Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March Reflections

I read a total of thirty-six books in March 2021. Twenty-six of the books were review copies. Nine were books I bought or owned prior to blogging. One was a gift. Seven of the thirty-six were rereads. 

I read some amazing books this month! I reviewed most at Young Readers.

One of my favorite things was participating in a Facebook group read of Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

21. A Captain for Caroline Gray. Julie Wright. 2021. [March] 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
22. Surviving Savannah. Patti Callahan. 2021. [March] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]
23. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. Kate Moore. 2017. 479 pages. [Source: Review copy]
24. Real. Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard. 2021. [February] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
25. Belinda. Maria Edgeworth. 1801. 544 pages. [Source: Bought]
26. A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1859. 446 pages. [Source: Review copy]
27. Far from the Madding Crowd. Thomas Hardy. 1874. 433 pages. [Source: Bought]
28. Triple Jeopardy. (Daniel Pitt #2) Anne Perry. 2019. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
29. The Vines. Shelley Nolden. 2021. 391 pages. [Source: Review copy]
30. A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice. Jasmine A. Stirling. Illustrated by Vesper Stamper. 2021. [March] 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Young Readers

23. Luna's Yum Yum Dim Sum. Natasha Yim. Illustrated by Violet Kim. 2020. [December] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
24. Board book: Leo Loves Mommy. Anna McQuinn. Illustrated by Ruth Hearson. 2021. [March] 18 pages. [Source: Review copy]
25. The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep. Adam Gustavson. 2021. [June] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
26. Bracelets for Bina's Brothers. Rajani LaRocca. Illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat. 2021. [April] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
27. Board book: Baby Loves Political Science: The Presidency. Ruth Spiro. Illustrated by Greg Paprocki. 2021. [April] 20 pages. [Source: Review copy]
28. Board Book: Baby Loves Congress. Ruth Spiro. Illustrated by Greg Paprocki. 2021. [April] 20 pages. [Source: Review copy]
29. 13 Ways to Eat A Fly. Sue Heavenrich. Illustrated by David Clark. 2020. [December] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
30. Ways to Grow Love. (Ryan Hart #2) Renee Watson. Illustrated by Nina Mata. 2021. [April] 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
31. Sydney and Taylor and the Great Friend Expedition. Jacqueline Davies. 2022. [February] 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
32. Billy Miller Makes a Wish. Kevin Henkes. 2021. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
33. Board book: Black Panther (My Mighty Marvel First Book) Marvel. 2020 [December] 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]
34. Board book: The Incredible Hulk (My Mighty Marvel First Book). Marvel Entertainment. 2021. [January] 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]
35. Bubba and Beau, Best Friends. Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2002. [Source: Bought]
36. Bubba and Beau Go Night-Night. Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2003. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]
37. Bubba and Beau Meet the Relatives. Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2004. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]
38. Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Stephanie Baudet and Arthur Conan Doyle. 2021. [October] 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]
39. Cat Tales: True Stories of Fantastic Felines. Penelope Rich. Illustrated by Isabel Munoz. 2021. [April] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

14. Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: a Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. 2021. [March] 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
15. Trusting God in the Darkness. Christopher Ash. 2021. [April] 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
16. Christians Get Depressed Too. David Murray. 2010. Reformation Heritage. 112 pages. [Source: Gift]
17. R.C. Sproul: A Life by Stephen J. Nichols. 2021. [March] 371 pages. [Source: Review copy]
18. The Amish Quiltmaker's Unexpected Baby (The Amish Quiltmaker #1) Jennifer Beckstrand. 2021. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
19. Help Your Kids Learn and Love the Bible. Danika Cooley. 2021. [June] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
20. Knowledge of the Holy. A.W. Tozer. 1961/1978. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
21. The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis. 1942. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

2. Geneva Bible 1560. God. 1560. 4305 pages. [Source: Bought] 


Number of Books36
Number of Pages10798

2021 Totals


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, March 22, 2021

30. A Most Clever Girl

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice. Jasmine A. Stirling. Illustrated by Vesper Stamper. 2021. [March] 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Jane loved stories--long ones, short ones, worn and new. 

Premise/plot: A Most Clever Girl is a picture book biography of Jane Austen. The narrative has a specific focus: how did Jane Austen find her voice? or to word it a different way, how did Austen find her own unique narrative style? The book focuses on her love of READING and WRITING and sharing stories with family and friends. Along the way, readers learn a bit more about Austen's family and the times in which she grew up.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. Probably my favorite thing about this picture book is that it includes Austen quotes throughout the narrative. The words that appears in italics are from Austen herself. (Adults can find the sources for these quotes in the back matter.) I also appreciated how this picture book provides context for reading and appreciating Austen's novels.

Is it really written for children? Or is it written for adults? I think that's a fair enough question. I do think there are plenty of adults who love, love, love Jane Austen who have daughters (and sons), granddaughters (and grandsons), nieces (and nephews). I could see this appealing to Austen fans regardless if they have children in their lives.

I am not someone who thinks that picture books are ONLY for children. I'm not. I think readers of all ages can read and enjoy picture books. I think you never outgrow a good story.

