Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March Reflections

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

34. We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction; world war II; world at war]
35. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World. C.A. Fletcher. 2019. 365 pages. [Source: Library] [post-apocalyptic; science fiction; speculative fiction; adult fiction]
36. Words on Fire. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2019. 336 pages. [Source: Library] [Historical fiction; mg fiction; ya fiction]
37. Fever 1793. Laurie Halse Anderson. 2000. 252 pages. [Source: Library][historical fiction; mg historical; mg fiction]
38. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Jim Murphy. 2003. 165 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction, mg nonfiction; history]
39. The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel. Molly Greeley. 2019. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [adult historical; adult fiction; women's fiction; Austen adaptation]
40. The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. 350 pages. [Source: Library] [mg fiction; ya fiction; mg historical; ya historical; mg speculative fiction; ya speculative fiction]
41. Eve of Man. Giovanna Fletcher & Tom Fletcher. 2018. 400 pages. [Source: Library] [Science Fiction; YA Science Fiction; speculative fiction; YA Romance]
42. Ordinary Hazards. Nikki Grimes. 2019. 325 pages. [Source: Library] [memoir; ya nonfiction; nonfiction; poetry]
43. Brightly Burning. Alexa Donne. 2018. 394 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Fiction; YA Science Fiction; Space Opera]
44. Plague Land. (Somershill Manor Mystery #1) S.D. Sykes. 2015. 336 pages. [Source: Library] [adult fiction; historical; mystery]
45. Orphan Train. Christina Baker Kline. 2013. 278 pages. [Source: Library]
46. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood A Visual History. Melissa Wagner, Tim Lybarger, Jenna McGuiggan, et al. 2019. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction; reference book; books to skim]
47. The Butcher Bird. (Somershill Manor Mystery #2) S.D. Sykes. 2015. 342 pages. [Source: Library] [adult mystery; adult historical]
48. Vanity Fair. William Makepeace Thackery. 1847. 867 pages. [Source: Bought] [Classic]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

32. The Door Before. N.D. Wilson. 2017. 240 pages. [Source: Library] [j fiction; j fantasy]
33. 100 Cupboards. N.D. Wilson. 2007. 289 pages. [Source: Library] [j fiction, mg fiction, j fantasy, mg fantasy]
 34. Bear Came Along. Richard T. Morris. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Caldecott Honor; picture book]
35. Snack Attack. Terry Border. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book; humor]
36. Exile. (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2) Shannon Messenger. 2013. 576 pages. [Source: Library][j fantasy; mg fantasy; j fiction; mg fiction; elves; magic]
37. The Willoughbys. Lois Lowry. 2008. 174 pages. [Source: Library][j fiction]
38. A Dog on Barkham Street. Mary Stolz. 1960. 192 pages. [Source: Library][j fiction; j realistic ficton; dogs; bullying; friendship; school]
39. Ducks! Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by T.L. McBeth. 2020. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]
40. The Bully of Barkham Street. Mary Stolz. 1963. 208 pages. [Source: Library] [j realistic fiction; realistic fiction; friendship; school; bullying]
41. The Explorer of Barkham Street. Mary Stolz. 1985. 179 pages. [Source: Library] [j realistic fiction; realistic fiction; friendship; school]
42. Orphan Train Girl. Christina Baker Kline. 2017. 234 pages. [Source: Library] [Children's Adaptation of an Adult Book; j fiction; j historical fiction; j realistic fiction]
43. Audrey (Cow) Dan Bar-el. 2014. 240 pages. [Source: Library][animal fantasy; children's book]
44. Casebook of a Private Cat's Eye. Mary Stolz. Illustrated by Pamela R. Levy. 1999. 128 pages. [Source: Library] [animal fantasy; mystery; children's book]
45. War Is Over. David Almond. David Almond. Illustrated by David Litchfield.  2018/2020. Candlewick Press. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Children's Book; Historical fiction; world war I; world at war]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

23. Suffer Strong. Katherine and Jay Wolf. 2020. Zondervan. 224 pages. [Source: Library] [Biography; Christian Nonfiction; Christian Living]
24. The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable. Derek Wilson. 2019. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; adult nonfiction; christian nonfiction]
25. Seen. Known. loved: 5 Truths About Your Love Language and God. Gary Chapman and R. York Moore. 2020. [July 2020] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian living]
26. Alive to the Purpose. Ronald A. Horton. 2020. [May 2020] BJU Press. 120 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; Christian living; Bible reading]
27. Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage. Gavin Ortlund. 2020. [April] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; theology; christian living]28. Stand Firm: Living in a Post-Christian Culture. John MacArthur. 2020. [April] 152 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian living; Christian Nonfiction; theology]
29. Discover Jesus: An Illustrated Adventure for Kids. Tracy M. Sumner. 2020. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Children's Book; Christian Nonfiction]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

