Monday, June 29, 2020

June Reflections

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews
77. The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope. C.W. Grafton. 1943/2020. Poisoned Pen Press. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
78. Jeannie's Demise: Abortion on Trial in Victorian Ontario. Ian Radforth. 2020. [October] 258 pages. [Source: Review copy] [adult nonfiction; history]
79. Better Off Read. (Bookmobile Mystery #1) Nora Page. 2018. 325 pages. [Source: Library]
80. The Places We Sleep. Caroline Brooks DuBois. 2020. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] [verse novel; coming of age; 9/11]
81. Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2020. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical fiction]
82. The Taste of Longing: Ethel Mulvany and Her Starving Prisoners of War Cookbook. Suzanne Evans. 2020. Between the Lines. 306 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; World War II; mental illness]
83. The Huntress. Kate Quinn. 2019. 560 pages. [Source: Library] [World War II]
84. Dragonfly. Leila Meacham. 2019. 563 pages. [Source: Library] [World War II]
85. The Downstairs Girl. Stacey Lee. 2019. 374 pages. [Source: Library] [Historical fiction; YA Fiction]
86. The Beauty Chorus. Kate Lord Brown. 2020. (2011) 434 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical romance; World War II]
87.  The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Queen Anne. William Makepeace Thackery. 1852. 528 pages. [Source: Bought] [dull books; classic; Victorian literature]
88. Ender's Game. Orson Scott Card. 1985. 324 pages. [Source: Library]
89. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ray Bradbury. 1962. 293 pages. [Source: Library]
Books Reviewed at Young Readers
65. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Jonathan Auxier. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
66. Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian Left Behind. Cynthia Grady. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
67. The Willoughbys Return. Lois Lowry. 2020. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
68. Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. 2021. [January] Bloomsbury. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] [poetry]
69. Just Beyond the Very Very Far North. Dan Bar-el. Illustrated by Kelly Pousette. 2020. [October] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fantasy; animal fantasy; friendship]
70. Mr. Mensch and His Magical Meshugenahmobile: Stranger Danger. David Michael Slater. Illustrated by Michelle Simpson. 2020. 66 pages. [Source: Review copy]
71. The Wednesday Wars. Gary D. Schmidt. 2007. 264 pages. [Source: Library]
72. Silent Journey. Carl Watson. Illustrated by Andrew Bosley. 2020. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible
44. If I Were You. Lynn Austin. 2020. Tyndale. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Women's Fiction. World War II. Friendship. Christian Fiction]
45. You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God's Presence and Power. Max Lucado. September 2020. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Devotional. Christian Living]
46. Reading Romans with Luther. R.J. Grunewald. 2017. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; devotional]
47. It's All About Jesus: A Treasury of Insights on Our Savior, Lord, and Friend. Randy Alcorn. 2020. Harvest House. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy] [christian nonfiction; devotional]
48. Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety and Depression. David P. Murray. 2020. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy] [parenting; christian nonfiction]
49. Why Am I Feeling Like This? A Teen's Guide to Freedom From Anxiety and Depression. David P. Murray. 2020. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy] [teens; YA; self-help; christian nonfiction]
50. Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation. Mark Vroegop. Foreword by Thabiti M. Anyabwile. 2020. Crossway. [Source: Review copy]
51. Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters. Erwin Lutzer. 2020. Moody publishers. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible
5. MEV Personal Size Large Print. Passio. 2015. 1952 pages. [Source: Bought]
5 Star Reads
The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope. C.W. Grafton. 1943/2020. Poisoned Pen Press. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian Left Behind. Cynthia Grady. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
  The Willoughbys Return. Lois Lowry. 2020. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 If I Were You. Lynn Austin. 2020. Tyndale. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Women's Fiction. World War II. Friendship. Christian Fiction]
 Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2020. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical fiction]
 The Taste of Longing: Ethel Mulvany and Her Starving Prisoners of War Cookbook. Suzanne Evans. 2020. Between the Lines. 306 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; World War II; mental illness]
 Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. 2021. [January] Bloomsbury. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] [poetry]
 It's All About Jesus: A Treasury of Insights on Our Savior, Lord, and Friend. Randy Alcorn. 2020. Harvest House. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy] [christian nonfiction; devotional]
 Why Am I Feeling Like This? A Teen's Guide to Freedom From Anxiety and Depression. David P. Murray. 2020. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy] [teens; YA; self-help; christian nonfiction]
 The Downstairs Girl. Stacey Lee. 2019. 374 pages. [Source: Library] [Historical fiction; YA Fiction]
 The Beauty Chorus. Kate Lord Brown. 2020. (2011) 434 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical romance; World War II]
  The Wednesday Wars. Gary D. Schmidt. 2007. 264 pages. [Source: Library]

June Totals
June Totals
Pages9909
Books29
Yearly Totals
2020 Totals
Pages60484
Books212



© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

89. Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ray Bradbury. 1962. 293 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren't rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn't begun yet. July, well, July's really fine: there's no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June's best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September's a billion years away.

Premise/plot: Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are best, best, best, best friends. One born a minute before midnight on October 30; one born a minute after midnight on October 31. They've lived side by side and done practically everything together. Still there's a wild recklessness that beckons to Jim now and again. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, a carnival comes to town bringing strange, strange, strange people and mysterious dangers. There is something alluring and tempting about the carnival, but also unsettling and disturbing. The boys have free tickets to ride...but will they risk their souls for fun?

The carnival poses some risk to the whole town, for it's not just kids or the young at heart with a sense of adventure and longing hearts. But for Jim and Will it poses extra danger because of their snooping.

My thoughts: I would recommend Something Wicked This Way Comes to those that love atmospheric reads with thrills and spooks.

It is well written. I didn't love, love, love, love it. But I definitely liked it.
The trouble with Jim was he looked at the world and could not look away. And when you never look away all your life, by the time you are thirteen you have done twenty years taking in the laundry of the world. (40)
A stranger is shot in the street, you hardly move to help. But if, half an hour before, you spent just tent minutes with the fellow and knew a little about him and his family, you might just jump in front of his killer and try to stop it. Really knowing is good. Not knowing, or refusing to know, is bad, or amoral at least. You can't act if you don't know. Acting without knowing takes you right off the cliff. (198)
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
So vague, yet so immense. He did not want to live with it. Yet he knew that, during this night, unless he lived with it very well, he might have to live with it all the rest of his life. (186)

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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88. Ender's Game

Ender's Game. Orson Scott Card. 1985. 324 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."

Premise/plot: Andrew Wiggin, aka "Ender," is six years old and potentially the earth's savior. Two wars have been fought and barely won against the aliens known to readers as Buggers. The third war will take much preparation--decades worth of the International Fleet training up children to be commanders and soldiers.

Ender is one such student or trainee. His older brother, Peter, and older sister, Valentine, didn't make it so far as Battle School in space. Ender's life is wearisome and burdensome. He doesn't make friends easily and his biggest fear is being just as violent and out of control as his brother, Peter. He is prone to self-reflection and self-loathing. But in terms of military genius, strategizing, leadership...he excels.

When the time comes to fight the war, will he be ready?

My thoughts: For a decade I would have considered this one of my favorite, favorite books. Now that it's been almost twenty years or so since I first read it--well, my thoughts and impressions have changed some. I love the last fourth of the novel. That hasn't changed. But the first fourth of the novel, well, it's DISTURBING, uncomfortable, awkward, a bit off. I did NOT remember the use of the n word. I did not remember the jokesy approach to different races (or ethnicities). I did not remember the chokehold scene where Peter is trying to kill his brother. I did not remember some of the crudeness.

One thing that bothers me is Peter. Peter is a psychopath in my opinion. He is cruel to his brother and sister. He is cruel to small animals. He is a bully. He is manipulative. He is egocentric and a narcissist. He dreams of world domination. He is just a sick, sick, sick individual. And I think what readers are outright told about him is just the tip of the iceberg. If Valentine is to be believed about the files and records she's been keeping of her brother. Chances are he might have done even more than she knew about. There was one line that disturbed me where she is telling Ender that you don't know what I had to do to keep Peter from hurting you. Of course, we don't know--she doesn't say. But Card later seems to redeem the character of Peter and seeks to make him sympathetic.

Card does do flawed humans well. I will give him that. Are any of the characters in this one not flawed?!?! I think the most likable characters may be Bean and Petra.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

87. The History of Henry Esmond, Esq

The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Queen Anne. William Makepeace Thackery. 1852. 528 pages. [Source: Bought] [dull books; classic; Victorian literature]

First sentence: When Francis, fourth Viscount Castlewood, came to his title, and presently after to take possession of his house of Castlewood, county Hants, in the year 1691, almost the only tenant of the place besides the domestics was a lad of twelve years of age, of whom no one seemed to take any note until my Lady Viscountess lighted upon him, going over the house with the housekeeper on the day of her arrival.


Premise/plot: Henry Esmond is an orphan being raised by his distant cousins, Francis and Rachel Esmond. He is brought up with their two children Beatrix and Frank. He is in that awkward space between servant and adopted son. The moods of this couple vary greatly. He is either greatly beloved or scorned and rejected. For example, when the plague comes--I believe it is the plague--he is REJECTED because he's blamed for the family's exposure to it. The couple's relationship is never quite the same after that--the plague--and the happy marriage becomes miserable. Of course, Henry is to blame. But the two are determined to see him educated--and at Cambridge University. While their moods are completely volatile and unreliable, Henry feels only love, loyalty, and gratitude. Perhaps to the point of being ridiculous?

(Henry comes from a long line of Stuart-supporters and Stuart-defenders. In fact, I believe, his father and grandfather both died in battle because of their allegiance.) 

So when Henry isn't being a soldier--he's a Colonel by the end of the book--he's madly, truly, deeply in love with the unattainable, cold-hearted Beatrix. That is until he isn't. Who's the love of his life? Well, in a surprise twist that comes on the last page or second to last page, it's revealed he marries his FOSTER MOTHER. (Never mind that he's spent probably ten to twelve years at least thinking of her as HIS MOTHER.)

My thoughts: I don't know what's worse being bored to death with all the war talk (though, the fact that he had encounters with famous men of the time like Richard Steele and Jonathan Swift, and others, etc. was slightly interesting) OR being grossed out by the fact that he falls in love with his mother. Yes, she's not technically his mother--biologically. But she is his foster mother, adopted mother, recognized guardian.

Quotes:
  • 'Tis not the dying for a faith that's so hard, Master Harry—every man of every nation has done that—'tis the living up to it that is difficult, as I know to my cost," he added with a sigh.
  • To see a young couple loving each other is no wonder; but to see an old couple loving each other is the best sight of all.
  • 'Tis a hard task for women in life, that mask which the world bids them wear. But there is no greater crime than for a woman who is ill used and unhappy to show that she is so.
  • "I never had a mother, but I love this lady as one. I worship her as a devotee worships a saint. To hear her name spoken lightly seems blasphemy to me. Would you dare think of your own mother so, or suffer any one so to speak of her? It is a horror to me to fancy that any man should think of her impurely. I implore you, I beseech you, to leave her. Danger will come out of it."
  •  "Yes, I did, Harry," said she; "I thought of it; and think of it. I would sooner call you my son than the greatest prince in Europe—yes, than the greatest prince. For who is there so good and so brave, and who would love her as you would? But there are reasons a mother can't tell."
  • "I am your mother, you are my son, and I love you always," she said, holding her hands over him: and he went away comforted and humbled in mind, as he thought of that amazing and constant love and tenderness with which this sweet lady ever blessed and pursued him.
  • I suppose a man's vanity is stronger than any other passion in him;
  • Parting and forgetting! What faithful heart can do these? Our great thoughts, our great affections, the Truths of our life, never leave us.
     

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

86. The Beauty Chorus

The Beauty Chorus. Kate Lord Brown. 2020. (2011) 434 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical romance; World War II]

First sentence: I have four and a half hours to live. I am leaning against the wing of the yellow-bellied Airspeed Oxford, smoking contentedly while the ground crew chaps run their final checks. The freezing rain hisses as it hits the glowing coal of my cigarette, drums softly on the tin roof of the hangar. Call me Johnnie, by the way. Everyone does.

Premise/plot: The Beauty Chorus tells the story of Evie Chase, Stella Grainger, and Megan Jones three (fictional) pilots who ferried planes for the ATA. (Air Transport Auxiliary) The three join up at the same time and live together in a small cottage.

The book focuses more on their personal lives and off hours--recreational hours--than their time in the skies. Though much of their dialogue is talking about how much they love, love, love flying and how happy they are to serve Britain. For those that love historical ROMANCE with highlights of war drama, this is a satisfying read cover to cover. For those that are looking for WAR DRAMA with little tolerance for romance, may find it disappointing.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I love books with a World War II setting. I enjoy books set in Britain. I enjoy romance novels. There were so many reasons that this would be a perfect perfect fit for me. And it was. It isn't a squeaky clean read. But the characterization so strong and the actual graphic bits so small a percentage--that I didn't mind it at all. I could feel giddy without guilt. I am speaking of my own personal preferences. I know that every single reader is different and has different likes, dislikes, expectations, and standards. My tastes are my tastes.  

 
She raised her cup of tea. ‘Well, here’s to the ATA and here’s to us.’ ‘The Always Terrified Airwomen?’ Evie said drolly. ‘I think I prefer “the beauty chorus”.’ ‘Rather that than “Ancient and Tattered”.’ Stella held Evie’s gaze as Megan enthusiastically tucked into her roast beef. ‘Do you think we’ll cope?’
 Shackleton talked of his fourth man. TS Eliot wrote of the other who walks beside you. We who have gone before are with you when you need us most. We are there holding our dying sons on the battlefields and beaches as they drown in their own blood. These women are my daughters, my sisters, and I shall be ‘the other’ flying with them, until this is over and we have won our peace.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, June 15, 2020

85. The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl. Stacey Lee. 2019. 374 pages. [Source: Library] [Historical fiction; YA Fiction]

First sentence: Being nice is like leaving your door wide open. Eventually, someone's going to mosey in and steal your best hat. Me, I have only one hat and it is uglier than a smashed crow, so if someone stole it, the joke would be on their head, literally. Still, boundaries must be set. Especially boundaries over one's worth.

Premise/plot: Jo Kuan is the heroine of The Downstairs Girl a historical novel set in Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1890s. When the novel opens, Jo is employed in a millinery shop as an assistant. But she won't keep her job long--much to her regret. Soon she's forced to work as a lady's maid--something she finds unpleasant to say the least. Caroline Payne is a PAIN. But when she's not busy keeping silent in her service--or trying to, or "trying" to--she's busy working as MISS SWEETIE an "agony aunt" or advice columnist for a local newspaper. Her views are more often than not non-traditional and counter to convention. For example, why shouldn't women be suffragists and campaign to get the vote?

My thoughts: I enjoyed this historical romance. The romance is subtle-not-subtle. There's a slight romance element to it overall, but it's never front and center. It is never the point. Jo Kuan isn't about trying to get a man, or looking for love, or looking for THE ONE. Jo is trying to balance blending in and hanging on the fringes of society and speaking her mind and getting noticed. Sometimes to stand up for what is right, one has to call attention to one's self.

Much of the novel is about her treatment in the South and in America. She's Asian/half-Asian. I am not convinced that she would have faced less prejudice in other places. But perhaps other states--Western states--there would have been more like her for her to socialize with and be a part of a social group/class. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, June 12, 2020

84. Dragonfly

Dragonfly. Leila Meacham. 2019. 563 pages. [Source: Library] [World War II]

First sentence: The man in the brown suit snapped shut the book he'd been reading and looked up with a stare of disbelief.

