Thursday, January 18, 2018

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 197 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Things happening at night had the look of old paintings.

Premise/plot: Catherine Reef has written a biography of Florence Nightingale. I would recommend it to those interested in Florence Nightingale (obviously), the Victorian period in general, the Crimean War specifically, and last but not least those interested in women's roles and rights in the nineteenth century. Readers learn about Florence Nightingale's struggle to follow God's call on her life: to be a nurse.

At the time she was growing up, nurses were held in little respect. Nurses were held to have few morals--be drunkards and prostitutes. Nurses also did not have to be trained professionals. So to say her parents were shocked or disappointed or frustrated with their daughter would be on target. Florence didn't want what other young women wanted; her interests were her own. Though her parents didn't always accept her, there were other adults in her life who did; there were those who encouraged her and enabled her, in fact, to pursue a career in nursing. (She received training in a nursing school in Germany).

One relationship that stayed rocky for decades was her relationship with her sister. Those two did not get along, and her sister really did not understand why her sister had to be so weird. There were times these two seemed allergic to one another's company.

There was a LOT of name dropping in this one. Even before she became THE FAMOUS FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE of Crimean war fame, she met some famous or would-be-famous Victorians. And Victorians being Victorians, there are diaries and letters about such meetings and impressions.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't love it. Perhaps I'm just more interested in Queen Victoria? Perhaps it was just bad timing on my part. I am glad I read it. I don't regret my time. It just didn't captivate or fascinate me.

If Catherine Reef would like to write more books about Victorians, I can think of a few suggestions: George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Oliphant, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ada Lovelace, to name a few. 

OR possibly Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, or Mary Shelley if you opened up the field.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2018

This week's topic is bookish resolutions for 2018. The host is That Artsy Reader Girl.

1. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. C.S. Lewis This quote was the inspiration for my new reading challenge. It is my approach for reading in 2018. So far, so good. I am LOVING keeping track on GoodReads. At a glance, I can tell that as of today--I've read 20 new books and 11 old ones.

2. To always be reading something old, something new, something borrowed, something true. That will keep me balanced not just new and old--see above--but balanced between reading my own books and library books, and nonfiction and fiction.

3. To go outside my comfort zone and read more short stories and listen to more books on audio.

4. To read the 2018 books as I receive them, not letting them pile up and get to be super over-whelming.

5. To keep up with my reading challenges and not play favorites. Not only keep up by reading the books, but also *reviewing* the books, and adding links to the challenge post.

6. To reread at least 24 of my favorite, favorite, favorite books.

7. To read new-to-me authors.

8. To be intentional about scheduling posts ahead. In a perfect, perfect scenario, I would LOVE to save two or three reviews each month and schedule them to post in December. So that December could be less stressful in terms of blogging.

9. To share more quotes in my reviews when I really love a book.

10. To read more classics.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


The Man in the Queue

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

First sentence: IT was between seven and eight o'clock on a March evening, and all over London the bars were being drawn back from pit and gallery doors. Bang, thud, and clank. Grim sounds to preface an evening's amusement.

Premise/plot: Some murder mysteries make you wait for the murder to occur. That is not the case with Josephine Tey's The Man in the Queue. In the first chapter, the body is discovered. As the line--the queue--moves forward, a man collapses to the ground: he's dead. He was murdered--stabbed--while in line. Inspector Grant faces days of frustration before a few clues come to light. How could a man be murdered in public--with dozens of possible witnesses--and no one notice a thing?!

This mystery introduces the detective Inspector Alan Grant.

My thoughts: The Man in the Queue was the very first mystery novel I ever read. I enjoyed it well enough to become enthusiastic about a new-to-me genre. I have since read all the Inspector Grant books in the series. The Daughter of Time is my favorite and best. Not just my favorite and best Grant novel, but my favorite mystery of all time. (Those that have read it may question the appeal since this mystery takes place while Grant is in the hospital, and the mystery is centuries old. But I stand by my choice.) I would recommend The Man in the Queue.

Favorite quotes:
"Are you hurt?" Grant asked.
"Only my ribs," said Struwwelpeter. "The abnormal excitation of the intercostal muscles has nearly broken them." He struggled to his feet.
"Well, that's twenty minutes wasted," said Grant, "but I had to satisfy myself." He followed the hobbling artist through the dark passage again.
"No time is wasted that earns such a wealth of gratitude as I feel for you," said Struwwelpeter. "I was in the depths when you arrived. I can never paint on Monday mornings. There should be no such thing. Monday mornings should be burnt out of the calendar with prussic acid. And you have made a Monday morning actually memorable! It is a great achievement. Sometime when you are not too busy breaking the law, come back, and I'll paint your portrait. You have a charming head."
A thought occurred to Grant. "I suppose you couldn't draw Sorrell from memory?"
His heart did not jump—that would be doing him an injustice; C.I.D. hearts are guaranteed not to jump, tremble, or otherwise misbehave even when the owner is looking down the uncompromising opening of a gun-barrel—but it certainly was guilty of unauthorized movement. It may have been resentment at his own weakness in being taken aback by a photograph, but Grant's eyes were very hard as he looked at the smiling face—that famous, indeterminate smile. And though his mouth may have curved, he was not smiling as he read the many captions: "Miss Ray Marcable, a studio photograph"; "Miss Marcable as Dodo in Didn't You Know?"; "Miss Marcable in the Row"; and lastly, occupying half the centre page, "Miss Marcable departs from Waterloo en route for Southampton"; and there was Ray, one dainty foot on the step of the Pullman, and her arms full of flowers.
 "Well, Inspector," he said, "how are you getting on? Do you know, you and dentists must be the most unhappy people in the world. No one sees you without remembering unpleasant things."
"Tut, tut, Grant, you've been at the Yard for I don't know how many years, and you're looking at this late stage for reasonable murders. 
© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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


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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