Tuesday, October 26, 2021

134. While I Was Away


While I Was Away. Waka T. Brown. 2021. [January] 310 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: One wintry January afternoon, my mom said to me, "Waka, chotto sentaku tatande yo."

Premise/plot: While I Was Away is a memoir. The author recalls her sixth grade year--1984--in which she's sent abroad [for five months] to Japan to live with her grandmother and attend a [Japanese] school. Her parents want her to be able to speak, read, and write Japanese. She'll miss all of summer vacation, and the first few months of her seventh grade year. She'll know what she's missing out on in Kansas...but she has no idea what will await her in Tokyo.

My thoughts: I really loved this one. I thought it was a fascinating read. So much depth and substance. So much food for thought. It packs in a lot of emotions and feelings, and so many experiences. I think my favorite part was seeing the development of relationships. She's leaving her family and friends behind in Kansas. She's going to live with her strict grandmother. She'll be visiting aunts, uncles, and cousins. She'll be attending school and meeting a lot of people her own age. To see her build relationships--to struggle to build relationships--to make a life for herself and find her place to belong...it was just a beautiful thing to see. And one we don't often get in such great detail.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

133. A Christmas Waltz


A Christmas Waltz. Josi S. Kilpack. 2020. [November] 130 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The dark-haired man with the red satin waistcoat began walking toward her from the other side of the ballroom.

Premise/plot: Marta, our heroine, comes to look forward to waltzing with David every year at her family's Yuletide Ball. Their first waltz occurs when she's newly 'out' and just sixteen. She's yet to experience the season in London, and this first dance fills her with all the feels. The two seem to have a connection. Emphasis on seem. For while the dance is oh-so-wonderful, that's all it remains--a memory of a dance. When given opportunities through the years to take the relationship further, deeper, he passes. Content, at least temporarily, to keep it just a nice, cozy memory to pull out now and then. Every single Christmas, these two waltzes. Years pass. Circumstances change. Yet one thing never changes. No matter where they find themselves in their lives, they make their way to each other on the dance floor every Christmas.

My thoughts: A Christmas Waltz is a bittersweet historical novella. On the one hand, it is sweet how these two find joy and comfort in each other's company year after year. A few minutes together each year to share one's private thoughts and dreams. 

On the other hand, because Marta is almost romanticizing and idealizing this relationship with David, she's making her life more bitter the rest of the year. Because her husband doesn't stand a chance against this perfect, idealized, dreamy, swoony connection. Granted, from what Marta tells David about her husband, he doesn't care...at all. He doesn't care if his wife is happy or unhappy. He is not physically present--all that often--and emotionally there's no connection at all. Still there are plenty of romance novels out there where wives and husbands fall in love with each other after the fact, putting aside previous loves and daydreams, working through misunderstandings, finding common ground and building a future together despite not having all the feels when they say I do.  

The book definitely reminded me of Storybook Love:

We've got a storybook love and that's all and that's all
A fantasy world where we love one another
A storybook love and that's all and that's all
A boy and a girl who hardly know each other
But I feel you lookin at me
And in your eyes it's plain to see
One day soon we both will be much more than friends
But until then
It's a storybook love
And that's all and that's all
A fantasy world where we love one another
A storybook love and that's all and that's all
A boy and a girl who hardly know each other
But I already know
How much I'm gonna love you so
I feel it inside me even though it hasn't happened yet
So all we get
Is a storybook love and that's all and that's all
A fantasy world where we love one another
A storybook world and that's all and that's all
A boy and a girl who hardly know each other

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, October 22, 2021

132. The Beatryce Prophecy


The Beatryce Prophecy. Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 2021. [September] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Answelica was a goat with teeth that were the mirror of her soul—large, sharp, and uncompromising. One of the goat’s favorite games was to lull the monks of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing into a sense of complacency by arranging her features in a benign and indifferent expression. For weeks, she would bite no one. When approached, she would merely stare into the distance as if she were considering something profound. And then, when the brothers had relaxed their guard, thinking that perhaps, somehow, Answelica had changed, the goat would come from behind and butt them in the backside as hard as she was able. She was very strong, and she had a very hard head. Because of this, the goat was able to send the monks flying great distances through the air. When they landed, she bit them. She was a goat who formed peculiar and inexplicable antipathies, taking an intense dislike to certain individuals.

Premise/plot: How much do YOU need to know about a book before reading it? For some, knowing that it is Kate DiCamillo's newest book might just do the trick. Her books are just that good. For others, knowing that it is medieval fiction might be reason enough. Combined those reasons might lead to some high expectations.

Brother Edik, a monk in the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, discovers a sick (possibly dying) child near the monastery being guarded by the notorious goat, Answelica. The goat has taken quite a liking (and this is the goat that hates everybody) to the young unconscious girl. It seems clear cut and obvious that it is right to take her in and try to heal her... But the girl's recovery seems to have a different set of risks... Someone--the king and his advisor(s)--are determined to find the girl. But their intentions with the girl, well, it isn't looking good.

Of course that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of plot. The less you know the better--in my humble opinion.

My thoughts: I really love Kate DiCamillo. I don't automatically love, love, love medieval settings. I don't. But when it is beautifully written by one of my favorite authors....I'm going to lean towards loving it. I really enjoyed the writing, the relationships, and the detailing of the plot. I love how DiCamillo weaves stories together piece by piece until suddenly everything clicks into place and there's a thing of beauty.

Quotes
The monk—terrified, undone—would scream, too.
The monk and the goat would then engage in a duet of screaming until the goat was satisfied and trotted away looking beatific, leaving behind her a trembling, weeping monk.
The brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing would have liked to butcher her, but they were afraid of the ghost of Answelica.
The monks agreed among themselves that the ghost of the goat would surely be more vicious and determined, more impossible to outwit, than the flesh-and-blood goat.
How would she seek her revenge from the afterworld?
It beggared the imagination to consider what the ghost goat would do.
And so she lived.
Which is just as well.
Which is, in fact, wonderful.
Because without the goat, Beatryce surely would have died.
And then where would we be?

All of this took place during a time of war. Sadly, this does not distinguish it from any other time; it was always a time of war.

“And what are the Chronicles of Sorrowing?” asked Beatryce.
“The Chronicles tell the story of what has happened and of things that might yet happen, those things which have been prophesied.”
“Sorrowing,” said Beatryce. The word was a heavy one. “It does not sound like a happy book, a joyful book.”
“Alas,” said Brother Edik, “it is not.”
“Well, then,” said Beatryce, “that is not a book I would care to read.”

What does it mean to be brave?
This was a question that Brother Edik asked himself as he walked through the dark woods with Jack Dory and Cannoc and Answelica.
To be brave is to not turn away.
To be brave is to go forward.
To be brave is to love.
Brother Edik was not turning away. He was going forward.
And he loved. This, Brother Edik could do—did do—best of all.
Still, he could not keep himself from trembling.
And he could not stop the words of the prophecy from tumbling through his mind:
A girl child
unseat a king
great change.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

131. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry


Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Mildred D. Taylor. 1976. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Little Man, would you come on? You keep it up and you're gonna make us late."

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry earned the Newbery Medal for 1977. The novel is set circa 1933 and stars the Logan family. Cassie Logan, our heroine, has brothers--many brothers, some older, some younger. The family is put through many trials as tension builds in their community. There is a thin line between holding onto one's dignity and staying strong and resolute AND doing what one must to survive the times. 

The family definitely is facing many grown-up problems. But the problems aren't limited to the grown-ups. No, the children--Cassie, Robert (her older brother), TJ (Robert's friend), etc. also face their own trials and tribulations. At its heart, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a coming of age story.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a heavy novel. It is more bitter than sweet. There are many tragic notes. I do wonder if this is the kind of book that adults would appreciate a million times more than a child reader. 

The love and tenderness in this family are heartwarming. There are other books--some set earlier, some set later--that follow the Logan family. This is the only one I've read. I *believe* this was the first to be published. But GoodReads now lists it as FOURTH in the series. It used to be a trilogy--that I remember from book fair days--but now there are ten books in the series.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

130. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline


The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline. (Enola Holmes #5) Nancy Springer. 2009. [160 pages] [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Miss Meschle," said Mrs. Tupper as she took my empty plate away, "if ye 'ave time to set an' talk a while..."

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes' newest case involves her landlady. Her landlady, Mrs. Tupper, just happens (oh-so-conveniently) to be receiving threatening letters in the mail. These threatening letters followed a little while later by a kidnapping....

Enola Holmes will have to outsmart the kidnappers and sort out WHY her landlady is being threatened. All while continuing to outwit her two older brothers.

My thoughts: I didn't like this one as much as I wanted to. I did really like the fourth book in the series. This one not as much. Again, Enola Holmes always manages to find and solve all her cases almost by coincidental circumstances. She is just always in the right place at the right time. I'm not entirely convinced it is her amazing detective skills solving these mysteries so much as coincidence and luck.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

129. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan


The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan. (Enola Holmes #4) Nancy Springer. 2008. 183 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: So far, my only clients as "Dr. Ragostin, Scientific Perditorian" had been a stout, elderly widow anxious to find her lost lapdog; a frightened lady who could not locate a valuable heart-shaped ruby which had been given to her by her husband; and an army general whose most cherished souvenir of the Crimean War had disappeared, namely, his bullet-riddled leg-bone signed by the field doctor who had amputated it.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes (aka "Miss Ivy Meshle") bumps into a former acquaintance--the young lady gone missing in a previous book. The young lady carries a PECULIAR pink fan and the fan language she is using to communicate with Enola, well, it signals trouble for her and a potential case for Enola. Turns out, she's being forced into marriage. The idea of her father--not her mother.

My favorite aspect of this one is that while she's investigating this case--trying to find her so that she can rescue her--she learns that SHERLOCK HOLMES has been hired by the mother for the same reason. So this one actually has these two somewhat working together. Their scenes together were quite entertaining.

My thoughts: This so far has been my favorite of the series. I haven't always appreciated the light, fluffiness of these mysteries. They've seemed light on history, light on mystery, and light on character development. I liked this one because of the scenes with Enola and Sherlock together.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, October 11, 2021

128. Letters from Father Christmas

Letters From Father Christmas. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1976/1999. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dear John, I heard you ask daddy what I was like and where I lived. I have drawn me and my house for you. Take care of the picture. I am just off now for Oxford with my bundle of toys--some for you. Hope I shall arrive in time: the snow is very thick at the North Pole tonight. Your loving Father Christmas.

Premise/plot: The earliest letter from 'Father Christmas' to the Tolkien children is 1920. The latest letter is dated 1943 to his daughter, Priscilla. The letters speak of Father Christmas' affairs--his adventures and misadventures. Little details about the Tolkiens slip through, of course. He refers to their letters in which they mention pets and toys, etc. He speaks of Polar Bear, his greatest assistant. He speaks of red elves--some. But Father Christmas has a war to fight of his own--against the goblins! (Christmas is almost sabotaged several times!)

 My thoughts: How quickly time flies! These letters capture moments. I suppose that's as good a way as any to describe this one. We don't get to see the children's letters to Father Christmas through the years, but, we do get to see Father Christmas's letters to the Tolkien children... But children don't write letters to Father Christmas forever, one by one they grow up and grow out of belief. Still these are moments where we catch glimpses of Tolkien as both loving parent and creative artist.

Near the North Pole
Christmas 1925
My dear boys,
I am dreadfully busy this year—it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it—and not very rich; in fact awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt, and I haven’t got the North Polar bear to help me, and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both.
It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down—and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the North Polar Bear’s leg got broken.
He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won’t try to help me again—I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas. I send you a picture of the accident and of my new house on the cliffs above the North Pole (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can’t read my old shaky writing (one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.
That’s all: Good Bye
Father Christmas

Cliff House
October 31st 1931
Dear Children,
Already I have got some letters from you! You are getting busy early. I have not begun to think about Christmas yet. It has been very warm in the North this year, and there has been very little snow so far. We are just getting in our Christmas firewood.
This is just to say my messengers will be coming round regularly now Winter has begun—we shall be having a bonfire tomorrow—and I shall like to hear from you: Sunday and Wednesday evenings are the best times to post to me.
The Polar Bear is quite well and fairly good—(though you never know what he will do when the Christmas rush begins.) Send my love to John.
Your loving
Father Nicholas Christmas
Glad Father Christmas has wakt up. He slept nearly all this hot summer. I wish we kood have snow. My coat is quite yellow.
Love Polar Bear


Cliff House,
near North Pole
Christmas Eve 1940
My Dearest Priscilla
Just a short letter to wish you a very happy Christmas. Please give my love to Christopher. We are having rather a difficult time this year. This horrible war is reducing all our stocks, and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has had a very busy time trying to get our address-lists corrected. I am glad you are still at home!
I wonder what you will think of my picture. “Penguins don’t live at the North Pole,” you will say. I know they don’t, but we have got some all the same. What you would call “evacuees”, I believe (not a very nice word); except that they did not come here to escape the war, but to find it! They had heard such stories of the happenings up in the North (including a quite untrue story that Polar Bear and all the Polar Cubs had been blown up, and that I had been captured by Goblins) that they swam all the way here to see if they could help me. Nearly 50 arrived.
The picture is of Polar Bear dancing with their chiefs. They amuse us enormously: they don’t really help much, but are always playing funny dancing games, and trying to imitate the walk of Polar Bear and the Cubs.
Very much love from your old friend,
Father Christmas


 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, October 10, 2021

127. Abel's Island

Abel's Island. William Steig. 1976. 117 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Early in August 1907, the first year of their marriage, Abel and Amanda went to picnic in the woods some distance from the town where they lived.

Premise/plot: Abel is separated from Amanda as a result of a sudden storm. Both seek shelter, of course, but Abel finds himself situated far from home (from a mouse's perspective) and on an island. Cut off by nature from the home he loves, Abel's challenged in more ways than one. He has to learn how to physically survive in a strange-to-him environment. He also has to deal with the emotional and mental stress caused by loneliness and depression. Will he ever see Amanda again? Will he ever get off the island? What does his future hold for him?

My thoughts: This was my second time to read the novel. I did know what to expect the second time around. Since I read it the first time, I've read Robinson Crusoe and ventured into Swiss Family Robinson. This is survival fiction that just happens to star animals.

I also noticed the second time around that it was his romantic (idealistic) gesture that led to their separation and isolation. Readers get his perspective,  not hers, but it must have been truly terrifying for her. To see him get swept away. And to not know if he even survived. She might have thought he died and blamed herself (for better or worse) for what happened. (Not that she asked him to save the scarf.)

2020 has also happened since I first read this one. I think the isolation and loneliness aspects of this one--and the NOT knowing when--if ever--things could/would get back to "normal" comes into play. Certainly the past two years have impacted how I read this one.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

126. How To Find What You're Not Looking For


How To Find What You're Not Looking For. Veera Hiranandani. 2021. [September] 384 pages. [Source: Library] 

First sentence: How to be the lazy one. It's harder than you think. First, lie on your messy bed wearing your Wonder Woman pajamas that are too small because you’ve had them since you were nine. Then, watch your older sister, Leah, pin up her hair for dance class. She sits in her black leotard at the small white vanity, her back straight as a board, a magazine cutout of Paul Newman taped to the corner of her mirror. She uses at least fifteen bobby pins for her bun. Count in your head while she sticks the pins in. One, two, three. She’s rushing because she has to be on the #4 bus by 9:00 a.m. for pointe class at Madame Duchon’s Dance Academy. She dances there every day except Sunday. You’re not even sure how she spends so much time at dance and still does well in school. Leah seems to do well at everything. Not you. You’re the lazy one. You’re just trying to keep up, but along with all the other things Leah does, she helps you keep up.

Premise/plot: Ariel Goldberg stars in Veera Hiranandani's How To Find What You're Not Looking For. The theme of 'how-to' continues beyond the title. Each chapter begins with a 'how-to' title. The first chapter being titled, "How to Be the Lazy One." The book is written in second person present tense, to "you." Ariel and Leah are sisters, and perhaps surprisingly close considering the seven years age difference. But when Leah falls in love with an Indian boy--as opposed to a JEWISH boy--bonds of all sorts are tested.

The novel is set circa 1967/68. It focuses on home and school, and all the DRAMA that occurs.

My thoughts: I really loved, loved, loved this one. Despite the second person present tense! I thought the characterization was great--very lovely. I thought the details were good. It was well-paced; it kept me reading. I love the writing. Very quotable. I also love the fact that writing poetry helps Ariel make sense of life. 

One of Ariel's poems:

The Ways of the World
The world has many ways
of spinning.
Many I don’t understand.
But love
is not that hard
to understand.
Doesn’t it just spin one way,
one person toward another,
without stopping?

Quotes:

Keeping a secret is not your favorite thing to do. Secrets make your stomach hurt. You can count on one hand the secrets you’ve kept. You once took a report card out of the mailbox and hid it in your schoolbag for a week. But you got caught. Sometimes when you hang out with your friend Jane, you make it seem like you have other friends. But you don’t. Occasionally you steal cookies from Gertie’s and keep them in a coffee can in your room. You’ve never had to keep a really big secret before, and certainly not forever.
Leah’s cheeks get blotchy, and her eyes start to fill again with tears. “Oh please,” she says. “I have to tell someone, and I need it to be you.” Leah saying she needs you—is there anything more special than that? Maybe if you know her secret, some of her specialness will spill over onto you. She bites her lip and grabs your hand.
You read the title on the album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You wonder what it means. Were the Beatles changing their name? Your hands feel sticky with ice cream. You press your thumb and forefinger together, and they stay stuck that way.
“I’m just so happy. I don’t want anything to ruin it. I feel guilty about being so happy.”
“Why would you feel guilty about being happy?” you ask.
“Because there’s so much wrong with the world,” she says and starts walking again.
There is, according to the newspapers. But you look around your town. You see someone driving by in a blue Chevy convertible. You see people walking down the block in sunglasses, sipping soda pop, riding their bikes, happy to be out on such a nice Saturday. This world seems okay.
“Do you know what happened at Rocky’s last week? A guy came in and heard Raj talking. Then he asked John, the manager, why he had foreigners working there and not Americans. He asked Raj if he was here legally. Raj said he was a US citizen, and the fellow demanded to see proof and wouldn’t leave! John had to threaten to call the cops until he finally left.”
“Gosh, that’s terrible,” you say. Now she’s walking so quickly, you can barely keep up.
“But our love is stronger than the racist establishment.”
“ ‘The racist establishment,’ ” you say, trying out her words.

How’s my muffin?” he asks.
“I’m all right,” you say and stuff the rest of the bread in your mouth. “Same as always.”
Daddy nods. “Me too, Muffin,” he says. “Same old, same old.”
This is what you and Daddy always say to each other after school. And every day, you know that you are not the same and neither is he. When you and Ma get back to the apartment, you go into your bedroom and take a sniff of the Chanel No. 5 perfume on the dresser, a sixteenth birthday gift that Ma gave Leah. The apartment used to smell of it when Leah was still here, along with her Breck shampoo, but you didn’t notice until she was gone and the smell faded away.
A little part of you still hopes you’ll find her sitting on her yellow-and-white bedspread, playing the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Or maybe even the Doors real quiet because Ma hates the Doors.

 

Ma does get headaches a lot. She calls them migraines and says she even sees flashes of color before they start. That sounds sort of magical to you rather than painful, but Ma sure does seem like she’s in a lot of pain when she gets them. Since Leah left, it’s been happening more often.
“Sorry, I mean your mom,” you say.
“It’s all right,” she says and is quiet for another few seconds. “He left my mom when he found out she was pregnant. They weren’t even married. And he never came back. My mom always tells people he’s dead.”
Now it’s your turn to be quiet.
“I was always afraid to ask. I didn’t mean to make you sad,” you say after a moment.
Jane shakes her head. “It’s okay. I don’t think about it that much. I never knew him, but I also don’t think my mom would care if I married someone Jewish. I guess most people aren’t like Peggy, though.”

Suddenly you feel the shape of your friendship with Jane changing, in a good way, like chocolate chips melting into a cookie as it bakes.

“The words I wrote might mean something different to you.”
Miss Field sits back in her chair and crosses her arms.
“They might,” she says.
“I don’t want them to. I want them to mean to you exactly what they mean to me.”
“That makes sense,” she says and pauses for a moment. “But that’s art, Ariel. It’s your gift to the world. People will see what they need to see. Sometimes it will mean to them exactly what it meant to you. Those people are your soul mates.”

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, September 30, 2021

September Reflections


In September I read 53 books! Thirty-seven were library books. One was a book I bought--the Bible. Fifteen were review copies.  All were new-to-me. I hope to get some rereads in for October!

 

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

104. Drama. Raina Telgemeier. 2012. 238 pages. [Source: Library]
105. The Light of Luna Park. Addison Armstrong. 2021 [August] 336 pages. [Source: Library]
106. Hollow Chest. Brita Sandstrom. 2021. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
107. Dear Miss Kopp (Kopp Sisters #6). Amy Stewart. 2021 [January] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
108. The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell. Jordan Sonnenblick. 2021. [February] 224 pages. [Source: Library]
109. Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Translated into English by Geoffrey Trousselot. 2019. 213 pages. [Source: Review copy]
110. This is Not the Jess Show. Anna Carey. 2021. [February] 304 pages. [Source: Library]
111. Katie the Catsitter #1 Colleen A.F. Venable. Illustrated by Stephanie Yue. 2021. [January] 229 pages. [Source: Library]
112. The Shape of Thunder. Jasmine Warga. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Library]
113. Last Witnesses (Adapted for Young Adults) Svetlana Alexievich. 2021. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
114. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Kimberly Willis Holt. 1999/2003. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
115. Dear Mrs. Bird. (Emmy Lake Chronicles #1) A.J. Pearce. 2018. 281 pages. [Source: Library]
116. The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. Kimberly Willis Holt. 2021. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
117. Miss Kopp Investigates. (Kopp Sisters #7) Amy Stewart. 2021. [September] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
118. Eyes of the Forest. April Henry. 2021. [April] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
119. Pride and Premeditation. (Jane Austen Murder Mystery #1) Tirzah Price. 2021. [April] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
120. The Case of the Missing Marquess. (Enola Holmes #1) Nancy Springer. 2006. 216 pages. [Source: Library]
121. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) Nancy Springer. 2007. 234 pages. [Source: Library]
122. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet. Enola Holmes #3. Nancy Springer. 2008. 170 pages. [Source: Library]
123. Ground Zero. Alan Gratz. 2021. [February] 336 pages. [Source: Library]
124. Walls. L.M. Elliott. 2021. [July] 352 pages. [Source: Library]
125. Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. Alda P. Dobbs. 2021. [September] 288 pages. [Source: Library]


Books Reviewed at Young Readers

132. The Magical Bookshop. Katja Frixe. 2021. [May] 176 pages. [Source: Library]
133. Lin-Manuel Miranda: Raising Theater to New Heights. Kurtis Scaletta. 2021. [January] 192 pages. [Source: Library]
134. Ivy Lost and Found (Book Buddies #1) Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 2021. [September] 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
135. See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat. David LaRochelle. Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. 2021. [September] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
136. The Becket List: A Blackberry Farm Story. Adele Griffin. 2019. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
137. Halfway to Harmony. Barbara O'Connor. 2021. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
138. Say It Out Loud. Allison Varnes. 2021. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Library]
139. Negative Cat. Sophie Blackall. 2021. [August] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
140. The Longest Storm. Dan Yaccarino. 2021. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
141. Good Dog: Home Is Where The Heart Is (Good Dog #1) Cam Higgins. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. 2020. [December] 128 pages. [Source: Library]
142. Happily for Now. Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. 2021. [May] 288 pages. [Source: Library]
143. Raised in a Barn. (Good Dog #2) Cam Higgins. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. 2020. [December] 128 pages. [Source: Library]
144. The Gilded Girl. Alyssa Colman. 2021. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
145. Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1) Ben Clanton. 2016. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
146. The Singer and the Scientist. Lisa Rose. Illustrated by Isabel Munoz. 2021. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
147. What Do You See? Sarah N. Harvey. Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs. 2021. [September] 22 pages. [Source: Library]
148. Jazz for Lunch! Jarrett Dapier. Illustrated by Eugenia Mello. 2021. [September] 48 pages. [Source: Library]
149. I Survived the Galveston Hurricane, 1900. (I Survived #21) Lauren Tarshis. 2021. [September] 144 pages. [Source: Library]
150. Someone Is Missing (Dear Beast #3) Dori Hillestad Butler. Illustrated by Kevan Atteberry. 2021. [September] 80 pages. [Source: Library]
151. A Walk in the Words. Hudson Talbott. 2021. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
152. Monet's Cat. Lily Murray. Illustrated by Becky Cameron. 2020. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library]


Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible


54. Enjoying the Bible. Matthew Mullins. 2021. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
55. Holier Than Thou: How God's Holiness Helps Us Trust Him. Jackie Hill Perry. 2021. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
56. The Moonlight School. Suzanne Woods Fisher. 2021. [February] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
57. Rediscovering Holiness by J.I. Packer. 2021. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
58. When Twilight Breaks. Sarah Sundin. 2021. [February] 365 pages. [Source: Review copy]
59. The Whole Story for the Whole Family. Michael Kelley. 2021. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]
60. The Librarian's Journey: Four Historical Romances. Patty Smith Hall, Cynthia Hickey, Marilyn Turk, Kathleen Y'Barbo. 2021. [October] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
61. The Weight of Memory by Shawn Smucker. [July] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
62. The Heritage of Anglican Theology by J.I. Packer. 2021. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible


7. Annotated King James Bible 1611 (In Early Modern English) Historical Series. 4512 pages. [Source: Bought]


Monthly Totals

September
number of books53
number of pages16312


Yearly Totals

2021 Totals
Books346
Pages91475

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 27, 2021

125. Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna


Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. Alda P. Dobbs. 2021. [September] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The smoking star lit the night sky as women wept, holding their babies close. Men kept quiet while the old and the weak prayed for mercy. It was on that night that all of us huddled under the giant crucifix, the night when everyone—everyone but me—awaited the end of the world. Everything was a sign to us mestizos, from eclipses to new moons to burned tamales in a pot. I learned early on that all signs were bad. When sparks flew out of a fire, it meant an unwelcome visitor would show up. A sneeze meant someone was talking bad about you. If a metate—a grinding stone—broke, it meant death to its owner or a family member. But the biggest sign of all was citlalin popoca, the smoking star. Papá’s big boss at the mine called it a comet.

Premise/plot: Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna is set in Mexico in 1913. Petra Luna, our heroine, has made a promise to her father to keep the family together and safe. But some promises are hard to keep--no matter how big the heart. With the Revolution in progress, there is so much uncertainty from day to day to day. The family--Petra, her grandmother, her younger sister, her baby brother--is forced to flee their village with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everything is gone; there is no assurance for tomorrow. Still, Petra dreams big dreams. She dreams of learning to read and write...of a better future. Most of all she dreams of the day when her father will find them again.

My thoughts: Absolutely beautiful and compelling. The writing is gorgeous. Truly a poetic work of art. I absolutely loved every bittersweet moment of this one. There's depth and substance. The characters are oh-so-human.

Quotes:

Promise. The word churned inside my head day and night. Six months ago, I had made the biggest promise ever when Papá was given the choice to join the Federales or be placed in front of a firing squad. On that day I had run across town looking for Papá, and when I found him, I knew he had chosen not to join. Papá stood against a wall blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. He faced a line of soldiers with rifles aimed at him. All I heard next were my bare feet running across the line of fire toward Papá and my screams, begging to be shot along with him. I held on to Papá as two soldiers came to pull me away. I kicked with all my strength, and over my screams I heard Papá shouting for them to let me go, but the soldiers didn’t stop until Papá said he’d join their war. Before Papá was dragged away, I promised to take care of Amelia, Luisito, and our grandmother, Abuelita. He then swore to return.

The Federales were the army of the government, of our current president, Victoriano Huerta, whom Papá had called a tyrant. This was the second time they’d charged into our village. The first time, they’d shot men as old as sixty and boys as young as eight for not joining them. They’d dragged Papá away and had also shot one woman who’d protested against her sons’ forced conscription. They were monsters

I rushed into the burning hut, dropped to my hands and knees, and crawled across the long room. The smoke burned my eyes, and the flood of tears blinded me, but I pressed on. I felt my way around the floor, across the broken crates and pots, until my hand found it—my black rock. It was the only thing I had left from Papá.

I don’t want to grow any thorns,” said Amelia. “Thorns are ugly.”
“M’ija”—Abuelita wiped the corners of her mouth with her fingers—“your first breath was in the desert. The cord that connected you to your mamá was buried under a mesquite tree so that you’d always be part of this land. You already have thorns, and thorns are beautiful—they make you strong.” Abuelita spat out the chewed mesquite seeds. “Always be grateful for what you have. The day you take things for granted, your heart will swell with poison.”
Amelia looked down at her elbow and rubbed it. “You’re right, Abuelita. The other day I felt something prickly here, and I think—”
“Abuelita meant thorns in your heart, Amelia,” I said.
Abuelita nodded. “En tu corazón y en tu espírito.” She patted her chest, pointing to her heart and spirit inside her.

Are you scared, Petra?” Amelia whispered.
“Scared of what?”
“Of the Federales or of never seeing Papá again.”
“We’ll see Papá again,” I said. “And right now, I’m much too tired to worry about the Federales.”
“How about un apapácho?” said Amelia. “Are you too tired for that?”
Unlike me at her age, Amelia never asked for a story or a song before going to sleep. Instead, she’d ask for an apapácho. If I had to guess, I’d say apapácho was Amelia’s favorite word. It meant cuddling or embracing someone with your soul.
“Come here,” I said and stretched my arms around her. I squeezed her tight and used one hand to pat her back. And like Mamá, I ended the apapácho with a head rub and a kiss on the forehead.

I lay restless for most of the night. My feet, my back, and everything in between throbbed. I wanted to stretch out the pain, but my muscles cramped with every attempt. My mind stirred too. I thought about my promise to Papá and how it’d been a constant struggle to keep in Esperanzas. I was now in the middle of the desert with a little girl and a baby in tow and an old woman with rickety knees. How would I ever fulfill it? And my dreams of learning to read and write—those drew further away each day. By now they were as distant and unreachable as the stars above.

You’ve come to the right place,” said the priest. “You’ll be safe here.”
Abuelita kissed the priest’s hand. “Dios lo bendiga, Padre. God bless you.”
Suddenly, the sweet smell of pan pobre, poor bread, hit my nose. The scent awakened my stomach and tugged strongly at my heart. I looked around, sniffing the air, wondering where the smell came from. It was a scent that had always brought feelings of comfort and safety. I didn’t believe in signs, but if I did, I’d bet we were safe here.

I lay down and pulled out my black rock from the hem of my skirt. I brought it close to me. It was a piece of coal Papá had given me for my birthday two years ago. It was more than a black rock, though. It was a baby diamond.
“That’s how diamonds are born,” Papá had often explained. “When a piece of coal gets squeezed very hard for a very long time, it becomes a diamond.”

My name is Adeline. What’s yours?”
“Petra,” I said.
“My mamá says Spanish names always mean something. What does yours mean?”
“It means rock,” I said.
“Like the one you’re holding?”
I looked down at my black rock and put it back in its safe place.
“My name doesn’t mean anything,” said Adeline. “But my last name, Wilson, is the same as the American president’s. His name is Woodrow Wilson, but my papá says we’re not related.”
“Why didn’t you leave with your papá?”
“My papá worked at a silver mine,” said Adeline. “He was an engineer there, and when the bad guys came to his work, he had to leave fast before anyone saw him. Later, a man came to our house and gave us a letter from Papá telling us to leave and meet him in Texas. We took a coach and got here two days ago.”
“Do you have brothers and sisters?” I asked.
“No.” Adeline frowned. “It’s just me.”
Adeline continued to talk, and she talked a lot, but she also listened to everything I said. She shared her dreams of being an animal doctor, and I told her mine of learning to read and write. She told me stories she’d read about an orphan girl who lived with two evil sisters and another about a princess who’d been poisoned with an apple

Adeline handed me the slate before covering our legs with the ivory blanket. “My mamá told me that when good, hardworking people have dreams, it’s always nice to help make them come true.”
The slate had letters written on it already.
“What does this say?” I asked.
“That’s your name.”
I took a second look at the slate. The white, chalky letters looked strong and beautiful.

First, we’re going to learn to write your name,” said Adeline. “This is how you hold the chalk. Here, you try it.”
Adeline wrapped my finger around the white, blocky stick. My hand trembled as Adeline guided me to outline P-E-T-R-A across the slate. I sounded out each letter along with her as I traced it over and over. I struggled to hold the chalk straight at first, but by my fiftieth time, I was able to write my name all on my own, without tracing it.
“So?” Adeline asked as I erased my name. “What happens now?” Her tone was sad.
“I write my name all over again and keep practicing,” I said, steadying the chalk over the slate, pretending to have misunderstood Adeline. I was sure she meant what would happen after the church, but I didn’t want to think about it. Not right now. I wanted to keep chatting, to keep learning. I wanted to, for a moment, forget all my pain and anguish. My day with Adeline had been like a sweet siesta, and I refused to be awoken.
“No, I mean where will you go from here

After Adeline notated the champurrado recipe, she threw her arms around me. “Gracias, Petra.”
I didn’t tell Adeline, but recipes were also family secrets for us, and if Abuelita knew I’d just given two away, she’d probably have a patatús. I understood all about not sharing recipes, but after a long day with Adeline, she felt like a sister to me.
Suddenly, a tall, blond woman with striking blue eyes approached us.
“Petra,” said Adeline, standing up, “this is my mamá.”
I shot up and stood straight.
Adeline’s mamá smiled and brushed my hair back with her long, slender fingers. She said something in English, and I quickly turned to Adeline to learn what she’d said.

Abuelita pushed air through her nose. “Barefoot dreams,” she muttered and turned to her side, facing away from us.
“I’ll ask Adeline tomorrow,” I said to Amelia. “I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

I turned back to Abuelita. She had always scorned my talk of letters, teachers, or learning to read. Her words had never bothered me, but now that Mamá and Papá were gone, they stung.
“Why did you say ‘barefoot dreams’?” I asked.
Abuelita remained silent and still.
Amelia and I exchanged glances before she gently patted Abuelita’s back. “Abuelita, Petra wants to—”
Abuelita gave an exasperated sigh and turned to us.
“Wanting to learn to read is a big dream, and big dreams are dangerous,” said Abuelita. “You’ll do better when you accept things as they are, when you accept your lot in life.”
I closed my eyes for a moment. Those words—lot in life—always turned my insides; they made me feel sick.
“Petra, I know you mean well,” said Abuelita. Her tone had softened. “But dreams like yours are barefoot dreams. They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far. Be content with what you have.”
I thought back to my village, to Esperanzas. No one there knew how to read or write except for the well-to-do. That bothered me, but what angered me the most were people like Abuelita who simply accepted it.


Why hadn’t I been smarter? Why hadn’t I asked Adeline to teach me to write something more useful like train or station?
A heavy, invisible force pressed down on my shoulders. The force pushed through me, reaching my soul and sapping away my last shred of strength. I fell on my haunches and hung my head. I wanted to cry but had no tears. I wanted to scream but had no strength. Instead, I cracked open my mouth, and a small squeak escaped my lips. I’d been defeated. I would never fulfill my promise to Papá or shine like the diamond I longed to be. I’d remain a lump of coal for the rest of my life.

So, what now?” she asked. “Where do you go from here?”
“We’re going north, to el otro lado,” I said. “The other side.”
Marietta looked shocked. “The United States? Why?”
“It’s too dangerous here,” I said. “I was told we’d be safe across el Río Bravo.”
Marietta turned her gaze to the fire. She pressed her lips together and gave a subtle nod.
“Besides,” I said, “I want to learn to read and write, and there aren’t any schools here.”
“You know who Pancho Villa is?” asked Marietta.
I nodded. Papá had told me about him. Pancho Villa led the rebels in northern Mexico. Many folk songs called corridos were sung about him, his bravery, and his love for the poor. Even children’s riddles mentioned him. He was loved by many, feared by many, and was known to have a weak spot for children, especially poor ones.

Villa’s opening schools everywhere,” said Marietta. “He wants all kids to learn to read and write. Maybe you can go to one of his schools.”
I glanced over at Luisito, who slept on Abuelita’s lap, and then at Amelia, who yawned but still clapped. She swayed her bandaged feet from side to side. My family looked so peaceful and content, but how long would it last?
“How did you become a soldier?” I asked Marietta.
“It’s a long story,” she said.
I shrugged my shoulders, smiling.
“Where to start?” said Marietta. Her eyes locked on the campfire in front of us.
“It’d always been my papá and me,” she said. “My mother died giving birth, and I had no siblings. Since my papá never remarried, he focused solely on me and taught me everything he knew.” Marietta lifted her chin and her face lit up as she continued. “Papá was great. He was the best vaquero, cowboy, in the region. Everyone always brought horses for him to tame, and he trained them so well, you barely had to touch the reins to let the horse know what to do.”
Marietta sighed, and the glow in her eyes faded. “Almost three years ago, two Federales stopped at our home. I was preparing dinner when I heard a scuffle outside.

Marietta nodded. “After winning five battles as a captain, I unpinned my braids and let them loose. No one could believe it. But since I’d proven myself many times, they let me be. I went from Mario back to Marietta and still kept everyone’s respect.”
I was speechless. I wanted to be like Marietta. I wanted to learn things, to teach things. I wanted people’s respect.
“Why do you fight?” I asked. “To avenge your father’s death?”
“I did at first. I was outraged, but as time passed, I remembered talks I had with my father about the injustices in our lives. We both wanted a better Mexico. A Mexico that belonged to everyone, not just the rich, and especially not the foreigners.”
Marietta picked up a handful of desert dust and held it in a clenched fist in front of her. She released a thin, almost invisible trickle of sand through the bottom of her fist.

You probably won’t believe this,” said Marietta. “But a hundred years from now, Mexico will be unrecognizable. It’ll be such a rich, beautiful country that the gringos up north will be the ones crossing the river into Mexico for a better life.”
Marietta chuckled at her own words, and I smiled, hoping there was some truth to them. She remained quiet, staring at the campfire, then at me. “Petra, what do you want in life? Deep down inside your heart, what is it you want most?”
I looked up at the sky and thought about my answer. “I want peace,” I said. “I want peace for me and my family, and I want my papá back in our lives. I also want land, not much, just a small piece to live on. I want to go to school and for my sister and brother to go to school too.

Join us,” said Marietta.
“Join who, the rebels?”
Marietta nodded, “Yes. This army needs good, smart fighters like—”
“But I want peace,” I said, raising my voice. I quickly lowered my eyes, realizing I’d been disrespectful.
“I know.” Marietta nodded repeatedly. “Every soul in this camp wants peace. We’re all tired of fighting, but in order to achieve peace and attain the land and freedom we want, we need to fight.”

Someway, somehow, I hoped Papá could find us. I knew I would never see Esperanzas again, at least not the town I’d known since birth. Despite these harsh truths, I was hopeful to one day see Mexico flourish into a country full of peace and prosperity for the people who’d fought and given up so much for her. For now, I was eager to explore this new land, eager to meet its people and welcome new opportunities. Every struggle and challenge I’d grapple with and every failure and victory that lay ahead would dig deep into me and help chisel out my true character.
And I knew then, with all my heart, that one day I would burst with light and shine like the baby diamond I have always longed to be.

Author’s Note
The Inspiration for Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

I am blessed to have grown up listening to stories of my ancestors, especially stories of my grandmother, Güela Pepa, and my great-grandmother, Güelita Juanita. Both women grew up surrounded by harsh poverty and prejudice, but always faced adversity with bold spirits and resilience.
My great-grandmother, Juanita Martínez, inspired the core of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She, along with her family, escaped her burning village in 1913 during the Mexican Revolution. Unlike Petra, my great-grandmother was nine years old when she, her father, two younger siblings, and two cousins crossed the scorching desert by foot and reached the border town of Piedras Negras, Coahuila. At the border, their entry into the United States was denied along with hundreds of other refugees

I found an article that described my great-grandmother’s story. The event occurred in the early afternoon of October 6, 1913, and it wasn’t hundreds of people who’d tried to flee across like she’d stated, it was thousands. Over six thousand, to be exact. Everything else—the desperation, the pleading, and the rage of the Federales—was exactly as she’d recounted it.
Working on this book has fulfilled me in many ways, and despite my grandmother and great-grandmother no longer living, I feel closer to them than ever. Thanks to them and my mother, I learned stories that I would have never learned from books or school. Unfortunately, many stories like my great-grandmother’s or like Petra’s remain in the shadows. How do we fix this? I believe we fix it with curiosity. We need to be curious. We need to look to our ancestors and ask questions. We need to listen to their stories, write them down, on paper or on our hearts, and pass them on. By doing this, we bring stories of bravery, of humanity, and of great compassion to the light and, in turn, we learn more about ourselves and keep the bold spirits of our ancestors alive.


 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

124. Walls


Walls. L.M. Elliott. 2021. [July] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Standing in the doorway, Drew hesitated, his freckles burning crimson like a thousand flares of anxiety.

Premise/plot: Drew, our protagonist, is an army brat. His father has been stationed in West Berlin; the year is 1960. Drew and his siblings--Joyce (older sister) and Linda (little sister) have some trouble adjusting to life in Germany. Their mother is German and has family living in East Berlin. She would love nothing more than for her children to become good, good friends with their cousins. Matthias is their closest cousin in age. But the cousins seem to be worlds apart...

Each chapter is preceded by a graphic portion. Black and white photographs with some explanatory captions. Each chapter represents one month. The novel opens in August 1960 and closes in August 1961. What can happen in one year??? A lot!

My thoughts: Each chapter is almost a vignette--a moment in time captured. The chapters rarely cover more than a few hours of time. So readers get a few snippets here and there. We do not get a continual, immersive experience in Drew's life. We get moments. I personally--and again this is all subjective--had a hard time connecting with the story. I felt almost a disconnect from the characters. I was interested in the story, the time period, the setting. But I didn't feel I really truly got to know any of the characters in a deep and meaningful way. This might be a timing issue on my part--perhaps I wasn't in the right mood to experience this one?

This historical fiction novel for middle grade (???) is about the building of the Berlin Wall.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

123. Ground Zero


Ground Zero. Alan Gratz. 2021. [February] 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Brandon Chavez was in trouble.*

Premise/plot: Ground Zero has two protagonists and two time periods. Brandon Chavez, one of our protagonists, is nine years old. He's accompanying his dad to work; his dad works at Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the 107th floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The day is September 11, 2001. Reshmina, our other protagonist, is living in Afghanistan with her family in the present day.** Her twin brother, Pasoon, is wanting to join the Taliban. She is angst-y. She doesn't want him involved in the war...at all. She doesn't seem to think the Taliban or the Americans are the "good guys." There are no "good guys." When the fighting hits really close to him--literally--and brings her into contact with an injured American soldier (named Taz), Reshmina has some tough decisions to make. What she decides may decide the fate of her village and her family.

My thoughts: I spent most of the book wanting to curl up into a ball and moan. Reading it felt like I was continually getting punched in the gut again and again and again. With an occasional stab in the heart. If you are not mentally and emotionally bruised after reading this....tell me how you did that...I'm curious.

Both stories are incredibly intense. There's a definite sense of urgency both within and without (if that makes sense.) There is an urgency in the fictional story. In particular with Brandon's story. Readers most likely will know that it is literally a race against the clock once the first plane hits. Brandon, of course, like all the other characters doesn't realize this. His initial urgency is to get back to his dad--even if his dad is a dozen floors above him when the plane hits. There is urgency in the present day story as well as a battle unfolds and civilians are caught up in it. But there is also an urgency that the reader experiences. At least this reader experienced. Almost the equivalent of ripping a band-aid off. I couldn't allow a slower pace--I just couldn't handle it. The only hope for surviving the utter and complete heartbreak was to keep a steady pace. Page after page, keep turning, keep looking ahead. I couldn't imagine just reading this one chapter a day for weeks. (I read this in two days).

Both stories have substance and depth. Both unfold at a compelling pace. There is some emotional reward for investing in both stories. But for sensitive readers this might be too much to handle.


*The text literally says Brandon Chavez wn trouble. I did my best guess as a reader and interpreted that to mean Brandon Chavez was IN trouble. I suppose it could be "won" "win." But neither made sense in context.

**Before the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan. So before the summer of 2021.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, September 26, 2021

122. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet


The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet. Enola Holmes #3. Nancy Springer. 2008. 170 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is difficult to choose a new name for oneself.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Since the disappearance of her mother, Enola Holmes has faced life...alone...by her choice, mostly. Her brothers haven't a clue where she's staying and how she's getting by. And that's just how she likes it.

In this third installment of the series, Enola Holmes (posing as Viola Everseau) seeks to find the whereabouts of the MISSING Dr. John Watson. He has vanished and even Sherlock Holmes hasn't been able to track him down.

Can Enola Holmes succeed where her brother has failed?

My thoughts: I wanted to like this one more than I actually liked it. I always find myself liking the build up of the mystery but then being a little let down in how the mystery is ultimately solved and resolved. Such was the case in this one. It seems that Enola Holmes just happens to always be in the right place at the right time to observe just the thing needed to put the pieces together. Yes, she's observant and she does put the pieces together. But it doesn't seem intentional on her part. (In my opinion.)

I like the series okay.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

121. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady


The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) Nancy Springer. 2007. 234 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: With a shock of astonishment I read the card brought in to me on a silver tray by the page-boy. Dr. John Watson, M.D.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes is back for her second adventure in The Case of the Left-Handed Lady. The book opens with Dr. John Watson going to visit a Dr. Ragostin. Enola is posing as his assistant, Ivy Meshle. (She later poses as Mrs. Ragostin.) She learns from Watson that her brothers are still puzzled by her disappearance. They haven't a clue to her whereabouts...yet. She has certainly settled into London since first arriving. She's gotten used to taking up missing person cases...with some success. In this one, she is looking for Lady Cecily Alistair....

Meanwhile, the hunt is ever on for her mother. Enola has little reason to believe her mother will ever return to her as a loving, caring mother...but can they find a way to stay in touch even a little bit???

My thoughts: I liked it okay. I am beginning to realize that these mysteries are super-shallow, a bit frothy. There just isn't a lot of substance, depth, or weight to these stories. On one hand, they are a breeze to get through. On the other hand, there's just not much there. I did think this one had a bit more to it than the first book. So maybe each book improves the story???

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, September 25, 2021

120. The Case of the Missing Marquess


The Case of the Missing Marquess. (Enola Holmes #1) Nancy Springer. 2006. 216 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I would very much like to know why my mother named me, "Enola," which, backwards spells alone.

Premise/plot: Enola Holmes, our heroine, has literally just turned fourteen on the day her mother, Lady Eudoria Vernet Holmes, disappears. She contacts her two older brothers soon after. Chances are, dear reader, you may have heard of them: Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. The two leave London to visit their younger (and now abandoned) sister. And soon these two are planning out her future...without consulting young Enola. When the decision is made that Enola needs to go to a boarding school, well, she takes matters into her own hand. Knowing that her brother, Sherlock, is a world-famous detective, she thinks her best bet is to the unexpected...always. He would probably expect her to disguise herself as a young boy, for example, so she knows that is out of the question!

Enola knows her final destination will be London....but her exact journey, well, that's a mystery even to her. Along the way, she gets distracted by another missing person. (Her mother being the first missing person. Viscount Tewksbury Basilwether being the second missing person.)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this historical mystery. It is very light on the mystery and history. It is set in mid-to-late 1888. (July to November). I would classify it as a cozy mystery for middle grade.

I didn't love it. I liked it. I picked up the book because I had (relatively) recently watched the Enola Holmes movie. The movie definitely adds a good bit of substance to the book. (A good thing in my opinion. The book doesn't really have much depth or substance.) I think it's main job is to orient readers with the new series and the characters.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, September 24, 2021

119. Pride and Premeditation


Pride and Premeditation. (Jane Austen Murder Mystery #1) Tirzah Price. 2021. [April] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brilliant idea, conceived and executed by a clever young woman, must be claimed by a man. Elizabeth Bennet stood in the offices of the optimistically named law firm of Longbourn & Sons and fixed her father's junior partner, Mr. Collins, with her fiercest glare.

Premise/plot: Tirzah Price's spin on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a delight from start to finish. It is set in the Regency--like the original--but it intentionally plays around with history. Taking something that would be absolutely impossible--a young woman working in a law firm and pursuing a career in law--and makes it instead something rare, unique, out of the ordinary....but not impossible. 

Elizabeth Bennet, our heroine, has ambitions to follow in her father's footsteps. This has her investigating a potential case for Longbourn & Sons. Mr. Bingley has been arrested and charged with murdering his brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst. Elizabeth would like to use this case to prove her abilities. She is determined to investigate the case, follow the clues, and find the real murderer. This has her at odds with Mr. Darcy a lawyer (solicitor) at Pemberley and Associates. If the real murderer is to be found--and Mr. Bingley's innocence proven--it might just take both of them working together despite their personal feelings.

My thoughts: I love, love, love, love, love this adaptation. It is so delightful. It has all the characters from the original novel. (Well, most of them. I can think of a few that are missing.) Some of the original dialogue--all the best bits--reworked to fit this new situation. And it works surprisingly well. Mrs. Bennet is still very active in trying to get her daughters married off. She is still a nervous woman. Mr. Bennet is still favoring Elizabeth. Elizabeth is still super close with Jane who is a calming influence on her.

I would absolutely LOVE to see a film version of Pride and Premeditation. There's even a scene that could easily accommodate a wet shirt scene with Mr. Darcy.

 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

118. Eyes of the Forest


Eyes of the Forest. April Henry. 2021. [April] 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The gun looked real. No orange tip, no obvious seams where molded plastic pieces had been glued together.

Premise/plot: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. Bestselling author, R.M. Haldon has writer's block. He has a long, long list of excuses for why he hasn't written the last book in the Swords and Shadows series titled, Eyes of the Forest. One quip being is that he's so blocked that he won't be able to write it unless he's kidnapped and held at gunpoint. One fan takes this literally as an invitation...

Bridget, our heroine, is Haldon's biggest fan--well, one of them. She's been working with him on an official capacity helping him with research. A LOT of details go into world-building, character development, and plotting--Bridget pulls it all together.

Bridget, of course, is not Haldon's only fan. She's one of many... but she may be his only chance at getting rescued...

My thoughts: I'm not happy with how the jacket copy reads. And I'm not satisfied with my summary attempt either. Really I feel this is one of those books where it's best if you know as little as possible. It offers a little of everything for readers--a glimpse at the fandom of fantasy, a mystery, a thriller, a tiny bit of romance. (Bridget is introducing a classmate to Haldon's series by reading them aloud to him at lunch. The two have grown close. Bridget knows she likes-like him, but does he like-like her? Readers are never really sure that he's equally interested in her in that way.) 

There are multiple narrators. It can be a bit dark, bleak, and creepy.


Eyes of the Forest is best at being a fast-paced thriller. I was so swept up into the suspense/thriller aspects of it that I didn't really slow down enough to notice any flaws and weaknesses. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews