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Catch-up, 2/15/2016

February 15, 2016

The Seven Darlings, by Gouverneur Morris

Mel was reading this, and it sounded fun, and it is. Six sisters and a brother turn their summer home into a fancy resort to earn a living after their father dies. It starts really, really well, but there’s too much going on. Every sibling has a romance, and in the end, none of them get enough page-time.

Firm of Nan & Sue, Stenographers, by Harriet Carpenter Cullaton

Mostly a series of anecdotes about running a typewriting business, told by Nan. She recruits her widowed friend Sue when she finds she has too much work to do on her own. The two women deal with a variety of customers, are taken in by a con artist, and, perhaps most intriguingly, operate a payphone.

Gentle Breadwinners, by Catherine Owen

Another story/cookbook from Catherine Owen. Two young women, left penniless after the death of their father, move in with their aunt and uncle, poor farmers. After a few false starts, Dorothy, the older sister, figures out how to earn a living, with not as much help as she’d like from her sister May. Don’t let the abbreviated review fool you–I loved this.

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Molly Bishop’s Family

February 11, 2016

I enjoyed Ten Dollars Enough so much that I immediately went looking for other story/cookbooks. And I found some stuff, but nothing was as enjoyable.

There’s A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, which is beautifully illustrated, but doesn’t have enough story. The Mary Frances Cook Book is perhaps even more beautifully illustrated–by Margaret G. Hays–but, as I’ve said before, I have limited patience for inanimate objects that talk. Mary at The Farm was actually too didactic to read, and The Fun of Cooking just…wasn’t fun.

It got me thinking about what makes a book good, especially after I read Catherine Owen’s sequel to Ten Dollars Enough, Molly Bishop’s Family, and found it just as engaging. I use the word “engaging” a lot, I know. It’s because I rarely feel confident about saying that a book is objectively bad, but I generally feel pretty okay about knowing whether or not a book captured my attention. Write what you know, right? I don’t know why Catherine Owen is so enjoyable–a light touch with what ought to be dull material–but I know that I enjoy her. I know that I couldn’t put this book down for other things I also thought I was absorbed in. I know that when a sad thing happens to Molly, I get a little teary.

Molly Bishop’s Family follows Molly through several reversals of fortune and the birth of three children. It’s short on recipes compared to Ten Dollars Enough, but it makes up for it with household management, business advice, furniture purchases, and more child-rearing advice than I ever thought I’d have the patience for. It’s more of a story than the first book, but that makes sense. Ten Dollars Enough takes place over the space of three months, and Molly’s situation is fairly static. Molly Bishop’s Family takes place over the course of about 18 years and it is, more or less, about change. Sometimes it made me nostalgic for its own early chapters.

Also it made me want to eat pigeon pie.

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Interview with Ayisha Synnestvedt

February 9, 2016

Obviously I’m pretty excited about the idea of a miniseries of The Amazing Interlude, but we’ve all been burned by bad adaptations, and I thought it would be cool to have the creator of the project tell us a little more about how she went about adapting the book. I also wanted to give her a platform to talk about it more for an audience that’s read this book and others like than for one that has to be convinced that this is a good story.

Melody: Let’s start by talking about the book. What’s your favorite bit? Was there a scene that first made you start thinking about the story as a movie?

Ayisha: My favourite bit when I first read it as a young teen is the scene where, (not to give too much away, as it’s a pivotal scene), Sara Lee has put two and two together, and is crying face-down on her bed.  I remember figuring out the blocking for it as if I were a director working with actors.  I didn’t at that point think as far as realistically making it into a movie–that’s just what I’ve always done with books I like. This scene was definitely in my mind when I approached the book again a few years ago to see if it would work as a movie. These days, because I know the book well enough that if I listen to it I know which sentence comes next, my appreciation for different parts has evened out.  I have several favourite threads: the interaction of the King of the Belgians with others in the story, the mutual appreciation of men for women and women for men, Sara Lee’s cute attempts to learn and copy languages, the friendship between Jean and Henri. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Dollars Enough

February 8, 2016
RQ reader Bridget emailed me last week to tell me about Ten Dollars Enough, by Catherine Owen, and. Guys. If any of the rest of you know about novel/cookbooks that include the prices of everything and also potentially people pulling brains out of calves’ heads, my inbox is open. Yeah, I forgot to check my blog email for, like, a year, but I’m checking it now.
The book was originally serialized in Good Housekeeping–basically it was a glorified cooking column, but there is a story, and the story does its job well. Harry and Molly Bishop have spent their first year of marriage living in a boarding house, and they’re sick of it. They’re not sure they can afford to live as well as they’d like on their small income, but when friends who are going abroad offer to rent them a small house for three months, they decide to make the experiment. They can afford to spend ten dollars a week on food, and Molly, who has been to a series of cooking schools and used to keep house for her mother, is convinced that she can make it work.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Catching up, 2/5/16

February 5, 2016

It’s time for another clearing-out of things I’ve read recently, so I can write at greater length about one or two in particular.

The Phantom Treasure, by Harriet Pyne Grove

This story of an orphan discovering her long-lost family and moving into their home, which is historical and filled with secret passages and things, ought to be great. I just wish it had been written by Margaret Sutton or Augusta Huiell Seaman or someone. Jannet, the main character, gets fried chicken mailed to her at boarding school. She and a friend try on historical costumes in the attic. She finds a stash of notes written by her ancestors when they were being forced to host British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. I just wish the author had felt some kind of enthusiasm about any of those things. But since she didn’t, I couldn’t either.

Carolyn of the Corners, by Ruth Belmore Endicott

Run of the mill story about an orphan softening the heart of a cranky relative, by an author who has definitely read Pollyanna and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Probably other versions of the same trope, too, but those are the ones I’m sure about.

A Poor Wise Man, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

I’ve read this one before, but only once, probably because I’d already sort of read it as V.V.’s Eyes and The Clarion. Still, it’s Rinehart, and if you want to read a book about a rich girl in a growing city falling in love with an idealistic young social reformer, this one’s pretty good. Few authors understand better than Rinehart how attractive it is when a character combines strong emotion with massive amounts of restraint.

This is fun, this catching up thing. It’s better to write a bit about a bunch of books than to sit around feeling guilty about not writing about them, or to write about them at length and then never bother to type up the review, both of which are things I’ve been doing lately.

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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.

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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.

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