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Results 1 - 25 of 533
1. My Cousin Rachel (1951)

My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]

Years ago I read and enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I've been meaning to read more of her books ever since. My Cousin Rachel is the second of hers that I've read. I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I enjoyed it more than Rebecca. But I think it is safe to say that if you enjoyed Rebecca you will also (most likely) enjoy My Cousin Rachel.

My Cousin Rachel is narrated by Philip Ashley. He is the heir to his cousin Ambrose's estate. Ambrose took him in and raised him essentially. These two are close as can be. Daphne du Maurier knows how to do foreshadowing. In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, she uses it generously giving readers time to prepare for tough times ahead. In this case, the foreshadowing is about Ambrose's trip abroad and his surprise wedding to a young woman, coincidentally a distant cousin, named Rachel. Rachel is a widow he meets in Italy. Instead of returning home to England, these two settle down in Italy--Florence, I believe. Philip is angsty to say the least. How dare my cousin do this to me! How dare he marry someone he barely knows! Philip spends months imagining Rachel's character and personality. She has to have an agenda! She has to be manipulative and scheming. She has to be TROUBLE. Now Philip doesn't voice his concerns to everyone he meets. He is more guarded, almost aware that it's silly of him to have this strong a reaction to someone he's never met. But Ambrose's happily ever after is short-lived. And not just because he dies. Ambrose wrote mysterious letters to Philip over several months. In these letters, Philip sees that all is not well. That there is something to his prejudice against Rachel. It seems that Ambrose has regrets, big regrets, about Rachel. The moodiest of all these letters reaches Philip after Ambrose's death.

So. What will Philip think of Rachel once he actually meets her? What will she think of him? Will they be friends or enemies? Will they trust one another? Should they trust one another? Whose story is based in reality? Is Rachel's accounting of Ambrose's last months true? Or was Ambrose right to mistrust Rachel? Will Philip be wise enough and objective enough to know what is going on?

The author certainly gives readers plenty to think about. Readers get almost all their information filtered through Philip's perspective. But I suppose the dialogue in the book might provide more. If one can trust Philip's recollection of it.

I think My Cousin Rachel is a character-driven horror novel. Though I'm not sure if horror is the right description. It is certainly creepy and weird. Not all horror novels star vampires and werewolves and ghosts and zombies.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Wednesdays in the Tower (2013)

Wednesdays in the Tower. Jessica Day George. 2013. Bloomsbury. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Even though it has only been two years since I've read Tuesdays at the Castle, I remembered very little about the characters and the plot. So I was hoping that Wednesdays in the Tower would not prove too tricky or challenging. Within pages, I was hooked. I read this one cover to cover without putting it down even once. I do have to say that it has a great opening which worked in its favor: "There are a lot of things that can hatch out of an egg. A chicken, for example. Or a dragon. And when the egg in question is the size of a pumpkin, and almost as orange, not to mention burning hot, you know that you're far more likely to get a dragon than a chicken."

Princess Celie and her family live at Castle Glower. The castle is without a doubt one of the more interesting in literature. This castle has a mind of its own. It does what it wants, when it wants. Usually on Tuesday is when it decides to add rooms, or, perhaps take away rooms. It isn't always adding or subtracting. Sometimes it's rearranging. One thing is for certain, only a handful of people know their way around all the rooms in the Castle. And Princess Celie is trying her best to provide a map or atlas of the ever-changing castle.

As I said, usually the castle is full of surprises on Tuesday. However, it is a Wednesday when Celie discovers a new room, and not just the room, but an egg. The castle leads Celie to this room again and again, but only when she's alone. Anytime she tries to bring someone else, to show them what she's found, it's vanished.

Essentially Wednesdays in the Tower concerns Celie and what hatches from the egg. Also about the magic of the castle as well, trying to understand how the castle works and why it does what it does when it does. In other words, the history of the Castle in general and how it connects with what hatched from the egg.

I found this a quick and enjoyable read. I liked Celie. I liked her siblings and parents. I liked getting to know her friends. I probably would have appreciated them all a bit more if I remembered Tuesdays at the Castle. But. Sometimes it's good to know that a book can be read alone or out of sequence.

The ending. Did it leave me wanting more? Yes. Was that how it should have been? I think so. Not that I'm a fan of cliffhanger endings. But. When the opening of a book and the ending of a book leave you wanting more it can't be a bad thing. Of course, if I'd read this book when it first came out, I might have felt frustrated. But the sequel will be out soon.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Unbroken

Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand. 2010. Random House. 473 pages. [Source: Library]

