The Hundred and One Dalmatians


by Dodie Smith

Published 1956

(Don’t even bother reading an edition that isn’t illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone.  I didn’t even imagine that there was an edition without their perfect illustrations, and then I ordered a copy for my niece for Christmas and was devastated to find perfectly dreadful drawings inside…  such tragedy!)

Wow, today has been all about book raves rather than rants, hasn’t it??  And here is yet another–I love this book!  Actually, I love this book so much that it is physically painful for me to watch the Disney version.  I am usually quite skilled at separating movies from their books (I think to myself, This isn’t my book.  It just happens to have the same title as my book.  But it’s actually a completely unrelated movie.  And that helps), but even as adorable and delightful as the movie is (the animated version, that is–I like to pretend that the live-action version doesn’t even exist), it just doesn’t hold a candle to this perfect, perfect book.

It’s a book that I’ve read easily a score of times, probably more, because I would guess that I’ve read it at least once a year since I could read, and that’s been quite some time now.  But this story never gets old for me.  I love Pongo, Missis, Perdita, and the puppies.  I love the Nannies, and I love the Dearlys.  I even love the wild and crazy villain of Cruella.  I love the Great Dane near Hampstead and the Colonel and Tib and little Tommy and the elderly Spaniel.  Most of all, I love Smith’s narration; her descriptions and word play are wonderful.  (“Mr. Dearly … was particularly good at arithmetic.  Many people called him a wizard of finance–which is not the same thing as a wizard of magic, though sometimes fairly similar.”)

I am starting to sound like  a broken record; I hope you’ve been making a list of all the books I’ve recommended today.  Add this one to it, possibly at the top–this book is most definitely worth a read.  5/5.

The Case of the Silver Skull



by Scott Corbett

Published 1974

In this installment of the Inspector Tearle series, Roger, Shirley, and Thumbs attempt to be proactive about solving a case–by trying to prevent it from occurring in the first place.  unfortunately, the intended victim isn’t really interested in assistance.

I think that I really enjoy these books because, as I have mentioned before, of the small-town feel.  Everyone knows everyone else, and the kids go zipping about from place to place on their bicycles.  This books has the additional fun of an obnoxious flock of starlings and a passionate ornithology club.  These books are just lots of fun, and Paul Frame’s illustrations are fantastic.  4/5.

A Morbid Taste for Bones

by Ellis Peters (pen name for Edith Pargeter)

Published 1977

Whoops, I apparently forgot to take a picture of this one!

It has been several years since I have read the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I am so excited about reading them again!  They are some of my favorite mysteries of all time, and if you have never read them, I can’t recommend them highly enough!

These mysteries are set in England during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud in the early 1100’s, at a Benedictine monastery in Shrewsbury, a town very close to the border with Wales.  Brother Cadfael is a monk in his late 50’s or early 60’s who came to the monastery later in life; his younger life was spent fighting in the Crusades and having adventures of all kinds.  But now he is well and comfortably settled into his quiet life, content with his vows and the rhythm of life within the monastery.  As he says, he is like a ship come to rest in a peaceful harbor, and glad to reach it.  His focus now is the herb gardens and the medicines and such that they produce.  As such, he is almost an apothecary,  helping to care for the minor illnesses and ailments of the residents within the monastery, and also within the town of Shrewsbury.    Cadfael is also Welsh by birth, and, living so close to the border, is often called upon as a translator.

It is in this role that he ends up traveling with a small deputation of brothers into Wales to retrieve the bones of a minor saint.  Prior Robert has been determined for some months to bring glory to their house by means of a saint’s remains, and he has found one at last.  However, not everyone in Gwytherin is willing to part with their beloved local saint.

I will not try to describe the plot here.  You simply should read this book.  And then I think that you will want to read the next nineteen books as well, because they are equally well-written and delightful.  They are good mysteries, yes, but they are also simply brilliant books.  Peters is known for her in-depth research and historical accuracy, but I more admire her for  her ability to so perfectly capture human nature.  We all have good and evil struggling within us, and she beautifully records that.  Brother Cadfael himself is delightfully human, but also delightfully wise and insightful; I love reading this book wherein the hero is a man well past his first youth, who replaces youthful zeal and enthusiasm with tempered wisdom and thoughtfulness.

Every single one of these books has the perfect ending.  I get to the end and heave a deep sigh of completely contentment, for all is as it should be.  The series itself progresses through time and reintroduces characters; these books really must be read in order.  Thankfully, Peters was able to complete the final book before her death in 1995 (Brother Cadfael’s Penance was published in 1994), and it, too, is perfect.




by Maud Hart Lovelace

Published 1940

(this edition illustrated by Lois Lenski)

So the Betsy-Tacy books have been floating around my library my entire life.  I know that they were on Mom’s bookshelves growing up, but when I asked her the other day, she said that she had never read them; she just collected them at booksales thinking that they looked like nice books.  I had had much the same attitude, but finally decided to add them to the list of series to-be-read (for serious).  And I am so very, very glad that I did.  These books are delightful!

I am not even sure that I can describe them.  They are set at the turn of the century, and focus on the adventures of three little girls (this first book only involves Betsy and Tacy; Tib moves into the neighborhood in the next book).  These are the most stress-free books you could ever want to read.  I keep waiting for something bad to happen, and nothing ever does!  And yet they still manage to be quite readable, even without any kind of villain.

In this first book, Betsy lives with her parents and her older sister, Julia.  A new family moves in across the street, and they have lots of children, including a girl just Betsy’s age.  After a rocky start, the girls become firm friends.  Much of the book is not so much actual adventures as it is the stories that Betsy tells of their imaginary adventures, which are often quite imaginative indeed!

In Betsy-Tacy, the girls are quite little, but they grow throughout the series.  I have read the first three books now, but the series concludes with Betsy’s Wedding, so apparently they still have quite a lot of growing to do!

Lois Lenski’s illustrations are perfect as well.  I love her work.

I cannot express the true extent of just the innocence and joy in these  books.  They are precious and delightful and full of gentle lessons about love, friendship, and respect.  I am only sorry that I didn’t read them earlier.


The Case of the Ticklish Tooth


by Scott Corbett

Published 1971

In this third volume of the Inspector Tearle series, the Inspector begins the book with a cavity.  And, like so many of us, he is not terribly excited about visiting the dentist.

One of the things I especially loved about this book were the descriptions Corbett gives us of the dentist.  The other secondary characters are a lot of fun, too, but I get the feeling that the Inspector’s view on dentists closely reflect those of the writer (indeed, the book is dedicated to a dentist!).  “Old Sarge” also makes an appearance in this book, adding to the small-town flavor that  make these books so much fun.

Paul Frame, incidentally, illustrated these, and I love his line drawings so much.  He illustrated a lot of books in the 1960’s and 70’s; I frequently stumble across then (Trixie Belden and Katie John come to mind).

All in all, this was another fun read about small-town “crime,” enjoyable and lighthearted.  4/5.