Saturday, February 23, 2019

February Share-a-Tea Check-In

Emile Eisman-Semenowsky, Tea Time
What are you currently reading for the challenge?
Have you finished any books for this challenge this month?
Is there a book you're looking forward to starting next month?
Want to share any favorite quotes from a past or current read?
What teas have you enjoyed this month?

---My answers

I am currently reading Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I am also reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Yes. I've finished several books this month for this challenge.

20. What is Poetry? The Essential Guide to Reading and Writing Poems. Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Jill Calder. 2019. Candlewick Press. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
21. Ballet Shoes. (Shoes #1) Noel Streatfeild. 1936/2018. Random House. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
22. Through Gates of Splendor. Elisabeth Elliot. 1956/1996. Tyndale. 219 pages. [Source: Bought]
23. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. J.I. Packer. 1961/1991. IVP. 126 pages. [Source: Bought]
24. The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank (The Definitive Edition). Edited by Otto Frank and Mirjam Pressler. Translated by Susan Massotty. 1947/1996. 352 pages. [Source: Bought]
25. Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life. Lucy Worsley. 2019. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
26. Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World. John F. MacArthur Jr. 1993/2001. Crossway. 266 pages. [Source: Bought]
27. Cotillion. Georgette Heyer. 1953/2007. Sourcebooks. 355 pages. [Source: Review copy]
28.  The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 2006. Random House. 560 pages. [Source: Bought]
29. The Princess Bride. William Goldman. 1973/2003. 398 pages. [Source: Bought]
30. Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend. Karen Blumenthal. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
31. Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Her Writings, and World with 21 Activities. Nancy I. Sanders. 2019. Chicago Review Press. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I'm looking forward to reading more books....always. I would love to finish Shirley by Charlotte Bronte, Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen and Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.


I always used to bemoan the fact that I couldn't draw, but now I'm overjoyed that at least I can write. And if I don't have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can't imagine having to live like Mother, Mrs. van Daan and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that's why I'm so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that's inside me! When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? (Anne Frank, 251)


  • Honey Vanilla Camomile
  • Candy Cane Lane
  • I Love Lemon
  • Wild Raspberry Hibiscus
  • PG Tips
  • Salted Caramel
  • White Tea
  • Black Cherry Berry
  • Peppermint
  • Earl Grey

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, February 22, 2019

Goody Two Shoes

Goody Two Shoes. Anonymous. 1765. John Newbery. 17 pages. [Source: Online]

First sentence: It will be readily understood by our young readers, that the real name of the little girl who is the heroine of this story was not Goody Two Shoes, but Margery Meanwell.

Premise/plot: Margery Meanwell and her brother, Tommy, are ophans. These two are pitied by a rich friend passing through town. Tommy he will take to make a sailor of him. And he will give new shoes--and perhaps new clothes--to Margery. She's so thrilled to have shoes that she goes about the village announcing the fact that she has one, two GOOD shoes. Over the course of her childhood, she learns to read and write and then she teaches anyone and everyone how to do the same. Even some animals. Not everyone loves Goody Two Shoes or Mrs. Margery as she comes to be called when she receives a teaching position of her very own. But plenty do--including a rich widower, Sir Charles Jones who actually proposes to her. Of course this happily ever after morality tale wouldn't be complete without her grown-up-and-now-successful brother returning just in time to see her wed.

My thoughts: I was happily going along with this one until all the animals started entering in. She teaches two birds to spell using wooden alphabet blocks. Another pet bird "awakens" her pupils in the morning. Another pet, a lamb, "teaches" her pupils when to go to bed. Another pet, a dog, acts as guard or porter. He "saves" the children--and their teacher--by dragging them out of the building minutes before the roof collapses. These animals are her companions.
Mrs. Margery, who was always doing good, contrived an instrument to tell when the weather was to continue favourable or unfavourable; by which means she told the farmers when to mow the arrass and gather in the hay with safety. Several persons, who suffered in their crops by not consulting Margery, were so angry at their losses, that they accused her of being a witch and sent Gaffer Goosecap, a silly old meddling fool, to obtain evidence against her.
This old fellow entered the school as Margery was walking about, having the raven on one shoulder, the pigeon on the other, the lark on her hand, and the lamb and dog at her side, and he was so frightened, that he cried. "A witch! a witch!"
Margery exclaimed, smiling, "A conjurer! a conjurer!" and he ran off; but soon after a warrant was issued against her, and she was carried before a meeting of the justices, followed by all the neighbours.
 Was it necessary to introduce this dramatic accusation of witchcraft into the story? I vote no. I mean this morality tale was doing just fine and dandy on its own. But I suppose if it wasn't there would Charles Jones have been compelled to stand up and defend her? Still there's a silliness to this one.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Jane Austen for Kids

Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Her Writings, and World with 21 Activities. Nancy I. Sanders. 2019. Chicago Review Press. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen's beginnings seemed simple enough. She was born in England on December 16, 1775, the seventh of eight children.

Premise/plot: This is a nonfiction book--or guide--to the life, times, and work--of Jane Austen for older children or even young adults. At its simplest the book provides a biographical sketch of Jane Austen along with summaries of each of her novels. But it offers much more than that. One really gets immersed into her time--the Georgian period--as well. For anyone who loves history and/or literature this one is well worth seeking out.

The twenty-one activities. There are indeed twenty-one activities incorporated into this nonfiction guide. They range from easy to super difficult. I'd be surprised if anyone found it easy to do all twenty-one.
  • Host a Regency Tea
  • Design a Coat of Arms
  • Learn Social Etiquette Among the Gentry
  • Play with Puns
  • Plant an English Kitchen Garden
  • Master the Rules of Cricket
  • Craft a Christmas Kissing Bough
  • Learn an English Country Dance
  • Decorate a Candle
  • Perform a Theatrical
  • Create a Regency Style Turban
  • Make a Top Hat
  • Navigate with a Sextant
  • Say It With Satire
  • Dance the Boulanger
  • Sew a Reticule
  • Curl Your Hair
  • Wear Regency Style Side Whiskers
  • Enjoy a Game of Whist
  • Write a Comedy
  • Self Publish a Book
My thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this one. (I've read others in this series as well.) I found it to be an engaging read overall. I love, love, love Jane Austen and it was a treat to revisit her life in a kid-friendly format.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend

Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend. Karen Blumenthal. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: Bonnie and Clyde. For decades, they've been as famous as any pair of outlaws could be. They're the ones who adored fast cars and faster living. The dangerous young couple with undying love for each other.

First sentence from chapter one: In truth, Bonnie Parker was just messing around the day her most famous photo was taken.

Premise/plot: Karen Blumenthal has written a biography of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow for teens. She explores how two poverty-stricken teens became hardened criminals and ultimately the stuff of legends. Her narrative does not glorify or romanticize their crimes. Blumenthal dedicates a sidebar for each and every person murdered by the Barrow gang. Reading about the men killed--who they were, how old they were, what they did for a living and why, who they left behind--kept things in perspective. These were not victimless crimes.

My thoughts: My interest in Bonnie and Clyde started a year or two ago. If the local community theatre had not performed the Bonnie and Clyde musical, then I never would have started reading books about this pair. I ended up LOVING the musical. It was an incredible performance. The actors did a fabulous job--in particular the actor playing BUCK. So when I saw there was a "new" teen biography about Bonnie and Clyde I knew I needed to read it.

I definitely thought Blumenthal did a good job. I would recommend this one over some of the longer books I've read--simply because it kept things moving.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Healing Hearts

Healing Hearts. Sarah M. Eden. 2019. Shadow Mountain. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Miriam Bricks sat in the cramped and rancid interior of a rickety stagecoach and contemplated for the hundredth time how fortunate she was to be there.

Premise/plot: The hero of Healing Hearts, Dr. Gideon MacNamara needs a wife and a nurse. Neither are easy to come by in Savage Wells, Wyoming. He's sent away--mail order--for a woman who's willing to be both. Miriam Bricks is a qualified, experienced nurse. She's more than willing to be his nurse--even to cook his meals--but she's not prepared to marry him--or anyone. Will Dr. MacNamara make the best of a bad situation? YES, yes he will. What he learns about Miriam is that she's a FANTASTIC nurse. She's just as skilled treating patients as she evading questions about her past. What is she hiding from him? from everyone? Will her past come back to threaten her?

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. It is set in Wyoming in 1876. It definitely has an Old West vibe to it--which I adored. I loved the getting-to-know-one-another aspect of their relationship. As much fun as it would be to have a marriage of convenience turn into the real deal story...this one was oh-so-satisfying. This pacing makes complete sense for Miriam. And it just felt completely right. I also enjoyed meeting the other residents of Savage Wells. And some of the visitors as well!  (I know this is book two in a series, but I never once felt lost.)

I would definitely recommend this one. I was thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for this one!

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


World at War: I Survived The Nazi Invasion 1944

I Survived The Nazi Invasion, 1944. Lauren Tarshis. 2014. Scholastic. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: All across Europe, Jewish people were being hunted. Millions were already dead. But eleven year old Max Rosen was determined to stay alive.

Premise/plot: Can Max and his sister, Zena, survive the Holocaust? Can they avoid being shot by Nazis? rounded up by Nazis? blown up by Nazis? bombed out by Nazis? Is hiding out in the forests of Poland the best plan? How about joining the Resistance fighters?

My thoughts: I did like this "I Survived..." title better than the one I read earlier in the year. I did like Max and his sister, Zena. I was relieved they survived. But I'm also a little surprised that their father, their Papa, managed to escape a train bound for a concentration camp...and make his way to his kids hiding out in the Forest. I haven't really heard any stories of people who successfully escaped off the train and actually made it to safety. When the novel opens, he's been gone a little over a month--a month since his arrest. It just seems a bit too convenient that this happy reunion happened. Not that I wanted this book to be tragic.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cate of the Lost Colony

Cate of the Lost Colony. Lisa M. Klein. 2010. Bloomsbury. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: At a young age I learned how quickly one's fortune's can change, a truth that never betrayed me. One day I was the beloved daughter of a Hampshire gentleman who had been chosen to serve the queen. The next, he was killed fighting in the Netherlands, and I was an orphan.

Premise/plot: Catherine Archer  becomes a maid in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. She even earns enough favor to receive a nickname--"Cat." But the Queen's favor is a fickle, fickle thing. And when the Queen discovers that Cate is in love with Sir Walter Raleigh, well it's not quite OFF WITH HER HEAD (think Alice in Wonderland) but close enough: TO THE TOWER. But her wrath subsides a tiny bit and she relents that instead of imprisonment in the tower perhaps banishment to the New World might be fitting. Raleigh (spelled Ralegh throughout the novel) has been trying to get permission for exploring and colonizing Virginia for years--this ship ends up landing/settling at Roanoke. If you are at all familiar with history--you can guess that much DANGER lies ahead.

This book has THREE narrators...Kate Archer, Walter Ralegh, and Manteo.

My thoughts: I do love reading historical fiction. I'm not entirely sure how accurate this one is or even tries to be. I'm not sure how I feel about that--do I want a historical novel to be super-accurate or do I want a somewhat happy ending?! (As happy as you can be when treating the subject.)

A few of the characters are historical figures but filtered through the author's imagination. A few characters--like Cate--are completely fictional. In this novel, Ralegh himself joins the "rescue/provision" ships bound for Roanoke.

This one spans several years and speaks of several attempts of exploration and settling in the colony of Virginia. Some of my ancestors were early Virginia colonists--though NOT this early, fortunately.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, February 18, 2019

Ruled Britannia

Ruled Brittania. Harry Turtledove. 2002. 576 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Two Spanish soldiers swaggered up Tower Street toward William Shakespeare. Their boots squelched in the mud. One wore a rusty corselet with his high-crowned morion, the other a similar helmet with a jacket of quilted cotton. Rapiers swung at their hips.

Premise/plot: What if the English navy had not defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588? What if instead of Queen Elizabeth reigning in the year 1597 she was instead locked away in the Tower? Turtledove gives us alternate history in his novel Ruled Britannia. It is told primarily from two perspectives: William Shakespeare and Lope de Vega.

Shakespeare has a choice to make. Should he commit treason against Spain and write a play that could potentially help overthrow Spain's rule and restore Elizabeth to the throne? Or should he play it safe and write a play memorializing King Philip II of Spain? Perhaps he'll be crafty and do both....but which one will get performed upon the King's death?!

Lope de Vega is in awe of William Shakespeare. He can nearly always be found watching his plays, watching the actors on and off stage, hanging around and conversing. He's a soldier on a mission: be on the lookout for any treason, any subversive meanings in the plays he watches. Some higher ups are suspicious of Shakespeare--but not de Vega, not really. Shakespeare doesn't care who rules so long as he can write, right?!

My thoughts: I imagine that Ruled Brittania was an absolute joy to write. Turtledove claims--and I have no reason to doubt--that he repurposed many, many lines from actual Shakespeare plays into "new" Shakespeare plays in this alternate history. In addition to Shakespeare, he used other contemporary playwrights from the time to craft his new plays and dramas. He obviously felt it was important to bring Shakespeare to life--and so he relied on Shakespeare's own words to flesh out his character and his dialogue. Like William Shakespeare, Lope de Vega is a real historical figure--a Spanish playwright from this time period who--at least according to the author's note--sailed on the Spanish Armada and returned to Spain to have a successful career.

Did I enjoy reading it as much as Turtledove enjoyed writing it? Probably not. In fact, I found it MUCH too long--tedious even. I was interested in the bare bones of this one. I wanted to know WHAT happened overall--would Shakespeare's play about Boudica (alternate spellings Boudicca, Boadicea, Boudicea) rebelling against the Roman Empire happen? Would it be successful? Would Elizabeth reign once more?

There were dozens of characters that peopled this novel that I just did not care about at all--not even slightly. I imagine that some--perhaps many--were actual historical figures. I just didn't care. Perhaps if the author's note was placed FIRST, I might have tried to care harder. Perhaps if there was a list of characters--noting which were historical and which were fictional. Perhaps if there were footnotes indicating which lines came from which actual Shakespeare plays or noting the other sources used?

One thing I know without a doubt...the chapters were unreasonably LONG...insufferably long. "Short" chapters were around thirty-five pages long. WHY TORTURE READERS?! You take a perfectly good premise--an entertaining one--and practically do everything possible to drain all the enjoyment of actually reading it?!

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #7

5 Star Books

4 Star Books
  • Cotillion. Georgette Heyer. 1953/2007. Sourcebooks. 355 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Georgian Check-In Post #1

  • What books for this challenge have you read (or reviewed) recently?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Are there any quotes you'd like to share?
  • Who would you recommend? Anyone you would NOT recommend?
  • Favorite book you've read so far...
My answers...

What books have I read and reviewed for this challenge?

1. A Bound Heart. Laura Frantz. 2019. Revell. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
2. Ivanhoe. Walter Scott. 1819. 544 pages. [Source: Bought]
3. The Black Moth. Georgette Heyer. 1921/2009. Sourcebooks. 355 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
4. Evelina. Fanny Burney. 1778. 455 pages. [Source: Bought]
5. Cotillion. Georgette Heyer. 1953/2007. Sourcebooks. 355 pages. [Source: Review copy]

What am I currently reading?

Venetia by Georgette Heyer
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

She is not, indeed, like most modern young ladies, to be known in half an hour: her modest worth, and fearful excellence, require both time and encouragement to show themselves. She does not, beautiful as she is, seize the soul by surprise, but, with more dangerous fascination, she steals it almost imperceptibly. ~ Fanny Burney
“You are in the right,” said Mrs. Selwyn, “not to watch time, lest you should be betrayed, unawares, into reflecting how you employ it.” “Egad, Ma’am,” cried he, “if Time thought no more of me than I do of Time, I believe I should bid defiance, for one while, to old age and wrinkles; for deuce take me, if ever I think about it at all.” ~ Fanny Burney
I have enjoyed every book I've read so far. Some are more quotable than others. But all have been solidly good.

Favorite book I've read so far...
Probably Bound Heart by Laura Frantz.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, February 15, 2019

The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar Children. Gertrude Chandler Warner. 1942. 160 pages.

First sentence: One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from. The baker's wife saw them first, as they stood looking in at the window of her store. The little boy was looking at the cakes, the big boy was looking at the loaves of bread, and the two girls were looking at the cookies. 

Premise/plot: Four orphan children are on the run in Gertrude Chandler Warner's classic children's novel. The children are aware that they have a grandfather; they even know the town where he lives. But...the children fear this man they've never met. They'd rather struggle to survive than risk falling into his hands. (What if he's mean? cruel? what if he doesn't want them? what if he does? what if he separates them?) The four children--Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny--begin their new life living in an abandoned boxcar on an abandoned track. Henry is old enough to walk into nearby towns and work for food. The others mostly scrounge around and find useful junk that they can re-purpose into a few necessities. All seems to be going well...until one of the children gets really sick....

My thoughts: I liked  The Boxcar Children. I did. I had read it more than a few times growing up, but it had been at least fifteen or twenty years since I'd last read it. It was such a treat to read it again. It's a simple book, in many ways, yet it's got its charms. I liked how these children do make a home for themselves. How they work together as a family. While I wouldn't say that I ever loved this one as much as Mandy or Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden, I have definitely always liked it.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride. William Goldman. 1973/2003. 398 pages. [Source: Bought] 

First sentence: THE YEAR that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.
 Premise/plot: William Goldman sets out to abridge S. Morgenstern's classic novel The Princess Bride. (Or so he'd have you believe.) One narrative throughout is William Goldman speaking directly to the reader about the reading, writing, editing, abridging, publishing process. He also slips in some family stories. The other narrative--perhaps the better narrative--is the novel itself starring Buttercup, Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik. Goldman promises readers the "good bits" version, and he delivers. This fantasy novel has action, adventure, drama, and romance. 

My thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this one. Though I'd started this one a few times in the past, this was my first time to complete it. I have of course seen the movie dozens of times. I think the two are equally satisfying.  

The horse’s name was “Horse” (Buttercup was never long on imagination) and it came when she called it, went where she steered it, did what she told it.
 The farm boy did what she told him too. “Farm Boy, fetch me this”; “Get me that, Farm Boy—quickly, lazy thing, trot now or I’ll tell Father.” “As you wish.” That was all he ever answered. “As you wish.” Fetch that, Farm Boy. “As you wish.”
 Buttercup’s mother hesitated, then put her stew spoon down. (This was after stew, but so is everything. When the first man first clambered from the slime and made his first home on land, what he had for supper that first night was stew.)
“Did you forget to pay your taxes?” (This was after taxes. But everything is after taxes. Taxes were here even before stew.)

 Clearly, the magic is in Westley’s feeding. Show me how you do it, would you, Westley?” “Feed the cows for you, Countess?” “Bright lad.” “When?” “Now will be soon enough,” and she held out her arm to him. “Lead me, Westley.” Westley had no choice but to take her arm.
“Strange things are happening,” Buttercup’s parents said, and off they went too, bringing up the rear of the cow-feeding trip, watching the Count, who was watching their daughter, who was watching the Countess. Who was watching Westley.
“Terrible things can happen when you’re overtired. I was overtired the night your father proposed.”
The girls in the village followed the farm boy around a lot, whenever he was making deliveries, but they were idiots, they followed anything.
I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then.
Every time you said ‘Farm Boy do this’ you thought I was answering ‘As you wish’ but that’s only because you were hearing wrong. ‘I love you’ was what it was, but you never heard, and you never heard.”
“I hear you now, and I promise you this: I will never love anyone else. Only Westley. Until I die.” 
THERE HAVE BEEN five great kisses since 1642 B.C., when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.)
 But from a narrative point of view, in 105 pages nothing happens. Except this: ‘What with one thing and another, three years passed.’
“People are always thinking I’m so stupid because I’m big and strong and sometimes drool a little when I get excited.”
 “The reason people think you’re so stupid,” the Sicilian said, “is because you are so stupid. It has nothing to do with your drooling.”
 “He’ll never catch up!” the Sicilian cried. “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word!” the Spaniard snapped. “I don’t think it means what you think it does.”
Love is many things, none of them logical.
“Life is pain,” his mother said. “Anybody that says different is selling something.”
“Why do you wear a mask and hood?” Fezzik asked. “I think everybody will in the near future” was the man in black’s reply. “They’re terribly comfortable.”
“Guess?” Vizzini cried. “I don’t guess. I think. I ponder. I deduce. Then I decide. But I never guess.”
The past has a way of being past.
“Then let’s look on the bright side: we’re having an adventure, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”
“I’m retired,” Max said, “anyway, you wouldn’t want someone the King got rid of, would you? I might kill whoever you want me to miracle.”  “He’s already dead,” the skinny guy said. “He is, huh?” Max said, a little interest in his voice now. He opened the door a peek’s worth again. “I’m good at dead.”
“You see,” Max explained as he pumped, “there’s different kinds of dead: there’s sort of dead, mostly dead, and all dead. 
'True love,’ he said,” Inigo cried. “You heard him—true love is what he wants to come back for. That’s certainly worthwhile.”
"True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. Everybody knows that.”
 “Hello,” he said. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

World at War: Book Thief

The Book Thief. Markus Zusak. 2006. Random House. 560 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. HERE IS A SMALL FACT You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. REACTION TO THE AFOREMENTIONED FACT Does this worry you? I urge you—don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair. —Of course, an introduction. A beginning. Where are my manners? I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away. At that moment, you will be lying there (I rarely find people standing up). You will be caked in your own body. There might be a discovery; a scream will dribble down the air. The only sound I’ll hear after that will be my own breathing, and the sound of the smell, of my footsteps. The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying? Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see—the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax. 

Premise/plot: The narrator of Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief is Death. He is telling the story of one of the humans that haunts him--the book thief, Liesel Meminger. When readers first meet her she is on the way to her new home--a foster home. Her and her brother were supposed to go together, but he died on the way--on the train. That is where Death first meets her and first sees her steal a book.

It is set in Germany during the Second World War. It is a true must-read.

My thoughts: I've read this one at least five times now. It is SO good. Everyone should read this at some point.
 Favorite quotes:

Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt—an immense leap of an attempt—to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it. Here it is. One of a handful. The Book Thief. If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I’ll show you something.
Yes, an illustrious career. I should hasten to admit, however, that there was a considerable hiatus between the first stolen book and the second. Another noteworthy point is that the first was stolen from snow and the second from fire. Not to omit that others were also given to her. All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.
When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything. Was it when she first set eyes on the room with shelves and shelves of them? Or when Max Vandenburg arrived on Himmel Street carrying handfuls of suffering and Hitler’s Mein Kampf? Was it reading in the shelters? The last parade to Dachau? Was it The Word Shaker? Perhaps there would never be a precise answer as to when and where it occurred. In any case, that’s getting ahead of myself. Before we make it to any of that, we first need to tour Liesel Meminger’s beginnings on Himmel Street...
To most people, Hans Hubermann was barely visible. An un-special person. Certainly, his painting skills were excellent. His musical ability was better than average. Somehow, though, and I’m sure you’ve met people like this, he was able to appear as merely part of the background, even if he was standing at the front of a line. He was always just there. Not noticeable. Not important or particularly valuable. The frustration of that appearance, as you can imagine, was its complete misleadence, let’s say. There most definitely was value in him, and it did not go unnoticed by Liesel Meminger. (The human child—so much cannier at times than the stupefyingly ponderous adult.)
A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children
Insane or not, Rudy was always destined to be Liesel’s best friend. A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.
A SMALL BUT NOTE WORTHY NOTE I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.
On the ration cards of Nazi Germany, there was no listing for punishment, but everyone had to take their turn. For some it was death in a foreign country during the war. For others it was poverty and guilt when the war was over, when six million discoveries were made throughout Europe.
For some reason, dying men always ask questions they know the answer to. Perhaps it’s so they can die being right.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Cotillion. Georgette Heyer. 1953/2007. Sourcebooks. 355 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence: The saloon, like every other room in Arnside House, was large and lofty, and had been furnished, possibly some twenty years earlier, in what had then been the first style of elegance.

Premise/plot: Kitty, our heroine, will inherit a LOT of money if only she'll marry one of her cousins. Technically they're not blood relatives, she's been raised by her guardian. These "cousins" are his great-nephews. There are four single cousins to choose from...but this situation is far from ideal for everyone concerned. Kitty wants to live life a little and see what there is to see--namely go to London for the first time and mingle with society. She knows that her guardian will never allow such a thing. But if she was engaged...if she was taken under the wing of her fiance's family...then she could get what she wants. What she doesn't account for is her wants changing. She had no inkling that her sham engagement would prove to be real deal. That her ridiculous cousin, Freddy, would be her soul mate....

My thoughts: This is the third time I've read Cotillion. I will admit that it has a slow beginning. The first half of the novel moves so slow and there seems to be little reward for the effort. However, the second half is quick-paced. The characters are enjoyable--at last. The situations are comical. The dialogue turns witty. There is something about it that is very satisfying.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, February 11, 2019

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Merci Suarez Changes Gears. Meg Medina. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: To think, only yesterday I was in chancletas, sipping lemonade and watching my twin cousins run through the sprinkler in the yard. Now, I'm here in Mr. Patchett's class, sweating in my polyester school blazer and waiting for this torture to be over.

Premise/plot: Merci Suarez Changes Gears is your typical coming-of-age novel--perhaps with one exception--it is the Newbery Medal winner for 2019. Merci Suarez has a big, loving family--though far from perfect. Merci Suarez is having some difficulty fitting in at school. (Sixth grade isn't all that easy, and the school work may be way easier than the social aspects.) Merci Suarez is at odds with another student in her class, a mean girl, EDNA. Merci will have to ultimately make peace with all the changes in her life--at home, at school.

Merci Suarez doesn't want things to change. She wants things to stay the same, or if not stay exactly the same, go HER way. For example, she wants to try out for the school's soccer team. BUT because of the big changes going on at home--her grandfather is no longer able to take care of her twin cousins after school--she can't. The truth is many things aren't going her way--not really. Will she let her circumstances make her miserable or will she rise above?

My thoughts: I liked this one okay. Part of me is curious...IF I'd read this one before the Newbery announcement would I have liked it better?!?! But I didn't. I read it AFTER the announcement, therefore I expected the book to be all kinds of wonderful. I wanted the book to stand out as amazing and unique. It didn't. I found it...well...typical. Not just the situations but the writing.

There were many things I did like...just nothing that I loved, loved, loved. Merci did have eye surgery as a child and still has a lazy eye (at times). I could relate to that. Merci was "different" from her classmates in that she was a scholarship student. She comes from a different social class, a different neighborhood than her classmates. Again, I could relate to that to a certain degree. I liked getting to know her and her family. I found the book a quick and mostly enjoyable read.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, February 09, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #6

5 Star Books

4 Star Books
  • See Pip Flap. (The Adventures of Otto) David Milgrim. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  • Finding Langston. Lesa Cline-Ransome. 2018. Holiday House. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, February 08, 2019

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life. Lucy Worsley. 2019. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Kew Palace, a little brick building peeping out from among the trees in west London's Kew Gardens, is an unlikely-looking royal palace.

Premise/plot: Lucy Worsley's newest book is not your traditional biography. If you're looking for a straight-forward biography of Queen Victoria there are dozens--if not hundreds--to choose from. Instead of the traditional approach, Worsley has selected twenty-four days from her life to write about. (Technically twenty-three days from her life. The first, 11 July 1818, was the wedding day of her parents.) There are nine days highlighting Victoria as a 'naughty daughter.' There are eight days highlighting Victoria as a 'good wife.' There are seven days highlighting Victoria as 'the widow of Windsor.'

My thoughts: I wanted to love, love, love this one. I really did. I have both a fascination with the royal family AND a love of Victorian literature. If any book was a 'sure thing' for me to love--it would be this one, right?! Unfortunately, I didn't end up loving the approach.

I really enjoyed the first twelve chapters. The first chapter focuses on the wedding of her parents. Chapters two through twelve takes us through the birth of Queen Victoria's first child--a daughter. These chapters were well-paced and the dates seemed closer together. (1818, 1819, 1820, 1830, 1835, 1836, 1837, 1838, 1839, 1839, 1840)

I didn't enjoy the last twelve much. In fact by the end I was BORED. I honestly don't know if the events were spaced too far apart to carry a story OR if the events focused on aspects of her life that just don't have the same appeal OR if I was just in a bad mood. The dates are further apart: 1850, 1854, 1856, 1861, 1861, 1871, 1877, 1884, 1885, 1897, 1910. The subjects are also less personal--think family oriented--and more public--think POLITICAL. Perhaps the focus has shifted to what events in Victoria's life had significance from a political/social standpoint.

I think I just like traditional biographies better.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, February 07, 2019

HIdden Figures

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race. Margo Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Illustrated by Laura Freeman. 2018. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math. Really good.

Premise/plot: This is a picture book adaptation of the story first told in an adult nonfiction book--Hidden Figures. It follows the lives of four human computers--Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. The focus being on their contribution to the space race and the challenges they faced as black women at a time when they would face discrimination for being black and for being female.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved Hidden Figures. The book and movie were fabulous. I highly recommend both. I'm glad to see this story is being adapted for all ages and audiences. The illustrations are wonderful. The book received a Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration in 2019.

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

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

World at War: Code Name: Lise

Code Name: Lise. Larry Loftis. 2019. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Major Guthrie looked again at the photographs.

Premise/plot: The subtitle of this one tells you essentially everything you need to know to decide if this book is for you: "the true story of the woman who became WWII's most highly decorated spy." Since I seek out fiction and nonfiction set during this time, it was enough for me to put the book on hold. Odette, the spy, in some ways was your average person. She was married. Her husband was in active service--can't remember which branch now. She had three kids, three YOUNG kids. True, she was a Frenchwoman living in the UK. True, she knew some parts of France quite well and could speak the language fluently without an English accent. But she certainly never saw herself as spy material. But with a little convincing she said yes to serving her adopted country. After some training and a lot of bad luck in actually getting to France, there she was part of the French Resistance. What could go wrong? Just about everything--though not from day one, mission one. For the most part she was a messenger--carrying secret messages back and forth.

My thoughts: I was disappointed. I think my disappointment has to do with the grand book I was promised in the jacket copy. The jacket copy makes the book out to be a SWEEPING romance, a true love story. Two spies fall madly, deeply, passionately in love while they work side by side for the Resistance. He's her Commanding Officer, Peter Churchill. They're arrested together. Though separated for years, neither can forget their *love*...

The story is well-researched. I won't deny that. It is based on a true story. But I found it less thrilling and less romantic than the jacket copy makes it out to be. I didn't find the man to capture them to be so much "cunning" (according to the jacket copy) as lucky. One of the spies in Peter and Odette's circle or ring was just REALLY stupid, clumsy, gullible, immoral. Odette and Peter were aware of this--that their identities were compromised and they were being pursued--but they reckoned on a few more days of safety. This wasn't so much "thrilling cat and mouse chase" as it was YELL AT THE PEOPLE IN THE BOOK.

As for their time in prison and concentration camps...this does make up the majority of the book. I did find both to be strong and resilient--not easily broken. In fact, there was no breaking.

As I mentioned it's based on a true story....and the two did marry after the war...but they didn't stay married. This was no life-consuming LOVE to last the ages. The author hints that perhaps she cheated on him and they then divorced. She did marry a third husband--in the 1950s, I believe.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Finding Langston

Finding Langston. Lesa Cline-Ransome. 2018. Holiday House. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Never really thought much about Alabama's red dirt roads, but now, all I can think about is kicking up their dust.

Premise/plot: Langston, our hero, has moved with his father to Chicago from Alabama. It wasn't his choice--but his father's. (Alabama reminded him too much of his late wife.) This coming of age novel is set in Chicago in 1946.

Finding Langston is an Coretta Scott King Honor book in the author category for 2019. 

My thoughts: I really found this a quick, compelling read. Langston is struggling to make Chicago his home. He misses the life he knew. And he hasn't really made any friends yet. In fact, he's been bullied by others; he's a COUNTRY BOY. Langston hates just about everything in Chicago BUT the local library branch where he is welcomed. Langston discovers the other Langston--Langston Hughes--and finds his "home" between the covers of the books he reads. I love reading books where the main characters love to read.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, February 04, 2019

Journey of the Pale Bear

Journey of the Pale Bear. Susan Fletcher. 2018. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In the evening, as darkness falls, I return to the fortress.

Premise/plot: This middle grade historical novel is the story of a boy and a bear. The novel is set in the thirteenth century--the setting is first Norway, then the sea, and finally England. The King of Norway is giving a polar bear--a 'pale bear'--to the King of England (Henry III) as a gift. But the bear needs a handler or keeper to get him there safely. Arthur, our young, desperate hero, seems an unlikely choice. But it turns out that he has a way with the bear--a way that the adults don't seem to have. His job--if he accepts it--will be to keep the bear calmed down and willing to eat. In return he'll receive passage to Wales after the bear is delivered safely. Wales is where his father's family is from originally.

This historical coming-of-age novel is packed with action, adventure, and drama.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one so much. I'm not sure at this point if it's "really, really like" or love. But I do know that I was so captivated by this story that I could not put the book down. I read it in one sitting. I liked the setting. I liked the characters. I liked the relationships. I liked the story--it is based loosely on a true story. The King of Norway did give the King Henry III a polar bear for his menagerie. The bear did go for a daily swim every day in the river Thames.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #5

5 Star Books Reviewed This Week

4 Star Books Reviewed This Week

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Night Diary

The Night Diary. Veera Hiranandani. 2018. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: 
July 14, 1947
Dear Mama,
I know you know what happened today at 6:00 a.m., twelve years ago. How could you not? It was the day we came and you left, but I don't want to be sad today. I want to be happy and tell you everything.
Premise/plot:The Night Diary is a Newbery Honor book for 2019. It is set in India/Pakistan in the summer of 1947--the year that India broke free from British rule and was divided into two countries. It is not a time of peace and harmony. Far from it.

Nisha, our heroine, has just received a diary for her birthday. She lives with her twin brother, Amil, her father, and her grandmother. All her diary entries are written to her mother. Her family finds themselves living on the Pakistan side of the border--but it's not safe for them to stay since they are Hindu. Can they get across the border to India safely?

My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED this one. It is beautifully written. The story is compelling. I really felt a strong connection to Nisha and Amil. It was packed with suspense.

  • It feels scary to talk, because once the words are out, you can't put them back in. But if you write words and they don't come out the way you want them to, you can erase them and start over. (12)
  • I took in Kazi's words, let them dance and twirl in my head, replayed them over and over like a beautiful piece of music. I can't stop thinking about it, Papa having secrets with you. Papa cooking before Kazi came. You and Papa marrying against everyone's wishes in secret. What would it have been like if you lived, Mama? These things Kazi tells me are the memories I was supposed to have. They explode in my mind like firecrackers. (26)
  • It's one thing to understand facts and another thing to understand why those facts are facts. (86)
  • Sometimes I like to hold on to my upsets, like if I let them go I'm admitting that they weren't that important. (104)

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, February 01, 2019

The White Cascade

The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche. Gary Krist. 2007. 315 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
Summer 1910
The last body was found at the end of July, twenty-one weeks after the avalanche.
Premise/plot: Gary Krist's The White Cascade is a compelling nonfiction read about a tragic disaster. On March 1, 1910 an avalanche swept two trains off the track and into the canyon below. But that's not quite the whole story--the trains had been trapped on the side of the snowy mountain for six days. Snow slides kept trapping all traffic on the tracks. It was a demanding, never-ending, no-relief-in-sight job to keep the tracks clear of snow. And this week/weekend proved impossible. The storm was relentless.

The White Cascade tells the story--the weather, the storms, the history of the railway, the management by James Henry O'Neill, the passengers and workers. It was an intense situation for all parties involved. Intense for O'Neill who was responsible--not for the weather, mind you, that would be nonsense--but for how the railroad chose to deal with the weather. He was in charge of which trains went where. He was in charge of determining which tracks stayed open, which tracks closed down; he was in charge of rerouting trains. He was in charge of managing resources--men, coal, other supplies, etc. It was also intense for the passengers on board the two trains. One train was a fast mail train who up until this time had had a great record for being dependable and on time. The other train was an express passenger train. Nobody stepped on that train expecting anything other than a quick train ride. Unfortunately it was worst case scenario almost from the start.

My thoughts: I don't know if a book could get any bleaker than The White Cascade. The passengers soon became aware--after the first day or two--of the risks and dangers of being STUCK on the side of a mountain in a precarious place. True, there were attempts to calm them down by saying that this particular location had never been the site of a slide or avalanche before...but...common sense told most if not all of the adults that that meant NOTHING. There was much talk of doing something--demanding to see O'Neill, demanding the railway move the train somewhere else, demanding the railway try to rescue passengers and get them down off the mountain another way, demanding more be done to clear the tracks so the train could be on its way. There was this waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. Would the storm pass? Would the weather improve? Were higher temperatures a good thing or a bad thing? Was it safer to stay on the train and wait out the storm? Was it safer to hike down the mountain on foot? (Some passengers did choose to hike down the mountain. It was difficult going--not without some risk--but it was possible.) Still not everyone could hike down the mountain--what about the mothers with young children? What about the elderly? the sick?

This was a compelling read. I read it in two days--it was intense and heartbreaking.

I don't know if it's possible to "love" a book this bleak, but, I love how well-researched this one was.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. Margaret McNamara. Illustrated by Esme Shapiro. 2018. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
July 4, 1854, Washington
My dearly beloved Elizabeth, for I hope that is what you will be called, if you are born a girl, my daughter who is your grandmama, has asked me to devote this day to writing a letter to you, about my very long and fortunate life. I am not much given to letter-writing nowadays, nor was I ever inclined to write about myself, yet you may perhaps find much to interest you herein.
Premise/plot: It is a picture book biography of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. The framework of this one is that Eliza herself is telling her own story via letter to her yet unborn great-granddaughter. (This much is fact: the last year of Eliza's life--1854--her granddaughter was expecting a child.) The book spans her whole life--well, up until 1854.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I do think it is a picture book for older children; perhaps I'd even go so far as to say it's a picture book for adults. There is a LOT of text. I think for those that love, love, love the musical Hamilton and for those that also enjoy reading, this one is worth seeking out.

I liked the text; I liked the illustrations. But I didn't "love, love, love" either. I am glad I read it. It is nice to read picture books that touch upon history now and then. 

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

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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