Saturday, May 30, 2020

May Reading Wrap-Up

May is such a beautiful month!  The weather is becoming pleasant and the flowers are blooming.  Bleeding Hearts, Crab Apples and Lilacs are some of my favorites.  The air is heavy with their scent and the birds sing so joyfully every morning.  The weather is finally warm enough to put out pots of annuals.

In the month of May I read six books.  We spent a lot of time away from home with relatives after losing my father-in-law at the end of April.  As much as I love to read and I would even say need to read, spending time with those I love was just much more important.  

Here are the genres I read from:

Non-fiction:  4
Classic:  1
Historical fiction:  1

My favorite book from the month was:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing  by Stephen King

I am looking forward to reading more fiction in June.  

How was your May?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

The Book Thief
Author:  Markus Zusak
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf (2005)
552 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction

First lines:  "First the colors.  Then the humans.  That's usually how I see things.  Or at least, how I try."

The year is 1939, the place is Germany.  Liesel Meminger's life is forever changed when her brother dies during a train ride to Munich.  Liesel is with her brother and her mother. The mother is taking her children to Munich to place them in a foster home, because she can no longer care for them.  Liesel is placed with a family in Molching on Himmel Street.  Hans and Rosa Hubermann are an interesting couple whose children are grown.  Rosa is fierce and profanity spills from her mouth constantly.  

"In the beginning, it was the profanity that made an immediate impact.  It was so vehement and prolific."

In contrast, Hans Hubermann is kind and gentle.

"To most people, Hans Hubermann was barely visible.  An un-special person."

"The frustration of that appearance, as you can imagine, was its complete misleadence, let's say.  There most definitely was value in him, and it did not go unnoticed by Liesel Meminger."

For all of Rosa's gruffness, she loves Liesel and takes good care of her.  

Liesel becomes known as the book thief by the narrator because she stole her first book just after her brother was buried.  One of the grave diggers dropped a book called "The Grave Digger's Handbook" and Liesel picked it up and took it with her.  She longs to learn to read and wants to read this book.  The book is important to her because it signifies the last time she saw her mother and brother.  It is a long time before she steals another book, but eventually she does.  Books become very important to her. 

Life is difficult and scary during this time in Germany and Liesel learns that words can offer comfort.  When the Hubermanns harbor a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel connects with him over books and reading and words.  When Liesel wakes from a nightmare in the middle of the night, she and Hans read together.  When they are huddled in a neighbor's basement during an air raid, Liesel reads out loud.

My thoughts:
I chose to read this book after it was named as a favorite of two young women I know.  I saw the movie years ago, so I didn't remember too much of the story.  I have to admit that I almost gave up on the book in the first 50 pages.  I found the narrator a little strange and the story wasn't holding my interest.  I decided to continue and am glad that I can now say I have read this book.  However, I would not label it as one of my favorites, but I can see why others do.  Another thing that made it difficult for me to read was the constant use of profanity and blasphemy.  However I do think that it did add a little humor to the story at times.  

The strength of the book is the characters and their relationships.  I also loved the role of reading and books in the story.  Stories helped the characters bear difficult circumstances.  Liesel needs books as much as she needs food or air and this is portrayed well in the story.  

Overall, I am glad I did not give up on this book.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: Master Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes: Master Detective

Sherlock Holmes:  Master Detective
Author:  Arthur Conan Doyle
Publisher:  Silver Burdett Company (1982)
332 pages
Genre:  Classic, Mystery

I found this book in an antique store as part of a set.  The other books are also classics and the covers are identical.  Each book measures 6.5" by 4.25".  They are small and look nice together on the shelf.  The books were published by Silver Burdett Company and are essentially textbooks that contain unabridged stories.  What makes them textbooks is that each book contains a study guide at the end which includes background information on the author and book, vocabulary, questions and activities pertaining to the story or stories.  

This particular volume contains stories or chapters taken from three of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books.  

From The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:
   A Scandal in Bohemia
   The Adventure of the Speckled Band
   The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

From The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:
   The Musgrave Ritual
   The Final Problem

From The Return of Sherlock Holmes:
   The Adventure of the Empty House
   The Adventure of the Dancing Men
   The Adventure of the Priory School
   The Adventure of the Second Stain

My favorite in this collection was The Adventure of the Dancing Men in which Holmes and Watson set out to solve the mystery of notes being left at the home of Mr. Hilton Cubitt containing drawings of dancing men that look like hieroglyphics.  Mr. Cubitt has found these dancing men scrawled with chalk on the window sill.  He copied them onto paper before erasing them from the sill.  A few days later, another message is left.  When Mr. Cubitt shows the message to his wife, she faints.  However, Mrs. Cubitt has warned her husband that she has had some difficulties in her past that she does not want to talk about.  She assures him that her past involves nothing that she needs to personally be ashamed about, it is just painful and she wants to forget about it.  Mr. Cubitt agrees that he will not bring it up.  So, now he is in a bind because he can see that this situation must have something to do with her past, but he promised never to bring it up.  Of course!  He has heard that Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street is fond of queer mysteries and this seems to be just that.  Can Sherlock Holmes decipher the code?  Can he do it before it's too late?  

I especially liked the code to decipher and Sherlock Holmes' explanation of how he solved it.  This one is rather suspenseful as well.  

This is a nice collection of stories that gives a good introduction to Sherlock Holmes.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Book Review: Tisha by Robert Specht

Tisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness

Tisha:  The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness
As Told To:  Robert Specht
Publisher:  Bantam (1976)
342 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, Memoir

"I've lived in the Forty Mile country of Alaska for a long time, but even now, every so often when I'm out rock-hunting or looking for fossils, I get lost.  Sometimes I'll have to wander around for a while before I get my bearings.  That's what happened to me when I first started to think about telling this story.  I wasn't sure which direction to take, until I finally realized that the only way to tell it was the way I might have told it when I first came to Alaska."

The year was 1927.  Anne Hobbs was nineteen years old when she was offered the job of teaching school in a gold-mining settlement near Yukon Territory in Alaska.  Since the time she was a young girl, the idea of living on a frontier was exciting to her.  So, of course, she took the job.  

The story reads like a novel and tells about Anne's first year of teaching in Alaska.  It begins with the journey to Chicken and ends when the school year has finished.  The journey was much more difficult than she imagined.  And when she arrived in Chicken and was shown to her living quarters, she was confronted with an empty room and had to ask the women escorting her if she could have a bed.  Thankfully, it was just an oversight and a bed was brought right away.  

As Anne begins teaching classes at the one-room school, she is confronted with some things she didn't expect.  One is that the school is intended only for white children.  So when she invites a native child into the classroom, many of the townspeople are upset and tell her she can't do that.  Another is that some of the "old-timers" drop by and sit in on class.  This doesn't create much of a problem and the children find their stories interesting.  Throughout the year, Anne is confronted with the prejudice that is rampant in the area.  She tries to do what she feels is right, even if it means she won't be allowed to teach next year. 

I enjoyed this story.  I learned much about Alaska including the harshness of the winters and how people survive during them.  I found Anne's teaching style interesting and some of the things she  did reminded me of when I was homeschooling my children.  She understood that if they were to learn, they needed to be interested in what they were doing.  This led her to create a project that they could all work on together that involved making a map of Chicken and learning the history of the town.  

At the beginning of the story, I felt like I was missing something.  There wasn't much information given about Anne before this year of teaching which left me feeling like I had entered the story in the middle.  I would have liked to know a little more about Anne before she went to Alaska.  But that was a minor thing and didn't take too much away from the narrative. 

If you are looking for an adventure story with a female heroine, or would like to know more about Alaska in the 1920's, I recommend this book.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft
Author:  Stephen King
Publisher:  Scribner (2010) (first published 2000)
291 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, Writing, Memoir

"What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it's done.  It's about the day job; it's about the language."

I have only read one Stephen King book in my life and that was just after graduating from high school.  Horror is not a genre that I read.  However, I heard good things about this book and decided to give it a try.  I was not disappointed.  

The book is divided into three sections.  The first section is titled,  "C.V." and is King's curriculum vitae.  He explains it as his, "attempt to show how one writer was formed."  The chapter is made up of episodes in his life that involved writing or led him to want to write.  He writes chronologically from his earliest memories to those more recent.  Rather than divide this part into chapters, each memory is numbered and this helps break them up.  One of the things that stood out to me was that Stephen King was always a reader.  Near the end of this first section he is describing the place you read as, "one where you go to receive telepathic messages."  He goes on to say, 

"Not that you have to be there; books are a uniquely portable magic.  I usually listen to one in the car (always unabridged; I think abridged audiobooks are the pits), and carry another wherever I go.  You just never know when you'll want an escape hatch:  mile-long lines at tollbooth plazas, the fifteen minutes you have to spend in the hall of some boring college building waiting for your advisor ... , airport boarding lounges, laundromats on rainy afternoons ..."

The second section is called, "Toolbox".  This is where he gives direction on the writing craft.  This section is also separated by numbers rather than chapters.  He walks the reader through the process of writing in a way that makes it interesting even if you never intend to write anything.  He begins with this:

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:  read a lot and write a lot.  There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

The third section is called, "On Living:  A Postscript".  King was hit by a van while walking near his summer house in June of 1999.  He tells that story in section three.  The final section of the book is called, "And Furthermore".  It contains Parts I, II, and III which include;  a short piece of writing in the first draft followed by a revised version of the same piece and two lists of books Stephen King has read in the last several years.

I enjoyed this book and am glad I read it.  King loves what he does and loves stories and that definitely comes through in the book.  I would recommend this book even if you aren't interested in learning to write.  It helped me to understand stories and writing better even as a reader.

A consideration:  the book contains language and vulgarity throughout.  If you are offended by that, you may want to skip this one. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Book Review: The Story of Edith Cavell by Iris Vinton

The Story of Edith Cavell
Author:  Iris Vinton
Publisher:  Signature Books (1959)
178 pages
Genre:  Children's Biography

Edith Cavell grew up in the village of Swardeston, England.  Her father was the local vicar.  From a young age Edith was tidy, paid attention to detail and did her best to tell the truth.  These were all traits that served her well when she became a nurse.  

After graduating from school, she went to Brussels as a governess for a wealthy family.  When her father became ill, she left Brussels to return to Swardeston.  In an effort to help her mother, she volunteered to become her father's nurse while he recovered.  It was during these months that she realized she wanted to become trained as a nurse.  When her father was well, Edith went to London for nurse's training.  She carried out her tasks with swiftness and attention to detail.  The head nurse in London showed great respect for Edith and gave her more and more responsibility.  

Eventually she was asked to be a Directrice of a Clinique in Brussels that would train nurses.  World War I broke out during this time and Edith found herself assisting wounded soldiers from France and England to get well and then get out of Belgium to a safe country.  Eventually the Germans discovered what she was doing and arrested her.

This is a thrilling story well told.  The theme of honesty is woven throughout.  Edith was a woman who wasn't afraid to do what was right, even at threat of her life.  She was a woman from whom peace emanated.  When her pastor came to see her before she died, she told him,

"Standing as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough.  I must have no hatred and no bitterness toward anyone."

Those words were engraved on her head stone at the Cathedral of Norwich in England.  

This book was written for middle school aged children, but older children would enjoy it as well.  It was enough information for me and I felt like I learned something about Edith, the history of nursing and World War I.  It would also make a great read aloud for younger children.

I recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn more about the history of nursing or World War I, as well as anyone who likes a good story about a godly woman.