Friday, April 29, 2022

April Reflections

In April, I read twenty-five books. Though this wasn't my highest book total, it was the highest page total so far!

Books read for Becky's Book Reviews

41. Yours Cheerfully. (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #2) A.J. Pearce. 2021. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]
42. Remember Me Gone. Stacy Stokes. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
43. The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle. Jennifer Ryan. 2022. [May] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]
44. Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis. Susan Hood. 2022. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
45. Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves. L.M. Elliott. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
46. A Night to Remember. Walter Lord. 1955. 182 pages. [Source: Library]
47. Katherine. Anya Seton. 1954. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]
48. Goblin Market. Diane Zahler. 2022. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
49. Mio, My Son. Astrid Lindgren. 1954/2015. NYR Children's Collection. 184 pages. [Source: Library]
50. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. Alfred Lansing. 1959/2015. 357 pages. [Source: Library]
51. When the Sky Falls. Phil Earle. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
52. Cyrano de Bergerac. Edmond Rostand. Translated by Gladys Thomas and Mary F Guillemard. 1897. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
53. Sense and Second Degree Murder. Tirzah Price. 2022. [April] 416 pages. [Source: Library]

Books read for Young Readers

44. The City of Ember. Jeanne DuPrau. 2003. 270 pages. [Source: Bought]
45. The Cats and the Cake. Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss. Illustrated by Steve Henry. 2022. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
46. Bathe the Cat. Alice B. McGinty. Illustrated by David Roberts. 2022. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
47. Wondrous Rex. Patricia MacLachlan. Illustrated by Emilia Dziubak. 2020. 88 pages. [Source: Library]
48. The Poet's Dog. Patricia MacLachlan. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]
49. Smitten with Kittens. Florence Minor. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. 2022. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
50. Dear Mr. Dickens. Nancy Churnin. Illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe. 2021. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Books read for Operation Actually Read Bible

16. The Great Passion. James Runcie. 2022. [March] 272 pages. [Source: Library]
17. The Lady's Mine. Francine Rivers. 2022. 450 pages. [Source: Library]
18. Come Down Somewhere. Jennifer L. Wright. 2022. [September] 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles read for Operation Actually Read Bible

5. Holy Bible, NASB 2020. Lockman Foundation. 2020. 4068 pages. [Source: Bought]
6. Schuyler Credo Quentel. New American Standard Bible 1995. God. 2021. 1833 pages. [Source: Gift]

April Totals

April reads
# of books25
# of pages11,979


2022 Yearly Totals

2022 Totals
# of books127
# of pages39,984


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

53. Sense and Second-Degree Murder

Sense and Second Degree Murder. Tirzah Price. 2022. [April] 416 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On the day that her life was to change forever, Elinor Dashwood awoke late with a wild hope fluttering in her rib cage. But, being the sensible sort, she kept it hidden as she rose, dressed, and joined her family for breakfast, stifling a yawn as she sat down at the table. It was a sunlit, cheerful morning, but her mind was still tucked between the pages of the book she'd stayed up far too late reading, so she didn't notice her younger sister's arched brow.

Premise/plot: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood team up to solve their father's murder in Tirzah Price's Sense and Second-Degree Murder. Their father has a detective company, Norland and Company, but all (house, business, estate) is left to their older (half) brother and his narcissistic wife by an outdated will. (Though the house, I believe, was entailed. But he could have left them money and the business). Their lives are turned topsy-turvy; they are snubbed by former friends now that they are down on their luck. But all the young women care about are solving the case of WHO murdered their father...and if they happen to solve a few of his open cases at the same be it. 

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't love, love, love it like the first book in the series. I don't know that I really felt Elinor and Marianne resembled--in any way--the Austen characters. The book also felt slightly rushed and under-developed. Perhaps because I feel it took a few shortcuts along the way both with plot and characters. Granted the original novel might drag here and there perhaps. I'm not one to judge readers who might wish to rush things along with the original. (I don't. I like the journey just as much if not more than the final destination.) 

Elinor's "big" thing (if you will) is science and in particular chemistry. Since I love the Flavia De Luce novels, I thought I'd probably enjoy this one too. Marianne's "big" thing is detecting. But I don't think she's suited for it because she has some major blind spots and prejudices, if you will. (Like determining if a person is a potential suspect based on attractiveness. If she likes-likes a guy, well, then obviously he has to be innocent. If she finds a guy a bore and not worth her time, well, then obviously he could be a murderer.) Margaret, the younger sister, has some potential but isn't given enough time.

I do think it is interesting that the focus is on laudanum and opium and drug abuse...this was very much an issue in the nineteenth century.  


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 25, 2022

52. Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac. Edmond Rostand. Translated by Gladys Thomas and Mary F Guillemard. 1897. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Hollo! You there! Your money!

Premise/plot: Cyrano de Bergerac is in love with his cousin, Roxane. The problem? He lacks the courage to tell her so because he feels his (large) nose will prevent her from ever loving him in return. To be fair, readers can't be sure either. For the most part, he is content loving her from afar. To be in her orbit at all--as a cousin, as a memory from the past, a friend--is enough for him. But when he receives a message from her asking for a private meeting, well, he lets his imagination run away with him--briefly. His heart is uplifted and hope begins to blossom. But when he realizes his mistake the next day, well, once again he puts her needs ahead of his (silly, foolish) hopes and dreams. Of course, Roxane has fallen head over heels with someone she's NEVER spoken to. Of course, Roxane is dreaming of a happily ever after with a super dreamy oh-so-handsome soldier. His name is Christian de Neuvillette. And she has a favor to ask of him--do everything in his power to befriend and protect Christian. And, oh, by the way can you tell him I love and adore him. 

Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane does love him, but, instead of that being the end of is just the start. For Roxane is determined that the man she loves will be brilliant and exceptionally well-spoken. He must win her heart through his words. The problem? Christian's idea of wooing is to say "I love you" and go in for a kiss. NOT WHAT ROXANE WANTS AT ALL. The solution is for Cyrano to give Christian the words to speak to win her heart for once and all. But is that a real solution?! Is a happily ever after possible in this love triangle?!

Cyrano de Bergerac is a five act (French) play by Edmond Rostand written/performed in 1897. It is set in seventeenth century France around the same time as The Three Musketeers. And like The Three Musketeers, it has sword fighting. Lots and lots of sword fighting. The musketeers make a few appearances throughout the play--look for them in the background. It's like playing Where's Waldo.

 My thoughts: I love, love, love Cyrano de Bergerac. I'm not sure I equally adore Roxane. Cyrano is already madly in love with her before Act I. His love for her is never in question, and never in doubt. To him, she is absolute perfection. His longed-for ideal. But is he seeing only what he wants to see? How well does he know the real her? Does he love her because she is beautiful? Does he love her because she is so out of reach and unattainable? Does his love of her have roots from their shared childhood? 

Roxane may or may not be everything Cyrano believes her to be. That's the truth. Christian and Cyrano both think the world of her. As does the MARRIED Duke de Guiche. So maybe there's good reason--besides her outside beauty--for attracting all the guys. Maybe. But maybe not. Again, what do readers know besides the fact that she is a) BEAUTIFUL b) believes in love at first sight c) has preconceived notions of what LOVE is all about d) knows exactly what she wants and doesn't want in a romantic partner. I get the impression that she has mapped out her happily ever after in her imagination and nothing less than perfect will do. (At least at the start.) 

Roxane doesn't see the real worth of Cyrano until it is too late. She has known him most of her life and never actually seen him.  That is incredibly sad. I'm just trying to guess if she really was all that he imagined her to be. Was his love a 'storybook love'-- and the stuff of daydreams only. Surely Roxane had flaws! Who doesn't have flaws?! Surely Roxane would have proved disappointing or irritating at times if they'd lived together closely. 

Christian. How do I feel about him?! I think Cyrano and Christian are using each other--taking advantage of one another. This agreed upon dishonesty isn't all that healthy when all is said and done. Christian realizes--on a fateful day--that he needs more, deserves more. He doesn't want to be loved for his 'fairness' his fineness. He wants to be loved heart and soul for himself. He doesn't want to be an object of lust. Does Christian love Roxane for more than her looks? her body? Does he love her truly heart, soul, mind, body. I'm not sure. Perhaps the play--when scrutinized--reveals how silly "true love" is and how deceptive the human heart can be. Roxane didn't have a clue who Christian was--not really. She never saw him for who he really was. And if Christian had lived instead of died, chances are Roxane would have broken his heart.


A description of Roxane

When one looks at her one thinks of a peach smiling at a strawberry!
Cyrano to Christian
None is a fool who knows himself a fool. And you did not attack me like a fool.
Cyrano to Christian
Will you complete me, and let me complete you? Let me be wit for you, be you my beauty! 
Christian speaks for himself....
CHRISTIAN (sits by her on the bench. A silence): Oh! I love you!
ROXANE (shutting her eyes): Ay, speak to me of love.
CHRISTIAN: I love thee! 
ROXANE: That's The theme! But vary it. 
ROXANE: Vary it!  
CHRISTIAN: I love you so! 
ROXANE: Oh! without doubt!--and then?. . . 
CHRISTIAN: And then--I should be--oh!--so glad--so glad If you would love me!--Roxane, tell me so!  
ROXANE (with a little grimace): I hoped for cream,--you give me gruel! Say How love possesses you? 
CHRISTIAN: Oh utterly! 
ROXANE: Come, come!. . .unknot those tangled sentiments! 
CHRISTIAN: I am grown stupid! 
ROXANE (dryly): And that displeases me, almost as much As 'twould displease me if you grew ill-favored.  
ROXANE: Yes, you love me, that I know. Adieu. (She goes toward her house.) CHRISTIAN: Oh, go not yet! I'd tell you-- 
ROXANE (opening the door): You adore me? I've heard it very oft. No!--Go away!
  Cyrano "saves" the night by speaking for Christian in shadows...
ROXANE: To-day. . . Your words are hesitating.
CYRANO (imitating Christian--in a whisper): Night has come. . . In the dusk they grope their way to find your ear.  
ROXANE: Meseems that your last words have learned to climb. 
CYRANO: With practice such gymnastic grows less hard! 
CYRANO (more and more moved): Stay awhile! 'Tis sweet,. . . The rare occasion, when our hearts can speak Our selves unseen, unseeing! Your eyes Have beams that turn men dizzy!--But to-night Methinks I shall find speech for the first time!
ROXANE: Ay! I am trembling, weeping!--I am thine! Thou hast conquered all of me!
CYRANO: Then let death come! 'Tis I, 'tis I myself, who conquered thee! One thing, but one, I dare to ask--
CHRISTIAN (under the balcony): A kiss
Cyrano on kisses...
A kiss, when all is said,--what is it? An oath that's ratified,--a sealed promise, A heart's avowal claiming confirmation,--A rose-dot on the 'i' of 'adoration,'-- A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,-- Brush of a bee's wing, that makes time eternal,--Communion perfumed like the spring's wild flowers,-- The heart's relieving in the heart's outbreathing, When to the lips the soul's flood rises, brimming!
Cyrano before the last battle
CYRANO: Poets, at last,--by dint of counterfeiting-- Take counterfeit for true--that is the charm! This farewell letter,--it was passing sad, I wept myself in writing it!
CHRISTIAN: Wept? why?
CYRANO: Oh!. . .death itself is hardly terrible,. . . --But, ne'er to see her more! That is death's sting! --For. . .I shall never. . .
Cyrano confesses to Christian
CYRANO: You have. . .written to her oftener than you think. . .
CYRANO: Thus, 'faith! I had taken it in hand to express your flame for you!.  
CHRISTIAN: But how did you contrive, since we have been cut off, thus. . .to?. . . CYRANO: . . .Oh! before dawn. . .I was able to get through. . . 
CHRISTIAN (folding his arms): That was simple, too? And how oft, pray you, have I written?. . .Twice in the week?. . .Three times?. . .Four?. . . 
 CYRANO: More often still. 
CHRISTIAN: What! Every day? 
CYRANO: Yes, every day,--twice.
Roxane says a little too much...(abbreviated)
ROXANE: 'Tis your fault if I ran risks! Your letters turned my head! Ah! all this month, How many!--and the last one ever bettered The one that went before! Ah! you cannot conceive it! Ever since That night, when, in a voice all new to me, Under my window you revealed your soul-- Ah! ever since I have adored you! Now Your letters all this whole month long!--meseemed As if I heard that voice so tender, true, Sheltering, close! ROXANE: I read, read again--grew faint for love; I was thine utterly. Each separate page Was like a fluttering flower-petal, loosed From your own soul, and wafted thus to mine. Imprinted in each burning word was love Sincere, all-powerful. . . 
CHRISTIAN: At first I loved you only for your face! 
CHRISTIAN (horror-stricken): Roxane! 
ROXANE: And later, love--less frivolous-- Like a bird that spreads its wings, but can not fly-- Arrested by your beauty, by your soul Drawn close--I loved for both at once!
CHRISTIAN: I do not ask such love as that! I would be loved more simply; for..  ROXANE: Ah! how you err! 'Tis now that I love best--love well! 'Tis that Which is thy true self, see!--that I adore! Were your brilliance dimmed. 
ROXANE: I should love still! Ay, if your beauty should to-day depart. . . CHRISTIAN: Say not so!
ROXANE: Ay, I say it!  CHRISTIAN: Ugly? How?

Christian speaks his mind...
CHRISTIAN: I will be loved myself--or not at all! --I'll go see what they do--there, at the end Of the post: speak to her, and then let her choose One of us two!
Cyrano's aside...
CYRANO (aside--drawing his sword): Ay, and let me die to-day, Since, all unconscious, she mourns me--in him!
Cyrano reveals all to Roxane...
CYRANO: His letter! Ah! you promised me one day That I should read it.
ROXANE: What would you?--His letter?
CYRANO: Yes, I would fain,--to-day.  
CYRANO (reading): 'Roxane, adieu! I soon must die! This very night, beloved; and I Feel my soul heavy with love untold. I die! No more, as in days of old, My loving, longing eyes will feast On your least gesture--ay, the least! I mind me the way you touch your cheek With your finger, softly, as you speak! Ah me! I know that gesture well! My heart cries out!--I cry "Farewell"!'  
ROXANE: You read in such a voice--so strange--and yet-- It is not the first time I hear that voice!  
CYRANO: 'Here, dying, and there, in the land on high, I am he who loved, who loves you,--I. . .' 
ROXANE: How can you read? It is too dark to see!  
CYRANO: Roxane! 
ROXANE: 'Twas you! 
CYRANO: No, never; Roxane, no! 
 ROXANE: I see through all the generous counterfeit-- The letters--you! 
ROXANE: The sweet, mad love-words! You! 
ROXANE: The voice that thrilled the night--you, you! 
CYRANO: I swear you err. 
ROXANE: The soul--it was your soul!  
CYRANO: I loved you not. 
ROXANE: You loved me not? 
CYRANO: 'Twas he! 
ROXANE: You loved me! 
ROXANE: --Why, why keep silence all these fourteen years, When, on this letter, which he never wrote, The tears were your tears? 
CYRANO (holding out the letter to her): The bloodstains were his.
I loved but once, yet twice I lose my love!
Cyrano gets the last word in...
I would not bid you mourn less faithfully That good, brave Christian: I would only ask That when my body shall be cold in clay You wear those sable mourning weeds for two, And mourn awhile for me, in mourning him.



© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

51. When the Sky Falls

When the Sky Falls. Phil Earle. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The platform was a battlefield: seventy yards of carnage transplated straight from the coasts of northern France. Smoke billowed; people clung to each other. 

First impressions: I knew going into this one that it had the potential for sadness. Not necessarily *only* because it had an animal on the cover. That in and of itself wouldn't mean it has to be sad (on principle). Once I knew that this was historical fiction set in England during the Second World War, I knew this one might be a heart-breaker. Again, war books don't always, always have to be sad tearjerkers. But the potential is almost always there. I wanted with all my heart for this NOT to be a sad book. I was okay with the potential for sadness, holding onto hope that even in wartime good things can happen...

Premise/plot: Joseph, our protagonist, is sent to London in 1940. He'll be living with "Mrs. F." a no-nonsense lady zookeeper. The zoo has closed officially--a result of the war. Many animals have been sent other places for safety and well-being...but not Adonis, a silverback gorilla. At first Joseph is scared (and rightly so) of Adonis. He wants absolutely nothing to do with taking care of Adonis... But as Joseph settles into his new life at his new home and at his new school, well, things change. Friends come in all shapes and sizes. 

Joseph is a vulnerable kid. And there are absolutely no bows tied at the end of this one. If anything his life may be even more unsettled. The difference being he has found a "found family." A found family being a family that you may not have any biological ties but they are your family nonetheless--your people, your tribe, those who have your back and love you unconditionally. Joseph *needs* his new family. But that doesn't mean that all is well and good.

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed spending time with the characters in this one. The story itself, well, the plot was hard-to-take at times. I'll try to explain. Hard on the heart. 

Joseph is dyslexic and at a time when little is known or understood about the learning disability (or learning difference). He is literally beaten (caned) by the powers that be (principal? school master?) for it. His teacher while not that cruel doesn't quite get it either. Of course, the rock and hard place being if Joseph literally says nothing about not being able to read and why he is not able to read--then he's not believed, he's a liar; if Joseph pretends to be able to read then he's lazy and a goof off and just not trying academically. This could definitely trigger some readers--especially teachers and perhaps parents. It is just all kinds of wrong to see how Joseph is treated in a school environment.

It is also hard on the heart as an animal story. I definitely needed a freezer for this one. 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, April 23, 2022

50. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. Alfred Lansing. 1959/2015. 357 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence of preface: The story that follows is true. Every effort has been made to portray the events exactly as they occurred, and to record as accurately as possible the reactions of the men who lived them.

 First sentence of chapter one: The order to abandon ship was given at 5 P.M.

Narrative nonfiction at its best. I suppose "best" is a relative term. But still. This book is an incredibly compelling, near-haunting read. This one was first published in 1959. Lansing traveled to England to do his research. He interviewed survivors--many survivors. He read diaries and journals. This book is the result of his immersion into his research. The first chapter opens with the call to abandon ship--the Endurance--but for the most part it is a chronological account from when they set sail to go exploring to the day that ultimate rescue comes. The book is divided into parts. And these divisions make perfect sense--even adding a bit of suspense. There are twenty-eight men. Twenty-seven officially chosen as crew, with one stowaway (who didn't have the best of luck picking ships to stowaway on). This is their story--collectively. Some men readers get a better grasp of than others--but I would say there's fair representation of all. Enough to say this is THEIR story, not just the story of a single man, an incredible leader (Shackleton). The book does not build him up as a saint; he is presented as a great--but human--leader with flaws. 

The story is a fascinating one. I'd probably recommend it for reading in any season except winter. I jest. Mostly. It is honestly one of the best nonfiction books I've read as an adult. That being said, it is not--I repeat NOT--a book for every reader. This book could easily trigger those who are easily triggered when it comes to dogs. For the pack dogs on board the Endurance, well, let's just say the story does not in any way end decently. It was ROUGH reading, to be sure. Same could be said with those with a soft spot for penguins and seals.

 This book does not conclude with an epilogue of what happened to the twenty-eight men after they were rescued. I've read other books about the Endurance that do. (It was not all happily ever after.) But excepting that fact, this is by far the best of the three or four books I've read on the subject. And according to the book's introduction, this is the "definitive" must read on the subject.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

49. Mio, My Son

2015 cover

Mio, My Son. Astrid Lindgren. 1954/2015. NYR Children's Collection. 184 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Did you listen to the radio on October 15th last year? Did you hear the news about a boy who disappeared? This is what it said: "Police in Stockholm are searching for a nine-year-old boy missing from his home, at 13 North Street, since 6.P.M. two days ago. Karl Anders Nilsson has light hair and blue eyes. At the time of his disappearance he was wearing brown shorts, a gray sweater, and a small red cap. Anyone with more information on his whereabouts should contact the police."

Premise/plot: Mio, My Son is a children's fantasy novel. The protagonist, "Andy" (aka Karl Anders Nilsson) is in reality Prince Mio, the son of the King of Farawayland. He is the narrator of his own adventures...

1956, first English translation cover
My thoughts: The narrative voice is quite strong, in my opinion.

Now, I will warn readers that sometimes Mio repeats himself. For example, "I must go there to fight Sir Kato, though I was so scared, so scared." Some readers might find this an unforgivable sin. I don't. Not in this case at least. I didn't find it as annoying as a written stutter, for example. Perhaps because it mainly occurs when Mio is thinking about or talking about Sir Kato. It doesn't occur on every page.

So essentially, the book is Mio's adventures in Farawayland. The first half of the book is mostly light and joyous. Nothing heavy or dark. The second half of the book, however, is much more dramatic and dark. THINK Lord of the Rings only for a much younger audience. Mio has a mission to accomplish, something that only HE, as a royal son, can do. And it is seemingly impossible and very daunting. Mio must make up his mind to be brave and determined and risk everything for his mission.

Mio is not alone. He has a best friend, Pompoo, and a horse, Miramis. And, there is, of course, his father THE KING, who I personally LOVED.

So did I like this one? Did I love it? Did I love, love, LOVE it? I think I definitely loved it. I loved it for the narrative, for the descriptive language, for the imagery. I really loved the imagery of the Bread That Satisfies Hunger and the Well That Quenches Thirst. Also I really liked the Well That Whispers at Night. The first two images reminded me of Scripture. (John 4:13-14; John 6:35) The sacrificial nature of the mission also reminded me of Scripture. I'm not convinced it can only, always be read as an "allegory" (think The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe). But as a Christian reader, I saw how it could be interpreted that way.

I think anyone can appreciate the imagery of the Well That Whispers At Night:

A whisper began deep, deep down in the well. It was such a strange voice, unlike any other voice. It whispered fairy tales. They weren't like any other fairy tales, and they were the most beautiful stories in the whole world. There was almost nothing that I loved more than listening to fairy tales, so I lay down flat on my stomach, leaning over the edge of the well to hear more and more of the voice that whispered. Sometimes it sang too, the strangest and most beautiful songs.
"What strange kind of well is this?" I said to Totty.
"A well full of fairy tales and songs. That's all I know," said Totty. "A well full of old stories and songs that have existed in the world for a long time, but that people forgot a long time ago. It is only the Well That Whispers at Night that remembers them all."
Here's another favorite passage:
I understood then for the first time that I never needed to be afraid of my father the King, that whatever I did he would always look at me kindly, like he was doing now as he stood there with his hand on the Master Rose Gardener's shoulder and with all the white birds flying around him. And when I understood him, I was happier than I'd ever been before in my life. I was so glad that I laughed quite hard.

And yet another favorite passage:

High over our heads, high above on the steep cliff stood Sir Kato's castle. We were on his shore now. We were close to him as never before, and this night was the night of our battle. I wondered if they knew, all those who had waited for thousands and thousands of years. I wondered if they knew that this was the night of the battle, and if they thought about me. Was my father the King thinking of me? I hoped that he was, I knew that he was. I knew that he was sitting alone somewhere far away and thinking of me and was sad and whispering to himself, "Mio, my son!"


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

48. Goblin Market

Goblin Market. Diane Zahler. 2022. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Market day was Lizzie's favorite day of the week. Not because she loved going to the market--the few times she'd been there, she'd hated it. There were so many people she didn't know, from villages and farms clear on the other side of Elza. So much noise, such constant comings and goings, so many smells and colors! It was overwhelming, terrifying. 

First Impressions: I requested Goblin Market by Diane Zahler because I love, love, love, crazy love the original poem Goblin Market. This one is described as "one sister must save the other from the goblin prince in this rich, spooky, and delightfully dark fantasy!" The cover, well, the cover doesn't scream out read me, read me--but everything else about this one said it would be a good choice for me.

Premise/plot: Lizzie and Minka are sisters. Minka, Lizzie's younger sister, is the one who goes weekly to market. But one market day, well, Minka meets someone different--a young man named Emil who sells fruit in the market. And their lives--the whole family--are changed forever. For once Minka has had a taste of that fruit, well, there's no going back to the way things were before...

It may be up to Lizzie to solve the mystery of her sister's grave illness. (The cost couldn't be higher--if Lizzie fails to find a cure in time, her sister will undoubtedly die. She wouldn't be the first to do so.) But she won't have to do it all alone. Lizzie teams up with a neighboring farm boy, Jakob, and together they will brainstorm a solution. 

My thoughts: It was definitely a fantasy with horror elements. The goblins--or zduszes--are certainly spooky and scary. The action is intense. It kept me turning pages. I can certainly see elements from the original that were retained in this retelling. 

My favorite character was Lizzie. I adored her. I admired her. My favorite quote describes Lizzie, "You're a plucky girl, I've always known. It's far braver to overcome a fear than not to feel fear at all." 

It also reminded me of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier one of my all time favorite, favorite, favorite books. 


Her worries marched around in her head, a tiny army of waspy thoughts, stinging her awake every time her eyes began to close.

What he promised--it sounded like...freedom. To do what I wanted to do. To be who I wanted to be. He knew I wanted more than I had. He saw that right away....I would have married him...

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 18, 2022

47. Katherine

2004 cover
Katherine. Anya Seton. 1954. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: IN the tender green time of April, Katherine set forth at last upon her journey with the two nuns and the royal messenger.

Premise/plot: Katherine de Roet is a young girl on the way to the royal court when Anya Seton's historical novel opens. To be fair, she isn't so much on the way to the royal court to become a part of the royal court as it just so happens that her sister, Philippa, serves the Queen. If all goes well, a marriage will be arranged for young Katherine. She is young and beautiful, but, does not have a dowry. She catches the eye of many, but it is Hugh Swynford who steps up and says, yes, I want to actually marry her (and not just bed her). Katherine is not thrilled. Her heart is just not in marrying this OLD man--no matter his social status. (Not that she's in love with anyone in particular.) Plus these two didn't get off to a mutual good start. He likes what he sees a LITTLE too much, and after a struggle in the garden one day, she's saved from rape by a member of the royal family--John of Gaunt. The Duke takes the poor woman home to his wife, Blanche, who takes pity on the girl and offers her friendship and kindness. But a marriage between the two (Hugh and Katherine) is arranged, and off they go to his (pitiful) estate.
2000 cover

Katherine and the Duke (John of Gaunt) keep crossing paths--not often or frequent, but occasionally. When they do cross paths, they live a lingering impression on one another. Like when the Duke just happens to be passing by her estate when she's gone into labor with her first child and NO ONE on the estate is around to hear her cries and screams. But what really leaves an impression perhaps is her devoted care to his dying wife. 

The novel spans decades and covers a LOT of history. (1360s through the 1390s) Politics. Royal family. Religious history. Conflicts domestic and abroad. This one isn't exclusively a "romance" between Katherine and the Duke. But it does concern their decades long love affair. (She has four children with him, none legitimate until much, much, much later).

My thoughts: I first read this one in September 2011. I enjoyed it then. I enjoyed it now. My biggest advice would be don't go into it thinking that it is a swoon-worthy, super-romantic LOVE STORY that will leave you smiling. The characters are human, and, that's not a "bad" thing. Just that it isn't a superficial romance novel with characters that are too-good-to-be-true and a fairy tale ending.

It probably could go without saying that this is a historical novel based on history; especially the royal family and important figures of the time. Seton's novel is peopled with real people. I am curious how much is fictionalized and how much is "true." But certainly it has to blend in some fiction. 

And now just for fun some additional covers:

1954 cover of Katherine

1957 cover

1955 cover 

1975, 1981, 1983 cover

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

46. A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember. Walter Lord. 1955. 182 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: High in the crow's nest of the New White Star Liner Titanic, Lookout Frederick Fleet peered into a dazzling night. It was calm, clear and bitterly cold. There was no moon, but the cloudless sky blazed with stars. The Atlantic was like polished plate glass; people later said they had never seen it so smooth.

Narrative nonfiction originally published in 1955. A Night To Remember is an account of the sinking of the Titanic and the direct aftermath of the disaster. The narrative begins on the final evening of the maiden voyage of the ship. The narrative flitters and flutters between dozens--if not hundreds--points of view. What makes the narrative cohesive is the chronological timeline of events. Readers do get an occasional aside or observation from the author (presumably). He might be sharing several details taken directly from survivors, but he'll add in, well, this doesn't really quite fit in with these other facts. For example, he points out how many of the women claimed to be in "the last boat" lowered. 

I mentioned the many voices within this one. That can be just as big a strength as a weakness. On the one hand, there is something to be said for sticking to one voice and truly providing an in-depth experience. You can get caught up more in the emotions and drama of it when the narrative is narrower. On the other hand, there is value in trying to capture the scope of the magnitude of the many, many, many voices. Each voice mattered then and matters now. So often one can lose sight of the magnitude of a tragedy by just tuning in to one voice, hearing one story. The drama is in the events not intimately knowing each and every passenger. And watching the events unfold carries weight. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 11, 2022

45. Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves

Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves. L.M. Elliott. 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One morning in late March, Mama and I were sitting in our kitchen, awash in daffodils we'd cut the day before--big golden trumpets, little starbursts of white and lemon stripes, and buttery blossoms with bright-orange faces.

Premise/plot: Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves is a middle grade historical novel set during the second world war on the coast of Virginia. Since the United States has entered the war (after the bombing of Pearl Harbor) life has been turned upside down. The danger isn't distant, but way too close to home. Her father (and brothers) face danger every time they go out on their boat. Adding onto all the life-and-death anxiety is Louisa's mother's mental illness. 

My thoughts: This is a heavier read, in my opinion, but I found it compelling. Louisa makes for an interesting and relatable narrator. I do enjoy the role that books play in this novel. Louisa (and her mother) are readers. And there are bright moments when the two are able to still connect, and books are a part of their time together. Even when her mother is too out of sorts, the books are there for Louisa. I also loved that there is an aunt involved in the story. In fact, I personally feel we get to know her better--and her relationship with Louisa--than the mom.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

44. Alias Anna

Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis. Susan Hood. 2022. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dear Grandma (Z), Hi, how are you doing? I hope everything is going well for you right now. I am writing this letter for a school history project we are doing. The project is to find out as much as possible about our grandparents and what was going on when they were thirteen years old...

Premise/plot: Alias Anna is a historical novel for middle graders based on a true story. Inspired by her granddaughter's letter, a grandmother begins to share with granddaughter and son her life story. That is the framework of this one. This story is communicated with readers through verse. Readers learn of Zhanna (alias Anna) and her younger sister, Frina. The story begins in the days before the terror. Well, the majority of the terror. I'm not sure easy would be the best way to describe life in Communist Russia (Ukraine) for a Jewish family (or any family). But music fills their lives....and may just be the girls' salvation.

My thoughts: On the one hand, this is a solidly good story. The narrative is compelling. The book is packed with so much. It's dramatic without being melodramatic. The sisters' bond is touching. And the twist that it was ultimately her unwillingness to be separated from her sister that saved her life (and gave birth to future generations of family) is something. I can't regret for a minute meeting these characters and learning their stories. On the other hand, I'm not exactly sure why it has to be written in verse. The narrative isn't one that begs to be written in verse. Prose would have done just as well in my opinion. That being said, I would have been hooked either way.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 07, 2022

43. The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle. Jennifer Ryan. 2022. [May] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "I found it!" the Reverend Ben Carlisle's voice called from the attic. Grace felt her breath catch as she dashed across the vicarage landing to see him come down, a long, flat box ceremoniously in his arms, a bittersweet smile on his face. 

Premise/plot: The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle is like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants only with wedding dress(es). I jest mostly. Set in 1942, The Wedding Dressing Sewing Circle is set in a small village, Aldhurst, and stars three women. Grace Carlisle, whom readers meet first, is engaged to be married. But it isn't a love match--not really--and she's more excited about the wedding than the wedding night or the marriage itself. Perhaps because of her social class, perhaps because of her mother's death, she suffers from low self-esteem, the idea that ANY man would actually ask her to marry him boggles her mind. But she has her mother's white wedding dress and that's a start. Cressida Westcott is a London fashion designer that seeks refuge in her brother's home--her former home--after a bomb destroys her apartment and shop. Violet Westcott, Cressida's niece, is thrilled that her fashion savvy aunt has come to stay. But devastated at the idea that she'll be forced into doing war work. How can she find a super-wealthy TITLED man to marry if she's off working? These three unlikely heroines star in this historical romance.

My thoughts: This one is based loosely, loosely on true-ish events. A village did start collecting wedding dresses to lend out to war brides during the Second World War. So the concept of women donating their wedding dresses--from all ages past, all styles, all conditions--to be mended, tailored, and redesigned is true enough. 

If you are able to go with the flow without putting much critical thought into what you are reading, this one is pure delight. It is a satisfying read offering readers three love stories. 

I was able to enjoy this one--mostly. I was. Part of me wants to sweep all other little doubts and observances aside. But. I also want to be honest. The characters transition--particularly Violet and Cressida from HORRIBLE characters to sweet-as-pie angels with absolutely no catalyst or motivating factors. How do you go from narcissistic, vain, snobbish, rude to considerate, compassionate, just a dozen pages...with no TEXT evidence supporting such a change. WHY does character A go from behaving this way to that way? What happened internally or externally to change her character??? Readers are left clueless. The first 30% of the novel, two-thirds of the heroines are HORRIBLE human beings that you'd never want to be around to saints and angels. 

Grace transitions as well. But we're at least given reasons for that change. As her friendship blossoms with Cressida, she discovers that she's BEAUTIFUL and WORTHY and destined to be either a a) model b) fashion designer or c) shop owner. Definitely she does not want to be a vicar's wife stuck in a loveless marriage with someone who only values her if she's a selfless shadow of a human being.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

42. Remember Me Gone

Remember Me Gone. Stacy Stokes. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: People come from everywhere to forget.

Premise/plot: Remember Me Gone is a mystery (of sorts) set in Tumble Tree, Texas. Lucy Miller, our heroine, is excited to join the family business. Her father has a unique gift--he can remove people's unwanted memories. Sadness. Grief. Pain. Suffering. Regret. (etc.) Those visiting Memory House are encouraged to remove all physical traces of those connected with the memories they are having erased. Otherwise, 'echoes' might lead to confusion and disorientation. Most of those who arrive at Memory House, however, are new patients (if you will). Lucy, only sixteen, hasn't yet learned how to remove memories. But she's eager to try...

But as 99.99% of readers can predict, all is not as it seems with her father, the Memory House, and the town of Tumble Tree itself. Lucy's own memories have been altered. She has quite a mystery on her hands to solve...

My thoughts: I felt this was an almost all the way through. It was a good solid almost. I think the premise is interesting enough to have potential. I am curious in the world Stokes has created. I'm more curious about how the Memory House came to be. How did her family discover they have this talent? How did they come to settle in Tumble Tree? Is there something special about this one location? Why not set up a Memory House in a more populated place? What is the state of the world? Has something catastrophic unsettled society at large? The glimpses of the wider world we see--very few and far between--things don't seem to be particularly well. I'm curious if there could be post-apocalyptic undertones going on. Or if I was just in a weird mood when I set down with this one. But most of the questions I have about this world are not answered. And perhaps rightly so. 

The focus of the story is on Lucy's "coming of age" and how she discovers that HER personal memories have been erased--perhaps dozens of times--and how knowing that her father has manipulated her--and that she is not alone in this experience. There are powers that be at work in this town that are harming everyone. It is more than personal. 

The premise, as I mentioned, is interesting. I just found the storytelling to be "almost" instead of fully engaging. I didn't really connect with the characters. This could be just my personal reaction (obviously). But for me it was so premise-driven that it lost any character-driven angles it might have had.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 01, 2022

41. Yours Cheerfully

Yours Cheerfully. (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #2) A.J. Pearce. 2021. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: As Mr. Collins called a start to the Woman's Friend editorial meeting, to anyone watching, it was a perfectly normal Monday-morning affair.

Premise/plot: Yours Cheerfully is the sequel to Dear Mrs. Bird. Both books are set in London (for the most part) during the Second World War. This book is set in the fall/winter of 1941. Emmy Lake, our heroine, managed to keep her job at the magazine Woman's Friend despite some issues that came to light in the previous book. She spends most of this second book not as an advice columnist (if she still does the advice column, she never once shares the letters) but as a journalist writing a series of stories on women factory workers. She makes friends with a handful of workers. Not just smile and nod acquaintances but get up all in your business friendships. She takes it upon herself to agitate (stir things up) the workers and convince them to risk it all for the chance of better working conditions. This isn't just a story to cover. This becomes a dear and precious cause to her. She even risks missing her own wedding (to a soldier) to cover this story. 

My thoughts: I really did enjoy Dear Mrs. Bird. I did not enjoy Yours Cheerfully nearly as much. I did not feel that there was much further character development. And the relationship development was practically non-existent. True, I think it's the readers who are left behind on this one--not Emmy Lake. She's 100% in love with Charles Collins. Not a doubt in her mind about that. But this reader at least, felt that Emmy and Charles' relationship was a little lacking in development. I never really felt like I got to know Charles. Perhaps the romance is inconsequential. Maybe the book exists not as historical romance per se but as historical fiction with the focus almost exclusively on friendships between the women. That is a distinct possibility. If so, I found these friendships to be a little too insta(nt) for me. Like you take public transit and suddenly become near instant besties with a couple of women sitting near you. Granted, maybe some people do make best friends like that--and accumulate dozens if not hundreds of friends--just that quickly.

I did get some North and South vibes--not in terms of romance--but in terms of an opinionated woman so confident and sure that she had all the answers on how to better run (or manage) a factory.

Maybe Emmy Lake was supposed to come across as fierce and strong and independent. I just thought her pushiness might get the other women into serious trouble. Her "helpfulness" might lead to true destitution for women already living in poverty if she wasn't extremely lucky. 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews