Children’s Classic, THE BIG GREEN BOOK by Robert Graves, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

The Big Green Book literally is a Big. Green. Book. When I picked it up at the Alvin (TX) library, after being intrigued by some drawings from it used in illustrations in the BRAIN PICKINGS column, I hugged it to me, enjoying the look and the “feel” of the book.

Although published in 1962, the text and the illustrations, particularly, have not lost their charm. It is the wonderful story of a young boy who lives with an indifferent aunt and uncle (Move over, Harry Potter.) who finds a big green book hidden under a sack in the attic.  To his amazement, instead of stories, the book is full of magic spells. The book is humorous and reflects spells and magic in a kinder, gentler way, perfect for sensitive children who might be frightened by Harry Potter’s power or who may  not be old  enough to appreciate him.

The book, both text and illustrations, is “sweet”.

TRU AND NELLE by G. Neri

If you liked The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes, you’ll love the adventures of Truman Capote (author of In Cold Blood) and Nelle (Ellen spelled backward) Harper Lee (author of To Kill A Mockingbird). As young friends in the tiny town of Monroeville, Alabama, during the Great Depression, Tru and Nelle become acquainted. The novel opens with even less than usual going on in the slow-moving, small town.

This book is written as fiction based on fact, and the author “recasts their time together” in a narrative that is engaging and probably very close to accurate.

Many cases open up to Sherlock Holmes (Truman Capote) and Watson (Harper Lee) who are joined by “Big Boy” as Inspector Lestrade (who never had a clue, according to Nelle), aka Jennings Falk, a real resident and childhood friend of the pair. Jennings adds a section at the end of the fictionalized account as “Tall tales told by Tru and Nelle,” which he recounted.

Foreshadowings of To Kill a Mockingbird in the real persons and events from the kids’ childhood emerge, such as Sonny, a neighbor boy (who is the basis for Boo Radley, and a scene in which the Klu Klux Klan show up at Truman’s going away( costume-dress) Halloween party. The result is hilarious, entertaining reading and just plain fun.

The author’s notes at the end of the narrative deal with the eventual ending of the Capote-Lee friendship.  I felt it was an accurate surmise at what actually caused the dissolution of the friendship and maybe one reason for Harper Lee’s reclusive lifestyle.

The story itself is worth the read, but the whole volume is a good investment of one’s reading time for anyone who follows literary events and is interested in where authors get their “ideas.”

I highly recommend this 2016 publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SARAH’S KEY by TatianaRosnay

A family secret is always a good basis for a novel, and when an outsider who has married into the family begins to investigate what happened, it almost always makes for “good reading.”

Beautifully researched, the novel deals with the great Vel’ d’ Hir’ roundup of Parisian Jews that took place on July 16, 1942. The atrocities that took place, interestingly enough, were not instigated by the Germans, but by the Paris police. Those Parisians who did not participate, turned their faces away.

Ten year old Sarah, in a moment of horror and terror, has made a promise to her younger brother and pockets the key it will take to fulfill that promise. What follows is a “heart thumping story…a book that will stay in your mind long after it’s back on the shelf.”

Sarah’s Key alternates in time between 1972 and present day Paris (2007), but is easy to follow, unlike many novels that attempt the same technique. The suspense is heightened by this technique as we follow Julie, a modern day journalist as she attempts to uncover the story of Sarah’s Key .

SIGIL by Aiden J. Reid

In the tiny village of Ballygorm, Ireland, a successful, young, family man, Lewis Tighe, is found hanging in a local farmer’s barn, a suicide.  Only Father Regan, the village priest a fan of TV “Detective- Bourbon-repeats”, notices clues and has hunches that lead him to question the local police and medical doctor’s conclusion. As he takes on his own “undercover investigation,” asking questions and interviewing town characters who are in his congregation, or at least under his “flock,” he detects undercurrents of a conspiracy, the likes of which no one ever expected in the tiny village of Ballygorm.

Until the ending which elicits in the reader the feeling of, “Oh no, is he going to make it?”, this page turner is action-filled and has a cliff hanger at the end of almost every chapter. The character of Father Regan, the down-to-earth priest, is drawn excellently,and since he makes mistakes as he goes, the reader cares about him even more because he (the reader) would have done exactly the same thing!

This novel/mystery is about the stories of people in a small village who never dreamed the village had a big time story of its own.

I ,for one, want a sequel. Father Ryan is a good sleuth and human enough for the reader  to want to follow him again as he solves yet  another mystery.

 

 

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?

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.

Review of Bill Bryson’s ONE SUMMER

Although this book was published in 2013, I’m just getting around to it.  I had read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid back at Christmas, then sent it on to my little brother who WAS the little boy growing up in the 1950’s.  He was kind enough to send me Bryson’s Road to Little Dribblings which was then on the best seller list to reciprocate.  I enjoyed both so much, I checked One Summer out of our Alvin library.

The book is the story of America during the summer of 1927, the year of Lucky Lindy’s trans-Atlantic flight.  It was also the beginning of Babe Ruth’s home run record which ended on the following September 30, 1927.  There are simply a plethora of interesting facts about that eventful summer, and Bryson includes them all.

Told in typical Bill Bryson’s style–humorous, detailed, and always readable–the book includes the “summer’s personalities” and exciting events. In places the writing and the events are “weird,” but isn’t that what we have come to expect from Bryson? One reviewer labelled the book, “narrative fiction of the highest order,” which it is, but above all, it is a darned good read.