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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Adult Fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 631
1. Death on the Riviera

Death on the Riviera. John Bude. 1952/2016. Poisoned Pen Press. 250 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 
Did I enjoy reading John Bude's Death on the Riviera?! Yes! I might even go so far as to call it a gush-worthy read? Why? Purely because I found it hard to put down, and, just overall satisfying to read. Is it the best ever mystery novel? Probably not. But was it a joy to spend time with? Yes, very much.

Inspector Meredith (C.I.D) and Acting-Sergeant Freddy Strang head to Southern France in this mystery novel. They are teaming up with the local police to stop a gang of criminals from printing counterfeit money and introducing it into the currency. The prime suspect--the leader of the gang--is English. But though it is late in coming--very, very late in coming--this one is a murder mystery as well. So there are at least two 'big' stories going on in this delightful golden-age detective novel.

Why did I find it so delightful? Probably for me, the number one reason is the characters and characterization as shown off so well in the dialogue. I really, really enjoyed Freddy Strang's presence in this one. And his attempted romance was just cute and sweet in all the right ways. It was never the focus of the book, but, it was like the chocolate bits in a trail mix. I also enjoyed the setting and the plot and the solution.

The book was originally published in 1952, and it has been republished in 2016.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959/2005. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 323 pages. [Source: Bought]

I spent the whole year of 2015 meaning to read Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. So I decided that this year, it would be one of the very first books I read. I wasn't going to let another year pass before I sat down to reread this sci-fi classic.

Alas, Babylon was originally published in 1959. I think it is crucial to remember that fact as you're reading. The book is set during the Cold War, published during the Cold War, and asks the question: WHAT IF the Soviet Union uses nuclear warfare and attacks various cities and bases across the whole United States. Would there be survivors? How would people survive? What would they eat and drink? Not just in the initial weeks following the nuclear war, but, more long-term than that. How would they cope--how would they manage--without electricity, without batteries (once they ran out), without cars (once all the gas was gone), without new supplies arriving by truck or plane, etc. Would communities come together or be torn apart? How would people deal with one another, treat one another? Would lawlessness prevail? Would fear and anger and greed win the day? Or would people still look out for one another?

Alas, Babylon is not just a what-if story, however. It is a personal story, that I felt remained character-driven. It stars Randy Bragg and his family. His brother, Mark, sends Randy a warning in a telegram, "Alas, Babylon" their code for the end is coming, war is inevitable, be prepared. Randy prepares to receive his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew into his Florida home. The book is set in a small community in Florida, a community that is fortunate in some ways--many ways. Readers get a chance to know quite a few of the locals in addition to this one family. For example, the local librarian who finds herself most necessary to the community. The library COMES ALIVE after the attack, as people become desperate for information and news, for entertainment, etc.

I liked the practical aspects of Alas, Babylon. Unlike Life As We Knew It, I felt it handled the situation practically, logically. One of the big issues I had with Life As We Knew It, a book I love despite its flaws, was the fact that it got a few practical things wrong: for one, how people get water. It has the heroine's family getting well water through their pipes without an (electric) pump! Not the case with Alas, Babylon. If it has flaws, they didn't leap out at me.

Alas, Babylon is a thought-provoking novel. One I'd definitely recommend.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc. Mark Twain. 1895/1896. 452 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Mark Twain's Joan of Arc? Yes, very much. Though perhaps not quite as much as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. But that isn't exactly fair to try to compare the two really; they are very different from one another.

Joan of Arc is narrated by Sieur Louis de Conte in his old age, 82 in the year 1492. He is attempting to tell the behind-the-scenes story of Joan of Arc. This telling begins in their childhood. He grew up with her, and, remained close to her and witnessed (almost) all the "big" events. He was even witness to her trials and served as a secretary or note-taker, I believe.

Is the book a comedy? Far from it. (Though there is that one scene about if a stomach can help in the committing of a crime that is funny. And also some great Paladin scenes. He's one of the companions--soldiers--and he's a STORYTELLER if ever there was.) Though a few asides from "the translator" (aka Mark Twain) do pack a little something. The book is properly a tragic history.

Some of my favorite quotes:
It was not my opinion; I think there is no sense in forming an opinion when there is no evidence to form it on. If you build a person without any bones in him he may look fair enough to the eye, but he will be limber and cannot stand up; and I consider that evidence is the bones of an opinion. 
And it is my thought that if one keep to the things he knows, and not trouble about the things which he cannot be sure about, he will have the steadier mind for it--and there is profit in that.
Discretion hasn't anything to do with brains; brains are an obstruction to it, for it does not reason, it feels. Perfect discretion means absence of brains. Discretion is a quality of the heart--solely a quality of the heart; it acts upon us through feeling.
Well, well a good and wholesome thing is a little harmless fun in this world; it tones a body up and keeps him human and prevents him from souring. 
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Face of a Stranger

The Face of a Stranger. (William Monk #1) Anne Perry. 1990. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

The Face of a Stranger is a great little mystery, and a fine start to a series, a series that I now want to read more of!

The hero of The Face of a Stranger is William Monk. Readers are just as clueless as to who he is as he is himself. Monk wakes up from an accident with amnesia. He doesn't remember his name, his face, what he does, where he lives. He's clueless. He finds out from others that his name is William Monk and that he's a police detective. Within a few weeks of his release, he's back at work and back to detecting. Just as important to him as getting back to working on cases is solving the mystery of who he is, what kind of man he is. The clues are leading him to suspect that he hasn't been a very nice or kind man. That he's treated others--including his own sister--poorly. He's woken up with a conscience or a change of heart, you might say. His morals have been reset, if you will! He realizes that not many people--if any--actually like him. And that's hard to take, but, he does it well, for the most part. He is not willing to tell everyone that he's clueless, that he has no clue as to his own past. One thing is clear: he's good at noticing details, of finding clues, of putting together theories based on those clues. So along with his own private agenda of finding out WHO he is, he's on an official case with a partner (Evans, I believe). Somebody murdered Major Joscelin Grey. The murder coincidentally enough happened around the same time as his own accident that landed him in the hospital.

Can he solve the murder case? Will he allow pressure from others to influence him into making a quick arrest?

I enjoyed this one oh-so-much!!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Silent Nights

Silent Nights. Edited by Martin Edwards. 2015. Poisoned Pen Press. 298 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Love mystery and detective stories? Love British mystery and detective stories? Treat yourself to this collection of SHORT STORIES edited by Martin Edwards. Each mystery is set during the holidays. So many authors are included in this collection, you're almost sure to find your favorite author. But what I loved even more than finding "favorite authors" was finding new-to-me authors. Edwards introduces each story by providing readers with a little information about the author and the story included. Some of these stories are rare and almost forgotten. All are "vintage" or "classic" stories. I think the most recent being from the 1940s.

The book includes:
  • The Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
  • A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
  • The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton
  • Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
  • The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
  • The Absconding Treasurer by J. Jefferson Farjeon
  • The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The Case Is Altered by Margery Allingham
  • Waxworks by Ethel Lina White
  • Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen
  • The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing
  • A Problem in White by Nicholas Black
  • The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
  • Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce
Probably my favorite short story was Waxworks by Ethel Lina White. I also enjoyed Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen.

Short stories aren't my favorite thing to read. But I do love a good mystery. I thought this one was worth reading because it introduced me to some new-to-me authors. And it talked about what else they'd written--including novels. The book gives readers a taste of various authors and their detectives.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Mark Twain. 1889. 258 pages. [Source: Bought]

It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things: his candid simplicity, his marvelous familiarity with ancient armor, and the restfulness of his company—for he did all the talking.

Did I enjoy reading Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Yes!!!! Very, very much!

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a story within a story. The narrator meets a talkative stranger, the stranger begins to relate a strange-but-true story--so we're told--and finally, the stranger hands the narrator an old manuscript to finish the tale. Most of the book except for the beginning and ending frames, IS the manuscript written by the talkative stranger.

Here is how that manuscript begins:
I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the State of Connecticut--anyway, just over the river, in the country. So I am a Yankee of the Yankees--and practical; yes, and nearly barren of sentiment, I suppose--or poetry, in other words.
Readers learn that this Yankee was mysteriously transported BACK in time to the days of King Arthur's Court. This manuscript is his story of those events: the people he met, the dangers he faced, the near-misses and close-calls of his adventures, the friendships he formed, and the nearly successful, progressive experiments he conducted. For this time-traveler, THE BOSS, as he came to be called, had lofty goals once he realized where he was and the unique opportunity he had to shape or reshape society. These goals, for example, included introducing technology and establishing education for all.

The book is quite entertaining and at times very amusing!!! There is some action to be sure, but, it is a comedy through and through.

Some of my favorite quotes:
The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color.
The only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank place, for geology hadn't been invented yet. However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet.
Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs. In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit, and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. 
Spiritual wants and instincts are as various in the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it. 
There never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant. Now you would think that the first thing the king would do after listening to such a novelette from an entire stranger, would be to ask for credentials—yes, and a pointer or two as to locality of castle, best route to it, and so on. But nobody ever thought of so simple and common-sense a thing at that. No, everybody swallowed these people's lies whole, and never asked a question of any sort or about anything. Well, one day when I was not around, one of these people came along—it was a she one, this time—and told a tale of the usual pattern. Her mistress was a captive in a vast and gloomy castle, along with forty-four other young and beautiful girls, pretty much all of them princesses; they had been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six years; the masters of the castle were three stupendous brothers, each with four arms and one eye—the eye in the center of the forehead, and as big as a fruit. 
Would you believe it? The king and the whole Round Table were in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure. Every knight of the Table jumped for the chance, and begged for it; but to their vexation and chagrin the king conferred it upon me, who had not asked for it at all.
Indeed, I said I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as glad as a person is when he is scalped.
There, there, never mind, don't explain, I hate explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell anything about it.
But that is the way we are made: we don't reason, where we feel; we just feel.
Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectual, and should never have been attempted in the first place. 
You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. 
They are common defects of my own, and one mustn't criticise other people on grounds where he can't stand perpendicular himself. 
Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.
Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution, but in a modified way. His idea was a republic, without privileged orders, but with a hereditary royal family at the head of it instead of an elective chief magistrate. He believed that no nation that had ever known the joy of worshiping a royal family could ever be robbed of it and not fade away and die of melancholy. I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive; finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house, and "Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the grace of God King," would sound as well as it would when applied to the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. "And as a rule," said he, in his neat modern English, "the character of these cats would be considerably above the character of the average king, and this would be an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the reason that a nation always models its morals after its monarch's. The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers would presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill the vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we should become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within forty years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we should furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then, to end no more forever.... Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow—fzt!—wow!" Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was beginning to be persuaded by him, until he exploded that cat-howl and startled me almost out of my clothes. But he never could be in earnest. He didn't know what it was. He had pictured a distinct and perfectly rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional monarchy, but he was too feather-headed to know it, or care anything about it, either.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Doomsday Book (1992)

Doomsday Book. Connie Willis. 1992. Random House. 592 pages.  [Source: Book I Bought]

Mr. Dunworthy opened the door to the laboratory and his spectacles promptly steamed up.
"Am I too late?" he said, yanking them off and squinting at Mary.
"Shut the door," she said. "I can't hear you over the sound of those ghastly carols."
Dunworthy closed the door, but it didn't completely shut out the sound of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" wafting in from the quad. "Am I too late?" he said again.  

This is my fourth time to read and review Connie Willis' Dooms Day Book.  This not-so-little novel combines my love of historical fiction and my love of science fiction. It does so, of course, through time travel. Kivrin, the heroine, will be the first historian--first time traveler--sent to the fourteenth century. The century has just recently, and perhaps unadvisedly, been opened up to time travel. Kivrin will be traveling to a "safe" year: 1320. But Mr. Dunworthy fears that there is no such thing as a SAFE year within the fourteenth century. She's studied and prepped for this for years now, this is HER ONE BIG LIFE-DREAM. And certainly the worries of an "old professor" like Mr. Dunworthy won't stop her from going. But is Mr. Dunworthy right to worry?!

It is set--in the future and the past--during the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season. The book examines the role of faith and religion, at the very least during this season of the year. But, in particular, it addresses the question of God and suffering. I would never say it is a "religious" book, but, Kivrin, in particular is sent to a century where belief in God IS a matter of fact and the church had more power and influence. Christian readers should note that Mr. Dunworthy and Kivrin both misunderstand much of who God is and what the Christian faith is all about.

Doomsday Book might be "just right" for you if...

  • You enjoy science fiction, in particular time travel
  • You enjoy historical fiction
  • You enjoy medical mysteries
  • You enjoy compelling dramas
  • You enjoy character-driven novels 
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Meet Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Hill Top Farm. Susan Wittig Albert. 2004. 286 pages. [Source: Bought]

Did I enjoy reading Susan Wittig Albert's The Tale of Hill Top Farm? Yes. It is one of the reasons I decided to host the Edwardian Reading Challenge. (Not the only reason, mind you, but one reason.) What did I love about it? There were quite a few things that I actually really loved about it.

First, it's a cozy mystery.

Second, it's a cozy mystery set in England, at the turn of the century. It opens circa 1905.

Third, it stars Beatrix Potter, and, is very loosely based on her time in the country. (Not that I would ever mistake it for nonfiction. It is clearly fiction!)I like the rural village setting. I like the community focus. Plenty of quirky characters.

Fourth, it's a happy-cozy blend of human and animal narration. Readers meet animals of all sorts--big and small. Cats. Dogs. Sheep. Badgers. Guinea pigs. Mice. Rabbits.

The fifth reason? Do I really need a fifth reason to convince you to give it a try? Perhaps not, but I've got one anyway! I like multiple mysteries per book. Not every "mystery" is a murder mystery.

I would definitely recommend this book. I am looking forward to reading on in the series.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Let the Hurricane Roar (1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

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

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

And now, this invitation.

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

So she goes.

And things go terribly wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

And about a hen do gone terribly, horribly wrong.

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





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

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11. Review: Harlot

Harlotby Victoria Dahl. 2015. Reviewed from electronic ARC.

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

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

A whore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. Trust me. Read Harlot.

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




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

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12. Meet Veronica Walsh

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Notting Hill Mystery

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

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

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

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

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


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Review: Corset Diaries

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

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

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

What could possibly go wrong?

The Good: What could possibly go wrong?

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

But who can have fun in a corset?

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

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

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

Yes, please!




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

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15. Review: The Mistress Trilogy

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Angeline once again puts compassion and love first.

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

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







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

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16. Meet Inspector Rutledge

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. The Clone Army Attacketh

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Go Set A Watchman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another thing Scout is struggling with from beginning to end is SHOULD I GET MARRIED? DO I WANT TO GET MARRIED? DO I NEED TO GET MARRIED? WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO GET MARRIED? WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY FREEDOM? WHY WOULD I WANT TO GIVE MY FREEDOM UP BY GETTING MARRIED? IS MARRIAGE RIGHT FOR ME? HAVE I JUST NOT MET THE RIGHT ONE YET? OR IS THE RIGHT ONE RIGHT BESIDE ME HERE IN TOWN? (His name is Hank. He grew up with Scout and Jem.)

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Daughter of Time

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Grant on popular fiction authors:

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Book of Lost Tales, Part One

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. An Impartial Witness

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

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

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

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

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

Can Bess find the real murderer?!

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

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22. Meet Elizabeth Parker

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Wish You Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Review: The Girl on a Train


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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25. A Bitter Truth

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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