Archive for September, 2011


The Clarion

September 28, 2011

The Clarion reminded me a bit of V.V.’s Eyes, and also of K. It’s not really as smart as either of those, but it’s mostly pretty delightful. It turns out that Samuel Hopkins Adams can be charming even when dealing with disease, corruption, betrayal, and the loss of ideals. Although I guess it’s less about the loss of ideal than about their creation, or about growing into them. That’s mostly where my V.V.’s Eyes comparisons come in. I’m comparing it to K mostly because a lot of silly, melodramatic things happen in a sympathetic way. Read the rest of this entry ?


(slightly belated) week in books: 9/25/11

September 26, 2011

Let’s see. I started the week with Samuel Hopkins Adams’ The Clarion, of which I have have a review written out in the kind of messy handwriting that results from trying to write on a moving train. Then I continued with Adams and read The Unspeakable Perk, which was pretty awesome.

That brings me to Friday. On my train into the city I reread Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise, which I hadn’t read in enought years that I’d forgotten most of what happened in it–except, unfortunately, the soluion of the mystery. So that was enjoyable. Saturday I reread Roast Beef, Medium. It’s funny to think how recently I read it for the first time, because I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve gone back to it. The same goes for the Torchy books. After that, I read a Nero Wolfe mystery, The Final Deduction, and followed it up with In the Best Families, which I had read once before but had not allowed myself to read again until now. It’s sort of one of the most emotionally engaging mystery novels I know, although I also think I’m being kind of crazy when I say that.


Captain Blood Day: The Suitors of Yvonne

September 19, 2011

I hate to do this. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Here, for Captain Blood Day, is a bad review of a Rafael Sabatini book. But, given the book itself. I couldn’t very well have written a good one. And it’s not like I uncritically love all of Sabatini’s other books. This one is his first novel, The Suitors of Yvonne, and while I probably wouldn’t have been sure it was by Sabatini if his name wasn’t in the title page (and if, you know, I hadn’t known for years that his first novel was called The Suitors of Yvonne) you can sort of see hints of what he’s going to be like later.

For instance, Sabatini’s heroes are almays saying really cleverly insulting things to people they don’t like. And because they’re so cool and self-posessed and have such clever senses of humor and we know they’re all romantic and sensitive on the inside — and because their enemies are usually warped caricatures of human beings — it’s fun.

Gaston de Luynes, hero of The Suitors of Yvonne, is not like that. He is, in fact, kind of an asshole. I mean, he’s got the insulting part down, but not the clever part, and certainly not the sensitive part. Mostly, he’s just offensive. Read the rest of this entry ?


week in books: 9/18/11

September 18, 2011

Another slow reading weeks. I read The Lamp in the Desert, and reviewed it, and then for some reason I went straight on to another Ethel M. Dell book — The Bars of Iron. I didn’t get very far before I switched to Rafael Sabatini’s The Suitors of Yvonne, of which my review is forthcoming. I may go back to The Bars of Iron, once I’ve got past the fact that the hero and heroine are named, respectively, Piers Evesham and Avery Denys.

Now I’ve started Samuel Hopkins Adams’ The Clarion, and so far, so good, but it’s very different from the other two books of his that I’ve read.

Also: have you sent in your entry to the Sylvia contest yet? I’d really appreciate it if you did — it doesn’t even need to take more than five minutes. I can’t come up with credible results without data.


The Lamp in the Desert

September 15, 2011

I don’t know why I’m still reading books by someone who names her heroes things like ‘Everard,’ but here’s another Ethel M. Dell for you: The Lamp in the Desert. She doesn’t let you forget that title; the lamp motif is everywhere.

The Lamp in the Desert is set in India, and shares one minor character with The Way of an Eagle. I like it when authors do that — just enough crossover between books to let you know that they’re all set in the same universe. Especially if, as with Dell, you have to posit an alternate universe where human behavior bears only a vague resemblance to reality to enjoy her books in the first place. Dell always verges on terrible, but she does it in a very distinctive way. Her romances are almost as convoluted as they are passionate, but she mostly manages to make them appealing, too. It’s just a bit terrifying to think that all of these ridiculous people are supposed to exist simultaneously. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Prisoner in the Opal

September 13, 2011

Some authors have only one great book in them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also write a lot of other books. I think of A.E.W. Mason as one of those. The Four Feathers is a masterpiece. It’s the only proper adventure novel I can think of that is also successfully introspective and, you know, intelligent, and…”if you want any whiskey, stamp twice on the floor with your foot; the servants understand.”

But anyway. I adore The Four Feathers, but I’m never quite sure whether it’s my favorite A.E.W. Mason book, because there’s also The Prisoner in the Opal. And The Prisoner in the Opal is indisputably one of the ‘other books,’ but I love it.

I think Mason’s detective, Inspector Hanaud of the Surete, is as direct a predecessor of Hercule Poirot as you’re going to find anywhere — he’s tremendously full of himself, he uses psychology to solve crimes, and his behavior seems calculated to offend the English people with whom he comes into contact. He first appears in At the Villa Rose, in 1910. It’s not so great. I haven’t read any of the other Hanaud books, but I have high hopes for the one titled They Wouldn’t be Chessmen. Read the rest of this entry ?


week in books: 9/11/11

September 11, 2011

It hasn’t been a big reading week for me–I finished My Side of the Mountain, which was fun, dragged to a halt on the Dresden Files thing, reread A.E.W. Mason’s The Prisoner in the Opal, of which a review will be forthcoming once I figure out how to write it, and reread The Way of an Eagle, which may actually have been more fun the second time around.

I’ve also been watching silent movies–The Sheik, a couple of Biograph shorts, and now, in installments, The Birth of a Nation. I thought I’d seen the latter before, but I’ve realized that I only saw a part of it–probably less than an hour. Anyway, I’m wondering whether I ought to be reviewing these movies, since they’re in the public domain and available for free online. I’m not sure if I know how to review movies.

Next up: probably something by Rafael Sabatini.


Sylvia: the story of an American countess

September 6, 2011

Sylvia is nineteen, the daughter of a woman from California and an Italian Count (both dead), and the most beautiful woman in Europe. But while her aunt wants her to marry a Duke — unless maybe a prince is available — Sylvia says that, if she ever marries at all, she’ll choose an American man. Philip Monroe would be happy to be that man. Eric Fielding has to deny to himself that he’d be happy to be that man, since he’s engaged to a girl in New York. Dick Ames knows there’s no likelihood of his being that man, so he becomes her good friend instead.

Really, though, Sylvia’s not interested in marrying anybody. But her aunt is really pushing the Duke, so Sylvia runs away to her other aunt in California and changes her name to Barbara Gordon. She — obviously — will henceforth be known as Batgirl, to avoid confusion. Read the rest of this entry ?


Sylvia: a publicity stunt

September 6, 2011

Back in 1901, Small, Maynard & Co. published a truly terrible novel called Sylvia: the story of an American countess. It was witten by Evalyn Emerson. As far as I can tell, she never wrote anything else, and for we should all be grateful.

Anyway, Small, Maynard & Co., came up with a clever way to market the novel. They got a dozen well-known artists to draw portraits of Sylvia (apparently the most beautiful woman in the world) and asked readers to rank the protraits in order of beauty. The person whose guess came closest to the average would win. I’ve been unable to discover the results of the contest, but what I have found (it wasn’t difficult; they put it right in the front of the book) is the method used to tally the answers, and that means that I can recreate the contest. It won’t work if only a few people respond, and there’s a good chance that that’s what’s going to happen, but if this works, it will be really cool. And the more people that participate, the cooler it will be.

So: Please participate! Send your friends to participate! Link here from your blog, tumblr, twitter, etc.! The person whose ranking comes closest to the average will win a review by me of the book of their choice* Contest entries should contain all twelve artist names, ranked by beauty, and should be sent to You don’t have to use the coupon below for your answers, but if you do, I will be super impressed. Contest ends…well, let’s say November 1st. Read the rest of this entry ?


Reviews at EP: Old Rose and Silver

September 5, 2011

I followed Lavender and Old Lace with Old Rose and Silver, and my review of the latter is now up at Edwardian Promenade.


week in books: 9/4/11

September 4, 2011

I’m trying out a new thing: weekly reading updates, to be posted on Sundays and to include all of the books I’ve been reading, regardless of whether they’re old, out of copyright, etc.

For most of the past week, I’ve been making my way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books, a series about a wizard/private detective living in a Chicago overrun with fairies and demons and things. The books are, to be honest, not that great, and there are a lot more of them than I initially thought, but I’m determined to make my way through them. I’m on book five now. Read the rest of this entry ?


Lavender and Old Lace

September 3, 2011

Lavender and Old Lace had most of the right pieces to be awesome, but instead it was lopsided, frustrating, and, most importantly, not engaging. I’ll put up with a lot of structural problems and disagreements with the author’s worldview for characters I can like and believe in, but Myrtle Reed never quite pulled it together.

Our heroine is Ruth Thorne, a newspaperwoman who has taken the summer off, partly for the sake of her nerves and partly at the request of Jane Hathaway, her only living relative. Ruth and Miss Hathaway have never met, but Miss Hathaway has received a legacy and is using it to go abroad, and she wants someone to take care of her house. Ruth arrives a week after Miss Hathaway’s departure and finds that the house is quiet and beautiful and that her only responsibilities are to take charge of the unmanageable servant, Hepsey, and to light a lamp in the attic window every night. Miss Hathaway doesn’t explain why the lamp must be lighted, and Hepsey doesn’t know, but she suspects it has something to do with Miss Ainslie, another spinster living nearby. Miss Ainslie and Miss Hathaway grew up together. They’re both in their mid-fifties, and both seem to have some kind or romance lurking in their pasts. But Miss Ainslie is shy, sweet, and reclusive, and lives in a house full of beautiful things, while Miss Hathaway, when she returns, is cranky and bossy, and keeps her Colonial mahogany furniture in the attic. Read the rest of this entry ?