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Mainly reviews of children's and young adult literature. Primarily focuses on new literature, 2004-present, but may feature older titles if they are "favorites" of mine. Feel free to leave comments. I always enjoy reading what others have to say!
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26. Challenge Updates

For the Victorian Reading Challenge:

  1. No Name. Wilkie Collins. 1862/1998. Oxford University Press. 748 pages.
For the British History Reading Challenge:
  1. Goodnight, Mr. Tom. Michelle Magorian. 1981. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. In Search of England. H.V. Morton. 1927/2007. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  3. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought]  
For the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge:
  1. In Search of England. H.V. Morton. 1927/2007. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]  
For the 2014 Year of Rereading Challenge:
  1. The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1937.  320 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  2. Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney. 2009. Chronicle Books. 366 pages. [Source: Library]  
  3. Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/1991. Del Rey. 179 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  4. Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. [Source: Book I Own] 
  5. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought]  
For the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge:
  1. The Singing Sands. Josephine Tey. 1952. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
For the 2014 Chunkster Challenge:
  1. No Name. Wilkie Collins. 1862/1998. Oxford University Press. 748 pages.
  2. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought]   
For the R.I.P. Reading Challenge:
  1. The Attenbury Emeralds. Jill Paton Walsh. 2010/2011. St. Martin's Press. 352 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
  3. My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. The Lost. Sarah Beth Durst. 2014. Harlequin. 352 pages. [Source: Library] 
  6. The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten. Harrison Geillor. 2011. Night Shade Books. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  7. Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. [Source: Book I Own] 
  8. Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/1991. Del Rey. 179 pages. [Source: Bought]
  9.  The Singing Sands. Josephine Tey. 1952. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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27. Reread #40 All Clear

All Clear. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 645 pages. [Source: Bought]

If you want a gushing review of the book, I recommend visiting my first review of the book.  It is always interesting to me to see which books reread well, and which ones don't. Mood obviously comes into it. And apparently, I was not in the mood for All Clear. Perhaps because I was taking my time, instead of rushing through, I found myself less enthusiastic with the stories and characters. Too much time to think and ask questions, maybe?!

Is All Clear a disappointing novel? Yes and no. On the one hand, I certainly didn't LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it the same way I loved Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Since I love reading books set during World War II, one would think that I'd almost have to love, love, love these two time travel books set in England during the war. I mean, I love time travel, I love books set during this time period. It would seem like the most natural thing in the world for me to ecstatically love Blackout and All Clear. But. That is not the case. On the other hand, the books are enjoyable enough. I certainly came to care about the characters and wanted to know what happened next. But there wasn't an urgency to KNOW if you know what I mean. I found both books less compelling than the previous time travel books. I found a handful of characters enjoyable or interesting. But I didn't LOVE any of the characters.

Would the books have been better if they'd been published as one book, perhaps an edited-down one book? Probably. Hard to say for sure. It wasn't that any one section or chapter proved boring or irrelevant. It is just that both books were so very, very thick. And the books weren't necessarily action-packed. Which I don't have a problem with actually. I prefer character-driven books typically. But essentially the books are just about three characters realizing they are trapped in the past and may never get back to the future. They think about being trapped a lot. They brainstorm. They panic. They brainstorm. They cling to hope but give into worrying.

Without any previous books in the series to compare it too, Blackout and All Clear are certainly enjoyable enough on their own. It is really only in comparison to Willis' earlier time travel novels that the novels become a bit disappointing.

I liked All Clear. I didn't love All Clear.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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28. Thursdays with the Crown (2014)

Thursdays with the Crown. (Castle Glower #3) Jessica Day George. 2014. Bloomsbury. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Thursdays with the Crown. I'm glad I read it so soon after finishing Wednesdays in the Tower. I only wish I'd had the time to reread the first novel in this fantasy series, Tuesdays at the Castle. I'm sure I would have appreciated the whole series even more if I'd had the chance to reconnect with the characters and have an attachment. That being said, I ended up enjoying so many of the characters anyway. Thursdays with the Crown picks up right where Wednesdays in the Tower left off. I was prepared to love it from the start.

The novel opens with Celie, Lilah, Pogue, Rolf, Lulath, and Rufus (Celie's griffin) finding themselves in a strange, foreign place. They have been transported to the Glorious Arkower, a land they believe the Castle originated from. They come into this adventure with a few assumptions for better or worse. When they come across two different men with two very different stories--contradictory stories--everything becomes a bit confusing. Who is telling the truth? Is either man telling the whole truth? What is true and what is only half-true? If a man lies about one thing, does that mean he's lying about everything? Celie and her friends will have to puzzle things out.

It is definitely an adventure fantasy. It is a quick read, a delightful read in many ways. I think I love Lulath best of all.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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29. The Orphan and the Mouse (2014)

The Orphan and the Mouse. Martha Freeman. Illustrated by David McPhail. 2014. Holiday House. 220 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely enjoyed reading Martha Freeman's The Orphan and the Mouse, a fantasy novel inspired by E.B. White's Stuart Little. The book is set in 1949. (Note: I haven't read Stuart Little, but, this novel tempts me to seek it out.) This fantasy is told through multiple perspectives: a few mice, one cat who loves to hunt mice, a couple of orphans, and a practically evil orphanage director. It is illustrated by David McPhail.

I liked this one. I liked the setting. It took some time for me to get hooked on the actual story, but, no time at all to get hooked on the premise of the story. I liked the characters. Mary, the mouse heroine, was a great narrator. I also came to care for Caro, one of the orphans living at the Cherry Street Children's Home. The book offers some suspense and mystery, though often the reader knows much more than the characters in the book. Readers get to watch the characters put it all together and possibly maybe save the day.

I also really appreciated the length of the chapters!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30. September Reflections

In September, I read 52 books.

Board books, picture books, early readers:

  1. Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show. Mark Sperring. Illustrated by Sarah Warburton. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Red Panda's Candy Apples. Ruth Paul. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. I'm My Own Dog. David Ezra Stein. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Peppa Pig Ballet Lesson. Adapted by Elizabeth Schaefer. 2014. Scholastic. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. I Feel Five. Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  6. Go To Sleep, Little Farm. Mary Lyn Ray. Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  7. The Scarecrows' Wedding. Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  8. The Loch Mess Monster. Helen Lester. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  9. Big Bad Bubble. Adam Rubin. Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]       
  10. Poppy the Pirate Dog's New Shipmate. Liz Kessler. Illustrated by Mike Phillips. 2014. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  11. Tony Baloney Buddy Trouble. Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Biggety Bat: Hot Diggety, It's Biggety! Ann Ingalls. Illustrated by Aaron Zenz. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  13. Cinderella in the City. (Level 2) (Flash Forward Fairy Tales) Cari Meister. Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  14. Snow White and the Seven Dogs. (Level 2) (Flash Forward Tales) Cari Meister. Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  15. Monkey and Elephant Go Gadding. Carole Lexa Schaefer. Illustrated by Galia Bernstein. 2014. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  16. Racing the Waves (Tales of the Time Dragon #2) Robert Neubecker. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  17. Steve & Wessley in The Sea Monster. (Level 1) J.E. Morris. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Review copy]    
Middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Goodnight, Mr. Tom. Michelle Magorian. 1981. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Everything on a Waffle. Polly Horvath. 2001/2008. Square Fish. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. One Year in Coal Harbor. Polly Horvath. 2012. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. Emperors of the Ice. Richard Farr. 2008. FSG. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1937.  320 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  6. Wednesdays in the Tower. Jessica Day George. 2013. Bloomsbury. 240 pages. [Source: Library] 
  7. Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Anne E. Neimark. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. I Kill the Mockingbird. Paul Acampora. 2014. Roaring Book Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney. 2009. Chronicle Books. 366 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. Love by the Morning Star. Laura L. Sullivan. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]   
  11. Get Into Art: Animals. Susie Brooks. 2013. Kingfisher. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Get Into Art: People. Susie Brooks. 2013. Kingfisher. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/1991. Del Rey. 179 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. No Name. Wilkie Collins. 1862/1998. Oxford University Press. 748 pages.
  3. Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. [Source: Book I Own] 
  4. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  5. The Singing Sands. Josephine Tey. 1952. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
  6. In Search of England. H.V. Morton. 1927/2007. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
  7. The Boleyn King. Laura Andersen. 2013. Ballantine. 358 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. The Attenbury Emeralds. Jill Paton Walsh. 2010/2011. St. Martin's Press. 352 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. The Lost. Sarah Beth Durst. 2014. Harlequin. 352 pages. [Source: Library] 
  13. The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten. Harrison Geillor. 2011. Night Shade Books. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Christian fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand. 2010. Random House. 473 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. The Bible Study Handbook. Lindsay Olesberg. 2012. IVP. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
  3. Edwards on the Christian Life. Dane C. Ortlund. 2014. Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Love's Fortune. Laura Frantz. 2014. Revell. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5.  The Names of Jesus. Warren W. Wiersbe. 1997. Baker Publishing. 159 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  6. One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. Tullian Tchividjian. 2013. David Cook. 240 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  7. Fair Play (It Happened At the Fair #2) Deeanne Gist. 2014. Howard Books 433 pages. [Source: Library] 
  8. The Savior of the World. Benjamin B. Warfield. 1991. Banner of Truth. 270 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  9. The Early Readers Bible: New Testament. V. Gilbert Beers. Illustrated by Terri Steiger. Zonderkidz. 256 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  10. The 30 Day Praise Challenge. Becky Harling. 2013. David Cook. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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31. Good Night, Mr. Tom (1981)

Goodnight, Mr. Tom. Michelle Magorian. 1981. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

 "Yes," said Tom bluntly, on opening the front door. "What d'you want?"
A harassed middle-aged woman in a green coat and felt hat stood on his step. He glanced at the armband on her sleeve. She gave him an awkward smile.
"I'm the Billeting Officer for this area," she bagan.
"Oh yes, and what's that got to do wi' me?"
She flushed slightly. "Well, Mr., Mr..."
"Oakley. Thomas Oakley."
"Ah, thank you, Mr Oakley." She paused and took a deep breath. "Mr Oakley with the declaration of war imminent..."
Tom waved his hand. "I knows all that. Git to the point. What d'you want?" He noticed a small boy at her side.
"It's him I've come about," she said. "I'm on my way to your village hall with the others."

 Read this book. Read it. At the very least, you should consider watching the movie adaptation. I doubt you regret meeting Willie Beech and Tom Oakley.

Goodnight Mister Tom is set during the early months of World War II. For the most part, it is set in the English countryside. William (Willie) Beech is one of many children being evacuated to the country for safety reasons. Willie has been assigned to a widower, Tom Oakley. Willie isn't quite sure what to think about his new home? Everything in the country seems to surprise him including Tom's dog, Sammy. Tom isn't quite sure what to think about Willie either. He's a bit puzzled because Willie does act a bit off. It's not just the fact that he's never been out of the city. Willie doesn't know how to read or write even though he's almost nine. (He also wets the bed.)

Tom soon learns enough to get him good and angry. Willie arrives essentially with nothing but the clothes he has on. But his mom has included a belt with a note on how and when to use it on her son. Tom soon sees the evidence of abuse for himself.

It was oh-so-easy to care for the characters, especially Tom and Willie. As Willie spends time in the country, it is in many ways his first taste of safety and freedom. And love and kindness. And stability. And friendship. I loved seeing Tom with Willie. I loved his patience and firmness. I loved his kindness and encouragement. I loved seeing Tom work with Willie on his writing and reading. I loved seeing them read together every day. I loved seeing Tom encourage Willie with his drawing.

Willie also finds friends his own age. His best, best friend is a Jewish boy named Zach. Plenty of time is spent with Willie and Zach and their other friends and/or classmates.

The novel is both intense and ultimately satisfying. It it intense for multiple reasons. I expected it to be intense because of the war. And it was. I wasn't necessarily expecting it to be intense for psychological reasons. The novel is ultimately satisfying, but, don't expect sweet scene after sweet scene. The sweetness is found in friendship and hope, but, there are some bitter shocks as well. 

I loved this one. I did. I loved, loved, loved the characters. I am so glad I read this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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32. In Search of England

In Search of England. H.V. Morton. 1927/2007. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]

I enjoyed reading H.V. Morton's travel book In Search of England. If you enjoy reading leisurely, sometimes amusing, travel books with observations and stories you should consider reading it. I liked the casual, often-charming style of Morton's travel writing.

The premise of this book is simple: the author returns home to England from Palestine with one simple goal to go "in search of England." His homesickness has given him the desire to have an adventure, "I will see what lies off the beaten track. I will, as the mood takes me, go into famous towns and unknown hamlets. I will shake up the dust of kings and abbots; I will bring the knights and the cavaliers back to the roads, and once in a while, I will hear the thunder of old quarrels at earthwork and church door. If I become weary of dream and legend I will just sit and watch the ducks on a village pond, or take the horses to water: I will talk with lords and cottagers, tramps, gipsies, and dogs; I will, in fact, do anything that comes into my head as suddenly and light-heartedly as I will accept anything, and everything, that comes my way in rain or sun along the road."

In Search of England is best read with leisure and patience. Don't expect the book to be a thrilling fast-paced adventure. Expect to take your time, to read it in between other books you're reading. I enjoyed what I read. But I never enjoyed it so much that I felt the need to read the whole book in one sitting. It's not that kind of book. It's a book that you don't lose momentum on by taking a break.

(I've also read and reviewed H.V. Morton's In the Steps of the Master.)

Favorite quotes:
How often in London rain weighs on the spirit and soaks itself into the very soul; but in the country it seldom saddens you - in fact, there is a kind of country rain that exhilarates and causes you to sing aloud.
Whenever I see a small boy sail a boat I long to join in. I can never see him without wondering whether boys still have the heavenly time with boats that I have had.
I once heard a bright young man say at a party that living in Bath was rather like sitting in the lap of a dear old lady. Nobody laughed, because it is true. Bath is the dear old lady of Somerset: grey-haired, mittened, smelling faintly of lavender; one of those old ladies who have outlived a much-discussed past, and are now as obviously respectable as only old ladies with crowded pasts can be. She nurses you with a shrewd twinkle in which you detect experience mellowed by age. You look at her lovingly, wondering how she could ever have been wicked; wishing that she could grow young again for one wild evening and show you! That might wake you up!
I have been reading with avidity the medical pamphlets provided free in Bath, and I feel that my arteries become harder and harder every minute. I wonder whether the ache in my left eye is paraplegia. I have no idea what this is, but when I whisper the word something ominous seems in mid-air with bared claws. It is hardly possible that I shall escape from oxularia. (Obesity does not worry me.) Intestinal stasis? Well, perhaps! Chronic vesical catarrh? I wonder? As I glance down the long list of diseases cured at Bath - feeling a sharp twinge of fibrocitis, a swift jab of lithiasis, and an alarming touch of rhinitis - it is perfectly clear to me that the average human being's chance of seeing Bath more than once is about a hundred to one.
This story has no right in this book, and I apologize for writing it. It happened like this. I was finding my way out of Carlisle with the intention of crossing the Roman Wall that runs across England from Solway Firth to the Tyne, when I saw a signpost: `To Gretna Green io miles.' I pulled up sharply: `This,' I said, `is where I go right off the rails. I must see Gretna Green! I'll take a holiday and - go to Scotland!' How could I neglect to visit the scene of so much folly? In a few minutes I had left England behind me and was spinning along in a country which looked exactly like it, but was not. I had crossed the Border! Scotland does not begin to get `bonny' just here, but it was stimulating to realize that we were in the land of red whiskers and freckled maids, of brown trout streams, of purple moors, of great mountains, which, even in fair weather, wear white caps of cloud. At the cottage doors clustered brawny sandy-haired boys (who some day, of course, go south) and little girls who will grow up and speak the most delicious English in the world. The road runs straight from Carlisle to Gretna, as if anxious to cut off all the corners and give a sporting finish to the race. At the end of this road - and in the heart of a great crowd - I found Gretna Green. 
How much romance, beauty and drama can be skipped over by a guide-book! As I was standing behind the high altar of Durham Cathedral earlier in the day I saw a large platform with one word carved in the stone: `Cuthbertus.' The guide-book says: `In the place of honour behind the high altar is the tomb of St Cuthbert, who died A.D. 687. The body still rests below....' Now as I read this bald truth my imagination went on a long journey. At the end of a tunnel of time, 1,239 years long, I saw a strange England, and I saw the hill of Durham before its great Norman church was built, before the stone Saxon church was built, before the first little reed chapel was built: just a woody hill of red sandstone, with perhaps a speckled.fawn standing in the fern. The roots of Durham go back into an England difficult to see: an England wild, bloody, savage; an England which prayed to Wotan and Thor in the ruins of Roman temples; an England beautiful at this time beyond words, because, caring nothing for the clash of kingdom on kingdom, the sound of swords and the trail of fire, Christ was walking through English meadows humbly as He walked through Galilee. The legions of Rome had returned with shaven heads bearing not a sword, but a message. Men have done deeds in the name of God which would have made Christ weep, but the story of the conversion of England to Christianity, with which Durham is so marvellously linked, is, I believe, one of the loveliest stories since the New Testament.
York is the lovely queen - as London is the powerful king - of English cities.
Men didn't just arrive with cartloads of stones and start to build a church. There is a story of faith and struggle behind every English cathedral.
I am the only person I have ever known who has been to Rutland. I admit that I have known men who have passed through Rutland in search of a fox, but I have never met a man who has deliberately set out to go to Rutland; and I do not suppose you have. Rutland - which I believe most people think is in Wales - is the smallest county in England, and the most remarkable. It is only seventeen miles long and seventeen miles wide, and it contains only two towns, Oakham and Uppingham, neither large enough to be a municipal borough. The county of Rutland, nestling like a baby in arms between Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire, is included in `The Shires'. Rutland is the only shire carved out of old Saxon Mercia not named after its county town, otherwise we would know it as Oakhamshire. On the other hand, no one would dream of calling it Rutlandshire! Tiny Rutland is the only example of an ancient Mercian division which has survived the West Saxon shire-ing of the district.
Norfolk is the most suspicious county in England. In Devon and Somerset men hit you on the back cordially; in Norfolk they look as though they would like to hit you over the head - till they size you up. You see, for centuries the north folk of East Anglia were accustomed to meet stray Vikings on lonely roads who had just waded ashore from the long boats...`Good morning, 'bor!' said the Vikings. `Which is the way to the church?' `What d'ye want to know for?' was the Norfolk retort. `Well, we thought about setting fire to it!' You will gather that Norfolk's suspicion of strangers, which is an ancient complex bitten into the East Anglian through centuries of bitter experience, is well grounded, and should never annoy the traveller... They mean well. Once they bring themselves to call you "bor' (which, I conclude, is the short for `neighbour' or, perhaps, `boy'), you can consider yourself highly complimented. In East Anglia men are either neighbours or Vikings.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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33. The Singing Sands (1952)

The Singing Sands. Josephine Tey. 1952. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

It was six o'clock of a March morning, and still dark. The long train came sidling through the scattered lights of the yard, clicking gently over the points.

Inspector Alan Grant is on holiday. He's had to take a personal holiday because of his mental health condition. He's had a nervous break, I suppose. Suddenly, he's weighed down by fear and anxiety, and shame. He doesn't want everyone to know what his mind is doing to him. Little things that he's always taken for granted now are tormenting him: riding in a train, sleeping in a sleeper car, riding in a car, riding in a plane. He's become claustrophobic.
Well, at least he had managed not to open the door last night. But the triumph had been dearly bought. He was drained and empty, a walking nothingness. "Don't fight it," the doctor had said. "If you want to be in the open, go into the open." But to have opened the door last night would have meant a defeat so mortal that he felt there would be no recovery. It would have been an unconditional surrender to the forces of Unreason. So he had lain and sweated. And the door had stayed closed. (4)
The morning after his sleepless night, Grant discovers a dead body. "Number B Seven" is found dead in his sleeper. Grant, who is not on duty, gets a very good look at him, and he accidentally picks up the dead man's newspaper. He takes it with him by chance. Later, when he's arrived at his cousin's house, I believe, he realizes what he did. He notices for the first time that the paper had been written on. It contains a few lines of poetry. Grant isn't sure if the man was writing an original poem, or, if he was writing down someone else's poem. But either way, those lines and that handwriting make an impact on him. He can't stop thinking about "Number B Seven." Even though he's supposed to be on vacation, resting and relaxing, and FISHING.

As you have probably guessed, Grant is not going to do much relaxing on his vacation. Oh. He does try. But he keeps thinking about this case. A case that others at Scotland Yard have already closed. They've identified the body and the cause of death. End of story. But it's not enough for Grant. He thinks there is more to the story...and since this is his story, his FINAL story, I might add...he's right!

I liked this one. I am not sure I loved it. But I liked spending time with Grant.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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34. Library Loot: Fourth trip in September

New Loot:
  • Max's Christmas by Rosemary Wells
  • Morris' Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
  • Papa's Christmas Gift by Cheryl Harness
  • Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May
  • Just a Little Critter Collection by Mercer Mayer
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
  • The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
  • The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  • Tell Me by Joan Bauer
Leftover Loot:
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
  • The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
  • The Vicar of Nibbleswicke by Roald Dahl
  • The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
  • A Cat of A Different Color by Steven Bauer
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett 
  • A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath 
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  •  The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson  
  • The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
  • The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • Card Games for Children by Len Collis
   Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.  

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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35. Week in Review: September 21-27

No Name. Wilkie Collins. 1862/1998. Oxford University Press. 748 pages.
Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought]
One Year in Coal Harbor. Polly Horvath. 2012. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Boleyn King. Laura Andersen. 2013. Ballantine. 358 pages. [Source: Library]
The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
Emperors of the Ice. Richard Farr. 2008. FSG. [Source: Review copy]
The Names of Jesus. Warren W. Wiersbe. 1997. Baker Publishing. 159 pages. [Source: Bought]
One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. Tullian Tchividjian. 2013. David Cook. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
Fair Play (It Happened At the Fair #2) Deeanne Gist. 2014. Howard Books 433 pages. [Source: Library]

This week's favorite:

While last week was difficult, this week was an easy choice for me: No Name by Wilkie Collins. This 748 page book was a quick read--yes, really--because it was so very, very, very good. It also reminded me of WHY I tend to LOVE Wilkie Collins! Have you read Wilkie Collins? Do you have a favorite?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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36. Reread #39 Blackout

Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought]


This year I've decided to reread all of Connie Willis' time travel books. This is the third book I've reread. I've also reread Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I first reviewed Blackout in November 2010. I reviewed it again in January 2012.


Blackout is about (three) time travelers studying World War II. For the most part, the novel is set in the year 1940. However, the novel also contains other stories--almost like riddles. These small stories are set in 1944 and 1945, they feature other characters--or do they?--studying World War II: V1 Rockets and V-E Day.

Merope Ward (aka Eileen O'Reilly) has gone back to study the evacuation of children to the country. She is working as a nurse/maid on a country estate. Her assignment was for the spring of 1940.

Polly "Sebastian" (she takes on a different Shakespearean last name for every assignment) has gone back to study the London Blitz. She wants to work as a London shopgirl. Her assignment was for the fall of 1940.

Michael Davies (Mike) has gone back to observe the Dunkirk evacuation. His assignment was for the summer of 1940.

They've heard over and over again that historians cannot change the past, that historians cannot damage the timeline, that historians can merely observe past events. But what if everyone was wrong? What if time travel is dangerous and risky? Not just dangerous for the time traveler who may find himself/herself in trouble, but dangerous for everyone. What if there are negative consequences for time travel?

Eileen, Polly, and Mike will question what they've all been told when they find themselves trapped in 1940 unable to return to Oxford and their own time. Eileen missed her deadline because of a quarantine initially. Months later she tried to use her drop and failed. She thought it was because there were too many people nearby--the military has just taken possession of the estate where she worked. She remembers that Polly Churchill will be in London soon. She wants to find her and use her drop to go back. Mike was injured during the Dunkirk evacuation. An injury that kept him trapped for weeks. His drop is also impossible to use. He remembers Polly's assignment. He goes to London desperate to find another time traveler. These three reunite only to discover what Polly already knew--her own drop was damaged--she thinks because of a bomb. She was hoping that THEY were there to rescue her. Being trapped changes everything.

Blackout is an intense read. Primarily the focus is on what war was like on the homefront, what the war was like for Londoners. I definitely recommend this one. But it does come with a warning. It is only half the story. All Clear is the sequel, and, you'll want to read it to finish the story. Blackout does not stand on its own.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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37. One Year in Coal Harbor (2012)

One Year in Coal Harbor. Polly Horvath. 2012. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I'm not sure I loved-loved Everything On a Waffle OR One Year in Coal Harbor. But I think I almost loved both books. I think my favorite part--for better or worse--was the recipes at the end of each chapter. I loved Primrose's narration of this recipes. They were cutesy at times, I admit. But they were pure fun. I kept reading so I could get to the next recipe. I'm not sure I was supposed to like them that much.

As to the rest of the book, I'm glad she's still in touch with her former foster parents. I think her foster parents, Bert and Evie, are more developed than most of the other characters. Primrose's parents still felt under-developed to me. I liked meeting Ked. I am glad that Primrose finally, finally got someone her own age to spend time with. I liked Ked very much. Both before and after. I wish that the romance between Uncle Jack and Miss Bowzer was better. I'm not sure what better would look like. I am not sure that the romance should be center-stage of this book. And I am glad with the overall outcome. But it just felt awkward at times. Granted, we see all of this through Primrose's eyes, so maybe Uncle Jack and Kate saw each other more than we know, and had actual conversations.

I like the idea of liking this book. It has a couple of cute concepts: the restaurant that serves EVERYTHING on the menu with a waffle, the couple that serves just about everything with mini-marshmallows. But the book(s) remain almost for me.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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38. The Boleyn King

The Boleyn King. Laura Andersen. 2013. Ballantine. 358 pages. [Source: Library]

Alternate history. What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted and needed? What if she survived her husband instead of being beheaded? What if Henry VIII had only had TWO wives? What if Elizabeth and her younger brother grew up with both parents, relatively happy? King William is that son. His father has died, and, he though under the age of 18, has been England's king. He faces challenges, every king does, and those challenges are what The Boleyn King is all about. The book has four narrators: William and Elizabeth (royal siblings) and Minuette and Dominic (close and trusted friends of both William and Elizabeth). Minuette seems to be the type of heroine that no male character can resist. Elizabeth somewhat secretly is in love with a married man, no surprises as to who that is. William is being pressured to marry well. Will his choice be a) Mary, Queen of Scots b) Jane Grey c) a French princess d) someone of his own choice that will upset his advisers and the court just as much as his father's decision to marry Anne Boleyn. This is the start of a trilogy...

The good news: It's a quick read. I read it in one day. It is also a premise-driven book. For readers who find the premise intriguing, this one is worth the read. Especially if one can get it from the library. Just in case. I liked seeing which characters avoided death and disaster. I don't know if these characters will continue to have happily ever afters, of, if they'll find themselves in troubles of a different sort. But. It was an interesting enough read.

The bad news: It's light on history. This one focuses more on fictional characters than on real people. And the characters based on real people aren't always that accurate. This makes some sense for some characters whose lives were very different in this alternate universe. But this may leave some readers disappointed that there isn't more substance and depth. If you're looking for a character-driven book, this one might disappoint. Also. It definitely is trying to appeal more to romance readers than historical readers. If that makes sense.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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39. The Late Scholar (2014)

The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed The Late Scholar enough while reading it, for the most part, but the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. I have liked or enjoyed Jill Paton Walsh's sequels to Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter mysteries. The Late Scholar is set in the 1950s. (I'm not sure if it's early, mid, or late 50s. But Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, I believe.) The novel opens with the Duke of Denver (aka Lord Peter Wimsey) learning that he is a Visitor at Oxford. He is being called upon to settle a dispute among the fellows. The person--ultimately one of many suspects, I suppose--who initially requested his interference comes to regret it. Lord Peter is thorough. He doesn't want to just cast a vote on a controversial topic without any thought. He wants to study the situation, learn both sides, draw his own conclusions about what is best. The dispute is about selling a medieval book to get the money to buy land next door that has come up for sell. Is land more valuable to the college than one book in the library? Or is the ancient book more valuable to the college than a piece of real estate? It wouldn't be a mystery book if it didn't turn to violence and murder. Lord Peter, Harriet Vane, and Bunter must follow all the clues to catch a murderer or two.

There were a few things that felt a bit off, that kept this one from feeling like a genuine, authentic Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery. I allow some change would be natural enough. Two decades would change a person, would change a couple. But the changes in a way have a very surface feel to them. I'm not sure the characters have the depth that they need, they are very much reliant on familiarity with the original.

I have not reread the whole (original) series, but, Lord Peter seems changed and not always for the better. I could not show you a passage where Lord Peter reveals a personal faith in God. But I have a feeling I would have remembered if Lord Peter revealed a cold mockery for Christianity and/or stated openly and unashamedly that he did NOT believe in God. There were a few uncomfortable scenes in Late Scholar where Peter's atheism comes to light, I suppose. It was done in an almost ha, ha, don't be silly, of course I don't believe in God kind of way. It just struck me as wrong. I'm not saying that I consider Lord Peter evangelical. But. I always got the impression that he believed there was a God, that at the very least he was agnostic. The reason this strikes me as wrong is that Dorothy Sayers was a Christian, she wrote Christian books. I've read some of her theological essays and they are quite good. I just don't see HER Lord Peter being one to make light of or mock Christianity or the Bible or the fundamental belief that there is a God. Of course times have changed. Decades have passed since his creation, so maybe modern readers assume that naturally Lord Peter is "smart enough" to have outgrown any idea of God.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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40. Emperors of the Ice

Emperors of the Ice. Richard Farr. 2008. FSG. [Source: Review copy]

I have mixed feelings on Emperors of the Ice: A True Story of Disaster and Survival in the Antarctic, 1910-13. On the one hand, it is a fictional memoir based on an actual memoir. Much research was done to write this one. Perhaps just as much research as if it was a traditional nonfiction book. The author's love of the subject was evident throughout. The book is told primarily if not exclusively through the eyes of one of the men on the expedition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The exception being the few places where readers learn what happened to other members of the expedition. On the other hand, was it absolutely necessary to fictionalize a memoir in order to tell the story? I think there were things to be gained by such a decision, and, perhaps a few things lost.

Aside from the fact that this one doesn't really quite fit in as fiction or nonfiction, Emperors of the Ice was an interesting read. It was not quite as depressing as you might expect. I've read more depressing books on this subject certainly. The focus of this book is more on science and exploration than on the race to be first to the South Pole. This book argues that it was never about being first or being best. This book tells the basic story, but, it includes plenty of details. For example, I learned that one of the teams--science teams--went to the Antarctic to study emperor penguins. Their goal was to learn about the penguins and their eggs. It wasn't exactly learning by observation. Cherry was part of that team. I learned quite a few things.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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41. Library Loot: Third Trip in September

New Loot:
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn
  • Tumtum & Nutmeg The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn
  • The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
  • The Vicar of Nibbleswicke by Roald Dahl
  • The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
  • A Cat of A Different Color by Steven Bauer
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
  • Scaredy Squirredl Makes a Friedn by Melanie Watt
  • Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt
  • A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman
  • West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Leftover Loot:
  • The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
  • The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
  •  A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Revealed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • Card Games for Children by Len Collis
  • Chambers Card Games by Peter Arnold
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath 
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  •  The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson 

   Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries. 
 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Library Loot: Third Trip in September as of 9/21/2014 5:16:00 PM
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42. No Name (1862)

No Name. Wilkie Collins. 1862/1998. Oxford University Press. 748 pages.

No Name is my third Wilkie Collins novel to read this year. I've also read A Rogue's Life and The Law and the Lady. I don't know if I'll have time to squeeze in another before the year is over or not. But it's looking like No Name will definitely be my favorite. This novel reminded me of why I enjoy reading Wilkie Collins! And sometimes I do need reminding. I have been disappointed before. But when he's good, he tends to be really, really good. No Name is definitely Collins at his best! I enjoyed No Name best when I stopped trying to categorize it.

Magdalen Vanstone is the heroine of No Name. After her parents die within weeks of each other, she learns some startling news that changes everything for herself and her sister. Her father was not legally married to her mother; that is he was not legally married to her until a few months ago. His honorable intentions, unfortunately, have ruined their lives. For his marriage discredits his previous will. If he had NOT gotten married, then the girls would have been in his will and they would have inherited everything. Now his everything goes to an estranged older brother that is mean and cruel. (Collins would like you to boo, hiss now)

Norah, the good sister, the good older sister, accepts this news with grace and courage. She will follow Miss Garth's advice closely. She will become a governess. She will be far from wealthy, but, she'll hold onto as much dignity as she can cling to under the circumstances.

Magdalen, the younger sister, refuses to accept it at all. And she's just as clever and crafty as she is stubborn. Magdalen teams up with a relation of a relation, a con man named Captain Wragge. Both are clever and willing to be a bit immoral in pursuit of what they want most, of what they feel they deserve. Captain Wragge may sound like a villain, but, there's just something about him that I can't help liking. He certainly makes NO NAME an interesting read!!!

Magdalen has a plan, a scheme, for recovering the money that is rightfully hers. She will stop at nothing to get it. What is her plan? Well, it involves her (mean) uncle, Michael Vanstone, and his heir, Noel.

The scheme does not go unnoticed, however. Mrs. Lecount is a servant in the Vanstone household, and she is very controlling and extremely observant. She is always on the lookout for people who might be tempted to take advantage of the family since they are old and/or weak and/or very stupid!

It is a plot-driven novel with plenty of twists and turns. I enjoyed every single one. The book may be over 700 pages, but it's a quick 700 pages!!! It's a surprisingly quick read. Once you become hooked on the story, on learning what happens next, once you start to CARE about the characters, you just have to read on and on!!!

Will Magdalen's scheme succeed?
Will she get her hands on the money?
Will she share the money with Captain Wragge?
Will he find a way of getting his share? Is he really on her side no matter what? Or will he turn traitor?
Will either sister get married? Will either sister live happily ever after?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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43. Week in Review: September 13-20



The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1937.  320 pages. [Source: Bought]
My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]
Wednesdays in the Tower. Jessica Day George. 2013. Bloomsbury. 240 pages. [Source: Library]
Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]
Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Anne E. Neimark. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. [Source: Book I Own]
The Bible Study Handbook. Lindsay Olesberg. 2012. IVP. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
Edwards on the Christian Life. Dane C. Ortlund. 2014. Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Love's Fortune. Laura Frantz. 2014. Revell. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's favorite:

How do I choose between The Hobbit and Northanger Abbey? They are completely satisfying reads, but in very different ways! I love Catherine and Henry. The story is funny and sweet and predictable and satisfying. I love Bilbo too. I love him more than Frodo. I love the world-building in The Hobbit. I love the writing too. Especially the dialogue. There are chapters of The Hobbit that I simply adore!!! But the same can also be said of Northanger Abbey. There are scenes--if not whole chapters--that I love so very much. It doesn't help that both books are so very quotable. (Usually, that helps me decide if I'm having a hard time.) Since I can only have one winner, I choose The Hobbit. I can't imagine this list without it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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44. Library Loot: Second Trip in September

New Loot:
  • The Right Fight by Chris Lynch
  • Fair Play by Deeanne Gist
  • The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
  • Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
  • Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas by Melanie Watt
  • Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies
  • Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
  • The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Patricia C. McKissack
  • Angelina's Christmas by Katharine Holabird
  • Disney Christmas Storybook Collection
  • Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  • The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
  • The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
  • The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
  • Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off by Herman Parish
  • Amelia Bedelia Talks Turkey by Herman Parish
  • Amelia Bedelia's Masterpiece by Herman Parish
  • Amelia Bedelia and the Cat by Herman Parish
  • Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • Teach us, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • Amelia Bedelia and the Baby by Peggy Parish
  • Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm by Herman Parish
  • Giggle, Giggle Quack by Doreen Cronin
  • The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
  • The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
  • The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Leftover Loot:
  • The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre
  • 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake
  • Half A World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Revealed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  •  The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
  • Card Games for Children by Len Collis
  • Chambers Card Games by Peter Arnold
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath 
  • The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker
  • Silver Like Dust by Kimi Cunningham Grant
  • Until Our Last Breath by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona
  • The War of Our Childhood reported by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
  •  The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson 
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Library Loot: Second Trip in September as of 9/13/2014 8:32:00 PM
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45. My Year with Jane: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. 

I know I say this with every Austen review, but, it's true: I love her novels more each time I read them. Now that I've read Northanger Abbey three or four times, I have to admit that I really do love it. Perhaps not as much as I love, love, love Persuasion. But I really am very fond of it. I am especially fond of Henry Tilney. He may just be my favorite, favorite, favorite Austen hero.

My latest review of the novel is from 2011. I am going to challenge myself to keep the summary as brief as possible:

Catherine Morland, our heroine, loves to read; she especially loves to read gothic novels. When she travels to Bath with her neighbors, she meets a new best friend, Isabella Thorpe, and a potential soul mate, Henry Tilney. While Miss Thorpe ends up disappointing her, Catherine's journey is not in vain for her crush, Henry, has a saint for a sister. When invited to visit the Tilney household, Catherine is beyond excited to accept. Her time at Northanger Abbey, the Tilney's home, proves shocking, but not at all in the way she expected.

I love the newest movie adaptation. I would definitely recommend it.

My favorite quotes:
She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no — not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door — not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children. But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. There was little leisure for speaking while they danced; but when they were seated at tea, she found him as agreeable as she had already given him credit for being. He talked with fluency and spirit — and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her. After chatting some time on such matters as naturally arose from the objects around them, he suddenly addressed her with — ”I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent — but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.” “You need not give yourself that trouble, sir.” “No trouble, I assure you, madam.” Then forming his features into a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, “Have you been long in Bath, madam?” “About a week, sir,” replied Catherine, trying not to laugh. “Really!” with affected astonishment. “Why should you be surprised, sir?” “Why, indeed!” said he, in his natural tone. “But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed, and not less reasonable than any other. Now let us go on. Were you never here before, madam?” “Never, sir.” “Indeed! Have you yet honoured the Upper Rooms?” “Yes, sir, I was there last Monday.” “Have you been to the theatre?” “Yes, sir, I was at the play on Tuesday.” “To the concert?” “Yes, sir, on Wednesday.” “And are you altogether pleased with Bath?” “Yes — I like it very well.” “Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.” Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. “I see what you think of me,” said he gravely — ”I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.”
“My journal!” “Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings — plain black shoes — appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense.” “Indeed I shall say no such thing.” “Shall I tell you what you ought to say?” “If you please.” “I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him — seems a most extraordinary genius — hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say.” “But, perhaps, I keep no journal.” “Perhaps you are not sitting in this room, and I am not sitting by you. These are points in which a doubt is equally possible. Not keep a journal! How are your absent cousins to understand the tenour of your life in Bath without one?
My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies’ ways as you wish to believe me; it is this delightful habit of journaling which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal.”
“What are you thinking of so earnestly?” said he, as they walked back to the ballroom; “not of your partner, I hope, for, by that shake of the head, your meditations are not satisfactory.” Catherine coloured, and said, “I was not thinking of anything.” “That is artful and deep, to be sure; but I had rather be told at once that you will not tell me.” “Well then, I will not.” “Thank you; for now we shall soon be acquainted, as I am authorized to tease you on this subject whenever we meet, and nothing in the world advances intimacy so much.”
I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong.
I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.” “But they are such very different things!” “ — That you think they cannot be compared together.” “To be sure not. People that marry can never part, but must go and keep house together. People that dance only stand opposite each other in a long room for half an hour.” “And such is your definition of matrimony and dancing. Taken in that light certainly, their resemblance is not striking; but I think I could place them in such a view. You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with anyone else. You will allow all this?” “Yes, to be sure, as you state it, all this sounds very well; but still they are so very different. I cannot look upon them at all in the same light, nor think the same duties belong to them.” “In one respect, there certainly is a difference. In marriage, the man is supposed to provide for the support of the woman, the woman to make the home agreeable to the man; he is to purvey, and she is to smile. But in dancing, their duties are exactly changed; the agreeableness, the compliance are expected from him, while she furnishes the fan and the lavender water. That, I suppose, was the difference of duties which struck you, as rendering the conditions incapable of comparison.”
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days — my hair standing on end the whole time.” “Yes,” added Miss Tilney, “and I remember that you undertook to read it aloud to me, and that when I was called away for only five minutes to answer a note, instead of waiting for me, you took the volume into the Hermitage Walk, and I was obliged to stay till you had finished it.” “Thank you, Eleanor — a most honourable testimony. You see, Miss Morland, the injustice of your suspicions. Here was I, in my eagerness to get on, refusing to wait only five minutes for my sister, breaking the promise I had made of reading it aloud, and keeping her in suspense at a most interesting part, by running away with the volume, which, you are to observe, was her own, particularly her own. I am proud when I reflect on it, and I think it must establish me in your good opinion.”
“I am very glad to hear it indeed, and now I shall never be ashamed of liking Udolpho myself. But I really thought before, young men despised novels amazingly.” “It is amazingly; it may well suggest amazement if they do — for they read nearly as many as women. I myself have read hundreds and hundreds. Do not imagine that you can cope with me in a knowledge of Julias and Louisas. If we proceed to particulars, and engage in the never-ceasing inquiry of ‘Have you read this?’ and ‘Have you read that?’ I shall soon leave you as far behind me as — what shall I say? — I want an appropriate simile. — as far as your friend Emily herself left poor Valancourt when she went with her aunt into Italy. Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!” “Not very good, I am afraid. But now really, do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?”
The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.” “I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?” “Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement — people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.” 
It was no effort to Catherine to believe that Henry Tilney could never be wrong. His manner might sometimes surprise, but his meaning must always be just: and what she did not understand, she was almost as ready to admire, as what she did.
The past, present, and future were all equally in gloom.
Wherever you are you should always be contented, but especially at home, because there you must spend the most of your time.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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46. Mythmaker: Life of J.R.R. Tolkien

Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Anne E. Neimark. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien is a biography ideal for young(er) readers, perhaps readers who have shown an interest in reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. This biography may not satisfy adult readers who want more or need more. (Then again, it may be a good place to start if you just want the basics.) But as a basic biography with a literary focus, it works well.

Readers learn the basics: where he was born, what his childhood was like, the hardships and successes of his growing years, his influences, his school years, his time as a soldier in World War I, etc. Readers learn about how he met his future wife, what their courtship was like, when they got married, how many children they had, where they lived, etc. But most of the focus I would say is on his writing. Readers learn about how he came to create his fantasy world, his own languages, his own mythology. Readers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his writing of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. And also The Silmarillion. I knew he years writing that one, but, I didn't realize he spent DECADES. He started writing it during World War II and was still working on it in the 1970s! I liked how the focus was on his books, writing and publishing and the fans!
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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47. Death of a Schoolgirl (2012)

Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]

My expectations were low, so I was quite pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this Jane Eyre mystery was. It may not be perfectly perfect from start to finish. There might be a paragraph or two here and there that bothered me. (For example, I didn't understand why Mrs. Fairfax was pushing Jane Eyre to take the family diamonds with her on her visit to Adele's school. Here she was going to check on the child's welfare, and Mrs. Fairfax is urging her to take jewels so she can dress up for her hosts in London?! I don't know if part of me thought it was foreshadowing--for better or worse--but when she put them in her reticule, I wanted to shout WHY are you traveling with expensive jewelry?!?! Why?! And sure enough--predictably enough--Jane Eyre gets robbed on her way to London. See! I told you not to take the family jewels!) But for the most part, I found the book to be an entertaining read.

Mrs. Rochester (aka Jane Eyre) is a new mother. She loves, loves, loves her new baby boy. But. When she receives a short letter from Adele with a French message included asking--begging--for help, she decides to leave her husband and son behind to check on Adele at her boarding school. If all is well, if it is just Adele being Adele, being childish and wanting her own way, then she may leave her at the school. If the school is less than ideal, if she does not like what she sees--how she sees the children being treated, if she thinks Adele's misery is justifiable, then she may take her out of the school. Because Jane Eyre was beaten up by the thief, because she doesn't particularly look RICH and IMPORTANT, she is initially mistaken as the new German teacher who was supposed to arrive several weeks earlier. That first day Jane Eyre is a bit flabbergasted and too overwhelmed to correct anyone. She has just learned that one of Adele's classmates was murdered. Eventually, one of the teachers convinces Jane that she should continue the deception, that she should resume her teaching duties temporarily and watch over the students herself. She debates what is best. Should she take Adele immediately to safety and let others solve the crime? Or should she become an amateur detective herself and work as a team with others to help solve the case?

Is Jane Eyre the best detective ever? Not really. But to me that almost doesn't matter. I liked spending time in her company. The setting intrigued me. I had never placed Jane Eyre in the Regency time period. But here we have the sequel set during the reign of George IV, and Queen Caroline, the scandalous Queen Caroline has not died yet. This places the book within a specific time frame. The sprinkling of historical details may not speak to all readers. Little details can be easily dismissed or ignored. But to me it's the little things that help ground a book. The book does deal with prejudices and judgments: how the lower classes feel about the upper classes, how the poor feel about the rich, how the rich feel about the poor, do they see them as human, are they compassionate and kind, or, haughty or cruel. One of the characters is VERY prejudiced against French people. Again and again we see characters making judgments or being judged. Sometimes the people that are being judged in certain situations are making judgments about others just a chapter or two later.

There were places I loved this one. There were places I merely liked it. But at times it just felt RIGHT. Maybe it didn't feel RIGHT cover to cover. But I read it quickly and enjoyed it very much.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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48. Wednesdays in the Tower (2013)

Wednesdays in the Tower. Jessica Day George. 2013. Bloomsbury. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Even though it has only been two years since I've read Tuesdays at the Castle, I remembered very little about the characters and the plot. So I was hoping that Wednesdays in the Tower would not prove too tricky or challenging. Within pages, I was hooked. I read this one cover to cover without putting it down even once. I do have to say that it has a great opening which worked in its favor: "There are a lot of things that can hatch out of an egg. A chicken, for example. Or a dragon. And when the egg in question is the size of a pumpkin, and almost as orange, not to mention burning hot, you know that you're far more likely to get a dragon than a chicken."

Princess Celie and her family live at Castle Glower. The castle is without a doubt one of the more interesting in literature. This castle has a mind of its own. It does what it wants, when it wants. Usually on Tuesday is when it decides to add rooms, or, perhaps take away rooms. It isn't always adding or subtracting. Sometimes it's rearranging. One thing is for certain, only a handful of people know their way around all the rooms in the Castle. And Princess Celie is trying her best to provide a map or atlas of the ever-changing castle.

As I said, usually the castle is full of surprises on Tuesday. However, it is a Wednesday when Celie discovers a new room, and not just the room, but an egg. The castle leads Celie to this room again and again, but only when she's alone. Anytime she tries to bring someone else, to show them what she's found, it's vanished.

Essentially Wednesdays in the Tower concerns Celie and what hatches from the egg. Also about the magic of the castle as well, trying to understand how the castle works and why it does what it does when it does. In other words, the history of the Castle in general and how it connects with what hatched from the egg.

I found this a quick and enjoyable read. I liked Celie. I liked her siblings and parents. I liked getting to know her friends. I probably would have appreciated them all a bit more if I remembered Tuesdays at the Castle. But. Sometimes it's good to know that a book can be read alone or out of sequence.

The ending. Did it leave me wanting more? Yes. Was that how it should have been? I think so. Not that I'm a fan of cliffhanger endings. But. When the opening of a book and the ending of a book leave you wanting more it can't be a bad thing. Of course, if I'd read this book when it first came out, I might have felt frustrated. But the sequel will be out soon.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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49. My Cousin Rachel (1951)

My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]

Years ago I read and enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I've been meaning to read more of her books ever since. My Cousin Rachel is the second of hers that I've read. I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I enjoyed it more than Rebecca. But I think it is safe to say that if you enjoyed Rebecca you will also (most likely) enjoy My Cousin Rachel.

My Cousin Rachel is narrated by Philip Ashley. He is the heir to his cousin Ambrose's estate. Ambrose took him in and raised him essentially. These two are close as can be. Daphne du Maurier knows how to do foreshadowing. In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, she uses it generously giving readers time to prepare for tough times ahead. In this case, the foreshadowing is about Ambrose's trip abroad and his surprise wedding to a young woman, coincidentally a distant cousin, named Rachel. Rachel is a widow he meets in Italy. Instead of returning home to England, these two settle down in Italy--Florence, I believe. Philip is angsty to say the least. How dare my cousin do this to me! How dare he marry someone he barely knows! Philip spends months imagining Rachel's character and personality. She has to have an agenda! She has to be manipulative and scheming. She has to be TROUBLE. Now Philip doesn't voice his concerns to everyone he meets. He is more guarded, almost aware that it's silly of him to have this strong a reaction to someone he's never met. But Ambrose's happily ever after is short-lived. And not just because he dies. Ambrose wrote mysterious letters to Philip over several months. In these letters, Philip sees that all is not well. That there is something to his prejudice against Rachel. It seems that Ambrose has regrets, big regrets, about Rachel. The moodiest of all these letters reaches Philip after Ambrose's death.

So. What will Philip think of Rachel once he actually meets her? What will she think of him? Will they be friends or enemies? Will they trust one another? Should they trust one another? Whose story is based in reality? Is Rachel's accounting of Ambrose's last months true? Or was Ambrose right to mistrust Rachel? Will Philip be wise enough and objective enough to know what is going on?

The author certainly gives readers plenty to think about. Readers get almost all their information filtered through Philip's perspective. But I suppose the dialogue in the book might provide more. If one can trust Philip's recollection of it.

I think My Cousin Rachel is a character-driven horror novel. Though I'm not sure if horror is the right description. It is certainly creepy and weird. Not all horror novels star vampires and werewolves and ghosts and zombies.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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50. Reread #38 The Hobbit

The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1937.  320 pages. [Source: Bought]

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. 

I love The Hobbit. I do. This is my fourth time to review it. I first read it in May 2008. I also reviewed it in 2012 and 2013. (The 2013 review being of The Annotated Hobbit!)

The Hobbit is an adventure story starring Bilbo Baggins (the hobbit) and thirteen dwarves (led by Thorin). Gandalf introduces the dwarfs to Bilbo, he introduces him as a great burglar. Is he a great burglar? Not really. He's never done anything of the sort before. He's never even thought of doing any such thing. Bilbo have an adventure? Bilbo go on a long journey? The idea that he, a comfort-loving hobbit would leave the safety of his shire to GO and steal from a dragon is ridiculous. Yet. Bilbo finds himself on such a journey. And Bilbo discovers that there is more to him. It's not that he suddenly becomes brave and strong and wise. He doesn't. But he's shaped by the experiences of the journey.

Quotes:
“Good Morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat. “What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” “All of them at once,” said Bilbo.
“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off.”
He liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he—as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful—he might have to go without.
“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
He was altogether alone. Soon he thought it was beginning to feel warm. “Is that a kind of a glow I seem to see coming right ahead down there?” he thought. It was. As he went forward it grew and grew, till there was no doubt about it. It was a red light steadily getting redder and redder. Also it was now undoubtedly hot in the tunnel. Wisps of vapour floated up and past him and he began to sweat. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him. It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.
“You have nice manners for a thief and a liar,” said the dragon. “You seem familiar with my name, but I don’t seem to remember smelling you before. Who are you and where do you come from, may I ask?” “You may indeed! I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen.” “So I can well believe,” said Smaug, “but that is hardly your usual name.” “I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number.” “Lovely titles!” sneered the dragon. “But lucky numbers don’t always come off.” “I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me.” “These don’t sound so creditable,” scoffed Smaug. “I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider,” went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling. “That’s better!” said Smaug. “But don’t let your imagination run away with you!”
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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