Monday, October 19, 2020

126. A Quiet Madness

A Quiet Madness: A Biographical Novel of Edgar Allen Poe. John Isaac Jones. 2020. 398 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In the city by the River Charles, the winter of 1808 proved to be one of the most brutal in its history. While October and November had been relatively mild, two savage nor’easters had blown through in late December and dumped more than nine feet of snow on hapless residents in less than a week. 

Premise/plot: A Quiet Madness is a biographical novel (aka fictionalized) of Edgar Allen Poe. It opens with his birth--in a funeral parlor--and ends soon after his death. It is always dramatic, sometimes melodramatic, never ever boring. At its best, it shows Poe as he is inspired and in the act of writing his poems and short stories. For example, readers "witness" Poe's very act of creating The Raven, perhaps his best known poem. At its worst, it is a bit graphic in depicting Poe's sex life. 

My thoughts: It was a quick read for actually being close to four hundred pages. Perhaps this is due to all the melodrama and drama. It keeps you turning pages--even if it's more like watching a train accident. (The train accident not being necessarily the author's writing style, technique, or craft--but the events unfolding in Poe's life.) That being said, I think the dialogue was probably the weakest aspect of this one. There were times the dialogue just got to be so off-putting because it was unnatural. It didn't feel appropriate to his times...or appropriate to our times. Still, there were moments of great interest. So I don't regret spending time with this one. 

One thing I didn't realize before reading this one was his marriage to his TWELVE YEAR OLD first cousin. It's unimaginable to me to think that twelve is young enough and mature enough--physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically for marriage. And the narrative does its best--in my opinion--to make this as normal and ordinary as possible.  Another instance is when a fifteen year old Poe is seduced (he is quite quite willing) by his best friend's mother--an adult.

Poe's life--as I hinted at earlier--was full of tragedies, semi-failures, and missed opportunities. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 16, 2020

125. Winter Wheat

Winter Wheat. Jeanne Williams. 1975. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was hard to guess where the thatch of the sod house ended and the prairie began. 

Premise/plot: Set in 1874, it stars a Mennonite family living on the prairie in Kansas. Cobie, our heroine and narrator, is sixteen. She is the second oldest daughter--there are five daughters now in the family. Her sister, Rebecca, gets all the attention as oldest. Cobie wishes for a certain neighbor--a school teacher fluent in German and English--would notice her--choose her. This novel chronicles their first year in America, in Kansas, farming--for better or worse. There's some tension between the old and the new, the known and unknown. For example, should the Mennonites (multiple families came over from Russia together) learn English and become American citizens? Or should they continue to mainly and exclusively speak German and NOT become citizens. How much--if at all--should they interact with their non-Mennonite neighbors? 

It has just about what you'd expect in a prairie book: wild fires, grasshoppers, and more oh my!

My thoughts: I bought this book for my mom a few years ago. It looked like her kind of book. It did. When she was recently going through her stacks, she found it and decided to read it. She read it in one sitting. She was enthusiastic about the book. She kept telling me how wonderful it was. I asked her a few questions before making the decision if I'd read it or not...

Does anyone commit suicide? (I asked this because of O Pioneers which has really made me distrustful).

Does anyone freeze to death?

Does anyone avoid freezing to death by cutting into a horse or oxen and climbing inside with their guts?

Does anyone burn to death?

No to all the above. So I decided to read it. 

I wish I could say that I loved, loved, loved it as much as my mom. But I just didn't see what she saw. I liked it well enough. I didn't dislike the characters--well, maybe with the exception of the oldest daughter, Rebecca--and the story was mostly okay. (There was one more question I should have asked about....) But it wasn't a wow read for me. It ended where it should have began maybe?

Note: The reviews on GoodReads are CONFUSING because apparently there's another book with the title Winter Wheat by another author. That book apparently stars a SCHOOL TEACHER IN MONTANA. I almost wish I'd read that one instead. I do wish that GoodReads wouldn't mash books together just because the titles are the same.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

124. The Four Winds

The Four Winds. Kristin Hannah. 2021. [February] 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when it felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going. I came west in search of a better life, but my American dream was turned into a nightmare by poverty and hardship and greed. These past few years have been a time of things lost: Jobs. Homes. Food. The land we loved turned on us, broke us all, even the stubborn old men who used to talk about the weather and congratulate each other on the season’s bumper wheat crop. 

Premise/plot: The Four Winds is a historical novel set primarily in the 1930s during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Primarily. Readers spend a brief period of time with Elsa, our heroine, in the 1920s which sets up the story. 

Elsa Wolcott--when we first meet her--is twenty-five and feeling every bit a spinster. Her parents have almost molded her into that role of unlovable, unworthy spinster. But after reading Age of Innocence, she decides enough is enough is enough. She buys herself some red silk and makeup, sews herself a dress, and sneaks out of the house looking for something--anything--to make life bearable. What she finds is a younger man, an Italian, who wants to take her for a drive out to a barn for a good time. A good time is just what she's craving--though she might not have been brave enough to be blunt. A few months later, Elsa realizes she's with child--as do her parents--and she's driven to the Martinelli homestead and dumped. Elsa and Rafe marry. This first preliminary section ends with the birth of that child--a baby girl she names Laredo. 

The rest of the novel is set during the Dust Bowl and will see our characters--Elsa and family--move from the Texas Panhandle to California.

My thoughts: Beautifully written. That's what I'd say first and foremost. The Four Winds is BITTERSWEET. If it didn't have that epilogue, I would say it was more BITTER than sweet, I tell you. But even when things are at their bleakity-bleak-bleakest the narrative is so compelling that the story is just beautiful and the characters fully developed. There were so many complex relationships in this one!!! In particular, the relationship between mothers and daughters and parent and child. (I love, love, love, love, love the relationship between Elsa and her mother-in-law, Rose.)

There were times when I wanted to interfere, to yell a bit. But I take that as a good sign. And it's not like I have alternative better answers that would with certainty have 'saved the day.' (I don't. Not really. Not with certainty.) But there were plenty of times I was like THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS? For example, I don't see why California was seen as the one and only answer by desperate people. There are other states too. But I digress.

I think it balanced bleakity-bleak with hope quite well. But I do have to say that though the ending was completely authentically in tune with the whole novel--everything was leading up to this--it was still WRONG on a purely emotional level.

Is it clean? Would I recommend it to those looking for clean reads? Mostly. The first bit is on-screen but non-descriptive. It also doesn't take up much space. The last bit is a bit more descriptive--but again not page-consuming. I would say the purpose is realism and life-as-it-is and not in any way romance. (More time is spent describing picking cotton.) The language--I think there are a few words here and there. But again it felt natural enough and not for shock value or being there for the sake of being there. 


Elsa Wolcott had spent years in enforced solitude, reading fictional adventures and imagining other lives. In her lonely bedroom, surrounded by the novels that had become her friends, she sometimes dared to dream of an adventure of her own, but not often.
Hope began to dim for a woman when she turned twenty. By twenty-two, the whispers in town and at church would have begun, the long, sad looks. By twenty-five, the die was cast. An unmarried woman was a spinster.

There had to be opportunities out there, but where would she find them? The library. Books held the answer to every question.

Books had always been her solace; novels gave her the space to be bold, brave, beautiful, if only in her own imagination. 
 You are a town girl,” Mr. Martinelli said in a thick Italian accent. “Not anymore, I guess.” “This is a good answer.” He bent down, scooped up a handful of dirt. “My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family. We plant, we tend, we harvest. I make wine from grapes that I brought here from Sicily, and the wine I make reminds me of my father. It binds us, one to another, as it has for generations. Now it will bind you to us.” “I’ve never tended to anything.” He looked at her. “Do you want to change that?” Elsa saw compassion in his dark eyes, as if he knew how afraid she’d been in her life, but she had to be imagining it. All he knew about her was that she was here now and she’d brought his son down with her. “Beginnings are only that, Elsa. When Rosalba and I came here from Sicily, we had seventeen dollars and a dream. That was our beginning. But it wasn’t what gave us this good life. We have this land because we worked for it, because no matter how hard life was, we stayed here. This land provided for us. It will provide for you, too, if you let it.”

 “Believe me, Elsa, this little girl will love you as no one ever has … and make you crazy and try your soul. Often all at the same time.”

“That she would love me as no one else ever would and break my heart?” “Sì. And you see how right I was?” “About part of it, I guess. She certainly breaks my heart.” “Yes. I was a trial to my poor mamma, too. The love, it comes in the beginning of her life and at the end of yours. God is cruel that way. Your heart, is it too broken to love?” “Of course not.” “So, you go on.” She shrugged, as if to say, Motherhood. “What choice is there for us?” “It just … hurts.” Rose was silent for a while; finally, she said, “Yes.”

Dust pneumonia. That was what they called it, but it was really loss and poverty and man’s mistakes.

“You are the daughter I always wanted,” Rose said. “Ti amo.” “And you are my mother,” Elsa said. “You saved me, you know.” “Mothers and daughters. We save each other, sì?”

The four winds have blown us here, people from all across the country, to the very edge of this great land, and now, at last, we make our stand, fight for what we know to be right. We fight for our American dream, that it will be possible again. Jack says that I am a warrior and, while I don’t believe it, I know this: A warrior believes in an end she can’t see and fights for it. A warrior never gives up. A warrior fights for those weaker than herself. It sounds like motherhood to me.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

123. Goblin Market

Goblin Market. Christina Rossetti. 1862. 48 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:

Premise/plot: Laura and Lizzie are sisters. Lizzie warns Laura time and time and time again NOT to be tempted by the goblin men nor the wares they sell--their forbidden fruit. But Laura, well, Laura is mightily tempted and gives in despite the warnings, perhaps because of the warnings. At first, nothing tastes so wonderful and amazing as that forbidden fruit, but it comes at high cost--her very life is in danger. Can Lizzie find a way to save her sister? Or will she succumb like others before her now resting in the graveyard?

My thoughts: I have read this multiple times. Whenever I remember it, I remember it fondly. The poem is lovely. The language is exquisite. 

Laugh’d every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
Hugg’d her and kiss’d her:
Squeez’d and caress’d her:
Stretch’d up their dishes,
Panniers, and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs.”—

 It's an atmospheric read for this time of year that I recommend.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 08, 2020

122. The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker. William Gibson. 1956. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Doctor: She'll live. Kate: Thank God.

Premise/plot: The Miracle Worker is a play by William Gibson about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. The play opens ever so briefly with Helen as a toddler--two years of age or so--when her parents discover her loss of vision and hearing, that she is both deaf and blind. Much of the play occurs years later--I believe when she is six?--as Miss Annie Sullivan arrives to 'teach' Helen Keller. The mother, Kate, is ever-hopeful. But there are plenty in the house that are super skeptical. How can Helen learn anything? How can Helen be taught how to behave? Surely home isn't the best place to keep such a beastly creature as Helen? That isn't fair to the household, is it? But Miss Sullivan is given a trial period to see what she can do--if anything--with young Helen. Can Miss Sullivan work a miracle and teach Helen a way to connect and communicate with the world. Can she give her language and understanding?

My thoughts: I remember being absolutely WOWed watching the Miracle Worker movies on television as a child. We had recorded both versions on the VCR. I just loved, loved, loved them both. There was something so wonderful about the story--something captivating. I remember *needing* to learn the sign language alphabet after watching the movies. And it's something that stuck with me. I would have loved to learn more sign at some point--but never did. 

When I saw the play for $2 I knew I had to buy it and read it. It's a good read, a quick read. I won't say it's as captivating to read as it is to watch. But it's good. I'm glad I read it. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

121. We Dream of Space

We Dream of Space. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The pinball machine didn’t steal Fitch Thomas’s quarter. Not really. But when one of the flippers is broken, there’s no point in playing.

Premise/plot: We Dream of Space is a middle grade coming of age novel set in January 1986 starring three siblings: Fitch, Bird, and Cash. The book is told from the perspective of all three siblings. Fitch is struggling with anger issues and feelings of shame. Bird is a big, big dreamer but is haunted by insecurity and anxiety. Cash, well, Cash also struggles with finding his place to belong, finding something he is good at; he struggles with worthlessness. The three siblings have so much in common--so so much--but they also share this a feeling of isolation and alone-ness. They seem unaware that their siblings are also struggling and just barely coping. Another thing all three have in common is their parents who always, always, always, always seems to be arguing, fighting, fussing, bickering, spatting, raging. The Nelson-Thomas home is not comfortable, cozy, safe. It's very much a Jekyl-and-Hyde home. (That's how Bird refers to her home). 

The book deals with their lives at home and at school. The three siblings share one teacher--Ms. Salonga--though not all at the same time period. She is a science teacher, I believe, who is dedicating the whole month of January to space and space exploration. Bird, in particular, is thrilled with this focus. And she daydreams conversations with one of the astronauts, Judith Resnik. 