Have you read this one? What did you think about it?



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

29. The Vines

The Vines. Shelley Nolden. 2021. 391 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A thick keloid encircled the young woman's throat like a noose, ready to seize her last breath. 

Premise/plot: The Vines is suspense novel with paranormal vibes. The setting is North Brother island in New York. One thread of the story is set in the "present day" of 2007/2008. The other thread of the story is set in the past beginning circa 1902.

As for the story itself, well, how much is too much for readers to know BEFORE they pick it up? If I say too little, you might not be curious enough to seek it out. If I say too much, well, you might enjoy it less if some of the piecework has been done for you. 

So my one sentence teaser:

One family plays god with repercussions that are felt for generations to come.

My thoughts: I am so completely torn on how I feel about Shelley Nolden's The Vines.

On the one hand, it is a haunting, atmospheric read that will certainly appeal to some readers. The plot is like a tangled, convoluted knot with a few strands for the main character, Finn, to start pulling. Readers have a benefit over Finn in some ways because they are privy to the PAST sections of the book. Finn isn't working with all the pieces--and readers may not have all the pieces either--and sometimes the harder Finn pulls, the more knotted it becomes. 

Can characters be despicable without being developed and fleshed out? Maybe. Maybe not. I honestly don't know. I do know that I hated almost *all* the characters in this one. (Then again, I doubt readers are meant to *like* the characters.) So in that the author succeeds.

Motivations. This one takes a very long--almost four hundred pages--look at motivations. Do the ends justify the means? Is anything permissible  so long as some good can come from it? If great good can come from great harm, then is that okay?  The book also looks at the excuses we try to use to justify our actions, our decisions, our choices.

Two other questions that come to mind: 

What can you live with?

What can you live without?

On the other hand, The Vines felt tedious. I'll try to clarify. Despicable actions are shown repetitively--think decades worth of repetition of EVIL, despicable, horrible actions. It is unimaginable to think of how it would actually feel to live this fictional life out. Cora, the main character, is definitely the last person you'd ever want to be.

When a book is so dark--even if it is a haunting, atmospheric read--and is so bleakity-bleak, and when a book is peopled with such MONSTERS, then it is hard for me to say wow what a great book I loved every minute of it.

I found it both compelling and wearisome. I know it seems impossible a book can be both. I would have thought so too before reading The Vines. It was compelling because I was always kept curious enough to keep turning pages. It was wearisome because it was so heavy and dark.

I do think some readers will find it worth their time. I don't think it will be for every single reader.

There were two things that I didn't quite like.








I didn't like how the author felt the need to push this one into being COVID-19 related. In the author note she mentions this was a work in progress before COVID and how she reworked elements of it to make it tie into the current pandemic. I felt it strains the novel a bit. Other readers may disagree. But I almost feel like it is making the claim that the pandemic is man made and intentional. That may not be the author's intent, I do not claim to know her intentions and thought processes.

I also didn't like the cliff-hanger ending. Being as torn as I am about the book, I really don't want to have to read another four hundred pages or so to find out what happens.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

28. Triple Jeopardy

Triple Jeopardy. (Daniel Pitt #2) Anne Perry. 2019. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: DANIEL RANG THE doorbell, then stepped back. He realized with amazement that he was suddenly nervous. Why? This was his parents’ home, the house he had grown up in. At twenty-five, he still returned quite often for dinner, for news, for comfort and pleasure in conversation. What was different this time?

Premise/plot: Triple Jeopardy has our hero, Daniel Pitt, taking the lead in his first serious court case. But the court case is anything but simple. In fact, in some ways it's convoluted. Philip Sidney, a British diplomat, has been charged with embezzling small amounts of money throughout the years. The case is silly--why spend so much time, energy, effort when the theft was so small--the alleged theft. But Pitt fears the answer: Sidney is being set up. The trial exists as an excuse to bring up larger all-circumstantial crimes that couldn't-wouldn't stick. Sidney has many enemies, it appears, and it will take some DIGGING to find out why those enemies want Sidney's reputation completely ruined and smeared.

Daniel Pitt once again teams up with Miriam Blackwood to solve the mystery.

On a lighter note, this mystery sees Daniel reuniting with his sister, Jemima.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I didn't love it--at least not love, love, love. But it was pleasant enough. The second half definitely picked up the pace. It was slow going at first. If it had taken Daniel much longer to start putting pieces together, I might have started yelling at him. But he turned his eyes in the right direction just in time.

I do love to see Daniel working side by side with Miriam.


If you pricked me, I’d bleed tea.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, March 18, 2021

27. Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd. Thomas Hardy. 1874. 433 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

Premise/plot: Poor Bathsheba! She can't leave the house without some man falling in love with her. Far From the Madding Crowd is the story of three such men whose lives are forever changed--for better or worse--by knowing and subsequently loving (or "loving") Bathsheba.

Readers first meet Gabriel Oak. He loves her at first sight--even though he isn't quite sure what to make of her. Next, readers meet William Boldwood and Francis Troy. Boldwood loves her madly--emphasis on mad. Bathsheba loves Sergeant Troy madly. In both cases, the love seems something not entirely in anyone's control. It is a love without reason or even against reason. (Though I suppose there are reasons for and against in each case.) In at least two of the three cases to fall into love is to fall into a sort of madness.

My thoughts: I am not a big Thomas Hardy fan in general. But perhaps I just hadn't found the right Hardy to read. I didn't hate Far From the Madding Crowd. And though it has its tragic, melodramatic moments, it is not as DARK and BLEAK as some of his other novels which I have read.

What I liked best about the novel was the dialogue. In particular the dialogue between Gabriel and Bathsheba.

This is their first meeting:

“My name is Gabriel Oak.” “And mine isn’t. You seem fond of yours in speaking it so decisively, Gabriel Oak.” “You see, it is the only one I shall ever have, and I must make the most of it.”
“I always think mine sounds odd and disagreeable.” “I should think you might soon get a new one.” “Mercy!—how many opinions you keep about you concerning other people, Gabriel Oak.”

And soon after he makes his interest known:

Bathsheba went on. “I haven’t a sweetheart at all—and I never had one, and I thought that, as times go with women, it was such a pity to send you away thinking that I had several.”

“Well—that is a tale!” said Oak, with dismay. “To run after anybody like this, and then say you don’t want him!” “What I meant to tell you was only this,” she said eagerly, and yet half conscious of the absurdity of the position she had made for herself—“that nobody has got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of my having a dozen, as my aunt said; I hate to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day. Why, if I’d wanted you I shouldn’t have run after you like this; ‘twould have been the forwardest thing! But there was no harm in hurrying to correct a piece of false news that had been told you.” “Well, what I mean is that I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But since a woman can’t show off in that way by herself, I shan’t marry—at least yet.”

But there is also something about the narrative itself that works for me.

It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people look upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been known to fail. 

But a resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

26. A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1859. 446 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Premise/plot: A Tale of Two Cities is very much a novel of love and sacrifice. But would the sacrifice be necessary if bitterness, rage, anger, hatred, despair, and a thirst for vengeance didn't abound? A Tale of Two Cities begins and ends in France. And not a happy period in French history, one of the darkest perhaps. Charles Darnay, our hero, escapes France once, but, he may not escape it a second time. Same can be said of our heroine, Lucie Manette, and her father, Dr. Alexandre Manette. So why do they return to France and risk it all--knowing the country is uneasy, unsafe, topsy-turvy? Well, duty, honor, and nobleness? Of course it is their very nobleness--one understanding of the word--that leads to everyone wanting them to die.

So the very basics for those not in the know: Lucie Manette loves Charles Darnay; the two are married and have a daughter. They both adore her father who has had a very rough time of it--physically, mentally, emotionally. Lucie Manette is beautiful (of course) and practically perfect in every way (of course). So Charles Darnay is not the only one who is head over heels in love with her. He is the one who has her heart, body, soul. Mr. Sydney Carton was also head over heels in love with her; he loves her still.

The trouble begins when Charles Darnay receives a letter from France and decides to return there to see if he can help. His family follows after him risking all.

My thoughts: I found A Tale of Two Cities to make little sense. Hold on before you start hating on me, perhaps this is intentional. France is a chaotic mess; an upheaval in progress; everything right is now wrong and everything wrong is now right. It is almost as if logic and common sense and decency has been thrown out altogether. The characters--particularly the French ones--seem to be corrupted thoroughly. There is little room for kindness, compassion, the benefit of the doubt. It is like the masses have been given permission to run wild: to be violent, to seek vengeance, to let all the rage out; punishments don't fit the crime--not here, now now. A Tale of Two Cities reflects how HORRIBLE mob mentality is. Violence and mob-rule never lead to lasting peace and justice. In their quest for "justice" all the mob could do was injustice. There is nothing just about any of the mob's actions.

Perhaps fear of sympathizing with those on the wrong side of the mob led to little kindness, sympathy, empathy, compassion, or speaking out for truth and justice. The mob could turn on you; you could be next if you spoke out in defense of the "guilty."

Regardless, I found A Tale of Two Cities to be senseless. But I think it's an intentional senseless that reflects the time. There are no good answers for WHY.

It is in contrast to all this CHAOTIC evil that Sydney Carton enters the picture. 

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
I do appreciate this one more the second time. I found it a brutal read the first time.

Favorite quote: 

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. (11)


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Movie Review: When Lions Roared

When Lions Roared AKA Then There Were Giants (1994). This is a two part mini-series from 1994 starring Michael Caine as Joseph Stalin, Bob Hoskins as Winston Churchill, and John Lithgow as Franklin Roosevelt. 

The film gives an overview of the Second World War. It isn't a thorough, all-absorbing overview of all aspects of the War. It is like a refresher course on the Second World War, offering highlights to the war as a whole. If you have never, ever read about the war--or watched documentaries about the war--and were completely clueless about the war, then you might find it overwhelming and hard to keep up with the fast-moving pace.

The focus isn't so much on the war itself--the various fronts, operations, battles, victories and losses--as it is focused on the relationship between the three world leaders: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. The film highlights their differences--for better or worse--and shows them always seeking and straining to work together for the better good.

In other words, this film is very much about the politics of war, the politics of peace, and the POWER of words. 

 It almost felt like a three-man stage play for me. 

For me, what I enjoyed most were the snippets of Churchill's speeches. He is without compare as far as I'm concerned when it comes to speechifying. 

It was amusing to see John Lithgow--as FDR--make so many disparaging comments about Churchill and his speeches--then went on to play Winston Churchill in The Crown.

It is available to watch for free on iMDB TV.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, March 12, 2021

25. Belinda

Belinda. Maria Edgeworth. 1801. 544 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Mrs. Stanhope, a well-bred woman, accomplished in that branch of knowledge which is called the art of rising in the world, had, with but a small fortune, contrived to live in the highest company. She prided herself upon having established half a dozen nieces most happily, that is to say, upon having married them to men of fortunes far superior to their own. One niece still remained unmarried—Belinda Portman, of whom she was determined to get rid with all convenient expedition.

Premise/plot: Will she, won't she? I wouldn't say the whole plot revolves around the question will Belinda marry or not. But if you change it to the whole plot revolves around WHO Belinda might marry if she marries, then it works. So Belinda, our heroine, has essentially been farmed out to London to live with Lord and Lady Delacour. Lady Delacour is a social butterfly with abundant wit (but does she have common sense?) who will help Belinda find "the one." But will Belinda's "one" be one of Lady Delacour's cast offs? Will she get a hand-me-down lover? 

So one of the gentleman lining up to see if they get a rose--figuratively speaking--is Clarence Hervey. He doesn't like Belinda at first--he takes her to be scheming and manipulative. But that is because either he is a) assuming that Belinda is like her aunt (Mrs. Stanhope) or like Lady Delacour (whom he claims to be absolutely crazy about) or b) he isn't working with a full deck of cards. It might be the latter. Maybe.

 Another gentleman is Mr. Vincent. He comes oh-so-close to getting the final rose.

What can I say about Belinda? Well, she's VANILLA and everything sugary sweet. She always does everything exactly right and in the right way and manner. If you find fault with Belinda, well, it is saying more about you than her. (Hint: LADY DELACOUR AND CLARENCE HERVEY, I'M LOOKING AT YOU.) 

What can I say about Lady Delacour? Well, to be honest she's super entertaining and a hoot. She spends most of the book being a terrible wife and a terrible mother...but...as a narrator I couldn't help loving her the most. (You made me love you, I didn't want to do it, I didn't want to do it).  I cared more about Lady Delacour's drama in personal life and social life than I did about Belinda.

What can I say about Clarence Hervey? WELL. He features rather largely in one of the book's sub-plots inspired by Thomas Day. Meeting Belinda, well, it confuses him thoroughly because unbeknownst to the reader he's been training up a wife-to-be for years. He's just waiting for her to come of age.

My thoughts: It was entertaining enough most of the time. It isn't flawless and amazing. But it made me laugh and smile some of the time. I can't say Clarence Hervey is my ideal husband, but, to each their own.


Clarence Hervey might have been more than a pleasant young man, if he had not been smitten with the desire of being thought superior in every thing, and of being the most admired person in all companies.

He had been early flattered with the idea that he was a man of genius; and he imagined that, as such, he was entitled to be imprudent, wild, and eccentric.

Miss Portman at first imagined that Lady Delacour dreaded the discovery of her cosmetic secrets, but her ladyship's rouge was so glaring, and her pearl powder was so obvious, that Belinda was convinced there must be some other cause for this toilette secrecy.

"Not at all too late, my dear," said Lady Delacour; "never too late for women to change their minds, their dress, or their lovers.

I have much to say, as people usually have when they begin to talk of themselves.

I am no hypocrite, and have nothing worse than folly to conceal: that's bad enough—for a woman who is known to play the fool is always suspected of playing the devil. But I begin where I ought to end—with my moral, which I dare say you are not impatient to anticipate.

I can tell you that nothing is more unlike a novel than real life.
All fashionable historians stop to make reflections, supposing that no one else can have the sense to make any. 
"Life is a tragicomedy! Though the critics will allow of no such thing in their books, it is a true representation of what passes in the world; and of all lives mine has been the most grotesque mixture, or alternation, I should say, of tragedy and comedy. 

 A stupid man cannot readily be persuaded out of his senses—what he sees he sees, and neither more nor less; but 'tis the easiest thing in the world to catch hold of a man of genius: you have nothing to do but to appeal from his senses to his imagination, and then he sees with the eyes of his imagination, and hears with the ears of his imagination;

"We learn the value of all things, but especially of friends, by experience," said Lady Anne; "and it is no wonder, therefore, that those who have little experience of the pleasures of friendship should not be wise enough to know their value."

"But it is so difficult to get at facts, even about the merest trifles," said Lady Delacour. "Actions we see, but their causes we seldom see—an aphorism worthy of Confucius himself: now to apply.

Prudence, whether in trifles or in matters of consequence, can be learned only by experience (which is often too dearly bought), or by listening, which costs nothing, to the suggestions of those who have a thorough knowledge of the world.

"You read, I see!—I did not know you were a reading girl. So was I once; but I never read now. Books only spoil the originality of genius: very well for those who can't think for themselves—but when one has made up one's opinion, there is no use in reading."

You know it is a ruled case, in all romances, that when a lover and his mistress go out riding together, some adventure must befal them.     The horse must run away with the lady, and the gentleman must catch her in his arms just as her neck is about to be broken. If the horse has been too well trained for the heroine's purpose, 'some footpad, bandit fierce, or mountaineer,' some jealous rival must make his appearance quite unexpectedly at the turn of a road, and the lady must be carried off—robes flying—hair streaming—like Bürger's Leonora. Then her lover must come to her rescue just in the proper moment. But if the damsel cannot conveniently be run away with, she must, as the last resource, tumble into a river to make herself interesting, and the hero must be at least half drowned in dragging her out, that she may be under eternal obligations to him, and at last be forced to marry him out of pure gratitude."

 Our reasonings as to the conduct of life, as far as moral prudence is concerned, must depend ultimately upon facts. Now, of the numbers of people in this world, how many do you think have married their first loves? Probably not one out of ten. Then, would you have nine out of ten pine all their lives in celibacy, or fret in matrimony, because they cannot have the persons who first struck their fancy?" "I scarcely know an idea more dangerous to domestic happiness than this belief in the unextinguishable nature of a first flame. There are people who would persuade us that, though it may be smothered for years, it must break out at last, and blaze with destructive fury.

The woman who marries one man, and loves another, who, in spite of all that an amiable and estimable husband can do to win her confidence and affection, nourishes in secret a fatal prepossession for her first love, may perhaps, by the eloquence of a fine writer, be made an interesting heroine;—but would any man of sense or feeling choose to be troubled with such a wife?

 "Perhaps the appearance of virtue," said Belinda, "might, on many occasions, succeed as well as the reality."

I can listen tolerably well, when I don't know what people are going to say; but when I know it all beforehand, I have an unfortunate habit of not being able to attend to one word.

Angry people, who express their passion, as it has been justly said, always speak worse than they think. This was usually the case with her ladyship.  


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Movie Review: The Exception

Today I watched a new-to-me World War II film, The Exception. It stars one of my favorite, favorite, favorite actors--Christopher Plummer. He plays an exiled (Emperor) Kaiser Wilhelm II. The film is based on a novel, The Kaiser's Last Kiss, which I have not read. (I mention this because I like to know if there's a book behind a movie--I haven't looked at the reviews of the book, or the movie for that matter.)

So the main character, Captain Stefan Brandt arrives at his new station in Holland; he is the new bodyguard for the exiled Kaiser. Perhaps it's not his first, second, or third choice for an assignment--but you don't really argue with your superiors--Nazi or not. While there he meets an attractive young maid Mieke (played by Lily James who is just about in every film ever made). The two become entangled. This is a MATURE movie. (I can't remember if it was rated MA or R.) He is to keep an eye out for an English agent that is thought to be in the area.

While there he becomes familiar with the Kaiser and his wife and some of the staff. (None so intimately well as the maid, Mieke.) As these two fall in love, complications arise--many, many complications. Will Brandt prove the exception to the rule? Or is he just like all the others?

I really loved SO MUCH about this movie. If I could change anything about the movie at all, it would be to take out the mature love scenes. If you want to cash in on what sells, then it maybe could have been done with a bit more taste? I know, I know not everyone shares my views on these matters--how much skin is TOO MUCH skin.

I thought the writing was EXCELLENT.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

24. Real

Real. Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard. 2021. [February] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

First sentence: My name is Charity. I am thirteen years old plus eighty-seven days. I love sour gummies and pepperoni pizza. That last part no one knows because I have not spoken a sentence since I was born. Each dawning day, I live in terror of my unpredictable body that no one understands.

Premise/plot: Charity Wood, our heroine, is a low-functioning autistic. Many--though not her parents--have written Charity off completely. The "school" she attends would be a joke--but abuse is no laughing matter. But Charity is given a chance, an opportunity to attend public school--to attend regular classes. With the help of an aide and an ipad, Charity may just find her voice after all.

My thoughts: I have high hopes for Real. I do. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see it win all the awards. Real has all the feels a reader could possibly want. And perhaps a few that readers don't necessarily want but actually need. I teared up at least three or four times while reading Real. It was just THAT good.

The message is simple EVERYONE deserves a chance to learn. EVERYONE deserves to be treated with respect, kindness, dignity. No one should ever be written off and dismissed. Everyone has value and worth.

I loved the characters. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the parents. I loved Celia and Ana--two teachers/aides that believed in Charity from the start. I loved the realness of the relationships.

I loved the writing and the story. It was beautiful and wonderful.

"Steve, Charity has something to tell you." He took in the scene, and focused on the keyboard in our lap. Mom pressed a button, and it played my prepared message. DAD, YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND. THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING IN ME. He looked confused. Then Mom held my right elbow as I typed the final line. I LOVE YOU. (133)


In class next day, Jazmine, Peter, Julian, Skyler and the other EPIC kids crowded around to "hear" me talk with Ana supporting me. Ana read my message to the group. THANK YOU FOR ACCEPTING ME EVEN BEFORE I HAD WORDS. (134)

Real is inspired by a real person--Peyton Goddard.

Is Real a novel that children would seek out on their own? Maybe. Maybe not. Might it be the kind of book that adults love more than kids? Maybe. All I can say is that even if kids miss out on the awesomeness of this book--which I sincerely hope they do not--it should be a MUST READ for teachers, school staff, and administration.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, March 07, 2021

23. The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. Kate Moore. 2017. 479 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence (from the prologue): THE SCIENTIST HAD FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT THE RADIUM. IT WAS tucked discreetly within the folds of his waistcoat pocket, enclosed in a slim glass tube in such a small quantity that he could not feel its weight. He had a lecture to deliver in London, England, and the vial of radium stayed within that shadowy pocket for the entirety of his journey across the sea. He was one of the few people in the world to possess it. 

Premise/plot: The Radium Girls is nonfiction; it is a narrative account of the 'radium girls'--the women employed as dial painters whose exposure to radium (radium-based paint to be exact) proved costly and deadly. It is an account of the long, long, long, long BATTLE (yes, battle) for justice to be done.

There were several plants--or factories if you prefer--that employed women as dial painters. This is narrative focuses on three of them; readers are introduced to dozens of women; I wouldn't be surprised if it tells the story of three to four dozen women at least.

The story begins in 1917 in New Jersey and concludes (well, mainly concludes) in Illinois circa 1938. To read more about the Radium Girls (wikipedia).

 My thoughts: The Radium Girls was a POWERFUL read that resonated with me from start to finish. I am so thankful that I finally got around to reading it. If you've been meaning to read it too but have been putting it off, then I encourage you to give it a chance.

I loved that it was a PERSONAL read. The women aren't mere numbers or statistics. Their lives AND their deaths had meaning; and as I believe it is mentioned either in the movie or the book their bones still are speaking to us. Even those whose voices were never "heard" in life--due to injustice and indifference--can be heard now and for the next thousand plus years. The narrative's greatest strength is that it focuses on the personal, the intimate, the real.

The read was both FASCINATING and DEVASTATING. It is hard to imagine today that no one wouldn't know that radium was DANGEROUS and to be radioactive is a BAD, BAD thing. But so much of the book focuses on this struggle between those that put MONEY, MONEY, MONEY first and foremost and those that valued HUMAN LIVES and HUMAN DIGNITY over profit, wealth, fame.

I was shocked--should I have been shocked???--at the out and out LYING and CORRUPTION. The doctors that were being paid/employed by the factories could run all their tests, do their examinations, and then say YES, YOU ARE 100% HEALTHY. NO PROBLEMS. All the while, your teeth are falling out, your face is swollen, you can hardly stand up straight, you're losing weight. Sounds like the perfect state of health, right?! In other words a lot of GASLIGHTING going on. But that isn't being fair. Not all doctors said the women were in 100% health--the best state of health they could ever be in. Some were for team misdiagnosis. Like let's diagnose you with SYPHILIS. Because that will make you quiet for sure--if you believe it. Who wants to be known to be dying from that!

But I was also encouraged by those that stood up to the big guys--the giants--and faced near impossible odds. It wasn't easy for the lawyers to take on, take up, this GIGANTIC mess of a case.

I was surprised by the resilience and attitude of some of the women. Some relied on GOD and turned to prayer and other spiritual disciplines for support, comfort, peace. Others relied more on FAMILY and FRIENDS for comfort, support, guidance. While the book mentions a few women's nerves or state of mind seemed to be negatively effected by the diagnosis, I was surprised it wasn't more. It couldn't be *easy* on one's mental health to be diagnosed with a FATAL DISEASE with NO CURE and little proven treatment. The strength and courage it would take to face each and every day is not to be discounted. We're talking tremendous physical pain with no hope of relief. Not really. Every day would be a choice--to despair or to cling to hope.

It's impossible to read this novel and not turn introspective. WHY DO I COMPLAIN SO MUCH? 

I picked up Radium Girls after watching Radium Girls the film. I don't know that there is any connection whatsoever between the book and the movie--besides the name. The film is FICTIONAL through and through. The characters are probably composites drawn from real people but not actually based on any specific people. At least I found that to be the case. I could be wrong.


  • Radium. It was a wonder element; everyone knew that. Katherine had read all about it in magazines and newspapers, which were forever extolling its virtues and advertising new radium products for sale—but they were all far too expensive for a girl of Katherine’s humble origins. She had never seen it up close before. It was the most valuable substance on earth, selling for $120,000 for a single gram ($2.2 million in today’s values).To her delight, it was even more beautiful than she had imagined. 
  • Each dial-painter had her own supply. She mixed her own paint, dabbing a little radium powder into a small white crucible and adding a dash of water and a gum-arabic adhesive: a combination that created a greenish-white luminous paint, which went under the name “Undark.” The fine yellow powder contained only a minuscule amount of radium; it was mixed with zinc sulfide, with which the radium reacted to give a brilliant glow.The effect was breathtaking. 
  • It was a craze, no other word for it.The element was dubbed “liquid sunshine,” and it lit up not just the hospitals and drawing rooms of America, but its theaters, music halls, grocery stores, and bookshelves. It was breathlessly featured in cartoons and novels, and Katherine—who loved to sing and play piano—was probably familiar with the song “Radium Dance,” which had become a huge hit after being featured in the Broadway musical Piff! Paff! Pouf!
  • For sale were radium jockstraps and lingerie, radium butter, radium milk, radium toothpaste (guaranteeing a brighter smile with every brushing) and even a range of Radior cosmetics, which offered radiumlaced face creams, soap, rouge, and compact powders. Other products were more prosaic: “The Radium Eclipse Sprayer,” trumpeted one ad, “quickly kills all flies, mosquitoes, roaches. [It] has no equal as a cleaner of furniture, porcelain, tile. It is harmless to humans and easy to use.”
  • This was radium, the wonder drug, they were using. They were lucky, they thought, as they laughed among themselves and bent their heads to their intricate work. Grace and Irene. Mollie and Ella. Albina and Edna. Hazel and Katherine and Mae. They picked up their brushes and they twirled them over and over, just as they had been taught. Lip… Dip… Paint. 
  • The girls were covered in it: their “hands, arms, necks, the dresses, the underclothes, even the corsets of the dial-painters were luminous.”
  • They glowed like ghosts as they walked home through the streets of Orange. They were unmissable.
  • By the end of the year, one in six American soldiers would own a luminous watch—and it was the Orange girls who painted many of them. 
  • In September 1922, the peculiar infection that had plagued Mollie Maggia for less than a year spread to the tissues of her throat.The disease “slowly ate its way through her jugular vein.” On September 12, at five p.m., her mouth was flooded with blood as she hemorrhaged so fast that Edith could not staunch it. Her mouth, empty of teeth, empty of jawbone, empty of words, filled with blood, instead, until it spilled over her lips and down her stricken, shaken face. It was too much. She died, her sister Quinta said, a “painful and terrible death.” She was just twenty-four years old.
  • The year 1923 was when the Charleston dance craze took America by storm, and the Radium Dial girls swiveled their knees with the best of them. The luminous glow of the radium on their hair and undulating dresses made those parties even more special.“Many of the girls,” Catherine Wolfe recalled, “used to wear their good dresses to the plant so that they would become luminous when they went out to parties later.” 
  • From the very start, Grace bore her diagnosis bravely. She had a courageous spirit and refused to let Martland’s prognosis affect her life. She had always loved her life and, if anything, she now valued it even more highly. So she tucked the diagnosis away in her mind and then carried on. She didn’t stop work; she didn’t change her habits: she kept swimming, she kept socializing with her friends, and she kept on going to the theater. “I don’t believe in giving up,” was what she said. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, March 06, 2021

22. Surviving Savannah

Surviving Savannah. Patti Callahan. 2021. [March] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I was born in water. For all of my thirty-two years, my mom, Harriet Winthrop, had told the story over and over to anyone who’d listen. I could recite her words verbatim; I’d been told them since my memory began. A tale worth telling, she would say when I rolled my eyes as she launched into the story.

Premise/plot: Everly Winthrop, one of our heroines, is nervous but excited about the new exhibit she'll be curating at the museum. The Pulaski has just been found and its treasures are being recovered. She grew up hearing stories--bountiful stories--from her grandfather about this tragic shipwreck--the boiler on this steamship blew up. As she unravels the past--the shipwreck, its passengers, the stories as revealed both in artifacts and accounts (letters, diaries, articles, books, family trees, etc.)--she comes to peace (mostly) with her own past. She's no stranger to loss herself. Every day she questions: why did I survive?

Surviving Savannah has THREE heroines. Augusta Longstreet and Lilly Forsyth are our other two heroines--both passengers on the Pulaski. Augusta is traveling with her brother and his family. Lilly is traveling with her young daughter--a nursing infant--her abusive husband (boo, hiss) and Priscilla an enslaved nursemaid. The two women are friends. 

My thoughts: Surviving Savannah is historical fiction with a splash of romance. A handful of the fictional characters are loosely based on historical figures. Loosely based. But mainly the characters are fictional. The Pulaski disaster was real enough, tragic enough. The story--even knowing that the characters are fictional--is heartbreaking. 

The book celebrates friendship, family, STORIES, legacies, and finding meaning wherever however you can. It is very much a novel about horrifying grief, traumatic experiences, and answering the question NOW WHAT? 

It is not a light, fluffy, insubstantial historical soap opera with costumes. It is DARK and substantive. It asks plenty of questions but doesn't answer those questions the same way for all the characters--if that makes sense. 

I thought it was well-written. 

The character I personally identified most with was Augusta. I loved, loved, loved this character. Her situation was HEARTBREAKING and TERRIFYING. And I felt every moment of her angst and pain.

I would say it's nearly clean--there's one very brief scene with the abusive husband that is NOT clean, but it's also not romanticized or meant to be enjoyed. The story is mainly too focused on life and death and the meaning of it all to focus on throwing in steamy scenes for the fun of it.


The beginning of the tale was always the same, but his stories of the ship’s passengers’ survival changed with his moods—each different but as vivid as the next. Some survived by riding a whale to shore; others swam underwater and grew gills. Occasionally, passengers were rescued by great flying birds that swooped down and carried them home. This time, he used his deepest voice. “When the Kraken heard the explosion from the very bottom of the sea, he rose to the sound and found people thrashing in the water—men, women and children.” “Did he eat them?” Allyn was the most afraid of the wild Norse octopus-creature who terrorized sailors. 
“Dad, you scare them, and then they can’t sleep. I’m the one who suffers when they come crawling into my bed and wake me in the middle of the night.” Papa brushed the tobacco from his pants. “It’s good for them to have a large imagination. They’re smart enough to know what’s real and what’s not.” “Dad, they are only six and eight.” “The perfect age to learn about the wildest stories that make us who we are.” Every story Papa told brought my imagination to life, vivid and real. And also yes, he was right—I knew the difference between real and imaginary. A bird couldn’t carry a child to safety, and the Kraken didn’t swim the Carolina shores.
I know this: we’re made of stories, legends and myths just as we are made of water, atoms and flesh. Once you know it, you can’t un-know it; you can’t pretend that everything that happened before you were born doesn’t have something to do with who you are today. 

“That morning of June 13, 1838, the famous Savannah plantation owner, banker and ship financier Lamar Longstreet boarded with his wife, their six children, his sister, and his niece. He had helped to both finance and oversee the building of the beautiful ship. He was there to show off his achievement, display his confidence in the ship and take his family north for the summer.” Oliver stood silent for a dramatic breath, and I leaned forward, almost touching him. “Deep in the night, a terrible explosion occurred and within forty-five minutes the ship sank. Passengers were cast into the sea and drowned. Lamar Longstreet’s oldest son, Charles, fourteen years old, acted with heroic courage on that horrendous night and during the days surviving at sea that followed. For his actions he was dubbed ‘the Noble Boy.’” “So he survived?” “Yes, he survived . . . only to become the man they called ‘the Red Devil.’” Oliver now turned to the Wanderer and set his hand on top of the plexiglass. “Charles Longstreet refitted this pleasure schooner and fooled the country so he could illegally bring to Savannah from the African Congo human cargo of over four hundred men, women and children. He was known to be both relentless and cruel. He was also part of the Fire-Eaters group, rabble-rousers agitating for a civil war.” “Unbelievable,” I said. “A young boy survives the sinking of the Pulaski as a hero and becomes a terror called the Red Devil?” “And Lilly Forsyth was his cousin.” 
“This wreck”—I waved my hand around the room—“is all about destiny. And fate. If there is such a thing. Who made it to the lifeboats, and which lifeboats at that. Two were sturdy; two were cracked. Who found something to cling to. Who lived and who died . . . and then what the survivors did afterward.” 
The idea that surviving brings everyone to a new and better place is a lie told by people who need the world to make sense. 
There were many ways to survive and many ways to survive the surviving. The darkness was there, too. Survival wasn’t just about the happy story of living. Some didn’t survive the living. Some did awful things with the second chance. 
“Doesn’t writing these cards make you think of how someone might sum up your life? If two hundred years from now someone made a story card of it. What would it say?”



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, March 01, 2021

21. A Captain for Caroline Gray

A Captain for Caroline Gray. Julie Wright. 2021. [March] 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The ball had been a disaster. Certainly, Caroline Gray’s dance card had been filled respectably, if not entirely, and the conversation had not been dull. And the food—oh, the food. Caroline had loved every creamy morsel. The entire neighborhood admired the Prescotts’ cook. In truth, Caroline hadn’t even realized how disastrous the ball had actually been until the next morning when her mother entered her bedchamber before the maid had even arrived to light the fire. “Get up,” her mother said, pulling down the coverlet that Caroline had embroidered herself.

Premise/plot: Bluestocking Caroline Gray is finding it difficult to find a husband in England. She does truly want to marry and have children. She just wants a husband who wants a wife who has thoughts and opinions of her own, who wants a wife who is curious and eager to learn and mature. She doesn't think it's too much to ask for...but luck hasn't been on her side. Now her time is running out, she has one last opportunity but it comes with RISK: to set sail to India to meet a young man. She's not alone in her mission, there's literally a half dozen to dozen women voyaging to India to husband hunt. 

Caroline Gray's passage is being sponsored by her potential mother-in-law. Mrs. Barritt has been keeping an eye out for a suitable young lady to send to her son for approval...he is a captain. 

But is he THE CAPTAIN in the title?!?!?! Or could the Captain of the PERSISTENCE be 'the one?'

My thoughts: 2021 apparently has been the year for me reading books set on ships! (Fortunately this one doesn't involve a ship wreck!) 

I enjoyed this clean historical romance. It is told from the perspective of the Captain AND from the perspective of Caroline. I liked both perspectives. I liked the development of the relationship--there was nothing instant about it. The obstacles came both from within and without. Communication was key and it wasn't always easy. One of the themes was forgiveness. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews