Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America. Philip Roth. 2004. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn't been president or if I hadn't been the offspring of Jews.  

Premise/plot: What if Charles Lindbergh had been elected the President of the United States of America in 1940 instead of FDR? What if America had never joined the Allied Forces and entered the war? What if we were in fact allied--through peace treaties-- with Germany and Japan? What compromises would such peace treaties call for?

The Plot Against America is a FICTIONAL memoir of Philip Roth that imagines such a time. The book chronicles the non-war years of 1940 through 1942. Philip witnesses the adults in his life respond differently to the politics of the day. His father is angry, worried, afraid, outspoken. But his aunt and her soon-to-be-husband get all comfy-cozy with the new President and his wife even dining at the White House. His cousin runs away to Canada and joins the army though so he can fight Hitler. And that's just a few...

The book examines the potential destructiveness of ideas and philosophies...

My thoughts: I found this a mostly compelling read. I would have finished it sooner if the chapters had been shorter. In fact that's probably my biggest complaint against the book. The chapters are so long that it's impossible, in my opinion, to read more than one a day. Perhaps this is intentional. There's no rushing through this one so that the book has more time to resonate with you. And resonate it does.

The book itself is premise-driven. But oh what a premise it has! It had me soon thinking of other what ifs I'd love to have explored in fiction.

I do try to read mainly clean books--books free from profanity and blasphemy. This one has both. But the premise was so strong and my curiosity to know where Roth was going with this one so high that I made an exception. Perhaps with the politics involved it would be impossible to tell this one without such language.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

World at War: Winnie's Great War

Winnie's Great War. Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2018. Little, Brown. 244 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Do you want to hear the story of your Bear?" I asked Cole one night while sitting on his bed.

Premise/plot: Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne was inspired by Christopher Robin Milne's love a real bear, Winnipeg, in the London Zoo. Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut offer readers an imaginative glimpse into Winnipeg's life. Her story begins in a Canadian forest and ends in a London zoo. Along the way she makes many, many friends: some animal friends (squirrels, horses, a rat) and human friends as well (Harry Colebourn and others in the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, zoo keepers and visitors). This one focuses on the war years--1914 to 1918.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED this one. It does have a sad chapter when Bear's mother is killed by a trapper. But. It also has plenty of wonderful moments.

I love that is based on a true story. Lindsay Mattick's great-grandfather was Harry Colebourn. He purchased a bear cub for $20 at a railway station in 1914. This bear became a mascot of sorts in his unit. Readers get a glimpse of what life was like for soldiers as they prepare for war. It was Harry's love for Winnipeg that led him to loan/give her to the London Zoo before being shipped overseas to Europe.

This one also celebrates storytelling. The framework is a mother telling her son bedtime stories.

Original audience born circa 2009 to 2012.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083

Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083. Andrea White. 2005. 448 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence (from the Prologue): What chance did Stephen Michael have of winning his Toss? In the year 2080 there were so many fourteen-year-old kids and so few scholarships. And if he lost--he hated to think about his choices then. Sweat poured down Steve's face as he stared at the poster on the wall in front of him: WELCOME TO THE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EDU-DICE TOSS, SPONSORED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF ENTERTAINMENT.

Premise/plot: For readers who love both historical fiction and science fiction, have I got a book for you. Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 is set in the future--a bleak future where the department of education has been replaced with the department of entertainment. Schools are no more, every child is "taught" by the television. Most of the time these "educational programs" are reality TV shows starring adults. But there's something new in the works--a reality TV show--history-based--starring children. The producers are looking to recreate the Antarctic mission of Robert Scott in 1912.

Andrew Morton, Polly Pritchard, Robert Johnson, Billy Kanalski, Grace Untoka--these are the "lucky" kids who've won the opportunity to win big--really BIG. Of course this opportunity for a better future comes at a price--a mostly hidden price. They will be risking their lives; the producers--the powers that be--only care about ratings and not their well-being...

My thoughts: I first read and reviewed this one in October 2006--my very first year of blogging. I loved, loved, loved it. I've been meaning to reread it for ages now. So when I spotted a discarded library copy I knew I had to have it. (Part of me was sad that it would no longer be at the public library--it's a GREAT BOOK. The other part of me was happy because now it would be MINE forever and ever.) I was not disappointed with my reread. It had just been long enough that I was fuzzy on the details. So it was almost like rediscovering the book for the first time.

This one is premise-driven, I won't lie. But the characterization is surprisingly strong for a premise-or-plot-driven action/adventure novel. I cared about all of the characters.

Original audience born circa 1990 to 1995.



© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Jonathan Auxier. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.

Premise/plot: Nan Sparrow, our heroine, is a chimney sweep; one of many. When we first meet her in the opening pages of Auxier's novel, she's in the employ of Wilkie Crudd. She wasn't always. In her vaguest, fuzziest memories, Nan remembers the Sweep, the man who raised her and taught her everything he knew. Those dreams of the past haunt her in a lovely way, for the most part. She tells stories about the Sweep almost making him legendary among the other children. His physical legacy to her was small--a small piece of coal and a hat--but his legacy was priceless in ways no one could have foreseen.

When she needs help the most--in her DARKEST hour--help comes from an unusual source, that small lump of coal. For that coal--once burned--becomes a living being, a golem of soot, if you will. She names him Charlie.

The story is fantastical and memorable.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved this one. I hesitate to share too much of its plot for just that reason. This one is best read without knowing all the ins and outs. (Some books are; some aren't.) It was a book to be experienced. It was a book with depth and substance. The writing is delightful in that it sweeps you up, up, and away. But the story itself is bittersweet. There's nothing cutesy and adorable about children living in such poverty and in such cruel situations.

I will need to reread this one. Perhaps even this year.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Seven Alone

Seven Alone. Honore Willsie Morrow. 1926/1977. Scholastic. 240 pages. [Source: Own]

First sentence: This is the story of a great boy pioneer. Perhaps there have been other boy pioneers, thirteen years of age, who were as great as John Sager, but, if so, I have not heard about them.

Premise/plot: Seven Alone is based on the true story of the Sager family. It was originally published as On to Oregon in 1926. It was retitled Seven Alone in the 1970s when a movie adaptation was made.

Henry and Naomi Sager had seven children: John, Francis, Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda, Louisa, and Henrietta. Their seventh was born on the Oregon Trail. Both parents died on their way west; first the father and then the mother. Before she died she urged her oldest, John, to keep the family together no matter what.

The book chronicles their journey from start to finish. Even if the parents had not died, it would have been a difficult, near-impossible journey for a family to make. The trail was unkind to all alike--men, women, children, babies. There were many, many dangers. No day was without risks and dangers.

The last third of the book has John and his siblings essentially traveling the trail on their own as they seek--in vain, for the most part--to catch up with the wagon train. The wagon train, meanwhile, had broken up into different groups. It became obvious that the family's only hope was to reach the Whitman Mission.

The book--for better or worse--ends happily with the family reaching the Whitmans. (The Whitman Massacre was in November 1847. John and Francis were among those massacred. The other Sager children were among those held captive.)

My thoughts: I remember watching the movie as a child. I honestly can't remember if I read this one as a child. If I'd known--as a child--how the story really ended, I'm sure I would not have read it. If I didn't know, then there's a possibility I read it oblivious to the tragic ending. I did enjoy--then and now--a good pioneer story.

John's story is one of transformation. When the book opens he is a rebellious, selfish, irresponsible brat. But as the journey progresses as he comes to realize the life-and-death nature of the trail, he matures quickly. He becomes courageous, determined, resilient, responsible. His parents' God becomes his God as he comes to rely on Him. When the book opened, John almost rolled his eyes at the daily Bible reading and prayer. But that foundation was not built in vain as John came to see.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #2

5 Star Books Reviewed This Week
4 Star Books Reviewed This Week

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book. Rudyard Kipling. 1893/1894. 138 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.


Premise/plot: The Jungle Book is a collection of seven short stories and seven poems by Rudyard Kipling. The stories are: "Mowgli's Brothers," "Kaa's Hunting," "Tiger, Tiger," "The White Seal," "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," "Toomai of the Elephants," and "Her Majesty's Servants." The poems are: "Hunting Song of the Seeonee Pack," "Road Song of the Bandar-Log," "Mowgli's Song," "Lukannon," "Darzee's Chaunt," "Shiv and the Grasshopper," and "Parade Song of the Camp Animals."

A few of the stories do go together. These are probably the stories you'll remember as being THE JUNGLE BOOK. Stories featuring Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa, Shere Khan, etc. But these stories are just a fraction of the book.

The best non-connected story is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a story about a brave mongoose's showdown with cobra snakes.

My thoughts: I really did enjoy the stories featuring Mowgli and friends. If ALL the stories were about these characters, no doubt I would want to reread it every few years and spend more time with my friends. But the Mowgli stories only make up THREE out of the seven. (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is EXCELLENT. So that makes FOUR out of the seven worth reading.) The other stories range from boring to extremely boring. I got no pleasure, no joy, from reading the other stories. If I do ever reread this one, I will know to SKIP, SKIP, SKIP.

Quotes:
  • Lie still, little frog. O thou Mowgli — for Mowgli the Frog I will call thee — the time will come when thou wilt hunt Shere Khan as he has hunted thee.
  • I speak for the man’s cub. There is no harm in a man’s cub. I have no gift of words, but I speak the truth. Let him run with the Pack, and be entered with the others. I myself will teach him.
  • Now you must be content to skip ten or eleven whole years, and only guess at all the wonderful life that Mowgli led among the wolves, because if it were written out it would fill ever so many books.
  • “All the jungle is thine,” said Bagheera, “and thou canst kill everything that thou art strong enough to kill; but for the sake of the bull that bought thee thou must never kill or eat any cattle young or old. That is the Law of the Jungle.” Mowgli obeyed faithfully.
  • And he grew and grew strong as a boy must grow who does not know that he is learning any lessons, and who has nothing in the world to think of except things to eat.
  • “I was born in the jungle. I have obeyed the Law of the Jungle, and there is no wolf of ours from whose paws I have not pulled a thorn. Surely they are my brothers!”
  • By Red Flower Bagheera meant fire, only no creature in the jungle will call fire by its proper name. Every beast lives in deadly fear of it, and invents a hundred ways of describing it.
  • The boy could climb almost as well as he could swim, and swim almost as well as he could run.
  • “Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets.”
  • Kaa was not a poison snake — in fact he rather despised the poison snakes as cowards — but his strength lay in his hug, and when he had once lapped his huge coils round anybody there was no more to be said.
  • “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true,” they shouted.
  • One of the beauties of Jungle Law is that punishment settles all scores. There is no nagging afterward.
  • It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity.
  • The motto of all the mongoose family is “Run and find out,” and Rikki-tikki was a true mongoose.
        
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Black Moth

The Black Moth. Georgette Heyer. 1921/2009. Sourcebooks. 355 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need ... ~ Bonnie Tyler, "Holding Out For a Hero"
First sentence: Chadber was the name of the host, florid of countenance, portly of person, and of manner pompous and urbane.

Premise/plot: The Black Moth was Georgette Heyer's first novel; it is a historical romance set in the Georgian period. There are many, many characters and the relationships between the characters can be complicated at times. To clarify, NOT complicated for the reader to understand. But instead complicated to summarize in a review.

But. Essentially it's the story of two brothers: John Carstares and Richard Carstares. (John is also called JACK, Anthony Ferndale, Earl of Wyndam,Wyndam, Mr. Carr, to name a few). Richard, the younger brother, cheated at cards. John thought he was being a hero when he took the blame--the dishonor. He left the country and disappeared from public view. Richard married the woman--Lavinia--that they were both in love with. Richard has been plagued with his wife and HER BROTHERS ever since. One of those brothers is a dashing womanizer, the 'black moth' of which the title speaks. His real name is Tracy Clare Belmanoir, Duke of Andover. (He has aliases as well.)

The novel opens with Jack back in England. He's taken up an eccentric hobby: highway robbery. (Though he is far more principled, I imagine, than an actual highway robber.) Only a few know his real identity--at least so far--but he does have some business to handle. His father has died and he is the heir. He wants Richard to keep everything, but Richard is disgusted by his brother's endless generosity. He is determined to come clean and go public. There's only one thing stopping him, perhaps two: his wife and his lack of backbone.

The Black Moth has a love triangle: Both TRACY and JACK fall for the same woman, Diana...

My thoughts: I can't believe it's been six years since I last read Georgette Heyer!!! I do hope to reread many--if not most--of her romance novels in 2019! I'm not sure I'll take the same approach--chronological--but I might.

I enjoyed this one. I loved, loved, loved Jack. And the romance between Jack and Diana is great. Jack definitely qualifies a sweep-you-off-your-feet, larger-than-life, HERO. But his heroic qualities shine bright because of the blackness of the villain, Tracy.

Diana would definitely have ample cause to join the #metoo movement. She finds herself TWICE kidnapped. Tracy's idea of "wooing" is extreme--no matter the century. There's no excuse for his behavior. Actions speak louder than words. He may profess great, deep, abiding love for Diana. That he HAS to have her to live. He can't live without her. But if he really loved her, he wouldn't kidnap her, hold her hostage, threaten her. It matters little whether the marriage ceremony is before or after the consummation--to him. He boasts that her FAMILY will be so THRILLED to get him as a son-in-law--any family would--that it doesn't matter if he "ruins" her. They'll welcome him with open arms and consider themselves lucky and blessed. 

Does Tracy get away with too much? Yes. Probably. He does NOT get the girl. But he doesn't ever get punished or ostracized because of his behavior. He gets to stay a dashing, daring social darling--though a known rake--and the happy couple allows him. After all, they will be in-laws in a fashion. Lady Lavinia--Richard's wife--is his sister.

This one certainly has characters that you can just LOVE. But it also has characters that you love-to-hate and hate-to-love.

The writing tends to the witty side. And when Heyer isn't delighting us with dialogue...she's giving us ACTION and DRAMA.

A scene between Lavinia and her brother, Tracy, (Duke of Andover)

She stamped angrily. 'Oh, where's the good in being flippant?'
'My dear Lavinia, where's the good in being anything else? The situation strikes me as rather amusing. To think of the worthy Richard so neatly overturning all my plans!'
'If it had not been for you, I might never have married him. Why did you throw them both in my way? Why did I ever set eyes on either?'
'It should have been a good match, my dear, and, if I remember rightly, no one was more alive to that fact than yourself.'
'Still,' he continued reflectively, 'I admit that for the smart lot we are, we do seem rather to have bungled the affair.' (63)
A scene between Lavinia and her husband, Richard...

'Richard, I was coming in search of you! Tracy has invited me to Andover for a week--he purposes to ask several people to stay, and there will be parties--and entertainment! You will let me go? Say yet, Dicky--say yes, quickly!'
Carstares bowed to his Grace, who stood watching them from the stairs. The bow was returned with exaggerated flourish. Carstares looked down at his wife.
'So soon, Lavinia?' he remonstrated, and indicated her mourning. She shook his hand off impatiently.
'Oh, Dicky, does it matter? What can it signify? I do not ask you to come--'
'No,' he said half-sadly, half-amusedly. 'I notice that, my dear.'
'No, no! I did not mean to be unkind--you must not think that! You don't think it, do you, Dick?'
'Oh, no,' he sighed.
'Good Dicky!' She patted his cheek coaxingly. 'Then you will allow me to go--ah, but yes, yes, you must listen! You know how dull I am, and how silly--'tis because I need change, and I want to go to Andover. I want to go!'
'Yes, dear, I know. But my father is not yet dead six  weeks and I cannot think it seemly--'
'Please, Dick, please! Please do not say no! Twill make me so unhappy! Oh you will not be so unkind? You will not forbid me to go!'
'I ask you not to, Lavinia. If you need a change, I will take you quietly to Bath, or where you will. Do not pain me by going to Andover just now.'
'Bath! Bath! What do I want with Bath at this time of the year? Oh, 'tis kind in you to offer, but I want to go to Andover and I want to see all the old friends again. And I want to get away from everything here--'tis all so gloomy--after--after my lord's death!'
'Dearest, of course you shall go away--but if only you would remember that you are in mourning--'
'But 'tis what I wish to forget! Oh, Dicky, don't don't, don't be unkind.'
'Very well, dear. If you must go--go.'
She clapped her hands joyfully.
'Oh thank you, Dicky! And you are not angry with me?'
'No, dear, of course not.' (66-7)
 A scene between Lavinia and Tracy...
'In love? You? Nonsense! Nonsense! Nonsense! You do not know what the word means. You are like a--like a fish, with no more of love in you than a fish, and no more heart than a fish, and--'
'Spare me the rest, I beg. I am very clammy, I make no doubt, but you will at least accord me more brain than a fish?'
'Oh, you have brain enough!' she raged. 'Brain for evil! I grant you that!'...
'Altogether she's as spirited a filly as you could wish for. All she needs is bringing to heel.'
'Does one bring a filly to heel? I rather thought--'
'As usual, my dear Lavinia, you are right: one does not. One breaks in a filly. I beg leave to thank you for correcting my mixed metaphor.' (75)
Diana meets Tracy
Then came his Grace of Andover upon the stage.
He drew Diana's attention from the first moment that he entered the Pump Room--a black moth amongst the gaily-hued butterflies. (83)
Frank to Tracy
'If you will not try the straight and narrow way, I can only hope that you will fall very deeply and very honestly in love; and that the lady will save you from yourself.'
Jack to his servant, Jim
'I have conceived a dislike--nay, a veritable hatred--for puce. I will wear blue.' (150)
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, January 11, 2019

The Murder of Patience Brooke

The Murder of Patience Brooke. (Charles Dickens Investigations #1)  J.C. Briggs. 2018. Sapere Books. 290 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence: Thrown on the wide world, doom'd to wander and roam, Bereft of my parents, bereft of my home.

Premise/plot: The Murder of Patience Brooke is the first in a new mystery series starring Charles Dickens. Dickens is working with police detective, Sam Jones. The case is personal--the murder victim, Patience Brooke, lived at Urania Cottage, a sanctuary for fallen women that Charles Dickens helps support. Not that Patience Brooke was a fallen woman, she was a woman of many, many secrets but much learning.

This one is set in Victorian London in 1849. (When Charles Dickens IS NOT on the case following leads, he is at work on a new novel, David Copperfield.) 

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED this one. J.C. Briggs does two things well in this one: world building and characterization.

The setting is wonderful--gritty but wonderful. It really showcases the plight of the poor--and seemingly invisible--and the plight of women. Dickens advocates for both. Briggs' Dickens advocates for both in this fictional novel, and Dickens' fiction speaks for itself in my opinion.

But the setting would not be enough to carry the story if it didn't feel peopled. Briggs does a FANTASTIC job with her characters. Not just with the main characters, Charles and Sam, but with ALL the characters. And yes, I do mean ALL. It doesn't matter if we spend a hundred pages with a character or just half a page--all feel fleshed out and human. Briggs had me caring.

I also have to say that I enjoyed the writing. That almost goes without saying since you can't have characterization without writing. But. It is worth mentioning. The story was well-paced and compelling. And compelling not because it was a plot-driven thriller--those have their place perhaps--but because you CARED about the characters and wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe. Walter Scott. 1819. 544 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

Premise/plot: Wilfred of Ivanhoe is the hero of Walter Scott's historical adventure novel. He has returned from the Crusades but not to a warm, happy welcome from his family. His father, a stubborn Saxon named Cedric, will have none of him. Some of Cedric's servants remain loyal, however, as does his one true love, Rowena. Cedric is determined that Rowena will wed Athelstane and that union will strengthen the Saxon cause. Most everyone else appears to have given up the idea of Saxons uniting and conquering the Norman invaders. But Cedric is the very definition of hard-headed.

When Ivanhoe is injured at a tournament he is rescued by Isaac of York and his daughter, Rebecca--both Jews. Rebecca is a healer with a heart of gold. They are in the act of transporting him when they are deserted by their escorts. They happen to join up with another party--among that party Cedric and Rowena. All--or almost all--are taken captive by a group of Norman villains. Notably among them, Maurice de Bracy who would have Rowena for his wife and Brian de Bois-Guilbert who fancies Rebecca.

Not all of their party are captured and they are able to find support to rescue everyone....

If the novel has a heroine it is Rebecca and not Rowena. So much of the novel's tension focuses on the fate of Rebecca...

This adventure novel features ROBIN HOOD and KING RICHARD I. There is plenty of dashing, daring adventure. Also quite a bit rambling. If you expect ACTION and DRAMA to be equally intense on every page, you'd be disappointed. It's undeniably there, but you have to take it as it comes--on its own terms.

My thoughts: I love, love, love, LOVE the movie starring Anthony Andrews as Ivanhoe. I still do. This movie was my motivation in seeking out the novel. I am glad I finally read it.

Honestly I'm not sure if I "love" Ivanhoe--the novel--or if I love, love, love it. There were certainly chapters that I LOVED and found to be wonderfully exciting. Reading those passages, those scenes, you could see WHY so many people have been drawn into the story and wanted it brought to life on the screen. But there were also plenty of chapters that dragged a bit. The pacing was quite naturally uneven. It's packed with details and description.

Would I read it again? Probably yes. It may be another year or two, but I'm sure I'll read it again. 

Quotes:
"We shall meet again, I trust," said the Templar, casting a resentful glance at his antagonist; "and where there are none to separate us."
"If we do not," said the Disinherited Knight, "the fault shall not be mine. On foot or horseback, with spear, with axe, or with sword, I am alike ready to encounter thee." (106)
In finding herself once more by the side of Ivanhoe, Rebecca was astonished at the keen sensation of pleasure which she experienced, even at a time when all around them both was danger, if not despair. (284)
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

World at War: The Faithful Spy

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler. John Hendrix. 2018. Harry N. Abrams. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This book follows the life of the man Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But it is equally a story of the German resistance. It is a story that often goes untold.

Premise/plot: This biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is told in 'graphic novel' format. As hinted in the above 'first sentence' the book balances the bigger picture with the personal.

The Faithful Spy gives a good overview of Hitler's rise to power and the terrors of the Third Reich and an excellent overview of the German Resistance and a handful of attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler and overthrow the government. The personal story is that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From a young age he acted--thought--as a theologian. He grew up to be a pastor at a dangerous time. The "Christian" church was threatened. One had two choices: give in to Hitler's vision of the future and submit to his reign despite/in spite of one's personal beliefs OR resist and defy and stick to one's principles. Or in other words choose between having the Bible as the authority or Hitler. Bonhoeffer saw no choice--one could not in good conscience choose Hitler over Christ. Where Bonhoeffer did have a choice is to stay or to go. Before the war started, Bonhoeffer with help from friends managed to get to America. He could have waited out the war. He could have spoken out against Hitler from afar. He could have written, studied, taught. But after a few weeks in America he decided that he'd made a big mistake. His place was not one of safety in America, he belonged in Germany. Knowing that it very well could cost him everything--his freedom, his life--he returned to Germany. When opportunity came he joined the resistance and became a spy. He was involved to some degree with the failed attempts at assassination. He was eventually imprisoned, tortured, sentenced to death. But Bonhoeffer could not ignore the plight of 'the other.' To live out his beliefs--to put his doctrine in action--meant defying the Nazis and risking it all.

My thoughts: The Faithful Spy is a compelling read. (I read it in two days.) I haven't read much nonfiction written and illustrated in graphic format. The format worked well. I wouldn't say it added drama to the story--how could it? But it paid tribute perhaps to the natural drama of the story.

The book did not shy away from Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a theologian. Not many books published by a non-Christian (aka secular) publisher openly and unashamedly talk God from cover to cover. This one did. Bonhoeffer was a theologian. He was a believer, a student, a teacher, a preacher, a writer. His story could not be told accurately without talking doctrine, faith, God.

Some readers may not embrace the book because of the religious/spiritual aspects of it. But his legacy is intimately connected with his theology. There were many "spies" and many members of the resistance. Many died in Germany as prisoners. Not all were theologians.

There are other books written about his life that focus solely on his story and not on the bigger picture. I think this is an important book.

Original audience born circa 2000 to 2008.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Children of Jubilee

Children of Jubilee. (Children of Exile #3) Margaret Peterson Haddix. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Run! Hide!" my brother Enu screamed beside me.

Premise/plot: Children of Jubilee is the conclusion to a series first begun in Children of Exile and continued in Children of Refuge. Each book has its own narrator. The first book is told from the point of view of Rosi. The second book is told from the point of view of Edwy. The third book is told from the point of view of Kiandra. It is not a novel that can be read as a stand alone.

Who should read the Children of Exile series?
  • If you enjoy speculative fiction
  • If you enjoy action-packed adventure stories with ALIENS
  • If you enjoy mystery and suspense with your sci-fi
  • If you enjoy series books
  • If you have enjoyed other books by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My thoughts: I liked this series. I'm not sure I loved, loved, loved it. (But I'm not in the target audience either.) Part of me is curious--if I'd read all three books back-to-back or within a few weeks of each other, would I have been swept up into the world Haddix created? Would I have found the action so compelling that I couldn't have put it down? As it was it was almost like starting from scratch with this third novel as far as caring about the characters. For the record, I did end up caring about the characters, it just took a while.

There are so many novels I've loved by Margaret Peterson Haddix. A few series of hers that I love to reread because I love them so much. So I'm thinking that if I'd read these three all together that I might feel more of a connection.

Have you read this series? What did you think?


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, January 07, 2019

Tisha

Tisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness. As told to Robert Specht. 1976. 342 pages. [Source: Bought]

 First sentence: I've lived in the Forty Mile country of Alaska for a long time, but even now, every so often when I'm out rock-hunting or looking for fossils, I get lost.

Premise/plot: This novel is based on the life of a real woman, Anne Hobbs, who in 1927 arrived in Chicken, Alaska, as a teacher. Anne, originally from Colorado, was the daughter of a miner. Though young and lacking perhaps in great life experiences, she felt ready--mostly--to tackle anything and everything. Challenges and obstacles there would be PLENTY. Especially when she found herself falling in love with a half-breed, Fred Purdy, in a town with many, many biases. (To clarify, that is how he's referred to in the book by those living in the community at the time.) Especially when she found herself essentially adopting two Indian children after their mother's death.

"Before you leave this office I'd like to give you a bit of advice. I have the feeling that you are a pretty tolerant young lady--young enough to be open to new ideas. Where you're going you'll find that most people are not. They have their own code and they don't take to anybody who tries to go against that code or change it. In short, I hope you're not going into this job with, well...shall I say a missionary zeal?" (66)

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I found it at my local charity bookshop. It was so worth the $1 I spent. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, romance, or drama. The drama not only comes from the community and tense relationships within Chicken but also the natural environment. Tisha is best read under warm blankets or with a cup of hot tea in hand.

Anne Hobb's heart was BIG and she was STUBBORN in all the right ways. I love how she welcomed everyone--even the town outcasts into her heart and home.

Anne married Fred and they raised eleven children together--all adopted, I believe.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Lost in the Antarctic

Lost in the Antarctic: The Voyage of the Endurance. Tod Olson.  2019. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The ship didn't stand a chance, and Frank Hurley knew it. He'd been in the engine room with the carpenter, trying desperately to keep the water out.

Premise/plot: If you're looking for a compelling read, I'm happy to recommend Tod Olson's Lost In the Antarctic. It is an action-packed adventure story. And it's nonfiction. Every bit of this one is true. It opens with a bit of a teaser set in October 1915. Readers get a tiny glimpse of the fate of the ship Endurance before the story gets properly started--in early 1914.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED this one. This is the way I like to do bleakity-bleak let me tell you. It has all the bleak elements--desperation, despair, near-impossible odds, tense relationships--yet it stops just short of tragedy. The miraculous thing about this one is that all humans aboard the ship survived until rescued. You might have noticed I said ALL HUMANS. The animals aboard the vessel were less fortunate. The book contains a number of passages that animal lovers would find revolting.

I first read of the Endurance in Jennifer Armstrong's SHIPWRECK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD (1998). It was required reading in a library science literature class. I believe it was chosen as representing compelling narrative nonfiction for young people. I couldn't find a copy of the book in print form (all checked out), but the library did have it on available to check out on audio. It was my first audio book. It was SPELLBINDING and COMPELLING and FASCINATING. I found it unforgettable. Especially the plink, plink, plink of the amputated frostbitten toes.

I'd have to reread Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World to see how it compares to Lost in the Antarctic--which one is 'better' from a literary standpoint--but I'm happy to recommend either or both.

Original audience born circa....2007 to 2011.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, January 05, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #1

5 Star Books Reviewed This Week
4 Star Books Reviewed This Week

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli

Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli. Katherine Rundell. Illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams. 2018. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Father Wolf wedged his human child between his paws and began to lick him clean.

Premise/plot: Mowgli's day is packed full of stories as he visits--romps, if you will--with his best jungle friends. Rundell provides entertaining origin stories for many of Kipling's original characters. There are five stories in all: "Before Mother Wolf Was a Mother, She Was a Fighter," "Bagheera's Cage," "Baloo's Courage," "Kaa's Dance," and "Mowgli."

The stories are not short. The shortest is a little over thirty pages, and the longest is over fifty.

Each story features beautiful illustrations.

The book cries out instant classic and not just because it's inspired by Rudyard Kipling's classic, Jungle Book. Rundell's storytelling is wonderful.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one very much. I'm tempted to even say that I loved, loved, loved it. It certainly went above and beyond my expectations. I found myself getting drawn into each story. My favorite story was always the one I was in at the moment. Perhaps with the slight exception of the last story. I read that story with some sadness--not because it was tragic--but because it was the last one.

I read this one in two days. Both days I enjoyed reading it while drinking tea. It was LOVELY and satisfying to cozy up with this one.

Original (intended) audience: Born circa 2008 to 2011.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, January 04, 2019

I Survived the Children's Blizzard, 1888

I Survived The Children's Blizzard, 1888 (I Survived #16). Lauren Tarshis. 2018. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A deadly blizzard raged across the prairie, and eleven-year-old John Hale was trapped in a frozen nightmare.

Premise/plot: John Hale is facing his second winter in Dakota territory. It may be his last if he can't outsmart a super-storm.

It may be his second winter, but John Hale still doesn't feel like he belongs there; he still feels like a city boy. (His family was originally from Chicago.) He doesn't have any close friends though that may be because he distances himself from the other students.

Will this storm prove he belongs?

My thoughts: I believe this is the first 'I Survived..." book I've read. Perhaps if I'd read this one in elementary school I would have found it exciting, intense, compelling. Perhaps. Though the fact that it says 'I Survived' right in the title takes away some of the suspense. Readers know that John Hale couldn't possibly die right from the start. Since the suspense element was never really there for me... were there other elements that would lead me to love it? Not really. I liked John Hale well enough. I didn't dislike him. But. He is really the only character that is developed at all. Is it asking too much that at least one other member of his family--perhaps all members of his family--be slightly more developed? More attention is paid to a snake, "King Rattler," than to any member of his family or any of his classmates. Keeping it personal, the more a book includes SNAKE and SNAKE DEVELOPMENT the less likely I am to enjoy it.

I have no other book in the series to compare it to. Perhaps this isn't the best in the series? Perhaps others would be more enjoyable? Perhaps I'm too adult to enjoy these?

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Indifferent Stars Above

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride. Daniel James Brown. 2009.  352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The night before Sarah left Illinois for California, a full moon--as plump and promising as a pearl--hung over Steuben Township.

Premise/plot: This nonfiction book focuses on the Donner Party through the perspective of Sarah Graves Fosdick--a newlywed traveling with her new husband, Jay, and her family (father, mother, siblings).

My thoughts: The Indifferent Stars Above is above my maturity level apparently. I found myself screaming at Sarah--and some of the others--almost from the very beginning. DON'T GO TO CALIFORNIA. MARRY JAY AND STAY IN ILLINOIS.

The book is compelling enough I suppose; it certainly lends itself to DRAMA and ACTION.

But I also noticed something about The Indifferent Stars Above. It doesn't stick strictly to the subject--the journey of the wagon train or the pioneer families. It has asides--dozens and dozens of them. This one has so many pages of info dumps. I started imagining these info dumps as being narrated by Sheldon Cooper. They generally consist of facts that he would more likely or not find fascinating and feel compelled to "work naturally" into conversation.

I found it equal parts fascinating and horrifying. It would have been helpful to have a list of people in the wagon train--those that went with/joined the Donner party. The book does include a list of the camps at the last-last stage of their journey. But I didn't find that helpful enough.

Other books I've read on the subject:
  • Donner Dinner Party. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #3). Nathan Hale. 2013. Harry N. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
  • To Stay Alive. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, January 03, 2019

Very Rich

Very Rich. Polly Horvath. 2018. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rupert Brown came from a large family. They lived in a very plain small house on the edge of Steelville, Ohio. Rupert had so many brothers and sisters that it was like living in a small city-state.

Premise/plot: Rupert Brown is very poor. When he mistakenly walks to school on Christmas day-- which brings him through a very rich neighborhood--an accident leads him to spending the whole day with the richest family in town. The Rivers have their own unique--own CRAZY--notions of how to spend Christmas. And Rupert soon finds himself caught up in their madness--their quest to win all the prizes. Was Christmas just the beginning of his adventures with the other side?

My thoughts: I have very mixed feelings about Polly Horvath's Very Rich. It is a comic novel with dark undertones. The message seems to be that rich or poor most humans lack empathy and compassion. Most remain trapped in a world of me, me, me. OR else trapped in conditions completely out of their control.

I couldn't help being reminded of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Rupert spends every single day hungry. Rupert sleeps on the floor because there aren't enough beds--let alone bedrooms--for all the kids. Rupert is always cold; he's dressed in rags with no winter clothes. When Rupert is introduced to the Rivers it is to him just as bizarre and surreal as the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory is to Charlie. Could anyone really live like this? Rupert finds himself swept up into this fantasy that now that he's met the Rivers his life will change forever and ever. He's been found and rescued. But that isn't necessarily the truth. Charlie may have won it all--been permanently removed from his troubles and hard times. Charlie may have his own crazy happily ever after. But Rupert, well, he's left with nothing but a memory that confuses as well as haunts.

Love is achingly absent throughout the novel. The Browns do not love Rupert. The Browns do not have the capacity to love--to want--any of their children. The only Brown children to be noticed are the trouble-makers, the cat-stealers. The Rivers don't have much love to share either. They have an abundance of stuff, an abundance of staff, but no connections to one another, and no connections to the world.

Hope is absent as well. Rupert certainly has only the dimmest notion of it. He doesn't dare hope that he can be happy in his own home. Hope that he will be loved by his parents--actually seen, known, valued. Hope that he and his brothers and sisters will have food to eat on a daily basis, or clothes to wear that actually keep them warm. To live with that hope might prove too much. The tiny bit of hope that Rupert has is that somehow, someway the Rivers will save him from his mess of a life.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

I guess what bothered me about this one was how Rupert is taken on and treated by the family. He's seen not as a person with emotions and feelings, with real-life needs. He's an amusement--a temporary amusement. He's like a throw-a-way toy in a Christmas cracker.

Original (intended) audience born circa 2007 to 2010.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Throwback Thursday: I Love Lucy, Season One

I recently spent a week rewatching the first season of I Love Lucy. I discovered the show the summer before going into seventh grade. The VCR was super-helpful back in the day. I recorded the episodes each night and watched them in the morning before heading off to school.

This time I watched courtesy of interlibrary loan.

I thought I would share my top ten list of episodes from that first season.

1. The Young Fans. I love, love, love this episode. In this episode, a teenage girl, Peggy, falls head over heels in love with Ricky while a teenage boy, Arthur, falls in love with Lucy. SIDESTEP, SIDESTEP, SIDESTEP. Keep jiggling, Peggy.

2. Lucy Fakes Illness. This is probably my Mom's favorite episode--at least from this season. Lucy's illness--turns out--are the go-bloots. The go-bloots can lead to a person needing to have part or all of their zorch removed via zorchectomy. But even if the doctors are able to save half of a person's zorch, the person will never be able to trummle again. Trummling is an involuntary internal process that much is unknown about.

3. Ricky Thinks He's Getting Bald. I'll be honest, this isn't *my* third favorite episode. But it is my Dad's favorite episode. He walked in while I was watching it, identified the episode right away, and started quoting whole bits of dialogue. Since this is so unlike him, I concluded it must be a favorite to make that big an impression.

4. Lucy Does a TV Commercial. This one may be the most famous. I do like it. It is quotable. But those people knew what they were doing--they knew the alcoholic content of the product they were advertising. They kept having her drink big spoonfuls so she'd be ready for the commercial. They had to see that she was getting very tipsy. But they did nothing.

5. The Marriage License. I love this one that has the couple getting remarried. They go to a small town where one man seems to wear all the hats--do all the jobs. But that isn't quite true, it turns out.

6. The Amateur Hour. In this one, Lucy accidentally finds herself babysitting twins. The mom did not tell her--warn her--that there were TWO boys. It takes a while for Lucy to figure it out. POOR Lucy, those boys are WILD. But they do help her win a talent show when she takes their mother's place in the routine.

7.  The Ballet. One word: Martha. That's not quite true. IN this attempt to get into the show, Lucy first tries ballet and then a burlesque routine. She learns "Slowly I Turned..."

8. Pioneer Women. Lucy and Ethel are determined to win a bet with Ricky and Fred. Who can survive the longest living as if it was the turn of the century?

9. Breaking the Lease. What lengths won't Ricky and Lucy go to when they're determined to get out of their lease agreement?

10. New Neighbors. There were so many that could go in this last spot. But I like this one where Lucy pretends to be a chair to "escape" her new "Russian" neighbors who are ought to take over the country.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, January 02, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers. Illustrated by Luke Flowers. 2019. [March] Quirk. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: 
Won't You Be My Neighbor
It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Premise/plot: Quirk is publishing the poetry of Mister Rogers. I'll give you a moment or two to squeal. Most of the pieces are by Fred Rogers. But quite a few are by Josie Carey with the music being by Fred Rogers. These poems--or lyrics if you prefer--are noted as such. The book contains pieces that you'd expect: "Won't You Be My Neighbor," "Everything Grows Together," "Many Ways To Say I Love You," "You Are Special," "I'm Proud of You," "It's You I Like," and "What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel." But it also contains pieces that you've likely unfamiliar with. The songs that I did not know sometimes offered the most poetic food for thought.

I do not believe the book contains every poem--or song--by Mister Rogers. I can think of a handful it doesn't seem to include. (For example, "I'm Taking Care of You," "Look and Listen," "Peace and Quiet," "One and One are Two," "Everybody's Fancy."

This site seems to have a thorough listing of all the songs--including the ones from the operas

My thoughts: I LOVED this one. I especially loved the illustrations that were connected with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. For example, the illustration that goes with "It's You I Like" shows Mr. Rogers singing with a boy in a wheel chair. Adults most likely will make the connection to a very memorable episode. I'm not sure if children will be as familiar with the show. But whether your little one knows the shows or not--the words have a way of speaking for themselves. Some of them are timeless and WONDERFUL.

Excerpts from some of my favorites.
It's Good To Talk
People weren't born to be silent
Our tongues make wonderful sounds.
Just try a few phrases for practice
You'll see there are very few bounds.
Things Are Different
You never know the story
By the cover of the book.
You can't tell what a dinner's like
By simply looking at the cook.
Sometimes Isn't Always
Sometimes I DON'T feel like combing my hair.
I DON'T feel like washing my face sometimes.
Sometimes I DON'T feel like saying okay.
But sometimes isn't always.
Are You Brave?
Are you brave and don't know it?
Are you brave and can't tell?
Are you brave and just don't show it?
While others know it very well?
Are you brave and you wonder?
Are you brave and you doubt?
Then Your Heart Is Full of Love
Love is fragile as your tears.
Love is stronger than your fears.
When your heart can sing another's gladness
Then your heart is full of love.
When your heart can cry another's sadness
Then your heart is full of love.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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World at War: Veronica

Veronica. (Sunfire #18) Jane Claypool Miner. 1986. Scholastic. 220 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The party looked just as boring as Veronica feared, and she planned her retreat the minute she entered the room.

