Monday, December 14, 2009

Hospital Sketches

Finished Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott. Published in 1863, it is an account of Alcott's experiences as a nurse in a Union hospital in Georgetown, where she worked for six weeks. At that point she became ill with Typhus and had to be sent home.

Alcott, who portrays herself as Nurse Periwinkle, bustles about the wards and does her best to bring comfort and cheer to wounded soldiers. While perhaps not as dire as scenes from the film Gone With the Wind, her accounts are frank and clear in their criticism of patient care, organization of the facility, lack of spiritual guidance and open racism. It's a very honest telling of her experiences and is based on the letters she sent home during this time. It was the first publication of her writing to bring her critical acclaim and popularity.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Flowering Thorn

Finished The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp. This was her fourth novel, published in 1934. It’s about a young woman named Lesley. She is slim, fashionable, popular and very socially inclined. She lives in a flat in London and spends her days shopping, lunching with friends and attending parties every night. She is pale, beautiful, hard and cold. Most of her friends are the same. She finds that she is bored with her life and is looking for a change. When her aunt announces that her cook has died and left her with a four year old boy, Patrick, Lesley volunteers to take him off her hands. Her aunt is stunned. Eventually Lesley is too. At first she tries to continue her social whirlwind of a life, but finally realizes that it just won’t do. She rents a cottage in the country and takes Patrick there to live until he is old enough to be sent off to school.

At first Lesley is a town mouse in the country. She keeps to herself and dodges the vicar. She orders her meals to be delivered from Fortnum & Mason, but soon realizes that she can’t possibly continue to afford it so she engages a woman to cook and help around the house. Lesley and Patrick have a very distant, offhand sort of relationship. Gradually, bit by bit, Lesley and Patrick warm to each other. The same happens with Lesley and the people of the village. She lets her hair grow, takes long walks, gains a little weight, gets sunburned and learns to knit. In a sense she evolves into a complete human being. Her life is no longer hollow and rudderless. The same goes for Patrick as well. In the end the vicar and his wife are two of her very best friends.

There were times when I was reminded of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day and Auntie Mame.

I adore Margery Sharp.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Late George Apley

Finished The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand. It won the Pulitzer in 1938. It is the story of a privileged Bostonian, born in the 1860s, who watched the world around him change drastically until his death in the 1930s. Social norms, automobiles, World War I, electric lights on the Boston Common, Freudianism, Ernest Hemingway, Cubism, Lady Chatterly's Lover, all are touched upon. The book is written as a biography, compiled by a longtime friend of Apley's and consisting of occasional narration, but mostly letters written by Apley to friends and family. The book is engaging and humorous. It was interesting to read so much about the history of the area I grew up in. This was Marquand's first serious novel. He is perhaps better known for his Mr. Moto mysteries.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Waterless Mountain

Finished Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer. It won the Newbery Medal in 1933. It is the story of a young Navajo boy who wishes to be a medicine man like his uncle. He has various dreams and visions which seem to guide him on his path. This book is a bit slow, and methodically told. The dialogue is annoyingly simplistic. The details are interesting as are the various customs and examples of family relations. The illustrations in the book are by Armer as well. The edition I read had an unusual forward written by Oliver La Farge, author of Laughing Boy.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Anne of Windy Poplars

Finished Anne of Windy Poplars several weeks ago. This is the fourth book (chronologically) in L. M. Montgomery's series, although it was the seventh written. Anne has been hired as principal at Summerside High School. The book spans three years. Anne lives in a house called Windy Poplars with three elderly women. During this time she encounters the resistance of the Pringle family and also befriends Katherine Brooke, a bitter, lonely colleague. The book contains narrative as well as letters that Anne writes to her fiancee, Gilbert, who is in medical school. The stories turn the tables on Anne so that she is usually aiding students and friends in crises and muddles instead of experiencing crises and muddles of her own. Thus we encounter a fully mature Anne.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Dog's Life

Finished A Dog's Life by Peter Mayle. Written from the perspective of Mayle's dog Boy, this book describes life with Mayle and his wife in their house in the south of France. While very humorous at times, I got a little tired of the schtick. On the other hand I was at times reminded of Hitty: Her First Hundred Years since both are memoirs of non-humans told via anthropomorphism. I enjoyed Mayle's A Year in Provence much more.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Pair of Blue Eyes

Finished A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy, published in 1873. It is the story of a young girl, Elfride, and the two men she falls in love with.

Her first love is Stephen Smith, a young architect of low lineage, who is earnest and works hard to gain money, position and the respect of Elfride's father. Her second love is Mr. Knight, an older man who is both scholar and critic and who was once Stephen's tutor. He is a relation of Elfride's stepmother and is visiting with them.

Elfride's love for Stephen pales during a momentous event. She knows that Stephen is returning from India and goes to the nearby cliffs to watch his steamer come into the harbor. Knight, unaware of the prior relationship, accompanies her. Through foolhardy actions of his own Mr. Knight slips and and finds himself clinging to the edge of the cliff. Elfride looks for help but finds none. She removes her dress and petticoats and tears them into strips which she binds into a rope and uses this to rescue Mr. Knight. Their relationship then changes from that of casual acquaintance to two people who have been through a harrowing experience, even more so than George Emerson and Lucy Honeychurch in A Room With a View. This novel was serialized, with an installment leaving Mr. Knight dangling from the cliff. According to Wikipedia, this is the origin of the term "cliffhanger."

While not as pastoral as other Hardy novels I have read, this book was enjoyable. At times I was reminded of Trollope's The Warden. This is probably because of the female characters falling for men their clergymen fathers disapprove of.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sing Mother Goose

Sing Mother Goose, music by Opal Wheeler, illustrations by Marjorie Torrey, won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1946. I feel like we've been through so much Mother Goose already, but there are two more to go.

My Mother Is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

Finished My Mother Is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World written by Becky Reyher and illustrated by Ruth Gannett. It is based on a Russian folktale. A little girl accompanies her parents into the fields when everyone is harvesting wheat. The day is warm and the little girl falls asleep. When she wakes up she cannot find her mother anywhere. Others who are working nearby try to help her. They ask the child to describe her. She says "My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world." The people scour the village for all the young beauties, but not one of them is the child's mother. In the end the mother appears. She is no conventional beauty, but to that little girl she is beautiful. A sweet book that demonstrates the picture love can paint.

Ruth Gannett won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1949 for My Father's Dragon, the first in a series of three books. They are lovely and make a nice gift as a set.

Honey in the Horn

Finished Honey in the Horn by Harold Lenoir Davis. It won the Pulitzer in 1936. Set in Oregon in the early 20th century, it's the story of a young man who comes of age quickly amidst harsh conditions and considerable danger. In a way the entire story is based on a series of misconceptions which are not cleared up until the very end. I would not classify it as a mystery, but the suspense gives it a similar feel. Like other Pulitizer winners of the time it documents tragic events, but in a different way. Books like Lamb in His Bosom and Now in November tell much the same type of story but with prose that is deeply poetic. Honey in the Horn is told with a wry voice and the tone of tall tales. It's not clear who the narrator is, but the voice is one of unrelenting candidness. No group is safe from its criticism. It's comments concerning local Native American groups are particularly acidic. Regardless of that, many of the descriptions had me chortling.

Aside from the Pulitzer, Honey in the Horn won The Harper Prize for Best First Novel of 1935. Davis wrote several other novels and was a poet as well.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Two Years

Been writing this blog for two years today. Hmm....

Monday, October 5, 2009

You Can Write Chinese

Finished You Can Write Chinese by Kurt Wiese. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1946. An American boy whose family has moved to China attends school in Chungking. There are only boys in this school. The teacher explains that there is no alphabet in Chinese. Each character is an actual word. As he draws the words on the blackboard he shows his students how the characters visually resemble what they mean. Some of the examples are very clear. Others seem a bit forced conceptually. However, I think this approach for young children is entirely appropriate. The cover of the book shows the boy and his sister with the teacher, but his sister does not appear anywhere in the book. Perhaps she appears on the cover to make the "you" in the title more universal.

Kurt Wiese illustrated many books for children. He won the Caldecott Honor Medal again in 1948 for Fish in the Air. His work also won one Newbery Medal and several Honor Medals. His most recognizable illustrations are perhaps for The Story About Ping and The Five Chinese Brothers.

Little Lost Lamb

Finished Little Lost Lamb illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1946. Weisgard won the Honor Medal again in 1947 for Rain Drop Splash, the same year the he also won the Caldecott Medal for The Little Island. The text was written by Golden MacDonald, a name which was a pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown. Brown also won several times. She is remembered most for her book Goodnight Moon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Caleb's Story

Finished Caleb's Story by Patricia MacLachlan. It is the third book in a series of five which began with Sarah, Plain and Tall, which won the Newbery Medal in 1986.

When Caleb is home alone with Sarah and his little sister Cassie during a blizzard he finds a stranger in their barn. He is an old man who is gruff and seems ill. Sarah, always compassionate, invites him into the house. When Papa returns from town he is stunned when he begins to recognize the stranger. The stranger is his father who left when Papa was a boy. Papa is angry that his father has returned after all these years without a word or a letter. Sarah does her best to repair the rift between the two men. All along Caleb is writing about these events in the journal that his older sister has given him.

Caleb is very observant and after a while he begins to realize that his grandfather cannot read. In secret Caleb teaches his grandfather to read and write. His grandfather then writes the letter to his son that he was never able to write before.

I enjoyed this book. It was very brief and even though it has been years since I read Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark, it was very easy to drop back into the lives of these characters.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Cat Who Went to Heaven

Finished The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth. It won the Newbery Medal in 1931. It is the story of a Japanese painter whose housekeeper brings home a cat from the market instead of food. At first the painter is skeptical, cats are demonic, but after observing the behavior of the cat he changes his mind. The painter is commissioned to paint a mural for the temple of the death of Buddha. The painter imagines himself as Buddha and as each of the animals that Buddha welcomes to Nirvana. The descriptions of each animal are interesting and compassionately written. The cat is the one animal that was not welcomed, but this seems to change by the end of the book. I don't usually enjoy books that are religiously based, but this book is special. "One of the thirty 20th-century children's books every adult should know."--The Horn Book. Unfortunately I cannot seem to locate that list itself.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Little Maid of Provincetown

Finished A Little Maid of Provincetown by Alice Turner Curtis, originally published in 1913. This is the second book in her series of twenty five that I have read. Set during the American Revolution, it is the story of Anne, whose father's fishing boat is captured by the British. The people of the Provincetown Settlement think that Anne's father has turned spy or informant for the British. Anne is taken in by a childless couple who she calls Aunt Martha and Uncle Enos. Anne is taunted by other children who call her spy and traitor. Anne has a plucky spirit and a fierce temper. She throws water and sand in the faces of these children, who then go wailing home. Uncle Enos catches her at it and rather than scolding her for such behavior, he praises Anne for standing up for herself and her father. Anne learns that her father has escaped the British and has joined the American soldiers in Boston. She stows away on Uncle Enos' boat when he sails for Boston in order to try to find her father. Uncle Enos helps her to find him and then Anne carries a message for her father to the leader of the rebels in Newburyport.

This was a fun book. Curtis includes a few British soldiers who are kindly and who rescue Anne when she is in danger. She is not so complimentary of the Native Americans in the region however. This is surprising since the Native Americans in A Little Maid of Nantucket were portrayed in a much more favorable light.

The edition I read was a vintage reissue printed by Applewood Books, the same company that has reissued Nancy Drew books in their original form. Applewood issued twelve titles from the series some time in the 1990s.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Rooster Crows: A Book of American Rhymes and Jingles

Finished The Rooster Crows: A Book of American Rhymes and Jingles by Maud and Miska Petersham. It won the Caldecott Medal in 1946. This book has many cheerful illustrations, nursery rhymes, finger games, count off games and jump rope songs, some familiar, some rather peculiar. The Petershams were a husband and wife illustration team who also won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1942 for An American ABC.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There

Finished Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. This was a re-read for me. I probably last read this fifteen years ago, aloud to my daughter. It's hard to believe that she could have followed it. Much like Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator I really preferred the first book. Both first books are complete originals, zany and fun. Both second books are completely off the wall. I realize that Carroll's second book is a masterpiece of logic with complicated chess moves, but that doesn't really interest me. Stories interest me and there really is no actual story in Through the Looking Glass. There are, however, a number of pretty creepy characters, Humpty-Dumpty and Tweedledum and Tweedledee in particular. In a way I suppose it was just too complicated for my taste. A cranky entry, I know.

Some Tame Gazelle

Finished Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym. This was her first published novel. It is the story of two spinster sisters living in a small village in England. Their world is very small and precise. Any changes to it cause tremendous upheaval. There were moments when I was reminded of characters in the first of the Mapp & Lucia books, but I enjoyed this book so much more because I actually liked these characters.

The main character, Belinda, nurses her long unrequited love for their neighbor the Archdeacon. While a small, quiet, sometimes amusing story, I was very drawn to the characters and found myself wondering about them when I was at work and away from the book. Pym novels always have an excellent quote worth saving. One from this book is "If only one could clear out one's mind and heart as ruthlessly as one did one's wardrobe." Next year I will read her next novel Excellent Women.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Down the Garden Path

Finished Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols. This book is wickedly funny and best suited to those who know their way around a garden. Read it outside, in the sunshine or twilight, with a glass of something bubbly.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Finished re-reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This is perhaps the fourth or fifth time I have read the book. The Anglophiles Anonymous group I belong to on Shelfari finally decided to read some children's lit and chose both of the Alice books.

This time around I read all the annotations in the edition I have. The type is so tiny and made me so sleepy that it took perhaps longer than it should have for me to finish the first book.

I have always enjoyed Tenniel's illustrations.

With this reading I was struck by Alice's concern for good manners. While constantly finding herself in absurd situations she still does not wish to offered anyone. Also, characters who I found intimidating or even frightening when I was younger now appear harmless and I feel they are looked upon with an indulgent eye, not only by me, but by Alice herself.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

How Green Was My Valley

There is a lovely book it is. A lovely, lovely book.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Main Street

Finished Main Street by Sinclair Lewis back in mid July but forgot to blog about it here. It is the story of Carol Kennicott, married to a country doctor, after living life as an independent young woman in Minneapolis. Gopher Prairie, MN is a small, close, terribly judgmental place and Carol tries her hardest to reform it visually and socially. Her struggle in this effort is at first valiant, but in the end a bitterly lost cause. I felt despair and disappointment for Carol as she was forever buried under the petty norms of small town America in the 1920s.

Despite this bleak prospect I enjoyed the novel. Lewis' characters are so real it's easy to get caught up in their lives.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Hidden Staircase

Finished The Hidden Staircase by Carolyne Keene, the second Nancy Drew mystery, published in 1930. Nancy sleuths alone, carries a revolver and is pretty damn bold. This book was a reissue of the original text, printed by Applewood Books.

I pulled out my childhood edition of The Hidden Staircase to make comparisons and found that the 1959 revision of the text bears little resemblance to the original. Like The Secret of the Old Clock this book is riddled with racial stereotypes that make one cringe. This second book, however, was much more exciting than the first in the series.

Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for a number of writers who worked on the series, but most of the first twenty-five Nancy Drew books were written by Mildred Wirt Benson.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Julie & Julia

Finished Julie & Julia in anticipation of the film's release in August. The film is based on this book and Julia Child's memoir My Life in France which I finished in August 2007, just prior to beginning this reading blog.

Julie & Julia chronicles Julie Powell's attempt to cook every recipe in Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about her efforts. Compared to most of the books I've read in the last few years this is quite contemporary. It has all the angst, drinking, smoking and swearing of Bridget Jones' Diary, but it has something else as well. It has a sense of tangible accomplishment. Powell, a recovering theater geek, turned temp, turned permanent secretary, learns that she is capable of great and fearsome things. Not only do her cooking skills excel during the project, but her writing skills do as well. This book is very personal and very funny.

I'd have to say that of the two books I really prefer My Life in France. It's charming and equally as funny, but perhaps in a different way.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fairy Tales: A Selection

Finally finished Fairy Tales: A Selection by Hans Christian Andersen. It takes me a long time to get through disjointed texts, books of tales or short stories. I much prefer a long, drawn out narrative with lots of characters to follow. This collection has sat on my bookshelf, unread, for many years. It contains many of Andersen's most familiar works, The Princess and the Pea, Thumblina, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, and The Little Match Girl. It was pleasant to read these in the original (if translated) text. However, I found the tales I was not familiar with truly bizarre and interesting. The Galoshes of Fortune was my favorite. It reminded me very much of the 1942 film Tales of Manhattan, where a tail coat passes from person to person, changing the destiny of each one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

Finished Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. It won the Newbery Medal in 1930. About a decade ago, when I used to read chapter books out loud to my daughter we started Hitty. We got about twenty pages in and were so bored we started calling it "Hitty: Her First Million Years." Needless to say we gave up and read something else. Because of that experience I was concerned when Hitty came up next in my chronological reading of the Newbery medalists. At times like this I hear the voice of Miss Baker, one of my middle school English teachers, saying "Always give a book at least 32 pages before you give up on it." Reading Hitty this time I was engrossed long before page 32.

Hitty is a doll, carved from strong Mountain Ash. She was made by a peddler for Phoebe Prebles, a little girl living in Maine in the 19th Century. Hitty's adventures begin almost immediately. She is picked up by a crow and brought back to a nest where she is pecked and crowded by young crows. She falls from the nest and is rescued by the Prebles. Phoebe's father is the Captain of a Whaler. He takes his family along on a voyage to the South Seas. They are shipwrecked on a small island. The people of the island are fascinated by Hitty and place her in a shrine where she is anointed and worshiped. Someone steals Hitty back and the family is rescued and taken to India. Phoebe is so tired. She is carried to lodgings and loses her grip on Hitty. Hitty falls into the gutter. She is later discovered there by a snake charmer. Hitty travels in a basket with a cobra from one end of India to the other. Adventures such as this go on and on.

There are times when Hitty is lost to the world in attics, barns, down beneath sofa cushions. She is always rediscovered, rehabilitated, and brought back in a different role, sometimes simply as a plaything, other times as a museum piece. She remarks on the changes that she sees over the years, new inventions, innovations, changes in styles and manners. She at one point is given a little desk, quill pen and ink and so begins to write, these, her memoirs.

This book was exciting and fantastical. An interesting historical ride. There are moments where one cringes over ethnic and racial stereotypes, but taken within the context of when they were happening, they are sadly the tone of the times. Hitty herself is a bit of a snob.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

When I read about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in the Times Book Review last summer I knew this was the book for me. Last week in Logan Airport I was sans book and popped into the Border's there to grab something, anything, to get me through the flight back to Detroit. There it was, now in paperback, so I snapped it up.

This is a book populated by deeply human characters, ones you glom onto almost from the first meeting. They are odd and each wounded in one way or another, and so endearing that you don't want to finish the book at all because, then they will be gone.

The book is written in letters, to and from the main character as well as letters among others in the story. This makes it very easy to pick up and put down here and there and thus breeze right through.

Set in 1946, the main character Juliet receives a letter from a person who lives on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands that was occupied by the Nazis during World War II and which was cut off from the rest of the world for several years as a result. The story of life during the occupation unfolds in these letters, at times charming and humorous, at others shocking and heart wrenching. Juliet eventually travels to Guernsey to meet all the folks who have been writing to her to possibly write a book about their experiences. Living among the people of Guernsey changes her life drastically. This was an excellent read.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blackberry Wine

Finished Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat. Like Chocolat this novel is laced with magic and mystical happenings. It is told in two times and places, Pog Hill, England, 1977 and Lansquenet sur Tannes, France, 1999. Jay MacIntosh wrote a brilliant first novel fourteen years ago, but has been writing pulpy sci fi ever since. He is jaded and discontented with his life. One day on an impulse he takes his savings and buys a vineyard in France, to live out the dream of Joe, the man who inspired his first novel, but disappeared twenty-two years ago. The story is told from Jay's perspective, as a teenager shipped off to boarding school and his grandparents while his parents go through an ugly divorce (1977), and as a 37 year old trying to rehabilitate a neglected vineyard and his own neglected potential as a writer (1999). A charming book, excellent for vacation reading.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Eight Cousins

Finished Eight Cousins (a.k.a. Aunt Hill) by Louisa May Alcott. Published in 1875, it is the story of Rose Campbell, an orphan at age 13, sent to Boston to live with her aunts until her legal guardian, Uncle Alec, arrives from overseas to take charge of her care. Rose is shy and sickly and overwhelmed by her fussing aunts. Her life changes drastically when she meets her seven male cousins and her uncle Dr. Alec, who prescribes fresh air, non restrictive clothing, housework, physiology lessons and an extended childhood. A charming book. So glad there is so much more Alcott to read. Next year the sequel Rose in Bloom.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Warden

Finished The Warden by Anthony Trollope, the first book in his Chronicles of Barsetshire. This is a quiet book. It begins the series of novels based on the church politics of Barchester. There are characters with droll names like Sir Abraham Haphazard, a noted barrister and Mr. Quiverful of Puddingdale, who has twelve children to support. I was expecting this book to be rather dry, but it was a pleasant, amusing read.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Finished Cheri by Colette. I decided not to read the sequel The Last of Cheri because it is rather dark by comparison. I apparently read both of these books in a Women's Lit class as an undergrad, but did not remember much about them. The prose is sultry, as is the plot. It is also rather beautifully written. A film version of the two books will be released next month.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Now in November

Finished Now in November by Josephine Johnson. It won the Pulitzer in 1935. This was Johnson's first novel. She was twenty-four when it was published. Set during the Depression it tells the story of a family's struggles to live with each other and to keep the farm they've put so much of themselves into.

Three sisters, Kerrin, Marget (the narrator) and Merle work alongside their mother performing the womanly tasks that are expected of them. Kerrin, the oldest, longs to work with her father on the land, but he thinks girls are too stupid and feeble to do so.

The novel is short, but spans ten years in the lives of the family on their farm. Towards the end of the decade Grant, the son of a neighbor, comes to live with them and help out. Kerrin, ever restless and rebellious, is distracted by him, as she would be by anyone new. Marget is quietly and desperately in love with him, but he himself is partial to Merle, who enjoys challenging him verbally, but has no interest in him as a mate.

Drought and tragedy take their toll on everyone, Kerrin in particular. At the beginning of the novel she is wild and untamed, much like Hans Christian Anderson's character of the Robber Girl in The Snow Queen. She teaches herself to throw a knife, wanders the woods alone most nights, sleeps in the barn and eats alone, like a starved animal. She becomes progressively unbalanced and in the end commits suicide. While horrible, this is almost a relief to her family who each felt that there was no place in the world for Kerrin and her odd ways.

The prose is spare, taught, poetic and bleak. The reader floats dreamlike through the days of drought and despair. Though I haven't read it yet, I think the impact of this book was perhaps overshadowed by Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath which won five years later.

Heaven to Betsy

Finished Heaven to Betsy, Maud Hart Lovelace's fifth book in the series. Betsy and Tacy are now freshmen in high school. Many changes take place this year. Betsy's family moves to a new, larger home. They also acquire house help, a woman named Anna, who comes to live with them. The move away from Hill Street is sad for Betsy since she will no longer be right across the street from Tacy. The new house is lovely though. Betsy has her own room and makes new friends nearby. They become "The Crowd." Betsy quickly merges Tacy into The Crowd and they have many adventures and social activities. Boys become a major topic in this book. Betsy spends a lot of time on her personal appearance. She begins rolling her hair at night on curlers (magic wavers) that Anna has given her. She develops a crush on a new boy named Tony, but steps aside when she realizes that her friend Bonnie likes him too. We also meet Joe Willard, whose character was based on Maude's own husband, Delos Lovelace. The social negotiations between boys and girls are very carefully drawn here. Betsy has numerous learning experiences as a result of them. The prose has again matured to match the age of the characters. This was a very pleasant, comfortable read.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Finished The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. I missed reading this book in eighth grade English class because I switched schools in November of 1977 and the class at the new school had just finished reading it. It's great fun. This was the precursor to later superheros in disguise stories. The cleverness of the disguises often reminded me of Sherlock Holmes. It's a gripping adventure as well as a romance. I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to watching the 1934 film adaptation starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon this weekend.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Christmas Anna Angel

Finished The Christmas Anna Angel written by Ruth Sawyer and illustrated by Kate Seredy. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1945. Set in Hungary it is the story of a little girl who longs for the decorative Christmas cakes that they used to have before the wars came. The story is very original and the illustrations are lovely.

Ruth Sawyer won the Newbery Medal in 1937 for Roller Skates. Kate Seredy won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1936 for The Good Master and then the Newbery Medal in 1938 for The White Stag.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yonie Wondernose

Finished Yonie Wondernose by Marguerite de Angeli. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1945. Yonie is an overly curious, seven year old Amish boy. His parents leave him at home with his grandmother and sister, so he is to be the man of the house while they are away. He has many responsibilities on the farm and sometimes has trouble staying focused because of his curiosity. This is a lovely book with fun illustrations.

de Angeli won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1955 for Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes. She also won the Newbery Medal in 1950 for The Door in the Wall and the Newbery Honor Medal in 1957 for Black Fox of Lorne.

An American Tragedy

Finished An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreisser, finally. I have been reading this book, bit by bit, since last July. In a sense it is a masterpiece of American literature, capturing time and place with tremendous attention to detail. Dreisser gives us every thought, breath and motivation of every character in the book. This can be pretty daunting. On the other hand, there were moments when as the reader I was so far inside a character's head that I was able to recollect similar thoughts of my own and it was a bit unnerving.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Queen Lucia

Finished Queen Lucia by E. F. Benson. This is the first of Benson's six Mapp and Lucia books. Set in England in the 1920s Queen Lucia is about Mrs. Lucas, local diva, who runs the social and cultural life of her village. The book is amusing for a bit, but becomes somewhat tiresome (or "tarsome" as the character Georgie would say) since there are no actually likable characters. The introduction in the edition I read compared these books to the works of Nancy Mitford, but personally I find Mitford far more clever and amusing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Mother's House and Sido

Finished My Mother's House and Sido two books published in one volume, by Collette. These are both reminiscences of Collette's childhood and her charming mother. They are written with vivid, loving detail and at times seem almost dream-like. While reading these I was reminded of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, but the nostalgia here is more for a person than a time and place. A lovely read, but especially appropriate for vacation.

The Trumpeter of Krakow

Finished The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly. It won the Newbery Medal in 1929. Set in 1400s Poland, this is an adventure book which dabbles in alchemy. I found it a bit dull, but I think that's just because it's not my cup of tea.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harriet the Spy

Finished Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. This is one of the books from my childhood that I am a bit embarrassed to admit I've never read before. Published in 1964, it is the story of an 11 year old girl who wants to be a writer some day. Her nanny, Ole Golly, encourages her to write down all her observations of the world in a notebook. This becomes Harriet's main focus in life, spying and recording what she sees and thinks. She is brutally honest in what she writes.

Harriet is very reliant on Ole Golly for consistency, comfort and understanding. Eventually Ole Golly leaves to get married. She feels that Harriet is old enough to get along without her. The transition is very difficult. To complicate this Harriet loses her notebook of observations. It is found by her classmates who read its contents out loud. Harriet's friends and classmates then ostracize her. Her reactions to this seem childish, but, then again, she is a child. I think in some ways, when Ole Golly suddenly leaves, Harriet regresses a bit. Change is hard on children of any age. Harriet was used to confiding in Ole Golly. She does not confide in her parents. Thus she attempts to face everything alone.

Harriet's parents, not knowing what is going on, see her grades suffer and her moods swing. They take her notebook away from her and send her to a shrink. They also contact Ole Golly who sends Harriet a very firm, but wise letter. In it she says that if Harriet's notebook were to fall into the wrong hands there are two things she will have to do, apologize and lie, "Little lies that make people feel better are not bad, like thanking someone for a meal they made even if you hated it. But to yourself, you must always tell the truth."

I wasn't that keen on this book at first. It seemed harsh, particularly Harriet's observations of people. It grew on me though. There is a very interesting article about Harriet on NPR's website entitled Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Month in the Country

Finished A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr. This is a novella set in England in 1920. A veteran of World War I travels North to uncover a centuries old mural in a church. His wife has left him and he is suffering from shell shock. He lives in the loft of the church, trying to keep mostly to himself, but the people of the village are intrigued by him and draw him out. In uncovering the mural he also solves a local mystery.

This is a very quiet book. At times it reminded me of The Go-Between, Cold Comfort Farm and even Atonement. A swift and comfortable read.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In the Forest

Finished In the Forest by Marie Hall Ets. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1945. It is the story of a boy who walks through the forest blowing his horn and the various animals who join him on his walk. The illustrations are done in charcoal and have a lovely soft feeling to them. A few of the drawings reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are in terms of composition. A nice little picture book.

Marie Hall Ets won the the Caldecott Medal in 1960 for Nine Day's to Christmas. She won the Caldecott Honor Medal many other times for Mr. T. W. Anthony Woo (1952), Play with Me (1956), Mr. Penny's Race Horse (1957) and Just Me (1966).

Lamb in His Bosom

Finished Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller. It won the Pulitzer in 1934. This was Miller's first novel and a bestseller at the time it was published. It's the story of a family living the the back woods of Georgia during the decades leading up to the Civil War. In many ways it reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, only written for an adult audience. Everything is explained in terms of how everyday items, like candles and clothes, are made from scratch. The characters are engaging and endearing. The prose is so beautifully written, so poetic, that at times it took my breath away. It was also interesting to consider how far removed the characters in this book were from the issues that lead up to the Civil War.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whose Body?

Finished Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is her first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery published in 1923. The Anglophiles Anonymous group I belong to on Shelfari chose this as a group read. It was already on my TBR list so I was happy to participate. This series falls into the genre of cozy mysteries, like Miss Marple. Lord Peter is a charming man of excellent taste who dabbles is sleuthing recreationally. His valet, Bunter, is reminiscent of Jeeves, minus the constant disapproval.

The book itself was a quick read and quite funny at times. The mystery was pretty easy to figure out. The motivation for the murder which takes place seems weak and the long written confession towards the end was downright boring. However, I enjoyed the book overall and look forward to reading more Lord Peter mysteries in the future.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mother Goose

Finished Mother Goose, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1945. Up until this time I was most familiar with Tudor's illustrations for The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In Mother Goose each nursery rhyme has its own page and illustration. These are finely detailed, sometimes in pencil, sometimes watercolor. I was surprised at how many of the nursery rhymes I remembered and even knew by heart. I grew up with The Real Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright, originally published in 1916.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Prayer for a Child

Finished Prayer for a Child written by Rachael Field and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones. It won the Caldecott Medal in 1945. Field wrote a poem for her daughter which was later developed into this picture book. The tone of the poem and the illustrations is very gentle. The pictures are soft and representational. Several show a little girl in her own room with a drawing she has done tacked up over the bed. The drawing is wonderfully juvenile, absolutely age specific for this little girl. Also, there is a line in the poem which reads,

"Bless other children far and near
And keep them safe and free from fear."

The accompanying illustration is of a crowd of children from many different races and nationalities, all standing together. An interesting drawing for 1944. I mentioned Orton Jones' display of diversity in her drawings in my post about Small Rain: Verses from The Bible in January 2009.

Rachel Field Won the Newbery Medal in 1930 for Hitty, Her First Hundred Years and the Newbery Honor Medal in 1932 for Calico Bush. Field also wrote novels for adults including All This and Heaven Too which was made into a film starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer in 1938.

This was an interlibrary loan from the Wickson Memorial Library in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gay Neck, The Story of a Pigeon

Finished Gay Neck, The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. It won the Newbery Medal in 1928. Set mostly in the Himalayas and partially in France during World War I, this is the story of a carrier pigeon. He is named Gay Neck for the colorful feathers about his neck. He is raised by an Indian boy. Gay Neck's parents teach him to fly, but the boy teaches him to be a carrier pigeon. His skills are so fine that he is recruited to work with the allies during the war. This book clearly illustrates that it is a bird-eat-bird world out there. Gay Neck's parents and many other birds are attacked and eaten by eagles, hawks, owls, vultures and crows. At times it was pretty damn disturbing, especially before bedtime.

Nonetheless, the book is an exciting one and the story holds your interest. I think perhaps the older end of the Newbery audience would enjoy it, but it might be too unsettling for younger readers.

The Mighty Hunter

Finished The Mighty Hunter by Berta and Elmer Hader. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1944. It is the story of a small Native American boy who wishes to be known as a great hunter. One day instead of going to school he takes his bow and his arrows and goes hunting. The first creature he sees is a rat. He takes aim, but the rat tells him he is too small for a mighty hunter to shoot and takes him to where the boy will find a prairie dog. Again the boy aims, but the prairie dog tells him he knows where the mighty hunter can find a rabbit. This continues with each animal recommending a larger target, until finally the little mighty hunter takes aim at a grizzly bear with two cubs. She chides him, then roars so fiercely that the mighty hunter drops his bow and arrows and runs all the way to the school house.

This book is simple with very warmly painted illustrations. The Haders won the Caldecott Medal in 1949 for their book The Big Snow.