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1. Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth. Translated by Maria Tatar. 2015. Penguin. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved reading this collection of newly discovered fairy tales. Franz Xaver Von Schronwerth was a contemporary of  the Grimm brothers. His fairy tales were collected in the 1850s in Bavaria. His manuscripts were recently rediscovered--or discovered--and translated into English.

The book is divided into six sections: "Tales of Magic and Romance," "Enchanted Animals," "Otherworldly Creatures," "Legends," "Tall Tales and Anecdotes," and "Tales About Nature." Some sections have more stories than others.

Most of the stories tend to be short. How short is short? Well, the shortest in the collection are just one page. (Plenty are three pages or so.)

Commentary is provided for each story at the back of the book. The commentary provides context for the story, often describing the type of story it is, and what other stories it's like. 

I found the book to be a quick read and a delightful one. I enjoyed reading all the stories. It was a fun way to spend the weekend.

Is it for children? No. Probably more for adults. But I think that's a good thing. Adults need treats too.

The Turnip Princess
One day a prince lost his ways in the woods. He found shelter in a cave and slept there for the night. When he woke up, an old woman was hovering over him. She had a bear by her side and treated it like a pet dog. The old woman was very kind to the prince. She wanted him to live with her and become her husband. The prince did not like her at all, but he was unable to leave. (3)
The Talking Bird, The Singing Tree, and The Sparkling Stream
A nobleman had three daughters, each more beautiful than the next. One day the girls were sitting in the royal gardens, chattering away about their wishes and dreams. The eldest wanted to marry the king's counselor, the second hoped to marry his chamberlain, and the third declared that she would be quite satisfied with the king himself. It happened that the king was also in the gardens, and he overheard the entire conversation. He summoned the three sisters to ask them what they had been talking about in the garden. The first two confessed everything; the youngest was less eager to do so. But then all at once the king declared: "Your three wishes will be granted." (71)
The Three Spindles
A young farmer's daughter got herself in trouble, and her parents threw her out of the house. She wandered around aimlessly until finally, in desperation, she sat down on a tree stump with three crosses carved into it. She began to weep. Suddenly a wood sprite raced toward her, pursued by a group of frenzied hunters. The girl jumped to her feet to make room for the sprite, for she knew that it would find safety there from what where known as the devil's hunters, hordes of demons that rode in with the winter storms. (107)
The Mouse Catcher, or, The Boy and the Beetle
Once there was a village so badly infested with mice that no one knew what to do. A stranger arrived in town and told the farmers that he would be able to get rid of the mice. They promised him a generous reward in return. The stranger pulled out a little whistle and blew into it. All the mice in the village ran after the man, who took them to a big pond, where they all drowned. The stranger returned to the village and asked for his reward. But the farmers refused to give him the full amount. The man blew into another little whistle, and this time all the children in the village came running after him. (175)
The Talker
There once lived a couple, and they were both stupid is as stupid does. The wife ruled the roost, and one day she sent her husband to the marketplace to sell their cow. "Whatever you do, don't sell it to talker," she shouted as he was going out the door. "Did you hear me? Don't sell it to talker." Her husband promised to do just as she had said. (187)
Sir Wind and His Wife
The wind and his wife were both present at the creation of the world. The two were overweight, and on top of that, Sir Wind had a long beard that wrapped around his body three times. Still, both were able to pass easily through a mere crack in a wall, or any opening at all, for that matter. (205)
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace

William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace. Ian Doescher. 2015. Quirk Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really liked reading Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace. Is it my favorite of the series? I'm not sure I can honestly say that though I enjoyed it. What I liked best about The Phantom of Menace was the role Jar-Jar played in it. I liked how Doescher transformed the character. Yes, some of the movie's dialogue remains. Jar-Jar on the surface appears as you probably remember. But the reader knows that Jar-Jar is playing a game, and that he's manipulating things actually. It is too his advantage to appear clumsy and stupid and obnoxious.

I found The Phantom of Menace to be a quick read. I read the play in just two days. I found myself enjoying the writing and the illustrations. Even if you're not a fan of the movie, you may enjoy this one.

Jar Jar A man approacheth, cloth'd in Jedi garb.
Belike this man brings aid unto Naboo
Such as will help my people and my land.
Mayhap this is the chance I have desir'd!
For I have wander'd lo these many months
A'thinking o'er this planet's dreary fate:
Two peoples separated by their fear
And prejudice, which e'er doth make us shirk
From giving help unto each other. Aye,
It may be that the only hope for us
To be united is to realize
That our two fates are tightly knit as one.
Perchance this Jedi, follow'd by these droids,
Doth bring the words to break our deep mistrust.
I shall make introduction--in my way--
Portray the part that I have learn'd so well:
It doth befit the human prejudice
To think we Gungans simple, low, and rude.
I shall approach them thusly, yet shall bend
Him to the path that shall assis us all.
Put on thy simple wits now, Jar Jar Binks:
Thus play the role of clown to stoke his pride. (25)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Meet Phryne Fisher

Cocaine Blues. (Phryne Fisher #1) Kerry Greenwood. 1989/2007. Poisoned Pen Press. 175 pages. [Source: Library]

I wanted to like Cocaine Blues. I did. There were a few things about this mystery that I did enjoy. I enjoyed the setting. Australia in the 1920s. I enjoyed the fact that there were several story lines going on at once: how Phryne Fisher had several cases, or potential cases, that she was looking into. On the surface, at least, these are all unconnected interests. The first is perhaps the least entertaining, the "case" that brought her to Australia to begin with: a concerned father wanting to check up on his daughter. He thinks she's being poisoned. One story, as you might have guessed, is about cocaine. One of Phryne's new acquaintances is searching for 'the king' of cocaine. There's a third story as well, though I hesitate to tell you too much about ANY of the stories. The fact that there were multiple stories to follow or cases to solve helped the book a good deal. I also appreciated getting to know Phyrne's new maid. There were a few minor characters that I just liked almost from the start.

But what I didn't like is the amount of smut. Cocaine Blues is far from "clean" let's just say. There will be plenty of readers who will enjoy ALL the aspects of the mystery, but, I was not one of them.

Flying Too High. Kerry Greenwood. 1990/2006. Poisoned Pen Press. 156 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy Flying Too High? Yes and no. Once I started, I felt I had to finish it. For better or worse. I'm disappointed with some of the content. I expect certain types of romance novels to have smut, but, I don't like the blending of smut into mysteries. I enjoy mysteries very much, smut not so much. (Some readers probably enjoy both, so this series will probably have fans.)

What I liked most about Flying Too High were the multiple mysteries involved. I liked following all three stories. I liked Phryne best when she was actively working on a case, and keeping her mind focused on the case. Sometimes she got TOO distracted. I thought she acted a bit unprofessional at times too.

I will probably not continue on with the series.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Miss Marjoribanks (1866)

Miss Marjoribanks. Margaret Oliphant. 1866. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Miss Marjoribanks lost her mother when she was only fifteen, and when, to add to the misfortune, she was absent at school, and could not have it in her power to soothe her dear mamma's last moments, as she herself said. Words are sometimes very poor exponents of such an event: but it happens now and then, on the other hand, that a plain intimation expresses too much, and suggests emotion and suffering which, in reality, have but little, if any, existence.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Margaret Oliphant's Miss Marjoribanks. Within a few chapters, I was going Why did NO ONE tell me how absolutely, wonderful this book is?!  Even before I finished it, I  had decided that I would NEED to read more Oliphant in the future. A lot more. (Which book should I seek out next?!)

Lucilla Marjoribanks is the heroine. She's clever and stubborn, more than a little ambitious, and manipulative but well-intentioned. I also want to add that her manners are phenomenal; she's a proper lady. Readers meet plenty of characters: men and women of all ages, both upper and lower class.

So the novel opens with Lucilla learning of her mother's death. She resolves then and there to be a comfort to her father. Her father wants Lucilla to stay in school, and, later go on a tour of Europe. But when Lucilla is nineteen, it is inevitable that she will return home to Carlingford and start being a comfort to her dear father. He's hesitant at first, as is his cook, but within a day--or two at most--she's got them both. They love and adore her. Her reign has begun without a bit of resistance.

Lucilla has plans. Not just for her father and the household (a new makeover for various rooms). But for Carlingford. She wants to make a great society. She'll host her Thursday Evenings, and the town will be changed for the better, for the most part.

As part of her project, Lucilla "rescues" Barbara Lake from the lower class (she's a drawing master's daughter) to sing duets with her on Thursday evenings. Barbara doesn't exactly like "being a project" of Lucilla's. Part of her hates the idea of a rich woman condescending to her and elevating her position--once a week--for entertainment purposes. On the other hand, she does love to sing. And one of the men who attends is quite swoon-worthy, and he flirts with her. So the evening isn't a complete waste.

The book is essentially two stories in one. The first story occurs when she's nineteen and just getting started with her Carlingford project. She's young, beautiful, smart, ambitious. And most everyone is of the opinion that she will soon marry. Despite her protests that she will not marry for at least ten years so that she can be a comfort to her father. A handful of neighbors introduce various young men to her. One of the eligible suitors is Mr. Cavendish. (Cavendish is the one who can't help flirting with Barbara Lake). The other two "eligible" suitors don't seem all that interested in Miss Marjoribanks. (One (a general) falls in love at first sight with Barbara's sister, Rose, who happens to be visiting Lucilla because she's worried about her sister. The other (Archdeacon Beverley) coincidentally is the first-lost-love of one of Lucilla's friends--another project of sorts, her name is Mrs. Mortimer.) The second story occurs when she's twenty-nine. It mainly centers around Miss Marjoribanks schemes to get Mr. Ashburton elected to parliament.

The book is part romance, part comedy, part drama. I LOVED everything about it. I loved the characterization. I loved the narration. I loved the plot. I loved that it wasn't predictable--at least not to me!

Quotes:
There are people who talk of themselves, and think of themselves, as it were, under protest, and with depreciation, not actually able to convince themselves that anybody cares; but Lucilla, for her part, had the calmest and most profound conviction that, when she discussed her own doings and plans and clevernesses, she was bringing forward the subject most interesting to her audience as well as to herself. Such a conviction is never without its fruits. To be sure, there were always one or two independent spirits who revolted; but for the crowd, it soon became impressed with a profound belief in the creed which Miss Marjoribanks supported so firmly.
At other times she had been a visitor; now she had come into her kingdom, and had no desire to be received like a guest.
But it was only in the morning that Lucilla unfolded her standard. She was down to breakfast, ready to pour out the coffee, before the Doctor had left his room. He found her, to his intense amazement, seated at the foot of the table, in the place which he usually occupied himself, before the urn and the coffee-pot. Dr Marjoribanks hesitated for one momentous instant, stricken dumb by this unparalleled audacity; but so great was the effect of his daughter's courage and steadiness, that after that moment of fate he accepted the seat by the side where everything was arranged for him, and to which Lucilla invited him sweetly, though not without a touch of mental perturbation. The moment he had seated himself, the Doctor's eyes were opened to the importance of the step he had taken. "I am afraid I have taken your seat, papa," said Miss Marjoribanks, with ingenuous sweetness. "But then I should have had to move the urn, and all the things, and I thought you would not mind."
The Doctor's formidable housekeeper conducted her young mistress downstairs afterwards, and showed her everything with the meekness of a saint. Lucilla had won a second victory still more exhilarating and satisfactory than the first; for, to be sure, it is no great credit to a woman of nineteen to make a man of any age throw down his arms; but to conquer a woman is a different matter, and Lucilla was thoroughly sensible of the difference. Now, indeed, she could feel with a sense of reality that her foundations were laid.
Lucilla, who was liberal, as genius ought always to be, was perfectly willing that all the young ladies in Carlingford should sing their little songs while she was entertaining her guests; and then at the right moment, when her ruling mind saw it was necessary, would occur the duet—the one duet which would be the great feature of the evening. Thus it will be seen that another quality of the highest order developed itself during Miss Marjoribanks's deliberations; for, to tell the truth, she set a good deal of store by her voice, and had been used to applause, and had tasted the sweetness of individual success.
There is nothing one cannot manage if one only takes the trouble.
"I am always afraid of a cousin, for my part," said Mrs Chiley; "and talking of that, what do you think of Mr Cavendish, Lucilla? He is very nice in himself, and he has a nice property; and some people say he has a very good chance to be member for Carlingford when there is an election. I think that is just what would suit you."
Thus all the world contemplated with excitement the first Thursday which was to open this enchanted chamber to their admiring eyes. "Don't expect any regular invitation," Miss Marjoribanks said. "I hope you will all come, or as many of you as can. Papa has always some men to dinner with him that day, you know, and it is so dreadfully slow for me with a heap of men. That is why I fixed on Thursday. I want you to come every week, so it would be absurd to send an invitation; and remember it is not a party, only an Evening," said Lucilla.
It was when she was in this unhappy humour that her eye fell upon Mr Cavendish, who was in the act of making the appeal to Lucilla which we have already recorded. Barbara had never as yet had a lover, but she had read an unlimited number of novels, which came to nearly the same thing, and she saw at a glance that this was somebody who resembled the indispensable hero. She looked at him with a certain fierce interest, and remembered at that instant how often in books it is the humble heroine, behind backs, whom all the young ladies snub, who wins the hero at the last. And then Miss Marjoribanks, though she sent him away, smiled benignantly upon him. The colour flushed to Barbara's cheeks, and her eyes, which had grown dull and fixed between fright and spite, took sudden expression under her straight brows. An intention, which was not so much an intention as an instinct, suddenly sprang into life within her, and, without knowing, she drew a long breath of eagerness and impotence. He was standing quite near by this time, doing his duty according to Miss Marjoribanks's orders, and flirting with all his might; and Barbara looked at him as a hungry schoolboy might be supposed to look at a tempting apple just out of his reach. How was she to get at this suitor of Lucilla's?
As for poor Barbara, she is only a little shy, but that will soon wear off. I don't see what need she has to talk—or to move either, for that matter. I thought she did very well indeed for a girl who never goes into society. Was it not clever of me to find her out the very first day I was in Carlingford? It has always been so difficult to find a voice that went perfectly with mine."
"I always make it a point never to shock anybody's prejudices," said Miss Marjoribanks. "I should do just the same with them as with other people; all you have to do is to show from the first that you mean to be good friends with everybody. But then I am so lucky: I can always get on with people," said Lucilla, rising to greet the two unfortunates who had come to Colonel Chiley's to spend a merry Christmas, and who did not know what to do with themselves.
It was rather vexatious, to tell the truth; for to see a man so near the point and not even to have the satisfaction of refusing him, is naturally aggravating to a woman.
If there was one thing in the world more than another which contented Lucilla, it was to be appealed to and called upon for active service. It did her heart good to take the management of incapable people, and arrange all their affairs for them, and solve all their difficulties. Such an office was more in her way than all the Archdeacons in the world.

For even the aid of Miss Marjoribanks was as nothing against dead selfishness and folly, the two most invincible forces in the world.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Meet Jack Spratt and Mary Mary

Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime #1) Jasper Fforde. 2005. 383 pages. [Source: Library]

I really found myself liking the opening chapters of Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy, the first in a series. Inspector Jack Spratt heads the Nursery Crime Division in Reading. He's got a new partner, Sergeant Mary Mary. This case, their first case to work together, is a murder case. Humpty Dumpty has been murdered. Can these two find his killer before he (or she) kills again?! The premise has potential without a doubt. Not this particular case, but, any case. From the start, I found myself liking Jack Spratt and liking Mary Mary. (Though not necessarily liking their scenes together.) I also really liked Jack's mother whom we get to spend just a little time with here and there.
Here's a description of Jack visiting his mother:
She opened the door within two seconds of his pressing the doorbell, letting out a stream of cats that ran around with such rapidity and randomness of motion that they assumed a liquid state of furry purringness. The exact quantity could have been as low as three or as high as one hundred eight; no one could ever tell, as they were all so dangerously hyperactive. (30)
It's a mystery packed with puns and silly twists. While Spratt takes his job seriously, it can be hard for readers to always do the same. The book requires readers to just give into the silliness and the surreal-ness of it all. It's an odd book.

Unfortunately for me, the charm wore off. While I enjoyed the first third of the book, by the end, I was tired of it all. I think if I had read it all in one sitting, if I'd have managed my reading better, it could have worked. But the truth is, I found myself not caring about the characters and not caring about what happened next.

The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime #2) Jasper Fforde. 2006.  382 pages. [Source: Library]

While I didn't enjoy The Big Over Easy, I definitely enjoyed the second in the Nursery Crimes series, The Fourth Bear. (Though I do wish it had a different title!) The book continues the adventures--or misadventures--of Inspector Jack Spratt, Sergeant Mary Mary, and the alien, Ashley. All three, of course, work for the Nursery Crime Division of Reading. Conditionally at least, when they're not on probation or leave of absence. Jack Spratt is initially disappointed that his boss, Briggs, is not assigning him the BIG, BIG CASE that falls within his jurisdiction: The Gingerbread man has escaped, and he's a serial killer. Though it's obvious that the Gingerbread man is not a "real" person, the NCD does not get the case. Instead, Mary Mary and Jack Spratt are looking into a missing person's case. You can probably guess by the title that it might just have a little something to do with Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Though you should expect a few twists, obviously! Jack Spratt and Mary Mary are kept plenty busy with this case, and it's anything but simple or ordinary! It was fun in places. The writing, obviously, tried to pack in as many puns and jokes as possible. But some of them worked well, in my opinion. For example, the controversy over 'the right to arm bears' movement.

While most of the book does focus on the mystery, readers still get a hint of the personal lives of the main characters. (Jack and his wife, their new neighbors Punch and Judy, their daughter's wedding plans, Mary Mary's date with Ashley, meeting Ashley's family, etc.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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