Saturday, October 31, 2020

October Reflections

 Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

116. Chasing Orion. Kathryn Lasky. 2010. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
117. The Case of the Lazy Lover (Perry Mason #30) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1947. 212 pages. [Source: Bought]

118. The Children of the New Forest. Frederick Marryat. 1847. 369 pages. [Source: Bought]

119. The Royal Governess. Wendy Holden. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

120. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages.  [Souce: Bought]

121. We Dream of Space. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Bought] 

122. The Miracle Worker. William Gibson. 1956. 128 pages. [Source: Bought] 

123. Goblin Market. Christina Rossetti. 1862. 48 pages. [Source: Bought] 

124. The Four Winds. Kristin Hannah. 2021. [February] 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

125. Winter Wheat. Jeanne Williams. 1975. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

126. A Quiet Madness: A Biographical Novel of Edgar Allen Poe. John Isaac Jones. 2020. 398 pages. [Source: Review copy]

127. Dearest Josephine. Caroline George. 2021. [February] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

128. The Gentleman and the Thief. Sarah M. Eden. November 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

129. Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call. Claudia Friddell. Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. 2021. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

130. Christmas Day in the Morning. Pearl S. Buck. Adapted by David T. Warner. 2020. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

131. The Titanic Sisters. Patricia Falvey. 2021 (January) 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

132. Mr Universe. Arthur Slade. 2021 [January] 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

100. No More Naps! A Story for When You're Wide-Awake And Definitely NOT Tired. Chris Grabenstein. Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. 2020. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

101. The Tattle-Tail (The Fabled Stables #2) Jonathan Auxier. 2021. [May] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

102. Apple. Nikki McClure. (Board Book) 2019/2012. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

103. Into the Wind. William Loizeaux. 2021. [March] 192 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

104.  One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Dodie Smith. 1956. 199 pages. [Source: Childhood Copy]

105. The Starlight Barking. Dodie Smith. 1967. 160 pages. [Source: Bought] 

106. The Case of the Disappearing Pets (Mina Mistry Investigates) Angie Lake. Illustrated by Ellie O'Shea. 2021. [February] Sweet Cherry. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

107. The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Adapted by Peter Bently. Based on the novel by Dodie Smith. Illustrated by Steven Lenton. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

108. The Retake. Jen Calonita. 2021. [February] 272 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

 Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

80. Galatians (Thru the Bible #46) J. Vernon McGee. 1991. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]
81. Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World. Joe Rigney. 2020. Crossway. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
82. Ephesians (Thru the Bible #47) J. Vernon McGee. 1977. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
83. Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis. Gina Dalfonzo. 2020. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
84. Through the Year with the Pilgrim Fathers: 365 Daily Readings Inspired by the Journey of the Mayflower. 2020. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
85. The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer. Andrew David Naselli. Edited by Dane C. Ortlund and Miles V. Van Pelt. 2020. [November] Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
86. Philippians and Colossians (Thru the Bible #48) J. Vernon McGee. 1993. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
87. Psalms 1-41. (Thru the Bible #17) J. Vernon McGee. 1977. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
88. A Kid's Guide to the Names of Jesus. Tony Evans. 2021. [March] 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]
89. First and Second Thessalonians (Thru the Bible #49) J. Vernon McGee. 1978. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]
90. The Ultimate Commentary on Philippians: A Collective Wisdom of the Bible. Albert Barnes. John Calvin. Adam Clarke. Matthew Henry. Charles H. Spurgeon. John Wesley. 2016. 1040 pages. [Source: Bought]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

9. NASB Single Column Reference, Wide Margin, 1995 Text. February 2020. Zondervan. 1920 pages. [Source: Bought] 

5 Star Books

No More Naps! A Story for When You're Wide-Awake And Definitely NOT Tired. Chris Grabenstein. Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. 2020. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Children of the New Forest. Frederick Marryat. 1847. 369 pages. [Source: Bought]

 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages.  [Souce: Bought]

We Dream of Space. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Bought]

Ephesians (Thru the Bible #47) J. Vernon McGee. 1977. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer. Andrew David Naselli. Edited by Dane C. Ortlund and Miles V. Van Pelt. 2020. [November] Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 The Four Winds. Kristin Hannah. 2021. [February] 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Philippians and Colossians (Thru the Bible #48) J. Vernon McGee. 1993. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

Psalms 1-41. (Thru the Bible #17) J. Vernon McGee. 1977. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

First and Second Thessalonians (Thru the Bible #49) J. Vernon McGee. 1978. 144 pages. [Source: Bought]

NASB Single Column Reference, Wide Margin, 1995 Text. February 2020. Zondervan. 1920 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Retake. Jen Calonita. 2021. [February] 272 pages. [Source: Review Copy]
The Ultimate Commentary on Philippians: A Collective Wisdom of the Bible. Albert Barnes. John Calvin. Adam Clarke. Matthew Henry. Charles H. Spurgeon. John Wesley. 2016. 1040 pages. [Source: Bought]

 The Gentleman and the Thief. Sarah M. Eden. November 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

October Totals

October Totals


Yearly Totals 

2020 Totals

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 30, 2020

1955 Hits Archive

So. I recently listened--with only a fractional number of skips--to the 1955 Hits Archive uploaded on the45prof YouTube channel. This is his description of the playlist, "This is a playlist of commercial recordings and songs that proved popular during the calendar year 1955 (some were recorded in 1954) via sales, juke box play, and radio exposure.…plus some others that have gained increased recognition or have been shown to have had an impact during the decades that followed." There are 236 songs in all. I do not think it covers *every* song recorded and released in 1955. (It includes all of the songs that hit #1 on the Billboard for 1955 except for Mr. Sandman which released in 1954 and was still #1 on the chart in January 1955.) 

I listened with my mom. She wasn't around for every single song--but then again I took a few breaks as well. We had a running commentary going--I wish I could have captured everything we said--though I wouldn't necessarily share it all! She is a hoot!

One thing stands out--well, many things stand out--is that a song could/would have MANY different artists performing the exact same song within the given year. For example, this list includes FOUR different versions of the Ballad of Davy Crockett. It was always fun for us to try to guess if the song we were currently listening to would be there just once--or if they'd be many, many, many versions. (Another song with four versions was Unchained Melody. Probably half a dozen had three recordings. It wasn't out of the ordinary for there to be two--but most appear just once.)

A few songs we decided would probably be canceled in today's society. (And we weren't advocating for them. One was Ling Ting Tong by the Five Keys and the other was Pancho Lopez by Lalo Guerrero).

Most of the songs have a same-same-same feel. Though not all. Swing and big band influences improved the lot, in my opinion. There were a dozen or so songs that were rockabilly and offered a "new sound." Mom got excited when we got to the "R's" and there were several Bill Haley songs in a row. Definitely a lot of slow ballads--some sultry, some lullaby-ish. There were some mambo inspired and cha-cha as well. 

I would say the prevalent theme was 90% love songs, 9% heartache/heartbreak songs, and 1% novelty. 

Oh, another thing--so many songs came from movies and musical shows--I'm guessing Broadway influence was strong this year.

The list does not have much country and western representation. I would be curious to see what 1955 country songs were out. Wikipedia answers that question... but I'll have to search YouTube to see if there's a playlist or channel to satisfy my curiosity. Mom did say that Grandma would have been listening to country instead of pop most likely.

So in no particular order, these are my HIGHLIGHTS

Where Will the Dimple Be by Rosemary Clooney. This song was pure DELIGHT. How have I never heard this song?????? 

Seventeen by Fontane Sisters. There were three versions to choose from. I listened to this one and thought it would pair well with Abba's Dancing Queen. 

The Popcorn Song ("Too Pooped To Pop") by Cliffie Stone. This is a novelty song that was a HOOT. I really enjoyed it!

Pledging My Love by Johnny Ace. There were two versions of this one. I found it super-super-super sweet. And I could almost imagine this being a couple's song and growing with them through the decades. 

Playmates. Fontane Sisters. This song isn't original to 1955--it's a much older song--but I am including it because I remember my mom singing it because her mom sang it. So it was like encountering an old friend. 

Not as A Stranger. Frank Sinatra. I love, love, love, love, love Sinatra. I do. I'd not heard this one. Sinatra is on the list several times. Would pair well with his better known Strangers In the Night. Fairy Tale is another lovely lovely song that was completely new-to-me.

Make Yourself Comfortable Andy Griffith and Make Yourself Comfortable by Sarah Vaughan. Andy Griffith provides a comedic running commentary on Sarah Vaughan's Make Yourself Comfortable. 

It's A Sin To Tell A Lie. Somethin' Smith & The Redheads. This one I'd personally classify as a novelty song. The middle verse has a twist!!! Mom missed it the first time; she didn't believe me or understand why I started laughing so hard. We had to listen to this one twice. 

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado. Instrumental. I loved this one so so so so much. There's also a version with words

Bo Diddley -- Bo Diddley. This one was refreshingly different from the same-same-same feel of most of the songs. It also sounds like a hand jive song. 

Black Denim Trousers by The Cheers. I include this NOT because I actually liked it--I didn't. But because as soon as I heard it was about a motorcycle rider I predicted he will BE DEAD BY THE END OF THE SONG. I was right. 

I Want You To Be My Baby by Georgia Gibbs (one of two versions.) This is a swingin' song. How did they ever learn to know when to breathe while singing the fast verses???? Incredible! Sounds so effortless!

Earth Angel because it's Earth Angel. I chose the Penguins version. (Not the Crew-Cuts version 

45prof writes, "Have you heard this classic piece of doo-wop sound exactly like this before? As was the case with the also-posted single version of “The Wallflower” (aka “Dance With Me Henry”) by Etta James, the Penguins’ “Earth Angel” has rarely, if ever, been reissued on LP or CD in its actual original ‘hit version’ form. In fact, many of the various post-1955 45rpm reissues also contained the same dry, unsweetened, and unedited non-single-version track that we’ve been accustomed to hearing for the past 50+ years. With its touch of added reverb, here is the original-issue 45 & 78 single track, but the ‘bad news: label boss Dootsie Williams wanted to get right into the vocal, so he lopped off the first 5 seconds of that now-familiar piano intro! Cleve Duncan and The Penguins spent three weeks atop the rhythm ‘n blues sales chart with “Earth Angel” and also accomplished the still-rare feat of bringing an R&B hit into Billboard’s ‘pop’ top-10 best-sellers, where it peaked at #8. Of the various cover versions released into the marketplace, the Crew-Cuts rendition was the most successful. Thanks to Matt The Cat for the loan of his original Dootone 78 used in this post."

Only You by The Platters. (I chose this version over the Hilltoppers version) I absolutely love, love, love, crazy love and adore doo-wop!!!!

 I really enjoyed Rock-a-Beatin' Boogie by Bill Haley and His Comets. I think I like it even more than Rock Around the Clock.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

132. Mr. Universe

Mr Universe. Arthur Slade. 2021 [January] 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It was just my luck that my girlfriend lived in another universe. And, to make matters worse, mysterious gray men were trying to erase her. My name is Michael, and I’m the last guy you’d think would end up jumping from one world to another.

Premise/plot: Michael, our protagonist, goes to visit his Uncle Harry, a scientist, and accidentally ends up in another universe. The good news? He meets a girl, Emily, and they definitely like like each other. The bad news? Well, there are lizard-men in grey suits after them--and only them???--can these two escape? Will Michael find a way back to his own universe? Can he find a way to bring Emily with him? 

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about multiverses or alternate realities. It has a little romance as a sub-plot, but it's more science fiction than romance. What I enjoyed most was how quick a read it was. I really like to be able to sit down and read a book in one sitting.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 29, 2020

131. The Titanic Sisters

The Titanic Sisters. Patricia Falvey. 2021 (January) 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The letter from America changed all our lives. The postman presented it to me with great ritual, as if it were a fine jewel. In his memory, he said, no one in my small village of Kilcross, in County Donegal, at the northwest tip of Ireland, had ever received such a thing, nor had he himself ever delivered anything so rare. After he pedaled away from our cottage whistling, I stood at the door holding the envelope, with its bright ribbon of stamps, in my hands like a colorful bird. 

My thoughts (part 1): I know it is out of character to begin a review with my thoughts, BUT, I think it's unavoidable in this case. 

The issues I had/have with The Titanic Sisters are not exclusive to The Titanic Sisters. This isn't the first nor will it be the last historical romance featuring some of my biggest pet peeves. 

Characters acting with little to no motivation--just one note characters that are conveniently one note to get the story from point A to point B. If you are going to go down the THIS STORY MUST HAVE VILLAIN(S) TO GET IN THE WAY OF TRUE LOVE'S PATH do readers a favor and at least make them complex enough to be believable humans. Give them a believable, understandable motivation rooted in human nature and not convenience to where you want your plot to go.

Historical romance writers would have us readers believe that 98% of all courtships include kidnapping or attempted kidnapping. Why? I don't know. (The other 2% would not include kidnapping but would include a fire.) Unless the villain doing the kidnapping has been well-developed and the whole story from start to finish has been building up to this one climax--and it is a natural, organic part of the story--then why throw in a situation of "danger" that everyone can spot from space essentially that it exists just to manipulate the couple into declaring their feelings for one another.

That is all.

Premise/plot: The Titanic Sisters star Delia and Nora Sweeney. These two sisters--who do NOT get along not even slightly--set sail on the Titanic in April 1912. These Irish passengers are third class, I believe, but both happen to snag seats on two different lifeboats. Delia sees Nora fall from the lifeboat into the sea, and she's unable to find her aboard the rescue ship, she fears that Nora's death is almost certainly a fact. Delia decides that since Nora won't be going to be a governess at the O'Hanlon house, she might as well go in her place and use her sister's name. Though this is more impulse than a well thought out scheme.

Nora, meanwhile, who did not die, has amnesia until she doesn't.... Happy endings seem unlikely for both sisters... it seems there's an evil force determined to keep throwing obstacle after obstacle after obstacle in their paths keeping the two from knowing fairy tale bliss. 

My thoughts (part 2): Readers expecting the novel to focus on the Titanic experience will likely be disappointed. I found it was a rush to get to the Titanic, a rush to get to the sinking, a rush to get to New York. (It was like when Simmers play The Sims on triple speed and are only interrupted by pop-up prompts.) I could easily forgive a story for not being all about the setting or giving me a feel or experience...if the characters felt truly human and complex. So my number one issue with the book has nothing to do with setting. (Though I do wonder about her descriptions of Texas as well.)

Nora was unlikeable. There I said it. Though I would--if I had to choose--pick the new Nora over the old. That bump on the head and time spent unconcious in the ocean did her character a favor? Or maybe it was the weeks not knowing who she was and what her own personality was that improved it? But since half the book was spent with Nora narrating--it wasn't a joy to read. 

Delia, our other narrator, I am much more neutral about. Though I didn't necessarily find her believable. At least we always understand Delia's motivations--if Delia acts readers know why. Even if readers don't think she's making the best decisions. This isn't the case with any other character in the book. This is understandable when Nora has amnesia and she truly doesn't know why she's making some decisions over others and is all out of sorts. (Though I'm not sure this excuses all of Nora's poor decisions. For the record I am NOT saying that it was her fault what happened to her at the ball. I am NOT saying that--would never, ever, ever say that. But when she saw HIM behave that way towards a CAT...let's just say that she should have had common sense to see he wasn't boyfriend material.)

The romance between Delia and Aidan O'Hanlan...I didn't find Aidan a well-developed character...but I could see why he was written in a way to make Delia go all weak in the knees and swoon. I thought Lily, his daughter, was much better developed. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and say it, Lily was the best character in the whole book. 









Spoilers ahead


I guess I am angriest at the inclusion of Mrs. Shaw. Mrs. Shaw exists solely to give Nora a safe place to recuperate and regain her memories. The author obviously didn't want Nora staying there and being safe and loved and isolated from the rest of the plot, so she killed off Mrs. Shaw. Why not have Mrs. Shaw tell Nora that she would always be welcome, but she should go seek out her sister and/or go back to her very worried parents? I just found it awfully convenient that Mrs. Shaw died ON HER WAY TO THE BANK when she was going to give Nora a large sum of money to live on IN CASE SHE DIED. Since her ONE-NOTE-EVIL nephew was due to inherit the property and would have control over what happened to her estate/property/money I almost expected her death to be foul play. But the author didn't go there--missed opportunity??? Maybe. (This was the one-note-evil man who attacked Nora at a ball and attempted to rape her. The same man with gambling problems.)

I was really enjoying the character of Mrs. Shaw she was a great influence on Nora. It seemed the more I as a reader liked a character...the more likely it was that the author would turn on the character to remove him/her from the center of the plot.

Dom was another character. He was also on board the Titanic, also third class or steerage, also miraculously survived and made it to New York. He exists solely to be a SYMPATHETIC, COMFORT and FRIEND to both Nora and Delia. But whenever the plot looks like it could veer towards Dom actually actually being more than a minor-minor-side character, the author intervenes to remind readers that nope, he's just an extra. There were moments when I was shipping Dom and Delia together....and moments when I was shipping Dom and Nora together. 

One character that irritated me a bit more than she probably should have is Mayflower. She is a friend to Delia in Texas. Her husband works closely with Aidan. She knows KNOWS that Aidan is dead-set against Lily and Delia going to Shotgun City because it is too dangerous and it isn't safe for women or children. The men are too wild and dangerous. Yet when she hears that Aidan is going to be out of town, she drives Lily and Delia to Shotgun City--as a surprise--and then SURPRISE, SUPRISE they get caught there and Lily has gone MISSING. Because both women decided it would be PERFECTLY SAFE for a young girl to GO WONDERING ON HER OWN. I think into a restaurant? Mayflower actually tries to talk Delia into letting the girl be independent???? Anyway, Delia ends up FIRED because of this episode. And Mayflower's intent supposedly was what exactly???? Here she has been trying to play matchmaker and manipulate them to be together????? And we're supposed to intelligently believe that May's intent was to bring these two together? By getting him angry enough to fire her???? It just defies logic why would Mayflower--or any person ever--ever think this was a good thing????

 Another character that infuriated me was James Sullivan. This angry-beyond-all-reason-obviously-one-note-villain is not developed enough to have a motivation for being BADDY BAD VILLIAN EXTRAORDINAIRE. So supposedly he's so angry that his daughter, Mary, died that he's determined to spend his whole life making his son-in-law's life hell on earth????? Explain to me how Texas is to blame for her catching a fever and dying? As if you couldn't catch a fever--or die of a fever, a disease, something--anywhere else on planet Earth? As if New York was the healthiest place and the only cause for death was old age???  And what BADDY BAD EXTRAORDINAIRE would be complete without telling readers his whole plot beforehand???

The book was predictable in places--but I never fault romances for being predictable.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

130. Christmas Day in the Morning

Christmas Day in the Morning. Pearl S. Buck. Adapted by David T. Warner. 2020. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Robert woke suddenly and completely. It was four o'clock, the hour when his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking. That was fifty years ago.

Premise/plot: Christmas Day in the Morning is a short story written by Pearl Buck originally published in 1955 for a magazine. Robert, the narrator, is reflecting back on the true meaning of Christmas. In remembering one particular Christmas of his childhood--he is inspired anew to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I haven't read any of Pearl S. Buck's shorter works so this was nice. I did like the theme of this one--that Christmas is all about giving and receiving love. I would recommend it to adults (or to readers of any age) that enjoy sentimental, feel-good, Christmas-themed books. 

This one includes several blank pages in case readers are inspired to write a message to a loved one and pass it along. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

129. Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls

Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call. Claudia Friddell. Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. 2021. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Grace Banker opened the newspaper on a brisk December morning in 1917--the world was at war, and General John J. Pershing, the commander of US troops across the Atlantic, was calling for female telephone operators to join the fight against Germany. 

Premise/plot: This nonfiction picture book biography stars Grace Banker one of the female telephone operators recruited to serve overseas in France during World War I at great risk to her own life. (She became the Chief Operator of the 1st Unit of World War I telephone operators.)

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one! I had not heard of Grace Banker or the 'Hello Girls.' (Earlier this year or maybe late last year I came across a sentence or two in another book mentioning telephone operators during the first world war, but I had no idea really about what these women experienced.) I found the story fascinating. It is a well written narrative--well researched too. I loved all that back material which provided more context for understanding their place in history.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 26, 2020

128. The Gentleman and the Thief

The Gentleman and the Thief. Sarah M. Eden. November 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hollis Darby learned two things at the knee of his not-so-dear, long-departed, low-life, scoundrel of a father: how to gamble beyond what was advisable and how to be an utter disappointment to his family.

 Premise/plot: Hollis Darby, our hero, is a member of the Dread Penny Society, a secret society consisting of authors of penny dreadfuls. These authors are on a mission to do good--they are social justice reformers, if you will, intent on "saving" and "rescuing" the least of these. And in this second book, they are trying to solve a couple of mysteries...

One of the mysteries they are trying to solve is the identity of a thief...turns out there are many, many, many thieves in London. But there's one thief in particular that is hiding in plain sight. 

Ana Newport, our heroine, is a music teacher by day and a thief by night...but she's not your ordinary thief. She just wants to track down all her family's belongings that were wrongfully taken...and if she just so happens to fall in love with a gentleman like Hollis Darby...well...that would be quite unexpected and lovely. 

 But that's just the barest fraction of the plot in this newest Victorian Proper Romance. There is a BIGGER mystery to solve--which I think in part began in the first book--and I think this bigger mystery may take more than a couple books to solve. 

One of the highlights for me, however, is the inclusion of TWO serial penny dreadfuls. One serial series is Higglebottom's School for the Dead written by "Lafayette Jones" and The Gentleman and the Thief by "Mr. King." 

The Gentleman and the Thief is the sequel to The Lady and the Highwayman

My thoughts: I love, love, love, love, LOVE this series. I expected to love it of course. I adored the first book in the series. Both books are just fantastic. Highly recommended. 

I really love the framework of the novel. It alternates narrators between Hollis and Ana. Both fabulous narrators, by the way, I love getting romance from both a his/her perspective. And this romance had just the right amount of challenges. It also alternates chapters or installments of the two penny dreadful series. I honest LOVED both of these. So well written. So enjoyable. So satisfying. I never once got annoyed that the plot was getting interrupted. Everything was delightful.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

127. Dearest Josephine

Dearest Josephine. Caroline George. 2021. [February] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hi Faith, I did a thing. A big thing. And I’m not sure how to tell you without sounding like the rotten human being who abandoned her best friend for a boy.

Premise/plot: There is a framework to Dearest Josephine that I'm guessing readers will either love or hate. Josie De Clare, our heroine, is mourning the loss of her father and has gone to an estate her father (secretly) owned near the Scottish border. While there she discovers a stash of letters addressed to JOSEPHINE DE CLARE and an unfinished manuscript of a novel. The writer is Elias Roch. The letters are dated 1820. (She also has a portrait of Elias in the house). 

There are three concurrent plots for readers: 1) present day Josie De Clare emailing and texting her friends and family (her best friend, Faith, her new friend, Oliver, and her Mum; 2) Regency era, sulky Elias Roch writing letters to a mystery woman named Josephine De Clare that he met just once at a masquerade; 3) Elias Roch's FICTIONAL manuscript in which he fantasizes that he finds Josephine De Clare again--though there's a catch, she's engaged to his cousin. (This fictional novel changes some names--though not Josephine's name.) 

As the present day Josie reads Elias' words, she falls madly, deeply, passionately in love--very very INSTA LOVE--with a man she can never have. The more she falls for HIM the less in touch with reality she becomes. Will Faith and Oliver--her present day friends--keep her grounded in the present and hopeful for the future? Or is she destined to be just as sulky as Elias?

My thoughts: I have many, many, many thoughts on this one. I do. I'll start with the positive. My favorite character is OLIVER. If there is redemption to be found in this one--redeeming it from being a I-regret-wasting-my-time-novel--it's in Oliver's personality and character. (I also like his grandparents. Though we don't get enough of them to really qualify as being minor-minor characters.) 

The novel is told almost exclusively through letters, texts, and emails. We do get replies back. Faith's texts and emails to Josie. Oliver's texts to Josie. I guess I'm neutral about this narrative choice. I will say that the narrative voice(s) are a bit weak.

The love triangle is persistent yet weak. Readers can't really escape the fact that Josie is falling for TWO boys. Elias lived during the Regency period--I'm guessing he was born circa 1800 give or take a year or two. Oliver is her present day flirty-bantery-boy-next-door. 

INSTA love is strong in this one. Without excuses and unashamedly. Josie falls INSTANTLY for Elias. Elias falls INSTANTLY for Josephine. Oliver falls INSTANTLY in love with Josie. 

Everything is DRAWN OUT a bit unrealistically. I think in real life if one discovered a bundle of letters, one wouldn't space reading each one out so much. It seems that days--if not weeks--go by in between her reading of each letter AND individual chapters in the manuscript. This is a narrative technique so that Josie's story unfolds simultaneously to the letters and novel. But at the same time while it might be necessary as a plot device, it's a bit unrealistic. If you could sit down with a stack of letters--even if there were twenty or thirty plus--and a couple of cups of tea--over a weekend, then it would only make sense that you do so. The novel sections in particular seem drawn out. Josie must be the slowest reader ever.

Elias reads like he's the fantasy dream boy of a book-loving eleven or twelve year old. Josie is a college student. 

The premise--if carried out--is intriguing. IF the present-day Josie de Clare is actually actually the mystery woman from Elias's past--if they are one in the same--then that might be intriguing enough if carried out well. Perhaps she hasn't met him yet--but she will--somehow, someway travel back in time and meet him. But nope. That's not this story, this novel. 

 Readers can choose whether or not to believe they are one in the same or not...but there's nothing decisive in the story besides Josie's stubborn persistence that HER ONE TRUE LOVE, HER ONLY SOLE MATE, THE ONE SHE WAS DESTINED TO SPEND ETERNITY WITH FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER BLISSFULLY HAPPY was born two centuries ago. 

The present day narrative is believable enough I suppose. I suppose that a young college age girl could write, talk, and act like Josie. Could.

 The past narrative is a bit less believable. Elias' writing doesn't really feel time-appropriate? I mean the phrasing is a bit stilted. It's like he's writing in a modern-day voice with a few old-fashioned phrases tucked here and there. But it's almost like Elias is a bit fish out of water in his own time. For example, I couldn't figure out why/how it was that Lorelai, a young woman, could live unchaperoned with Elias for weeks/months so matter of factly. Young women--even if on the best most friendliest of terms--didn't just go and spend weeks/months with a SINGLE man with no chaperones of her own or his own. It's the two of them in this estate/house plus a couple of servants. True, he's mainly so obsessed with sulking that he doesn't have lusty-lusty thoughts about taking advantage of her. But still. It just wasn't appropriate.

The novel-within-the-novel reads like bad fan fiction. In my opinion.


  • The words inside me are so palpable and consuming they withhold rest until I let them out in the world. 
  • “Ah, I see.” She laughed, her face scrunching to make space for a grand smile. “You need not feel shy around me, though. I’ll be enough not shy for the both of us.” “You’re too generous.” Elias smiled beneath his shroud. 
  • My headmaster once said we take from books what we bring to them, meaning books are but reflections of us. I share that belief now. For the sake of literature, I undressed on a page. I exposed myself in a quiet intimacy. Now I am seen and spent, and I have no more to show. 
  • For years we envied the girls in romcoms. We hoped guys would look at us like that—like we were beautiful and one of a kind. You found Noah, but I had no one. Until now. Now I’m that girl, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t matter. Something fantastical happened to me. Two hundred years ago, a man fell in love with someone, and that someone—or at least her twin—found his letters centuries later. Elias and I were meant for each other. I must continue to search for his book even if you think I’m crazy because . . . I feel him like a sharp pain in my side. 
  • Her kiss tasted like . . . finally. 
  • That was all he wanted to be—the boy who saw a girl and never stopped seeing her, the boy whose love never grew stagnant. 
  • My soul was made for your soul. A love like that cannot be forgotten.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 19, 2020

126. A Quiet Madness

A Quiet Madness: A Biographical Novel of Edgar Allen Poe. John Isaac Jones. 2020. 398 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In the city by the River Charles, the winter of 1808 proved to be one of the most brutal in its history. While October and November had been relatively mild, two savage nor’easters had blown through in late December and dumped more than nine feet of snow on hapless residents in less than a week. 

Premise/plot: A Quiet Madness is a biographical novel (aka fictionalized) of Edgar Allen Poe. It opens with his birth--in a funeral parlor--and ends soon after his death. It is always dramatic, sometimes melodramatic, never ever boring. At its best, it shows Poe as he is inspired and in the act of writing his poems and short stories. For example, readers "witness" Poe's very act of creating The Raven, perhaps his best known poem. At its worst, it is a bit graphic in depicting Poe's sex life. 

My thoughts: It was a quick read for actually being close to four hundred pages. Perhaps this is due to all the melodrama and drama. It keeps you turning pages--even if it's more like watching a train accident. (The train accident not being necessarily the author's writing style, technique, or craft--but the events unfolding in Poe's life.) That being said, I think the dialogue was probably the weakest aspect of this one. There were times the dialogue just got to be so off-putting because it was unnatural. It didn't feel appropriate to his times...or appropriate to our times. Still, there were moments of great interest. So I don't regret spending time with this one. 

One thing I didn't realize before reading this one was his marriage to his TWELVE YEAR OLD first cousin. It's unimaginable to me to think that twelve is young enough and mature enough--physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically for marriage. And the narrative does its best--in my opinion--to make this as normal and ordinary as possible.  Another instance is when a fifteen year old Poe is seduced (he is quite quite willing) by his best friend's mother--an adult.

Poe's life--as I hinted at earlier--was full of tragedies, semi-failures, and missed opportunities. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 16, 2020

125. Winter Wheat

Winter Wheat. Jeanne Williams. 1975. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was hard to guess where the thatch of the sod house ended and the prairie began. 

Premise/plot: Set in 1874, it stars a Mennonite family living on the prairie in Kansas. Cobie, our heroine and narrator, is sixteen. She is the second oldest daughter--there are five daughters now in the family. Her sister, Rebecca, gets all the attention as oldest. Cobie wishes for a certain neighbor--a school teacher fluent in German and English--would notice her--choose her. This novel chronicles their first year in America, in Kansas, farming--for better or worse. There's some tension between the old and the new, the known and unknown. For example, should the Mennonites (multiple families came over from Russia together) learn English and become American citizens? Or should they continue to mainly and exclusively speak German and NOT become citizens. How much--if at all--should they interact with their non-Mennonite neighbors? 

It has just about what you'd expect in a prairie book: wild fires, grasshoppers, and more oh my!

My thoughts: I bought this book for my mom a few years ago. It looked like her kind of book. It did. When she was recently going through her stacks, she found it and decided to read it. She read it in one sitting. She was enthusiastic about the book. She kept telling me how wonderful it was. I asked her a few questions before making the decision if I'd read it or not...

Does anyone commit suicide? (I asked this because of O Pioneers which has really made me distrustful).

Does anyone freeze to death?

Does anyone avoid freezing to death by cutting into a horse or oxen and climbing inside with their guts?

Does anyone burn to death?

No to all the above. So I decided to read it. 

I wish I could say that I loved, loved, loved it as much as my mom. But I just didn't see what she saw. I liked it well enough. I didn't dislike the characters--well, maybe with the exception of the oldest daughter, Rebecca--and the story was mostly okay. (There was one more question I should have asked about....) But it wasn't a wow read for me. It ended where it should have began maybe?

Note: The reviews on GoodReads are CONFUSING because apparently there's another book with the title Winter Wheat by another author. That book apparently stars a SCHOOL TEACHER IN MONTANA. I almost wish I'd read that one instead. I do wish that GoodReads wouldn't mash books together just because the titles are the same.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

124. The Four Winds

The Four Winds. Kristin Hannah. 2021. [February] 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when it felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going. I came west in search of a better life, but my American dream was turned into a nightmare by poverty and hardship and greed. These past few years have been a time of things lost: Jobs. Homes. Food. The land we loved turned on us, broke us all, even the stubborn old men who used to talk about the weather and congratulate each other on the season’s bumper wheat crop. 

Premise/plot: The Four Winds is a historical novel set primarily in the 1930s during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Primarily. Readers spend a brief period of time with Elsa, our heroine, in the 1920s which sets up the story. 

Elsa Wolcott--when we first meet her--is twenty-five and feeling every bit a spinster. Her parents have almost molded her into that role of unlovable, unworthy spinster. But after reading Age of Innocence, she decides enough is enough is enough. She buys herself some red silk and makeup, sews herself a dress, and sneaks out of the house looking for something--anything--to make life bearable. What she finds is a younger man, an Italian, who wants to take her for a drive out to a barn for a good time. A good time is just what she's craving--though she might not have been brave enough to be blunt. A few months later, Elsa realizes she's with child--as do her parents--and she's driven to the Martinelli homestead and dumped. Elsa and Rafe marry. This first preliminary section ends with the birth of that child--a baby girl she names Laredo. 

The rest of the novel is set during the Dust Bowl and will see our characters--Elsa and family--move from the Texas Panhandle to California.

My thoughts: Beautifully written. That's what I'd say first and foremost. The Four Winds is BITTERSWEET. If it didn't have that epilogue, I would say it was more BITTER than sweet, I tell you. But even when things are at their bleakity-bleak-bleakest the narrative is so compelling that the story is just beautiful and the characters fully developed. There were so many complex relationships in this one!!! In particular, the relationship between mothers and daughters and parent and child. (I love, love, love, love, love the relationship between Elsa and her mother-in-law, Rose.)

There were times when I wanted to interfere, to yell a bit. But I take that as a good sign. And it's not like I have alternative better answers that would with certainty have 'saved the day.' (I don't. Not really. Not with certainty.) But there were plenty of times I was like THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS? For example, I don't see why California was seen as the one and only answer by desperate people. There are other states too. But I digress.

I think it balanced bleakity-bleak with hope quite well. But I do have to say that though the ending was completely authentically in tune with the whole novel--everything was leading up to this--it was still WRONG on a purely emotional level.

Is it clean? Would I recommend it to those looking for clean reads? Mostly. The first bit is on-screen but non-descriptive. It also doesn't take up much space. The last bit is a bit more descriptive--but again not page-consuming. I would say the purpose is realism and life-as-it-is and not in any way romance. (More time is spent describing picking cotton.) The language--I think there are a few words here and there. But again it felt natural enough and not for shock value or being there for the sake of being there. 


Elsa Wolcott had spent years in enforced solitude, reading fictional adventures and imagining other lives. In her lonely bedroom, surrounded by the novels that had become her friends, she sometimes dared to dream of an adventure of her own, but not often.
Hope began to dim for a woman when she turned twenty. By twenty-two, the whispers in town and at church would have begun, the long, sad looks. By twenty-five, the die was cast. An unmarried woman was a spinster.

There had to be opportunities out there, but where would she find them? The library. Books held the answer to every question.

Books had always been her solace; novels gave her the space to be bold, brave, beautiful, if only in her own imagination. 
 You are a town girl,” Mr. Martinelli said in a thick Italian accent. “Not anymore, I guess.” “This is a good answer.” He bent down, scooped up a handful of dirt. “My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family. We plant, we tend, we harvest. I make wine from grapes that I brought here from Sicily, and the wine I make reminds me of my father. It binds us, one to another, as it has for generations. Now it will bind you to us.” “I’ve never tended to anything.” He looked at her. “Do you want to change that?” Elsa saw compassion in his dark eyes, as if he knew how afraid she’d been in her life, but she had to be imagining it. All he knew about her was that she was here now and she’d brought his son down with her. “Beginnings are only that, Elsa. When Rosalba and I came here from Sicily, we had seventeen dollars and a dream. That was our beginning. But it wasn’t what gave us this good life. We have this land because we worked for it, because no matter how hard life was, we stayed here. This land provided for us. It will provide for you, too, if you let it.”

 “Believe me, Elsa, this little girl will love you as no one ever has … and make you crazy and try your soul. Often all at the same time.”

“That she would love me as no one else ever would and break my heart?” “Sì. And you see how right I was?” “About part of it, I guess. She certainly breaks my heart.” “Yes. I was a trial to my poor mamma, too. The love, it comes in the beginning of her life and at the end of yours. God is cruel that way. Your heart, is it too broken to love?” “Of course not.” “So, you go on.” She shrugged, as if to say, Motherhood. “What choice is there for us?” “It just … hurts.” Rose was silent for a while; finally, she said, “Yes.”

Dust pneumonia. That was what they called it, but it was really loss and poverty and man’s mistakes.

“You are the daughter I always wanted,” Rose said. “Ti amo.” “And you are my mother,” Elsa said. “You saved me, you know.” “Mothers and daughters. We save each other, sì?”

The four winds have blown us here, people from all across the country, to the very edge of this great land, and now, at last, we make our stand, fight for what we know to be right. We fight for our American dream, that it will be possible again. Jack says that I am a warrior and, while I don’t believe it, I know this: A warrior believes in an end she can’t see and fights for it. A warrior never gives up. A warrior fights for those weaker than herself. It sounds like motherhood to me.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

123. Goblin Market

Goblin Market. Christina Rossetti. 1862. 48 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:

Premise/plot: Laura and Lizzie are sisters. Lizzie warns Laura time and time and time again NOT to be tempted by the goblin men nor the wares they sell--their forbidden fruit. But Laura, well, Laura is mightily tempted and gives in despite the warnings, perhaps because of the warnings. At first, nothing tastes so wonderful and amazing as that forbidden fruit, but it comes at high cost--her very life is in danger. Can Lizzie find a way to save her sister? Or will she succumb like others before her now resting in the graveyard?

My thoughts: I have read this multiple times. Whenever I remember it, I remember it fondly. The poem is lovely. The language is exquisite. 

Laugh’d every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
Hugg’d her and kiss’d her:
Squeez’d and caress’d her:
Stretch’d up their dishes,
Panniers, and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs.”—

 It's an atmospheric read for this time of year that I recommend.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 08, 2020

122. The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker. William Gibson. 1956. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Doctor: She'll live. Kate: Thank God.

Premise/plot: The Miracle Worker is a play by William Gibson about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. The play opens ever so briefly with Helen as a toddler--two years of age or so--when her parents discover her loss of vision and hearing, that she is both deaf and blind. Much of the play occurs years later--I believe when she is six?--as Miss Annie Sullivan arrives to 'teach' Helen Keller. The mother, Kate, is ever-hopeful. But there are plenty in the house that are super skeptical. How can Helen learn anything? How can Helen be taught how to behave? Surely home isn't the best place to keep such a beastly creature as Helen? That isn't fair to the household, is it? But Miss Sullivan is given a trial period to see what she can do--if anything--with young Helen. Can Miss Sullivan work a miracle and teach Helen a way to connect and communicate with the world. Can she give her language and understanding?

My thoughts: I remember being absolutely WOWed watching the Miracle Worker movies on television as a child. We had recorded both versions on the VCR. I just loved, loved, loved them both. There was something so wonderful about the story--something captivating. I remember *needing* to learn the sign language alphabet after watching the movies. And it's something that stuck with me. I would have loved to learn more sign at some point--but never did. 

When I saw the play for $2 I knew I had to buy it and read it. It's a good read, a quick read. I won't say it's as captivating to read as it is to watch. But it's good. I'm glad I read it. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

121. We Dream of Space

We Dream of Space. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The pinball machine didn’t steal Fitch Thomas’s quarter. Not really. But when one of the flippers is broken, there’s no point in playing.

Premise/plot: We Dream of Space is a middle grade coming of age novel set in January 1986 starring three siblings: Fitch, Bird, and Cash. The book is told from the perspective of all three siblings. Fitch is struggling with anger issues and feelings of shame. Bird is a big, big dreamer but is haunted by insecurity and anxiety. Cash, well, Cash also struggles with finding his place to belong, finding something he is good at; he struggles with worthlessness. The three siblings have so much in common--so so much--but they also share this a feeling of isolation and alone-ness. They seem unaware that their siblings are also struggling and just barely coping. Another thing all three have in common is their parents who always, always, always, always seems to be arguing, fighting, fussing, bickering, spatting, raging. The Nelson-Thomas home is not comfortable, cozy, safe. It's very much a Jekyl-and-Hyde home. (That's how Bird refers to her home). 

The book deals with their lives at home and at school. The three siblings share one teacher--Ms. Salonga--though not all at the same time period. She is a science teacher, I believe, who is dedicating the whole month of January to space and space exploration. Bird, in particular, is thrilled with this focus. And she daydreams conversations with one of the astronauts, Judith Resnik. 

It touches on issues of family dysfunction (in particular spousal verbal abuse, and perhaps a bit of neglect), bullying, self-esteem, body image, and friendship. (Not all friends are *good* or *good-for-you* friends. Some relationships are toxic.) 

My thoughts: We Dream of Space won't satisfy every reader. It ends roughly around the first week of February 1986. There are no pretty little bows tied neatly. Cash hasn't transformed his grades or made the track team...yet. Fitch hasn't figured out how to make amends and reform his outbursts...yet. Bird hasn't made peace with the tragedy of the Challenger and "gotten over" her funk...yet. The parents' relationship hasn't miraculously improved 1010%. There have been no promises to change or acknowledgement that they are hurting each other and the children. But despite the lack of neatness in the bow-tying department, it stays true to life. Problems never resolve quickly and neatly. Not really. 

It also won't satisfying the nit-pickiest of readers who will notice that the teacher talks of the shuttle launching from HOUSTON, TEXAS. (It should be Cape Canaveral, Florida). If that is the biggest issue you have with the book--that could perhaps be fixed before it goes into paperback or reprinting of a hardcover if this one should win awards. 

The book offers an emotional roller coaster. The narrative is getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the EXPLOSION which provides its own tension. But that isn't the only tension--far from it. All the relationships in the book are a bit of a mess. This family needs help--an intervention. The home life is toxic and damaging. 

For those that have--in the past--lived through this it could potentially be a trigger and hit a little too close to home. For those that have never lived through this, I would love to see this book trigger empathy and compassion. The truth is you never know what may be going on in the lives of your classmates. Teachers, you may not know what is going on in the lives of your students.

For those that are currently living through this--perhaps this book will help you feel not-alone, perhaps it will help you feel SEEN and HEARD.

The three kids--despite being in middle school--desperately needed DAILY TIME with Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood. 


  • Her mother looked up from her book. If Tomorrow Comes, it was called. “Don’t touch those sugar cereals, Bird. Those are for your brothers. You won’t be skinny forever.” I wonder how many times she’ll say that sentence in 1986, Bird thought.
  • The Thomas family was like its own solar system. Planets in orbit. No, not planets. More like meteors or space junk. Floating objects that sometimes bumped or slammed into each other before breaking apart.
  • There was a time when the Nelson Thomas family orbited the same sun, but that was in the distant past. They’d drifted apart at some point, but no one knew when or how. One thing was certain, however: the Nelson Thomas siblings always, without fail, went their separate ways as soon as the bell rang.
  • Ever since Fitch got to middle school last year, he had the sense that everything was about acting casual no matter what, like nothing in the world mattered and you couldn’t be bothered to care about anything, even though everyone cared about everything.
  • Bird knew it was a mistake. She could predict an argument a mile away. Nothing could be done about it, though. Bird didn’t know how to cook, so it’s not like she could prepare a meal for them. Instead she did the next best thing: she ate a turkey sandwich. That way her mom wouldn’t have to worry about including her. She suggested that the others eat sandwiches, too, but they said no, they wanted to wait for something good. So Bird went into her room and waited, too. But not for something good.
  • No such rules applied to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. They were allowed to use all the words. They could even pair some of the words together, like when Mr. Thomas called Mrs. Thomas a “stupid [expletive] cow,” or when she called him a “moronic [expletive] [expletive].” Every ugly word was on the table—especially when they spoke to each other.
  • Dani came back with the soda and called for Chekov again. “He’s such a funny cat,” Dani said. “He only likes to come out if he knows the environment is safe.” Bird took a long, deep sip of her Sunkist. “I understand,” she said.
  • Sometimes Bird wondered what would happen if she ever dismantled the television. Would she find one of those swinging pendulums inside, the kind hypnotists use to put people to sleep?



© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

120. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages.  [Souce: Bought]

First sentence: Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food. 

Premise/plot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel. I would say it consists almost entirely of letters centering around a young author, Julia Ashton, as she sets out on her next project. The book opens with her on tour for her last writing project--written under a pseudonym--concerning the war. She is seeking inspiration for her new project. And this inspiration comes from an unlikely source, perhaps, a letter she receives in the mail from a stranger concerning Charles Lamb.

When Dawsey Adams writes Julia Ashton he little expects what unfolds. He's seeking other books by Charles Lamb--does she know a London bookseller?--and a biography of Charles Lamb. He's writing to her--a stranger--because her name and address was in the second hand book he picked up--a selection of Lamb's works. He mentions oh-so-briefly a roast pig, a literary society, and how much reading helped during the war. 

His letter left her wanting more, more, more! Surely there is a good story worth investigating. So begins a friendship carried out through letters. She writes not only Mr. Dawsey Adams but the other members--men and women, young and old--who were a part of the literary society during the occupation during the second world war. 

(She asks for their input into an upcoming article--they consent.) After providing character references, they willingly share and share and share and share. It becomes obvious to one and all that Julia Ashton belongs. So she goes to visit all her friends to meet them face to face for the first time. She'll be staying in Elizabeth's little cottage...

One of her closest new friends is a little girl, Kit, a war orphan--Elizabeth's daughter fathered by a German soldier. Juliet loves Kit. Kit loves Juliet. Juliet begins daydreaming of adopting Kit as her very own daughter. 

I mention all this because the movie gets 80% of the details completely and totally wrong in telling the story.

My thoughts: I love the book. I crazy love the book. I think this is the third time I've read it. But it's been years and years--six years to be precise, it was 2014--since I read it. When I watched the movie it was such a distant memory that all the differences didn't jump out at me. Watching the movie wasn't a nails on the chalkboard experience for me because I wasn't aware that practically everything was different from the book. 

I started this book last week and watched the movie on Saturday night. All I could see were the big, big differences between the two. The movie really goes out of its way to provide tension and drama. 

In the movie, Juliet goes to the island uninvited and unannounced. She's never corresponded with any of the other members. 

In the movie, Juliet is met with skepticism and kept at a distant. No one really wants to talk about Elizabeth, about the war, about the society, about anything. They don't trust her. 

In the movie, Juliet stays at a hotel or inn. She is not renting Elizabeth's cottage.

In the movie, Juliet is ENGAGED to a man she's been dating about six months. In the book, she's been seeing him about TWO months. When he proposes--over dinner--she says NO, it's way, way, way too soon. I couldn't possibly say yes without giving it a lot of thought. The more she thinks about it, the more she's leaning towards NO WAY. In the book, he shows his jerky-jerk-jerk ways very early on. Warning flags are being waved all about, Juliet notices them all and says NO. 

In the movie, Juliet leaves the island...only to return to tell Dawsey she loves him. In the book, she never leaves. Never. She writes on the island. And she writes with full permission from all concerned. There is nothing secret or underhand about her being on the island. 

In the movie, very few characters are really explored. In the book, there are dozens of people on the island whom we hear from--through letters mostly. 

In the movie, Elizabeth's death is handled in a very tacked on way. In the book, they receive a letter. Dawsey and maybe another person go to Europe to talk to the Jewish woman who was Elizabeth's friend...and who witnessed Elizabeth's death. They bring her back to the island. She is very much a part of the action.

In the book, there's a super-sweet relationship between Juliet and Isola. One of my favorite scenes is when Isola is chastising Juliet for not telling her about Jane Austen sooner! How could you let me think that Heathcliff is the ideal when all along there is Mr. Darcy?!?!?! Isola's grandmother's letters is also one of the highlights of the book.

There is so much depth and substance, heart and soul in the book. The movie is so....lacking in that department. It chose to add some drama--tension between Amelia and Juliet, for example. The Juliet from the book would have never gone uninvited and pushed and pursued a story without full permission. 

 Favorite quotes:

I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with.
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.
I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers-- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one-- the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it-- along with first dibs on the new books.
Isola doesn't approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stomping on it.

It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good?
Will Thisbee gave me The Beginner's Cook-Book for Girl Guides. It was just the thing; the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints - "When adding eggs, break the shells first.”
“What on earth did you say to Isola? She stopped in on her way to pick up Pride and Prejudice and to berate me for never telling her about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why hadn't she known there were better love stories around? Stories not riddled with ill-adjusted men, anguish, death and graveyards!”
The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways--when you began writing me dizzy letters about Alexander, I didn't ask if you were in love with him, I asked what his favorite animal was. And your answer told me everything I needed to know about him--how many men would admit that they loved ducks?

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

119. The Royal Governess

The Royal Governess. Wendy Holden. 2020. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: EVERYTHING was ready. 

Premise/plot: The Royal Governess has a framework. It opens and closes in July 1987. Our heroine, Marion Crawford, is ever-hopeful and ever-prepared to receive royal guests. True, they have never come before. True, all attempts to contact the family for the past four decades have failed. But she's an optimist, I suppose. Surely one day the Queen will one day be hit with nostalgia and think of her once more and decide to forgive her.

But 98% of the novel takes place in the past opening in 1932. Marion Crawford is a young woman training to become a teacher. Her dream job would be educating children in the slums. But her superiors have other thoughts on where she might do the most good. What if her values and ideas could help shape the upper class and actually be a catalyst for real change? Marion is resistant. Her teach the wealthy elite? The snobbiest of snobs? Seriously?! But when an opportunity comes her way she does just that--and with royal children! 

But is Marion being true to herself and her ideals by teaching royals? Is it a lost cause? Is she wasting her prime years in vain?

The book obviously focuses on her time as a governess raising Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. But children don't stay children forever. They grow up, grow distant, grow cold. 

My thoughts: The Royal Governess falls into the 'almost' category for me. It might be historically accurate. Might. I haven't done research or gone digging to see if the author's spin matches what we do know of Marion Crawford, of Queen Elizabeth, of Princess Margaret. But Marion's perspective is a bit off-putting for this reader. 

What do I mean? Well, you might think it would be mainly focused on her actual time with either Elizabeth or Margaret. Featuring conversations, sharing activities, building up that relationship. But the book doesn't do that. Instead it focuses more on the tension in Marion's personal, private life. How can she fit in a private life while working for the Royal family? Can she have a man on the side? A man not connected to the Royals? Can she have an active sex life and fulfill her needs? Just how much does she have to sacrifice to keep her job? 

The book--when it's not sharing a little too much about Marion's private life--focuses on Marion's odd relationship with the king and queen. And let's not forget her lusting after Tommy Lascelles. How many scenes of her lusting after him do we need??? 

It's also a book that seems to do more telling than showing. We're supposed to get this idea that she practically raised Elizabeth and Margaret. That they were oh-so-dear to her that they were more than a job, more than a duty, they were her everything. Yet what we get in these pages is her internal complaining and doubting. We don't get mostly scenes showing her actually interacting with the children. We get scenes with her interacting with other staff.

I wouldn't have minded slowing down on the things she sped through and speeding through the things she slowed down on. For example, 1936 through the end of World War II. We get small snippets of scenes from this time period. But a hundred pages about Elizabeth when she's in love and preparing to get married.

I would much rather read repetitively about her taking care of the children than read repetitively her desire for a man.

I do think other readers might like this one more than I did. 

I imagine The Little Princesses written by Marion Crawford would be more interesting than this one??? Maybe. I don't know. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 05, 2020

118. Children of the New Forest

The Children of the New Forest. Frederick Marryat. 1847. 369 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The circumstances which I am about to relate to my juvenile readers took place in the year 1647. By referring to the history of England, of that date, they will find that King Charles the First, against whom the Commons of England had rebelled, after a civil war of nearly five years, had been defeated, and was confined as a prisoner at Hampton Court.

Premise/plot: Jacob Armitage, a forester, saves the lives of the four Beverley children--Edward, Humphrey, Alice, and Edith--during the English Civil War. He overhears a plot to burn Arnwood--the Beverley estate--and rushes to get the children to safety before the soldiers can arrive. He decides it would be safest to allow people to believe the children died in the fire. As for the children, he'll raise them as his grandchildren in his oh-so-humble cottage hidden deep within the New Forest. He'll teach the children everything they will need to know to survive on their own. 

Most of the action occurs after Jacob's death as the children are a bit older. (The first part reads a bit like Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe.) Edward has become a great hunter--though hunting technically isn't allowed in the New Forest. The Parliament--led by Cromwell--has taken possession. Edward doesn't recognize that government--his family long being loyal to Charles I and then his son, Charles II. But he slowly but surely comes to respect the man left in charge--a Mr. Heatherstone. He has a daughter, an oh-so-beautiful daughter, named Patience. After much reservation--years go by since their first meeting--Edward becomes his secretary and takes up residence with the family. But when there's an opportunity to serve the should-be-would-be King (Charles II) will Edward do his duty and continue his family's legacy?

My thoughts: I really enjoyed Marryat's The Children of the New Forest. The first half focuses more on life in the forest--living off the land, hunting, tracking, trapping, building things, catching wild cattle, making. The second half focuses more on relationships and the times. There's a bit of romance in this last part. 

I loved the characterization. I loved spending time with Edward. I wouldn't say the characterization of all characters is equally sophisticated. There is a gypsy character, Pablo, I believe, that is fairly stereotypical. Readers are reminded every time he's mentioned that he is lazy because he's a gypsy; that he's prone to stealing because he's a gypsy; that he has to be tricked into working because he's a gypsy. But despite all the telling, the showing reveals him to be a fiercely loyal character that serves his friends well.

I loved the faith aspect throughout the book. Jacob raised these four kids to love God and to trust in Him always. 


© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews