Archive for January, 2016


Someone is trying to make a miniseries of The Amazing Interlude.

January 29, 2016

This is not a drill.

The Kickstarter ends in 15 days, so check it out soon. And if you’re not sure why I’m so excited, go read my review of the book.


Books I failed out of last week

January 11, 2016

Four and Twenty Beds, by Nancy Casteel Vogel.

I kind of wanted someone to read this for me so that I didn’t have to, but eventually I decided I didn’t care that much. It’s from the fifties and it’s about a Californian couple who, with their two children, move to a small town to run a motel. I stopped reading just after they took possession of the motel, figuring that at worst there was going to be an endless series of uncomfortable disasters and at best I was going to continue not finding the book particularly funny.

Good References, by E.J. Rath.

So, like. 1921. Stenographer can’t get a job because she has no references. Ends up taking a job under another girl’s name, as social secretary to a young man who has no interest in society. What could be more fun than that? Well, almost anything, as it turns out. The young man is profoundly unsympathetic, and the friend posing as his valet is worse. Everyone is lying to his aunt, and she ended up being the only person I had any sympathy for. I have very little patience for books about people getting themselves in increasingly worse scrapes by lying, and I got through exactly four chapters before getting fed up.


The Hallowell Partnership

January 7, 2016


Oh, man. I love books about people doing things. I love them so much.

At the beginning of The Hallowell Partnership, Marian Hallowell is taking a leave of absence from college, recovering from an illness, when her brother Rod is offered an exciting new job. Supervising a shift on this drainage contract thing in Western Illinois is a huge chance for him — an opportunity to leave his desk and prove himself as an engineer — but he’s hesitant. He and Marian are alone in the world, and there isn’t anyone she can stay with if he goes out west. Plus, neither of them wants to be separated from the other.

Marian doesn’t like the idea of going to Illinois with Rod — she has a fretful disposition and likes her creature comforts, as well as genuinely being in ill health — but he talks her into it. Rod will live on a houseboat with the other engineers on the job, and Marian will board at a farm two miles away.

Marian soon finds a friend in Sally Lou Burford, the wife of one of the other engineers and the only other woman connected with the drainage district project. But she also hates her surroundings and has no interest in the work itself — in contrast to Sally Lou, who pitches in wherever she can. Then things start going wrong: the chief engineer gets seriously ill and has to leave, and then the surly fourth engineer quits altogether, leaving Rod and Burford responsible for the entire project.

Marian doesn’t have a Hildegarde-style moment of transformation — there’s no morning where she wakes up and resolves to be a good sport. She just slowly gets better. She adjust to some things and not others, and it takes her a while to get invested in the success of the contract. But she does, and starts taking on a share of the work. And the boys need Marian and Sally Lou’s help, because they’re hit by a series of weather and machinery disasters, and the outcome of their project is seriously in doubt.

I had no idea what a drainage district was before starting this book, but it’s a thing where a bunch of landowners band together to get their area drained. If enough of them agree to do it, even the dissenters have to contribute. So Rod and Burford are responsible to their employers, but also to all the farmers around them, which makes for a few interesting situations. Katharine Holland Brown does a good job of explaining it and of gauging how much detail  the reader needs. She doesn’t get super technical, but she gives you enough to understand the impact of the various disasters that befall the project. And I love that.

I mean, look, The Hallowell Partnership isn’t a great book. But I don’t care, because I’m so grateful for what it is–a book about people doing interesting stuff, with drama that doesn’t feel manufactured, and no romance shoehorned in unnecessarily. Actually, Brown’s restraint in that department might be my favorite thing about the book.

My least favorite thing, by the way, was a scene involving a muddy dog and some clean laundry. It’s meant to be funny, and probably a lot of people would enjoy it, but I cringed all the way through. But that was just one (not very) low point in a book that mostly had me thinking, “I like this book. I like it a lot,” all the way through.


Cracker Barrel Troubleshooter

January 5, 2016

So, here’s a fun book.

Cracker Barrel Troubleshooter, by Jim Kjelgaard, is about Bill Rawls, a college student whose guardian — his uncle — dies after having frittered away Bill’s fortune. All that’s left is a country store in a tiny former lumber town called Elk Shanty. Bill could probably work his way through the rest of his college course, but this is, as I said, a Fun Book, so he decides to check out Elk Shanty instead. He finds:

  • a pretty girl.
  • a funny dog.
  • a population not capable of supporting a store.
  • a burly local youth who inexplicably hates him.
  • lots of food. Like, so much.
  • good fishing.

He decides, for whatever reason — the girl and repeated blows to the head are factors, I think — to stay and attempt to make a go of the store, which is, after all, all he’s got. This, for me, is the really fun part. I mean, sure, the fishing is made to sound reasonably exciting, and so is the eventual big fist fight, but for me the bit where Bill has to convince a local wholesaler to extend his credit is better.

And, I mean, this is a book for teenage boys, so everything is simplified, but Kjelgaard lets Bill make mistakes and give you enough material to understand them. Making the store a success usually looks achievable, but never easy. Also the food sounds very appealing, although I’ve always found it difficult to imagine people consuming pie in the quantities they do in old books.

Anyway, I enjoyed this a lot. I can’t imagine any of Kjelgaard’s other books will feel quite as specifically geared towards me — I’d happily subsist on a diet of books about people doing good things with unexpected inheritances — but I think I’m going to have to check a few out anyway.