Posts Tagged ‘western’

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Aunt Jane’s Nieces

June 6, 2017

So hey, I’ve spent much of the last month on the Aunt Jane’s Nieces series, written by L. Frank Baum under his Edith Van Dyne pseudonym. It’s always interesting to me to see how far momentum will carry me into a series, because it doesn’t usually get me all the way to the end. I got bogged down about halfway in, but I pushed through, mostly because I never really want to come back to these books.

I have to wonder if Baum purposely lifted the plot of Aunt Jane’s Nieces from Laura E. Richards’ Three Margarets, which also involves three teenage girls being summoned to meet an unknown relative. When both also involve an Uncle John who initially misrepresents himself, they start to look suspiciously similar. Richards’ book is substantially better, and in fact reading Aunt Jane’s Nieces mostly just makes me want to reread all of the Hildegarde-Margaret books.

Anyway. Let’s talk about the work of someone I like much, much less that Laura E. Richards. Our three nieces are, in age order: Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Hallowell Partnership

January 7, 2016

 

Oh, man. I love books about people doing things. I love them so much.

At the beginning of The Hallowell Partnership, Marian Hallowell is taking a leave of absence from college, recovering from an illness, when her brother Rod is offered an exciting new job. Supervising a shift on this drainage contract thing in Western Illinois is a huge chance for him — an opportunity to leave his desk and prove himself as an engineer — but he’s hesitant. He and Marian are alone in the world, and there isn’t anyone she can stay with if he goes out west. Plus, neither of them wants to be separated from the other.

Marian doesn’t like the idea of going to Illinois with Rod — she has a fretful disposition and likes her creature comforts, as well as genuinely being in ill health — but he talks her into it. Rod will live on a houseboat with the other engineers on the job, and Marian will board at a farm two miles away.

Marian soon finds a friend in Sally Lou Burford, the wife of one of the other engineers and the only other woman connected with the drainage district project. But she also hates her surroundings and has no interest in the work itself — in contrast to Sally Lou, who pitches in wherever she can. Then things start going wrong: the chief engineer gets seriously ill and has to leave, and then the surly fourth engineer quits altogether, leaving Rod and Burford responsible for the entire project.

Marian doesn’t have a Hildegarde-style moment of transformation — there’s no morning where she wakes up and resolves to be a good sport. She just slowly gets better. She adjust to some things and not others, and it takes her a while to get invested in the success of the contract. But she does, and starts taking on a share of the work. And the boys need Marian and Sally Lou’s help, because they’re hit by a series of weather and machinery disasters, and the outcome of their project is seriously in doubt.

I had no idea what a drainage district was before starting this book, but it’s a thing where a bunch of landowners band together to get their area drained. If enough of them agree to do it, even the dissenters have to contribute. So Rod and Burford are responsible to their employers, but also to all the farmers around them, which makes for a few interesting situations. Katharine Holland Brown does a good job of explaining it and of gauging how much detail  the reader needs. She doesn’t get super technical, but she gives you enough to understand the impact of the various disasters that befall the project. And I love that.

I mean, look, The Hallowell Partnership isn’t a great book. But I don’t care, because I’m so grateful for what it is–a book about people doing interesting stuff, with drama that doesn’t feel manufactured, and no romance shoehorned in unnecessarily. Actually, Brown’s restraint in that department might be my favorite thing about the book.

My least favorite thing, by the way, was a scene involving a muddy dog and some clean laundry. It’s meant to be funny, and probably a lot of people would enjoy it, but I cringed all the way through. But that was just one (not very) low point in a book that mostly had me thinking, “I like this book. I like it a lot,” all the way through.

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Chip of the Flying U

September 22, 2014

Jenn recommended Chip of the Flying U, by B.M. Bower, about a year ago, and that’s probably how long it’s been sitting on my Kindle. I don’t know why I picked it up this weekend, except that the internet in my apartment wasn’t working and I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about anything I was more familiar with, but I’m glad I did. It’s almost entirely delightful, one of those books that does enough right that you don’t care that much about the stuff it doesn’t. And if you have to be content with a kind of ham-fisted ending, well, everything before that is so much fun that the book has kind of earned the right to fall apart in the last chapter. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Virginian

June 1, 2012

So, The Virginian is apparently the first proper western, if we’re not counting pulps — and apparently we’re not. It’s also awfully good.

Usually, when I try to read westerns, the protagonist shoots someone, or semi-accidentally kills a horse, or somehow makes an enemy of someone — probably someone with a mustache — over a poker game, and then I realize I’m only two chapters in and give up.

The hero of The Virginian actually does make an enemy over a poker game in the early chapters, and, since all of those other westerns are probably imitating this one, I guess I could blame Owen Wister for all those books I couldn’t finish. It seems silly, though, to blame someone for being better than his imitators. Read the rest of this entry ?