Sunday, February 28, 2021

February Reflections

I read a total of thirty-one books in February 2021. Twenty-one were review copies; ten were books that I either bought or were free to download. Twenty-six were new-to-me. Five were rereads. Nine books were five-star reads. Sixteen books were four star reads. 

Five of the nine five-star books are PICTURE BOOKS. 

Rating books with stars is so subjective. Looking over this month's books I am surprised that some did earn five stars--the day I wrote the review--and equally surprised by some that didn't earn five stars! I didn't change my ratings for any. If I started changing my ratings--days, weeks--after the fact, it might turn into the Sneetches with their stars on and off machine.

My least favorite book was War and Milly McGonigle.

My favorite reread was probably PETE THE CAT and His FOUR GROOVY BUTTONS.

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

11. Max and the Spice Thieves. (Secrets of the Twilight Djinn #1) John Peragine. 2021. [April] 274 pages. [Source: Review copy]
12. My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir. Katherine Johnson, Joylette Hylick, and Katherine G. Moore. 2021. [May] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
13. Lady Windermere's Fan. Oscar Wilde. 1893. 70 pages. [Source: Bought]
14. An Ideal Husband. Oscar Wilde. 1893. 78 pages. [Source: Bought]
15. Worst-Case Collin. Rebecca Caprara. 2021. [September] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
16. The Children's Blizzard. Melanie Benjamin. 2021. [January] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]
17. We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War. Vivien Newman. 2014/2021. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
18. Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel. Andrea Grosso Ciponte. 2021. [February] 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
19. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. 610 pages. [Source: Bought]
20. In Times of Rain and War. Camron Wright. 2021. [April] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

9. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Eric Litwin. Illustrated by James Dean. 2012. 40 pages. [Source: Online Audio]
10. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Eric Litwin. Illustrated by James Dean. 2010. 40 pages. [Source: Online Audio]
11. Pete the Cat: Rocking In My School Shoes. Eric Litwin. Illustrated by James Dean. 2011. 40 pages. [Source: Online Audio]
12. The Tale of Miss Kitty Cat. Arthur Scott Bailey. 1919. 92 pages. [Source: Bought]
13. Flip! How The Frisbee Took Flight. Margaret Muirhead. Illustrated by Adam Gustavson. 2021. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
14. We Laugh Alike (Juntos nos reimos) Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. 2021. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
15. We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know. Traci Sorell. Illustrated by Frane Lessac. 2021. [April] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
16. War and Millie McGonigle. Karen Cushman. 2021. [April] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
17. Mission Multiverse. Rebecca Caprara. 2021. [May] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
18. A Thousand White Butterflies Jessica Betancourt-Perez and Karen Lynn Williams. Illustrated by Gina Maldonado. 2021. [January] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
19. Ten Beautiful Things. Molly Beth Griffin. 2021. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
20. Ten Animals in Antarctica. Moira Court. 2021. [January] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
21. Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate. Melissa Stewart. Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. 2021. [April] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
22. Seaside Stroll. Charles Trevino. Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga. 2021. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

8. Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord. Michael Reeves. 2021. [January] Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
9. Pleasure and Profit in Bible Study. D.L. Moody. 1898. 167 pages. [Source: Bought]
10. Found: God's Will. John F. MacArthur Jr. 1972. 60 pages. [Source: Bought]
11. Woven: Understanding the Bible as One Seamless Story. Angie Smith. 2021. [March] 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
12. Tidewater Bride. Laura Frantz. 2021. [January] 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]
13. Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands. Jen Wilkin. 2021. [March] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

1. New American Standard Reference Edition. 1973. God. 1899 pages. [Source: Bought] 


Number of Books31
Number of Pages8681

2021 Totals



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, February 26, 2021

Movie Review: The Dig

The Dig (2021)
Simon Stone (director)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Scott, etc.

The Dig is based on John Preston's novel of the same name. It released in January 2021. I had some interest in watching this one because I do enjoy period dramas. I didn't know--before I started--that this one was set at the dawn of the Second World War. (1939)

So it's based on a true story--though I'm guessing liberties have been taken. Edith Pretty (our heroine) has hired Basil Brown (our hero) to excavate several large burial mounds on her property. She has a feeling that they could uncover something interesting/wonderful. Though little expect to find such TREASURE. There are many, many, many obstacles to be overcome in the film. 

I found The Dig to be a slower-paced, character-driven thoughtful film. Not that there aren't moments of action--though to mention them here and now would be to spoil things a little bit. 

I found the film to have a heaviness about it. Almost like reading the book of Ecclesiastes, or as my Dad calls it the depressing book that starts with an "E."

It's a grave film--perhaps I've been watching too much Muppet Show. I would say it dances with being a meaning of life film. But I would say that unlike the book of Ecclesiastes it doesn't really offer any answers. (Not that Ecclesiastes is great at that.)

I would say my biggest issue with the film is that it throws in a romance for the fun of it. I am NOT talking about a romance between the hero and heroine. I am referring to an adulterous romance--that was not based in reality, remember many of these characters are real people--between Rory (a fictional cousin and photographer) and Peggy Piggott (a real archaeologist). Not every film needs to have sex scenes and "romance."


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, February 25, 2021

20. In Times of Rain and War

In Times of Rain and War. Camron Wright. 2021. [April] 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Four bombs dropped from the plane in succession, chasing one another—though the fin on the last caught on a rivet in the bomb bay, delaying its liberation until the pilot briskly pulled the aircraft’s nose up to nudge the explosive free.

Premise/plot: Joey would put this book in the freezer. I'm tempted to leave it at that--but, of course, I won't. 

In Times of Rain and War is loosely (yes, loosely) based on a true story. It is historical fiction--set in England during the Second World War--with a strong romantic undercurrent. 

Audrey Stocking, our heroine, is bombed out of her apartment--along with her Aunt Claire. 

Wes Bower, our hero, is an American newly arrived in England and joining a bomb squad. That is he is part of a team that works to disarm (deactivate) bombs that have fallen but not exploded. It is a dangerous job. (He learns that the average person lasts TEN WEEKS on the job before dying on the job.) Still, it's an important job--crucial. They have to LEARN and LEARN AS THEY GO; even failures can lead to future successes if they can figure out what went wrong. And since Germans--Nazis--keep coming up with new fuses (I believe the book spells that fuzes), they have to keep coming up with new strategies, techniques, protocols. 

The two meet each other when she's bombed out of her apartment; he's called to the scene...

But this is NOT insta-love OR insta-lust. This book is a thousand times better than that. Wright doesn't need to stoop to that level.

My thoughts: I NEEDED A FREEZER. Man, oh man, I needed a freezer. I felt like my heart had gotten beaten up with a baseball bat. 

Every single reader is different--has different likes, dislikes, hopes, expectations, etc. For some this book may prove too brutal on the heart strings. Then again, there are some people who VOLUNTARILY watch Titanic or The Notebook or The Boy in Striped Pajamas or Steel Magnolias.

I thought this one was well written. While having romantic elements certainly, this one has way too many side characters that are  fully developed and fleshed out--not to mention the historical details--to be your typical "romance novel." If that comes across as an insult to an entire genre, it isn't meant to be. I promise. What I mean is that the characterization--from main characters to side characters--has depth and substance. It is SO GOOD--for better or worse. The better to break your heart perhaps.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, February 19, 2021

19. Blackout

Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. 610 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Colin tried the door, but it was locked.

I thought I'd start with a word of warning. When you get to the end of Blackout, you're going to NEED to have a copy of All Clear ready to go. Because, chances are, you're going to want to pick it up right away. There is no 'real' ending in Blackout. There is no resolution. There's no peace to be had. Usually I might say that's not such a positive thing in a book, but in this case, I'm forgiving.

You might also find it helpful to know that Blackout can be read as part of a series of time travel books by Connie Willis.  

Premise/plot: Several time travelers find themselves TRAPPED in the past in Connie Willis' thrilling novel Blackout. Time travel has its dangers--of course--but the net is supposed to have safety features built in to protect time and time travelers. But the 'logic' of the net is changing, and, the systems seem to be failing. Though it seems like a few people are aware of this calamity-in-the-making (Mr. Dunworthy surely has his suspicions? Why else would he be rearranging all the scheduled comings and goings of the historians?) The historians themselves are being kept in the dark, out of the loop. 

There are three main characters--three main narrators--in Blackout. Each is a historian, a time traveler. Each has plans for multiple assignments in the twentieth century. Each is experiencing frustration as these drops are rearranged and rescheduled. The historians are Merope who is 'observing' the evacuation of children from London to the country. She 'becomes' Eileen O'Reilly and works as a nurse or maid in one of the homes. Under her care are two very, very wild children. Of course, she's responsible for more than two children. Her employer has taken in many children--over a dozen, I think? But those two are the ones that make her life more than a little unpleasant. Her assignment is for the spring of 1940. Polly "Sebastian" is a historian observing the London Blitz in the fall of 1940. Her assignment has her working in a shop on Oxford Street. She is curious in observing how the Blitz effects people. How they are able to cope with the bombs falling over their heads. How they are able to cope with the terror of it all--knowing each and every night that they could die. The third historian is Michael Davies. Since he was supposed to observe Pearl Harbor first, he's got an implant to give him an American accent. But with the shuffling of assignments, he's now observing the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940. His research has him observing heroes. He's looking to observe the qualities that make someone brave and heroic, what makes a person risk their lives to save others.

If all went according to plan, these three would NOT have met--in the past. Their assignments in 1940 would not have overlapped in time or place. But not all went according to plan...and now these three are going to need each very, very much if they're going to survive...

My thoughts: I really love Connie Willis' time travel novels. Blackout and All Clear perhaps would have perhaps been better as one CHUNKY book. The two are essentially one book with one story. These two can be read on their own without previously reading the other two books. (Again each of those two could be read as stand alone novels.)  

I love historical fiction. I love historical fiction set during the second world war. I love historical fiction set in England.

I love time travel stories. This one is INTENSE.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Student Prince

The Student Prince (1954) starring Edmund Purdom and Ann Blyth and directed by Richard Thorpe. The Student Prince was an operetta by Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly written/composed in 1924. 

According to Wikipedia it was based on a German play, Old Heidelberg, by Wilhelm Meyer-Forster which was first performed in 1901. (According to yet another Wikipedia article the play was based on an 1898 novel Karl Heinrich also by Meyer-Forster.) 

There were several silent films--in both German and English--of Old Heidelberg and/or The Student Prince. The operetta was--again according to Wikipedia--the longest running Broadway show in the 1920s--608 performances to Show Boat's 572 performances. 

It was adapted into a musical film in 1954. Mario Lanza provided the voice for the student prince.

I found *some* similarities between The Student Prince and Cinderella. Though I will say The Student Prince is more of an anti-Cinderella tale. Prince Karl Franz, our "hero" is the heir to the throne of Karlsberg (fictional German kingdom). He's all set for an arranged marriage, but his intended bride finds him a bit robotic, cold, uncaring. Deemed to be lacking the important virtue of CHARM, he's sent to attend university/college in Heidelberg. He'll live in an inn, attend classes, and generally mingle with the commoners for however long it takes for him to gain some perspective. Of course, this proves slightly problematic. He falls madly, deeply, passionately in love with the innkeeper's niece, Kathie, who waits on him--and others--primarily serving round after round after round after round after round of beer. (Most of the musical numbers are about drinking, drinking, drinking, and more drinking.) Since their love affair literally can't go anywhere--she's a commoner, he's the heir to the throne--and since he's already engaged to be married--it's a bit "There's No Tomorrow" or "It's Now or Never." When his grandfather (the current king) dies, he assumes the throne, leaves Kathie forever, and is on his way to his wedding. The End.

As I mentioned before this is an anti-Cinderella story as far as I'm concerned. He's an UNcharming prince who does NOT marry a commoner who's in service. Though he may love her, he always must leave her in the end. 

I found him insufferable. I yelled at the screen quite a bit. Mainly because he's very hand-sy and trying to force himself on Kathie for the first half of the movie. He doesn't really change what he wants--but she eventually falls for his act after a few love songs where he "croons" in her ear. (Ouch!!!) Perhaps she was attracted to him all along? Maybe she thought she didn't have a choice and she might as well accept her fate? Maybe because her uncle was unsupportive? Maybe because she had nowhere else to go or way to earn a living? 

Regardless, I was not swept up into this love story. I thought he was a JERK. It was clearly insta-lust presented as insta-love (well, maybe???). Sees a girl swinging beer around and singing, thinks I must grab her and kiss her as soon as possible. WHAT?!?! Who is she to reject my kisses. I must try again and again and again. I will not take NO for an answer. I am A PRINCE. She will be mine! I will pursue her until she quits this job, goes across the river, follow her to her new place of work, and pester her until she's fired, and then follow her after she's fired and SING, SING, SING, SING until she will willingly accepts my kisses. 

Apparently kissing a commoner and drinking beer (lots of beer) with commoners does the trick and he is a forever changed man? (But is he really???? It's not like we know how he is once he's King and married). 

I do think it shows how Cinderella might have gone if there had not been magic and a fairy godmother. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, February 15, 2021

18. Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel

Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel. Andrea Grosso Ciponte. 2021. [February] 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure.

Premise/plot: Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel is a nonfiction graphic novel set in Germany circa 1942/1943. It tells the story of the White Rose resistance group--within Germany, mind you--led by young Germans who opposed Hitler. Primarily it is story of a handful of people: Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, and Willi Graf. (There may have been others? But this is the core group who sacrificed everything--yes, everything--to use their newly found voices to make a stand for what they believed was right.) This is a story about the power of words--or the potential power of words. It is the story of a publication--the White Rose--of pamphlets distributed within Germany challenging the status quo. This graphic novel includes--in English, thank goodness--those six leaflets. The graphic novel focuses on their story and its impact. 

My thoughts: The story of Sophie and Hans felt a little familiar to me; perhaps I've read a little bit about them before? But I was so happy and pleased to have the opportunity to review this title and learn more about these (mostly) student resisters. 

Whether intentional or not this graphic novel felt timely and relevant. And it made for a lovely read on a very cold wintry day.

At the same time, this one feels sparse. The story isn't presented in a straight-forward, education-friendly way. It is, well, sparse and a bit all over the place as to what it shares and when it shares it within the text. Which is certainly okay--more than okay--if you see the book as say a piece of art. 

But if you genuinely are wanting more narrative to tell the whole story, or more of the whole story, then it's...sparse. One reviewer (on Goodreads) noted that you learn more reading wikipedia articles about the founding members than you do reading this book. That reviewer wasn't wrong. It's a little light on facts and the illustrations have to do the heavy lifting.

As long-time blog readers know I don't *usually* review many graphic novels a year. But this one appealed to me because of the World War II setting. I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys (or should that be "enjoys"???) learning more about the Second World War.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, February 11, 2021

17. We Also Served

We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War. Vivien Newman. 2014/2021. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I have always known about my grandfathers’ First World War service. Her father’s photograph was on my mother's bedside table, his eyes, haunted by all he had seen, staring into the middle distance. He was a Royal Army Medical Corps surgeon, specialising in abdominal wounds, and he served in France from November 1914. Like so many who returned, he spoke little about his war service, although post-war he worked with those still suffering from shell shock–teaching my mother to drive in the grounds of one of the ‘lunatic asylums’ he visited weekly. 

Premise/plot: We Also Served is a nonfiction book about the many women--who served in many different ways--their countries during the First World War. (The book mainly--though not exclusively--focuses on the British Empire, so women from Great Britain, Canada, Australia. I believe a handful of Americans are mentioned but in very small numbers proportionally speaking.) The book is arranged/organized by the ways women served. 

For example, the first chapter is about the women being brave enough to send their boys/men off to war; the campaigning that went on to make sure mothers and wives WOULD strongly encourage/support their men to go. But that isn't all it's about. It has a lot of KNITTING as well. In addition to knitting, women could WRITE LETTERS to boost morale and be supportive during the war.

But the book goes on in its chapters to focus on nurses, ambulance drivers, and the occasional doctor or surgeon. Not to mention the factory workers--especially in munitions but not only in munitions. Then, of course, there were the land girls--women involved in farming/harvesting. And then there was the occasional spy behind the enemy lines...

Some who served were involved in private enterprises--not forbidden by the government but not necessarily supported by the government and run by the government. There were private nursing units and more official government-sponsored nursing units for example. 

The last two chapters focuses on women who died serving their country AND the women who mourned losses from the war. There were memorials and monuments to men who served and died--less honor was given to the women who died. They weren't exactly forgotten and dismissed altogether. But less was done to commemorate, recognize, and pay tribute to their service. Perhaps the least recognized of all were the women who died working in munitions. These deaths were purposefully not recorded or published. 

ALL OF THE CHAPTERS were wonderful in that all are drawn from primary sources. Diaries. Letters. Journals. Memoirs. Oral Histories. Each chapter has at least one--if not dozens--of personal stories giving readers a behind the scenes glimpse of what it was like--their actual experiences. 

My thoughts: I really found this one fascinating and well-researched. I read one chapter a day and enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word???) each day's reading. I love it when nonfiction relies primarily on primary sources. I love hearing these stories, these experiences from firsthand sources--the women who were actually there. I would definitely recommend this one. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

16. The Children's Blizzard

The Children's Blizzard. Melanie Benjamin. 2021. [January] 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: They came on boats, on trains, great unceasing waves of them—the poor, the disenfranchised, the seekers, the dreamers. Second and third generations of farmers eking out an existence on scraps of farms divided up among too many sons. Political agitators no longer welcome in their homelands. Young men fleeing conscription in a king’s army. Married couples starting out. Bachelors from towns with few women. The poor from tenements with air so stifling and foul there was no room to breathe, let alone dream.

Premise/plot: Melanie Benjamin's newest historical novel is about the blizzard of January 12, 1888 nicknamed the children's blizzard. It was a deadly storm--a heartbreaking one. Her novel is told from multiple points of view--so, so, so,  so many points of view. The first half focuses on the day of the storm...and perhaps the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. The second half focuses on the aftermath of the storm and its effect on survivors. 

My thoughts: What you see is what you get. I like that when it comes to books. I *need* that when it comes to books. And I think sometimes this goes unappreciated. I'd rather have a TITLE and COVER together tell me everything I need to know about what to expect in a book than to have a cover that gives little to nothing away and a "clever" title. Add in jacket flap where it's just "superb" "outstanding" "one of a kind" "will blow you away" "phenomenal" "ground-breaking" "unforgettable" with no hint of what is in between the pages and you've lost me. 

If you have an interest in pioneers, school teachers, natural/weather disasters, journalism, immigrants, or if you just really love historical fiction, then this one may be a good fit for you.

It may not be a good fit for you if you are a sensitive reader who has never read about the children's blizzard before. (Hint: The children's blizzard was DEADLY. Not everyone survived; those who did survive didn't always survive whole--physically, mentally, emotionally. It devastated whole communities.) If you are a sensitive reader but are more familiar with this time in history--and this particular storm--I would recommend the book. This book isn't more brutal/intense than the nonfiction books on the topic.

I have read David Laskin's excellent The Children's Blizzard. (I believe Melanie Benjamin has as well in her research.)

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Movie Review: North and South (2004)

North and South
Starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage
Directed by Brian Percival
Music: Martin Phipps

In December I reread Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. In January I watched (for the first time) the 1975 adaption of North and South (starring Patrick Stewart). This month I rewatched the 2004 North and South.

Overall, I really love and adore this movie. Is it faithful to the book? Not really. Is it faithful to the spirit/essence of Gaskell's characters? No, not really. But does it tell a whole story and stand on its own? YES, yes, yes. The characters though perhaps miles away from being like what Gaskell actually wrote are so well written--so well cast--that it WORKS. Here's where this adaptation shines. It is all about RELATIONSHIPS and (viewer) INVESTMENT and EMOTIONS/FEELS. 

Though John Thornton and Margaret Hale are not Elizabeth 2.0 and Darcy 2.0 in Gaskell's original novel, in the movie they sort of are. And it's a formula that works well. 

I could point out all the hundreds of ways this adaptation differs from the novel. (The first happening withing a minute or two of the movie's opening. Mrs. Hale (Margaret's mother) does NOT attend Edith's wedding. Mrs. Hale and her sister live in two different social worlds, have different incomes, and different wardrobes. Mrs. Hale is too embarrassed and too proud to either ask to borrow a dress or to appear in a super-shabby dress that is decades out of style as well. Perhaps Margaret is unaware of this reasoning, she's not always intuitive--rarely intuitive--but certainly Gaskell emphasizes this.) To me the biggest difference is the two John Thorntons. 

The question isn't is this a good/great/decent adaptation...the question is this a good/great/awesome/wonderful movie. And while it fails at the first, it exceedingly succeeds at the second. It is a WONDERFUL movie that doesn't need to rely on a book. 

The characters, the actors, the costumes, the MUSIC, the romance....all is perfectly perfect especially if you divorce it almost completely from Gaskell's novel.



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, February 05, 2021

15. Worst-Case Collin

Worst-Case Collin. Rebecca Caprara. 2021. [September] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I used to dream about normal stuff like making the swim team, acing my social studies quiz, getting revenge on Liam for pranking me all the time. These days my main goal is to prevent disaster from striking again. Or, at the very least, to be better prepared. Which is harder than it sounds when you're in middle school and calamities of various sorts occur daily.

Premise/plot: Collin, our twelve-year-old protagonist, is a worrier carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. It wasn't always like this. There was a Before. But he's been living in the After for almost two years now. Life without his mom is barely life. Collin has some great friends--Liam and Georgia--who are clueless about the secrets he's been keeping from them. There's a good reason he hasn't invited them inside his house--ever, ever, ever. But keeping secrets and hiding out can only take you so far...

Worst-Case Collin is a coming of age novel--with a school setting, with a strong theme of friendship--written in verse. It's also what you might call a problem novel. (That is one reason why I am reviewing it here at Becky's Book Reviews instead of Young Readers.)

My thoughts: I have many thoughts. On the one hand, WHAT A STORY. I loved meeting Collin and his friends, Liam and Georgia. I thought his two friends continually offered a ray of hope and happiness. Collin and the reader needed that hope. (I also thought Liam's mom was superb!!! It was so nice to see a good parenting role model.) On the other hand, IT IS HEAVY AND INTENSE. I think it is good heavy and good intense. But also potentially triggering--depending on the reader's home environment. 

Collin is juggling many, many, many emotions: sadness, worry, fear, frustration, anger, regret, bitterness, anxiety, hopelessness, grief, and SHAME. Collin only has a tiny amount of places where he feels safe. On the one hand, he wants to tell someone--anyone--what is going on at home and how things are different since his mom died. On the other hand, he fears what might happen if anyone ever learns the truth. He struggles daily with this dilemma. Can I go on living like this? Will it ever get better? 


Gravity might always win,
but I've got a choice:
I choose to dive.
She bends her knees.
Preferably with style!
She leaps, twists, splashes.

Georgia says
there is space inside
the human heart
for infinite love
and infinite sadness
and all the messiness
in between.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, February 04, 2021

14. An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband. Oscar Wilde. 1893. 78 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:

Mrs. Marchmont. Going on to the Hartlocks’ to-night, Margaret?

Lady Basildon. I suppose so. Are you?

Mrs. Marchmont. Yes. Horribly tedious parties they give, don’t they?

Premise/plot: An Ideal Husband is a play by Oscar Wilde originally published in 1893. It opens with a party of sorts. Mrs. Cheveley finds a way to get an invitation so that she can blackmail Sir Robert Chiltern, an under-secretary for foreign affairs. She has a letter from his past--they had a mutual friends years ago--that could do him major damage politically if it's brought to light. She wants him to change his mind and more importantly change his speech and public stance on a matter. (She'll benefit financially from this change of opinion). He wants to say NO, NO, NEVER...but the idea of losing his wife's good opinion not to mention the good opinion of society at large and the government...well...he's tempted to give in. He confides in his oldest friend, Lord Goring; Goring's advice NEVER GIVE IN, NEVER SURRENDER. He wants a chance to find a different solution to this problem. But can he outwit Mrs. Cheveley? 

Of course there are a few more under stories going on that make this one a wee bit more complex than my summary. (Like Mabel Chiltern (Robert's sister) courtship with Lord Goring).

My thoughts: I am really enjoying reading Wilde's plays! This one has to do with discretion/indiscretion, public opinion, morality, and relationships. And POLITICS. It was really such a treat to read this one.


Mabel Chiltern. [Coming up to Lord Caversham.] Why do you call Lord Goring good-for-nothing?
Lord Caversham
. Because he leads such an idle life.
Mabel Chiltern
. How can you say such a thing? Why, he rides in the Row at ten o’clock in the morning, goes to the Opera three times a week, changes his clothes at least five times a day, and dines out every night of the season. You don’t call that leading an idle life, do you?

Sir Robert Chiltern. What an appalling philosophy that sounds! To attempt to classify you, Mrs. Cheveley, would be an impertinence. But may I ask, at heart, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Those seem to be the only two fashionable religions left to us nowadays.
Mrs. Cheveley
. Oh, I’m neither. Optimism begins in a broad grin, and Pessimism ends with blue spectacles. Besides, they are both of them merely poses.
Sir Robert Chiltern
. You prefer to be natural?
Mrs. Cheveley
. Sometimes. But it is such a very difficult pose to keep up.

 Mrs. Cheveley. Ah! the strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women . . . merely adored.

Mrs. Cheveley. Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are.

Mabel Chiltern. What an absurd reason!
Lord Goring
. All reasons are absurd.

Lord Goring. I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
Lord Caversham
. You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.
Lord Goring
. What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages like happiness.

Lord Goring. I adore political parties. They are the only place left to us where people don’t talk politics.
Lady Basildon
. I delight in talking politics. I talk them all day long. But I can’t bear listening to them. I don’t know how the unfortunate men in the House stand these long debates.
Lord Goring
. By never listening.
Lady Basildon
. Really?
Lord Goring
. [In his most serious manner.] Of course. You see, it is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.

Lord Goring. You should go to bed, Miss Mabel.
Mabel Chiltern
. Lord Goring!
Lord Goring
. My father told me to go to bed an hour ago. I don’t see why I shouldn’t give you the same advice. I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.

Lord Goring. Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.

Lord Goring. [Turning round.] Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not quite enough clothes. That is always a sign of despair in a woman.

Lord Goring. It is always worth while asking a question, though it is not always worth while answering one.

Lord Goring. [After a long pause.] Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.

Lord Goring. [Rising.] No, Lady Chiltern, I am not a Pessimist. Indeed I am not sure that I quite know what Pessimism really means. All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next. And if you are ever in trouble, Lady Chiltern, trust me absolutely, and I will help you in every way I can. If you ever want me, come to me for my assistance, and you shall have it. Come at once to me.

Mabel Chiltern. Well, Tommy has proposed to me again. Tommy really does nothing but propose to me. He proposed to me last night in the music-room, when I was quite unprotected, as there was an elaborate trio going on. I didn’t dare to make the smallest repartee, I need hardly tell you. If I had, it would have stopped the music at once. Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely deaf. Then he proposed to me in broad daylight this morning, in front of that dreadful statue of Achilles. Really, the things that go on in front of that work of art are quite appalling. The police should interfere. At luncheon I saw by the glare in his eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately I don’t know what bimetallism means. And I don’t believe anybody else does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for ten minutes. He looked quite shocked. And then Tommy is so annoying in the way he proposes. If he proposed at the top of his voice, I should not mind so much. That might produce some effect on the public. But he does it in a horrid confidential way. When Tommy wants to be romantic he talks to one just like a doctor. I am very fond of Tommy, but his methods of proposing are quite out of date. I wish, Gertrude, you would speak to him, and tell him that once a week is quite often enough to propose to any one, and that it should always be done in a manner that attracts some attention.

Lady Markby. [Reflecting.] You are remarkably modern, Mabel. A little too modern, perhaps. Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly. I have known many instances of it.

Lord Goring. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.
. Yes, my lord.
Lord Goring
. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance, Phipps.

Lord Goring. I am glad you have called. I am going to give you some good advice.
Mrs. Cheveley
. Oh! pray don’t. One should never give a woman anything that she can’t wear in the evening.



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

13. Lady Windermere's Fan

Lady Windermere's Fan. Oscar Wilde. 1893. 70 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:

Parker.  Is your ladyship at home this afternoon?

Lady Windermere.  Yes—who has called?

Parker.  Lord Darlington, my lady.

Lady Windermere.  [Hesitates for a moment.]  Show him up—and I’m at home to any one who calls.

Parker.  Yes, my lady.

 Premise/plot: Lady Windermere's Fan is a play by Oscar Wilde. Lady Winderemere (Margaret) learns on her birthday that her husband has been keeping company with a 'bad woman' with a past. They've just been married two years, and she's always thought he was most trustworthy. But when one person strongly hints and another out and out tells her that her husband has been paying to keep another woman, well, she's shaken. She confronts her husband, and he insists that she invites her to her birthday party--or birthday ball as the case may be. She's insulted, upset, adamant. She will NOT put up with such treatment! But a card and invitation is sent out--and she comes, Mrs. Erlynne comes. 

 Meanwhile while this 'bad woman' is dancing and charming the men at the party, one man in particular is trying to charm Lady Windermere. Lord Darlington is professing his love; he truly, madly, deeply loves, loves, loves her. Won't she run away with him? After all who could blame her?! Her husband is inviting THAT WOMAN to her birthday party, and openly socializing with her!!! Surely a good woman would be justified in leaving her husband for another man? Even if she does have a baby with her husband...

Will Lady Windermere say YES to Lord Darlington? Will Lady Windermere forgive her husband? What would a good woman do under the circumstances?

My thoughts:  I really enjoyed this one!!! I am thinking this one might be less well known--as opposed to The Importance of Being Earnest--so I won't spoil the secrets of Lady Windermere's Fan...but it's a GOOD read. In some ways it reminds me of HIGH SOCIETY which is one of my most favorite, favorite, favorite musicals. (Although Wilde's play doesn't have Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong.) 

I definitely enjoyed the writing and the characters.


Lord Darlington.  [Still seated L.C.]  Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad.  Besides, there is this to be said.  If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously.  If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t.  Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.

Lady Windermere.  [Leaning back on the sofa.]  You look on me as being behind the age.—Well, I am!  I should be sorry to be on the same level as an age like this.
Lord Darlington
.  You think the age very bad?
Lady Windermere
.  Yes.  Nowadays people seem to look on life as a speculation.  It is not a speculation.  It is a sacrament.  Its ideal is Love.  Its purification is sacrifice.
Lord Darlington
.  [Smiling.]  Oh, anything is better than being sacrificed!
Lady Windermere
.  [Leaning forward.]  Don’t say that.

 Lord Darlington.  Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in this world.  Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such extraordinary importance.  It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious.  I take the side of the charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help belonging to them.

Lady Windermere.  Why do you talk so trivially about life, then?
Lord Darlington
.  Because I think that life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. 

Duchess of Berwick.  That’s quite right, dear.  Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.   

Lord Darlington.  My life—my whole life.  Take it, and do with it what you will. . . . I love you—love you as I have never loved any living thing.  From the moment I met you I loved you, loved you blindly, adoringly, madly!  You did not know it then—you know it now!  Leave this house to-night.  I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society.  They matter a great deal.  They matter far too much.  But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.  You have that moment now.  Choose!  Oh, my love, choose.

Cecil Graham.  My own business always bores me to death.  I prefer other people’s.

Cecil Graham.  [Coming towards him L.C.]  My dear Arthur, I never talk scandal.  I only talk gossip.
Lord Windermere
.  What is the difference between scandal and gossip?
Cecil Graham
.  Oh! gossip is charming!  History is merely gossip.  But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.  Now, I never moralise.  A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is invariably plain.  There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience.  And most women know it, I’m glad to say.

Dumby.  I congratulate you, my dear fellow.  In this world there are only two tragedies.  One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.  The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy!  But I am interested to hear she does not love you.

Cecil Graham.  What is a cynic?  [Sitting on the back of the sofa.]
Lord Darlington
.  A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Cecil Graham
.  And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.
Lord Darlington
.  You always amuse me, Cecil.  You talk as if you were a man of experience.
Cecil Graham
.  I am.  [Moves up to front off fireplace.]
Lord Darlington
.  You are far too young!
Cecil Graham
.  That is a great error.  Experience is a question of instinct about life.  I have got it.  Tuppy hasn’t.  Experience is the name Tuppy gives to his mistakes.  That is all.  [Lord Augustus looks round indignantly.]
.  Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.

Dumby.  It’s no use talking to Tuppy.  You might just as well talk to a brick wall.
Cecil Graham
.  But I like talking to a brick wall—it’s the only thing in the world that never contradicts me!  Tuppy!

Lady Windermere.  We all have ideals in life.  At least we all should have.  Mine is my mother.
Mrs. Erlynne
.  Ideals are dangerous things.  Realities are better.  They wound, but they’re better.
Lady Windermere
.  [Shaking her head.]  If I lost my ideals, I should lose everything.
Mrs. Erlynne
.  Everything?

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

12. My Remarkable Journey

My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir. Katherine Johnson, Joylette Hylick, and Katherine G. Moore. 2021. [May] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The serious look in Daddy’s eyes told me his words were important: “You’re as good as anyone in this town,” he said, peering down at my curious little face. “But you’re no better.”

Premise/plot: My Remarkable Journey is Katherine Johnson's autobiography. Katherine Johnson is a name you've likely become familiar with over the past six to seven years. Hidden Figures, the book, was published circa 2016 and the movie, Hidden Figures, followed. But this is her story in her own words--I believe the coauthors are her daughters. (Her daughters are named Joylette and Katherine, so I'm inferring here, for better or worse.) 

While the memoir covers her career at NASA, it covers so much more than that. She was a daughter, sister, student, friend, teacher, volunteer, mathematician, career woman, wife, mother, and grandmother. The memoir highlights relationships--not just events. 

Another thing worth mentioning is the focus on context, context, context. Her memoir is rooted in the times in which she lived. She goes out of her way to share deeper contexts and elaborate on the times. For example, she provides great detail about race relations, segregation, desegregation, the civil rights movement, the cold war, the space race, etc. If there's a theme of the memoir it would be education, education, education.

My thoughts: I loved this memoir. I found it fascinating, informative, and well crafted. I loved her writing style. I loved learning more about her family--her parents, siblings, husbands, children--and her private life. It was just an absorbing read. 

Journey is a good fit for the title. The book isn't so much about the destination--though, of course, her years at NASA are a fascinating destination--but about the journey. It is about the people who helped her along every step of the way, who helped shape her into the amazing woman she was.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, February 01, 2021

11. Max and the Spice Thieves

Max and the Spice Thieves. (Secrets of the Twilight Djinn #1) John Peragine. 2021. [April] 274 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: “Max,” Mom said, gently stroking my arm. “Come on, Little Bear, it’s time to get up.” I cracked one eye open—it was still dark. I sighed loud and long. “It’s too early. The sun isn’t even up. Besides, what’s the point?”

Premise/plot: Max and the Spice Thieves is a middle grade fantasy novel by John Peragine. Max, our unlikely hero, stars in this coming-of-age fantasy novel. His father is missing, believed, dead; his mother is missing, possibly dead. All he knows has been turned upside down and shaken. He's keeping company with Captain Cinn, a spice pirate (not to be confused with a space pirate) and his crew...but not for long. Because Cinn is a wanted man. What he didn't expect is that he's WANTED to. But why? Who were his parents? Who is he? How much has been kept secret from him? 

Max and the Spice Thieves has plenty of action, magic, and, well, fantasy. It stars plenty of supernatural beings. It might have more than its fair share of coincidences. 

My thoughts: This one gets a definite three stars for me. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief. (Which isn't all that unusual for a fantasy novel--children's or adult). 

Essentially what you see is what you get. Expect a children's fantasy novel starring a child who meets an assorted and varied cast of helpmates who set out on a mission/quest together. The mission/quest is challenging, as all quests are in fantasy, but the fate of the world depends on it. Fortunately the hero is stronger and smarter and braver than he knows. 

If that kind of formula works for you--as an adult or as a child--this book may prove satisfying. I do think children have probably read less fantasy than adults so perhaps they never come across books that feel formulaic? Or maybe the secret is that they just don't care or even love that about a book? 

I think we all as individual readers have our own favorite formulas that we just love and adore and can't get enough of. (Mine might be historical romances with marriages of convenience where the husband and wife fall in love after saying I do.)


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews