Thursday, March 30, 2023

March Reflections

In March, I read fifty-five books. I didn't read quite as many books as last month, but last month was exceptional and not typical. I read some great books. I reread some great books. Am pleasantly surprised I was able to get through TWO Harry Potter books this month!

Books Reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

62. The Farewell Tour. Stephanie Clifford. 2023. [March] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

63. A Time to Kill. (Jake Brigance #1) John Grisham. 1989. 738 pages. [Source: Library]

64. A Long Stretch of Bad Days. Mindy McGinnis. 2023. [March] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

65. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. J.K. Rowling. 2003. 912 pages. [Source: Library]


Books Reviewed at Young Readers

55. The Digger Dance. Judy Ann Sadler. Illustrated by Yong Ling Kang. 2022. [October 15] 40 pages. [Source: Library]

56. Rosetown. Cynthia Rylant. 2018. 149 pages. [Source: Library]

57. Rosetown Summer. Cynthia Rylant. 2021. [July] 96 pages. [Source: Library]

58. A Snow Day for Plum! Matt Phelan. 2023. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

59. Madame Alexander. The Creator of the Iconic American Doll. Susan Goldman Rubin. Illustrated by Sarah Dvojack. 2022. [October 18] 48 pages. [Source: Library]

60. The Very Hungry Caterpillar's Easter Egg Hunt. Eric Carle. 2023. [January] 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

61. Good Night, Sister. Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt. Illustrated by Lucy Fleming. 2023. [February] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

62. Rescuing Titanic: A True Story of Quiet Bravery in the North Atlantic. Flora Delargy. 2021. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

63. Happy Easter From the Crayons. Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

64. Hope is a Hop. Katrina Moore. Illustrated by Melissa Iwai. 2023. [March] 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

65. How Many Squirrels Are in the World? Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G). 2023. [February] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

66. Board book: Vegetables in Pajamas. Jared Chapman. 2023. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy]

67. Board book: Two Dogs on a Trike. Gabi Snyder. Illustrated by Robin Rosenthal. 2022. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

68. The Rock from the Sky. Jon Klassen. 2021. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

69. This Little Kitty. Karen. Obuhanych. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

 70. The Giants' Farm. Jane Yolen. Illustrated by Tomie dePaola. 1977. 78 pages. [Source: Library]

 71. This Book Is My Best Friend. Robin Robinson. 2023. [January] 32 pages. [Source: Library]

72. Board book: The Little Engine's Easter Egg Hunt. Lana Edelman. Illustrated by Jannie Ho. 2023. [January] 26 pages. [Source: Review copy]

73. The Summer We Found The Baby. Amy Hest. 2020. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

74.  Link + Hud: Heroes By A Hair. Jarrett Pumphrey. Illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey. 2023. [March] 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

75. Henry, Like Always (Henry #1) Jenn Bailey. Illustrated by Mika Song. 2023. [January] 48 pages. [Source: Library]

76. A Friend for Henry. Jenn Bailey. Illustrated by Mika Song. 2019. 36 pages. [Source: Library]

77. I Love You Like Yellow. Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by Vashti Harrison. 2022. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Books Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

23. Come and See: The Journey of Knowing God Through Scripture. Jonathan Pennington. 2023. [March] 168 pages. [Source: Review copy]

24. The Rose and the Thistle. Laura Frantz. 2023. 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]

25. The Sovereignty of God. Arthur W. Pink. 1917. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]

26. The Psalms, ESV. God. 2018. 364 pages. [Source: Bought]

27. One Faithful Life: A Harmony of the Life and Letters of Paul. John F. MacArthur Jr. (editor). 2019. 528 pages. [Source: Review copy]

28. Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today. Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn. 2018. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

29. Board book: The Story of Easter: The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pia Imperial. Illustrated by Carly Gledhill. 2023. [January] 20 pages. [Source: Review copy]

30. The Story of Abortion in America. Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas. 2023. [January] 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

31. The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith. Trevin K. Wax (Author) Kevin J. Vanhoozer. (Foreword). 2022. [November] 240 pages. [Source: Library]

32. A Metrical Psalter: The Book of Psalms Set to Meter for Singing. Julie and Timothy Tennent. 2017. 379 pages. [Source: Bought]

33. The Nicene Creed: An Introduction. Phillip Cary. 2023. [March] 248 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Bibles Reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

2. ESV Church History Study Bible: Voices from the Past, Wisdom for the Present. God. 2022. [December] 2112 pages. [Source: Bought]


Books Read in 2023177
Pages Read in 202343,305
# of Books50
# of Pages12,848
# of Books72
# of Pages15,241
# of Books55
# of Pages15,216


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

65. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. J.K. Rowling. 2003. 912 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.

Premise/plot: Harry Potter and his friends struggle to keep things together as a new year at Hogwarts begins. Lord You-Know-Who has returned. But the Ministry of Magic (among others) are determined to bury their heads in the sand. (Perhaps because they are more involved with You-Know-Who than they'd like to admit. Perhaps because they would rather believe that Harry Potter (and company, the Order of the Phoenix) is lying than that HE has returned. You could argue either.) The staff and students are on high alert--namely from Dolores Umbridge (and those whom she represents as High Inquisitor). The year won't be easy. The foundation of Hogwarts is being shaken about. 

Meanwhile, Harry Potter is continuing to have dreams and visions. His scar is still bothering him. He's beginning to realize that he and You-Know-Who share an unbreakable bond. 

My thoughts: It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the books in these series. The pacing is all over the place for me. On the one hand, the books never fail to have about one hundred pages of the most intense, fast-paced, action-packed DRAMA. On the other hand, so much time is spent getting to that point. Like you've got eight plus months of more mundane chronicling of school life--always taking a chapter or two for the Christmas holidays--and then BOOM end of school year, BIG show down. In the middle of the book, I'm always am I sure I want to keep reading. At the end of the book, it's like this is why I do keep reading. 

Lighter moments are definitely getting harder to come by.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

64. A Long Stretch of Bad Days

A Long Stretch of Bad Days. Mindy McGinnis. 2023. [March] 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I don't mind living in a small town; I just don't want to die in one.

Premise/plot: Circumstances draw two unlikely friends together in Mindy McGinnis' new young adult thriller. Lydia Chass and Bristal Jamison are unlikely friends--complete opposites. The one thing they have in common? Well, due to the guidance counselor's negligence, both need one more credit to graduate on time. A compromise--of sorts--is reached with the [embarrassed] administration. The two will get a history credit for working [together as a team] on a podcast focusing on the town's history. 

The two decide to research the "long stretch of bad days." This is how locals refer to a particularly bad week in June 1994. Tornado. Flood. Unsolved Murder. All within a matter of three or four days. Many people are happy to talk about the tornado itself--as long as you don't press too closely in on the unsavory bits. But what Bristal and Lydia WANT are an exciting podcast that will unearth [literally] secrets decades old. Be careful what you wish for.

My thoughts: This mystery-thriller is a slow-reveal. The pace is steady-even for most of it. It isn't until the last third that the pace picks up and RACES ahead into danger, danger, and more danger. I was intrigued by the mystery--a missing person's case [a foster child] AND an unsolved murder. One is completely unacknowledged by the town. It's like this foster child has NEVER existed. The other is shrugged off. No one really missed the low-life-victim, so it's no big deal that the case was never solved. 

I will say that this one should have a BIG trigger warning. Something HORRIBLE and TRAGIC and AWFUL happened to ALL the dogs at the shelter during this long stretch of bad days. For those that are particularly sensitive to bad things happening to doggos, this one may not be for you.

As far as content warnings, there's curse words galore. So if you're super sensitive to that...then this one might not be a good fit to you.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

63. A Time to Kill

A Time to Kill. (Jake Brigance #1) John Grisham. 1989. 738 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Billy Ray Cobb was the younger and smaller of the two rednecks. 

Premise/plot: Can Jake Brigance, a defense attorney, get his client, Carl Lee Hailey, to be declared not guilty by an all-white jury in Clanton, Mississippi. Carl Lee Hailey's VERY young daughter, Tonya, is gang-raped by two men--two rednecks. They are arrested and charged with the crime, but, Carl Lee Hailey dispenses his own justice--murdering them at the courthouse shortly after their arraignment. The rape AND the murder have turned the town--the county--upside down. People taking sides, feeling strongly on the subject. It also brings the Klan back to the county/town, and things escalate VERY quickly.

This one is packed with violence, with threats, with the n-word. It is an intense read. 

My thoughts: This one is so graphic, so violent, so in-your-face with racism. I knew it involved rape....and murder. I was expecting it to be rough and gritty--if you will. This one is packed with so much ugliness. And warning, you are THROWN right into it. The novel opens with a VIOLENT, disturbing, horrific crime in progress. 

I did find it compelling. I don't know that it was ever a pleasant read. It was almost always disturbing. But I am glad I read it. I'll be watching the movie soon. I may seek out more of his books. 


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sunday Salon #13 Alphabet Soup

I am contemplating doing a speed-run reading challenge for the book of April. I honestly have no idea IF I can do it in just one month. But wouldn't it be fun if I could??? The challenge I'm considering (unofficially of course) is the Alphabet Soup reading challenge. There are challenges for authors or titles. I'm not sure at this point, which I'd want to tackle. Or a blend of both perhaps????

Just for fun, let's look at what I've read so far January through March to see how close I am to reaching a full bowl of alphabet soup.

What do you think I should do with the tricky letters? X and Z??? I was *thinking* maybe turning the X into an + and having two authors (if I do authors). 


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

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

C The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun's Tomb. Candace Fleming. 2021. 285 pages. [Source: Library]

D Doomsday Book. Connie Willis. 1992. Random House. 592 pages.  [Source: Book I Bought]

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

F Farmer Boy. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1933. 372 pages. [Source: Library]

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

H Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. J.K. Rowling. 1997. 345 pages. [Source: Library]

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

J Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today. Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn. 2018. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

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

L The Little Wartime Library. Kate Thompson. 2022. 496 pages. [Source: Review copy]

M Magpie Murders. Anthony Horowitz. 2016. 477 pages. [Source: Library]

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

O The One and Only Ivan. Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. 2012. 307 pages. [Source: Library]

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

Q The Rat Queen. Pete Hautman. 2022. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

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

S The Superteacher Project. Gordon Korman. 2023. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

T Twice in a Lifetime. Melissa Baron. 2022. 325 pages. [Source: Library]


V Babylon #5: Voices. John Vornholt. 1995. 246 pages. [Source: Bought]

W The Windeby Puzzle. Lois Lowry. 2023. [February] 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Y 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]




© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, March 24, 2023

62. The Farewell Tour

The Farewell Tour. Stephanie Clifford. 2023. [March] 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: I wouldn't have recognized the farm. Almost didn't. Charlie nearly drove our tour bus right by it. 

Premise/plot: Lillian Waters (aka Lena Thorsell, aka "Water Lil") is a middle-aged country and western "star" returning to the road for her farewell tour. She's been absent from the music scene for a handful of years--three to five years. Her last performance did not go well. But after a medical diagnosis stuns her, she is out to mend her reputation and leave on a high note. 

The narrative alternates between the present-day (1980/1981) and the past. (Lena was born in 1924, left home and changed her name at age ten.) Her life has been rough--full of ups and downs. Fame came 'relatively' later in life (her forties). But "fame" can't buy happiness. Nothing can.

My thoughts: I wanted to enjoy this one. I haven't always appreciated the history of country music, country "and western" music. But the older I get, the more appreciative I am of music that came before. I liked the name dropping well enough. I like the premise--of an "older" country star trying to stay relevant and in the business in the midst of all the newcomers, the up-and-comers. (Like Barbara Mandrell).

But. I found Lillian Waters to be an unlikable narrator. I found her abrasive and bitter. I found her ambitious and manipulative. She doesn't come across as a people person. She isn't empathetic or kind. (I don't have a problem with ambitious and hardworking. But she was so manipulative and unkind.)  


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, March 23, 2023

61. The Book Spy

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

First sentence: On the day librarians were recruited for the war, Maria Alves was microfilming historical newspapers in the Department of Microphotography of the New York Public Library. 

Premise/plot: The Book Spy is a historical fiction novel set during the Second World War. It has a light romance in the background. The focus primarily is on a librarian, Maria Alves, who is one of a handful of librarians--microfilm specialists--recruited for war work. They'll be going to neutral cities in Europe, acquiring Axis publications (newspapers, magazines, books, etc.), microfilming the works, and sending them to the Allies (UK and US) for examination. The cover story is preserving works for the Library of Congress. 

The Book Spy has two narrators. The second narrator is a bookseller (with a BIG secret) named Tiago Soares. The book is primarily set in Lisbon, Portugal. Maria and Tiago meet and become friendly. He helps her acquire the stuff (newspapers, magazines, books, etc.) she needs to do her job. She occasionally helps him with his undercover work. (He helps Jewish refugees.) 

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I don't always love dual narration. But in this case, it makes sense. They are both doing their part for the war effort. His story is just as important as hers. It was well-written. The plot is never dull. It isn't overly melodramatic. 

This was my second time reading Alan Hlad. (The first one I read was set during World War I.) I'm definitely enjoying getting to know his work.


© 2023 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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