The Christmas Hirelings & The House by the Sea

 The Christmas Hirelings by M. E. Braddon

A wealthy father disowned his daughter years ago when she married a man of whom he disapproved. He's had no contact with her for years, even though she is now widowed and raising her children alone. As Christmas comes around, a mutual friend of father and daughter contrives to acquaint the man with his grandchildren without his knowing their true identity. He successfully installs them in the man's house for a few days and I'm sure you can imagine the rest. It is predictable, but lovely nevertheless. It reminded me 
of Little Lord Fauntleroy in style and tone, a sweet story perfect for Christmas for adults and younger readers alike. 

The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas

Edie's mother-in-law, Anna, dies and wills her Italian villa to Edie and Tom, Anna's son, from whom Edie's been separated for ten years. Their marriage didn't survive the agonizing loss of their young son, Daniel, for whose death Edie blames Anna. They want only to get the matter settled and the house sold so they can be rid of each other again, but when they arrive in Italy things get complicated. There's a friend in need of protection from an abusive husband, a now elderly crime-syndicate boss living nearby, and someone who will stop at nothing to get them to leave. It's both a mystery and a family story of regret,  forgiveness, and reconciliation. I enjoyed listening to the audio book narrated by the articulate and expressive Emma Powell, whose charming British accent made it that much better.   

The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

How is it that I'm only now finding this book, 30 years after it was published? I've seen countless movies about the Viet Nam war, read books and stories, and watched it's ugly scenes unfold before my eyes on tv as they were happening, but somehow I missed this book, surely the best of them all.

The structure is hard to describe because it's unlike anything I've read before. It's fiction, but not a novel in the usual sense of the word, nor short stories as we know them. It's more a series of vignettes that tell a story, less as a progression of events than an array of sights, sounds, smells and emotions that come at you from everywhere.

Beyond simply telling us what happened, he takes us into the minds of the characters to share their thoughts and feelings while things are happening. He makes the experience so vivid, so immediate, that it settles into your memory as though you had actually been through it yourself, yet it's as beautiful as it is shattering. O'Brien bares the souls of his characters, and as we look into them, we find something of ourselves. It's exhilarating and terrifying and powerfully intimate. 

In and around all the war stories, he asks us to consider what qualifies as a true war story. Does adherence to the facts make it true or is conveying the right sensations the important thing? He skillfully blurs the lines between truth and fiction, leaving you to decide for yourself which stories are factual and whether or not it even matters. 

This is an amazing book, one that should be required reading for every adult on the planet.

12 Rules for Life, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Glass Shatters

 12 Rules for Life

This book is packed full of information, and so, clearly, is Mr. Peterson. I picture his brain so stuffed full of knowledge and insight and ideas that it just sort of explodes out onto the pages of books. I'm sure there's a little more to it than that - I'm just saying the guy's a genius...and I have brain-envy. I wish I could think, and write, with such clarity. 

The book is wordy, but every word matters. It's well-written, readable, and makes more sense than is common presently. Anyone wanting to bring some order to their chaotic life will find a place to start here. Each rule is stated simply, then expanded upon with stories and indisputable logic that cement the rule into our psyches. I should have read this book in my younger years, but that would have been before toddler Peterson could read or write. On the other hand I'm so impressed I'd quite easily believe he was born reading, writing and speaking forth wisdom.

Read this book. 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I liked this, but less than I had expected to after reading reviews, 

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at a girl's school, a teacher with vastly different teaching methods than her employer considers appropriate. Each year she focuses in on a few select girls who become known as "The Brodie Set", girls who stay close to her even after they progress pass her grade level. Her remaining students she considers a little less worth her time and attention. 

Most of the other staff frown upon Miss Brodie and her teaching style because her students often move on to them with a considerable lack of academic knowledge. That they come with a broader knowledge of life, and specifically romance, fails to impress them. They don't like Miss Brodie much, and to tell the truth, neither did I.  

I think I'd get more out of this one if we discussed it in book club where the others could point out all the great things I missed. I found it only somewhat interesting and rather sad, but I am sure there's more to be gleaned from it than I've gotten. 

Glass Shatters by Michelle Myers

A man wakes up in a house he doesn't recognize, not knowing who he is, how he came to be there or why his head is bandaged. He stumbles out into the street and is recognized by a little girl who calls him Charles and tells him he's been gone for months. 

Memories - at first vague - of a wife and daughter who disappeared torment him until finding them becomes his obsession. When he's told he's a scientist who works at a genetics lab, other memories stir but he can't quite grasp any of them. Why isn't anything making sense? What is real and what isn't? Who is he?

The writing is quite good, the plot unusual and thought-provoking. It's a story of science being pushed to its ethical limits, which amounts to catnip for me.