It touches on issues of family dysfunction (in particular spousal verbal abuse, and perhaps a bit of neglect), bullying, self-esteem, body image, and friendship. (Not all friends are *good* or *good-for-you* friends. Some relationships are toxic.) 

My thoughts: We Dream of Space won't satisfy every reader. It ends roughly around the first week of February 1986. There are no pretty little bows tied neatly. Cash hasn't transformed his grades or made the track team...yet. Fitch hasn't figured out how to make amends and reform his outbursts...yet. Bird hasn't made peace with the tragedy of the Challenger and "gotten over" her funk...yet. The parents' relationship hasn't miraculously improved 1010%. There have been no promises to change or acknowledgement that they are hurting each other and the children. But despite the lack of neatness in the bow-tying department, it stays true to life. Problems never resolve quickly and neatly. Not really. 

It also won't satisfying the nit-pickiest of readers who will notice that the teacher talks of the shuttle launching from HOUSTON, TEXAS. (It should be Cape Canaveral, Florida). If that is the biggest issue you have with the book--that could perhaps be fixed before it goes into paperback or reprinting of a hardcover if this one should win awards. 

The book offers an emotional roller coaster. The narrative is getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the EXPLOSION which provides its own tension. But that isn't the only tension--far from it. All the relationships in the book are a bit of a mess. This family needs help--an intervention. The home life is toxic and damaging. 

For those that have--in the past--lived through this it could potentially be a trigger and hit a little too close to home. For those that have never lived through this, I would love to see this book trigger empathy and compassion. The truth is you never know what may be going on in the lives of your classmates. Teachers, you may not know what is going on in the lives of your students.

For those that are currently living through this--perhaps this book will help you feel not-alone, perhaps it will help you feel SEEN and HEARD.

The three kids--despite being in middle school--desperately needed DAILY TIME with Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood. 


  • Her mother looked up from her book. If Tomorrow Comes, it was called. “Don’t touch those sugar cereals, Bird. Those are for your brothers. You won’t be skinny forever.” I wonder how many times she’ll say that sentence in 1986, Bird thought.
  • The Thomas family was like its own solar system. Planets in orbit. No, not planets. More like meteors or space junk. Floating objects that sometimes bumped or slammed into each other before breaking apart.
  • There was a time when the Nelson Thomas family orbited the same sun, but that was in the distant past. They’d drifted apart at some point, but no one knew when or how. One thing was certain, however: the Nelson Thomas siblings always, without fail, went their separate ways as soon as the bell rang.
  • Ever since Fitch got to middle school last year, he had the sense that everything was about acting casual no matter what, like nothing in the world mattered and you couldn’t be bothered to care about anything, even though everyone cared about everything.
  • Bird knew it was a mistake. She could predict an argument a mile away. Nothing could be done about it, though. Bird didn’t know how to cook, so it’s not like she could prepare a meal for them. Instead she did the next best thing: she ate a turkey sandwich. That way her mom wouldn’t have to worry about including her. She suggested that the others eat sandwiches, too, but they said no, they wanted to wait for something good. So Bird went into her room and waited, too. But not for something good.
  • No such rules applied to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. They were allowed to use all the words. They could even pair some of the words together, like when Mr. Thomas called Mrs. Thomas a “stupid [expletive] cow,” or when she called him a “moronic [expletive] [expletive].” Every ugly word was on the table—especially when they spoke to each other.
  • Dani came back with the soda and called for Chekov again. “He’s such a funny cat,” Dani said. “He only likes to come out if he knows the environment is safe.” Bird took a long, deep sip of her Sunkist. “I understand,” she said.
  • Sometimes Bird wondered what would happen if she ever dismantled the television. Would she find one of those swinging pendulums inside, the kind hypnotists use to put people to sleep?



© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

120. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages.  [Souce: Bought]

First sentence: Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food. 

Premise/plot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel. I would say it consists almost entirely of letters centering around a young author, Julia Ashton, as she sets out on her next project. The book opens with her on tour for her last writing project--written under a pseudonym--concerning the war. She is seeking inspiration for her new project. And this inspiration comes from an unlikely source, perhaps, a letter she receives in the mail from a stranger concerning Charles Lamb.

When Dawsey Adams writes Julia Ashton he little expects what unfolds. He's seeking other books by Charles Lamb--does she know a London bookseller?--and a biography of Charles Lamb. He's writing to her--a stranger--because her name and address was in the second hand book he picked up--a selection of Lamb's works. He mentions oh-so-briefly a roast pig, a literary society, and how much reading helped during the war. 

His letter left her wanting more, more, more! Surely there is a good story worth investigating. So begins a friendship carried out through letters. She writes not only Mr. Dawsey Adams but the other members--men and women, young and old--who were a part of the literary society during the occupation during the second world war. 

(She asks for their input into an upcoming article--they consent.) After providing character references, they willingly share and share and share and share. It becomes obvious to one and all that Julia Ashton belongs. So she goes to visit all her friends to meet them face to face for the first time. She'll be staying in Elizabeth's little cottage...

One of her closest new friends is a little girl, Kit, a war orphan--Elizabeth's daughter fathered by a German soldier. Juliet loves Kit. Kit loves Juliet. Juliet begins daydreaming of adopting Kit as her very own daughter. 

I mention all this because the movie gets 80% of the details completely and totally wrong in telling the story.

My thoughts: I love the book. I crazy love the book. I think this is the third time I've read it. But it's been years and years--six years to be precise, it was 2014--since I read it. When I watched the movie it was such a distant memory that all the differences didn't jump out at me. Watching the movie wasn't a nails on the chalkboard experience for me because I wasn't aware that practically everything was different from the book. 

I started this book last week and watched the movie on Saturday night. All I could see were the big, big differences between the two. The movie really goes out of its way to provide tension and drama. 

In the movie, Juliet goes to the island uninvited and unannounced. She's never corresponded with any of the other members. 

In the movie, Juliet is met with skepticism and kept at a distant. No one really wants to talk about Elizabeth, about the war, about the society, about anything. They don't trust her. 

In the movie, Juliet stays at a hotel or inn. She is not renting Elizabeth's cottage.

In the movie, Juliet is ENGAGED to a man she's been dating about six months. In the book, she's been seeing him about TWO months. When he proposes--over dinner--she says NO, it's way, way, way too soon. I couldn't possibly say yes without giving it a lot of thought. The more she thinks about it, the more she's leaning towards NO WAY. In the book, he shows his jerky-jerk-jerk ways very early on. Warning flags are being waved all about, Juliet notices them all and says NO. 

In the movie, Juliet leaves the island...only to return to tell Dawsey she loves him. In the book, she never leaves. Never. She writes on the island. And she writes with full permission from all concerned. There is nothing secret or underhand about her being on the island. 

In the movie, very few characters are really explored. In the book, there are dozens of people on the island whom we hear from--through letters mostly. 

In the movie, Elizabeth's death is handled in a very tacked on way. In the book, they receive a letter. Dawsey and maybe another person go to Europe to talk to the Jewish woman who was Elizabeth's friend...and who witnessed Elizabeth's death. They bring her back to the island. She is very much a part of the action.

In the book, there's a super-sweet relationship between Juliet and Isola. One of my favorite scenes is when Isola is chastising Juliet for not telling her about Jane Austen sooner! How could you let me think that Heathcliff is the ideal when all along there is Mr. Darcy?!?!?! Isola's grandmother's letters is also one of the highlights of the book.

There is so much depth and substance, heart and soul in the book. The movie is so....lacking in that department. It chose to add some drama--tension between Amelia and Juliet, for example. The Juliet from the book would have never gone uninvited and pushed and pursued a story without full permission. 

 Favorite quotes:

I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with.
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.
I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers-- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one-- the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it-- along with first dibs on the new books.
Isola doesn't approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stomping on it.

It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good?
Will Thisbee gave me The Beginner's Cook-Book for Girl Guides. It was just the thing; the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints - "When adding eggs, break the shells first.”
“What on earth did you say to Isola? She stopped in on her way to pick up Pride and Prejudice and to berate me for never telling her about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why hadn't she known there were better love stories around? Stories not riddled with ill-adjusted men, anguish, death and graveyards!”
The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways--when you began writing me dizzy letters about Alexander, I didn't ask if you were in love with him, I asked what his favorite animal was. And your answer told me everything I needed to know about him--how many men would admit that they loved ducks?

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

119. The Royal Governess

The Royal Governess. Wendy Holden. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: EVERYTHING was ready. 

Premise/plot: The Royal Governess has a framework. It opens and closes in July 1987. Our heroine, Marion Crawford, is ever-hopeful and ever-prepared to receive royal guests. True, they have never come before. True, all attempts to contact the family for the past four decades have failed. But she's an optimist, I suppose. Surely one day the Queen will one day be hit with nostalgia and think of her once more and decide to forgive her.

But 98% of the novel takes place in the past opening in 1932. Marion Crawford is a young woman training to become a teacher. Her dream job would be educating children in the slums. But her superiors have other thoughts on where she might do the most good. What if her values and ideas could help shape the upper class and actually be a catalyst for real change? Marion is resistant. Her teach the wealthy elite? The snobbiest of snobs? Seriously?! But when an opportunity comes her way she does just that--and with royal children! 

But is Marion being true to herself and her ideals by teaching royals? Is it a lost cause? Is she wasting her prime years in vain?

The book obviously focuses on her time as a governess raising Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. But children don't stay children forever. They grow up, grow distant, grow cold. 

My thoughts: The Royal Governess falls into the 'almost' category for me. It might be historically accurate. Might. I haven't done research or gone digging to see if the author's spin matches what we do know of Marion Crawford, of Queen Elizabeth, of Princess Margaret. But Marion's perspective is a bit off-putting for this reader. 

What do I mean? Well, you might think it would be mainly focused on her actual time with either Elizabeth or Margaret. Featuring conversations, sharing activities, building up that relationship. But the book doesn't do that. Instead it focuses more on the tension in Marion's personal, private life. How can she fit in a private life while working for the Royal family? Can she have a man on the side? A man not connected to the Royals? Can she have an active sex life and fulfill her needs? Just how much does she have to sacrifice to keep her job? 

The book--when it's not sharing a little too much about Marion's private life--focuses on Marion's odd relationship with the king and queen. And let's not forget her lusting after Tommy Lascelles. How many scenes of her lusting after him do we need??? 

It's also a book that seems to do more telling than showing. We're supposed to get this idea that she practically raised Elizabeth and Margaret. That they were oh-so-dear to her that they were more than a job, more than a duty, they were her everything. Yet what we get in these pages is her internal complaining and doubting. We don't get mostly scenes showing her actually interacting with the children. We get scenes with her interacting with other staff.

I wouldn't have minded slowing down on the things she sped through and speeding through the things she slowed down on. For example, 1936 through the end of World War II. We get small snippets of scenes from this time period. But a hundred pages about Elizabeth when she's in love and preparing to get married.

I would much rather read repetitively about her taking care of the children than read repetitively her desire for a man.

I do think other readers might like this one more than I did. 

I imagine The Little Princesses written by Marion Crawford would be more interesting than this one??? Maybe. I don't know. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 05, 2020

118. Children of the New Forest

The Children of the New Forest. Frederick Marryat. 1847. 369 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The circumstances which I am about to relate to my juvenile readers took place in the year 1647. By referring to the history of England, of that date, they will find that King Charles the First, against whom the Commons of England had rebelled, after a civil war of nearly five years, had been defeated, and was confined as a prisoner at Hampton Court.

Premise/plot: Jacob Armitage, a forester, saves the lives of the four Beverley children--Edward, Humphrey, Alice, and Edith--during the English Civil War. He overhears a plot to burn Arnwood--the Beverley estate--and rushes to get the children to safety before the soldiers can arrive. He decides it would be safest to allow people to believe the children died in the fire. As for the children, he'll raise them as his grandchildren in his oh-so-humble cottage hidden deep within the New Forest. He'll teach the children everything they will need to know to survive on their own. 

Most of the action occurs after Jacob's death as the children are a bit older. (The first part reads a bit like Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe.) Edward has become a great hunter--though hunting technically isn't allowed in the New Forest. The Parliament--led by Cromwell--has taken possession. Edward doesn't recognize that government--his family long being loyal to Charles I and then his son, Charles II. But he slowly but surely comes to respect the man left in charge--a Mr. Heatherstone. He has a daughter, an oh-so-beautiful daughter, named Patience. After much reservation--years go by since their first meeting--Edward becomes his secretary and takes up residence with the family. But when there's an opportunity to serve the should-be-would-be King (Charles II) will Edward do his duty and continue his family's legacy?

My thoughts: I really enjoyed Marryat's The Children of the New Forest. The first half focuses more on life in the forest--living off the land, hunting, tracking, trapping, building things, catching wild cattle, making. The second half focuses more on relationships and the times. There's a bit of romance in this last part. 

I loved the characterization. I loved spending time with Edward. I wouldn't say the characterization of all characters is equally sophisticated. There is a gypsy character, Pablo, I believe, that is fairly stereotypical. Readers are reminded every time he's mentioned that he is lazy because he's a gypsy; that he's prone to stealing because he's a gypsy; that he has to be tricked into working because he's a gypsy. But despite all the telling, the showing reveals him to be a fiercely loyal character that serves his friends well.

I loved the faith aspect throughout the book. Jacob raised these four kids to love God and to trust in Him always. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 02, 2020

117. The Case of the Lazy Lover

The Case of the Lazy Lover (Perry Mason #30) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1947. 212 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: There was usually a big pile of mail on Monday morning. Della Street, Perry Mason’s confidential secretary, having arrived a full half hour before the office was scheduled to open, deftly inserted the paper knife under the flaps of the envelopes, cut them open with one swift wrist motion, read the letters and sorted them into three piles.

Premise/plot: Perry Mason stars in the Case of the Lazy Lover. In this vintage mystery, Perry Mason is surprised to discover two checks in the mail. They are not from a client or anyone he's ever spoken to. Obviously the sender will most likely be seeking his services. But what kind of case will it be? (Though readers of any Perry Mason book can tell you MURDER.)

Lola Faxon Allred is in a bit of a pickle. Can Perry Mason keep her out of prison? 

 My thoughts: I absolutely love and adore the classic television show. I have enjoyed some of the Perry Mason novels as well. Some better than others. But all prove worth reading for one reason or another. I enjoy the banter between Mason and Drake, for example. And it's always fun to see Lieutenant Tragg as well! 

Not all mysteries are quotable. I enjoy when they are. 

Favorite quotes:

“How old is she?” “Forty-two.” “I believe,” Mason said, “that psychologists agree that that is one of the most dangerous ages for a woman.”
Mason said, “We’re allergic to questions until we know what happened.” Inman said, “What the hell! I can take these women down and throw them in the hoosegow if I have to.” “Sure you can,” Mason said, “and I can get a writ of habeas corpus if I have to.”
Gertie said, “Gee that’s swell. I just started one of those diets and I’ve counted calories until I feel like my belt buckle is scraping against my backbone. I’ve just been looking for a good excuse to throw the whole thing overboard, and I think this is it! You always did like tenderloin steaks, Mr. Mason, and my butcher said he’d been saving some for me.
“What the hell,” Mason told him. “Do you want to look a gift horse in the mouth?” “You’re damn right, I do!” Tragg said. “Any time you give me a horse, I’m going to look in his mouth.”

 “Tomorrow morning Tragg is going to interview you. You’re going to talk with him freely and frankly. You’re going to try and talk your way out of a murder rap. It isn’t going to be easy. If you’re telling the truth, you can do it. If you’re not telling the truth, you’d better do a lot of revising …” “I’m telling the truth, Mr. Mason.” “Then,” Mason told her, “that’s all there is to it.” “And I’m to talk to Lieutenant Tragg?” “Sing like a skylark,” Mason told her. “Bare your soul to him. Pose for pictures in the newspapers. Tell everybody everything. Have nothing to conceal. Only be sure that it’s the truth, because if you try to lie, you’ll get caught, and if they catch you in a he it’ll mean life imprisonment, perhaps the death penalty.”

“There are times,” Mason said, “when an artistic lie can crowd the truth right off the stage.


“And don’t ever forget, a good lie can sometimes have all the grace of artistry, but only the truth can have the ring of sincerity.”


“But I’m afraid to have her tie to something unless it’s the truth. Believe me, Paul, when you’re in a jam the truth is the only thing solid enough and substantial enough to rely on.”


“Circumstantial evidence never lies, but it isn’t always easy to interpret it correctly.”

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 01, 2020

116. Chasing Orion

Chasing Orion. Kathryn Lasky. 2010. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:  Silver glinting behind leafy trees--that is the first thing I noticed as I stood in the backyard of our new house that summer day.

Premise/plot: Chasing Orion is a coming of age story set in 1952/1953. Our heroine, Georgie, loves building small world dioramas. Her latest will tell the myth of Orion. A previous diorama was inspired by Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. (Bradbury's short story collection was released in 1950). But when she's not hard at work building and creating, she spends a lot of time cooped up because her parents--and rightly so--are concerned about the polio epidemic. There is no vaccine, and polio can be quite dangerous and deadly. Something Georgie realizes even more once she meets her neighbor, Phyllis, who is living--or should that be "living" in an iron lung next door. Georgie certainly doesn't want to end up in an iron lung! But she does miss swimming and going to the movies.

As Georgie becomes closer to Phyllis--so does her brother, Emmett. But is this a good thing or a bad thing? What does Phyllis want from her new friends?

My thoughts: I really did not like this one. It's a personal thing, I think. It was an uncomfortable read that I think rightly reflects the uncomfortable-ness of the times. One of the big questions asked throughout the book is this: Is Phyllis better off "living" in an iron lung? Or would it have been better for her parents to let her die? Are polio victims better off dead than living if they have to live in an iron lung? Or perhaps a rocking bed? At what point does life not become worth living anymore? Most coming-of-age novels aren't really exploring the idea of euthanasia or mercy killing. So can you see why it was a bit uncomfortable? I'm not saying the question isn't a valid one--I'm just not sure it's one I would have EVER wanted to read about in middle school.

Another question it seemed to come back to again and again was belief in God. Georgie decides at one point that if God actually existed there wouldn't be polio. Phyllis would not be stuck in an iron lung if God was real. Deep stuff--I'm not saying it's not valid for Georgie to question what she's been taught as she comes face to face with suffering. But. Again it made for an uncomfortable read.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

September Reflections

Blame the new Blogger for any weird formatting issues. I am NOT a happy camper!!!

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

108. Marrying Matthew. Kelly Long. 2020. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
109. Gentleman Jim. Mimi Matthews. 2020. [November] 376 pages. [Source: Review copy]
110. The Spoon Stealer. Lesley Crewe. 2020. [September] 360 pages. [Source: Review copy]
111.  Poison in the Colony: James Town 1622. Elisa Carbone. 2019. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
112. The Paper Daughters of Chinatown. Heather B. Moore. 2020. Shadow Mountain. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
113. Like You Love Me. Adriana Locke. 2021. [February] 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
114. Beauty Among Ruins. J'nell Ciesielski. 2021. [January] 368 pages. Thomas Nelson. [Source: Review copy]
115. Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. 532 pages. [Source: Bought]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

91. Dragon's Fat Cat (Dragon #2) Dav Pilkey. 2019. (1992) Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
92. Umbrella by Taro Yashima. 1958/2004. Penguin. 40 pages.  [Source: Childhood Copy]
93.  Too Many Lollipops. Robert M. Quackenbush. 1975. 32 pages. [Source: Book from my childhood]
94. Bathtime with Ducky Darling. Lucy Cousins. 2020. Candlewick. 8 pages. [Source: Review copy]
95. Star Wars: The Saga Unfolds: An Illustrated Timeline. 2020. Abrams. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]
96. Amelia and Me (Ginny Ross #1) Heather Stemp. 2013/2020. 207 pages. [Source: Review copy]
97. DJ Funkyfoot: Butler for Hire (DJ Funkyfoot #1) Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Heather Fox. 2021. [March 2021] 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
98. The Candy Mafia. Lavie Tidhar. Illustrated by Daniel Duncan. 2020. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
99. Up On Bob. Mary Sullivan. Illustrated by Mary Sullivan. 2020. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

66. The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. Rachel Dodge. 2020. [November] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
67. Luke. (Thru the Bible #37) J. Vernon McGee. 1975. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]
68. Romans 1-8 (Thru the Bible #42) J. Vernon McGee. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]
69. Romans 9-16. (Thru the Bible #43) J. Vernon McGee. 1995. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]
70. Thru the Bible #44: 1 Corinthians. J. Vernon McGee. 1997 (1977) 204 pages. [Source: Bought]
71. His Accidental Amish Family. (Unexpected Amish Blessings #3) Rachel J. Good. 2020. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
72. How To Eat Your Bible: A Simple Approach to Learning and Loving the Word of God. Nate Pickowicz. 2021. [January] Moody Publishers. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
73. Thru the Bible #38: John 1-10. J. Vernon McGee. 1995. 180 pages. [Source: Bought]
74. John 11-21 (Thru the Bible #39) J. Vernon McGee. 1995. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
75. Romans. The Ultimate Commentary on Romans. By Albert Barnes, John Calvin, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and John Wesley. 2016. 4164 pages. [Source: Bought]
76. The Trinity: An Introduction. Scott R. Swain. Edited by Graham A Cole and Oren R Martin. 2020. October. 161 pages. [Source: Review copy]
77. The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works. Charles Dickens. Edited by Gina Dalfonzo. Foreword by Karen Swallow Prior. 2020. 264 pages. [Source: Review copy]
78. 2 Corinthians (Thru the Bible #45) J. Vernon McGee. 1977/1996. 156 pages. [Source: Bought]
79. Unfolding Grace: 40 Guided Readings Through the Bible. Drew Hunter. Illustrations by Peter Voth. 2020. Crossway. 608 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

7. The One Year Chronological Bible. (NLT) Tyndale. 2007. 1728 pages. [Source: Bought]
8. NIV Young Discoverer's Bible. 1985. Zondervan. 1979 pages. [Source: Childhood copy]

5 Star Books

Dragon's Fat Cat (Dragon #2) Dav Pilkey. 2019. (1992) Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Umbrella by Taro Yashima. 1958/2004. Penguin. 40 pages.  [Source: Childhood Copy]
Too Many Lollipops. Robert M. Quackenbush. 1975. 32 pages. [Source: Book from my childhood]
DJ Funkyfoot: Butler for Hire (DJ Funkyfoot #1) Tom Angleberger. Illustrated by Heather Fox. 2021. [March 2021] 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Candy Mafia. Lavie Tidhar. Illustrated by Daniel Duncan. 2020. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Up On Bob. Mary Sullivan. Illustrated by Mary Sullivan. 2020. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Gentleman Jim. Mimi Matthews. 2020. [November] 376 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Spoon Stealer. Lesley Crewe. 2020. [September] 360 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Paper Daughters of Chinatown. Heather B. Moore. 2020. Shadow Mountain. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. 532 pages. [Source: Bought]
Luke. (Thru the Bible #37) J. Vernon McGee. 1975. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]
Romans 1-8 (Thru the Bible #42) J. Vernon McGee. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]
Romans 9-16. (Thru the Bible #43) J. Vernon McGee. 1995. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]
His Accidental Amish Family. (Unexpected Amish Blessings #3) Rachel J. Good. 2020. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Thru the Bible #38: John 1-10. J. Vernon McGee. 1995. 180 pages. [Source: Bought]
John 11-21 (Thru the Bible #39) J. Vernon McGee. 1995. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
Romans. The Ultimate Commentary on Romans. By Albert Barnes, John Calvin, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and John Wesley. 2016. 4164 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works. Charles Dickens. Edited by Gina Dalfonzo. Foreword by Karen Swallow Prior. 2020. 264 pages. [Source: Review copy]
2 Corinthians (Thru the Bible #45) J. Vernon McGee. 1977/1996. 156 pages. [Source: Bought]
NIV Young Discoverer's Bible. 1985. Zondervan. 1979 pages. [Source: Childhood copy]

September Totals

September Totals


Yearly Totals

2020 Totals




© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, September 26, 2020

115. Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. 532 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Premise/plot: Jane Eyre, our heroine, is an orphan who never in her wildest dreams imagines living happily ever after. Raised by a cruel aunt and taunted by mean-spirited and selfish cousins, she only hopes to escape misery and find contentment--albeit humble. Her adventure--or misadventure--begins after graduating Loward School as she takes the position of governess at Thornfield Hall. There she meets her charming and precocious pupil, Adele, and the brooding Mr. Rochester. The two enjoy each other's company--perhaps because no one else quite understands them. But the two aren't courting--at least not at first. Jane falls for him. But is he falling for her? Could he fall for her? Does she want him to reciprocate her feelings? Could the master of the house and a governess ever marry and live happily ever after?! But it isn't just social class dividing these two--Mr. Rochester has a dark secret from his past that might prove a dangerous obstacle for our loving couple.

My thoughts: I love this book. I do. I absolutely love it. It is one of my favorite books to reread every other year or so.


How all my brain was in tumult, and all my heart in insurrection! Yet in what darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought!

Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs. We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies;

A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play;

“Jane, you offered me your shoulder once before; let me have it now.” “Yes, sir, yes; and my arm.”

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”

“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”

Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in this world. I was not born for a different destiny to the rest of my species: to imagine such a lot befalling me is a fairy tale—a day-dream.

Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.

Reader, I married him.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 21, 2020

114. Beauty Among Ruins

Beauty Among Ruins. J'nell Ciesielski. 2021. [January] 368 pages. Thomas Nelson. [Source: Review copy]


First sentence: CREEPING THROUGH THE BACK DOOR, LILY DURHAM slipped across the black-and-white tiled kitchen and checked the hallway before scurrying up the stairs to the main floor.

Premise/plot: Lily Durham, our heroine, finds herself a nursing aid during the first world war after her parents ship her off to England for her 'rebellious' suitor-repelling attitude. Lily and her cousin Bertie are nurses--or a nurse and a nurses aide--at a convalescent home in Scotland. There are many, many, many rules for them to live by--for all the nursing staff--but one is not to enter the private quarters of the family. How many guess that Lily will 'accidentally' break that rule a few times!

Alec MacGregor, our hero, is struggling...with many things. The future of his estate is in doubt for the debts are monstrous. And he's being haggled--pestered--by a no good reporter with a grudge against his family. His mother has disconnected from life; his sister is so ill she hasn't left her room in years. The last thing he's looking for is a beautiful young woman taking an interest in his well his family's well being.

My thoughts: This one definitely has vibes of Beauty and the Beast. I haven't decided if this was intentional or not. (Not that Lily is Belle with her head stuck in a book. Perhaps just the setting of a crumbling castle with a super-cranky-grumpy master. Perhaps the thawing or breaking down of wall...) I loved the setting. I loved the Scottish hero. (You pretty much have me at hello anytime there's a Scottish hero!) I loved the setting of World War I.

 There were many things I enjoyed about this one. I loved the characterization of Lily and Alec. But the characterization of most if not all the other characters is on the weaker side. In particular, her parents are particularly one dimensional and just plain old MEAN without any real reason. They're just stereotypically opposed to anything that might bring their daughter happiness. I couldn't understand her all. The plot could also get a bit melodramatic in places. I could have used a little less drama. Sometimes I feel romance novels over-push it in the drama department when it comes to inventing obstacles to make it difficult to get to a happy ending. I think the war offered enough natural obstacles without so much more going on in the background.

Still all that being said, I definitely enjoyed it more than not. I really liked the romance. 



© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 14, 2020

113. Like You Love Me

Like You Love Me. Adriana Locke. 2021. [February] 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "You're late." The accusation is tossed my way before the door closes behind me.

Premise/plot: Sophie and Holden star in new romance novel by Adriana Locke. Holden spent summers with his grandpa, his Pap, which brought him in and out of Sophie's life quite a bit in their growing up years. But now both are fully grown up and experienced. Both have failed relationships behind them, but do they have a happily ever after before them?

Holden wants to get his dream job--in Florida--but his would-be-boss is looking for a family man with a loving, supportive wife. (And to be fair, at the time he first applied, he was technically engaged to be married). Sophie needs money to pay property taxes on her bed-and-breakfast. (It was her grandmother's bed and breakfast.) The two "need" something from the other that a marriage of convenience would provide. But is playing with happily ever after too much of a risk for their hearts? Can they learn to live without each other once more?

My thoughts: I never know whether to start with what I did like or what I didn't like. About the star rating (if you're reading this at GoodReads and can see my rating), I'd rate it two and a half stars if possible--for the completely and totally neutral rating.

What I Didn't Like:

  • I didn't like the cussing/profanity. This is 100% subjective.
  • I didn't like the graphic-ness of the smut. It was a little too what-goes-where for me. Again this is 100% subjective. Another person might find it steamy and marvelous. (Not me.)

What I Did Like:

  • I liked the small town setting and getting to know a few of the town residents. (Her brother and sister. His grandfather. His receptionist. A few others? like the woman who is famous for her pies?)
  • I liked them as a couple. I wanted them to make it work.
  • I liked having both perspectives. The narrative is told in alternating chapters.
  • I liked that once the initial encounter was graphically portrayed all future encounters were non-graphic and occurred off-page. (This isn't always the case.)

What I found humorous:

Granted this is a netgalley review title, but when she's talking about thread count on the sheets--she's sheet shopping--there's a typo: 

"And guests will pay premium dollar for the little touches like homecooked meals, nice soaps, and threat counts." 

I am guessing people won't pay more to stay at a place where their lives are threatened!!!



© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

112. The Paper Daughters of Chinatown

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown. Heather B. Moore. 2020. Shadow Mountain. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Donaldina Cameron leaned her head against the cool glass of the window as the train slowed to a stop, its whistle mimicking the call of a mournful dove—deep and melancholy—a fitting echo of her life over the past few years. With no husband, no employment, and no parents to watch over, she felt as stagnant as a warm pond on a lazy summer day.

Premise/plot: Based on a true story, The Paper Daughters of Chinatown is a must read. I'm not one to throw around the word must lightly or thoughtlessly. Nor am I one to toss around five star ratings. (Especially this year I've tried to be more mindful.) But this has to be one of the best books I've ever least in the "based on a true story" category or sub-genre.

The book opens in 1895 and spans several decades as it follows the ministry of Donaldina Cameron as she serves as a teacher, rescuer, and guardian in San Francisco's Chinatown. She is trained to rescue young girls and young women--Chinese--that have been sold and trafficked. The Presbyterian Mission Home in which she serves faces much opposition. But their work changes lives.

“Rescued?” Dolly had questioned. “Yes,” Mrs. Browne said, lowering her voice, although only the birds and sunshine were within earshot, “from the brothels of Chinatown.” “Women and girls,” Mrs. Browne corrected. “Some of the girls are as young as eight or nine. They’re brought over from China by highbinders, promised a good life and marriage in America, yet the promises are lies. These young girls are sold as domestic slaves or forced into prostitution.”

Why the name Paper Daughters???
“The girls take on new identities in America, and their lives are controlled in every way. They’ve been reduced to what we call paper daughters. Without a home. Without care or love.” “Paper daughters,” Dolly whispered. These girls had become no more than documents with false names; they had given up not only their identities but their dignity.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved this one. It is easily one of the best books I've read this year. It is both sobering and inspiring. It is incredibly sad that humanity is so depraved that the selling of little girls is a recorded fact. But it is also incredibly uplifting that there are those willing to give their all to fight, fight, fight these wrongs. Dolly's life story is incredibly inspiring and beautiful. Her crown in heaven must be beautiful.

I know my review doesn't do the book justice. The book goes into incredible detail about the mission home, about the lives of those rescued, about the personal lives of the staff, etc. I just can't regurgitate that in my review. (That wouldn't be doing a service either.) Just know this is a beautifully compelling work.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

111. Poison in the Colony

Poison in the Colony: James Town 1622. Elisa Carbone. 2019. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I am different. That is what Samuel says, and I believe he is right.

Premise/plot: Poison in the Colony is a companion book to Blood on the River. This book features Samuel, the main character in Blood on the River, but it is narrated by Virginia Laydon. Carbone has fictionalized the people of Jamestown and crafted a compelling historical coming of age novel.

Virginia Laydon was the first white child born in Virginia. Very little is actually actually known about her life and her personality. Carbone has given her Virginia the gift of "knowing" or second sight. She uses this ability carefully and wisely to help keep her family safe without raising suspicions from her neighbors. (Not always successfully.) She lives at a time when it took very, very little to be accused of witchcraft and killed.

The book focuses on Virginia's life and community. There is a time of peace with the native tribes--but will it last??? Can either really truly come to trust the other?

My thoughts: I enjoyed Blood on the River. I enjoyed this one too. As I mentioned though she uses real names from the records and other primary sources, all the characters have been fictionalized.

I would recommend to those that enjoy--adore--historical fiction. I would not necessarily place this one in the hands of reluctant readers or history haters.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 07, 2020

110. The Spoon Stealer

The Spoon Stealer. Lesley Crewe. 2020. [September] 360 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: EMMELINE DARLING SUFFERED A TWINGE OF DISCOMFORT IN HER right hip as she reached over to pull the heavy floral draperies across the paned windows in her sitting room.

Premise/plot: Emmeline Darling, our heroine, is preparing to go to an event at a library when the novel opens. She's signed up for a four week class on memoir writing. In the class she'll meet a few kindred spirits and a few UN-kindred ones as well. Some people just can't be appeased or pleased. Some people seem persistent in being in perpetual conflict. As she reads her writing aloud to the class (of mainly senior citizens), friendships are formed and lives are changed.

As her memoir unfolds--within this framework of a library class in 1968--readers are drawn into her story and her life. It's been a hard, hard life. The fact that Emmeline remains Emmeline--half glass full Emmeline--is astounding. 

I'm tempted to leave it at that. To not reveal too much. But I hesitate to leave it at that as well. Is that enough of a hook to persuade you to add this one to your list?

If I were to do a book talk for The Spoon Stealer, I might just use this:
“You are a fraud, Miss Darling. There is something not quite right about you. I’m not sure what it is, but I know one thing. You will never have this spoon. It will never belong to you. You have no business even thinking you can possess it. And the fact that you want to crawl over here and take it from me speaks volumes, don’t you think?” 
The class couldn’t believe their ears. Joyce Pruitt had gone completely squirrely. Only Emmeline and Joyce knew it was the truth.
This one is a must--in my humble opinion--for those that enjoy stories with a strong emphasis on friendship, for those that love dogs, for those looking for a realistic exploration of the effects of mental illness on families, for those that love oh-so-human characters, for those that love a feel-good-resolution that is worked for. It's set in 1968/1969. Her memoirs reflect on her childhood (early 1900s), and the war years (both World War I and World War II).

My thoughts: I really loved this one. In terms of emotions--not plot, story, or characters--I'd compare it to Steel Magnolias. It was sad, uplifting, thoughtful, funny.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, September 04, 2020

109. Gentleman Jim

Gentleman Jim. Mimi Matthews. 2020. [November] 376 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Beaten and bloody, Nicholas Seaton sat on the straw-covered floor of the loose box, his legs drawn up against his chest and his forehead resting on his knees.

Premise/plot: Margaret Honeywell is head over heels in love with Nicholas Seaton. The problem? Well, he's an illegitimate child of notorious 'Gentleman Jim' and she's the daughter of a wealthy squire. Though they come from different classes, both feel the other is home. When a bully--and her father's pick for her future husband--frames Nicholas Seaton for a crime he didn't commit--theft--Margaret helps him escape in the night before he can be brought before the magistrate and punished. Will she ever see him again? Can she bring herself to marry another?

Flash forward ten years and Margaret Honeywell just has months left to find a husband before she loses everything to that same old bully--Frederick Burton-Smythe. The problem? Well, he has the final say in who she marries. And he has a mind to marry her himself. (Of course he does.) Of course, there's also the fact that she is still very much broken hearted over the man who never came back home--Nicholas.

When she hears that Frederick Burton-Smythe is going to be fighting a duel...against an opponent who has skills...she realizes her position. IF he dies what will happen to her? There's no reasoning with him--she's had most her life to try to talk sense to him--but what about this other fellow, Lord St. Clare???

Their meeting is enough to take her breath away...

My thoughts: Gentleman Jim is a Regency Romance. It opens in 1807, but most of the book occurs in 1817. It is a thoroughly satisfying romance. If you like regency romance or historical fiction in general, then this one might prove worth your time.

Is it a clean read? I'd say it was more PG-13. It's more steamy kisses fade to dark.

I think it would make an awesome movie!!!

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

108. Marrying Matthew

Marrying Matthew. Kelly Long. 2020. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: WANTED: An Amish Mail-Order Groom. Age 20–35. Must be willing to live in remote Appalachia and build life in said community. Must love books, horses, and possess good teeth. Appearance must be tolerable at least, though bride would favor a gut mind over looks. Must understand a woman’s sensibilities and not be judgmental. Must realize that Gott is the Third in a marriage. Reply to . . .

Premise/plot: Tabitha Stolfus, our heroine, has placed an ad for a mail-order-groom. She hopes to be married before her father--a very successful businessman (wood carving is his business) returns home. He wants her married, no question. But she's not convinced that he would approve of her advertising for a husband. The man who responds to her ad and comes to Blackberry Falls is none other than Matthew King. King has his own reasons for responding to the ad--namely he wants to learn woodcarving from Tabitha's father. Will these two fall in love after their marriage?

My thoughts: I loved the premise of this one. Not so much the Amish aspect of it but the mail order aspect of it and use of the marriage of convenience trope. Reading the description made me think I'd enjoy this one. (Even though as I mentioned Amish fiction isn't my favorite or best sub-genre or sub-sub-genre.)

Can you feel a "but" coming???? BUT. What I wasn't expecting was a SMUTTY Amish romance. It is a bit of a puzzlement, in my opinion, granted I am not representative of every reader. Perhaps there's an audience of romance readers that would welcome the Amish/religious aspects of it (the God-talk) that are still looking for a liberal dose of smut. I would venture a guess that I'm in the minority of romance readers. That is by preferring CLEAN or clean-ish romance novels I am in the minority. The majority of romance being published is smutty and I would guess that's how the majority of romance readers want it. It sells. I didn't realize there was a market for smutty Amish fiction though!!! Maybe this isn't the only one? Maybe there really is a whole sub-sub-sub genre of smutty Amish/Mennonite romance novels out there??? But it still felt odd to me.

There's another but coming. But I will say that it was nice to have a SECOND love story added in. And the mystery element was also nice.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews