Posts Tagged ‘1920s’

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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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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 Still, I always enjoy it when he describes his characters in extremely specific art historical references.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 Little House

December 14, 2015

It’s that Christmas story time of year again. Well, sort of. I’m writing this in early November. I’m allowing myself a slow start.

My previous acquaintance with Coningsby Dawson comes from The Kingdom Round the Corner, which I liked a lot of things about without actually liking. The Little House is similarly almost-good, and similarly post-war, and also marginally a Christmas story. And it’s narrated by a house, which is sort of important at the beginning, forgettable through most of the middle, and briefly relevant again at the end. It’s almost cute in the same was Dawson is almost good. You know: there’s a lot of that furniture-having-conversations-after-midnight stuff. I want to like it, but I have limited patience.

The story begins during an air raid shortly before Christmas. The titular house is untenanted, and its caretaker has left the front door open in her haste to find a shelter. Meanwhile, a young widow — known to the house as “the little lady” — is passing through the square in which the house stands with her two small children, Robbie and Joan. They see the open door and take shelter, and so, a few minutes later, does an American soldier on his way to the front. They strike up a sort of friendship, but part without learning each other’s names.

A year later (the Unity of Christmastimes!) the soldier returns to the house, minus an arm, and finds that the little lady and her children live there now. They introduce themselves a little more formally, and take up their friendship where they left off before. He takes the kids to the zoo. He takes the little lady to the theater.It;s pretty obvious where this is going to everyone but the two principals.

She expects him to go home and forget about her. He thinks about whether he’s in love with her and decides that he’s not. So he has to change his mind, and she has to swallow her pride, and the structure of the narrative sort of requires that the house somehow make those things happen, so it does.

I almost really enjoy Coningsby Dawson. He has clever ideas. But his execution leaves me unmoved, and his insistence that a woman isn’t complete without a man to take care of her moves me in probably the opposite direction to what he would wish. This is a small, focused story — just two people, a single setting, a brief span of time and an inevitable conclusion. And if you’re going to do something so simple, you have to do it well. To hold your readers’ attention, if nothing else. But I kept getting distracted by the outside things, the things Dawson didn’t talk about. Like the little lady’s family and narrowing social life, and the soldier’s experience of war.

It’s frustrating when something is almost good. I think I would have really enjoyed this story in the hands of another writer. I think it’s going to take a lot to make me try Dawson again.

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Mavis of Green Hill

July 30, 2015

It’s been way too long since I posted anything, so, um…let’s see. The last book I finished was Mavis of Green Hill, by Faith Baldwin. I enjoyed it, but I might have enjoyed it more as several books–three, at minimum. I liked each part individually, but by the time the book ended I was exhausted and glad that it was over. And, I mean, I get the impulse. When you’ve got a story in your head, there’s a temptation to put down all the parts you know about. But sometimes that’s too much, and as an author, you probably really don’t want to wear your readers out. Or maybe you do? Who knows. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Play the Game!

June 17, 2015

I’ve been having a really hard time writing about Play the Game! by Ruth Comfort Mitchell, and I don’t know why. I liked it but I didn’t love it. It wasn’t what I expected. And that’s the way I feel about a lot of books that I have no trouble writing about.

So there’s this girl, Honor Carmody. She’s kind of tomboyish and motherly at the same time. She’s got a stepfather who’s not super relevant to the plot, but who is easily the most enjoyable character. She’s got a boy-next-door best friend, Jimsy King. She does a lot of his schoolwork for him so he can continue to be a football star, but it feels supportive on her side rather than exploitative on his. Also, Jimsy comes from a notoriously wild family, and everyone expects that at some point he will develop an alcohol problem. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Linda Lee, Incorporated

June 9, 2015

Sometime I’d like to read a book set in the silent film industry that’s not full of drug addiction and divorce and debt, and Linda Lee, Incorporated definitely isn’t it. But it does have a wealth of detail about how movies got made circa 1922, and it doesn’t take too many offensive moral stances on its characters’ behavior, so I’ll take it. It also doesn’t have much in common with The Lone Wolf, the only other book I’ve read by Louis Joseph Vance. He, as you may remember, was the one who spontaneously combusted. Or not, I guess, but, you know, let’s just say he did. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Fair Harbor

May 6, 2015

Jenn left me a comment about Joseph Crosby Lincoln the other day, and I suddenly found myself thinking about him, and wanting to read one of his books. The last couple of times that’s happened, I’ve just reread Galusha the Magnificent, but this time I went for something new: Fair Harbor. And it’s a good one — it’s got most of the things I like about Lincoln and none of the things I don’t. I mean. Maybe some of the things. None are coming to mind at the moment. Really the only thing that’s missing is a competent spinster. Read the rest of this entry ?

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