Author: James Herriot
Despite the rumblings of the upcoming second World War in the distance, Jim Herriot enjoys a few sweet, timeless years before being called into the RAF. He has just married one of the best women in all of Yorkshire and has been accepted as a full partner by his former boss, the veterinarian Siegfried Farnon. During these years, he builds his own veterinary practice, interacting with all the unusual folk of the Dales. Which isn’t to say his life is all roses–veterinary medicine at that time was extremely limited, and the Dales folk are not easy to impress. And of course, animals are unpredictable at best. All told, the results aren’t always in Jim’s favor . . . but they’re quite likely to be amusing.
Along with his first book, All Creatures Great and Small, this memoir of James Herriot’s early days of veterinary work is a story I treasure and re-read frequently. It has a great balance of heart-warming-ness and good plain hilarity. Herriot’s descriptions of the Dales people and their animals is priceless–highly observant and invested, yet also invested with a good dose of self-deprecating humor. It might be a bit crude in parts, but I think on the whole, this book is written in old-fashioned good taste–but in a way that’s not boring in the least. Actually, this tends to be a book I have to read when alone as it prompts audible laughter. In addition to the wholesome storytelling itself, I really love Herriot’s descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales themselves–that wild, beautiful country–and of the challenges (and victories) facing veterinarians in the early 1940’s. I would definitely recommend All Things Bright and Beautiful, especially to those who like animal stories or memoirs (although I think these stories would be fun even if you don’t usually prefer memoirs).
Author: Patrick Ness/Original Idea: Siobhan Dowd
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Conor was once again awake in the night when–just after midnight–the monster showed up. He ought to have been terrified of the yew tree in his backyard come walking, but the truth is, he’s seen much worse. His waking days are filled with the realities of his mother’s cancer: the days when she’s so sick and weak she can’t do anything, the way everyone at school–even the teachers–avoids him and treats him like he might be diseased himself. Then at night, there’s the nightmare . . . the one so bad that even a yew monster seems not so scary. After all, it’s just a tree.
A Monster Calls is a story I picked up after hearing several other people give it positive reviews, and I’m glad I did. This is an unexpected story, in many senses of the word. It’s eerie and dark, yet somehow everyday as well. Conor lives in the tragically mundane normal world, trying as desperately as a thirteen-year-old can to help his mom and survive school. Yet he is haunted by this absolutely horrifying nightmare . . . one that is made more frightening to the reader by not being explained until the very end. (The build-up of tension through this is quite effective.) And the yew monster is an unpredictable and spooky touch that makes what would otherwise be a fairly set family/medical drama into something other, deeply psychological and intense. It’s nearly impossible to predict the outcomes–and frankly, if not for the physical evidence the yew leaves, it would seem most likely that Conor is going insane. It’s really hard to tell sometimes. I think Jim Kay’s art is perfect for this story–inky black-and-white watercolor-type pictures with all sorts of eerie shapes and textures that build the atmosphere wonderfully. I would highly recommend A Monster Calls for anyone, say, middle school and up, although the psychological intensity might be better for a slightly older audience–I was definitely sobbing out loud by the end of the book.
Author: M/Translator: Takami Nieda
Based on the manga by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Having completed his life’s greatest work–the rooting out and stopping of the mass murderer, Kira–detective L (considered by many to be the world’s greatest detective) ought to be flushed with victory. Yet the L FBI agent Suruga finds at the Kira Investigation Headquarters is quite otherwise: pensive, directionless. Understandable, considering that his victory cost him his mentor, his best friend, and his own life–for the fact is that to thwart Kira’s plans, L wrote his own name in the Death Note and only has a few weeks left. When Maki, the ten-year-old daughter of L’s acquaintance, the immunologist Nikaido, comes bursting into headquarters seeking help and shelter from the bio-terrorists who have killed her father and stolen a dangerous virus, L’s interest in life is renewed, however as he begins pouring his remaining days into protecting this girl and solving one last case–and perhaps saving the world in the process.
L, Change the World is really a unique reading experience in that it’s essentially licensed fanfiction. The story is set in the world of the live action movies, and is actually a novelization of a third movie that was made, spanning the time between Kira’s defeat and L’s death. So if you’ve only read the manga (and you need to read the manga), this novel will have an alternate-universe sort of feel. It does have to scramble a bit at the beginning to explain everything that’s happened to get to the point of the current story, but overall, I think the plot develops nicely and the writing style is easy to read. Obviously, the character of L is the biggest point of the story, and as a strong L fan, I am fairly impressed. His brilliance and quirkiness are true to form (as well as his sweets obsession), yet the story builds on the known and develops the character beyond who he is in the original stories–in a completely credible way. In this story, L is in a situation where his own death is immanent and the majority of his support structures have been removed entirely. So you get to see him getting involved in all kinds of ways he might never have otherwise, and wrestling with emotions and humanity in a way that is both completely foreign and utterly natural to the great detective. I would recommend L, Change the World to die-hard Death Note fans everywhere–and particularly to L fans–but I do think that it would be a bit much (in the confusing line) for other readers. So go read the manga, watch the movies, become a fan (you know you want to), and then read this book.