D (A Tale of Two Worlds)

D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber

Dhikilo, a young girl originally from Somaliland (not Somalia, as she continually reminds everybody), lives now in England with her adoptive parents. One morning she wakes up to find the letter D missing - from signs, from people's speech, from everywhere. Everyone is calling her Hikilo now, dogs are ogs, and dad is simply a. She seems to be the only one who doesn't know what's going on. 

After Dhikilo attends the funeral of a favourite teacher she discovers that he's actually still alive, and he knows what happend to the Ds. He sends her and his dog (who is really a sphinx in dog disguise) to another world to rescue the Ds and bring them back home. In that world, called Gampalonia, she meets an assortment of people/creatures  and gets into and out of several tricky predicaments as she attempts to fulfill her mission. 

It's a quirky, interesting read that I think might be more appealing to children than adults, maybe the same age range as would enjoy the Narnia books. I did enjoy reading it though. 

The Inn at the Edge of the World

 The Inn at the Edge of the World by Alice Thomas Ellis

Five people, trying to avoid all the usual holiday commotion, answer an ad for Christmas at a remote island inn in the Hebrides, where they are promised a festive-free retreat. The innkeepers are Eric, who bought the inn and moved to the island looking for peace, and his obnoxious wife, Mabel, who drops out of the story early on and thank goodness for that. They are fairly new to the island, but have gotten to know some of the locals who frequent the bar at the inn. These include 
Finlay, a local boatman who always seems to know more than he's telling; his sister-in-law, a woman with webbed hands who comes to help out at the inn; the sleazy professor, who may or may not be a professor and has a steady string of young women staying at his cottage; and Mrs. H., who leaves her husband at home while she drinks at the bar. I haven't quite figured out what her purpose in the story was.

The guests are Jessica, a famous actress who doesn't know how to stop acting; Jon, a less famous actor who behaves oddly and is obsessed with Jessica; Ronald, a psychotherapist whose insights into the other guests cause some timely concern; Anita, a salesperson in a city department store who dreams of more and better; and Harry, a disillusioned ex-military man still grieving the loss of a wife and young son.

The story moves along at a fairly slow pace but the characters are interesting and very different from one another. There is an element of the supernatural, but it didn't get to the level of dark that would make me give it up. A few out of the ordinary events made me wonder where it was going but the author treated them with a light touch. I liked both the story and the way it was written, with its slow build toward an ending I hadn't expected.  

Who is the young boy Eric sees hanging around the inn? Why are people dancing on and destroying the local professor's lawn? And which of the guests will never make it home from this most peculiar holiday getaway? 

Lots to think about, and a twist in the very last line to leave you thinking as you close the book: "Hmmm".  

The White Robin and Village Centenary (#14, #15 in The Fairacre Chronicles)

Two more wonderful books from this series. I have only five left to read and I'm torn between reading them all right now or going back to hoarding them. When I'm reading other books - so many stories of war, crime, disaster, loss, and the general misery of the human race - it's nice to know these books are there to return to. Sometimes I need a comforting dose of charming characters and life as a mostly happy thing. Not that they aren't realistic - the characters have all kinds of flaws and sad things do happen - but Miss Read is gentle with the reader in the telling. These books are just such a relief after the intensity of others.

The White Robin by Miss Read

The White Robin is about just that, an albino robin (I looked it up - they exist) appearing in gardens around Fairacre, to the amazement of the villagers. The school children are particularly enamoured of this lovely white bird with its rust coloured breast and Miss Read, good teacher that she is, gets them involved in it's care and feeding. But one day a troubled young boy...well, I won't spoil it for you. And lest it sound like a children's book, be assured the lives of the villagers carry on in the usual way providing Miss Read with lots of interesting stories to tell.

Village Centenary by Miss Read

Village Centenary is about the 100th anniversary of the Fairacre School, of which Miss Read is current head mistress. There are only 2 teachers now, and a handful of students all under age 10, but most of the villagers were educated there and have good memories of their school years. Celebrations are carefully planned, Miss Clare (the previous head mistress we fell in love with in earlier books) returns to tell stories of the past, the Vicar takes up bee-keeping, and Mrs. Pringle (the curmudgeonly cleaner of the school and teacher's house) has another run-in with her troublesome niece, Minnie. Miss Read receives two surprises, one from her old friend, Kay, and one from Miss Clare. One will offer a brief, pleasant diversion, the other will have a profound effect on her future.  

The writing is lovely, the characters endearing, the stories gently humorous - everything you could want in a series of comfort reads. I'm grateful that when I finish this series there's another one waiting. The numbers may sound intimidating - 20 in the Fairacre series and 13 in Thrush Green, but they are brief and easy to read and I so wish there were more.