Thursday, July 30, 2020

July Reflections

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews
90. Unwind. Neal Shusterman. 2007. 337 pages. [Source: Library]
91. The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages. [Source: Bought]
92. Arsenic with Austen. Katherine Bolger Hyde. 2016. 312 pages. [Source: Library]
93. Madeleine. Elvi Rhodes. 1989/2011. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]
94. Running With The Wind. Dionne Haynes. 2019. 344 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]
95. Before the Crown. Flora Harding. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]
96. Letters from the Few: Unique Memories from the Battle of Britain. Dilip Sarkar. 2020. [November 2020] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
97. A Reason To Be. Norman McCombs. 2020. 216 pages. [Source: Review copy]
98. He That Will Not When He May. Margaret Oliphant. 1880. 502 pages. [Source: Bought]
99. And the Last Trump Shall Sound. Harry Turtledove. James Morrow. Cat Rambo. 2020. 248 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers
73. My Thoughts Exactly: By Darcy Diggins, Middle School BioSpychologist. Jodie Randisi. 2020. 210 pages. [Source: Review copy]
74.  Don't Stand So Close To Me. Eric Walters. 2020. Orca. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
75. One Time. Sharon Creech. 2020. HarperCollins. [Source: Review copy]
76. Time Spies: Secret in the Tower. Candice Ransom. Illustrated by Greg Call. 2006. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] (Lexile 540L)
77. Leo the Late Bloomer. Robert Kraus. Illustrated by Jose Aruego. 1971/1994. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
78. Bones in the Badlands (Time Spies #2) Candice Ransom. Illustrated by Greg Call. 2006. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
79. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith. 1989. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
80. Giant in the Garden. (Time Spies #3) Candice Ransom. 2007. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
81. Farmer Duck. Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 1992. 33 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

52. How to Pray in a Crisis. Daniel Dean Henderson. 2020. Moody Publishers. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
53. Corona Crisis: Plagues, Pandemics, and the Coming Apocalypse. Mark Hitchcock. 2020. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
54. The Story Behind the Bible: The Torah. J K Alexander 2013/2019. 204 pages. [Source: Review copy] NOT RECOMMENDED.
55. The Story Behind the Bible: The Prophets. J.K. Alexander. 2015. 364 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Run far and fast from this junk]
56. Matthew 1-13 (Thru the Bible #34) J. Vernon McGee. 1973. 204 pages. [Source: Bought]
57. Matthew 14-28 (Thru the Bible #35) J. Vernon McGee. 1973. 204 pages. [Source: Bought]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

6. American Standard Bible. 1901. Star Bible Publishers. 2037 pages. [Source: Bought]
1. Wycliffe New Testament 1388: An Edition in Modern Spelling, with An Introduction, The Original Prologues, and the Epistle to the Laodiceans. Anonymous Lollards. Edited by William R. Cooper. 2002. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]
2. Tyndale's New Testament. William Tyndale. Edited by David Daniell. 1996. 466 pages. [Source: Bought]

5 Star Reads

One Time. Sharon Creech. 2020. HarperCollins. [Source: Review copy]

The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages. [Source: Bought]

Arsenic with Austen. Katherine Bolger Hyde. 2016. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

Before the Crown. Flora Harding. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]

Time Spies: Secret in the Tower. Candice Ransom. Illustrated by Greg Call. 2006. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] (Lexile 540L)

Giant in the Garden. (Time Spies #3) Candice Ransom. 2007. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Leo the Late Bloomer. Robert Kraus. Illustrated by Jose Aruego. 1971/1994. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith. 1989. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Farmer Duck. Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 1992. 33 pages. [Source: Library]

Tyndale's New Testament. William Tyndale. Edited by David Daniell. 1996. 466 pages. [Source: Bought]

Wycliffe New Testament 1388: An Edition in Modern Spelling, with An Introduction, The Original Prologues, and the Epistle to the Laodiceans. Anonymous Lollards. Edited by William R. Cooper. 2002. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]

American Standard Bible. 1901. Star Bible Publishers. 2037 pages. [Source: Bought]

Matthew 1-13 (Thru the Bible #34) J. Vernon McGee. 1973. 204 pages. [Source: Bought]

Matthew 14-28 (Thru the Bible #35) J. Vernon McGee. 1973. 204 pages. [Source: Bought]

July Totals

July Totals

Yearly Totals


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

99. And the Last Trump Shall Sound

And the Last Trump Shall Sound. Harry Turtledove. James Morrow. Cat Rambo. 2020. 248 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence of The Breaking of Nations by Harry Turtledove: Nichole Yoshida clicked the remote's channel-up button, first once, then twice.

First sentence of The Purloined Republic by James Morrow: Let's get the snickering over with right away. Yes, I was a porn star.

First sentence of Because It Is Bitter by Cat Rambo: The electric bus was driverless, but you could see the shifting of the driver's wheel back and forth as it adjusted its course, as though someone invisible sat in the seat.

Premise/plot: And The Last Trump Shall Sound is a collection of three novellas set in the 2030s. It is satire slash dystopia. Each story is rooted in the idea that Presidents Trump and Pence have ruined The United States of America beyond all hope of redemption--the only choice remains is for individual states to secede from the USA and form their own nations.

In the first novella, California, Washington, and Oregon secede from the USA--not without threats and rants from President Pence--to form the new nation of Pacifica. (They are not the only states that will secede by the end of the collection, but they are the first three.) The point of view is that Pacifica encapsulates everything good and right and moral...according to a Leftist/Liberal point of view. And the USA encapsulates everything evil, repugnant, and disgusting. To be Southern, to be Christian, to be Conservative, to be Republican, well, you might as well not have a soul, not even be a human being. You are evil, evil, evil, evil, evil. Did you get the idea that you're EVIL. There are no nuances allowed in this satire/dystopia. You can't be a Christian and espouse Christian values and morals and ethics AND question the character and integrity of Trump/Pence. No, if you're a Christian then you are 100% team Republican all the way. Not only team Republican, but TEAM TRUMP AND TEAM PENCE. (As if Republicans aren't divided in some ways about these two). And it's not a good thing to be Christian in this one, no, it automatically makes you evil because you must breathe hate in and out all day long. Again no nuances allowed. Same thing with Southern states. To be born in the South is to automatically be a hater and all kinds of backward. I would assume there's also bias in being WHITE and or white and male and being evil. But by this point, just assume that if you're not well left of anything moderate and common sense then you are just EVIL. There are three stories in all. The first establishes the world that all three are set in. The first story is definitely the weakest--in my opinion.

In the second novella, Polly Nightingale (former porn star) goes undercover for Pacifica and impersonates Reverend Walker Lambert, an advisor to President Pence. Her mission is to speak for the Lord (not really) and convince President Pence to do crazy, outlandish, ridiculous things that even the totally evil people who remain in the USA will find repugnant. Since they are so "warped" in their thinking, Pence's words and actions must be really, really, really, really really out there. Her visions from the Lord must be convincing enough to fool Pence. The climax of this one involves a "supernatural" resurrection of a certain somebody....

In the third novella, Ernst, a worker for GoogleSoft finds himself in a bit of a mess as he leaves the relative safety of Pacifica to venture into the United States pursuing a person who stole his life's work (a research project first started by his grandmother).

My thoughts: I would not recommend this book for Christians, not because I believe--as the authors must???--that ALL Christians must by default be Trump/Pence supporters and be Team Republican until their dying breaths...and maybe even beyond. I would not recommend this book for Christians because it uses crude language, is condescending in its general tone and assumptions, and lacks the depth of being thought provoking. I'm fine completely with critiquing the system and offering political commentary. Political commentary isn't unwelcome--nor is satire, if it's good. Satire, in my opinion, should hold a kernel of truth with some mocking humor. The absolute best writers of satire are equal opportunists--they know that there is plenty worth poking on both sides: Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative, Left and Right, etc. I can laugh at both sides most of the time. I'm not so team anything that I can't find humor in dark and dry places.

The best dystopias have some subtlety thrown in. They draw you into the story in some delightfully creepy ways. Think Twilight Zone, for example. The created worlds can be bizarre, super bizarre, oppressive, weird, horrifying--combinations of all the above. But there is usually some subtlety. Think The of the best in the genres. Or think 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. Again the best of the best of the best. This book lacks any hint of subtlety. I would say it would be like applying lipstick with a paintbrush. A smaller brush would do a better job.

This book isn't great at being satire or great at being a dystopia. I will say this....the third story is the best of the three. I would actually rate the third story by itself as closer to four stars. The other two stories--I'm being generous with one and two stars respectively. If all three stories were as clever and as well written as the third story, I would give the book a higher rating.

The book felt lazy to me.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, July 27, 2020

98. He That Will Not When He May

He That Will Not When He May. Margaret Oliphant. 1880. 502 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: THE Easter holidays were drawing near an end, and the family at Markham Chase had fallen into a state of existence somewhat different from its usual dignified completeness of life.

Premise/plot: What if your son came home from university a socialist?! Such is the position Mrs. Markham finds herself in in He That Will Not When He May. Her son, Paul, comes home--bringing a guest as well--a practical stranger to his family for he's adopted a whole new worldview that is at complete and total odds with his family. His worldview is a bit shocking, but even more so his new attitude of how to treat and value his family. His father hopes that maybe just maybe he'll grow out of this--that every young person--men in particular--must go through a wild, crazy, topsy-turvy stage that SHOCKS their elders. Almost every one grows out of such silly immaturity and returns to the fold of common sense.

The book focuses on the ups and downs of the Markham family over the course of perhaps two years. In that time, we've got Paul who HATES his family background, traditions, responsibilities, duties, customs. He wants to turn his back on his social position and class. And we've also got a stranger to the community, Gus, who is seeking a place in his family and community. And we've got plenty of younger and not so younger siblings as well.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed the experience of reading this one. I will admit up front I'm not sure if my sympathies line up with where Oliphant wanted them to line up. In other words, I never really forgave Paul his obnoxious, rebellious, hideous stage. I know that his family does--and perhaps that is only as it should be. Unconditional love for the family. But as a reader I had no unconditional love to offer Paul. My heart went with GUS. From the moment we meet him until he makes his exit...that is who I cared about most. That is who I wanted to have a happy ending. I wasn't satisfied exactly with how things turn out. Not that it's all about me--it isn't.

I also still have no idea about the title and how it fits into the theme of the story!

All that being said, I found the book a timely and relevant read.

“Ah, I see! You are all for equality, like Paul.” “Like Paul! I taught him everything he knows. He had not an idea on the subject before I opened his eyes to the horrible injustice of the present state of affairs.
They did not know they were doing wrong, these rich people. They told him all about it, simply, smilingly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. All this went against his preconceived notions, just as the manners of a foreign country so often go against the idea you have formed of them.
As soon as he had come to the conviction that all men are equal he took the further step which costs a great deal more, and decided that there ought to be equality of property as well as of right. This made Sir William half angry, though it amused him. He bade his son not to be a fool.
He’s young, and he knows no better. He thinks that if he were able to give up all your estates to the people, justice would be done. That is all he knows. Stuff! we could do it all by a rising if it were as easy as that.
“I acknowledge no honour in the ancestors that robbed the poor to make me rich,” cried the hot-headed youth. And the end of all was that his mother and sister had much ado to keep him from leaving the house at once, late as it was, in the heat of passion.
Paul’s intellectual measles might be severe, but they were only measles after all, a malady of youth which a young man of marked character took more seriously than a frivolous boy, but which would pass away.
“Age does not go only by years—when you have a great deal to think of—”
Bury a secret in the deepest earth, and some chance digger, thinking of other things, will bring it up without intending it.
Exercise even the most innocent reticence about your own affairs, matters in which you have a perfect right to judge for yourself, and some time or other even this will come up against you like a crime.
How easy it is to learn the miserable alphabet of suspicion!
You get over us by a suggestion of generosity when we are talking of justice. The thing will never happen, of course—not in our day, more’s the pity—your money and your land will never be taken from you.” “Do you think that is a pity, Mr. Spears?”          
 An opinion that has stood the test of years is a sacred thing.
Society prefers the suave and mediocre, and when a man acquires a high place in its ranks by reason of his profession, requires of him that he should be as little professional as possible.
Thus the threads in the shuttle of life mix themselves up and get all woven the wrong way.
People are not so close to mark our looks and words as we imagine them to be.
“I believe they are convictions; but you may be convinced of a foolish thing as well as a wise one.”
There are temptations to do right as well as to do wrong. Impulses came to him like little good angels pulling at his sleeve, entreating him to come; but alas! it is always more easy to resist temptations to do well than to do ill.
We have been dabbling in—what shall I call it?—socialism, communism, in a way—the whole set of us: and he is more in earnest than the rest; he is giving himself up to it.” “Socialism—communism!” cried Mr. Gus; he was horrified in his simplicity. “Why that’s revolution, that’s bloodshed and murder!” he cried.
“You discriminate very well. Spears, as you always do.” “Yes, I suppose I have a knack that way,” said the demagogue, simply.
The less honest a man is, the more sure he is to get up to the top.
What a thing it is to be a mother! The sentiment has found utterance in Greek, so it does not profess to be novel. If not one thing, then another; sometimes two troubles together, or six, as many as she has children—except that, in the merciful dispensation of Providence, the woman who has many children cannot make herself so wretched about every individual as she who has few contrives to do.        
© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, July 24, 2020

97. A Reason To Be

A Reason To Be. Norman McCombs. 2020. 216 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from chapter one: As a sunbeam broke through the crack in the floor-length windows of his Fifth Avenue brownstone, falling in a long, bright line across his bed, Douglas McCombs turned away and pulled the comforter up over his head. He was in no mood for such a glaring display of optimism. The nerve of the sun, daring to rise on yet another day.

Premise/plot: Douglas McCombs stars in Norman McCombs' A Reason To Be. Can this seventy-year-old man suffering from grief and depression find...a reason to be. For months he's barely-barely-barely had the will to get out of bed let alone live life. But after bumping--literally--into a librarian, he may just have an opportunity to live life again. He's equally interested in the lovely librarian, Suzy, AND doing genealogical research on the McCombs. The chapters alternate between the present and the past. His ancestors have chapters. One chapter per generation.

My thoughts: I knew this one would be a good match for me. It stars an older protagonist. One who has gone through a lot for years--care-taking for his wife suffering from dementia. He has an interest in family history and genealogy. He has an interest in a librarian. Both are allowed the opportunity to find love later in life and get second chances. The alternating chapters was great!!! What an incredible and creative idea. I am sure there are many, many, many genealogists who wish they were that creative and talented. I am sure the past has stories to tell us. But more often than not--it's not possible to find fully-fleshed stories in our family trees.

There is something achingly human about this one. I did get hooked. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

96. Letters from the Few

Letters from the Few: Unique Memories from the Battle of Britain. Dilip Sarkar. 2020. [November 2020] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The Battle of Britain, at the time an air battle of unprecedented scale, was fought between 10 July and 31 October 1940–the stakes infinite. During those epic sixteen weeks of high drama, closely following the catastrophic Fall of France, RAF Fighter Command–a multi-national force–and the German Luftwaffe jousted daily for control of the air over southern England, aerial supremacy being a prerequisite for Hitler’s proposed seaborne invasion of south-east England.

Premise/plot: Letters From the Few may appeal to just a few, but to those few it will mean the world. Each chapter of Letters from The Few focuses on one man and tells his story, largely through his own words. The author Dilip Sarkar has been a dedicated fan, researcher, historian for decades. He corresponded with many, many pilots who flew during World War II in The Battle of Britain. He has selected twenty-five. (Twenty-four pilots, one ground crew support). The book closes with an epilogue featuring correspondence with a German pilot who became a prisoner of war.

Chapter One Flight Lieutenant Richard Jones AE
Chapter Two Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC*
Chapter Three Wing Commander Roger Boulding  
Chapter Four Squadron Leader Dennis Adams 
Chapter Five Group Captain ‘Uncle’ George Denholm DFC 
Chapter Six Squadron Leader Jack Stokoe DFC 
Chapter Seven Group Captain Herbert ‘Pinners’ Pinfold 
Chapter Eight Warrant Officer Peter Fox  
Chapter Nine Flight Lieutenant Denis ‘Nick’ Nichols
Chapter Ten Wing Commander Frederick ‘Taffy’ Higginson OBE DFC DFM  
Chapter Eleven Flight Lieutenant Reg ‘Johnny’ Johnson
Chapter Twelve Air Commodore Herbert ‘Tubby’ Mermagen CB AFC  
Chapter Thirteen Wing Commander Frank ‘Fanny’ Brinsden 
Chapter Fourteen Wing Commander George ‘Grumpy’ Unwin DSO DFM  
Chapter Fifteen Air Vice-Marshal David Scott-Malden CB DSO DFC
Chapter Sixteen Group Captain Alec Ingle DFC AFC AE
Chapter Seventeen Air Commodore Peter Brothers CBE DSO DFC
Chapter Eighteen Flight Lieutenant Reg Nutter DFC
Chapter Nineteen Squadron Leader Boleslaw ‘Gandi’ Drobinski VM KW DFC
Chapter Twenty Squadron Leader Bob Beardsley DFC  
Chapter Twenty-One Flight Lieutenant Harry Welford AE
Chapter Twenty-Two Flight Lieutenant William Walker AE
Chapter Twenty-Three Air Marshal Sir Denis Crowley-Milling KCB DSO DFC
Chapter Twenty-Four Squadron Leader Jerzy ‘Jurek’ Poplawski VM KW  
Chapter Twenty-Five Sergeant Ray Johnson
Chapter Twenty-Six Group Captain John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham CBE DSO** DFC* AE
Epilogue Hauptmann Hermann Kell Heinkel 111 Pilot 
The narrative weaves together bits of their letters. And gives a general overview of their life--some more than others. I get the feeling that he knew some men better than others. Most chapters include photographs. 
My thoughts: I find this a valuable book to be published. It includes many primary sources. It isn't the story of one man or one unit or squadron. It gives details and glimpses but not necessarily an extensive overview. The details tend to be more technical and related to flying specific missions and skirmishes. Some chapters are more lively than others. 

My favorite quote:
‘Without historians, archaeologists and memories, we humans would soon be without a past, without parameters for our judgement and guidance; without hope and just a black hole as the future.’

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

95. Before The Crown

Before the Crown. Flora Harding. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]

First sentence: He’s not there. Elizabeth has her eye pressed to the chink in the curtains.

Premise/plot: Before the Crown by Flora Harding is for any and every fan of Netflix's The Crown. It opens in 1943 and concludes with the wedding of Elizabeth and Philip. The book chronicles their relationship and is told by both the Princess and Prince. It includes some flashback scenes, especially when Philip is narrating that fills in some of his background.

My thoughts: For the most part, I love, love, love, love, love the Crown. Especially the first season of the Crown. I don't love, love, love everything about it. (Some of the scenes are a bit too graphic now and then. And I don't think nudity is really ever necessary to the plot.) But the stories and drama, well, that I love to watch. I was so happy to read and review Before the Crown. I would recommend it to viewers who love the show, to readers who love historical fiction, to readers who love all things royal.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

94. Running with The Wind

Running With The Wind. Dionne Haynes. 2019. 344 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Adult historical fiction]

First sentence: Soldiers pressed towards the harbour, forcing their way through the crowd. Jed turned his back towards them and came face-to-face with a young man, their noses so close they were almost touching. ‘Who are you? Haven’t seen you before.’ The young man’s tone was abrasive. ‘I can’t believe Master Jones let you board an overcrowded ship. What’s so special about you?’ Jed shook his head. ‘There’s nothing special about me.’ Passengers crammed onto the deck. Every man, woman and child jostled for an unobstructed view of those gathered to wave goodbye. Jed pressed his palms against the smooth wood of the gunwale behind him and pushed his body forward to avoid being crushed.

Premise/plot: Jedediah Trelawney is the protagonist of Dionne Haynes' new historical novel chronicling the voyage of The Mayflower in 1620. He is a young man with a secret that may or may not come back to haunt him. It seems SOMEONE on board knows the secret he is running from. But he doesn't know who or what they intend. He works for his keep on board and eventually becomes assistant to the doctor and the barber/surgeon on board. He plans to continue his 'apprenticeship' of sorts when they land. The book covers almost all aspects of life on board. And there is nothing glamorous and charming about it. It gets gritty and gross at times. (For example, when he's popping boils on personal locations of others.)

My thoughts: I liked this one well enough. It was a big graphic medically. There was one sexual fantasy/dream that was a bit graphic. But it was clear that it was his fantasy and not actually happening. Since it was such a small snippet of the book, that I can overlook. But some of the gritty perhaps all too realistic scenes of medical treatments turned my stomach a bit. Boil popping should not be the stuff of fiction!!!! 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, July 09, 2020

93. Madeleine

Madeleine. Elvi Rhodes. 1989/2011. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence: Walking along the narrow street, her hand resting lightly in the crook of George Carter’s arm, Madeleine was filled to the brim with rebellious thoughts. They coursed through her body and tingled in her fingertips until she felt sure that they must be conveyed to the man beside her. The sensation was so physical that she found herself compressing her lips into a tight line as if to prevent her feelings spilling out into words; words which she knew would surprise, even shock, George, coming from someone on her way home from chapel. But then he was easily shocked, wasn’t he? He was so good, so upright. She doubted if he had ever had a rebellious thought in his life. And since he continued to walk along without so much as turning to look at her she doubted that he had the slightest inkling of how she was feeling at this moment.

Premise/plot: Madeleine is a historical romance novel set in the 1850s in Yorkshire. Madeleine, our heroine, is a servant for the Parkinson family. Readers are told that this is the wealthiest family in the small town of Helsdon. But they only ever mention two possibly three servants: a cook, Mrs. Thomas, and Madeleine. (If there's a butler or stable boy, he's never named. I wouldn't be surprised if there was one or the other or both. But maybe because they don't figure into the story they're not named or mentioned. I have a hard time believing that an actually wealthy family at that time would only have two to four servants.) Madeleine is first and foremost rebellious and angry. She's rebelling against her father who is religious and attends chapel whenever its doors are open. She's rebelling against the Parkinsons though really her conflict is just with the so-called spoiled daughter, Sophia, with whom she clashes upon occasion. Sophia our antagonist, if you will, is actually spoiled. (But I couldn't help feeling that I liked her better for the first half of the book. Because I'd take flighty and vain over rebellious, brooding anger and resentment any day.) Mr. Parkinson, a mill owner, brings home a french man, Leon Bonneau, who is in a similar line of work in France. Sophia falls head over heels in love--think Scarlett's obsession with Ashley. Madeleine waits upon Mr. Bonneau while he is staying there and the two become slightly slightly friendly. (Though neither is exactly swooning for the other....yet). But after a trip abroad goes WRONG, Madeleine finds herself quitting that job and taking up work as a weaver at a mill (you know, as you do). Will Madeleine be happier as a mill worker? Will Leon and Sophie marry? Will the Parkinsons continue to be "wealthy"?

My thoughts: I liked this one well enough to keep reading. At no point did I say enough is enough is enough I can't stand the characters anymore. But I did have a few thoughts. First, I think the author must really love Gone With The Wind. The dialogue seems a bit modeled after Scarlett O'Hara. Along with one or two elements. Second, there is a LOT of cocoa drinking going on. You would think that they'd be more tea drinking! Third, do romance writers purposely make their characters dim-witted so that obstacles loom larger and seem impossible?! I mean that would be one explanation why things with obvious and mostly easy solutions would seem IMPOSSIBLE AND AGONIZING. I'd rather believe the characters are silly and dim then the author is unaware. Fourth--and finally--Madeleine seems to be a relatively contemporary woman (perhaps born circa 1950 or 1960) than one born in the 1830s. She just seems a bit off. The other characters--perhaps because we don't live inside their minds--seem to be a slightly better fit with the 1850s.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

92. Arsenic with Austen

Arsenic with Austen. Katherine Bolger Hyde. 2016. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: A gentle late-spring breeze ruffled the tender leaves of the maple and cherry trees on Reed College's front lawn, flirted with the skirts of the graduates' robes and tugged at the edges of their mortarboards, then swirled up three stories to tease Emily's upswept hair as she stood at her open office window.

Premise/plot: Emily Cavanaugh, our heroine, inherits a LARGE fortune and estate from her great-aunt Beatrice. (It includes a large house, a HUGE book collection, and many, many, many properties about town.) She takes up residence in Stony Beach, Oregon, and begins her new life by embarking to solve a few mysteries. Did Beatrice die of natural causes? Could she have been poisoned? Who would want her dead? Why is the town so divided on what is in its best interest moving forward?

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I loved it in spite of its almost obnoxious first sentence. Fortunately, the writing doesn't really keep on like that!!! I read this one quickly and found it a satisfying book. There's quite a few mysteries to solve, and a side dish of romance with an old summer love. I appreciated the fact that our heroine isn't all that young--in her mid to late fifties. It's not all that common to have romances starring an older couple. It was nice.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

91. The Virginian

The Virginian. Owen Wister. 1902. Penguin Classics. 370 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Some notable sight was drawing the passengers, both men and women, to the window; and therefore I rose and crossed the car to see what it was. I saw near the track an enclosure, and round it some laughing men, and inside it some whirling dust, and amid the dust some horses, plunging, huddling, and dodging.

Premise/plot: The Virginian is a collection of interconnected stories. Some are more "connected" than others. Some of the stories are told through a first person account, a first person narrator, whom we come to know simply as Tenderfoot or The Tenderfoot. He's an Eastern man that has come west to Wyoming territory. And The Virginian, our real hero, is his protector as this newbie is learning his way. But other stories are told in third person. Through a series of adventures, we get to know The Virginian; we get to know the people close to The Virginian. The men he works with and respects. The men he works with and doesn't respect. His friends. His enemies. My favorite of these may just be the woman, the "school teacher spinster" whom he falls in love with, Miss Molly Wood. 

My thoughts: It was dramatic. It was suspenseful. It was humorous. It was emotional. It was romantic--in places. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones between The Virginian and Miss Molly Wood. I loved their courtship. How steady he was, how stubborn she was. How he took the time to read *most* of the books she loaned him. How he was fond of a good book--Shakespeare especially. But how he really didn't get why she loved Jane Austen so much! I liked their conversations on the books he read. I liked his conversations with her in general.

But The Virginian isn't just a romance. I mean there is a happily ever after at the end. But in between all the courting scenes--and there are really only a handful--The Virginian is busy working and riding and managing the Judge's ranch--he's foreman--and generally seeing that justice is done. (Because there are cattle thieves about!) So there is plenty of action and adventure and humor. There's plenty of good fun in this one. But it's not without its darker moments, its life-and-death moments.

We cannot see ourselves as other see us, or I should know what appearance I cut at hearing this from the tall man. I said nothing, feeling uncertain. "I reckon I am looking for you, seh," he repeated politely. "I am looking for Judge Henry," I now replied. He walked toward me, and I saw that in inches he was not a giant. He was not more than six feet. It was Uncle Hughey that had made him seem to tower. But in his eye, in his face, in his step, in the whole man, there dominated a something potent to be felt, I should think, by man or woman.
  "It's two hundred and sixty-three miles," said the Virginian...Yes, I was dazed. How did they count distance in this country? You spoke in a neighborly fashion about driving over to town, and it meant—I did not know yet how many days. And what would be meant by the term "dropping in," I wondered. And how many miles would be considered really far?
By reason of something,—my clothes, my hat, my pronunciation, whatever it might be, I possessed the secret of estranging people at sight.
Upon the grocery side there stood a cheese too large and strong to sleep near comfortably, and I therefore chose the dry-goods side. Here thick quilts were unrolled for me, to make it soft; and no condition was placed upon me, further than that I should remove my boots, because the quilts were new, and clean, and for sale.
 Sardines were called for, and potted chicken, and devilled ham: a sophisticated nourishment, at first sight, for these sons of the sage-brush. But portable ready-made food plays of necessity a great part in the opening of a new country. These picnic pots and cans were the first of her trophies that Civilization dropped upon Wyoming's virgin soil.
I was soon at the wash trough. It was only half-past six, but many had been before me,—one glance at the roller-towel told me that. I was afraid to ask the landlady for a clean one, and so I found a fresh handkerchief, and accomplished a sparing toilet. In the midst of this the drummers joined me, one by one, and they used the degraded towel without hesitation. In a way they had the best of me; filth was nothing to them.
Thieves are presumed innocent until proved guilty, but a starched collar is condemned at once.
 "I reckon," said he, "you're feelin' about halfway between 'Oh, Lord!' and 'Thank God!'"
 "We are taking steps," said Mr. Taylor. "Bear Creek ain't going to be hasty about a schoolmarm." "Sure," assented the Virginian. "The children wouldn't want yu' to hurry."
 Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it anywhere been set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In what various vessels of gossamer it can float across wide spaces? Or upon what different soils it can fall, and live unknown, and bide its time for blooming?
 I was not called by my name after the first feeble etiquette due to a stranger in his first few hours had died away. I was known simply as "the tenderfoot." I was introduced to the neighborhood (a circle of eighty miles) as "the tenderfoot."
 "I fear she has not," said I. "Mighty hon'ble intentions," he observed. "If she can't make out to lay anything, she wants to hatch somethin', and be a mother anyways." "I wonder what relation the law considers that a hen is to the chicken she hatched but did not lay?" I inquired.
Em'ly scratched and clucked, and the puppies ran to her, pawed her with their fat limp little legs, and retreated beneath her feathers in their games of hide and seek. Conceive, if you can, what confusion must have reigned in their infant minds as to who the setter was!
 There always have been such people, I suppose, because the world must always have a rubbish heap.
 Molly Wood was regarding him saucily. "I don't think I like you," said she. "That's all square enough. You're goin' to love me before we get through. I wish yu'd come a-ridin, ma'am."
For this journey she had provided him with Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth. Shakespeare he had returned to her. He had bought Shakespeare for himself. "As soon as I got used to readin' it," he had told her, "I knowed for certain that I liked readin' for enjoyment."
 There can be no doubt of this:— All America is divided into two classes,—the quality and the equality. The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it. Both will be with us until our women bear nothing but kings.
"It's mighty hard to do what your neighbors ain't doin'," pursued the Virginian. 
 "Do you think there ought to be fifteen varieties of good people?" His voice, while it now had an edge that could cut anything it came against, was still not raised. "There ain't fifteen. There ain't two.
There's one kind. And when I meet it, I respect it. It is not praying nor preaching that has ever caught me and made me ashamed of myself, but one or two people I have knowed that never said a superior word to me. They thought more o' me than I deserved, and that made me behave better than I naturally wanted to.
But I'll tell yu' this: a middlin' doctor is a pore thing, and a middlin' lawyer is a pore thing; but keep me from a middlin' man of God."
 If words were meant to conceal our thoughts, melody is perhaps a still thicker veil for them.
"Oh, no! The wild man you're taming brought you Kenilworth safe back." She was smooth. "Oh, as for taming him! But don't you find him intelligent?" Suddenly I somehow knew that she didn't want to tame him. But what did she want to do? The thought of her had made him blush this afternoon. No thought of him made her blush this evening.
 "Science! He doesn't know what Christianity is yet. I've entertained many guests, but none—The whole secret," broke off Judge Henry, "lies in the way you treat people. As soon as you treat men as your brothers, they are ready to acknowledge you—if you deserve it—as their superior. That's the whole bottom of Christianity, and that's what our missionary will never know."
One can look respectfully at a preacher and be internally breaking all the commandments.
We all know what birds of a feather do. And it may be safely surmised that if a bird of any particular feather has been for a long while unable to see other birds of its kind, it will flock with them all the more assiduously when they happen to alight in its vicinity.
"When a man ain't got no ideas of his own," said Scipio, "he'd ought to be kind o' careful who he borrows 'em from." 
But his first message to his lady was scarcely written with ease. It must be classed, I think, among those productions which are styled literary efforts. It was completed in pencil before it was copied in ink; and that first draft of it in pencil was well-nigh illegible with erasures and amendments.
I have read that play Othello. No man should write down such a thing. Do you know if it is true? I have seen one worse affair down in Arizona. He killed his little child as well as his wife but such things should not be put down in fine language for the public. I have read Romeo and Juliet. That is beautiful language but Romeo is no man. I like his friend Mercutio that gets killed. He is a man. If he had got Juliet there would have been no foolishness and trouble.
"if yu' could read me something that was ABOUT something, I—I'd be liable to keep awake." And he smiled with a certain shyness. "Something about something?" queried Molly, at a loss.
 Staring ain't courage; it's trashy curiosity.
 "I expect in many growed-up men you'd call sensible there's a little boy sleepin'—the little kid they onced was—that still keeps his fear of the dark. You mentioned the dark yourself yesterday. Well, this experience has woke up that kid in me, and blamed if I can coax the little cuss to go to sleep again! I keep a-telling him daylight will sure come, but he keeps a-crying and holding on to me."
 I cannot say that I believe in doing evil that good may come. I do not. I think that any man who honestly justifies such course deceives himself. But this I can say: to call any act evil, instantly begs the question. Many an act that man does is right or wrong according to the time and place which form, so to speak, its context; strip it of its surrounding circumstances, and you tear away its meaning.
© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

90. Unwind

Unwind. Neal Shusterman. 2007. 337 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the prologue: The Second Civil War, also known as "The Heartland War," was a long and bloody conflict fought over a single issue. To end the war, a set of constitutional amendments known as "The Bill of Life" was passed. It satisfied both the Pro-life and the Pro-choice armies. The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively "abort" a child...on the condition that the child's life doesn't technically end. The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called "unwinding." Unwinding is now a common and accepted practice in society.

First sentence: "There are places you can go," Ariana tells him, "and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen." Connor isn't so sure, but looking into Ariana's eyes makes his doubts go away, if only for a moment.

Premise/plot: Imagine living in a world where—if you're a teenager—your life is constantly in danger. If you anger your parents just one time too many, you could be on the next bus out of town heading to a Harvest camp or the "chop shop" as it's called in slang. Your organs—every single part of you (except maybe your appendix), stripped away and 'donated' to make someone else's life better. This scenario is about to become terrifyingly real to three teenagers.

Connor, Risa, and Lev are three of many Unwinds on the run and trying to survive. All are under the age of eighteen. Connor's parents have decided to Unwind him, perhaps because of his attitude. Risa, well, Risa's a ward of a state home and they must make room for new children. She's reached her full potential of life--according to the powers that be. Lev, well, Lev's case is different as well. He's a tithe. His family knew from the moment he was conceived that they would unwind him when he turned thirteen so that he could offer up his service to God. Other teens are introduced as well throughout the book, but the narrators are Connor, Risa, and Lev.

My thoughts: Told through many narrators, Unwind is a suspenseful, fast-paced read. While the premise is fascinating in and of itself, Shusterman manages to make this story resonate with strong characters. The world he creates is haunting yet not completely without hope and redemption as people—teens and adults—team up to change the world one step at a time.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is dystopia at its best.


"Funny but when he was little Connor was terrified of the boogeyman. He would have to sleep with the lights on, he would have his parents check his closet every night. They told him that the boogeyman wasn't real, but they lied. The Bill of Life made the boogeyman real, and he didn't need the closet; he came walking right in through the front door." (4)

"What does it take to unwind the unwanted? It takes twelve surgeons, in teams of two, rotating in and out as their medical specialty is needed. It takes nine surgical assistants and four nurses. It takes three hours." 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews