Monday, December 27, 2010

London Snow: A Christmas Story

Finished London Snow: A Christmas Story, written by Paul Theroux and illustrated by John Lawrence. This is a very slender volume. Two children live with their mother, Mrs. Mutterance, above their sweet shop in London. Just before Christmas, their cruel and miserly landlord, who lives upstairs, tells them he is planning to evict them and turn the shop into a launderette. The next morning they awake to a city blanketed in snow, into which their landlord disappears. The children say good riddance, but Mrs. Mutterance does not want him on their conscience and institutes a search. This was a quick and intriguing read. The wood cut illustrations are wonderfully detailed and add to the mysterious mood of the book.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Storm in the Village

Finished Storm in the Village by Miss Read, published in 1958. This is the third book in her Fairacre series of life in a small English village. There is a lot of worry and upheaval over the proposed building of a housing estate for workers from the nearby atomic plant. The site for the project is Hundred Acre Field, a beloved and rich bit of local farmland which has been featured in numerous paintings by local artist Dan Crockford. The project would involve many changes for the inhabitants of Fairacre, Beech Green and Caxley, including higher rates, larger congregations and the re-organization of Miss Read's school. Mrs. Pringle with her limp of disapproval and the Vicar with his shedding leopard skin gloves reappear, as well as other charming characters. This book, even more than the first two, reminds me of Jan Karon's Mitford series. I always like to curl up with a Miss Read novel around Christmastime.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The White Stag

Finished The White Stag, written and illustrated by Kate Seredy. It won the Newbery Medal in 1938. This is a tale of Atilla the Hun, from his birth to his finding a homeland for his people in what is now Hungary. The story is epic. The drawings are sensitively rendered and the prose is thoughtfully written. I couldn't quite get myself to enjoy this book. Perhaps it's the subject matter. Perhaps it's my lack of interest in anything that happened before 1600.

Seredy won two Newbery Honor Medals as well for The Good Master (1936) and The Singing Tree (1940). She also won for her illustrations in Ruth Sawyers The Christmas Anna Angel in 1945.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth

Finished The Phantom Tollbooth written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Fieffer, published in 1961. In elementary school in the 70s I felt like this book was always around, hovering at the edges of things. Maybe because it looked like a boy's book, or maybe because it seemed too science fictiony, I always avoided it and never actually read it until now. It's so wonderfully clever and original. Like the C.S. Lewis' wardrobe, the tollbooth is the gateway to a magical world where so much seems to take place, but when a child returns to their own world, very little time has passed. When it was published there was concern that the book was too smart, too challenging for children to grasp. I think it would be interesting to read it as a child and then revisit it as an adult to compare the two reading experiences. Juster is also the author of the charming The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics. I remember seeing the film version of this in math class numerous times.

I found a wonderful interview with Juster on

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Mindful Way Through Depression

Finished The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. This book was assigned reading for me. My therapist felt that the techniques taught throughout would be useful for dealing with chronic anxiety. I'll admit that I was skeptical at first, but having read the whole book and used the accompanying meditation CD, I can say that it has some excellent points.

Many of us speed through our days on a sort of frantic autopilot, not experiencing life as it happens. The authors explain that this is the work of the "doing mind." I myself spend a lot of time ruminating, rehashing old, stressful conversations or events and even imagining new non-existent ones. The techniques of mindfulness help the reader to redirect the mind from these patterns to experience what is actually happening at that moment. You have to retrain your brain. It's challenging if this is an old habit for you, but definitely worthwhile. Many breathing and meditation exercises are also suggested.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Four Gardens

Finished Four Gardens By Margery Sharp. This is Sharp's fifth novel, published in 1935. It tells the story of Caroline, a kind and mild woman, from her girlhood into late middle age. Each section of the book, and her life, features a different garden. It has the usual Sharp charm and attention to detail. Something about this book reminded me of Barbara Pym's writing, probably the character of Caroline herself.

This was an interlibrary loan from the Flint Public Library. The book had several stamps inside indicating that it had been decomisioned and was probably in storage when I asked for it. I'm very happy to have been able to give it a proper airing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lady Windermere's Fan

Finished Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde. This comedic send-up of Victorian morals is not only humorous, but suspenseful as well. A quick and enjoyable read. It's been years since I read any Wilde.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Return of the Native

Finished The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. A seemingly bucolic novel, typical of Hardy, turns dark and tragic when several of its characters allow misunderstanding to rule their decision-making. Much like Tess of the d'urbervilles, an important letter goes unread and leads to disaster.

Hardy's prose is rich with both negative, "All the shallower ponds had decreased to a vaporous mud amid which the maggoty shapes of innumerable obscure creatures could be indistinctly seen, heaving and wallowing with enjoyment." and positive descriptions "Winter again came round, with its winds, frosts, tame robins, and sparkling starlight." I always like to start a Hardy novel in mid-summer and finish it in the fall. This is my 200th blog post.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Roller Skates

Finished Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer. It won the Newbery Medal in 1937. Set in the 1890s it is the story of Lucinda, a ten year old girl who lives with her teacher in a boarding house in New York while her family is in Europe. Lucinda considers herself an orphan during this time and builds herself a new family from the many different people she befriends while skating all over the city. From Rags and Bottles the junk man she meets while picnicking in an empty lot, to the Asian princess who she later finds murdered, the people she meets are all drawn to her. I feel like this book took a lot of risks for its time with murder, swearing and the death of a small child, but it was an extremely satisfying read.

Sawyer also won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1945 for The Christmas Anna Angel and again in 1956 for Journey Cake, Ho!, which was illustrated by her son-in-law Robert McCloskey.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Phantom of the Opera

Finished The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, a very bizarre and exciting book. Parts of it are wildly fantastic. This was a fun Halloween read.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Finished The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a novel by Ernest J. Gaines. Jane herself is the narrator. She tells of the many events of her life as an African American, from being a child during slavery to the 1960s. As a child she stands her ground against adult slaves who mistreat her. Once she is free she speaks her mind and has a determination that seems unwavering. Although never formally schooled, she has tremendous wisdom and goes through many life changing experiences, from raising a four year old orphan when she herself is eleven, to finding religion in middle age and then participating in a Civil Rights demonstration at the age of 108. Jane's voice and dialect are so genuine that I sometimes found myself thinking in it from time to time while observing some everyday scene. An excellent and compelling read. I look forward to reading more of Gaines' work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Finished Cimarron by Edna Ferber, originally published in 1929. Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the book documents the events in the lives of Yancy and Sabra Cravat in Oklahoma Territory. It has the feeling of a tall tale. Many of the events and characters seem larger than life.

One thing that Ferber always seems to do in her novels is to paint a character as a perceived stereotype, introduce them as such to the reader, and then build that character outward and away from the stereotype. In this novel she does so with Native Americans, African Americans and Jews. A few of her characters are open minded and accepting of all people, while some will accept certain groups, but not others. This makes her characters complex and very human.

Although parts of this book were disturbing, I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Caddie Woodlawn

Finished Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. It won the Newbery Medal in 1936. Caddie is eleven years old and a long time tomboy. She lives in Wisconsin in the 1860s. Caddie is friends with everyone and everything, especially the Indians who live near their settlement. Caddie is spunky and brave with a strong sense of fair play and justice. She and her family live in a wilderness that is often cut off from the rest of the country, especially in winter. One of the ways they receive news is via the Circuit Rider, a roving minister who travels from settlement to settlement preaching and visiting the sick. He brings them news that the war between the states has ended. He also brings them the news that President Lincoln has been assassinated. This was a fun and exciting book with a strong female protagonist. If you can get past the constant use of the word "savages," this is an enjoyable book.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Durable Goods

Finished Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg. I finished it in less than a day. Like The Secret Life of Bees, this book is set in the early 60s and is about a 12-13 year old girl whose mother has died and whose father is very angry and bitter. Instead of running away and staying away, Katie runs away, but then returns. The book is fast paced and emotionally raw at times, but in a way that is genuine in terms of portraying the voice of a twelve year old girl on the brink of so many changes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Finished The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Conner McNees. I've had my eye on this book ever since it came out in the spring. The cover is beautiful, as is the prose inside. I was immediately drawn into the story of the Alcotts' summer in New Hampshire in 1855. While this is of course historical fiction, the amount of research that went into this novel makes it seem very real. Louisa's frustrations with the world at large and with her family's situation (thanks to her father's faulty transcendentalist views) have never been quite so clear to me before. I read this very quickly and enjoyed it tremendously.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in anticipation of the film's release next week. This book has intrigued me for a number of years, but I was concerned that it would be too brutal or graphic. While there is quite a lot of underlying brutality in terms of human nature, the book itself is very quiet. Ishiguro has a very strong grasp of the inner workings of the adolescent mind. All through the book the minor happenings, that in themselves didn't seem like much, all add up to a large, almost overwhelming truth. This is a haunting book.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car

Finished Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car by Ian Fleming. Growing up, the film version of this novel was a favorite that was shown on TV at Thanksgiving. While Fleming's original text is odd, the film adaptation is much stranger, but having just learned that the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl explains that. Fleming wrote the novel for his son Casper. The bad guy is a gangster and while he kidnaps Jeremy and Jemima, he is not primarily a child-snatcher. In the novel their mother is alive and the whole family has adventures together in Chitty.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Finished Dobry by Monica Shannon. It won the Newbery Medal in 1935. Dobry is a boy who lives on the family farm with his mother and grandfather in Bulgaria. As he grows older he develops and interest and a talent for art. He begins by drawing in the dirt of the kitchen floor. Later he uses clay from the river and snow as mediums for sculpting. His mother wants him to take over the farm when he grows up, but his grandfather helps to pave the way for him to attend art school in a large city. This book is filled with folktales and customs that make it a fresh and interesting read. It features illustrations by Bulgarian artist Atanas Katchamakoff.

The Cutters

Finished The Cutters by Bess Streeter Aldrich. This is Aldrich's third novel published in 1926. It is the story of a large family living in a small, country community. They are boisterous and busy and often not aware of their apparent contentment. There are several grass-is-always-greener vignettes. Too many I felt. While the rest of the book was charming, this theme became a bit redundant.

The Secret Life of Bees

Finished The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved this book. I could not put it down. It's historical fiction intertwined with a fair bit of mystery. The characters are very original and vivid. The science and lore of beekeeping are both fascinating. I have now developed quite a taste for honey.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

Finished Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey. This brief and zany book tells the story of Dolly and the hours leading up to her wedding on a bright but blustery day in March. Dolly's mother is perhaps the most absent minded mother of the bride ever written. She's dotty, like the mother in the film My Man Godfrey. Dolly does her best to avoid an ardent admirer who insists on speaking to her before the wedding. She hides upstairs drinking rum. A breezy and amusing book, it was first published in 1932 by the Woolfs' Hogarth Press. Julia Strachey is the niece of writer and critic Lytton Strachey.

The Wedding Group

Finished The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor (British novelist, not Liz). This was a quick and odd read. The main character Cressie has grown up in a commune-like environment. She longs to break free of it and finally does by moving into town and taking a job at an antique shop. She's a pretty pathetic person. People often feel sorry for her, including David, who eventually marries her. David's mother lives nearby and is very lonely and needy. So is Cressie. The two form a friendship which at times enables David five seconds of freedom. I guess I did not like any of these characters. They were all selfish and damaged. Cressie reminded me a bit of Martha in Margery Sharpe's Martha series.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

All This and Heaven Too

Finished All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Field. Based on a true story, this novel outlines the events in the life of French governess Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, her supposed involvement in a scandal that lead to the French Revolution of 1848, and her life after emigrating to the United States. This is an exciting and at times depressing novel. It was made into a film starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer in 1948. Henriette was Rachel Field's great aunt. Field won the Newbery Award in 1930 for Hitty Her First Hundred Years.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anne's House of Dreams

