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Results 1 - 25 of 581
1. Her Royal Spyness (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Revisiting The Warden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Sleep in Peace Tonight (2014)

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

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

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

Overall, I liked it very much.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Hard Times (1854)

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Rachel Ray (1863)

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust (2015)

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

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

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

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

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7. Brave New World (1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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8. Station Eleven (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Revisiting Worthing Saga

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Revisiting To Dream in the City of Sorrows

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

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

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

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

Read To Dream in the City of Sorrows

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

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11. L.M Montgomery Short Stories 1905-1906

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

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

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

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

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12. Jezebel's Daughter

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

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

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

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

Can Jack Straw be rehabilitated and cured of his madness?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

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

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

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Meet Father Christmas

Twelve Drummers Drumming. Father Christmas Mystery #1. C.C. Benison. 2011. Doubleday. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Twelve Drummers Drumming is the first in the Father Christmas mystery series by C.C. Benison. Tom Christmas, the hero, is a vicar in the village of Thornford Regis. He's a widower with a nine year old daughter, Miranda. Both are still healing and adapting. Tom's wife was murdered. So why settle in Thornford? Tom and his daughter were visiting his sister-in-law and her husband about a year before the novel opens. There was a funeral in the village that day, but, the vicar was missing. Tom Christmas (Father Christmas as people can't help calling him!) stepped in and performed the funeral service. When the position became available, Tom wanted the job for keeps. But village or hamlet life isn't all cozy. There are a few mysteries to be solved. And since Inspector Bliss and Inspector Blessing aren't quick to solve cases, Tom's skills come in handy. Tom is good at observing things, and, it helps that people can't seem to help confiding in him and telling their secrets.

So there are two murders to solve in Twelve Drummers Drumming. I won't say a word about the crimes and the clues. I hate having mysteries spoiled! Just as important as the clues, if not MORE important than the clues are the characters. That I can safely comment on! I really enjoyed the depth of the characters!

Overall, I would say that Twelve Drummers Drumming is an entertaining and satisfying read. I enjoyed spending time with the characters. I would recommend it!

Eleven Piper Piping. Father Christmas Mystery #2. C.C. Benison. 2012. Delacorte. 474 pages. [Source: Library]

I think I enjoyed the second Father Christmas mystery even more than the first. Tom Christmas is the vicar of Thornford Regis. He is also the chaplain to a traditional Scottish pipe band, The Thistle But Mostly Rose South Devon Pipe Band. While Tom's daughter, Miranda, is having a sleepover, and his housekeeper, Madrun, is panicking about a failed yorkshire pudding, Tom Christmas is off--for better or worse--to the Burns Supper. But the weekend is problematic. The horrible weather--the blizzard-like conditions--means that half the band is unable to come, which leaves us with ELEVEN pipers piping. But while half the band is unable to make it through the storm, there is one unexpected guest that shows up at the local hotel where the Burns supper is being held. That guest is Judith Ingley, a retired nurse. Though usually women aren't allowed to attend, they don't turn her away in the storm.

Eleven Pipers Piping IS a murder mystery. So I won't share any details about the crime(s) or victim(s). I will say that the reader gets to spend plenty of time with Father Christmas as he interacts with the whole village before, during, and after the crime. I really enjoyed the setting very much. The characterization didn't disappoint.

Ten Lords A-Leaping. Father Christmas #3. C.C. Benison. 2013. Delacorte. 512 pages. [Source: Library]

I wish I could give a rating for the first half and a rating for the second half.

Ten Lords A-Leaping is the third book in the Father Christmas series. In Eleven Pipers Piping, Father Christmas brings up a fund raiser idea to help pay for repairs on the church building. It involves sky diving. Ten Lords A-Leaping sees the event through. It is NOT set in Thornford Regis, unfortunately. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been.

So. The novel opens with the sky diving. In his jump, Tom has a little accident in the landing with his ankle, an accident that changes his plans and prolongs his visit in that part of the country. He is asked to stay over at Eggescombe Park. First, he's stuck there because of his own injury, then, he's stuck there because of a murder.

I really found myself hating the first half of the book. The series has never been squeaky clean, previous titles in the series have had a few words now and then that keep it from being perfectly clean. Still, it wasn't enough to keep me from reading, from wanting to read on in the series. But Ten Lords A-Leaping turns smutty. And smut in a creepy, inappropriate way. To the book's credit, Tom ends up feeling disgusted by the end of the novel with his own experience. But still.

Even though I really disliked much of the beginning and middle, I kept reading. And the mystery aspects of the novel began to grow on me a bit. I can't say that I "liked" it better than the first two in the series. I can't even say that I "liked" the majority of the characters. There were plenty of despicable characters. I'd say there were more despicable characters than nice ones. But. That is part of the genre, I suppose.

I enjoyed this one enough by the end, but, honestly I was a bit disappointed with this one.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. The Case of the Postponed Murder

The Case of the Postponed Murder. Erle Stanley Gardner. 1973. 152 pages. [Source: Bought]

I enjoyed reading The Case of the Postponed Murder. Is it the best mystery ever? OF course not. I wouldn't even say it is the best Perry Mason mystery that I've ever read. But is it worth the quick time it takes? I think so. If you love the characters Perry Mason, Paul Drake, and Della Street, then you'll most likely enjoy reading this one enough.

The mystery begins with a woman visiting Mason's office. The would-be-client is concerned about her sister whom she claims is missing. Mason doesn't trust the woman, he thinks she's lying, or telling half-truths at least. He does direct her to hire Paul Drake as a private detective. Mason's hunch is that the sister story is flawed. His best guest is that "Sylvia Farr" the oh-so-concerned sister is in fact Mae Farr the so-called missing sister. His suspicions are confirmed a few days later, but, by then he's too involved in the case. It starts out a forgery case, an alleged check-forgery case. But, of course, you may have guessed it, ends in a murder case. (Though this one doesn't have a very satisfying murder-trial element to it.) The book is predictable enough, but, I don't have a problem with predictable and Perry Mason.

The book does feel a bit dated, even for 1973. The client, Mae Farr, is determined to be independent and strong-willed. She wants to make her way through life on her own, earn her own money, pay her own way, take care of her own problems. Yet, by the conclusion, she's decided that maybe she was wrong to think she could do it all on her own in the big city, that it would be best for her to marry the rancher who's spent years of his life loving her from afar. You definitely get the sense that she's been tamed. I guess my concern with that is that she's spent the entire book saying that she didn't love him at all, that she didn't care for him, that she'd never be happy with him, that she had no desire at all to get married and settle down. And then, within two pages a complete change of heart.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Reread #52 Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847.  300 pages. [Source: Own]

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Can a plain, orphan governess find true love and a happily ever after? Yes, if she's willing to speak her own mind, stay true to herself, and fight for the one she loves. Jane's journey to her happily ever after certainly wasn't easy or typical. 

I have many, many posts about Jane Eyre. But surprisingly, only two book reviews! I first reviewed it--for the blog--in September 2008. My second review is from December 2011. In 2012, I reviewed ten film adaptations of Jane Eyre. Each film got its own review, but I then wrote up a post analyzing them all.

It had been a few years since I'd last read Jane Eyre. After watching it so many times, I needed to take a break. But I knew that I would want to include the book in my year of rereading. It is just wonderful to revisit Jane Eyre again and again and again.

Do you love Jane Eyre too? Do you have a favorite scene? a least favorite scene? What is your favorite adaptation? What scenes do you find essential in an adaptation?

Some of my favorite quotes:
He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy. “You examine me, Miss Eyre,” said he: “do you think me handsome?” I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—“No, sir.” “Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you,” said he: “you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?” “Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort.” “You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?” “Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder.” “Just so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?” He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen. “Now, ma’am, am I a fool?” “Far from it, sir. You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a philanthropist?”
“You looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.” With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face; his unusual breadth of chest, disproportionate almost to his length of limb. I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that, in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference, and, even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence. “I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night,” he repeated, “and that is why I sent for you: the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk. Adèle is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first evening I invited you down here. I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but to-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you out—to learn more of you—therefore speak.” Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either. “Speak,” he urged. “What about, sir?” “Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.” Accordingly I sat and said nothing: “If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,” I thought. “You are dumb, Miss Eyre.” I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes. “Stubborn?” he said, “and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is” (correcting himself), “I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and a century’s advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j’y tiens, as Adèle would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point—cankering as a rusty nail.” He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so. “I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir—quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.”  
Besides, I know what sort of a mind I have placed in communication with my own: I know it is one not liable to take infection: it is a peculiar mind: it is a unique one. Happily I do not mean to harm it: but, if I did, it would not take harm from me. The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me.”
The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint: the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred: my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength. And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it. Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I could not sleep for thinking of his look when he paused in the avenue, and told how his destiny had risen up before him, and dared him to be happy at Thornfield. 
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
“He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is—I feel akin to him—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands? Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively round him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree. Julie Salamon. 1996. Random House. 118 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Christmas Tree is technically a reread for me, although I haven't reviewed it on my blog. I picked this one up because I remembered enjoying the movie adaptation of it. It didn't disappoint. What I like best about this feel-good Christmas story are the flashbacks.

The chief gardener for Rockefeller Center narrates Julie Salamon's The Christmas Tree. In his own words, this gardener tells of his search, his on-going, never-ending search for THE tree. If he's not looking for this year's tree, his mind is already on finding NEXT year's tree. The book is about one special tree in particular, one that led to an ongoing friendship.

One day the narrator spots THE tree from a helicopter. He learns it's on the property of a convent. He goes. He talks. He asks. He meets Sister Anthony THE nun who will decide if he can have the tree or not. They have more in common than he was expecting certainly. But. She's not ready or willing to part with the tree called, TREE.

Sister Anthony is a storyteller. She is. And the narrator turns out to be a good listener. Over several years at least, he keeps coming back to see her, to visit with her and hear her stories. He has things to share as well. Through these sections, readers learn of Anna.

In the flashbacks, readers meet a young orphan named Anna who eventually came to be raised at the convent. Her story is very personal, and it reveals her affection, her connection to nature. The young girl as you've probably guessed IS Sister Anthony herself.

I loved Anna. I did. Her part in the story is what made it work for me. It was her connection with the tree--in the past and present--that kept me reading.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Lark Rise to Candleford (1943)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson. 1943. 537 pages. [Source: Bought]

Did I enjoy reading Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford? Yes. Did I enjoy all three books equally? Probably not. Did I enjoy any one book as much as I loved the TV adaptation? Probably not. Lark Rise to Candleford is an omnibus edition of a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.

The first book in the series is Lark Rise. What I liked about Lark Rise was the fact that it had a cozy yet realistic feel to it. The chapters capture what life was like in a specific time and place, a particular part of the country in the 1880s. Rural vignettes. The book is rich in detail and description. Nothing happens but description. A sampling of chapter titles: "A Hamlet Childhood," "Men Afield," "At the 'Wagon and Horses'," "Callers," "Country Playtime," "School," "May Day," "To Church on Sunday."

The second book in the series is Over to Candleford. This book is definitely more personal in nature. For the most part, it focuses on one young girl, Laura. Readers see Laura at home, at school, at play, at church, visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. It is still rich in description and detail. Even though it is a more personal look at life in the country in the 1880s and 90s, it is still heavier on the descriptions than the action. This isn't a book that focuses on stories and storytelling. The book ends with a young Laura--perhaps twelve or thirteen--getting an apprentice job in Candleford Green with the postmistress Miss Dorcas Lane.

The third book in the series is Candleford Green. The book opens with Laura leaving home. She's excited and timid. The book will see her established in this new life. She'll be meeting new people, living in a new place, experiencing new things, growing up into a young woman. I was disappointed with this book. I haven't decided if I'm disappointed because it lacks characterization and plot in general OR if I'm disappointed because it lacks the characterization and plot that the television adaptation brought to it. The book's strength is in description and vignettes. The book's weakness is that there are not really any connecting stories or plot sequences. People are mentioned by name, perhaps, but in a very superficial just a few paragraphs way. The characters lack depth. A sentence or two here and there does not make good characterization. If the heroine, Laura, was fully developed and the chapters worked as a personal narrative capturing her experiences, thoughts, and struggles, then I think it might have worked better for me. But there was no person to connect to, no connecting-story to follow. It was just one description after another. There were passages I enjoyed reading. Laura does like to read! But nothing about it that made me LOVE it. I liked it well enough.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Is He Popenjoy? (1878)

Is He Popenjoy? Anthony Trollope. 1878/1993. Penguin. 632 pages. [Source: Bought]

Like so many of Anthony Trollope's novels, Is He Popenjoy? is a novel essentially about marriage and relationships. Just because it's about marriage and relationships doesn't mean it is about love and romance and happily ever after.

Lord George and Mary Germain are newly married. Mary Lovelace was not exactly his first choice for a bride. (His first choice was in fact a woman named Adelaide. She too is recently married. She is Mrs. Houghton now.) The two are in the getting-to-know each other stage. Yes, they are married. But they weren't madly in love with each other before they married. Only time will tell if they will fall in love with each other afterwards. She is thoughtfully examining herself for signs of love, and she's looking closely at her husband as well. Do I love him yet? How about now?

The couple lives with his family, with his mother, with two of his older sisters. George is content with the arrangement. After all, most of the adjustment falls to Mary as it now stands. Mary is the one who has to come into a house with three older, opinionated, slightly critical women. Mary is the one under examination, under trial, not George.

But. One of the conditions for marrying Mary was arranged by her father. George must be willing to get a house in London and they must reside there several months each year. This puts George very much out of his comfort zone. It thrills Mary, of course, as her father knew it would. In London, Mary has the freedom to relax and be herself.

Complications. Mary is introduced to Adelaide Houghton's cousin, Jack de Baron. Adelaide is hoping that Jack will flirt with Mary. That Mary will flirt right back. Mary and Jack do become friends, good friends. But it is friendship, nothing more, nothing less. Adelaide. What can I really say about her?! She infuriated me. She throws herself at Lord George time and time and time and time again. She is desperately in love with him now and not a bit discreet about it. She must tell him explicitly how much she NEEDS him and how he was always, always the one she wanted most of all. It's a pitiful sight when all is said and done. George. Well. George listens again and again and again and again. He's always open to hearing her declarations. Even if he's embarrassed and ashamed afterwards. As he walks away from and her and heads back to his wife, he's left feeling icky. Yet. For some reason, he sees it as his job as a gentlemen to remain friends with Mrs. Houghton, that he is being kind when he visits her at her request. He doesn't want to be RUDE to her after all.

More complications. George's family is completely dysfunctional. His older brother is a twisted mess. He's got no manners, no heart, no conscience. He's spent almost all his adult life living abroad in Italy. After learning of his younger brother's marriage, he writes to let his family know that they have to leave HIS house, and that under no terms are they to remain in the neighborhood or community because he doesn't want to see them. He has decided to come back. He is bringing a wife. A wife and a son, an heir. Never mind that he never communicated to his family or his lawyers that he married or had a son. True, he is the heir and the house is technically his to do with as he sees fit. But who throws their own family out without at least making some assistance towards finding them another place? The family manage to stay in the neighborhood against his wishes. And their brief encounters together are super awkward and humiliating. He wants nothing to do with anybody. Not his family. Not his former friends. Not his neighbors. Not the clergy in the area. NO person is welcome in his house. Mary's father advocates that something is obviously wrong here. Perhaps his brother has some secrets he wants to keep hidden. Perhaps his brother's son is not legitimate? Perhaps his wife is not really his wife?

Taking sides. Relationships get ugly and messy and twisted in this one. Accusations for just about everything abound. Ultimatums are given. All relationships will be tested. Can love bloom between two stressed individuals in these horrible conditions?

I didn't love this one. I didn't hate it, mind you. I didn't even dislike it exactly. It's just that there were more characters that I hated than characters that I liked in this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Where There's A Will (1940)

Where There's A Will. Rex Stout. (Nero Wolfe #8) 1940. Bantam. 258 pages. [Source: Bought]

I always begin Nero Wolfe mysteries wanting to love them. I do love, love, love Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. And I have certainly loved plenty of them in the past. Some more than others, of course. But at the very least, the mysteries generally serve as entertainment or distraction. Where There's A Will is not one of my favorites.

Wolfe and Goodwin are in need of clients, wealthy clients preferably. That isn't exactly unexpected. They almost always are in need of clients according to Goodwin. The book opens with the two meeting a family--dysfunctional family, don't you know?! This high-status family is in mourning. Three sisters (and their lawyers) come to Wolfe upset about their brother's will. Each had been under the assumption that they'd be left a million dollars each. They'd been left nothing, or almost nothing. They were disappointed, perhaps a bit ashamed at how angry they were. But the very fact that their brother's mistress received so very, very much is infuriating. Especially since he was married. The widow is outraged. Will Nero Wolfe go about trying to persuade this mistress woman to share the inheritance? Before that case gets a proper chance to be taken up, there comes a great shock. The brother's death was no accident. Someone murdered him. Now someone else in the family comes to Wolfe and begs him to take the case and solve the murder.

Can Wolfe solve the murder? Will Goodwin reach the same conclusion as Wolfe--in the same amount of time?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Reread #48 A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]

MARLEY WAS DEAD, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

 I have watched A Christmas Carol more times than I've read it, and I've read it two or three times at least. The story is oh-so-familiar; the phrasing is oh-so-familiar. It's a book that has an old-friend feel even if you haven't read it dozens of times. There are scenes and descriptions that just feel incredibly right and familiar. For example,
Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
and
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?” “I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug!”
“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” “Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.” “Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!” “There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Other details, I've found, are less memorable perhaps.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?” “It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.” From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. “O Man! look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. “Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more. “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the City. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” The bell struck Twelve.
I don't recall thinking much of the two children Ignorance and Want, of thinking about what message Dickens was sending. But when I was reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Standiford stressed their significance. (Standiford called A Christmas Carol, "a bald-faced parable that underscores Dickens's enduring themes: the deleterious effects of ignorance and want.") Why had I not noticed them before? I can only suppose that I've been rushing through the text looking for what was familiar and beloved, not really considering the book as a whole.

I like A Christmas Carol. I don't love, love, love it. I have found it to be a Christ-less Christmas story. A book that doesn't really focus on the Savior--newborn babe or risen Savior--so much as it focuses on humanity improving and changing and saving themselves. The message to Scrooge isn't, you're a bad man; you need a Savior; consider your eternal soul. The message is whether that even Scrooge, as horrible as he was, can change; he can change the way he lives; he can become a good man, a great man. He can avoid after-life horrors by changing his behavior. That isn't a Christian message.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Where The Heart Is (1995)

Where The Heart Is. Billie Letts. 1995. 376 pages. [Source: Bought]

The novel opens circa 1985. Novalee Nation, the heroine, is seven months pregnant. She is with her boyfriend, and they're both heading west. He's a man without integrity, to say the least. He does reluctantly give her a ten dollar bill so she can go buy some shoes when her own shoes are lost through the hole in the floor of his car. But he expects a good bit of change back. Or does he? Was he planning to abandon her at the Walmart all along? Or did he just get tired of waiting? Does it matter? The truth is that Novalee Nation is left at a Walmart in a small town in Oklahoma with only $7.77. She has no family to call, no friends either. So Novalee settles down in Walmart for the rest of her pregnancy, hiding when need be, so no one knows that she is living there. She ventures out during the day and meets people, meets the librarian, for example. By the end of her pregnancy, she's made a few friends. Now these new friends of hers don't know the truth exactly. But they're not the type of people who would care overly much about the truth. Novalee happens to find herself among the least judgmental folks she's ever met. The book spans seven years worth of drama. If the book has a theme it is one of 'home' and 'belonging' and 'family.'

Where the Heart Is was not a good match for me. I wanted a different book, perhaps. A book that kept the "down-to-earth" quirky characters perhaps, but, lost much of the smut. It isn't that Where the Heart Is is your traditional smutty romance--it isn't, far from it. But I thought there were certainly plenty of details that were tasteless. Why did readers need to follow Willy Jack's story at all???? Every chapter that focused on Willy Jack seemed tasteless and pointless. Why do we need to know about his time in prison? If the story had centered exclusively on Novalee Nation, would I have liked it a bit more? I think I would have. At least I wouldn't have hated it. Eliminating Willy Jack wouldn't have solved all the problems, one scene that was too much to take, and rightly so, was the child rape. The scene had every right to be disturbing. It was a horrible awful situation. Still. The details were too much. The profanity--the blasphemy--was also too much. 


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Jane Austen's First Love

Jane Austen's First Love. Syrie James. 2014. Berkley Trade. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

  I enjoyed reading Jane Austen's First Love. I admit I had my doubts at the beginning. On the one hand, after being so disappointed in Becoming Jane, I was hesitant to read anything giving Jane Austen a romance of her own. Also I wasn't wowed by The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. On the other hand, several people I respect really did love Jane Austen's First Love. While I can't say that I loved, loved, LOVED Jane Austen's First Love, I did really enjoy it. More than I thought I would at any rate.

1791. Summer of 1791. Jane and Cassandra travel to meet their brother Edward's fiancee, Elizabeth Bridges, and her family. (Several other family members go as well. The mother, but, not the father. Another brother, Charles, I believe. But the focus is mostly on Jane and Cassandra). Jane is just fifteen, she's not "out" yet. Her sister is a year or two older and is. Part of what makes this trip special, is that Jane is to be allowed certain privileges. She'll be allowed to go to dances and balls. She'll be allowed to powder her hair, etc. Most--if not all--the events will be family and friends. (Bringing together multiple families. Several of the Bridges' sisters are engaged to be married. All the engagements are being celebrated. There will be plenty of people there.)

On their trip, they happen to meet--quite dramatically--a young man named Edward Taylor. (He happens to be a neighbor, I believe.) Jane becomes smitten with him. He enjoys being with her, but, there aren't any OBVIOUS signs that he's madly, deeply in forever-and-ever-love with her. She may hope that he is "the one." But he is sixteen and not anywhere close to proposing marriage to anyone, no matter how lively, witty, charming, talented, beautiful, etc. Does Jane hope he is the one? The fictional, Jane, I mean? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Without a doubt, Jane enjoys herself tremendously, and finds time with him thrilling.

Strawberry picking. Dances. Dinners. Walks. Riding horses. Play acting. Matchmaking. Such is the stuff of Jane Austen's First Love.

One of the main plots surrounds the Bridges' sisters: Fanny, Elizabeth, and Sophia. They are all older than Jane. They are all of the courting age. Elizabeth and Fanny are engaged. Sophia is close to an engagement as well. Jane is watching; watching carefully, closely, analyzing and taking notes. Jane's observations lead her to believe that the sisters are mismatched! Readers meet a young Jane, an opinionated Jane, who is enjoying the idea of love, of falling in love, of finding love. What does she know of LOVE? What does she know of what makes two people compatible? It's interesting!

I also enjoyed how readers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Jane writing The Three Sisters. I would say that readers should take the time to read this little story on their own before, during, or after the novel.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Reread #50 Les Miserables

Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood. 1862/1887. 1232 pages.
This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite. Man is the second.
I have now read Les Miserables three times. This will be my second review of Les Miserables on my blog. My first review was in April 2013. I love Les Miserables. I do. I think I love it more each time I read it. The book has depth. The story it tells is memorable and emotional. It is a book you EXPERIENCE. I love so many things about it: the depth and quality of the writing, the characterization, the narration, the themes.

There are many words that could be used to describe Les Miserables: compelling, political, spiritual, philosophical, dramatic, romantic. It is just as concerned about politics and social justice as it is romance and family. It touches on the subjects of education, crime, poverty, and injustice. It's a novel where ideas matter just as much as characters.

It's also a novel heavy on details. When it's good, it's REALLY good. But at times some of the details are too taste-specific. In other words, some of the details weigh the story down. At times Les Miserables is boring. It's worth reading. It is. It's worth pushing through to the end. It's okay to skim certain sections, in my opinion, because it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences overall. Not that I LOVE the ending, though I think I may have made peace with it this time around.

Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, Mabeuf, Monsieur Gillenormand, and Gavroche--just to name a few.  I don't know if I can say I have a favorite. I know which characters I don't like. But I really just like all of them--no matter their strengths and weaknesses.

Do you have a favorite character? a favorite scene?

One of my favorite scenes is early in the novel when Jean Valjean meets Bishop Myriel (Bienvenu). He is an ex-convict who has just been released. He's seeking a place to stay for the night. It is not going well.
"I have knocked at all doors."
"Well?"
"I have been driven away everywhere."
The "good woman" touched the man's arm, and pointed out to him on the other side of the street a small, low house, which stood beside the Bishop's palace.
"You have knocked at all doors?"
"Yes."
"Have you knocked at that one?"
"No."
"Knock there."
It opened wide with a rapid movement, as though some one had given it an energetic and resolute push.
A man entered.
We already know the man. It was the wayfarer whom we have seen wandering about in search of shelter.
He entered, advanced a step, and halted, leaving the door open behind him. He had his knapsack on his shoulders, his cudgel in his hand, a rough, audacious, weary, and violent expression in his eyes. The fire on the hearth lighted him up. He was hideous. It was a sinister apparition.
Madame Magloire had not even the strength to utter a cry. She trembled, and stood with her mouth wide open.
Mademoiselle Baptistine turned round, beheld the man entering, and half started up in terror; then, turning her head by degrees towards the fireplace again, she began to observe her brother, and her face became once more profoundly calm and serene.
The Bishop fixed a tranquil eye on the man.
As he opened his mouth, doubtless to ask the new-comer what he desired, the man rested both hands on his staff, directed his gaze at the old man and the two women, and without waiting for the Bishop to speak, he said, in a loud voice:—
"See here. My name is Jean Valjean. I am a convict from the galleys. I have passed nineteen years in the galleys. I was liberated four days ago, and am on my way to Pontarlier, which is my destination. I have been walking for four days since I left Toulon. I have travelled a dozen leagues to-day on foot. This evening, when I arrived in these parts, I went to an inn, and they turned me out, because of my yellow passport, which I had shown at the town-hall. I had to do it. I went to an inn. They said to me, 'Be off,' at both places. No one would take me. I went to the prison; the jailer would not admit me. I went into a dog's kennel; the dog bit me and chased me off, as though he had been a man. One would have said that he knew who I was. I went into the fields, intending to sleep in the open air, beneath the stars. There were no stars. I thought it was going to rain, and I re-entered the town, to seek the recess of a doorway. Yonder, in the square, I meant to sleep on a stone bench. A good woman pointed out your house to me, and said to me, 'Knock there!' I have knocked. What is this place? Do you keep an inn? I have money—savings. One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous, which I earned in the galleys by my labor, in the course of nineteen years. I will pay. What is that to me? I have money. I am very weary; twelve leagues on foot; I am very hungry. Are you willing that I should remain?"
"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will set another place."
The man advanced three paces, and approached the lamp which was on the table. "Stop," he resumed, as though he had not quite understood; "that's not it. Did you hear? I am a galley-slave; a convict. I come from the galleys." He drew from his pocket a large sheet of yellow paper, which he unfolded. "Here's my passport. Yellow, as you see. This serves to expel me from every place where I go. Will you read it? I know how to read. I learned in the galleys. There is a school there for those who choose to learn. Hold, this is what they put on this passport: 'Jean Valjean, discharged convict, native of'—that is nothing to you—'has been nineteen years in the galleys: five years for house-breaking and burglary; fourteen years for having attempted to escape on four occasions. He is a very dangerous man.' There! Every one has cast me out. Are you willing to receive me? Is this an inn? Will you give me something to eat and a bed? Have you a stable?"
"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will put white sheets on the bed in the alcove." We have already explained the character of the two women's obedience.
Madame Magloire retired to execute these orders.
The Bishop turned to the man.
"Sit down, sir, and warm yourself. We are going to sup in a few moments, and your bed will be prepared while you are supping."
At this point the man suddenly comprehended. The expression of his face, up to that time sombre and harsh, bore the imprint of stupefaction, of doubt, of joy, and became extraordinary. He began stammering like a crazy man:—
"Really? What! You will keep me? You do not drive me forth? A convict! You call me sir! You do not address me as thou? 'Get out of here, you dog!' is what people always say to me. I felt sure that you would expel me, so I told you at once who I am. Oh, what a good woman that was who directed me hither! I am going to sup! A bed with a mattress and sheets, like the rest of the world! a bed! It is nineteen years since I have slept in a bed! You actually do not want me to go! You are good people. Besides, I have money. I will pay well. Pardon me, monsieur the inn-keeper, but what is your name? I will pay anything you ask. You are a fine man. You are an inn-keeper, are you not?"
"I am," replied the Bishop, "a priest who lives here."
"A priest!" said the man. "Oh, what a fine priest! Then you are not going to demand any money of me? You are the cure, are you not? the cure of this big church? Well! I am a fool, truly! I had not perceived your skull-cap."
As he spoke, he deposited his knapsack and his cudgel in a corner, replaced his passport in his pocket, and seated himself. Mademoiselle Baptistine gazed mildly at him. He continued:
"You are humane, Monsieur le Curé; you have not scorned me. A good priest is a very good thing. Then you do not require me to pay?"
"No," said the Bishop; "keep your money. How much have you? Did you not tell me one hundred and nine francs?"
"And fifteen sous," added the man.
"One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous. And how long did it take you to earn that?"
"Nineteen years."
"Nineteen years!"
The Bishop sighed deeply.
The man continued: "I have still the whole of my money. In four days I have spent only twenty-five sous, which I earned by helping unload some wagons at Grasse. Since you are an abbe, I will tell you that we had a chaplain in the galleys. And one day I saw a bishop there. Monseigneur is what they call him. He was the Bishop of Majore at Marseilles. He is the cure who rules over the other cures, you understand. Pardon me, I say that very badly; but it is such a far-off thing to me! You understand what we are! He said mass in the middle of the galleys, on an altar. He had a pointed thing, made of gold, on his head; it glittered in the bright light of midday. We were all ranged in lines on the three sides, with cannons with lighted matches facing us. We could not see very well. He spoke; but he was too far off, and we did not hear. That is what a bishop is like."
While he was speaking, the Bishop had gone and shut the door, which had remained wide open.
Madame Magloire returned. She brought a silver fork and spoon, which she placed on the table.
"Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "place those things as near the fire as possible." And turning to his guest: "The night wind is harsh on the Alps. You must be cold, sir."
Each time that he uttered the word sir, in his voice which was so gently grave and polished, the man's face lighted up. Monsieur to a convict is like a glass of water to one of the shipwrecked of the Medusa. Ignominy thirsts for consideration.
"This lamp gives a very bad light," said the Bishop.
Madame Magloire understood him, and went to get the two silver candlesticks from the chimney-piece in Monseigneur's bed-chamber, and placed them, lighted, on the table.
"Monsieur le Curé," said the man, "you are good; you do not despise me. You receive me into your house. You light your candles for me. Yet I have not concealed from you whence I come and that I am an unfortunate man."
The Bishop, who was sitting close to him, gently touched his hand. "You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which I knew."
The man opened his eyes in astonishment.
"Really? You knew what I was called?"
"Yes," replied the Bishop, "you are called my brother."
"Stop, Monsieur le Curé," exclaimed the man. "I was very hungry when I entered here; but you are so good, that I no longer know what has happened to me."
The Bishop looked at him, and said,—
"You have suffered much?"
"Oh, the red coat, the ball on the ankle, a plank to sleep on, heat, cold, toil, the convicts, the thrashings, the double chain for nothing, the cell for one word; even sick and in bed, still the chain! Dogs, dogs are happier! Nineteen years! I am forty-six. Now there is the yellow passport. That is what it is like."
"Yes," resumed the Bishop, "you have come from a very sad place. Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tear-bathed face of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men. If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of good-will and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us."
This meeting will change his life. The impact of the Bishop on Jean Valjean is huge. And this scene is just the beginning.

In writing this review, I discovered two books releasing in 2015, that I really, really WANT to review--NEED to review. Both are February releases. Candlewick Press is releasing Marcia Williams' retelling of Les Miserables.  Penguin is releasing a NEW translation of Les Miserables by Christine Donougher.

I could not possibly share every quote I loved from the book. There are hundreds. But I will share some with you.

Favorite quotes:

True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God." 
Teach those who are ignorant as many things as possible; society is culpable, in that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is responsible for the night which it produces. This soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed. The guilty one is not the person who has committed the sin, but the person who has created the shadow.
The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one's own sake—let us say rather, loved in spite of one's self.
To make the poem of the human conscience, were it only with reference to a single man, were it only in connection with the basest of men, would be to blend all epics into one superior and definitive epic.
Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him, that, after having descended into these depths, after having long groped among the darkest of these shadows, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he now held it in his hand, and he was dazzled as he gazed upon it. 
If you wish to gain an idea of what revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to acquire an idea of the nature of progress, call it To-morrow. To-morrow fulfils its work irresistibly, and it is already fulfilling it to-day. It always reaches its goal strangely.
Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread.
Peace is happiness digesting.
The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste.
True history being a mixture of all things, the true historian mingles in everything.
Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness.
A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.
Civil war—what does that mean? Is there a foreign war? Is not all war between men, war between brothers? War is qualified only by its object. There is no such thing as foreign or civil war; there is only just and unjust war.
The right to the alphabet, that is where the beginning must be made. The primary school imposed on all, the secondary school offered to all, that is the law. From an identical school, an identical society will spring. Yes, instruction! light! light! everything comes from light, and to it everything returns. Citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy.
Everything can be parodied, even parody.
He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. A Quilt for Christmas (2014)

A Quilt for Christmas. Sandra Dallas. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

For readers who love to read about quilters or quilts, this one may prove satisfying. Also, this one would be a good match for those who like to read about the Civil War. This one is set in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War. I liked Sandra Dallas' A Quilt for Christmas even though I don't consider myself fitting into the ideal audience. (I don't particularly seek out books about quilts. I don't seek out historical fiction set during the Civil War.)

Eliza Spooner is the heroine. She loves, loves, loves to quilt. She loves to get together with other women in the community. The war has had an effect on the community. Many husbands (and brothers, fathers, sons, etc.) are gone, away fighting for one side or the other. Eliza's husband, Will, is fighting for the Union. The novel opens with Eliza finishing a quilt she's made for her husband. She'll be sending the quilt along with a soldier who is returning to her husband's unit from leave. Her love for her husband is obvious, and, not just because she's spent all this time making a quilt. There are dozens of flashbacks. These flashbacks give readers a chance to get to know the couple. However, I must admit that these flashbacks are confusing at times. They are not really set apart in the text, and the transition from present-day to the past can be sloppy at times.

Readers meet Eliza and her son and daughter. Readers meet men and women of the small community as well. Mainly, readers get to know Missouri Ann and her daughter. When Missouri Ann's husband dies, she takes the opportunity to flee from her abusive in-laws. Eliza opens her home to the pair, and this isn't without some risk. Missouri Ann's in-laws are probably without a doubt the meanest and cruelest in the county--if not the state. But not everyone in the community is as immediately open to including Missouri Ann in their group. Her in-laws have tainted her, a bit, no one wants to get close to someone who would marry into that family.

At one point, at a quilting party of sorts, the discussion of slavery and runaway slaves comes up. Opinions are mixed. Prejudices are voiced. Even though most of the women are for the Union--for the Yankees--most if not all have very strong views about blacks.

Eliza's own views will be tested when she's asked to hide a runaway slave: a woman who murdered her mistress. Will she welcome her home to this slave and put her own life and the lives of her children at risk?

A Quilt for Christmas is an odd book at times. It seems to have a handful of plots and stories, any one could be the MAIN one, but really not one seems to stand out as being the one it's all about. It's definitely NOT a plot-driven book. It's mainly about the lives of women in a particular community during the fall of 1864 and throughout 1865.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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