedom, he doesn't speak honestly. He doesn't admit his doubts. He leaves her believing that the two will marry.

Within a week or two Crosbie finds himself with a choice to make. He has the opportunity to marry up--to marry a somebody. Or the daughter of a somebody. Though his engagement to Lily is known in some circles, he decides to propose to Alexandrina anyway. If she says yes, he can break it off with Lily. If she says no, well, there's always Lily.

When his engagement to Alexandrina is known or made known, it upsets a lot of people. (Including BERNARD and JOHNNY and the SQUIRE.) Lily is not without friends and family. She is beloved by all because she is an absolute angel of a girl. And like an angel, Lily, when she hears of his inconstancy, decides to forgive him wholeheartedly. She doesn't feel angry, lied to, betrayed. He is simply doing what will make him happy. And isn't his happiness more important than her own?! As long as he is being true to himself isn't that all that matters?! No. She loves, loves, loves him still. He is the husband of her heart; the vows may never have been spoken in church but she's keeping them all the same.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Bell is being courted by a local doctor...will she say yes?! Lily certainly hopes so! Johnny is moving up in the world and making new friends. But some of his old friends and acquaintances are getting into messes. (For that matter he gets into a few messes of his own.) Crosbie finds himself not moving up in the world but taking a few steps back. He wanted his marriage to bring him up and take him places...but it's having the opposite effect. (Do we pity him?! NO. This reader does not.)

This novel also--for whatever reason--introduces Plantagenet Palliser. I love him but he doesn't quite seem to belong in this novel.

My thoughts: I love Anthony Trollope. I do. He's a great author. He doesn't always stay "on task" in his writing. He rambles a bit. He has dozens of characters and perhaps not all of them "matter" in a particular novel. But his characters tend to be fully fleshed. He's peopled a community--a village or two--in this series. There are some characters that you want to boo, hiss. But other characters you absolutely want to spend time with because they are your friends.

  • I would have women, and men also, young as long as they can be young. It is not that a woman should call herself in years younger than her father’s family Bible will have her to be. Let her who is forty call herself forty; but if she can be young in spirit at forty, let her show that she is so.
  • “Ten minutes before the time named; and, of course, you must have understood that I meant thirty minutes after it!” That is my interpretation of the words when I am thanked for coming early.
  • Such were his resolutions, and, as he thought of them in bed, he came to the conclusion that few men were less selfish than he was.
  • It is very hard, that necessity of listening to a man who says nothing.
  • When last days are coming, they should be allowed to come and to glide away without special notice or mention. And as for last moments, there should be none such.
  • I have almost more to think of than I know how to manage.
  •  Nothing on earth can I ever love as I have loved you. But I have a God and a Saviour that will be enough for me.
  • I enjoy a snooze after dinner; I do indeed; I like it; but then, when one comes to go to bed, one does it in such a sneaking sort of way, as though one were in disgrace!
  • And my sister, she thinks it a crime — literally a sin, to go to sleep in a chair. Nobody ever caught her napping!
  • There are deeds which will not bear a gloss, — sins as to which the perpetrator cannot speak otherwise than as a reptile; circumstances which change a man and put upon him the worthlessness of vermin.
  • “What are we to do to him?” said Bernard, after a while. “Treat him as you would a rat. Throw your stick at him, if he comes under your feet; but beware, above all things, that he does not get into your house. That is too late for us now.” “There must be more than that, uncle.”
  • A self-imposed trouble will not allow itself to be banished.
  • Love does not follow worth, and is not given to excellence; — nor is it destroyed by ill-usage, nor killed by blows and mutilation.
  • “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.”
  •  My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.
  • No one thinks of defending himself to a newspaper except an ass; — unless it be some fellow who wants to have his name puffed.
  • “It was a matter of course,” said Bell. “It always is right in the novels. That’s why I don’t like them. They are too sweet.” “That’s why I do like them, because they are so sweet. A sermon is not to tell you what you are, but what you ought to be, and a novel should tell you not what you are to get, but what you’d like to get.”      
  • But if we are to have real life, let it be real.
  • The speech was respectable, dull, and correct. Men listened to it, or sat with their hats over their eyes, asleep, pretending to do so;
  • “There are circumstances in which what we call Christianity seems to me to be hardly possible.”
  • “All the books have got to be so stupid! I think I’ll read Pilgrim’s Progress again.” “What do you say to Robinson Crusoe?” said Bell. “Or Paul and Virginia?” said Lily. “But I believe I’ll have Pilgrim’s Progress. I never can understand it, but I rather think that makes it nicer.” “I hate books I can’t understand,” said Bell. “I like a book to be clear as running water, so that the whole meaning may be seen at once.” “The quick seeing of the meaning must depend a little on the reader, must it not?” said Mrs Dale. “The reader mustn’t be a fool, of course,” said Bell. “But then so many readers are fools,” said Lily. “And yet they get something out of their reading.
  • All holiday-making is hard work, but holiday-making with nothing to do is the hardest work of all.
  • Who does not know how terrible are those preparations for house-moving; — how infinite in number are the articles which must be packed, how inexpressibly uncomfortable is the period of packing, and how poor and tawdry is the aspect of one’s belongings while they are thus in a state of dislocation? 
  • To have loved truly, even though you shall have loved in vain, will be a consolation when you are as old as I am.
  • Statistics, he thought, might be made as enchanting as ever, if only they could be mingled with love.
  • Ah! how I hate the smile of a woman who smiles by rote! It made Mr Palliser feel very uncomfortable, — but he did not analyse it, and persevered.           

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, November 01, 2018

Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1866. 649 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood.

Premise/plot: Molly Gibson is a doctor's daughter. Many view her as just a simple, ordinary village girl--nothing extraordinary about her. But to those that see Molly's worth--really see it--she is anything but ordinary.

Molly's world has a way of being turned upside down and shaken about.

Her mother died when she was a child. Her father has done a good job raising her by himself, but, he is a man, a doctor, with just one way of seeing the world. When her father is confronted by reality--his daughter is growing UP and the opposite sex may just start noticing her as a woman--he panics. He packs up his daughter and sends her to a neighbor's house.

Squire Hamley and his wife are happy to take her in--temporarily at least. They have two sons, but no living daughter. Osbourne and Roger are away at school. The squire doesn't want either son to fall in love with a mere doctor's daughter. But his wife takes to Molly like she's her own flesh and blood. She loves her sons--no doubt--but Molly is a faithful friend and companion, an excellent listener. 

While his daughter is being looked after elsewhere, HE meanwhile is courting a woman and contemplating a second marriage. Hyacinth Clare was a governess for a local family. (The family divides its time between the countryside estate and the city.) She married and had a daughter, Cynthia. After her husband's death, she opened up a (pitiful) school. Her daughter has only ever been a burden to her. She is looking for someone--anyone--to "save" her. This marriage doesn't touch her heart, not really. But Mr. Gibson is fooled enough--at least at the start.

After the two marry, the families try to blend together. Mr. Gibson will have to adapt to living with a new wife and a step-daughter. Cynthia and Molly are as different as night and day. Molly and Cynthia love one another--but not because they are peas in a pod. Molly knows that Cynthia is a different creature altogether. Cynthia recognizes that Molly is truly good, the real deal; there is no hypocrisy or phoniness to her. Cynthia recognizes her own nature. She is not "good." She is morally weak. She spends most of her time putting on a front. She doubts if she's capable of being sincere, honest, constant. She blames this on her father's death and her mother's lack of attention. Her mother is selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, incapable of feeling affection or concern, vain, manipulative.

Molly will have to adapt to living with Cynthia and her step-mother. Living with Cynthia--loving Cynthia--doesn't fill like work, like a full-time job. But Molly cannot see eye to eye with her new mother. At all. There is something tedious or draining about having to get along with her. And Molly is determined to live in peace with her new stepmother--to not add to her father's worries with fights and fusses. Now peace in the household does not depend on Molly. Even if Molly and Cynthia were out of the house altogether that would not guarantee that Mr. and Mrs. Gibson would get along peacefully and smoothly.

Men in the neighborhood notice Cynthia's arrival, of course, and soon there are would-be suitors paying call to the Gibson household. Will Molly find love too?

My thoughts: I first read Wives and Daughters in 2008. I enjoyed it then. I did. It was my first novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. But I loved it even more the second time. I appreciated it more. I noticed more. I've also read more Victorian literature since the first time.

I didn't remember all the details of the novel. I kept expecting Cynthia to have committed a Hardy-esque or Eliot-esque sin. I kept expecting it to come out that Cynthia had had a child with Mr. Preston. (It didn't come out because it didn't happen.) I also kept suspecting that perhaps Miss Clare (aka Mrs. Gibson) perhaps had an entanglement herself with Mr. Preston in the past. I may have a vivid imagination.

I shared quotes from the first half of the novel here.

  • 'I don't think she did take it coolly; I believe I don't quite understand her either, but I love her dearly all the same.' 'Umph; I like to understand people thoroughly; but I know it's not necessary to women.' (395)
  • Oh, Molly, you don't know how I was neglected just at a time when I wanted friends most. Mamma does not know it; it is not in her to know what I might have been if I had only fallen into wise, good hands. (435)
  • How easy it is to judge rightly after one sees what evil comes from judging wrongly! (465)
  • Oh, don't call them lies, sister; it's such a strong, ugly word. Please call them tallydiddles, for I don't believe she meant any harm. (506)
  • My dear, don't repeat evil on any authority unless you can do some good by speaking about it, said Miss Browning, laying her hand on Mrs. Dawes' shoulder. I'm not a good woman, but I know what is good, and that advice is. (508)
  • 'It's all a mystery. I hate to have you mixed up in mysteries.' 'I hate to be mixed up. But what can I do? I know of another mystery which I'm pledged not to speak about. I cannot help myself.' 'Well, all I can say is, never be the heroine of a mystery that you can avoid, if you can't help being an accessory.' (516)
  • People may flatter themselves just as much by thinking that their faults are always present to other people's minds as if they believe that the world is always contemplating their individual charms and virtues. (534)
  • I like everybody to have an opinion of their own; only when my opinions are based on thought and experience, which few people have had equal opportunities of acquiring, I think it is but proper deference in others to allow themselves to be convinced. (604)

© 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.
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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.
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