Finished Anne's House of Dreams, the fifth book in Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Anne and Gilbert are married. They move to a village near the sea where Gilbert takes over his uncle's medical practice. The cottage in which they live the first few years of their marriage is everything Anne has always dreamed of. They befriend several of the locals. Quite a lot of the story centers around these new characters. There are some unexpected serious undertones to this book. That's all I'm going to say...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life With Mother

Finished Life With Mother by Clarence Day. It is the sequel to Day's Life With Father. This book focuses on the idiosyncrasies of Day's mother Vinnie. Anecdotes about this sweet, persnickety woman who contradicts herself and her husband at every turn, make this a charming read. Those who have seen the film version of Life With Father will recognize the story of the pug dog and the rubber plant.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Another List

Below is a list of the Top 100 Children's Novels compiled by New York Public Library children's librarian Betsy Bird from her poll of readers on Fuse#8. I have read those that appear in bold. I was surprised to see Star Girl on the list. It's a book I thought only I had read when I was 12. I'll have to re-read it soon.

1. Charlotte's Web
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
6. Holes
7. The Giver
8. The Secret Garden
9. Anne of Green Gables
10. The Phantom Tollbooth
11. The Westing Game
12. The Hobbit
13. Bridge to Terabithia
14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
15. Because of Winn-Dixie
16. Harriet the Spy
17. Maniac Magee
18. Matilda
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
20. Tuck Everlasting
21. The Lightning Thief
22. The Tale of Despereaux
23. Little House in the Big Woods
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
25. Little Women
26. Hatchet
27. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
28. A Little Princess
29. The Dark Is Rising
30. Winnie-the-Pooh
31. Half Magic
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
33. James and the Giant Peach
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963
35. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
36. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
38. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
39. When You Reach Me
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
42. Little House on the Prairie
43. Ramona the Pest
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
45. The Golden Compass
46. Where the Red Fern Grows
47. Bud, Not Buddy
48. The Penderwicks
49. Frindle
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins
51. The Saturdays
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
53. The Wind in the Willows
54. The BFG
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins
56. Number the Stars
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
59. Inkheart
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
61. Stargirl
62. The Secret of the Old Clock
63. Gone-Away Lake
64. A Long Way from Chicago
65. Ballet Shoes
66. Henry Huggins
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
68. Walk Two Moons
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society
70. Betsy-Tacy
71. The Bad Beginning
72. My Father's Dragon
73. My Side of the Mountain
74. The Borrowers
75. Love That Dog
76. Out of the Dust
77. The City of Ember
78. Johnny Tremain
79. All-of-a-Kind Family
80. The Graveyard Book
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
82. The Book of Three
83. The Thief
84. The Little White Horse
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
87. The View from Saturday
88. The High King
89. Ramona and Her Father
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall
91. Sideways Stories from the Wayside School
92. Ella Enchanted
93. Caddie Woodlawn
94. Swallows and Amazons
95. Pippi Longstocking
96. The Witches
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
98. Children of Green Knowe
99. The Indian in the Cupboard
100. The Egypt Game

Friday, August 6, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Finished Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's a memoir divided into three parts. "Eat" takes place in Italy. Gilbert has ended her marriage and has moved to Rome to live for four months in a sensual haze of food and pleasure. This part of the book made me eat. A lot. It also reminded me that I have wanted to learn to speak Italian for years. This section is a gorgeous read.

"Pray" takes place in an ashram in India where Gilbert has gone to clear her mind and master the art of meditation. At no point during this section (or any other) did I feel pressured by the concept of God. Gilbert accepts God on her own terms in her own iteration. This section is an education. It grounds the book and the reader as well. There is a lot of self examination and humor here.

"Love" is set in Bali. It's pretty, whimsical and worrisome at times because the reader can feel Gilbert being pulled back into the stream of the "real world." This was a lovely book. I recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor who enjoys travel and self reflection.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Finished Mariana by Monica Dickens. Another gem from Persephone Books. I adored this book. It's a coming of age novel in the same vein as I Capture the Castle and The Pursuit of Love. The moment Mary, the protagonist, revisits the site of all the happiness of her childhood and finds it smaller than she remembers, and changed by new owners, was so genuinely heart-wrenching that I will never forget it. Here is a character who thinks just like I do.

Monica Dickens was the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sophy Cassmajor

Finished Sophy Cassmajor by Margery Sharp. This is Sharp's fifth book, published in 1934. It's a novella, like The Nymph and the Nobleman, and is again illustrated by Anna Zinkeisen. Sophy is sailing to India with her uncle to be wed to a man she has never met. Sophy is young and foolish and fond of eating red current jelly right from the jar. Aboard ship she meets a young man and falls in love. Her life changes in many ways. Sharp's novellas seem like picture books for grown-ups. The stories are romantic and sometimes tragic. They are delectable little morsels.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Invisible Man

Finished The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. A short and amusing book. It was much funnier than I expected it to be. The humor eventually dissipates as the irritable Invisible Man becomes an invisible madman. The sense of danger, adventure and running across the countryside was very reminiscent of The Thirty-Nine Steps. A good read for vacation or a rainy day.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Finished Freaked by J. T. Dutton. This is a teen novel about Scotty Loveletter who longs for a normal, balanced family life, but is instead stashed away in a boarding school by his sex therapist mother who is between husbands. With no one tangible to turn to or lean on, Scotty leans on Jerry Garcia and The Greatful Dead. Their music and the hazy drug culture that goes along with it become the mechanism for Scotty's self discovery. Risky behavior, self loathing, irony and lots of humor are blended here in a poignant portrayal of a kid left to raise himself. I liked this book. Parts are emotionally hard to read, which makes it all the more genuine.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lost Flower Children

Finished The Lost Flower Children by Janet Taylor Lisle. Two sisters who have recently lost their mother are sent to live with their dotty great aunt. The sisters are very close and are not interested in playing with other children. The younger of the two, Nellie, has many odd habits and quirks, like walking up or down stairs backwards. They find a book written by a previous occupant of their aunt's house which tells the tale of a children's tea party long ago where a band of bad fairies turned all the children into flowers in the garden. If the various missing pieces of that tea set are found and assembled together the spell will be broken. This story gives the sisters something to focus on and work towards. As the set comes together the sisters become more relaxed and social and Nellie begins to shed her odd quirks.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mary Poppins Opens the Door

Finished Mary Poppins Opens the Door by P. L. Travers. This is the third, and by far the most magical and surreal book, in her Mary Poppins series. Mary re-appears in the last of the fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day. The children and especially Mrs. Banks are happy to have Mary back. I've finally gotten used to Mary's terse way of speaking and her complete denial that their magical adventures occur. The children live in awe and sometimes fear of her sharp tongue, but they love her dearly. What I'll never get used to is her leaving. Again and again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Excellent Women

Finished Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Pym states towards the end of this, her second novel, in a Jane Austen-like tone, "It is a known fact that people like clergymen's daughters, excellent women in their way, sometimes rush in where the less worthy might fear to tread." Poor Mildred Lathbury. She is herself both an excellent woman and a clergyman's daughter. She is single, in her thirties, living alone in London during the 1950s. She's very involved with her church and does charitable work with the Society for the Aid of Impoverished Gentlewomen half days during the week. She lives a quiet, modest life until the new couple in her building pulls her into their volatile personal life. She becomes a go-between with each of them, the wife's supposed lover as well as the removal men who come to take the husband's furniture away when he moves out. Never have I seen a woman so put upon by others (except perhaps Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop). There were times when I wanted to grab Mildred by the shoulders and shake her very hard indeed. Despite this, the book is humorous with the usual Pym parade of harried clergymen and opinionated spinsters. It was a comfortable, cozy read.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Sign of the Four

Finished The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the second novel published in his Sherlock Holmes series. Unlike the first, A Study in Scarlet, it is mostly set in London. This book has all the nuances that are associated with Holmes' character, chemistry, disguises, boxing, violin and cocaine. It also features the Baker Street Irregulars and poison darts. It was faster paced than the first novel, more exciting and extremely readable. I look forward to reading more.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Solitary Summer

Finished The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim, a follow-up to Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Elizabeth asks her husband, The Man of Wrath, for a summer without the house filled with guests and visitors. He thinks she will be bored, but reluctantly agrees. We are treated to lovely descriptions of the garden, romps with the April, May and June babies and glimpses into village life in the German countryside. Descriptions are at times lush and heavy with scent, at others all gossamer and summer haze. A lovely book to dip in and out of, especially in winter.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Bungalow Mystery

Finished The Bungalow Mystery by Caroline Keene. This edition is the vintage re-issue by Applewood Books. The third book in the series, it was released in 1930. Unlike The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase, this book is free of racial stereotypes that make the reader cringe. In each of these first books Nancy sets out to help women in trouble, but in this one she also rescues a man who has been a prisoner for two weeks and has been left to starve. She gets a lot of help from her father, Carson Drew, in this story, but is still considered a hero. This was a quick and exciting read.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

Finished Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan. Finished it in one sitting. I love this book. It's a quick and easy read. Each rule has it's own page. The rules are sensible, practical and very thoughtful about what should be considered food. I highly recommend it to anyone who concerned about their health and the food they choose to eat.

Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women

Finished Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs. It won the Newbery Medal in 1934. For those familiar with Louisa May Alcott, this book is an interesting look at her life and her family members who were models for the characters of Little Women. While the characters of Jo March, her parents and siblings are very clearly drawn from Alcott's family, the inspiration for two of the most intriguing characters, Theodore Lawrence and Professor Bauer, are only vaguely hinted at. This was an interesting read. Although geared for a younger audience, Meigs never talks down to her readers. I think she sometimes makes assumptions about Alcott's feelings in certain situations, but it's clear that she used letters and journals to comprise her biography.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ozma of Oz

Finished Ozma of Oz, the third book in L. Frank Baum's Oz series. Dorothy Gale, who is traveling by boat to Australia with her Uncle Henry, is washed overboard in a storm and finds herself in the Land of Ev. There she meets and frees Tik-Tok, a mechanical man made of copper. They encounter Princess Langwidere, who has 30 heads to choose from in a cabinet. She puts on whatever head she feels like wearing. She decides she likes Dorothy's head, but Dorothy, of course will not give it to her.

It's no surprise that this is a very weird book.

Ozma of Oz learns that the Queen of Ev and her children have been sold to the Nome King by the late King of Ev. She travels over the poisonous desert, with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Sawhorse, the Hungry Tiger and a small army, upon a magic carpet that rolls out in front and up in back. They are all surprised to see Dorothy in Ev and band together to rescue the royal family from the Nome King.

John R. Neill's illustrations are wonderful. Most in this book are in color. His rendition of the Nome King seems almost Seussian to me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Loving Spirit

Finished The Loving Spirit by Daphne Du Maurier. Published in 1931, it was Du Maurier's first novel. Set in Cornwall, it is a family saga ranging over four generations of the Coombs, ship builders in the village of Plyn. Janet Coombe has a tender love for her husband Thomas, but somehow knows that the great love of her life has not come to her yet. When it does it is not romantic love, but an extremely intense love of mother for son. While Janet has six children, it is her son Joseph who she forms this bond with. He embodies all of the wildness she felt as a girl and lives as she has always wanted to, but was unable to as a woman. At times their love and devotion to one another is uncomfortable in it's intensity. The story continues with Joseph, his son Christopher and then Christopher's daughter Jennifer. Each of these characters has their own section of the book. Each section begins with an excerpt of poetry by Emily Bronte. The story is vast, sweeping, dramatic and very engaging. One sees the shadows of obsession and destruction by fire that are played out later in Rebecca. I loved this book. I had to borrow it through an interlibrary loan. However, it is due to be reissued in paperback in May 2010.

Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns

Honestly, I did not finish Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1947. Written by Opal Wheeler and illustrated by Marjorie Torrey, it is a collection of popular hymns. Each has an accompanying story telling of the possible origin of the work, or the childhood of the composer. It seemed a bit contrived to me. Wheeler and Torrey also collaborated on and won the Honor Medal for Sing Mother Goose.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Yearling

Finished The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings. It won the Pulitzer in 1939. Set in the early 20th century, it is the story of Jody, an only child, living with his mother and father. Jody craves a companion. He finds an orphaned fawn and brings him home as a pet. The fawn, named Flag, and Jody grow up together amid the beauty and dangers of backwoods Florida. These dangers include flood, rattlesnakes, wolves, bears and alligators. One bear in particular, Old Slewfoot, is brazen enough to walk off with the family's brood sow and several calves. Jody learns the ways of the woods and how to track and hunt from his father. He and Flag continue to grow until they are both really "the yearling." This book is beautifully written and as with any animal story there is sadness and grief, but I enjoyed it immensely.

The edition I read had color illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, an American illustrator of the Brandywine School. He illustrated many classics including Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe and The Last of the Mohicans.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

Finished Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. It won the Newbery Medal in 1933. Young Fu is thirteen when he and his mother move from the country to Chungking where Fu will apprentice as a coppersmith. The city is crowded, damp and dirty. There are many things to peak Fu's curiosity and he gets into a number of scrapes that way. However, with guidance from his mother, Wang Scholar and his boss and mentor Tang, he grows up to be a clever, brave and talented man.

The edition I read had an introduction written by Pearl S. Buck who won the Pulitzer in 1932 for The Good Earth. Lewis' backdrop of the turmoil, poverty, war, disease, flood, etc of early 20th century China was so similar to The Good Earth that it made me feel depressed. Eventually these things fell further into the background and Fu's character development became the center of the book. Somewhere around the middle of the book I began to enjoy it very much.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Finished Kathleen by Christopher Morley, one of my favorite writers. A group of undergraduates at Oxford find a letter written by a young woman named Kathleen. They begin a writing project in which they piece together a story about her and her family. Their ardor of Kathleen grows. During a holiday break they travel to the town where Kathleen lives and each devise a way to meet her and ask her to be their guest for Eight's Week. Each man masquerades as something he is not. One an antiquites scholar, one a curate, also a policeman and a gas meter reader. The most outrageous of all is one who dresses up as a woman and poses as a substitute cook for Kathleen's family. Here is a man with experience playing female characters in a theater guild, but no experience in the kitchen. The results of this are so hilarious I found myself laughing out loud. At one point while studying a recipe for stuffed eggs, he sees in the list of ingredients "buttered crumbs" and makes a note to set aside extra time for the buttering of said crumbs since that sounds like a tricky business.

While the book is ultimately a bit silly, it was an enjoyable read. My favorite Christopher Morley book is Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman. My second favorite is Parnassus on Wheels. I recommend both very highly.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

Finished The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. It is made up of several books that she published over her lifetime, This Is My Story (1937), This I Remember (1949), On My Own (1958) and The Search for Understanding (1961). I am very slow when it comes to reading non-fiction, so it took me many months to read this book. That is no reflection on the book itself.

I think I expected to be captivated by Eleanor's life with FDR, however, they were apart much of the time and she was still evolving into the powerful force for good and change that she eventually became. So it was not until the two books written after FDR's death that I got hooked on her story. The first two, about growing up and life as the wife of a governor and then a president, are filled with polite remarks about meeting various important people and how charming, polite, etc., they were.

The later books document her work with the UN, her travel all over the world and her observations of what she saw. She rarely passes a negative personal remark. She makes no reference to the troubles of her marriage, other than the iron fist of her mother-in-law, she never mentions the alcoholism on both sides of the family. All of those things I learned from a PBS "American Experience" documentary about her.

For twenty-six years she wrote the newspaper column "My Day." Selected articles were published in the book My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962. I look forward to reading this someday in daily installments.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Little Island

The Little Island, written by Golden MacDonald and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, won the Caldecott Medal in 1947. It describes the changes on a small island that take place when day turns to night or when the seasons change. Golden MacDonald was a pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown who wrote Goodnight, Moon. Brown and Weisgard won a Caldecott Honor Medal for another book they worked on together, Little Lost Lamb (1946).

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Peppermint Pig

Finished The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden. Poll's father is wrongly accused of stealing from his place of work. He loses his job and decides to go to America to try his fortunes there. His wife and children leave their comfortable home in London and move in with Aunts Sarah and Henrietta in the country. Life is different, but not terrible. One day the milkman stops by and offers the family a piglet, the runt, too small to be raised by it's mother. They accept it and Poll and the new piglet, Johnnie, form a very close bond.

As Johnnie grows he becomes housebroken and acts much like a family dog. He follows mother on her daily shopping rounds, plays with all the children and sits and stares pensively into the fire. Before Poll and Johnnie met, Poll was not much of a student, but once she has something to look forward to and to be personally responsible for she becomes more focused and mature and begins to make friends at school.

Time passes and Poll wonders if her father will ever come home. She becomes seriously ill with scarlet fever. It takes her a long time to recover. When she is almost better one of her aunts takes her on a visit where she plays with a basketful of puppies. Her aunt tells her she can take one of the puppies home. Poll accepts the puppy, but is mystified. Her aunt says it's a birthday present, but her birthday has already happened.

Poll enjoys spending time with her new puppy and neglects Johnnie a bit. Johnnie is now huge and slow and not nearly as much fun as the puppy. One day Poll comes home from school and Johnnie is gone. He has been sent to the butcher. Mother owes the butcher money and has been having trouble making ends meet. Poll is stunned. She keeps saying "Everyone said Johnnie was different" and she had taken them at their word.

Poll cannot eat. She does not eat for seven days. One of her aunts takes her to the butcher shop to help her grasp the reality of the situation. Poll takes one look at the hanging carcasses and faints dead away.

This all sounds very cruel when I type it. In context it is not as harsh as it sounds. Poll's character, her thoughts and reactions to things are all so well drawn. It's obvious that Nina Bawden has a very strong memory of what is was like to be a child and feel that the whole world is working against you. Her book Carrie's War is one of my favorites.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Finished The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Gee this was a fun book.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Finished Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was her first novel, published in 1886, long before A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1911). It's a lovely, funny book originally published serially in Saint Nicholas Magazine.

Cedric Errol is a seven year old American boy who has been raised modestly by his kind and loving mother. Cedric is handsome, sweet tempered, intelligent, fearless and very sympathetic to those in need. One day a lawyer from England comes to inform his mother that due to the deaths of Cedric's uncles, Cedric himself is in line to be the next Earl of Dorincourt. The current Earl, Cedric's grandfather, wishes to have the boy come to England and be raised in preparation for his new role. He wants nothing to do with Cedric's mother. He was very angry when his favorite son married an American and assumes that she is low and mercenary.

Cedric and his mother travel to England. His mother lives in a lodge on the estate and Cedric lives with his grandfather. The Earl of Dorincourt is a lonely, bitter, difficult old man. No one likes him. Cedric's kindly innocence and generosity towards those less fortunate win him great popularity among the locals. His grandfather is puzzled and amused by these gestures of kindness. They eventually begin to rub off on him. The Earl's life changes far more than Cedric's does. He gains the respect and friendship of those around him. He realizes his mistake in shutting out Cedric's mother and then soon has two loving family members to spend his days with.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Woman in White

Finished The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I could not put this book down. It is an intricate tale of deception told in written accounts by various characters in the novel. It is considered the first detective novel written in English. It was published serially in All the Year Round, Charles Dickens' weekly literary magazine. Collins' novel immediately followed the serialization of A Tale of Two Cities, which I just finished last month. This was not intentional on my part, just an interesting coincidence.

The book's villain, Count Fosco, is one of the most wonderful characters I have ever encountered. He is so eccentric, so audacious and yet so well mannered, I cannot help but love him.

At about the same time that The Woman in White was published as a three volume book, Whistler had an exhibition of paintings in Paris and London. One of the paintings, The White Girl, was assumed by critics to be a representation of the title character from Collins' novel. Whistler was very annoyed by this because the painting had nothing to do with the novel. He renamed the painting Symphony in White, No 1. Sadly, today it is often used as cover art for the book.