Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Quiet Little Woman: A Christmas Story

Finished The Quiet Little Woman: A Christmas Story by Louisa May Alcott. It's actually a book of three stories, The Quiet Little Woman, Tilly's Christmas, and Rosa's Tale.

In The Quiet Little Woman, Patty is an orphan who is taken in by a family who, while not outwardly cruel to her, take her on as a servant girl and don't see her a a person, a young girl with no one to love her, until a kindly aunt points out Patty's plight.

Tilly's Christmas, is about a poor girl who believes that if the nearby rich gentleman knew that she and her mother had not enough food to eat, or wood to keep them warm he would come to their aid.

Finally in Rosa's Tale, a young woman ventures out to the stable to see to her neighbor's horse. It is Christmas Eve and nearly midnight, the time when the animals are said to be able to speak. The horse tells her it's life story after which the girl vows to keep the horse safe and at it's ease in it's old age.

This was a charming book and very good bedtime reading. It seems there is always more Alcott to be read.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Book Thief

Finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This is by far the best book I have experienced this year. I listened to an audiobook version, read by Allan Corduner, whose performance is outstanding.

Set in Nazi Germany, it is the story of Liesel Meminger, a nine year old girl who is sent to live with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubberman, who she quickly learns to call Mama and Papa. Papa is a house painter. He is a patient and kindly man who teaches Liesel to read. Rosa is impatient and kindly, and the queen of colorful language. Once Liesel learns to read she does whatever she can to get her hands on a new book, even stealing one off a pile that has been torched by the Nazis. The story follows this family (and the Jew they are hiding in their basement), their friends, neighbors, and enemies during the years of World War II.

What makes this book so fascinating and original is that it is narrated by Death. As a firsthand observer during these dark years, Death has a lot to report and has some interesting opinions on what he sees. This book was gripping as well as hilarious. I cannot recommend it enough.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

One Day

Finished One Day by David Nicholls. Emily and Dexter, two very different young people, meet on the last night of university in Edinburgh. They have a somewhat amorous encounter and decide to just be friends. This happens on July 15th, St Swithin's day, 1988. The book then visits with them together and separately on the same day for the next twenty years, examining the very different paths their lives take.

Shy, awkward, bookish Emily works in a demoralizing job in a Mexican restaurant, then trains as teacher. Eventually she leaves teaching to start writing and pens a wildly successful series for tweens.

Handsome, rakish, irresponsible Dexter travels, teaches English abroad, then returns to England and becomes a TV personality, introducing vacuous late night pop shows. As his mother begins losing her battle with Cancer, Dexter sinks deeper in to a seedy and soused existence. His television assignments get worse and worse until he is the man viewers love to hate.

I won't say any more about the plot so as not to spoil it. I will say that this is in many ways a literary documentary. It's deeply felt and follows very much the same timeline as my own young adult life. Hence it really spoke to me. This is an excellent book.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Secret at Shadow Ranch

Finished The Secret at Shadow Ranch by Carolyn Keene. It is the fifth book in the series. I read the 1931 reissued edition by Applewood Books. Carolyn Keene was the pseudonym of Mildred Wirt Benson who had written all the previous books in the series. Nancy and her friends Bess, George and Alice travel to Arizona with George's aunt to visit a ranch owned by the aunt. They spend much of the summer there riding, picnicking, having adventures and sleuthing. Nancy solves two different mysteries during the course of the book. One thing that stood out to me was that when the girls went off on their own in the country around the ranch, George's aunt insisted that Nancy take a pistol with her. At one point she uses it to shoot a lynx just as it is about to attack the group girls. The Nancy Drew of my childhood (1960s revisions) never carried or fired a gun. Not that I recall anyway. The idea that a teenage girl would know how to use a gun seems surprising to me, but Nancy is always full of surprises.