Premise/plot: Dragonfly is a historical novel largely set in France during the Second World War. The framework of the story is an approaching twenty year anniversary meeting. Five spies agreed at the start that they would meet on September 26 twenty years from 1942. Samuel Barton (Lodestar, Stephane Beaulieu), Bridgette Loring (Labrador, Bernadette Dufor), Chris Brandt (Lapwing, Claus Bauer), Brad Hudson (Limpet, Barnard Wagner), Victoria Grayson (Liverwort, Victoria Colbert). These five strangers have been chosen for their skills and eagerness. They know one another only by their code names (Lodestar, Labrador, Lapwing, Limpet, and Liverwort). To know more could endanger them all if any one is captured and interrogated. They are dropped into France in 1942...but not all make it out of the country...or do they?!

My thoughts: I found Dragonfly to be a compelling read. It is told in alternating voices. Readers get to know the five spies quite well and even to some extent the man in charge of the project, the man in the brown suit, Alistair Renault. I thought the characterization and plotting were well done.

I would definitely recommend this one.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, June 11, 2020

83. The Huntress

The Huntress. Kate Quinn. 2019. 560 pages. [Source: Library] [World War II]

First sentence: She was not used to being hunted.

Premise/plot: Set mostly in 1950 with many, many flashbacks to the war years, The Huntress is about a team of Nazi hunters pursuing an elusive target: a mistress-turned-murderer. They've nicknamed her "The Huntress."

It is told from three perspectives: Ian Graham, Nina Markova (his wife and the only known eye-witness/survivor who can identify her), and Jordan McBride (a young woman recently graduated from high school).

Jordan McBride is skeptical about her father's new girlfriend. She's super-secretive and refuses to talk about her past. On their wedding day, Jordan discovers an Iron Cross hidden within her bouquet. That raises her skepticism to HIGH levels of concern. Is her new stepmother a Nazi?

Ian, Tony, and Nina, meanwhile, are hunting Europe looking for clues no matter how small that might lead them to where The Huntress is now. One lead takes them to America, to Boston.

My thoughts: My expectations were high. I was hoping for an intense thriller-ish read with well-developed characters and plenty of action and suspense. I was disappointed. Perhaps because of the choice of narrators the Huntress' identity seemed super-super-super-super obvious. And the only "mystery" was how long it would take the characters to piece together the clues. But my biggest issue was my complete almost total disconnect from the characters. The only characters I remotely cared about weren't narrators (Tony and Ruth). I just didn't care, end of story. It was a dull story that promised much and didn't deliver.

I do try to keep my reads somewhat on the cleaner side. This one had a LOT of language in it, and the writing just didn't compensate enough for that to make it worth it for me. If the story had been more compelling, the characters more developed, with more tension and intensity...then perhaps I wouldn't have bothered much with all the cursing. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

82. The Taste of Longing

The Taste of Longing: Ethel Mulvany and Her Starving Prisoners of War Cookbook. Suzanne Evans. 2020. Between the Lines. 306 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; World War II; mental illness]

First sentence: Ethel pulled on the lumpy blue coat she’d been given by the Red Cross and glanced in the mirror before heading out to the printer’s. There was nothing she could do about the coat’s ugliness, but the garment was hers and not much else in the world was. Just over a year before, on an unforgettable September day in 1945 at the end of the war, she had been carried out of a Singapore prison camp on a stretcher. This five-foot-seven-inch woman had been unable to tip the scales past eighty-five pounds then, but now she was on her way back to her old size, if not her old self.

Premise/plot: The Taste of Longing is a biography of Ethel Mulvany. It covers Mulvany's life from 1933 until her death. In 1933, Mulvany met and married her husband--an English doctor then living in India. In the late 1930s, the two are working and serving in Singapore. Which is where these two are when war finds them. Soon they are separated and imprisoned. Mulvany has a unique story to tell of her time in captivity. She oversaw several projects 'for the Red Cross'.

But what this book mainly focuses on is the cookbook she created on two ledgers--provided by the Japanese--which she and the other women of the camp contributed to as they daydreamed about their favorite foods. Each chapter opens with a recipe giving the woman who contributed it to the cookbook when possible. The book concludes with impressions of the recipes. Each recipe had a taster, a man or woman who followed the recipe and tasted it.

But the book isn't only about the cook book or its publication--her determination to publish it and use all the profits to send care packages to recovering Prisoners of War. It is also about her life and her mental illness.

My thoughts: It would be wrong to say it is ever easy to suffer from mental illness. But there are times which it would be worse to live and try to get help and treatment. Mulvany suffered from mental illness at a time when it was misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated. First do no harm really wasn't the approach. I'd heard about electric shock therapy before, but I'd never heard about "treating" mental illnesses with insulin shots inducing comas! It sounds absolutely APPALLING and all kinds of wrong. Mulvany experienced these two treatments...in addition to others.

The book was fascinating in a bittersweet way. Evans shares the sources of her biography, and that really sheds a light on how mental illness was--and in some cases still is--perceived. Her fellow prisoners--most of them, though not all--really shunned and rejected her because of her mental health or lack thereof. She had supporters who loved her and loved seeing her frantic involvement to improve prison life. And she had enemies who really thought she was trouble with a capital T. But what I really found bittersweet was how her husband reacted to his wife's mental health. For better or worse wasn't the case.

I found it a compelling read yet profoundly sad in a way. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, June 09, 2020

81. Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters

Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2020. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical fiction]

First sentence: A whimsical breeze rustled the paper beneath Elizabeth’s pen as she wrote in the garden, but she held the sheet firmly against the table with her left hand and it was not carried aloft. She lifted her pen and waited for the gust to subside rather than risk smearing the ink, and in that momentary pause a light shower of blossoms from the plum tree fell upon her, the table, and the head of her sixteen-year-old grandson Lewis, sprawled in a chaise lounge nearby, so thoroughly engrossed in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days that he did not notice the petals newly adorning his light brown hair. She smiled, tempted to rise and brush the blossoms softly to the ground with her fingertips, but he looked so charming that she decided to leave them be.

Premise/plot: Elizabeth. Frances. Ann. Emilie. These are some of the narrators of Jennifer Chiaverini's newest historical novel. The novel is told in alternating voices--each chapter narrated by one of Mary Todd Lincoln's sisters--and alternating times. The book alternates between the present--1875 moving forward--and the past--starting in 1825. The book centers on Mary Todd (Lincoln) and her mental health and capabilities.

Mary has always, always, always been Mary. Strong-willed. Easily offended. Bearer of grudges. Irresponsible with money. But now that the court has ruled her insane, the sisters each have their own reaction and response. What is best for Mary? Will they help Mary's situation or make it worse if they try to mend bridges and repair relationships now?

My thoughts: I found this a fascinating read. I love, love, love historical fiction. I haven't read much about the Lincolns. Though I do seem to remember having read a young adult novel starring Mary Todd--remember vaguely at least. I don't recall ever having read about her later years after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. So fascinating is about as good a word as any.

I am usually not a big fan of books with multiple narrators--but in this case I didn't mind. Each sister had her own relationship with Mary; each sister had a unique perspective. To only have the perspective of one sister would have been incomplete and inconclusive.

I usually prefer books with a clear chronological narrative--very straightforward. But again in this case I didn't mind. Readers are able to trace the story and arrive at their own conclusions about Mary.

I loved the focus on family and on sisters in particular. Elizabeth, the oldest sister, really went above and beyond to nurture her younger sisters and support them to the best of her ability. I liked all the sisters.

I would definitely recommend this one!


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, June 05, 2020

80. The Places We Sleep

The Places We Sleep. Caroline Brooks DuBois. 2020. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] [verse novel; coming of age; 9/11]

First sentence: It arrives like a punch to the gut like a shove in the girls’ room like a name I won’t repeat. It arrives like nobody’s business, staring and glaring me down, singling me out in the un-singular mob that ebbs and flows and swells and grows in the freshly painted, de-roached hallways of Henley Middle.

Premise/plot: The Places We Sleep is a coming-of-age novel set during the school year 2011/2012 starring a young girl named Abbey. The novel opens with a few surprises--she gets her first period AND the terrorists attack the Twin Towers in New York City. Her mom rushes away to be with her family. Abbey's Aunt Rose works at the World Trade Center, she has two kids and a husband. They will need all the support they can get as the search begins...and ends...BUT Abbey needs her mom too. The novel is told in VERSE and it covers September through May as the nation--and Abbey--undergo some big changes.

My thoughts: Every one has a story of where they were when they first heard the news, this is Abbey's story. (It is fictional). It chronicles Abbey's life as she processes and absorbs this new world all while balancing the typical changes that come from growing up. It tackles friends, bullies, school, home, discovering yourself, etc.

I was not in middle school when 9/11 happened. I was in college, but I very much remember how shocking and disturbing the news was. Also how it continued to impact lives even months, years later. I would recommend this one.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, June 04, 2020

79. Better Off Read

Better Off Read. (Bookmobile Mystery #1) Nora Page. 2018. 325 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In all her seventy-five years, Cleo Watkins had never harmed another human being.

Premise/plot: Cleo Watkins is a librarian without a working library--since the big storm. But while she may lack a traditional library, she does have a bookmobile. She is determined to keep the folks in her town supplied with the books they want and need. Even if she doesn't exactly understand their preferences! Such is the case with one of her cranky patrons who is very obsessed with true crime and books about murder!

The book is set in a small (probably fictional) town in Georgia. It is peopled with all the types you'd expect...including some lovely pets. This cozy mystery has a lovely charm to it.

My thoughts: I definitely liked this one!!! I don't know that I love, love, love it. I would definitely pick up other books in the series if I was at the library--if the library was open. I could easily see myself spending more time with these characters...at some point. But I haven't quite become hooked enough to proclaim it LOVE. It is the first in a cozy mystery series.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

78. Jeannie's Demise: Abortion on Trial in Victorian Ontario

Jeannie's Demise: Abortion on Trial in Victorian Ontario. Ian Radforth. 2020. [October] 258 pages. [Source: Review copy] [adult nonfiction; history]

First sentence: Growing impatient, Lovell took an axe and broke open the box. Inside he found some straw, a white chemise, and the naked body of a young woman. A few hours later, Coroner E.C. Fisher held an inquest nearby at Mrs. Mantle’s Robin Hood Hotel on Dundas Street. Two physicians, who had already performed a post-mortem examination of the body, reported that the deceased was an otherwise robust and healthy woman whose death was caused by a violent abortion. The jury at the inquest concluded that there had been a wilful murder of “an unknown woman” by some “person or persons unknown.”

Premise/plot: Jeannie's Demise is an up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes glimpse at abortion on trial in Ontario Canada in 1875. In the summer of that year, Jeannie Gilmour got an abortion and died as a result of complications. That fall and winter her two abortionists--husband and wife--went on trial. This news story was covered widely and broadly. (Though for the record, the two were on trial for murdering Jeannie and not for murdering the unborn child.) The book chronicles the case in great depth giving background and context.

My thoughts: I love a good true crime book occasionally. This one fits into that category nicely enough. It is a detailed accounting of three trials: the first trial being that of the two accused abortionists (abortion was illegal in 1875), the second trial being that of the accused seducer, the third being that of a man accused of helping dispose of the body via a coffin in a wagon. Readers get a glimpse of how the police department worked the case, how the prosecution and defense handled the case, the evidence, the testimonies and witnesses. One also definitely got a glimpse of how the media reacted to the case AND influenced the case. One also saw some statistics.

If the book had kept this a book about the past, it perhaps would have set better with me. One could read about the facts of the case--in the past--without trying to moralize, preach, or reveal a modern AGENDA to the case.
It wasn't until the last page or possibly two that the pro-choice cause is championed and glorified. He leaves readers with a warning that there are some in the United States that want to rob women of their oh-so-human right to have access to abortions.

I think both pro-life and pro-choice readers can agree that illegal abortions can be dangerous and risky to women. But to be fair, in 1875 legal or illegal abortion would have been risky. As was childbirth itself it 1875. There was so much about germs and bacteria and care that doctors, midwives, nurses, the general public did not know that lives were put at risk. Medicine has come a long way since the nineteenth century. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, June 01, 2020

77. The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope

The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope. C.W. Grafton. 2020. Poisoned Pen Press. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: My secretary said that there was a Miss Ruth McClure to see me and I said that she could come on in. The girl who stood in the doorway a moment later was small and lovely but she was obviously very unhappy and looked as if she were not sure she wanted to come in after all.

Premise/plot: As adults we don't really have D.E.A.R scheduled into our days, well, most don't. D.E.A.R. if you don't know means Drop Everything And Read. But this vintage mystery should be a must-must-must read for all mystery lovers.

Originally published in 1943, it stars an amateur detective, Gilmore "Gil" Henry, a lawyer. A young woman, Ruth McClure, comes to him--as a lawyer--seeking his services. She has a couple of questions about some stock she has inherited after her father's death. Henry takes the case, and, well a lot more comes with that--than he was expecting! His close encounters with death start piling up!!!! Somebody does not want him helping out Miss McClure. But why?!?!

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED this vintage mystery. It perhaps isn't perfectly perfect. It is very much a product of its time. It was written and published during the second world war. But for adult readers with an appreciation for context that don't find offense at the drop of a hat, I think it would prove a delightful escape.

I love the narrative! I love Gil Henry. It's not often you get pudgy, chubby detectives that are way out of their element but super stubborn. I love the description as well.

As I reached the city limits I turned on the radio and caught a hot swing band with one of these women crooners who sounds as if she has gallstones. It was starting to rain a little and the black-top road was shiny like seals in the circus.


I was about halfway down the steep hill when there was a sharp explosion and the car jumped and twisted under me like a hula dancer. I went down that hill in a wild zigzag, keeping to the road for fifty or seventy-five yards by pressing my hundred and eighty pounds against the wheel and trying to anticipate each move. Then I went into a spin and the last thing I heard was the high whine of the tires skidding sidewise. I ought to be dead. How many times the car turned over I don’t know but when I came to, I was hanging halfway out of the door by the driver’s seat and the car was upright some thirty feet off the road down a slight incline.


I began to get a pretty good idea of what Tim McClure might look like when I tried to put on the suit I found on the bed. It may not have been a zoot suit6 but the way I wore it, it certainly had a drape shape. I rolled up probably eight inches around my ankles and the overlap at my waistline was something to look at. The shoulders of the coat hung down almost to my elbows and, of course, my hands were clear out of sight up the sleeves. No wonder Miss Ruth McClure laughed when she saw me. I was a dead ringer for the smallest of the seven dwarfs and sure enough she called me Dopey.


Every person has some cross to bear. Mine is that I am not shaped like people who are intended to get their clothes in ready-to-wear shops. If clothes are to fit me in the middle, they have to be too long at the ends and if they are to fit me at the ends, they hurt me in the middle.


I didn’t want to take the time to wait while alterations were made so I took a suit which hurt when I buttoned it at the waist. Mr. Silverstein had on a black skull cap and a measuring tape hung around his neck. He patted and smoothed and pulled at things to make them hang right and appeared to approve in every particular although he finally said that maybe it was a little snug. I thought snug was hardly the appropriate word since my belt was almost out of sight and I could tell that I would not want to sit down very often.


I regretted my decision when I crawled in under the wheel of the car. They say when you cut earthworms in two, the halves go about their own business and supply whatever it takes to carry on, but I am no earthworm and I had no faith in my ability to do the same.


I wondered if there was any way to grow a new tooth, remove bruises, reduce thirty pounds or grow eight inches taller in a few minutes, but decided there wasn’t. I thought about buying a new suit and incidentally giving my tortured stomach a rest, but with the other details so accurately reported, I thought it would be a waste of time and money. There wasn’t any water at the newsstand so I took two tablets out of the box and munched them disagreeably as I walked down the street wondering how long it would be before I was on the inside looking out.


People who fix things to eat like to see other people eat them, especially when they are hungry and say so, and I was so hungry it must have been shining out of my eyes for anybody to see.


Well, you can’t stand in one spot forever. Acorns do it and get to be oak trees and leaves grow all over them and by and by they can’t move at all.



© 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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