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Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

Read This! - Wed, 2014-09-10 00:01

Lily shares this review:

Scarlet’s grandmother is missing. The townspeople suspect suicide…what else could it be? No note. No missing items. Just gone. Scarlet refuses to believe her grandmother would do such a horrible thing. Her grandmother, the kind and somewhat strict woman that raised Scarlet after the passing of her mother. No. It was not suicide. But what?

Then she meets Wolf, a cryptic street fighter with information on her grandmother’s whereabouts. What Scarlet doesn’t expect, after she decides to let him help, is to fall in love.

Meanwhile, Cinder, with the humorous and ‘charming’ convict named Thorne, escape from prison and flee to outer-space. Cinder is still very apprehensive of her Lunar gift, not just because she doesn’t want to control people, but that she enjoys it when she does.

Queen Levana is on the move – sneaking her way through Prince Kai’s defenses – and is coming closer and closer to having the Eastern Commonwealth in her clutches.

Marissa Meyer does not disappoint in this sequel to Cinder.

Check the WRL catalog for Scarlet


Categories: Read This

Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-09-10 00:01

Modern day teen Amy Gumm is having a tough time at home and at school. Her day gets worse when a tornado barrels through her Kansas trailer park home and deposits her in the land of Oz.  Amy quickly finds out this isn’t the Oz of the storybooks.  What was beautiful and magical is dull and dead.

Like Dorothy, Amy wanders the countryside looking for a way home.  Along the way she makes a few friends.  But instead of watching out for wicked witches, Amy and her companions are on the lookout for the Tin Woodman and his soldiers.

Dorothy came back from Kansas many years ago and something has gone very, very wrong.

The Tin Woodman is now the Grand Inquisitor of Oz.  You can get arrested (or worse) for sass, for not smiling, for lack of loyalty… As Amy comes quickly to realize, all of Oz is subject to Dorothy’s bizarre and selfish whims.

The Scarecrow and Lion aren’t much better.  Scarecrow used his brains for horrible experiments which make the machine-human hybrids of the Woodman’s army.  The Lion attacks villages and kills innocent people.  He is fearless – and completely lacking compassion. And Glinda the Good is actually an evil slave-driver who makes the Munchkins mine for magic!

All is not without hope. There is an underground movement to remove Dorothy from power.  The formerly wicked witches want Amy’s help.  They spring her from prison and begin training her in magic and combat techniques so she can play her part in freeing Oz from the tyranny.

This debut novel certainly gives a unique and dark twist to the Wizard of Oz story.  The tale itself follows a familiar story arc of a strong, female teen relying on herself to overcome obstacles (think Hunger Games, Divergent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – but the similarities and differences with the familiar children’s story makes this new YA book a very interesting read.

Dorothy Must Die ends with plenty of questions still needing to be answered.  A sequel is expected in March. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Oz.

Check the WRL catalog for Dorothy Must Die


House of Games (1987)

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-09-09 00:01

A prominent psychiatrist is seduced by the world of con men and confidence games in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet’s 1987 directorial debut, House of Games.

Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) enjoys a thriving career, including the recent publication of a well-received book called Driven: Compulsion and Obsession in Everyday Life. One of her patients is a compulsive gambler named Billy Hahn (Steven Goldstein). During a therapy session, a distraught Billy confides in Margaret that he owes $25,000 to a shady gambler named Mike. He doesn’t have the money and his life is in danger if he doesn’t repay Mike by the following evening. When Margaret tries to reassure Billy that his life is not in danger, he pulls out a gun and tells her that suicide may be his only way out of the problem. She successfully calms Billy and takes the gun from him.

Later that evening while reviewing her notes on Billy’s situation, she finds a reference to Mike and the place where Billy lost the money: the House of Games. Determined to help her patient, Margaret goes to the House of Games looking for Mike (Joe Mantegna). She confronts him about Billy’s debt and learns that he only owed Mike $800, not $25,000 as originally claimed. Mike makes Margaret an offer: in exchange for helping him win a poker game, he’ll forgive Billy’s debt. Although the poker game is exposed as nothing more than a clever ruse, Mike keeps his word and forgives the debt, and Margaret finds herself intrigued by Mike and his shadowy world of deceptions and con games.

Her evening with Mike sparks an idea for another book, and several nights later she tracks him down and asks if she could watch how he operates. He agrees, and takes her along as he pulls several small cons, all the while explaining to her how confidence games work. She also finds herself falling in love with Mike, seduced by his charm and his insight into why people fall for his cons. Margaret’s whirlwind affair with Mike culminates in a complex confidence game involving a briefcase containing $80,000 borrowed from the mob. Will she risk her professional reputation and her life to protect the man she’s grown to love?

I enjoyed House of Games for the same reason I enjoyed Nine Queens, Fabián Bielinsky’s excellent 2000 film about a pair of con artists trying to sell a sheet of counterfeit stamps. I know an elaborate trick lies at the heart of the story, but the pleasure of watching the film comes from seeing how the trick was constructed and executed. Mamet’s clever and fast-paced screenplay pulls the viewer along for the ride as Margaret finds herself caught up in a situation that is quickly spiraling out of control. The lead performances are particularly strong and credible. Joe Mantegna’s smooth talking Mike is charming, but unapologetic about his life as a con man. Lindsay Crouse’s character is a bit more complex. Dr. Margaret Ford is a caring psychiatrist who wants to help people; however, her experience with Mike leads to subtle changes to the way she regards herself and her profession. Without giving too much away, I suggest that viewers pay careful attention to Margaret’s clothing and demeanor in the scenes at the beginning and end of the movie where she is approached by fans of her book.

Tightly constructed and well-paced, House of Games is a fine mystery and fascinating character study.

Check the WRL catalog for House of Games


Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman, illus. by Julie Paschkis

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-09-08 00:01

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal is the classic tale of Cinderella retold as a compilation of different versions of Cinderella from around the world. Paul Fleischman takes bits and pieces from each country’s Cinderella story and fuses them together to complete the book. Not only does Cinderella have glass slippers but she also has diamond anklets and sandals of gold. By taking a multi-cultural perspective on an old story, Fleischman shows that the people of the world can be connected through folklore.

The illustrations in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal are colorful, catching the reader’s attention. The illustrations are based upon the folk art of each country represented. This book is recommended for kids age 4 and up.

If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Indian Tales: A Barefoot Collection by Shenaaz Nanji, Anansi and the Box of Stories: A West African folktale by Stephen Krensky, and/or Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm.

Check the WRL catalog for Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Read This! - Mon, 2014-09-08 00:01

Christine shares this review:

I admit it; I occasionally hit a reading slump.  I’m surrounded by hundreds of thousands of wonderful stories, and sometimes I am unable to find one book that will pull me down the rabbit hole.  So I turned to a fellow librarian for advice.  I asked for the one book she had read that she just could not get out of her head. Her response was immediate — R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.  No hesitation, no thought, no second guessing, she laid Wonder at my feet and I’m so glad she did.

Ten-year-old August Pullman will be starting public school for the first time after being homeschooled his entire life.  Auggie happens to have a combination of rare genetic mutations that cause severe facial abnormalities.  Because Auggie is so obviously different on the surface it is hard to see that he is just like many other boys his age — intelligent and funny and passionate about Star Wars.  Needless to say going to public school will be an adventure filled with friends, enemies, middle school wars, laughter, joy, and pain.

I don’t want to give details of the plot because Wonder is a story about everyday life for someone that happens to be ordinary with an extraordinary face.  These details are best appreciated and understood as revealed by Auggie.  Wonder weaves together the shifting perspectives of Auggie and his friends and family to reveal the joys and challenges of life with compassion and humor.

Wonder is magic that will pull you in and won’t let go.  For me it’s the very best kind of book, one that makes me love being in the rabbit hole, but also able to appreciate the world around me a little more when the story has ended.  There will be moments this book will make you cry, but it is worth every teardrop.  This is a book that will stay with you for a long, long, long time.

Check the WRL catalog for Wonder


Categories: Read This

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-09-08 00:01

A group of reporters gather in a lavish wedding hall, waiting for the bride and groom to arrive for the reception. Yoshiko Iwabuchi (Kyōko Kagawa), the daughter of Public Corporation Vice President Iwabuchi (Masayuki Mori), has married Kôichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune), her father’s trusted secretary. Despite the happy occasion, there are a few signs that this is not the typical society wedding: Wada (Kamatari Fujiwara), the master of ceremony, is arrested on bribery charges; the bride’s brother delivers a curious and threatening wedding toast; and an elaborate wedding cake hints at a sinister event. In some films, this scene might be the backdrop to a big and dramatic climax; however, in The Bad Sleep Well, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Hamlet-inspired film from 1960, the wedding is the prelude to a story of obsession and tragedy.

Nishi is a promising young businessman whose quick ascent through the ranks of Public Corporation is driven by the desire to avenge the death of his father, Furuya, five years earlier. At the time, Furuya was assistant chief at Public Corporation when Vice President Iwabuchi and two of his trusted associates – administrative officer Moriyama and contract officer Shirai – were implicated in a bribery and kickback scandal. Before charges could be filed, Furuya committed suicide by jumping out of a window on the seventh floor of an office building. Furuya’s death brought the investigation to a close, but the bribery and kickbacks continued. Nishi was Furuya’s illegitimate son, and before his death Furuya attempted to reconcile with him. Nishi wants revenge for his father’s death, but he also wants to expose the culture of corruption he believes led to his father’s suicide.

After switching identities with a childhood friend, Nishi secures a job at Public Corporation and eventually marries Yoshiko. Following their marriage, Nishi’s plan for revenge seems to fall into place. Wada and Miura, the company’s accountant, are questioned by police regarding the allegations of bribery. Like Furuya, Miura commits suicide after he’s released by the police; however, Nishi prevents Wada from jumping into a volcano by convincing him to help bring his superiors to justice. Working together, Nishi and Wada then set a trap to frame contract officer Shirai for theft. As his plans come to fruition, Nishi realizes he has fallen in love with Yoshiko, setting the stage for a series of events that put Nishi and Wada’s lives in danger.

The Bad Sleep Well is not the only Shakespeare-inspired film in Kurosawa’s oeuvre. Throne of Blood, a retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan, was released in 1957, and in 1985 he directed the King Lear-inspired Ran, which won the Academy Award for costume design. Unlike Throne of Blood and Ran, which are epic in tone and scope, The Bad Sleep Well has a more intimate setting, taking place in the well-appointed homes and boardrooms of corporate leaders.

I especially enjoyed the pacing of the film and Toshiro Mifune’s performance as Nishi. The opening wedding sequence was a brilliant way to establish the film’s tone and introduce the major characters. The film proceeds at a methodical pace as Kurosawa gradually ratchets up the tension, building to a surprising and tragic turn of events. As Nishi, the great actor Toshiro Mifune brings the right amount of intensity and compassion; his drive for revenge tempered by his growing feelings for his wife.

The Bad Sleep Well is a dramatic, emotionally dynamic film that will appeal to fans of Shakespeare and Kurosawa. It is in Japanese with English subtitles.

Check the WRL catalog for The Bad Sleep Well


This Monster Needs a Haircut by Bethany Barton

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-09-05 00:01

Barton is incredibly witty in this hilarious book about a stubborn monster named Stewart, who DOES NOT want a haircut! The vibrant colors and Stewart’s wild, messy hair make the book entertaining for little ones, but there are also small details that adults can appreciate. For example, at monster school, Stewart’s homework is to “Find human homework and eat it!”

Stewart’s parents try to convince him to get a haircut and promise that it will grow back, but it isn’t until his hair starts to interfere with his scaring abilities that he finally relents. This is a great book to read to any little monsters you know who are afraid to get a haircut!

Check the WRL catalog for This Monster Needs a Haircut.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Richard Bolitho series, by Alexander Kent

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-09-05 00:01

The end of summer seems a good time to pull out some old favorite titles and enjoy a last indulgence in pleasure reading before the busy-ness of Fall picks up. On a windy day, what could be better than a novel of nautical adventure? While I enjoy Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series about which Charlotte has written so well, I think that my favorite 19th century sailing novels are those of Alexander Kent.

Kent’s series chronicles the rise of Richard Bolitho through the ranks of the British navy beginning during the American Revolution and continuing through the Napoleonic Wars. Like O’Brian, Kent has a deep understanding of the art of sailing and of late 18th and early 19th century naval customs and traditions, and his books are richly descriptive without being dry. Kent also gives an interesting picture of all the behind-the-scenes trades that are essential to a successful voyage: ropemaking, supplying ship’s stores, and so on.

These are character-driven stories, and Bolitho is always at the center. Over the course of his career (and the series) Bolitho often finds himself challenged by orders that conflict with his sense of honor. This conflict between following one’s duty or one’s moral code is a central theme here. The secondary characters, from newly minted sailors to the lords of the Admiralty, are all equally well-drawn. Kent’s ear for dialog shines through.

The pace here is a bit faster than that of the Aubrey and Maturin books, and Kent offers readers a thrilling blend of naval detail and action. The series should be read more or less in order to get the full story, so start with Midshipman Bolitho, the first in the series.

Check the WRL catalog for Midshipman Bolitho

Read the series in ebook format, starting with a 3-in-1 collection The Complete Midshipman Bolitho


Page by Paige, by Laura Lee Gulledge

Read This! - Fri, 2014-09-05 00:01

Laura share this review:

Paige is despondent. Her family recently moved from central Virginia to Manhattan and she has to deal with acclimating herself to a new city and culture while her relationships with her parents, especially her mother, have been crumbling. She misses her old life, and her old friends, especially her best friend Diana. Paige floats around New York with a sensation of being lost, unsure of herself or what she wants.

Both her mother and father are writers (hence her unfortunate name, Paige Turner), but she is more like her grandmother, a painter. Introverted and quiet on the outside, Paige is full of life and emotions on the inside. She can’t express these feelings in words so she buys a sketchbook, determined to follow her grandmother’s rules that she came up with to teach herself to be an artist. Starting the first drawing is daunting, and brings to the surface more of her anxieties. Is she a good enough artist, what if she has nothing to draw about? Monologues of self-doubt constantly run through her head, even as the pages begin to fill up with sketches.

Entering her new school, Paige quickly falls in with Jules, her brother Longo, and his friend Gabe. The foursome is soon inseparable. Paige still struggles with self-doubt, and everything cool and fun she sees in her friends strengthens her inferiority complex, and fear that her lack of specialness will be discovered. Her inner voice promises that she can change. But how can she build a new self and remove those parts she dislikes most?

Ever practical, Paige makes a list of those aspects of her personality she dislikes the most and intentionally faces them with the help of her friends. She discovers that they too have things that they lack the courage to face, and she begins to coach them, even as she is developing and evolving herself. The image of a seed being planted and carefully tended to as it grows into a fragile shoot appears several times in the drawings and is particularly apt.

The writing is lyrical and evocative while being relatable to anyone who was unsure of themselves when they were a teenager. Paige has a knack of summing up complicated emotions using simple phrases. She states that “like fun house mirrors, different people reflect back different parts of me” and while mourning her loneliness early on, she states that she hates how all her “friends now live in picture frames.”

Recommend for young adults and graphic novel readers and anyone else who can relate to the heart wrenching process of finding yourself.

Search the catalog for Page by Paige


Categories: Read This

Roman Blood, by Steven Saylor

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-09-04 00:01

Loving historical mysteries as I do, I was surprised to find that I had not written about Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series before (well, I mentioned him in this review of Lindsey Davis’s Falco series). While I like the Lindsey Davis books quite a lot for their humor and wit and a well-crafted noirish feel to the mystery, Saylor’s novels are, I think, richer and perhaps more accurately capture life and culture in early Rome.

The series lead is Gordianus the Finder, a sometime investigator in the later days of the Roman Republic.  In many of the stories, Gordianus finds himself delving into the crimes that result from the struggle for power among the Roman elites. These books will interest anyone who delights in tales of political intrigue and backroom manoeuvrings. Throughout the series, Gordianus encounters historical figures — Cicero, Catalina, Caesar — and he frequently finds himself working for the state, occasionally against his better judgement.

Saylor’s mysteries venture into the darker side of human nature where Gordianus finds his sense of honor and ethics sometimes at odds with the wishes of his clients. Saylor has a firm foundation in Roman history and uses that knowledge to create a believable and realistic sense of place. The private lives of Romans of high and low birth come to life here, and the novels are an excellent introduction to the history of the end days of the Republic.

One appealing feature of this series is the way that Saylor’s characters age in a realistic fashion. In so many mystery series, the passing years have little affect on the main characters, but in the 30 or so years covered in the series, Gordianus experiences the inevitable changes that come with age.

If you like historical fiction or well-crafted mysteries, this is a series not to be missed.

Check the WRL catalog for Roman Blood


Panda-monium at Peek Zoo by Kevin Waldron

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-09-03 00:01

This sequel to Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo is a hilarious return to the zoo on a day that Mr. Peek wants to celebrate: the arrival of his new V.I.P. (“Very Important Panda”), Lulu. He wants to host an animal parade, but the zoo must be in perfect condition first. Unfortunately, Mr. Peek is nervous and does not get all of his chores done so perfectly. After letting out the penguins, covering the turtles in black shoe polish, and forgetting to feed the lion–catastrophe strikes! Lulu is missing! Will they find her and fix the zoo before all of his customers arrive? Luckily for Mr. Peek, his son Jimmy didn’t inherit his father’s bad luck.
The funny characters and mishaps in this story combined with the beautiful and colorful illustrations of all of the animals in Mr. Peek’s zoo make this a must-read book.

Check the WRL catalog for Panda-monium at Peek Zoo.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Dead Is a Killer Tune, by Marlene Perez

Read This! - Wed, 2014-09-03 00:01

Lizzy shares this review:

High school freshman Jessica Walsh is a Virago—a woman warrior who must protect her hometown from danger. And in Nightshade, California, trouble is always lurking. At the town’s Battle of the Bands, Jess’s boyfriend, Dominic, and his band, Side Effects May Vary, are up against Hamlin, a band so popular, their fans follow them everywhere. Soon, the competing musicians are doing risky, illegal, and even fatal things—and claiming that they heard strange music that compelled them to do it. Can Jess and her friends track down the tuneful tyrant before it’s too late? – Book Summary

Dead Is a Killer Tune is an amazing book. It is #7 in the “Dead Is” series and follows Dead Is Just a Battlefield. The book contains music, fun, and supernatural trouble. I feel that the plot was evenly paced and the characters were rightfully portrayed. Altogether is was a great read.

Check the WRL catalog for Dead Is a Killer Tune


Categories: Read This

Complete Stories, by Flannery O’Connor

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-09-03 00:01

Did you ever pick a book up off of your parents’ bookshelves and find yourself wondering about their reading interests? It happened to me when sometime in my early teens I pulled down a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories and started to browse around. I was horrified. There were hitchhikers killing old ladies, grandfathers killing granddaughters, salesmen stealing hearts and prosthetic legs. Was this what my mother was reading? Well, it was, and as I grew older, I came more and more to appreciate what she found in these stories, and what I missed in my earlier reading of O’Connor.

Faith is a serious business, and it has serious implications for those who profess their beliefs. Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, both short stories and novels, is all an exploration of the way our beliefs shape our actions, for better, and for worse. In the darkest or most grotesque parts of these stories, I think that O’Connor is asking her readers to consider how the actions that might appall us seem perfectly reasonable to those who are taking them. These characters, like Martin Luther, “kann nicht anders.” They can only hope, again like Luther, that God will help them.

The stories also are about grace, and I think that this is the part that I missed when first reading them. It is through the presence of grace that a sense of redemption can be found in O’Connor’s work. For O’Connor, and her characters,  grace is simply there; it is not to be earned or merited. So she calls us to live our lives open to the experience of that grace. My mother was right (as always): these are great stories that challenge us to look into our own lives and see where our beliefs are leading us, and also to be open to the daily grace that pervades the world.

Check the WRL catalog for The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor


Paris, by Edward Rutherfurd

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-09-02 00:01

If you enjoy sprawling stories that cover several centuries of history, you are probably already familiar with Edward Rutherfurd. He came to prominence with his first novel, Sarum, which tells the story of the land and the people of the Salisbury Plain in England over a period of about 10,000 years. He followed up that success with books set in Russia, London, Ireland, and New York, all in the same pattern. Rutherfurd uses the specific — stories of individual lives — to draw a picture of the whole; his books, as in yesterday’s post, are mosaics.

Character is at the heart of Rutherfurd’s novels, and Paris is no exception. Here, he follows the lives of four French families from the 1200s through the 1960s. He uses the ebb and flow of their personal and professional lives to track the life of the city, and does so in an eminently readable fashion. As in all his novels, Rutherfurd creates characters from all classes of society, allowing him to move smoothly from the lives and homes of courtiers and nobles to those of merchants and artists to the Paris underworld and its denizens.

Paris itself is a character here too, and the city comes to life in Rutherfurd’s telling. His attention to detail is always just right. There are no unnecessary facts cluttering up the story just to show the author’s erudition. Whether it is Paris during the two World Wars or in the reign of the Sun King, Rutherfurd creates a compelling and memorable portrait of a lively and engaging city. The fictional and historical characters blend easily together, and Rutherfurd creates dialog that rings true regardless of the time period.

Readers who like family sagas will find a great deal to enjoy here, as will fans of history, and lovers of Paris. If you cannot get away to the City of Light anytime soon, you could do worse than letting Edward Rutherfurd take you there in his book.

Check the WRL catalog for Paris

Or try the ebook version of Paris


When Giants Come to Play by Andrea Beaty, illus. by Kevin Hawkes

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-09-01 00:01

If you’re looking for a silly “tall” tale, then When Giants Come to Play is the book for you. Older children and parents will appreciate the lyrical and imaginative story, while anyone can enjoy the comical and well-drawn illustrations. “Sometimes, on a summer morning, when the sun shines just so/and the wind blows like this and like that/on its way to somewhere else, giants come to play,” writes Beaty.

Anna is a young blonde girl who is visited by two of these giants, and they play hide-and-seek (they’re much better at seeking than hiding), marbles (with soccer balls), catch (with Anna as the ball), dolls (with Anna’s sister dressed as a baby doll), and many other games. This is a fun book to read after a day of fun in the sun.

Check the WRL catalog for When Giants Come to Play.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Breakfast Served Anytime, by Sarah Combs

Read This! - Mon, 2014-09-01 00:01

Jessica shares this review:

Generally, I’m a fan of fantasy and maybe even paranormal. Realistic fiction never really caught my interest. However, I must confess, Breakfast Served Anytime, has become a quick favorite. Set in Kentucky, this novel follows high school senior, Gloria, as she goes off to the Commonwealth Summer Program for Gifted and Talented Students, aka, “Geek Camp”. Each student can select their own course of study and much to her own surprise, instead of choosing her beloved Theatre, she decides on a very different major, Secrets of the Written Word.  From the mysterious first letter from the professor, hand written and sealed with wax, Gloria knows this class will be a little different. Once she arrives Gloria soon discovers that Geek Camp isn’t what she expected at all and the incredible experiences and close friendships she develops help her not only decide what she wants to do with her life but also ease the pain of losing her grandmother just recently. This story is beautiful written; full of well imagined and illustrated characters and as much an ode to the author’s home state of Kentucky as it is to coming of age, surviving losses and discovering what it is you really want. If you’re in the mood for a witty, honest, and heartwarming story I highly suggest trying this debut novel.

Check the WRL catalog for Breakfast Served Anytime.


Categories: Read This

To Serve Them All My Days, by R. F. Delderfield

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-09-01 00:01

Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time reading both fiction and nonfiction set in the early 20th century, from just prior to WW I and the years immediately following the war up to the start of WW II. There is something about that time period that I find particularly compelling. Part of it is, no doubt, trying to comprehend the horrors of the war itself and the effect that it had on individuals and on the world. In R. F. Delderfield’s great academic novel, we see how a man, scarred by his service in the British Army in the fields of France, attempts to recover through his work as a teacher, just as his country attempts a similar recovery from its devastating losses.

We first meet David Powlett-Jones, shell-shocked and still recovering from injuries suffered when an explosion buried him alive, as he catches a train into the English countryside to apply for a position at Bamfylde School. Powlett-Jones has been brought back to a semblance of health, mental and physical, by a Scottish neurologist, who encourages him to consider becoming a schoolmaster, “imparting to successive generations of the young such knowledge as a man accumulated through books, experience, and contemplation.” Although the war interrupted his education, Powlett-Jones is taken on an instructor, and the novel chronicles his rise through the school to headmaster.

I love this book for the small portraits that Delderfield paints of the schoolmasters, students, and country folk in the neighborhood of Bamfylde. In a paragraph or two or three, each person is limned with compassion and a recognition that all of us have our strengths and weaknesses. Delderfield’s mastery is in building his lengthy story — 598 pages — with a multitude of smaller pieces. As with a mosaic, you can take as much delight in studying the tesserae as in looking at the whole.

Delderfield also excels at writing about the English countryside, for which he has a clear and deep affection. Here is a description of Powlett-Jones’s approach to Bamfylde:

Already the hedgerows were starred with campion and primrose, with dog violets showing among the thistles and higher up, where the rhododendrons tailed off on the edge of a little birch wood, the green spires of bluebell were pushing through a sea of rusty bracken.

Yes, I am easily won over by lists of flora, fauna, or geologic formations.

Delderfield does not shy away from difficult situations, and Powlett-Jones experiences triumphs and sorrows as he and the school navigate the turbulent years from 1918 to the beginning of the Second World War. But through all of these ups and downs Powlett-Jones emerges as a compassionate and thoughtful teacher, the sort we would all hope for at the beginning of a new school year.

Check the WRL catalog for To Serve Them All My Days

Read the ebook of To Serve Them All My Days