Thursday, January 25, 2007

Innside Nantucket, by Frank Gilbreth Jr.

I know this is a month late, but I simply couldn't let this little gem slip by without remark. (If someone already reviewed it and I just missed it, then my abject apologies. I don't recall reading any discussion on it yet.)

This is written by one of the co-authors of the charming classics Cheaper By the Dozen and Belles On Their Toes. While those two books focused on the adventures of the Gilbreth family, this one stars the youngest brother Bob, now grown up, and his young wife Barbara. In fact, the story is written from the first-person perspective of Barbara, which must have been fun for Frank to write.

Nantucket is, of course, where the Gilbreths spent all their summer vacations growing up, and it retains a special place in their memories. So Bob is thrilled to sell out of their fast-paced lifestyle in New York and make a go of it running an inn on Nantucket Island. Barbara, not having the same nostalgic connections to her childhood, is more aware of the drawbacks of the high price of living and the primitive conditions. This book is a very humorous chronicle of their first year or so.

Aside from being a fun read about the Gilbreths (who come into it somewhat marginally), this book is just another heart-warming young-couple-making-a-go-of-it-in-tough-conditions story, but I always like those kinds of stories if they're well done and take care not to stray into the sappily sentimental, the impossibly dreary, or the extremely unlikely. This book succeeds very well.

It's full of the witty dialogue and clever references that I love from Cheaper and Belles. It reeks of the charm from another era. The one thing I do find a little sad about the Gilbreth family is that all of the kids chose to have only one or two children of their own. I wonder why that happened, since they obviously had such a good experience growing up in a large family; perhaps it was the cultural expectations of the times?

Anyway, it was a wonderful little book and highly recommended reading for those who love the originals.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

I have been reading books since I was five, I always loved a book with horses in it. Often it was a challenge to find a book that wasn't sad, didn't have too much romance or was about horses at all! Which is why this trilogy is one of my favorites.
Mary O'Hara said that Ken walked into her head one day and she had to write down his story;

Ken is a dreamer, one of those boys who is so frustrating to hardworking fathers. Rob doesn't know what to do with their youngest son, he seemed to be so lost in his own world. But Nell, Ken and Howard's mother took a chance with a suggestion, give him his own horse.

The relationship of Ken and his little girl Flicka is full of emotion and turmoil. She had a loco mother so she hadn't learned any good sense, this resulted in her trying to run through a barb wire fence and being hurt so badly that it took all of Ken's little heart to make her better. During all the nursing and growing friendship Ken worried that she would be loco too, not in the goofy way but in the better off dead way.
This story of boy and horse is a beautiful example of what happens when two kindred spirits are united in the joy of life. Sometimes the beauty of ordinary days has to be shared on an unspoken level to be fully appreciated. Perhaps this is why God gave Man the companionship of aniamls, so we would be reminded of the sweet simplicity of life.

Rob is one of the rare male book characters that I can like and respect. He is a hard worker, but he had a dream and this dream made him leave the comfort of a methodical, financially stable military career to pursue his love of horses. A tough man, his is the kind that won the West. They do what needs done because the responsibility is Man's to shoulder.
Breaking horses is very different now, in face you can hardly call it by that. Cowboys have been taming horses by far more gentle ways for decades. The fast paced do or die way of cowboy life has changed to a more traditional, gentler way of living, and because of this they have more time to tame the horses they use.
I have seen a cowboy sobbing his heart out after having to shoot his horse for a broken leg.
Horses were a way of life for centuries, is it so strange that they can touch peoples hearts and lives?

Nell, a strong women, a wife that is capable and tough but feminine and beautiful. She knows her husband well and knows when to hold her tongue and when to speak up. If only all wives could be so uncomplaining!

Howard is a mere conversationl character, put in to be the annoyingly normal older brother. And yet aside from the jibing and taunting there are flashes of brotherhood in him .

This book is very true to the way of horse life. There is alot of heartache and death involved, times you have to do what is right to keep going even though it seems barbaric. Horse-poor is a term I have become familiar with, anyone who owns a horse knows what it means; there is never a time you make money, sometimes if you are lucky you make enough to break even and put up a new barn or corral but most of the time you are barely able to buy hay and pay off the veterinarian.
But even after all the dirt your heart has been dragged through it only takes one horse, one moment that time stops and your mind is shown the same world you live in but in a different way, it seems brighter, more beautiful. You are given wings.

Perhaps the hardship and love is what gives true horse people the look of peace.

By the way, Nell's desire does come true. Read the rest of the books!

Friday, January 05, 2007

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

What's not to love about a book that manages to combine time travel, Victorian house parties, British mystery authors, boating, and metaphysical ponderings on the intersection of free will, chance, and design? This book was pure fun to read, yet with enough Big Ideas to keep it from being fluffy.

The description of time lag, a disorder caused by too much time travel too close together, sounds remarkably similar to postpartum sleep deprivation (including the sentimentality--never watch Little Women at such a time), so I identified quite strongly and persevered even though the narrator was so confused at the beginning of the book that it was hard to tell what was going on. It does all clear up eventually, and most satisfactorily.

I appreciated the way the Victorian era and morals were treated, with respect but not slavish devotion (for those not timelagged, anyway), and the way religion was handled in a novel primarily set in a post-religious time.

Now I'm eager to try more books by this author, as well as the original Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog. Many thanks to Erika for the recommendation; this is not a book which I would have stumbled across on my own.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

I just finished this book so its quite fresh in my mind. This isn't one that I really want to review in normal fashion because there's an element of mystery and suspense to it that shouldn't be spoiled by accidentally reading the conclusion in a review.

So I'll say this:

This book is spooky, riveting, suspenseful, disgusting, vile, a great page turner and will linger in your mind for a good long while (I would imagine). It tells the story of a family who basically disintegrates. It's an excellent example of what can happen when Christ is removed from the picture. It's not a story of redemption. More like relief. I'm not even sure how its relieving, exactly. It just is.

The story grips you from the get-go, which is probably why it has received so many good reviews all over the internet. It's a story every book lover will identify with immediately. The narrator of the tale, Margaret, helps to keep up her father's bookstore. She describes reading a book in a way that only a dedicated reader can understand. You'll know what I mean when you read it. Her character is personable, albeit tragic. She is hired to write the biography of Vida Winter, a mysterious but well-loved writer in England. The story is how Vida Winter came to be. Its a search for truth and the revelation of it (as painful as it sometimes is).

I liked this book because it was gripping. I hated it for the same reason. It IS spooky. The depravity of man is vividly described -- yet -- upon recollection, Setterfield really isn't that descriptive. She says just enough and no more and yet you can see everything quite clearly in your mind's eye. Sometimes it is very disturbing. But its not something you'll necessarily put down - even though you may want to.

If the story weren't so dark at times, I'd say it was a cotton candy read. It certainly is captivating. It's hard for me to recommend it because of the subject matter involved here and there. At the same time, the story ties together so amazingly well that its hard to pass up! I'm definitely curious to hear what the rest of you think of it after reading it!