Friday, January 15, 2021

5. Reuben and the Amazing Mind Machine

Reuben and the Amazing Mind Machine. Jonathan M. Hughes. 2021 [January] 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: “Hey Simon, I’ve got something brilliant to tell you,” said Reuben, his mobile phone pressed up against his ear as he walked up his grandfather’s garden path.

Premise/plot: Reuben's grandfather's tinkering has paid off...or has it? He has invented a mind machine and found a way to manipulate other people's minds. It starts with playing around with the neighbors he doesn't like and then broadens in scope. Reuben, a teenage boy, is quite taken with the notion of making all the people he dislikes look foolish, stupid, embarrassed. The more awkward a situation becomes, the better he feels. Reuben has quite a few 'enemies' at school, so, of course, the perfect place to play around with the mind machine is at school...on his teachers. 

My thoughts: It's a quick read. That's about the most honest AND most positive thing I can say about it. Keep in mind that I am not the target audience. Reuben and the Amazing Mind Machine is not a character-driven novel. That's okay. Not every book is. No problem there. It is 100% premise driven. Again, no problem there. I do wish there'd been a bit more characterization because what we do get is very one dimensional and bare minimum. 

Reuben and the Amazing Mind Machine is the opposite of a problem novel. Reuben has lost his parents perhaps recently and is being raised by his aunt who is a bit clueless about parenting. Reuben essentially has stopped attending school in any meaningful way--thoroughly enabled by his aunt. The teachers at the school might as well have been inspired by Roald Dahl. They are caricatured to absolute absurdity. They HATE Reuben--and there's no sign that they actively like any student or the act of teaching itself. So instead of seeing Reuben as a person who may need some help--some counseling, some guidance, some adult who actually sees, hears, cares--they hate him, again to a degree of absurdity. 

You would think that his grandfather would be an adult who sees, hears, cares, but, nope, he's too busy being cantankerous and eccentric. His aunt's care amounts to her doing whatever he wants without any real oversight or guidance. 

But you have to dig deep to pick up on what would be the focus of many other YA novels. This is not in any way a problem novel. It's a slapstick comedy. Think Three Stooges type intelligence. The situations are a bit absurd and I think exist just so that poop jokes can be introduced one right after the other. 

I'm not saying this book won't find an audience. Just that it is not for me.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

4. The Bostonians

The Bostonians. Henry James. 1886. 460 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: “Olive will come down in about ten minutes; she told me to tell you that. About ten; that is exactly like Olive. Neither five nor fifteen, and yet not ten exactly, but either nine or eleven. She didn’t tell me to say she was glad to see you, because she doesn’t know whether she is or not, and she wouldn’t for the world expose herself to telling a fib. She is very honest, is Olive Chancellor; she is full of rectitude. Nobody tells fibs in Boston; I don’t know what to make of them all. Well, I am very glad to see you, at any rate.”

Premise/plot: Does The Bostonians have a plot??? It isn't so much about a destination as the journey. So this is a 'problem' novel of sorts. Many of the characters are active in the women's rights movement. (Remember this one was published in 1886.) 

It's told from multiple view points: Basil Ransom, Olive Chancellor, and Verena Tarrant; it introduces a handful of other characters as well. (My favorite side character is Doctor Prance.)

So it opens with Basil Ransom paying a visit on Olive Chancellor. She's running late and so he is conversing with her widowed sister Adeline Luna. (She seems REALLY into him throughout the whole book. He seems to be the stereotypical Southern flirt; he can't help flirting with any/every woman.) Olive and Basil CLASH. And not in a Pride and Prejudice way where readers get the idea that the two are destined to live happily ever after together. But the evening isn't a total failure because he ends up going to a larger event where the feminists are talking/rallying. He sees Verena Tarrant, and if he was a cartoon character, his eyes would turn into hearts and pop out of his eyes. Unfortunately, he's not the only one who's fallen for Verena. Olive also has major heart eyes for Verena. So much so that she practically begs Verena to move in with her permanently. 

The rest of the book is about (if the book actually has a plot) Olive trying desperately to hold onto Verena and mold her into the person she wants her to be. A world-changing, man-hating public speaker that is so committed to the doctrines of feminism or women's rights that there isn't even a teeny tiny space left in her heart for a man--any man. 

Basil comes and goes out of the story. He never forgets Verena. But he is rarely openly seeking or wooing Verena. He does maintain a rather close friendship (when it's convenient to him) with Mrs. Luna (Olive's sister). 

Will Verena escape Olive's manipulations and marry? Or will she become a world-famous spokeswoman for a radical movement? 

My thoughts: I didn't really like any of the characters--at least any of the main characters. I really didn't feel like readers got a true idea of who Verena actually was. Probably because James didn't bother developing her as such--her very own person. Verena was the coveted prize between two stronger characters: Olive and Basil. Basil doesn't come across as a woman-hater--one who would keep women down for the sake of keeping women down. He does come across as someone smitten by a beautiful young woman. He doesn't believe in the cause, but he's not angry and aggressive about it. He's a fairly laid back character. 

My favorite character was Doctor Prance, a woman doctor, who doesn't believe in the CAUSE either but for her own reasons. She's only in perhaps three or four scenes of the book--but she's a scene stealer when she is there. I really found myself drawn to her character. 

I didn't like the characters or the story, but there is something about James' writing that kept me hooked. 


  • “Do you mean to say your sister’s a roaring radical?” “A radical? She’s a female Jacobin—she’s a nihilist. Whatever is, is wrong, and all that sort of thing. If you are going to dine with her, you had better know it.”
  • Many things were strange to Basil Ransom; Boston especially was strewn with surprises, and he was a man who liked to understand. Mrs. Luna was drawing on her gloves; Ransom had never seen any that were so long; they reminded him of stockings, and he wondered how she managed without garters above the elbow.
  • “Oh, it isn’t the city; it’s just Olive Chancellor. She would reform the solar system if she could get hold of it. She’ll reform you, if you don’t look out. That’s the way I found her when I returned from Europe.”
  • It was the usual things of life that filled her with silent rage; which was natural enough, inasmuch as, to her vision, almost everything that was usual was iniquitous.
  • Olive had a fear of everything, but her greatest fear was of being afraid. She wished immensely to be generous, and how could one be generous unless one ran a risk?
  • “If, as you say, there is to be a discussion, there will be different sides, and of course one can’t sympathise with both.” “Yes, but every one will, in his way—or in her way—plead the cause of the new truths. If you don’t care for them, you won’t go with us.” 
  • “Don’t you believe, then, in the coming of a better day—in its being possible to do something for the human race?” 
  • “Well, Miss Olive,” he answered, putting on again his big hat, which he had been holding in his lap, “what strikes me most is that the human race has got to bear its troubles.” 
  • “Oh, the position of women!” Basil Ransom exclaimed. “The position of women is to make fools of men. I would change my position for yours any day,” he went on. “That’s what I said to myself as I sat there in your elegant home.” 
  • “Well, did she convince you?” Ransom inquired. “Convince me of what, sir?” “That women are so superior to men.” “Oh, deary me!” said Doctor Prance, with a little impatient sigh; “I guess I know more about women than she does.” “And that isn’t your opinion, I hope,” said Ransom, laughing. “Men and women are all the same to me,” Doctor Prance remarked. “I don’t see any difference. There is room for improvement in both sexes. Neither of them is up to the standard.”
  • We must remember that the world is ours too, ours—little as we have ever had to say about anything!—and that the question is not yet definitely settled whether it shall be a place of injustice or a place of love!
  • “You don’t know me, but I want to know you,” Olive said. “I can thank you now. Will you come and see me?” “Oh yes; where do you live?” Verena answered, in the tone of a girl for whom an invitation (she hadn’t so many) was always an invitation. “I want to know you,” Olive said, on this occasion; “I felt that I must last night, as soon as I heard you speak. You seem to me very wonderful. I don’t know what to make of you. I think we ought to be friends; so I just asked you to come to me straight off, without preliminaries, and I believed you would come. It is so right that you have come, and it proves how right I was.” 
  • “Will you be my friend, my friend of friends, beyond every one, everything, for ever and for ever?” Her face was full of eagerness and tenderness. Verena gave a laugh of clear amusement, without a shade of embarrassment or confusion. “Perhaps you like me too much.” 
  • “Do you live here all alone?” she asked of Olive. “I shouldn’t if you would come and live with me!” Even this really passionate rejoinder failed to make Verena shrink; she thought it so possible that in the wealthy class people made each other such easy proposals. 
  • Do you really take the ground that your sex has been without influence? Influence? Why, you have led us all by the nose to where we are now! Wherever we are, it’s all you. You are at the bottom of everything.” 
  • “I am not angry—I am anxious. I am so afraid I shall lose you. Verena, don’t fail me—don’t fail me!” Olive spoke low, with a kind of passion. “Fail you? How can I fail?” 
  • But any man who pretends to accept our programme in toto, as you and I understand it, of his own free will, before he is forced to—such a person simply schemes to betray us. There are gentlemen in plenty who would be glad to stop your mouth by kissing you! 
  • “You do keep me up,” Verena went on. “You are my conscience.” “I should like to be able to say that you are my form—my envelope. But you are too beautiful for that!” 
  • He had been diligent, he had been ambitious, but he had not yet been successful. 
  • “It does come back to me now, what you told me about the growth of their intimacy. And do they mean to go on living together for ever?” “I suppose so—unless some one should take it into his head to marry Verena.” 
  • Duty should be obvious; one shouldn’t hunt round for it.
  • Are you a little girl of ten and she your governess? Haven’t you any liberty at all, and is she always watching you and holding you to an account? Have you such vagabond instincts that you are only thought safe when you are between four walls?
  • Doctor Prance dealt in facts; Ransom had already discovered that; and some of her facts were very interesting. 
  • “Women—women! You know much about them!” “I am learning something every day.” “You haven’t learned yet, apparently, to answer their letters. It’s rather a surprise to me that you don’t pretend not to have received mine.”

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, January 11, 2021

3. Jane Austen's Best Friend

Jane Austen's Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd. Zoe Wheddon. 2021. Pen and Sword. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is also a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a great talent must be in want of a brilliant best friend and Jane Austen was no exception. She may even have appreciated that friend more than we will ever know. That is to say she enjoyed the delights of having someone in her life who would become one of her closest and dearest, nay even beloved people, but was not bound to her by the calls of family duty or a father’s will.

Premise/plot: Jane Austen's Best Friend is a biography of Martha Lloyd that focuses on the friendship between Jane and Martha. The two were close, as close as sisters. Their friendship spanned decades. Jane was around twelve years old when the two met. This perspective gives readers an inside glimpse of Jane's personality. Wheddon writes, "Through tracing the tale of Martha and Jane, we will get to see the human side of our heroine author and really feel like we can get to know her better. In looking back somewhat longingly at Martha and Jane’s friendship we can examine all their shared interests, including the hits and misses of their romantic love lives, their passion for shopping and fashion, their connection to their community and the female biography of the period, their family histories, their lucky breaks, their epic fails and their girly chats. In this way, it is my aim for us to ‘recover a personal Jane Austen’, to allow us the opportunity to spend time in a ‘plausible emotional and psychological hinterland’, to create something like our own time-travelling coffee shop, wherein Jane Austen is revealed to us in a different context, in a different light, through the prism of the magical link of friendship."

Martha wasn't just close to Jane, she was close to the entire Austen clan. (Later in life, Mrs. Austen, Jane, Cassandra, and Martha lived together.) Several years after Jane's death, she marries one of Jane's widower brothers.

The chapters:

  1. In the Beginning
  2. Early Writings
  3. Moving Away
  4. Love Lives
  5. Fashion Fun
  6. Fun and Frolics--Out and About
  7. In Sickness and In Health
  8. Home Is Where the Heart Is
  9. Charity Begins At Home
  10. Our Chawton Home
  11. The Character of Friendship
  12. Anything You Can Do...
  13. The Spirit of Friendship
  14. Life After Death
  15. Friendship Never Ends

My thoughts: This book was a good fit for me!!! I really love reading Austen and reading about Austen. I would recommend this one to anyone with similar taste. Love reading Austen's novels? Love reading about Jane Austen? Love the Georgian/Regency time period? Love history? This one may be for you. It releases in April 2021. 


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

2. The Abbey Mystery (Jane Austen Investigates #1)

The Abbey Mystery (Jane Austen Investigates #1). Julia Golding. 2021. [April] 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It had to be acknowledged that the life of a clergyman’s daughter in deepest rural Hampshire was disappointingly full of duties.

Premise/plot: Jane Austen, our heroine, is thirteen and spunky. In this, her first adventure, she goes to be a lady's companion to Lady Cromwell for a few weeks--as birthday celebrations are in high gear--and stumbles into her first (but presumably not last) mystery. Southmoor Abbey is rumored to be haunted; she first hears from her older brother who almost dares her to search out the ghost for herself. But it isn't a ghost--mad or not--that brings danger and excitement into her life: it is the master and mistress of the estate....

There are multiple mysteries to solve and lives do hang in the balance...though this is NOT a murder mystery. 

My thoughts: I really loved this one. The novel opens in 1789 and stars the Austen family. If I use the word though, I don't mean it in a derogatory or condescending way... THOUGH it is a middle grade title and certainly appropriate for readers 9+ I think it holds appeal for readers of all ages. I enjoyed it as an adult. I could easily see myself enjoying it as preteen and teen. (Granted I loved HISTORICAL FICTION and reading in general.) Austen makes for a lively, spunky-quirky heroine. And THERE'S A DOG who plays a significant role in the story. In fact, would Austen have solved the mysteries WITHOUT the dog????? I'm not sure! 

 I think adults who have read all of Austen might enjoy this one especially. 


“And if I see a ghost, Henry, I’ll tell it to get on to heaven–or the other place.” “I do believe you would. Prove there’s no such thing as a ghost at the Abbey and I’ll give you half a crown.” He patted his purse. Jane thought of the writing paper she could buy with such riches. “You have a deal.” 
“I think Henry [XIII] guilty of crimes and cruelties too many to mention,” agreed Jane–she had strong opinions about the monarchs of the land. “I believe he was a man of no religion and little can be said in his defence.” “Oh, bravo, Miss Austen. I wish you had the task of writing the history books. I admire plain speaking.” Jane decided that Annette was all right–like Fitzwilliam, Deepti, and Luke, rather than the Cromwells. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, January 03, 2021

1. Georgana's Secret

Georgana's Secret. Arlem Hawks. 2021. [January] Shadow Mountain. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Footsteps, firm and steady, sounded on the stairs. Each one tore at Georgana Woodall’s young heart as she waited in the hall outside the nursery because they brought Papa’s goodbye closer and closer. She brushed her tears away quickly, in case Grandmother was following Papa. Grandmother had no tolerance for tears—from girls of seven or their mothers. 

Premise/plot: Georgana's Secret is a Regency romance set at sea on board the HMS Deborah. Georgana Woodall, our heroine, is masquerading as a cabin boy, "George Taylor," on her father's ship. She's picked on but making the best of it until a new lieutenant comes on board. Lieutenant Dominic Peyton is new to the Deborah and serving under Captain Woodall, but he's not new to the naval life. His heart belongs to two women: the sea and his mother. His mother may dream of him getting married and starting a family. But how can he take care of a family AND still sail the seas? Would it be fair to leave a wife and mother behind? 

Dominic and George begin a strange friendship of sorts. He sees George as a small boy who is picked on by just about everybody but the captain. Surely George doesn't belong in the navy--no matter who his father was. Perhaps when the ship returns to England he can help George find a more suitable future. Meanwhile he's looking for a few clues as to what became of the captain's daughter who hasn't been seen by society in years. 

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I did. I don't often read books with this naval setting, but it worked for me. I liked the alternating narrative and how we get both George's perspective and Dominic's perspective. Most of all I appreciate that it is a clean romance. It is one of the books in the Proper Romance series. 

This one may pair well with Persuasion by Jane Austen. 


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews