Posts Tagged ‘1900s’

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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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Marcia Schuyler

December 23, 2015

I’m obviously falling down on the Christmas story job this year. Here, have another Grace Livingston Hill instead.

I’m not sure if Marcia Schuyler is considered typical of GLH’s output. It’s not typical of the books of hers that I’ve read, but it works really well for me. I mean, the religious stuff is a lot more palatable in a historical fiction context. (Sure, I kept giggling about David’s temperance newspaper, but I can’t fully explain that.) But also this is a he/she fell in love with his/her wife/husband book, and the protagonist overnight finds herself in possession of a dream house and a fabulous trousseau, and there’s an awful older sister, which I enjoy for probably the same reasons that I find inexplicably evil younger brothers difficult. The chances that I wasn’t going to like this book were very low.

I mean, I don’t love it, but I do like it a lot. It’s got more in common with things like Janice Meredith and To Have and to Hold than it does with GLH’s other books, but it’s also got her patented lack of self-awareness. Very few things are less charitable than her attitude towards characters she doesn’t like, and, much as I enjoy that, it’s so at odds with her professed philosophy that it kind of bugs me, too.

Anyway, Marcia Schuyler. She’s a teenage girl from an old and respected family in upstate New York, circa 1830. She’s smart and pretty and totally overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, Kate, who is an asshole. She also has a crush on Kate’s fiancé, David, but she’s not aware of it. It turns out to be sort of helpful, though, when Kate elopes with another man and her father basically offers Marcia to David as compensation. I’m pretty sure that even in 1830 this is a weird thing to do, but Marcia goes along with it and everyone stresses a lot about how they’ve deprived her of her womanhood, or something.

There are some things you want to happen here: you want Marcia and David to fall in love. You want Marcia to do well in her new environment. You want Kate to get her comeuppance and, very specifically, to be humiliated by David. All these things happen, against a backdrop of the launch of the first steam locomotive in New York State. It’s not a great book, but it’s very satisfying.

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The Triumph of Tinker/Tinker Two

October 7, 2015

I still don’t like Tinker as much as Pollyooly, but he’s grown on me, mostly thanks to the second Tinker book, variously known as The Triumph of Tinker and Tinker Two. It feels a lot less episodic than the first one–the initial section basically sets the rest of the book in motion, so there’s no more than a couple of chapters that could stand alone as short stories.

Tinker and his dad are no longer bumming around Europe, as they did for most of the first book. They’re now established in London with Sir Tancred’s new wife Dorothy and Tinker’s adoptive sister Elsie. Elsie was abandoned in Monte Carlo by her gross uncle in the last book, but now her gross uncle is back and hoping that Elsie’s association with millionairess Lady Dorothy Beauleigh means he can make something off her. He and his associate, the equally beery and vulgar Mr. Oliver Brown, concoct a plan to regain custody of Elsie and then mistreat her until the Beauleighs will pay to get her back, but they fail to take Tinker into account. He and Elsie escape to Germany, picking up a beautiful young Russian revolutionary on the way.

Tinker twists the world around his little finger, as usual, with just enough difficulty to keep things interesting. The wicked uncle and his friend are vanquished, Sonia the Russian Countess gets married, and Elsie drives a car. There’s also an episode featuring Lady Felicia Grandison, the heroine of at least two other Jepson books (of whom more later).

Elsie really comes into her own in this book–or maybe she did it in between the two. When she was first introduced, Elsie was delicate and a little weepy, and didn’t really get better defined before the end of the book, but by the time she appeared in Lady Noggs, Peeress she had established an identity: still delicate and frail-looking, but willing to try anything, and casual about Tinker’s plans in a way that even Tinker himself isn’t. Tinker is apt to decide very seriously that something ridiculous must be done. Elsie acquiesces to his plans in a way that suggests she both takes him very seriously and humors him a little. I find myself liking her more and more.

I still feel like Pollyooly has something to offer that the more privileged children in Jepson’s earlier stories don’t, but Tinker is such a well-defined character, predictable but not too predictable. You’re not always sure how Tinker will respond to a situation, but his response always seems inevitable. Tinker is fundamentally the character who, when introduced to a beef-canning millionaire who can estimate by eye how many cans of beef a cow will produce, will a) learn how to do it just as well and b) apply the same methods to human beings. So, if an angelic looking young boy assessing people by how many cans they would fill is entertaining to you, I think you’ll enjoy Edgar Jepson. If not, I’m not entirely sure why you’re reading this blog.

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Shorty McCabe

May 26, 2015

Shorty McCabe is no Torchy, but sometimes that’s okay, like when you stop your Torchy reread before the last book because the dog stories make you inexplicably uncomfortable, and switch over to an excellent children’s book about pirates and then a super weird Eleanor Hallowell Abbott book, but then you sort of start to have regrets? But you can’t go back to Torchy as a Pa, because you can’t start a Torchy reading with Torchy living in the suburbs; you have to work up to that. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Open House

April 18, 2015

So, Juliet Wilbor Tompkins is definitely going to be a Thing for me. Open House was almost as satisfying as Joanna Builds a Nest, and much less disconcerting.

At this point 75% of the books I’ve read by Tompkins have as a thesis the idea that no one can be happy without some kind of work. That’s a thing I also believe — probably for slightly different reasons — and it tends to produce exactly the kind of book I want to read. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Halo

April 10, 2015

Bettina von Hutten fucks me up. I’m not sure if I really like her at all. She’s an author who’s not afraid to let things end badly, and usually I avoid authors like that. I mean, I can very easily be unhappy by myself. I don’t need anyone’s help. But I bought Pam Decides at a library book sale because it was cheap and I liked the cover. And then I read Pam, because I don’t like reading sequels first, and mostly I liked it. And then I read Pam Decides and felt pretty good about the world in general, because when von Hutten does decide on a happy ending, she makes it count.

I’ve just finished reading The Halo, and I think I understand now. Von Hutten delights in situations where there’s no right answer, and she’s good at them. If you want to wallow in painful emotional situations, go no further. Or, alternatively, stop getting emotionally involved in books; it’s a mistake. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Six Girls Growing Older

March 23, 2015

Six Girls Growing Older is a funny one. I’m not entirely sure how a feel about it, especially in relation to Six Girls and the Tea Room. But having had a few days to let it process, I think it’s largely an issue of structure. The last book used the tea room as a framework to hang the story on, but also the Scollards knew when they opened it that it was only going to last until the Spring, when it was time to go back to Pennsylvania, giving the book a clear time-frame, too. Six Girls Growing Older, on the other hand, is as transitional as the name implies. Laura’s on her way to Germany. Margery is getting married. Bob is really too old to get a proper summer vacation. The Scollard fortunes change, too and Aunt Keren adopts Happie legally and the rest of the family practically. Read the rest of this entry ?

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