Posts Tagged ‘1930s’

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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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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 Still, I always enjoy it when he describes his characters in extremely specific art historical references.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 Fortunes of Captain Blood

September 23, 2015

I’ve always been kind of wary of Rafael Sabatini’s other Captain Blood books. There are two — Captain Blood Returns and The Fortunes of Captain Blood. I can’t really explain why. A lingering distrust of short stories, held over from middle school? The original novel being so complete and satisfying? Anyway, Monday I had the oppurtunity to go to the library for the first time in ages, and I read a copy of The Fortunes of Captain Blood so battered that it has to be kept in its own little box. It’s composed of six short stories taking place sometime during Peter Blood’s pirate career, and it’s kind of great. This brief review of the trilogy says this book isn’t very good, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s great–I enjoyed it a lot, and it just means that Captain Blood Returns will be even better.

The six episodes in the books seem to occur consecutively, but that’s clearer with the first few than with the rest. First we get a three story sequence that covers the capture (“The Dragon’s Jaw”), use (“The Pretender”) and disposal (“The Demonstration”) of a Spanish ship. Then the rescue of Hagthorpe’s brother (Hagthorpe is back, along with Pitt, Wolverstone, Ogle etc.) in “The Deliverance,” which dragged a little. Then “Sacrilege,” in which Peter is a Nice Irish Catholic Boy, and “The Eloping Hidalga,” which didn’t wallow in revenge to the extent that I wanted it to.

The earlier stories are definitely the better ones, and I think my favorite is “The Pretender,” which lets us see what Peter Blood would do if he had to defend against himself. “The Demonstration” gets an honorable mention for reintroducing Monsieur d’Ogeron, the Governer of Tortuga.

I realized as I was reading how silly of me it was to avoid this. Short story series about super competent characters getting the better of everyone around them are kind of my jam. Speaking of which, I’m going to go back to rereading Pollyooly until Yom Kippur is over and I get to eat again.

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Dig Here!

November 28, 2014

Dig Here! is a bunch of familiar elements — teenage girl best friends, missing treasure, a cranky aunt, and abandoned house, etc. — assembled in a way that didn’t feel familiar. I found myself wondering a lot whether this was the book Gladys Allen set out to write.

The main character, Sandy, is the daughter of missionaries. She’s sent to boarding school during the school year and to various relatives during the summers. When Dig Here! opens, she’s facing the prospect of spending the summer with Aunt Cal, who she’s never met, and who is related to her only by marriage. Aunt Cal says it’s okay for Sandy to bring a friend with her, so she invites her best friend, Eve, and it’s a good thing for her that she does. Eve is a much more forceful personality than Sandy is, and she’s also more adventurous, more sensible, and probably smarter. She’s even better at dealing with Aunt Cal, in part because she’s better at cooking and housework and, I don’t know, getting up on time than Sandy is.
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Jane of Lantern Hill

June 17, 2013

General consensus seemed to be that, after The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill was the best L.M. Montgomery book. So, when I detached myself from the internet yesterday and had a mini reading spree, it was the first thing I read. I mean, after I finished the Nero Wolfe book I was in the middle of.

I’m sorry I’m late to the L.M. Montgomery party, but I’m not sorry I’m getting to read these books for the first time now. There are children’s books that I’ve read as an adult and wished I had read as a kid, but Jane of Lantern Hill isn’t one of them. Yes, reading it at the appropriate age would have been a very different experience, but I don’t think it would have necessarily been a better one; I have so much more context for things now. This is just me trying to rationalize, though. Mostly I can’t imagine enjoying Jane of Lantern Hill more when I was a kid than I did yesterday. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Short Story Series #1: The super obvious

June 14, 2012

Of all the English classes I ever had, my 7th grade one was the best. And part of it was that my teacher was great, and part of it was that I realized that grammar is equal parts fun and fascinating — although I realize I may be alone on that one — but probably the single biggest factor was that we had to write an essay on a short story each week. And I could talk a lot about how helpful it was to have to churn out essays and learn to construct an argument and stuff, but what I’m here to talk about today is how much I hated the short stories.

Middle School and High School English classes do a lot to instill in kids the idea that serious literature is super depressing, and short stories, which tend to be sort of single-minded in pursuit of an idea, make it worse — at least with novels, there’s usually time and space to put in a few scenes that will make you laugh, or, you know, offer sidelights on a character that give you hope that they have inner resources to draw on and won’t spend the rest of their lives completely miserable. If they live to the end of the story, that is.

I mean, there were bright spots: “The Speckled Band.” Dorothy Parker. Vocabulary lessons. But I came out of Middle School English with the conviction that all short stories were terrible and that I would hate them forever, with a grudging exception for detective stories.

Anyway, the point of this is that for a long time I really believed I hated short stories — until a couple of years ago when I realized that I was reading short stories all the time, and loving them. It was just that they were short story series, character-driven and funny instead of literary and depressing. These days I get really excited when an author I’ve been enjoying turns out to have a series of short stories or two. So this is the first in what I expect to be a extremely rambling series of posts about those, and how much fun they are — starting with the super obvious. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Girl Alone

November 14, 2011

I started by really liking Anne Austin’s Girl Alone, but as it went on, I found myself getting more and more creeped out, and I didn’t really realize why until I got to the ads at the back of the book. The storyline is a straightforward, predictable one, mostly. It goes like this: Orphan (Sally Ford) is sent to work as a hired girl on a farm for the summer. There she meets a cute boy (David Nash). They end up running away and joining up with a circus for a while. Then the mother Sally’s never known shows up and adopts her. This would be an extremely unsurprising children’s book, right? Only it’s not. Read the rest of this entry ?

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