Premise/plot: Veronica is set in Hawaii in 1941. The novel opens a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Veronica Stewart is our sixteen year old heroine. Throughout the book she'll be courted by two young men: a slightly older sailor, Phillip, and a fellow classmate, Mike. Her snobbish mother disapproves of both. She disapproves of Mike because he's Hawaiian. She disapproves of Phillip because he's a sailor--not an officer in the Navy. (Veronica's father is an officer in the Navy). Both men are dying of love for her--or so they claim. Veronica realizes sixteen is too young to go steady or become engaged.

Veronica is staying over at a friends house the day of the bombing. She is an eyewitness to the Japanese planes flying overhead, an eyewitness to the bombs dropping, an eyewitness to a horrifying, unforgettable day. Most people who lived through it probably didn't need a reminder to remember Pearl Harbor.

My thoughts: The opening of Veronica reminds me of Gone With The Wind. Scarlett O'Hara is also sixteen. Both Scarlett and Veronica are super-super-bored by talk of politics and war. Both Scarlett and Veronica wish parties were more party-like and FUN for the young. Both Scarlett and Veronica end up serving the war cause in one way or another. But fortunately the similarities are only on the surface.

Veronica is young and carefree at the start of the novel. She's not had to grow up quickly by being weighed down by adult-size worries. But the war does change that--and she adapts well to the situation. She welcomes responsibilities and grows into a lovely young woman.


I grew up reading the Sunfire romance novels. I did. Some I reread many, many times. Some I just read once or twice. I loved the sweetness of them. They are definitely quick escapist reads. Though the subject is war, this one isn't super-serious--not like The Diary of Anne Frank or The Book Thief.

Each book does feature a love triangle. Usually readers can guess which hero is THE ONE very early on. If not, there's always the cheater-pants way to tell--by looking at the end first.

Veronica would have been born circa 1925--a year younger than my grandmother would have been when the war started.

The original readers of Veronica would have been born circa 1972-1978.

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

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

Becky

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2019 Reading Challenges: World at War

World At War Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews
Sign up here
Duration: January - December 2019
Goal: My goal is to read at least 52 books--fiction, nonfiction.

What I've read:

 1. Veronica. (Sunfire #18) Jane Claypool Miner. 1986. Scholastic. 220 pages. [Source: Bought]
2. The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler. John Hendrix. 2018. Harry N. Abrams. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
3. Winnie's Great War. Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2018. Little, Brown. 244 pages. [Source: Library]
4. The Plot Against America. Philip Roth. 2004. 391 pages. [Source: Library]
5.
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17.
18.
19.
20.
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23.
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25.
26.
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28.
29.
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31.
32.
33.
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38.
39.
40.
41.
42.
43.
44.
45.
46.
47.
48.
49.
50.
51.
52.


The "official" categories:

_ Any book published 1914-1918
_ Any book published 1918-1924
_ Any book published 1925-1930
_ Any book published 1931-1938
_ Any book published 1939-1945
_ A nonfiction book about World War I
_ A nonfiction book about 1910s and 20s
_ A nonfiction book about 1920s and 30s
_ A nonfiction book about 1930s
_ A nonfiction book about World War II
_ A fiction book set during World War I
_ A fiction book set 1918-1924
_ A fiction book set in the 1920s
_ A fiction book set in the 1930s
_ A fiction book set during World War II
_ A book set in the United States or Canada
_ A book set in England, Ireland, or Scotland
_ A book set in Europe
_ A book set in Asia or Middle East
_ A book set elsewhere (a country/continent not already read for the challenge)
_ A book focused on "the war"
_ A book focused on "the homefront"
_ Watch any movie released in 1940s
_ Watch any movie released in the 1930s
_ Watch any movie about either war

Feel free to copy/paste this. You can replace the _ with an X or a ✔ (copy/paste it) when you finish reading a book. If you list the books you read, that may help other people decide what to read.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road. Helene Hanff. 1970. 97 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Gentlemen: Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books.

Premise/plot: 84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters exchanged between the author, Helen Hanff, and a British book dealer, Marks & Company. The first letter is dated October 5, 1949, and the last is dated October 1969. Many of the letters are between Helene and Frank Doel. The letters focus mainly on books and authors--titles she's hoping to buy, titles she's enjoyed, titles she's hated. But the letters also include plenty of chit-chat as she gets to know the employees of the shop and the families of the employees as well.

The letters contain flashes of spirit that are charming.
October 15, 1951
WHAT KIND OF A PEPYS' DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS? this is not pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of excerpts from pepys' diary may he rot. I could just spit. where is jan. 12, 1668, where his wife chased him out of bed and around the bedroom with a red-hot poker? where is sir w. pen's son that was giving everybody so much trouble with his Quaker notions? ONE mention does he get in this whole pseudo-book. and me from philadelphia. I enclose two limp singles, i will make do with this thing till you find me a real Pepys. THEN i will rip up this ersatz book, page by page, and WRAP THINGS IN IT. HH (31)
 May 11, 1952
Dear Frank:
Meant to write you the day the Angler arrived, just to thank you, the woodcuts alone are worth ten times the price of the book. What a weird world we live in when so beautiful a thing can be owned for life--for the price of a ticket to a Broadway movie palace, or 1/50th the cost of having one tooth capped. Well, if your books cost what they're worth I couldn't afford them! You'll be fascinated to learn (from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind over Pride and Prejudice which I can't bring myself to take back to the library till you find me a copy of my own. Regards to Nora and the wage-slaves. HH (50)

My thoughts: What a lovely way to start a new year!!! This is a charming collection of letters. If you love books about books, or, if you love meeting other book lovers, then this is a true must read.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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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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Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Link to sign-up page

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge
Linked To Sign Up Page

2018 Charity Challenge (Sign Up)

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge
Link to sign up page

2018 Picture Book Challenge

2018 Picture Book Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge
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Good Rules Cheat List

Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
Contemporary (general/realistic) = new is anything published after 2007
Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
Historical fiction = new is anything published after 2007
Mysteries = new is anything published after 1988
Nonfiction = new is anything published after 2007
Christian books = new is anything published after 2000
Bibles = new is anything published after 1989

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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