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1. The Belton Estate

The Belton Estate. Anthony Trollope. 1866/1993. Penguin. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]

 To state it simply: it was LOVE. I have loved quite a few Anthony Trollope novels in the past. So it wasn't a big, big surprise that I loved Belton Estate. Perhaps I was surprised by just how MUCH I loved, loved, loved it! It was completely satisfying and practically perfect.

Clara Amedroz is the heroine of The Belton Estate. When her brother dies--he committed suicide--Clara's future becomes uncertain. Her father's property is entailed. She's unable to inherit from her father despite his wishes. There was a slim possibility that an aunt-like figure--a wealthy woman, of course--could leave her something. But she's left out of that will as well.

There are two men who could potentially "save" Clara. Captain Frederic Aylmer is a young (and I'm assuming relatively handsome) relation of Mrs. Winterfield (the aunt-like figure to Clara). He is the one who inherits her estate. She really wanted Clara and Frederic to marry one another. She spoke often about how much she wanted these two to marry. Days after her death, Clara receives a proposal of sorts from Frederic. The other potential "savior" is Will Belton. He is a distant cousin. He is the one who will be inheriting Clara's father's estate. He visits. Unlike Mr. Collins (from Pride and Prejudice) he is charming and likable and within weeks--if not days--Clara and her father LOVE him. He loves, loves, loves Clara. He does. He seeks permission to marry her. Clara's father thinks that would be lovely. What a good son he'd be! He also proposes to Clara.

Which man is right for Clara? Which proposal will she accept? Will she have a happily ever after?

It was oh-so-easy for me to have a favorite! I adore Will Belton. I do. I just LOVE him. I enjoyed the characters in this one so very much. I loved getting to spend so much time with Clara. This is one of Trollope's "simple" novels. Instead of having three or more couples to keep up with, or, three or more stories to follow since not all stories may end up in romance, readers just get treated to one fully developed story. There are more characters, of course. We meet Clara's closest friend and her husband. We meet Frederic's family. His mother is SOMETHING. I thought the characterization was great. I also thought it was a very thoughtful novel.

I would recommend Belton Estate to anyone who loves classic romances or historical romances. It is a GREAT love story.

Quotes:
And what did Will Belton think about his cousin, insured as he was thus supposed to be against the dangers of love? He, also, lay awake for awhile that night, thinking over this new friendship. Or rather he thought of it walking about his room, and looking out at the bright harvest moon;—for with him to be in bed was to be asleep. He sat himself down, and he walked about, and he leaned out of the window into the cool night air; and he made some comparisons in his mind, and certain calculations; and he thought of his present home, and of his sister, and of his future prospects as they were concerned with the old place at which he was now staying; and he portrayed to himself, in his mind, Clara's head and face and figure and feet;—and he resolved that she should be his wife. He had never seen a girl who seemed to suit him so well. Though he had only been with her for a day, he swore to himself that he knew he could love her. Nay;—he swore to himself that he did love her. Then,—when he had quite made up his mind, he tumbled into his bed and was asleep in five minutes.
"But, my dear, why should not he fall in love with you? It would be the most proper, and also the most convenient thing in the world."
"I hate talking of falling in love;—as though a woman has nothing else to think of whenever she sees a man."
"A woman has nothing else to think of."
"I have,—a great deal else. And so has he."
"It's quite out of the question on his part, then?"  "Quite out of the question. I'm sure he likes me. I can see it in his face, and hear it in his voice, and am so happy that it is so. But it isn't in the way that you mean. Heaven knows that I may want a friend some of these days, and I feel that I may trust to him. His feelings to me will be always those of a brother." "Perhaps so. I have seen that fraternal love before under similar circumstances, and it has always ended in the same way."
"I hope it won't end in any way between us."
"But the joke is that this suspicion, as you call it,—which makes you so indignant,—is simply a suggestion that a thing should happen which, of all things in the world, would be the best for both of you."
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Review: Ketchup Clouds

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Little Brown. 2013. Reviewed from ARC. (Note: the paperback is coming out in Fall 2014, and will be renamed Yours Truly; the book will also have a new tagline, see the second image.)

The Plot: Zoe is writing letters, letters to America, to a man on death row.

She is writing him, because "I know what it's like. Mine wasn't a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him three months ago exactly."

No one knows. So Zoe is at home, going through the motions of her life, being the daughter her parents expect, the older sister her younger sisters expect, the person her friends expect.

But it's eating at her, what she did, what she didn't do, what happened three months ago. She has to tell someone.

So Zoe picked someone like her. Someone who knows what it likes to have killed someone. Someone who is being punished.

The Good: I have to admit, the "writing letters to a convicted killer in prison" was not the pitch that won me over.

What won me over was hearing it was the winner of the 2014 Edgar Award. I love a mystery!

What made me fall in love with this book was the sympathetic, tragic, and realistic triangle between Zoe and two brothers. It's the type of thing that on paper, that intellectually, you can say doesn't make sense; shouldn't happen. But Ketchup Clouds takes us, slowly, through Zoe's life, through the year, and it breaks my heart. Because it not only makes sense -- at each point, I nodded, agreeing fully with Zoe's emotions and choices.

Max Morgan is popular and handsome and cool, and Zoe is smart enough and self aware enough to know that the attraction is partly being flattered, partly lust. There's a hot boy who likes her, and she likes him back. "He actually sounded nervous. Max Morgan. Nervous because of me."

What Zoe doesn't know is that the handsome mysterious boy she has been flirting with is Max's older brother, Aaron. Aaron is just an boy she's seen and been attracted to at a party, and really, that moment of flirting isn't reason to not kiss Max. When she doesn't know Max is Aaron's brother. And of course, by the time she knows, it's too late. She's kissed Max, she's enjoying whatever it is she has with Aaron, she doesn't know what to do, she doesn't even know if Aaron likes her back

And it's Zoe's first boyfriend, her first relationship. And I just loved it, even forgetting every now and then that it would end in death.

I also liked Zoe's family: Zoe's mother is overprotective, meaning she's not someone Zoe can confide in. Zoe's family was so fully and lovingly drawn, and complete, with it's own story. As Zoe lives with her secret, the two brothers and what happens, she learns about some family secrets and gains a better understanding of her parents' lives and choices. And how you can live, eventually, with the things you think would break you.

There was such a sense of sadness, and living with grief, that I'd hand this to anyone looking for If I Stay readalikes.

Cover change: I love that they kept the design. As for the title, Ketchup Clouds is one of those titles that makes perfect sense after having read the book, but I think Yours Truly with the line "some girls get away with murder," better sells the book to readers.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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3. Sundays with Jane: Two by Cornthwaite

Charity Envieth Not. (George Knightley #1) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2009. CreateSpace. 260 pages. [Source: Library]
and
Lend Me Leave. (George Knightley #2) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2011. CreateSpace. 246 pages. [Source: Library]

I absolutely loved reading Charity Envieth Not and Lend Me Leave. These two books tell the novel Emma through the perspective of George Knightley. I almost wish they were combined into one edition, however. Still, I can't begin to recommend these enough to all Austen fans!!!

I enjoyed many aspects of both books. I really, really loved George Knightley. That in and of itself is far from shocking. Dare I say he's probably the best thing about Austen's novel?! I loved seeing the characters (and/or the community) through his eyes. I loved his involvement in the community. I loved meeting various characters--rich and poor, from all classes or statuses. I especially, especially liked Spencer! I loved getting to know his brother John better. And I liked seeing him in the role of uncle! I liked how wide the perspective is--if that makes sense! Emma, to me, comes across as very self-centered, the world through her eyes seem a bit narrow.

I also appreciate how both books treat the character of Emma. I think to fully appreciate Emma, one HAS to see her AS Knightley sees her. This book accomplishes that! I don't think I've ever seen Emma in such a positive light before. And it made me think a bit, what if Emma is blinded to her strengths JUST as she's blinded to her weaknesses. OR in other words, what if the narration is a bit too close to accurately judge her strengths/weaknesses. Of course, Knightley cannot absolutely read all her motives and intentions, so maybe he's reading more compassion, more tenderness, more generosity than is really truly there. But maybe just maybe Emma's heart is bigger than I have previously thought. And maybe just maybe her mind isn't quite as empty as I thought it. I kept asking myself what does Knightley see in Emma that I don't?

I would recommend it to those who already love Emma, and even to those that don't really like her. Knightley is a great hero! And he's definitely worth reading about!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Auschwitz Escape (2014)

The Auschwitz Escape. Joel C. Rosenberg. 2014. Tyndale. 468 pages. [Source: Library]

The Auschwitz Escape is a compelling historical novel starring two wonderful heroes. Readers meet Jean Luc Leclerc a pastor who follows his heart and sets out to rescue as many Jews as he can. He "rescues" them by providing for the needs of refugees. He takes Jews into his home and hides them, he encourages every one in his town to do so. His rescue work continues for several years before he is arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. Readers also meet a young Jewish man named Jacob Weisz. He is part of the Resistance, Belgium Resistance, I believe? He is doing his all to help as well. He too is captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. However they don't learn his true name for many months. Both men learn the upsetting fate of most Jews upon arrival. Both realize that it is not a work camp, but, instead a death camp. Both men are chosen by others in the camp to be part of an underground resistance. Both are chosen to be part of an escape program. They feel very strongly that several teams of two-men need to escape from the camp and seek not only immediate refuge, but, to be messengers. They feel that if the outside world had even a small clue what was happening, they would act, they would do something, they couldn't not do something, right? So Luc and Jacob are the third or maybe fourth team over a year to attempt to escape. Will their escape succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to find help? What will happen when they speak the truth?

The Auschwitz Escape is fiction. But there were men who did manage to escape who did carry messages and horrific proof about the camp with them to share with the outside world.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. China Dolls (2014)

China Dolls. Lisa See. 2014. Random House. 376 pages. [Source: Library]

China Dolls is historical fiction. The novel follows three women through the latter days of the 1930s through the 1940s. Three very different women I might add. The friendship between these three women is not quite pure or ideal. Grace, one of the heroines, is running away from an abusive father. Her dream is to sing and dance and to go into show business. Ruby, another heroine, is also a dancer and performer. Helen is the third heroine. Before a chance meeting with Ruby and Grace, Helen had no big dreams of show business. In fact, Helen could not even dance! Yet, a chance meeting one day led all three women to audition for an Oriental nightclub. (For the record, Oriental is the term used throughout China Dolls.) Talent is only half of what is required, they learn. Appearance is super important. It is more important to be beautiful and amazing and be somewhat teachable than to be incredibly talented. Helen and Grace are hired to be essentially part of a chorus. (They're called Ponies.) But Ruby remains a part of their lives. For better or worse.

While each woman is given a back story and/or a sob story, I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Helen, Grace, and Ruby may spend time together, but, that doesn't mean they like each other and want each other to succeed. Helen, Ruby, and Grace could be quite mean and awful to each other.

The history is interesting. The story is certainly full of drama. The characters are incredibly flawed and remain consistently selfish.

I liked it fine, but, I definitely did not love it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. To Love And Be Wise (1951)

To Love And Be Wise. (Inspector Grant #4) Josephine Tey. 1951. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

I definitely liked To Love And Be Wise. It is an Inspector Grant mystery. Some of the Grant series I've loved, others, not quite so much.

Inspector Grant is at a party with a friend, Marta Hallard, the event is to celebrate the release of a new Lavinia Fitch novel. While there he happens to see an oh-so-beautiful young man. People's gaze just seems to follow him, he's that beautiful. He talks to Grant and asks him to point out Lavinia Fitch. He claims he wants an introduction to Fitch's nephew, Walter Whitmore. The young man's name is Leslie Searle. Introductions are made, and Leslie is even invited into their country home--indefinitely.

Several weeks later, Mr. Grant is called down to investigate a crime or potential crime. Mr. Searle has gone missing. He was working on a project with Walter Whitmore. (Walter Whitmore is apparently a radio celebrity and Searle is a famous photographer.) He hasn't been seen in a day or two. There is no body, though they have dragged the river repeatedly. Searle had definitely argued with several in town, including Walter. Could he have been murdered?

I liked this one. I did. I liked the community in which it was set. I liked meeting Silas Weekley and Lavinia Fitch, for example, mainly because they're referenced in my favorite, favorite, favorite book Daughter of Time.

By the way, isn't this a horrible cover?!

Favorite quotes:
"Why do you listen to him?" [him = Walter Whitmore]
"Well, there's a dreadful fascination about it, you know. One thinks: Well, that's the absolute sky-limit of awfulness, than which nothing could be worse. And so next week you listen to see if it really can be worse. It's a snare. It's so awful that you can't even switch off. You wait fascinated for the next piece of awfulness, and the next. And you are still there when he signs off." (12)
"Perhaps the old saying is true and it is not possible to love and be wise." (42)
"I suppose you don't read Lavinia Fitch?"
"No, but Nora does."
Nora was Mrs. Williams, and the mother of Angela and Leonard.
"Does she like them?"
"Loves them. She says three things make her feel cosy in advance. A hot-water bottle, a quarter-pound of chocolates, and a new Lavinia Fitch."
"If Miss Fitch did not exist, it seems, it would be necessary to invent her," Grant said. (73)
"You really ought, just for once, to try those pickles, sir," Williams said. "They're wonderful."
"For the five hundred and seventh time, I do not eat pickles. I have a palate, Williams. A precious possession. And I have no intention of prostituting it to pickles." (92)
Silas has his own success, his family, the books he is going to write in the future (even if they are just the same old ones over again in different words). (136)
"I was just thinking how shocked the writers of slick detective stories would be if they could witness two police inspectors sitting on a willow tree swapping poems." (151)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Reread #30 North and South

North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1854-1855. 452 pages. [Source: Bought]

'Edith!' said Margaret, gently, 'Edith!'
But, as Margaret half suspected, Edith had fallen asleep.


I can't believe it's been two years since I last read North and South! As many of you know, I love, love, love, LOVE North and South! And I have gushed about it plenty since discovering it in May 2010.  There was my initial review, my first impressions of the audio book and movie, my quote-heavy review from 2011, and my review from 2012. The good news? I still LOVE and ADORE it. The not-so-good news? What haven't I said before?! I've given several summaries! I've gushed about the movie and how it's an ABSOLUTE MUST. I've shared lots of quotes!

Journaling of North and South:

Victorian definition of friendship?!
They were the familiar acquaintances of the house; neighbours whom Mrs. Shaw called friends, because she happened to dine with them more frequently than with any other people, and because if she or Edith wanted anything from them, or they from her, they did not scruple to make a call at each other's houses before luncheon. (6)
Margaret on weddings:
'No. I think after this evening we shall feel at rest, which I am sure I have not done for many weeks; at least, that kind of rest when the hands have nothing more to do, and all the arrangements are complete for an event which must occupy one's head and heart. I shall be glad to have time to think, and I am sure Edith will.'
'I am not so sure about her; but I can fancy that you will. Whenever I have seen you lately, you have been carried away by a whirlwind of some other person's making.'
'Yes,' said Margaret, rather sadly, remembering the never-ending commotion about trifles that had been going on for more than a month past: 'I wonder if a marriage must always be preceded by what you call a whirlwind, or whether in some cases there might not rather be a calm and peaceful time just before it.'
<'Cinderella's godmother ordering the trousseau, the wedding-breakfast, writing the notes of invitation, for instance,' said Mr. Lennox, laughing.
'But are all these quite necessary troubles?' asked Margaret, looking up straight at him for an answer. A sense of indescribable weariness of all the arrangements for a pretty effect, in which Edith had been busied as supreme authority for the last six weeks, oppressed her just now; and she really wanted some one to help her to a few pleasant, quiet ideas connected with a marriage.
'Oh, of course,' he replied with a change to gravity in his tone. 'There are forms and ceremonies to be gone through, not so much to satisfy oneself, as to stop the world's mouth, without which stoppage there would be very little satisfaction in life. But how would you have a wedding arranged?'
'Oh, I have never thought much about it; only I should like it to be a very fine summer morning; and I should like to walk to church through the shade of trees; and not to have so many bridesmaids, and to have no wedding-breakfast. I dare say I am resolving against the very things that have given me the most trouble just now.'
'No, I don't think you are. The idea of stately simplicity accords well with your character.' (11)
 From the start, I knew Margaret was my kind of heroine!

And I thought this was quite a true observation about worrying:
But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it. (18)
And have you noticed how often heroines in classics are absolutely shocked by marriage proposals? Margaret is no different.
'Margaret, I wish you did not like Helstone so much—did not seem so perfectly calm and happy here. I have been hoping for these three months past to find you regretting London—and London friends, a little—enough to make you listen more kindly' (for she was quietly, but firmly, striving to extricate her hand from his grasp) 'to one who has not much to offer, it is true—nothing but prospects in the future—but who does love you, Margaret, almost in spite of himself. Margaret, have I startled you too much? Speak!' For he saw her lips quivering almost as if she were going to cry. She made a strong effort to be calm; she would not speak till she had succeeded in mastering her voice, and then she said:
'I was startled. I did not know that you cared for me in that way. I have always thought of you as a friend; and, please, I would rather go on thinking of you so. I don't like to be spoken to as you have been doing. I cannot answer you as you want me to do, and yet I should feel so sorry if I vexed you.'
'Margaret,' said he, looking into her eyes, which met his with their open, straight look, expressive of the utmost good faith and reluctance to give pain.
'Do you'—he was going to say—'love any one else?' But it seemed as if this question would be an insult to the pure serenity of those eyes. 'Forgive me I have been too abrupt. I am punished. Only let me hope. Give me the poor comfort of telling me you have never seen any one whom you could—— ' Again a pause. He could not end his sentence. Margaret reproached herself acutely as the cause of his distress.
'Ah! if you had but never got this fancy into your head! It was such a pleasure to think of you as a friend.'
'But I may hope, may I not, Margaret, that some time you will think of me as a lover? Not yet, I see—there is no hurry—but some time—— ' She was silent for a minute or two, trying to discover the truth as it was in her own heart, before replying; then she said:
'I have never thought of—you, but as a friend. I like to think of you so; but I am sure I could never think of you as anything else. Pray, let us both forget that all this' ('disagreeable,' she was going to say, but stopped short) 'conversation has taken place.' (29)
Margaret has to be practical and no-nonsense. It definitely was not fair that she had to be the one to break the BIG BIG news to her mother because her father was too weak to do something so unpleasant. It won't be the last time Margaret has to step up to an unpleasant duty. 
'I shall not be at home till evening. I am going to Bracy Common, and will ask Farmer Dobson to give me something for dinner. I shall be back to tea at seven.' He did not look at either of them, but Margaret knew what he meant. By seven the announcement must be made to her mother. Mr. Hale would have delayed making it till half-past six, but Margaret was of different stuff. She could not bear the impending weight on her mind all the day long: better get the worst over; the day would be too short to comfort her mother. But while she stood by the window, thinking how to begin, and waiting for the servant to have left the room, her mother had gone up-stairs to put on her things to go to the school. She came down ready equipped, in a brisker mood than usual. (43)
I wonder if I'm the only one who imagines fictional characters on House Hunters (or House Hunters International)?! I certainly pay more attention these days.
They set out on their house-hunting. Thirty pounds a-year was all they could afford to give, but in Hampshire they could have met with a roomy house and pleasant garden for the money. Here, even the necessary accommodation of two sitting-rooms and four bed-rooms seemed unattainable. They went through their list, rejecting each as they visited it. Then they looked at each other in dismay.
'We must go back to the second, I think. That one,—in Crampton, don't they call the suburb? There were three sitting-rooms; don't you remember how we laughed at the number compared with the three bed-rooms? But I have planned it all. The front room down-stairs is to be your study and our dining-room (poor papa!), for, you know, we settled mamma is to have as cheerful a sitting-room as we can get; and that front room up-stairs, with the atrocious blue and pink paper and heavy cornice, had really a pretty view over the plain, with a great bend of river, or canal, or whatever it is, down below. Then I could have the little bed-room behind, in that projection at the head of the first flight of stairs—over the kitchen, you know—and you and mamma the room behind the drawing-room, and that closet in the roof will make you a splendid dressing-room.'
'But Dixon, and the girl we are to have to help?'
'Oh, wait a minute. I am overpowered by the discovery of my own genius for management. Dixon is to have—let me see, I had it once—the back sitting-room. I think she will like that. She grumbles so much about the stairs at Heston; and the girl is to have that sloping attic over your room and mamma's. Won't that do?'
'I dare say it will. But the papers. What taste! And the overloading such a house with colour and such heavy cornices!'
'Never mind, papa! Surely, you can charm the landlord into re-papering one or two of the rooms—the drawing-room and your bed-room—for mamma will come most in contact with them; and your book-shelves will hide a great deal of that gaudy pattern in the dining-room.'
'Then you think it the best? If so, I had better go at once and call on this Mr. Donkin, to whom the advertisement refers me. I will take you back to the hotel, where you can order lunch, and rest, and by the time it is ready, I shall be with you. I hope I shall be able to get new papers.'
Margaret hoped so too, though she said nothing. She had never come fairly in contact with the taste that loves ornament, however bad, more than the plainness and simplicity which are of themselves the framework of elegance. Her father took her through the entrance of the hotel, and leaving her at the foot of the staircase, went to the address of the landlord of the house they had fixed upon. (60-1)
And this just makes me giddy: reading of Mr. Thornton changing the horrid wallpaper. Of course, I didn't even think about it the first time I read the book. But now my eyes search for Mr. Thornton's goodness everywhere.
But, oh mamma! speaking of vulgarity and commonness, you must prepare yourself for our drawing-room paper. Pink and blue roses, with yellow leaves! And such a heavy cornice round the room!'
But when they removed to their new house in Milton, the obnoxious papers were gone. The landlord received their thanks very composedly; and let them think, if they liked, that he had relented from his expressed determination not to repaper. There was no particular need to tell them, that what he did not care to do for a Reverend Mr. Hale, unknown in Milton, he was only too glad to do at the one short sharp remonstrance of Mr. Thornton, the wealthy manufacturer. (65)
The Higgins. I am so very, very glad to see Margaret making friends. I really do love, love, love Bess and Nicholas.
'Where do you live? I think we must be neighbours, we meet so often on this road.'
'We put up at nine Frances Street, second turn to th' left at after yo've past th' Goulden Dragon.'
'And your name? I must not forget that.'
'I'm none ashamed o' my name. It's Nicholas Higgins. Hoo's called Bessy Higgins. Whatten yo' asking for?'
Margaret was surprised at this last question, for at Helstone it would have been an understood thing, after the inquiries she had made, that she intended to come and call upon any poor neighbour whose name and habitation she had asked for.
'I thought—I meant to come and see you.' She suddenly felt rather shy of offering the visit, without having any reason to give for her wish to make it, beyond a kindly interest in a stranger. It seemed all at once to take the shape of an impertinence on her part; she read this meaning too in the man's eyes.
'I'm none so fond of having strange folk in my house.' But then relenting, as he saw her heightened colour, he added, 'Yo're a foreigner, as one may say, and maybe don't know many folk here, and yo've given my wench here flowers out of yo'r own hand;—yo may come if yo like.'
Margaret was half-amused, half-nettled at this answer. She was not sure if she would go where permission was given so like a favour conferred. But when they came to the town into Frances Street, the girl stopped a minute, and said,
'Yo'll not forget yo're to come and see us.' (73)
Margaret's early thoughts on Mr. Thornton:
'But, east or west wind, I suppose this man comes.'
'Oh, mamma, that shows you never saw Mr. Thornton. He looks like a person who would enjoy battling with every adverse thing he could meet with—enemies, winds, or circumstances. The more it rains and blows, the more certain we are to have him. But I'll go and help Dixon. I'm getting to be a famous clear-starcher. And he won't want any amusement beyond talking to papa. Papa, I am really longing to see the Pythias to your Damon. You know I never saw him but once, and then we were so puzzled to know what to say to each other that we did not get on particularly well.'
'I don't know that you would ever like him, or think him agreeable, Margaret. He is not a lady's man.'
Margaret wreathed her throat in a scornful curve.
'I don't particularly admire ladies' men, papa. But Mr. Thornton comes here as your friend—as one who has appreciated you'—
'The only person in Milton,' said Mrs. Hale.
'So we will give him a welcome, and some cocoa-nut cakes. Dixon will be flattered if we ask her to make some; and I will undertake to iron your caps, mamma.'
Many a time that morning did Margaret wish Mr. Thornton far enough away. (75)
 And I believe this is the first but definitely not last mention of Mrs. Thornton--John's mother. She's certainly not easy to forget!!!
'John! Is that you?'
Her son opened the door and showed himself.
'What has brought you home so early? I thought you were going to tea with that friend of Mr. Bell's; that Mr. Hale.'
'So I am, mother; I am come home to dress!'
'Dress! humph! When I was a girl, young men were satisfied with dressing once in a day. Why should you dress to go and take a cup of tea with an old parson?'
'Mr. Hale is a gentleman, and his wife and daughter are ladies.'
'Wife and daughter! Do they teach too? What do they do? You have never mentioned them.'
'No! mother, because I have never seen Mrs. Hale; I have only seen Miss Hale for half an hour.'
'Take care you don't get caught by a penniless girl, John.'
'I am not easily caught, mother, as I think you know. But I must not have Miss Hale spoken of in that way, which, you know, is offensive to me. I never was aware of any young lady trying to catch me yet, nor do I believe that any one has ever given themselves that useless trouble.'
Mrs. Thornton did not choose to yield the point to her son; or else she had, in general, pride enough for her sex.
'Well! I only say, take care. Perhaps our Milton girls have too much spirit and good feeling to go angling after husbands; but this Miss Hale comes out of the aristocratic counties, where, if all tales be true, rich husbands are reckoned prizes.'
Mr. Thornton's brow contracted, and he came a step forward into the room.
'Mother' (with a short scornful laugh), 'you will make me confess. The only time I saw Miss Hale, she treated me with a haughty civility which had a strong flavour of contempt in it. She held herself aloof from me as if she had been a queen, and I her humble, unwashed vassal. Be easy, mother.'
'No! I am not easy, nor content either. What business had she, a renegade clergyman's daughter, to turn up her nose at you! I would dress for none of them—a saucy set! if I were you.' As he was leaving the room, he said:—
'Mr. Hale is good, and gentle, and learned. He is not saucy. As for Mrs. Hale, I will tell you what she is like to-night, if you care to hear.' He shut the door and was gone.
'Despise my son! treat him as her vassal, indeed! Humph! I should like to know where she could find such another! Boy and man, he's the noblest, stoutest heart I ever knew. I don't care if I am his mother; I can see what's what, and not be blind. I know what Fanny is; and I know what John is. Despise him! I hate her!' (77)
John noticing Margaret...
She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness. She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening—the fall. He could almost have exclaimed—'There it goes, again!' There was so little left to be done after he arrived at the preparation for tea, that he was almost sorry the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his watching Margaret. She handed him his cup of tea with the proud air of an unwilling slave; but her eye caught the moment when he was ready for another cup; and he almost longed to ask her to do for him what he saw her compelled to do for her father, who took her little finger and thumb in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. Mr. Thornton saw her beautiful eyes lifted to her father, full of light, half-laughter and half-love, as this bit of pantomime went on between the two, unobserved, as they fancied, by any. (79)
A missed opportunity...it won't be the only missed opportunity either.
When Mr. Thornton rose up to go away, after shaking hands with Mr. and Mrs. Hale, he made an advance to Margaret to wish her good-bye in a similar manner. It was the frank familiar custom of the place; but Margaret was not prepared for it. She simply bowed her farewell; although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back, she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention. Mr. Thornton, however, knew nothing of her sorrow, and, drawing himself up to his full height, walked off, muttering as he left the house—
'A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is blotted out of one's memory by her scornful ways.' (86)
Margaret speaks out on Mr. Thornton (again):
'Papa, I do think Mr. Thornton a very remarkable man; but personally I don't like him at all.'
'And I do!' said her father laughing. 'Personally, as you call it, and all. I don't set him up for a hero, or anything of that kind. But good night, child. (88)
And here we have the first of many references to Revelation!
'Do you think such life as this is worth caring for?' gasped Bessy, at last. Margaret did not speak, but held the water to her lips. Bessy took a long and feverish draught, and then fell back and shut her eyes. Margaret heard her murmur to herself: 'They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.'
Margaret bent over and said, 'Bessy, don't be impatient with your life, whatever it is—or may have been. Remember who gave it you, and made it what it is!' She was startled by hearing Nicholas speak behind her; he had come in without her noticing him. (90)
Not that they only talk about death and dying. They also talk about factory life.

Margaret meeting John's mother...she does love to boast!
'To hold and maintain a high, honourable place among the merchants of his country—the men of his town. Such a place my son has earned for himself. Go where you will—I don't say in England only, but in Europe—the name of John Thornton of Milton is known and respected amongst all men of business. Of course, it is unknown in the fashionable circles,' she continued, scornfully.
'Idle gentlemen and ladies are not likely to know much of a Milton manufacturer, unless he gets into parliament, or marries a lord's daughter.' Both Mr. Hale and Margaret had an uneasy, ludicrous consciousness that they had never heard of this great name, until Mr. Bell had written them word that Mr. Thornton would be a good friend to have in Milton. The proud mother's world was not their world of Harley Street gentilities on the one hand, or country clergymen and Hampshire squires on the other. Margaret's face, in spite of all her endeavours to keep it simply listening in its expression told the sensitive Mrs. Thornton this feeling of hers.
'You think you never heard of this wonderful son of mine, Miss Hale. You think I'm an old woman whose ideas are bounded by Milton, and whose own crow is the whitest ever seen.'
'No,' said Margaret, with some spirit. 'It may be true, that I was thinking I had hardly heard Mr. Thornton's name before I came to Milton. But since I have come here, I have heard enough to make me respect and admire him, and to feel how much justice and truth there is in what you have said of him.'
'Who spoke to you of him?' asked Mrs. Thornton, a little mollified, yet jealous lest any one else's words should not have done him full justice. Margaret hesitated before she replied. She did not like this authoritative questioning. Mr. Hale came in, as he thought, to the rescue.
'It was what Mr. Thornton said himself, that made us know the kind of man he was. Was it not, Margaret?'
Mrs. Thornton drew herself up, and said—
'My son is not the one to tell of his own doings. May I again ask you, Miss Hale, from whose account you formed your favourable opinion of him? A mother is curious and greedy of commendation of her children, you know.'
Margaret replied, 'It was as much from what Mr. Thornton withheld of that which we had been told of his previous life by Mr. Bell,—it was more that than what he said, that made us all feel what reason you have to be proud of him.'
'Mr. Bell! What can he know of John? He, living a lazy life in a drowsy college. But I'm obliged to you, Miss Hale. Many a missy young lady would have shrunk from giving an old woman the pleasure of hearing that her son was well spoken of.' (114)
Margaret and John definitely know how to have a tense conversation:
'I shall only be too glad to explain to you all that may seem anomalous or mysterious to a stranger; especially at a time like this, when our doings are sure to be canvassed by every scribbler who can hold a pen.'
'Thank you,' she answered, coldly. 'Of course, I shall apply to my father in the first instance for any information he can give me, if I get puzzled with living here amongst this strange society.'
'You think it strange. Why?'
'I don't know—I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.'
'Who have you heard running the masters down? I don't ask who you have heard abusing the men; for I see you persist in misunderstanding what I said the other day. But who have you heard abusing the masters?'
Margaret reddened; then smiled as she said,
'I am not fond of being catechised. I refuse to answer your question. Besides, it has nothing to do with the fact. You must take my word for it, that I have heard some people, or, it may be, only someone of the workpeople, speak as though it were the interest of the employers to keep them from acquiring money—that it would make them too independent if they had a sum in the savings' bank.' (118)
 One of Margaret's many burdens... Gaskell certainly did a good job on making Margaret so very strong and resilient. Yet she's not hard and unfeeling.
'What is the matter with mamma? You will oblige me by telling the simple truth.' Then, seeing a slight hesitation on the doctor's part, she added—
'I am the only child she has—here, I mean. My father is not sufficiently alarmed, I fear; and, therefore, if there is any serious apprehension, it must be broken to him gently. I can do this. I can nurse my mother. Pray, speak, sir; to see your face, and not be able to read it, gives me a worse dread than I trust any words of yours will justify.'
'My dear young lady, your mother seems to have a most attentive and efficient servant, who is more like her friend—'
'I am her daughter, sir.'
'But when I tell you she expressly desired that you might not be told—'
'I am not good or patient enough to submit to the prohibition. Besides, I am sure you are too wise—too experienced to have promised to keep the secret.'
'Well,' said he, half-smiling, though sadly enough, 'there you are right. I did not promise. In fact, I fear, the secret will be known soon enough without my revealing it.'
He paused. Margaret went very white, and compressed her lips a little more. Otherwise not a feature moved. With the quick insight into character, without which no medical man can rise to the eminence of Dr. Donaldson, he saw that she would exact the full truth; that she would know if one iota was withheld; and that the withholding would be torture more acute than the knowledge of it. He spoke two short sentences in a low voice, watching her all the time; for the pupils of her eyes dilated into a black horror and the whiteness of her complexion became livid. He ceased speaking. He waited for that look to go off,—for her gasping breath to come. Then she said:—
'I thank you most truly, sir, for your confidence. That dread has haunted me for many weeks. It is a true, real agony. My poor, poor mother!' her lips began to quiver, and he let her have the relief of tears, sure of her power of self-control to check them.
A few tears—those were all she shed, before she recollected the many questions she longed to ask. (126)
I share Bessy's love of Revelation. I do. It is one of my favorite, favorite books as well.
'I ask your pardon,' replied Bessy, humbly. 'Sometimes, when I've thought o' my life, and the little pleasure I've had in it, I've believed that, maybe, I was one of those doomed to die by the falling of a star from heaven; "And the name of the star is called Wormwood;" and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." One can bear pain and sorrow better if one thinks it has been prophesied long before for one: somehow, then it seems as if my pain was needed for the fulfilment; otherways it seems all sent for nothing.'
'Nay, Bessy—think!' said Margaret. 'God does not willingly afflict. Don't dwell so much on the prophecies, but read the clearer parts of the Bible.'
'I dare say it would be wiser; but where would I hear such grand words of promise—hear tell o' anything so far different fro' this dreary world, and this town above a', as in Revelations? Many's the time I've repeated the verses in the seventh chapter to myself, just for the sound. It's as good as an organ, and as different from every day, too. No, I cannot give up Revelations. It gives me more comfort than any other book i' the Bible.' (137)
Mr. Thornton tries to be kind to Margaret, but, she's not quite ready!
What business had he to be the only person, except Dr. Donaldson and Dixon, admitted to the awful secret, which she held shut up in the most dark and sacred recess of her heart—not daring to look at it, unless she invoked heavenly strength to bear the sight—that, some day soon, she should cry aloud for her mother, and no answer would come out of the blank, dumb darkness? Yet he knew all. She saw it in his pitying eyes. She heard it in his grave and tremulous voice. How reconcile those eyes, that voice, with the hard-reasoning, dry, merciless way in which he laid down axioms of trade, and serenely followed them out to their full consequences? The discord jarred upon her inexpressibly. (153)
Margaret has another conversation with her Dad about that man!
'Oh, papa!'
'Well! I only want you to do justice to Mr. Thornton, who is, I suspect, of an exactly opposite nature,—a man who is far too proud to show his feelings. Just the character I should have thought beforehand, you would have admired, Margaret.'
'So I do,—so I should; but I don't feel quite so sure as you do of the existence of those feelings. He is a man of great strength of character,—of unusual intellect, considering the few advantages he has had.'
'Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age; has been called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All that develops one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs some of the knowledge of the past, which gives the truest basis for conjecture as to the future; but he knows this need,—he perceives it, and that is something. You are quite prejudiced against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.' (166)
Tender yet uncomfortable witness:
'Not the disease. We cannot touch the disease, with all our poor vaunted skill. We can only delay its progress—alleviate the pain it causes. Be a man, sir—a Christian. Have faith in the immortality of the soul, which no pain, no mortal disease, can assail or touch!'
But all the reply he got, was in the choked words, 'You have never been married, Dr. Donaldson; you do not know what it is,' and in the deep, manly sobs, which went through the stillness of the night like heavy pulses of agony. Margaret knelt by him, caressing him with tearful caresses. No one, not even Dr. Donaldson, knew how the time went by. Mr. Hale was the first to dare to speak of the necessities of the present moment.
'What must we do?' asked he. 'Tell us both. Margaret is my staff—my right hand.' (169)
The strike or riot gets intense, very intense!
'Mr. Thornton,' said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, 'go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don't let the soldiers come in and cut down poor creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.'
He turned and looked at her while she spoke. A dark cloud came over his face while he listened. He set his teeth as he heard her words.
'I will go. Perhaps I may ask you to accompany me downstairs, and bar the door behind me; my mother and sister will need that protection.'
'Oh! Mr. Thornton! I do not know—I may be wrong—only—' But he was gone; he was downstairs in the hall; he had unbarred the front door; all she could do, was to follow him quickly, and fasten it behind him, and clamber up the stairs again with a sick heart and a dizzy head. Again she took her place by the farthest window. He was on the steps below; she saw that by the direction of a thousand angry eyes; but she could neither see nor hear anything save the savage satisfaction of the rolling angry murmur. She threw the window wide open. Many in the crowd were mere boys; cruel and thoughtless,—cruel because they were thoughtless; some were men, gaunt as wolves, and mad for prey. (177)
and
She only thought how she could save him. She threw her arms around him; she made her body into a shield from the fierce people beyond. Still, with his arms folded, he shook her off.
'Go away,' said he, in his deep voice. 'This is no place for you.'
'It is!' said she. 'You did not see what I saw.' If she thought her sex would be a protection,—if, with shrinking eyes she had turned away from the terrible anger of these men, in any hope that ere she looked again they would have paused and reflected, and slunk away, and vanished,—she was wrong. Their reckless passion had carried them too far to stop—at least had carried some of them too far; for it is always the savage lads, with their love of cruel excitement, who head the riot—reckless to what bloodshed it may lead. A clog whizzed through the air. Margaret's fascinated eyes watched its progress; it missed its aim, and she turned sick with affright, but changed not her position, only hid her face on Mr. Thornton s arm. Then she turned and spoke again:'
'For God's sake! do not damage your cause by this violence. You do not know what you are doing.' She strove to make her words distinct.
A sharp pebble flew by her, grazing forehead and cheek, and drawing a blinding sheet of light before her eyes. She lay like one dead on Mr. Thornton's shoulder. Then he unfolded his arms, and held her encircled in one for an instant:
'You do well!' said he. 'You come to oust the innocent stranger. You fall—you hundreds—on one man; and when a woman comes before you, to ask you for your own sakes to be reasonable creatures, your cowardly wrath falls upon her! You do well!' They were silent while he spoke. They were watching, open-eyed and open-mouthed, the thread of dark-red blood which wakened them up from their trance of passion. Those nearest the gate stole out ashamed; there was a movement through all the crowd—a retreating movement. Only one voice cried out:
'Th' stone were meant for thee; but thou wert sheltered behind a woman!'
Mr. Thornton quivered with rage. The blood-flowing had made Margaret conscious—dimly, vaguely conscious. He placed her gently on the door-step, her head leaning against the frame.
'Can you rest there?' he asked. But without waiting for her answer, he went slowly down the steps right into the middle of the crowd. 'Now kill me, if it is your brutal will. There is no woman to shield me here. You may beat me to death—you will never move me from what I have determined upon—not you!' He stood amongst them, with his arms folded, in precisely the same attitude as he had been in on the steps. (179)
This moment changes everything...but not as much as Mr. Thornton would like!!!
'Miss Hale, I was very ungrateful yesterday—'
'You had nothing to be grateful for,' said she, raising her eyes, and looking full and straight at him. 'You mean, I suppose, that you believe you ought to thank me for what I did.' In spite of herself—in defiance of her anger—the thick blushes came all over her face, and burnt into her very eyes; which fell not nevertheless from their grave and steady look. 'It was only a natural instinct; any woman would have done just the same. We all feel the sanctity of our sex as a high privilege when we see danger. I ought rather,' said she, hastily, 'to apologise to you, for having said thoughtless words which sent you down into the danger.'
'It was not your words; it was the truth they conveyed, pungently as it was expressed. But you shall not drive me off upon that, and so escape the expression of my deep gratitude, my—' he was on the verge now; he would not speak in the haste of his hot passion; he would weigh each word. He would; and his will was triumphant. He stopped in mid career.
'I do not try to escape from anything,' said she. 'I simply say, that you owe me no gratitude; and I may add, that any expression of it will be painful to me, because I do not feel that I deserve it. Still, if it will relieve you from even a fancied obligation, speak on.'
'I do not want to be relieved from any obligation,' said he, goaded by her calm manner. 'Fancied, or not fancied—I question not myself to know which—I choose to believe that I owe my very life to you—ay—smile, and think it an exaggeration if you will. I believe it, because it adds a value to that life to think—oh, Miss Hale!' continued he, lowering his voice to such a tender intensity of passion that she shivered and trembled before him, 'to think circumstance so wrought, that whenever I exult in existence henceforward, I may say to myself, "All this gladness in life, all honest pride in doing my work in the world, all this keen sense of being, I owe to her!" And it doubles the gladness, it makes the pride glow, it sharpens the sense of existence till I hardly know if it is pain or pleasure, to think that I owe it to one—nay, you must, you shall hear'—said he, stepping forwards with stern determination—'to one whom I love, as I do not believe man ever loved woman before.' He held her hand tight in his. He panted as he listened for what should come. He threw the hand away with indignation, as he heard her icy tone; for icy it was, though the words came faltering out, as if she knew not where to find them.
'Your way of speaking shocks me. It is blasphemous. I cannot help it, if that is my first feeling. It might not be so, I dare say, if I understood the kind of feeling you describe. I do not want to vex you; and besides, we must speak gently, for mamma is asleep; but your whole manner offends me—'
'How!' exclaimed he. 'Offends you! I am indeed most unfortunate.'
'Yes!' said she, with recovered dignity. 'I do feel offended; and, I think, justly. You seem to fancy that my conduct of yesterday'—again the deep carnation blush, but this time with eyes kindling with indignation rather than shame—'was a personal act between you and me; and that you may come and thank me for it, instead of perceiving, as a gentleman would—yes! a gentleman,' she repeated, in allusion to their former conversation about that word, 'that any woman, worthy of the name of woman, would come forward to shield, with her reverenced helplessness, a man in danger from the violence of numbers.'
'And the gentleman thus rescued is forbidden the relief of thanks!' he broke in contemptuously. 'I am a man. I claim the right of expressing my feelings.'
'And I yielded to the right; simply saying that you gave me pain by insisting upon it,' she replied, proudly. 'But you seem to have imagined, that I was not merely guided by womanly instinct, but'—and here the passionate tears (kept down for long—struggled with vehemently) came up into her eyes, and choked her voice—'but that I was prompted by some particular feeling for you—you! Why, there was not a man—not a poor desperate man in all that crowd—for whom I had not more sympathy—for whom I should not have done what little I could more heartily.'
'You may speak on, Miss Hale. I am aware of all these misplaced sympathies of yours. I now believe that it was only your innate sense of oppression—(yes; I, though a master, may be oppressed)—that made you act so nobly as you did. I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.'
'I do not care to understand,' she replied, taking hold of the table to steady herself; for she thought him cruel—as, indeed, he was—and she was weak with her indignation.
'No, I see you do not. You are unfair and unjust.'
Margaret compressed her lips. She would not speak in answer to such accusations. But, for all that—for all his savage words, he could have thrown himself at her feet, and kissed the hem of her garment. She did not speak; she did not move. The tears of wounded pride fell hot and fast. He waited awhile, longing for her to say something, even a taunt, to which he might reply. But she was silent. He took up his hat.
'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.'
'I am not afraid,' she replied, lifting herself straight up. 'No one yet has ever dared to be impertinent to me, and no one ever shall. But, Mr. Thornton, you have been very kind to my father,' said she, changing her whole tone and bearing to a most womanly softness. 'Don't let us go on making each other angry. Pray don't!' He took no notice of her words: he occupied himself in smoothing the nap of his hat with his coat-sleeve, for half a minute or so; and then, rejecting her offered hand, and making as if he did not see her grave look of regret, he turned abruptly away, and left the room. Margaret caught one glance at his face before he went.
When he was gone, she thought she had seen the gleam of unshed tears in his eyes; and that turned her proud dislike into something different and kinder, if nearly as painful—self-reproach for having caused such mortification to any one.
'But how could I help it?' asked she of herself. 'I never liked him. I was civil; but I took no trouble to conceal my indifference. Indeed, I never thought about myself or him, so my manners must have shown the truth. All that yesterday, he might mistake. But that is his fault, not mine. I would do it again, if need were, though it does lead me into all this shame and trouble.' (194-6)
I do love, love, love Mr. Thornton.

Margaret can't forget the proposal as easily as she'd like:
For, although at first it had struck her, that his offer was forced and goaded out of him by sharp compassion for the exposure she had made of herself,—which he, like others, might misunderstand—yet, even before he left the room,—and certainly, not five minutes after, the clear conviction dawned upon her, shined bright upon her, that he did love her; that he had loved her; that he would love her. And she shrank and shuddered as under the fascination of some great power, repugnant to her whole previous life. She crept away, and hid from his idea. (197)
Awkward and emotional scene between two mothers...
'Margaret—you have a daughter—my sister is in Italy. My child will be without a mother;—in a strange place,—if I die—will you'——
And her filmy wandering eyes fixed themselves with an intensity of wistfulness on Mrs. Thornton's face. For a minute, there was no change in its rigidness; it was stern and unmoved;—nay, but that the eyes of the sick woman were growing dim with the slow-gathering tears, she might have seen a dark cloud cross the cold features. And it was no thought of her son, or of her living daughter Fanny, that stirred her heart at last; but a sudden remembrance, suggested by something in the arrangement of the room,—of a little daughter—dead in infancy—long years ago—that, like a sudden sunbeam, melted the icy crust, behind which there was a real tender woman.
'You wish me to be a friend to Miss Hale,' said Mrs. Thornton, in her measured voice, that would not soften with her heart, but came out distinct and clear.
Mrs. Hale, her eyes still fixed on Mrs. Thornton's face, pressed the hand that lay below hers on the coverlet. She could not speak. Mrs. Thornton sighed, 'I will be a true friend, if circumstances require it. Not a tender friend. That I cannot be,'—('to her,' she was on the point of adding, but she relented at the sight of that poor, anxious face.)—'It is not my nature to show affection even where I feel it, nor do I volunteer advice in general. Still, at your request,—if it will be any comfort to you, I will promise you.' Then came a pause. Mrs. Thornton was too conscientious to promise what she did not mean to perform; and to perform any-thing in the way of kindness on behalf of Margaret, more disliked at this moment than ever, was difficult; almost impossible.
'I promise,' said she, with grave severity; which, after all, inspired the dying woman with faith as in something more stable than life itself,—flickering, flitting, wavering life! 'I promise that in any difficulty in which Miss Hale'——
'Call her Margaret!' gasped Mrs. Hale.
'In which she comes to me for help, I will help her with every power I have, as if she were my own daughter. I also promise that if ever I see her doing what I think is wrong'——
'But Margaret never does wrong—not wilfully wrong,' pleaded Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Thornton went on as before; as if she had not heard:
'If ever I see her doing what I believe to be wrong—such wrong not touching me or mine, in which case I might be supposed to have an interested motive—I will tell her of it, faithfully and plainly, as I should wish my own daughter to be told.'
There was a long pause. Mrs. Hale felt that this promise did not include all; and yet it was much. It had reservations in it which she did not understand; but then she was weak, dizzy, and tired. Mrs. Thornton was reviewing all the probable cases in which she had pledged herself to act. She had a fierce pleasure in the idea of telling Margaret unwelcome truths, in the shape of performance of duty. Mrs. Hale began to speak:
'I thank you. I pray God to bless you. I shall never see you again in this world. But my last words are, I thank you for your promise of kindness to my child.'
'Not kindness!' testified Mrs. Thornton, ungraciously truthful to the last. But having eased her conscience by saying these words, she was not sorry that they were not heard. She pressed Mrs. Hale's soft languid hand; and rose up and went her way out of the house without seeing a creature. (241)
Oh, Margaret! And it's just getting started!
'There have been such strange unexpected changes in my life during these last two years, that I feel more than ever that it is not worth while to calculate too closely what I should do if any future event took place. I try to think only upon the present.' (263)
Mr. Thornton and Mr. Hale bond...
Whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little; but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale's reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton's two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt—a fear—a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none—so tear-blinded were its eyes—Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world's great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. (276)
And his love endures as he saves Margaret from scandal or at the very least embarrassment:
'There will be no inquest. Medical evidence not sufficient to justify it. Take no further steps. I have not seen the coroner; but I will take the responsibility.' (280)
Is it this that acts as a catalyst for Margaret's heart? Not his saving her. No, she's embarrassed that he had to save her. She's anxious that she'll never get a chance to explain her side. She fears that he will never look at her the same way again. That she'll always be tainted...

Margaret is not the only one tortured...
It was this that made the misery—that he passionately loved her, and thought her, even with all her faults, more lovely and more excellent than any other woman; yet he deemed her so attached to some other man, so led away by her affection for him as to violate her truthful nature. The very falsehood that stained her, was a proof how blindly she loved another—this dark, slight, elegant, handsome man—while he himself was rough, and stern, and strongly made. He lashed himself into an agony of fierce jealousy. He thought of that look, that attitude!—how he would have laid his life at her feet for such tender glances, such fond detention! He mocked at himself, for having valued the mechanical way in which she had protected him from the fury of the mob; now he had seen how soft and bewitching she looked when with a man she really loved. He remembered, point by point, the sharpness of her words—'There was not a man in all that crowd for whom she would not have done as much, far more readily than for him.' He shared with the mob, in her desire of averting bloodshed from them; but this man, this hidden lover, shared with nobody; he had looks, words, hand-cleavings, lies, concealment, all to himself. Mr. Thornton was conscious that he had never been so irritable as he was now, in all his life long; he felt inclined to give a short abrupt answer, more like a bark than a speech, to every one that asked him a question; and this consciousness hurt his pride: he had always piqued himself on his self-control, and control himself he would. (310)
I love the fact that Mr. Thornton and Nicholas Higgins are brought together, in a way, by Margaret.
He came to tell Higgins he would give him work; and he was more annoyed to find Margaret there than by hearing her last words, for then he understood that she was the woman who had urged Higgins to come to him; and he dreaded the admission of any thought of her, as a motive to what he was doing solely because it was right.
'So that was the lady you spoke of as a woman?' said he indignantly to Higgins. 'You might have told me who she was.
'And then, maybe, yo'd ha' spoken of her more civil than yo' did; yo'd getten a mother who might ha' kept yo'r tongue in check when yo' were talking o' women being at the root o' all the plagues.'
'Of course you told that to Miss Hale?'
'In coorse I did. Leastways, I reckon I did. I telled her she weren't to meddle again in aught that concerned yo'.'
'Whose children are those—yours?' Mr. Thornton had a pretty good notion whose they were, from what he had heard; but he felt awkward in turning the conversation round from this unpromising beginning.
'They're not mine, and they are mine.'
'They are the children you spoke of to me this morning?'
'When yo' said,' replied Higgins, turning round, with ill-smothered fierceness, 'that my story might be true or might not, bur it were a very unlikely one. Measter, I've not forgetten.'
Mr. Thornton was silent for a moment; then he said: 'No more have I. I remember what I said. I spoke to you about those children in a way I had no business to do. I did not believe you. I could not have taken care of another man's children myself, if he had acted towards me as I hear Boucher did towards you. But I know now that you spoke truth. I beg your pardon.'
Higgins did not turn round, or immediately respond to this. But when he did speak, it was in a softened tone, although the words were gruff enough.
'Yo've no business to go prying into what happened between Boucher and me. He's dead, and I'm sorry. That's enough.'
'So it is. Will you take work with me? That's what I came to ask.'
Higgins's obstinacy wavered, recovered strength, and stood firm. He would not speak. Mr. Thornton would not ask again. Higgins's eye fell on the children.
'Yo've called me impudent, and a liar, and a mischief-maker, and yo' might ha' said wi' some truth, as I were now and then given to drink. An' I ha' called you a tyrant, an' an oud bull-dog, and a hard, cruel master; that's where it stands. But for th' childer. Measter, do yo' think we can e'er get on together?'
'Well!' said Mr. Thornton, half-laughing, 'it was not my proposal that we should go together. But there's one comfort, on your own showing. We neither of us can think much worse of the other than we do now.'
'That's true,' said Higgins, reflectively. 'I've been thinking, ever sin' I saw you, what a marcy it were yo' did na take me on, for that I ne'er saw a man whom I could less abide. But that's maybe been a hasty judgment; and work's work to such as me. So, measter, I'll come; and what's more, I thank yo'; and that's a deal fro' me,' said he, more frankly, suddenly turning round and facing Mr. Thornton fully for the first time.
'And this is a deal from me,' said Mr. Thornton, giving Higgins's hand a good grip. 'Now mind you come sharp to your time,' continued he, resuming the master. 'I'll have no laggards at my mill. What fines we have, we keep pretty sharply. And the first time I catch you making mischief, off you go. So now you know where you are.' (325-6)
A scene with potential...
'Higgins did not quite tell you the exact truth.' The word 'truth,' reminded her of her own untruth, and she stopped short, feeling exceedingly uncomfortable.
Mr. Thornton at first was puzzled to account for her silence; and then he remembered the lie she had told, and all that was foregone. 'The exact truth!' said he. 'Very few people do speak the exact truth. I have given up hoping for it. Miss Hale, have you no explanation to give me? You must perceive what I cannot but think.'
Margaret was silent. She was wondering whether an explanation of any kind would be consistent with her loyalty to Frederick.
'Nay,' said he, 'I will ask no farther. I may be putting temptation in your way. At present, believe me, your secret is safe with me. But you run great risks, allow me to say, in being so indiscreet. I am now only speaking as a friend of your father's: if I had any other thought or hope, of course that is at an end. I am quite disinterested.'
'I am aware of that,' said Margaret, forcing herself to speak in an indifferent, careless way. 'I am aware of what I must appear to you, but the secret is another person's, and I cannot explain it without doing him harm.'
'I have not the slightest wish to pry into the gentleman's secrets,' he said, with growing anger. 'My own interest in you is—simply that of a friend. You may not believe me, Miss Hale, but it is—in spite of the persecution I'm afraid I threatened you with at one time—but that is all given up; all passed away. You believe me, Miss Hale?'
'Yes,' said Margaret, quietly and sadly. (327-8)
And Mr. Bell speaks GREAT TRUTH...
'Hale! did it ever strike you that Thornton and your daughter have what the French call a tendresse for each other?'
'Never!' said Mr. Hale, first startled and then flurried by the new idea. 'No, I am sure you are wrong. I am almost certain you are mistaken. If there is anything, it is all on Mr. Thornton's side. Poor fellow! I hope and trust he is not thinking of her, for I am sure she would not have him.'
'Well! I'm a bachelor, and have steered clear of love affairs all my life; so perhaps my opinion is not worth having. Or else I should say there were very pretty symptoms about her!'
'Then I am sure you are wrong,' said Mr. Hale. 'He may care for her, though she really has been almost rude to him at times. But she!—why, Margaret would never think of him, I'm sure! Such a thing has never entered her head.'
'Entering her heart would do. But I merely threw out a suggestion of what might be. I dare say I was wrong. And whether I was wrong or right, I'm very sleepy; so, having disturbed your night's rest (as I can see) with my untimely fancies, I'll betake myself with an easy mind to my own.'
But Mr. Hale resolved that he would not be disturbed by any such nonsensical idea; so he lay awake, determining not to think about it.
Mr. Bell took his leave the next day, bidding Margaret look to him as one who had a right to help and protect her in all her troubles, of whatever nature they might be. To Mr. Hale he said,—
'That Margaret of yours has gone deep into my heart. Take care of her, for she is a very precious creature,—a great deal too good for Milton,—only fit for Oxford, in fact. The town, I mean; not the men. I can't match her yet. When I can, I shall bring my young man to stand side by side with your young woman, just as the genie in the Arabian Nights brought Prince Caralmazan to match with the fairy's Princess Badoura.'
'I beg you'll do no such thing. Remember the misfortunes that ensued; and besides, I can't spare Margaret.' (337)
Of course, it takes Margaret and John a bit more time--the novel is 436 pages--to be honest with each other about their feelings! The closing scenes of the book and movie are quite different from one another!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Duke's Children (1880)

The Duke's Children. Anthony Trollope. 1880. 560 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

It is always bittersweet for me as a reader to come to the end of a series. There is always a sense of satisfaction, but, also usually some sadness to say goodbye as well. The Palliser series by Anthony Trollope has been interesting. I've loved some books very much, others not quite as much. But overall, it's just been a joy to spend so much of this year with Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister.

The Duke's Children is essentially a novel about relationships, about falling in and out of love, about accepting loved one's choices.

Plantagenet Palliser, current Duke of Omnium, has three grown--or nearly grown--children. His oldest son (Lord Silverbridge) and his oldest daughter (Lady Mary) are proving to be difficult to handle.

Lady Mary has fallen madly in love with a man whom her father judges to be unworthy or unacceptable. His name is Frank Tregear. He happens, of course, to be good, good friends with Lord Silverbridge.

Lord Silverbridge was courting a cousin of Tregear's, a young woman, Lady Mabel Grex. He told his father that he was planning on proposing to her very soon. She was expecting his proposal, and she was going to say yes. But that was before Lord Silverbridge met the American heiress, Isabel Boncassen, of course, she was oh-so-beautiful. After that, it was Mabel, who? Does the reader pity Mabel? Should the reader pity Mabel? I haven't decided WHAT Trollope really intended us all to think...if anything.

Mabel's heart belongs not to Lord Silverbridge, though, she knows they'd be pleasant enough companions and suit together well. No, Mabel's heart belongs to Frank Tregear. She loved him; he loved her. They both knew that being together was insensible. Both being poor and all. But she NEVER expected him to turn around and fall madly in love with someone else so very, very soon. She was so sure that he felt just as strongly about her. How could he stop loving her and start loving someone else so quickly?! And when Lord Silverbridge seems to do the exact same, well, let's just say that Mabel gets VERY VERY angry.

Will the Duke give his approval to his daughter, Lady Mary? Will he try to make her marry someone more suitable? Who has the stronger will? Will he persuade her that Frank is not the one and that, of course, she should marry someone with a title and lots of money? Or will she persuade him that Frank is the ONLY one who could ever make her happy?

Will the Duke give his approval to his son, Lord Silverbridge? Will he cover all his son's debts and forgive him all his foolish mistakes? Will he accept his son's choice of bride? Or will he argue the case for Mabel?

I definitely loved this one. I never find Trollope boring. Sometimes I find him more interesting than other times. But I care about the characters and always want to know how things will turn out.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Merry Monarch's Wife (1991)

The Merry Monarch's Wife. (A Queens of England Novel). Jean Plaidy. 1991/2008. Crown. 352 pages. [Source: Bought]

MY LIFE WILL END WHERE IT BEGAN, FOR IN THE YEAR 1692 I left England where I had gone some thirty years before as a bride to the most romantic prince in Europe. I smile now to consider how ill-equipped I was for such a position, and when I look back I say to myself, “If I had done this…,” “If I had not done that…how much happier my life would have been.” But then, although I was not very young—I was twenty-four, which is a mature age for a princess to embark on marriage—I was quite innocent of the world and had hardly ever strayed from the walls of the convent where I had received my education, or the precincts of the royal palace. 
 
I enjoyed reading Jean Plaidy's The Merry Monarch's Wife. Catherine of Braganza was the queen of Charles II. For those familiar with the reign of Charles II, you can imagine what a life she led for better or worse. The book seeks to capture her personal perspective of her husband, of her marriage, of her adopted country. (She's coming from Portugal to England.)

Plaidy's depiction has Catherine truly in love with the King, and oh-so-aware of his shortcomings. In her reckoning, Charles II could not help himself at all, he was completely incapable of fidelity. Readers catch glimpses here and there of Charles' many, many mistresses. But not as much as you might imagine. That is, the focus is on HER and not truly on him and his activities. She is aware of his favorites at any given time, and at times she's sought out in conversation by mistresses in and out of favor.

There is definitely a lot of POLITICS in Merry Monarch's Wife. Readers learn about various plots and threats and conspiracies. Readers meet men and women who are ambitious and manipulative and power-hungry.

I was familiar, in a way, with some of the details of his reign. But not of what life was like for her before and after. Before her arrival in England and after Charles II's death. This book tells a fairly complete story.

Quotes:
We do not know what the future holds, but I believe that one day you are going to be Queen of England, and when you are, you will do your duty to God and your country.” “Oh yes,” I said fervently, “I will.” I had a mission now. Not only was I going to marry Prince Charles, but I was going to save his soul.
He always called himself an ugly fellow, and when one considered his features that could be true, but his charm was overwhelming. There could never have been a more attractive man. I know that I loved him and one is apt to be unaware of the faults of the object of one’s devotion, but I can vouch for it that I was not alone in my opinion. He used to talk of the ringing of bells, the flowers strewn in his path, the women who threw kisses at him, the shouts of loyalty. “Odds fish!” he said. It was a favorite oath of his. “They gave me such a welcome home that I thought it must have been my own fault that I had stayed away so long.”
He laughed. “You remind me of my mother. You and she will be good friends when you meet, I’ll swear. As for this Catholic ceremony…you see, my dear, you are Queen of this country and you must be married according to the religious observances of the place. But you say you will not be happy…and I cannot allow you to be unhappy. I will tell you how we will resolve this matter. There shall be a ceremony here in this bedchamber. It shall be as you wish, and the other one will take place as arranged on the same day. It means you will have to marry me twice. Could you bear that?” I felt my lips tremble. I was going to weep because I was so touched, so happy. “You are all that I hoped for…and all that I dreamed,” I said emotionally. He looked at me in mock dismay. “Do not have too good an opinion of me, I beg you. I fear you will find me a somewhat sinful fellow.” “Oh no. You are the kindest and best man in the world.” He leaned toward me and kissed my cheek. He was sober suddenly. He said: “You shame me.” Then he was merry again. His gravity seemed always to be fleeting, as though his gaiety was waiting impatiently to break in on it.
Charles is fond of you. He likes you very much…but he will never be faithful to you. It is not in him to be faithful…not to any woman. My father was like him. I saw how my mother lived. So I understand. Accept this weakness in him and he will be grateful to you, he will be kind.
We would drink tea, for I had brought this custom with me from Portugal. For a short time people had thought the beverage very strange, but they were soon aware of the pleasure of taking that soothing drink, and my ladies quickly became as ardent tea drinkers as I myself. Indeed the custom was spreading all over the country.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. My Year with Jane: Emma (1815)

Emma. Jane Austen. 1815. 544 pages.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.
Did I like Emma more the second time around? That would be a definite yes. Is Emma my new favorite Austen? Of course not! Emma is still Emma. She'll never be a heroine that I love and adore. But have I learned to appreciate her? I think so. At least to a certain extent. There must be something about her if Mr. Knightley loves her so much. I trust Mr. Knightley. He's one big reason why I think Emma will always be worth reading and rereading.

The plot: Emma and her father are "mourning" the loss of Miss Taylor who married Mr. Weston. Emma doesn't have anyone exactly her equal in terms of social status, so she bends a bit and befriends Harriet. When the novel opens, Harriet and Mr. Martin are on the way to making a match. Emma sees Harriet as potentially being her equal and staying her equal--if she marries well, marries above her current status. Emma sees Harriet as being desperately in need of saving. Harriet becomes her project. Find a husband for Harriet, she will! Who is in need of a wife? Well, there's Mr. Elton. He's available, of course. Wouldn't it be splendid if those two got together?! The problem, as you might be aware, is that Mr. Elton has a wife in mind, and that wife is so not Harriet...

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Weston are hoping that Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston's son from his first marriage, will come to visit as he promised. There's always an excuse, a good excuse, or at least a valid excuse. When Frank does come to the community, well, expect trouble.

Oh, how I HATE HATE HATE Frank Churchill. Even if I try to stretch myself and see it from his point of view, I can't find my way to justifying ANYTHING he says and does before he is found out.

It was interesting to be reading Emma while watching the series  Emma Approved. I am a big, big Emma Approved fan, and, I must admit it was fun to go back to the original.

Have you read Emma? Do you have a favorite adaptation? What do you think of Clueless and Emma Approved?

Quotes:
The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.
Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by every body.
“Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through — and very good lists they were — very well chosen, and very neatly arranged — sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen — I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing. — You never could persuade her to read half so much as you wished. — You know you could not.”
A poet in love must be encouraged in both capacities, or neither.
Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.
There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.
It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation.
Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.
Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.
Emma continued to entertain no doubt of her being in love. Her ideas only varied as to the how much.
A vast deal may be done by those who dare to act.
How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun? — When had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had once, for a short period, occupied? — She looked back; she compared the two — compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter’s becoming known to her — and as they must at any time have been compared by her, had it — oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison. — She saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart — and, in short, that she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!
If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. — You hear nothing but truth from me. — I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. — Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. — But you understand me. — Yes, you see, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Reread #28 To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. Bantam. 493 pages. [Source: Bought]

I have every intention of rereading all four Oxford time travel books by Connie Willis this year. Earlier in the year, I reread the first book, Doomsday Book. To Say Nothing of the Dog, the second book, is a book I originally read and reviewed in July 2009. While the first book offers drama, drama, more drama, with just a touch of humor now and then, the second book is a romantic comedy. I happen to love both books though they are very different from one another.

Ned Henry is the hero of To Say Nothing of the Dog. He is on a mission, not a mission of his own choosing perhaps, but a big mission all the same. He is one of many time travelers working for Lady Schrapnell on her latest project: restoring Coventry Cathedral. The novel opens with a very overworked Ned Henry beginning to show severe signs of time-lag. What he needs is rest, permission to rest. That isn't likely to happen if Lady Schrapnell learns his whereabouts. For better or worse, Ned Henry is sent to the past--to Victorian times--to recuperate. He's been given another mission too. This time by someone much nicer and calmer than Lady Schrapnell. The problem? Ned Henry wasn't capable of listening and understanding. Now he's in the past without a real clue of WHY he's there and what he's supposed to accomplish.

Verity Kindle is the heroine of To Say Nothing of the Dog. She is on a mission of her own. While Ned Henry was given the assignment of finding out the whereabouts of the bishop's bird stump, Verity's assignment is to read Tocelyn's diary. The diary is available to read in the future. But the most relevant pages to the Coventry Cathedral project were damaged. So she's been sent to the oh-so-important summer of 1888 to read the newly written diary entries. She's having about as much success as Ned Henry. In other words, not much luck at all! These two work together as best they can. Verity manages to travel back and forth a few times to the future. Their mission--as they see it has changed a bit. They worry that they've damaged the future and that something horrible may happen as a result. Like Tocelyn, they know, was supposed to marry a "Mr. C". They know this for a fact from future diary entries. Yet here they are and she's engaged to someone else! Their "new mission" is to find the identity of "Mr. C." and make sure they meet when they're supposed to meet....

I loved this one. I have always loved this one. It is a delightful time travel novel. I love the humor! I do! It's so very, very funny! And I love the details and the dialogue. This one is just a joy cover to cover!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Brat Farrar (1949)

Brat Farrar. Josephine Tey. 1949/1997. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

I definitely enjoyed reading Brat Farrar. Was it my favorite-favorite Tey novel? Probably not. But I enjoyed it so much more than Miss Pym Disposes and A Shilling for Candles.

In Brat Farrar, the reader is in on the secret. Brat Farrar is impersonating Patrick Ashby. Alec Loding "discovers" Brat Farrar's resemblance to the Ashby family. There were twin brothers Patrick and Simon. Patrick vanished when he was twelve or thirteen, and he was presumed dead. The note he conveniently left behind led everyone to believe it was suicide. Even though Patrick didn't seem the sort. Then again, Patrick would not have been the sort to run away for eight years either. Alec Loding is encouraging his new friend, Brat, to invent such a tale. BE Patrick. Inherit the family estate. He tempts him with horses. If there is one thing our hero can't resist, it's horses. His oh-so-special way with horses gives his life meaning. On the one hand, Brat is essentially a moral guy. He knows right from wrong. He is not the sort to be reckless and cruel for the fun of it. On the other hand, ALL THOSE HORSES. So he allows Loding to coach him, teach him, anything and everything he needs to know to BE PATRICK. (How does Alec know all these details? Sure, a family friend might know some stuff, but everything from the age of three or four on up?! Everything???)

So Patrick Ashby returns from the dead. He takes his place with his family. Everything seems to be off to a good start, but, Brat can't help wondering WHY Simon is so SMUG. Like Brat, readers pick up some clues...not firm, exact clues perhaps...but strong feelings that Simon is, well, the more evil twin.

I liked this one. It was a very quick read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Law and the Lady (1875)

The Law and the Lady. Wilkie Collins. 1875. 430 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The Law and the Lady may not be my favorite Wilkie Collins novel, but, I am glad I finally read this "first" female detective novel. Valeria is our heroine, our amateur detective. Readers meet her on her wedding day. Foreshadowing is abundant. All is not well. Things may never be well for this couple. Within days, Valeria is noticing inconsistencies and becoming super suspicious of her husband. She snoops in his things; she goes to his friends to ask questions, etc. She makes a DISCOVERY.

Her husband was married before. His first wife died. He was tried for murder--suspected of poisoning her by arsenic. The Scottish Verdict was "Not Proven" which essentially means that people, that society, could still choose to look upon him with suspicion as a murderer. He may not be "guilty" but he's not been deemed "innocent."

Once he knows that she knows his past, he leaves her. Valeria while seeming to be full of doubt and hesitation and fear BEFORE she discovered his past, is suddenly completely confident in her husband's innocence AND more in love with him than ever before. It seems her love for her husband has tripled since she read her husband's trial. She is now fiercely determined to prove that her husband is innocent, to take her proof to court.

Over half the novel is focused on Valeria's efforts to prove her husband's innocence. Valeria only has to talk to one or two people to know what's what. Getting proof that her intuition is right may prove slightly more challenging, but Valeria with a little help from others is stubborn enough to see the job through to the end.

Or is she? The Law and the Lady has a not-quite-satisfying ending. For her husband to "receive" justice, it means that someone else will be assigned blame. (That seemed obvious from the beginning.) And in the end, both husband and wife prove reluctant and hesitant to act.

The Law and the Lady is a strange novel with a strong heroine. As a romance, it was extremely weak. Valeria, readers are told, loves, loves, loves her husband. He is her EVERYTHING. But readers never see the husband at his supposed best. Readers just see Valeria in various dramatic scenes supposedly acting on her husband's behalf and with his best interests in mind. Because readers don't necessarily share faith in Valeria's husband or in Valeria's judgment, it could have easily gone the other way. Collins could have written this as a dark, dramatic piece with a less than happy ending. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1943)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Betty Smith. 1943/2006. HarperCollins. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

Oh how I loved Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Readers get the chance to get to know Francie, the heroine, her brother, Neeley, her mother, Katie, her father, Johnny, her aunts, Sissy and Evy, and her grandmother, Mary Rommely. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is set circa 1910-1918 in Brooklyn, New York; it is very much a coming-of-age novel focusing on Francie, yet expanding to include several generations of her family. The book has a good number of flashbacks letting readers get to know all the members of the family before getting good and settled in Francie's life. It is a book that embraces ALL of life: the big things, the little things: no matter how ugly or beautiful. Truth does not equal beauty as Francie learns. I loved Francie's passion for living. I loved her observations.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is rich in detail AND rich in characterization. It is not a fast-paced action, adventure novel. It is a character-driven, family-focused historical novel. It doesn't try to make people better than they are. It is realistic and honest. The characters are very human, very fallible. One of the themes is in fact being true and honest. Francie has a confrontation with an English teacher. The teacher is trying to shame Francie into writing only about the beautiful, precious things of life. Sunsets. Stars. Flowers. She has been writing about her life, about her father, about her childhood. Her teacher tells her to go home and burn these writings and say "this is ugliness, this is ugliness, this is ugliness." Francie finally submits enough to be able to end the conversation and leave the room, but she's holding strong to who she is and where she comes from.

It is a beautifully written novel. It is very quotable.
The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.
An eleven-year-old girl sitting on this fire escape could imagine that she was living in a tree. That’s what Francie imagined every Saturday afternoon in summer.
THE LIBRARY WAS A LITTLE OLD SHABBY PLACE. FRANCIE THOUGHT it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.
Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones.
“Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother. But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?” “The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret.”
“I will read,” promised Katie. “What is a good book?” “There are two great books. Shakespeare is a great book. I have heard tell that all the wonder of life is in that book; all that man has learned of beauty, all that he may know of wisdom and living are on those pages. It is said that these stories are plays to be acted out on the stage. I have never spoken to anyone who has seen this great thing. But I heard the lord of our land back in Austria say that some of the pages sing themselves like songs.”
“And what is the other great book?” “It is the Bible that the Protestant people read.” “We have our own Bible, the Catholic one.” Mary looked around the room furtively. “It is not fitting for a good Catholic to say so but I believe that the Protestant Bible contains more of the loveliness of the greatest story on this earth and beyond it. A much-loved Protestant friend once read some of her Bible to me and I found it as I have said.
“That is the book, then, and the book of Shakespeare. And every day you must read a page of each to your child—even though you yourself do not understand what is written down and cannot sound the words properly. You must do this that the child will grow up knowing of what is great—knowing that these tenements of Williamsburg are not the whole world.”
Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”
Well, everybody’s something. We all got a tag of some kind.
She found to her agony, that the doctor was still there, poised needle and all. He was staring at her arm in distaste. Francie looked too. She saw a small white area on a dirty dark-brown arm. She heard the doctor talking to the nurse. “Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm, nurse.” The nurse looked and clucked in horror. Francie stood there with the hot flamepoints of shame burning her face.
After the doctor’s outburst, Francie stood hanging her head. She was a dirty girl. That’s what the doctor meant. He was talking more quietly now asking the nurse how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they were all sterilized and couldn’t breed anymore. Did that mean he wanted her to die? Would he do something to make her die because her hands and arms were dirty from the mud pies?
“My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me.” They stared at this bit of humanity who had become so strangely articulate. Francie’s voice went ragged with a sob. “You don’t have to tell him. Besides it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.”
She put her arm around her and held her close to her own life warmth. “Francie, baby, you’re trembling like a leaf.” Francie had never heard that expression and it made her thoughtful. She looked at the little tree growing out of the concrete at the side of the house. There were still a few dried leaves clinging to it. One of them rustled dryly in the wind. Trembling like a leaf. She stored the phrase away in her mind.
“Forgiveness,” said Mary Rommely, “is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.”
OH, MAGIC HOUR WHEN A CHILD FIRST KNOWS IT CAN READ PRINTED WORDS!
For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters, sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word. But one day, she looked at a page and the word “mouse” had instantaneous meaning. She looked at the word, and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind. She looked further and when she saw “horse,” she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat. The word “running” hit her suddenly and she breathed hard as though running herself. The barrier between the individual sound of each letter and the whole meaning of the word was removed and the printed word meant a thing at one quick glance. She read a few pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement. She wanted to shout it out. She could read! She could read! From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.
She liked numbers and sums. She devised a game in which each number was a family member and the “answer” made a family grouping with a story to it. Naught was a babe in arms. He gave no trouble. Whenever he appeared you just “carried” him. The figure 1 was a pretty baby girl just learning to walk, and easy to handle; 2 was a baby boy who could walk and talk a little. He went into family life (into sums, etc.) with very little trouble. And 3 was an older boy in kindergarten, who had to be watched a little. Then there was 4, a girl of Francie’s age. She was almost as easy to “mind” as 2. The mother was 5, gentle and kind. In large sums, she came along and made everything easy the way a mother should. The father, 6, was harder than the others but very just. But 7 was mean. He was a crotchety old grandfather and not at all accountable for how he came out. The grandmother, 8, was hard too, but easier to understand than 7. Hardest of all was 9. He was company and what a hard time fitting him into family life! When Francie added a sum, she would fix a little story to go with the result. If the answer was 924, it meant that the little boy and girl were being minded by company while the rest of the family went out. When a number such as 1024 appeared, it meant that all the little children were playing together in the yard. The number 62 meant that papa was taking the little boy for a walk; 50 meant that mama had the baby out in the buggy for an airing and 78 meant grandfather and grandmother sitting home by the fire of a winter’s evening. Each single combination of numbers was a new set-up for the family and no two stories were ever the same.
Francie was ten years old when she first found an outlet in writing. What she wrote was of little consequence. What was important was that the attempt to write stories kept her straight on the dividing line between truth and fiction.
“TODAY, I AM A WOMAN,” WROTE FRANCIE IN HER DIARY IN THE summer when she was thirteen. She looked at the sentence and absently scratched a mosquito bite on her bare leg. She looked down on her long thin and as yet formless legs. She crossed out the sentence and started over. “Soon, I shall become a woman.” She looked down on her chest which was as flat as a washboard and ripped the page out of the book. She started fresh on a new page.
“But poverty, starvation and drunkenness are ugly subjects to choose. We all admit these things exist. But one doesn’t write about them.” “What does one write about?” Unconsciously, Francie picked up the teacher’s phraseology. “One delves into the imagination and finds beauty there. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty always.” “What is beauty?” asked the child. “I can think of no better definition than Keats’: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’”
Francie took her courage into her two hands and said, “Those stories are the truth.”
“Nonsense!” exploded Miss Garnder. Then, softening her tone, she continued: “By truth, we mean things like the stars always being there and the sun always rising and the true nobility of man and mother-love and love for one’s country,” she ended anti-climactically. “I see,” said Francie. As Miss Garnder continued talking, Francie answered her bitterly in her mind. “Drunkenness is neither truth nor beauty. It’s a vice. Drunkards belong in jail, not in stories. And poverty. There is no excuse for that. There’s work enough for all who want it. People are poor because they’re too lazy to work. There’s nothing beautiful about laziness. (Imagine Mama lazy!) “Hunger is not beautiful. It is also unnecessary. We have well-organized charities. No one need go hungry.” Francie ground her teeth. Her mother hated the word “charity” above any word in the language and she had brought up her children to hate it too. “Now, I’m not a snob,” stated Miss Garnder. “I do not come from a wealthy family. My father was a minister with a very small salary.” (But it was a salary, Miss Garnder.)
“And the only help my mother had was a succession of untrained maids, mostly girls from the country.” (I see. You were poor, Miss Garnder, poor with a maid.) “Many times we were without a maid and my mother had to do all the housework herself.” (And my mother, Miss Garnder, has to do all her own housework, and yes, ten times more cleaning than that.) “I wanted to go to the state university but we couldn’t afford it. My father had to send me to a small denominational college.” (But admit you had no trouble going to college.) “And believe me, you’re poor when you go to such a college. I know what hunger is, too. Time and time again my father’s salary was held up and there was no money for food. Once we had to live on tea and toast for three days.” (So you know what it is to be hungry, too.) “But I’d be a dull person if I wrote about nothing but being poor and hungry, wouldn’t I?” Francie didn’t answer. “Wouldn’t I?” repeated Miss Garnder emphatically. “Yes ma’am.”
“I’ve taken all this time with you because I honestly believe that you have promise. Now that we’ve talked things out, I’m sure you’ll stop writing those sordid little stories.” Sordid. Francie turned the word over. It was not in her vocabulary. “What does that mean—sordid?”
Sordid: Filthy. Filthy? She thought of her father wearing a fresh dicky and collar every day of his life and shining his worn shoes as often as twice a day. Dirty. Papa had his own mug at the barber shop. Base. Francie passed that up not knowing exactly what it meant. Gross. Never! Papa was a dancer. He was slender and quick. His body wasn’t gross. Also mean and low. She remembered a hundred and one little tendernesses and acts of thoughtfulness on the part of her father. She remembered how everyone had loved him so. Her face got hot. She couldn’t see the next words because the page turned red under her eyes. She turned on Miss Garnder, her face twisted with fury. “Don’t you ever dare use that word about us!” “Us?” asked Miss Garnder blankly. “We were talking about your compositions. Why, Frances!” Her voice was shocked. “I’m surprised! A well-behaved girl like you. What would your mother say if she knew you had been impertinent to your teacher?” Francie was frightened. Impertinence to a teacher was almost a reformatory offense in Brooklyn. “Please excuse me. Please excuse me,” she repeated abjectly. “I didn’t mean it.” “I understand,” said Miss Garnder gently. She put her arm around Francie and led her to the door. “Our little talk has made an impression on you, I see. Sordid is an ugly word and I’m glad you resented my using it. It shows that you understand. Probably you don’t like me any more, but please believe that I spoke for your own good.
 Yes, the world was changing rapidly and this time she knew it was the world and not herself.
“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere—be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? “To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Tendrils of Life (2012)

Tendrils of Life: A Story of Love, Loss, and Survival in the Turmoil of the Korean War. Owen Choi. 2012. Princeton Falcon Press. 408 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Tendrils of Life is historical fiction set in Korea. Most of the story, though not all of the story, occurs during the early years of the Korean War, 1950-1953. Flashbacks. Tendrils of Life has plenty of flashbacks. These take readers back even further, several decades further in some cases. These flashbacks do place the "main story" into context. I will say that there were times I was confused, but, by the end, I saw how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and I understood, for the most part, WHY the flashbacks were so important to the overall story. It is a complex story. I won't lie. For those unfamiliar with the Korean War--like me--this one may prove challenging: not impossible, just challenging. I believe it seeks to provide some answers, some insight, into the war itself: the history and politics. Trying to explain a war is not ever easy, and, I appreciate the complexity of this one.

The characters. I felt all the characters had strengths and weaknesses. I felt they were human which is the best compliment I can give any author. Tendrils of Life is at best bittersweet, if I'm being honest, more bitter than sweet. It felt bleak, very bleak, but its an honest bleakness and not mere manipulation.

Tendrils of Life was a bit outside my comfort zone, but, I am so glad I read it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. By My Side (2014)

By My Side. Sue Reid. 2014. Scholastic. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Sue Reid's novel By My Side. This novel is told entirely through diary entries; it is set in the Netherlands during World War II during Nazi Occupation. The heroine of By My Side, Katrien, falls in love with a Jewish boy, Jan. Katrien, unlike some of her friends, is not boy crazy. She wasn't looking for a boyfriend; she wasn't planning on falling in love. But there was something different about Jan, setting him apart from other boys she knew. He was slightly older, true, but that wasn't really it. One thing she does learn early on, however, is the fact that he's Jewish. That is why he stopped attending school. That is why he's sometimes a bit hesitant to do the things she wants. At the very, very beginning, she does seem a bit oblivious and insensitive. Her intentions were always good, mind you, but she didn't stop to think about how his being Jewish could effect WHAT they do together: going to the park, going to the movies, etc. She'd never had reason really to stop and think about how many restrictions are placed on the Jews and the seriousness of the situation. Of course, after seeing him a few weeks, she's grown up quite a bit. That doesn't mean Katrien is mature and wise, mind you. She decides to keep Jan a complete secret from her parents; he wants her to be honest, he wants to come to her house as her boyfriend. She is reluctant.

I definitely enjoyed this romance. It was a quick read. By the end, it had gotten quite intense as well.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. The Franchise Affair (1948)

The Franchise Affair. Josephine Tey. 1948. 304 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

Robert Blair is a lawyer. He lives a boring life; nothing terribly exciting or thrilling ever happens. And. He doesn't seem to mind that his life is mostly predictable. But then one day he receives a call from Marion Sharpe. She is in need of a lawyer; she needs one as soon as possible. Yes, she knows that his firm doesn't specialize in criminal law; yes, she knows he's never handled any case quite like hers before. Yes, she'd be willing to find another lawyer if necessary--if charges are brought against her and if the case were to go to trial. But can he come NOW! He agrees. He rushes to The Francise. He meets Marion and her mother. He meets Inspector Grant. He hears what these two ladies are being accused of. He meets the young woman, Betty Kane, accusing them. He's left a bit speechless. Kane's story: I was waiting for the bus, these two "old" ladies offered me a ride, I accepted, they took me to their home, wouldn't let me leave, locked me in the attic, denied me food unless I worked for them doing some mending, they beat me too! After four weeks I managed to escape! Grant and Blair are speechless as are the women. The story seems weird and unrealistic. Grant's instincts are telling him that the Kane girl is a crazy attention-seeker who is a liar through and through. Blair also thinks the Kane girl is a liar. He also thinks she's immoral. There HAS to be a man involved. Kane had to have met a guy over vacation and run off with him and made up this horrible story when that love affair fell apart. Both Blair and Grant are relying on instincts and making quick judgments. Grant, at the start of the novel, does not want to make a case of this. He does not believe there has been an actual crime.

But. The story will not go away. Kane will tell her story, keep her story alive in the papers. The community will turn against the Sharpe women at the Francise. Things will get uncomfortable and dangerous.

Blair is determined that the best defense is to prove that Betty Kane is a terrible, horrible mess of a girl. She's far from good and honest and respectable. He wants to expose this girl, show her that she can't go around accusing good, honest women like the Sharpes of horrible crimes. She shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

Grant, Tey's detective, is barely in this one. He is in a few scenes, but, for the most part this is Robert Blair's story, his chance to have an exciting life, to play hero.

The Franchise Affair is not my favorite Tey novel, but, it was a pleasant read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Prime Minister (1876)

The Prime Minister. Anthony Trollope. 1876. 864 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The Prime Minister is the fifth book in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, and Phineas Redux.

I liked this one. I definitely liked it. The Prime Minister shares some themes with other Trollope novels which I've enjoyed. Trollope often wrote about marriages: happy marriages AND unhappy marriages. While some of Trollope's heroines have had their happily ever after endings, just as many have not.

The Prime Minister introduces the Wharton family into the series. Readers meet Everett and Emily and their father, Mr. Wharton. Everett is chummy with a Mr. Ferdinand Lopez. Emily's aunt also welcomes Mr. Lopez into her home. Emily and Ferdinand have had some meetings which lead him to hope that he has a good chance of marrying her. When he goes to her father, he is rejected. Mr. Wharton is quite upset at the very idea of it. He can't imagine ever saying yes and blessing that union. Emily is a dutiful daughter, but, stubborn and ultimately persuasive. She will not disobey her father, but, she will not move on and forget Mr. Lopez either. Her heart has decided that he is the one. Eventually Mr. Wharton softens his resolve and allows the marriage to take place. He is still not happy about it. He still would have preferred Arthur Fletcher, a man who has been in love with Emily for half his life. But he accepts that his daughter has a right to make her own decisions and be with the man she loves.

Plantagenet Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium, becomes Prime Minister. He sets up his coalition government. His wife, formerly Lady Glencora--now officially a Duchess, is so enthusiastic that she goes above and beyond her duty. She's determined that her husband will be a SUCCESS and that everyone will LOVE and ADORE him. Her hostessing plans are almost endless. She plans and spends, plans and spends. Her husband who has always been more than a little reserved is not happy exactly. He loves, loves, loves his wife. And he doesn't want to hurt her feelings and offend her. But her tastes aren't his. What she thinks is best for him, isn't what is truly best for him. She may be very social and thrive on society, he doesn't. The more she pushes him to be social, the less civil he becomes about it! One of the young men that the Duchess takes an interest in is Mr. Lopez. She'd like to see him elected to parliament. She says she'll help him win a seat in an election. At the very time she's promising him a seat, her husband is emphatically declaring that he will not support or endorse ANY candidate. He does not want there to be even a slight hint that he has an interest in the district. Such things might have been done in the past, might still be done by others in the present, but to him, the election would be tainted if he got involved and told everyone I want you to vote for him.

By this point, readers know and Emily knows that Mr. Lopez is a great disappointment. He is far from the husband of her dreams. It's not that she loses love and respect for him, though she does, she comes to despise him because of the way he treats her, the way he talks to her, the way he manipulates her, the way he controls her and tells her not only what to do but what to think. She realizes too late that Arthur Fletcher is the better man. One of the first things Mr. Lozez does after the wedding is making the attempt to train her. Part of this training involves manipulating money out of her father. She is NOT happy now that she sees Mr. Lopez only wants money, money, and more money.

In terms of plot:
  • Will Palliser's coalition government be a success?
  • Will his wife ever stop throwing parties and spending money?
  • Will Lozez win his election? Or will his rival Arthur Fletcher win?
  • Will Emily find a way to escape her horrid husband?
  • Will Mr. Wharton and Everett reconcile?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (2014)

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]

I haven't loved each and every Flavia de Luce book equally. I definitely enjoy Flavia as a character and narrator even though I can't always relate to her all the time. In this sixth mystery, Flavia's focus is NOT on a current murder mystery. Far from it, even though a murder occurs practically in front of her (at the train station), she can't really be bothered. Why? Well, her mother is coming home...at last. For Flavia, the one de Luce child who CANNOT remember her mother at all, this is just confusing and bittersweet. Is she glad her mother's body has been found? That the body is being returned so it can be properly buried? In a way, perhaps. But. The homecoming is just as bitter as it is sweet. It upsets the family so much, brings so many emotions out in the open where they cannot be ignored. The situation is forcing Flavia outside her comfort zone. If the novel does NOT focus on the current dead body, what does it focus on?! Well, it focuses on the past; it focuses on the years leading up to World War II. It provides context for her mother's life...and death. For Flavia solving this mystery of who her mother was, who she really was, her worth and value, means EVERYTHING. There were quite a few uncomfortable scenes in this one for me. I found the scenes where Flavia is trying to scientifically bring her mother back from the dead (after ten years) to be a bit creepy--she's trying to acquire the right chemicals to resurrect the dead.

Just like the previous book, this one closes with change on the way for Flavia.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. My Year with Jane: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814. 464 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

I have read Mansfield Park three times. The first time I found myself frustrated and bored. Where was the romance? Where was the satisfaction? Who was supposed to be THE HERO?! Was it really supposed to be Edmund?! The second time I read it, I found myself entertained. I also found myself falling for the wrong hero, Henry Crawford and asking plenty of what might have been questions. The third time it was a joy to revisit. This isn't the first time that it has taken multiple readings to enjoy and appreciate and love an Austen novel. I haven't decided what this means exactly. If it is a good thing that Austen's novels are layered and complex and take some time to absorb, or, if it's a weakness. If you don't exactly "enjoy" something the first time, what is there to make you want to go back and read it again and again? I think Pride and Prejudice is the one big exception to the rule. Also perhaps Persuasion.

Fanny Price is the heroine of Mansfield Park. She is intelligent, observant, selfless, and considerate. Part of this is her upbringing, she's been brought up to put everyone else's wants and needs and whims ahead of her own. Part of this is just her nature, in my opinion. She treats everyone with kindness and respect regardless of whether they "deserve" it or not.  
It would be delightful to feel myself of consequence to anybody.
Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most of them.
Edmund Bertram is Fanny's cousin. He will be a minister. He falls madly in love (if it is truly love and not lust) with Mary Crawford. For almost the entire novel, he talks on and on and on and on about Mary to poor Fanny. He can at any given time give you a top ten list on why Mary is completely wrong for him and why it would never work out in the end. But she is the ONLY WOMAN IN THE WORLD HE COULD EVER LOVE. Of course, Fanny is in love with Edmund. Fanny's patience in listening to Edmund alone would make her worthy of being a saint.
I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it.
Mary Crawford is Fanny's opposite in many, many ways. She doesn't know how to be serious. She talks way too much. She shares way too much. She's rude and inconsiderate. And her first love, her forever love, will always be herself.
Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
Henry Crawford is Mary's brother. He is Fanny's opposite too. He has a very high opinion of himself. And he finds nothing so satisfying as making women fall in love with him. He loves being loved and adored. He determines at one point that it would be SOMETHING to have Fanny fall in love with him. He knows it will be the most difficult challenge he's faced so far. She's no fool. In the attempting, it is Henry who falls hard. He finds himself for the first time actually caring and loving someone else. Or does he? Austen is a bit ambiguous how far his reform goes.
I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, ‘I will not like you, I am determined not to like you’; and I say she shall.
They will now see what sort of woman it is that can attach me, that can attach a man of sense. I wish the discovery may do them any good. And they will now see their cousin treated as she ought to be, and I wish they may be heartily ashamed of their own abominable neglect and unkindness. They will be angry,” he added, after a moment’s silence, and in a cooler tone; “Mrs. Rushworth will be very angry. It will be a bitter pill to her; that is, like other bitter pills, it will have two moments’ ill flavour, and then be swallowed and forgotten; for I am not such a coxcomb as to suppose her feelings more lasting than other women’s, though I was the object of them. Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed: a daily, hourly difference, in the behaviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it, that I am the person to give the consequence so justly her due.
Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” “Nay, Henry, not by all; not forgotten by all; not friendless or forgotten. Her cousin Edmund never forgets her.” “Edmund! True, I believe he is, generally speaking, kind to her, and so is Sir Thomas in his way; but it is the way of a rich, superior, long-worded, arbitrary uncle. What can Sir Thomas and Edmund together do, what do they do for her happiness, comfort, honour, and dignity in the world, to what I shall do?”   
Mansfield Park is without a doubt one of the messier Austen novels. Messy isn't the perfect word, I know. The characters of Mansfield Park are so messed up, so in need of fixing. Readers never know exactly why Fanny loves Edmund with all her heart and soul. Readers just have to take Fanny's love on faith, believing that she knows best, that she knows her heart better than we do, and, that Edmund BEFORE Mary was worth loving. Austen's ending is far from romantic in that the romance between Fanny and Edmund is not developed on the page.

I can easily imagine Fanny in these words:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, "Hello."
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don't know me.


And with a big, big stretch, maybe Edmund in these words:

Are those your eyes
Is that your smile
I've been looking at you forever
Yet I never saw you before
Are these your hands holding mine
Now I wonder how I could have been so blind
And for the first time I am looking in your eyes
For the first time I'm seeing who you are
I can't believe how much I see
When you're looking back at me

 The first is "You Don't Know Me" and the second is "For The First Time."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Phineas Redux (1874)

Phineas Redux. Anthony Trollope. 1874. 768 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

Phineas Redux is the fourth in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, and The Eustace Diamonds.

It has been a few years since Phineas Finn left the joys and sorrows of political life to settle down and marry. (For the record, he didn't really have much of a choice in giving up the politics). But now his luck, for better or worse, is changing. His wife has conveniently died, and there is a new opportunity for him to run for a seat in parliament. He's hesitant but as always ambitious. He leaps for it knowing that he could easily regret it.

It has also been a few years since Lady Laura has left her husband, Robert Kennedy, whom she detests. She is still very obsessed with Phineas Finn. She loves him dearly, she makes him--in her own mind--her everything. Phineas Finn, on the other hand, remembers her kindly but rarely. She is NOT his everything: she hasn't been since she turned down his proposal all those years again. He would never--could never--think of her like that again. He respects her, but, he's content to keep his distance. Her confessions to him are improper, in a way, and prove embarrassing to him.

Lady Laura is not the only woman who has given away her heart to Phineas. Madame Max Goesler still loves him though she's at least discreet or more discreet. At the very least, she has a life outside her daydreams; her social life is active and she has many good friends. She's not as isolated, so, her love for Phineas perhaps does not come across as obsession.

While I was indifferent to Madame Max in Phineas Finn, I grew to really like her in Phineas Redux. Other female characters I enjoyed were Lady Chiltern (whom we first met in Phineas Finn as Violet Effingham), Lady Glencora (whom we first met in Can We Forgive Her?), and Lizzie Eustace (whom we first met in Eustace Diamonds). It was interesting to me to see which heroines Trollope allowed a happily ever after. I was so very pleased to see Lord and Lady Chiltern settling down quite happily. It was LOVELY to spend time with both of them. I still adore Lady Glenora and Plantagenet Palliser together. Lizzie reaps what she sows, but is fortunate in many ways!

There was a new romance introduced in Phineas Redux. Two men are in love with Adelaide Palliser: Gerard Maule and Thomas Platter Spooner. Adelaide, of course, has her favorite. But the other is very persistent. 

In terms of plot: A MURDER. A politician is murdered. There are two suspects. One suspect is Phineas Finn. He is put on trial for the crime...but the evidence is all circumstantial. Will he be convicted? Will doubt and uncertainty of his guilt prevent him from politics in the future? 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. When Christ And His Saints Slept (1994)

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. 1994. Random House. 746 pages. [Source: Bought]

I've been meaning to read more of Sharon Kay Penman's work for years now. When Christ and His Saints Slept is set in the twelfth century. It begins with the tragic sailing of The White Ship and ends with Henry II ready to be crowned king of England. For readers who like numbers, that would be 1120-1154. It covers the later part of Henry I's reign: his grief and desperation over the loss of his son and heir, his wanting his daughter, Maude, to be his successor; it covers the war--which lasted over ten years--between Stephen and Maude for the crown of England. Readers also get a chance to see Maude's son, Henry, grow up to become "Henry II."

It is a novel with many strengths. One of its greatest strengths, perhaps, is in the wide range of characters or narrators. Stephen and Matilda, on one side, Maude and Geoffrey, on the other. Readers meet the men (and women) who supported Maude, including many of Henry I's illegitimate sons. Readers meet the men (and women) who supported Stephen's claim to the throne. If there is a point to When Christ and His Saints Slept, it is this: war is ugly and cruel and pointless. Readers see Stephen and his supporters--his army--do horribly cruel things in the name of war. Readers see Maude's army do some equally horrid things. One side is not holier than the other. While neither army was as cruel as they possibly could be all the time, without ceasing, year after year, the truth was that England suffered greatly during this tug of war. The truth was very few cared WHO ruled England, so long as England was ruled peaceably and practically. The burning. The stealing and looting. The raping. The killing. The holding of hostages. England was in a BIG BIG mess if this was the best either side could manage.

If the novel has one hero, one "main" character, it would be Ranulf. Ranulf is a fictional illegitimate son of Henry I. It is not a stretch to fit him in historically since Henry I recognized over twenty such sons! Ranulf along with Robert and Gilbert and Miles and Brien, and countless others supported Maude and her claim to the throne. While the novel does focus on the battles, the war, the political mess--it also gives a personal side to the time period. Readers see Ranulf grow up a bit, fall in love, make mistakes, find true love, and settle down to marry and raise his own family.

If the novel is allowed to have more than one hero, well, an obvious choice to me is Henry II. The book covers his teenage years: 14 to 19. The last third of the novel truly focuses on Henry, on his relationship with his parents, with his relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Those last few chapters are far from clean.

I loved how many characters we get to meet and know. I loved that we get to know men AND women from the time period, most of them historical figures, though not all. I loved that readers get introduced to real history. Penman's pacing was wonderful, I felt!

For readers who ENJOY history, When Christ and His Saints Slept is easy to recommend. She gives you enough context so that you're not lost (or at least not lost past all hope!) but it never weighed the text down in my opinion. I admit that "being lost" in a history book is all a subjective matter based on what one does or doesn't know heading into a book, but, I thought she did a good balancing job.


Quotes:
And so began for the wretched people of England, a time of suffering so great that they came to fear "Christ and his saints slept." (171)
If ever there was a woman unable to learn from her mistakes, it was this one for certes. No more than Stephen could. If the Lord God plucked him out of his Bristol prison on the morrow and restored him to power at Westminster, nothing would change. He'd still go on forgiving men he ought to hang, promising more than he could deliver, failing to keep the King's Peace. Maude and Stephen, a match made in Hell. What was it Geoffrey de Mandeville had once said--a lifetime ago? Ah, yes, that Maude would listen to no one and Stephen to anyone. Had there ever, he wondered, been a war like this? Was there a single soul--not related to them by blood or marriage--who truly wanted to see either one of them on England's throne? (281)
"I am truly glad to have you safe, Robert. But tonight I feel as if... as if we'd struggled and panted and clawed our way up a mountain, only to stumble just as we neared the summit and fall all the way down, landing in a bloodied, bruised heap at the bottom. What in God's Name do we do now?"
"I suppose," he said, "we start climbing again."
"How many of our men will have the heart for it?" Rising, she began to pace, "To come so close and then to have it all snatched away like this...it is so unfair, Robert, so damnably unfair!"
"Life is unfair," he said, sounding so stoical, so rational, and so dispassionate that she was suddenly angry, a scalding, seething, impotent rage that spared no one--not herself, not Robert, not God.
"You think I don't know that? When has life ever been fair to women? Just think upon how easy it was for Stephen to steal my crown, and how bitter and bloody has been my struggle to win it back. Even after we'd caged Stephen at Bristol Castle, he was still a rival, still a threat...and why? Because he was so much braver or more clever or capable than me? No...because I was a woman, for it always came back to that. I'll not deny that I made mistakes, but you do not know what it is like, Robert, to be judged so unfairly, to be rejected not for what you've done but for what you are. It is a poison that seeps into the soul, that makes you half crazed with the need to prove yourself..."
She stopped to catch her breath, and only then did she see the look on Robert's face, one of disbelief and then utter and overwhelming fury, burning as hot as her own anger, hotter even, for being so long suppressed.
"I do not know what it is like?" he said incredulously. "I was our father's firstborn son, but was I his heir? No, I was just his bastard. He trusted me and relied upon me and needed me. But none of that mattered, not even after the White Ship sank and he lost his only lawfully begotten son. He was so desperate to have an heir of his body that he dragged you back--unwilling--from Germany, forced you into a marriage that he knew was doomed, and then risked rebellion by ramming you down the throats of his barons. And all the while, he had a son capable of ruling after him--he had me! But I was the son born of his sin, so I was not worthy to be king. As if I could have blundered any worse than you or Stephen!"Maude was stunned. She stared at him, too stricken for words, not knowing what to say even if she'd been capable of speech. Robert seemed equally shattered by his outburst: his face was suddenly ashen. He started to speak, then turned abruptly and walked out. (343-44).
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Miss Pym Disposes

Miss Pym Disposes. Josephine Tey. 1946. 238 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Miss Lucy Pym is visiting an 'old friend' who is now a principal at a physical training college. The occasion for her visit is her successful bestselling status as an author of a popular psychology book. Her book is the new "it" book of the moment, Miss Pym gives guest lectures. The students of this college, particularly the juniors and seniors, take a real liking to her. They beg and plead and urge her to stay. So she postpones leaving. (I'm not sure her old college friend is as enthusiastic about keeping her around for the last few weeks of the semester until graduation or not. I'm sure by the end she's thinking: why oh why did I think it would be a good idea to ask her to visit!) It's a super busy time for all. One class is preparing to graduate; there is stress and distress as they prepare for finals and critiques. Some students will be placed in a new job before graduation, others will have to make their own applications after graduation. A really ideal job opportunity arises, and, for some reason this causes great rumbles on the staff and among students. One student is chosen over another. Almost everyone disagrees with the decision. Even Miss Pym is argumentative and opinionated. As graduation approaches the inevitable happens. Inevitable ONLY because it's a mystery book and there is the expectation that at some point a crime, probably murder, but at the very least attempted murder, will occur. This happens extraordinarily late in the novel. One of the graduating seniors has an "accident" that ultimately leads to her death. Miss Pym knows the accident was no accident, and she has proof. But will her proof ever be turned over to the authorities?! Will Miss Pym play god and decided that she has no ethical obligation to turn in the murderer--the girl she's convinced is guilty?!

Miss Pym Disposes is a strange little mystery. I found the academic setting interesting, at least in the beginning. But overall, I was not impressed with this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Dark Eden (2014)

Dark Eden. Chris Beckett. 2014. Crown Publishing Group. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dark Eden is a science fiction novel. It is set on an alien world, a sunless world. It has been colonized by one renegade human ship. Two chose to stay, one man, one woman. Three chose to try to return to Earth even though their ship was a bit damaged. Dark Eden opens over a hundred and sixty years later. The descendants of those two original survivors now number just over five hundred. Dark Eden is mainly narrated by "newhairs" like John Redlantern and Tina Spiketree.

John Redlantern is definitely the hero of Dark Eden. He is an ambitious, slightly rebellious young "newhair" that wants more. He wants to cross the Dark and explore the planet, he wants to move beyond "the Circle" of Family. He doesn't want to stay in the same tiny spot of land that the starship happened to land in all those years ago. He wants to head into the Unknown and see for himself what else there is out there. He does not want to spend his entire life waiting and waiting for rescue from Earth that may not come in his lifetime, or his children's lifetime. It turns out he is not the only restless spirit among the newhairs. But only John is rash enough to ACT and force change. Will he be strong enough to lead when it matters most?

Did I like Dark Eden? It was an interesting enough read in some ways, but I also found it predictable.

Perhaps the best way to approach Dark Eden is with realistic expectations. You can read an excerpt for yourself from this site.
Already remarkably acclaimed in the United Kingdom, Dark Eden is science fiction as literature: part parable, part powerful coming-of-age story, set in a truly original alien world of dark, sinister beauty and rendered in prose that is at once strikingly simple and stunningly inventive.
With phrases like "science fiction as literature" and "truly original" and "strikingly simple" and "stunningly inventive" it wasn't quite fair to the book or the reader. "Science fiction as literature" is a strange phrase to begin with, in my opinion. As if genre science fiction is lesser in value than "science fiction as literature." Is Dark Eden literary? I'm not a fair judge of that at all. Since I tend to think that what passes for literary these days is less than extraordinary. (I can tell you that Dark Eden uses crude words liberally. Yes, that is just my opinion that certain words are crude. But when they are used heavily on almost every page, or every other page, it becomes harder to ignore.)

I'll give you a sample of the prose and let you judge for yourself if it is "strikingly simple" and "stunningly inventive."
"I'll tell you a funny thing, I said, "when we saw those woolly-bucks up there on the snow, I thought for a moment they were a Landing Veekle from Earth. Hah! That was pretty dumb of me, wasn't it?"
Gerry laughed.
"Tom's dick, John! You just killed a leopard!"
"But I suppose one waking someone will come, won't they? They say the starship was damaged when Angela and Michael chased after it in their Police Veekle and tried to stop it. They say it leaked. But even if the starship broke on the way back, and even if the Three Companions died, the people on Earth would find it sooner or later, wouldn't they? I mean it had a Computer, didn't it, and a Rayed Yo? Okay it's two hundred wombtimes ago now that they left Eden. But think how long it must take to build a new starship. I mean it takes old Jeffo half a wombtime just to build one lousy log boat to fish with out on Greatpool."
Gerry took my shoulders and shook me.
"Gela's tits, John, will you stop talking about bloody sky-boats! You've killed a leopard! All by yourself! with a kid's spear!"
It was weird weird. The leopard was still twitching in front of me, I was covered with its black blood, and I was shaking shaking all over. (24, ARC)
I was torn, torn all the time. We weren't going to be safe where we were forever. We had to move as soon as we could, and that meant finding a way over Dark. So I was desperate desperate all the time to get up there, and I was working working all the time on how to do it, how to make better wraps, how to light our way. But at the same time, and for the same reason, we had to watch out for attack from Family. (253, from ARC)
At the end of a waking, two sleeps after he did for that leopard, me and John Redlantern walked up along Dixon Stream. We climbed the rocks beyond London and Blueside fence until Deep Pool was there below us, shining with wavyweed and water lanterns and bright beds of oysters. (62, ARC)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Rumpelstilstkin (Faerie Tale Collection)

Rumpelstiltskin. Jenni James. 2013. Stonehouse Ink. [Source: Bought]

I have mixed feelings on this one. I can see strengths. I can see weaknesses.

Strengths:
  • Both the hero, Rumpelstiltskin, and heroine, Aubrynn, are well introduced. The chapters devoted to introducing these two to the reader were quite good. These two made a good impression on me from the beginning. Because of how well this one begins, my expectations for the whole story were raised considerably.
  • For readers of romance, yes, LIGHT romance, there are dozens of kissing descriptions. If you like that sort of thing, if you are looking for relatively clean romance that doesn't go too far, too fast, then this one may satisfy.
  • In a way, it has a Beauty and the Beast feel to it. But not quite. Aubrynn is initially startled, perhaps, by his appearance. But she is never reluctant or hesitant or fearful. She's very accepting and grateful from about two minutes into their relationship. 
Early Impressions:
ON THE DAY OF the commemoration of Prince Frederico’s death, Aubrynn Sloat hustled and bustled around the small cottage to prepare for the trip up to the castle grounds. It was imperative that every villager attend or the king’s men would be sure to toss them in the dungeons. It was used as a day of reckoning—of final tax collecting and an accounting of all the villagers still under the king’s reign. 
Clearly she had no magical abilities whatsoever. “Lie to him,” Rumple whispered quietly to himself. “Lie. Tell the most convincing falsehood you can.” The king clenched the girl’s jaw. “Tell me now. Can you turn straw into gold?” Rumple sucked in air and tightened his hold upon the nearest branch. She closed her eyes and nodded. Heaving a sigh of relief, Rumple watched as his brother began to lightly stroke her jaw and neck. “Good. Because if you can, I will marry you.” Her eyes closed tightly, obviously repulsed by his forward behavior as his hand moved to her shoulder and clasped it. “But if you are lying and cannot do what your father says you can, he will die.” The girl’s eyes flew to the king, and for a moment she looked just like a frightened rabbit facing a hunter before she nodded again. “You are very beautiful, you know.” Marcus ran his hand up her neck and jaw again. “So very beautiful. I believe you would make a striking queen.”

Weaknesses:
  • So much time was spent on detailing the kisses between the hero and heroine there is hardly any time at all spent towards developing other characters (including villains). Not only did the other characters suffer a bit in development, the story itself suffers here and there. Not all the time. Not so much that it is definitely "bad". But just enough that you think it is just so-so, nothing special. 
  • You definitely have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to the magic stones. I had an easier time believing that sucking on a magic stone would make Rumpelstiltskin able to spin straw into gold than I did that a magic stone could magically make two characters slide down endless flights of stairs in no time, and magically whisk these two characters from one room on another in the castle. Some rules or some logic would have been nice. As I said, sometimes the "magic" worked for me, other times not at all. (And did anyone else think it slightly awkward that so many pages of dialogue were spent on Aubrynn needing to use the bathroom?)
  • Some of the word choices--the phrases--seemed slightly off. I don't expect to see phrases like "once the coast was clear" and "Great Scott" and "fully happy tummy" and "having to buckle down" in a fairy tale. Also, some of the dialogue was poor. I don't know if it was because the dialogue was weighed down with too many descriptive words OR if poorly developed characters are just awkward communicating with each other. For the most part, Rumpelstiltskin and Aubrynn's dialogue was fine.
The villain king, for example:
 “Happy?” He barked out a laugh. “My dear maiden, you have made me much more than happy! I am exuberant! I am ecstatic! I am so well pleased with you, I mean to move you out of this room this very instant and do something simply divine with you! Something—something to reward you for your tremendous talents.” 
And:
“My window is broken. See that it is fixed immediately. I do not appreciate the chill wind that has been streaming through it.”

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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