Archive for May, 2011


The Sheik

May 26, 2011

If you’re triggered by discussions of rape, please don’t read this book, and consider giving this post a pass as well.

Every single time in the past five years that I’ve read a book where the relationship between the hero and the heroine was kind of abusive, or a man failed to treat a woman as a person with a life of her own, or rapist-like behavior was meant to be cute, or a woman was punished for being attractive or for acting like a man, I’ve though, “Well, at least it’s not The Sheik.”

The Sheik is all of those things and more. Basically, if you can think of a gross thing early 20th century authors do to women, it’s here — except, to be fair, that thing where any woman whose virtue has been impugned in any way must die. It’s pretty awful. Read the rest of this entry ?


Top 10 Underappreciated Children’s Books 2/3

May 17, 2011

Here’s part two. You may notice that the formatting is unbelieveably horrible. I tried to fix it, but I’ve given up now.

Part 1/3

Read the rest of this entry ?


Reviews at EP: Prince or Chauffeur?

May 17, 2011

So, hey. There’s this. Prince or Chauffeur? by Lawrence Perry, over at Edwardian Promenade.


The Girl at Central, etc.

May 16, 2011

You know those mystery novels that are preoccupied with time and alibis and maps, where you’re constantly being asked whether a suspect could have made it from one place to another in however much time? And how it’s more like a word problem in a high school math textbook than a story, and you keep having to flip back to the map in the front of the book, and every time you do that you lose the thread of what’s going on, and the characters are like puzzle pieces, and it just never really works, even when Dorothy Sayers does it?

I’m exaggerating, but I do get really irritated when mystery novels give too much space to maps and alibis and such, because so often authors focus on those things to the exclusion of the characters. I’m okay with train schedules and clocks, I just want the people in the book to be the most important thing about the book. I get that that’s hard, but one cannot live by plot alone.

Geraldine Bonner, however, doesn’t seem to have a problem keeping her people and her plots balanced. I’m very much indebted to Cathlin for recommending her, because this is the first time a mystery author has made me like flipping back to the map in front of the book (and by flipping back to the map in the front of the book, I mean saving the image of the map from the ebook and having it open in a different window). Also, the narrator reminded me of Nancy from In the Bishop’s Carriage, and that’s always a plus. Read the rest of this entry ?


Top 10 Underappreciated Children’s Books 1/3

May 6, 2011

Okay, so the thing about this list? It’s going to be incredibly subjective. I’ve limited it to books I own, and to books I first read when I was the appropriate age for them. So, a) there are things that I haven’t included because I haven’t read them since I was in sixth grade, and I’ve never been able to track them down, and b) these are the books I grew up on, and my love for them isn’t always rational. I mean, I’m trying — Patty’s Summer Days isn’t on here because I know that not many people really go for that sort of thing. And there are books I loved as much as these that aren’t under-appreciated by any definition. I would like to note, however, that Little Women is not one of them. It is over-appreciated, and — okay, I can’t say I don’t like it at all. But I don’t like it very much, and I have lots of unpopular opinions about it. My best-loved Louisa May Alcott book is and always will be An Old-Fashioned Girl.

Anyway. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Three Sides of Paradise Green

May 5, 2011

First, here’s where we are with the poll results:

  • 10 votes — Top 10 underappreciated children’s books. I am working on this. It’s going to take a little while, but I do have my list of ten books finalized.
  • 5 votes — Pollyanna. This is going to be part of that list. I figure when you stack up all the people who hate it agains the ones who like it, it counts as underappreciated.
  • 4 votes — The Dragon’s Secret. This is definitely going to happen. For now, here’s another Augusta Huiell Seaman book.
  • 3 votes — Lady Audley’s Secret. This will happen…someday. But if you can’t wait, I recommend The Tragedy of Chain Pier. It’s practically the same thing.
  • 2 votes — Two Little Women and Treasure House. I’m hoping to do all three Two Little Women books at some point. It’s been too long since I’ve written about Carolyn Wells.
  • 1 vote — The Hidden Hand, Mary Jane Holmes, Trustee from the Toolrom. Respectively: someday, hopefully soon, and next time I reread it.
  • 0 votes — The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay.   :D :D :D

Anyway. The Three Sides of Paradise Green is another Augusta Huiell Seaman book, published a few years after The Boarded-up House, and with kind of a similar setup: Two girls, best friends their entire lives, and a house next door with some kind of history-related secret. Except it’s kind of better.

This time the girls are named Susan and Carol, and they’ve just been asked by their English teacher to keep journals for the coming year. The book mostly consists of Susan’s journal entries, although there are a few third-person-narrated scenes. I’m not sure why. They don’t really add anything. Also, you know who else doesn’t add anything? Carol. She’s kind of a drip. Fortunately, very little of the burden of the story falls on Carol’s shoulders. The main mystery-solver here is Sue’s younger sister Helen Roberta, apparently named after Seaman’s own daughter, and variously referred to as Mademoiselle Héléne, Bobs, and the Imp. The Imp is hands down the coolest person in this book, but she’s also — you know how younger siblings can sometimes be more infuriating than anything else in the world? Yeah, that. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Wheel Spins

May 4, 2011

I was doubly predisposed to like The Wheel Spins, by Ethel Lina White: first because it’s a train mystery and train mysteries are delightful, and second because it’s the basis for my favorite Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes. But I think I would have liked it anyway.

Iris Carr is an heiress who has been vacationing in an off-the-beaten-track town somewhere in Eastern Europe with her rowdy and obnoxious group of friends. She has a falling out with one of them right at the end of their trip, and opts to stay on for another couple of days so that she can travel alone and further indulge her tiresome fondess for thinking in cliches. Just before her train comes, she faints from sunstroke, and although she manages to make it onboard, she ends up in a car that’s already full. The other occupants are a pretty dour Baroness and a number of her hangers-on, plus Winifred Froy, an English spinster traveling home after a couple of years governessing.

Iris is feeling sort of hostile towards the world in general, so it’s somewhat unwillingly that she allows Miss Froy to drag her off to tea and tell her all about her octegenarian parents and their sheepdog that’s really a mutt. Afterwards Iris naps in the compartment, and when she wakes up Miss Froy is gone. At first Iris is glad not to have to listen to her anymore, and dreads Miss Froy’s return, but Miss Froy doesn’t return, and when Iris finally questions the other passengers, they deny that any such person was ever there at all. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Boarded-up House

May 3, 2011

A month ago I got an email from a reader, Mick, about Augusta Huiell Seaman. Seaman was an author of girls’ books who wrote from around 1910 though the 1940s, and while her early books were historical novels, she soon found herself a very nice niche writing books about contemporary teenage girls solving mysteries with a historical element. The Boarded-up House is the first of these mysteries, and it’s kind of great.

Joyce Kenway and Cynthia Sprague — best friends since they were little — live almost next door to each other. There’s just one building in between: a Colonial mansion that existed before the town that surrounds it, and which has been shut up for as long as anyone can remember. One afternoon, Joyce’s cat Goliath gets into the house — a board covering one of the basement windows has rotted away — and the girls follow him inside. What they find there is pretty weird: not only is the house still completely furnished, the plates from the occupants’ last meal there are still on the table. The girls decide to investigate and figure out what happened, and eventually they do. Read the rest of this entry ?


Let’s do a poll.

May 2, 2011

I’ve got a couple of posts in the pipeline, and now I’m trying to figure out what I want to write about next. I’m hoping you guys can help me out.

I am also, as ever, open to other recommendations.


The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet

May 2, 2011

I don’t know why, but I went into Burton Egbert Stevenson’s The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet thinking it was going to be a locked room mystery, or something like it. What I got instead was, somewhat disappointingly, a lot more like Fantômas. Which is not to say it wasn’t good — just that it wasn’t all that I’d hoped.

It begins, as so many mystery novels do, with a lawyer narrator being called in to a client’s house, only in this one the client isn’t dead…yet. Philip Vantine is one of those ever-popular-with-novelists last-of-a-wealthy-and-important-New-York-family types, and he’s all about collecting antiques, so it’s not a dead body that our Mr. Lester is called in to see, but a piece of 17th century French furniture, inlaid and encrusted to within an inch of its life. The cabinet has apparently been sent to Vantine by mistake — he did buy one, but not this one — only now that he’s seen it, Vantine can’t live without it. He asks Lester to get in touch with the firm that sent it and see if the real owner is willing to part with it. Read the rest of this entry ?