Sunday, March 19, 2023

60. Wrong Place Wrong Time

Wrong Place Wrong Time. Gillian McAllister. 2022. 402 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Jen is glad of the clocks going back tonight. A gained hour, extra time, to be spent pretending she isn't waiting up for her son.

Premise/plot: What's a mother to do when she witnesses her teenage son murder a stranger (or stranger to you)????? This mother, Jen Goodbrother, somehow, someway, manages to live life BACKWARDS after this traumatic event as she scrambles to prevent the crime that will utterly ruin their lives. This isn't a proper time-loop premise. Jen isn't living the same twelve to twenty-four hours over and over again--a loop. But it does feature Jen experiencing time backwards--falling through time, slipping through time. She'll have unique opportunities to experience her life again--make change after change after change. Her perspective changes day by day as she wrestles with the meaning of it all. These close encounters with her immediate family--her husband, Kelly; her son, Todd; are different seen 'from both sides now.' She's actually getting to live her life with hindsight. But how many days, weeks, months, years, decades must she slip--relive--in order to "fix" or "course correct" the tragic event of that October night???? 

My thoughts: Obviously premise-driven. But it didn't fall short on characterization or action. There's some contemplation and reflection. There's plenty of suspense and action. It perhaps isn't a thriller in the traditional sense or any sense. So don't expect direct danger and gore. (You won't find it). Do expect some mental anguish as a woman wrestles with big questions of how, where, when, why, and what. 

There are alternating chapters. But I won't be spoiling who's doing the narration on those alternate bits. The less you know the better.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon #12 (The Importance of Timing)

I've struggled with this week's Sunday Salon post. I knew I wanted it to be something about time. I just couldn't decide how 'broad' or 'narrow' a scope I wanted. (Still don't, if I'm honest). I've got two non-related points. 

1) Timing is key. Seriously. The difference between a LOVE this book and HATE this book can all come down to time, time, time. Or circumstances, mood, and time. If you want to try to get specific. Sometimes a book can have all the right ingredients, but it's just a wrong fit--at that time. Is this the case all the time we hate a book? No. It's not that simple. (Never that simple). Sometimes a wrong fit will always be a wrong fit. I can't imagine a time or place or situation where I will ever like let alone love Wuthering Heights. But I think all the elements that can be wrapped up in the word timing can be a huge factor. And it isn't always acknowledged or appreciated that this is so. Yes, everyone can (mostly always) agree that reading is subjective. But they don't allow that timing is sometimes a huge factor and one that is always changing. There have been dozens of cases in my own life where this was so. That is one reason why I think it can sometimes be a GREAT thing to abandon a book, put it aside, wait for a better time. I think it can lead to a fairer consideration of the book. Yes, I'll admit that I don't always. And the very fact that this is entirely impossible in some cases can't be denied. If you are assigned a book in high school (junior high, college, etc.) with a due date, a book that you'll be tested on, a book you'll have to talk about, write about, there are about a dozen reasons why you're more likely to hate it no matter what. True, you could choose NOT to read it, to fake it, to turn to old-school sources like cliff notes or more modern-day sources like the internet. But even if you don't read it--every word, every chapter--you'll end up prejudiced against the book's very existence. Which is one reason why I am so incredibly conflicted when it comes to assigned/required reading in the first place. Books have a way of coming to you in the right way at the right time. Pieces fall into place. Magic happens when the timing is right. 

2) One of my favorite sub-genres is time travel. Anything/everything having to do with time travel, time loops, time slips, etc. If a novel messes around with time--plays with events, plays with consequences--then I'm intrigued. Definitely intrigued enough to check it out. Not always engaged enough to see it through to the end. guessed it...the timing is off. (I jest. Sometimes a book can't be saved by a premise. A great premise doesn't always lead to a great book. The characters, the story, the writing (including the dialogue) there are still too many variables at work. But I would LOVE to hear some recommendations for this genre. My personal all-time favorite would have to be the time travel books by Connie Willis. But I'm always looking to expand my reading in this direction. (I just finished Wrong Time, Wrong Place.)


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, March 18, 2023

59. Iceberg

Iceberg. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2023. [March] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In the end, in those final minutes before the Titanic sank into its grave, some people would jump overboard, taking their chances in the icy water. They had little hope of surviving, but if they continued clinging to the rails, they'd have no chance at all.

Premise/plot: Hazel Rothbury is a young stowaway on the Titanic. (Her mother gave her money for the trip not knowing how much even a third class ticket would be, expecting the money to last until she was able to find work in New York City.) Hazel is curious, ambitious, and loyal. Curious--she has A MILLION questions. Ambitious--she know that she probably will be forced to work in a factory, but she dreams of being a journalist, a writer. Loyal--she will go above and beyond to do anything for a friend. These are all new friends she's made since stowing away. 

My thoughts: I'm so conflicted. I am. On the one hand, once the ship hits the iceberg, it's IMPOSSIBLE not to find this a compelling read. It's intense and emotional. On the other hand, Hazel, our protagonist, spends days asking question after question to anyone/everyone that seems a little off. Questions about refraction, icebergs, binoculars, hulls, lifeboats, etc. She also happens to conveniently overhear dozens of conversations. These coincidences almost make it read like a Twilight Zone episode where the protagonist knows every detail that will lead up to disaster but is unable to do anything but watch it all play out. 

I liked the characters. I liked the story. I personally would have preferred fewer coincidences, or just so happens. I think Hazel could have been a stowaway or a third class passenger without being so incredibly curious; it takes gumption to approach ALL the crew (including the higher ups) and ask nosy questions. Especially considering the fact that she is a stowaway. Her questions seem a little abrasive, condescending. Do I admire Hazel's other qualities? Yes. For the most part. Again, she shows a lot of gumption. She'll RISK just about everything--to protect and help her friends. She puts herself in harm's way long before the iceberg hits the Titanic. But especially afterwards. She knows the risks--she's not walking into the situation blindly like some of the passengers. She knows that every single second, minute counts. The difference between life and death--and still she puts her friends first. 


“Grief is like the flu,” she said. “It brushes by some, barely leaving its mark. For others, it will take hold, perhaps for a very long time before a person finds healing.”

“Who would you be without your questions? Perhaps a girl easily led around by others, with no thoughts of your own? I would rather be curious than beautiful, for a girl without curiosity is only beautiful on the surface. I would rather be curious than wealthy, for a girl with a mind full of questions is more valuable than a girl with jewels on her empty head. I would wish to be the kind of person to ask questions more than I would wish to be anyone with no questions worth asking. You should keep the notebook awhile longer.” I smiled back at her. “Thank you.”

How arrogant I had been to come to the bow, as if I were the queen of this very small world at sea.But of course, the Titanic itself was arrogant, a challenge to the heavens and everything below it, and to nature itself. If I had learned anything from the death of my father, it was that nature would have its way. Anyone who refused to accept that reality would one day have to face it. Perhaps even on this mighty ship.
When I’d had my fill of the view, I turned and noticed the lifeboats on the deck.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

58. The Plot is Murder

The Plot is Murder. V.M. Burns. 2017. 254 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Victor Carlston, don't you think it's wicked to sit here enjoying yourself while your dearest relative lies at death's door?" "That's a good start," I said out loud, even though there was no one to hear.

Premise/plot: Samantha Washington, the protagonist, is a widow trying to live out her dreams. Her and her husband wanted to open up a mystery bookshop--that's a dream that is now her own. She's also writing her own mystery novel--a British cozy. There are two texts to follow. The first being Samantha's real life mystery. (A realtor turns up dead near her home/shop.) The second being Samantha's work-in-progress novel.

My thoughts: I didn't love this one. I liked it okay. I really liked (for the most part) Samantha's in-progress novel. I enjoyed this between-the-wars-British-cozy. It was enjoyable. I liked that Samantha's grandma (and her senior friends) help out in solving the real life mystery. The way these older ladies were able to source information was fun--reminded me of a skit or two on It's A Southern Thing's YouTube channel. It added some amusement. But overall, Samantha's real-life--despite the murder(s)--feels very ho-hum. I was always waiting for Samantha to start writing again. I wasn't really feeling much interest to her story. This is the first in a series. Not sure if I'll seek out the others or not.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

57. All Good People Here

All Good People Here. Ashley Flowers. 2022. 312 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The residents of Wakarusa, Indiana, could spin gossip faster than a spider spins its web. 

Premise/plot: Dual timelines. Multiple murder victims. That is the shortest way to sum up this one.

Margot Davies (our 2019 heroine) is a crime reporter for a newspaper. When she was a child, her next door playmate, January Jacobs, was murdered. Police suspect it was the mom. But there's no conclusive evidence--enough to bring a case--because the crime scene was handled so messily. The murder has haunted her for decades. Haunted the whole town really. Everyone has thoughts, ideas, opinions about the crime. Margot can't help making mental connections between January's tragic death and every other kidnapping/murder case in the surrounding areas. For better or worse, she can't help thinking that January's murderer is still out harming children. She returns to her hometown to care for her uncle with dementia. She arrives around the time of a new kidnapping/murder in a small town just eight or ten miles away. Once again, she's snapped back to January's case. But are the cases connected? Margot goes into full detective mode without thought or consideration to her own safety. 

Krissy Jacobs (our 1994 heroine, though we progress through the years with this one) is January Jacobs' mother. She has MANY, many secrets...but is being a murderer one of them???? 

My thoughts: There are about three thousand red herrings in this murder mystery. For better or worse. I don't know if it's more annoying or less annoying to have so many. Maybe I exaggerate slightly. I do think the author is purposefully trying to trick/fool readers into making wrong guesses with every page or two. And I'm not sure a second reading would work. (Though maybe I'm wrong about that). 

I don't expect mystery novels to automatically be 'clean' in terms of content--language, sex, etc. So don't expect it to be squeaky clean, it isn't.

My first thought is that Margot isn't the brightest amateur detective. In that she puts herself into situations that seem risky--at least to me. She's so determined to tell the whole story and to uncover/discover new facts that will help solve the murder(s), that she doesn't really ever think am I risking myself trying to unmask this murderer? If the murderer is still in town, still living in the midst of us, still active as a serial offender, then am I going to be his NEXT victim?  Is she trusting the wrong people? 

I personally HATED the ending. I don't know how others feel about it. It has two endings--in a way. The epilogue from the murderer...and Margot's ending that comes right before. With that ending, it is almost impossible for me not to have my impression changed...on if it's something I'd recommend.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, March 13, 2023

56. Don't You Know There's a War On?

Don't You Know There's A War On? Avi. 2001. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I was late that Monday morning because my shoelace broke just as I was leaving for school. Meant I had to use some string. Now, you might think string would be easy to find, but it wasn't. String was something you gave away for the war effort. Besides, my sister had already left for school and my mother was at her job at the Navy Yard. Those days me and my family lived in Brooklyn. During the war. When I was eleven.

Premise/plot: Howie Crispers is madly, truly, deeply in love with his fifth grade teacher, Miss Gossim. Howie's best friend, is also madly, truly, deeply in love with her. Both are obsessed with finding out as much as humanly possible about their teacher's personal life. Both report back with each sharing juicy and not so juicy details about her life. Wanting almost to one up each other in how good they can be at learning more, more, more. Howie will do just about anything--including following her home, spying at her apartment building, overhearing private conversations, etc. He even 'accidentally' finds himself in her apartment building during a blackout and 'has' to seek refuge in her apartment until the all clear is given. (As far as I know, this is more of a drill or routine practice than actual emergency). She takes him in, confides super personal information to him, and tells him to keep it very quiet--not telling a soul. He tells everyone everything. I don't think Howie could keep a secret if his life depends on it. 

Howie rallies his class around 'saving' Miss Gossim's teaching job. 

My thoughts: I started off liking this one. Howie is a class-clown, goofy guy. He's presented as a trouble-maker who you can't help liking in spite of it all. But I thought the boys' obsession over their teacher was a little troubling. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be taken that seriously? Perhaps it was supposed to be a 'how cute' moment for readers. Bless their hearts. Those boys are so in love with their teacher. But to me, the more I read, the creepier I found it. Like boundaries were crossed in my opinion. If it's not 'cute' and 'precious' for a grown man to follow a woman home, to listen to her private conversations, to watch what she's doing, who she's seeing, etc., then why is it 'cute' and 'precious' if an eleven year old does it?  I know that Howie and his friend aren't going to physically harm their teacher or pose an actual threat. But still. I also felt it very odd that a teacher would confide very personal information to an eleven year old student and ask them to keep it a secret. I also thought it odd that we get a flash forward to the end of war when he's sixteen and *still* having obsessive thoughts over his teacher whom he hasn't seen since fifth grade.

Maybe I'm taking it too seriously? Maybe all the intentions were to be about a boy's puppy love, his first crush, etc.??? 

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

55. The Headmaster's List

The Headmaster's List. Melissa de la Cruz. 2023. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Spencer couldn't take her eyes away from the officer's pen as it hovered over his report, patiently waiting.

Premise/plot: "One of them was driving. One of them was high. One of them screamed. One of them died." Spencer Sandoval, the protagonist, wakes up in the hospital with no memory surrounding the accident. She remembers breaking up with her boyfriend, Ethan, earlier in the evening. But she doesn't remember getting in the car with Ethan, Tabby (they/them), or Chris Moore. Now Chris Moore--the youngest--is dead. She is determined--at all costs--to find answers. Ethan has been charged and is facing trial. But there are some clues that she uncovers that leads her to believe the whole truth is being hidden from her, that there's more to the story. 

Jackson, Ethan's best friend, teams up with Spencer to help her find out what happened that night. To piece together the whole evening. But she faces hurdles from just about everyone--including Ethan, the police, most of the adults in her life.

My thoughts: The Headmaster's List is a suspense/thriller. It has its intense moments. I liked some things about this one. I did. I didn't love everything. The courtroom scenes--for better or worse--were a little frustrating. Either the prosecutors and defense attorneys were semi-unprofessional OR no one knew when/how to object. I thought those scenes were slightly cringe-y. Spencer's interactions with the police also seemed a little suspect. I can a hundred percent understand why the police could not, would not just release evidence to her--no matter she was in the crash. It's an active case and an active trial. But the officer who talks to her doesn't keep it professional, reasonable, logical. He makes it personal and is an ***. Like he has no people skills whatsoever. And even when she's obviously being stalked and threatened, even when an attempt or two have been made on her life, he's like NOPE, GO AWAY, YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS WITH THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, WE DON'T BELIEVE YOU. It takes incompetence and unprofessionalism to the next level.

I found the lack of adults slightly disconcerting. But perhaps that's only to be expected in YA books??? I do like Spencer's younger sister, and her emotional support dog. The suspense/tension kept me reading.

As an adult, I have to say that I did find this one predictable. I'm not sure if younger readers will pick up on all the twists and turns as early on as I did. So the big, big, big reveal wasn't so much a reveal as a confirmation that I guessed correctly.

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sunday Salon: 5 Books Currently Reading, 5 Books Looking Forward to Starting

5 Books Currently Reading, 5 Books Looking Forward to Starting

To be honest, fair, upfront--I have WAY more than five books I'm currently reading. But I'll share five that I am currently reading and have actual thoughts to share.

Find the Moon Beth Fehlbaum. 2023. 282 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I'm taking it slow--should I be???--because it's a heart-breaker. At least so far. Well-written, characters developed. The story has substance. But oh my heart. 

The Headmaster's List. Melissa de la Cruz. 2023. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

NOT taking this one slow. Something about mysteries [and true-crime] keep me turning pages. I can't say that I love, love, love the characters....but I am invested in what really happened and what will happen.

A Time to Kill. John Grisham. 1989. 738 pages. [Source: Library]

I have NEVER read John Grisham before. Never to my knowledge seen any of the films based on his books. This one started rough. I mean trigger warnings galore. In a time before trigger warnings were even a thing. But I do want to finish the book so I can watch the movie.

Don't You Know There's a War On? Avi. 2001. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Set during World War II. The narrative style is unique in this one. Really taken the time to write in the character's voice--poor grammar (or is it bad grammar???) and all. Still, it seems to be well-paced. I'm intrigued. 

The Plot is Murder by V.M. Burns. 2017. 254 pages. [Source: Library]

I am so torn with this one. On the one hand, I am intrigued by the character's own mystery novel she's writing. It's a book within a book. On the other hand, the modern day mystery isn't quite living up to my expectations. I wanted to love it. I might yet love it. I am liking that her grandma (and her grandma's friends) are helping her solve the murder. It is reminding me of It's a Southern Thing on YouTube. But not quite loving it.

5 Books I'm Looking Forward To Starting

 It almost goes without saying I have way more than 5 books I'm WANTING to start soon, soon, very soon.

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad. 2023. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I read my first Alan Hlad novel last year--in the fall I believe. I loved it. I made a note that I *must* read his other books. This is his newest. It features a LIBRARIAN. It is set during the second world war. Hope it is great.

The Escape Game by Marilyn Turk. 2023. 314 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Another historical novel set during World War II. (Are you noticing a pattern????) The teaser from GoodReads: A Board Game Holds Keys to Prisoners' Escape.

Iceberg. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2023. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I love, love, love, LOVE her work. And the Titanic setting makes this one a must read.

The Night in Question. Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson. 2023. [May] 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Sequel to last year's The Agathas. I really enjoyed that one so much. Hoping the sequel is just as good...if not better.

Between the Sky and the Sea. Lisa Williams Kline. 2023. [February] 324 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Historical fiction. And just look at that cover....


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, March 09, 2023

54. The Island

The Island. Natasha Preston. 2023. [February] 336 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I uploaded my latest trailer to TikTok advertising my new YouTube video, Killer in the Family, and I sit back. Within seconds the numbers under the little heart start climbing as if Jeff Bezos were watching a livestream of his bank balance. He's building rockets. Malcolm Wyatt, a rich dude who invited me to his amusement park, is building islands.

Premise/plot: Six [teen] social media influencers are invited to preview a new [gothic themed] amusement park on a private island. Will any survive the weekend? 

I'm tempted to stop the summary right then and there. That's the premise--pure and simple. Paisley (our protagonist) is joining up with five other influencers--Liam, James, Will, Ava, and Harper. There will be minimum--skeletal--staff on the island running the hotel and amusement park. Malcolm himself, the owner, will be on the island "overseeing" things from a distance. 

Paisley has thoughts and opinions on her fellow influencers. They are all very different, have different genres, sub-genres, fan bases. Paisley's is true crime. 

She makes plans with another influencer, Will, to meet up after midnight to sneak out of the hotel and view the island at night. She thinks this 'bonus' footage might be something. (They are technically not supposed to be running around unsupervised AT NIGHT on the island.) But Will never shows. He's a no-show the next day as well. Her mind immediately thinks MURDER. And though the other guests laugh at her worst-case scenario, she convinces the staff to check his hotel room. Will body is the first but not the last in this HEAVY BODY COUNT thriller.

My thoughts: There's no fooling around with this one. If readers are looking for a thriller with LOT of victims, lots of bodies stacking up, then this one delivers. Perhaps only Shakespeare can compete with this kind of body count with some of his tragedies. Readers should always *trust* their own instinct on to read or not to read. It is BLOODY and gory. It is packed with thrills--make that kills--for the last two-thirds of the novel. 

It won't be for everyone. But it doesn't hide what it is. What you see is what you get.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

53. The Winter Soldier: Cold Front

The Winter Soldier: Cold Front. Mackenzi Lee. 2023. [February] 416 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from prologue: When you wake, the only thing you remember is dying.
First sentence from chapter one: The agent flinches when Rostova rips the hood from his head.

Premise/plot: Dual timelines of 1954 and 1941--both star the same man. (Well, "same" may be relative.) In 1941, Bucky Barnes is eager to join the war effort, but he's only sixteen. When he's offered an opportunity by the British SOE, he accepts despite protests from his guardian. His time in Britain will bring him into contact with an unforgettably-forgettable-unforgettable young woman who has burdens of her own. In 1954, the Winter Soldier is an Agent for who-knows-who. He's built--constructed--to do missions, to follow orders precisely and exactly. He's not built to ask questions, to show mercy, to bend the rules. So when someone (or two someones) recognizes him as Bucky, this is one confused Agent. Can he piece together who he is and how he came to be there...before it's too late???

My thoughts: Don't expect Bucky Barnes to be *the* Bucky Barnes from the Marvel Universe FILM franchise. The history you know from the Captain America movies (etc.) is not *this* Bucky Barnes. When I began to realize this, I sought out reviews from GoodReads. I came to the conclusion that this Bucky Barnes is more strongly influenced by the comic book version. (I'm not sure that there is one definitive story line. Perhaps Bucky Barnes is a character that keeps re-inventing in the comic books? I know some do. (Like Batman)). I have not sought out more on the comic strip version(s) of Winter Soldier and/or Bucky Barnes. So I decided just to read it as if it was my very first and only introduction to the character. 

Bucky is YOUNG and idealistic, in some ways. I don't know that he has a full grasp on the horrors/terrors of war. (Does any young soldier?) He is thrilled that he may qualify for a super-top-secret program designed for young people around his own age. He can still serve "the good guys" (aka Allies) while being part of a super-secret-exclusive group. In some ways, this might be "even better" since not everyone is qualified and/or chosen. But he finds that "good guys" and "bad guys" are not as black and white as he might have first thought. There are some that would win at any cost--no matter the means, no matter the consequences. 

Bucky meets a young woman, Imogen "Gimlet" Fleming. He will fall hard and fast for her. But she's layered, complex. (As he soon will be as the Winter Soldier). There is some romance. This romance gets a little heated. (Nothing above and beyond what you'd find in Marvel movies in general). But it is not a clean read. 

The book is ultimately and predictably tragic. Because most readers will know that the Winter Soldier does not have a happily ever after 1954.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

52. The Town With No Mirrors

The Town With No Mirrors. Christina Collins. 2023. [February] 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I think I have a staring problem. It feels worst here in art class, but also safest. While everyone else's eyes fix on their projects, mine can roam free.

Premise/plot: Zailey, our protagonist, has lived in the community of Gladder Hill since she was four. In fact, no child over the age of four was allowed to move into this super-special community. She's spent the last eight to nine years there. And she's happy--for the most part. Perhaps not glad, glad, super-glad all the time. But happy-enough. Except sometimes she wrestles with Bad Thoughts, Superficial thoughts. Thoughts that are strongly discouraged to say the least. There are about one hundred people in Gladder Hill, give or take two or three. Everyone knows everybody. What unites this community? The lack of mirrors, lack of ANYTHING (even spoons, even eyeglasses) that have reflective properties. The community has also embraced select censorship as well--"deleting" many words deemed superficial. It is taboo to talk about anyone's appearance--including your own. 

Zailey is a bit of a rebel in that she loves to draw faces. She's working on drawing all the people who live in Gladder Hill. But she has to keep this super-super-secret because she doesn't want to risk putting her grandmother in a difficult position. (Especially after one man is kicked out of the community because he's got a SPOON in his house). 

Zailey dreams of leaving Gladder Hill...someday, someway. But she doesn't expect to leave town the way she does....

 My thoughts: I found this an intriguing read. I did. I enjoyed the world-building. I don't know that it was as thorough and immersive as say City of Ember or The Giver. But I don't know that it *has* to be. I thought it was a thoughtful and thought-provoking read. 

I appreciated that this utopia wasn't ever really a dystopia. It wasn't managed by a super-evil-tyrant-dictator. There were no characters that were over the top dramatically evil. All the characters are just human. That is so refreshing. 

I thought the utopia was relatively-mostly believable. 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

51. Lasagna Means I Love You

Lasagna Means I Love You. Kate O'Shaughnessy. 2023. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dear Nan,
You died on a Tuesday.
Given how much you hated Tuesdays, it makes sense it would cement its place in history as the worst day ever.

Premise/plot: Mo Gallagher keeps a private journal in which she writes to her grandma. Mo is in for a tough time. Her Nan has died. Her Uncle Bill--who's in the military--is refusing to become her guardian. Mo is entering the foster care system. She's mourning the loss of just about everything. Everything seems to be in a constant state of change, change, and more change. But one thing Mo is holding onto with both hands is this idea of learning to cook, not only learning to cook, but learning to cook FAMILY recipes. It starts with a book she finds. She wants strangers near and far to share family recipes with her. She has a TikTok channel where she shares her cooking journey. She would love to find members of the Gallagher family to share *her* own *family* recipes. 

My thoughts: I wanted to like this one more than I liked it. It could just be my own head space. I liked it more than I disliked it. I can't really say why this was an 'almost' for me. I like how Mo uses cooking to cope with all the many challenges she's facing. I like how Mo is persistent. When a recipe proves tricky or difficult, she keeps trying and trying and trying until she's made something edible at least. It's a life skill for sure. This hobby is definitely shaping her character for the better. While Mo definitely has an easy time being successful and gaining followers and fans, Mo has a more realistic struggle with forming attachments in real life. I'm glad that not every single thing was 'easy' for her. There wasn't a case of instant-love when it comes to finding adoptive parents, foster parents, etc.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, March 06, 2023

50. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. J.K. Rowling. 2000. 734 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it "the Riddle House," even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. 

Premise/plot: Harry Potter returns (eventually) to Hogwarts where he and his friends discover several changes for the school year ahead. Before school returns, there is a Quidditch World Cup to be endured. It felt like the sporty Quidditch World Cup took up 800 pages. Once he (and his friends) return to Hogwarts and begin their studies again, the pace picks up a bit. One of the changes this year is the triwizard competition. Hogwarts is one of three schools participating. There is supposed to be one student per school. But someone has entered Harry's name into the goblet of fire and so he ends up being a 'champion' [participant]. Cedric Diggory is the other Hogwarts champion. [I don't remember the names from the other two schools.] This competition is spread out throughout the school year. 

My thoughts: I feel like the first six-hundred pages were mostly dull and ho-hum. I think the last bit of the novel has all the action and suspense. Out of the four novels I've read so far, this has been the dullest all things considered. All things being taking the book as a whole. There were definitely intense, action-packed, emotional scenes/chapters. But does THAT end-portion make up for all the sporty-sport-sport bit at the start???? I'm not sure. This was the first Harry Potter book where I've had to force myself to keep reading to get to the end of it.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

49. Miss Newbury's List

Miss Newbury's List (Proper Romance) Megan Walker. 2023. 280 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I leaned over the trunk at the foot of my bed in a desperate, frantic search. 

Premise/plot: Miss Newbury's List is a Regency romance novel by Megan Walker. It is in the Proper Romance (clean) line of books published by Shadow Mountain. Our heroine, Rosalind Newbury, is engaged to marry the Duke of Marlow. It's not a love match--for either of them. They've only met twice. Her parents are incredibly excited--beyond thrilled--with the match. Marrying nobility is a dream that has been passed down for generations. Their daughter is the one who will make her parents dreams come true. That's good, right? Well, maybe. 

Rosalind Newbury has a best friend, Liza, and Liza has a visiting cousin, Charlie. Charlie and Rosalind (or Ros) grow closer as her wedding draws near. You see, Miss Newbury has....a [bucket] list. When she was a child--perhaps ten?--she wrote a list of things [about ten???] she wanted to accomplish before she got married. Her bucket list is probably unusual for the times. First, I'm not sure anyone--male or female--wrote out "bucket lists" (not that it is ever in any way called a bucket list) of things to accomplish before marriage [or while they were young]. Second, even if men did have a "bucket" list of things they wanted to accomplish...I'm not sure young women would have. Third, the items on the list are unusual. In that almost all of the items on the list challenge the norms. 

My thoughts: In all honesty, I thought all of the items on Rosalind's list were out of place, out of time, a bit off. Like is Rosalind really a young woman born circa 1800??? Or is she a twenty-first century woman wearing bonnets and petticoats? Perhaps "all" is too strong. I thought most of them were ridiculous. By extension, I then began thinking of Rosalind as ridiculous. [For example, when Rosalind decides to "learn to swim" by sneaking out early in the morning, going off by herself, and jumping into a pond having no plan, no idea, no help if things go wrong. That just seems high risk for little reward. Of course, she almost drowns and ends this whole list business.]

As for Charlie, I do like Charlie for the most part. I don't like his interest in boxing. (Though I'm guessing that aspect of sport/hobby is historically accurate). But he's a good guy.

The book is super-predictable. I typically do not mind in any way a predictable romance. I don't. The more I love the couple, the more predictability I want, expect, need. 

For readers who embrace this notion of a bucket list and a free-spirited, quirky young heroine, this one offers a sweet, clean romance.  


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, March 05, 2023

48. Waco

Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and a Legacy of Rage. Jeff Guinn. 2023. [January] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Just before dawn on Sunday, February 28, 1993, an eighty-vehicle caravan departed Fort Hood Army base outside Killeen, Texas, heading northeast toward Waco, sixty-five miles away.

Premise/plot: Nonfiction guessed it: Waco, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. (Also the ATF, FBI, law enforcement, CPS, and "government" in general). The story isn't simple nor straightforward. (Perhaps it was naive of me to expect it to be.) The prologue starts moments before the initial raid in late February 1993. The prologue ends on a cliffhanger. It takes hundreds--literally--of pages to get back to that point in time. (That may annoy some readers.)

So this book seeks to provide context, context, and more context. Context on the Seventh Day Adventists. Context on the Davidians. Context on the Branch Davidians. Context on when this sect of a sect of a sect moves to Texas, just outside Waco. Context on about eighty plus years of leadership and ministry of the Branch Davidians. Context on Vernon Wayne Howell (who changed his name to David Koresh). Context on his joining the Branch Davidians in the late 70s/early 80s. His becoming 'the Lamb' and re-visioning things in the 80s and 90s. But also context/history of the ATF and other cooperating government forces. Journalists covering this story over the year. So I'd say about 85% of this one is all background context. Covering decades of history. Is it all necessary to have a basic understanding of the raid????? (I don't know. Some context, for sure, is helpful. This is extreme, in my opinion).

My thoughts: This book is SLOW. Slower than I thought it would be. I expected a bit more action and drama. It's not that action and drama weren't there. It's just that the action-y bits come very late in the game after a lot of history. I almost think I'd be more interested--maintained interest/engagement--if it was a documentary. A documentary with a narrator would be a good fit for me. 

All things considered, this one does have a lot of information. I expected it to have a position, to take a side. It presents both sides. It doesn't take sides. It purposefully doesn't take sides. Even when one of the sides features very disturbing, incredibly disturbing, how can you not be seriously disturbed information. (I will NOT spell out the specifics.) So it was odd that this one went out of its way to stay neutral. To say maybe the government was 100% wrong. Maybe the Branch Davidians were 100% right. Maybe the world would be a better place if the government hadn't decided to interfere. Maybe Waco was the start of a terrible trend of terrorism. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday Salon #10 Too many books???

While I would never admit to owning too many books. (OUTRAGEOUS slander, I tell you). I might admit some weeks that I have too many books checked out from the library at any given time. In part, I think it's because when I'm putting books on hold, I don't know *when* books will come in and be ready to be checked out. And sometimes, it's a steady flow of books turned in and books checked out. And other times, all the holds come in at once and I lose my flow. I've got quite a stack of books. 

I had originally planned on reading more review copies and fewer library books. But, of course, then all my hold books started coming in....with a due date. Books with a due date almost always take priority. I'll try to be balanced, but my vision of focusing more on review copies seems unrealistic now.

 Not all of my 'currently reading' comes from the library, but many do:

Review copies:
Miss Newbury's List by Megan Walker
Find the Moon by Beth Fehlbaum
The Court of Last Resort by Erle Stanley Gardner

Library books:
The Plot Is Murder by V.M. Burns
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
The Winter Soldier: Cold Front by Mackenzi Lee
Waco by Jeff Guinn
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi


How often do you use the library or library resources?
Is your 'hold' list out of control?
Do you have self-control when it comes to checking out books? or putting books on hold?
What book are you looking forward to reading in March?


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

47. Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 1998. 153 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: He saw the first tree shudder and fall, far off in the distance. Then he heard his mother call out the kitchen window: "Luke! Inside. Now." He had never disobeyed the order to hide. 

ETA: I really love, love, love Margaret Peterson Haddix. I enjoy rereading her books every now and then. I don't know that my library still has in its collection the whole series. But I'm going to try to read more of her books (again, again) this year.

Premise/plot: Among the Hidden is the first book in Margaret Peterson Haddix's fast-paced futuristic middle grade series. Luke Garner is a shadow child, an illegal third child; his parents are farmers in a rural community which gave him small doses of freedom--if freedom means breathing fresh air outside--now and then. But when the woods around his house are bulldozed to make room for more houses--or apartments--even that small bit of liberty is lost. Luke "lives" his life in the attic and on the stairs. His family fears the Population Police so much that they don't even allow Luke to eat with them in the kitchen. Things seem to be getting progressively worse; so much so that his mother decides to get a job--in a factory, I believe--leaving Luke alone in the house. One day Luke notices that one of the neighbor's has his lights on when no one is supposed to be home. Then he sees a face; could Luke have found another hidden child? Could this child be his friend? Only if Luke dares to disobey his parents and go outside. Is there life outside the attic?

My thoughts: I remember discovering this series a few years after I first started blogging. It was LOVE. I remember that it was winter. While I had the first two or three checked out at the same time, I finished them all in one day and a snowstorm kept me from getting the rest of the series right when I wanted them, no, NEEDED them. Long story short, CHECK OUT ALL THE TITLES AT ONCE. That's my advice to you. I found the series to be fast-paced, compelling, thoughtful. I really loved Luke and his new friend, Jen.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

46. The Woman They Could Not Silence

The Woman They Could Not Silence: The Shocking Story of a Woman Who Dared to Fight Back. Kate Moore. 2021. 537 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from the author's note: This is not a book about mental health, but about how it can be used as a weapon. It's a historical book. 

First sentence from the prologue: If she screamed, she sealed her fate. She had to keep her rage locked up inside her, her feelings as tightly buttoned as her blouse. Nevertheless, they came for her. Two men pressed around her, lifting her in their arms, her wide skirts crushed by their clumsy movements--much like her heart inside her chest. Still, she did not fight back, did not lash out wildly, did not slap or hit. The only protest she could permit herself was this: a paralysis of her limbs. She held her body stiff and unyielding and refused to walk to her destiny, no matter how he begged. Amid the vast crowd that had gathered to bear witness, just one person spoke.

First sentence from chapter one: It was the last day, but she didn't know it. In truth, we never do. Not until it is too late. 

Premise/plot: The Woman They Could Not Silence is a biography of Elizabeth Packard. It is the story of how she turned an absolutely horrible and unjust circumstance into an opportunity to change laws and society. Theophilus and Elizabeth Packard, but, not entirely happily. It seems that after some [early] years together [that were mostly quiet and peaceful], Elizabeth began to think, to think for herself, to think above and beyond what her husband wanted. Namely, her husband, a minister, became greatly upset when his wife began to reach different conclusions about religion. Not only did she form contrary opinions to his doctrine, she would talk about her opinions with others--men, women, her own children. Whether he truly and sincerely believed that she was actually insane and must be committed to an insane asylum for her own good, or, if her committal to an insane asylum was just beneficial to him personally, I don't know if we--the readers--can know. But we do know that she was committed against her will--at the will of her husband (and father, and many members of the congregation, there was a petition)--for several years. Being locked away had unintended consequences, it gave her a voice. Or perhaps the better way to phrase it, was instead of taking away her voice, it strengthened it. Instead of silencing her and hampering her circle of influence, it strengthened her voice, impassioned her, and gave her a life-long calling.

The book covers her life--and life's work--from 1860 onward. It discusses the rights--or lack of rights--for women, married women, for those women deemed insane. It covers laws, politics, and religion.

My thoughts: Elizabeth Packard is an author I'd never heard of before. I found her story--this biography--fascinating. It is a complex read. I would recommend for those who enjoy history, biography, legislation and law, politics, and culture.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, February 27, 2023

February Reflections

I read seventy-two books in February. It was a GREAT month for books. There were a handful of books that I just loved, loved, loved. (Road to Roswell and Lost in Time being two of the adult books that I absolutely loved. Both speculative fiction.)

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

18. Poster Girl. Veronica Roth. 2022 [October] 288 pages. [Source: Library]

19. Belittled Women. Amanda Sellet. 2022. [November] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

20. Running Out of Time. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 1995. 184 pages. [Source: Library]

21. To Dream in the City of Sorrows. (Babylon 5: Book #9). Kathryn M. Drennan. Based on the series by J. Michael Straczynski. 1997. Random House. 352 pages.  [Source: Bought]

22. Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight That Revolutionized Cooking. Linda Civitello. 2017. 264 pages. [Source: Review copy]

23. Peace is A Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bomb Brought People of Two Nations Together. Tanya Lee Stone. [Plenty of photographs]. 2022. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Library]

24. The Many Fortunes of Maya. Nicole D. Collier. 2023. [January] 240 pages. [Source: Library]

25. Retro. Sofia Lapuente and Jarrod Shusterman. 2023. [January] 400 pages. [Source: Library]

26. Falling Out of Time. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2023. [May] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

27. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2) J.K. Rowling. 1998. 341 pages. [Source: Library]

28. Seven Percent of Ro Devereux. Ellen O'Clover. 2023. [January] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

29. Princess of the Wild Sea. Megan Frazer Blakemore. 2023. [January] 256 pages. [Source: Library]

30. Iveliz Explains It All. Andrea Beatriz Arango. 2022 [September] 272 pages. [Source: Library]

31. Freewater. Amina Luqman-Dawson. 2022. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

32. The Davenports (Davenports #1) Krystal Marquis. 2023. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

33. Gold Rush Girl. Avi. 2020. 306 pages. [Source: Library]

34. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

35. Simon Sort of Says. Erin Bow. 2023. [January] 320 pages. [Source: Library]

36. The Last Mapmaker. Christiana Soontornvat. 2022. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

37. Maizy Chen's Last Chance. Lisa Yee. 2022. 276 pages. [Source: Library]

38. The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels. Beth Lincoln. 2023. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

39. Going Dark. Melissa de la Cruz. 2023. [January] 336 pages. [Source: Library]

40. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 1999. 435 pages. [Source: Library]

41. The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town In Stories and Photographs. Chana Stiefel. Illustrated by Susan Gal. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

42. Lost in Time. A.G. Riddle. 2022. 455 pages. [Source: Library]

43. Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies. 2023. [February] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

44. Beyond the Wire. James D. Shipman. 2022. 349 pages. [Source: Library]

45. The Road to Roswell. Connie Willis. 2023 [June] 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Books Reviewed at Young Readers

23. I Did It! Michael Emberley. 2022 [October 11] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

24. Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends (Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 1) Kaz Windness. 2023. [January] 64 pages. [Source: Library]

25. Sabrina Sue Loves the Sky. Priscilla Burris. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

26. Chicken Karaoke. Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Aaron Spurgeon. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

27. The Real Mother Goose. Illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright. 1916. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

28. Never Glue Your Friends To Chairs (Roscoe Riley Rules #1) Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Brian Biggs. 2008. 79 pages. [Source: Library]

29. The Secret School Avi. 2001. 157 pages. [Source: Library]

30. Lost Little Leopard (Lily to the Rescue #5). W. Bruce Cameron. Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer. 2021. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

31.  Lily to the Rescue #6: The Misfit Donkey. 2021. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

32. The Secret Sisters. Avi. 2023. [August] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

33. Hot Dog. Doug Salati. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

34. Foxes In A Fix (Lily to the Rescue #7) W. Bruce Cameron. 2021. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

35. The Three Bears (Lily to the Rescue #8) W. Bruce Cameron. 2022. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

36. Squirrel in the Museum. Vivian Vande Velde. 2019. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

37. Squirrel on Stage. Vivian Vande Velde. 2022. [October 25] 128 pages. [Source: Library]

38. Knight Owl. Christopher Denise. 2022. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

39. Ready for Spaghetti: Funny Poems for Funny Kids. Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. 2022. [November] 64 pages. [Source: Library]

40. Space Cat. Ruthven Todd. Illustrated by Paul Galdone. 1952. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

41. The Lost Galumpus. by Joseph Helgerson. Illustrated by Udayana Lugo. 2023. [January] 384 pages. [Source: Library]

42. Once Upon a Book. Grace Lin and Kate Messner. 2023. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

43. Mister Kitty is Lost! Greg Pizzoli. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

44. Dog Can Hide. (Ready to Read, Ready to Go) Laura Gehl. Illustrated by Fred Blunt. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

45. Mushroom Lullaby. Kenneth Kraegel. 2022. [October] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

46. I Am Picky: Confessions of a Fussy Eater. Kristen Tracy. Illustrated by Erin Kraan. 2022. [October 18] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

47. How To Draw A Happy Cat. Ethan T. Berlin. Illustrated by Jimbo Matison. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

48. A Book, Too, Can Be a Star: The Story of Madeleine L'Engle and the Making of a Wrinkle in Time. Written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Jennifer Adams. Illustrated by Adelina Lirius. 2022. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

49. The Library Fish. Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Gladys Jose. 2022. [March] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

50. The Library Fish Learns to Read. Alyssa Satin Capucilli. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

51. Harriet Spies. Elana K. Arnold. 2023. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

52. In Every Life. Marla Frazee. 2023. [February] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

53. To Boldly Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights. Angela Dalton. Illustrated by Lauren Semmer. 2023. [January] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

54. Nat the Cat Takes a Nap (Ready to Read, Pre-Level 1) Jarrett Lerner. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

11. Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. Ellen Vaughn. 2020. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

12. The Heidelberg Diary: Daily Devotions on the Heidelberg Catechism. William J Ouweneel. 2019. 768 pages. [Source: Library]

13. Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship. Jonathan Gibson. 2021. [November/December] 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

14. Board book: Sounding Joy. Ellie Holcomb. Illustrated by Laura Ramos. 2022. [September] 24 pages. [Source: Library]

15. Becoming Free Indeed. Jinger Duggar Vuolo. 2023. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

16. We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms for Worship. Mathew B. Sims. 2015. 360 pages. [Source: Bought]

17. Selected Sermons. Lemuel Haynes. Edited by Jared C. Wilson. 2022. 71 pages. [Review copy]

18. Chosen by God. R.C. Sproul. 1986. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]

19. 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love. Jenny-Lyn de Klerk. 2023. [February] 161 pages. [Source: Review copy]

20. The Holiness of God. R.C. Sproul. 1985/2012. 226 pages. [Source: Bought]

21. PROOF: Finding Freedom Through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistable Grace. Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. 2014. Zondervan. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

22. One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus. John F. MacArthur Jr. 2013. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]

Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

I didn't finish any Bibles in February.


Books Read in 2023122
Pages Read in 202328,089
# of Books50
# of Pages12,848
# of Books72
# of Pages15,241

© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews