Thursday, October 31, 2019

October Reflections

October# of Books
Becky's Book Reviews18
Young Readers12
Operation Actually Read Bible8



38

October
# of Pages
Becky's Book Reviews6790
Young Readers600
Operation Actually Read Bible4994


Totals12384



# of Books# of Pages
January7414571
February5810646
March5510974
April6311095
May6211932
June518565
July4810313
August143263
September214659
October3812384


Totals So Far

Books Read
484
Pages Read
98402


New to me highlights:

Reread highlights:

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

World at War: Evil for Evil

Evil for Evil. (Billy Boyle #4) James R. Benn. 2009. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This was the Holy Land, and I had never felt so far from home.

Premise/plot: Evil for Evil is the fourth book in Benn’s historical mystery series starring former police detective Billy Boyle. In this one, “Uncle Ike” sends Billy Boyle on a dangerous mission in Northern Ireland. It will require him to ask a lot of questions—questions that could get him killed by the Red Hand or the IRA. (I think there’s another extremist group as well...) Boyle has always been sympathetic to the IRA before—growing up in an Irish Catholic community in Boston. Will seeing the extremists on both sides change his mind?! This one has a massive body count. It may be the largest body count I’ve ever encountered in a murder mystery. Will Boyle make it out of Ireland alive?

My thoughts: This one started off on the slower side—especially considering how the third one begins. But by the end it was intense and packed with action. I was surprised a time or two with this one. Kaz and Diana are absent and nearly absent respectively in this one. I missed Kaz especially. Plenty of new characters were introduced. The storytelling is still hooking me this many books into the series. I also have my mom hooked on the series.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets

The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets. Sarah Miller. 2019. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence of the prologue: In an empty nursery, behind two woven wire fences topped with barbed wire, five nine-year-old girls waited for their father.

Premise/plot: Sarah Miller’s newest book is a biography of the Dionne quintuplets: Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, and Marie who were born on May 28, 1934. Their arrival and survival captivated and fascinated the world at large not just for weeks, months, or even years but for decades. Their birth thrust them into fame, a fame that they could hardly hope to escape. The Dionne parents didn’t ask for it, nor their older siblings—or younger siblings that would follow. The county, country, nation, world deemed the parents incapable of raising the quintuplets. It wasn’t just that they would need help or support—nurses, nannies, doctors, all of which would take money. No they were judged by the crowd, the mob, society to be unfit to decide how to raise these five. They were not to have any say in the day to day decisions or the decisions that would prove more significant and lasting. They were begrudgingly allowed to visit—if they were deemed healthy enough—but the children did not belong to them or with them. When the parents finally did get custody of the quintuplets, when they were allowed to live with their parents for the first time, it would prove difficult and challenging. There would always be a strain, a strangeness. The quintuplets would always, always relate to one another best. For better or worse.

Life is a miracle. All life is a miracle. The quintuplets birth was miraculous certainly. But it was also tragic by most anybody’s standards. No matter their age—babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, adults—challenges plagued them. It didn’t have to be, a tragedy of its own. Their strange upbringing, the fame and attention, did not prepare them for life, for the real world, to live full lives apart from one another. No one should be treated as a spectacular spectacular.

My thoughts: Incredibly sad, that is how I’d describe this one. I expected ups and downs. Perhaps more downs than ups based on the title. But this one was all downs. The sad thing is that in retrospect some of the downs turned out to be more “up” than previously thought.

Miller pieced together the story well from two extremes. The “facts” as seen from both sides are far, far apart. Many sources seem to exaggerate and play around somewhat loosely with black and white facts. It must have been challenging to research and not take sides and form strong opinions. But Miller did a good job in my opinion. If I was slow to finish (I started this one in August) it was because the book was so bleak. Biographies are like this sometimes.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 28, 2019

The Testaments

The Testaments. (The Handmaid's Tale #2) Margaret Atwood. 2019. 422 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive.

Premise/plot: The Testaments is a follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale. It is set many years after the first book, and has three narrators: Aunt Lydia (one of the founding aunts), Daisy/Nicole (a Canadian teenager), and Agnes Jemima (a teenager raised in Gilead). All three have strong opinions on Gilead.

My thoughts: I read The Handmaid’s Tale in August. There was an immediacy to the narrative—a rawness. It was unpolished and packed with suspense. We were seeing Gilead through her eyes—all in the moment. Everything was uncertain. The narratives of The Testaments are the exact opposite. Polished. Removed. Lacking all suspense whatsoever. I have read history books with a more engaging narrative style. (I do love history, by the way.)

I did appreciate the short chapters for the most part. I think I kept a good pace going because the chapters were often short. It certainly wasn’t because I was in suspense and had to know what happened next.

There was one element that I predicted early on in the novel concerning how two of the narratives relate to one another. So essentially there was nothing surprising about the plot.

Does a book need to have plot twists and be suspenseful?! Not necessarily. Character-driven novels can be all about the journey and not the destination. I can easily say that The Handmaid’s Tale was character-driven, premise-driven, plot-driven. It had it all. Was The Testaments character-driven enough to save it? I have a hard time connecting with alternating narrators in general. I think I could have connected with any of the three if it had just been told from her point of view.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

October Share-a-Tea Check-In Post

Hilda Fearon, Afternoon Tea
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?

Books Read since last check-in:

91. A Family of Strangers. Emilie Richards. 2019. 491 pages. [Source: Library]
92.  The Penderwicks In Spring. Jeanne Birdsall. 2015. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
93. Girl Waits With Gun. (Kopp Sisters #1) Amy Stewart. 2015. 408 pages. [Source: Review copy]
94. Cold Sassy Tree. Olive Ann Burns. 1984. 405 pages. [Source: Bought]
95. The Sunne in Splendour. Sharon Kay Penman. 1982. 936 pages. [Source: Library]
96. The Penderwicks at Last. Jeanne Birdsall. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
97. William Shakespeare's Get Thee...Back to the Future! Ian Doescher. 2019. Quirk. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

98. Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Kopp Sisters #2. Amy Stewart. 2016. 310 pages. [Source: Library]

Currently reading:
I'm reading Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her?

I've been enjoying so many teas! One new-to-me tea is Oolong tea.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Stars Upon Thars #43

5 Stars
Blood Alone (Billy Boyle #3) James R. Benn. 2008. 313 pages. [Source: Library]
Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959. 323 pages. [Source: Library] 
Still Life. (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) Louise Penny. 2005. 293 pages. [Source: Library]

4 Stars
Charlie & Mouse Even Better (Charlie & Mouse #3) Laurel Snyder. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library]


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

World at War: Blood Alone

Blood Alone (Billy Boyle #3) James R. Benn. 2008. 313 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I was hot, and my head hurt.

Premise/plot: Blood Alone is the third novel in James R. Benn’s historical mystery series starring police detective turned soldier Billy Boyle. The war has taken Billy far from Boston. He now finds himself in Sicily ahead of the invasion. There’s only one little problem: he finds himself in the hospital with multiple injuries and no memories. Yes, our hero has amnesia, but danger and adventure won’t wait. Threats abound and a mission awaits. Billy Boyle must get back to solving murders if he’s to stay alive.

The book opens with a quote: “Blood alone moves the wheels of history.” This quote provides Billy Boyle much food for thought throughout the novel.

My thoughts: I have read and enjoyed all three books in the series. This one may just be my favorite so far. I loved the introspective nature of the narrative. I loved the suspense and action. This one unlike book two kept me guessing and provided enough twists and turns. I found the story captivating and well written.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959. 323 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.

Premise/plot: Randy Bragg is the hero of this apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic science fiction classic. One day—soon after the novel opens—Randy receives a telegram with a code word: Alas, Babylon. It is from his brother, Mark. The message may confuse Florence, but the message is perfectly clear to Randy. The end is near—nuclear war is imminent. Mark knows that he won’t survive, but he’s hoping that by sending his wife, Helen, his son, Ben Franklin, and his daughter, Peyton, that they will. The message proves timely. Mark’s prediction comes true. Will Randy and his neighbors know how to keep themselves alive in the dark, bleak days and weeks ahead? Will life go on? What will that life look like? What kind of future will humanity have?

