Monday, November 25, 2013

Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin

Journey in the Dark
by Martin Flavin
1944 Pulitzer Prize
4 stars - what a nice book
ALR Blue - no pets, just the odd horse pulling a carriage, a cow to milk here and there

At last, a good book from that pesky Pulitzer Prize committee. 

Journey in the Dark tells the story of Sam Braden. His childhood takes place in poverty during the late nineteenth century. Sam is the youngest of four children. His family lives squarely on the wrong side of the tracks. Trapped in a limited existence of which young Sam is blissfully unaware until the year he realizes that he didn't get a sled for Christmas because his family is poor. 

He determines that he will not perpetuate poverty. His ambition is not to be rich and powerful, but to be comfortable. To rise above the circumstances of his youth and he sets about achieving that goal in a methodical fashion. He works hard, he takes risks, and eventually becomes a successful businessman.

Sam is decidedly human, flawed. His heart is often his undoing and his life is not without frustration and sadness. 

What delighted me was the style of the story. Nothing heroic, or terribly dramatic (save for the retelling of the sinking of the Titanic by a family friend). Just a life that is plenty dramatic for the person living it. The pacing of the book is brilliant. Just as in life, sometimes years go by with nothing of note going on and other times an event, large or small, will change one's course. So too, we recall our lives out of sequence and the book takes some skips and jumps (but never confusing).

And so, the Pulitzer Prize committee has redeemed itself.

But now, on to the really good stuff. 

The library sent me one of those fancy pants Franklin Library editions. You know the ones I mean. The "own all the greatest books ever written" subscription service. This edition proudly printed in 1978 (limited edition so act now). From the condition of the book, I imagine it might have never even been read. So pristine was it, that I was loath to turn down the corner of even one page (thus no quotes). No notations, no stains on the pages, each one still crisp and new. No old book smell. 

Check it out. Leather cover, gold edged pages, and some sort of silky fabric on the front and back inserts.

Fancy illustrations and what do you know? Even a silky gold book mark.

Makes me almost wish I'd bought that subscription. These books are amazing. I do believe it is the most beautifully bound and printed book I have ever read. I kind of hate to give it up as I suspect it will return to the main circulation shelves, never to venture out again.

It was acquired by the library in 1989. I want to call them and ask if they have the complete collection. I covet that collection.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Man with the Black Dog by Mario Cesare

The Man with the Black Dog
by Mario Cesare
4 stars - OK, a literary 3 stars, but it gets an extra star for having so much heart

ALR Yellow - some scary stuff, but the author doesn't dwell on things or sensationalize them and neither did I

This is the tale of Mario Cesare, game reserve manager, ecotourist guide, and all around animal lover, and his beloved dog, Shilo.

After a brief introduction into his pre-Shilo life, Mr. Cesare focuses on the 14 years that he and Shilo worked together and the incredible bond they had. 

I'm oddly at a loss for words even though I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I suppose because the book was, for me, more of a sensation than a story. Mr. Cesare's love for his dog wraps around the reader like a warm blanket. 

Through his various jobs in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the reader learns about the magnificent wildlife that is part of Africa. Now I have no doubt that he's seen some pretty terrible things, but while there are some scary moments involving animals, the author doesn't provide gory details and he has omitted any stories that include undue suffering. Rather, he focuses on the times he can put an animal out of its misery or when reckless beasts have close encounters that turn out OK. 

Shilo obviously had to learn a lot in order to survive in the bush. Mr. Cesare trained Shilo using only his own instincts and empathy. Subsequently, he manages to teach Shilo to follow life saving rules without ever having to use force or punishment. He's a natural. 

Interestingly, if you google Mario Cesare, there are few hits save for his book. That made me like him even more. He comes across as a gentle, caring person who is not interested in his own fame, so his low Internet profile reinforced that impression. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair

Dragon's Teeth
by Upton Sinclair
1943 Pulitzer Prize
no rating

Upton Sinclair has a lot of important stuff to say. Unfortunately, he never seems to say it in a way that doesn't make my head spin. I bailed out after 100 pages and am frustrated that I did so. I just had too much trouble keeping track of people and following the story. Too bad, because I know I would have learned some history and I suspect it's really a great book.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown

Hello Goodbye Hello
by Craig Brown
3 stars - even though I didn't finish it
ALR Blue - no animals, just people

As noted above, I didn't finish this book, but that doesn't mean it isn't good and I think some people will enjoy it.

Hello Goodbye Hello is a series of vignettes of meetings between the famous and infamous. Well written and well researched, each encounter is a delightful recreation of ordinary encounters made extraordinary by those involved.

I started off strong, but halfway through, a sameness settled in that ultimately robbed me of the desire to finish. That said, I do recommend the book. I can't fault it based on anything other than my own loss of interest.

You do need to know your history as the encounters are between politicians and artists of the early to mid twentieth century.

One gripe. The author goes out of his way to inform the reader that the book is comprised of 101 stories, each 1001 words, making the book 101,101 words long. Hardly. The heavily footnoted chapters tell the truth. Important information was rather randomly chopped and put at the bottom of the page in order to make the text fit the 1001 word format. Tsk, tsk.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Strange Children by Caroline Gordon

The Strange Children
by Caroline Gordon
1952 National Book Award Finalist
2 stars - oh, come on!

ALR Green - nice little dachshund named Borcke and a brief appearance by a grouchy pony

Lucy Lewis lives with her dilettante parents in Tennessee.

One day, Uncle Tubby, and Kevin and Isabel Reardon come to visit.

The grownups talk a lot. They drink gin. They talk some more.

Lucy wanders around.

Lucy steals a crucifix from Kevin Reardon.

Jenny, the hired lady, gets drunk in the afternoon.

Some people setup for a revival meeting.

More wandering around.

Lots of suggestive looks between Isabel and Tubby.

Lucy gets thrown off a bucking pony.

One of the guys at the revival meeting is bit by a rattlesnake.

Tubby takes off with Mrs. Reardon.

Lucy returns the crucifix. 

We find out (gasp) that Mrs. Reardon is coo coo nutty mental fits and her husband had to sign her out of the loony bin for their big trip to visit Lucy's parents. Oh well.

The end.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lacey Blue and Friends by Bill Hart

Lacey Blue and Friends
by Bill Hart
5 stars - perfect dog lover's story
ALR Yellow - some tense moments on the order of a Disney movie

This book is intended for young readers. Nevertheless, I loved it and it was certainly the right choice to cleanse my reading pallet after the last unfortunate volume.

Lacey Blue was born to race and she loves doing it. Mr. Hart takes the reader into the mind of the greyhound to show us how thrilling the chase is for these majestic animals. Lacey is owned by a compassionate human, Ryan, who races dogs as long as they love it and are healthy. When his dogs cannot race he either keeps them as couch ornaments or finds good homes for them. 

Difficult to say more without revealing the plot. Per the back cover "... she begins a series of adventures with various owners that will push her to the very limits."

There are a lot of moderately scary scenes, but it was clear from the tone of the book that the main story would have a happy ending. I can readily see reading this as a bedtime story to your favorite young person. I don't think any of the tension is severe enough to cause wakefulness.

For all you crazy, dog loving adults, I recommend this as a safe, short read. Volume two is in the queue.

Now then, I believe the cover dog Miss Blueberry from the Tales and Tails pack.

Loyal readers know that my new books usually go to the library after I've read them. This one is staying. It's calm and soothing, I love gazing at the cover and I look forward to sharing it with my grandchildren.

Here is a link to Bill Hart's web site where you can read more about his greyhound books.

Friday, November 1, 2013

One Death Too Many by Glenn Ickler

One Death Too Many
by Glenn Ickler
1 star - just not my cup of tea
ALR Blue - no animals

I met Mr. Ickler at a New England fall fair. He had a booth set up and was selling autographed copies of his Al Jeffery / Mitch Mitchell series. He seemed like a nice guy and it pains me to write an unfavorable review.

The main issue is that he missed what I would consider his target audience. These are cozy mysteries in that they have regular people who make jokes, live life, and happen to be surrounded by murder. Al and Mitch are newspaper journalists. 

Here's why the book didn't work for me (in the 60 pages I read)
  • These guys never seem to work. In fact all they do is take time off from work. I would have expected a sub plot that showed them actually doing their job.
  • There really wasn't any mystery to the mystery (of course I didn't finish so maybe things improved).
  • Cozy mysteries (which this seems to approximate) are usually read by women. That means that sex scenes need to be a bit romantic, not "Like a train gliding into a tunnel, he slipped smoothly into the offered opening..." That's from page one, by the way.
  • Al and Mitch like puns. I'm OK with that, but the conversations with puns don't flow. I couldn't figure out if this was a light hearted romp or a creepy story.

I wish Mr. Ickler all the best and I applaud him for having the tenacity to not only write, but get published, something on the order of 10 books. 

As for me, well, I've got some books waiting at the library for me and right now so I will drop my two autographed Icklers in the library collection and move on.