Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Victoria: Portrait of a Queen. Catherine Reef. 2017. [November] Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: If another princess had not died tragically and young, Victoria never would have been born.

Premise/plot: Catherine Reef has written a lovely biography of Queen Victoria. Readers hoping to learn more about Victoria, her personal and public life--what she was like as a Sovereign, a wife, a mother, a grandmother--will likely not be disappointed. The book isn't exclusively about Queen Victoria; it is also about the times in which she lived: the industrial revolution, the (much-needed) reforms, the wars.

My thoughts: I loved this biography. I just wish that there had been biographies like this one when I was growing up. Not just the subject matter--though that is part of the appeal to me now--but the style and layout. So many illustrations, colored illustrations, even full-page illustrations--this one is packed with appeal.

Victoria is presented as thoroughly human; she's not presented as the world's worst mother nor as a saint. The truth is Victoria was far from perfect--she was not a saintly, well-tempered wife; she was not a sweet, gentle, nurturing mother. Anyone looking for absolute perfection will be disappointed in any honest presentation of Victoria. 

I found the book to be fascinating. It is just the right length--especially for the audience. It isn't too short; it isn't too long. There are biographies that are easily three times as long, more comprehensive and thorough. I appreciate that it covers a little bit about all of her life: not just her difficult childhood, not just her early years as Queen, not just the golden age of a golden age.

I read this one while watching--or "watching"--the season two premiere of Victoria on PBS. I have a love/hate relationship with the show. I really do. But I did not have a love/hate relationship with Reef's biography.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Monday, January 15, 2018

Midnight without a Moon

Midnight Without a Moon. Linda Williams Jackson. 2017. HMH. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Papa used to say I had a memory like an elephant's. According to him, an elephant never forgets. I'm not sure how my self-educated, tenant-farming grandfather knew what an elephant's memory was like, but he sure was right about mine. Most folks didn't believe me, but I could remember all the way back from when I was only a year and a half old, when my brother Fred Lee was born. That was June 1943.

Premise/plot: Midnight Without a Moon is set in the summer/autumn of 1955 in Mississippi. It is narrated by Rose Lee Carter, a thirteen year old being raised by her grandparents. Her mother abandoned Rose and her brother, Fred, when she found a new family: Mr. Pete and his two young children. Rose and Fred became "Aunt" and "Uncle." Soon after the novel opens, she learns that her mother, stepfather, and step-siblings are moving to Chicago. This news comes on a day that was already hard for Rose.

The novel in fact opens with Rose Lee being almost run off the road by a white teenage boy. Her grandmother is more upset by the fact that Rose dropped the eggs she was delivering than by the fact that Rose could have been killed. If she was killed, I get the sense that Ma Pearl would still be more upset at the loss of eggs, and the loss of a field worker than a grandchild.  If grandchildren were ranked, Rose Lee knows she'd be at the bottom. She is almost certain it's because she's the darkest skinned grandchild. Ma Pearl's favorite, Queen, is the lightest skinned. Queen, who is nearly sixteen, does no house work or field work.

If the novel just focused on the troubled home life of Rose Lee, it would be an emotional coming-of-age novel. But it's not. Rose Lee is coming-of-age at a tumultuous time. While Emmett Till's death isn't the only death--murder--that summer, it is the one that hits closest to home since he was so very young, near Rose's own age.

The community is torn apart: not just facing adversaries from without--the whites--but also from within. There are those--like Ma Pearl--that think the NAACP is of the devil. That Negroes that are killed are killed because they're trouble-makers, they're asking for it. Ma Pearl, for example, blames Till's death not on the white men that murdered him for supposedly whistling at a white woman but on Till and his mother. She should never have let him come south. The mother lacked sense; she should have known better.

Ma Pearl's harsh words aren't just for her closest kin; she is cruel to most everybody.

My thoughts: I took my time reading this one. It was a heartbreaking, emotional read. I ached for Rose. To bear witness to the verbal and sometimes physical abuse was difficult to do. It didn't take me long to HATE Ma Pearl. She made me furious. She left me speechless at times. Rose held onto hope, and her courage to keep hoping kept me reading. I loved her relationship--friendship--with the preacher's son, Hallelujah. Some of my favorite scenes are their conversations with each other.

One more thing I'd like to add is that faith is important in this novel. Rose Lee gets saved in the book and receives baptism. Not many books these days deal with faith in a realistic, positive way. 

Maybe Hallelujah was right. Maybe Mississippi itself was hell. No. Mississippi was worse than hell. At least in hell you know who the enemy is. And at least, if you believe the Bible, you know how to keep yourself from going there. But in Mississippi you never knew what little thing could spark a flame and get you killed. (178)
"Stars can't shine without darkness," I said. "What?" "Stars can't shine without darkness." "What's that supposed to mean?" "I have no idea. I don't even know where the words came from....
"Stars can't shine without darkness," Hallelujah repeated. "You've got to have some darkness to know what light is. If every Negro who could leave packed up and left, the struggle wouldn't be the same. Dreams have more meaning when you have to fight for them. (254-5)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Currently Reading #3

Brief Introduction:

I thought it would be fun to share each week--at the start of the week--what I'm currently reading. It is my goal to always be *currently* reading something old, something new, something borrowed, and something true. Old and new are self-explanatory. Borrowed can mean borrowed from a person or a library. True is nonfiction. As you might notice, some books fit into two--or even three categories.
Something Old
Orley Farm. Anthony Trollope. 1862. 825 pages. [Source: Bought]

Mary Barton. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1848. 437 pages. [Source: Bought]

Emily of New Moon. L.M. Montgomery. 1923. 339 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant #1) Josephine Tey. 1929. 255 pages. [Source: Bought]

Something New

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen. Catherine Reef. 2017. [November] 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Something Borrowed
Jane Austen at Home. Lucy Worsley. 2017. 387 pages. [Source: LIBRARY]
Something True
Spurgeon On the Christian Life: Alive in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life) Michael Reeves. 2018. Crossway. 192

Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding. Lois Tverberg. 2018. Baker Books. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

KJV Reader's Bible. 2016. Holman Bible Publishers. 1840 pages. [Source: Gift]

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Week in Review: January 7-13

Favorite Book of the Week:

What I've Read and Reviewed:

Board books and picture books:

4. The New LiBEARian. Alison Donald. Illustrated by Alex Willmore. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
5. The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon. A.N. Kang. 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
6. Papillon Goes to the Vet. A.N. Kang. 2017. Disney-Hyperion. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Early readers and chapter books:

2. Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane. (Mr. Putter and Tabby #5) Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 1997. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 44 pages. [Source: Library]
3. Mr. Putter and the Tabby Row the Boat. (Mr. Putter and Tabby #6) Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 1997. HMH. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

Speculative Fiction:

3. Dream Life for Children. Mattie K. Foster. 1918. 178 pages. [Source: Read online]
4. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by John Tenniel. 1865/1871. 247 pages. [Source: Bought]


2. Dream Life for Children. Mattie K. Foster. 1918. 178 pages. [Source: Read online]
3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by John Tenniel. 1865/1871. 247 pages. [Source: Bought]
4. My Antonia. Willa Cather. 1918. 336 pages. [Source: LIBRARY]
5.  Framley Parsonage. Anthony Trollope. 1861. 573 pages. [Source: Bought]

Historical fiction:

3. The Widow of Windsor. Jean Plaidy. 1974. 318 pages. [Source: Bought]
4. My Antonia. Willa Cather. 1918. 336 pages. [Source: LIBRARY]
5. Where We Belong. Lynn Austin. 2017. Bethany House. 480 pages. [Source: Review copy]
6. The Lacemaker. Laura Frantz. 2018. Revell. 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Christian Fiction:

2. Where We Belong. Lynn Austin. 2017. Bethany House. 480 pages. [Source: Review copy]
3. The Lacemaker. Laura Frantz. 2018. Revell. 416 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Christian Nonfiction:

4. What Can We Know About God? R.C. Sproul. 2017. Reformation Trust. 53 pages. [Source: Review copy]
5. Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. John MacArthur. 2018. Reformation Trust. 148 pages. [Source: Review copy]February

What I've Blogged:
What I've Watched:
  • Monarchy, Complete Series
  • Young Victoria 
  • Knight's Tale
  • The Paradise, episodes 1 and 2
  • Merlin, series 3, episode 8 "The Eye of the Phoenix"
What I've Drank:
  • English Breakfast Tea (7)
  • Green Tea (16) 
  • Pomegranate Raspberry Green Tea (3)
  • Earl Grey (3)
  • PG Tips (2)
  • Lady Grey (1)
  • White Tea (1)
  • Orange Spice (1)
  • Candy Cane Lane (2)
  • Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla (5)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Saturday, January 13, 2018

My Victorian Year #2

This week I reviewed three Victorian books. I reviewed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I reviewed Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. I reviewed The Widow of Windsor by Jean Plaidy.

The next Trollope I'll be reading is Orley Farm. I do have a decided order for approaching Trollope; I am reading chronologically. I believe I've read the first three chapters?! I'm sure we'll be spending quite a few Saturdays talking about the book. It is 825 pages! I'd love to finish it by the end of January, but we'll have to see how it goes!

This is how the novel begins, "It is not true that a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. Were it true, I should call this story “The Great Orley Farm Case.” But who would ask for the ninth number of a serial work burthened with so very uncouth an appellation? Thence, and therefore, — Orley Farm."

Two more quotes: 
  • Let one live according to any possible or impossible rule, yet some offence will be given in some quarter.
  • The capital that is really wanting is thought, mind, combination, knowledge.
I have also begun Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton. I have read four chapters so far.

Favorite quote:
Don't think to come over me with th' old tale, that the rich know nothing of the trials of the poor; I say, if they don't know, they ought to know.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

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