My thoughts: I believe this is my third time to read Alas, Babylon. I absolutely love this one. It is such a fascinating read. It reads closer to a survival adventure story than anything else. It does indeed pose the big what if that would have been on the minds of every reader at the time it was published. What if war happens? What if it’s nuclear war? Can nuclear war be won? Will humanity stand a chance of surviving? What would life be like after such a disaster? But this is so much more than a premise driven novel. The characters are so well done...as are the relationships.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1)

Still Life. (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) Louise Penny. 2005. 293 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.

Premise/plot: Still Life by Louise Penny is the first in a mystery series starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec. The mystery itself is set in the super tiny village of Three Pines. Readers get to know many villagers quite well—Peter and Clara, Olivier and Gabri, Ruth, Myrna, the Crofts, Ben Hadley, etc. Gamache does not work alone either, other detectives are also on the case. Can they find the murderer in time?!

My thoughts: The writing is fabulous, absolutely fabulous!!! I think the fact that all the characters—no matter how major or minor—are so well drawn is what has me hooked and a bit amazed. I love character driven novels but mystery novels often aren’t with the exception of the main character and main sidekick.

’Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of these people are very immature. They lead “still” lives, waiting.’
‘Waiting for what?’
‘Waiting for someone to save them. Expecting someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world. The thing is no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get out of it.’



At what point does change happen? Sometimes it’s sudden. The ‘ah ha’ moments in our lives, when we suddenly see. But often it’s a gradual change, an evolution.


’There’s no easel, no paints. There’s no studio. Where’d she do her art?’
‘How about the basement?’
‘Sure, go down and check, but I can guarantee you an artist isn’t going to paint in a windowless basement.’ Though, come to think of it, Jane Neal’s work did look like it’d been done in. The dark.



© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #42

5 Stars
William Shakespeare's Get Thee...Back to the Future! Ian Doescher. 2019. Quirk. 176 pages. [Source: Library]
 The Sunne in Splendour. Sharon Kay Penman. 1982. 936 pages. [Source: Library]
One Red Sock. Jennifer Sattler. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Once Upon a Goat. Dan Richards. Illustrated by Eric Barclay. 2019. 34 pages. [Source: Library]

4 Stars
Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Kopp Sisters #2. Amy Stewart. 2016. 310 pages. [Source: Library]
Hi, Jack! Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 2019. 80 pages. [Source: Library



© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

World at War: Lady Cop Makes Trouble

Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Kopp Sisters #2. Amy Stewart. 2016. 310 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I handed the newspaper back to Mrs. Headison. “I suppose you replied to the box-holder?”

Premise/plot: Will she or won’t she be hired on as deputy?! That is the underlying question throughout the second book in the Kopp sisters series by Amy Stewart. Constance, Norma, and Fleurette are the Kopp sisters. The first book ended with Constance searching for a job. She has now found work as an unofficial-almost deputy to Sheriff Heath and matron of the jail. Her official job has her overseeing the female prisoners. Her unofficial job has her hunting down big time fugitives. Can she prove her worth and get the job done?

My thoughts: This book like Girl Waits with Gun is based on true people and events as reported in newspapers of the time. It even includes a photograph of the real Constance Kopp. I loved, loved, loved the first book which focused more on her relationship with her sisters. It had plenty of action and adventure. This second book focuses almost exclusively on her professional life. I liked it. I did. But maybe not quite as much. I would still recommend the series. 


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

William Shakespeare's Get Thee Back To the Future

William Shakespeare's Get Thee...Back to the Future! Ian Doescher. 2019. Quirk. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Now gentles, pray, your patience for this play./ In heart and mind, let fancy hold its sway—

Premise/plot: At long last readers can finally experience what it would have been like if William Shakespeare had penned Back to The Future!!! This perhaps may be a most excellent example of a book you never knew you needed.

The prologue sets the stage and asks the audience to imagine themselves four hundred years into the future in the New World. “View wonders! On our stage do we arrive—E’en late October, nineteen eighty-five.”

The five acts that follow are delightful both for their familiarity and unfamiliarity. Marty plays the lute, for example. But you’ve never heard Earth Angel or Johnny B. Good quite like this.

My thoughts: I absolutely have to find my copy of Back to the Future now. It’s been too long since I’ve seen it. This was a favorite growing up though I didn’t love all the movies in the trilogy equally. This play was awesome, fun, silly, clever. I loved how the author thought through things as if it was a play that could be acted on stage (players must have time to change costumes) instead of just a gimmicky novelty. I also loved the pops of actual Shakespeare lines.

Quotes:

Do you believe in love? So do our youth, And this, the heart of rock and roll we’ll hear, This music that the pow’r of love releaseth.


It is this power makes the world go round. ‘Tis strong and sudden, sent by heav’n above, It May just save thy life, this pow’r of love.


I parry, dodge, and drive e’en faster yer, To keep their bullets from their target—me! Yet faster,car, drive on, be fleet of wheel, Like chariots of fire leave all behind And in a blaze of glory help me ‘scape.


Surrender, Marty, to this blazing light, That thou mayst live again another night!


Be not so timid, lass. Thou likest me, And wantest Biff to give himself to thee.


I shall—because thou to our school art new—Grant thee, This once, a merciful reprieve. Now make thou like a tree, and thither flee.


O mistress mine, Earth angel mine, O darling of my heart, I’m thine. Shalt thou be mine, this year or next, Why leave my loving heart perplex’d? Sing nonny heigh, sing nonny ho, Earth angel sweet, come dwell below. O mistress mine, Earth angel mine, One I adore, who doth so shine. ‘‘Tis only thee for whom I care, And I shall love thee, pet, fore’er. Sing nonny heigh, sing nonny ho, Earth angel sweet, come dwell below.


Be ready for audacious episodes—Whither we go, we have no need of roads. 



© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 14, 2019

The Sunne in Splendour

The Sunne in Splendour. Sharon Kay Penman. 1982. 936 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Richard did not become frightened until darkness began to settle over the woods.

Premise/plot: The Sunne in Splendour is an historical novel by Sharon Kay Penman. The central character is Richard, the “last born son of the Duke of York,” the man who would become the last Plantagenet king, Richard III. Does the name make you want to boo and hiss?! Or perhaps does it send you on a tirade about how he was slandered by those evil Tudors and treated unfairly?! The book opens when he is just a child (1459), before all the drama really gets started between Yorkists and Lancastrians. Or perhaps I should add that all the drama that came before was “normal” to the young boy. The novel is divided into sections. It has its ups and downs—moments of grandness or splendor, moments of incredible heartbreak and sadness. It tells an epic story, a slice of English history.

My thoughts: I have been meaning to reread this book for years. I love, love, love Richard III. I am Team Richard all the way. I do not believe he murdered his nephews, the princes in the tower. I boo,hiss Henry VII. I do. I can’t remember when I first became interested in this time period; but it’s something that I have been reading about for quite a while now. I still haven’t made up my mind if this is my absolute favorite on the subject or if that would be Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time. I have probably reread that one more because it is much shorter!!!

I love the relationship between Richard and Anne in this book. I hate the ending—of course how could it end any differently then it does?! Richard III does not survive the battle. There is no happy ending for any one with a drop of royal blood that could challenge or match Henry Tudor’s claim

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Tidelands

Tidelands. (The Fairmile #1) Philippa Gregory. 2019. 448 pages. [Source: Library]

  First sentence: The church was gray against a paler gray sky, the bell tower dark against the darker clouds.

Premise/plot: Tidelands is an historical novel set in England in 1648/1649. It is Philippa Gregory’s newest novel and the first in a new series. The premise is that the main heroine, Alinor, comes under suspicion by her neighbors for witchcraft. Why? She has been abandoned by her seafaring husband, (a husband that took not a care about preserving her reputation). She should be poor, desperately poor, starving, unable to support herself and her son, Rob, and daughter, Alys. Yet she is not. Somehow between selling herbs, attending births, fishing, etc. she is making enough money to survive—even saving back a little for her daughter’s dowry. Her son—who should have no future ahead of him because he is a nobody who comes from nothing—is first chosen to be a companion to the lord’s son and then is gifted an apprenticeship. Her neighbors have only one explanation: she is a witch descended from witches. She could never deserve such good fortune otherwise. The problem? Readers get the story from her perspective from start to finish and she simply is not a witch. So those readers hoping to find a witch-themed story will be disappointed. The explanation is much simpler. Bribery. Alinor meets a Catholic priest on his way to the lord’s house and she discovers the family’s religious and political leanings. She doesn’t ask for money, opportunities, etc. in exchange for her silence. But she’s given them and doesn’t refuse. Sadly she finds herself falling in love with this priest-traitor, “James Summer.” It does not go well...

My thoughts: I might have yelled at this book. Okay I did yell at some of the characters. I wasn’t surprised at the direction this one took—I could see what was coming almost from the start. But I also felt there were scenes—bits of dialogue—that were dropped in perhaps with an agenda. Unwanted pregnancies are nothing new. Perhaps one could eavesdrop on any decade in human history and find women talking about how they “need” or “want” or “must” get rid of the baby. How “it” will ruin their lives. But this one went out of its way perhaps to state that while she—the heroine—would never, ever, ever end the pregnancy, she would never ever judge another woman for choosing differently. Making the argument that women have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, with their body. No one has the right to force a woman to have a baby she doesn’t want. No one has the right to force a woman to end a pregnancy. Only one voice counts. There were several conversations that made me squirm a bit. Her daughter—who is also pregnant and unmarried (though betrothed) begs and pleads with her mother to have an abortion; she stands in judgment of her mother for having sex outside of marriage. The mother never once stands in judgement of her. The conversation that had me screaming however was with “James.” There are no words to describe him—words that I would want to go on record as saying or thinking.

I might be interested in the next book, but part of me hopes it doesn’t pick up where it left off in this family saga.

I was not disappointed at the lack of witchcraft.


© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #41

5 Stars
Bear's Book. Claire Freedman. 2019. 34 pages. [Source: Library]
The Penderwicks at Last. Jeanne Birdsall. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

4 Stars
Most Marshmallows. Rowboat Watkins. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
The First Wave (Billy Boyle #2) James R. Benn. 2007. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
 

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

World at War: The First Wave

The First Wave (Billy Boyle #2) James R. Benn. 2007. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was dark, and I was at sea, hunkered down in a flat-bottomed landing craft, slamming through four-foot swells and chugging noisily towards shore, leaving the relative safety of our troop transport behind.

Premise/plot: The First Wave is the second book in the historical mystery series starring Billy Boyle. The first novel was set in England in 1942; the second novel is set in North Africa (Algeria) in late 1942. The plan was supposed to be simple: Harding and Boyle are supposed to be involved in the negotiations for the surrender of the Vichy French forces. But it’s a snafu from the start. The surrender won’t happen quickly—if at all. Soon Boyle is back to solving murders—and the body count keeps going up.

My thoughts: I wanted to love this one just as much as the first book. I do still really like the characters Boyle and Kaz. I was heartbroken over Diana’s situation. I think the weightiness of that kept me from fully engaging with this one. The mystery element also disappointed me. I don’t know why, but, I guessed the identity of the murderer super early. I usually don’t do this in the first half. Sometimes authors keep me guessing until the last handful of pages. I like the suspense. This one definitely reads more like a trauma-filled war novel. Gritty—very much showing the horrors of war.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

On the Beach

On the Beach. Nevil Shute. 1957. 296 pages. [Source: Library]

 First sentence: Lieutenant-Commander Peter Holmes of the Royal Australian Navy woke soon after dawn.
Premise/plot: On the Beach is a behind the scenes glimpse of the end of the human race as seen through the eyes of an American (Dwight Towers) and several Australians (Peter and Mary Holmes, Moira Davidson, John Osborne). It is set after an extremely brief but devastating war. There is only one way this one will end—the death of every single character. Not even Shakespeare was this brutal. The novel poses the question: is war worth it? When all is said and done is pride, greed, ambition, love of power, stubbornness, selfishness, the need to be right...worth the extinction of humanity. In case you didn’t pick up on it, this one is a bit didactic or agenda-driven. Nuclear warfare is bad, bad, all kinds of bad. It’s a lose/lose situation. It is preventable if everyone uses common sense. It is too late for the fictional world Shute has created, but it is not too late for us in the real world.

My thoughts: This novel is bleakity-bleak. Hope is not to be found here. It isn’t just that life as we know it is over...it isn’t that we’ve been sent back to the dark ages...it isn’t that 80% of the population has died. No. Every human on the planet is either dead, dying, or soon to be dying. Death is stalking the characters, creeping closer and closer as the seasons change and the wind blows the poison—the radiation—closer and closer. The book isn’t about the destination, but the journey. How do these characters choose to live day after day knowing what it is coming?! What changes? What stays the same? Who do they choose to spend time with? What do they choose to do? How do they cope? Do they cope?

I don’t expect every apocalyptic novel or post-apocalyptic novel to deal with religious themes or undertones. God is not to be found within this one. None of the characters believe in God or even a god. Faith and religion—spirituality—is not a part of this one. None of the characters seem to believe in heaven or hell.
This would not be at all surprising if published now, but would it have seemed so in 1957? Would readers have wondered why the characters didn’t pray, make peace with God, find comfort in a faith community?

I also wonder if it would have been controversial at the time it was published in regards to how it ended. Having pills ready and waiting at the pharmacy available for request—free of charge—to anybody who wants the “dignity” of ending their own life. I think times have probably changed in regards to this as well.

The hardest part was the fact that Peter and Mary have a baby. They have to plan to kill their baby so that she is not left on her own in case she outlives her parents.

If there is a theme it is live for today because humans are stupid.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, October 07, 2019

Max Tilt: 80 Days Or Die

Max Tilt: 80 Days or Die (Max Tilt #2) Peter Lerangis. 2018. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: No one ever paid attention to the man with the drooping eye.

Premise/plot: Max Tilt: 80 Days or Die is the second book in a new series by Peter Lerangis. The plot has/had the potential to be great. Max is a descendant of French writer, Jules Verne. Verne’s legacy lives on...in a series of codes and puzzles. Max and Alex went on quite the quest in the first book. Max thought the solution to his biggest problem could be saved by money—lots of it. But it turns out that money can’t buy everything. Max is shocked by this—adult readers shouldn’t be. It turns out that the next quest will be a matter of life and death.

Verne’s mysterious letters indicate that by combining a series of fantastic near-impossible-to-find ingredients together that any and every sickness/illness can be cured. Death could be thwarted if and only if you possess this magical concoction.

Evelyn is his friend with a terminal illness. She only has a few months to live. This is enough to motivate him to do something he thought he’d never do again—risk his own life to trek the globe on an dangerous adventure. Mid-trip he learns that his mom’s cancer has returned. Max is stunned!!! He never expected that...after all it was the money he found that sent her to “the best doctors and best hospitals” that money could buy! Now it is more important than ever that the quest is successful. But it won’t be easy...bad guys come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders.

My thoughts: I found the second book to be obnoxious. Clearly both books ask readers to suspend disbelief. Clearly both are fantasy novels even though both are set in the “real world.” It isn’t the only middle grade novel where all adults are either absent, negligent, or evil.

The fact that the book trivializes serious real-life issues is what I find so annoying. It’s one thing to go on a quest to save the world from...demons, wizards, vampires, aliens, etc. It is quite another to go on a quest for a cure-all for EVERY disease or malady (gunshot wound or cancer). (Verne used it after a gunshot wound.) I found the book to be over the top ridiculous...and predictable.

Whether any child likes it or not...some diseases do prove terminal. Traveling the world on your own...placing a person’s wellbeing on your doing so...it’s just too much. Max doesn’t need to feel responsible for the lives of his friend and mom.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, October 06, 2019

The Penderwicks at Last

The Penderwicks at Last. Jeanne Birdsall. 2018. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Lydia believed in dancing wherever she could—on sidewalks, in supermarket aisles, libraries, swimming pools, parking lots. Today her stage was a bench at the bus stop.

Premise/plot: Lydia Penderwick narrates the fifth installment of the series by Jeanne Birdsall. When readers last visited the family, Lydia was a princess obsessed toddler—a pest of a sister. Now Lydia is a fifth grader obsessed with all things dance. (Though oddly enough one who will not take dance classes because she wants to dance her way and only her way. Who needs instruction and critique when you could just watch movies and videos?! That is her thinking. But I’m not sure it is all that smart if you want to be a dancer.) It is summer and the family is returning to Arundel, to Jeffrey’s estate. They’ve been assured that Mrs. Tifton is never, never there—she lives in New York now. They are there to celebrate a wedding. Rosalind is marrying Tommy Geiger. Lydia is making fast friends with Cagney’s daughter Alice—also a sheep named Blossom. Lydia is rumored to like just about anyone...will that prove true when she meets Mrs. Tifton?!

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I loved, loved, loved a few things about it. Though it was not giddy-making cover to cover perhaps. I appreciated the playful nods to classic literature. From the start I saw the Alcott elements. Though thankfully there is no Beth-like character!!! But Batty has always, always, always reminded me of Amy. Therefore I have long predicted that somehow, some way she and Jeffrey (the Laurie character) would end up falling for each other. This doesn’t happen really-truly in this one, but it is strongly hinted at. The sisters have a feeling that these two will get together because they are obviously soul mates. There is a scene that screams out Pride and Prejudice—Mrs. Tifton demands, commands that they swear absolutely that no Penderwick sister will ever ever ever marry Jeffrey. They refuse. Who Skye ends up with does not surprise me either—given who Jo ended up with in Little Women.

So overall I enjoyed it...

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, October 05, 2019

Stars Upon Thars #40

5 Stars

Girl Waits With Gun. (Kopp Sisters #1) Amy Stewart. 2015. 408 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Cold Sassy Tree. Olive Ann Burns. 1984. 405 pages. [Source: Bought]
How To Read A Book. Kwame Alexander. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, October 04, 2019

A Family of Strangers

A Family of Strangers. Emilie Richards. 2019. 491 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: What do alligators dream about?

Premise/plot: Ryan Gracey is a successful podcaster with a true crime show. Her sister, Wendy, calls her out of the blue sounding desperate. Her business trip has gone horribly wrong. She can’t come back home. She fears that she might be a suspect in a murder. She is making a run for it. Can Ryan go and take care of her two nieces?! It’s not like Ryan is given a choice. To Florida she goes! Her nieces are essentially strangers to her...but so too is her much older sister. How much does she truly know about who her sister is...past or present?! When Ryan was born, Wendy was already in college. By the time she was starting school—her earliest memories—Wendy was married and living out of state. Could Ryan know only what Wendy wants her to know?!

There are dozens of indications that all is not as it appears...in her sister’s home, her sister’s marriage, her sister’s alibi. Has Ryan got a crime to solve within her own immediate family?!

Ryan’s journey takes her straight back to her hometown where an ex-boyfriend still lives...will it take two to solve this case?!

My thoughts: I am torn with this one. The first half was so packed with suspense that I just HAD to cheat and flip to the end. But once I had peeked, I regretted it. Gone was the suspense and tension. My compelling read turned ho-hum. Everything seemed too obvious once I had cheated. But it’s not as if the author forced me to peek. In fact, this is a case where I am clearly in the wrong. If I had not peeked...would there have been twists and turns in the story that kept me hooked...and guessing...until the end?! Would I have solved this mystery on my own long before the big reveal without cheating?!

I do think the romance element was completely predictable. Perhaps with one exception...this was the first romance novel I have read that starred a hero with a prosthetic leg.

Romance isn’t something I “need” in a mystery or a thriller. It’s an added ingredient—perhaps like raisins. It was not a clean romance either. But I will say this it wasn’t a horribly graphic one either—in terms of amount of detail/text.

If I could undo my cheating, I would.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Penderwicks in Spring

The Penderwicks In Spring. Jeanne Birdsall. 2015. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Only one low mound of snow still lurked in Batty Penderwick’s yard, under the big oak tree out back, and soon that would be gone if Batty continued to stomp on it with such determination.

Premise/plot: The Penderwicks in Spring is the fourth title in Birdsall’s middle grade series. The focus has shifted from the older Penderwicks (Rosalind, Skye, Jane) to the younger (Batty, Ben, Lydia). Batty and Ben receive the most narrative focus.

The novel remains character-driven. This is not an action-packed novel with twists and turns. There isn’t a bit of suspense or tension—not really. The Penderwicks are struggling financially. But this isn’t the focus. Jeffrey is in love with Skye. But this isn’t the focus. The whole family misses their next door neighbor, Nick, who’s away fighting in a war. But this isn’t the focus. Batty is mourning the loss of Hound. But again this isn’t the focus. There isn’t a central focus, just dozens of tiny family moments captured in print.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the first half very much. I enjoyed spending time with Batty. (This is the first time we see a more mature Batty.) I liked seeing Batty fall in love with playing music and singing. I liked seeing Batty in the role of big sister. But I didn’t enjoy the second half nearly as much. I ached for Batty when she overheard something no child should ever have to hear. I felt horrible as I watched her world crumble and shake. I knew that it would resolve itself by the end of the book. There was no actual tension. But it was like pulling a bandaid off slowly—perhaps taking some skin too—to read the second half. The charm was largely missing. It may be completely realistic for an eleven year old to feel this emotional...but I wanted to fast forward time.

I do want to read the last book in the series. I have not read anything about it. But I have a few things I want to see happen.

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 02, 2019

World at War: Girl Waits With Gun

Girl Waits With Gun. (Kopp Sisters #1) Amy Stewart. 2015. 408 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five. The Archduke of Austria had just been assassinated, the Mexicans were revolting, and absolutely nothing was happening at our house, which explains why all three of us were riding to Paterson on the most trivial of errands.

Premise/plot: The world may be heading towards war—the war to end all wars—but Constance and her two sisters, Norma and Fleurette, are heading for a war of their own. To say the book begins with a crash, boom, bang would not be an exaggeration. The sisters carriage is hit by an automobile filled with hooligans. Henry Kaufman may come from a well-to-do family, but he is a number one jerk. Soon after she sends him a civil letter asking that he pay for damages, the threats start. Will she be able to keep her sisters safe on the family farm?! Should she go to the police? Get a lawyer? Should she shut up or speak up?!

My thoughts: I absolutely loved loved loved this one! It had me hooked from the first page. It kept me turning pages. One thing I could never have guessed is that it is based on a true story or sequence of events. Though some elements are pure fiction. I wouldn’t change a thing about this lovely historical suspense.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Cold Sassy Tree

Cold Sassy Tree. Olive Ann Burns. 1984. 405 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died, Grandpa came to our house for his early morning snort of whiskey, as usual, and said to me, “Will Tweedy? Go find yore mama, then run up to yore Aunt Loma’s and tell her I said git on down here. I got something to say. And I ain’t a-go’n say it but once’t.”

Premise/plot: Olive Ann Burns’ historical novel is set in the fictional town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, in 1906/07. The narrator is a young boy—14, I believe—named Will Tweedy. It will be a huge year for him: his grandpa remarries just three—yes, three—weeks after his grandma’s death; he gets run over by a train and lives to tell the tale; he not only rides in his first automobile but he learns to drive; he kisses a girl. But there are losses as well. It is a substantive coming of age novel. I wouldn’t be surprised if you laughed and cried while reading it.

My thoughts: Cold Sassy Tree is a fantastic read. I loved just about everything. The characters are well developed. As are the relationships. Will has a special relationship with his grandpa and his new wife, Miss Love. It is an unusual relationship with Miss Love. While the rest of the family is upset, scandalized, bitter, Will becomes her close friend and confidante. Some secrets he comes by honestly—things told to him directly. Other secrets he learns via his eavesdropping. But even the tension-filled relationships are done well. For example, Will’s relationship with his Aunt Loma!!! I also loved the narrative voice. Will’s narrative is complex. He is a storyteller. He knows how to keep things light-hearted and humorous—even when the joke is at his expense. But he can also be serious and somber. Life has thrown him some huge changes—like his best friend’s death—and he has to work out what it all means and where he belongs. Who could help loving him? This doesn’t mean that he has all the answers and is perfectly perfect in terms of morals, ethics, and maturity. But this work in progress is lovable.

Quotes:

One Wednesday night he ended a long prayer with “Lord, forgive me for fittin’ [fighting] thet man yesterd’y—though Thou knowest if I had it to do over again I’d hit him harder.” (20)
There wasn’t a grown person in Cold Sassy who couldn’t pass away the time after Sunday dinner by recollecting who’d died of what when, but Granny was the only one I ever heard be interesting about it. (57)
In Cold Sassy, nobody under forty had ever made or waved an American Flag. Even today, in 1914, there’s not but one United States flag in the whole town. The post office being in one corner of the drug store, Dr. Clark is required to fly a U.S. flag. On July 4, 1906, he put it down to half-mast. (61)
I definitely plan on rereading this one at some point. First I need to convince my mom to read it.


© 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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