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Results 1 - 25 of 660
1. Five Children on the Western Front

Five Children on the Western Front. Kate Saunders. 2014. 318 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The sand at the bottom of the gravel pit shifted and heaved, and out popped the furry brown head of a most extraordinary creature.

Premise/plot: For any reader who has read Five Children And It by E. Nesbit (and its sequels) will want to consider picking up Kate Saunders' Five Children on the Western Front. The book opens in 1914 with the oldest, Cyril, heading off to the Great War. Robert, Anthea, and Jane are grown up as well--mostly. Old enough to be away to school for their final years of education at least! Still at home are Lamb (aka Hilary) and Edie (Edith). On this life-changing day, Edie and Lamb discover (again) the Psammead. Lamb has no memory of the adventures his older siblings had, though he has grown up hearing all about the magic. There is a very happy reunion of sorts. If his being cranky and sarcastic doesn't take away the children's happiness. Soon, however, they realize that something is very wrong. He lacks strength and magical power. He has even lost the ability to be invisible. Edie, his primary companion, makes it her mission to get the answers he needs.

This mission takes most of them to London to visit Old Nurse and their friend the Professor. The Professor has a new, young assistant Ernie Haywood, a soldier who has returned home because of injuries. Anthea is quite smitten!

The book covers the war years.

My thoughts: Wow! Not disappointed at all. Not even a little bit! Loved Edie, the heroine, and loved the "humbling" of "Sammy." It was wonderful to spend time with the Pemberton family yet again. If there is a flaw, it is that we still don't really get to know the parents. Is that a flaw? Perhaps. I personally just loved the kids so much, I didn't care. I think readers are in on the secret--the magic--and the parents aren't and never will be.

Is the book sad? Yes in the same way that Rilla of Ingleside is sad and happy at the same time. In fact, that is the only book that really comes to mind. Both books star characters from series that readers would have grown up reading and loving. Both books cross into the ugliness of war, interrupting a blissful innocence. L. M. Montgomery was brave in that she tackled the subject herself so very soon after the war ended. E. Nesbit was older, and most of books were published before the war. Saunders did a splendid job with this sequel.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Royal Nanny

The Royal Nanny. Karen Harper. 2016. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Of course I'd been out on the for-hire steam launch on the Thames my father captained, but in the railway carriage, I felt like I was flying.

Premise/plot: Charlotte Bill is a young woman hired to be an under-nurse (nanny) for the royal family. The book opens in 1898, and when she first meets David and Bertie, they rename her Lala. The York family keeps growing, and growing up. Little ones don't stay little forever. And tutors and governesses take charge as they do grow up. But these are the 'children' that she cares for as the royal nanny: David, Bertie, Mary, Harry, George, and John. Johnnie, the youngest, is practically HERS from birth to death. Johnnie is the strong-willed, naughty child beset with epilepsy. The royal family wants to keep him as hidden away as possible, once the fact that he's "not normal" is apparent. (That is THEIR perspective.)

Most of the book focuses on Lala's relationship with the children, with her relationship with their parents and grandparents which gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. The 'action' essentially covers 1898-1918. There is a brief epilogue that has Lala meeting David in the late 1950s after he's abdicated the throne.

But readers also catch glimpses of her private life. I imagine here is where the most speculation is taken. (Charlotte Bill was a real person; she really was the royal nanny). Her romance is complicated at best. It adds a couple of more layers to the book.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I find British history fascinating. Almost always have! And books about the royal family, draw me like few others. I would much prefer to read about this period of history than the 80th book about Henry VIII!!!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. The Silent Cry

The Silent Cry. Anne Perry. 1998. 368 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: John Evan stood shivering as the January wind whipped down the alley.

Premise/plot: The Silent Cry is the eighth book in the William Monk mystery series by Anne Perry. (Perry has two ongoing Victorian mystery series.) While some books in the series have been disturbing and violent, this one seems even more so. Think of it as historical Law and Order SVU.

My thoughts: What can I say about the crime(s)? Honestly, I hated that aspect of this one. I will just add that it's best you don't accidentally--or purposefully--sneak a peek at the ending. In the case of this book, if you do it will ruin the entire book for you (like it did for me) and you will spend the entire book SCREAMING at the characters. That is if you keep the book in hand at all. In fact, it took me months to pick this one back up. I had been obsessively reading through one or two of Perry's books a month. Until this one. And I found myself not wanting to go on. I wanted to start the next book in the series. Part of me, was, WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENS IN THIS BOOK TO MOVE THE HESTER/MONK STORY LINE FORWARD? WHAT IF SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAPPENS IN ONE OF THE KEY RELATIONSHIPS OF THE SERIES. Rathbone and Hester, Hester and Monk, Monk and Rathbone. What if Monk gets a few new memories back and I miss it? So I *made* myself push forward into uncomfortable territory.

I will say this. I think it probably would have been safe to skip this one after all. WITH the exception that we do get one or two lovely scenes between Hester and Rathbone!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Secrets of Wishtide

The Secrets of Wishtide. Kate Saunders. 2016. Bloomsbury. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was a bright, windy October morning, and Mrs Bentley and I were down in the basement kitchen making a rabbit pudding.

Premise/plot: Laetitia Rodd is the heroine of Kate Saunders' newest book. Who should seek this one out? Those who love historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy books set in Victorian England. Those who love reading mysteries, particularly those who enjoy COZY mysteries. Mrs. Rodd is a widow who supplements her income by during detective work on the side, her brother helps "find" cases for her to solve. In this book, the first in a possible new series, she's hired by a very wealthy family to investigate the background of a woman, Mrs. Helen Orme. The son of her client has fallen madly, deeply in love with this woman. She'll be posing as the family's new governess....

My thoughts: I really loved this one. I'll be honest: I was in the PERFECT mood to read this one. I was craving a cozy mystery with a Victorian setting. I love historical fiction. I love mysteries. I love Charles Dickens. And the fact that the author was inspired by David Copperfield--and shares my love of Dickens--just made my day. Not every reader will have the background of loving David Copperfield. And I'm not sure you need that either.

This one might be best saved for a time when you're truly *needing* a good mystery to lose yourself in for a day or two.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. 1886. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Mr. Utterson, the lawyer, was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile;

Premise/plot: What if the 'dark' inside you was fully released and realized?!

My thoughts: What an interesting book to read after reading John Owen's Overcoming Sin and Tempation! Dr. Jekyll has a secret 'dark' side that he struggles to keep concealed. Only a few come to learn his BIG, BIG secret: he has found a way of satisfying his dark side in the personality of MR. HYDE. But the more he gives into temptation and becomes Mr. Hyde, letting Mr. Hyde loose in the city and country, the harder the struggle is to return to being Dr. Jekyll. There is a battle going on over his body--if you will--but it isn't a battle of good versus evil, just slightly evil with totally evil.

This is a very short read that is easy to recommend.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Anne's House of Dreams

Anne's House of Dreams. L.M. Montgomery. 1919. 227 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: “Thanks be, I’m done with geometry, learning or teaching it,” said Anne Shirley, a trifle vindictively, as she thumped a somewhat battered volume of Euclid into a big chest of books, banged the lid in triumph, and sat down upon it, looking at Diana Wright across the Green Gables garret, with gray eyes that were like a morning sky.

Premise/plot: Anne Shirley marries Gilbert Blythe in this oh-so-lovely, oh-so-charming book by L.M. Montgomery. Technically, it is the sequel to Anne of the Island! Anne of Windy Poplars was written in the 1930s, decades after Anne's House of Dreams. In this Anne book, the happily married couple settle down in their first home together near Four Winds Harbor and Glen St. Mary. 

Anne's House of Dreams introduces many new characters--some of my favorites I admit--Captain Jim, Miss Cornelia, Leslie Moore, Owen Ford. Marshall Elliot. Susan Baker. Who would ever want to forget their stories? Captain Jim's life-book. Leslie Moore's tragic past but enduring spirit. Miss Cornelia. She's got to be one-of-a-kind. Just a truly spirited character with so much heart and full of gumption. Practically everything out of her mouth is quotable. She sure is great at banter!

My thoughts: I love and adore this one!!! I love how emotionally satisfying it is. The Anne books may have sweet moments, but they pack in reality as well. No one can make me cry like L.M. Montgomery.

Quotes: 
“Stoutness and slimness seem to be matters of predestination,” said Anne.
Jane was not brilliant, and had probably never made a remark worth listening to in her life; but she never said anything that would hurt anyone’s feelings — which may be a negative talent but is likewise a rare and enviable one.
“I’ve heard you criticise ministers pretty sharply yourself,” teased Anne. “Yes, but I do it reverently,” protested Mrs. Lynde. “You never heard me NICKNAME a minister.” Anne smothered a smile.
Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid. 
“Miss Cornelia Bryant. She’ll likely be over to see you soon, seeing you’re Presbyterians. If you were Methodists she wouldn’t come at all. Cornelia has a holy horror of Methodists.”
“I know we are going to be friends,” said Anne, with the smile that only they of the household of faith ever saw. “Yes, we are, dearie. Thank goodness, we can choose our friends. We have to take our relatives as they are, and be thankful if there are no penitentiary birds among them. Not that I’ve many — none nearer than second cousins. I’m a kind of lonely soul, Mrs. Blythe.” There was a wistful note in Miss Cornelia’s voice.
“Were you able to eat enough pie to please her?” “I wasn’t. Gilbert won her heart by eating — I won’t tell you how much. She said she never knew a man who didn’t like pie better than his Bible. Do you know, I love Miss Cornelia.”

“Our library isn’t very extensive,” said Anne, “but every book in it is a FRIEND. We’ve picked our books up through the years, here and there, never buying one until we had first read it and knew that it belonged to the race of Joseph.”
A woman cannot ever be sure of not being married till she is buried, Mrs. Doctor, dear, and meanwhile I will make a batch of cherry pies.
“I wonder why people so commonly suppose that if two individuals are both writers they must therefore be hugely congenial,” said Anne, rather scornfully. “Nobody would expect two blacksmiths to be violently attracted toward each other merely because they were both blacksmiths.”
The p’int of good writing is to know when to stop.
There’s only the one safe compass and we’ve got to set our course by that — what it’s right to do.
Logic is a sort of hard, merciless thing, I reckon.
“Since you are determined to be married, Miss Cornelia,” said Gilbert solemnly, “I shall give you the excellent rules for the management of a husband which my grandmother gave my mother when she married my father.” “Well, I reckon I can manage Marshall Elliott,” said Miss Cornelia placidly. “But let us hear your rules.” “The first one is, catch him.” “He’s caught. Go on.” “The second one is, feed him well.” “With enough pie. What next?” “The third and fourth are — keep your eye on him.” “I believe you,” said Miss Cornelia emphatically.
Cats is cats, and take my word for it, they will never be anything else.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars. L.M. Montgomery. 1936. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:  DEAREST: Isn't that an address! Did you ever hear anything so delicious? Windy Poplars is the name of my new home and I love it. I also love Spook's Lane, which has no legal existence. It should be Trent Street but it is never called Trent Street except on the rare occasions when it is mentioned in the Weekly Courier . . . and then people look at each other and say, 'Where on earth is that?' Spook's Lane it is . . . although for what reason I cannot tell you. I have already asked Rebecca Dew about it, but all she can say is that it has always been Spook's Lane and there was some old yarn years ago of its being haunted. But she has never seen anything worse-looking than herself in it. 

Premise/plot: Anne and Gilbert are engaged at last! But Gilbert still has three years of school to go, and, so Anne finds herself a job as principal of a school in Summerside. Anne of Windy Poplars gives us an intimate look at those three years. Much of the book provides glimpses into the letters Anne writes Gilbert. But there are some traditional chapters as well.

My thoughts: Anne of Windy Poplars is such a delightful (late) addition to the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery. I love, love, love it. Even if Gilbert himself is absent. (We only see her letters to him, never his letters to her.)

This book showcases what Montgomery does BEST: bring her characters to life. It doesn't seem to matter if we spend two paragraphs with a character or two chapters. I CARE about every character she introduces.

Some of the characters we meet in this one: Aunt Kate, Aunt Chatty, Rebecca Dew, Dusty Miller (cats count as characters, right?!), Little Elizabeth, Nora Nelson, Jim Wilcox, Esme Taylor, Dr. Lennox Carter, Cyrus Taylor, Teddy Armstrong, Lewis Allen, Katherine Brooke, Mrs. Adoniram Gibson and Pauline, Cousin Ernestine Bugle, Jarvis Morrow, Dovie Westcott, Frank Westcott.



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Weighed in the Balance

Weighed in the Balance. Anne Perry. 1996. 373 pages. [Source: Library]

Out of all the William Monk mysteries that I've read so far, Weighed in the Balance was the one that has proved the hardest going. In other words, I found it dragging from almost start to finish. I'm not sure if it was my mood, or, if possibly it was the case, or perhaps even a bit of both.

Sir Oliver Rathbone has accepted a new case, for better or worse, and it's a matter of slander. He's defending a woman, a foreigner, Countess Zorah Rostova on a slander change. She has accused someone (Princess Gisela) of murder, and, won't back down even though there isn't a bit of evidence against the woman. Not that anyone looks until Rathbone hires William Monk to investigate. But still.
The case is frustrating and loathsome to him. Even after the trial starts, he is clueless as to what to say in her defense. He can't possibly win this case. It's a matter of how big a fool he wants to appear. Should he try to build a case that it is murder, or was murder, but that his client was mistaken in WHO did the crime? Or should he try to hush up the murder-aspect of it? Does he himself believe there was a crime committed? Can he work up a believable motive?

One character I appreciated more than the others in this one: Hester Latterly. I didn't have to yell at her even once while reading this one. I did, I must mention, have to yell at William Monk more than once. Rathbone, well, he always does the honorable thing, and rarely needs yelling at.

Hester has nursing duties in this book. She's tending a young man after an injury, and, he'll likely never walk again. She brings a young woman into his life, a woman first introduced in A Sudden Fearful Death. I do enjoy how the series works. It's a whole world the author has created, and, characters are always reappearing as they carry on their lives. It's nice to see. And it's not something you often see in a mystery series.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Last One

The Last One. Alexandra Oliva. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The first one on the production team to die will be the editor.

Premise/plot: What if a virus/plague destroyed life-as-we-know-it in the United States while a survival-themed reality TV show was being filmed? What if the twelve contestants didn't know what was going on in the outside world? What if they stumbled upon the truth but didn't believe it, clinging to the fact that the reality show has a big budget and a cruel sense of humor? Well, I don't know about "they," but Zoo whose perspective we share is the LAST ONE to know the truth.

My thoughts: Didn't care for this thriller. I didn't find it as compelling as 'a thriller' should have been. Zoo--and all the other characters--are minimally developed. And the action/adventure aspect of it lacked suspense because while Zoo may have been the last to know that all the dead and decaying bodies were real, readers were never in the dark. Readers are smarter than Zoo for about 90% of the book. Since Zoo wasn't fully fleshed out as a character--with depth and substance--I didn't get much from her chapters. Though I preferred her chapters--the "now" chapters--to the "then" chapters which focused exclusively on the television show and the twelve contestants. There was no reason to truly keep reading--other than stubbornness (I have plenty)--since there was no suspense.

I think it comes down to this: if I can't have character-driven fiction (my favorite favorite) then give me ACTION with suspense, lots and lots and lots of tension and suspense. Force me to "enter into temptation" and contemplate peeking ahead to the end. Keep me focused on what may or may not happen next. Throw in twists and surprises, if you want. Keep me guessing about the motivations of this character or that character. But somehow, someway engage me. I don't personally think it's suspense when readers know it's real from page one and the main character is the last one to know just about everything there is to know.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd. (Flavia de Luce #8) 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The winter rain slashes at my face like icy razor blades, but I don't care. I dig my chin deep into the collar of my mackintosh, put my head down, and push on against the buffeting of the furious wind.

Premise/plot: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd is the EIGHTH novel in the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley. If you're not hooked to the series by now, chances are my review won't persuade you to pick this one up. Do you have to read the books in order? Yes and no. I'd say that it's always best to read the first book first. But perhaps after that if you've missed one or two then it would still be okay to pick up this newest one and treat yourself.

So, what is it about? Flavia de Luce is home from Canada--it's almost Christmas--and things are not the same at home. Her father is sick and in the hospital. Which means almost everyone is acting differently. And every day there is the question: will the hospital allow visitors today?!?! For too many days in a row the answer has been NO. One thing that is the same? There is a mystery to be solved. While doing an errand for Cynthia, I believe, she comes across a dead body--Mr. Sambridge, a local woodcarver.

My thoughts: The mystery in this one is very interesting in my opinion. While I've enjoyed the past few books in the series okay, I think this one is my favorite by far. It is COMPELLING and EMOTIONAL. And oh the ending....it revealed how much I do CARE about the characters and it made me want to yell at the author.
There are times when even family can be of no use: when talking to your own blood fails to have meaning.
As anybody with two older sisters can tell you, a closed door is like a red rag to a bull. It cannot go unchallenged.
Playing the clown is not an easy task. Clowns, I have come to believe, are placed upon the earth solely to fill the needs of others, while running perilously close to "Empty" themselves.
You can learn from a glance at anyone's library, not what they are, but what they wish to be.
Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is not so simple as it sounds. What it means, in fact, is being charitable--which, as the vicar is fond of pointing out, is the most difficult of the graces to master. Faith and hope are a piece of cake but charity is a Pandora's box: the monster in the cistern which, when the lid is opened, comes swarming out to seize you by the throat.
The world can be an interesting place to a girl who keeps her ears open.
Authors are known to have fiendishly clever minds, and the authors of children's books are more fiendishly clever than most.
Some sleeps are washed with gold, and some with silver. Mine was molten lead. 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Hamilton Affair

The Hamilton Affair. Elizabeth Cobbs. 2016. Arcade. 408 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The boy frowned, pressed a folded handkerchief to his nose, and scanned the crowd for the third time.

Premise/plot: The Hamilton Affair is historical fiction starring Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza. The novel has alternating narrators; readers get to spend time with both Alexander and Eliza. The book leans more towards romance than political drama. I think that's something readers should know from the start. Readers expecting the book to perfectly complement the Broadway musical may be a bit disappointed. Angelica is essentially absent from the book. (She's mentioned now and then, mainly because Alexander borrows money from her husband. Her husband seems more developed as a character than Angelica.) This should not be seen as a novelization of the musical--far from it. With the right expectations, readers can delight in it, I'm sure!

My thoughts: The Hamilton Affair was an almost for me. I wanted to love it so much, yet, in the end it wasn't love for me. Reading is subjective, I remember that always and so should you. But for me it felt both slow and rushed. Not an easy combination perhaps, but, in this case I think that's my honest assessment. The parts I wanted to take time in and explore and really just enjoy the moment felt rushed or passed over altogether. And then there were times it felt sluggish and like there was nothing at all happening to move the plot forward.

I also expected Alexander Hamilton to have more charisma on the page. I wanted to feel what Eliza felt--I wanted to feel helpless. I didn't quite get that. It felt more removed than that. Still, I am glad I read it. And some chapters I really did enjoy.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The House on the Strand

The House on the Strand. Daphne du Maurier. 1968. 352 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope.

Premise/plot: Richard Young, the hero of Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand, becomes a guinea pig for his scientist friend, Magnus, while vacationing in Cornwall. Magnus has concocted a hallucinogenic drug that allows the user to time travel, though not physically. While Dick's first 'time-travel' experience has its downsides, he enjoys it just enough to keep taking the drug in different locales. Why different locales? Because location matters. Your body may stay in the present, but, your consciousness is far, far away. And your body-and-mind act together. Your mind sees the world as it was. Your body experiences it as it is. Whatever you're doing in the past, you're doing in the present--sitting, standing, walking, running, etc. Readers DON'T see this, of course, just the results and consequences. You may sit down and take the drug in one place, and come back to reality hours later miles and miles away with no real idea of how you got there.

The past is the fourteenth century. The 1320s through the 1340s. Dick is an invisible presence in the past. He can "spy" on the past and follow people around, seeing and hearing plenty that interests him. He becomes very caught up in the lives of Isolda and Roger. (They are not a couple.) The past is full of soap opera like DRAMA.

The present is the 1960s. Dick is married to a woman, Vita, who has two sons. His wife and two stepsons join him on his vacation. He's not excited about that. Why? He really, really, really, really likes taking this mind-altering drug. And he fears that if he's surrounded by his family he might have to be responsible and stay in the present.

The drama isn't all in the past, a few things happen in the present that are just as exciting. Particularly when Magnus comes to visit his friend...

My thoughts: Dick isn't the smartest hero. Perhaps he trusts his friend a LITTLE too much. Or perhaps the sixties were so truly different that taking mind-altering drugs was something you did without blinking--without giving it a second thought. What am I doing to my mind? what am I doing to my body? Are there any side-effects? Are the side-effects longlasting? Is this a good idea?

The book chronicles Dick's adventures in past and present. And the world-building is strong in both. Characterization. I can't say that the characterization was super strong. This is more premise-driven than character-driven. But there's enough drama and mystery to keep you reading.

Science fiction doesn't come to mind when I think about Daphne du Maurier, but, I must say that you can definitely see her unique style in all of it. Especially the ending.

Did I like it? I didn't LOVE it, but, I definitely am glad I read it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Gidget

Gidget. Frederick Kohner. 1957. 154 pages. [Source: Bought]

I must admit I was disappointed by Frederick Kohner's Gidget. Here are some things you should know: 1) It was originally published in 1957. 2) It is to some degree based on a true teen girl named Kathy, nicknamed Gidget. 3) Fredrick Kohner, the author, based the book on his own daughter and on his own daughter's coming of age story. 4) It is set in Malibu in the mid 1950s. 5) The book became popular enough that a movie was made. 6) Presumably the movie and book were doing so well, it became a TV show. There was something sweet and verging on innocent about the first movie and about the TV show. Not so the book. It may make it more realistic in some people's opinion. 7) The book is written in first person.

The heroine, Franzie, a.k.a "Gidget," is fifteen years old and in love with the beach, the ocean, all things surf, including surfers--no matter their age. She considers herself all grown up, or, at the very least, mostly grown up. I personally prefer "clean" or even "squeaky clean" books in terms of language. This one has a lot of bad language, and, in particular a lot of taking the Lord's name in vain. I was NOT expecting Gidget to have the mouth that she does, because that is certainly not depicted in the movie or the TV show!!! Her days are devoted to the beach, to surfing, to hanging out with as many surfer guys as she can. She becomes particularly close to two. One being "the love of her life" Jeff (aka Moondoggie) and the other Cass (Big Kahuna). Perhaps because her first sex-dream is of Jeff, she becomes convinced that he is the one and that they are meant to be together forever and ever and of course she must share her dream with him and tell him how much he means to her!
There is great longing and much curiosity in Gidget. She's a boy-chaser. (Also she wants to smoke and drink and be one of the guys.) She doesn't want to be thought of as a fifteen year old girl who should be at home with her parents. Her thoughts are definitely becoming more and more focused on one thing. She's scared to death of it and longing for it at the same time. When Jeff begins to show some interest in her--physical interest--she's more than okay being the "other woman." Who cares if he's got a girlfriend?! He's hers for the summer. His girlfriend isn't here at the beach. His girlfriend doesn't even surf. Surely she's not worth any consideration! Jeff's lips are HER LIPS...at least until college starts back up in the fall.

One could easily say that nothing and everything happens in this one.

Nothing if you are looking at it in terms of events alone. It's a bit repetitive. Wake up. Go to beach. Follow Moondoggie around. Surf. Get sick for a week or maybe two. Get better. Go to beach. Have awkward conversations with brother-in-law and parents. Go to beach. Sneak out to all-night beach orgy. Go surfing. Make silly reflective statements about how mature you are now as compared to then.

Everything if you are looking at it in terms of capturing very angst-y, awkward, embarrassing moments that may be common enough to one and all but more cringe-worthy than anything else.

One thing that makes it creepy, for me, is that it is a father writing about his daughter. Even if it's fifty-fifty in its origins--half fictional, half based on true events/people--it's still a bit weird for me when I think about a father writing about his daughter's lust and curiosity. There are just some scenes in this one that are uncomfortable if you keep this in mind. Other scenes are just awkward. Like when Jeff tries to explain to Gidget that dreams are dreams are dreams and not actual reality or signs from the universe that you belong together.

Reading the book did make me appreciate the movie more. The changes made between the book and the movie were for the best, I think. The romance comes across better, cuter.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon. Daniel Keyes. 1966. 311 pages. [Source: Library]

First, I have to say that I am definitely glad I made time to finally read this one! It has been on my to-be-read list for way too many years. And I don't regret the time I spent with Charlie Gordon.

The book is the journal of the main character, Charlie Gordon. The journal consists of his 'progress reports.' The novel opens with him about to become the subject of a scientific experiment. If it works, his IQ will improve dramatically, radically. His IQ is high enough now for him to function living on his own. (He does janitor work.) But his IQ isn't high enough for him to really learn how to read, write, remember. What he does have in abundance: a big, big, big heart, and an ambitious spirit dedicated to learning and becoming. He doesn't know what he's missing, but, he knows he's missing something. He has no real actual memories of who he was, of his family life, of his childhood. His low IQ isn't just "robbing" him of a bright future, but, of his past as well.

Even though I don't usually love first person narratives, in this case, it works really well. Charlies growth is documented in his progress reports. And readers should make the effort to read between the lines some. It isn't that Charlie is an unreliable narrator, just, that he isn't always completely self-aware. (Who is?!?!) Readers are given enough clues to decide for themselves what Charlie Gordon is like.

Will the experiment work? What are the side effects? Is Charlie being used or taken advantage of by the scientists? Did he make the right choice?

I can't decide what is the most heartbreaking about this bittersweet coming-of-age story. I think though that I'll go with the way Charlie was treated by his mother. Those scenes when Charlie remembers his childhood, his mother, his father, his sister, that is what is heartbreaking. The way his mother mistreated him, and Charlie's straight-forward, matter-of-fact remembering. The way it's done is not manipulative at all, in my opinion. But it's very emotional.

The scenes that may just stay with me though are the ones about Charlie standing up to the scientists saying YOU DIDN'T MAKE ME. I WAS A PERSON BEFORE. YOU SHOULD HAVE ALWAYS TREATED ME AS A PERSON, A PERSON WITH FEELINGS AND RIGHTS. YOU DIDN'T GIVE ME VALUE BY MAKING ME SMART, I ALWAYS WAS VALUABLE. YOU TREAT ME LIKE AN OBJECT. I'M NOT AN OBJECT OF YOUR MAKING.

So yes this one is worth reading!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Return of the King

Return of the King. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1955. 590 pages. [Source: Bought]

Pippin looked out from the shelter of Gandalf’s cloak. He wondered if he was awake or still sleeping, still in the swift-moving dream in which he had been wrapped so long since the great ride began. The dark world was rushing by and the wind sang loudly in his ears. He could see nothing but the wheeling stars, and away to his right vast shadows against the sky where the mountains of the South marched past.  
And I have finished rereading the trilogy! In May I was able to read and review The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. I wanted to finish Return of the King in May too, but, it didn't work out that way! 

So Return of the King consists of books five and six of Lord of the Rings. In book five, narrators shift from chapter to chapter to chapter. Essentially we spend time with everyone but Sam and Frodo. We spend time in Rohan and Gondor. Scarlett O'Hara would be nothing but bored, bored, bored for this one is all about WAR, WAR, WAR. If they're not actually IN battle, they're marching towards battle, planning battle tactics, or recovering from battle. Did I personally find it boring??? Far from it, it is INTENSE and heartbreaking in places. (For example, Theoden's end.) I would actually say almost all the action happens in book five.

Book six starts out as being all about Sam and Frodo, but, it doesn't stay their book. The climax to the trilogy comes early in book six. Soon the fellowship is reunited and readers get the full cast of characters they've become so attached to. Here we have two to three romances squeezed in. If I had any advice for new readers it would be this: don't expect the book to be as focused on ROMANCE and FEELINGS as the movies are. 

So does book six drag? Is the end of the war coming so early in the novel a weakness in the book? I'm going to say perhaps and NO. I love that the book shows what happens next. I love that the book focuses on soldiers going home, on trying to settle back into life after the war. I love that we see the effect of the war. I love that we don't get a polished, rushed happy ending. It would be so easy for a movie to end in a parade and award ceremony. (Think Star Wars!) But life isn't like that. It isn't always easy for soldiers to adjust back into life, into society. I love that we see the ongoing consequences of war. We see how war has changed everyone--not just the Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin--but everyone in the Shire.

Favorite quotes:
Well, no need to brood on what tomorrow may bring. For one thing, tomorrow will be certain to bring worse than today, for many days to come. And there is nothing more that I can do to help it. The board is set, and the pieces are moving. 
‘Nine o’clock we’d call it in the Shire,’ said Pippin aloud to himself. ‘Just the time for a nice breakfast by the open window in spring sunshine. And how I should like breakfast! Do these people ever have it, or is it over? And when do they have dinner, and where?’

‘I am no warrior at all and dislike any thought of battle; but waiting on the edge of one that I can’t escape is worst of all. What a long day it seems already! I should be happier, if we were not obliged to stand and watch, making no move, striking nowhere first.
‘So we come to it in the end,’ he said: ‘the great battle of our time, in which many things shall pass away. But at least there is no longer need for hiding. We will ride the straight way and the open road and with all our speed. The muster shall begin at once, and wait for none that tarry. Have you good store in Minas Tirith? For if we must ride now in all haste, then we must ride light, with but meal and water enough to last us into battle.
‘O Sam!’ cried Frodo. ‘What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done. It is the horrible power of the Ring. I wish it had never, never, been found. But don’t mind me, Sam. I must carry the burden to the end. It can’t be altered. You can’t come between me and this doom.’
‘So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started,’ thought Sam: ‘to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it. But I would dearly like to see Bywater again, and Rosie Cotton and her brothers, and the Gaffer and Marigold and all. I can’t think somehow that Gandalf would have sent Mr. Frodo on this errand, if there hadn’t a’ been any hope of his ever coming back at all. Things all went wrong when he went down in Moria. I wish he hadn’t. He would have done something.’ But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.
Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’ ‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.’ As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light.
Then to the wonder of many Aragorn did not put the crown upon his head, but gave it back to Faramir, and said: ‘By the labour and valour of many I have come into my inheritance. In token of this I would have the Ring-bearer bring the crown to me, and let Mithrandir set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory.’ Then Frodo came forward and took the crown from Faramir and bore it to Gandalf; and Aragorn knelt, and Gandalf set the White Crown upon his head, and said:
‘Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!’ But when Aragorn arose all that beheld him gazed in silence, for it seemed to them that he was revealed to them now for the first time. Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him. And then Faramir cried: ‘Behold the King!’
‘Are you in pain, Frodo?’ said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo’s side. ‘Well, yes I am,’ said Frodo. ‘It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.’ ‘Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,’ said Gandalf. ‘I fear it may be so with mine,’ said Frodo. ‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?’ Gandalf did not answer. 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Cain His Brother

Cain His Brother. Anne Perry. 1995. 404 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Cain His Brother a bit of a disappointment after The Sins of the Wolf. Especially in the beginning. Readers be warned, you may spend a lot of time YELLING at William Monk. Especially in the first half of this one. William Monk has been somewhat sympathetic even if flawed in earlier books, but, in this one, well, the way he speaks to Hester is just ALL KINDS OF WRONG. I think it stood out more in this one because of how Sins of the Wolf ended. And it wasn't just that. Also he seems to be completely stupid and gullible sometimes where women are concerned. When Druscilla's character was introduced, for example, I started shouting warnings to Monk. He didn't listen. No matter how many times I tried to warn him. I ended up liking this story after all, but, only because Hester COMPLETELY redeems the situation and saves the day. Does he know it?! Of course not. And if he did, he'd probably just yell at Hester and dig a deeper hole for himself as far as I'm concerned. But still I enjoyed this one overall for how Hester, Monk, and Rathbone work together for justice. And the case they're working on is INTERESTING.

Angus Stonefield has been murdered--presumably--by his "evil" twin brother, Caleb Stone. There is no body, just bloody clothes and a missing person case. Some might argue, well, he tired of his wife, he decided to abandon his family, his job, and begin a new life somewhere else. And his clothes might have anyone's blood on them. The widow, Mrs. Stonefield, comes to William Monk desperate. She needs him to find enough proof that he can be declared dead. Sure she'd love justice, but, is realistic about the situation.

Hester and Lady Callandra, meanwhile, are busy nursing typhoid patients on the wrong side of town. The book is very much focused on poverty and the horrible living conditions in 1850s London.

There is plenty of detecting in this one, and, I think this one probably has the biggest twist so far in the series.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1954/1965. Houghton Mifflin. 423 pages. [Source: Bought]

I am loving my reread of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I think it may just be a trilogy that I love more each and every time I read it. The book opens delightfully with a birthday celebration. (Not that I skipped the prologue, mind you. I happen to find all the hobbit history interesting.) Bilbo will be turning 111 and Frodo will be turning 33.

Bilbo is preparing to leave the Shire forever, but, he'll be leaving most everything to Frodo--including his magical ring. Gandalf is relieved that the ring will pass onto Frodo, it makes him a bit nervous to see Bilbo so attached to it and calling it precious. As the years go by--and years DO go by--Gandalf becomes concerned, worried, anxious about the ring. He fears that it is the ONE RING, and that Frodo's possession of the ring is dangerous.

I believe Frodo is about fifty when he does eventually set out on his very own adventure. And he won't be alone. He'll be accompanied by Sam, Pippin, and Merry. As their journey progresses, more people join the fellowship, and more risks are faced.

It is different from the movie. But the movie is true to the spirit of the book. In my opinion. It is an absorbing, compelling read. I love, love, love the world-building, the writing, the characterization.

Have you read Fellowship of the Ring? How many times? Do you have a favorite character? a favorite scene? a favorite quote? 

On birthday presents:
Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays. Not very expensive ones, as a rule, and not so lavishly as on this occasion; but it was not a bad system. Actually in Hobbiton and Bywater every day in the year was somebody’s birthday, so that every hobbit in those parts had a fair chance of at least one present at least once a week. But they never got tired of them.
It was a tendency of hobbit-holes to get cluttered up: for which the custom of giving so many birthday-presents was largely responsible. Not, of course, that the birthday-presents were always new; there were one or two old mathoms of forgotten uses that had circulated all around the district; but Bilbo had usually given new presents, and kept those that he received. 
On the food at the birthday party:
There were three official meals: lunch, tea, and dinner (or supper). But lunch and tea were marked chiefly by the fact that at those times all the guests were sitting down and eating together. At other times there were merely lots of people eating and drinking – continuously from elevenses until six-thirty, when the fireworks started. 
Bilbo confesses something to Gandalf:
‘I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed!’ he snorted. ‘Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.’ Gandalf looked curiously and closely at him. ‘No, it does not seem right,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘No, after all I believe your plan is probably the best.’ ‘Well, I’ve made up my mind, anyway. I want to see mountains again, Gandalf – mountains; and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.’ 
The ring:
As Frodo did so, he now saw fine lines, finer than the finest pen-strokes, running along the ring, outside and inside: lines of fire that seemed to form the letters of a flowing script. They shone piercingly bright, and yet remote, as if out of a great depth. ‘I cannot read the fiery letters,’ said Frodo in a quavering voice. ‘No,’ said Gandalf, ‘but I can. The letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Mordor, which I will not utter here. But this in the Common Tongue is what is said, close enough: One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
It is only two lines of a verse long known in Elven-lore: Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.’
But as for breaking the Ring, force is useless. Even if you took it and struck it with a heavy sledge-hammer, it would make no dint in it. It cannot be unmade by your hands, or by mine. 
‘There is only one way: to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the Fire-mountain, and cast the Ring in there, if you really wish to destroy it, to put it beyond the grasp of the Enemy for ever.’ 
Frodo and Gandalf 'regret' the times in which they live:
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance. 
I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’ ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’
‘Not safe for ever,’ said Gandalf. ‘There are many things in the deep waters; and seas and lands may change. And it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one.’ 
More words of wisdom from Gandalf:
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. 
Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch.  
The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.’ 
It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill. But such falls and betrayals, alas, have happened before. 
‘Despair, or folly?’ said Gandalf. ‘It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.’ 
Favorite Sam Bits:
‘Well, sir,’ said Sam dithering a little. ‘I heard a deal that I didn’t rightly understand, about an enemy, and rings, and Mr. Bilbo, sir, and dragons, and a fiery mountain, and – and Elves, sir. I listened because I couldn’t help myself, if you know what I mean. Lor bless me, sir, but I do love tales of that sort. And I believe them too, whatever Ted may say. Elves, sir! I would dearly love to see them. Couldn’t you take me to see Elves, sir, when you go?’
‘It is going to be very dangerous, Sam. It is already dangerous. Most likely neither of us will come back.’ ‘If you don’t come back, sir, then I shan’t, that’s certain,’ said Sam. ‘Don’t you leave him! they said to me. Leave him! I said. I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon; and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said. They laughed.’
‘Do you feel any need to leave the Shire now – now that your wish to see them has come true already?’ he asked. ‘Yes, sir. I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.’
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’ 
‘Where did you come by that, Sam?’ asked Pippin. ‘I’ve never heard those words before.’ Sam muttered something inaudible. ‘It’s out of his own head, of course,’ said Frodo. ‘I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior!’ ‘I hope not,’ said Sam. ‘I don’t want to be neither!’ 
Sam sat on the ground and put his head in his hands. ‘I wish I had never come here, and I don’t want to see no more magic,’ he said and fell silent. After a moment he spoke again thickly, as if struggling with tears. ‘No, I’ll go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all,’ he said. ‘But I hope I do get back some day. If what I’ve seen turns out true, somebody’s going to catch it hot!’ 
‘So all my plan is spoilt!’ said Frodo. ‘It is no good trying to escape you. But I’m glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we were meant to go together. We will go, and may the others find a safe road! Strider will look after them. I don’t suppose we shall see them again.’ ‘Yet we may, Mr. Frodo. We may,’ said Sam.
Concerning Aragorn and other members of the Fellowship:
All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king. 
‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.’
‘Did the verses apply to you then?’ asked Frodo. ‘I could not make out what they were about. But how did you know that they were in Gandalf’s letter, if you have never seen it?’ ‘I did not know,’ he answered. ‘But I am Aragorn, and those verses go with that name.’ He drew out his sword, and they saw that the blade was indeed broken a foot below the hilt. ‘Not much use is it, Sam?’ said Strider. ‘But the time is near when it shall be forged anew.’
There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it. But you do not stand alone. You will learn that your trouble is but part of the trouble of all the western world.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Murder in the Museum

Murder in the Museum. John Rowland. 1938. Poisoned Pen Press. 250 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really loved reading John Rowland's Murder in the Museum. It was a quick, entertaining read with filled with characters that you can't help wanting to spend time with.

The book opens with Henry Fairhurst happening upon a dead body at the British Museum--in the reading room. He speaks, of course, to the police inspectors--Inspector Shelley and (Constable) Cunningham--and they let slip that it was murder--poison, cyanide. While a bit shocked, perhaps, by the discovery, he's a bit thrilled underneath it all. Nothing like this has ever happened to him before--and the excitement of it, well, he doesn't want to let it go. He wants to help solve the case. They don't agree to this, not right away, of course. But as his volunteered tips prove useful on more than one occasion, soon, he's unofficially taking part.

The victim is a professor of Elizabethan literature, named Julius Arnell. His love of almonds--sugared almonds, I believe--did him in. That is where the poison was.

As I said I loved this one. I loved the mystery of it, the unfolding of clues and suspects. It was also a tension-filled read in many ways. There is more than one crime, for one thing, and readers see one crime in progress. It's a suspenseful read to be sure!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Throwback Thursday: The Accidental Diva

The Accidental Diva by Tia Williams 2004
Putnam

Incredible Quote: "What he didn't tell Billie was how naive she sounded, telling him what hustling was about. In the fifth grade, he had more game in his size-five Adidas kicks than anyone at that party could ever hope to have. He hustled to survive. It was either get out there and sell the shit out of some crack, or eat grape jelly for dinner and hope the rat that bit you in your sleep wasn't carrying anything lethal. When Billie talked about hustling and playing the game, what she really meant was that she was ambitious. She was a go-getter. She set high goals for herself and met them, exceeded them. But the bottom line was that she had been born into a supportive, loving, comfortably middle-class family that took care of her and nurtured her and provided as security blanket. Jay came from nothing. Worse than nothing" (186).


One Sentence Review: A diverting read that is excellently paced and notable for both its now-outdated culture references and relevant social commentary on a number of topics ranging from class to fashion to race with a distinctive (in the best way possible) narrative voice.

I love this distinction Ms. Williams makes in her novel. I never realized that people describing themselves as "hustlers" bothered me until I read this passage and found myself nodding in agreement. Especially when celebrities use the term, I just find it ridiculous (excluding those who actually came up from nothing as opposed to those born to famous parents, etc etc) and Ms. Williams perfectly illustrates why. If you're thinking this quote is a bit heavy and shying away from this novel, never fear. This quote is expertly woven into a romp of a read that straddles the line between light and social commentary. It was exactly what I needed to end 2015, a lot of fun to read while making witty observations about being "the only" and exploring class issues that it managed to not only hold my attention but also cause me to pause and think after reading a passage. 

The only negative I can see is that it confirmed my fears about the beauty industry in terms of its shallowness. But it's a unique (for me) professional setting for a book so it kept me turning the pages. This book was published in 2004, 12 years later it's sad that we're still having the same conversations. Through Billie the author tackles cultural appropriation (which Bille calls "ethnic borrowing" in the beauty and fashion industry and maybe it's just because of the rise of the Internet and public intellectuals and blogging but it had honestly never occurred to me that people were having these conversations pre-Twitter. That demonstrates my ignorance and I was happy to be enlightened while also being sad that white gaze still has so much power over beauty standards. Although it is getting better because it is harder for beauty companies, fashion companies and magazines to ignore being called out when they "discover" some trend people of color have been naturally gifted with/been doing/wearing for years.

Aside from the pleasing depth of the novel, it's a quick paced read. I actually felt caught up in Billie's sweeping romance and just as intoxicated as she did, I didn't want to resurface from her studio apartment. Honestly I'd like a prequel so that we can live vicariously through Billie, Renee and Vida's college years. And I'm so happy her friends served more of a role than just providing advice at Sunday brunch. Also Billie's family dynamics were absolutely hilarious and unexpected. 

I dealt with similar issues to Billie and Jay although not on as large a scale, granted I'm not a professional (yet) but I can relate to the class issues that come up in a relationship with two different economic backgrounds. And not to be a cliche but especially when it's the woman who comes from the comfortable lifestyle and the preconceived notions that we have/that other have about us, difficulty is involved and so on a personal level I was able to really connect with Billie (and better understand Jay).

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20. By The Stars

By the Stars. Lindsay B. Ferguson. 2016. Cedar Fort. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Do you enjoy reading books about World War II? Do you enjoy reading romance novels? Would you find it refreshing to read a book with Mormon characters that isn't about polygamy and sister wives? By the Stars by Lindsay B. Ferguson may be just the book you're looking for. The book is primarily set in Utah, except for the chapters that follow our hero, Cal, to training camp and war. The story has a framework, someone has come to Cal's home to interview him. Subsequently, Cal is telling his story--his and Kate's story humbly and simply. Most of the book, I suppose, is what I'd call a flashback.

Cal and Kate met in junior high school. Their lockers were next to each other. For him, it was love at first sight. For her, well, she wasn't looking for love right then. And while she was friendly enough, she wasn't overly interested in being best-best friends or having him as a boyfriend. But that was then. The book gives readers glimpses of their encounters, meetings. A scene here and there spread out over ten years.

I can see why these glimpses had to be so short and almost disconnected. To keep the story moving. After all, if the narrative were continuous, and the book started when he was in eighth grade, the book would be at least a couple hundred more pages. And it would have a lot more angst more likely. That being said, I had a hard time at first really connecting with the characters. This didn't stay the case by any means. But it was almost like I was waiting for the "real" story to begin.

After Cal returns from his three year mission trip for the church (which we learn little about besides his bus trip there, and his first day there), he reconnects with Kate. But don't imagine for a second, that it will be easy to woo her. For Kate won't easily be persuaded to say "I do" to anyone. She doesn't, she asserts again and again, believe in marriage....

Cal's time in the war was in the last year. Readers get glimpses of the war as well....

Once the romance starts, the story picks up. If you like romance, I think this one will work for you. I have to be in the exact right mood for romance. (I think of Anne Shirley needing just the right kind of pen in order to be able to right mushy love letters to Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Windy Poplars.) I wasn't in that right mood while I was reading this one. But even so, I found it enjoyable enough.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. The Pastures of Heaven

The Pastures of Heaven. John Steinbeck. 1932. 207 pages. [Source: Library]

This was not my first Steinbeck, but, even so I didn't know quite what to expect. Sometimes I love, love, love his work, and, other times I really almost hate it. The Pastures of Heaven is a collection of inter-connected short stories set in California, spanning several decades, I believe.

I wouldn't consider myself a fan of short stories--usually. The one notable exception being my love for L.M. Montgomery's short stories. But. I found the stories within The Pastures of Heaven to be compelling and entertaining. I read the book all in one sitting, it was just that hard to put down. True, it's not a huge book. But still, it's worth noting all the same. There was a time when I read many books quickly, but, that isn't the case anymore.

The characters. What can I say? Some I really liked. Some I really hated. Some I almost felt pity for more than anything else. I think overall one could easily say that Steinbeck created very human, very flawed, very authentic-feeling characters. Some stories were on the amusing side; others were almost melancholy. I liked the variety. Not just of the emotions within the stories and the types of stories, but, also of the narratives, of the narrators.

I was not a fan of Grapes of Wrath, but, I am a fan of Pastures of Heaven.

Favorite quote:
He knew that the people who were to be his new neighbors were staring at him although he could never catch them at it. This secret staring is developed to a high art among country people. They have seen every uncovered bit of you, have tabulated and memorized the clothes you are wearing, have noticed the color of your eyes and the shape of your nose, and, finally have reduced your figure and personality to three or four adjectives, and all the time you thought they were oblivious to your presence. (12)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Persuasion (1818)

Persuasion. Jane Austen 1818/1992. Knopf Doubleday. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]

Persuasion by Jane Austen is without a doubt one of my favorite books. Persuasion, Jane Eyre, and North and South are my top three classics, top three romances. As to which of the three I like best, well, do I really have to choose between them?! I've read these three again and again and again and again. I do feel sorry for people who don't make rereading a priority in their lives!

Anne Elliot is the heroine of Persuasion. She has a father, who in turns neglects and insults her, and two sisters. Her oldest sister, when she thinks of her at all, does so in a condescending manner. Her younger sister, well, she thinks of her more often, but mainly in a way that takes advantage of her! Anne is both patient and frustrated. She's made peace with how things are, accepts that this is how things will likely remain. True, she sometimes finds herself dreaming of HIM. The man she loved passionately way back when, and, still loves to this day. The man that her family disapproved of. The man that she ultimately broke up with because she was a dutiful daughter. Captain Wentworth. Yes, sometimes she does think of him....

So when the family's financial difficulties leads the family to move to Bath and rent out their estate to a naval officer, that, is when Anne gets a second chance at life, love, and happiness. Of course, no one knew it would be to her advantage! Anne meets Captain Wentworth again. The meeting isn't without its awkwardness. And Captain Wentworth seems EAGER to marry now that he's established himself and is quite wealthy. But he's eager to marry any woman that is not Anne....

There are dozens of characters to meet in this one. Austen, like always, does a great job in creating a world we carry about, and characters we can react to! This is Captain Wentworth and Anne's story....but.... it's much more than that.

I would definitely recommend this one. And. If you get the chance to read it before Pride and Prejudice that might be even better. I think when people become so obsessed with Pride and Prejudice it can be hard for them to like Austen's other heroines. But I much prefer Persuasion to Pride and Prejudice.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago. Boris Pasternak. Translated by John Bayley. 1957. 592 pages. [Source: Library]

Doctor Zhivago is one of those books that I've "been meaning to read" for years now. Once I decided to actually read it, it took me just five days. "Actually" is a great little word, I've found.

So is the book like the movie? Or. Is the movie like the book? The book is a lot more complex than the movie, in my opinion. The movie seems to make everything about Dr. Zhivago and Lara, and the depths of their oh-so-amazing love. That is not the case in the book. (That's not to say that Lara isn't one of the major characters in the book, but, the book doesn't revolve around her.)

So essentially, the novel covers a little over three decades of Russian history. And those three decades are turbulent, bloody, terrifying, cruel. Probably three-quarters of the novel is set between the years 1910-1920.

If you come to the novel expecting a ROMANCE, then, chances are you'll be bored. It is "about" so much more than how a man feels about a woman.

Featured prominently in the novel: war, politics, revolution, religion, philosophy, economics, ethics, friendship, and, perhaps then love, romance, marriage, and family.

The main character is Doctor Zhivago (Yurii Andreievich Zhivago; aka Yura). Readers are first introduced to him at his mother's funeral. They learn that his father abandoned him and his mother. He'll be looked after by an uncle (Uncle Kolia). (This definitely varies from the movie.) As a teen, he and a friend (Misha Gordon) live with the Gromekos family. Yura later marries into this family, marries Tonia Gromeko. The start of World War I in 1914 disrupts his happy home.

Lara (Larisa Feodorovna Guishar) is another main character. While in the movie she is without a doubt the one and only love of Dr. Zhivago's life, in the book she plays a subtler role perhaps. Readers do spend some time with her through the decades. But then again readers spend a good amount of time with Tonia as well.

There is a third woman in Dr. Zhivago's life. A woman that the movie fails to portray at all. His "third wife" Marina (Marinka). He spends the most time (day-to-day, routine) with this 'third' family. They have two children together, and, he's there for the raising of them for the most part.

Some of his friendships are stabler than his love life. Though to be honest, this isn't completely his fault! Like when he's compelled (kidnapped) into the army during the Revolution. He was forcibly separated from his family, from returning to his family. (Part of me does wonder, if he hadn't been on the road--returning from the town to his country farm, returning from seeing Lara-- would he have been kidnapped? Would they have sought him anywhere he happened to be, since they knew there was a doctor in the region?) After he escapes, and the escape isn't quick in happening, he learns that his family has been deported to France. He's not exactly able to join them, and, yet, one wonders once again...IF he could join them, if he was granted permission from the country and allowed to leave Russia, and if he had the money to do so...would he? Or would he choose to remain in Russia and start a new life with Lara.

The story and the drama are certainly complex enough. At times I felt the characters were complex as well. At other times, I thought they were a bit flat and idealistic. I never really felt like I could "understand" the characters--understand their thought processes, motivations, and such.

I'm not sure I "liked" any of the characters in the traditional sense. But at the same time, I felt the story compelling enough. Especially if you go into it not expecting a romance. Plenty of tragedy, I suppose, if you want to look at it like that.

I don't think Dr. Zhivago's life turned out like he planned or hoped or dreamed. His life was interrupted and disrupted by outside forces, perhaps. In some ways, Doctor Zhivago reminded me of Gone With The Wind.

I am glad I read it. Have you read it? What did you think?
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Review: Luckiest Girl Alive

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. Simon & Schuster. 2015. Library copy.

 
The Plot:Ani FaNelli has the perfect life: a great job at a magazine, a wonderful apartment in New York, just the right wardrobe, and a handsome, rich, old-money fiance. And she's 28 so it's all right on target.

Perfect. If you saw her, with the ring and the clothes and the haircut and her figure you'd see her and think.... perfect.

Maybe you'd be jealous. Maybe you'd hate her. Maybe you'd want to be her.

Anyone else may want to hide her past and where she came from, and so, OK, yes, her name used to be TifAni. And TifAni was suburban middle class but private school and just the right college have helped her become Ani. And Ani wants to show everyone just how perfect her life is, so she's agreed to appear in a documentary about what happened at her school when she was 14. Her fiance doesn't want her to do it, doesn't want her revisiting such terrible times, but she's going to show them all.

Show them with her perfection.

And if Ani can't sleep, so what? Who can tell? And if she's tired of pretending to be the perfect girl to show she's worthy of the perfect fiance, well. Everyone pretends, right? Everyone gets angry, right? No one wears their true face.

The Good: Ani's seething anger is revealed in the first pages. She is shopping for her wedding registry with Luke Harrison, her fiance (and wow, she cannot wait to ditch FaNelli and become a Harrison), and as they look at knives she fantasizes stabbing him.

Ani name drops right and left, to show she knows. She knows. And you don't. She knows the right shoes, the right slacks, the right bag, the right diet, the right way to pass the salt and pepper. She's dedicated her life to being the person who fits in with a certain class of people, Luke's class, and at first I was as annoyed as I get at 7th graders in middle grade fiction who only care about being popular. Why -- why does it matter so much?

Why is it so important, what other people think? Why can Ani only see value in herself based on how others see her? And it's not in an ingratiating way, because Ani also has an edge to her. An anger to her. So she uses her knowing the right thing to do as weapon against those who don't know. And Ani, of course, can figure out those who think they know -- until she shatters that belief by how she dresses and what she eats and what she does for fun.

And the chapters take us back to when Ani was 14, when she was one of those kids who wanted to be popular and liked. To have friends and a boyfriend. And Ani was at a new school, a private school with rich privileged kids who came from the right type of money. And if you haven't guessed, someone named TifAni FaNelli doesn't come from the right type of money.

Something happened, at that perfect school with those perfect kids. And it's terrible. And the aftermath is terrible. And you can see how that shapes the grown up Ani, why she became who she is.

And then, something even worse happens to teen TifAni. And that's the mystery, of course -- what happened to that teenager, and what she did. And how that made her who she is.

But as the reader realizes how the past shaped Ani, down to her anger, the question arises -- when will Ani figure it out? Just as she made herself perfect with her clothes and her hair, she figured out what Luke wanted and became that perfect girl. (And I don't feel sorry for Luke, because whenever Ani slips and shows her true self, Luke is horrified and tries to put her back into the box of perfect girlfriend.) And while the "big reveal" may have been those terrible things from her high school years, and part of the mystery is how that shaped the adult Ani, what I read for, eagerly, was for adult Ani to realize that what she had done to recover and heal was now damaging.

Basically, I waited for her to realize that "winning" isn't being married at 28 to Mr Wonderful -- especially when Mr Wonderful isn't.

Anyway. I LOVED this book, and definitely teen appeal. I'll put it down as a Favorite Read in 2016. And yes, it's a 2015 book so I'm sure many of you have already discovered it -- but I'm getting read for the Edgars Award later this month and this is a nominee so that explains why I didn't read it until now.






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

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25. Death in the Tunnel

Death in the Tunnel. Miles Burton. 1936/2016. Poisoned Pen Press. 232 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Though I may not have loved, loved, loved Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton, I did find it a thoroughly enjoyable read. The murder in this murder mystery happens early on--in the first few page. And this murder occurs on a train--in a train tunnel. Two men set about solving this mystery, Desmond Merrion (who has his own series, this is #13) and Inspector Arnold (from Scotland Yard). The victim is a businessman, Sir Wilfred Saxonby. The murder was made to look like a suicide--a gun with the victim's initials are found in his compartment. Nothing was stolen from his body, from his wallet. His compartment was locked. But there are several reasons why this suicide theory doesn't sit right with Merrion and Arnold. Can they sift through the dozens of clues to find the murderer? Can they agree upon a believable motive for the crime?

Death in the Tunnel is certainly not a character-driven novel. I would say that character development is kept to a bare minimum. But the abundance of clues and the way that they are shared with readers, keeps one reading to see who did it.

The novel was first published in 1936. It has recently been republished. I am glad to see more golden-age mystery novels being brought back into print. This is one of my favorite genres.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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