Unbroken is an incredible read and an emotional one. It is the biography of Louis Zamperini. Readers learn about his family, his growing up years, his training and competitive years. Zamperini competed in track in the 1936 Olympics. He went home knowing that the next Olympics would be his Olympics. He spent years training for an Olympics that was never to be. The arrival of war shifts the focus to Zamperini in the military. Much of the book focuses on the war years. I suppose there are three sections that focus on the war years: his time as a bombardier, his crash and survival in the seas--this section was INTENSE, his "rescue" and time spent as a POW in Japan--and I thought the earlier section was intense! There is so much drama, so much emotion in this one. I don't mean that in a bad way at all. It's not overly dramatic or inappropriately dramatic or manipulative. The book is straightforward in its horrors. But the description of what life was like in the prisoner of war camps is vivid. Same with the descriptions of his survival at sea. For over a month, Zamperini and two others barely survived in two small rafts with essentially little to no food and water. So as I said, this is an emotional and unforgettable story of survival. What I didn't quite expect to be as emotional was the final section which focuses on his return to the States after the war is over. Those months and years where he had to get on with his life, to return to a "normal" life, his mental and emotional struggles. Since he was famous, it was made all the more difficult perhaps? As I said, I wasn't expecting that section to be as emotional as previous sections. There are a couple of scenes in this last section that just get to me.

I would recommend this one.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Attenbury Emeralds

The Attenbury Emeralds. Jill Paton Walsh. 2010/2011. St. Martin's Press. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading The Attenbury Emeralds. I love Lord Peter Wimsey. I do. I love, love, love him. And I like the romance between Harriet and Lord Peter. So it was charming to revisit Lord Peter and Harriet several decades later in 1951. This mystery novel opens with a bit of storytelling. Lord Peter and Bunter team up and take turns telling Harriet about some early detecting concerning the Attenbury family jewels. The first such story begins in 1921. At one point the first mystery was solved, and I was unsure what direction the novel would take. It was only then I realized the story was far from over. For this simple case about the Attenbury emeralds was not as simple as it seemed. It was a mystery with no clear beginning or end in fact! The novel was not merely a sharing of former detecting successes, but, a new opportunity for Lord Peter to solve the case and prove he still has it.

I enjoyed spending time with Lord Peter and Bunter. I love their relationship. I do. I also enjoy seeing Lord Peter and Harriet together. And the brief glimpses we get of their children are nice enough. I really liked knowing that Lord Peter's mother, the Dowager Duchess, was still around! I do find her delightful!!!

For so many reasons this one was just a joy to read. I do recommend it for fans of Dorothy Sayers' mysteries.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. I Kill the Mockingbird (2014)

I Kill the Mockingbird. Paul Acampora. 2014. Roaring Book Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

Lucy, Michael, and Elena are best friends. They have almost always been best friends. I Kill The Mockingbird is about a secret summer project these three think up and orchestrate.

It starts with the announcement of Miss Caridas' summer reading list:
  • David Copperfield
  • Ender's Game
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • War Horse
  • War of the Worlds
  • The Giver
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
 Lucy remembers that Miss Caridas was not their only English teacher that year. She replaced another teacher, Mr. "Fat Bob" Nowak, who died of a heart attack in October. He had told the class that he would assign only one book for the summer: To Kill A Mockingbird. Lucy reminds her friends of this, and expresses how she wishes everyone would read it and WANT to read it. The friends think and consider and brainstorm. What if they could manipulate supply and demand and make people really desperate to find a copy and read it?

I Kill the Mockingbird is about that project, about their misshelving books at bookstores and libraries across the state of Connecticut, about their online campaign "I Kill the Mockingbird."

It's a quick read. It has some depth to it. Lucy is worried that her mom's cancer might come back someday. Lucy is still missing the teacher who died. Lucy and her friends are thinking about life and death and legacies. But it is in many ways a light novel about three best friends who love to read and who want others to love to read too. It would almost be impossible for me not to like--really, really like this novel about reading. I still haven't decided if I LOVED it or just really, really, really LIKED it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Death of a Schoolgirl (2012)

Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]

My expectations were low, so I was quite pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this Jane Eyre mystery was. It may not be perfectly perfect from start to finish. There might be a paragraph or two here and there that bothered me. (For example, I didn't understand why Mrs. Fairfax was pushing Jane Eyre to take the family diamonds with her on her visit to Adele's school. Here she was going to check on the child's welfare, and Mrs. Fairfax is urging her to take jewels so she can dress up for her hosts in London?! I don't know if part of me thought it was foreshadowing--for better or worse--but when she put them in her reticule, I wanted to shout WHY are you traveling with expensive jewelry?!?! Why?! And sure enough--predictably enough--Jane Eyre gets robbed on her way to London. See! I told you not to take the family jewels!) But for the most part, I found the book to be an entertaining read.

Mrs. Rochester (aka Jane Eyre) is a new mother. She loves, loves, loves her new baby boy. But. When she receives a short letter from Adele with a French message included asking--begging--for help, she decides to leave her husband and son behind to check on Adele at her boarding school. If all is well, if it is just Adele being Adele, being childish and wanting her own way, then she may leave her at the school. If the school is less than ideal, if she does not like what she sees--how she sees the children being treated, if she thinks Adele's misery is justifiable, then she may take her out of the school. Because Jane Eyre was beaten up by the thief, because she doesn't particularly look RICH and IMPORTANT, she is initially mistaken as the new German teacher who was supposed to arrive several weeks earlier. That first day Jane Eyre is a bit flabbergasted and too overwhelmed to correct anyone. She has just learned that one of Adele's classmates was murdered. Eventually, one of the teachers convinces Jane that she should continue the deception, that she should resume her teaching duties temporarily and watch over the students herself. She debates what is best. Should she take Adele immediately to safety and let others solve the crime? Or should she become an amateur detective herself and work as a team with others to help solve the case?

Is Jane Eyre the best detective ever? Not really. But to me that almost doesn't matter. I liked spending time in her company. The setting intrigued me. I had never placed Jane Eyre in the Regency time period. But here we have the sequel set during the reign of George IV, and Queen Caroline, the scandalous Queen Caroline has not died yet. This places the book within a specific time frame. The sprinkling of historical details may not speak to all readers. Little details can be easily dismissed or ignored. But to me it's the little things that help ground a book. The book does deal with prejudices and judgments: how the lower classes feel about the upper classes, how the poor feel about the rich, how the rich feel about the poor, do they see them as human, are they compassionate and kind, or, haughty or cruel. One of the characters is VERY prejudiced against French people. Again and again we see characters making judgments or being judged. Sometimes the people that are being judged in certain situations are making judgments about others just a chapter or two later.

There were places I loved this one. There were places I merely liked it. But at times it just felt RIGHT. Maybe it didn't feel RIGHT cover to cover. But I read it quickly and enjoyed it very much.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Glass Sentence (2014)

The Glass Sentence. S.E. Grove. 2014. Penguin. 512 pages. [Source: Library]

The Glass Sentence has an intriguing premise with incredible potential. As soon as I heard the premise, I knew I had to read it. And, in many ways, it is a premise-driven novel. And there's nothing at all wrong with that, not when the premise is so unique. What is the premise? A Great Disruption occurs (roughly 1799) which fragments time itself. Continents and countries are displaced in time, if you will. So explorers are not just traveling from place to place, but also time to time. It makes exploring even more dangerous and unpredictable. Some societies want to forbid travel between Ages, want to stop foreigners from coming to their land, want to forbid travelers from leaving.

In The Glass Sentence, readers meet Sophia Tims. Her parents are explorers that have been missing most of her life. She has been raised by her uncle Shadrack, a cartologer. He insisted that her parents leave her behind. She was just three. She loves him, she does, but she misses her parents. She holds onto the hope that they'll come back OR that she'll go off adventuring and find them. Shortly after the novel opens, he begins to teach Sophia what he knows. He begins to share his secrets with her; he tells her that there are many different types of maps. That maps can be written on things besides paper. They can be written on glass, for instance, or even water. She's looking forward to learning...

But. Just when it is getting started, Sophia returns home to learn that her uncle has been kidnapped and that his study has been destroyed. Sophia and a new friend, Theo, a former zoo exhibit, team up to save the day. Can they find her uncle? Can they rescue him? Can the bad guys be defeated?

The world building works. It's an interesting and complex world. And, as I said, the premise has great potential. It's just an exciting sounding premise with plenty of appeal.

I liked it. I did. I didn't quite love it as I was hoping. But it was well worth a read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life. James Bowen. 2013. St. Martin's Press. 279 pages. [Source: Library]

A Street Cat Named Bob is a simple story in many ways. It's the story of one man and his cat: how they found each other, how they changed each other's lives, how they got to be so close, so fast. At the time the book opens, James Bowen was a street musician--a busker--and a recovering drug addict. He had taken steps to get off the street--at one time he was homeless and addicted to drugs--but the road ahead was still long and uncertain. He sees a stray cat, "a ginger tom," near his building, he sees that it could use a little help. He's injured. He's hungry. He decides to take the cat in and nurse him back to health. He didn't know it at the time, but, Bob wouldn't be going anywhere. Bob had found his home.

If Bob had been an ordinary cat, readers would never have heard of him or James Bowen. Bob would not have become a YouTube star. But ordinary doesn't exactly describe Bob.

Bob wasn't content to stay at home and let James go off busking. He wanted to go along. He wanted in on the action. James found that with a cat, he was irresistible, or rather Bob was irresistible. Wherever he and Bob went, Bob got ATTENTION and ADORATION. Busking became a LOT easier for him when Bob was there sitting on his guitar case and looking cute and adorable. People wanted to take Bob's picture. People wanted to take video. People wanted to pet him. People wanted to give him treats. People wanted to KNIT him clothes. But busking was still rough and unpredictable as the book shows. Eventually, James and Bob gave it up and pursued one of the few things possible. He was still on the streets, still out with Bob, but, now he was selling a magazine, Big Issue, instead of a song.

The book, as I mentioned, is in a way simple, a story of man meets cat. Happy cat. Happy man. But it's also got a bit of a message. And by message, I don't mean the preachy kind. It's the story of a man who went from invisible to visible. He talks about how having the cat gave him back his humanity, his dignity. The book, in a way, is about how we see others. Do we see the homeless, the poor? Do we see them or brush them aside?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Absolutely Almost (2014)

Absolutely Almost. Lisa Graff. 2014. Penguin. 304 pages [Source: Library]

I loved Absolutely Almost. I think I loved it at least as much as Umbrella Summer. Maybe even a little bit more. I don't know. Time will tell. I don't actually have to choose between the two, right?! I can LOVE two GREAT books by one very talented middle grade author, can't I?!

Albie is the protagonist of Absolutely Almost. His narration gives the book a just right feel. It's a satisfying read about a boy who struggles with meeting expectations: his parents, his grandparents, his teachers, his own. He's never good or great, he's always only almost. Almost good at this or that. Almost ready for this or that. And this oppressive almost gets him down now and then. Not always, mind you. I don't want to give the impression that Albie is sad and depressed and unable to cope with life. Albie is more than capable of having a good time, of enjoying life, of appreciating the world around him.

I really appreciated Graff's characterization. Not only do readers come to love (in some cases I imagine love, love, love) Albie, but, all the characters are well written or well developed. Albie's parents at times seem to be disconnected, out of touch with who their son is, what life is like for him, what he wants, what he needs. But just when I get ready to dismiss them as neglectful or clueless, something would happen that would make me pause and reconsider. Readers also get to know several other characters: his nanny, Calista, his math teacher, Mr. Clifton, and his friend, Betsy. For the record, he does have more than one friend. But Betsy is his new friend, his first friend that he makes at his new school. It is their friendship that is put to the test in the novel. It is his relationship with Betsy that allows for him to progress a bit emotionally. If that makes sense. (So yes, I know that his best-best friend is Erlan. But Erlan has been his friend for as long as he can remember, probably since they were toddlers. He's completely comfortable in that friendship. Their friendship does come into the novel here and there. But for me, it wasn't the most interesting aspect of the novel.)

I loved the setting of Absolutely Almost. I loved how we get to spend time with Albie in school and out of school. I loved how we get to see him in and out of his comfort zone. I loved that we got to see his home life. We got to see for ourselves how he interacts with parents. I love how Albie is able to love his parents even if they don't really make him top priority. Especially his Dad. Albie's need for his Dad's attention, the right kind of attention, can be FELT. Albie held onto hope that one day his Dad would find time to spend with him, that one day his Dad would see him--really see him. There were moments that hope lessened a bit as Albie gave into his emotions-of-the-moment. But Albie's love for his dad always won out at the end. His hope would return.

The writing. I loved it. I did. I think the quality of the writing was amazing. There were chapters that just got to me. Their were paragraphs that just resonated with me. The writing just felt TRUE.

Absolutely, Almost is set in New York City.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Jessica Lawson. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I was surprised by how much I LOVED The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. I think the timing was just right for me to love it.

Becky Thatcher is new in town. Her father is a judge. Her mother is a mess. To be fair, her mother is grieving the loss of her son, Jon. Becky and her father miss him too, of course. But. Her mother is deeply stuck in a very dark and melancholy place. Becky has her own way of dealing with her loss. For one, she likes to put on her brother's clothes, take him with her, if you will, and have lots of adventures. She wants to see everything, do everything, just take in each and every moment. It's not that she is out to break all the rules for the sake of breaking every rule. It's that she doesn't want to stop living and having adventures. So. She's sneaking out of the house and going off exploring and adventuring without the knowledge of either parent. Which means that her neighbor that oh-so-horrible Tom Sawyer can tattle on her often. And he does. He is a big tattle-tale which makes him about the least popular kid in town. If there's one kid you can count on to be far away from trouble, it's Tom Sawyer.

So the novel is her adventures, her coming-of-age story. One of the people she meets is Samuel Clemens. He's a riverboat captain temporarily stranded in their small town. He oversees the adventures and misadventures of all the kids in town.

I liked this one. I think I even LOVED it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Kiss of Deception (2014)

Kiss of Deception. (The Remnant Chronicles #1) Mary E. Pearson. 2014. Henry Holt. 489 pages. [Source: Library]

Kiss of Deception was an excellent fantasy. It is probably one of the best fantasies I've read all year. From start to finish, it held my attention. I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of it that held up for three-quarters of the book. The mystery being who is who.

Kiss of Deception has multiple narrators. Princess Lia is our heroine, our runaway bride. Some chapters are narrated by "The Prince," and other chapters are narrated by "The Assassin." To add to the delight OR possibly add to the confusion, there are chapters narrated by Rafe and Kaden. Readers know that Rafe could be the Prince OR the Assassin. Likewise, readers know that Kaden could be either the Prince or the Assassin. The first third of the novel focuses more on all three being on the go. The Princess has runaway, taking her maid Pauline with her. The Prince is chasing after her. The Assassin is chasing after her too. Of course, he has been hired by someone to kill her. And the Prince's motivations are vague. What happens when these two men find her hiding in a small country town? What happens when she begins to get to know these two men, Rafe and Kaden, over the course of a week or two?

Kiss of Deception was definitely suspenseful in places. There's a bit of an intrigue mixed dangerously OR delightfully with romance. Readers learn that there is so much to learn about the world in which this novel is set. There is a hint of depth to it. I wanted more--in a good way. It wasn't that this novel was inadequate, it was that what we know is so small in comparison to what we don't know. And there's this wanting to see more, know more. If fantasy worlds feel fake, then, the wanting is completely different. It isn't curiosity but frustration.

I felt this novel was well-written. I enjoyed the world-building. I enjoyed the characterization.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Ostrich Conspiracy (2014)

Platypus Police Squad: The Ostrich Conspiracy. Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2014. HarperCollins. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

I still like the premise of this mystery-detective series. But I think I liked the first book more than the second. Or else I was just really in the right mood to love the novelty of it, the humor of it. Mood does play a significant part sometimes. That being said, I did like this one. I liked our platypus heroes. I liked Zengo and his partner O'Malley. The book opens with a crime or potential crime. Something goes horribly wrong on the opening night of the new indoor/outdoor amusement park. As horribly wrong as you'd expect a juvenile mystery to get perhaps. Someone tampered with the power, people were stuck on rides for hours, the fireworks went off early and before the roof could be opened up, and the fireworks caused some fires. So not a great opening day but certainly memorable for all the wrong reasons. Zengo and O'Malley decide to take the case and see if it was all deliberate. They have a feeling it was, but, no proof at the beginning. They have strong feelings about some of the people--or should that be ANIMALS--involved. But they have to look for evidence and proof to build a case. Some characters readers met in the first book, but, plenty are new to the second book.

I liked this one. There are a handful of action sequences in it. Those who are looking for ACTION may like it more than the first one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Lost (2014)

The Lost. Sarah Beth Durst. 2014. Harlequin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

Running away from possible bad news, Lauren Chase, our heroine, finds herself almost hopelessly lost when a road trip goes wrong. Lauren enters a dust storm on a highway, and, when the dust is cleared she's entering the town LOST. Her first impressions of this town, well, I'm sure we'd share if we were in her place. But Lauren decides that as weird as the town is, it is still better than going back out on the highway this late at night when you have no idea where you are and how to get back to civilization. One of the many weird things about the town is how all the residents act like they know something she doesn't: that she'll not be leaving town anytime soon, that she's just as stuck as they are. Lauren tries to leave town. Most of the day she tries to leave town, to no avail. No one is surprised to see the newbie return to town frustrated and confused. They tell her to find the Missing Man. He might be able to help her find what she's lost and enable her to leave the town of Lost.

The Lost has two symbolic characters, the "Missing Man" and the "Finder." Lauren ends up meeting both men...

In the past, Lauren has evaded her feelings. She's not dealt with everything that has happened in her life. But now, she almost has no choice but to own up to her feelings and reflect on the past and go through her memories one by one. Her focus is on the "possible" bad news. Her mother's latest test results. Is the cancer back? Is it terminal? How long does her mother have left?

Will Lauren find her own way out of Lost? Does she even want to leave Lost?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Reread #36 Blue Plate Special

Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney. 2009. Chronicle Books. 366 pages. [Source: Library]


I originally reviewed Blue Plate Special in February of 2010. I loved it. I loved it the same way that I love Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Blue Plate Special is a compelling, dramatic story about three daughters. (John Mayer's "Daughters" kept coming to mind. For better or worse. Also Atticus' advice to Scout: "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.") The book is very much character-driven. I don't know that I'd go so far to say that it is one of those "what it means to be human" books, but, if not it comes very close.

All of the characters are flawed; not one person within the pages of this book is perfect or flawless. Relationships in Blue Plate Special are messy. Readers meet three heroines. Madeline (1977-78). Desiree (1993-1994). Ariel (2009). Their stories are told in alternating chapters. I believe all the heroines are around fifteen to sixteen. As you'd expect, in some ways their stories are the same, yet, in other ways all three are different. All, for example, are coming-of-age stories. All focus on first love, or first significant romantic relationships. All are bittersweet, but in different ways. But each heroine is unique. The book is great at complexities. Of seeing the whole person from different angles, which made it easier perhaps to take Atticus' advice. I cared about all three.

I definitely would recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Reread #27 Umbrella Summer

Umbrella Summer. Lisa Graff. 2009. HarperCollins. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

 I have been wanting to reread Umbrella Summer for several years now. I first reviewed it in October 2009. I remember having a good, strong connection with Annie, the heroine. Every single person in the Richards family is struggling with grief--with the loss of Jared, Annie's older brother. But it is Annie whom we come to know and love throughout the book. We see the parents handling of grief, of moving on or not moving on as the case may be. We see how they parent, if they parent, Annie. All this is seen through Annie's perspective. Annie's perspective is seen through a complex range of emotions: fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger. For example, Annie has a hard time sympathizing with her friend, Rebecca, who has lost her pet hamster. Her response to Rebecca's strong grief is understandable, but, problematic for the friendship. He was just a hamster. It's not like you lost your brother. While the book is very much about grief, it is also a very good book about friendship, about what it means to be a friend, about building new friendships and restoring broken ones.

One of my favorite friendships in Umbrella Summer is Annie's friendship with their new neighbor, Mrs. Finch. Mrs. Finch is no stranger to loss, she has also lost someone close to her, her husband. Mrs. Finch and Annie both feel their losses strongly, yet, by coming together, by being honest with one another, by sharing the best memories, the best qualities about those they have loved and lost, they realize that they are beginning to heal a little, and that is a very good thing.

I also thought it was sweet that Annie and Jared's best friend have a special connection and come together as friends to truly celebrate Jared.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. 50 Children (2014)

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany. Steven Pressman. 2014. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission Into the Heart of Nazi Germany is a must-read. It is incredibly compelling and, in my opinion, unforgettable. It tells the true story of an American Jewish couple, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, and how they diligently worked to save 50 Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939. Why 50? Well. They faced obstacles. You might think the biggest obstacles they faced were in Nazi Germany, working with the Nazi regime/government. And no doubt the obstacles they faced when they actually traveled there themselves to do the paperwork and bring over the children were many. But. What might surprise you is how BIG the obstacles were in the United States that they faced. The truth: the United States knew about the ever-increasing risks and dangers facing Jews, they knew that it was a matter of life-and-death, but they did not care. They simply did not care. They did not want Jewish immigrants. Plain and simple. There were laws in place, and those laws were kept strictly, limiting the number of immigrants, of Jewish immigrants. And loopholes had to be found, in a way, to get even those fifty into the United States. Want to know another sad truth? The couple faced opposition from Jewish Americans, from Jewish organizations in America! The book tells how some Jews worried that by bringing MORE Jews into the country, it would increase prejudice and hatred towards them.

The book tells the remarkable story of the men and women involved in this rescue mission. It tells of their determination and stubbornness, their perseverance, how they would not stop until it was accomplished, how they would not quit and say well, we tried, but, there's nothing more we can do. No, they could not turn away from what they knew to be right and good. It's an inspiring, courageous story.

I definitely recommend this one!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La. Mitchell Zuckoff. 2011. HarperCollins. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

After reading Frozen in Time, I knew I wanted to read another by Mitchell Zuckoff. Lost In Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II did not disappoint. The two books are similar in that both books are about plane crashes, survivors, and rescue attempts. Also, obviously, both books are set during World War II.

Lost In Shangri-La tells the story of Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker. These three were the survivors of the plane crash. All three were stationed in Dutch New Guinea, all three were taking part in a little sight-seeing holiday. All hoped to see "Shangri-La" safely from above. Twenty-four were on the plane, but after the crash, after the first twenty-four hours, only three remained alive. The three are able to leave the crash site and make their way to a better place, they are hoping to get to where a passing plane, a search plane, can see them.

The book goes on to tell of the men involved in the rescuing. Hastings and Decker were suffering severe injuries and in need of immediate medical attention. A rescue could not be accomplished quickly, in just a day or two. No, it would take time and careful planning...

Survivors. Rescuers. Natives. The book is very interesting. I definitely recommend it!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. The Girl From The Tar Paper School (2014)

The Girl From the Tar Paper School. Teri Kanefield. 2014. Abrams. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement is a quick nonfiction read for young(er) readers. Set in 1950-1951 in Farmville, Virginia, the book tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns and the student strike she inspires, perhaps one of the first of its kind. The heroine, Barbara Rose Johns, is tired of the inequality between the white school and the black school. The conditions of the black school are truly pathetic and shocking. Instead of believing that nothing will change, that nothing can change, that this is just how things are and how things will always be, Barbara decides to put her mind to it. Barbara contemplates everything carefully. Once she makes up her mind, she organizes and acts. She finds supporters; she turns reluctant hesitate-to-act listeners into full supporters. By the end, her case is combined with several other cases--all from different states--into Brown v. Board of Education.

I found this an informative, thought-provoking read. I thought it was well-researched. I liked the personal approach. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. China Dolls (2014)

China Dolls. Lisa See. 2014. Random House. 376 pages. [Source: Library]

China Dolls is historical fiction. The novel follows three women through the latter days of the 1930s through the 1940s. Three very different women I might add. The friendship between these three women is not quite pure or ideal. Grace, one of the heroines, is running away from an abusive father. Her dream is to sing and dance and to go into show business. Ruby, another heroine, is also a dancer and performer. Helen is the third heroine. Before a chance meeting with Ruby and Grace, Helen had no big dreams of show business. In fact, Helen could not even dance! Yet, a chance meeting one day led all three women to audition for an Oriental nightclub. (For the record, Oriental is the term used throughout China Dolls.) Talent is only half of what is required, they learn. Appearance is super important. It is more important to be beautiful and amazing and be somewhat teachable than to be incredibly talented. Helen and Grace are hired to be essentially part of a chorus. (They're called Ponies.) But Ruby remains a part of their lives. For better or worse.

While each woman is given a back story and/or a sob story, I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Helen, Grace, and Ruby may spend time together, but, that doesn't mean they like each other and want each other to succeed. Helen, Ruby, and Grace could be quite mean and awful to each other.

The history is interesting. The story is certainly full of drama. The characters are incredibly flawed and remain consistently selfish.

I liked it fine, but, I definitely did not love it.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Auschwitz Escape (2014)

The Auschwitz Escape. Joel C. Rosenberg. 2014. Tyndale. 468 pages. [Source: Library]

The Auschwitz Escape is a compelling historical novel starring two wonderful heroes. Readers meet Jean Luc Leclerc a pastor who follows his heart and sets out to rescue as many Jews as he can. He "rescues" them by providing for the needs of refugees. He takes Jews into his home and hides them, he encourages every one in his town to do so. His rescue work continues for several years before he is arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. Readers also meet a young Jewish man named Jacob Weisz. He is part of the Resistance, Belgium Resistance, I believe? He is doing his all to help as well. He too is captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. However they don't learn his true name for many months. Both men learn the upsetting fate of most Jews upon arrival. Both realize that it is not a work camp, but, instead a death camp. Both men are chosen by others in the camp to be part of an underground resistance. Both are chosen to be part of an escape program. They feel very strongly that several teams of two-men need to escape from the camp and seek not only immediate refuge, but, to be messengers. They feel that if the outside world had even a small clue what was happening, they would act, they would do something, they couldn't not do something, right? So Luc and Jacob are the third or maybe fourth team over a year to attempt to escape. Will their escape succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to find help? What will happen when they speak the truth?

The Auschwitz Escape is fiction. But there were men who did manage to escape who did carry messages and horrific proof about the camp with them to share with the outside world.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. The One (2014)

The One. Kiera Cass. 2014. HarperCollins. 323 pages. [Source: Library]

One thing I can definitely say about all three books in this series is that they are all super-quick reads. Once I start reading, I don't want to stop. That being said, I can't say that I actually think about the books or the characters or the story after I'm done. I don't forget the story or the characters mind you. I've always liked that I can pick up the next book without any worries or confusion. That could be because the books aren't all that complex though.

In the third book, readers spend time with Prince Maxon and America Singer. She's one of four young ladies still in the running to be the next princess. The others are Celeste, Kriss, and Elise. Prince Maxon and America have always, always argued with one another. He brings out the fight in her. And he can't get enough of her honestly. Perhaps because she is so very different than his mother?

America (finally) admits to herself that she is really, truly not-kidding-around in LOVE with Maxon. Does she tell him? Are you kidding? She wouldn't dream of actually communicating with him. She'd rather nag, nag, nag him for keeping the other girls around. His excuse? You never, ever show me how you feel about me, you just yell at me. He has a point. But I suppose she does as well.

Communication is something that America fails at, I have to say. Even though America knows that she doesn't love Aspen anymore in that way, she is not telling him that. And she's not telling Maxon that she loves him. And then she realizes that sooner or later, Maxon may need to be told that at one point in her past, Aspen was a love interest.

The trilogy is definitely predictable and a bit silly. But it's almost an irresistible silly.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Earth Awakens (2014)

Earth Awakens. Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. 2014. Tor. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Earth Awakens the third in a new series by Orson Scott Card. At first, I had a hard time reconnecting to all the characters because it's been a year since the last book. There are many characters to keep up with after all. But by the time I was halfway through this one, I was hooked once more. I liked the characters. I didn't always like how they acted. But Card can write flawed characters that I actually like.

In this third book, all the characters are trying to fight the Formics. Some are working together officially to defeat the aliens. Others are more on their own with their own plan. For example, some characters are fighting them on earth; other characters are fighting them in space. But by the end of this one, all the characters stories have merged into one which is probably for the best.

Series books are always so difficult to review because to talk about plot reveals spoilers from the other books. But essentially I liked this one. Maybe not love, love, love but a good, solid like.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Sundays with Jane: Two by Cornthwaite

Charity Envieth Not. (George Knightley #1) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2009. CreateSpace. 260 pages. [Source: Library]
and
Lend Me Leave. (George Knightley #2) Barbara Cornthwaite. 2011. CreateSpace. 246 pages. [Source: Library]

I absolutely loved reading Charity Envieth Not and Lend Me Leave. These two books tell the novel Emma through the perspective of George Knightley. I almost wish they were combined into one edition, however. Still, I can't begin to recommend these enough to all Austen fans!!!

I enjoyed many aspects of both books. I really, really loved George Knightley. That in and of itself is far from shocking. Dare I say he's probably the best thing about Austen's novel?! I loved seeing the characters (and/or the community) through his eyes. I loved his involvement in the community. I loved meeting various characters--rich and poor, from all classes or statuses. I especially, especially liked Spencer! I loved getting to know his brother John better. And I liked seeing him in the role of uncle! I liked how wide the perspective is--if that makes sense! Emma, to me, comes across as very self-centered, the world through her eyes seem a bit narrow.

I also appreciate how both books treat the character of Emma. I think to fully appreciate Emma, one HAS to see her AS Knightley sees her. This book accomplishes that! I don't think I've ever seen Emma in such a positive light before. And it made me think a bit, what if Emma is blinded to her strengths JUST as she's blinded to her weaknesses. OR in other words, what if the narration is a bit too close to accurately judge her strengths/weaknesses. Of course, Knightley cannot absolutely read all her motives and intentions, so maybe he's reading more compassion, more tenderness, more generosity than is really truly there. But maybe just maybe Emma's heart is bigger than I have previously thought. And maybe just maybe her mind isn't quite as empty as I thought it. I kept asking myself what does Knightley see in Emma that I don't?

I would recommend it to those who already love Emma, and even to those that don't really like her. Knightley is a great hero! And he's definitely worth reading about!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. The Dog Who Could Fly (2014)

The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side. Damien Lewis. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

Read this book!!! Read it now! I loved, loved, loved this nonfiction biography. Damien Lewis tells the story of a RAF pilot and his dog in this new book. It is quite a remarkable story! Robert Bozdech fled Czechoslovakia before the Nazis invaded. He first joined the French in fighting the Nazis. During one of his early missions, he and another pilot crash. They seek refuge in an abandoned house. There they find a puppy. Robert didn't exactly plan on adopting this puppy for the duration, in fact, he hoped that the puppy would stay there and allow them to try for safety once darkness came. After all they are in enemy territory or close to it. But the dog had different ideas. They were destined to be together for better or worse...

Robert and Antis (the dog) end up fleeing to England and joining the RAF. Robert was one of many Czech pilots who joined the RAF during the early years of the war. Not all Czech pilots flew with a dog, however.

The book is about his experiences as a pilot, and his experiences as a dog owner. The book is very much focused on Antis! The dog was truly something special.

The story itself is compelling and fascinating. I loved learning about the RAF pilots. I loved the behind the scenes look at some of the missions. There are places this book is very intense!!! I loved the sections that were narrated by Antis. It was a great read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Beth and Kate's Stories, 1914

Kate's Story, 1914. (Secrets of the Manor #2) Adele Whitby.  2014. Simon & Schuster. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I ended up reading the second book first in this series, Secrets of the Manor. But I do plan on going ahead and reading Beth's Story, 1914.

Beth and Kate are cousins. Kate is American. Beth is English. Beth is slightly older apparently. On her twelfth birthday, she received a super special heirloom necklace from her great-grandmother, I believe. Kate will be receiving her own super-special necklace on her twelfth birthday. Beth has traveled all the way across the ocean to be there! Well, her visit is to be for six to eight weeks or so. Was. But this is the summer of 1914. And things get tense after the assassination.

This book is all about the two girls, two cousins, meeting each other for the very first time. Kate has been waiting years and years to meet her cousin. She's beyond ecstatic to spend time with her. They've only corresponded before this. Beth seems just as enthusiastic to be best friends.

Secrets. These two thrive on secrets. The whole premise of the series is on secrets!

I liked this one. I will definitely go back and read the first book!

Beth's Story, 1914. (Secrets of the Manor #1) Adele Whitby. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

Secrets of the Manor is a new historical fiction series by Adele Whitby. The first book in the series is Beth's Story, 1914. The book introduces readers to Beth and her family. Readers learn that Beth is from a well-to-do family. When the novel opens, Beth is several days away from her twelfth birthday. Her twelfth birthday is apparently the most exciting, thrilling, wonderful thing ever. For that is the day she'll receive the Elizabeth necklace, an heirloom necklace worn by every Elizabeth in the family. The is also a Katherine necklace. Beth's cousin Kate, who lives in America, will receive her heirloom necklace on her twelfth birthday in a few months.

For Beth's birthday, her French cousin Gabrielle (15) and her maid Helena come to stay with the family. Beth really really wants her cousin to be a good friend. She's very eager to make a connection with her older cousin. Her older cousin, however, can barely conceal her indifference to Beth. Gabrielle is definitely the villain in this one!

Secrets. Beth discovers that her family has secrets. She takes her first steps to finding out what there is to know. Readers won't learn all the secrets in this first book of course!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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