Blogiversary 2018

March 4, 2018

On this 11th anniversary of Redeeming Qualities…let’s talk about rereading. I haven’t posted much for the past month or two because it’s been kind of a weird time for me, and when it’s kind of a weird time for me, I don’t want surprises. So I’ve been rereading a lot. And I love rereading. Books I’ve read before have always been a staple of my reading diet. But I always thought of it as second best, and lately I’ve been changing my mind about that. Nothing feels like reading a great book for the first time

Edgar Jepson’s various precocious child characters are such a joy to me, always. I’ll probably always love Pollyooly‘s singleminded focus on financial security best, but I’ve come to appreciate Tinker‘s detached politeness and Lady Noggs‘s righteous anger almost as much.

Since I read Mary-‘Gusta, I’m no longer sure what my favorite Joseph Crosby Lincoln book is, but Galusha the Magnificent is still a contender. Lincoln is so good at giving characters who have gone unappreciated for too long the love and admiration they deserve, and Galusha the Magnificent is one of the purest distillations of that. Also I like books that let me use phrases like “mild-mannered archaeologist.”

I recently reread all three of Geraldine Bonner’s Molly Morgenthau mysteries: The Girl from Central, The Black Eagle Mystery, and Miss Maitland, Private SecretaryThe Girl from Central wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it, but The Black Eagle Mystery was a lot better. All three books are solid, and competent, and impressive when you compare Bonner to contemporaries like Carolyn Wells and Mary Roberts Rinehart, who have the capacity to write better dialogue and more engaging characters, but don’t keep as firm a hand on the wheel. And it’s the rare detective novel that really believes that the detecting is as interesting as the mystery.

Anna Buchan gets better on rereading. I’ve been rereading her books so that I don’t get through the ones I haven’t read yet too fast, but I can’t think of one that I didn’t like better the second time around. Suspense isn’t Buchan’s friend — or possibly it just isn’t mine — so knowing what’s going to happen frees me to wallow in the characters and relationships and conversations. I think The Setons improved the most on rereading, but The Proper Place and The Day of Small Things are still my favorites overall. I want to live in an Anna Buchan book, or possibly just a house furnished by her.


Ann and her Mother

March 2, 2018

You know who’s really, really good? Anna Buchan. Even at her worst, which I expect is what Ann and her Mother is.

It’s a structural thing, mostly: Ann Douglas and her mother have recently moved into a new house, built to Ann’s specifications on some land left to her by an uncle. They’re a little isolated, and there’s not a lot to do, so Ann decides to write her mother’s biography. The book consists of their conversations as they unsystematically recall family history. Read the rest of this entry »


Violet Vereker’s Vanity

February 9, 2018

Hey, so: Violet Vereker’s Vanity, by Annie Emma Challice. I liked it a lot. And I think probably Annie Emma Challice was before her marriage the Annie Emma Armstrong who wrote Three Bright Girls, which I have owned since childhood and haven’t read in many years.

Violet is the middle daughter in a very nice family, and also she’s a bit of a snob, encouraged by her friend Amy Lawrence. The Lawrences are ostentatious and a little vulgar where the Verekers are quietly well-bred. When the Sugden family moves to the neighborhood and Violet hears that they made their fortune manufacturing soap, she resolves not to mix with them any more than necessary, and certainly never to go to their house.

But the Sugdens turn out to be really nice–especially the eldest son, Marmaduke. Violet, to her credit, realizes this immediately, and feels pretty stupid. But she also feels bound by her promise not to visit the Sugdens, and things become increasingly awkward. And that’s the plot, aside from a series of convenient injuries.

The whole thing is one big lesson about pride, and cutting off your nose to spite your face, and Challice never tries not to be obvious about that, but her writing never really feels didactic. Violet is super relatable, an awkward teenager who feels like she has no choice in doing what she’s doing, even though her situation is entirely of her own making. This is just a good, solid, wholesome, late 19th century book for girls. I approve.


The Terrible Twins

January 29, 2018

I fear I’ve run out of precocious Edgar Jepson children. If anyone knows of any more, please tell me about them.

Sadly, The Terrible Twins, while enjoyable, is inferior to the Lady Noggs books, the Tinker books, and every Pollyooly thing except for Pollyooly Dances. I think we can all agree that Pollyooly Dances was a mistake.  Read the rest of this entry »


The Story Book Girls

January 12, 2018

I’m having an absurdly good run of book luck to start the year: first The Wings of Youth and the less-good-but-not-bad Girl in the Mirror, then Meg’s Friend, and now The Story Book Girls, by Christina Gowans Whyte. I can’t imagine it getting any better than The Story Book Girls, though. I tried to write about the book while I was reading it, but my notes are mostly things like “Elma! and Mabel!” and “I am wildly in love with the whole Leighton family.”

This is one of those books that I liked too much to be able to write about easily. I am at the best of times mostly a seething mass of emotion, and this book had my eyes welling up with (good) tears about twice a chapter. So, where to start? Read the rest of this entry »


Meg’s Friend

January 11, 2018

Why were Victorians so good at weird kids and so bad at romance? Okay, that’s a very broad generalization, and probably unfair, but it applies to Meg’s Friend, by Alice Abigail Corkran.

Meg is a young girl raised in a boarding house in London. The proprietress, Mrs. Brown, is the only guardian she’s ever known, but somewhere in the background someone is sending money for her keep. She’s a reserved, serious child whose upbringing has given her a lot of worldly wisdom, and she has exactly one friend. This is William Standish, a young journalist who boards at Mrs. Browne’s. He’s clearly more genteel and better educated than the other people Meg knows, and he teaches her and reads to her and improves her speech and manners by example. In return, she keeps his room tidy, holds onto his money so he doesn’t run out before payday, and scolds him when he drinks. It’s his inquiries that draw Meg’s guardian’s attention to the conditions at Mrs. Browne’s and get Meg sent away to school. Read the rest of this entry »


The Girl in the Mirror

January 9, 2018

Every time I try to explain my feelings about The Girl in the Mirror, I get stuck, so let’s start with the premise instead. This sequel to Elizabeth Jordan’s The Wings of Youth opens with Barbara Devon’s marriage and departure for a months-long honeymoon. That leaves her brother Laurie without a guardian (and now wealthy in his own right) for the first time in his life. And that shouldn’t be dangerous: he’s stopped drinking and gambling, and he has friends and a career. But the folks who are worried about him are right to be. Read the rest of this entry »