Friday, March 29, 2013

That Mother-in-Law of Mine  -  1879
170 pages
genre  -  General Fiction
my rating  -  4 of out 5 stars

At the beginning of the story, young Charles Travers has spent a blissful two weeks of a month long honeymoon with his darling Bessie.  That blissfulness is not expected to last because his mother-in-law will be joining them in the morning.

Charlie describes his mother-in-law, Mrs. Pinkerton, as a widow, under fifty, determined, stony-hearted and jealous.  There had been quite a few tug-of-wars between them as he courted Bessie, became engaged to her, survived a wedding and now Charlie will have her company on his honeymoon and then they all will return to the Pinkerton home to live in connubial happiness. Not.

Charlie tries to get along with Mrs. Pinkerton, but it's an uphill battle. Charlie describes his effort to get his mother-in-law to like him, "A fellow can't get an iceberg to enjoy tropical sunshine."

My favorite part of the story is in Chapter 8.  Charlie says, " event of extraordinary importance was to occur in our little household.  There had been premonitions of it for some time...there were active preparations going on...I seemed to be counted out altogether in the preparations, as if it was something in the nature of a surprise party in my honor..."  It isn't until the second paragraph when Charlie talks about Lilliputian clothing and a cradle suddenly appearing in his bedroom that the reader realizes that Bessie is expecting a baby very soon.  It is just too cute how he dances around the topic of pregnancy and the birth of a child.  Very clever writing. 

I was amazed at how easy it was to read this book.  I mean, it was copyrighted 134 years ago.  And it's too bad we don't know who the author is.  He or she deserves credit for writing such a wonderful tale.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Bracelets Or, Amiability And Industry Rewarded  -  1850
Maria Edgeworth
54 pages
genre  -  Inspirational Fiction
my rating  -  2 out of 5 stars

Here is part of the first paragraph of the story:  "In a beautiful and retired part of England lived Mrs.Villars, a lady whose accurate understanding, benevolent heart, and steady temper, peculiarly fitted her for the most difficult, as well as the most important of all occupations - the education of youth.  This task she had undertaken; and twenty young persons were put under her care...No young people could be happier...They rose with fresh cheerfulness in the morning; eager to pursue their various occupations... and retired to rest satisfied with themselves and pleased with each other."

As you can tell from the excerpt, this is a story designed to instill virtues in children and young adults.  This type of literature was popular from the mid 17th Century to the mid 18th century. 

The Bracelets is about two girls (Cecilia and Leonora) who are in contention to winning a bracelet.  It is awarded to Cecilia, but through carelessness and vanity, Cecilia's friends turn against her.  The girls at the school decide to have another contest.  A second bracelet will be given to the girl who is most loved. It looks like Leonora will win this one. 

While I enjoyed the plot of the story, it was difficult to swallow all the blatant religious overtones.  I realize that this was the method used back then to inspire the youth to follow what they learned at church, but I am not used to such an obvious manner of persuasion.  I'd rather read  between the lines and draw my own conclusions.

About the author  -

Maria Edgeworth was born in 1768 in Oxfordshire, England.  She was a  writer of childrens' and adult literature.  Her father's attention became fully focused on her in 1781 when she nearly lost her sight to an eye infection.  Returning home at the age of 14, she took charge of her many younger siblings and was home-tutored in law, Irish economics and politics, science, and literature by her father. Miss Edgeworth used her fictional stories to express her views of political and social issues of the time.  Castle Rackrent, Belinda, and The Absentee were Edgeworth's  most well-known works.  She never married. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Come Out of the Kitchen  -  1915
Alice Duer Miller
282 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

This is the second time in a row that I've researched into the book I'm getting ready to blog about and realized that it had been made into a movie.  Marguerite Clark and Eugene O'Brien star in the 1919 film of Come Out of the Kitchen, and then there is a second British made movie loosely based on the book called Spring in Park Lane.  It was filmed in 1948 with Michael Wilding and Anna Neagle starring as the main characters.

Mr. Burton Crane (the book says he is under 30) rents a house from "one of the most aristocratic families south of the Mason and Dixon's", with the understanding that it comes complete with four servants. The butler seems young for his job but looks like he will function very well. The cook is beautiful and cooks like a dream. The maid is rather sullen and ungracious. And the 'Useful Boy' is inclined to be impertinent.

Within a few days Burton moves into his leased home with his lawyer, his almost fiancee and her mother. It doesn't take very long for the servants to make life difficult for Burton with amusing results. But, boy, can the cook deliver some delicious dishes. And she's beautiful, sweet and nice to talk to.

This story is easy to read, and didn't seem too long. There were quite a few scenes that made me chuckle out loud.  I think I enjoyed reading the book more the second (and third) time.

About the author  -

Alice Duer Miller was born in New York City on July 28, 1874 in to a wealthy family.  At the time of her entrance into society, her family had lost most of its fortune. She helped pay for her expenses at Barnard College by selling novels, poems and short essays.

She scored her first real success with Come Out of the Kitchen.  In 1940, she wrote the verse novel The White Cliffs.  The poem was spectacularly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, eventually selling almost a million copies - an unheard of number for a book of verse. The story was made into the 1944 film The White Cliffs of Dover, starring Irene Dunne.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Firefly of France  -  1918
Marion Polk Angellotti
166 pages
genre  -  Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

This wonderful story was published in 6 editions of the Saturday Evening Post beginning Jan.12, 1918 as a serial novel.  The author dedicates her book to the memory of the heroic Georges Guynemer, 'The Ace of the Aces'. (see picture)  A movie was made based on this book starring Wallace Reid, Ann Little and Raymond Hatton.  It would be interesting to see if the movie closely follows the book.

The tale is about a 30-year-old man, Devereux Bayne, who is staying at a hotel in New York City. He will be leaving for Bordeaux the next morning. He plans on helping France in their war with the Germans by driving an ambulance. Mr. Bayne quickly gets caught up in some mysterious circumstances with a burglar, a beautiful young lady, smuggled papers in code and a menacing stranger.

I love the line in the book when Mr. Bayne sees the beautiful young lady, Esme Falconer, for the first time. He thinks to himself, "Well, all clouds have silver linings; some have golden ones with rainbow edges."

The Firefly of France reminds me of John Buchan's The 39 Steps. Both protagonists are pulled into events innocently, but manage to triumph against the odds. Ms. Angellotti certainly manages to tell a fantastic story.

About the author  -

Marion Polk Angellotti was born Nov. 12, 1887 in California.  She was the daughter of Frank Marion Angellotti and Emma Cornelia Clearey Angellotti.  Mr. Angellotti was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California from 1915 - 1921.  Marion made her debut into society at the age of 18, at a party at their home in her honor.

In 1911, Marion published her first book, Sir John Hawkwood, based on an English mercenary who was active in 14th century Italy.  There are 8 more stories about the same character published in Adventure magazine.  Her last book as Three Black Bags published in 1922.



Friday, March 15, 2013

The Gray Madam  -  1899
Anna Katharine Green
17 pages
genre - Mystery, short story
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

When I came across this book on Amazon, I had already read two of the author's works before and had thoroughly enjoyed them.  ( I will save those books for later.)  There was one review for The Gray Madam with the rating of 1 star.  The unsatisfied customer was complaining about paying $10 for a 13 page 'book'.  I was sure that the story itself would rate much higher than 1 star. 

And so I immediately acquired  the book.  It didn't take me long to read. (It's less than 20 pages, right?) Ms. Green didn't let me down; it's a wonderful tale.

The husband sees a strange woman dressed all in gray come out of his wife's bedroom. Who was she? How did she get in the room in the first place? Where did she go? To quote the first line in the story: "Was it a specter? For days I could not answer this question. I am no believer in spiritual manifestations, yet - But let me tell you my story." The husband does a little sleuthing and discovers the whole sad tale of the gray lady.

The story is a perfect length to read while you're waiting at the doctor's office. If you like ghostly gothic tales, you'll enjoy this.

About the author  -

Anna Katherine Green was an American mystery novelist, whose career stretched from 1878 all the way to 1923. Her first book, The Leavenworth Case (1878), was the first American best selling novel, selling a quarter of a million copies, and earning Green the title of "The Mother of the Detective Novel".  Agatha Christie records in her autobiography that Green's works helped inspire her to become a mystery writer. Mary Roberts Rinehart tells of a similar personal desire to publish her first mysteries from Green's books

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Enchanted Typewriter  -  1899
John Kendrick Bangs
71 pages
genre  -  Bangsian Fantasy
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

One morning the narrator (we never learn his name; I shall call him Mr. N) unearths an old 1870's type-writing apparatus from his attic. Mr. N has a wonderful time taking it apart and putting it back together. It receives a new ribbon and all the ink it can consume.

Several days later, Mr. N comes home from a night out and hears something that sounds like a click coming from the library. Here I quote one of my favorite lines from the book: "A man does not like to hear a click he cannot comprehend..." Mr. N assumes it is the click from a burglar's revolver.

