Posts Tagged ‘new york’

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Jane Journeys On

April 7, 2017

I bookmarked Ruth Comfort Mitchell’s Jane Journeys On after reading Play the Game!, but the further away I got from reading Play the Game!, the worse I remembered it being, so my bookmark probably would have remained unread forever if Franziska hadn’t left me a comment telling me it’s full of things I like. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Pleasuring of Susan Smith

July 13, 2016

Yes, this book is really called The Pleasuring of Susan Smith. It’s by Helen Maria Winslow, and it’s a lot less exciting than it sounds.

I mean, it’s not bad. It’s one of those stories where all the right things happen, it’s just that they happen in an unsatisfying way. Susan Smith is a middle-aged spinster from Maine. When the elderly relative she cares for dies and leaves her his money, plenty of people have ideas about what she ought to do with it, but Susan wants, for once in her life, to have fun. She ends up in New York, where she moves in with her young cousin John James Smith, otherwise known as Jack. She then proceeds to solve Jack’s romantic and financial problems, give herself a makeover, casually start in a Broadway play, and find someone nice to fall in love with. And that’s all great, but it doesn’t feel like anything.

Books like this are, to some extent, about vicarious self-indulgence for the reader. Susan is getting to do all these cool things, and triumphing in all the predictable ways, but what’s the point if the author won’t wallow? Just saying what happened doesn’t count. What’s the fun of the shopping spree if we don’t hear about the clothes? What’s the point of telling us that the love interest finds Susan interesting is we don’t get the content of their conversations? Winslow’s got the plot stuff down; all she had to do was make us feel it. The Pleasuring of Susan Smith is cute, but it’s all at surface level.

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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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Marcia Schuyler

December 23, 2015

I’m obviously falling down on the Christmas story job this year. Here, have another Grace Livingston Hill instead.

I’m not sure if Marcia Schuyler is considered typical of GLH’s output. It’s not typical of the books of hers that I’ve read, but it works really well for me. I mean, the religious stuff is a lot more palatable in a historical fiction context. (Sure, I kept giggling about David’s temperance newspaper, but I can’t fully explain that.) But also this is a he/she fell in love with his/her wife/husband book, and the protagonist overnight finds herself in possession of a dream house and a fabulous trousseau, and there’s an awful older sister, which I enjoy for probably the same reasons that I find inexplicably evil younger brothers difficult. The chances that I wasn’t going to like this book were very low.

I mean, I don’t love it, but I do like it a lot. It’s got more in common with things like Janice Meredith and To Have and to Hold than it does with GLH’s other books, but it’s also got her patented lack of self-awareness. Very few things are less charitable than her attitude towards characters she doesn’t like, and, much as I enjoy that, it’s so at odds with her professed philosophy that it kind of bugs me, too.

Anyway, Marcia Schuyler. She’s a teenage girl from an old and respected family in upstate New York, circa 1830. She’s smart and pretty and totally overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, Kate, who is an asshole. She also has a crush on Kate’s fiancé, David, but she’s not aware of it. It turns out to be sort of helpful, though, when Kate elopes with another man and her father basically offers Marcia to David as compensation. I’m pretty sure that even in 1830 this is a weird thing to do, but Marcia goes along with it and everyone stresses a lot about how they’ve deprived her of her womanhood, or something.

There are some things you want to happen here: you want Marcia and David to fall in love. You want Marcia to do well in her new environment. You want Kate to get her comeuppance and, very specifically, to be humiliated by David. All these things happen, against a backdrop of the launch of the first steam locomotive in New York State. It’s not a great book, but it’s very satisfying.

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Six Girls Growing Older

March 23, 2015

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 ?

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Six Girls and the Tea Room

March 20, 2015

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 ?

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Vision House/8th Blogiversary

March 4, 2015

Today is the eighth anniversary of Redeeming Qualities. I’m not doing anything particularly special for the occasion, but it seemed like a good time to wrap up the Williamsons kick I’ve been on. Also — obviously — I want to thank everyone who reads the blog for sticking around. I started this blog figuring writing into the void about the books I was reading was better than talking about them to people who didn’t care, but that doesn’t mean I ever wanted there to actually be a void, and I really enjoy interacting with you guys.

Anyway. Brian said Vision House was his favorite Williamson book, so it seemed like a good one to read next. And…well, I can see why this would be someone’s favorite. It’s not mine. But it’s crazy. Read the rest of this entry ?