Archive for February, 2009

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The Leavenworth Case

February 26, 2009

Carolyn Wells apparently discovered mystery novels after having had one of Anna Katherine Green’s books read aloud to her circa 1909. The Leavenworth Case was Green’s first and best-known book, and if it wasn’t the one that Wells heard read, then probably all Green’s books were pretty similar, because The Leavenworth Case reads like a blueprint for all of Well’s mystery novels, mostly in terms of the setting and the general construction of events. Or maybe not a blueprint, because blueprints are kind of spare and simplified, by definition, and The Leavenworth Case is as overwrought as any mystery novel I’ve ever read.

Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy retired businessman, is found dead in his library one morning, shot through the back of the head. His secretary, Trueman Harwell, seeks to enlist the aid of Mr. Leavenworth’s lawyer, Mr. Veeley, in watching over the interests of Mr. Leavenworth’s two nieces, Mary and Eleanore, but finds Veeley away on business. Everett volunteers to stand in for Veeley, and promptly falls in love with Eleanore, who, of course, appears to be guilty of the crime. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Hildegarde’s Harvest

February 22, 2009

I tried not to rush straight through Hildegarde’s Harvest, but I couldn’t help it. I thought I loved this series the first time I read it, but now that I’ve read it again, it’s become one of my favorite girls’ series, perhaps second only to Patty Fairfield.

Hildegarde’s Harvest is sort of split into two. In the first half, Hildegarde goes to New York for three days to stay with her Great-Aunt Emily and to sell some cakes she has made (little tulip-shaped almond ones, with a peach cream filling) so that she has enough money to buy Christmas presents. While in the city, she manages to run into Colonel Ferrers and Hugh who have been visiting friends, a number of girls who could be characters in an 1890s Gossip Girl, and all the main characters from Queen Hildegarde.

After her return home, the Merryweathers arrive for Christmas, Jack Ferrers returns from Germany, and Hildegarde pines a little for Roger Merryweather. Things wrap up without to much fanfare, and I’m left feeling a little sad that the series is over.

However, the really important thing about Hildegarde’s Harvest is that it opens with Hildegarde imagining a tea party she would like to give, to which she would invite Robin Hood, William of Orange, and Alan Breck Stuart, among others. She would have David Balfour as well, because she thinks he’d get along with Roger, but not any of King Arthur’s knights, because none of them has a sense of humor.

I love this girl.

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Hildegarde’s Neighbors

February 19, 2009

Somehow I never remember how awesome the Hildegarde books are when I’m not reading them, which is why it took me such a long time to get around to rereading Hildegarde’s Neighbors. I don’t think I love it as much as Hildegarde’s Home, but it does introduce the Merryweathers, who are lots of fun. Bell, the eldest, becomes Hildegarde’s best friend, although she is also very fond of Gertrude (Peggy‘s Snowy Owl) and twins Gerald and Philip, who call each other Obadiah and Ferguson.

There isn’t a lot going on plotwise, but the book is none the worse for that. Hilda discovers a secret room off her bedroom, turns eighteen, goes camping with the Merryweathers, and sort of falls in love with Mr. Merryweather’s half-brother Roger, who is in his mid-twenties.

It’s very cute, because she really looks up to him, and he, while a paragon in most respects, is kind of shy and doesn’t think she likes him. Still, I don’t really want to see Hilda in love; she makes such a perfect teenager. Which is not to say that teenagers can’t fall in love, but that when they do, in books of this sort, they tend to get very serious and grow up all at once. Hilda still has almost a whole book to go before she really grows up, though.

When I say Hilda makes a perfect teenager, I really mean it. She’s still sort of a kid, and plays games with younger children, but she’s also apt to remember that she’s supposed to be a dignified young woman in the middle of playing Indians with Jerry and Phil. And she tries to take on new responsibilities, and take care of the younger children in the book, and altogether it’s far more convincing than anything you’ll find in Louisa May Alcott.

Laura E. Richards seems to me to have a very good understanding of how young people act, even if the characters in her books are a bit on the unnaturally good side. And then — I know I say this about almost every children’s book I like, but it’s a really great indicator of quality — when Richard’s characters laugh and joke and play games, you genuinely believe that they’re enjoying themselves, and you laugh along with them. I mean, what more could you ask for?

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Under Two Flags

February 17, 2009

Under Two Flags, by Ouida, is the mother of all books about running off to join the foreign legion, although technically when Bertie Cecil leaves England for Algeria, he joins the Chasseurs d’Afrique, a cavalry regiment.

Bertie is an officer in the Life Guards, which seems to mean that he gets to hang out with other aristocrats a lot and never has to fight, unless some jealous husband challenges him to a duel. Bertie is languid and elegant and perfectly suited to this lifestyle, but his family, although excessively aristocratic, is not well-off, and Bertie is the second of three sons. The elder brother is the heir to Royallieu, the family estate, and the younger, Berkeley, is their father’s favorite. Berkeley has a gambling problem, and, what’s worse, a weak mouth or chin or something, which is how novelists indicate that someone is going to turn out to be evil in books like this. Yes, it’s another inexplicably evil younger brother.

Bertie manages to float along on absolutely no money at all for a while, winning horse races, hanging out with his friend the Seraph, and and coming up with sneaky ways to spend time with his mistress, Lady Guenevere.Meanwhile, Berkeley is getting ever deeper into debt, and he somehow thinks it’s a good idea to try to borrow money from Bertie at the same time as he whines about how Bertie is even more extravagant and deeper in debt that he is. He also — horror of horrors — asks Bertie to borrow money from Seraph for him, because he has no inborn sense of honor. Whatever. Bertie might be better off if he had less of an inborn sense of honor. Read the rest of this entry ?