Sunday, August 30, 2020

August Reflections

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews
100. The Book of Two Ways. Jodi Picoult. 2020. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]
101. Christmas Ever After. Karen Schaler. 2020. 385 pages. [Source: Review copy]
102. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide. Annette Whipple. 2020. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
103. Miracle Creek Christmas. Krista Jensen. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
104.  Letters From the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California: 1850-1852. Joan W. Blos. 2007. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
105. Willful Misconduct: The Tragic Story of Pan American Flight 806. William Norris. 2020. 371 pages. [Source: Review copy]
106. Our Castle By The Sea. Lucy Strange. 2019. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
107. Otherwise Engaged. Joanna Barker. 2020. 262 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

82. Magician in the Trunk (Time Spies #4) Candice Ransom. 2007. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
83. Signals in the Sky. (Time Spies #5) Candice Ransom. 2007. 119 pages. [Source: Review copy]
84. The Story of the Wright Brothers: A Biography Book for New Readers. Annette Whipple. 2020. 69 pages. [Source: Review copy]
85. A Christmas Carol. Adapted by Philip Gooden. 2020. [October] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]
86. Horses in the Wind (Time Spies #7). Candice Ransom. 2007. 118 pages. [Source: Review copy]
87. Rider in the Night: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow (Time Spies #6) Candice Ransom. 2007. 119 pages. [Source: Review copy]
88. Gold in the Hills: A Tale of the Klondike Gold Rush. (Time Spies #8) Candice Ransom. 2008. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
89. Fables. Arnold Lobel. 1980. 48 pages. [Source: Bought]
90. Pay Attention, Carter Jones. Gary D. Schmidt. 2019. 217 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

58. Mark. (Thru the Bible #36) J. Vernon McGee. 1975. 204 pages. [Source: Bought]
59. The Mister Rogers Effect. Dr. Anita Knight Kuhnley. 2020. Baker Books. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
60. Her Secret Song (Brides of Hope Mountain) Mary Connealy. 2020. [October] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
61. Acts 1-14. (Thru the Bible #40) J. Vernon McGee. 1975? 170 pages. [Source: Bought]
62. Acts 15-28. (Thru the Bible #41) J. Vernon McGee. 1975? 194 pages. [Source: Bought]
63. The Love Note. Joanna Davidson Politano. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
64. The Story Behind the Bible #3: The New Covenant. J. K. Alexander. 2017/2020. 254 pages. [Source: Review copy] [NOT Recommended under any circumstance ever.]
65. Nothing Short of Wondrous. (American Wonders Collection #2) Regina Scott. 2020. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible 
none in August!

5 Star Books
The Story of the Wright Brothers: A Biography Book for New Readers. Annette Whipple. 2020. 69 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Christmas Ever After. Karen Schaler. 2020. 385 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide. Annette Whipple. 2020. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Love Note. Joanna Davidson Politano. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Willful Misconduct: The Tragic Story of Pan American Flight 806. William Norris. 2020. 371 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Otherwise Engaged. Joanna Barker. 2020. 262 pages. [Source: Review copy]

August Totals

August Totals

Yearly Totals

2020 Totals

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, August 28, 2020

107. Otherwise Engaged

Otherwise Engaged. Joanna Barker. 2020. 262 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Of the many things that could be depended upon to make a young lady swoon, a love letter certainly made the list. I perched on a low rock in the center of the quiet meadow, one knee tucked to my chest, the skirts of my riding habit spread about me.

Premise/plot: Rebecca Rowley has returned home engaged--secretly. Her fiancé, Edward Bainbridge, is the son of her father's former business partner. And that partnership didn't end well. Both families are extremely bitter and unforgiving towards the other. Each, of course, finding the other family at fault. It's been fifteen years--or so--since the partnership ended. But will another partnership--a romantic one--ever be allowed to take place? Not if those two mamas are ever given a say. So her engagement is a secret--for now.

When this Regency romance opens our un-traditional heroine is riding bareback. She loves, loves, loves the freedom of "flying" that running wild and free gives her. As she's riding, she happens to come to the rescue of a young girl, Olivia, who's drowning. She jumps in and saves moments Olivia's brother, a Lieutenant Nicholas Avery, has arrived on the scene. Their introduction is are most of their subsequent encounters.

My thoughts: Otherwise Engaged is giddy-making and swoon-worthy. The romance remains clean, for the most part. (Depending on your definition of clean, I suppose. It has a few steamy-steamy kisses. But nothing progressing beyond those kisses. True, at the time in 1822, getting caught in such a steamy kiss--or even an un-steamy kiss???--might have damaged one's reputation. So as I said, it depends on your definition of clean.) What I loved was the romantic build-up between the hero and heroine. And part of that build-up of course depends on the CHARACTERIZATION of both and the surrounding cast of characters. The very fact that the novel feels fully peopled--with well developed characters in abundance--makes it stand out above the rest in the genre. And a part also depends on the DIALOGUE between the hero and heroine. And lastly it depends on the narrative voice. This one remains solely with Rebecca Rowley. And it was a JOY to spend time with her and her thoughts.

I also loved the relationship between Rebecca and Olivia (Nicholas' younger sister). Olivia added so much to the story overall!!! She never really felt like a plot device--a weak, pitiful excuse for the meeting between Nicholas and Rebecca. She always felt like a real person.

As you might have gathered, I really LOVED and ADORED this one. It was a WONDERFUL read and one that I could see myself reading and rereading again and again and again.

If I didn't already love Regency romances this would make me a fan.

“All right, then. Let us play this game. What do I want in a wife? She must be intelligent, first of all.” “Naturally,” I agreed, suddenly not certain I wanted to play, judging by that gleam. “She must be kind and compassionate,” he went on. “Someone to help me care for Olivia.” “Yes, of course.” Nicholas moved closer, dropping his arms as his gaze fixed on mine. “Good humor is important as well.” I swallowed. “The value of laughter cannot be underestimated.” He took another step forward, only a pace away from me now. Why was he so close? “I would not complain terribly much if she were beautiful,” he said softly as his eyes followed every curve of my face.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, August 27, 2020

106. Our Castle By The Sea

Our Castle By The Sea. Lucy Strange. 2019. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

  First sentence: I was very small indeed when Pa first told us the legend of the Wyrm and the Stones.

Premise/plot: Petra "Pet" Smith is coming of age during the first year of the second world war. The war brings many, many changes: her mother (who is of German descent) is taken to an internment camp, her sister is acting super-mysterious and stand-offish, her father seems distressed and out of sorts. (There are reasons for all, but, you know spoilers wouldn't be much fun--at least this early in the review.) The family lives on a British island, and her father is the lighthouse keeper.

My thoughts: I am very torn between two stars and three stars. Two stars because it remained an "almost" for me from cover to cover. It has all the elements that you would guess that I would love like crazy, but for whatever reason it just didn't quite work for me. Three stars because it wasn't so dull that I ever considered abandoning it. It didn't work for me--but not because of the setting or the characters.

So what didn't work for me? There was an underlying spy/traitor story throughout. And the way that story comes about was just a little off for me. One reviewer summed it up well mentioning that the ending where the villain explains in great detail the whole villainous plot as he/she is doing it...just takes something away from it. It gives it a very cartoonish feel that just doesn't mesh with what came before.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

105. Willful Misconduct

Willful Misconduct: The Tragic Story of Pan American Flight 806. William Norris. 2020. 371 pages. [Source: Review copy]

  First sentence: Room 64G, in the cellars beneath the United States District Court for the Central District of California, is some way off the Los Angeles tourist route. Above it, in the filing section on the ground floor of the imposing building on North Spring Street, a stern notice forbids public entry. Beyond this sign, a steep flight of stairs leads down to a catacomb of roughcast concrete and dusty pipes. Here is a tomb without bones, a mortuary of long-forgotten files and long-abandoned catalogues of legal pain. It is a place where hopes and dreams and aspirations share the upright coffins of the filing cabinets with tragedy and pain. The paper detritus of the act of dying is all around.

Premise/plot: Willful Misconduct was first published in 1984, I believe, but this is an updated edition that has since been released. The book is about the tragic story of Pan American Flight 806. It is a thorough investigation; readers get a little bit about some of the passengers, particularly the four survivors; readers get a LOT of the drama of the aftermath as lawyers and a (corrupt) judge spend almost a decade (1974 was the crash) bringing it to trial and resolving the case. Who was to blame? Who shares the blame? The U.S. Government? Boeing? PanAm? the pilots? or mother nature? Could the crash have been prevented? Were mistakes made? Was there willful misconduct? How much money should the families of the passengers receive? How much is merited?

The story is intense--in some ways--and fascinating. I can see why it's classified as true crime by Netgalley. The question there more than one crime? The thing that shocked me was not the callous nature of the insurance company...or the lawyers...but by the heartless judge that was corrupt through and through and through who was just pure evil in terms of justice being done. By the end, both sides were angered by his lack of professionalism.

My thoughts: I would definitely recommend this one. It won't be for everyone--I know--not everyone likes to read in detail about court cases and litigation. There are so many lawyers and witnesses involved. Perhaps it would be difficult for some readers to follow--especially if you don't read some in this one each day. But for me I found it a fascinating read. I read some in in it every night. It kept me turning pages. It kept me engaged from start to finish.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, August 20, 2020

104. Letters From the Corrugated Castle

Letters From the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California: 1850-1852. Joan W. Blos. 2007. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dear Cousin Sallie, I begin with words I never thought to write: I am not an orphan!

Premise/plot: Letters From the Corrugated Castle is told entirely through a series of letters. The letters are primarily from Eldora, our heroine, to her cousin Sallie. (Though sometimes she writes someone else.) But the letters are not exclusively from Eldora. The book has sections devoted to both main characters, Eldora, of course, but also a friend of the family named Luke Hall. Luke Hall writes the other letters. If there are additional letters written by different characters--they are few and far between. These two are the main characters. Eldora and Luke live in San Francisco. They start out as mere acquaintances at best--they don't have much in common, or even many people in common, but by the end of the story, their worlds are merging more and more. (Luke Hall even lives with her aunt and uncle for a bit of time while his own father is recovering.)

So the book is set in California during 1850-1852. During the course of the book, California becomes a state.

Eldora's story is definitely more of a coming of age story. She has believed herself to be an orphan all of her remembered life. But she learns that her mother did not die of a fever as they believed. She survived. And she's found her daughter again. Should Eldora leave the couple--her "aunt" and "uncle" that have raised her since she was two or three??? Should she go with her mother to another California town and live at her mother's inn???? Or is San Francisco where she belongs?

Luke's story is also coming of age in many ways. At first, he is ONLY about wanting to find gold and get rich. He wants to grow up really quickly. He doesn't want to fool with going to school and following rules when there's gold to be found. But slowly but surely he learns there is more to life...and education is essential to having a rich life.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I was surprised by the low ratings this one has. The one stars that say I hate historical fiction I can understand because there will always be haters hating. That would be their "review" for any historical novel basically. The two and three stars that find fault with the characterization and storytelling are more confusing. Reading is subjective. I know this to be true.

I did not find the book boring--far from it. I found it an engaging read. Granted, I didn't read it in one day, I read it one section per day perhaps. But I always put it down wanting to read more. And I always picked it up excited to keep reading. I felt that other characters were fleshed out because we got to know them through both Luke and Eldora's writing.

Much has been said in other reviews that the book was lacking because we don't have any responses to the letters; we never once hear from Cousin Sallie, for example. I didn't find this problematic. Not many epistolary novels do. I'm sure there is probably at least one that does because there are almost always exceptions to the rules--but for the most part, this is completely normal to only have ONE side of the correspondence. It makes me wonder how many epistolary novels the other reviewers have read in their lives to find this one flawed because of this "one-sided-ness."

Now I will say that I completely understand why some would find it jarring to switch back and forth between Eldora's story and Luke's story. (Both, of course, told through letters.) That I get. I mean I liked both narrators. I did. And I personally did not have issues with this switching back and forth. But I could see why that might be a legitimate reason for someone to say this book isn't what I wanted.

The book is INTROSPECTIVE and character-driven. I could see how some might think it was lacking action. But again, some people might enjoy it because it is introspective and character-driven.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, August 17, 2020

103. Miracle Creek Christmas

Miracle Creek Christmas. Krista Jensen. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In another life, Mark Rivers would've focused on the woman who'd just entered the bakery and nodded in her direction with a smile of appreciation.

Premise/plot: Mark Rivers is a former fire fighter and current town hero. He sustained severe burns while helping to save three boys and another firemen from a fire. He's been reluctant to rejoin society since then. But the new art teacher in town, Riley Madigan, may just change his mind about what life could be. Riley isn't looking for love, a Mister Right or Mister Right-Now. She rarely stays in one place long, and she's been hurt by men in the past. Art makes her happy. She came to teach art and to flip a house, not to find her happily ever after...

But in the small town of Miracle Creek, she may just have found more than she was looking for. Mark goes to Riley with a simple-not-so-simple request, to recreate his mom's nativity set. (Think wooden stand-up figures for a yard not tiny nativity pieces for the mantel.) The problem? She's not the biggest fan of Christmas. But Mark is very skilled and something might work out after all.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one! I never know what to rate romance novels--and sometimes other genre fiction. If I rate in the moment as I'm reading it, probably most of what I'd read would rate a four or five stars. I usually get caught up in the story and want to see it through to the end. I usually have characters I'm cheering for. I want that happy ending and just smile when it's handed to me tied with a bow. But only time will tell if this is a story that I would want to reread every Christmas season or every other Christmas season. You see, I'm a big rereader. And if I really, truly love, love, love a book I'm going to be thinking about rereading it.

But I will say that I feel confident recommending this one. I especially think those that love romantic Christmas movies--you know who you are--would definitely enjoy reading this one. It is a satisfying read. I'm glad these books are published as happy escapes.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, August 14, 2020

102. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide. Annette Whipple. 2020. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dear Reader, I remember the Little House books from my elementary school’s library stacks, when Mrs. Rhinehart shelved them in the back of the library. I visited those shelves again and again. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories stayed with me throughout my life; I returned to the books as an adult and loved the stories even more. Then I shared them with my children. The books made my children ask questions. We talked about the complicated pioneer history. Together we made johnnycakes and danced to fiddle music. I even sewed an apron and bonnet for my oldest daughter’s sixth birthday. I wrote this companion guide to help you live like Laura too. As you read a Little House book (or the whole series), use this guide to help you understand Laura’s world. You can even get a taste of pioneer life with activities and recipes!

Premise/plot: Annette Whipple goes through almost chapter by chapter addressing questions young readers might have about the text of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Consider her notes to be almost annotations to the original stories. (Think The Annotated Hobbit; The Annotated Alice in Wonderland; etc. though it does not include the text of the original.) Each chapter of this one covers one of the Little House books: The Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years. First, Whipple goes through each book almost chapter by chapter (as previously mentioned. Second, Whipple gives extension activities. (Many require adult supervision and guidance.) Third, Whipple gives long lists of discussion questions to help guide critical thinking through the series.

Here's a sample extension activity: Pretend you need to leave your family for two months. You can only take one backpack. Carefully decide what you absolutely need and take it with you. Make it all fit into your backpack.

The back matter includes a glossary of pioneer terms and an index for all the activities.

My thoughts: I loved the Little House books. Some I loved, loved, loved. Some I merely liked. Some I've reread a dozen times or more. Others not as much. I think this book is designed for the home primarily. I see parents and guardians reading this one alongside the original stories. Perhaps fitting the books into a homeschooling environment. Perhaps just keeping this all for entertainment and pleasure. I do not see this being extremely useful within a school classroom--the extension activities don't really lend themselves to a large group. Nor is there that much free time ever within a school day to devote to living like a pioneer. The discussion questions might be better suited than the activities but I still can't imagine any one classroom reading their way through the entire series in a school year. But for home use, this is excellent!

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, August 07, 2020

101. Christmas Ever After

Christmas Ever After. Karen Schaler. 2020. 385 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Reynolds heard them moments before she saw them. People were singing Christmas songs, different Christmas songs, all at the same time, in exuberant, joyful voices. There was “Joy to the World,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” “What in the world . . .” Riley said as she stepped out of the hotel elevator into the lavish lobby of the Royal Grand Central Park, one of New York City’s finest hotels, and found more than a hundred high-spirited Christmas carolers. They were all wearing elaborate, vintage Victorian costumes and passionately singing as if their entry onto Santa’s Nice List depended on it. 

Premise/plot: Riley Reynolds is a romance author who hates Christmas and is currently not living her 'happily ever after.' After her summer romance flops--at least from a publishing standpoint--her publishers strongly encourage her to write a Christmas romance instead. The problem, as I briefly mentioned, is that she does not celebrate Christmas--not since her dad died when she was eight. But she'll do her part to keep her job: play co-host at a weekend author event at a small lodge--Christmas Lake Lodge. Her co-host is the Christmas-loving, Luke, who is selling the lodge after Christmas. He wants the lodge to have one last hurrah before it closes forever.

Sound like a typical Christmas movie? Perhaps. But this isn't a bland Christmas movie, throw in a dash or two of MAMMA MIA and The Bachelorette. Before Christmas Camp begins, she does a television interview leading viewers to believe that there was one true love that got away that has inspired her novels...

My thoughts: I definitely loved this one. For the record, I don't have a problem with incredibly predictable, ultimately sweet Christmas-themed romantic comedies. In fact, I find them often more lovely than not. I AM the target audience of this one.

For those that are curious, this one is what I would consider clean or clean-ish. There is some kissing, not much else. Anything that might have happened in the past with her former boyfriends--stays in the past and off screen.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, August 03, 2020

100. The Book of Two Ways

The Book of Two Ways. Jodi Picoult. 2020. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: MY CALENDAR IS full of dead people. When my phone alarm chimes, I fish it out from the pocket of my cargo pants. I’ve forgotten, with the time change, to turn off the reminder. I’m still groggy with sleep, but I open the date and read the names: Iris Vale. Eun Ae Kim. Alan Rosenfeldt. Marlon Jensen. I close my eyes, and do what I do every day at this moment: I remember them.

Premise/plot: Dawn McDowell (married name Edelstein) is on a flight when it makes a crash she considers that this could be her end...she flashes to her long lost love...Wyatt Armstrong...and NOT her husband of fifteen years, Brian Edelstein. If she survives the crash will she have a chance to reconsider her life's choices? And if she could would she choose differently?

The story unfolds in a non-traditional way. Chapters alternate with Dawn being at home with her husband and teenage daughter, Merit, and Dawn being in Egypt looking up her long lost love, Wyatt after fifteen years apart.

Readers eventually come to realize why Dawn was on the flight to begin with...

My thoughts: This was my first Picoult novel. So I didn't go into it with any expectations or preconceived ideas. Which may have been for the best.

I was drawn to this story because of the heroine's interest in all things Egypt. She was in graduate school studying Egyptology and working on a very specific dissertation topic--The Book of Two Ways--a "book" that supposedly helped the dead navigate their way through the afterlife? to the afterlife? My interest in Egypt was reignited with Stargate-SG-1. (I say reignited because I had earlier interests. When I was in sixth grade, there was an Egyptian exhibit coming to the local-ish museum.)

Dawn's husband is a physicist with interests in parallel universes and alternate universes. Again this drew me into the story. This won't be my first or last book that touches on this subject. It just won't. I've read complaints that these two interests--Eygpt and physics--were drags to the story and made the book "boring" or "impossible" or "insufferable." That's nonsense--from my perspective. I didn't feel they weighed the book down at all!!! And it's not like I'm an expert on either--all you'd need to read this one is a couple of PBS documentaries on either subject.

Dawn's current work is as a death doula. 

I enjoyed this one. I did. I loved the alternating chapters. It kept me thinking--speculating--along the way. Did she go to Egypt after the crash? Did she go back home to Boston after the crash? Is it possible that she's actually dead and that she herself is navigating her way to the afterlife? Are these dreams she's having in her last moments of life? Which story is the real one? Is she happier at home in Boston in her super-strained marriage? Is she happier in Egypt? Which man is her one true love?

I won't be including spoilers. I won't. There was one thing I guessed would come into play relatively early on--but I won't spoil even that here.

I was engaged with the characters--most of them at least.

Christian readers should be aware that this one has a couple of graphic scenes. But these scenes were never the main point of the novel--or an excuse for the book's being. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews