Tuesday, November 29, 2022

November Reflections

In November, I read fifty-four books.

Books reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

140. Station Eternity. Mur Lafferty. 2022. [October] 457 pages. [Source: Library]

141. The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz To Warn the World. Jonathan Freedland. 2022. [October] 400 pages. [Source: Library]
142. Marmee. Sarah Miller. 2022. [October] 432 pages. [Source: Library]
143. Flying Fillies: The Sky's The Limit. Christy Hui. 2022. [July] 202 pages. [Source: Library]
144. The Girl in the Castle. James Patterson and Emily Raymond. 2022. [September] 368 pages. [Source: Library]
145. The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) Rick Riordan. 2016. 384 pages. [Source: Library]
146. The Door of No Return. Kwame Alexander. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
147. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1886. 54 pages. [Source: Bought]
148. Making Bombs for Hitler. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. 2012/2017. 191 pages. [Source: Review copy]
149. Five Decembers. James Kestrel. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
150. The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas. James Patterson and Tad Safran. 2022. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
151. Murder at Mallowan Hall. Colleen Cambridge. 2021. 272 pages. [Source: Library]
152. The Picture Bride. Lee Geum-yi. Translated by An Seonjae. 2020/2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
153. Hanged! Mary Surratt and the Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln. 2022. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
154. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York. 1958/1959. Omnibus edition 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
155. Emily of Deep Valley. Maud Hart Lovelace. 1950. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
156. The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) Rick Riordan. 2017. 414 pages. [Source: Library]
157. Switchboard Soldiers. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2022. 464 pages. [Source: Library]
158. Great or Nothing. Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, and Jessica Spotswood. 2022. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
159. Winterkill. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. 2022. [September] 288 pages. [Source: Library]
160. A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews. 2018. 175 pages. [Source: Bought]
161. Cinderella's Dress. Shonna Slayton. 2014. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
162. The Christmas Clash. Suzanne Park. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
163. Talk Santa to Me. Linda Urban. 2022. 280 pages. [Source: Library]

Books reviewed at Young Readers

177. The Not So Stinky Skunk (Lily to the Rescue #3) W. Bruce Cameron. 2020. 144 pages. [Source: Library]
178. Thanks for Nothing. Ryan T. Higgins. 2021. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
179. Farmhouse. Sophie Blackall. 2022. [September] 48 pages. [Source: Library]
180. Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us. Lauren Castillo. 2020. 128 pages. [Source: Library]
181. Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home. Lauren Castillo. 2022. [October 18] 80 pages. [Source: Library]
182. Hairy, Hairy Poodle. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Abigail Tompkins. 2022. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
183. Click, Clack Rainy Day. Doreen Cronin. Illustrated by Betsy Lewin. 2022. [May] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
184. Esme's Birthday Conga Line. Lourdes Heuer. Illustrated by Marissa Valdez. 2022. [May] 76 pages. [Source: Library]
185. Away with Words! Wise and Witty Poems for Language Lovers. Mary Ann Hoberman. 2022. 64 pages. [Source: Library]
186. Under the Christmas Tree. Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. 2002. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
187. The First Notes: The Story of Do, Re, Mi. Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Chiara Fedele. 2022. [November] 48 pages. [Source: Library]
188. The Good Guys Agency #1: Kind Like Fred. 2022. [July] 96 pages. [Source: Library]
189. Walter Had a Best Friend. Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Sergia Ruzzier. 2022. [October 18] 40 pages. [Source: Library]
190. The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer. (Legendary Alston Boys #1) Lamar Giles. 2019. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
191. Autumnblings. Douglas Florian. 2003. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
192. Thanks a Million. Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. 2006. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
193. Bravo, Bucket Head! Helen Lester. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2022. [September] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
194. Pete the Cat Plays Hide and Seek. James and Kimberly Dean. 2022. [September] 40 pages. [Source: Library]
195. Creepy Carrots! Aaron Reynolds. Illustrated by Peter Brown. 2012. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
196. Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf: A Counting Story. Davide Calì. Illustrated by Marianna Balducci. 2022. [September] 36 pages. [Source: Library]
The Wondrous Wonders by Camille Jourdy. 2019/2022. 160 pages. [Source: Library]
198. Loud Mouse: How A Little Mouse Found Her Big Voice. Cara Mentzel and Idina Menzel. Illustrated by Jaclyn Sinquett. 2022. [September] 48 pages. [Source: Library]
199. Busy Betty. Reese Witherspoon. Illustrated by Xindi Yan. 2022. [October 4] 40 pages. [Source: Library]
200. Green is for Christmas. Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. 2022. [October 18] 32 pages. [Source: Library]
201. If You Believe In Me. Rosemary Wells. 2022. 28 pages. [Source: Library]
202. Waffles and Pancake #2: Flight or Fright. Drew Brockington. 2022. 64 pages. [Source: Library]

Books reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

40. A Short Guide to Reading the Bible Better. George H. Guthrie. 2022. [November] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
41. A Model of Devotion (The Lumber Baron's Daughters #3) Mary Connealy. 2022. 299 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Bibles reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

17. Holman Rainbow Study Bible: NIV Edition. New, Improved User-Friendly Design. Purple Leathertouch Indexed. B&H. 1632 pages. [Source: Review copy]
18. Darby Bible. God. 1890. 2304 pages. [Source: Bought]


November Totals

November reads

# of books54
# of pages14061

2022 Totals

2022 Totals
# of books423
# of pages123,190

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

163. Talk Santa to Me

Talk Santa to Me. Linda Urban. 2022. 280 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I was born in a stable. A deluxe model, indoor-outdoor stable, with a light-up roof star and grass-mat flooring (discontinued item). My mom had been carrying a three-foot shepherd from the stockroom when the first serious labor pain hit. I've always been impulsive, Mom says, and once I got the notion that I had outgrown my current quarters, boom. She knew I was moving out.

Premise/plot: Our heroine Francie (full name Frankincense) works at her family's Christmas-themed shop. Her grandfather was a GREAT Santa. Absolutely all kinds of amazing. He even started a Santa school to train others how to be Santa. But since he died, well, things aren't quite the same in the family or the family business. Francie's dad is doing his best to continue the legacy, but, his sister has her own ideas of how to maintain the business (and being loyal to tradition and the argument that's the way we've always done it fall on deaf ears). Francie impulsively jumps in during an emergency and finds herself taking on the job as Santa's Intern on a local cable broadcast. The video goes viral--at least locally--and soon Francie finds herself answering thousands of letters to Santa. It's all SO MUCH. But the family's business/reputation may just depend on her PR work as Santa's Intern. 

Meanwhile, Francie is falling head over heels in love with Hector a classmate who just happens to work at the neighboring tree lot. As these two [relatively] shy teens get to know one another, a little Christmas magic happens. 

My thoughts: I thought this one was the perfect blend of super-sweet and funny. I loved seeing all the letters to Santa. We get plenty of those letters and her responses. I enjoyed seeing all the Christmas-y elements included in this one. Plenty of scenes take place during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It felt--to me at least--properly Christmas-y. I loved that Francie deep down cared about her family and was processing her grief. It added a level of depth. All of them were experiencing grief differently and they weren't always incredibly kind and thoughtful with each other. But you do get the sense that they do care about one another. Even "mean" Aunt Carol wasn't a one-dimensional villain (like she'd likely be in a holiday movie). The romance wasn't perfectly perfect--but it was so sweet and light and good. I could see how someone wanting something steamier might find this one to be too "young." But to me, it was perfect.

The back story of Francie trying to redeem her "first kiss" experience was definitely a back story. I'm glad it wasn't the sole plot point. This one so easily could have gone down a couple super-predictable paths. a) She could have had a fake boyfriend whom she would end up actually falling in love with. b) She could have had an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance with the boy that gossiped about her way back when. I'm so glad we didn't get either of those stories. 

I do think this would make a fun movie.


Dear Santa’s Intern:
I hear you know Santa really well. Could you tell him not to bring me any pants this year? Two times already this year I asked for a paintball gun and two times I didn’t get one, but I did get pants. Pants are not a good gift. Except for one time during recess, I have been pretty good this year and I already said sorry and Henry said okay.
Your friend,

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

162. The Christmas Clash

The Christmas Clash. Suzanne Park. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The projectile pacifier grazed my left ear. "I'm so sorry, would you mind grabbing his binky off the floor? Little Timmy's got quite a temper when he's hungry." Important note: Timmy was not in fact very little. I suspected he was five, maybe six.

Premise/plot: Chloe Kwon, our heroine, works as a photographer at the Santa Land feature at her local mall [Riverwood]. Her parents have a restaurant in the mall as well. Peter Li, our hero, works at the virtual reality North Pole experience at the mall. His parents have a restaurant in the mall too. The Kwons hate the Lis; the Lis hate the Kwons. But Chloe and Peter have found out something shocking: they do not in fact hate each other. Rather, Chloe might just like-like Peter, and it's mutual. But this isn't solely a "forbidden" romance with warring families. Riverwood Mall is very likely to be demolished to make way for condos. It isn't just their seasonal side jobs at risk but their whole families livelihood. Can Peter and Chloe by working together form a resistance with other mall tenants and find a way to save the mall????

My thoughts: This would make a PERFECT holiday movie. Everything about this one screams out for a film adaptation. So good news if you like holiday movies, you'll fall for this novel as well. And perhaps it's nice to get it in book-form for a change. 

Was it a perfect read? No. I'm not going to lie and say it was perfectly perfect in regards to storytelling, characterization, plotting, etc. But I could visualize much of this one. And it felt like a movie that I'd watch through beginning to end. It might sell better as a movie.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

161. Cinderella's Dress

Cinderella's Dress. Shonna Slayton. 2014. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Nadzia tucked the cleaning rag into her apron in exchange for her feather duster.

Premise/plot: Except for the prologue which has a more "once upon a time" feel to it, Cinderella's Dress is set in the mid-to-late 1940s. (It opens in 1944, and, I believe, wraps up around 1947?) Kate Allen, our heroine, discovers that she may just be the next keeper for Cinderella's magical dresses. At the start of the novel, Kate is clueless. Cinderella a real person??? A real person with magical dresses??? She hadn't a thought to such things. Ridiculous, right? But when Elsie and her husband Adalbert show up in New York City during the Second World War with a trunk they've risked their lives smuggling out of war-torn Europe, well, she gives it some consideration. Elsie claims to be the current keeper. The trunk holds the dresses, THE DRESSES. But magic is a tricky, tricky thing. Meanwhile as Kate is processing all this possible magic that is somehow, someway connected to her family, her life unfolds in all its messiness. Her mother wants her to be a a) model b) actress c) model-actress. She has big plans for her daughter to make it big, big, big. Kate's goals, however, are to become a window dresser at a department store. To design the windows that make crowds oooh and aaah. The kind of window displays that draw customers in and keep them spending money. But she'll face some discrimination--because that is man's work, of course--and she's so very young, still a teenager. 

Getting her hand on THOSE DRESSES may just be the break she needs in the window dressing business, but flashing her family's secrets may just lead to a life-and-death situation.

My thoughts: I liked this one okay. I did. I didn't hate it. I just felt Kate was a bit stupid at times. The plot depended on her being so stupid, so maybe it isn't solely her fault. But still. I liked elements of this one certainly. I found Elsie's story to be heartbreaking. Not that that was the focus of the story, it wasn't, but I couldn't help but feel saddened watching that back story unfold. Elsie and Adalbert are so in love, yet, her dementia is taking her away from him and everyone else as well.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, November 27, 2022

160. A Holiday by Gaslight

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews. 2018. 175 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: An icy late November breeze rustled the bare branches of the trees along the Serpentine.

Premise/plot: Sophie Appersett has been following her parents' lead when it comes to "romance". They are hoping the [semi-arranged] match between Sophie and Mr. Edward Sharpe, London merchant will be just the thing. To be fair, they see Mr. Sharpe and see moneybags. Sophie, well, she is hoping to see more than that. But seeing the real deal, getting to know the real person, takes a bit of effort. Both Sophie and Edward, well, they're not the best at letting down their guards with one another and being real, true, genuine. 

Sophie's father has spent all her dowry on getting their country home fitted for gaslight. And his plans may just extend beyond that...

He has been invited [along with his parents and a friend] to spend Christmas with them in the country...

My thoughts: It was playful and fun. It was sweet. It was clean--nothing to my recollection beyond a kiss or two. If holiday romances are your thing, then this one may just be all delight.

I definitely enjoyed this one. I have read Mimi Matthews in the past. This one didn't quite live up to my full-length-novel expectations. I think if my expectations had been lowered to begin with--it is more of a novella--it would have satisfied.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

159. Winterkill

Winterkill. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. 2022. [September] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Tato and I had just entered the village after inspecting our wheat field.

Premise/plot: Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's newest historical novel is set in [Soviet] Ukraine in the early 1930s. Nyl [and his family, his friends, his community, his country] will soon be in the fight of their lives. Not a fight with weapons, perhaps, but a fight all the same. The Soviets [Communists] are there with Stalin's "five year plan." And compliance, well, it isn't optional. No matter how wary, skeptical, or concerned--one "must" comply. Even if complying defies all logic, all reason, all common sense. Nyl and his family are farmers. They farm. It's a HARD life, no doubt, no question. Packed with plenty of concern and worry in any year. But since Stalin, well, the biggest fears and worries have changed. 

The novel opens with foreigners--Canadian Communists--who have come to live the glorious life under Stalin taking inventory of their farm. Nyl [and family] are mostly nervous and wary. What could this mean for them down the road? They didn't expect "down the road" to occur literally within a day's time. Life for Nyl [and his family, friends, community] will NEVER, EVER, EVER be the same.

And as the novel unfolds, it only goes one direction from there--and it isn't up. Skrypuch is writing about the Holodomor. The powers that be have decided to starve the Ukrainians and erase them--quite literally--from the landscape. Genocide by starvation. This, of course, was phrased with a million promises. Well, "promises," I suppose. 

 My thoughts: The cover might not be bleak enough for the contents. This is INTENSE. This is bleak. This is based on history. And I'm going to guess MOSTLY unknown history. I learned so much. It was heartbreaking knowledge. Truly heart-smashing-and-shattering. It was brutal. Yet I feel it was an important story to tell. History is sometimes horrifying, brutal, terrible. But I think it would be worse to cover it up, to hush it up, to deny, to ignore. 

While this one may not be for every single reader--it is BRUTAL, I tell you--it is so very well-written. It was impossible to put down. It was a book that will leave a mighty big impression on me.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

158. Great or Nothing

Great or Nothing. Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, and Jessica Spotswood. 2022. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There was a moment in each day where she forgot. It never came at the same time; if it had, perhaps then Jo could have been prepared for it. But how could you prepare for forgetting, just for a moment, that what once was a quartet had been reduced to a trio? There was no rhyme or reason to the moments she stumbled. 

Premise/plot: Four authors have teamed up to spin a retelling of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. This retelling is set during World War II. It opens AFTER Beth's death. Amy, the youngest, is seemingly at art school [not really!], Jo is off working at a factory, and Meg is teaching at the local school. The sisters aren't really in the best place. Jo, in particular, is choosing not to speak with any of her sisters--in particular, Meg, or her mother. She is still dazed [hurt, confused, out of sorts] by Laurie's most unwelcome proposal. [How dare he?!?!?!] And she does not want to stay at home missing Beth. None of the girls do, not really. Meg stays because she loves teaching, loves her mother, and I think she's wise enough to know that no matter where she goes she'll always be missing Beth, still worried about the war. In alternating chapters, the story comes together. It is a coming of age story for all three. Don't let Meg staying at home fool you, she is still living life. She's not a "nobody" because she chooses to stay at home. 

Beth, though deceased, is still holding the family--and this book!!!--together. Her sections are told in verse. 

My thoughts:  My curiosity was very high. A World War II retelling?!?!?! I loved the premise of these young women coming of age during this time period! It seemed to me to make absolute perfect sense that Jo would, of course, be doing her part and getting work at a factory. Meg as a teacher, likewise, felt right. [Meg doesn't always get the love and appreciation she deserves.] Amy is VERY Amy. I was going to not spoil it, but, since the book description says it clearly--well, so will I. Amy has "stolen" the identity of another applicant and is a Red Cross volunteer in London. Conveniently located to bump into the dreamy Laurie. 

Though I'm normally not a fan of alternating narrators, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it in this one. I didn't love all the narrators perfectly equally--I didn't. [But that is perhaps to be expected. I feel the same way with the source material.] Beth's poems made the novel for me. I loved them oh-so-much. In one of the Marvel movies--I think the second Spider-man movies--Peter Parker is gifted these awesome glasses with the acronym E.D.I.T.H which stands for EVEN DEAD, I'M THE HERO. And such is the case with Beth and her poetry. For me at least.

As for Jo being queer, I think this is one of many [yes, many] ways her character could be interpreted. I don't have a problem necessarily having it as one of a handful, one of many, "a" possible interpretation or reading of the character. It is when it becomes the predominant "of course" this is the "best" way to read, to interpret, to understand the character that I get slightly annoyed. Like the only "reasonable" or "conclusive" reason why she would reject Laurie's proposal is because she's lesbian. I can think of hundreds of reasons [slight exaggeration] why these two are NOT a good match. We don't all have to come to the same agreement, same conclusion.



I spoke to my dolls,
dressed the, brushed
their hair,
sat them up for stories
and laid them down for
long after my sisters
had given up their dolls.
I took in stray creatures,
stayed up nursing
fed them with bottles
like I'd never feed
an infant.
Not my own.
It wasn't practice
since I'd never play the role.
Not everyone can be a

The Fireplace

The mantel
above our fireplace
was always crowded
as a train platform
just as the train arrives.
Photos and trinkets,
books and flowers,
an entire family hsitory
on one narrow shelf of brick.
Such a stark contrast,
the mantel at Aunt March's.
A showy vase, some
I never saw them lit.
I sometimes wonder, had I lived,
would I have ended up alone?
Perhaps she'd leave me
the house,
for you all would have
had other lives to live.
But if she had, I would
have filled
that barren mantel with
my own platform
of travelers with their
joys and sorrows, busy
Photos, trinkets,
mementos from my
and their families, my
family too.


It's a little like falling in
love, dying.
At least, I think so.
I've only done one of
those things.
The more you fight it, the
harder it is.
Some parts are bound to
be painful.
It's messier than you
You have to give up
But you end up
you never could have

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

157. Switchboard Soldiers

Switchboard Soldiers. Jennifer Chiaverini. 2022. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Marie glowed with pride and anticipation as her mother took her customary place in front of the gleaming grand piano in the gracious parlor of their Mount Auburn home. 

Premise/plot: Switchboard Soldiers is Chiaverini's newest historical novel. It is set during the first world war, or "the Great War," or "the war to end all wars." The prologue is set in August 1914, but for the most part it spans 1917-1919 [spring 1919]. There are three "main" characters [aka narrators] Grace Banker, Marie Miossec, and Valerie DeSmedt. But there are SO, SO, SO many other characters. The book chronicles the experiences of super-skilled-and-talented [female] telephone operators who served their country. Not only did they need to know the switchboard system well, they needed to be fluent in French. On top of the dangers of war--at the front lines and in a country at war facing bombing attacks--but there was also the dangers of the Great Influenza [aka the 'Spanish' flu]. 

My thoughts: This one had all the elements I typically look for in historical fiction. Yet it is definitely an "almost" from me. I know, in part, this disconnect [pun intended] is my fault. I was reading the library copy and didn't finish in time. I had to wait for my turn to come back around. [Which was about three weeks]. I had marked down my place exactly, but, my interest had cooled by the time I picked it up again. But I do think that alternating narrators might have still allowed for some disconnect. Some. There were SO many names, so many characters, so many off-to-the-side characters. [Like brothers or random soldiers with the potential to be love interests]. I felt a consistent vague-ness. I was never quite sure who was who. Not enough to be actively disgruntled or out of sorts. Just a vague un-easiness that I was not getting the most out of the story because I'd missed too many little things along the way. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, November 21, 2022

156. The Dark Prophecy

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) Rick Riordan. 2017. 414 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When our dragon declared war on Indiana, I knew it was going to be a bad day.

Premise/plot: The Dark Prophecy is the second book in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan. Apollo, the god, has been punished with mortality. He has lost all his powers and is semi-reliant on demi-gods (half-gods) for help. Apollo is joined on his semi-quest (no oracles means no official quests) by Leo and Calypso. (Characters we met in a previous series). These three are still trying to figure out which three emperors (well, Nero plus two others) are out to take over the world. 

My thoughts: I think my patience is wearing thin at this point. I don't remember disliking Lester/Apollo quite this much in the first book? Or maybe a little goes a long way? I don't know. It just seems so same-old, same-old, same-old and pointless. The quests always have a surface-level intensity that turns to nothing. Because no matter what, there's a small-ish victory at the end of each book--a brief pause of the action--and then the next book introduces a new "bigger" threat. It's never-ending.

Has anyone read all five books in the series? Does it improve?


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, November 19, 2022

155. Emily of Deep Valley

Emily of Deep Valley. Maud Hart Lovelace. 1950. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "It's the last day of high school...ever," Annette said. She said it gaily, swinging Emily's hand and pulling her about so that they faced the red brick building with its tall arched windows and doors, its elaborate limestone trimming, its bulging turrets and the cupola that made an ironical dunce's cap on top of all. Annette threw a kiss at it, then lifted her right hand and opened and shut the fingers in a playful wave. "Good-by, old jail!" she said. "Don't you dare call the Deep Valley High School a jail!" Emily tone was joking but there was warmth in it, too. 

Premise/plot: Emily Webster, our orphan protagonist, loves her home in Deep Valley, no question. But when almost all of her classmates either go away to college or university [or marry] and she is left behind seemingly on her own [to represent the Class of 1912] in Deep Valley, well, she gets a little out of sorts. While her classmates and chums are busy living new lives--with new opportunities, experiences, adventures--Emily is left not even with the same old, same old. For she no longer "belongs" in high school. [Though she attempts to find joy in life by still going to all the games. That works for a while. Until she realizes that NO, she's not in high school. She's a grown woman not a child. No matter of pretending will change that.] Her days are filled with caring for her grandfather, a Civil War veteran, but not completely filled. Not in the way they are filled in her daydreams. She tries various interests and hobbies. One of which leads to perhaps the biggest change in her life: her interest in the Little Syrian [immigrant] community in Deep Valley. She befriends a few Syrian boys and through them takes an interest in the neighborhood at large. 

Emily longs for a love story. It's quite easy to imagine a perfectly perfect romantic lead, but imagining herself into that story is a little more bumpy. She wants to be wanted and fears she never will be wanted. 

Emily of Deep Valley chronicles about a year of time May 1912 to May 1913.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. It was new to me. I liked this coming of age novel very much. It was written in 1950 and set in 1912/1913 so it definitely qualifies as historical fiction. I liked the setting very much--both the time period and the geographical setting. [Fictional town of Deep Valley, Minnesota]


In Deep Valley, as everywhere, the Roosevelt-Taft feud was tearing friends and family apart. Emily favored Roosevelt, believing, as Jane Addams did, that he spoke for the cause of social justice.

Depression settled down upon her, and although she tried to brush it away it thickened like a fog.

“A mood like this has to be fought. It’s like an enemy with a gun,” she told herself. But she couldn’t seem to find a gun with which to fight.

She did bring home books from the library, in armloads, replenishing them every two or three days. She read avidly, indiscriminately, using them as an antidote for the pain in her heart.

She wrote more letters than she received.
“They certainly are slow in answering,” she thought, beginning a letter to Nell who already owed her a letter. “But then,” she admitted to herself, “they’re not living in my life the way I’m living in theirs.” 

At church next day Dr. MacDonald said something that helped her. Emily’s mind kept drifting away from the sermon to last night’s fun. But suddenly this sentence flashed out—it was a quotation from Shakespeare, she thought: “Muster your wits: stand in your own defense.” She had no idea in what sense he had used it, but it seemed to be a message aimed directly at her. “Muster your wits: stand in your own defense,” she kept repeating to herself on the long walk home.

She forced herself to conversational overtures but they sounded hollow. No one seemed to respond. “I shouldn’t be trying so hard. No one else is trying,” she thought.

“I tag them around, but I’m like a shadow. Well, I won’t do it anymore!” She wasn’t tired of her friends, but she was tired of pursuing them as though her own life were worthless. 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, November 18, 2022

154. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York. 1958/1959. Omnibus edition 2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris: The small, slender woman with apple-red cheeks, greying hair, and shrewd, almost naughty little eyes sat with her face pressed against the cabin window of the BEA Viscount on the morning flight from London to Paris.

First sentence from Mrs. Harris Goes to New York: Mrs Ada Harris and Mrs Violet Butterfield, of Numbers 5 and 9 Willis Gardens, Battersea, London, respectively, were having their nightly cup of tea in Mrs Harris's neat and flower-decorated little flat in the basement of number five.

Premise/plot: This is an omnibus edition of the first two Mrs. Harris novels by Paul Gallico. In the first book, Mrs Ada Harris (or Ada 'Arris) fixates on the dream of buying/owning a Dior dress. She saves for three years to earn enough money to travel to Paris and buy the dress. While she's spent years dreaming about this experience, she finds that she doesn't necessarily daydream about actually wearing the dress [herself.] In the second book, Mrs. Ada Harris and her friend Mrs Violet Butterfield travel to New York with Mr and Mrs Schreiber. She uses this opportunity to look for the [American] father of Henry Brown. She's convinced he'd be better off with his biological father instead of his foster [or adopted] parents the Gussets who are abusive. How hard could it be to find a man named George Brown living someone in the United States? So, naturally, of course, she kidnaps the child and sneaks him aboard the ship they're traveling on.

My thoughts: I watched two adaptations of the first book Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. It is a charming SHORT novel [or novella]. Mrs Harris is a super-lovable busy-body. She's like everyone's fairy godmother--of sorts. Just by being her lovable, caring self, she improves the lives of those around her. Her beauty comes from within, and she brightens up the lives of those she knows [and interacts with]. The novel does differ from both adaptations of the novel. Neither movie has the book ending. 

The second novel is quite a bit longer than the first one. The focus is on Mrs Harris' search for the young Henry's father. She has better luck finding and buying the perfect dress [named Temptation] than she does tracking down the boy's biological father. And when the boy's father is found--no thanks to Mrs Harris' meddling or searching, it's an absolute disaster. The happy-ish ending is no thanks to Mrs Harris, not really. Mr. Schreiber is the one who saves the day. For me, the book was entirely MEH.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

153. Hanged! Mary Surratt and the Plot To Assassinate Abraham Lincoln

Hanged! Mary Surratt and the Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln. 2022. [November] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It was two or three o'clock in the morning when the bell of Marry Surratt's boardinghouse at 541 H Street rang "very violently."

Premise/plot: Narrative nonfiction. Sarah Miller's newest [nonfiction] book is a dream for all #lawnerds. Her book focuses on Mary Surratt--a woman charged and tried for her [alleged] involvement in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. She was the only woman charged, but there were plenty of other men also facing trial. Though the war was over and the courts were open again, I believe, it was decided--for better or worse--to hold a military tribunal instead. The book focuses on the crime, the arrest[s], the trials, and the sentences. It was packed with information, with details. It is not a definitive narrative; Miller cannot know--no one can actually actually know whether or not she was guilty or innocent. But she can recount how it all unfolded at a very turbulent time in American history. She can discuss the legal arguments and presentations.

My thoughts: I found this one to be so thought-provoking! The story is interesting and bittersweet. Whether she is guilty or innocent, the crime--the assassination of the President--was tragic no matter how you look at it. The book asks--as many have done, I assume--if a fair trial in this circumstance could have happened. In a country so torn apart, so polarized, so weary and burdened, could Mary have received a fair trial when she was facing such serious charges? But could those accusing her have had ulterior motives? Was the evidence all circumstantial? Was there actual evidence at all? Other than the boardinghouse that connected them all...

There is no "taking sides" in a meaningful way. There are legal arguments presented, questions asked. Again, there is no way to know a hundred plus years later if she *was* guilty or if she *was* innocent. We just know that she was found guilty in this trial and sentenced to death. 

The book was GREAT.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

152. The Picture Bride

The Picture Bride. Lee Geum-yi. Translated by An Seonjae. 2020/2022. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Miss Willow," The Pusan Ajimae said, "You'll be eighteen next year, won't you? What about going to Powa and getting married?" At that, the eyes of Willow and her mother, Mrs. Yun, grew large. 

Premise/plot: Willow, our heroine, and two others--who become through the years as dear as sisters--travel to Hawaii as picture brides in 1918. These Korean brides will have A LOT of adjustments to make. Not that life was super-easy-going and perfect at home in their Korean village, but, they were sold a fairy tale--literally. A fairy tale it wasn't. Not the land. Not the opportunities. Not the husbands. This is Willow's story--for the most part--but it is also a story of how she tried again [and again] to find a community that would truly be supportive. It is a story of the struggle of a wife and mother. Definitely not a fairy tale with a happily ever after ending.

My thoughts: I found this one so compelling--for the most part. I enjoyed Willow's perspective. I thought the characters, the setting, the story were all well done. I did not personally love the ending. I'll try to explain. I felt it was disjointed. The jump in time of eighteen or so years was just rough. In the last chapter, the characters all suddenly have American-ized names. So you don't know really what is going on and who-is-who. Also there are so many more names to keep track of since the family has apparently expanded. Still, so much is NOT known of that gap in time. And the narrator has changed from Willow to Pearl [her daughter]. It just felt out of sorts. This is just my own feelings about the ending, of course.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

151. Murder at Mallowan Hall

Murder at Mallowan Hall. Colleen Cambridge. 2021. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Phyllida Bright had seen her share of bodies during the Great War so when she discovered the dead man sprawled on the floor, it didn't even occur to her to scream.

Premise/plot: Phyllida Bright is the fictional housekeeper of Agatha Christie and an amateur sleuth in this historical mystery. How often does Christie enter into the plot? A few scenes at best. This mystery has two dead bodies and possibly, possibly two murderers. [I won't be spoiling that!]

My thoughts: I was so disappointed with this one. I wanted to really enjoy this one. I really do love Agatha Christie's novels. I do love cozy mysteries. This one features a couple murders at a country house party--of sorts. But unfortunately, I found it to be dull--more often than not. And I didn't like the agenda-pushing--or what I personally felt to be agenda-pushing. When historical characters are made mouthpieces for today's times and values, well, it just seems a bit too much. When the housekeeper starts lecturing the maids about how she should not be shocked, embarrassed, flustered, upset--by finding pornographic photographs [I won't go into details of WHAT acts the photos contain or WHO the photographs are of because that enters into the murder motivations], I was just like stop already. Even without this didactic lecturing, the book would have still proven to be on the dull side.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

150. The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas

The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas. James Patterson and Tad Safran. 2022. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: What is the worst present you ever received for Christmas? A pair of socks? A pair of scratchy socks? A pair of scratchy socks in a vile color? A pair of scratchy socks in a disgusting color that rub your big toes every step you take? A pair of coarse socks in a foul color that rub your big toes and you're forced to wear them because your grandmother gave them to you and she's coming to stay? That's pretty bad. But for Will and Ella Sullivan, the worst thing they ever got for Christmas was a dead mother.

Premise/plot: Kate Sullivan was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Since this one is being marketed as "the next Christmas Carol" and an "instant classic" that will become a "must read for every holiday season," I thought it only fitting to introduce it properly. So it's been three--or so--years since she's died. The husband, Henry, has NOT gotten over it. He's been a total and complete wreck ever since. And Will and Ella, well, they've had to mainly raise themselves because of Henry's absent-while-present parenting style. But this Christmas, they are determined to find their dad a new wife. If he is happy then maybe Christmas can be Christmas again. So they write a dating profile for their dad...and begin corresponding with a "Ms. Truelove." The results...well...not quite what anyone expected.

It starts with a partridge in a pear tree. Literally. But it isn't until the FIVE GOLDEN RINGS are delivered to their doorstep that the family realizes with ever-growing DOOM AND GLOOM that things are about to get so much worse.

Essentially the premise is simple: the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS literally being delivered to one family's house for the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Just take a minute or two to imagine that...

The book is about how the family reacts to these "gifts" from a "true love." Just WHO IS THIS TRUE LOVE????? And what is the motivation behind these "gifts" that feel like a curse.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I loved some chapters. I didn't quite love other chapters. It was definitely entertaining--for the most part. It is 100% premise-driven. Not many characters are fleshed out. There are plenty of comical scenes.

But for me, personally, this was no Christmas Carol.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, November 13, 2022

149. Five Decembers

Five Decembers. James Kestrel. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Joe McGrady was looking at a whiskey. It was so new the ice hadn't begun to melt, even in this heat.

Premise/plot: Joe McGrady is a Honolulu police detective. An unusual case takes him far from home at a most precarious time. He's traveling to Hong Kong tracking down a murderer using the alias 'Smith' when Pearl Harbor is bombed. At the time, he's locked up in a jail cell--soon captured by the Japanese--framed for a crime he did not commit. Taken prisoner by the Japanese, he finds himself in unusual circumstances: he's offered one chance for 'freedom' but it comes at a cost. Someone is willing to 'erase' him from the system and offer him shelter in his own home for the duration of the war OR he can take his chances being a [civilian] prisoner of war. Of course, it isn't phrased exactly like that. He doesn't realize that he'll essentially be "declared dead" and mourned by those he's leaving behind--namely his girlfriend. The man offering him this choice is the uncle of the murdered girl--remember Joe McGrady is tracking down a murderer--three or four victims already. So his new life begins...

Five Decembers, I believe, chronicles his life from December 1941-December 1945. Of course, much is skimmed/skipped. We don't get to spend years with him in his house-bound "captivity." [He is not a prisoner so much of the family as he is staying hidden for his own protection and theirs. And he comes to genuinely love and respect this father-and-daughter.] 

My thoughts: This one blends a little bit of everything: suspense, mystery, history, romance. I could have done with a little less graphic-ness in the "romance" department. But to be fair, that's like maybe three or four scenes out of the book. [Though I guess it was the inspiration for the book cover.] I definitely liked elements of this one. The mystery kept me guessing. I don't know that there were clues to follow. In fact, I think there were absolutely NO clues to follow. This one won't appeal to those who like to be involved in solving the crime alongside the detective. But the historical setting was intriguing to me. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the war.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, November 11, 2022

148. Making Bombs for Hitler

Making Bombs for Hitler. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. 2012/2017. 191 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The room smelled of soap and the light was so white that it made my eyes ache. I held Larissa's hand in a tight grip. I was her older sister, after all, and she was my responsibility. It would be easy to lose her in this sea of children, and we had both lost far too much already.

Premise/plot: Lida, our protagonist, is a Ukrainian child sent to a work labor camp [concentration camp]. Having been warned that [younger] children are at greater risk, she ages herself by several years. Hoping that if she is perceived as old enough to work, to be useful, the greater the chance that she'll survive the Nazis. Most of the book describes her experiences with various jobs in that Nazi concentration camp. The book ends with her dealing with the aftermath of the war. It would be a mistake to think that survivors get a "happily ever after" starting the moment the camps are liberated. 

My thoughts: I am not doing justice to this compelling coming of age war novel. It was such an intense read. It was interesting--to me at least--to get an Ukrainian perspective. It is more common to see a Jewish perspective of the concentration camps perhaps. The novel opens in 1943. But don't expect a lot of dates. This one is a little vague on specific details. For example, while we spend almost all of the book with the characters in a work camp [concentration camp], readers never learn which camp. This isn't a deal breaker for me. It isn't. But I was curious. [Probably more curious than the intended original audience]. 

I would recommend this one. It is intense. But sometimes you just a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, a book a little bit outside your comfort zone.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, November 10, 2022

147. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1886. 54 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life. He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years. But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. “I incline to Cain’s heresy,” he used to say quaintly: “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.” In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men.

Premise/plot: Mr. Utterson is our primary narrator. He is the lawyer who has dealings first with Dr. Henry Jekyll and to a certain extent Mr. Edward Hyde. [He is the lawyer who has helped Jekyll prepare his will.] The novella is a suspenseful mystery--of sorts. Readers learn of a "wicked" Mr. Hyde that is unpleasant--at best--and a murderer--at worst. Whether he is a true "terror" or just a ghastly unpleasant fellow that just gives off super-creepy-vibes Mr. Utterson is at first not prepared to say. [At first being the key word.] He is a lawyer who seems so proud of his I-don't-judge-others persona; his live-and-let-live or you-do-you vibes. But Mr. Hyde does creep him out more than most of the other fellows in his acquaintance. (We get to know several with whom he has to do.) 

Mr. Utterson is a curious fellow. He is determined to figure out the relationship between the "good" Dr. Jekyll, his client, and the "creepy" Mr. Hyde. WHY is Dr. Jekyll prepared to leave his whole estate to Mr. Hyde? HOW do they know one another? WHAT is Jekyll thinking in risking his own reputation? Mr. Hyde is mentioned in his will. Mr. Hyde has a key to his place. He obviously either a) genuinely likes him and accepts him or b) he is being coerced or blackmailed by Hyde. Mr. Utterson, for the longest time, is inclined to think just that. Surely the good Dr. Jekyll is being blackmailed. And though Mr. Utterson usually is NOT his brother's keeper, he tries to "help" in this instance. He starts investigating or snooping. He'll follow clues about Dr. Jekyll's life...he'll follow clues about Mr. Hyde's life....he'll just keep searching any and every clue until he has the answers he's looking for.

And that leads him to a better acquaintance with Dr. Lanyon. Dr. Lanyon is/was a friend of Dr. Jekyll. And, yes, that is awkward but factual. They were friends--once upon a time. At one point they are mere civil acquaintances--close friends no more. Dr. Jekyll does, at one point, reach out to him--a plea calling upon their past [close] friendship. Dr. Lanyon, for better or worse, does respond to that cry for help--that plea. And because he does so, well, he acts as the catalyst of the story. He supplies almost all the missing puzzle pieces that Mr. Utterson, the lawyer, needs to see the big picture. Utterson would have not connected all the dots without knowing Dr. Lanyon. 

I said for better or worse for a reason. It is to the readers' gain that Dr. Lanyon does answer his friend's cry for help. For the sake of the story, Dr. Lanyon doing what he does, going where he goes, seeing what he sees...and living long enough to set it down on paper and make arrangements that his narrative is given to Mr. Utterson...well, it benefits the mystery/suspense angle of the novella. There is no big reveal without Dr. Lanyon. 

Yes, this is fiction. I never really suspended my disbelief for a second in this horror/thriller/mystery. But let's say, for a second, this was "real," by saying yes to his friend, Dr. Lanyon is making a big mistake--in terms of what is best for his own self interests. Being there for his friend in this moment of great need directly leads to Dr. Lanyon's death.

Now, don't ask me WHY Dr. Lanyon HAD to die. Just don't. Because I think the answer is more related to *using* the character as a plot device. The character's death means that a) Mr. Utterson can read this narrative and have his curiosity satisfied. There were two documents--Dr. Lanyon's narrative and Henry Jekyll's narrative--that were dependent on their deaths. Mr. Utterson can only get all the answers if both are dead. Both documents are conditional. If Mr. Utterson isn't allowed the answers, the readers aren't allowed the answers either. The whole book would be pointless. 

Sometimes authors just kill off characters because they think it makes poetic sense, almost. [Like I'll never understand WHY Victor Hugo killed off Jean Valjean. In a million years I'll never have the answer. There was no "need" coming from within the story itself. But that is neither here nor there.] Here readers are asked to suspend their disbelief. So you witness something super traumatic. You don't die of "shock" then and there in the moment. But you go home and suddenly know that you've only got a few more weeks to live??? Like the shock of living with the aftermath of the trauma is literally going to kill you? Like goodbye world, I'll just sit here getting weaker and weaker. I mean it's just silly. Still, I suppose it's all about getting the information into the hands of Mr. Utterson--and subsequently the readers. Therefore Dr. Lanyon had to die or the book would be too short. [I am jesting a little.] 

My thoughts: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde contains a plot twist that almost ALL readers will know in advance. Almost all. Many if not most. It does make me curious HOW the original audience--those reading the novella in the first year or two--would have read the story. Would it have been shocking? Would it have been thrilling? Would it have kept them guessing? What would they have thought going into the last few chapters? Would they have suspected the two men were one in the same? Or would they have thought like Mr. Utterson that it was a case of blackmail? Would they have felt disgusted by both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Would they have felt any pity? Does knowing the *big* plot twist in advance change the way the novella is read and understood? What have we lost? What have we gained? 

I do think that the moral implications would probably have been greater felt or appreciated by the original audience of this one. I think modern/contemporary audiences would see it merely as spooky/supernatural/horror.

Sin always takes you further than you intended to go, keeps you longer than you intended to stay, and costs you more than you intended to pay. (Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity with God, 38)
Our sins are often as dear to us as our children! We love them, hug them, cleave to them and delight in them! To part with them, is as hard as cutting off a right hand or plucking out a right eye! But it must be done. The parting must come. J.C. Ryle, Holiness

We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified. John Milton. 

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

146. The Door of No Return

The Door of No Return. Kwame Alexander. 2022. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There was even a time...many seasons ago...when our people were the sole supplier of the purest and most valuable gold in the world...

Premise/plot: Set in the Asante Kingdom [modern day Ghana] circa 1860, The Door of No Return is a heart-crushing verse novel. Kofi Offin, our protagonist, is a boy--oh-so-close to being recognized as a man--whose world is about to be turned upside down. But before that--oh before that--readers are immersed completely in his world, in his village, in his family life. His family, his friends, his hopes and dreams. Everything is so fleshed-out; the world building is excellent; the characters are so fully human. If only the "before" had not been interrupted. But that is not his story. 

My thoughts: Heart-crushing is how I'd describe this one. It was bittersweet. The sweet comes early on in the novel. It was easy to get swept up in the story, to fall in love with the characters, to get HOOKED. I was so engaged with the characters that when the dreaded-horrible-tragic event occurs, it felt heart-crushing. It would have been sad if it had happened in chapter one or two. But coming when it did, it had more impact. In my humble opinion, it had more impact. Again, it would have been sad and tragic if it had happened chapter one, page one. But oh-my-heart, the fall was so much greater having been built up. 

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. Obviously, it is well-written. Obviously, it is engaging, compelling. Obviously it is bitter-sweet, or BITTER-sweet. Obviously, I will want to read more, more, more when the story continues. But, it was so incredibly sad, upsetting, disturbing. His story NEEDS to be heard--obviously. But my heart needs cheering up. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

145. The Hidden Oracle

The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) Rick Riordan. 2016. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My name is Apollo. I used to be a god.

Premise/plot: Apollo, the god, is being punished by Zeus. His punishment? To become a mortal teenage boy named Lester Papadopoulos. He has his memories intact--for the most part--but not his supernatural abilities or gifts. He's 'saved' from bullies by a girl named Meg. He recognizes that she is very-likely-most-probably a demigod. Together they make their way to Camp Halfblood--after a short stop to visit Percy Jackson who, I believe, may just be a Senior in high school now??? Or perhaps a Junior??? He's sitting this misadventure out--so he claims. If the world needs saving, other demigods will have to handle it. 

When Apollo/Lester arrives at camp, he learns that campers [halfbloods/demigods] have been mysteriously disappearing. And there are still no prophecies or oracles. With no prophecies, there will be no quests. With no quests, how can they save the day and solve mysteries??? 

Apollo has plenty to keep him busy. Especially when some of his own children go missing. Soon he is tracking down the mystery--sometimes with Meg, sometimes without. The adventure/misadventure is on the light side. But this is only book one in a new series. 

My thoughts: I liked this one. I liked Apollo. I liked that it was mainly centered on Apollo--or his point of view. Keeping up with seven to nine narrators was getting to be a little too much in the previous series. I definitely liked this one!


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, November 07, 2022

144. The Girl in the Castle

The Girl in the Castle. James Patterson and Emily Raymond. 2022. [September] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It starts with a girl, half naked and screaming. Even though it's midtown Manhattan, in January, the girl is wearing only a thin white T-shirt over a black lace bra. She slaps at the air like she's fighting an enemy only she can see.

Premise/plot: Hannah Doe [Hannah Dory] is desperate for "you" to believe her. [By you, I mean both fictional characters in the book and, you, the reader.] Her story seems absolutely impossible. She lives in two times--2023 and 1347. So she says. In the 2023 setting, she's a patient in a Psych ward [Belman Pscyh]. It is not her first time. Almost always she's brought in by the police. In the 1347 setting, she's a peasant who would do just about anything to keep her family [what remains of it] from starving. Her village is divided into haves and have-nots, and, well, the baron has everything, and almost everyone else has nothing. Her plan has her rebelling against the powers that be--the baron--and stealing food. When she's caught--along with the other peasants she's convinced to join her in the revolt, well, things don't quite go according to plan. But even though she's gained a little in this process--at what cost. 

Jordan, a psych student [from a local college] is observing/assisting at Belman. He takes a VERY close interest in Hannah's case. [In my personal opinion, he crosses the line time and time again. He doesn't seem professional. Then again, he's just a student. But still. Like who's supervising him??? And can't they tell he seems to be falling in love with one of the patients????]

My thoughts: I read through most of this one in one day. However, I reached a point where I was running out of pages--chapters--and I knew that there was absolutely no way this one could resolve even remotely decently or satisfactorily. And by that I don't mean I had a preconceived notion of how the ending should play out. I didn't. I mean it was like the author(s) were rambling along and realized--OH NO, WE ONLY HAVE TWELVE PAGES LEFT TO RESOLVE THE STORY WHAT SHOULD WE DO. And then they just kept rambling on hoping that somehow, someway it would work itself out. But I feel like there was no plan. I think a crisis point was reached and then they brainstormed, HEY, WE'LL JUST USE THE LAST FEW PAGES TO FLASH AHEAD FIVE YEARS. Jordan and Hannah will see each other across the room and let's fade to black. That will be awesome, won't it??? NOPE. Not awesome.

I didn't love this one. Don't expect this one to be sci-fi or fantasy at all. This is 100% just a novel of someone having a mental breakdown and losing her complete grasp on reality. The narrator is unreliable from start to finish. [Which is one reason why the flash ahead several years ending just fell flat to me.] The language is definitely crude. I don't fault it for that. Just some readers like to be warned so they can make the best decision for themselves. 

I do think readers need to know in advance that it is very RAW and full of suicidal talk, suicide attempts, actual suicides, etc. It is a DARK and GRIM book. Again, some readers may seek this out and find it a good read. Others really do need a trigger warning because of the sensitive nature of this one.


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, November 06, 2022

143. Flying Fillies: The Skies the Limit

Flying Fillies: The Sky's The Limit. Christy Hui. 2022. [July] 202 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "How can anyone be pleased about leaving Chicago?" asked Samantha. She was still shocked even though she'd known about the move for weeks.

Premise/plot: Dawn, our protagonist, is super excited to be leaving Chicago for Sweetwater, Texas. Her grandfather lives in Sweetwater and has a horse ranch. She's always wanted to learn to ride horses. Her aunt, a female aviator, will coincidentally soon find herself in Sweetwater as well training to be a WASP. Women Airforce Service Pilots. The setting is historical; this one is set in 1942. The United States is preparing to fight in the war. [War has already been declared].

The plot is two-fold: Dawn loves horses; Dawn loves planes. She pesters her way into being an assistant of sorts [earning herself the nickname Froggy] at the air field. She makes friends with some of the trainees. 

My thoughts: BE ye warned ahead of time. A horse will die super-super-super early on. And that's just the start of what may be uncomfortable reading for those with a sensitive nature.

This one is historical fiction. Though the WASP were real. The author has changed ALL the names--though not the name of the training field. I was expecting the names of the trainees to be fictional. I wasn't expecting the names of the women who created/formed/founded the program to be changed as well. That was a little disorienting. For the average reader who wouldn't recognize the names anyway, well, it might not matter in the slightest. But for me, well, it was odd. Historical fiction can include actual, real historical figures too.

While I know that the majority of readers will not be annoyed in the slightest by a 'major'-to-me inaccuracy, it bothered me a good deal. WASP is always, always, always, repeat with me, always WASP. Never in any circumstance WASPS. There's never a good reason for that "s" on the end. It just does not belong. If you wouldn't use the word PILOTSS, you shouldn't use the word WASPS. 

I think for me the best part of this one was the back matter. Yes, the back matter had its WASPs moments too. (Unfortunately) But it had some good, basic information that will provide plenty of context for this one. So many photographs. I recognized almost all of the photographs in the WASP section. It was great. The book didn't have to be so thorough in providing information and it was. 

I do think the book had its moments of realism.

Personally, I could have done with a little less horses and more of a singular focus. But that's realistic too. It's realistic that people--of all ages--have multiple interests and PASSIONS. Lives are complex and complicated. 

Do I recommend it? I realize that all of the things that irritate me would not irritate most readers. So I don't have a problem saying that this would be a good fit for young readers who love historical fiction.

© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, November 04, 2022

142. Marmee

Marmee. Sarah Miller. 2022. [October] 432 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: All day long, Amos’s letter waited in my pocket—the most perfect of Christmas gifts. 

Premise/plot: Little Women retold through Marmee's eyes. That is essentially the bare bones premise of the newest historical fiction novel by Sarah Miller. The book is told through a series of diary entries. Marmee [and her husband, Amos] have kept journals/diaries for years--decades. But this book consists of diary entries December 24, 1861 through December 25, 1868. The Christmas of 1868 is when [the real Louisa May Alcott] presented her [actual real] mother with the novel LITTLE WOMEN. So it is a fitting conclusion.

The book consists of diary entries, as I mentioned above, so there are no chapters--just two sections. One section, I believe, covers most of the war years. The second section, I believe, covers from the Christmas of 1865 [I believe?????? perhaps January of 1865] through Christmas of 1868. I am going to take an educated guess that this may reflect the two sections of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, which was originally published in two books. 

This new perspective allows us to see the events of Little Women through new eyes. But it also expands the context of the original novel and to look at the bigger picture of what women's lives [typically] were like during this time in American history. Our heroine, like Louisa's real life mother, Abigail May Alcott, has strong opinions and "sharp" edges. Marmee may have a fierce and feisty temper that she tries to conceal--most of the time--but she can also be incredibly empathetic, compassionate, a true advocate. 

My thoughts: I mostly have only gushy things to say about this one. [Mostly]. I love how personal it is. It felt genuinely authentic to the times. For example, though Marmee wouldn't ever openly talk about it--especially with her own children, her own little women--she's had eight pregnancies and only four lived. This is her heartache and burden, yet, she lives and keeps on living. It's just what you do. You stay strong. You face what life gives you. There is no entitlement or presumption that life will be all roses and no thorns.

I loved that they brought the 'loyal servant' Hannah to life--given her quite a back story. And a story that sheds light on the struggles women have faced throughout the centuries. Readers also see the contrast between Marmee and Aunt March--in terms of what it means to live out "faith." Marmee is forever compassionate, loving, helpful. Aunt March, mostly, is more judgmental and rigid. Don't let "those people" get too close to you. If you absolutely have to do something to "help" the "least of these" the "dregs" of society, then keep a good, long distance. 

I never really gave much thought to HOW Marmee would have felt towards the two Laurences--the grandfather and grandson. But reading Miller's Marmee, it makes complete and total sense how she might have seen him as "her" son, or the "son of her heart" early on. She lost her own baby boy--he only lived a few minutes--but if he had lived he would have been almost old enough to fight in the war. It makes sense how she has a son-shaped hole in her heart that is filled by Laurie and then Mr. Brooke [who was so helpful in caring for Mr. March when he was injured.] 

 Yes, we see Marmee as a mother. But we also see her as a WOMAN. So much more than "just" a mother.

I thought it was interesting to see how Marmee reflectively thinks about her four girls, her four little women. I think these insights feel mostly right. 


  • The urge to do and be our best in the face of Amos’s daily sacrifice is irrepressible. I am thankful my girls’ burdens are still so light, that they do not have to bear the added weight I do. Vanity, shyness, and selfishness are all worthy dragons to conquer. Only Jo does not recognize her true burden. The fire in her, what she calls being rough and wild, is not what worries me. I would not tame her of that. The way she flares, though, when something ignites her anger, makes me wince. I have singed too many of the people I love with the sparks of my own temper. Sometimes I believe the flames that burned my face and hand as an infant took up permanent residence within me.
  • Of all the many forms of starvation, the hunger for respect is hardest to cure.
  • If I could only teach people not to be ashamed of asking for what they need! Every belly deserves to be filled, no matter what sin or folly or misfortune has caused it to be empty.
  • The possibility forces me to contemplate whether contentment is not so elusive for other women as it is for me. Before my own hearth, surrounded by my Family, I am entirely satisfied with what I have. These walls contain riches beyond measure. But the moment I consider the world outside, and what is denied to me and others due to the accident of their race or sex, I can hardly sit still for wanting to remedy all that ails our society.
  • What she fears is invisible to me. I have spent most of my life wishing for more ways to make my presence felt in the world, to make my voice heard. For Beth, the prospect of being seen, looked at, watched, is paralyzing. I could better sympathize if it were only strangers that unnerve her so, but any kind of attention makes her curl up within herself. Even on her birthday, with none but those she loves best orbiting her like planets around a cherished sun, she always looks as though she’d like to bolt under the table at the first chance. There is no one I can turn to for counsel.
  • IT is not only that she is afraid—it is that she is ashamed of being afraid.
  • If her mind was so crowded with apprehensions that there was no room for learning, I asked myself, what was the good of schooling? A mind must have space to expand.
  • I do not want her to choose home and hearth because it is the place she dreads least, but because it is is the place she loves most. Home should indeed be a refuge, not the metaphorical bed she cowers under.
  • Oh, my Beth. Her world may be narrow, but those of us fortunate enough to exist within its boundaries have been uncommonly blessed.
  • I cannot help but wonder sometimes if some wisp of the spirit of that stillborn boy inhabits my Jo. There is something in her that most girls—indeed, most women—lack. If not for my other three I would think all girls are born with it, only to have it tamed out of them. It is not solely ambition; Amy has that, and is as prim and feminine as a fashion plate. It is the brash sort of confidence that men have, though being female, Jo is not permitted to feel it as such. She feels only the uncomfortable way she scrapes against the world’s expectations. Life would be smoother for her if we sanded away the edges that do not fit neatly. But then Jo would not be Jo at all.
  • I have at last fitted up a German word of my own. It is made of more than one piece, as all the best German words are. First, Herz. That is the word for heart. Then Mutti. Birte’s children do not call her Mutter, the proper word for mother, but Mutti. You might say it is their family’s way of saying Marmee. And so, Herz-Mutti. That is who I should like to be to Laurie. And so it follows that he may be a Herz-Junge to me. Heart-boy.

I think there are many ways to "read" Little Women. And by read I mean interpret. It is certainly not unheard of to try to make Jo into a forerunner--of sorts--for the lgbt+ community. [That's not how I personally read/interpret Jo's character, by the way]. Marmee's reflections about Jo could definitely be interpreted by today's readers as nodding [agreeing] to this idea of Jo using the pronouns they/them, of being non-binary. Miller doesn't out and out say this--she doesn't. But read between the lines of some of what Marmee writes in her diary entries, and you get the feeling that this might be the modern-day, contemporary conclusion. Also, I get the impression that Jo's asexual. [Again, that's now how I personally read Alcott's text. It's not. But every person has the freedom to read and interpret books--especially classics with the authors long deceased--how they want.] Marmee writes in multiple entries how she has never noticed Jo *desiring* either men or women. Yes, Marmee questions if her daughter might have secret, hidden desires for women, but Marmee has not noticed any interest/leaning in this direction. Marmee questions if her daughter has any sexual desires at all and if that lack of sexual drive might be the reason behind her not wanting to marry at all. She writes a note to her daughter that essentially says there is more to marriage than just physical desire[s]. It's a meeting of the minds and hearts more than the bodies themselves.  

I may not read the original Little Women along these same lines. But overall--big picture BIG--I enjoyed Marmee by Sarah Miller. 


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