In a memoir whose principal appeal lies in its detailed recapturing of a bygone place and era, best-selling historical novelist De Blasis (A Season of Swans, 1989, etc.) describes growing up on her family's ranch in the high desert of Southern California. Founded by De Blasis's grandparents in the 1920's, the farm and horse ranch, about a hundred miles from L.A., later received paying guests such as J.B. Priestley, Henry Fonda, and Herman Mankiewicz. The grandmother ran her dining room as artistic salon. De Blasis describes, in no particular order, the children's adventures, the omnipresent natural world, the extended family, the help, the Catholic school, the trips to Europe, the sense of independence that her upbringing fostered and how she became a writer. This rambling remembrance tends toward the self- congratulatory. De Blasis will not eat peaches from trees that grow in graveyards, calls her childhood invention of an Indian character ``prophetic,'' and regrets that her grandmother, a published memoirist, tried to compete with her as a novelist: ``I had not used any of her publishing connections when I started out...but I did ask my agent to read Grandma's manuscript.'' Her prose quickens when she brings her family and a beloved landscape to life. Her brother died young, his passing part of a chronicle of loss that includes vanishing wildlife and open space as the ranch, like the rest of Southern California, became residential subdivision. We could, however, have been spared the fates of favorite pets. Early on, De Blasis describes finding an Indian artifact at an archaeological dig on the ranch. ``Nothing has ever made me feel the continuity of the best in human kind as keenly as I did when I held that crystal drill in my hand—small, exquisite, shaped equally for beauty and for use.'' With more precise editing and shaping, her memoir could have better realized her theme of moving backward in time. (Eight pages of photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-312-06362-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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