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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Adult Fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 593
1. The Rector (1863)

The Rector. Margaret Oliphant. 1863. 30 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Rector is a short novella set in the town of Carlingford. Readers meet Morley Proctor, the new rector. Is he the right man for the job? Only time will tell for sure. But his own doubts grow as he gets acquainted with everyone in town, and he realizes the expectations that everyone has of him.

For example, he's expected to pay pastoral visits, to sit and comfort and counsel the sick and dying. He's partly disgusted and partly ashamed. For he hasn't a clue what to say to anyone. He's asked questions and he doesn't have a clue how to talk to people, how to minister or shepherd. He realizes that he has no idea HOW to do his job. He realizes that he's better off as a scholar, keeping his head in books, and away from the practical needs of the people.

I read Miss Marjoribanks first. I'll be reviewing that one in April. This is the first in the series. It is short and not nearly as engaging or satisfying. But I am glad I read it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Sparkling Cyanide (1944)

Sparkling Cyanide. (Colonel Race #4) Agatha Christie. 1944/2002. HarperCollins. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

It's been a while since I've last read Agatha Christie. Though this one did not star Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, I ended up LOVING it. Though I should add that my 'favorite' Christie mystery is usually--though not always--one of the ones I've most recently read. It's not unusual for my 'favorite' to change frequently.

Rosemary Barton is the victim. That isn't a spoiler. She's been dead almost a whole year when the novel opens. Sparkling Cyanide is written from multiple perspectives: six, I believe. Readers know that one of the six could in fact be the murderer, or at the very least know the murderer and are keeping quiet.

One other thing. Rosemary Barton's death is officially a suicide. It was never taken on as a murder case. Until....

There is so much I CAN'T say about Sparkling Cyanide. I love reading mysteries. I do. Vintage mysteries especially. And Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors to read. But I can't say I love reviewing mysteries. It's such a tricky thing to attempt. Because spoilers ruin mysteries more often than not. So, I'd definitely recommend Sparkling Cyanide. (It was originally titled Remembered Death in America.)


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Ella Minnow Pea (2001)

Ella Minnow Pea. Mark Dunn. 2001. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

It has been years since I first read Ella Minnow Pea. For better or worse, my original review was more of a teaser, I didn't record what I *felt* about the book after reading it. The sad thing is, I was tempted to go that way this time as well. The premise is probably the most interesting thing about the book.

Ella Minnow Pea is set on a fictional island called Nollop located a dozen or so miles off the coast of South Carolina. The people of Nollop supposedly "worship" Nevin Nollop, author of this not-so-little sentence: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. When the letter tiles start falling off the statue/memorial, the High Council decide it's a sign from Nollop the Supreme Being. It's oh-so-obvious to them, though not particularly to the average citizen, that Nollop is telling them to STOP using the fallen letter. One by one the tiles fall--over six months or so. The penalties for speaking or writing one of the forbidden letters is severe: a matter of life or death if you persistently rebel. But you don't even have to be defiant or rebellious. A crime is a crime no matter if it's accidental or intentional.

How does this effect life? at school? at home? at work? Will this turn neighbor against neighbor? Or will it somehow bring it closer together?

Readers meet a handful of characters through letters. But characterization isn't one of the novel's strengths, in my opinion. All the characters tended to blend together.

The plot, well, it comes a bit later in the novel. A challenge is issued at some point by the council, if and only if, someone can write a new pangram--a sentence using all twenty-six letters, and for the purposes of this challenge limited to thirty-something letters, then the council will bring back all the forbidden letters and life will go on as it did before. The last third of the book is about trying and failing to write the pangram by the deadline.

The premise is the novel's strength. And depending on your mood, the novel may prove worth reading even if it's just for the premise alone. It is a unique idea, in my opinion. And epistolary novels aren't all that common.

What I didn't comment on in my initial review, so I have no idea if it bothered me then or not, is the WORSHIP aspect of this one. How the island has built a cult, of sorts, around Nollop, and talk as if he is actually a supreme being instead of another human. There are elements of this one that are just so over-the-top. I am not sure if it is innocent humor, or hit-you-over-the-head symbolism.

Did I love it? No. Probably not. Did I like it? Well, I read it twice. And it isn't like anyone forced me to pick it up again. It was a quick read and pleasant enough for the most part.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Pioneer Girl

Pioneer Girl. Bich Minh Nguyen. 2014/2015. Penguin. 296 pages. [Source: Review copy]

At first, I wanted to love Pioneer Girl. I then settled for wanting to like it. It has an interesting premise: A Vietnamese coming-of-age story with a Little House connection. Lee grew up reading the Little House books. She may not want to admit to liking or loving the TV show, but, the books she loves, has always loved. Her parents came from Vietnam to America in the 1970s. She was born and raised in the Midwest. Her parents, particularly her mother and her grandfather, were almost always in the restaurant business: managing bad buffets mostly. The older she got the more she wanted to distance herself.

So where is the connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder?! Well, her grandfather brought a gold pin with him to America. It was a pin that had belonged to an older woman, a white woman, a reporter doing a story on the war. Lee, as an adult, is convinced that woman was Rose Wilder Lane. Furthermore, she has a feeling that the pin is *the* pin described in These Happy Golden Years, a gift from Almanzo to Laura. The novel also introduces a "what-if" mystery.

The book drifts between her structured thoughts on Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Little House books AND her own meaningless (at least in the moment as she sees it) life. She's a twenty-something young woman, still sorta in school, but wanting to find something more in life: a good job would be nice, but validation maybe that she's made it. Lots of family drama. Bit of angst. These two focuses connect now and then. Lee travels and does research. Or should I just call it what it is: theft.

The BIG, BIG, BIG problem I have with the novel is Lee herself. Lee goes to a library with a special research collection: Lee steals a photograph from the collection. Lee goes to a museum: Lee not only breaks the rules and enters rooms she's not supposed to enter at all, but, she steals more stuff. A letter. A first edition book with scribbles/notes from Rose. Does she have a guilty conscience? No! In fact, she's proud and thinks herself the cleverest of all. I exaggerate perhaps. But the fact that she does think herself super-clever and is proud of what she's done and tells of her exploits says something about her character.

Pioneer Girl is a new adult novel. It's a thoughtful novel, reflective in places. Lee poses a good question now and then, seeking insight into deeper matters. But the book left me unsatisfied. I do LOVE the cover however.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Ayala's Angel (1881)

Ayala's Angel. Anthony Trollope. 1881. 631 pages. [Source: Bought]

I love, love, love reading Anthony Trollope. So is anyone surprised that I loved Ayala's Angel?! Probably not. It's almost a given with me. Still Ayala's Angel came highly recommended to me by my best friend, so that's one of the reasons why it made my 2015 TBR Pile challenge list. This one will also count towards my Victorian Bingo challenge and my Victorian Perpetual Bingo challenge. I'll talk more about the Victorian Bingo challenge later.

