Posts Tagged ‘1910s’

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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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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 desktop and prove himself as an engineer–but he’s hesitant. He and Marian are a lone 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.

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Catching up

December 17, 2015

I’ve been reading a fair amount, I think. Some of it’s been re-reading–the usual suspects: The Amazing Interlude, Pam Decides, etc.–but I’ve also read a few new things, and I don’t think I can remember what all of them are.

Anyway, here’s a roundup of the things I can remember, so I can get caught up and back to writing actual reviews.

The Loudwater Mystery, by Edgar Jepson. 1920.
From my Edgar Jepson phase. This is sort of the most English of English mystery novels, but not in a particularly interesting way. I didn’t like any of the characters very much. I would prefer to have Jepson stick to books about precocious children. Still, I always enjoy it when he describes his characters in extremely specific art historical references.

Jan and Her Job, by L. Allen Harker. 1917.

I enjoyed this story of a young woman going to India to take care of her sister’s children and eventually returning home with them, but I sort of wished Jan’s job had been more, you know, job-like. The nephew and the love interest are both very appealing, and I enjoyed the villain’s unrelenting awfulness.

Tenant for Death, by Cyril Hare. 1937.

I think I really liked this, sort of, maybe. It took a while to grow on me. It’s a very technical, measured mystery novel, sort of in the tradition of R. Austin Freeman. If you like the drier kind of golden age detective fiction, you will probably like this.

The Obsession of Victoria Gracen, by Grace Livingston Hill. 1915.

I think I get Grace Livingston Hill now? She can get caught up in stuff you don’t want–like, this is obviously an author who doesn’t know what’s appealing about her own work–but there are things she does really well: materialism, hitting villains when they’re down, finding people their proper places in the world. And when those things are mixed together in the right proportions, she’s pretty great. This one was a little heavy on religion and inexplicably light on Victoria Gracen’s nephew in comparison to the other boys, but it’s very enjoyable.

 

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The Rain-Girl

August 6, 2015

So, I should have written about Herbert George Jenkins’ The Rain Girl a couple of weeks ago, when I read it. I looked it up after Tasha gave it a good review on The Project Gutenberg Project because I obviously like Jenkins (actually I haven’t written about him much, have I? Searching my blog, I’m seeing no John Dene, no Malcolm Sage, no Bindle…) but halfway through I started wondering if we were reading the same book. Richard Beresford, the protagonist, isn’t as charming as he or anyone else thinks he is, and his pursuit of a young woman he’s barely met seemed creepy and borderline insane. Like, in that slightly unhinged Eleanor Hallowell Abbot way.

I said that on Twitter–that his attempts to track her down were creepy–and Tasha replied that he has to find the girl somehow, but I disagreed. I would have been pleased for her if he hadn’t found her.

Things change somewhat when the girl, Lola Craven, reappears. Beresford still bugged me, but she seemed to genuinely like him, and the heroine throwing herself at an oblivious hero isn’t something I see too often.

And here’s the thing: by the time the book ended, I was rooting for them. I was even charmed. And I don’t remember why. All I’ve retained is my completely justifiable lack of warmth for the main character.

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Old-Dad

June 1, 2015

There’s a range of weirdness levels in books by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott. Molly-Make-Believe reads like it was written by someone who doesn’t not know what to do with a coordinating conjunction. The White Linen Nurse is full of mental breakdown-y things, but in context they sort of work. If you told me the only kinds of punctuation used in The Fairy Prince and Other Stories were periods and exclamation marks, I would want to double check before I told you you were wrong. And Old-Dad makes no discernible sense. I’m not really sure what else to say about it. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Top of the Morning

May 1, 2015

The Top of the Morning is the next Juliet Wilbor Tompkins book on the slate, mostly because I didn’t find the title that appealing, and I like to save the best for last. Yes, Joanna Builds a Nest and Open House are probably the two most appealing titles. No, I don’t know why I did that.

Anyway, the title isn’t great, but I like the book a lot. It’s episodic, just short of making me wonder whether it was originally published as short stories. And I haven’t tried to find out, but I’d guess it wasn’t.

The book follows a close-knit group of writers and artists who refer to themselves as “Us” and manage to stay just on the right side of the adorable/cloying divide. There’s Charlotte, an artist in her 30s with a teenage son. She’s very much the mother of the group, and not only because she is one. Paul is a sculptor, and he’s almost too perfect. He’s talented and wise and everyone loves him. Lanse and Evelyn are a pair, but it’s not clear whether they’re an item. They’re both from wealthy, upper class families. Lanse writes plays, and Evelyn is, I suppose, his muse. And then there’s Donna and Lorimer, who are sort of…Carolyn Wells, roughly, and maybe Oliver Herford or Gelett Burgess. Donna writes poems and humorous verse and children’s stories and stuff for magazines, and Lorrimer Ffloyd is a caricaturist. They’re best friends and they may or may not be in love with each other. Charlotte’s son Cameron, with his talent for being an appreciative audience, rounds out the group.

Different chapters cover their different struggles — Lanse’s fight with his father over his career, Donna and Lorrimer’s difficulties dealing with their respective moderate amounts of fame, Paul’s uncertainty about how to fulfill his potential. Most of the chapters left me wanting to stay with their central characters for a bit longer. Some of the chapters left me feeling kind of sad. The ending did both, partly because Tompkins wants to leave things open ended and provide closure at the same time. It doesn’t quite work, and in the last pages I got impatient with both the writer and the characters and decided that never mind, I don’t want to know.

Mostly I want to discount that last minute change of heart, though, because I enjoyed almost all of the book while I was reading it, and I do want to know more about stuff, especially Donna and Lorrimer and how the situation with Paul that I don’t want to spoil is going to pan out. And even in the context of Tompkins’ general focus on work, it’s fun to get these specifics of studio life and relationships between writers and magazines and things like that. Tompkins never names someone’s profession and leaves it at that; you get a pretty clear idea of how everyone’s income breaks down. I wonder if this book is a little more autobiographical than most of Tompkins’ work — it’s hard to find out much about her, but she seems to have been part of a clique that included Burgess, author Frank Norris, and artist Ernest Peixotto. And if it is autobiographical, then I want to hear a lot more about Donna. Or, who am I kidding? I want to know more about Donna either way.

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Kingsmead

April 13, 2015

I’m so resentful of Bettina von Hutten right now, and it’s ridiculous, because I knew what I was letting myself in for.

Tommy Kingsmead, though. All I wanted was for nice things to happen to him. But at this point, I’m surprised von Hutten even let Pam be happy.

Tommy, the Earl of Kingsmead, first appeared in The Halo as a precocious nine year old who is interested in everyone and everything. He’s absolutely recognizable as the same person when he reappears in Kingsmead as a young man of 23, benevolent, romantic, and honest. In the intervening years, Tommy’s mother has died, his sister Brigit has married, and Tommy has been forced to sell his ancestral home. He’s living fairly happily in a ruined castle in Italy, but he’s suddenly seized with a desire to see Kingsmead again, so he writes to the purchasers–his college friend Teddy Lansing’s family–and invites himself to stay. Read the rest of this entry ?

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