Archive for August, 2012

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Hollyhock

August 29, 2012

I have found the worst ever L.T. Meade book. Or at least I hope I have. I wouldn’t like to think it gets any worse. This is kind of an unedited rant, so, you know, be warned.

At the start of Hollyhock we’re introduced to two families, so symmetrical that if the widowed father of one and the widowed mother of the other weren’t siblings, this would be The Brady Bunch. And it gets worse: George Lennox’s daughters are Jasmine, Gentian, Hollyhock, Rose of the Garden and Delphinium, known collectively as the Flower Girls, while his sister Mrs. Constable’s sons are the Precious Stones: Jasper, Sapphire, Garnet, Opal and Emerald. Only it turns out those aren’t their real names; they all have normal ones: Lucy, Wallace, Ronald, etc. that they don’t know about. Calling a little boy Opal and concealing from him that he’s really called Andrew sounds almost abusive.

Anyway, there’s a lot of Flower Girl and Precious Stone-related exposition, but none of it matters because you’re not going to see most of these kids again. I mean, Jasmine is usually around, and Jasper and Gentian show up from time to time, but mostly this is a book about Hollyhock, one of Meade’s beloved troublesome but fascinating heroines, and her relationship with Lady Leucha Villiers, who is both the secondary heroine and the villain. And not in the usual L.T. Meade way, where the quiet, sensible girl and the naughty gypsyish one become best friends. Although, to be fair, I haven’t read A Very Naughty Girl since I was in high school.

Anyway. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Whole Family

August 24, 2012

The Whole Family was brought to my attention a while back by Cathlin, sort of in the context of wondering whether Mary Wilkins Freeman had a sense of humor. And I haven’t got a definitive answer on that point, but I feel safe in saying that she had more of one than satirist John Kendrick Bangs. Both of them wrote single chapters of The Whole Family, a twelve-author, three-ring circus dreamed up by William Dean Howells and directed by Harper’s Editor Elizabeth Jordan. The idea was that each author would take a member of the family and write a chapter that was about that character but that also advanced the story.

For starters, that’s a pretty hard task, a combination of the letter game and exquisite corpse that, at the very least, requires the authors involved to keep their egos tightly reined in. But these authors didn’t grow up in the age of mandatory improv games in elementary school, and never learned that the worst thing you can do in this kind of game is block the moves of the people who came before you. If nothing else, it wastes energy and narrative momentum.

People have called this book a trainwreck, and they’re not wrong. It’s a disaster, but a gripping one. But it’s also kind of like two competing trainwrecks, or a murder taking place as the train crashes: you’ve got the total mess of the narrative competing for your attention with the meta-narrative of the infighting between the authors. It’s kind of great. And I kind of have a lot to say about it, so my thoughts on how the individual authors acquit themselves are behind the cut. Proceed at your own risk. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Set in Silver

August 15, 2012

After two extremely unsatisfying books, I was beginning to wonder whether I really liked fluffy romances or if I’d just been imagining it. Fortunately, there was a third, less unsatisfying book sitting on my shelves. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Amazing Inheritance

August 14, 2012

So, yesterday I was trying to explain how, while I think of myself as loving fluffy, ridiculous romances, two out of three that I read don’t really do much for me. And how last week I happened to read two that I didn’t like so much and one that I did. Book number two was Frances R. Sterrett’s The Amazing Inheritance, and apologies to Cathlin, who suggested it, but I really didn’t like it. It starts out pretty charming, with a young lawyer finding a salesgirl in the basement of a department store and notifying her that her uncle, lost at sea twenty years before, has left her a chain of tropical islands. Which is, you know, cool, but a few chapters later there are three different love interests and the one with a brain isn’t favored, Tessie Gilfooly — our heroine — is frankly stupid, and it’s become clear that nobody is ever actually going to get to the islands in question. Then there’s the enormous pearl Tessie must have to be accepted as the islands’ ruler, guaranteeing an overhanging sense of doom for most of the rest of the book. And the island’s population embodies every negative stereotype connected with the word “savage.” Read the rest of this entry ?

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He Comes Up Smiling

August 13, 2012

It makes me a little bit sad when I read something light and fluffy and slightly absurd and I don’t like it very much. Part of it is that these books exist for no other purpose than to be fun, so it’s disappointing when they don’t quite get there. The other part is that I feel like there’s something wrong with me for not connecting with these books, like the fact that I didn’t have fun reading them means I’m not fun. I want to enjoy them — I try so hard to enjoy them — but the fact remains that probably two out of three silly, fun books leave me cold, and that I have a secret fear that that third book will never arrive.

This past week, I started with He Comes Up Smiling, by Charles Sherman. It’s about a tramp, which is kind of cool; you don’t get tramps as romantic heroes too often. And I found it really charming for a couple of chapters, as the Watermelon hung out with his hobo friends and really enjoyably scammed a barber. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Pam

August 6, 2012

I tried to write a description of the plot of Bettina von Hutton’s Pam, but I found that I couldn’t remember anyone’s name. That’s okay, though. Aside from Pam Yeoland and her totally delightful grandfather, the characters aren’t really the point, and neither is the plot. Actually, although I liked the book a lot, at first I wasn’t sure what the point was. I’m still not, really, but I think it might be turning tropes upside down, and I am in favor of that. Read the rest of this entry ?

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In search of…

August 3, 2012

…a book I read a few years ago and meant to review. I foolishly neglected to write down the title or the author anywhere, but sometimes I find myself wanting to revisit it.

It was about an older woman who, when the story begins, is living in a home for elderly women. She unexpectedly inherits lots of money and a big house from a relative and relocates. She gets to experience all kinds of luxuries for the first time, but she also brings her own stuff to the table — common sense, mostly. She invites an old suitor to live with her as a companion, and I think she eventually adopts a kid or two. And there’s some stuff about fixing the problems of people in the neighborhood, which may involve her bringing them donuts she’s made. Also I think she buys a car.

It’s an American book, and for some reason I think it was published in 1911. Any help finding it would be appreciated. Recommendations of similar books would be appreciated, too. And if you’re searching for some public domain book and need help finding it, describe it in a comment and maybe someone here will be able to find it.

ETA: Found! I vaguely remembered that the title had a number in it and somehow dug up Drusilla with a Million. Feel free to comment with similar books or things you’re looking for, though.