Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-Second Book Review: “Where There’s Smoke” by Jodi Picoult

“Where there’s Smoke” is a short story by Jodi Picoult about a psychic named Serenity. It is the first Jodi Picoult that I have picked up in quite some time. I forgot how much I enjoy getting lost in the world that Picoult creates. This short story was different from a lot of what Picoult usually produces in that it revolved around a psychic and a fair amount of paranormal. “Dealing with the paranormal is like wading into a dark, murky swamp. You may get bit in the ass by an alligator. But you’re going to go in there like you’re a crocodile hunter and do it anyway.” (Where there’s Smoke, loc 397).

The problem with reviewing a short story is that it is hard to not give everything away. So this feels rather bare, but I enjoyed the short story enough to not want to ruin the ending for anyone who decides to get their hands on the short story.

The main character in “Where there’s Smoke” is named Serenity. She is a psychic with her own television show. There is a fair amount of humor in the way that Picoult writes about Serenity, which is good since she discusses a lot of serious topics. If it wasn’t for the humor infused into the story it would be just a little too heavy. At least in my opinion, I want a short story to be light. I enjoyed the taste that Picoult provided in this short story that I had to go pick up another one of her works and lose myself in it. “It’s funny, how fast life changes. One minute you are present, and the next, you might find yourself futilely trying to get back to the world you were once part of. You might find yourself looking for people who can no longer hear you. You are in the world, but not of it.” (Where There’s Smoke, loc 453)

Would I recommend “Where there’s Smoke”? Yes, I do enjoy Picoult’s works and even though this was a short story (which I usually avoid) it was worth reading. Things did feel a little unresolved, but apparently there is a book coming out featuring the same character. This was just a short story that introduces Serenity and gives a little background on her. She was interesting to read about and I wouldn’t mind picking up the next work that she is featured in.  

Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-First Book Review: “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel

“Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to “Wolf Hall”. It continues to follow the story of Henry VIII. The story is still narrated by Thomas Cromwell and picks up shortly after “Wolf Hall” left off. Thomas Cromwell is still serving Henry VIII who, at this point in time, is married to Anne Boleyn having successfully severed ties with Katherine of Aragon.  It seems appropriate that I am writing about “Bring Up the Bodies” when yesterday marked the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death. In “Wolf Hall” we read about Anne Boleyn making her way to the top to become Henry VIII’s wife. In “Bring Up the Bodies” Hilary Mantel focuses on Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, so it does seem fitting.

One quote that stood out to me in “Bring Up the Bodies” has Cromwell talking about jousting and the different kinds of men that do it, how you can judge the kind of man based on if they swerve or close their eyes. Although he is focused on jousting it does represent well in my opinion the court of Henry VIII. Reading this book, living vicariously through the characters, which are based off of real individuals, it makes you realize just how dangerous life was at court during Henry VIII’s reign. You had to be aware of what was happening at all times. The second that you swerve, that you take your eye off of the target, that’s when you get hit. You never see it coming. “Some men don’t swerve, but instead they close their eyes at the moment of impact. These men are of two kinds: the ones who know they do it and can’t help it, and the ones who don’t know they do it. Get your boys to watch you when you practice. Be neither of these kinds of men.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 165). You could never really stop dancing during Henry VIII’s reign. You never knew when he might change his mind.

Part of what makes this book so exciting and easy to devour is that knowledge that the bones of the story, that actually happened. These characters are based off of real people – people that existed during Henry VIII’s reign. Some lived to tell their tales, but most didn’t. There was so much change during that time that it was near impossible to keep up with it. With each new queen, new fashions came to play and anyone who wasn’t following her style was instantly suspect. People saw what Anne Boleyn did – a commoner rose up to become Queen of England. She burned brightly in that court, but that which burns brightest usually does so for a shorter period of time. “…No one need contrive at her ruin. No one is guilty of it. She ruined herself. You cannot do what Anne Boleyn did, and live to be old.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 309). It’s a very good point. Henry VIII is a name that everyone knows but Anne Boleyn is arguably just as well known. She made history and she changed history, England was not the same after encountering Anne Boleyn.

Another quote that I really enjoyed in “Bring Up the Bodies” would be, “This is a business that tries the most experienced. He remembers that day in the forge when a hot iron had seared his skin. There was no choice of resisting the pain. His mouth dropped open and a scream flew out and hit the wall. His father ran to him and said ‘Cross your hands,’ and helped him to water and to salve, but afterwards Walter said to him, ‘It’s happened to us all. It’s how you learn. You learn to do things the way your father taught you, and not by some foolish method you hit upon yourself half an hour ago.’” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 278) I liked this quote because it made me reflect on Henry VIII and all the changes that he made to England once he was king. There have been many theories as to why Henry VIII did all that he did – he must have set some sort of record in regards to how many people he had killed during his reign. He ended up having six wives (we all know the rhyme: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survive) and you have to wonder how much of what he did was thought through. Was Henry VIII mad? Was he just an impulsive child? Or was he some combination of the two?

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that “Bring Up the Bodies” was just as well written if not more so than “Wolf Hall”. This series is addictive and I cannot wait for the next book to come out. In the meantime, I’m planning on getting my hands on more of Hilary Mantel’s works. She is quite talented and I’m interested in what else she had produced. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Fortieth Book Review: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic that has been told and retold numerous times. Even though I knew the story from a young age, I had never taken the time to pick up the book and read it for myself. When I did I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. “It was a night of little ease to his toiling mind, toiling in mere darkness and besieged by questions.” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 13).

I really enjoyed the way that Robert Louis Stevenson manipulated language throughout his novel. Reading him was like sneaking bites of dark chocolate. Even though it was a story that I knew, turning each page was a delicious indulgence. “…the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming,” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 17). Robert Louis Stevenson chose each word so carefully to paint such a dark and addictive picture.

I really enjoyed the way that Robert Louis Stevenson focused on the split personality aspects in the book, the book may be about a man who finds a way to let the monster inside of him come out on his own and be separate, but the true lesson of the book is, “…man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens.” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 78). The thing that sets Dr. Jekyll apart from other men is that he finds a way to let the monster out. There is no denying that Mr. Hyde is still ultimately a piece of Dr. Jekyll, one that grows stronger the more he shows his face. In a way, it makes him more self-aware than most. He embraces the monster.

Would I recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yes, it was a very fun read and even though it would be hard to not know the tale, it was still surprising and interesting. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Thirty-Ninth Book Review: “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.” (The Fault in Our Stars, pg 3). That is how the book opens. I don’t read the backs of books most of the time, so I didn’t know what “The Fault in Our Stars” was really about when I picked it up. Since you find out in the first few pages, I won’t worry about spoilers for that part. The main character, Hazel, is living with cancer. She gets sent to a support group where all of her friends are living with cancer or have survived cancer. It’s not exactly a happy book, but it is a love story.

The story is told from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old girl and I quite admire the way that John Green was able to capture a teenage girl’s essence and voice in his book. There is also the morbid nature of the subject matter to which John Green finds a way to bring in comedic relief. You quickly get a sense of how Hazel thinks and feels. I like how Hazel reacts to certain things, you really hear a sarcastic seventeen year old, “Mom reached up to this shelf above my bed and grabbed Bluie, the blue stuffed bear I’d had since I was, like, one – back when it was socially acceptable to name one’s friends after their hue.” (The Fault in Our Stars, pg 40).

Despite the serious topics that the book covers, Hazel remains a fairly well grounded teenager. She has realized that the only way to deal with her living-with-cancer life is to find humor where it can be found and to not take anything too seriously. You see this especially with her interactions with the others at the support group. One of the guys at group is Isaac, her friend that she communicates with through various sighs. Then, one day, Isaac brings a friend with him to support group named Augustus and that is where everything changes for Hazel.

Augustus and Hazel quickly become friends and the flirty interactions that they have are just fun and reminiscence of high school in the beginning. They have great chemistry and their exchanges are a lot of fun.

“‘No,’ I said, ‘but I really appreciate your refusal to give in to breakfasty social conventions.’

He tilted his head at me, confused. ‘Hazel has developed an issue with the ghettoization of scrambled eggs,’ Mom said.

‘It’s embarrassing that we all just walk through life blindly accepting that scrambled eggs are fundamentally associated with mornings.’

‘I want to talk about this more,’ Augustus said. ‘But I am starving, I’ll be right back.’” (The Fault in Our Stars, pg 143).

When he returns, he rebuttals with: “‘The thing about eggs, though,’ he said, ‘is that breakfastization gives the scrambled egg a certain sacrality, right? You can get yourself some bacon or Cheddar cheese anywhere anytime, from tacos to breakfast sandwiches to grilled cheese, but scrambled eggs—they’re important.’” (The Fault in Our Stars, pg 145). The interactions between the two are so well done.

While I loved reading about Hazel and Augustus, I think what moved me most about this book was how Hazel reacted and thought about her parents. Whenever she would say offhandedly ‘dad cries a lot’ or ‘mom hangs around a lot’ I could just picture that her parents were mine. It got me to thinking about how my death at that age would have affected my parents. How amazingly difficult it must be to know that you have to one day bury your child.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was an amazing read and I devoured it. I think there are a couple things to keep in mind before picking up this book. For example, maybe don’t pick it up if you are looking for a happy book. I find it hard to believe that anyone could read this book without tearing up a few times. It’s the kind of book that you sob through. That being said, there were a lot of amazing aspects to the book: it was extremely well-written, the characters, especially Hazel, are easy to relate to and easy to care for, and you can’t help but want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens. I am definitely going to get my hands on John Green’s additional work, he is a talented writer – I just hope his other books don’t make me cry so much.

Becky’s One Hundred and Thirty-Eight Book Review: “Darkest Hour” by V.C. Andrews



“Darkest Hour” by V.C. Andrews is the fifth and final book in the Cutler family series. As per V.C. Andrews protocol, this book goes back to the beginning – where the curse began! To be honest, I almost didn’t read this book because of my disappointment with the rest of the series. But I don’t like to leave things undone, so I read it anyway.

“Darkest Hour” is the prequel to “Dawn” and it follow’s Dawn’s grandmother Lillian. The majority of the book takes place on the Meadows, the plantation that Lillian grew up on. We learn that Dawn, whose actual name was Eugenia, was in fact named after Grandmother Cutler’s favorite sister. Lillian has two sisters, the other one is Emily and she is a terrible person. Throughout their interactions, Emily tries her very hardest to convince Lillian that she is cursed and evil. Emily breaks the news to her that Lillian is not actually her sister. When Lillian goes crying to her mother, she finds out that she is actually her aunt and that her actual mother died while giving birth to her. Emily continues to torture Lillian every chance she gets.

Lillian’s childhood is full of trauma. After discovering that she is not sisters with Emily and Eugenia and that her parents are both dead Lillian still tries to make the best of things. This is not easy when it comes to dealing with Emily, but Eugenia is a ray of sunshine in her life that seems to be full of darkness. Her favorite sister, Eugenia is suffering from cystic fibrosis and eventually catches smallpox and dies as a complication. I don’t want to give too much away because I guess there is the off chance that someone may want to pick up this book and read it themselves. I was not at all surprised when Lillian is raped by the man she believed was her father but is actually her uncle by marriage. So I guess that makes it a little less icky? Either way, it was extremely predicable because that is just what V.C. Andrews books are about.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely not, the book was not an enjoyable read, it’s one of those books that you finish reading and want to contact the author and complain about the waste of time it was reading their book. This couldn’t happen because V.C. Andrews has been dead for many years and actually is not the one who wrote this series. I’m really not sure how that works, but there you have it. The book was not great; the series was overly predictable and full of incest as usual. Makes you wonder about V.C. Andrew’s childhood. Either way, I don’t believe the series is worth reading, even if you’re really bored. There are a lot of good books out there actually worth reading. I’m in the middle of a few now.