Posts Tagged ‘favorite posts’

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Hollyhock

August 29, 2012

I have found the worst ever L.T. Meade book. Or at least I hope I have. I wouldn’t like to think it gets any worse. This is kind of an unedited rant, so, you know, be warned.

At the start of Hollyhock we’re introduced to two families, so symmetrical that if the widowed father of one and the widowed mother of the other weren’t siblings, this would be The Brady Bunch. And it gets worse: George Lennox’s daughters are Jasmine, Gentian, Hollyhock, Rose of the Garden and Delphinium, known collectively as the Flower Girls, while his sister Mrs. Constable’s sons are the Precious Stones: Jasper, Sapphire, Garnet, Opal and Emerald. Only it turns out those aren’t their real names; they all have normal ones: Lucy, Wallace, Ronald, etc. that they don’t know about. Calling a little boy Opal and concealing from him that he’s really called Andrew sounds almost abusive.

Anyway, there’s a lot of Flower Girl and Precious Stone-related exposition, but none of it matters because you’re not going to see most of these kids again. I mean, Jasmine is usually around, and Jasper and Gentian show up from time to time, but mostly this is a book about Hollyhock, one of Meade’s beloved troublesome but fascinating heroines, and her relationship with Lady Leucha Villiers, who is both the secondary heroine and the villain. And not in the usual L.T. Meade way, where the quiet, sensible girl and the naughty gypsyish one become best friends. Although, to be fair, I haven’t read A Very Naughty Girl since I was in high school.

Anyway. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Whole Family

August 24, 2012

The Whole Family was brought to my attention a while back by Cathlin, sort of in the context of wondering whether Mary Wilkins Freeman had a sense of humor. And I haven’t got a definitive answer on that point, but I feel safe in saying that she had more of one than satirist John Kendrick Bangs. Both of them wrote single chapters of The Whole Family, a twelve-author, three-ring circus dreamed up by William Dean Howells and directed by Harper’s Editor Elizabeth Jordan. The idea was that each author would take a member of the family and write a chapter that was about that character but that also advanced the story.

For starters, that’s a pretty hard task, a combination of the letter game and exquisite corpse that, at the very least, requires the authors involved to keep their egos tightly reined in. But these authors didn’t grow up in the age of mandatory improv games in elementary school, and never learned that the worst thing you can do in this kind of game is block the moves of the people who came before you. If nothing else, it wastes energy and narrative momentum.

People have called this book a trainwreck, and they’re not wrong. It’s a disaster, but a gripping one. But it’s also kind of like two competing trainwrecks, or a murder taking place as the train crashes: you’ve got the total mess of the narrative competing for your attention with the meta-narrative of the infighting between the authors. It’s kind of great. And I kind of have a lot to say about it, so my thoughts on how the individual authors acquit themselves are behind the cut. Proceed at your own risk. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Diane of the Green Van

April 19, 2012

In 1913, a Chicago publishing house called Reilly & Britton offered a $10,000 prize for the best manuscript submitted to them. About five hundred manuscripts were submitted, and eventually it was announced that Leona Dalrymple (later the author of Jimsy: the Christmas Kid) had won the prize for her novel Diane of the Green Van. She had also submitted another manuscript to the competition, and they were going to publish that, too.

So, is Diane of the Green Van worthy of the prize? Not having seen the other manuscripts, I obviously can’t judge, but this one? Is insane. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Yoke

March 4, 2012

In a comment on my last post, Tracey suggested I read The Yoke, by Hubert Wales, because, like The Career of Katherine Bush, it features a woman who has premarital sex and doesn’t get punished for it. So I did.

It’s an astonishing book, especially for 1908. It’s also a super creepy one, for any time.

See, Angelica is forty, gray haired and still beautiful. She never married because the man she was in love with died of cancer during their engagement. His son, Maurice, is now twenty-two, and having a hard time stopping himself from having sex with prostitutes, so Angelica starts sleeping with him for his protection.

According to Hubert Wales, this is how the world works: young men, unable to control their sexual desires, sleep with prostitutes. Then they get STDs and their lives are ruined. To be fair, he allows Angelica to have sexual desires too, and that’s great. Here’s the catch, though: Angelica has raised Maurice since he was two. For all intents and purposes — except genetic ones — she’s his mom.

Everyone feeling uncomfortable? Okay, let’s move on. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Cinema Murder

February 7, 2012

Consider this your warning. I am going to give away the ending of this book. And that’s probably a bad thing, because the big twist ending is kind of the point of The Cinema Murder, and I’ve yet to decide out whether there’s any other reason to read it. I actually did guess the surprise ending pretty early on, but I ignored my instincts and trusted E. Phillips Oppenheim to do it right, as he has done on other occasions.

That was a mistake.

In retrospect, of course, I realize I was meant to sympathize with impoverished art teacher Philip Romilly. And when he showed up to visit his girlfriend, Beatrice, and realized that since he’d last seen her she’d become his cousin Douglas’ mistress, I did. It’s just that when he murdered Douglas and dumped his body in a canal, I stopped. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Edwardian/WWI-era fiction at Edwardian Promenade

February 1, 2012

There have been a lot of articles and blog posts floating around lately about what to read if you’re into Downton Abbey. One in particular, which talked about Elizabeth von Arnim apropos of one character giving a copy of Elizabeth and Her German Garden to another, made Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade say, “hey, what about Elinor Glyn?” Which, obviously, is the correct response to everything. And then I read it, and thought, “yeah, Elizabeth and her German Garden was popular when it came out in 1898, but would people really be trying to get each other to read a fifteen year-old(ish) novel by a German author during World War I?” And then we decided that we could probably come up with an excellent list of Edwardian and World War I-era fiction that tied in the Downton Abbey. And so we did.

It’s a pretty casual list, mostly composed of things we came up with off the tops of out heads, a bit of research on Evangeline’s part and a bit of flipping through advertisements on mine, so we’re making no claims to be exhaustive. If you have suggestions for additions to the list, leave a comment.

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The Amazing Interlude

January 31, 2012

The Amazing Interlude is my new favorite World War I romance. I’m not sure I had one before, but whatever. Mary Roberts Rinehart is, as usual, great, and she has the added advantage of having made a trip over to Europe to check out the trenches and stuff, so she knows what she’s talking about. Not that The Amazing Interlude is as gruesome, serious and propagand-filled as Kings, Queens and Pawns, her account of what she saw at the front, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s light fiction with a high moral purpose, and as such it functions perfectly.

Sara Lee Kennedy, the heroine, lives in Pennsylvania with her aunt and her uncle. It’s the early days of the war, and most Americans are only vaguely concerned with it, but the more Sara Lee thinks about it, the more she feels that she needs to go over to Europe and do something to help, except that she’s not a nurse and she doesn’t know how she can be useful. After her uncle dies, Sara Lee’s fiancé, Harvey, wants to get married immediately — her aunt is moving in with a cousin, and Sara Lee needs to live somewhere. Harvey thinks that the war isn’t their concern, and that her interest in it is silly. The members of the Methodist Ladies’ Aid Society, on the other hand, are more like Sara Lee — they all feel a bit guilty that they’re not doing more to help. And that’s how Sara Lee convinces them to allow her a hundred dollars a month to go to Belgium and run a soup kitchen for soldiers at the front. Read the rest of this entry ?