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Aunt Olive in Bohemia

June 10, 2016

I thought unemployment was going to be so great for my blogging, but as it turns out I’ve only read two new-to-me things since I quit my job at the beginning of May. And I liked them both, but somehow I haven’t been able to get much down on paper, so I’m trying for something a little shorter-form here.

Aunt Olive in Bohemia, by Leslie Moore, is pretty much perfect in outline. It’s about a 60 year old spinster who inherits a bunch of money and moves to London to fulfill her lifelong dream of being an artist in a studio. She makes friends with the young men in the neighboring studios, adopts a precocious model, and generally makes the lives of the people around her better. And the execution is pretty good, but…it starts out very good and gets perceptibly worse. I loved a lot of the early parts, but not I find myself dwelling more on my disappointment later.

It’s a tonal thing, I think. The story gets very serious and agonized about romance, and the gaudy stuff — people giving up everything for Love with a capital L — drown out the more delicate parts: the friendships and the artistic styles adopted by the characters and the people figuring out where they belong. Also, a grown man declares his intention of marrying a child, so. You know. Automatic deduction of one letter grade.

To sum up: I spent a while thinking Aunt Olive in Bohemia was a great book, and it’s not. But it does have some great stuff in it.

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The “Polly of the Hospital Staff” series

April 27, 2016

Do you ever realize, halfway through a book, that you’ve read it before? That happened to me this week with When Polly Was Eighteen, by Emma C. Dowd. I assume that means I’d also read Polly of Lady Gay Cottage and Polly and the Princess before. Probably I raced through them just as fast last time, and that’s why I don’t remember.

Let’s backtrack. I talked a bit about Polly of the Hospital Staff when I first read it. It’s a totally average story about a sunny orphan making a home, except that it’s more than averagely enjoyable. It’s also got the most typos I’ve ever seen in a Project Gutenberg text, so, you know, be warned. It’s followed by Polly of Lady Gay Cottage, which covers Polly’s transition to life as the adopted daughter of Dr. Dudley and his wife. She gets to meet some of her biological family, but her found family turns out to be more real. Dowd is a little bit obsessed with adoption, but in a nice way.

Next comes Doodles, the Sunshine Boy, which isn’t a Polly book, but has Polly in it. I didn’t read this one last time around, I’m pretty sure, but I dug deeper this time. I don’t really know what to say about Doodles. He can’t walk. He can sing. His family is poor, and various nice things happen to them. Another average but enjoyable book.

Doodles also appears in the next book, Polly and the Princess. There is no princess; the book is about Polly’s involvement with a nearby…I don’t know what to call it. A home for women without any outside means of support. It’s a particularly satisfying book, in that certain characters are victims of injustice and then eventually they’re vindicated.

When Polly Was Eighteen skips ahead about five years to find Polly home from college for the summer, and wrestling David Collins’ jealousy. David is one of Polly’s oldest friends, and was always the obvious future love interest. Emma Dowd does a good job of laying the groundwork for his jealousy in the earlier books, and of showing how unromantic it is in this one.

So, yeah. I like this series a lot. There’s very little you wouldn’t expect, but Dowd makes a virtue of predictability–call it trustworthiness. If you like orphans and found families and an improbable number of disabled children learning to walk again, I thoroughly recommend her.

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9th Blogiversary catch-up

March 4, 2016

Oh hey. It’s been another year.  Thanks for sticking around for nine years (!!!) even when I continue to do things like post half a dozen times in two weeks and then go the next two weeks without posting anything at all.

Anyway, it seems like a good day for a catch-up. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mary Minds Her Business

February 15, 2016

Someday I’m going to run out of books from the late 19th and early 20th century about women doing jobs, and then I will be a little heartbroken. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. Let me tell you about George Weston’s labor fantasy, Mary Minds Her Business.

Mary Spencer is the last of a long line of Spencers–mostly Josiah Spencers, who built a large factory complex and brought prosperity to the town surrounding it. Mary is obviously as well fitted to running the business  as any of the Josiahs, but because she’s a girl, no one expects her to step in. Still, she’s interested in the business, and wary of her shifty uncle, and she has an ambition to bake the world a better place.

World War I gives her the opportunity she’s been waiting for. She’s read up on what female workers are doing in Europe, and she starts bringing women into her factory when the men start filtering out to the army. She sets up amenities for them, too–break rooms and nurseries–and has the satisfaction of seeing the factory run just as smoothly with a largely female staff as it did with a male one. It’s a clear success, but then the war ends and the men return, and she can’t not give them back their jobs. And some of them aren’t happy with even a few women working alongside them. That’s when things get really interesting.

There’s the usual labor intrigue, conveniently blamed on foreign Bolsheviks. There’s family drama. There’s romance. But mostly there’s Mary’s vision and stubborness, and her conscience pushing her forward. I’m less sure about the quality of this book than I was a couple of days ago, but while I was reading it I loved it.

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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 »