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Ruth Fielding Down East

December 10, 2016

It’s been a while since I read a Ruth Fielding book. PG has added a bunch of them over the last few years, and now seemed like a good time to catch up. Yes, I ought to be reading Christmas stories instead, but when the universe tells me to read Ruth Fielding, I read Ruth Fielding.

Ruth Fielding Down East is the first post-WWI one, sort of. The war is still happening, but Ruth and Helen and Tom are back in the US. Tom will go back overseas again for a bit, but the girls won’t, and it’s time for Ruth to transition back into the world of moving pictures.

I’d forgotten how bad W. Bert Foster’s writing can be (this is one of his last few installments in the series) and it’s bad here, but the worst thing about this book is the plot, and that’s presumably Edward Stratemeyer’s fault.

Ruth is supposed to be smart, is the thing. But when her top secret screenplay is stolen, she continues to keep it top secret, even though she suspects the thief will try to sell it to a producer. The rational thing to do would be to get some description of the scenario on record, so that if it shows up she has some proof that it’s hers. Of course, if she did that there would be considerably less drama when the scenario does resurface.

Character-driven plots are nice. Plot-driven characters, less so, especially when the character in question has been pretty well established through fifteen books. There’s no reason for Ruth to act like this, other than to make the plot work.

So, yeah, I found that infuriating. But somehow, Foster won me over. I think it’s the bit where Ruth stays level-headed during an emergency, saving her friends and getting back her self-confidence. Or the way everything gets wrapped up exactly the way you think it will, and it’s so ridiculous that it’s sort of nice.Or that the random bit about someone lost in the woods turns out to be thematically relevant. Or that Foster is going for something as complex as a theme at all. Mostly I think that Ruth Fielding, as a character, shines through the worst things her writers can do to her. She remains my favorite Stratemeyer product.

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The First Violin

December 6, 2016

When Alisha recommended Jessie Fothergill’s The First Violin, she mentioned Patricia Brent, Spinster and the Williamsons. Based on that, I guess I was expecting something romcom-like. That is not what I got, but I wasn’t disappointed.

The First Violin is the story of May Wedderburn, the middle daughter of an English vicar. Adelaide, the oldest, is the strong-willed ambitious one, and Stella, the youngest, is smart and practical. May herself is dreamy, idealistic, and musical.

Her uneventful life is interrupted by the arrival of Sir Peter Le Marchant (wealthy, older, creepy as fuck). He wants to marry May, presumably so he can make her life miserable, but she wants nothing to do with him. She’s rescued by a neighbor, Miss Hallam, who is going to Germany to consult an eye doctor. She offers to bring May along as her companion and promises to arrange for singing lessons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Everything is terrible

November 18, 2016

Please recommend to me your favorite book that I haven’t read. Free ebooks a bonus, obviously.

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Happy Captain Blood Day!

September 19, 2016

On this day in 1685, a fictional version of this guy was an asshole to Peter Blood, who then told him he was going to die. It was great. You should read about it.

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The Pleasuring of Susan Smith

July 13, 2016

Yes, this book is really called The Pleasuring of Susan Smith. It’s by Helen Maria Winslow, and it’s a lot less exciting than it sounds.

I mean, it’s not bad. It’s one of those stories where all the right things happen, it’s just that they happen in an unsatisfying way. Susan Smith is a middle-aged spinster from Maine. When the elderly relative she cares for dies and leaves her his money, plenty of people have ideas about what she ought to do with it, but Susan wants, for once in her life, to have fun. She ends up in New York, where she moves in with her young cousin John James Smith, otherwise known as Jack. She then proceeds to solve Jack’s romantic and financial problems, give herself a makeover, casually start in a Broadway play, and find someone nice to fall in love with. And that’s all great, but it doesn’t feel like anything.

Books like this are, to some extent, about vicarious self-indulgence for the reader. Susan is getting to do all these cool things, and triumphing in all the predictable ways, but what’s the point if the author won’t wallow? Just saying what happened doesn’t count. What’s the fun of the shopping spree if we don’t hear about the clothes? What’s the point of telling us that the love interest finds Susan interesting is we don’t get the content of their conversations? Winslow’s got the plot stuff down; all she had to do was make us feel it. The Pleasuring of Susan Smith is cute, but it’s all at surface level.

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The Vanderlyn Silhouette

July 9, 2016

I seem to be incapable of writing a review of Flaming Youth, so here’s another by Augusta Huiell Seaman. The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals was my favorite of her books so far, so to go next to The Vanderlyn Silhouette was a little disappointing. This one is a proper historical novel, set around 1820 in lower Manhattan. Varick and Charlton Streets are pretty far downtown now, but back then the area was far enough north that it wasn’t in the city at all. 13-year-old Dosia Watkins, the central character, lives on the grounds of Richmond Hill, an estate occupied at various times by some pretty important historical figures, including Aaron Burr, who lived there with his daughter. By the time this story starts, it’s passed into the hands of John Jacob Astor, who rents it out as a summer home. Dosia’s grandfather is the caretaker and her mother is the housekeeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals

June 17, 2016

The other day I went to the library and read The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals. It’s from later in Augusta Huiell Seaman’s career than anything else of hers I’ve read — it was published in 1940 — and I think it might also be my favorite. Marty, the teenaged heroine, lives in relative isolation with her grandmother and a mysterious parrot. Twelve year old Ted, a piano prodigy, comes for a visit, along with his father and his music teacher, and his interest in the mystery prompts Marty to start investigating.

I love mysteries, but I also love people not hiding things from each other. I do wish Marty and Ted’s friendship was fleshed out a little more (Seaman tells rather than showing, here) but they have an ease and confidence with each other from the beginning that I really enjoyed. And that would be good in itself, but they also don’t keep secrets from the people around them. Ted’s father, Mr. Burnett, is involved in the investigation from the start, followed by Ted’s teacher and, eventually, Marty’s grandmother. Everyone works together, except for one antagonist who eventually turns out not to have been particularly important. The plot is good, too — a mystery with not too much urgency and proper clues, some exciting weather, and Seaman’s trademark trick of linking the past to the present in concrete ways.

I love everyone working together on a common problem in books almost as much as I’m bored by it in board games. And I love books about nice people who like each other, but I can’t quite love Seaman. Her books don’t tend to be very emotionally compelling — she seems unwilling to devote much time or space to developing relationships — so there’s a level that her books never seem to rise to, and I tend to finish them feeling a little unsatisfied. This one resolved some of the emotional threads nicely, but left more hanging. Still, even if there’s not enough there, what there is is really solidly good. The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals made me want more — more of this story and more of her books. It even made me want to reread things of hers I’ve already read. And that’s a pretty good sign.