1. ESV MacArthur Study Bible. John F. MacArthur. 2010. Crossway. 2144 pages. [Source: Bought] [Bible, Study Bible]


The 5 Star Books
Words on Fire. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2019. 336 pages. [Source: Library] [Historical fiction; mg fiction; ya fiction]
The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. 350 pages. [Source: Library] [mg fiction; ya fiction; mg historical; ya historical; mg speculative fiction; ya speculative fiction]
A Dog on Barkham Street. Mary Stolz. 1960. 192 pages. [Source: Library][j fiction; j realistic ficton; dogs; bullying; friendship; school]
Ducks! Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by T.L. McBeth. 2020. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]
Ordinary Hazards. Nikki Grimes. 2019. 325 pages. [Source: Library] [memoir; ya nonfiction; nonfiction; poetry]
Brightly Burning. Alexa Donne. 2018. 394 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Fiction; YA Science Fiction; Space Opera]
Plague Land. (Somershill Manor Mystery #1) S.D. Sykes. 2015. 336 pages. [Source: Library] [adult fiction; historical; mystery]
The Bully of Barkham Street. Mary Stolz. 1963. 208 pages. [Source: Library] [j realistic fiction; realistic fiction; friendship; school; bullying]
 ESV MacArthur Study Bible. John F. MacArthur. 2010. Crossway. 2144 pages. [Source: Bought] [Bible, Study Bible]
Orphan Train Girl. Christina Baker Kline. 2017. 234 pages. [Source: Library] [Children's Adaptation of an Adult Book; j fiction; j historical fiction; j realistic fiction] 
Orphan Train. Christina Baker Kline. 2013. 278 pages. [Source: Library]
Casebook of a Private Cat's Eye. Mary Stolz. Illustrated by Pamela R. Levy. 1999. 128 pages. [Source: Library] [animal fantasy; mystery; children's book]
 Vanity Fair. William Makepeace Thackery. 1847. 867 pages. [Source: Bought] [Classic]

March totals
Pages11055
Books36


2020 Totals
Pages30485
Books122



© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, March 27, 2020

48. Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair. William Makepeace Thackery. 1847. 867 pages. [Source: Bought] [Classic]

First sentence: While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.

 Premise/plot: Becky Sharp is the 'heroine' of Thackery's Vanity Fair. She is an ambitious, selfish soul--a bit like Scarlett O'Hara. (Both hate children. Both marry for the wrong reasons. Both can manipulate men for their own gain.) In contrast to Becky Sharp there is Amelia Sedley, a trusting, kind, loyal soul--a bit like Melanie Hamilton. Vanity Fair follows both young women through many, many, many dramas. Both Amelia and Becky attended Miss Pinkerton's school--that's where they met and became friendly, and that's where our story properly begins.

Becky has one ambition. That's a lie. She has many ambitions but all share a central theme. She wants to get to the tippy-top of society. She wants money, money, money and a place in society. The society that currently snubs her and looks down upon her as a nobody. She wants it ALL: an excellent place to call home, all the materialistic goods she can get her hands on, the admiration of all the men within driving distance.

Amelia has a dream too--to marry the love of her life, George Osborne, and live happily ever after surrounded by adorable children.

Both women face obstacles. 800 pages worth of obstacles I'd say!

Amelia's family suffers a devastating financial loss. The Osborne family who had always pushed the match suddenly withdraws their approval. George is forbidden to marry Amelia. Will George obey his domineering father? Will he marry someone else? Would Amelia be better off finding someone else too? Or will George marry Amelia in spite of his father's threats?

Becky's obstacles are different. She marries--not for love, not really--a man who could potentially be very wealthy. He has a dying aunt, I believe it is an aunt. He could be HEIR to a fortune. And he's a dashing soldier. She could do worse. Much worse. So a secret marriage occurs. But did Becky choose wisely? Or was she too hasty? Should she held out a little longer for a better offer? A richer offer?
Will Rawdon Crawley help her achieve her ambitions?! Will she be the making of him or the breaking of him? Will he come to regret his marriage?

My thoughts: I enjoyed Vanity Fair. It is a long book. It has a few dull chapters here and there. I won't lie. But. Overall I found it a good read. I found the main characters at least easy to keep up with and understand. Becky Sharp is an interesting heroine--far from boring. Amelia isn't exactly boring, it's just that I wanted to yell at her now and then.

Of the men in the book, I really only loved Dobbin. I didn't dislike Rawdon Crawley exactly. But it's hard to actually love a fool. Is he a fool? Perhaps not in all areas of his life. But certainly he's a fool when it comes to love and giving his heart a way. I do, for the record, admire him as a father and brother. So perhaps if he'd not married Becky, if he'd married someone more worthy...then he wouldn't be a fool at all. As for George, I didn't like him even a little bit. It would be like if Elizabeth Bennet ended up marrying George Wickham instead of Darcy!!!!

Quotes:
Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life who is really deserving of all the praises the stone cutter carves over his bones; who IS a good Christian, a good parent, child, wife, or husband; who actually DOES leave a disconsolate family to mourn his loss; so in academies of the male and female sex it occurs every now and then that the pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the disinterested instructor. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a young lady of this singular species; and deserved not only all that Miss Pinkerton said in her praise, but had many charming qualities which that pompous old Minerva of a woman could not see, from the differences of rank and age between her pupil and herself.
"Revenge may be wicked, but it's natural," answered Miss Rebecca. "I'm no angel." And, to say the truth, she certainly was not. 
All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist, and we may be pretty certain that persons whom all the world treats ill, deserve entirely the treatment they get.
The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.
If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart upon making the conquest of this big beau, I don't think, ladies, we have any right to blame her; for though the task of husband-hunting is generally, and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her, and that if she did not get a husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who would take the trouble off her hands.
Joseph much anxious thought and alarm; now and then he would make a desperate attempt to get rid of his superabundant fat; but his indolence and love of good living speedily got the better of these endeavours at reform, and he found himself again at his three meals a day. He never was well dressed; but he took the hugest pains to adorn his big person, and passed many hours daily in that occupation. Like most fat men, he would have his clothes made too tight, and took care they should be of the most brilliant colours and youthful cut.
A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry WHOM SHE LIKES. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.
Are not there little chapters in everybody's life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?
A tempest in a slop-basin is absurd. We will reserve that sort of thing for the mighty ocean and the lonely midnight. The present Chapter is very mild. Others—But we will not anticipate THOSE.
She did not pester their young brains with too much learning, but, on the contrary, let them have their own way in regard to educating themselves; for what instruction is more effectual than self-instruction?
Some are made to scheme, and some to love; and I wish any respected bachelor that reads this may take the sort that best likes him.
Some cynical Frenchman has said that there are two parties to a love-transaction: the one who loves and the other who condescends to be so treated. Perhaps the love is occasionally on the man's side; perhaps on the lady's...But this is certain, that Amelia believed her lover to be one of the most gallant and brilliant men in the empire: and it is possible Lieutenant Osborne thought so too.
"If he had but a little more brains," she thought to herself, "I might make something of him"; but she never let him perceive the opinion she had of him; listened with indefatigable complacency to his stories of the stable and the mess; laughed at all his jokes; When he came home she was alert and happy: when he went out she pressed him to go: when he stayed at home, she played and sang for him, made him good drinks, superintended his dinner, warmed his slippers, and steeped his soul in comfort.
If success is rare and slow, everybody knows how quick and easy ruin is. 
One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is, that you must tell and believe lies against the hated object, in order, as we said, to be consistent.
At any rate, never have any feelings which may make you uncomfortable, or make any promises which you cannot at any required moment command and withdraw. That is the way to get on, and be respected, and have a virtuous character in Vanity Fair.
Praise everybody, I say to such: never be squeamish, but speak out your compliment both point-blank in a man's face, and behind his back, when you know there is a reasonable chance of his hearing it again. Never lose a chance of saying a kind word.
By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, my son, what good you may do.
Those who like to lay down the History-book, and to speculate upon what MIGHT have happened in the world, but for the fatal occurrence of what actually did take place (a most puzzling, amusing, ingenious, and profitable kind of meditation), have no doubt often thought to themselves what a specially bad time Napoleon took to come back from Elba, and to let loose his eagle from Gulf San Juan to Notre Dame.
Did we know what our intimates and dear relations thought of us, we should live in a world that we should be glad to quit, and in a frame of mind and a constant terror, that would be perfectly unbearable.
When attacked sometimes, Becky had a knack of adopting a demure ingenue air, under which she was most dangerous. She said the wickedest things with the most simple unaffected air when in this mood, and would take care artlessly to apologize for her blunders, so that all the world should know that she had made them.
Becky's contempt for her husband grew greater every day. "Do what you like—dine where you please—go and have ginger-beer and sawdust at Astley's, or psalm-singing with Lady Jane—only don't expect me to busy myself with the boy. I have your interests to attend to, as you can't attend to them yourself. I should like to know where you would have been now, and in what sort of a position in society, if I had not looked after you."
On Selfishness—Of all the vices which degrade the human character, Selfishness is the most odious and contemptible. An undue love of Self leads to the most monstrous crimes and occasions the greatest misfortunes both in States and Families.
There are things we do and know perfectly well in Vanity Fair, though we never speak of them: as the Ahrimanians worship the devil, but don't mention him: and a polite public will no more bear to read an authentic description of vice than a truly refined English or American female will permit the word breeches to be pronounced in her chaste hearing.
Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?—come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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47. The Butcher Bird

The Butcher Bird. (Somershill Manor Mystery #2) S.D. Sykes. 2015. 342 pages. [Source: Library] [adult mystery; adult historical]

First sentence: It was the tail end of the morning when the charges were laid before me and I would tell you I was tempted to laugh at first, for the story was nonsense.

Premise/plot: Oswald de Lacy is still settling into his new position as Lord of Somershill and Versey. While he’d hoped that things in the village would have calmed down, he is soon solving another murder or two. This time someone is targeting newborn babies. It’s gruesome and cruel. Can he solve the crime or will he be beguiled by a temptress?

My thoughts: I am liking this series. I like the continuation of the story and recurring characters. I am finding the plot to be more compelling than not. In fact the tension had been so strong that I have resorted to cheating with both books.

Quotes: Nothing can be counted upon in this world. Nothing at all. You might see the future as a progression of the past, but this is a fool’s notion, a delusion—for the future is as mixed up and unpredictable as a stew of leftovers. It could taste of anything. (43)


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

46. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood A Visual History. Melissa Wagner, Tim Lybarger, Jenna McGuiggan, et al. 2019. 272 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction; reference book; books to skim]

First sentence: No matter where you go, it’s easy to meet someone who has a personal story about Mister Rogers.

Premise/plot: Love the show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? Have I got a book for you! First a clarification, this is not a biography of Fred Rogers. This is very much a book about the making of a television show. It is a visual history, a behind the scenes glimpse at the iconic show. It does have some narrative. Definitely has text, but the strength is more in the interviews it shares, the sidebars, lists, and, of course, the photographs.

My thoughts: I had two favorite chapters. I loved chapters two and three. Chapter two focuses on Mr. Rogers’ house, neighborhood, and neighbors. There is a long section called meet the neighbors. Each neighbor gets his or her own page. Chapter three focuses on the neighborhood of Make Believe. It highlights the characters or residents of Make Believe and its surrounding communities. Again each character gets his or her own page.

The book does not include an episode guide. There aren’t episode descriptions. Nor are there quotes from episodes. If you’re going to be thorough and be the book every obsessive fan needs to own, go all out and commit. It would have been awesome to include a full list of songs and the songs included in each episode. Wouldn’t it be great to know how often the song It’s You I Like was sung?! Speaking of songs there is no mention of the iconic song Many Ways to Say I Love You.

I did enjoy and appreciate the interviews spread throughout the book. These are with notable people who worked on screen and off screen with Fred Rogers to make the show happen. It definitely makes for a better more authentic feeling book.

I liked this one. I definitely did. I enjoyed browsing through the book. If you enjoy visual history books, then this is worth your time. I am less into visual and more into stories and text. But I am glad I read it.




© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, March 23, 2020

45. Orphan Train

Orphan Train. Christina Baker Kline. 2013. 278 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.

Premise/plot: Molly and Vivian are the narrators of Orphan Train. Molly is our seventeen year old heroine. She’s about to age out of the foster care system. Her current placement is not working out for anyone. Dina, her foster mother, is openly hostile and threatening. Ralph is trying to appease his angry wife and the defensive Molly. When Molly is caught stealing a library book, it seems like she might be heading to juvie. But her boyfriend seems to convince all concerned parties that she can put in community service hours helping Vivian, our ninety-one year old heroine, clean and organize her attic. The two spend hours together each week; both have stories to tell, to share. But being vulnerable doesn’t necessarily come naturally to either. Molly and Vivian have a lot to learn from each other.

My thoughts: A few days ago I read Orphan Train Girl at the insistence of my mother. I didn’t realize it was a young readers adaptation of a very adult book. I knew I would have to seek out the adult book.

The narrative of the adaptation is jerky, very jumpy and sometimes awkward in transitions. Every chapter has a section from Molly and a section from Vivian. Neither flows particularly well. But. The stories manage to somehow remain compelling and moving. The focus is on being unwanted and unloved, not belonging. I do think the narrator Molly has been aged down to a much younger age.

The adult book is much better crafted. The narrative flows naturally and easily.

The content is quite different. Niamh-Dorothy-Vivian lives through a lot. Her experiences are quite a bit darker, rougher, adult.

The language is definitely not clean.

I can see why both versions exist. The writing is definitely better in the original. Yet I love the adaptation as well. I love the connection between the two which is strong in both.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

44. Plague Land

Plague Land. (Somershill Manor Mystery #1) S.D. Sykes. 2015. 336 pages. [Source: Library] [adult fiction; historical; mystery]

First sentence: If I preserve but one memory at my own death, it shall be the burning of the dog-headed beast.

Premise/plot: Plague Land is a medieval murder mystery set in England in 1350; it has been just a year or two since the Black Plague appeared and proved devastating. Oswald DeLacy was the third son, far from succeeding his father and brother(s) to inherit land and titles. He was a monk or monk in training from the age of seven. Now he’s returned a practical stranger to his family, community, and tenants. Oswald has an estate to manage, a murder or two to solve, and possibly an older sister to save. Can he handle it?! Especially since a powerful opponent is set on blaming a mythological creature sent by satan himself for the crimes?!

My thoughts: I found it to be a super compelling read. I picked it up and didn’t want to stop. Unfortunately I had to because of the blasted time change. But the next day, I was eager to pick it right back up and find out who did it!!!

I love historical fiction. I love mysteries. I love character driven books. I definitely connected with this one. Can’t wait to continue on in the series.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

43. Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning. Alexa Donne. 2018. 394 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Fiction; YA Science Fiction; Space Opera]

First sentence: The gravity stabilizers were failing again.

Premise/plot: Stella Ainsley is an orphan now fully grown—if you consider eighteen grown. She is a part-time teacher, part-time engineer aboard a starship. Not the finest of those orbiting earth, far from it. Those that call the Stalwart home are hard workers, farmers mainly, but the lowliest class. Stella wants off. She doesn’t want to work as an engineer, at least not her first choice. She wants to teach. But a job transfer to another ship isn’t looking likely—either as an engineer or a teacher. But one application succeeds. The Rochester, a private ship orbiting the moon, is in need of a governess for a child. Stella says yes. On the Rochester she meets Jessa and her older brother, Hugo. Their meeting is strange and awkward. She saves his life! It seems the Rochester holds more than a few secrets. But it is wonderful and only sometimes terrifying. Could Stella have found her happily ever after?! Or will the truth tear two lovers apart forever.

My thoughts: I love, love, love this one. I first read it in 2018. I recently read Donne’s second novel—also a space opera retelling of a classic, this time Austen’s Persuasion. I believe that one must be set earlier in this world she created. Reading it made me *need* to reread this one. It didn’t disappoint. I think I may love it even more.

I would love to see this filmed!!!


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, March 16, 2020

42. Ordinary Hazards

Ordinary Hazards. Nikki Grimes. 2019. 325 pages. [Source: Library] [memoir; ya nonfiction; nonfiction; poetry]

  First sentence: I read somewhere that names penetrate the core of our being, and I suppose, this is as good a time as any to confess my name is not the only lie I’ve ever lived with, but Nikki is the first invention for which I accept full responsibility.

Premise/plot: Nikki Grimes’ newest book is a memoir written in verse. Ordinary Hazards tells her story—the darkness and the light in her growing up years.

My thoughts: I have loved, loved, loved Nikki Grimes’ work in the past. I have always found her work to bring on the feels. Her characters are more often than not, oh-so-humanly drawn. Her writing realistic, but often with a strong foundation of hope. No matter how dark, how tough, how painful, there is still reason to hope; where there is life, there is hope.

This memoir is an amazing read. I think perhaps most enjoyed by those that have read her previously. But perhaps not. Maybe this would encourage readers to pick up her other books and seek out everything she’s written?

Quotes:
Algebra should be
ranked under
fatal diseases.
One more equation,
and I’ll die. (253)


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, March 13, 2020

41. Eve of Man

Eve of Man. Giovanna Fletcher & Tom Fletcher. 2018. 400 pages. [Source: Library] [Science Fiction; YA Science Fiction; speculative fiction; YA Romance]

First sentence: On the first day no one really noticed. Perhaps there was a chuckle among the midwives at the sight of all those babies wrapped in blue blankets, not a pink one in sight.

Premise/plot: Eve, our heroine, is a miracle. Fifty years had passed since the last girl was born. Fifty years of anxiety, panic, fear, and dread. Is humanity truly dying and doomed? Eve, by being born, became the savior or potential savior of the world. The fate of mankind rests in her womb, her becoming the mother of all.

Eve has grown up locked away in a tower, cared for by the powers that be. Her only companion is a hologram named Holly. She’s not a computer program, not exactly. She’s piloted by several teams of young men. One man being the programmer that works the hologram magic. The other that pilots. His words become her words. His facial expressions become hers. His body language, his mannerisms—hers. Eve has a way of distinguishing between them.

Bram, our hero, is Eve’s favorite Holly. It isn’t until they accidentally meet in real life, for the briefest of moments, that everything changes. His eyes, she knows those eyes. She learns his name. She begins to think of him not as Holly but as Bram. But talking to the hologram Holly requires pretense on both sides. She knows that she is to go along with the program. He knows he is to keep to the script. But can they talk to each other and keep up the lies? Both begin to question the system. Both begin to see that the powers that be are corrupt. Can they find a way out?!

My thoughts: I loved the premise. I’ve read similar premise-driven books in the past. Though in that one it was there was only one man, one Adam, if you will. But essentially both books asked if there was any room for love, for family, when the fate of the world rested on your reproductive system.

I thought the relationship between Eve and Bram was great. Definitely kept me reading. All my questions weren’t answered but I am hoping there is a sequel.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

40. The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. 350 pages. [Source: Library] [mg fiction; ya fiction; mg historical; ya historical; mg speculative fiction; ya speculative fiction]

First sentence: The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.

Premise/plot: Molly and her brother Kip are orphans (shhh! don’t tell Kip) desperate for work. Hence why they accepted this job at a super spooky, stuff-of-nightmares estate. Molly will cook, clean, organize, manage everything. Kip will garden. But from day one there are warning signs that something is amiss, that in fact something wicked this way comes. Will Molly and Kip survive this job?!

My thoughts: I have read this one so many times that I have lost count. I know I read it twice the year it came out, 2014. This has become one of my absolute favorite novels. It just gets better and better every time I revisit it. Perhaps my reviews get worse as I have already said it all?! I know there is nothing I can say that will actually do the book justice. It’s a lovely, delightful, well written, atmospheric coming of age novel set in Victorian England. It’s creepy, haunting, character-driven AND premise-driven. If you could have ANYTHING you want in exchange for a drop of your soul, would you risk it?!?!?!


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

39. The Clergyman's Wife

The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel. Molly Greeley. 2019. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [adult historical; adult fiction; women's fiction; Austen adaptation]

First sentence: Mr. Collins walks like a man who has never become comfortable with his height: his shoulders hunched, his neck thrust forward.

Premise/plot: This historical romance is a Pride and Prejudice retelling starring Charlotte and Mr. Collins. It has been several years since the two wed, are the two well suited? Is Charlotte happy?

Every novel—for whatever reason, for better or worse—has to have tension or an obstacle. In this retelling, Charlotte has an affair of the heart and mind with a local farmer who has been hired to plant roses in their garden. He is one of the tenants—him and his elderly father, the former gardener of Rosings.

This affair consists of actually honest and heartfelt conversations. They smile. They laugh. Her daughter is present. Nothing shockingly flirty, or even slightly flirty. But Charlotte exposes her very soul to a man not her husband. There is no shell, no pretense. Mr. Collins remains a stranger to her soul, to who she actually is, to what she thinks, feels, enjoys, wants.

My thoughts: I actually liked most of this one—mostly. I liked the strong friendship between the two. I know we’re supposed to want it to be more, that we are supposed to see them as soulmates. But I don’t. I think her friendship reveals her loneliness in her present circumstances, but she could find companionship and honesty in other places. Now that she has been vulnerable once, she can be vulnerable again.

I hated one scene where Charlotte dares to imagine what it would be like to have this farmer touch her, hold her, etc. I felt it was icky for lack of a better word. After this she seems to realize that her innocent connection—human to human, friend to friend—isn’t quite appropriate. Which is a bittersweet realization.

I thought the novel ended on a hopeful note. Not an obvious one, I think it requires imagination and optimism. The ending is just an ending—not happy, not sad, not tragic, just the ending of one chapter in their lives before the turning of a page. Their story is far from over.

I personally think there is an opportunity in their new circumstances and situation for growth and improvement. If they are not living next door to you know who and being kept at her beck and call. If she is not scrutinizing every second, every minute, every hour of their days, perhaps patterns can change, the two can relax, the two can relate a bit more to one another. We have never really seen Mr. Collins not being bossed around and obsessively preoccupied with pleasing Lady Catherine.

What would a relaxed Mr. Collins look like? If he was, you know, being himself?! We get a glimpse of an honest Charlotte. I have to believe that some of Mr. Collins’ behaviors, habits, tendencies are a shell, a pretense. He wants to please, needs to please, has to please. What is driving this need? Is it fear? Is it shame? Is it doubt? Does Mr. Collins like himself? What does he feel? Is he comfortable with his feelings?

It would be easy to assume that Mr. Collins is beyond redemption. He will live every day of his life being oblivious and obnoxious. But that caricature which is very Austen, isn’t actually fleshed out and dimensional. He was in Pride and Prejudice for a laugh. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

38. An American Plague

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Jim Murphy. 2003. 165 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction, mg nonfiction; history]

First sentence: The sun came up, as it had every day since the end of May, bright, hot, and unrelenting.

Premise/plot: An American Plague is an award-winning nonfiction narrative about the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. The setting is Philadelphia. The characters are many; there isn’t one point of view. Though readers do spend some time focusing on one of Philadelphia’s most prominent (and opinionated) doctors, Benjamin Rush. It is well researched and provides young readers plenty of details.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I didn’t love, love, love nonfiction as a child, but to be fair nonfiction has come a long, long way since I was a child. Also perhaps my interests have matured a bit too.

I would recommend this one to kids that enjoy history, or enjoy nonfiction, or enjoy medical thrillers. It is hard to know with certainty what makes a book or subject appealing.

I have really enjoyed all the Jim Murphy books I have read


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, March 09, 2020

37. Fever 1793

Fever 1793. Laurie Halse Anderson. 2000. 252 pages. [Source: Library][historical fiction; mg historical; mg fiction]

First sentence: I woke to the sound of a mosquito whining in my left ear and my mother screeching in the right.

Premise/plot: Fever 1793 is a historical coming of age novel set in Philadelphia during the devastating yellow fever epidemic. No matter the decade or century an epidemic would be scary, terrifying even. But at a time when doctors were absolutely clueless yet confident that they knew what they were doing, it’s extremely terrifying. Mattie Cook and her family are troubled by the outbreak, yet what is the right course of action?! To flee to the country side and leave the family business untended and boarded up? To separate? Some stay and some go? Who would they stay with in the country? Should they stay open for business? Who should run errands? What places are safe? What places should be avoided? How does one make that determination of what is safe and what is dangerous? After all, one must have food to eat even if one closes the coffee shop. Should one still visit friends? Go to church? Does one trust “the news” as to what is really happening and how many have actually died? Is blaming foreigners and refugees really the best use of time and energy?

My thoughts: I believe this is only the second time I have read this one. I definitely liked it as an adult. I won’t say that every single reader will find it super compelling and impossible to put down. That would be silly. Especially if this one should ever be assigned reading for school. But the historical elements will appeal to those that enjoy and seek out historical fiction. The epidemic should appeal to those that enjoy and seek out the I Survived...book series.

Would I have loved it as a kid? Probably not because of the death toll. This epidemic was deadly and this book is realistic that this epidemic was costly to families and communities. But not all young readers are as sensitive as I once was.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

36. Words on Fire

Words on Fire. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2019. 336 pages. [Source: Library] [Historical fiction; mg fiction; ya fiction]

First sentence: My name is Audra. In my language, Lithuanian, it means storm.

Premise/plot: Set in 1893, Words on Fire is a historical coming of age novel. Audra is unaware of the dangerous times in which she lives. Lithuania is no more, has been conquered and occupied by Russia. The language is illegal to speak, to write, to read. Her family has been secretly resisting, helping smuggle Lithuanian books into the country and/or around the villages and towns. Or at least her father has. Audra has been kept out of the loop, in the dark, safe in her innocence. But is anyone safe? When the Cossacks come, Audra escapes—barely. Escape she does with a mystery package and an address to deliver it to. What kind of future will Audra have now?!

My thoughts: I loved this book. I love, love, love the characters and relationships. I was surprised by a couple of turns. I don’t want to risk giving anything away no matter how small. But. I just have to say that I really love, love, love Lukas. I love how Audra fights for what she believes in, and what she is fighting for is not something selfish but selfless. She has gumption.

The story, the action, the emotional roller coaster—everything was just about perfect.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, March 03, 2020

35. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World. C.A. Fletcher. 2019. 365 pages. [Source: Library] [post-apocalyptic; science fiction; speculative fiction; adult fiction]

First sentence: Dogs were with us from the very beginning.

Premise/plot: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a post-apocalyptic novel set After. The world’s population has plummeted from 7 billion to a mere 7,000. Humanity’s mysterious sterility almost certainly dooming the race. Griz, our hero, calls it The Gelding. It’s been several generations, perhaps a couple hundred years even, since then. Griz is keeping a journal, writing to a long-dead unknown boy, a boy she knows only from a photograph. (The photo captures a happy beach moment: a brother and sister with their dog.) Griz picked up the faded relic from Before when he was scavenging with his family. Griz loves, loves, loves, loves to pick up books to bring back to their island. Griz especially loves dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels though the authors always get it wrong—how the world ends, how society collapses.

Griz essentially has it fairly good. Two dogs that are loyal, loving, and helpful. A father and some brothers and sisters. True, Griz‘s mom has suffered a traumatic brain injury and has never recovered much cognitive function. But Life is hard, busy, risky—but there is family.

So the book mainly is about what happens when a blue-eyed, Red-haired stranger named Brand comes to the island to trade....

My thoughts: The narrative is written in first person. Griz has been raised in part by books, but life has changed so very very much since Before. Griz definitely is naive in some ways...not prepared for a dangerous, unpredictable adventure off his home island. But who could possibly be ready for what comes next?!?!

Jess and Jip are the two family dogs...and a catalyst for most of the action. What will one boy do to get his dog back home?!?!?!

I found this a compelling, action-packed read. Griz is a fully fleshed, well-rounded, oh-so-human character. The book doesn’t rely solely on the post-apocalyptic premise or the action and adventure elements. Griz’s narrative voice is strong and compelling. It had me hooked from the start.

Is it for the faint of heart dog lover?! I am not sure. Life After has not in any way been kind to man’s best friend. Not so much this present generation, but the ones that came before as society was saying a very long goodbye to life as we know it. A few places here and there might prove disturbing.

For that matter...this is very much a book for adults and possibly older teens transitioning to adult books. Griz may be young, but a young protagonist doesn’t mean it’s automatically for kids.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, March 02, 2020

34. We Had To Be Brave

We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Library] [nonfiction; world war II; world at war]

First sentence: Imagine getting on a train and leaving your parents and your family behind.

Premise/plot: Deborah Hopkinson’s newest nonfiction narrative is about the kindertransport. There are multiple narratives unfolding. First there is a general narrative that is explaining, providing context, giving an overall framework for the book. Second there is a narrative that follows three people, two girls (Ruth David, Marianne Elsley) and a boy (Leslie Brent). But it doesn’t stop there. It offers a third narrative, a sprinkling of other voices, dozens of voices. These voices aren’t dominant exactly, more a background ensemble chorus to the the three soloists.

My thoughts: We Had to Be Brave is a compelling introduction for middle graders on up. It gives readers a glimpse, some food for thought, an opportunity to thoughtfully consider the past and contemplate the present and future. There is definitely depth and substance. Definitely feels. Though I will say this it doesn’t dwell in the darkness and sorrow overlong. It is straightforward in what happened. But I didn’t feel it was manipulative to the emotions. I don’t think the goal was to get readers weeping over pages and distraught to go on. You don’t have to push hard to get a reaction. Less is best in some cases.

Review the book in hand. Review the book in hand. I am going to try my best. I say this because when you’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books on the Holocaust, it’s hard not to compare, contrast, have favorites, have preferred narrative styles and formats. I thought this was a solid read. But. It left me wanting more, more, more. I wanted fuller biographies and stories. To be fair, this one is great about steering readers to other books, other sites, even videos. The author perhaps wants readers to want more, to dig deeper, keep seeking and researching. 


© 2020 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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