Ayala and Lucy are the young heroines of Ayala's Angels. These two are sisters; they are orphans. One aunt and uncle are wealthy. (Sir Thomas Tringle, Lady Tringle). They've agreed to take one of the sisters, Ayala. She is selected by Lady Tringle because she is oh-so-remarkable and oh-so-beautiful. The other aunt and uncle are poor. (Reginald and Margaret Dosett). They've agreed to take the other sister, Lucy. (Lady Tringle insisted on having first choice. In all honesty, Mr. and Mrs. Dosett don't care which girl they get, they don't have a favorite niece.) Readers spend time with both sisters during this adjustment period. I believe readers first spend time with Lucy. Lucy struggles with her new home. She wasn't a big spender or socialite before, but, her new life leaves something to be desired. It's all work, work, work, talk about work and duty. Next readers spend time with Ayala. For better or worse, it's all: Oh, poor me, boys keep falling in love with me! Men falling in love with me at first sight is too big a burden for me to bear! I'm oh-so-miserable! Pity me, please!!! I exaggerate slightly. Still Lady Tringle notices that Ayala is something of a problem. How will she marry off her own daughters with Ayala around?! (Augusta and Gertrude definitely notice that Ayala gets all the attention. Augusta and Gertrude are lesser heroines of the novel. They have their own stories to a certain degree. Particularly Gertrude).  Something must be done!!! Especially when it comes to her notice that her very own son is IN LOVE with Ayala. This simply won't do at all. Ayala must go. Let the girls switch places again. How will Ayala cope with poverty and boredom? How will Lucy cope with society and expectations?

Ayala's Angel is all about courtship and marriage. Young women and men are expected to marry well, to pair off with the approval of all concerned. Love may have little to do with it. Money may have a lot to do with it. Ayala is firm--if she ever marries, it will be the man of her choosing. Or, perhaps, the ANGEL of her choosing. For no mere mortal will do for Ayala. Her fantasy is over-the-top. She knows exactly WHAT she's looking for in a husband.

I've shared a bit about the women in the novel. But what about the men?!

Tom Tringle is in love with his cousin Ayala. He is madly in love with her, persistently making declarations and offers. He wants EVERYONE to know how SERIOUS he is about Ayala, how she is the ONLY ONE he could ever love, ever.

Captain Benjamin Batsby falls in love with Ayala quite quickly. But, unlike dear Tom, he takes Ayala at her word after several rejections. Ayala may be beautiful enough, he supposes, but the only girl in the world she is not!

Colonel Jonathan Stubbs is in love with Ayala. In his favor, perhaps, is the fact that Ayala can stand being in the same room with him. She isn't repulsed by the idea of talking with him, walking with him. But he's not an "angel" so he won't have an easy job getting Ayala to say yes. 

Frank Houston is one of the few men in the novel NOT in love with Ayala! One of the reasons might just be that he is looking to marry a WEALTHY woman, and Ayala is decidedly not. He has a plan to marry Gertrude if and only if he can persuade Sir Thomas Tringle into "blessing" the marriage. Another good reason that he doesn't fall for Ayala is that he's already in love with his cousin, Imogene Docimer.

Isadore Hamel is another young man NOT in love with Ayala. He's Lucy's forever-love. It's easy to respect him because he isn't silly or mercenary.

Septimus Traffick. I couldn't help liking him a little bit. It probably helped that I kept imagining him as being played by Ben Miles! Sir Thomas Tringle and Lady Tringle approve of him for their daughter, Augusta, primarily because he's in parliament. In truth, he's not got money of his own. And he seems to plan to live off the Tringles forever. Not just living off the money he's given his daughter, but, to live with the family.

So most of the book is focused on who will end up together...

I loved this one. I didn't necessarily "love" each and every character. But I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I really did love a few of the characters. (I was cheering for Colonel Stubbs!!!)

So where do I count Ayala's Angel for the Victorian Bingo?!
  • male author
  • Anthony Trollope
  • book that you wish had been adapted into a movie
  • book published in the 1880s
  • book over 400 pages long
  • book with a name as the title
  • book set in England

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Accidental Empress (2015)

The Accidental Empress. Allison Pataki. 2015. Howard Books. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

If you love historical fiction with a royal focus, this book may prove quite satisfying. I do love historical fiction. And this one does have a royal focus. The Accidental Empress is set in Austria (and Hungary) in the 1850s and 1860s. It tells the story of Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Emperor Franz Joseph I. She is the "accidental" empress because the arranged marriage was originally between Franz and her older sister. She accompanied her sister to court, and Franz fell in love with her and not the sister.

The book captures many events, many emotions, many tensions. DRAMA. The book has plenty of drama!!! For the most part, the book is told from HER point of view, and only her point of view. Readers can judge for themselves if her perceptions are fair or not. Plenty of arguments between husband and wife are related. In some cases, it's easy to see what it was all about. To see HER side and to see HIS side. Yes, the book is from HER point of view, but, readers can pick up on why he's acting and reacting the way he is. Not all the time, not every time, but enough to give the impression that she is far from perfect and not always right. For example, when she nags him every single time she sees him about how horrible his mother is, readers know he's not going to like her complaining and whining about how awful and horrible his mother is. Should he try to see it from her perspective, try to put himself in her shoes, to be more understanding and supportive of his wife's feelings. Probably. But you could see why it would be difficult to enjoy spending time with her. To be fair, he's not great at fidelity. And the idea that no royal could ever, ever, ever be expected to be faithful--that it was unnatural--doesn't sit easy. So I could only take my sympathy so far with him.

Actually, did I really "like" either character? I'm not sure I did. I found the book fascinating however!!!

Though I tend to think of this division of Simon & Schuster (Howard Books) being "Christian," there was nothing distinctively Christian about the book itself. It is historical fiction. It's based on real people, royal people. But it isn't your typical Christian book with a Christian message about life and love and family. I would have a difficult time classifying this as a clean read.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Midwife of Hope River (2012)

The Midwife of Hope River. Patricia Harman. 2012. HarperCollins. 382 pages. [Source: Library]

The Midwife of Hope River is probably best classified as an almost love. I did enjoy quite a few things about it. And I'm definitely glad I checked it out from the library and read it. I like trying new-to-me authors, and this one worked for me in many ways.

Patience Murphy is the heroine of The Midwife of Hope River. There are dozens of births recorded--in detail--throughout the novel. So you've been warned! The intimacy of the details is not a bad thing, mind you. It just may not be a perfect match for every single reader.

So. Patience Murphy is the heroine's new name. She has a past--a past that is revealed oh-so-slowly-and-dramatically throughout the novel. But for the most part she's Patience. She's 'inherited' her occupation, in a way, the woman who essentially took her in off the streets and 'saved' her from being a wet nurse (an out-of-work wet nurse) was a midwife. They started working in West Virginia (rural for the most part) together, but, now she's on her own. She varies between super-confident and anxious--how did I ever get started? and WHY do I do this? The book opens in the fall of 1929, and it follows her practice for probably a year or maybe two years.

Patience is poor. She never knows IF she'll be paid for a delivery or not. And if she is paid, it's rarely in cash. More likely it's food or chopped wood. Or promises. So most of the novel keeps it basic: will I have enough to eat today, this week, this month, etc. and will I have enough fuel to keep me warm this winter?

Patience is also emotional and definitely lonely. She doesn't necessarily *show* her emotions. That's not what I meant by emotional. She's got layers to her, and, she hates to be vulnerable. But she's got layers and layers of ISSUES both past and present.

Several big issues are addressed in the book, but, not necessarily in a heavy way. For example, race relations/tensions in the 1930s, abusive relationships, poverty, sexuality/freedom, etc.

I wouldn't say I loved this one. But I did find it at times absorbing and fascinating. Definitely a quick read for me.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. The Ship of Brides

The Ship of Brides. Jojo Moyes. 2005/2014. Penguin. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I love absolutely everything about Jojo Moyes' The Ship of Brides? No, I can't say that I did. But I enjoyed it enough to read it in two days. I'll start with what I loved.

I loved the subject. I loved the idea of reading about a group of women--war brides--sailing together into the unknown. The book is about a ship full of Australian women--all war brides--sailing to England in 1946. It isn't any ship either. It's an aircraft carrier. The potential to mingle with the navy is definitely there, though obviously discouraged. There are over 600 women on board, though readers only get close to four women who share a room: Jean, Avice, Margaret, and Frances. They are sailing into the unknown in a way because they've never been to England, they've never met their in-laws, and they haven't seen their husbands in months or even years. Take into consideration, that some of these couples only knew each other a few weeks before they got married, and, yes there is plenty of unknown ahead. Even if they felt like they *knew* their husbands when they got married, they don't know how the war has changed them, if the war has changed them. The time on the ship is an in-between time: the first taste of a big change in all their lives. Will they be happy? Will it all work out? Are they still loved? Are they still wanted? Several women receive messages--telegrams, I believe-telling them NOT to come.

I liked the narration, especially of the time on the ship. The days/weeks are chronicled, and, one gets a sense of the experience, of the journey. The anxiety, the awkwardness, the heat, the opportunities, the stresses, etc. I thought the setting was well done, for the most part.

Did I love the characterization? Not as much as I hoped initially. I don't know if there was any one character that I loved. And some of the characterization felt a bit uneven.

What I didn't quite love was the framework. The beginning and ending felt a little off to me. Readers first meet a grandmother and a granddaughter on their trip in India. The two just happen to stumble upon a ship about to become scrap. It is THE ship, and it overwhelms the grandmother to see it. The rest of the book is about the four women--really, just three women if I'm honest--and tries, I suppose, to keep readers guessing which of the three is the grandmother of the future. The ending is part of that framework: readers finally knowing how it all fits together.

I liked it. I'm glad I read it. I am. I'm interested in the subject. I would be happy to read more books like it. But it wasn't love for me.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Rachel Joyce. 2012. Random House. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

The novel opens with Harold Fry receiving a letter in the mail from a former friend, Queenie Hennessy; it is a goodbye letter. Though they haven't seen each other in decades, she wanted to tell him that she was dying of cancer. He's shocked, to put it mildly. Though in all honesty he doesn't think of her all that often, now that her letter is in his hands, he is remembering the woman he once worked with and what she once did for him. He writes a reply and prepares to mail it, but, on his way to the mailbox, it doesn't seem enough, not nearly enough. His reply is so short and inadequate. So after a brief conversation with a stranger about cancer, he decides to have a little faith and embark on a pilgrimage. He will walk to see Queenie in her hospice home. In his mind, logical or not, he's connected the two: walking and healing. He'll do the walking, but will it work?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a character-driven, journey-focused read. From start to finish, readers are given a unique opportunity to walk with Harold Fry, to really get inside his head and understand him inside and out. It's a bit of a mystery as well. Since readers learn things about Harold chapter by chapter by chapter. The book is very much about Harold making sense of Harold: that is Harold coming to know himself better, of making peace if you will with the past and present.

I liked the book very much for the chance to get to know Harold and even his wife. (At first, his wife thinks he's CRAZY. Crazy for thinking up the idea, crazier still for acting on it. It just does not make any sense at all to her. WHY WALK OVER 500 MILES TO SEE A FORMER COWORKER YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IN TWO DECADES?!

It was a very pleasant read. Harold meets people every single day of his walk, and the book is a book of conversations.

It is set in England.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Don't Go

Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline - 
Although I felt that this one started slower and made it more difficult to stay involved - it ended strong! I came away surprised and shocked - and it felt resolved....great read! Scottoline has the ability to keep you on your toes while you read and take you for a great ride. This is the story of Mike, an army doctor serving in Afghanistan, who comes home to find his wife, Chloe, dead. His life and baby daughter are almost too much for him to bear. He is on a mission to find out how his wife died and becomes even more entrenched in the mystery when his wife's best friend is killed. It is at this point that his sister and brother-in-law try to get full custody of his baby daughter, Emily which becomes a large court case. Mike has to come to terms with the loss of an arm and, seemingly, his entire life as he knows it as he deals with the challenges in his life.

 

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11. Meet Inspector Barnaby

The Killings At Badger's Drift. (Inspector Barnaby #1) Caroline Graham. 1987/2005. Felony & Mayhem. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm so glad I checked out The Killings at Badger's Drift on a whim!!! It's always a good thing to browse in the library!

The Killings at Badger's Drift is the first book in the Inspector Barnaby mystery series. Readers meet Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy (his assistant). I definitely liked Inspector Barnaby!!!

The first character readers meet is Miss Emily Simpson, a spinster who stumbles upon something she shouldn't see in the woods. That knowledge will lead to her death...readers however are not told exactly what she saw--or WHO she saw...leaving plenty of mystery and suspense for the rest of the book.

Readers next meet another spinster, Miss Lucy Bellringer, Miss Simpson's best, best friend. She is convinced that her friend was MURDERED. And she is seeking out Inspector Barnaby. The doctor may not be convinced that there was a crime, but, she is out to convince Barnaby and Troy to investigate and see for themselves. (They do take the case).

Plenty of characters are introduced and described throughout the book, throughout the investigation. Most, if not all, are potential suspects. Some seem more obvious than others. But. All are flawed in one way or another...making it just plausible enough that they could be guilty...

I definitely enjoyed this one. It was a quick read. I definitely HAD to know what happened.

Death of A Hollow Man. (Inspector Barnaby #2) Caroline Graham. 1989/2006. Felony & Mayhem. 306 pages. [Source: Library]

Death of a Hollow Man is the second book in the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham. I definitely liked it, even though I had some reservations. Why? Well, I know I'm in the minority, but, I prefer my fiction to be on the clean side. It's not necessarily the content so much as the description involved--if that makes sense. That being said, I liked this one. I never once seriously thought of putting it aside.

Death of a Hollow Man is set in a small-town theatre world. Most of the characters--suspects and victim--are actors for their local theatre. (Inspector Barnaby's wife is among the actors--though not the list of suspects.) Amadeus. That is what they'll be performing. Over half the book occurs BEFORE the crime, setting the stage for the oh-so-dramatic on-stage murder. Lest you think I'm spoiling things dreadfully, it's mentioned on the jacket copy. I won't be mentioning WHO the victim is OR who the top suspects are. That would definitely be spoilerish. After all, I like my mysteries to stay mysteries.

I liked the writing for the most part. There are SO many characters. Some I liked, some I didn't like at all.

My library only has one more book in this series. But I've decided to start watching Midsomer Murders for more Inspector Barnaby fun.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Lilies of the Field (1962)

The Lilies of the Field. William Edmund Barrett. 1962/1988. Grand Central Publishing. 128 pages. [Source: Gift]

There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. It will, inevitably, grow with the years. Like all legends, it is composed of falsehood and fact. In this case, the truth is more compelling than the trappings of imagination with which it has been invested. The man who has become a legendary figure was, perhaps, of greater stature in simple reality than he ever will be in the oft-repeated, and expanded, tales which commemorate his deeds. Here before the whole matter gets out of hand, is how it was...
His name was Homer Smith. He was twenty-four. He stood six foot two and his skin was a deep, warm black.

 If you love, love, LOVE the movie--or if you only like it--you should treat yourself and read the book. How does it compare with the movie? Is it as wonderful? as magical? as perfect? I'm not exactly sure it's fair to compare the two. I can easily say it's well worth reading. I loved meeting Homer Smith. I loved meeting all the nuns. I loved seeing Homer at work. I loved his interactions with the sisters, especially seeing him teach them English. There are so many delightful and wonderful things about the book AND the movie. The book isn't better than the movie, in my opinion, but it is at least as good as the movie which is saying something. (My expectations for this one were very high!)

So in case you're unfamiliar with the movie starring Sidney Poitier, here's the basic plot: Homer Smith is a man who likes his independence. He's traveling the country in his station wagon, and, he's a handy man of sorts. He stops when and where he likes and he finds work. He does a few odd jobs for some German nuns. One of them feels that Homer is God's answer to her prayers. She feels that Homer has come specifically to build them a church. Though they don't have enough money or enough resources, they have faith that it will happen and that Homer is the man for the job. Can one man build a chapel?!

So Homer Smith is a delightful character. And the book is a great read.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness #1) Rhys Bowen. 2007. Berkley. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

I wanted a quick, light read: light on history, light on mystery. I was satisfied enough with Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen. Why "satisfied enough"? Well, the book moved quickly for me. I was interested in the time period it was set. (England, spring of 1932) I was also curious about the "royal" aspect of it. (The heroine is 34th in line to the throne.)

The premise of this one is simple. Lady Georgiana (Georgie) may be royal, but, she's also young and poor. Being royal makes her eligible for making a good marriage, perhaps, most likely an arranged marriage. But it keeps her from getting a regular job and earning her own way. To escape a social event designed to match her to someone she doesn't want to marry, she lies to her family and arranges to go to London. Her brother is allowing her to stay at his place--the family's residence--but he's not allowing her to take any servants or providing any money to hire her own once there. She'll be completely on her own for however many weeks she chooses to escape. She'll get reacquainted with some people, meet several new people, etc. She'll also socialize with the queen on occasion. (The queen wants her feedback on the married American woman, David is infatuated with.) One of the people she meets is a potential fling. His name is Darcy. The two could have some light fun together. But. She's uncertain about him and if she even wants to have a fling.

So. The mystery. A body is found in the bathtub. A dead body, of course. (I kept thinking of Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers). She discovers the body, and since it's in her brother's house, well, she fears that everyone will conclude that her brother "Binky" did the crime...

I found it entertaining enough. I didn't find it to be the perfect read, however. In terms of characterization and dialogue and description. It kept me reading at the time, but, I'm not sure it's one that will stick with me.

Still, I think I will read one or two more in the series to see if it improves.

ETA: I have read about three or four chapters in the second book. Enough to know that I don't think it will suit me after all. It's just not a good match for me. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Revisiting The Warden

The Warden. Anthony Trollope. 1855. Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages. [Source: Bought]

I make no secret of the fact that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Anthony Trollope. The Warden is the first in his Barchester series. And, I believe, it was the first Trollope novel I read. I first read and reviewed it in the spring of 2009.

I loved rereading it. I loved going back and visiting with these characters particularly the character of Mr. Harding. As much as I enjoy the other characters, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Mr. Harding. He's such a dear old soul.

Reasons you should read The Warden
  • As one of Trollope's shorter novels, it's a great introduction to his work.
  • It is the first book in a series, his Barchester series, which is FANTASTIC.
  • It is all about the characters and relationships between characters. Sure, there's a plot, but, it's not an action-packed plot. It's all about ethics. Is it right or is it wrong for Mr. Harding to receive the salary he does?! 
  • The writing is delightful. 
 What is it about?!

It's about one man, Mr. Harding, and his family: two daughters, one married, the other quite single. It's also about Harding's neighborhood and circle of friends. It's about the necessity of having a good reputation and a clean conscience.

Eleanor is the apple of her daddy's eye. Susan is married to an Archdeacon (Grantley). Because of his eldest daughters good fortune in marriage, Mr. Harding, has been named warden of Hiram's Hospital (alms house). The 'enemy' of Mr. Harding (and the suitor of Eleanor) is a young man named John Bold. When we are first introduced to these characters, we are learning that Bold is encouraging a law suit against Mr. Harding. He feels that Mr. Harding is in violation of the will. (Way, way, way back when (several centuries past), a man left his (quite wealthy) estate to the church. The church followed the will for the most part, but as times changed, they changed the way they carried it out. They were following it through in spirit in a way: still seeking to take care of twelve poor men (bedesman) but over time the salary of the warden increased.) Bold has stirred up the twelve bedesmen into signing a petition demanding justice, demanding more money, demanding 'fairer' distribution of funds.

The book presents this case through multiple perspectives: through two Grantleys (father and son), a few lawyers, Mr. Harding and Mr. Bold, of course, and through a handful of the twelve men involved that would profit from the change. There is one man whose voice seems louder than all the rest. And that voice comes from the newspaper, the Jupiter, one journalist writes harsh, condemning words directed at Mr. Harding--he assumes much having never met Harding personally. These words weigh heavy on the heart and soul of Mr. Harding. (And they don't sit easy on Mr. Bold either.)

Can Mr. Harding get his reputation back? What is the right thing to do? Is he in violation of the will? Is the church? What is his moral responsibility in caring for these twelve poor-and-retired men? What is his responsibility to the community?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Sleep in Peace Tonight (2014)

Sleep in Peace Tonight. James MacManus. 2014. Thomas Dunne Books. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Sleep in Peace Tonight was a great read. It is set, for the most part, in England in 1941. Harry Hopkins, FDR's adviser, is being sent to England to speak with Churchill. He'll spend many months talking with Churchill and writing to Roosevelt. He's there because of the war, of course. Popular opinion in the U.S. at the time being that war should be avoided at all costs no matter what--no matter what Hitler was doing in Europe or England, no matter how desperate the situation was growing. Churchill and many others, of course, were advocating the U.S. to become involved, saying that it was the obviously right thing to do. Hitler is bad news. Hitler must be stopped. Political tension. This book is essentially all about political tension. Tension within the United States. There being isolationists and even Nazi supporters within the U.S. Tension between Britain and the U.S. Tension between two personalities, of course. There being a whole lot of he says this but means this. The setting and atmosphere is well-developed. One gets an idea of what it was like to live in a topsy-turvy world with nightly bombings, and the only certain thing being that life is short and death could come anywhere, anytime.

Sleep In Peace Tonight is more than a historical novel, however, it is also a romance. Did I love the romance? Not particularly. On the one hand, it introduces a character, Leonora Finch to the story. She is patriotic and smart and oh-so-capable. She's doing her part for the war. Her storyline reminded me very much of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. Her role in this novel is a bit underdeveloped in a way. I wouldn't have minded if more had been her story. Or if she got a book of her own. (That being said, I found Hopkins' story to be compelling for the most part.) But do I love Harry Hopkins and Leonora Finch as a couple? Do I think this is a compelling, oh-so-romantic, moving love story? Not so much.

Overall, I liked it very much.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Hard Times (1854)

Hard Times. Charles Dickens. 1854/1992. Everyman's Library. 336 pages.  [Source: Library]

'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!'

Did I like Hard Times? Did I love Hard Times? I'm not sure which--like or love--at the moment. I can only say that I was surprised that I found this book to be so quick and entertaining. I'm used to spending weeks with Dickens, not a day. Yes, I sped through this one. Not because I had to, but, because I wanted to. I found it easy to follow, but, I'm finding it difficult to summarize.

Readers meet Mr. Gradgrind and two of his children whom he's bringing up on facts: Louisa and Tom. On the surface perhaps, the book is about how this philosophical upbringing works out for them as adults. Or how it doesn't, as the case may be. Louisa marries one of her father's closest associates, Josiah Bounderby, who is several decades (at least) older. Tom goes to work at Bounderby's bank. If you've read Dickens before, you know to expect plenty of characters and side stories. This is also the case in Hard Times. Readers also meet: Sissy Jupe, Mr. Sleary, Stephen Blackpool, Rachael, Mrs. Sparsit, Bitzer, James Harthouse, and Mrs. Pegler. There were characters that I really liked, and there were characters that I really didn't like at all!

I liked this one very much. I liked the writing style. I liked the pacing. I liked the characterization. I liked the dialogue. I'm so glad I've made a friend of Dickens! This definitely was not the case when I was in high school and struggling with Great Expectations!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Rachel Ray (1863)

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope. 1863. 403 pages. [Source: Bought]
There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees;—for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary;—who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate reach. Of most women it may be said that it would be well for them that they should marry,—as indeed of most men also, seeing that man and wife will each lend the other strength, and yet in lending lose none; but to the women of whom I now speak some kind of marriage is quite indispensable, and by them some kind of marriage is always made, though the union is often unnatural. A woman in want of a wall against which to nail herself will swear conjugal obedience sometimes to her cook, sometimes to her grandchild, sometimes to her lawyer. Any standing corner, post, or stump, strong enough to bear her weight will suffice; but to some standing corner, post, or stump, she will find her way and attach herself, and there will she be married.
Mrs. Ray is one of the "weak" women described in the opening chapter. She is a widow with two grown (or nearly grown) daughters. Mrs. Prime (Dorothea) is a widow herself. She tends to take her opinions--in this case, religious or moral opinions--to the extreme. She is severe and critical. (Honestly, I hated her.) Miss Rachel Ray is the other daughter. She is the joy of her mother's life, really. While the daughter is off doing her duty, Rachel and her mother enjoy life's little luxuries and actually relax a bit with each other, relieved to have Dorothea out of the way even if it's just for an hour or two. When the novel opens, Mrs. Prime is on the attack--or close to it. She has ammunition to use against her sister. Her sister was SEEN talking to a man, talking to a man--a stranger--in the churchyard, and at sunset. Mrs. Prime doesn't need to be persuaded to think the worst, to think that Rachel is now somehow a fallen woman. Mrs. Ray (the mother), however, is both weak and loyal. Being weak, she will listen to Mrs. Prime going on and on about how wrong and scandalous it is for Rachel to walk and talk with a young man. Being loyal, she will believe the best about Rachel and hold out hope that there is a way to reconcile things nicely for everyone. Mrs. Ray will talk to Rachel, and, more importantly she will listen to Rachel. (Mrs. Prime LOVES to talk, but rarely listens or takes the time to understand and consider what the other person is saying.)

So who is the young man? Well, he's Luke Rowan. He's due to inherit a brewery, or at least half a brewery. At the time the novel opens, he's staying with the Tappits. Rachel is acquainted with the daughters of the family. Through these young women, she's introduced to Luke. Good news: Luke really takes a liking to Rachel. Bad news: The Tappits see Luke's interest in Rachel, and turn on them both. Plus, Mrs. Tappit and Mr. Tappit both are slanderers in their own way. As silly as it may seem,  soon the whole community is forced to take sides and have an opinion about Luke Rowan. It's also election time. It gets plenty messy. To sum it up: Luke proposes to Rachel. She says yes. He leaves town after a big falling out with the Tappits. Everyone takes sides. Everyone starts talking. Will he come back? Is he gone for good? Would it be a good thing for everyone if that was the last of him? Is he worthy of Rachel? Is she worthy of him? Was their attachment sincere? Should she consider herself actually engaged? Or was he using her?

Further complicating matters, Mrs. Ray insists that Rachel should NOT correspond with him, and that she should tell him that she releases him from their engagement. Why should Rachel end things because of hearsay? Mr. Comfort heard something from somebody who heard it from somebody else, etc. And Mr. Comfort passes along "good advice" to Mrs. Ray. What's an obedient girl to do?!

Luke wants two things from life: to brew GOOD beer, to make a success of his brewery, and to marry Rachel and live happily ever after...

I liked Rachel Ray. I did. I can't say that I like or respect all the characters. Mrs. Prime is very annoying, for example!!! I hated how judgmental she was, how cruel and selfish. Not to mention proud. I thought it was sad that Mrs. Ray was so dependent on others, how she relied so much upon Mrs. Prime and Mr. Comfort. She loved, loved, loved Rachel. But she was always more concerned with what do other people say is right?! I loved Mrs. Butler Cornbury (Patty Comfort). Her husband was in the election for parliament. She escorts Rachel to a party/dance. She "sides" with Luke and Rachel. She was just a great "minor" character. I almost wish we'd had more of her and less of Mrs. Prime and Mr. Prong.

Is Rachel Ray my new favorite by Anthony Trollope? Probably not. I think Belton Estate is a better fit for me. But I am glad I read it!!! I rarely--if ever--regret spending time with Trollope!!!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust (2015)

As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust. Flavia de Luce #7. Alan Bradley. Random House. 392 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Alan Bradley's As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. It is a series that is oh-so-easy to enjoy. That being said, some titles I love more than others. I almost always love Flavia, the heroine. But I don't always love the particulars of each murder case. The sixth book was probably my least favorite, in a way. (Though I'd probably need to reread all the books in the series to truly reach this conclusion.)

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust isn't like the others in the series, for better or worse. Flavia is going to a boarding school in Canada. So this one is not set in the village we've come to love, and it's "missing" I suppose all the other characters we've come to love as well. It has a completely different feel to it. Flavia, for example, realizes she actually MISSES her sisters, and does in fact LOVE them after all. Flavia is on her own in a strange place and not quite sure WHO to trust. She's got her instincts and that's all. Flavia and another student at the boarding school find a body in the chimney in Flavia's room her very first night there. Flavia is super-curious of course, but, finds it more difficult perhaps to be directly involved in solving the case...not that it will stop her from trying!

I liked this one. I really, really liked it. I liked the boarding school setting. It's not that I didn't like the previous settings. It's not that I was tired or bored with the series or finding them lacking. But the opportunity of growth that comes about because of Flavia going away to school was worth it in my opinion.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1)
I've read Their Eyes Were Watching God a handful of times now. (I first read it in college.) This book by Zora Neale Hurston is just beautiful and compelling. Every time I reread it I'm reminded just how beautiful and how compelling. I never quite forget, mind you. But every time I pick the book up, I'm swept into the story and experience it all over again. (The best kind of book to reread!)

Janie is the heroine of Their Eyes Were Watching God. There is a framework to the story that allows the reader to come full circle with Janie. Readers first see Janie through an outsider perspective, a gossiping group.
So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead... The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1)
One from the group is Janie's best friend, Pheoby, she leaves the group after a few pages, and goes to her friend bringing a much welcomed plate of food. Then, together, they talk. Janie tells her friend her story--her whole story--framing things just so, explaining and justifying as need arises. It's honest and emotional.
Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches. (8)
 To keep it short: Janie was raised by her grandmother; when she came of age (16 or so), her grandma arranged a marriage for Janie to an older man; when that marriage failed to bloom in love and happiness, Janie is swept off her feet by a traveler passing by; she leaves her first husband and is married to a second; the two settle in Florida and are influential founders of the black community; after the third husband dies, Janie finally, finally, finally falls in love, but, is Tea Cake the love of her life perfectly perfect?! Of course not! Pheoby knew her when she was married to the second husband, when she was Janie Stark. Now, she's come back to that community without Tea Cake, and everyone wants to know EVERYTHING that has happened in the past two years.

Favorite quotes:
'Dat's you, Alphabet, don't you know yo' ownself?' (9)
Oh to be a pear tree--any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. (11)
Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman. (25)
Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them. (32)
It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. (43)
Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the twon to the sun. (51)
Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never fidn them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them. (72)
All next day in the house and store she thought resisting thoughts about Tea Cake. She even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association. But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again. She couldn't make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom--a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God. (106)
The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the other in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (160)
No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. (184)
Have you read Their Eyes Were Watching God? What did you think?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Jezebel's Daughter

Jezebel's Daughter. Wilkie Collins. 1880. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
In the matter of Jezebel's Daughter, my recollections begin with the deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same day of the same year.
They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to each other.
Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in London on the third day of September, 1828.
Doctor Fontaine—famous in his time for discoveries in experimental chemistry—died at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828.
Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant's widow (an Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor's widow (of a South German family) had a daughter to console her.
At that distant time—I am writing these lines in the year 1878, and looking back through half a century—I was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner's office. Being his wife's nephew, he most kindly received me as a member of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years since.
Did I enjoy reading Jezebel's Daughter? Yes!!! I enjoyed it very much! David Glenney, is the nephew of Mrs. Wagner. He is also a clerk in [the family] business. The Wagner family welcomes Fritz Keller, the son of a business partner, into their home. He's been sent away from home because his father doesn't like the woman his son has fallen in love with. Fritz tells David all about his one true love: Minna Fontaine. She's perfect in every way imaginable, at least Fritz thinks so, but, Minna's mother, Madame Fontaine, rubs some people the wrong way. There are some who love and defend her, but, more often than not, most tend to think she's really 'a Jezebel.' Fritz receives a letter from someone sharing good and valid reasons why the mother may be pure evil. Fritz dismisses it, of course, and David doesn't know why it's any of his business when all is said and done! (Soon David will meet Minna and Madame Fontaine and form his own opinions. As will his aunt, Mrs. Wagner).

So. After Mr. Wagner died, he left his wife his business. And she's determined to do a few things. One to employ good and honest women in the business. And. To help rehabilitate a man from bedlam. His name is Jack Straw. And he plays a very big role in the book! Eventually all the characters will come together under one household...and then there's DRAMA and excitement. Jezebel's Daughter could definitely be classified as a sensation novel.

Is Madame Fontaine 'a Jezebel'? Is she evil? Is she a murderess? Is she a schemer? Or has she been falsely accused?

Will Fritz and Minna's romance prove true? Will they be allowed to marry?

Can Jack Straw be rehabilitated and cured of his madness?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. L.M Montgomery Short Stories 1905-1906

Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories: 1905-1906. Dodo Press. 260 pages. [Source: Bought]

There are thirty-one short stories in this L.M. Montgomery collection. There are some great stories within this collection. There are some not-so-great stories within this collection. The quality definitely varies story to story. But if you already love L.M. Montgomery, it's well worth reading. If you're never read her, however, this may not be the best introduction. True, you'd probably find something to like, to enjoy, maybe even love. But would it persuade you to seek out EVERYTHING she's ever written because she's oh-so-amazing?! Probably not. It's good to keep in mind that these short stories were published several years before her novels. (Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908).

There are two stories that are tied for being my favorite-favorite in this collection: "Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration" and "The Understanding of Sister Sara." Both stories are about lovers' quarrels being resolved with a little outside help.

Previous short story collections I've reviewed:
  1. L.M. Montgomery Short Stories, 1896-1901. L.M. Montgomery. 142 pages.
  2. Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1902-1903. L.M. Montgomery. 216 pages.
  3. L.M. Montgomery Short Stories, 1904. L.M. Montgomery. Dodo Press. 144 pages.
These stories are included in Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories: 1905-1906
  • A Correspondence and a Climax
  • An Adventure On Island Rock
  • At Five O'Clock in the Morning
  • Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration
  • Bertie's New Year
  • Between the Hill and the Valley
  • Clorinda's Gifts
  • Cyrilla's Inspiration
  • Dorinda's Desperate Deed
  • Her Own People
  • Ida's New Year Cake
  • In the Old Valley
  • Jane Lavinia
  • Mackereling Out in the Gulf
  • Millicent's Double
  • The Blue North Room
  • The Christmas Surprise at Enderly Road
  • The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby
  • The Falsoms' Christmas Dinner
  • The Fraser Scholarship
  • The Girl at the Gate
  • The Light on the Big Dipper
  • The Prodigal Brother
  • The Redemption of John Churchill
  • The Schoolmaster's Letters
  • The Understanding of Sister Sara
  • The Unforgotten One
  • The Wooing of Bessy
  • Their Girl Josie
  • When Jack and Jill Took a Hand 
If you're looking for a good short story to perhaps read on its own, I'd recommend:
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Revisiting To Dream in the City of Sorrows

To Dream in the City of Sorrows. (Babylon 5: Book #9). Kathryn M. Drennan. Based on the series by J. Michael Straczynski. 1997. Random House. 352 pages.  [Source: Bought]
"What are we to do with him her?" asked the Mole of the Water Rat.
"Nothing at all," replied the Rat firmly. "Because there is really nothing to be done. You see, I know him her from old. He She is now possessed. He She has got a new craze, and it always takes him her that way, in its first stage. He'll She'll continue like that for days now, like an animal walking in a happy dream, quite useless for all practical purposes. Never mind him her. ~ Adapted from Wind of the Willows
Me obsessed with Babylon 5?! Really?! Perhaps. 

I've read To Dream in the City of Sorrows three times now. I reviewed it in 2011 and 2012. I think it is a must read for fans of Babylon 5. In the introduction, J. Michael Straczynski writes, "What you hold in your hand is an official, authorized chapter in the Babylon 5 story line. This is the definitive answer to the Sinclair question, and should be considered as authentic as any episode in the regular series."

But where to place it?! That is the question. It's tempting to read it in between season one and season two. After all, most of the book's events are parallel to season two. Readers get a chance to read what Sinclair is doing in the meantime. But not all the events, and that is where it gets tricky. Reading To Dream In the City of Sorrows before viewing season three would spoil things for you. So reading it after you've seen the third season may prove best. Since I've seen most all the seasons multiple times, I read it when I like! [For the record, this time around, I've seen all of season one, and the first eight episodes of season two.]    

So the framework of To Dream In The City of Sorrows--the prologue and epilogue--take place shortly after season three's "Grey 17 is Missing," and are narrated by Marcus Cole. (I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Marcus Cole!) But most of the book focuses on what was happening with Jeffrey Sinclair after he left Babylon 5. (The gap between the last episode of season one, "Chrysalis," and the incredibly intense two-part episode "War Without End" of season three.)

Read To Dream in the City of Sorrows

  • If you want to know what Sinclair was doing in season two and three
  • If you want to know what became of Catherine Sakai, to learn if these two were able to make their troubled relationship work...with the added drama of Shadows and Rangers
  • If you want to know more even more about the Shadows' movements during this time
  • If you want to learn about how Sinclair became Ranger One and re-energized the Rangers (first started by Valen)
  • If you want to learn more about Minbari prophecies (also their culture and caste system)
  • If you want to learn more about the Vorlons; in particular readers are introduced to Ulkesh. (Loved Sinclair's first impression of him! And his insights about the Vorlons in general. How Kosh may not be the most representative of his race.)
  • If you want to learn more about Marcus. Readers meet William Cole AND Marcus Cole. Two brothers with an imperfect relationship. William is an eager ranger-in-training trying to get Marcus to join him, but, things don't always go as planned.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Revisiting Worthing Saga

The Worthing Saga. Orson Scott Card. 1990. Tor. 465 pages. [Source: Bought]

In many places in the Peopled Worlds, the pain came suddenly in the midst of the day's labor. It was as if an ancient and comfortable presence left them, one that they had never noticed until it was gone, and no one knew what to make of it at first, though all knew at once that something had changed deep at the heart of the world.  

This will be my third blog review for Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga. I reviewed this one in 2007 and 2012. It is one of my favorite, favorite books. And my FAVORITE Card novel. (Though I love Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.)

I love the world-building. I find the three settings within the book to be fascinating. (There is Lared's home planet which is the present-day setting; there is Capital, the planet from Jason Worthing's memory and stories, Capital becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences Worthing's memories through dreams; there is Worthing, the planet that Jason colonized with a handful of colonists thousands of years before the novel opens, again this planet becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences other people's memories through Justice, Jason's descendent.) Readers get a taste of all these societies and communities. Capital is decadent and immoral and corrupt. It is obsessed with the notion of eternity--of living forever. It "lives forever" by drug use. Somec. You might be under Somec--asleep--for anywhere from one year to ten years, and then awake for anywhere from one day (like the Empress) to three years. But somec disrupts EVERYTHING good and natural about life. An example of the decadence and immorality can be seen in the "lifeloops." People filming/recording their "real" lives for everyone to watch. Most--if not all lifeloops--are graphic in nature. It's hard not to be disgusted by the depiction. (For example, one actress complaining to her agent that he better not hire any seven year old boys for her next film.) Closely connected to the world-building, is the mythology of it. How Abner Doon's name lives on. He IS the devil. How Jason Worthing's name lives on. How people see him as being GOD. Both men are very much human, having strengths and weaknesses, being oh-so-fallible. But they have become collectively so much more than that. They've lost their humanity. Truth has been shaped and reshaped too many times to allow for them to be just human.

I love the characterization. I love getting to know Lared, Sala, Jason, and Justice. Not to mention all the men and women from the memories and stories. (I have a soft spot for Hoom.) I love the storytelling. I love the dialogue. I love how everything is layered together. How the story all comes together. How Lared slowly but surely pieces things together and comes to understand--if understand is the right word--the world. Card's characters are so very human, so vulnerable, so fallible. Readers see humans at their best and at their absolute worst within The Worthing Saga. Moments of compassion and redemption make it so worth while.

I love the ideas. I love the depth and substance. That is not to say that I agree absolutely with every single philosophical idea within the book. But it goes places most fiction doesn't. It asks real questions, tough questions. It explores ideas. One also sees the consequences (or possible consequences) of ideas. But it encourages you to think about deep things, to explore questions like why is there pain? why is there suffering? would the world be a better place without pain, without suffering? Is pain a necessary evil? Do we only feel joy and happiness because we know about pain and sorrow? what makes life beautiful? do we become better people through our struggles with life?


I do enjoy the framework. The Worthing Chronicle (1982) makes up half of The Worthing Saga. This is THE story with Lared being visited by Jason and Justice shortly after the day of pain disrupts his community. (It really is a haunting opening.) The second half of the book consists of short stories. Most of these short stories were written years before The Worthing Chronicle and were previously published. Tales of Capitol (1979): "Skipping Stones," "Second Chance," "Lifeloop," "Breaking the Game," "Killing Children," and "What Will We Do Tomorrow." Tales from the Forest of Waters (1990, 1980): "Worthing Farm," "Worthing Inn," and "The Tinker." Of these stories, I find Skipping Stones, Second Chance, and Breaking the Game to be most memorable. After you've read these stories, you almost need to go back and reread the first section. I'm not sure you can fully appreciate the book without rereading it a few times and absorbing it. Most of the stories--but certainly not all of them--are emotional. I love that the book is a book to be EXPERIENCED.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Station Eleven (2014)

Station Eleven. Emily St. John Mandel. 2014. Knopf Doubleday. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

The King stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored. This was act 4 of King Lear, a winter night at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. 

Did I love Station Eleven? Yes. Did I love, love, love it? I'm almost sure of it. Only rereading it a year or so from now will answer that question definitively. But regardless of if it was love or LOVE, Station Eleven is a fascinating, absorbing read. It isn't exactly chronological in its storytelling, yet, I found it easy enough to follow. Its storytelling--the form of it, almost reminds me of LOST. It tells both the story of civilization's collapse and civilization's rebuilding. Readers meet a handful of characters then and now.

The "then" sections perhaps center around the character of Arthur Leander, an actor, a celebrity. Chapters focus in on significant, dramatic moments of his life. Not necessarily in chronological order. And not always from his point of view. Readers meet two of his three ex-wives, his son, his (former) best friend, his lawyer, etc. The novel actually opens with Arthur's death on stage. One young witness to his death is a young girl, Kirsten. Another is a former paparazzi turned paramedic.

The "now" sections center on the Traveling Symphony. Kirsten is one of the actors/performers in The Traveling Symphony. The group travels--horses pulling trucks, I believe--from place to place (town to town) performing. They perform music. They perform Shakespeare.

As I said, the focus is on the collapse of society and civilization. What life might be like if 98% of the population died from a terrible plague/disease within a few weeks. In this book, it's the "Georgian flu." What would life be like without modern conveniences--gas and fuel, electricity, telephones, television, internet, etc.

The book is beautifully written. I liked the world-building. I especially liked Miranda's creation of the graphic novels Station Eleven. I liked what little description we get of Dr. Eleven and his situation. I wouldn't have minded more. It actually would be a graphic novel that I'd want to read if it existed. I liked what the two graphic novels meant to Kirsten.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Brave New World (1932)

Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. 1932. 268 pages. [Source: Bought]

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. 

Did I love Brave New World? Not exactly. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Brave New World is a classic dystopian novel. The first half of the book seems more focused on world-building, on providing the reader with all the little details that make this future world so horrific. Not much happens but world-building. Readers meet a character or two, sure, but mostly description and information. The second half of the book, in my opinion, is where the characters become more developed. The basic premise: children are no longer born. No more mothers and fathers. No parenting. Children are "hatched." Sometimes several thousand at a time--all identical, I believe. Conditioning begins early in an artificial womb of sorts. Every single little thing is planned and accounted for. Nothing really left to chance. The conditioning continues through childhood. Even at night. Different classes are conditioned differently, of course.

In the second half, Bernard and Lenina go on vacation together to a reservation in New Mexico. They'll get a chance to see savages first hand. They meet two savages that interest them very much. For one is a woman who grew up civilized. (Her name is Linda). She was on vacation when something happened--she became separated from the group and was left behind. She's gone native--forced to go native. She's even had to--shudder--become a mother and raise her own child. His name is John. Though, for most of the book he is simply Savage. They tell their story to Lenina and Bernard. Bernard seeks permission to bring the two back with him. All four head back to civilization--back to London. But how well will John cope with civilization?

Brave New World is both strange and thought-provoking. Also depressing. The world-building was nicely done, I believe, but I would probably need to reread it a time or two to "catch" everything and fully appreciate it. There is plenty to 'shock' that's for sure. Some scenes are just disturbing--and are meant to be disturbing or disorienting at the very least.

I did like the second half more than the first half. It's not that the second half was less disturbing--it wasn't--but the fact that the focus was more on the characters. I can't say that I "liked" or "loved" any of the characters. I pitied John the most because he felt so out of place on the reservation and so out of place in civilization. John wasn't the only memorable character either.

I can see how Brave New World inspired other writers through the decades. Anyone who reads modern dystopian novels--there are so many I could list--should consider reading this one.

Quotes:
"I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone, "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be so jolly. So jolly," she repeated and smiled..."
The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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