RE-READING A CHILDREN’S CLASSIC AND FINDING SOMETHING NEW

As mentioned in a previous post, a friend posted a “Definitive List of Children’s Books Set in France.” One which I ordered from our local library turned out to be a “chapter book” instead of a picture book and provided a lovely summer afternoon’s read.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, a Newberry Honor Book, can be described as gentle, and by a word I try to avoid, “sweet.”  Although it was published in the late fifties, in our society where many homeless people live “under the bridge,” it has a timely message and relevance in our attitudes to those we consider less fortunate than ourselves.  It basically is the story of an old curmudgeon who is turned into a generous grandpa by three “lovely” redheaded Parisian children. How all this comes to be is flavored throughout by the setting–the incomparable city of Paris.

A further happy surprise was that the illustrator, Garth Williams, is the same illustrator as chosen for E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.  What a delightful book, probably more for adults than today’s children.  But, hopefully, out there somewhere there are still some sensitive little souls who will read and love The Family Under the Bridge.

 

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR by Helen Simonson (published 2016)

The author of the impressive debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, has done the impossible: her second novel is as good as her first. The story takes place in East Sussix, England (town of Rye) beginning in 1914 and covers the period just before and just after The Great War. At the opening of this novel, one is reminded of a country Downton Abbey, and we get to know the characters and situation in the English countryside as England gets ready to go to war.

Hugh, the medical student nephew of Aunt Agatha and Uncle John, who works for the Foreign Office, meets Beatrice, the unexpectedly attractive and freethinking new Latin mistress, supported and encouraged by Agatha.  The little town is the opposite of progressive-thinking, and many characters have definite opinions on the “proper” goings ons in the lives of the young people, Beatrice, Hugh, and Hugh’s cousin, Aunt Agatha’s favorite, a sensitive young poet.

What happens to the residents of this town and what going to war will (and does) mean to them really matters to the reader as he/she reads the novel. One critic describes Simonson as “…like a Jane Austin for our day and age.” Booklist advertises this engaging novel as “leisurely fiction steeped in the British past,” and another blurb on the cover says it is “…historically accurate.”  What more could one want in a good read?

THE MOTHER TONGUE by Bill Bryson

The monthly library book club assignment was to read “something” by Bill Bryson.  I had read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid before Christmas last year and had enjoyed it immensely.  Since his Road to Little Dribbling had just come out and was on the best seller list at that time, I read it too. Although Iwould have enjoyed it even more had I read the book it was based on (revisiting small, out-of-the-way places in the UK previously visited 20 years before), I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson’s unique style of writing and found myself laughing out loud in spots.

For the book club assignment, a friend lent me her copy of The Mother Tongue:English and How It Got That Way, knowing that I was an English and Literature major in school and telling me she knew I would enjoy it. The book was published in 1990,but is as timely today as when originally written. The first four chapters were two undergraduate classes–The History of the English Language, and Linguistics–revisited.  And, unfortunately, they were as boring as the courses.  HOWEVER, things changed rapidly thereafter, and much for the better! The idiosyncrasies  and contradictions of the English language and the contrast between British English and American English, as well as Good English and Bad English (a chapter holds this title) were laugh out loud funny.  Often my husband gave me a “look” like “What in the world are you reading?” and I would be forced to read aloud a passage.  He would politely give a chuckle of appreciation.

This book is meticulously and scholarly researched (Both bibliography and index are flawless and extensive.), and yet it holds appeal to more than scholars of English or “word-a-philes” like myself.  It’s something you can put down and pick up easily, and one is bound to find something that tickles his funny-bone.

 

TWO CHILDREN’S BOOKS SET IN FRANCE

A friend posted on Readerbuzz, her blog, a definitive list of children’s books about France. Two dealing with these Francophile settings appealed to me, so I read them yesterday.

The first, Different Like CoCo, by Elizabeth Matthews jumped out at me because of its cover.  There is the famous (infamous?) CoCo Chanel in a classic Chanel suit, strutting along a Paris boulevard, accompanied by a lovely little pug. The author handles well the sensitive (to little ones’ impressionable minds) issue of Chanel never being married to the love of her life. Most important, the book teaches the life lesson that it is Ok ,and even more than Ok, to be different!

The Cat Who Walked Across Paris by Kate Banks and illustrated by George Hallensleben is a touching, heart warming book suitable for cat and animal lovers of all ages. It was School Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 2004, and also won The New Your Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year as well. It describes an incredible journey of a beloved, faithful cat looking for his home “by the edge of the sea.”Children everywhere’s hearts are bound to be touched by this simply told, sweet story.

EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN by Chris Cleave

Chris Cleave has captured the grit and grind of the bombing of London in his 1916 publication, Everyone Brave is Forgiven. Mary North, our protagonist, is of the “upper class” frittering away her days with her best friend, Hilda, concerned only with eligible young gentlemen, and how to hook them into matrimony.

WAR IS DECLARED, and Mary heads to the nearest recruitment office to “do her part” and to “get in on the action,” with dreams of espionage missions and other assignments suitable to her education and background.  Hilda dreams of all the young officers who will need to be consoled before shipping out and from whom promises of marriage might be obtained.

Alistair and Tony, flatmates and properly educated gentlemen ,choose not to enlist but to wait out the war with as little disturbance to their lifestyles and friendship as possible. Fate and the Axis have other plans for all these young people.

The growth of character through the intertwining of these four young lives during WWII (covers the years 1939 to 1942, specifically) is the fascinating story of this novel.  Cleave, author of the awesome Little Bee, never promises a happy-ever-after-ending, but he always delivers a satisfactory one,which is good enough for me. There is enough humor, some of it dark, to get you through the tough, brutal aftermath of the bombings, and the novel employs several important themes: racial  discrimination in England during the War, the love of teaching, women’s “place” and how the war changes it, romance, and the difficulties of communication.

The book has been described as “Inspirational…” and “Moving…” by critics.  I found it both.

High Summer Read-a-Thon

Because I enjoyed my first Read-a-Thon last October, I decided to say farewell to summer by entering The High Summer Read-a-Thon this morning.  Dewey’s, the only other one I have done ,was a 24 hour thing, but this one is a week long.

As contestant #57, I am leaving the starting gate late (I must have not heard the starting gun–not checked my e-mail) for it started yesterday. I have already begun this morning by starting to finish a lovely novel about WWI, The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonsson.  I am only on chapter 8, and already it is as engaging as the author’s debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, one of my favorite novels.  Simonsson is a true storyteller who makes one care about the characters and what happens to them.

I will keep you posted on my progress through the coming days and will post as I finish books here at PWR. I am not setting a goal except to make a dent in my TBR (to be read) reading list and put some good books into circulation by loaning them out when through.

KEEP reading and keep up with the HS Read-a-Thon here.

Rae

 

VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew ,commissioned by the Hogarth Shakespeare project, is an outstanding true-to-the-spirit-of-things farce that is light, amusing and heart warming–all at the same time.  The author must have had fun writing it, and I certainly had fun reading it. Characters are excellently drawn and are much more than stereotypes or flat characters.

Of course if one is familiar with the Shakespeare play, the twists and turns are expected rather than unexpected, but the way Tyler arrives at them is original and very refreshingly creative.

The bard himself would give a Mona Lisa smile upon reading. One stayed on my face the entire time I spent on this quick and satisfying read.

PATHFINDERS by Aidan J. Reid

This 2016 publication is the debut novel of an up and coming Irish author, Aidan J. Reid.  It has everything a reader would want in action, suspense and interesting themes.

Lucid dreaming, the ability to enter one’s dreamstate and affect what is going on has interested psychologists for a while now, and is being used in therapy (by changing nightmares into dreams with positive, uplifting outcomes) today.

In this book, Breagal, a mysterious,strange librarian and Victor enter the dream mind of Victor’s friend Norman, who is comatose after a horrific auto accident. The question posed on the back cover is, “Can [they] search the deepest darkest recesses of Norman’s mind and rescue [him] before time runs out?”  Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the reader wondering, “How will they ever get out of this predicament?” Fortunately, the author assures us one CAN affect what happens next in a nightmare.

Creativity is rampant in this novel, and I am sure professors who one day assign this to their classes will discuss thoroughly the symbolism throughout, but for those of us who just love a “good read”, this novel “fills the bill” thoroughly.

I am anticipating a complete shift in gears and a respect for the author’s versatility in his latest (June 2016) release, Sigil.

THE CITY OF MIRRORS by Justin Cronin

This is the last book in Cronin’s trilogy, and it successfully and effectively sums up an impossible ending to write. Cronin’s trilogy includes: The Passage, The Twelve, The City of Mirrors.

Again,as in The Twelve, The City of Mirrors opens with a prologue that allows the reader to “plug in” anywhere along the trilogy. The Passage  at 800+ pages was a slow trudge, brutal at times but always intriguing as well as completely original.  The Twelve is not to be missed in its entirety. It is action-packed and violent, yet frequently poetically beautifully phrased.

City of Mirrors begins (spoiler alert) after the Twelve have been destroyed, and all we have left to deal with is Zero, the most impressive incarnation of Evil ever imagined by any author. “The Girl From Nowhere,” Amy, first seen in The Passage, is the Adversary for Good.

As the cover says, “One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.”

This book is well worth your reading time.

 

THE GIRL WHO WROTE LONLINESS by Kyung Sook Shin: A Review

I have been blogging more here of late because I have been finishing up several books, reading three or more at the same time. I found the Korean author, Kyung Sook Shin (translated into English by Ha-Yun Jung), purely by chance.  Her 2015 novel based on facts was on a large print display at my local library, and the artful cover intrigued me.

Themes dealt with in the novel include: hardships and poverty, desire for an education and bettering oneself and one’s lot in life, family loyalty, with touches of dealing with depression and loneliness.

A young girl is sent from her farm to Seul  to work in a sweatshop in the TV, stereo factories of the 1979’s.  She is trained for a conveyor- belt- assembly- line- job which is incredibly boring and physically punishing.  It is the times of unionizing factories in Seul and a story of  the persecution and horror the union members endured.  It is political, but told from the point of view of one who does not understand  what is taking place.

The word choices, phrasing, and writing in general, is poetic in places, often either brutal or beautiful.  It took me a few pages to get acclimated to the “voice” of the narrator because the grammar rules etc. followed Korean conventions. Like any book translated from another language, the novel has an initial moment of “getting used to.”  It is a wise investment of your reading time and carries you along with expert characterization and plot.