Saturday, May 30, 2020

May Reflections

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews
62. Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury. HarperCollins. 1958/2006 edition. 268 pages. [Source: Library] [science fiction; short stories; classic]
63. Anna Komnene and the Alexiad: The Byzantine Princess and the First Crusade. 2020. [July] Pen and Sword. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction]
64. The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through a War. Delphine Minoui. Translated by Lara Vergnaud. 2020. [October] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; books about books; war stories]
65. The Secret Life of Bees. Sue Monk Kidd. 2003. 302 pages. [Source: Library] [historical fiction; dysfunctional families; adult novels with young protagonists]
66. The Highlander's English Bride. (Clan Kendrick #3) Vanessa Kelly. 2020. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy] [adult* romance]
67. Misleading a Duke (The Wallflowers of West Lane #2) A.S. Fenichel. 2020. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
68. The Art of Saving the World. Corinne Duyvis. 2020. [September] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
69. Hunting November. (Killing November #2) Adriana Mather. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
70. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Winifred Watson. 1938. 234 pages. [Source: Library]
71. Goldilocks. Laura Lam. 2020. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Science fiction; dystopia; feminist]
72. Miss Mackenzie. Anthony Trollope. 1865. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]
73. The Tale of a Niggun. Elie Wiesel. Illustrated by Mark Podwal. 2020. [November] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] [World War II; Holocaust; Poetry]
74. Majesty (American Royals #2) Katharine McGee. 2020. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
75. Who's That Earl (Love and Let Spy #1) Susanna Craig. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
76. The Pull of the Stars. Emma Donoghue. 2020. [July] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Books Reviewed at Young Readers
56. Matilda. Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. 1988. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
57. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. Jonathan Auxier. 2011. Abrams. 397 pages. [Source: Review copy]
58. Family Reminders. Julie Danneberg. Illustrated by John Shelley. 2009. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy] [historical fiction]
59. Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen and Gemma Barder. 2021. [February 2021] Sweet Cherry Publishing. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adaptations; Classic] 
60. A Long Road on a Short Day. Gary D. Schmidt. Elizabeth Stickney. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. 2020. [November 2020] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] [winter; family; historical] 
61. The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp. Jonathan Auxier. Illustrated by Olga Demidova. 2020. [October] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fantasy]
62. No Ordinary Boy (Tales from the Round Table). Adapted by Tracey Mayhew. 2020. [September] Sweet Cherry. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fiction; j fantasy; chapter books]
63. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. Jonathan Auxier. 2016. Harry N. Abrams. 464 pages. [Source: Library]
64. The Story of Alexander Hamilton. Christine Platt. Illustrated by Raquel Martin. 2020. Rockbridge Press. 66 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible
37. The Complete Guide to the Names of God. George W. Knight. 2020. Barbour Books. [August 2020 this edition] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Reference; Dictionary]
38. Is God Speaking to Me? How To Discern His Voice and Direction. Lysa TerKeurst. 2020. [September] 64 pages. Harvest House. [Source: Review copy] [Christian Nonfiction]
39. Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up. Betsy Childs Howard. Illustrated by Samara Hardy. 2020. [June] Crossway. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] [picture book; children]
40. The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible. Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid. Foreword by J Gary Millar. 2020. [March] Crossway. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; theology]
41. Saints & Scoundrels In the Story of Jesus. Nancy Guthrie. 2020. Crossway. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
42. Sixty Days with John Owen in Hebrews. John Owen. Edited by Daniel Szczesniak. 2011. 190 pages. [Source: Bought]
43. Epic. Tim Challies. 2020. Zondervan. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible
4. The NKJV Woman's Study Bible: Receiving God's Truth for Balance, Hope, and Transformation. Thomas Nelson. 2017. 2112 pages. [Source: Bought]
The 5-Star Books
Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury. HarperCollins. 1958/2006 edition. 268 pages. [Source: Library] [science fiction; short stories; classic]
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen and Gemma Barder. 2021. [February 2021] Sweet Cherry Publishing. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adaptations; Classic] 
A Long Road on a Short Day. Gary D. Schmidt. Elizabeth Stickney. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. 2020. [November 2020] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] [winter; family; historical] 
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through a War. Delphine Minoui. Translated by Lara Vergnaud. 2020. [October] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; books about books; war stories]
 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Winifred Watson. 1938. 234 pages. [Source: Library]
Miss Mackenzie. Anthony Trollope. 1865. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]  
The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp. Jonathan Auxier. Illustrated by Olga Demidova. 2020. [October] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fantasy] 
 Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. Jonathan Auxier. 2016. Harry N. Abrams. 464 pages. [Source: Library] 
Sixty Days with John Owen in Hebrews. John Owen. Edited by Daniel Szczesniak. 2011. 190 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Story of Alexander Hamilton. Christine Platt. Illustrated by Raquel Martin. 2020. Rockbridge Press. 66 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
May Totals
May Totals

2020 Totals

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 29, 2020

76. The Pull of the Stars

The Pull of the Stars. Emma Donoghue. 2020. [July] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Still hours of dark to go when I left the house that morning. I cycled through reeking Dublin streets that were slick with rain. My short green cape kept off the worst, but my coat sleeves were soon wet through.

Premise/plot: Set during the Spanish Influenza of 1918 in Dublin, Ireland, it follows Nurse Julia Power closely over the course of three days in the maternity fever ward. Julia is a midwife; she's used to losing patients--either mothers, or babies, or sometimes both mother and baby. She has a way of marking each loss of a patient; she's diligent and hardworking, but caring as well.

Readers get to know a few other characters as well including one person from history: Dr. Kathleen Lynn (1874–1955).

My thoughts: What an incredibly intense read!!!! For better or worse. There's nothing beautiful or glamorous about being a nurse/midwife. And the women in her ward, in her care, well they're fully fleshed/realized characters. This is like a super-super-super-super-super intense episode of Call the Midwife minus the hope and humor.

There are essentially NO CHAPTERS, just four sections (if I counted right, which is always doubtful!). I'm not sure if the lack of chapters kept me up reading, or, if it was my need to know if anyone would be okay, if the patients would live to see another day or night.

I'm not sure if the narrative style is technically stream of consciousness, but, if I had to guess I'd say it might very well be. It is very in the moment and personal. We see everything through Nurse Power's eyes.

Reading this during COVID is an experience in and of itself. I think that's why it's being published perhaps a little earlier than originally intended?

I noticed just one headline about the flu today, low down on the right: Increase in Reports of Influenza. A masterpiece of understatement, as if it were only the reporting that had increased, or perhaps the pandemic was a figment of the collective imagination. I wondered whether it was the newspaper publisher’s decision to play down the danger or if he’d received orders from above.

That’s what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stelle—the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. I pictured that, the celestial bodies trying to fly us like upside-down kites. Or perhaps just yanking on us for their obscure amusement.

But wasn’t it the whole world’s war now? Hadn’t we caught it from each other, as helpless against it as against other infections? No way to keep one’s distance; no island to hide on. Like the poor, maybe, the war would always be with us. Across the world, one lasting state of noise and terror under the bone man’s reign.


It occurred to me that in the case of this flu there could be no signing a pact with it; what we waged in hospitals was a war of attrition, a battle over each and every body.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 28, 2020

75. Who's That Earl

Who's That Earl (Love and Let Spy #1) Susanna Craig. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In spite of the eerie, not-quite quiet that settled over the island in the hours between dusk and dawn, Lieutenant Thomas Sutherland nearly missed the telltale rhythm of oars slicing through water. Damn and blast. If he weren’t careful, he’d find himself in enemy hands after all this time. Or at the mercy of his general, once he’d explained how he’d been distracted from his duties by the scent of flowers.

Premise/Plot: Thomas Sutherland has newly inherited a title and an estate in Scotland. He'll need to take time away from his service--he's a spy--to settle things. As things stand there is a tenant--a famous/infamous gothic writer, Robin Ratliff-- leasing Dunnock castle. He'll need to either renew the lease or take up residence himself...

Jane "Higginbotham" loves living at Dunnock castle. It's the perfect place for her secret to stay secret. She's not the "secretary" of a famous author, she is THE author. Her gothic romances are entirely inappropriate for proper women, decent women to read or to admit to reading. Ratliff has just as many enemies--those who hate his immoral books--as fans. When the novel opens, Jane has just received two pieces of mail. One warning that there is a new Magnus and he's on his way (that would be Thomas Sutherland, though it does NOT name names.) The other a death threat against the author Robin Ratliff. One could leave her temporarily homeless...the other leave her dead. If in fact the writer means what he threatens...

Jane and Thomas soon meet. But surprise, surprise, surprise Thomas and Jane are not entirely strangers to one another. Seven years previously they'd enjoyed a brief flirtation that if things had gone another way--if he hadn't been called away by the army, for example--and if they'd had more time. Thomas doesn't want Jane to know he is the new Magnus. Jane doesn't want him to know she's the author. Both have secrets from the other....

My thoughts: I loved the idea of this one. A woman author writing under a pen name finds great success writing over-the-top gothic novels...and perhaps will find her true love as her own life undergoes some adventures and misadventures. I love the idea of the hero being a spy/former spy. I love the Scottish setting. I love the Regency time period. I love the plus-size heroine.

Did I actually love, love, love this one? Almost. Maybe. Perhaps. I like the idea of these two being reunited unexpectedly. Are the feelings still there? Can they clear up any misunderstandings? Are the obstacles standing in the way any closer to being removed? I like the tension between these two secret keepers. It reminds me of the Friends episodes where eventually everyone is connecting the dots about Monica and Chandler. They don't know that we know...they don't know that we know they know we know. I like how they come to trust each other.

But. It is not a clean read--which is what I personally, personally prefer. It definitely has on-screen "smut." Conveniently these scenes seem to be contained within two separate chapters. So technically if readers knew in advance which chapters contained the "naughty" "smutty" bits, they could skip over them...if they want a clean read. And, well, if you don' might not mind knowing exactly where these bits are either.

There is definitely a feel of instant about this one. The connection and spark between the two is there from the start. There is no falling in love. There is no gradual development of feelings and desires. It is BOOM. The fact that these two have a history together might explain some of the instant--but not necessarily. I mean I think that kind of thing happens more often than not in genre romances. This bears closer resemblance to a soap opera perhaps than Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

74. Majesty

Majesty (American Royals #2) Katharine McGee. 2020. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The morning had dawned dreary and gray, with a mist that hung over the streets of the capital. It was, the media correspondents all agreed, appropriate weather for a funeral. They stood behind a velvet rope to one side of the palace doors, swapping cigarettes and breath mints, hurriedly checking their lipstick in their phone screens. Then the palace’s main gates swung open to admit the first guests.

Premise/plot: Majesty is the second book in the series. (The first one is American Royals). The series has a unique-ish premise: what if George Washington had been crowned King after the war ended? And what if he had actually you know had biological descendants to inherit the crown? And what if America still had a Monarchy?

So Beatrice has just inherited the throne and become America's first QUEEN. But some--many? few?--can't imagine her ruling America on her own. Could a woman possibly handle the task of ruling a country on her own?!?! Beatrice must marry Teddy practically immediately so there will at least be a king-consort by her side. But is this what Beatrice wants? What Teddy wants?

So Beatrice has two siblings--twins--Samantha and Jefferson. And this soap opera wouldn't really be soapy if they didn't have tangled love lives. Samantha is still bitter over losing Teddy to her older sister...will she find a new man in this second book? Perhaps even finding one that is a better fit for her?!

Jefferson and Nina have broken up. But will Nina be ready to move on before Jeff? Perhaps. Regardless Daphne can't keep her interfering hands from playing puppet-master. Ethan, Nina, Jeff--she wants to control them all. And that's leaving off her supposed, supposed best-ever friend who spent the whole first book in a COMA. (She's not in a coma in book two).

Life goes on.

My thoughts: I didn't love the first book. Perhaps I'm just a little too old to get giddy about a book founded on such a silly premise. George Washington had no children. George Washington had NO children. But there is something breezy about both books. Even if it was ridiculous, I raced through the first book...and now the second. Not because I found it intelligent or well-written or super-clever or thought-provoking. But because it was almost the exact opposite.

I will say this, I definitely found the second book better than the first. I repeat I found it way more enjoyable than the first book in the series. I found it satisfying in the end.

The series definitely reminds me of Anna Godbersen's series: Luxe and its sequels. Which I believe Luxe is a copycat Gossip Girl. Which I suppose makes this a copycat of a copycat Gossip Girl? But one scene in particular appears to have been largely inspired wink-wink-wink from Gone With The Wind. The whole confrontation between Rhett and Scarlett is almost duplicated between two characters...I won't tell you WHO. Now that I've seen this character speaking Rhett's lines I'm not sure I'll be able to look at him the same way again. And that's not necessarily a bad thing! Perhaps it makes me like him even more?

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

73. The Tale of a Niggun

The Tale of a Niggun. Elie Wiesel. Illustrated by Mark Podwal. 2020. [November] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] [World War II; Holocaust; Poetry]

First sentence: A ghetto, somewhere in the East, during the reign of night, under skies of copper and fire. The leaders of the community, good people all, courageous all, fearing God and loving His Law, came to see the rabbi who has cried and cried, and has searched darkness for an answer with such passion that he no longer can see. It’s urgent, they tell him, it’s more than urgent; it’s a matter of life or death for some Jews and perhaps all Jews.

Premise/plot: The Tale of a Niggun is a narrative poem by Elie Wiesel originally published circa 1978 within a larger collection of works honoring Rabbi Wolfe Kelman. It has newly been republished on its own--or soon will be published in November 2020.

The setting is a GHETTO in the midst of the second World War. The leaders are seeking an answer to an impossible question: should they supply the Nazis with a list of TEN names of people to be deported/taken? If they fail to give a list, then ANY could be taken or ALL could be taken. Perhaps every person will die as a result of not cooperating. Yet wouldn't it be murder to cooperate and help choose WHO dies? A rabbi reluctantly wrestles with this question seeking out the wisdom of his ancestors.

My thoughts: It's a quick read but super-super-super intense and masterful. It is written as a narrative poem. It may at first seem intimidating to the non-Jewish reader, BUT, a helpful glossary is provided in the back of the book that will prove super helpful.

if the enemy wishes to kill, let him kill—and do not tell him whom to kill. Your role, my young brother and colleague, the role of rabbi is to be with his Jews, not facing them. Should they be summoned by God or the enemy, should they choose to respond, do as they do, walk with them, pray with them or for them, howl with them, weep as they weep; share their anguish and their anger as you have shared their joy; see to it that the sacrifice imposed by the enemy unites his victims instead of separating them; as rabbi, there is only one call you must issue: Jews stay together, Jews stay together as Jews. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 22, 2020

72. Miss Mackenzie

Miss Mackenzie. Anthony Trollope. 1865. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: I FEAR I must trouble my reader with some few details as to the early life of Miss Mackenzie, — details which will be dull in the telling, but which shall be as short as I can make them.

Premise/plot: Easy come, easy go. That sums up Miss Mackenzie quite succinctly.

Our heroine, Margaret MacKenzie, inherits a large fortune when her brother dies. But with all that money comes trouble, worry, and heartache. For Miss Mackenzie who has never had a suitor before suddenly finds herself besieged by men desperately wanting to marry her...Can she find true love in spite of her money?

Three of her suitors are John Ball (a widower, a cousin, a mama's-boy), Samuel Rubb Jr. (a tradesman, the business partner of her younger brother, the wearer of yellow gloves), and Mr. Maguire (a curate who proves himself shamelessly ambitious and greedy).

Miss Mackenzie hasn't determined to marry at all...and yet...she wants to find TRUE LOVE despite the fact that she's "middle aged" (36).

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one!!! I found it well paced--perhaps with the qualifier of well paced for a Victorian novel. I thought the last half was extraordinary. (Perhaps not better than my favorite, favorite, favorite Trollope novels).

I have no doubt these people are very good in their way; only their ways are not my ways; and one doesn’t like to be told so often that one’s own way is broad, and that it leads — you know where.
He had on bright yellow kid gloves, primrose he would have called them, but, if there be such things as yellow gloves, they were yellow; and she wished that she had the courage to ask him to take them off.
 For me, if I am to live in a moated grange, let it be in the country. Moated granges in the midst of populous towns are very terrible.
It was, however, generally felt that, though Mr Slow was the slowest in his speech, Mr Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said. Mr Slow would often beguile his time with unnecessary remarks; but Mr Bideawhile was so constant in beguiling his time, that men wondered how, in truth, he ever did anything at all.
Men who can succeed in deceiving no one else will succeed at last in deceiving themselves.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

71. Goldilocks

Goldilocks. Laura Lam. 2020. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Science fiction; dystopia; feminist]

First sentence: In thirty years, Dr. Naomi Lovelace has never given an interview. Whenever I asked her to tell me what happened up there, Naomi would say no one who has been to space could ever describe it to someone who hasn’t.

Premise/plot: Naomi Lovelace is finally, finally telling her story: a story spanning four or five decades. Readers get their first hint of what is coming in this description, "Dr. Naomi Lovelace has been many things over the years. Scientist. Criminal. Villain. Hero. Famous. Infamous. Who would she have been, if she’d never gone? In the home clips I watched of her before she left Earth, Naomi was still quiet, but a smile often hovered at the edges of her lips, as if she held a secret she wished she could share. In one clip, taken the year before she left Earth, she’d opened her Christmas presents with the careful, considered way she did everything. A scientist through and through."

Naomi is one of five women who steal a space ship and head off to the planet Cavendish, a planet that perhaps may be humanity's greatest chance for survival after the Earth dies due to climate change and ill treatment at the hands of men. The other women are Dr. Valerie Black (whom readers will come to know a great deal about as she's the captain and mastermind), Oksana Lebedeva, lead engineer, Jerrie Hixon, their lead pilot and mathematician, Irene Hart, their doctor. (Naomi is a botanist.)

The story unfolds in snippets. It is not told chronologically. There are flashbacks, if you will, to her narrative. These flashbacks give hints to the world that Lam has created, and reveal some depth to a few of the characters--notably Valerie and Naomi. These two women are tightly connected. Naomi was adopted by Valerie after her own parents died. But just because Valerie raised Naomi for many years doesn't mean their relationship isn't strained and full of tension. There is HISTORY which leads you to question why Naomi would let herself be convinced that this was a good idea and mankind's only hope.

My thoughts: I am conflicted. On the one hand, I read it in two--possibly three days. It was an action-packed read that kept me wanting more, more, more. On the other hand, once I finished and began reflecting on it, it left me with a meh. On the one hand, I thought there were possibly two characters that were mostly fully fleshed out and developed. But there were so many more characters that we simply never got a chance to actually know. Who were they? Why did they want to leave earth? Why did they team up with Valerie? What were their inner ambitions? What were their hopes and dreams? Did they have regrets? On the other hand, did we really get to know any of the characters? Could the case be made that Naomi is an unreliable narrator? That her retelling of the events is biased and selective? Is she trustworthy? So best case scenario, we get two characters that we know...worst case scenario...none. On the one hand, it was interesting to see Lam's dystopia play out. It's a dystopia where women have been silenced and displaced--taken away from the workplace, lacking almost any opportunity for a successful career and making a meaningful impact on society...and a dystopia where the full effects of climate change are playing themselves out in the extreme. And because earth is dying, because humanity is so desperate, ethics have evaporated....even more than you might expect. Dystopias in and of themselves interest me...even if I don't necessarily buy into the preachy agendas. (You don't have to be able to envision our future as that future in order to appreciate the genre.)
On the one hand, I felt disappointed that readers never really get to see Cavendish and the colonization process. What we're given is two sentences at the end of the novel. I felt it was too little if you actually wanted a science fiction novel with colony ships and the potential of a brand new world and all its dangers. On the other hand, I don't really think Naomi would have/could have chosen differently and stayed true to her character. So the ending both worked and didn't work for me.
I definitely felt the ending was a bit rushed. That being said, I'm not sure the pacing could have endured another ten or fifteen years. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, May 21, 2020

70. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Winifred Watson. 1938. 234 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Miss Pettigrew pushed open the door of the employment agency and went in as the clock struck quarter past nine.

Premise/plot: Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is down on her luck. It is a matter of utmost urgency that she get a job--a post--that very day. So she sets off to interview for governess at a MISS LaFosse's house. When she arrives, she's in for a shock...or two...or three. But while at first things just seem to happen around her--she's an observer of the DRAMA--soon Miss Pettigrew finds herself a LIVING part of the DRAMA and ACTION. This may just be a life-changing day after all. Miss Pettigrew finds herself NEEDED by Miss LaFosse whose love life is a complete and total wreck. Could a middle-aged spinster who has never been in love, never been kissed, be just the person needed to save Miss LaFosse...and her friends?!

My thoughts: Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day is a DELIGHTFUL romantic comedy. All the "action" is implied and off-screen, which is just how I prefer it. Miss LaFosse no doubt about it has a TANGLED love life juggling three different men: Phil, Nick, and Michael. But despite all that's going on in her personal life, there's something PG about the book itself. It never once felt like SMUT. But I am digressing.

I definitely enjoyed seeing life through Miss Pettigrew's eyes. She was a LOVELY character to spend a day with. I really loved almost all of the characters: even the ones that tended more towards love-to-hate or hate-to-love. Like Nick. There were just so many scenes that almost sparkled; I could definitely see why this would be a WONDERFUL movie for any era. I have not seen the movie adaptation from 2008. (I probably won't see it for a while because of COVID). But I imagine it would have been awesome as a black and white film from the 1930s or 40s.

Favorite quote(s):
"When I was born my feet were only made to carry eight pounds. The rest of me has grown out of proportion." (190)

"Talk just happened. No difficulty. It simply arrived." (190)

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

69. Hunting November

Hunting November. (Killing November #2) Adriana Mather. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: When I was a little kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I gave them all sorts of wild answers. I told a teacher I wanted to be a couch potato so I could spend my days snuggled up under blankets in the living room. I told my best friend Emily’s mom I wanted to be a cookie taste-tester because that’s what Emily wanted to be. And I told my dad I wanted to be a knife so I could cut my grilled cheese sandwiches in two perfect triangles instead of the four dinky squares he always prepared. Of course this answer earned me raised eyebrows and an explanation about how a girl is a living, breathing thing that can be cut; and a knife is a sharp piece of steel that does the cutting. But now that I’ve discovered most of my childhood was a lie, I’m starting to think my younger self was onto something with the knife answer. Because in the past few weeks at Academy Absconditi, I’ve come as close to being a knife, or being stabbed by one, as anyone can get.

Premise/plot: Hunting November is the second book in the series. (Will there be a third? Or did this second one end tied up with a pretty bow? I haven't decided if there's a *need* for further adventures in this world...or not.)

November Adley has left the boarding school and has teamed up with Ash, her not-really-official boyfriend. Other former classmates may make an appearance as their quest--yes, QUEST continues. They are looking to find her father and get some answers. What they find...well...that's something else indeed.

There are plenty of twists in turns in term of plot. If by twists and turns you mean the characters are always on the move and finding themselves in intense situations. I don't know that readers will be on the edge of their seats. I'm not sure that "twists and turns" equal complete and total surprises for the reader.

My thoughts: I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. I wasn't bored. I wasn't thrilled. I read this one in one or two days. That's something, right?! It wasn't so much that I HAD to keep reading because I just had to know what happened next. But I was determined to read it since I'd just finished the first book in the series. It's so rare that I pick up a second book and actually actually remember all the characters and exactly what is going on. I wasn't going to let that opportunity pass me by.

I could see this type of book being adapted into a television series for the CW. I could. Especially if the focus is on the boarding school aspect of it. I think that is where this series shines best. But I didn't regret the wider, global setting.

My biggest issue with the books are the flashback scenes. They are convenient for info dump, no doubt about that. But they feel a bit off from the actual action. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 18, 2020

68. The Art of Saving the World

The Art of Saving the World. Corinne Duyvis. 2020. [September] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The rift that opened on our farm the evening I was born was like a shard of glass: sharp and angled and not quite transparent, but tilt your head a little and it might as well be invisible. So no one could blame my parents for not noticing it that first week.

Premise/plot: Hazel, our heroine, finds out she is a CHOSEN ONE. She won't have to save the world alone, however, for others have been sent through the rift to help her as the POWERS THAT BE stand silently by watching and judging their progress. Those others include a DRAGON and four other Hazels. Yes, four other versions of herself from four different alternate realities have come through the rift and are there to help this Hazel, this CHOSEN ONE Hazel live up to her destiny.

But what evil(s) is she saving the world from? And what are the consequences of her success or her failure? Is this a game of Whose Line Is It Anyway where the points don't ultimately matter? Is the system rigged? Why is there a system to begin with?

My thoughts: The premise starts off strong. I will say that the prologue and first chapter or two show a lot of promise. Ultimately, however, I found this novel to be an almost complete mess. It depends on what you are personally looking for. If you are looking for an epic adventure-quest where an actual world needs actual saving from an actual threat and a hero/heroine goes through a journey--literal or not so much so--to reach the place where he/she can save the world and find that place to come into being their best self...then this one's not that. But was it ever meant to be that? Probably not ever.

If you are looking for a novel where you literally have conversations with yourself, then this is the book for you. It is mainly talkity-talk-talk. Hazel, this world, this Chosen One, Hazel, isn't really all that in tune with her inner self and inner desires and who she is and what she wants and how she wants her life to play out day to day. She's not solely to blame. Far from it. She literally has been kept within a two mile radius of her house since she was six days old. So if she's not quite your normal teen, well, there's probably a good reason for her to not quite be so self-aware. (That being said, being self-aware isn't always easy in the best of circumstances.)

Essentially, Hazel is an asexual lesbian with anxiety issues and a case of shyness. By seeing how other Hazels handle life, she begins to become more self-aware and motivated to be truer to herself.

So how does saving the world fit into this plot? Well, that's where it gets messy and complicated. The more inward and self-introspective the novel turns, the floppier and clumsier this whole "must save the world" nonsense becomes. By the end, it's just absolutely ridiculous.

But were readers ever supposed to be focused on that aspect of the novel? Was that ever truly the point? I'm not sure it was. I think the novel was always about Hazel's self-discovery and realizations by getting to know other versions of herself, by becoming friends with her other selves.

I liked the idea of alternate realities and seeing other versions of yourself, of exploring what ifs, etc. I just wish the whole saving the world aspect of it wasn't there as a distraction. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, May 16, 2020

67. Misleading the Duke

Misleading a Duke (The Wallflowers of West Lane #2) A.S. Fenichel. 2020. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The home of Geb Arafa, a mile outside of London The last person Nicholas Ellsworth expected to find at his good friend Geb Arafa’s dinner party was Lady Faith Landon. Yet there she was, Nicholas’s fiancée, maddeningly pretty and equally aggravating. She fit perfectly with the lush décor and priceless artifacts in Geb’s parlor.

Premise/plot: Misleading a Duke is the second book in the series. The heroine of this one is Faith Landon; the hero is Nicholas Ellsworth, Duke of Breckenridge. The two are engaged before the novel opens, but not happily engaged. Apparently a good bit of their story is told in book one--though I don't think Faith is the main character of book one? Long story short, it's an arranged marriage and Faith doesn't want to marry a stranger. Since he is not as forthcoming as she would like him to be, she sets out to manipulate him into a situation where there really isn't much of an escape: a secluded country home with just two or three servants. But unfortunately for them all his past isn't just haunting him emotionally but quite physically leading to a dangerous, hostile situation where all their lives are endangered. Will this couple live long enough to wed?

My thoughts: Are plots necessary to smutty romance novels? Is characterization a must? Would I find the characterization completely lacking if I'd read book one? Would I find their romance more believable if I'd read it from start to finish instead of middle to finish? Perhaps. Though I will say this, whether I'd read book one or not...I would find the graphic what-goes-where-ness of this novel to be not to my taste or preference. That's me. I get that. I completely and totally get that every romance reader has their preference: completely clean, mostly clean at least until the 'I do's', a bit off-screen but obvious, a few scenes in graphic detail BUT plenty of characterization and story and wit and charm, graphic details and the plot and characters are of secondary importance, a LOT of graphic details and names don't matter as there isn't any bother at all about making heroes and heroines at all unique. It's not my job to judge other readers for their personal preference as far as smut level is concerned. This may be a five star read for other readers. But for me, it definitely is not. If anything it proves how stubborn this reader can be that I'll finish just about anything no matter how much it's not working for me. Is that a good thing? a bad thing? a thing thing?

I will definitely not be reading other books by this author now that I know her idea of romance. But check out other reviews (higher reviews) to see if her books might work for you. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

66. The Highlander's English Bride

The Highlander's English Bride. (Clan Kendrick #3) Vanessa Kelly. 2020. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy] [adult* romance]

First sentence: Graeme Kendrick lurked beneath the giant elm, keeping his prey within sight. After losing the slippery Sassenach a few hours ago, he’d spotted the bastard climbing over the wall that separated Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park.

Premise/plot: Graeme Kendrick stars as the hero in Vanessa Kelly's newest romance novel--the third in the series. (I have not read the previous books in the series. All books star the Kendrick family, I believe. And their presence as a family is HUGE throughout this one. So perhaps fans of the other books will love this one more.)

He works as a spy for the King. Most of the time he tends to like things just the way they are--his love life uncomplicated. But. After "rescuing" a young woman from a thief, the lovely heroine, Sabrina, he finds it impossible for life to return to normal.

No matter his current mission, his current task, his focus is divided. She is always, always, always on his mind in an infuriating, captivating, charming way. And it is mutual. Sabrina may be protesting a bit too much about how frustrating Graeme is! She sure seeks out his company and all but chases him around.

My thoughts: I knew accepting this review copy that it might not be my cup of tea. On the one hand, I have a weakness for the Scottish accent/dialect. I also love Regency Romances. The setting being in Scotland itself and him being a spy--I thought it might lean a bit more towards mystery and action than bodice ripper. On the other hand, I am not a big fan of adult romances aka smut, aka bodice rippers, aka books where 90% of the plot focuses on the lusty desires of the characters and the obstacles that stand in their way. I wouldn't go so far as to say this one is 90% inclined that way--it's not quite that bad. But it didn't have enough history to be historical--none of the historical details actually felt historically right or appropriate. Sabrina might as well have been born in the year 2000. In fact, I would say most of the characters felt disconnected from the Regency time period. It had plenty of mystery intrigue--but in a clumsy sort of way where the focus was always not so subtly in how can this move the hero and heroine closer to each other. Can this dangerous moment bring them closer together in a physical way? So even though there was an attempt to keep throwing mystery and dangerous intrigues and fiendish plots at the hero in a juggling type fashion, it felt a bit off balance. It wasn't enough to shift focus off of the inevitably destined to be together forever couple.

As far as smutty romance goes, it's been a good while since I last read one cover to cover. (I rarely read this type of fiction on purpose.) I don't think it's worse than any other of its genre or sub-genre. Way, way, way, way back in the day I loved the Bridgerton romance series by Julia Quinn. I wouldn't say this one was as good as some of my favorites from that series. But as I said, it's probably been decades since I read this type of fiction for fun or review. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

65. The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees. Sue Monk Kidd. 2003. 302 pages. [Source: Library] [historical fiction; dysfunctional families; adult novels with young protagonists]

First sentence: At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.

Premise/plot: Lily Owens goes on a quest in The Secret Life of Bees. Choosing to run away from an abusive home, she sets out to find out more about her dead mother. She has just a few clues--one clue is a picture of a black madonna or Mother Mary. This has the name of a town and state. Surely this means her mother once spent time there, right?! Knowing very little about her journey ahead, but knowing what would happen if she stays--she sets out...but not alone. Rosaleen is the family's black maid. She's taken care of Lily forever and ever. But now it may be Lily's turn to take care of her--even if it means breaking the law. These two have a journey ahead of them. Will they find what they are looking for?

My thoughts: This one is set in South Carolina in 1964. It is definitely character-driven. It is very much a period piece, capturing a specific time, place, and culture. Much of the novel is INTENSE in that it deals with realistic situations that NO ONE ever really feels comfortable with. One such event is what happened with Lily's mother... Another is how her father has raised her...or not raised her as the case may be. If you find it difficult to read about physical, verbal, mental, emotional abuse....this one may be tough going for you. Not that it might not be worth it in the might be. You might be thankful to go on Lily's journey with her. Yet another situation is the wide-spread racism. Rosaleen is determined to register to vote no matter what...but it's risky to be so determined to change the world. I could keep going on and on...there is really nothing "easy" and "comfortable" about this one...

I am glad I finally read it. I've been meaning to read it forever. But I can't say that I loved, loved, loved it. I found elements of it to be strange and bizarre. (For example, the scene where they're eating cake in a communion like fashion and talking about eating the body of Mary.) There were just a few things that were a little off for me to be able to wholeheartedly love it. That being said, I don't have a problem with those readers that do love it. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, May 11, 2020

64. The Book Collectors

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories that Carried Them Through a War. Delphine Minoui. Translated by Lara Vergnaud. 2020. [October] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; books about books; war stories]

First sentence: It’s a remarkable image. A mysterious photo that somehow escaped the hell that is Syria without a trace of blood or bullets. Two men in profile, surrounded by walls of books. The first one leans over a text, open to the middle. The second scans a shelf. They’re young, in their twenties, one sporting a hooded sweatshirt, the other with a baseball hat secured firmly on his head.

Premise/plot: Delphine Minoui shares her personal interactions with "a band of Syrian Rebels" who started an underground library in the midst of war. Their city under near-constant (daily) bombardment, these guys started collecting books from bombed out buildings, mending, and organizing along the way. The strangest thing may just be that before the war, these two founders weren't particularly readers. But the ideas within books, the words and stories uplifted, encouraged, gave hope. A community of readers formed--mostly men (though the men could take home books for their mothers, wives, sisters, etc.) and reading became an obsession. The author communicated with these men--the founders, the readers, via text, email, video chat, etc...for several years. This book tells their story.

It started with her seeing one photograph...but that was just the beginning:

If we look at this city only as it appears on a computer screen, we risk getting the story wrong. But looking away would condemn it to silence. Bashar al-Assad wanted to put Daraya in parentheses, to make it a footnote. I intend to make it the headline. To find other images, to fit them together with that first snapshot, the way you assemble the pieces of a puzzle.

I repeat my request: “I’d like to write a book about the library in Daraya.” A metallic clamor chokes the line. Another night full of this constant terror and danger—how ridiculous this project must seem to him. When the rain of bombs ends, his voice breaks through. “Ahlan wa sahlan!” Be my guest. Hearing his enthusiasm, I smile at my screen. Ahmad will be my guide. I will be his willing scribe. I make him a promise: one day, this book—their book—will join the other volumes in the library. It will be the living diary of Daraya

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has ever loved the printed word on a page, to anyone who has ever found a home in the library. It is well-written, beautifully narrated. It is a personal story with so many feels. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

63. Anna Komnene and the Alexiad

Anna Komnene and the Alexiad: The Byzantine Princess and the First Crusade. 2020. [July] Pen and Sword. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction]

First sentence: Anna Komnene is one of the most intriguing figures in the history of an intriguing empire. The Eastern Roman Empire, as it was properly called, or Byzantine, as it is mostly known, took over from Rome in 330 AD and flourished for over a thousand year until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Anna was an imperial princess, daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081–1118) and his wife, Empress Eirene Doukaina. A woman of extraordinary education and intellect, Anna Komnene is the only Byzantine female historian and one of the first and foremost historians in medieval Europe.

Premise/plot: Kolovou offers readers a new biography of Anna Komnene, author of The Alexiad. The book focuses on Anna's life as a daughter, granddaughter, sister, wife, mother princess, scholar, author, historian, and nun. (Though she only became a nun her last day of life.) What was it like to be born into a newly royal family? What was it like to be the first born? What were her parents like as rulers and as parents? What was family life like? What things would she have learned? How extraordinary were her circumstances? How did she feel about her siblings? Did she truly hate her brother the heir-apparent? Did she love her husband? Was she a good mother? How did she feel about the first and second crusade? What were her impressions of individual crusaders? What can we learn about the times by reading her book? What contexts are necessary to understand it? What kind of legacy did she leave behind? Why has she been so misunderstood throughout the centuries? How much can we actually know about her?

This book aims to present Anna Komnene, the fascinating woman, pioneer intellectual, and charismatic author to the general public. Drawing on original medieval Greek texts as well as on the latest academic research to reconstruct Anna’s life, personality, and work, it moves away from the myth of Anna the conspirator and ‘power-hungry woman’which has been unfairly built around her over centuries of misrepresentation. At the same time, it places Anna Komnene in the context of her own time, the medieval Eastern Roman Empire, known as Byzantium for its capital city, the ancient Greek colony and later magnificent city of Constantinople.

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one! I did. I said YES on a whim. If you'd asked me before I wouldn't have said that the Byzantine empire was high on my list of interests...but it sounded intriguing to me. I liked the idea of reading about a female historian, one of the earliest. I liked the idea of spending time in the company of someone who LOVED to learn and valued education and knowledge. My curiosity was rewarded. I am glad I read it. I'm not sure there's a huge audience for this one. It isn't your typical beach read, your light and fluffy cozy mystery, your bodice-ripping romance. But I don't usually go for typical when I'm seeking my next book.

I thought the book was mostly clear. It includes a glossary of characters at the beginning. The chapters aren't always strictly chronological. Sometimes things are a bit messy here-and-there--topics get mentioned more than once. But. The chapters do have an arrangement--a progression of how she is presented and to be understood.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, May 01, 2020

62. The Martian Chronicles

Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury. HarperCollins. 1958/2006 edition. 268 pages. [Source: Library] [science fiction; short stories; classic]

One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs, along the icy streets.
And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town. A flooding sea of hart air; it seemed as if someone had left a bakery door open. The heat pulsed among the cottages and bushes and children. The icicles dropped, shattering, to melt. The doors flew open. The windows flew up. The children worked off their wool clothes. The housewives shed their bear disguises. The snow dissolved and showed last summer's ancient green lawns.
Rocket summer. The words passed among the people in the open, airing houses. Rocket summer. The warm desert air changing the frost patterns on the windows, erasing the art work. The skis and sleds suddenly useless. The snow, falling from the cold sky upon the town, turned to a hot rain before it touched the ground. Rocket summer. People leaned from their dripping porches and watched the reddening sky. (1)
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. This is the second or third time (probably fourth) I've read this one. And each time I read it, I end up loving it even more. It's like each time I'm surprised by how much I love it. Like in between readings I forget how engaging and compelling it is. I settle into thinking that it was just me exaggerating things (again). That it couldn't possibly be that good. But no. It is that good.

The edition I read this time had twenty-seven stories; some of these 'stories' are just vignettes, or short preludes, transition pieces of a paragraph or two. But many are full-length stories. There are some great stories in this one.
  • January 2030 Rocket Summer
  • February 2030 Ylla
  • August 2030 The Summer Night
  • August 2030 The Earth Men
  • March 2031 The Taxpayer
  • April 2031 The Third Expedition
  • June 2032 --And the Moon Be Still as Bright
  • August 2032 The Settlers
  • December 2032 The Green Morning
  • February 2033 The Locusts
  • August 2033 Night Meeting
  • October 2033 The Shore
  • November 2033 The Fire Balloons
  • February 2034 Interim
  • April 2034 The Musicians
  • May 2034 The Wilderness
  • 2035-2036 The Naming of Names
  • April 2036 Usher II
  • August 2030 The Old Ones
  • September 2036 The Martian
  • November 2036 The Luggage Store
  • November 2036 The Off Season
  • November 2036 The Watchers
  • December 2036 The Silent Towns
  • April 2057 The Long Years
  • August 2057 There Will Come Soft Rains
  • October 2057 The Million Year Picnic
1950 edition of The Martian Chronicles
I wasn't aware that there were different editions of this one, and that the stories could vary depending on the edition. Also the dates have been modified (by thirty years) in some editions, like the edition I read this time around. The very, very newest edition has the original dates, 1999-2026. This newest edition does not have "The Fire Balloons." Also, instead of "The Wilderness" it has "Way in the Middle of the Air."

My thoughts on individual stories, and, first sentences from the stories

They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind.
A story told solely from the perspective of the Martians, in this case, a husband and wife. A husband has a very definite reaction to his wife's strange dreams. She dreams of a man, Nathaniel York, coming in a ship, in a rocket, and landing. The dream even tells her where and when. But her controlling and perhaps jealous husband has a way of dealing--for once and for all--with his wife's dreams.

"The Earth Men"
Whoever was knocking at the door didn't want to stop. Mrs. Ttt threw the door open. "Well?"
The story of the second expedition. Let's just say that the welcoming committee wasn't quite what they expected! First, NO ONE wanted to bother with them, then they were greeted by a strange assortment of Martians all claiming to be from Earth. And then....well, that wouldn't be polite of me to spoil it!

"The Third Expedition" (aka Mars is Heaven)
The ship came down from space. It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space. It was a new ship; it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm. In it were seventeen men, including a captain. 
This one is a classic short story that you may have stumbled across in another context from The Martian Chronicles. (I've heard two radio adaptations, for example.) And the title is self-explanatory. It is the story of what happens when the third expedition lands. It is the story of what they see and  WHO they see. It is a story that stretches you, perhaps. But it's a good one!

"--And the Moon Be Still As Bright"
It was so cold when they first came from the rocket into the night that Spender began to gather the dry Martian wood and build a small fire. He didn't say anything about a celebration; he merely gathered the wood, set fire to it, and watched it burn.
And now we're on to the fourth expedition, the fourth rocket ship to successfully land on Mars. This time they manage to stay alive past the initial day or two or three. This is the story of what happens when one of the crew members, Spender, goes off on his own to learn the Martian culture, to explore the ruins, to explore the cities, to examine the artifacts and remnants of a culture that is gone with the wind. What happens next...well....there are a million reasons why readers shouldn't sympathize with Spender, but, like Captain Wilder, they may feel the pull all the same.

"The Settlers"
The men of Earth came to Mars. They came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims. There was a reason for each man. They were leaving bad wives or bad jobs or bad towns; they were coming to find something or leave something or get something, to dig up something or bury something or leave something alone. They were coming with small dreams or large dreams or none at all.
One of my favorite vignettes. For some reason it reminds me of John Steinbeck.

"Night Meeting"
Before going on up into the blue hills, Tomas Gomez stopped for gasoline at the lonely station.
There is something haunting and fantastical about this short story of a human and Martian meeting and not exactly seeing the same reality.

"The Fire Balloons"
Fire exploded over summer night lawns. 
 I first read "The Fire Balloons" in another collection of Ray Bradbury stories. I didn't, at the time, see it as being part of The Martian Chronicles. (And, in fact, it wasn't part of the edition I first read.) But now it is one of my favorite stories! In it two priests go to Mars as missionaries. One at least was expecting, was hoping, to meet Martians, to actually BE a missionary TO Martians, to an alien species. So when given the opportunity of going out into the hills and trying to communicate with blue balloon-like hovering creatures OR ministering to humans who have migrated to Mars, the answer is clear to Father Peregrine. But do the Martians need his church? This story has one of my favorite quotes:
"Father Peregrine, won't you ever be serious?"
"Not until the good Lord is. Oh, don't look so terribly shocked, please. The Lord is not serious. In fact, it is a little hard to know just what else He is except loving. And love has to do with humor, doesn't it? For you cannot love someone unless you put up with him, can you? And you cannot put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at him. Isn't that true? And certainly we are ridiculous little animals wallowing in the fudge bowl, and God must love us all the more because we appeal to His humor."
 "The Wilderness"
Oh, the Good Time has come at last--
It was twilight and Janice and Leonora packed steadily in their summer house, singing songs, eating little, and holding to each other when necessary. But they never glanced at the window where the night gathered deep and the stars came out bright and cold.
This is another story that I ended up loving. And it was new-to-me too, it not being part of the original. But in this story we meet two women who are about to travel to Mars to get married and settle down. (The men having gone first.) The story likens exploring and settling Mars to exploring and settling the Old West (places like Wyoming, California, Oregon, etc.) It is about how the two handle their last night on Earth.
Is this how it was over a century ago, she wondered, when the women, the night before, lay ready for sleep, or not ready, in the small towns of the East, and heard the sound of horses in the night and the creak of the Conestoga wagons ready to go, and the brooding of oxen under the trees, and the cry of children already lonely before their time?...Is this then how it was so long ago? On the rim of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff of stars. In their time the smell of buffalo, and in our time the smell of the Rocket. Is then then how it was? And she decided, as sleep assumed the dreaming for her, that yes, yes indeed, very much so, irrevocably, this was as it had always been and would forever continue to be. 
"Usher II" (aka Carnival of Madness)
"During the whole of a dull, dark and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher..." Mr. William Stendahl paused in his quotation. There, upon a low black hill, stood the house, its cornerstone bearing the inscription: 2036 A.D.
I remembered this as being one of the stories in A PLEASURE TO BURN, a Ray Bradbury collection celebrating the creative stories leading up to the writing/publishing of Fahrenheit 451. And it was first published as "Carnival of Madness." But it was also part of Ray Bradbury's book, The Martian Chronicles. And it is perhaps one of the most memorable of the collection. It is a true must read for anyone who loves Fahrenheit 451, for it continues on some of the same themes. I don't want to say too much about it really, because it shouldn't be spoiled at all if you want to get the full enjoyment of it!

"The Martian"
The blue mountains lifted into the rain and the rain fell down into the long canals and old LaFarge and his wife came out of their house to watch. 
An elderly couple have come to Mars and one night they are surprised by the appearance of their "son" (who died and was buried back on Earth). Their "son" doesn't want to leave the house, and is enjoying his family too much to risk getting "trapped" by going into the city and interacting with others. This story is creepy.

"The Luggage Store," "The Off Season," "The Watchers," "The Silent Towns," "The Long Years," "There Will Come Soft Rains," and "The Million Year Picnic."

These stories, I feel, work best as a sequence showing what happens both on Earth and Mars when the worst happens--atomic war on Earth. In "The Luggage Store," one speculates that his business will improve greatly if the war happens, if the worst happens. He feels that everyone will want to go back home to Earth to be with their loved ones, to find out if their loved ones are okay, to try to piece their society and civilization back together. In "The Off Season" readers learn that the war has started and the destruction has begun. There is nothing truly comical about it, but, it does happen to be told from the point of view of a man who has just opened a hot dog stand. "The Watchers" shows the people leaving Mars to return to Earth--for better or worse. "The Silent Towns" and "The Long Years" are two stories set on Mars. The first, "The Silent Towns" is told from the point of view of a man who chose to stay behind. He's lonely, but not THAT lonely it turns out. He does meet one woman who stayed behind, but, he decides that his own company is enough after all. "The Long Years" sees the return of Captain Wilder, I believe, who discovers a man and his family. There is a twist, however, which prevents this one from being a happy story. "There Will Come Soft Rains" is a very, very, very lonely story where we get a glimpse--just a small glimpse perhaps--of the desolation and destruction of life as we know it in at least one human city. We see the ending of an era, perhaps. There are no human characters in this one. "The Million Year Picnic" resonates even more when seen back-to-back with "There Will Come Soft Rains." In this story, readers meet a family: parents and sons who have come to Mars on their own private Rocket--a rocket that has been hidden away for many years, a rocket that has been saved for a true emergency. We meet a father who has prepared for THE END in a big, big way.

Read The Martian Chronicles
  • If you love science fiction
  • If you like science fiction
  • If you enjoy short stories; if you don't enjoy short stories
  • If you are a fan of Ray Bradbury
  • If you are a fan of the Twilight Zone

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews