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1. Let the Hurricane Roar (1932)

Let the Hurricane Roar. Rose Wilder Lane. 1932. 118 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

After reading Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder earlier this year, I was curious to read Rose Wilder Lane's Let the Hurricane Roar. If memory serves me, Rose Wilder Lane borrowed freely from her mother in terms of character and plot. That is while she was reading and editing and preparing her mother's manuscript to be sent off for possible publication, she was beginning to write her own pioneer-inspired novels, one of which is Let the Hurricane Roar. It has been a good six months or so since I read Pioneer Girl, so I don't remember the details clearly. This mother-and-daughter team were definitely writing at the same time about the same things, though I suppose for different audiences. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, I believe, and Let the Hurricane Roar was published in 1933.

Let The Hurricane Roar is a historical fiction with a touch of romance. One could possibly say that it "celebrates" the pioneer spirit, but, it doesn't so much celebrate it and honor it as it does present it realistically. Life was hard, tough, at times seeming bleak and hopeless. The only thing abounding was often pride, stubbornness, gumption, if you will, and diligence. In short supply? Money and neighbors and life's luxuries.

Molly and David are the main characters of the novel. These two head out west, and it isn't long before Molly finds herself with child. Fearing to leave their new claim unsettled, she becomes enthusiastic about going with him to the claim and having the child all by herself. Who needs neighbors, friends, family, a midwife or a doctor? Molly proves to be just as proud and stubborn and spirited as her husband. (David DOES play the fiddle. And the two do endure several blizzards.)

To sum it all up, the book is more an account of horrible things happening to them within the first two or three years of settling their claim than anything else. That's not to say that the book lacks characterization. But it does lack characters, in some ways, since Molly and David are essentially on their own. Swedish neighbors, I believe, appear midway through and then depart again. And Molly does visit the nearest town in one or two chapters. But essentially it's just the three of them! (The baby doesn't do much if I'm honest.)

I liked it okay. It wasn't a great book that I simply loved and delighted in. But it was a solidly good read for anyone interested in pioneers.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Gallery/Scout Press. 2015. Library copy.

In-a-dark-dark-wood-9781501112317_hrThe Plot: Nora cannot believe it when she gets an invitation to Clare's hen do (aka, bachelorette party.) Yes, they had been best friends ten years ago, in school. But that was before, before college, before, well, everything. They haven't even talked since then.

And now, this invitation.

Nora decides to go. She's just too curious, both to see Clare again but also to discover why Clare invited her. And while Nora is happy with her life, part of her thinks she needs to make peace with her own past.

So she goes.

And things go terribly wrong.

The Good: In a Dark, Dark Wood is an updated, modern version of a cozy mystery that isn't that cozy. It's bloody and violent and nasty. Clare's "hen do" (her pre-wedding weekend party) brings together a handful of her best friends in a remote area of the country. They're in a gorgeous, glass-walled modern house in the middle of nowhere, with just each other for company. Perhaps it's the remoteness, but the party is made up of just about six people. It's small and intimate, which makes Nora being there even more weird.

This is the type of book where you want to discover what's going on on your own; that's part of the appeal. So what can I tell?

The atmosphere is wonderful: partly claustrophobic, because they are all in the vacation house together. But even before then, Nora's life is small. She's a novelist, working at home, so there's no workplace and coworkers. She has few friends. Even her flat is small; she can reach the coffee maker without getting out of bed.

It's also an atmosphere of not knowing. It's Nora's story, and she won't share with the reader why she left school and walked away from her best friend. Not yet, anyway. But it's not just what she won't tell, it's what she can't remember. The story starts with Nora running through the woods and then in the hospital and she knows something bad happened during the hen do but she doesn't remember what. Or to who. And even as she starts to tell about the hen do, these are people she has no history with, save one friend, and of course Clare.

This is creepy and scary. And it's also about manipulation and lies. And the masks we wear.

And about a hen do gone terribly, horribly wrong.

So OF COURSE it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015. 

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

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3. Review: Harlot

Harlotby Victoria Dahl. 2015. Reviewed from electronic ARC.

HarlotThe Plot: Caleb Hightower went to the California gold fields to earn his fortune; two years later, he's back, to marry the sweet girl he left behind.

And discovers that Jessica Willoughby, the beautiful innocent he left behind is now a notorious prostitute.

A whore.

The girl he barely dared kiss -- the girl who he wasn't good enough for, so he went to earn the right to court her --  is selling her body to others.

Caleb is hurt and furious and angry. And he'll get his revenge. He'll pay for what she's sold to other men. He'll make her sorry.

The Good: So it's Victoria Dahl, so of course it's hot, hot, hot. And hell the title is Harlot; Jessica has sold her body to pay her debts; so you know this, up front. You know what type of hot you're getting.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Harlot; but wowza, it was both what I expected and also not what I expected. And, also, it's a quick read, less than two hundred pages.

So if you're a fan of Dahl's writing, like I am, all you need to know is yes, it delivers.

And if you haven't read her work, this is a good introduction because it's a standalone, and as I said, it's short, so you can fall for Dahl in a couple of hours.

So now that that is out of the way, the observations that I'll add, the particular details that I adored.

Caleb has been gone for two years, but he hasn't really written to Jessica in that time because he's dyslexic. Oh, given the nineteenth century setting, he doesn't have a name for why it's so tough for him to read or write, but that is the issue. And let's just say that the people he is relying on to keep up his connection and correspondence with Jessica are less than trustworthy, for reasons. I think it's a great way to explain the lack of communication between the two, that led to Caleb riding into town not knowing about Jessica, and Jessica thinking Caleb had abandoned her.

Jessica did what people say. But, of course, there are reasons; there is a story. So part of what is explained is why Jessica did what she did. Which, long story short, if you create a society where you don't expect a woman to earn a living, if you have a world where a woman's options to earn a living are extremely narrow and limited, if society says that a woman without a man (no father or husband or brother) is vulnerable and a target -- well, when a woman has nothing and no one and few resources, she sells the one resource she has. Her body.

But Dahl takes this a step further, which is why she's Dahl, and fantastic. Because what Dahl does next is use this story of Caleb and Jessica to examine views toward sex and sexuality, lust and love, and the virgin/whore complex. Caleb isn't excused for his attitudes; Jessica has her own learning curve. And perhaps because her virtue is gone, Jessica -- who had been raised to think good girls don't like sex because of the time and her class --  is now open to the idea that sex can be pleasurable.

Anyway. Trust me. Read Harlot.

And then, if you're like me, get angry that now there is no new Dahl to read. And look at your bookshelf, at those handful of Dahl books that you deliberately aren't reading so that you still always have an unread Dahl book for when you really, really need it. It's like that piece of chocolate you don't eat, because one day, you'll have to have it.

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

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4. Meet Veronica Walsh

All Things Murder. Jeanne Quigley. 2014. 411 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy Jeanne Quigley's All Things Murder? Yes, for the most part!

Veronica Walsh is the heroine and amateur-detective in All Things Murder. Before Walsh lost her job--on a soap opera, the soap was CANCELED and replaced with a talk show about FOOD--she was happy and successful and doing exactly what she wanted. Life was GOOD. Everything was just-right. True, she never found 'true love' and married. But her character had SIX HUSBANDS. So she never really felt she was missing out all that much. Between her character, Rachel, and herself, she'd pretty much experienced all that life has to offer--good and bad. But she begins to feel lost AND OLD within a few weeks of being out of work. So she heads to her hometown, and considers restarting her life there.

What she finds is that she did NOT leave the drama behind. For soon after her arrival in town, her next-door neighbor is murdered. And she is the one who finds the body. She didn't know her well, but, just in the few days before her neighbor's murder (Anna is the victim's name), Veronica witnessed PLENTY of drama. Without anyone spilling anymore gossip, Veronica already has a handful of suspects: people with motive and/or opportunity to have killed Anna...

Like many cozy mysteries, this one mixes in a little bit of romance. (The romance didn't overshadow the mystery, in my opinion.)

I like this one. It is a light read, not that heavy or complex. It was fun too. I liked meeting all the people who lived in the town. Some characters were quite interesting, and, I'd like to see more of them in the future.

Overall, I liked this one. If the second one was available, I'd want to read it!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Notting Hill Mystery

Notting Hill Mystery. Charles Warren Adams. 1862/2015. Poisoned Pen Press. 284 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dare I say that I enjoyed The Notting Hill Mystery at least as much as Wilkie Collin's A Woman in White? What if I say I liked it even more?! Granted, it has been a few years since I've read A Woman in White. But Notting Hill was such a surprisingly wonderfully old-fashioned mystery, and, with good reason, I suppose, since it was published in the 1860s!

If you enjoy sensational Victorian novels, this one proves a satisfying treat. The "hero" of the novel has collected all the evidence he can about a certain case. He's not positively sure it's a murder case, because if it is murder, it's far from straight-forward. The less you know, the better the novel will read, in my opinion. But it involves TWINS and mesmerism and poison.

At first, I thought this one would be a slow read, since the evidence consists of letters, diaries, interviews, etc. But I found it an entertaining and satisfying read.

It is easy for me to recommend this one. I think mystery lovers will appreciate it. And if you have a love for all things Victorian, then you may really, really LOVE it, just as I did.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Review: Corset Diaries

The Corset Diariesby Katie MacAlister. NAL. 2004. Library Copy.

The Corset DiariesThe Plot: Tessa gets a weird call from a good friend -- an opportunity to make a lot of money. Is your hair still long? Do you have a valid passport?

Thanks to an old friend, she has the chance to be in a historical reality TV show, A Month in the Life of a Victorian Duke. She'll play the American heiress wife.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Good: What could possibly go wrong?

Tessa is doubtful that she is really the ideal person to play the role of Duchess: she's 39, she's not skinny (do not tell anyone she is a size 18) and corsets, really? But the money would help give her chance to pay debts occurred from her late husband's medical bills. Plus, it may be kind of fun, right?

But who can have fun in a corset?

I laughed a lot at The Corset Diaries, at Tessa's trying to stay on-script while having a hard time with eighteenth century manners, servants, and, yes, clothes.

Plus, romance! Max is the man playing the Duke. He's five years younger than Tessa, which Tessa thinks is too big a difference ("when I was a ripe, womanly twenty, . . . he was a spotty, adolescent fifteen. . . . In dog years, our age difference is thirty-five years.") And she may have accidently thrown up on his shoes when they first met.

Bottom line: a funny, hot romance with an older man and younger woman? And a story where they actually give a size to her shape? (No, seriously, usually body may be talked about with words like "curves" and "voluptuous" but it's refreshing to have an actual number mentioned). Plus tons of historical clothes and manners, with a modern attitude?

Yes, please!

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

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7. Review: The Mistress Trilogy

More than a Mistress and No Man's Mistress 2011 reissue. Mary Balogh. Dell. Library copy. The Secret Mistress (with bonus short story Now a Bride) (2012).

The Plot: Regency England. A series about the three Dudley siblings: Jocelyn, the arrogant Duke of Tresham; his younger brother, Ferdinand; and their sister, Angeline.

The Good: Confession: I thought I was borrowing Balogh's The Secret Affair and downloaded The Secret Mistress instead so got hooked on an entirely different series. I also started with the third in the series, but because it's the "prequel" that takes place before the other two, I think it's just as well.

The Dudley brothers are well known rakes, and let's just say the reputation is both inherited and earned.

Angeline adores her brothers, with all their foibles and brashness, dares and mistresses, but as much as she enjoys them, and as much as she recognizes that most rakes in London are just engaged in a flirtatious game she enjoys playing, she does not want one for a husband. No, no, no. So when she sees Edward Ailsbury, the Earl of Heyward, she sees the perfect husband: a true gentleman. Who cares if her brothers think he's a boring, dry stick? Who cares if he looks at her and sees a young woman who babbles away constantly and has the worst taste in hats? Angeline will convince Edward that they are perfect for each other.

Jocelyn is the hardest of the siblings to warm too: but then again, his name may be Jocelyn but his title is the Duke of Tresham and everyone, including his siblings and friends, call him Tresham. He's powerful and arrogant and let me say: it took me a while to get over just how entitled and privileged he was. His meet-cute with Jane in More Than a Mistress is that Tresham is involved in a duel (it involves a duel over a woman not his wife, actually, someone else's wife), she interrupts shouting "stop" and the end result is he gets wounded and blames Jane. Jane ends up loosing her job and gets hired by Tresham as his nurse.

While I wanted to just smack Tresh in his total not-caring about someone "lesser" than him -- who cares if she gets fired? Who cares if she's out of work? How dare she interrupt men at a duel! -- I gradually warmed to him. In part because while he is just that arrogant, he isn't possessive or physically abusive towards those working for him. In other words, he doesn't think, "oh she's my servant now I can do whatever I want." But of course they fall for each other! Oh, and Jane has a secret: she's on the run from possible murder and robbery charges but it's totally not her fault.

Jane's backstory is part of what I'm enjoying about Balogh's works: much as these Regencies are about the time, and are about people who are lucky enough to enjoy the fun and rewards of wealth and title, there are also people who are punished by the system and have to figure their ways around it. Here, Jane was unlucky enough to born in a time when she couldn't inherit outright; when she was dependent on the goodwill of her guardian; when the system failed her, she had few options. And to go back to Angeline: one reason I like Angeline is because she's like Cher (from Clueless, not the singer.) On the surface, a ditz who loves clothes; dig deeper, and that's true but it's also true she cares for those around her and looks beyond the surface. Angeline's immediate response to Jane, even before her full story is known, is of compassion.

No Man's Mistress is about middle sibling, Ferdinand. Second son, so no property or lands. He wins a country estate, goes to claim it -- and finds it is inhabited by Viola, who insists she owns the property. A rom-com battle of wills begins, with both stubbornly refusing to leave the house despite the fact that it means they are living together, unchaperoned (except for servants.) They are also both attracted towards each other and trying to deny it.

I admit to also getting annoyed with Ferdinand: I mean, he won the property by gambling. It's not like he paid for it. And it becomes clear that Viola is living there, and has for a while, and runs the property, and that she would be homeless and without income without it. He seems to think she has options, or that the options of  "oh, go stay with my sister in law" is a real plan.

OK, and now here's a major spoiler. But it's the reason I really like Balogh and can't wait to read her other books. As you may remember from my review of the Huxtable books, women willingly became mistresses; and one did so deliberately, as a means to make money because she had no options. No Man's Mistress also addresses this issue, exploring why, and how, someone would become a courtesan -- that is, a high priced whore. And it does so in a way that has compassion; that points out the problems inherent in a society like that of Regency England; and it allows for second chances and happy endings.

And Angeline once again puts compassion and love first.

Oh! And I nearly forgot. There is a final novella with extra chapters. Now a Bride (Short Story) (The Mistress Trilogy). For the record? For romances, I love epilogues/final chapters, with the couple still happy and still together.

The good news: there are plenty more Balogh books to read. The bad news: Where to start? Also, how many of these, if any, are connected?

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

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8. Meet Inspector Rutledge

A Test of Wills (Ian Rutledge #1) Charles Todd. 1994/2006. Harper Collins. 305 pages. [Source: Library]

A Test of Wills is the first book in Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series. He has returned home from war--the first world war--and is on his first case. It will prove challenging in more ways than one. First, the war has left him changed--broken, confused, uncertain. Second, the case itself is tricky. One of the suspects is super-friendly with royalty, and there is pressure to solve the case, but, solve it in such a way that there isn't a scandal. He is arriving on the scene several days after the crime, the murder, and he doesn't even see the crime scene or the body. His work mainly has him interviewing anyone and everyone that might have seen something--or heard something. But there aren't many leads that are fruitful. He has a handful of clues, but, the clues lead him to no one person. There's always something off. For example, the person with the best motive, has an alibi that is solid. The people with opportunity have no motive, etc. So can he do it? can he solve the case?

I liked this one well enough. Ian Rutledge is so very, very different from Bess Crawford. (I've read two or three of the Bess Crawford mystery series also by Charles Todd). Both show the effect of the war certainly. Bess Crawford mainly does this through her other characters: Bess is nursing men who have been wounded--sometimes severely--and/or are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The soldiers we meet in the Crawford mystery series certainly showcase the effect of war. But with the Ian Rutledge series it is completely different. It's an inside-out look, for better or worse. Ian is very broken, very disturbed, and we're in his head for the most part. It was an interesting aspect and added a new level to the mystery.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Clone Army Attacketh

William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh. Ian Doescher. 2015. Quirk. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I did enjoy reading Ian Doescher's The Clone Army Attacketh. It was a pleasant-enough way to spend two evenings. I haven't enjoyed any of the adaptations nearly as much as the first book in the series--Verily, A New Hope. Perhaps because Verily A New Hope retains so many memorable lines, only slightly adjusted to come from the pen of Shakespeare. Perhaps because it was the first, the concept, the premise was so new, so novel. It was like trying a new dish for the first time and discovering that you love it. I have to confess that the second prequel movie is one of my FAVORITES. I adore this one for so many reasons. And I was hoping that the flavor of the original movie dialogue would shine through. I was a bit disappointed in that. Though probably Doescher's changes are for the better. Most of the changes focuses on Anakin and Padme, and their romance.

If you've enjoyed the previous books in the series, chances are you'll enjoy this one too.  

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Go Set A Watchman

Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee. 2015.  HarperCollins. 278 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman? Yes and no. Yes, I wanted to read it. Yes, I had a few doubts and some hesitations to do so. Because you can't unread a book once you've read it no matter how much you want to do so! I certainly don't regret reading Go Set A Watchman. Which is saying something at least in its favor. But I wouldn't necessarily ever call it a 'must read' for its own sake. It will appeal most to those who love To Kill A Mockingbird, and it will appeal least to those who really, really love, love, love To Kill A Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. It just isn't. It was written first, most importantly. And the characters are the same but NOT THE SAME. It's a work in progress, a work in development, a solid draft but a draft all the same. To read Go Set A Watchman as a proper sequel, one would have to accept regressing character development not just of one or two characters but of many. Of course, there are a few characters developed more fully in Go Set A Watchman. Characters whose presence was barely felt in To Kill A Mockingbird take center stage in Go Set A Watchman. It is hard to imagine the characters we know becoming the characters we see in Go Set A Watchman. Hard to imagine is keeping it on friendly terms in some ways. One reason why is the fact that Go Set A Watchman is not built in any way upon the events and characters of To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus Finch represents a black man for trial, it's true, but the facts of the case are so completely different, and it's a trial that he wins oh-so-easily. That's just one example. Because the past of the characters is different, it's hard for me to imagine these future-characters as being the same characters. More of an alternate or parallel universe feel--in my opinion.

Were there scenes I enjoyed in Go Set A Watchman? Yes, definitely. There were a handful of scenes, mostly flashback scenes, I admit, that really stood out to me. Scout remembering summers with her big brother and Dill. An acting out of a revival of sorts. Just to name one. But present-day Scout, well, I'm not sure I like her. I get the idea that I'm supposed to really, really like her and applaud everything she thinks and says and does. To declare Scout 100% right and incapable of being in any way wrong. But I can't. I just can't. Scout is mostly-fully-grown and definitely fully opinionated. But Scout doesn't know everything--though she thinks she does--and she isn't perfectly perfect. (For the record, I don't think any one person CAN know everything there is to know and be right 100% of the time on every single little thing. I think every person has strengths and weaknesses and blind spots.)

Go Set A Watchman is a coming-of-age-as-an-adult story where Scout battles her emotions. Does she love her father? Does she like her father? Does she respect her father? Does she hate her father? Does she really, really, really hate her father? Does she never want to see him again ever, ever? One thing is certain: she KNOWS that she is right and her father is WRONG. And her father is either stupid for not knowing right from wrong, or, full of hate and cruelty for not knowing right from wrong.

Scout's challenges are probably not unique. There is a time when children question the wisdom and intelligence of their parents--and this can happen at any age--but it's also not unusual for things to swing back around either.

Is Go Set A Watchman a book about race or race relations? Yes, I'm not sure if it is the only thing the book is about. But it's certainly one of the main things it is about--simply because it is a catalyst for how Scout sees her hometown, her family, her friends, now after several years away living in New York. Scout is shocked that almost everyone she knows is hesitant and resistant and unsure about the whole civil rights thing. Atticus' view is that no one--but especially small town Southerners--likes to be told to do something and how to do something and to have their lives managed by outsiders. Atticus sees the potential for another messy Reconstruction. And he's not sure how it will all work out, how it will be accomplished cleanly, neatly, fairly, legally. He doesn't want things to be ugly, messy, violent, hateful. He's trying to prevent a complete collapse of life as they know it. Scout wants her father to be the first to embrace civil rights and to do everything he can to bring changes quickly. Scout interprets her father's hesitancy, his doubts, his fears, his uncertainties about HOW it is to be done--the details of making all things equal and fair--as HATE and bigotry. But is that fair?


There were definitely things that disappointed me in Go Set A Watchman. But I certainly don't regret reading it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. A Bitter Truth

A Bitter Truth. Charles Todd. 2011. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I am continuing to love the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd. Bitter Truth is the third book in the Bess Crawford series. The book opens with Bess on leave--once again. Bess takes pity on a woman, a stranger, named Lydia. She's distraught and she's clearly been beaten. For better or worse, Bess becomes very involved in a family matter. Good will come out of it perhaps, but, not without sacrifice and risk. For Bess says yes to Lydia's pleas to come home with her, and agrees to pretend to be her long-time friend in front of Lydia's family including her husband, Roger. How will Lydia's in-laws react to her bringing someone home? Surely Roger will mind the interference, right?

The family Bess meets is a strange one in many ways--dysfunctional certainly. But is anyone in the family capable of murder? For that is what we all know it will come down to...a mystery is almost always a murder mystery.

I felt Bess's discomfort throughout the novel. She's witness to some very awkward family scenes. And strangers are confiding in her things that are very personal, almost intimate. Every time Bess tries to leave the family--something happens to prevent it. Though of course, eventually, she does HAVE to leave because she's a nurse stationed in France. Still the family haunts her a bit...

A Bitter Truth is a well-written historical mystery. It wasn't one that I "enjoyed" particularly because enjoy is the wrong word. There was nothing "fun" or "light-hearted" about it. But it was certainly compelling and intense.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Review: The Girl on a Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin RandomHouse. 2015. Library copy.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - USThe Plot: Rachel takes the same commuter train to work and home, day in, day out. She watches outside her window, watches the buildings and houses. There is one couple in particular she watches, who she names Jess and Jason. Wondering about them and their lives, making up a story about who and what they are.

Until one day, something happens. Something that forces her from observer to participant, off the train and into the lives of those she watches.

The Good: I confess, that I'm not sure what put The Girl on the Train on my must-read list. Once it went there (and it was a long hold list from the library!) I avoided any reviews or mentions of the book, because I didn't want spoilers. Since it was being talked about in the same breadth as Gone Girl (my review here), I knew that I didn't want spoilers. I wanted to discover the book, and any twists and turns, on my own. (For another day is my perhaps contradictory stance on both not minding spoilers and also getting really annoyed when something I don't want spoiled is spoiled.)

To begin with, The Girl on the Train is nothing like Gone Girl: well, both have "girl" in the title. Are both are best-sellers with twists best discovered on one's own. But the unreliable narrator is different: Amy of Gone Girl is a deliberate manipulator of her own story, depending on her audience, and always believes she is the smartest person in the room. Rachel, the primary narrator of The Girl on the Train, is unreliable for different reasons. She doesn't know herself well enough to lie or manipulate the reader, even if at times she tells the story in a way to make herself look better. She also has problems with memory, and so she's unreliable because at times she just doesn't know.

There are three narrators, and I'll leave it to book clubs and others to discuss why these are "girls" and not women. There is Rachel, in her mid-thirties, the girl on the train looking out at life. There is Anna, a young mother, blissfully happy with her husband, her baby, her life. There is Megan, a wife and the crossroads, unsure of whether to pursue a new career or motherhood.

I picture you as a reader like myself; so here's the deal. I'll do nothing spoilery in this post, but if you want to talk spoilers, or things beyond what I do in this review, we'll do that in the comments. So reader, it's your choice, much like it was my choice to avoid reviews and news articles about the book.

The Girl on a Train is a mystery: a woman is missing. What happened to her? And why? It is also a a character study in Rachel, a woman whose life has come undone. She's of an age when she should be in a house, with a family, perhaps a career. She wants these things; she doesn't have these things; she's having more than a tough time reconciling herself to her life now. One of her few distractions, beyond drinking and wallowing in memories, is watching life outside the train window.

Anna's life of happiness is built on someone's else unhappiness, and you know what? Honestly? She doesn't care. That's right. Judge her as you want, the how of her romance and happiness started. Her daughter, her husband, isn't it what anyone wants? And she'll do what she can to keep anything from creeping into that unhappiness.

Megan doesn't quite know what she wants: she's drifting, anchored by a husband and a home but not much else. Motherhood, the next logical step for a wife in her twenties, isn't for her. She keeps her secrets and her past close and unshared with anyone, not even her husband.

These are the three who tell the story: and because it's just these three, with both limited perspectives and particular ways in which they see things, and because they are telling their stories at different times, it's a bit hard to figure things out. But the dots do connect, eventually, between the women and what they know and what they don't.

In some ways, I found this more satisfying than Gone Girl; I liked it more. At it's heart, The Girl on a Train is a mystery and I love a good mystery. It also has one of the more interesting, unapologetic alcoholics in literature; in some ways, I was reminded of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor. And, because of their complexities and their integrity (each is true to themselves), I liked spending time with Rachel, Anna, and Megan. And while Amy amused me and kept me on her toes, I wouldn't say spending time with her was something I liked.

And yes...A Favorite Book Read in 2015. Because Rachel.

Links: NPR review; publishers' Reader's Guide; New York Time review.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

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

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13. Wish You Well

Wish You Well. David Baldacci. 2000/2007. Grand Central Publishing. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading David Baldacci's Wish You Well. That is, I "enjoyed" it as much as one can enjoy a book with so much heartache in it. Some of the heartache was completely predictable, I won't lie. But some of it wasn't.

Readers meet Lou (Louisa) and Oz (Oscar). These two undergo a lot in the course of a year. The family is in a car crash. Their father dies at the scene. Their mother is left in a coma, of sorts. She's able to eat and drink, but, not to talk or walk. She's essentially dead to the world, unable to give any sign to anyone that she is still in there. The two go to live with a great-grandmother in Virginia. This great-grandmother raised their father. Her name is Louisa. Life in the country is certainly different than life in New York City, but the two adjust quickly. They enjoy spending time with Diamond, an orphan boy around their age, and Eugene, a black man who lives and works with them on the farm. Their mother lives with them as well. They manage to nurse her and do all the farm work as well. One man, a young lawyer, takes it upon himself to visit the family often. Cotton reads to Alicia (the mother) as often as he can. The children quickly bond with him. So they've experienced loss certainly, but, they've made new friends as well.

Is life perfect? Not really. Oz and Lou would give anything to have their parents back. And Oz especially is still counting on his mom waking up again. Lou secretly wants this just as badly. But she's older, and "wiser," and doesn't want anyone to know that she believes in wishes and happy endings. She can't help herself for wanting and wishing, but, she's ashamed of it at the same time. She hates herself for it in a way.

The book chronicles their adventures and misadventures in the country. The setting is 1940, by the way. I won't spoil the book; yes, a few things are predictable. But not everything in my opinion.

Wish You Well is a coming-of-age story written for adults. Don't be confused by the child narrator, this one really is an adult book.

What I liked best was the characterization and the setting. I liked Lou and Oz and Diamond. I liked Louisa and Cotton. I liked spending time with them. And the historical setting was a nice touch. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Meet Elizabeth Parker

Murder at Longbourn. (Elizabeth Parker #1) Tracy Kiely. 2009. St. Martin's Press. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Tracy Kiely's Murder at Longbourn. It is first and foremost a cozy mystery. It is not a retelling or adaptation of any particular Austen novel. So don't expect that, and you won't be disappointed, or as disappointed.

As I said, I enjoyed this holiday-themed mystery novel. Elizabeth Parker, the heroine, goes to visit her great-aunt for New Year's Eve/Day. There is a party hosted at her great-aunt's bed and breakfast. It is a themed party--there will be a "murder" at the party. She meets plenty of new people at her great-aunt's bed and breakfast. Some of them being guests staying at the b&b. Some being guests (from the town) invited to the New Year's party. But one person is not a new acquaintance at all, but, an old "nemesis" named Peter. The two knew each other as children, and, as far as Elizabeth is concerned, there's nothing but hate between them: past, present, and future.

The party goes horribly, of course, and a real murder is committed. Elizabeth is convinced that there is a lot of framing going on--and her aunt may suffer for it--but can she with a tiny bit of help from Peter--find the real murderer in time?

I liked Elizabeth well enough. I didn't love everything about her. There were times she came across as not too bright. And I did find quite a few things about this one to be predictable. But. In the moment, as I was reading it, I cared more than I didn't. I wanted to keep reading it. I wasn't annoyed or frustrated or disgusted or disappointed. It was a very pleasant read. Now, a week after finishing it, the in-the-moment pleasure of it all has faded a bit.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. An Impartial Witness

An Impartial Witness. Charles Todd. 2010. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

An Impartial Witness is the second book in the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd. I love that the series is set during World War I; An Impartial Witness is set in 1917. Bess Crawford is a nurse, and, she's nursing wounded soldiers both abroad and at home. (Bess spends a good amount of time in this novel in France, very close to the front.)

The book opens with Bess arriving in London on leave for thirty-six hours. She's just spent time on a convoy with a wounded soldier--a pilot with severe burns. He keeps holding on because he loves his wife. Her photograph is something he always has close by. She would recognize his wife anywhere she's seen it so often the past few days. But she didn't really expect to see her--this wife--at the train station seeing another soldier off. The scene was VERY emotional, and quite inappropriate if she's the wife of another man. The scene haunts her.

And with good reason, it turns out! For she soon learns that this woman--this wife--is found murdered that evening. She tells what she saw at the train station--several hours before the crime. She describes the man--the soldier--with her. That might have been all...except that she can't stop thinking of the case, of the tragedy of it, and she keeps talking with Scotland Yard about what she learns...

A man is arrested. But is he guilty? She doesn't think so. She really, really doesn't think so. For could she be falling in love with him?! Michael Hart isn't capable of murdering the woman he was supposedly in love with for years, is he?

Can Bess find the real murderer?!

I love, love, love this series. I love the characterization. I love the historical setting. I love the mystery itself. It's just a fabulous read.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Book of Lost Tales, Part One

The Book of Lost Tales. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1983/1992. 345 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading The Book of Lost Tales, Part One? Yes and no. I'll try my best to explain why. First, The Book of Lost Tales traces Tolkien's writings about Middle Earth from the very beginnings. Many of these stories and poems (yes, poems) date from around the first World War. Tolkien sets up a framework for his fantasy stories. A man, Eriol, stumbles across The Cottage of Lost Play, and, meets a bunch of storytellers essentially. Tolkien's mythology is at its earliest and in some ways its weakest. It was interesting to read these early pieces, in a way, to see the origins of what would become a great fantasy. And a handful of these stories can be seen--to a certain degree--in what would be published as The Silmarillion. I'll be honest though, I preferred the more-polished stories of The Silmarillion. One does learn that Tolkien kept working and working and working and working on some of these stories. That this mythology was always a work in progress. From the first version of the story to the latest version of the story, they'd be BIG changes. Other stories he edited or rewrote perhaps only two or three times, and then almost sort of forgot about. Some stories he never finished at all. I believe there is at least one unfinished story in The Book of Lost Tales. Since I've started reading the introduction to the Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, I might be slightly confused. But. Generally speaking, what readers are being "treated" to is fragments, captured moments of his early writings.

In addition to reading Tolkien's own work, one also is privileged to read Christopher Tolkien's commentaries on the stories included. At first I had my doubts that commentaries would be interesting. But I can say that without the commentaries, the stories themselves wouldn't make much cohesive sense. So I was quickly proven wrong!

But as interesting as I found it. (And I didn't mind the poetry, by the way) I can't say that I "loved" it or found it wonderful or thrilling. I'm undecided on if I'll continue on with Book of Lost Tales Part Two.  

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time. Josephine Tey. 1951/1995. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling. Stared at it with loathing. He knew by heart every last minute crack on its nice clean surface. He had made maps of the ceiling and gone exploring on them; rivers, islands, and continents. He had made guessing games of it and discovered hidden objects; faces, birds, and fishes. He had made mathematical calculations of it and rediscovered his childhood; theorems, angles, and triangles. There was practically nothing else he could do but look at it.

Is The Daughter of Time my favorite mystery? I've read it five times, the most recent being in August 2014. At the very least it is my favorite mystery by Josephine Tey. And also one of my favorite books about Richard III. So it's a definite favorite. Unfortunately, the actual clip of the Richard III song from Horrible Histories has been removed, but this one in remains. And here is a live version of it.

Inspector Alan Grant has broken his leg and is hospitalized. In his boredom, he resorts to solving one of history's unsolvable cases. He becomes quite interested in Richard III and in figuring out if he was a cruel murdering tyrant. Is he responsible for the deaths of the two princes in the tower? Or was he framed to take the blame by the conquering Tudors? Readers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Grant's thought process as he seeks to solve the mystery.

The book is so well-written. It's unique. It's funny--in places. I loved the narrative voice. I loved the subject as well. I think everyone should give it a try.

Alan Grant on popular fiction authors:

The Sweat and the Furrow was Silas Weekley being earthly and spade-conscious all over seven hundred pages. The situation, to judge from the first paragraph, had not materially changed since Silas's last book: mother lying-in with her eleventh upstairs, father laid-out after his ninth downstairs, eldest son lying to the Government in the cow-shed, eldest daughter lying with her lover in the the hayloft, everyone else lying low in the barn. The rain dripped from the thatch, and the manure steamed in the midden. Silas never omitted the manure. It was not Silas's fault that its steam provided the only uprising element in the picture. If Silas could have discovered a brand of steam that steamed downwards, Silas would have introduced it. (13)
Did no one, any more, no one in all this wide world, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thirled to a formula? Authors today wrote so much to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about "a new Silas Weekley" or "a new Lavinia Fitch" exactly as they talked about "a new brick" or a "new hairbrush." They never said "a new book by" whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like. (14)
The Rose of Raby proved to be fiction, but at least easier to hold than Tanner's Constitutional History of England. It was, moreover, the almost-respectable form of historical fiction which is merely history-with-conversation, so to speak. An imaginative biography rather than an imagined story. Evelyn Payne-Ellis, whoever she might be, had provided portraits and a family tree, and had made no attempt, it seemed, to what he and his cousin Laura used to call in their childhood "write forsoothly." There were no "by our Ladys," no "nathelesses" or "varlets." It was an honest affair according to its lights. And its lights were more illuminating than Mr. Tanner. Much more illuminating. It was Grant's belief that if you could not find out about a man, the next best way to arrive at an estimate of him was to find out about his mother. (59)
Alan Grant on Sir Thomas More
He came to the surface an hour later, vaguely puzzled and ill at ease. It was not that the matter surprised him, the facts were very much what he had expected them to be. It was that this was not how he had expected Sir Thomas to write. "He took ill rest at nights, lay long waking and musing; sore wearied with care and watch, he slumbered rather than slept. So was his restless heart continually tossed and tumbled with the tedious impression and stormy remembrance of his most abominable deeds." That was all right. But when he added that "this he had from such as were secret with his chamberers" one was suddenly repelled. An aroma of back-stair gossip and servants' spying came off the page. So that one's sympathy tilted before one was aware of it from the smug commentator to the tortured creature sleeping on his bed. The murderer seemed of greater stature than the man who was writing of him. Which was all wrong. Grant was conscious too of the same unease that filled him when he listened to a witness telling a perfect story that he knew to be flawed somewhere... (71)
He was five. When that dramatic council scene had taken place at the Tower, Thomas More had been five years old. He had been only eight when Richard died at Bosworth. Everything in that history had been hearsay. And if there was one word that a policeman loathed more than another it was hearsay. Especially when applied to evidence. He was so disgusted that he flung the precious book on to the floor before he remembered that it was the property of a Public Library and his only by grace and for fourteen days. More had never known Richard III at all. He had indeed grown up under a Tudor administration. That book was the Bible of the whole historical world on the subject of Richard III--and it was from that account that Holinshed had taken his material, and from that Shakespeare had written his--and except that More believed what he wrote to be true it was of no more value than what the soldier said.... Grant had dealt too long with the human intelligence to accept as truth someone's report of someone's report of what that someone remembered to have seen or been told. (81)
Other favorite quotes:
"One would expect boredom to be a great yawning emotion, but it isn't, of course. It's a small niggling thing." (16)
"I'm feeling like a policeman. I'm thinking like a policeman. I'm asking myself the question that every policeman asks in every case of murder: Who benefits? And for the first time it occurs to me that the glib theory that Richard got rid of the boys to make himself safer on the throne is so much nonsense. Supposing that he had got rid of the boys. There were still the boys' five sisters between him and the throne. To say nothing of George's toy: the boy and girl. George's son and daughter were barred by their father's attainder; but I take it that an attainder can be reversed, or annulled, or something. If Richard's claim was shaky, all those lives stood between him and safety."
"And did they all survive him?"
"I don't know. But I shall make it my business to find out. The boys' eldest sister certainly did because she became Queen of England as Henry's wife." (105)
It was brought home to him for the first time not only what a useless thing the murder of the boys would have been, but what a silly thing. And if there was anything that Richard of Gloucester was not, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was silly. (137)
"Of course I'm only a policeman," Grant said. "Perhaps I never moved in the right circles. It may be that I've met only nice people. Where would one have to go to meet a woman who became matey with the murderer of her two boys?"
"Greece, I should think," Marta said. "Ancient Greece."
"I can't remember a sample even there."
"Or a lunatic asylum, perhaps. Was there any sign of idiocy about Elizabeth Woodville?"
"Not that anyone ever noticed. And she was Queen for twenty years or so."
"Yes of course. It's the height of absurdity. It belongs to Ruthless Rhymes, not to sober history. That is why historians surprise me. They seem to have no talent for the likeliness of any situation. They see history like a peepshow; with two-dimensional figures against a distant background."
"Perhaps when you are grubbing about with tattered records you haven't time to learn about people. I don't mean about the people in the records, but just about People. Flesh and blood. And how they react to circumstances." (151)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Children of Hurin

The Children of Hurin. J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien. 2007. HarperCollins. 313 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading The Children of Hurin? Yes! Very much! After reading The Silmarillion last week, I wanted more new-to-me Tolkien, and The Children of Hurin was an excellent choice. And a very reader-friendly excellent choice I might add. This is a longer version of a story contained in The Silmarillion. (I believe Tolkien wrote several adaptations or versions of this story. Perhaps one or two poetic form. But this one is prose. I'm relieved that it is.)

So Turin is hero--tragic hero--of Tolkien's Children of Hurin. And this reads like an Greek tragedy. A hero doomed because of a fatal flaw, one that is almost fundamental to who he is. It isn't a happy-happy read in other words. But it is full of spirit and adventure and love. It features several strong and brave women who love with all their hearts and minds and who will truly do anything to stand by who they love. There's a fierceness to the friendships as well. One thing I can confidently say, Children of Hurin is not boring.

I won't share many details. But you should know that it is about the ongoing battle between good versus evil. And it does feature a dragon.

I definitely liked it. I'm not sure if it was LOVE. But I definitely enjoyed it more than Book of Lost Tales Part One.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. A Touch of Stardust (2015)

A Touch of Stardust. Kate Alcott. 2015. Doubleday. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Kate Alcott's A Touch of Stardust. Julie Crawford is the heroine who provides readers with a behind the scenes glimpse into the filming of Gone With The Wind. The setting, of course, is Hollywood in 1939. Julie, soon after we meet her, becomes a personal assistant and friend of actress Carole Lombard, the girlfriend of Clark Gable. So readers get a behind the scenes glimpse of this couple as well--their public and private lives. Julie is dating Andy, David Selznick's assistant. The book is about all the changes and transitions in her life: her move to California, her new job, her dreams of being a screen writer, her love life, the connections she's making, the relationships she's building, etc. A little bit about everything. She oh-so-conveniently is on the set during major scenes of the movie. Not that I minded, but, Julie is always in the right place to get the best story it seems!

One thing I did like about the novel was the context--or perhaps contrast is the better word. The world is at war, horrible things are happening in Europe, and the disinterestedness of America is highlighted. Andy, who is Jewish, is very concerned about what's going on, and what it means, and he's worried about his family--his grandparents especially--still in Germany. Serious things are happening, and, that is contrasted by the superficiality and gossipy nature of Hollywood.

I liked this one. I'm not sure I loved it. But it tempted me. Should I consider rereading Gone With the Wind this year?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Meet Professor Moriarty

The Infernal Device. Michael Kurland. 1978. 255 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm caught up on watching Sherlock, but, far from caught up on reading Sherlock--original Sherlock especially. Still when I saw that Moriarty had his own series, well, I had to check it out from the library. In The Infernal Device readers meet Professor Moriarty and his journalist employee, Barnett. (Moriarty having recently "rescued" Barnett from an Eastern prison and certain death--he was framed for murder--he's in Moriarty's debt--or employ--for two years.) How does Barnett like Professor James Moriarty? He admires him, respects him, enjoys his company. Does Barnett see the "real" Moriarty? Or is Moriarty keeping his darker side from his new friend and employee? Certainly Moriarty is aware that there are a handful of people--namely Sherlock Holmes--who thinks Moriarty is pure evil. But convinced, Barnett is not! Holmes does make a handful of appearances in this one. In fact, to solve the mystery, they may have to join together temporarily to save the monarchy.

Readers spend time with both men as the mystery unfolds. The Infernal Device is a mystery with plenty of politics and action.  Did I love it? Well, if I didn't love, love, love it, I certainly LIKED it well enough. 

Death by Gaslight. Michael Kurland. 1982. 279 pages. [Source: Library]

I also enjoyed reading the second in the series, Death by Gaslight. While I didn't rush through it like I did Infernal Device, I found it mostly compelling. It is set two years after The Infernal Device. Barnett has finished--just finished--his "required" time working for him, but, he has no thoughts of leaving Moriarty's service. He's enjoying himself much too much. Life is rarely boring, and, he's even had time to fall in love...

Can Moriarty catch a serial killer? Someone is killing aristocratic gentleman--in their homes, in locked rooms. With only a few clues, can he solve the mystery, find the killer, and see that justice is done? Can he do a better job than the police? a better job than Sherlock Holmes? Perhaps. Especially since Holmes spends nearly the entire book absolutely convinced that Moriarty is behind each and every murder.

I enjoyed this one too. I look forward to reading more books in this series at some point.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. The Semi-Detached House (1859)

The Semi-Detached House. Emily Eden. 1859. 172 pages. [Source: Bought]
"THE only fault of the house is that it is semi-detached." "Oh, Aunt Sarah! you don't mean that you expect me to live in a semi-detached house?" "Why not, my dear, if it suits you in other respects?" "Why, because I should hate my semi-detachment, or whatever the occupants of the other half of the house may call themselves." "They call themselves Hopkinson," continued Aunt Sarah coolly.
I very much enjoyed reading Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House. This Victorian classic is fun, lively romantic comedy. Readers get to know Blanche, the heroine, and her neighbors well. What do we know about Blanche? Well, she's relatively newly wed--she's expecting her first child--and she's a little too imaginative for her own good. She's always worrying about a thousand things that might go wrong. Her husband will be away from her for three months or so--and she's distraught, as you can imagine. (Having her sister, Aileen, live with her will help.) She knows nothing about her neighbors, and, her neighbors know nothing about her. They will suffer through false impressions at first before becoming very close friends. What do we come to learn about their neighbors? Well, it's a mother and her two grown-daughters. (The daughters are Janet and Rose). (The father, I believe, is a sailor so he's often away at sea.) They are also raising a little boy (grandson, nephew). They still are in very close contact with the boy's father (the son-in-law/brother-in-law) who is a widower "lost" in grief. (His name is Mr. Willis). He's one of the comic figures of the book.  Readers also become acquainted with the neighborhood or community...

"Then the girls have won," said John, "for you are certainly going–I promised Arthur that I would bring you." "Oh, John! How could you? I can't dine out, I'm so fat." "Well, my dear, you can hardly expect to be as slim as you were at seventeen, but you are not half the size of your friend the Baroness; and this one dinner, unless you eat very voraciously, will not make you much fatter." This idea threw Mrs. Hopkinson into one of her most comfortable fits of laughter. "
The idea of Willis making the best of anything was so startling, such a very astonishing novelty, that this announcement was received much as the intimation of a great misfortune would have been from anybody else.
The Baroness wore a gown of such very bright yellow that the sun was affronted and went in.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. The Silmarillion (1977)

The Silmarillion. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1977. 386 pages. [Source: Bought]
 There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony. And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.
I loved reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. That doesn't mean I found it easy the first time I attempted it. Or even the second. I do think you have to be in the proper mood to fully enjoy it--to appreciate it. There is a beauty to it, a certain grace to the language. Something that you don't see all that often. Something that brings to my mind--at least--the beauty and grace of the Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV). But with that beauty and grace there is a certain strangeness, a foreignness. Something that puts distance between the book and the reader. It's all about the world-building.

The Silmarillion is divided into several sections:
Each section is unique, has its own style or tone. The longest section is Quenta Silmarillion. The section probably with the most reader appeal is Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age.

So is The Silmarillion similar to his other works? Yes and no. There are orcs, dwarves, elves, eagles, dragons, balrogs, wolves, giant spiders, humans, and wizards. And certainly much of The Silmarillion concerns the battle between good and evil. The two main "bad guys" are Melkor (Morgoth) and Sauron. And the book is about greed, ambition, honor, love, and friendship. There's plenty of action, and even some romance. The book features origin or creation stories. So there's a good chance that you can learn more background for putting The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into context. But it does require some patience perhaps. For example, people rarely have one name--they may have up to a dozen! Turin Turambar comes to mind. I wish I'd known about the family trees at the end of the book while I was actually reading it!

Yes, The Silmarillion is beautifully written. But that isn't its only strength. The world-building is incredibly detailed. Its also packed with stories and interesting characters.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. The Prestige

The Prestige. Christopher Priest. 1995/1997. Tor. 360 pages. [Source: Library]

It began on a train, heading north through England, although I was soon to discover that the story had really begun more than a hundred years earlier. 

I saw the movie first. I think there are some benefits to having seen the movie first. It's impossible not to compare the two--the book and the movie--especially since I finished the movie and rushed to put the book on hold at the library. So this "review" will talk about both the book and the movie. I will try my best to keep it spoiler free, especially the opening paragraphs!

The book is different than the movie. The book has a contemporary framework. Andrew Westley, the narrator, has received a magic book from a stranger, the hint being that it was written by one of his ancestors, an Alfred Borden, a Victorian magician. Andrew was adopted, and he knows nothing at all about his Borden relatives. He's manipulated into meeting a woman, Kate Angier. She has much to tell him, for, she believes him to be Nicholas Borden. The two met when he was three, just before he was adopted. He, of course, remembers nothing. And the idea that there is a historic feud between the Borden and Angier families doesn't really intrigue him all that much. But he stays to hear her out.

The book consists of several stories: Andrew's story, Kate's story, Alfred Borden's autobiography, and Rupert Angier's diary. (Andrew's narration opens and closes the novel.) By the end of the book, a fantastic, strange story has been told.

At its simplest here is the plot: Alfred Borden and Rupert (Robert) Angier are rival magicians ever in competition with one another to be the best, to be recognized as being the best. Both the book and the movie convey this. It is HOW it is conveyed that allows for such big differences between the two.

The movie is more dramatic than the book. It makes the rivalry more intense, more personal, more life-and-death. From start to finish the movie is all about REVENGE and LOSS and doing WHATEVER it takes. The book is quite different. For example, in the movie, Angier blames Borden for the death of his wife who drowned during a performance in a water tank. In the book, however, Angier becomes angry with Borden when Borden disrupts his seance and reveals him to be a fake spiritist. Quite a difference! Especially since the "loss of family" angle is huge in the movie. But in the book, Angier has a family: a wife and three children, I believe. That is the only difference I'll mention in the review since I do want it to remain mostly spoiler free.

The Prestige has plenty of twists and turns in the plot. Especially the movie. But also in some ways the novel. Though if you've seen the movie, then, the book will be essentially spoiled. I think you could say the same if you'd read the book first: the movie would be spoiled.

Which did I prefer? I enjoyed both. I did. I really enjoyed the movie. I thought it was great. I watched it twice in one week. I read the novel in one day. There were sections that were quite compelling. My favorite probably being Alfred Borden's autobiography. And then perhaps Angier's diary. I wasn't as drawn to the contemporary story of Kate and Andrew. Though it does intensify the creepy factor greatly. The Prestige would be PERFECT to read for Carl's R.I.P. challenge in the fall.

Have you seen the movie or read the book? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it. If you've seen the movie and read the book, which would you recommend first to others?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark. (Poldark #1) Winston Graham. 1945/2015. Sourcebooks. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds; the road, grown dustier and more uneven in the past hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.

The novel opens* with the book's hero, Ross Poldark, returning to Cornwall in the fall of 1783. He's returning from war, learning that his father is dead--and that his father hasn't left him much money to work his estate (Nampara) with--also that the woman he thought was his one true love is engaged to another man--Ross' cousin, Francis. But Ross Poldark is resilient--stubborn--someone who knows what he wants and has the gumption to fight for what he wants. Mainly, he will not give up on his home and his mine to try to find a life elsewhere. He may be tempted to want to "fight for" Elizabeth. But mainly the battle is internal: more of a fighting to get her out of his mind and heart.

Is the novel a romance? Yes and no. Yes. Ross Poldark thinks he's madly in love with Elizabeth. And yes, the novel does chronicle his romance with Demelza towards the end. But in many ways, it is not a romance novel. Readers meet dozens of characters from all social classes, and, we follow their stories. For example, the dramatic relationship of Jinny and Jim Carter or Verity and Captain Blamey. Readers spend a lot of time with the lower classes, seeing the effects of poverty up close. And there is a sense of injustice at times at how they're treated and the very lack of opportunities that keep them trapped right where they are. At times--in certain situations--Ross is understanding and becomes something of their champion. (Not that this becomes his full-time job, righting the wrongs, fighting injustice, giving voice to those without. It doesn't. But he is a hard worker; he does dirty his own hands and work alongside others.) The more he "becomes one of them" the less his own class wants to do with him--or so it seems. There are always exceptions!

Ross can be impulsive in his wanting to do the right thing. For example, when he brings home a thirteen-year-old Demelza to be his servant. Does the girl desperately want to escape her own miserable home life where she's often beaten? Yes. Very much. Once Ross sees the scars on her back and learns her story, he wants to protect her. So he offers a job. But how will everyone else respond? Will her father let her go without a fight? without trouble? Not likely! And what will his own class think of this decision? They find it strange and unusual!

Readers get to spend a lot of time with Demelza, Jud, and Prudie. (And I was pleasantly surprised to find that Prudie and Jud actually like Demelza in the book and aren't trying to rid themselves of her every five minutes.)

(The novel closes in December of 1787). 

Do I have favorite characters? Yes. I really LOVE Verity. And, of course, Ross and Demelza come to mind as well. If I didn't care about them, then I couldn't like the book overall. And I definitely liked it. I loved, loved, loved some scenes of this one. I didn't love every single scene, every single chapter equally. But there were places I just adored this story.

*The first chapter opens with Ross Poldark returning. Technically, the book has a prologue which introduces readers to Joshua Poldark, Ross' father, who is dying.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. The Truth According To Us (2015)

The Truth According to Us. Annie Barrows. 2015. Dial. 512 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm tempted to say that The Truth According To Us would have made a better book than a movie. Or perhaps just that I would have been more likely to appreciate the story as a movie than I did as a book. I found the book to be long, a little too long. And the characters? Well, while they all started out with the potential for me to actually care about them, ended up falling short. Of course, you may feel differently.

Here is what the story is about:

1) Willa Romeyn is a child who has decided to become observant of the adults in her world. She's determined to be a people-watcher and find out secrets big and small.

2) Jottie Romeyn is Willa's aunt and probably primary caretaker. She lives with her brother, Willa, and Bird (her other niece). She runs the town's boardinghouse. She has a tragic back-story that perhaps is supposed to be the big mystery of the entire novel? Regardless, there are so very many flashbacks from her point of view, specific recollections of conversations and events.

3) Layla Beck is the new boarder at Jottie's boardinghouse. She thinks she's all grown up and independent. And in a way, she is. But she has SO MUCH to learn. The book is perhaps weighed down--in my opinion--by all of Layla's correspondence. Letters from Layla to her family and friends, even her ex-boyfriend. Letters to Layla from the same. Her job, her first-ever job, is to write the town's history. (The town is Macedonia, West Virginia.) The history will be for the Federal Writers' Project. She spends most of her time falling in lust, I mean "love" with Willa's father. But also, of course, interviewing residents of the town.

4) There are other characters, of course, like Sol and Emmett that readers get to know. Sol was a childhood friend of Felix (Willa's Dad) and Jottie. (Also there is Vause.) These characters mainly connect with Jottie and Layla.

There were so many characters competing to be the narrator in this one. I didn't properly connect with Jottie, Layla, or Willa. If the story had been from one perspective, perhaps I could have made a good, strong connection. Willa's story could have been about the threat of her father remarrying and life changing and general coming-of-age angst. Or Jottie's story could have been about her troubles, her struggles, to raise her brother's children while living under his control and dominance. Her love/hate relationship with him. Or Layla's could have been about her new independence, her struggle to be as grown up as she wants to be perceived, her not knowing what she wants, her love life, etc. But because the book was just a taste of all of the above, I didn't really care.

I do think it would make a better movie however. I think seeing flashbacks is almost always better. I think SEEING Vause and Jottie in their youth would have made a big difference in my impression. Movies tend to be more concise as well. A great soundtrack would also help!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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