Books disappoint me a lot. Especially older ones, I think, although that may just be because they make up the bulk of my reading material. It seems to be easier to write the beginning of a story than to end it satisfyingly, and I guess that makes sense. I also have what sometimes feel like unnecessarily exacting expectations, especially for romance. Read the rest of this entry ?
Posts Tagged ‘girls’
The other day I went to the library and read The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals. It’s from later in Augusta Huiell Seaman’s career than anything else of hers I’ve read — it was published in 1940 — and I think it might also be my favorite. Marty, the teenaged heroine, lives in relative isolation with her grandmother and a mysterious parrot. Twelve year old Ted, a piano prodigy, comes for a visit, along with his father and his music teacher, and his interest in the mystery prompts Marty to start investigating.
I love mysteries, but I also love people not hiding things from each other. I do wish Marty and Ted’s friendship was fleshed out a little more (Seaman tells rather than showing, here) but they have an ease and confidence with each other from the beginning that I really enjoyed. And that would be good in itself, but they also don’t keep secrets from the people around them. Ted’s father, Mr. Burnett, is involved in the investigation from the start, followed by Ted’s teacher and, eventually, Marty’s grandmother. Everyone works together, except for one antagonist who eventually turns out not to have been particularly important. The plot is good, too — a mystery with not too much urgency and proper clues, some exciting weather, and Seaman’s trademark trick of linking the past to the present in concrete ways.
I love everyone working together on a common problem in books almost as much as I’m bored by it in board games. And I love books about nice people who like each other, but I can’t quite love Seaman. Her books don’t tend to be very emotionally compelling — she seems unwilling to devote much time or space to developing relationships — so there’s a level that her books never seem to rise to, and I tend to finish them feeling a little unsatisfied. This one resolved some of the emotional threads nicely, but left more hanging. Still, even if there’s not enough there, what there is is really solidly good. The Curious Affair at Heron Shoals made me want more — more of this story and more of her books. It even made me want to reread things of hers I’ve already read. And that’s a pretty good sign.
Do you ever realize, halfway through a book, that you’ve read it before? That happened to me this week with When Polly Was Eighteen, by Emma C. Dowd. I assume that means I’d also read Polly of Lady Gay Cottage and Polly and the Princess before. Probably I raced through them just as fast last time, and that’s why I don’t remember.
Let’s backtrack. I talked a bit about Polly of the Hospital Staff when I first read it. It’s a totally average story about a sunny orphan making a home, except that it’s more than averagely enjoyable. It’s also got the most typos I’ve ever seen in a Project Gutenberg text, so, you know, be warned. It’s followed by Polly of Lady Gay Cottage, which covers Polly’s transition to life as the adopted daughter of Dr. Dudley and his wife. She gets to meet some of her biological family, but her found family turns out to be more real. Dowd is a little bit obsessed with adoption, but in a nice way.
Next comes Doodles, the Sunshine Boy, which isn’t a Polly book, but has Polly in it. I didn’t read this one last time around, I’m pretty sure, but I dug deeper this time. I don’t really know what to say about Doodles. He can’t walk. He can sing. His family is poor, and various nice things happen to them. Another average but enjoyable book.
Doodles also appears in the next book, Polly and the Princess. There is no princess; the book is about Polly’s involvement with a nearby…I don’t know what to call it. A home for women without any outside means of support. It’s a particularly satisfying book, in that certain characters are victims of injustice and then eventually they’re vindicated.
When Polly Was Eighteen skips ahead about five years to find Polly home from college for the summer, and wrestling David Collins’ jealousy. David is one of Polly’s oldest friends, and was always the obvious future love interest. Emma Dowd does a good job of laying the groundwork for his jealousy in the earlier books, and of showing how unromantic it is in this one.
So, yeah. I like this series a lot. There’s very little you wouldn’t expect, but Dowd makes a virtue of predictability–call it trustworthiness. If you like orphans and found families and an improbable number of disabled children learning to walk again, I thoroughly recommend her.
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.
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 ?
Six Girls and the Tea Room is, if anything, more satisfactory than Six Girls and Bob, and gives me a lot of hope for the rest of the series. It covers the Scollards’ (and Gretta’s) winter in the city, and mostly revolves around the tea room and circulating library that the older girls set up — but with plenty of room for subplots. There are a lot of subplots. Read the rest of this entry ?
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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