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Trying to find a book…

April 19, 2018

…About which I remember very little.

There was a girl who designed spoons. I think there were other girls (who possibly lived in the same building with her) with other artistic endeavors. I’m pretty sure it took place in London. Does that ring any bells for anyone?

ETA: After some strategic googling, I found it: Helen Vardon’s Confession, one of R. Austin Freeman’s Doctor Thorndyke mysteries. The part I remembered is not central to the plot, and the main storyline is amping up my anxiety, so I may not finish it.

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The Man Who Fell Through the Earth

April 3, 2018

The Man Who Fell Through the Earth might be the cheatiest of Carolyn Wells’ mysteries — even cheatier than the one where everyone insists there’s no secret passage and then there’s a secret passage. But I liked it. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Mark of Cain

March 30, 2018

A funny thing about Carolyn Wells — one of many funny things about Carolyn Wells — is that, brilliant as her detectives are, their assistants are smarter. Fleming Stone and Pennington Wise may make clever deductions, but it’s always Fibsy and Zizi with the big breakthroughs — and Stone and Wise with most of the credit. And yet there’s so much trust between Penny Wise and Zizi, and between Stone and Fibsy, that I’m not mad about it. The Mark of Cain is Fibsy’s origin story, something I never thought to want, but am happy to have. And while Fibsy deserves much of the credit in this one, too, I’ve never been so happy to see Fleming Stone. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Deep Lake Mystery

March 26, 2018

Today is the 66th anniversary of Carolyn Wells’ death. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading a lot of Wells’ books lately. And taking notes.

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Carolyn Wells’ mystery novels are best appreciated when you set your standards low. Expect uncomfortable family relationships, people falling in love at first sight, and a solution to the mystery that makes you feel like Wells might be cheating. That way you can appreciate Wells’ moments of charm, and good-naturedly roll your eyes through the rest of the book, instead of throwing it at a wall. The Deep Lake Mystery has all those expected elements, and enough charm to resign me to the more than averagely crazy ending. Read the rest of this entry »

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Patty-Bride

March 19, 2018

There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to write a straightforward review of a Patty Fairfield book, and yet here we are. This is my fourth attempt at writing about Patty-Bride. The third time was not the charm.

You know how books often go downhill when the romance wraps up? This is a whole book of that, but with some spies to spice things up. Two weeks ago when Patty Blossom ended, no world events had been mentioned in the entire series. But now the US has entered WWI, and when Patty isn’t mooning over Bill Farnsworth and writing him appallingly gooey letters, she’s knitting socks for soldiers and working for war-related charities. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

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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 »