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Results 1 - 25 of 494
1. Reread #16: A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved A Year Down Yonder so much more than Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. And I definitely enjoyed A Long Way From Chicago! While A Long Way From Chicago was told from Joey's point of view, A Year Down Yonder is told from Mary Alice's point of view. Because of the Depression, Mary Alice has been sent by her parents to live with Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice has spent more than a few summers with her Grandma, alongside her brother, but this time she'll be there all year long, and without her brother.

While A Long Way From Chicago is fun, in many ways, it is a bit disjointed as well. Each chapter tells the story of a summer vacation. In A Year Down Yonder, the plot is more traditional. The book follows the course of an entire year. Readers get a better chance to KNOW the characters, to appreciate the characters and the small town setting. And Mary Alice is a great narrator!!! I loved her story. My favorite chapters were "Rich Chicago Girl," "Vittles and Vengeance," "Heart and Flour," and "A Dangerous Man." I loved the slight traces of romance. 


I would definitely recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Both books do stand alone, but, they do go together well.

I first reviewed A Year Down Yonder in May 2008.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (2014)

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Alan Bradley. 2014. Random House. 310 pages. [Source: Library]

I haven't loved each and every Flavia de Luce book equally. I definitely enjoy Flavia as a character and narrator even though I can't always relate to her all the time. In this sixth mystery, Flavia's focus is NOT on a current murder mystery. Far from it, even though a murder occurs practically in front of her (at the train station), she can't really be bothered. Why? Well, her mother is coming home...at last. For Flavia, the one de Luce child who CANNOT remember her mother at all, this is just confusing and bittersweet. Is she glad her mother's body has been found? That the body is being returned so it can be properly buried? In a way, perhaps. But. The homecoming is just as bitter as it is sweet. It upsets the family so much, brings so many emotions out in the open where they cannot be ignored. The situation is forcing Flavia outside her comfort zone. If the novel does NOT focus on the current dead body, what does it focus on?! Well, it focuses on the past; it focuses on the years leading up to World War II. It provides context for her mother's life...and death. For Flavia solving this mystery of who her mother was, who she really was, her worth and value, means EVERYTHING. There were quite a few uncomfortable scenes in this one for me. I found the scenes where Flavia is trying to scientifically bring her mother back from the dead (after ten years) to be a bit creepy--she's trying to acquire the right chemicals to resurrect the dead.

Just like the previous book, this one closes with change on the way for Flavia.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Reread #12 Long Way From Chicago

A Long Way From Chicago. Richard Peck. 1998. Penguin. 148 pages. [Source: Library book]

  A Long Way From Chicago has a great premise. Joey Dowdel and his younger sister, Mary Alice, are "forced" to visit their Grandma Dowdel every summer. Each chapter in the novel tells the story of a summer visit. There is a story for 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1942. The prologue says it all, "As the years went by, though, Mary Alice and I grew up, and though Grandma never changed, we'd seem to see a different woman every summer."

Through the stories, readers catch glimpses of the past. These stories capture family moments. There is plenty of humor and a good bit of heart.

For any reader who enjoys quirky small-town, long-ago, family-based stories from the heart, this one is a must.

I think I prefer Peck's more traditional novels to his stories.


I loved this one the first time I read and reviewed it in 2008

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Seven Wild Sisters (2014)

Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale. Charles de Lint. Illustrated by Charles Vess. 2014. Little, Brown. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

Seven Wild Sisters is a charming fantasy novel set in the modern world. The novel begins by focusing on the middle daughter, Sarah Jane, but by the end of the novel, all seven sisters have played a role in this delightful fairy fantasy adventure. The story begins, well, one could choose a dozen different "real" beginnings for this one, so I'll merely say the STORY FOR SARAH JANE begins when she befriends "Aunt Lillian." Aunt Lillian lives alone, secluded, near the woods. No electricity, no running water, no "modern" conveniences. No easy life for her. She wouldn't want to really slow down. She lives off the land; she lives for the land. She has almost seen it all. And by all, I mean she has had ENCOUNTERS with faeries and such. She is definitely different and in a way extraordinary. Sarah Jane, of course, LOVES her once she gets to know her, and from the start, Sarah Jane WANTS to get to know her. Sarah Jane's sisters are more reluctant perhaps, but, enter into this big adventure they will nevertheless! The other sisters include: Adie, Laurel and Bess, Elsie, Ruth and Grace.

Sarah Jane's adventures start when despite Aunt Lillian's advice, she finds herself getting involved in "a war" between different faeries. She sees an injured 'Sang man--100 poisoned arrows piercing him--and helps him. The bee faeries are "the enemy" depending on which "side" you find yourself. Lillian KNOWS Sarah Jane put herself--and her family--at risk. But she'll do everything she can to help her out of the mess and into a big adventure she'll never forget.

I liked this one very much. I'm not sure I LOVED it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (2014)

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. (William Shakespeare's Star Wars #2) Ian Doescher. 2014. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading William Shakespeare's Star Wars, Verily A New Hope. It was fun seeing the original movie as a Shakespeare play. I liked seeing the dialogue transformed. I liked finding my favorite lines. It was just a fun treat.

Though I definitely enjoy The Empire Strikes Back as a movie, I can't say that this adaptation did it justice. The balance does not feel quite right, in my opinion. Perhaps it errs too much on the side of Shakespeare? Perhaps the characters have become too in touch with their emotions and feelings, perhaps they are too fond of asides and soliloquies. Perhaps there is too much talking in general? I don't know. It could be as simple as me not being in the just-right mood.

Wampa: You viewers all, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest womp rat creeping on the floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When wampa through in wildest rage doth roar.
Pray know that I am a wampa simple am,
And take no pleasure in my angry mood.
Though with great force this young one's face I slam,
I prithee know I strike but for my food. (12)

AT-AT 1: My friends, we have had quite enough of talk:
The battle is upon us, let us go.
And ye who doubt, I pray remember this:
Although we are but AT-ATs gray and plain,
We have a noble task to undertake--
Our mighty Emperor's reign to protect,
The great Darth Vader to obey and aid,
And Admiral Piett to serve with pride.
So shall an AT-AT swoon before the fight,
Or should our legs be shaken ere th'assault?
Have we been made to cower? I say nay!
An AT-AT should be made of sterner stuff.

AT-AT 3 [to AT-AT2:] I pray, good walker, is he ever thus?

AT-AT 2: Aye, truly, Sir, I never yet have met
An All Terrain Armored Transport who
Is loftier of mind than this one here.
Indeed, although like us he's made of steel,
He never enters battle zones unless
He hath made some great speech to steel his nerves.
It does no harm.

AT-AT3: No harm, but to mine ears.
I'd rather fight than hear another speech. (45-46)

Exogor: Alas, another meal hath fled and gone,
And in the process I am sorely hurt.
These travelers who have escap'd my reach
Us'd me past the endurance of a block!
My stomach they did injure mightily
With jabs and pricks, as though a needle were
A'bouncing in my belly. O cruel Fate!
To be a space slug is a lonely lot,
With no one on this rock to share my life,
No true companion here to mark my days.
And now my meals do from my body fly--
Was e'er a beast by supper so abus'd?
Was e'er a creature's case so pitiful?
Was e'er an exogorth as sad as I?
Was e'er a tragedy as deep as mine?
I shall with weeping crawl back to my cave,
Which shall, sans food, belike become my grave. (86)

Yoda: Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no "try." (98)

Yoda: Warned thee I have--
He a reckless spirit hath.
Now matters are worse.
Obi-Wan: That boy is our first, last, and greatest hope.
Yoda: But nay, 'tis not so.
For another yet there is:
One more hope for us.

O how this plagues me!
The boy for training hath come,
But too soon is fled.

A young bird he is,
Too eager the nest to leave,
Yet trying to fly.

But young birds fly not--
Their wings still too fragile are.
Instead, they do fall.

And fall this one shall.
But how far, how fast, how long?
Time only shall tell.

Little bird, be safe.
If thou the nest seest again
I shall meet thee then. (112)
I'm not saying that there weren't enjoyable scenes in William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back. There were. There always will be when the author sticks close to the inspiration. Luke. Hans. Leia. Yoda. There are characters that you can't help enjoying. (Yoda speaks in haiku in this play). But while I enjoyed the first book cover to cover, while I read it with glee, I can't say the same with this second book. I liked a scene here and there.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Heir Apparent (2013)

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. Jane Ridley. 2013. Random House. 752 pages. [Source: Library]

The Heir Apparent was very fascinating in places. I wouldn't say it was equally fascinating from cover to cover, however. There are high points in this biography, and low points. Low points for me, for example, being chapters that focuses solely on politics, politics, foreign politics, and more politics. High points for me, on the other hand, being chapters that focused on royal dysfunction, family drama, relationships between family members, society-type gossip and scandals and potential scandals. This book is PACKED with detail: that is its greatest strength and biggest weakness.

The book begins, and appropriately so in my opinion, with the reign of George IV. It is only fair to readers to get Queen Victoria's FULL story from birth to death. For I believe it is only in understanding Victoria and Albert that you can begin to make sense of their children's lives. And Bertie's in particular. For example, I think it helps to know that he comes from a LONG LINE of people who are incapable of showing love and kindness and decency to the firstborn heir. Since over half the novel focuses on Bertie's relationship with his parents--particularly his mother, the more you know about Victoria, the better. Queen Victoria is not shown as wonderfully, adoring, kind-hearted, compassionate mother. She was VERY VERY VERY opinionated about her children, about their "weaknesses". She could have a very cruel tongue, to say the least.

For readers who want to know more about Victoria and Albert, about Bertie and his royal brothers and sisters (all who married royalty, I believe, and how Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren effected European politics), about Bertie and his wife, about Bertie and his many mistresses, about Bertie and his habits, about the politics of prime ministers and ministries and cabinets and such, then this is a good place to go.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014)

The Impossible Knife of Memory. Laurie Halse Anderson. 2014. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

The Impossible Knife of Memory is an intense read. Hayley Kincain, our heroine, has endured more than her fair share of problems. Her father, a soldier with PTSD, is incapable of taking care of himself. He's unable to hold a job. He's unable to keep his word. Hayley has to be the responsible one, she's raising herself essentially, and looking out for her dad too. It isn't easy. He has drug and alcohol issues. He can be violent and start fights. He can be a stubborn, fierce opponent. Hayley and her dad have returned to his hometown. They are living in her grandma's house. She is attending a (real) school for the first time that she can remember. She is struggling to learn the rules that most of her classmates have known for years. But she's got one great best friend, and, a potential love interest as well.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is a wonderful novel about broken people, very broken people. I definitely liked Hayley. I really, really loved Finn, her boyfriend. I really liked Gracie, her best friend. I was glad we got to know some adults as well: Andy (the dad) and Trisha (the "stepmother").

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Reread #9 Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. 2008. Random House. 274 pages. [Source: Library]

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those rare, rare books where you could almost open it up to ANY page and find something to smile about. And that, of course, is something to be treasured and applauded because it makes for a completely satisfying read from start to finish. This novel is told completely through letters. Readers get to know characters in their own words, for better or worse. Readers can try to read between the lines and make connections perhaps. They might attempt to play "Miss Marple" like one of the minor characters and spy out what is really going on...

The heroine of the novel is a young author named Juliet Ashton. During the war, she wrote a regular column under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff. Now that the war is over (finally!!!), her columns have been published together in book form. She's happy. Of course she's happy. Why wouldn't she be happy. The war is over. Her book is being received positively. Sure, she feels the need to move on, to write a book under her own name, to write a very different book. And true, she's a bit in doubt as to what that next book will be and if that book will live up to the success of the first one, but...

So most of her letters are to her publisher, Sidney, or to her best friend, Sophie. But. One letter she receives changes her life. And it wasn't an obvious change-of-life letter. It was a friendly, down-to-earth letter from a complete stranger. He'd read "her" book. No, not the book she'd written. But a book that had been in her library, a book with her name and address in it. It was a book by Charles Lamb. This used book found and read during the war, really, really effected him. He connected with Charles Lamb, and he thought she might have book recommendations and such.

So. Juliet discovers almost by accident several things. First, that Guernsey was occupied during the war. (If she'd known during the war, it had slipped her mind because it didn't really impact her--not because she was selfish, but just because when your own world is a big tumbling-down uncertain mess, you don't really think of the island of Guernsey in the big-scheme-of-things.) Second, that a group had come together through desperation and lust (for a pig dinner!!!) to form the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". Though for the record, the Potato Peel Pie part came later! Of course, she HAS to know more, and she wants all the details. She NEEDS more. She wants to hear more from men and women in this "literary society." She wants their stories--about books and reading, about the Nazi occupation, about the war, about their hardships (hunger, separation from children, etc), about their joys and sorrows. Of course, all this will take time and trust...

And that is what makes this one so great, in my opinion. I loved the getting-to-know experience. I loved the relationship building. I loved seeing friendships form. I especially, especially loved the bond that formed between Juliet and Kit (a war orphan). There were so many giddy-making moments in this book!

I would definitely recommend this one! It is so wonderful, so charming, so perfect!!!!  


I first reviewed this one in August 2009.  

Favorite quotes:
I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with.
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.
I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers-- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one-- the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it-- along with first dibs on the new books.
Isola doesn't approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stomping on it.

It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good?
Will Thisbee gave me The Beginner's Cook-Book for Girl Guides. It was just the thing; the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints - "When adding eggs, break the shells first.”
“What on earth did you say to Isola? She stopped in on her way to pick up Pride and Prejudice and to berate me for never telling her about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why hadn't she known there were better love stories around? Stories not riddled with ill-adjusted men, anguish, death and graveyards!”
The first rule of snooping is to come at it sideways--when you began writing me dizzy letters about Alexander, I didn't ask if you were in love with him, I asked what his favorite animal was. And your answer told me everything I needed to know about him--how many men would admit that they loved ducks?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. The Boy on the Wooden Box (2013)

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson. 2013. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Definitely loved this memoir! I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in reading about the Holocaust. The story begins in the late 1930s in Poland, and continues on through the war to liberation. It is the story of a young boy and his family--many members were saved by Schindler, however, not all of them, for not all lived in the same community and had the same opportunities to come and work for Schindler. Still, it seems miraculous that so many of his immediate family WERE saved, and did survive the war despite all the horrors and hardships and unknowns. Leon Leyson's memoir is powerful and compelling, just what you'd expect. But it was also thoughtful and age-appropriate. It did a good job in providing details and experiences, grounding this very human story into history.

There was just something about it that I LOVED. 
He could reflect with love and affection on the people he loved and respected; he seemed to hold onto the good of his past, the little things and the not-so-little things that made his childhood what it was. He did this without negating the things that were painful and bitter and just as true. The narrative voice was so strong and wonderful in this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. P.S. Be Eleven (2013)

P.S. Be Eleven. Rita Williams-Garcia. 2013. HarperCollins. 274 pages. [Source: Library]

In One Crazy Summer, readers met three sisters: Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. P.S. Be Eleven is the sequel to the award-winning One Crazy Summer. The novel opens with the three girls on their way home from their summer trip. Yes, the events pick up just where the last book left off.

P.S. Be Eleven captures their adventures and misadventures in New York as the girls settle back down for another school year. It won't exactly be a calm year either. Their uncle is coming back home from Vietnam, for example, and their own father is getting married. By the end of the book, even more has changed for these young girls. (But I won't spoil it!) But perhaps the one oh-so-pleasant happening of the novel is the girls introduction to the Jackson Five. These sisters hear from a friend that they just HAVE to watch this new oh-so-awesome group perform on a TV show. They risk the wrath of their grandmother to turn on the TV after their bedtime--she's asleep too. But. I'm guessing each would tell you it was worth it. These three become obsessed with the Jackson Five, and they dream of seeing them in concert. An opportunity arises, something that adds a bit of structure to these adventures, but will they get their happily ever after?

I never knew how much a sequel was needed until I read P.S. Be Eleven. I was perfectly content with One Crazy Summer, and yet, after spending more time with these three sisters, well, it was just right, just perfect to go back and revisit them in their comfort zone. The book has a great feel to it.

P.S. Be Eleven was a great experience. I definitely connected with the characters. I knew this to be true when I found myself getting angry--in some cases really angry--with certain situations and events. I found that I really cared deeply about these sisters. I thought the setting was enjoyable, and their obsession with the Jackson Five was great! It was a thoughtful read, as well.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Rosie's Riveting Recipes

Rosie's Riveting Recipes: Cooking and Kitchen Tips from 1940s America. Daniela Turudich. 2003. Streamline Press. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Rosie's Riveting Recipes was an interesting book to browse. It includes vintage tips and advice for food preparation. The introductory section includes vintage items like "Uncle Sam's Daily Food Rules (1943)," and "Equal to A Serving of Meat as a Source of Protein (1943)" and provides contemporary readers with context into the period. "Wartime diets changed to include: more eggs, more cheese, more grains, more chicken, more fish, less red meat" (16). And people were urged to..."extend meals containing minimal available meat with grains and fiber; stretch and substitute butter with margarine; substitute sugar with molasses or honey; make stews; eat more fruits and vegetables; grow their own fruits and vegetables; can excess food; eat salads; make vegetables, eggs, cheese, and grains center stage." (17) The focus is on making substitutes and economizing meals. For example, there are quite a handful of tips on how to extend butter by adding various things to it. There is also a helpful conversion chart showing what you can substitute for a "cup full of sugar" in all your recipes.

Most of the book is, of course, dedicated to sharing recipes. Like most traditional cook books, the book is divided into sections: "Soups & Salads," "Eggs & Cheese," "Fish," "Poultry," "Meats," "Vegetables," "Potatoes, Starches, & Legumes," "Stuffings & Dumplings," "Breads," "Desserts," and Canteen (Recipes for Large Groups).

Some recipes sound good. A few sound HORRIBLE. (Like the noodles, margarine, cottage cheese, horseradish dish!!!) 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Heartbeat (2014)

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott. 2014. Harlequin. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

Heartbeat is definitely an intense read with the potential to stay with readers. The heroine of Heartbeat is a young woman, Emma. She is in shock, in grief. She's angry; she's sad; she's all over the place. She wants things the way they were before, but, slowly oh-so-slowly coming to terms with the idea that something good could come in the future. The one person she wants to talk to most, of course, is her mom. She can physically go to her mom's room and talk, but, there will never be an answer again: her mom is on life support, she's being kept alive by machines for the sake of her unborn baby. Those ten weeks or so seem IMPOSSIBLE to young Emma. For better or worse, she can't bring herself to admit that her stepdad might be making the best decision, the right decision, the decision that her mom would make if she could. Seeing her mom alive-but-dead breaks her heart every single day. Yet, to the hospital she continues to go day by day. For the sake of her mom, or, so she tells herself. She feels that her mom is forgotten, that the unborn baby, is all. But readers don't just meet Emma. They also meet Olivia, Emma's best friend, and Caleb, a bad boy who might possibly understood the pain of loss better than anyone else in town. Emma and Caleb come together in Heartbeat, and, it's something.

Definitely recommended!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Fair Weather (2001)

Fair Weather. Richard Peck. 2001. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

Is Fair Weather my absolute favorite novel by Richard Peck? In all fairness, how could I really ever choose? Sure, I love, love, love some more than others. Some I've reread more than others. Some I've recommended more than others. But most that I've read (so far) have been worth it. Fair Weather is no exception.

World's Fair. Chicago. 1893. I really enjoyed so many things about Fair Weather. I liked the three Beckett siblings. I liked the narrator, Rosie. I liked the younger brother, Buster. I liked the older sister, Lottie. I liked the fact that Lottie had a big, big secret. I liked the extended family. That Grandpa. He's SOMETHING. I loved, loved, loved every scene he was in. He was FABULOUS. I wish more children's books had such wonderful grandparent-characters. I really really enjoy books that focus on the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. My favorite, favorite chapters in this one are the two chapters that focus on his best day ever. They also happen to mention Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. I liked the aunt as well. She wasn't quite as quirky as the grandpa--but who could be?! I was glad to see how hosting her family for a week changes her--for the better. The details. I love historical fiction BECAUSE I love history. OR. Do I love history because I love historical fiction?! I love how this one is grounded in real-life details. I loved learning more about the World's Columbian Exposition. I loved the little things, the descriptions, the scenes. I love how it captured the feel of The Midway. It made me want to read more, to learn more. I also loved the Chicago setting.

A few weeks ago, I happened to watch Annie Oakley (1935). I had seen the musical, of course, but this one really impressed me. Reading Fair Weather and "experiencing" the show through fiction--through characters that I had come to really care about--was really fun for me!

I definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Independent Study (2014)

Independent Study. Joelle Charbonneau. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

Independent Study was an interesting read. I had just reread The Testing, and it was nice to be able to jump right into this story without feeling lost. Cia herself still feels lost at times because her memory of the actual testing is gone. True, she was wise enough to hide clues for her future clueless self, but, having clues--even good, strong clues--aren't quite the same as vivid memories of the horrific past. Essentially, six months have passed, I believe, and the students are getting ready to be tested again, they'll be placed into special training preparing them for future careers. They do not get to pick their "majors." They will take the classes and internships chosen for them by authorities, all for the common good of the future, of course. Most of the characters from the first novel are absent from most of Independent Study. Cia and Tomas are separated by different career paths now. Will and Cia are on the same career path--government--but even Will only has a handful of scenes in the novel. A character that some might consider minor in The Testing, plays a bigger role in the second novel: Michal. He clues Cia in on her past and gives her hope for the present and the future. What if there was a way to abolish "The Testing."

Independent Study is all about Cia seeking to discover the inner-leader inside that is strong and brave and wise and true. Is Cia a great character? Are any of the characters "great"? I'm not sure. I'm not sure that 'liking' most of the characters in a novel is a requirement for it being an entertaining read. I wanted to know what happened next.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. The Apothecary (2011)

The Apothecary. Maile Meloy. 2011. Penguin. 356 pages.

I enjoyed Maile Meloy's delightfully odd historical fantasy novel, The Apothecary. The year is 1952, the Scott family is moving to London, England. Our heroine, Janie, is fourteen and not so happy about the move. At least not at first. But after a few weeks, Janie finds herself in the middle of an almost unbelievable adventure, an adventure that will lead her straight into danger, but also leading to her very first kiss.

I would have loved The Apothecary just as much if it had not turned magical or supernatural. The first half of the novel focuses on Janie's new life: her new school, her new classes and new subjects (Latin!), her friend possibilities. There are some delightfully descriptive passages that are just fun! The second half of the novel focuses on her friendship with Benjamin Burrows (the local apothecary's son). He likes to play chess in the park and "spy" on a Russian man. What he spies one Saturday, changes everything...for it leads them a little too close home!

When Benjamin discovers his father's big-big secret, a secret that Janie gets drawn into as well, the novel becomes quirky and fantastical. Danger, action, drama, mystery and a hint of first love...

Favorite quotes:
It's safe to say I was not graceful about the move to London. I was no witty, patient, adaptable Jane Austen. And if I was anything like Katherine Hepburn, it was in the scenes where she's being a giant pest. (12)
"We're looking for three hot water bottles," my father told him.
"Of course."
"And how about some chocolate bars?"
The apothecary shook his head. "We have them sometimes. Not often, since the war."
"Since the war?" my father said, and I could see him calculating: twelve years without a steady supply of chocolate. He looked a little faint. I wondered if he could get a prescription for chocolate from a doctor. Then I could have some, too. (16)

The school was in a stone building with arches and turrets that seemed very old to me but wasn't old at all, in English terms. It was built in 1880, so it was practically brand-new. (19)

Two teachers walking down the hall wore black academic gowns, and they looked ominous and forbidding, like giant bats. (19)

The school secretary, whose tight gray curls reminded me of a sheep, gave me my class schedule. (19)

"My mother said moving here would be like living in a Jane Austen novel, but it isn't really."
"But your story couldn't be Austen, with an American heroine," he said.
I couldn't help smiling at him. "That's what I said!"
"More of a Henry James novel," he said. "The American girl abroad. Are you an Isabel Archer or a Daisy Miller?"
I blushed, but told the truth. "I don't know. I haven't read any Henry James novels."
"You will soon enough," he said. "But you wouldn't want to be Isabel or Daisy. They come to bad ends, those girls. Confide tibia, Miss Scott. Far better to be who you are." (24)

The apothecary looked out at the drizzle. "It would be strange not to think about orange trees and blue sky on a day like today," he said. "No matter what powder you took."
"And my new school is pretty awful," I said.
The apothecary laughed. "The man who develops a tincture against the awful new school will win the Nobel Prize. It would be far more useful than the cure for the common cold." (30)


Read The Apothecary
  • IF you enjoy historical fiction OR historical fantasy
  • If you enjoy books about magical books
  • If you enjoy spy-adventure, action-adventure books

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on The Apothecary (2011), last added: 4/20/2013
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16. The Grimm Legacy (2010)

The Grimm Legacy. Polly Shulman. 2010. Penguin. 325 pages.

 The Grimm Legacy has an intriguing premise. Wouldn't it be fun if fairy tales were true and there were magical artifacts gathered together in a library collection in New York? Wouldn't it be fun to work in such a library, such a collection? To be able to 'try' some of these artifacts yourself. But it isn't all fun as our heroine, Elizabeth Rew, and her fellow pages (Marc Merrit, Anjali Rao, Aaron Rosendom) learn. For someone is attempting to steal the real magical objects and replace them with fakes. And the attempt is succeeding. These four teens (Elizabeth, Marc, Anjali, and Aaron) must learn to work together--despite great personality conflict--to solve the mystery of WHO is stealing from the Grimm Collection. This fantasy novel has mystery and drama for it's a dangerous task before them.

While I liked the book well enough to keep reading, I didn't love it. I just didn't make a good connection with the characters. Some of the characters were interesting; for example, Anjali has a very spirited sister that plays an important role in the novel. But I wasn't satisfied with their development; the characters just didn't feel believable enough.

Read The Grimm Legacy
  • If you enjoy YA fantasy
  • If you enjoy fantasy 
  • If you are interested in the second novel in the series which involves time travel! It's called The Wells Bequest!
© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 Comments on The Grimm Legacy (2010), last added: 4/20/2013
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17. Deadweather and Sunrise (2012)

Chronicles of Egg #1: Deadweather and Sunrise. Geoff Rodkey. 2012. Penguin. 288 pages.

What I enjoyed most in Geoff Rodkey's novel, Deadweather and Sunrise, (the first in the Chronicles of Egg series) was the writing or storytelling. For example, I loved how this pirate-adventure (set in an alternate--though at times familiar--world) began:
 "Nobody lived on Deadweather but us and the pirates. It wasn't hard to understand why. For one thing, the weather was atrocious. Eleven months out of twelve, it was brutally hot and humid, with no wind at all, so on a bad day the air felt like a hot, soggy blanket smothering you from all sides. And the other month was September, which meant hurricanes. Then there was the volcano. It hadn't actually blown in ages, but it belched smoke and shook the earth enough to scare away anybody who might've overlooked the pirates and the weather." 
There are plenty of descriptive details in this coming-of-age adventure quest.

Egbert (Egg) is often mistreated by his immediate family (his father and older brothers). Kindness and compassion being foreign concepts to him. He's only known one way of being treated, only one way of "being" or "belonging" in a family. So when life as he knows it changes dramatically, he's at a loss. His ENTIRE family went up in a hot-air balloon, never to return. They are presumed dead after several weeks of presumed searching. The man who takes Egg into his own home and introduces him to his own family has layers of secrets as Egg discovers. There is one person that Egg comes to love dearly during his stay. The daughter, Millicent. She's an interesting character, in a way. And I appreciated her perhaps a little more than the other sidekick, Guts.

If you enjoy action-adventure stories with secrets, mysteries, pirates, and an ultimate hunt for treasure, then this may be a good match.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on Deadweather and Sunrise (2012), last added: 4/22/2013
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18. Speaking from Among the Bones (2013)

Speaking from Among the Bones. Alan Bradley. 2013. Random House. 400 pages.

I've enjoyed each of the Flavia de Luce mysteries written by Alan Bradley. This young detective is quite original, though her mystery novels have, in a way, become more predictable. I mean that readers know almost exactly what to expect of the series, of the main characters, of the writing. (Not the details of the actual mysteries, the murder mysteries.) If you love the character of Flavia de Luce, it can be a good thing--comforting, satisfying--to know that nothing ever changes. Still, a little character growth wouldn't be a horrible thing in any of the main characters. (There are two significant things readers learn by the conclusion of this book. These potentially could change things up a bit.) It probably won't surprise anyone that Flavia discovers a dead body in this newest mystery. She found it in an ancient tomb they (the church) were getting ready to excavate. There were plenty of peculiar details about it, plenty of clues for a young girl detective to follow. These clues lead her into great danger, perhaps the greatest danger she's known thus far in the series.

If you have enjoyed the series in the past, this one is worth reading. Others include: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on Speaking from Among the Bones (2013), last added: 4/24/2013
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19. The Tutor's Daughter (2013)

The Tutor's Daughter. Julie Klassen. 2013. Bethany House. 412 pages.

It wasn't quite love at first sight--or love at first sentence, I suppose. But within a few chapters, I knew it was LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. The more I read, the more I loved. This was one of those oh-so-magical, giddy-making historical romances for me. The Tutor's Daughter is a regency romance. (I would DEFINITELY recommend it for fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.) The heroine is a young woman, Emma Smallwood. She has for the last few years greatly helped her father in his teaching or tutoring. In the past, they've taught from their own home or school. But business has been poorly lately, and when he is offered a tutoring position at the home of his would-be-pupil, and that offer extends to his daughter, he accepts. The Smallwoods will be leaving their own home to live with the Weston family. They know the two oldest Weston sons--they are former students now grown to adulthood. But they don't know their new pupils, Rowan and Julian. And nothing prepares them for the reality of living in such a strange and sometimes unwelcoming home. (It feels more like Northanger Abbey than Jane Eyre, perhaps, but there are some secrets, some clues, some mysteries.) The Weston household can be oh-so-strange and not at all what it appears.

When she was younger, Emma was perhaps drawn to the second son, Phillip. But now that she's become reacquainted with both Phillip and Henry, well, she's surprised by how much she does admire and respect Henry! This is SHOCKING to her at first because she perhaps didn't realize that he would grow out of his childishness, his obnoxiousness, his pranks. But he is all grown up now, and he's oh-so-responsible.

I absolutely loved this one so much. It was so compelling, so dramatic, so perfectly perfect!!!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on The Tutor's Daughter (2013), last added: 4/24/2013
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20. Sprig Muslin (1956)

Sprig Muslin. Georgette Heyer. 1956/2011. Sourcebooks. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

Sprig Muslin is a lovely romance novel by Georgette Heyer. It is very reader-friendly; the pacing is even and it's a delight from the start. (In some of Heyer's novels the satisfaction comes in the last third of the novel; that isn't the case in Sprig Muslin). What makes Sprig Muslin satisfying isn't the romance, it is the comedy.

Sir Gareth Ludlow is on his way to propose to a very respectable woman, Lady Hester. He is quite fond of her, has respected and admired her for years. But he is not madly in love with her. On his trip, he accidentally meets Amanda "Smith." This young woman is obvious trouble from the start. She is obviously a woman intent on running away. He doesn't know her real name; he doesn't know where she's from--city or country; he doesn't know anything about her character except that she's a big liar, has an extraordinary imagination, and is incredibly foolish. This is a woman in need of rescuing. She needs someone with commonsense and no agenda to get her back where she belongs. He doesn't exactly want the job. But someone has to do it. He can't just leave her to her own designs or something awful could happen.

Amanda is the life of this novel. She is foolish, imaginative, stubborn, and vivacious. She is always plotting, always on the move, always calculating the situation and writing a new story. She keeps the novel going at a tremendous pace. Sir Gareth can hardly keep up with her, and the others they meet along the way are just as bad.

The novel is a big misadventure; there are plenty of interesting characters as well. This novel works BECAUSE Sir Gareth and Amanda are not love interests. I loved every minute of this one. Not because it was romantic and giddy-making, but because it was just so funny.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. April Lady (1957)

April Lady. Georgette Heyer. 1957/2005. Harlequin. 270 pages. [Source: Library]

In some ways, April Lady is a very simple novel. A husband and wife are madly in love with each other; but each thinks the other only married out of convenience. They are horrible at communicating with one another. Nell may love her husband dearly, but clearly she does not understand him. Perhaps the couple's biggest problem is that of inequality. Instead of being husband and wife, they sometimes act like parent and child. (There is quite a bit of scolding at times. I can see why, she does act incredibly foolish. But still. His scolding isn't going to solve anything!)

April Lady may be predictable from cover to cover, but that does not stop this romance from being a satisfying one. What I enjoyed most about April Lady was the characterization. It wasn't that I loved the heroine, Nell, or her husband, Cardross; it was that Nell and Cardross were surrounded by interesting characters.

So. Nell has a brother, Dysart, who is a reckless gambler. (He's a LOT of fun, however.) Giles (Cardross) has a half-sister, Letty. She's silly, foolish, stubborn, and spoiled. Letty is in love with Jeremy Allandale. She is insisting (to anyone who will listen) that they HAVE to get married right NOW. It's not good enough that her brother will consent to the match in two or three years when she is nineteen or so. Now, now, now. Cardross also has a good friend, a cousin named Felix Hethersett.

I loved Felix, Dysart, Letty, and Jeremy more than Cardross and Nell. If this romance did not have such a great cast of "minor" characters, it would be awful.


22 / 33 books read. 67% done!

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on April Lady (1957), last added: 9/15/2013
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22. Below Stairs (1968)

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. Margaret Powell. 1968/2012. St. Martin's Press. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

Below Stairs is one of two memoirs by Margaret Powell. As a young teen--fifteen, I believe--she entered service. (She left school to begin working to support her family a year or two earlier however.) Her first positions in service were as a kitchen maid. She later promoted herself to cook and sought out other positions with other families. The book tells of her experiences and shocks. One shock, for example, was when she found out she was to iron the shoe laces every morning in addition to polishing the shoes. It's a detailed look at work. Work as a maid is anything but fun, glamorous, exciting. Dreary, repetitive, exhausting comes more to mind. This memoir does not focus on any particular wealthy family; it is not a dramatic romance like Downton Abbey. 

I enjoyed reading Below Stairs. I found it to be a quick read. I liked that Powell enjoyed reading and tried her best to read what she could, when she could, even though there wasn't always a lot of free time. She worked very long hours, had very little time to herself, and was at times discouraged from seeking out books and wanting 'more'.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on Below Stairs (1968), last added: 9/9/2013
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23. The Elite (2013)

The Elite. Kiera Cass. 2013. HarperCollins. 323 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading The Selection. I enjoyed it for its lightness, its ease. While it is a dystopian novel, it isn't dark or bleak. The world Cass has created is socially unfair perhaps, but it isn't dark and dangerous. If you're looking for an intense action-packed thriller, The Selection and The Elite will probably disappoint. In some ways, The Elite is all about relationships. America Singer's relationship with Prince Maxon, America's relationship with Aspen (the ex who is now a palace guard), America's relationship with the other ladies (Marlee, Kriss, Elise, Natalie, Celeste). I could see why America's indecisiveness might annoy other readers. Her not being able to make up her mind if she wants to remain in the game. America can't separate her feelings for Maxon (she's falling in love with him; she knows she cares for him oh-so-much) from her feelings of doubt about the crown (she spends three hundred pages doubting that she'd be a good princess).

Readers get a chance to know both America and Maxon better in this second novel; both are shown to have strengths and weaknesses. (I didn't feel we got to know Aspen). The game definitely is getting to America in this one. She hates the fact that she doesn't know what Maxon is doing on his dates with the other girls. She hates the idea that he could be kissing other girls. That he could be getting close to other girls. The more she thinks about Maxon's time with the others, the more stand-offish she becomes with him--which doesn't make her time with Maxon go pleasantly. But when these two do manage to communicate, some of the old magic is there.

I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed spending time with America and Maxon. Her parents came to visit for a weekend, and it was lovely getting a chance to know America's father! If you enjoy romance novels, this one should entertain.


© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 Comments on The Elite (2013), last added: 9/14/2013
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24. Rereading Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/2003. Random House. 190 pages.

It was a pleasure to burn. 

I first read and reviewed Fahrenheit 451 in May 2007. I then read the graphic novel in October 2010. I couldn't resist reading the "real" book at that time as well. I even sought out A Pleasure to Burn, a collection of stories that traces Bradbury's developing themes. That collection included two crucial stories: "The Fireman" and "Long After Midnight." (Also I watched the movie.) The summer of 2012, I read tons of Ray Bradbury, and, of course, I had to reread Fahrenheit 451!

I definitely consider Fahrenheit 451 one of the rare must-reads. It is intense and thought-provoking. The novel, as a whole, is powerful. But it is in conversation (or dialogue) that this one truly shines. Guy Montag's conversations with Clarisse, with Faber, and to some extent even his boss and wife. It's a very reflective novel as well. In its pages, readers get a glimpse of a man at his most vulnerable: a self awakening of sorts as a man wakes up to the nightmare world in which he's been a part of all along.

Favorite quotes:

Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute...Remember, Montag, we're the happiness boys. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. (50-1)  
 We've started and won two atomic wars since 1990! Is it because we're having so much fun at home we've forgotten the world? Is it because we're so rich and the rest of the world's so poor and we just don't care if they are? Is that why we're hated so much? Do you know why? I don't, that's sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. God, Millie, don't you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe... (62)
Good God, it isn't as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. (78)
 It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time.’ Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. ‘It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it in our parlors these days. Christ is one of the family now. I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.’ (81)
Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. (83)
Though this one is "about" books, in a way, it is not. It is about the ideas, emotions, concepts behind the books. It is about the knowledge and wisdom sometimes contained in books, but never exclusively found in books. It is about choices and lifestyles. The nightmarish culture found in Fahrenheit 451 is a result of people choosing to be shallow, selfish, materialistic, technology-obsessed, and pleasure-seeking. People are "happy." But their "happiness" is fake. It comes at the cost of suppressing emotion and intellect. Free thinking is not encouraged. Thoughts shouldn't have depth and substance! One shouldn't ponder, consider, or reflect! It's about lives packed with noise and busyness--a blur of distractions--all designed to keep you from realizing there is something more, something that has been lost.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

5 Comments on Rereading Fahrenheit 451, last added: 10/13/2013
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25. The Westing Game (1978)

The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. 1978. 182 pages. [Source: Library]

Characters matter more to me than plot most of the time, which is why I probably found The Westing Game a disappointment. I thought the book lacked characterization. Superficial characterization abounded: readers learned at least two or three facts per person. But did any one character EVER reach the point of humanity? In my opinion, not really. The characters that probably came closest were Angela (the reluctant bride whose wedding shower was bombed), and Turtle (the one who connected the dots that no one else was even looking for). So this is a plot-driven book, the focus being on sixteen (or so) people working together or against each other as the case may be to solve the mystery of who murdered Sam Westing. There are eight teams of two people each. Each team is given $10,000 and a handful of word-clues. The clues are a mix of letters, words, and numbers. On the one hand, if they work together and share resources, the inheritance might be won. But. If they do that, then the inheritance would be divided up. The book, I admit, has more than enough plot twists. At the end while I wasn't exactly overwhelmed or confused, I was still left saying WHY and HOW?! The book just did not make any sense to me. The rushed epilogue-of-sorts didn't help me make peace with it either.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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