Archive for March, 2011


Darkness and Daylight

March 31, 2011

It’s Mary Jane Holmes time again, and if you like her, you’ll like this. Darkness and Daylight has a special claim on my affections, because it features a Secret Insane Wife, and obviously that is my favorite, favorite thing. But this is a book for connoisseurs of fictional coincidence as well as connoisseurs of fictional insane wives, and I like to think that I’m both. I mean, I suppose it’s not too strange that the Massachusetts estate Grace Atherton inherits from her elderly husband is next door to the childhood home of Richard Harrington, the man she jilted when she was a teenager in England. Or that Harrington reencounters the little Swedish girl he saved from drowning in Germany that one time. Or that Arthur St. Claire falls in love with his wife’s long-lost half-sister who is supposed to be dead, although that’s pushing it a little. But that all three should be true in one book? Or that the Swedish girl (Eloise Temple) and the long-lost sister (Marguerite Bernard) are one and the same, and that Grace Atherton adopts her from an orphanage in New York under the name of Edith Hastings? That’s almost more than I can deal with. Although, to be fair, “almost more than I can deal with” is Mrs. Holmes’ specialty. Read the rest of this entry ?


Reviews at EP: Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

March 29, 2011

I keep forgetting to post thi, but my March guest post at Edwardian Promenade is up. It’s on Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, about which I was kind of ambivalent.


The Island Mystery

March 26, 2011

Mark recommended The Island Mystery, by George A. Birmingham, as a silly, fun book. And to be honest, that kind of made me nervous. I feel like I haven’t had a great track record with silly, fun books lately. I’ve been finding them silly, but not all that fun.

The Island Mystery was a little different. I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about it or anything, but I liked it a lot better at the beginning than I did at the end, and I don’t think there’s anything about it that I’d want to change, except maybe the title, which is kind of lame and would work much better on a different book. Possible one featuring the Boxcar Children.

You know all those Ruritanian romances where the author makes up a small monarchy and plunks it down somewhere in the middle of Europe so that the hero can go have adventures there? The Island Mystery is a tiny bit like that, but really it’s about what would happen if you did plunk an imaginary country down in the middle of Europe. Because, if you think about it, the surrounding nations might be a bit upset by that, not to mention confused. Read the rest of this entry ?


Rogues & Company

March 13, 2011

Rogues & Company (written by I.A.R. Wylie, recommended by Anshika) has all the ingredients of something impossibly awesome. A young man wakes up on a doorstep with a bump on his head and no memory of who he is, and two possibilities soon present themselves. He could be famous burglar Slippery Bill (Pro: he has Slippery Bill’s famous lucky golden pig in his pocket. Con: he doesn’t feel like a criminal. Positively identified by: Slippery Bill’s brother), but it’s equally possible that he’s Count Louis de Beaulieu, who escaped from a nearby hospital with a concussion (Pro: the location of the bump on his head. Con: he doesn’t speak French. Positively identified by: the Count’s fiancée). Our amnesiac is pretty sure he’s the burglar, but he’d much rather be the Count, because he’s fallen in love with the fiancée.

Things get progressively more ridiculous in a way that should be delightful, and probably is…only I found as I went on that I increasingly regarded oncoming plot twists with dread rather than glee. On the plus side, I think that was because I was having no trouble identifying with the protagonist. But then, I also kept feeling like I ought to be having more fun.


Charles Rex

March 12, 2011

Time for entry three in the ongoing saga of “Do I or do I not like Ethel M. Dell? How long do I have to decide?” The short version: I think I need more time.

Charles Rex isn’t ever going to be my favorite anything — not even my favorite book where a wealthy aristocrat with a bad reputation takes a waifish young boy under his wing only to discover that the boy is a girl and fall in love with her — but it’s not terrible, and “not terrible” is, to be honest, all I’m looking for from Dell. I never expected her to rise to the level of The Way of an Eagle again, although I kind of expected her to try in this one, after what seemed in The Obstacle Race to be a half-hearted attempt to duplicate Nick Ratcliffe.  Sadly, Lord Saltash is neither as monkeyish nor as appealing as Nick, although, to be fair, he’s not as crazy either. But then, nor is the heroine occasionally repelled by him, as Muriel was by Nick. Toby, AKA Antoinette, Mignonette, Nonette, Toinette, etc., worships Saltash from the moment he rescues her from a hostile Italian hotel proprietor. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Obstacle Race

March 4, 2011

After I finished reading Ethel M. Dell’s The Obstacle Race, I spent a while trying to figure out why I liked The Way of an Eagle so much. Some of it was obviously that I’d come up with an alternative reading that made things I normally find problematic a little less so. But I think amost of it was that it’s actually kind of a well put together book. I mean, Ethel M. Dell wasn’t a great writer or anything, but The Way of an Eagle really works. The subplots shed light on the central conflict between the hero and heroine. Separations between different sets of characters move their storylines forward. Everything moves toward the one climactic scene, and after that we get a brief epilogue to show that things are still going well, and then we’re done. Nothing is superfluous — I mean, except for all the flowery language. Once I realized that, I knew why I couldn’t quite like The Obstacle Race. It’s not the overuse of the word ‘mastery’, or the way that the heroine falls in love with the hero at least partially because he gets kind of scary when he’s mad, or the way Dell kills off the disabled kid brother, although those things were really not good, and sort of disturbing. It’s the way the plot is all over the place, and the characters are inconsistent, and the book drags on and seems like it doesn’t know what it’s driving at — although it’s hard to blame the book for that; I certainly didn’t know, and I suspect Dell didn’t either.

Presumably this is what happens when you’ve written a string of successful book and everyone talks about how passionate and romantic they are. You think up a bunch of random characters, each with a few conflict-creating skeletons in their closets, and let them be all passionate at each other until you run out of skeletons. And I’m sure that worked for Dell, financially. It’s just that there’s something to be said for, you know, figuring out in advance what’s going to happen. Read the rest of this entry ?