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Becky's Book Reviews by Becky - 15h ago
Unicorn Magic. Sabina Gibson. 2018. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Periwinkle lived in the Forever Forest with her unicorn friends. Every unicorn in the land was born with a magical power.

Premise/plot: Periwinkle, the blue unicorn, is sad, sad, super-sad because she doesn't think she has any magical powers. Her friend, Birdie, cheers her up by telling her to 'believe in magic and follow your heart.' Periwinkle is thankful for the friendship--and the advice--it's advice she passes on to all of her friends who just so happened to be facing their own discouragements that morning. Will her words be taken to heart?

My thoughts: Unicorn Magic may be an absolute must for little unicorn lovers. I would recommend it to unicorn-lovers for the illustrations alone. There is something mesmerizing about them. But does it have a wider appeal? I'm not sure. I'm not. Reading picture books is super-subjective after all.

For me I found the message to be predictable and generic. I'm just thankful it didn't include a SONG to sing the message at me with the turn of every page. Do we really need to hammer in the message that all of life's problems can be solved by 'following one's heart'? OR that all the magic you need to succeed comes from deep within?

I liked one theme in this one--friends encourage one another. But the other themes not so much.

Text: 2 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Roller Skates. Ruth Sawyer. 1936. 186 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Spring has come; windows are open.

Premise/plot: Roller Skates is set in New York City in the 1890s. Lucinda Wyman, our roller-skating heroine, will be staying with the Misses Peters (Miss Peters, Miss Nettie) while her parents go abroad for a year. She'll still have to visit her prim and proper relatives once a week, but, most of her time is her own...and she'll use it to make friends with anyone and everyone regardless of their age, gender, and/or social class.

My thoughts: If I'd read this book in one or two days instead of three or four weeks, would I have liked it better? Probably. Reading one or two chapters per week killed the enjoyment I might have gotten from the story.

To be honest the introduction also unsettled me a bit. Who is narrating the introduction? Who is the unnamed old friend Lucinda is visiting? How many years have passed? Were they children together? Or is the unnamed old friend one of the adult friends she made? Is the unnamed friend a man or a woman? Why did Lucinda give this person her diary? And why didn't the book END with her giving someone her diary? Why did the end absolutely not tie back to the introduction at all?

I will need to reread this at some point to give it a better chance to charm me.



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East of Eden. John Steinbeck. 1952. 601 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. 

Premise/plot: East of Eden is near-impossible to summarize in a few sentences. Other than the human condition--the human character itself--I'm not sure it is technically about anything. It examines why we are the way we are, how we justify the choices we make, how easy it is to deceive ourselves and others. Can you ever really know another person and love them unconditionally? Is every person a broken mess? Are some people better at hiding their brokenness?

Cyrus Trask has two sons--each by a different woman. Adam is his first born. Cyrus has IDEAS, fixed ideas about who Adam should be, what Adam should do. Charles is his second son. And Cyrus isn't any better at seeing the real Charles than he is the real Adam. The difference is that Cyrus doesn't even try the tiniest bit to love Charles. Charles from an early age knows that his father doesn't love him the same--treat him the same. And his deep hurt causes him to be mean. Self-control isn't his best quality--especially as a growing boy.

Adam and Charles do come to terms with each other--after their father's death. The two even become surprisingly close considering how volatile the relationship was when they were growing up. But someone does come between them again--a woman.

Cathy. Is Cathy the serpent in the garden of Eden? Perhaps. She's dangerous and manipulative, selfish and controlling. And she becomes the mother of Adam's twin sons: Caleb and Aron.

Caleb and Aron might have easily been orphans or near-orphans. Cathy's flight was interrupted by an extremely shocked Adam. She shot him when he got between her and the door, her and FREEDOM. After he was shot by his wife, he lost the will to live if by living you mean functioning in any normal, healthy way. For the first year--maybe even a little longer--the two boys didn't even have names.

But friends can take the place of family. Enter Samuel Hamilton and Lee. Lee is a "Chinaman" who worked for Adam since he moved to California. (Lee never really liked Cathy, found her unreadable, almost soulless. Samuel, a neighbor, also got a very vibe when around her.) Lee raised the boys, loved them like they were his own flesh and blood. Both Samuel and Lee were able to speak truth--the hard, cold, brutal TRUTH that he desperately needed to hear to wake him up and give him reason to live.

Many years pass in the novel. In fact, most of the novel takes place when Cal and Aron are near-grown sons, in their final years of high school. Readers see that Adam is blind to the fact that he's repeating the exact same mistakes his father made with him and Charles. Oh, he thinks he sees the situation clearly enough NOT to be making those same mistakes. Aron can do no wrong and Adam doesn't see any reason why Aron won't fulfill all his hopes and dreams. Cal's mistakes and brokenness are quite obvious to one and all. He's honest to everyone about his shortcomings. Surprisingly so in many ways. Cal seems all too self-aware; Aron, well, he lives in a dream world of his own making.

A large part of Aron's dream world is ABRA. The two met as children. It didn't take long for Aron to know that she was the one, that she was his storybook love, that their happily ever afters were tied to one another. But this fantasy story isn't enough for Abra. Not when she feels misunderstood and ignored. Aron, she thinks, has no interest in seeing the real her, the flesh-and-blood her, the her that is all-too-human. A future with Aron would mean being or becoming HIS version of Abra. She doesn't want that--but she's not quite sure how to break into Aron's dream world and introduce reality.

Cal accepts reality as is. Oh he has hopes and dreams. One hope is that his father might one day love him as he loves Aron. But he knows that may never happen. Fortunately, Cal has LEE and ABRA to keep him grounded.

Aron's dream world is destined to crash and crumble, and unfortunately Cal is responsible for throwing Aron into the deep end of reality leaving him to sink or swim. He feels that responsibility. One could argue that someone should have taken that responsibility much, much, much earlier. That the secret should never have been a secret that long. Still, it was not done from a place of loving concern but of misdirected anger.

Can Cal ever forgive himself? Can others forgive him too?

My thoughts: I found it a difficult read to get into at first. But by the end I was fully engaged. It is a well-written, thought-provoking read. It touches on the nature versus nurture argument. But what I enjoyed most were the themes of friendship and family.

Quotes:
It doesn't matter that Cathy was what I have called a monster. Perhaps we can't understand Cathy, but on the other hand we are capable of many things in all directions, of great virtues and great sins. And who in his mind has not probed the black water?
Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong. But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water? It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them. (447)
There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension. (482)
"The ways of sin are curious," Samuel observed. "I guess if a man had to shuck off everything he had, inside and out, he'd manage to hide a few little sins somewhere for his own discomfort. They're the last things we'll give up." (484)
When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else. (586)
Whenever a human has a nickname it is a proof that the name given him was wrong. (588)
"No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us." (594)
"IF a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule--a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting--only the deeply personal and familiar." (596)
In the dawn Dessie was awakened by the chill of pain that came to her at intervals. It was a rustle and a threat of pain; it scampered up from her side and across her abdomen, a nibbling pinch and then a little grab and then a hard catch and finally a fierce grip as though a huge hand had wrenched her. When that relaxed she felt a soreness like a bruise. It didn't last very long, but while it went on the outside world was blotted out, and she seemed to be listening to the struggle in her body. (730)
Nearly everyone has his box of secret pain, shared with no one. (815)
Try to believe that things are neither so good nor so bad as they seem to you now. (829)
Laughter at yourself comes last of all in a mad race with death, and sometimes it isn't in time. (835)
Nobody has the right to remove any single experience from another. Life and death are promised. We have a right to pain. (937)



© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Something Old
The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by Richard Pevear. 1844/2006. 704 pages. [Source: Bought]
Rachel Ray. Anthony Trollope. 1863. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang. 1887. 390 pages. [Source: Bought]
Something New
The Romanov Empress. C.W. Gortner. 2018. 431 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 
More Than Meets the Eye. Karen Witemeyer. 2018. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Something Borrowed
The Year We Sailed the Sun. 2015. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
Something True 
Daily Chronological Bible: KJV Edition. Holman Bible Publishers. 2014. 1440 pages. [Source: Free giveaway]

Heaven. Randy Alcorn. 2004. Tyndale. 533 pages. [Source: Gift]

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew. J.C. Ryle. 312 pages. [Source: Bought]


© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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I'm currently reading Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers and Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray. I'm really enjoying both books. Though one is packed with more adventure than the other.

I'll start with The Three Musketeers.
"And now, gentlemen," said d'Artagnan, without bothering to explain his conduct to Porthos, "all for one and one for all--that's our motto, isn't it?"
"But still..." said Porthos.
"Hold out your hand and swear!" Athos and Aramis cried at once. Defeated by example, grumbling quietly, Porthos held out his hand and the four friends repeated with one voice the formula dictated by d'Artagnan: "All for one and one for all." (105)
 "Young man," he said to d'Artagnan, "a piece of advice."
"What?"
"You could be bothered because of what has just happened."
"You think so?"
"Yes. Do you have a friends whose watch runs slow?"
"Eh?"
"Go to see him, so that he can testify that you were with him at half-past nine. In legal circles, that is known as an alibi." (114)
"If you could see into my open heart," said d'Artagnan, "you would read so much curiosity in it that you would have pity on me, and so much love that you would satisfy my curiosity that same instant. There is nothing to fear from those who love you."
"You are rather quick to speak of love, Monsieur!" said the young woman shaking her head.
"That is because love has come to me quickly and for the first time, and I am not yet twenty years old. (126)
Rachel Ray. Mr. Comfort's advice has been sought and he's changed sides. He now says that Mrs. Ray should not encourage Rachel and Luke's relationship. That Rachel should reply to his letter--but only to end things. Rachel does so, but in obeying her mother--who's obeying a minister--she's breaking her heart. A broken, sad Rachel is not a happy companion she finds. Mrs. Ray does have a chance encounter with Luke Rowan, however, when she goes into the city on business.
Of the truth, or want of truth in every word spoken to us, we judge, in great part, by the face of the speaker. By the face of every man and woman seen by us, whether they speak or are silent, we form a judgment, — and in nine cases out of ten our judgment is true.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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I read two tales this week from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book.

The Goose Girl

First sentence: Once upon a time an old queen, whose husband had been dead for many years, had a beautiful daughter. When she grew up she was betrothed to a prince who lived a great way off. Now, when the time drew near for her to be married and to depart into a foreign kingdom, her old mother gave her much costly baggage, and many ornaments, gold and silver, trinkets and knicknacks, and, in fact, everything that belonged to a royal trousseau, for she loved her daughter very dearly. She gave her a waiting-maid also, who was to ride with her and hand her over to the bridegroom, and she provided each of them with a horse for the journey. Now the Princess’s horse was called Falada, and could speak.
When the hour for departure drew near the old mother went to her bedroom, and taking a small knife she cut her fingers till they bled; then she held a white rag under them, and letting three drops of blood fall into it, she gave it to her daughter, and said: “Dear child, take great care of this rag: it may be of use to you on the journey.”


Premise/plot: A princess' happily ever after is put on hold when a maid revolts and demands to swap places with her. The princess--now dressed as a maid and in fear of her life--becomes a goose girl. the maid--now dressed as a princess and feeling quite smug--becomes a bride. But justice does prevail in the end. Even if things do NOT turn out well for the horse.

 My thoughts: I became familiar with this story because of Shannon Hale's novel adaptation of it.

Toads and Diamonds

First sentence: THERE was once upon a time a widow who had two daughters. The eldest was so much like her in the face and humor that whoever looked upon the daughter saw the mother. They were both so disagreeable and so proud that there was no living with them.
The youngest, who was the very picture of her father for courtesy and sweetness of temper, was withal one of the most beautiful girls ever seen. As people naturally love their own likeness, this mother even doted on her eldest daughter and at the same time had a horrible aversion for the youngest—she made her eat in the kitchen and work continually.


Premise/plot: You reap what you sow. The lovely younger daughter is rewarded for her kindness by a fairy. Every time she speaks diamonds, pearls, jewels come out. The older daughter with the rotten character is also rewarded by a fairy--for her attitude. Every time she speaks toads and snakes come out. There's no hiding her ugliness now.

My thoughts: I think I have read this one several times before. Though I didn't grow up with it, I think it's one of my new favorites.



© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Celebrated Crimes, Volume III: Mary Stuart. Alexandre Dumas. Translated by George Burnham Ives. Before 1870. Read by John Van Stan for Librivox. 6 hours and 25 minutes.

This week I listened to volume three of Alexandre Dumas' Celebrated Crimes. (For the record, I have not read or listened to volumes one or two). The subject of the volume is Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

First sentence: Some royal names are predestined to misfortune: in France, there is the name "Henry". Henry I was poisoned, Henry II was killed in a tournament, Henry III and Henry IV were assassinated. As to Henry V, for whom the past is so fatal already, God alone knows what the future has in store for him.

In Scotland, the unlucky name is "Stuart". Robert I, founder of the race, died at twenty-eight of a lingering illness. Robert II, the most fortunate of the family, was obliged to pass a part of his life, not merely in retirement, but also in the dark, on account of inflammation of the eyes, which made them blood-red. Robert III succumbed to grief, the death of one son and the captivity of other. James I was stabbed by Graham in the abbey of the Black Monks of Perth. James II was killed at the siege of Roxburgh, by a splinter from a burst cannon. James III was assassinated by an unknown hand in a mill, where he had taken refuge during the battle of Sauchie. James IV, wounded by two arrows and a blow from a halberd, fell amidst his nobles on the battlefield of Flodden. James V died of grief at the loss of his two sons, and of remorse for the execution of Hamilton. James VI, destined to unite on his head the two crowns of Scotland and England, son of a father who had been assassinated, led a melancholy and timorous existence, between the scaffold of his mother, Mary Stuart, and that of his son, Charles I. Charles II spent a portion of his life in exile. James II died in it. The Chevalier Saint-George, after having been proclaimed King of Scotland as James VIII, and of England and Ireland as James III, was forced to flee, without having been able to give his arms even the lustre of a defeat. His son, Charles Edward, after the skirmish at Derby and the battle of Culloden, hunted from mountain to mountain, pursued from rock to rock, swimming from shore to shore, picked up half naked by a French vessel, betook himself to Florence to die there, without the European courts having ever consented to recognise him as a sovereign. Finally, his brother, Henry Benedict, the last heir of the Stuarts, having lived on a pension of three thousand pounds sterling, granted him by George III, died completely forgotten, bequeathing to the House of Hanover all the crown jewels which James II had carried off when he passed over to the Continent in 1688—a tardy but complete recognition of the legitimacy of the family which had succeeded his. In the midst of this unlucky race, Mary Stuart was the favourite of misfortune.
The introduction reminded me of the lovely Horrible Histories songs about the Stuarts, "The Blue Blooded Blues."

I found this a difficult one to listen to. I like history. I like biography. I like to think of myself of having a good attention span when it comes to both. It may not be Dumas' fault. It may be the reader of the audio book, John Van Stan, or this reader.

I may still be willing to read the book at some point.

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Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Collection. Scharles M Schulz. 2018. 96 pages. [Source: Library]
This graphic novel is a blend of new stories starring the Peanuts cast and classic Peanuts strips by Charles M Schulz.

The new stories are "Charlie Brown's Star" by Jeff Dyer, "Public Speaking" by Bob Scott, "Snowball's Chance" by Justin Thompson, "She Love Me, She Loves Me Not," by Jeff Dyer, "Dear Pen Pal" by Vicki Scott, "Blind as a Bat" by Jeff Dyer, "Football Basics" by Vicki Scott, "Fight for Flight" by Shane Houghton, "Spring Training" by Shane Houghton.

Longer stories by Schulz include: "The Carousel," "Poor Chuck," and "Get Well Soon, Charlie Brown."

 My favorite story in this new collection is "Dear Pen Pal." In this one, Sally takes over writing a letter for her big brother. He is writing a pen pal. Sally is quite proud of herself for having learned to write in cursive the letters A through N. But Sally's idea of what should go into a letter is quite different from Charlie Brown's idea. Will this letter ever get written?
Charlie Brown: If you can't write 'Dear Pen Pal,' what can you write?
Sally: "Thank you for the cookies!"
Charlie Brown: But he didn't send me cookies.
Sally: He didn't send you cookies?? Then why in the world are you writing to this kid?! The only reason to write a letter is to thank someone for sending a gift! And the only reason to thank someone for a gift is so they send another one! Until this kid sends you cookies, I don't see any reason I should learn to write the letter "P"!!
I enjoyed the book. Perhaps I'd have loved it even more with less sports. But this one still had some great moments.


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Rudi and the Distelfink. F.N. Monjo. Illustrated by George Kraus. 1972. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: On our farm, first of all, there's me Rudi Schimmelpfennig. Then there's my Vati--that's for Papa, in Pennsylvania Dutch, ja? And my Mutti, Mama. And Mutti's Mama Grossmutter Ritter--like you say, my granny. And plenty kinder. That's us Schimmelpfennig children. I mean you'd think there were plenty, except for what Mutti says.

Premise/plot: This book invites you to spend a year with the Schimmelpfennig family. Rudi, our narrator, is one of twelve children. It's set in Pennsylvania in the 1820s. What can happen to one family in the course of a year?! A lot.

My thoughts: Though published in 1972, I can't recall reading this one as a child. Would I have liked it? I did like historical fiction and family stories. So there's a chance I would have. I can easily say that I like it now. It is a quiet gem of a book.

I like the focus of family. I like the focus on culture--way of life--and traditions. I like that we get at least one page of text per month. (Some months like August and December get two pages of text.)

It would definitely be for older readers despite the picture book format.


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Little Brothers & Little Sisters. Monica Arnaldo. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In nearly every neighborhood of almost every town, you will find little brothers and little sisters, all longing for the same few things...

Premise/plot: What do little brothers and little sisters want?! Arnaldo's new picture book explores just that in a fun and sweet way.

My thoughts: I love, love, love, LOVE this sweet and funny picture book. It is VERY true to life. The first half looks at some of the negatives of being a little brother or sister. The second half looks at some of the positives of being a little brother or sister. So much of the human story is communicated in just a few words.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

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