It turns out that Mr. N has a very unusual typewriter and James Boswell, the editor of the Stygian Gazette, likes to use it to prepare the Sunday edition of the Gazette. Through Boswell we get to hear all about the goings-on in Hades. It makes for a very entertaining story!

This story is actually the 3rd in a series.
A House-Boat on the Styx (1895)
Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897)
The Enchanted Type-Writer (1899)
Mr. Munchausen: Being a True Account of Some of the Recent Adventures Beyond the Styx of the Late Hieronymus Carl Friedrich, Sometime Baron Munchausen of Bodenwerder (1901)

About the genre classification: Bangsian fantasy is described as "a fantasy of the afterlife in which the ghosts of various famous men and women come together and have various, usually genial, adventures" (Jess Nevins as quoted on Wikipedia).  Bangs is not the first to have written this style of fantasy, but his novellas gave it publicity.

About the author  -

John Kendrick Bangs was born in Yonkers, New York.  He went to Columbia University where he became editor of Columbia's literary magazine and contributed short anonymous pieces to humor magazines.  Bangs was an editor of Life magazine.  He also worked at Harper's Magazine, Harper's Bazaar and Harper's Young People.  Bangs was the first editor of Munsey's Magazine.  In 1904 he was appointed editor of Puck, perhaps the foremost American humor magazine of its day.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Miss Maitland Private Secretary
by Geraldine Bonner  -  1919
370 pages
genre  -  Mystery, Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

A list of the major characters:
Chapman Price - no good, an idler
Suzanne Price - selfish, spoiled
Bebita Price - their young daughter
Mrs. Janney - Suzanne's proud, wealthy mother
Mr. Janney - loves his new wife
Esther Maitland - Mrs. Janney's secretary
Dick Ferguson - a single gentleman, lives next door

At the beginning of the book, Chapman Price is being told to leave. His mother-in-law tells him his marriage to her daughter is over. Vacate the estate. Immediately. Chapman does leave, but with shouts and threats.  (See the above illustration from the printed book.)

Chapter one is devoted to introducing the cast, but it doesn't take long for events to slowly start to build; mysterious and threatening letters, meetings at night in the woods, a robbery, two sets of detectives, listening in on phone calls, and an abduction. And all this takes place on Long Island, New York.

With plenty of twist and turns, it takes everyone to figure out the mysteries and catch the bad guys. And all the loose ends do get tied up in the end. There was just enough detail to make the story believable, but not get bogged down. I never lost interest in the story.  The text of the story is centered on the screen of my Kindle. In other words, not left aligned like we're used to.

About the author  -

Geraldine Bonner was born in 1870 on Staten Island, New York.  As a young child, she moved to Colorado where the family lived in mining camps.  After moving to San Francisco, California, she worked for the Argonaut Newspaper.  Ms. Bonner wrote 8 books, 2 plays, and numerous short stories that were published in Collier's Weekly, Harper's Weekly, Harper's Monthly and Lippincott's.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The House by the Lock
by Mrs. C. N. Williamson  -  1906
313  pages
genre  -  Gothic, Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

This book has all the requirements for a gothic tale: a damsel in distress, a handsome adventurer, a clever villain, narrow escapes, visions, disguises and a thrilling ending.

Even the mansion owned by the villain is described as "gloomy and accursed".  The hero says, "Never, it seemed to me, had I seen a habitation so grim, so silently suggestive of haunting, evil things."  And of course the "wind moaned through the trees like the wail of a lost soul".

But I think the story crosses genres.  There is a lot more action than I suspect a typical gothic book would have. There's escaping from a burning building, fist fighting, and jumping onto a moving train.  And it's told from a male point of view.  So I would also call this an adventure story as well.

At the beginning of the story, Noel Stanton, our young adventurer, meets up with a friend from America. The friend invites Noel to the theater and at the show Noel sees a beautiful young lady, Karine Cunningham. With Karine are her guardians and a gentleman that seems very interested in being Karine's fiance. But Noel feels like he's met the potential fiance before. And Noel doesn't like him one bit!

The lock in the title of the story refers to the Mapledurham Lock on the River Thames. In the book it is called the Purley Lock. According to Wikipedia, "Despite its name, the lock is located in the Berkshire village and civil parish of Purley-On-Thames on the south bank of the river, rather than in the Oxfordshire village of Mapledurham on the other side of the river."

There are a couple minor formatting issues for the Kindle edition on Amazon. The page numbers show up in the middle of sentences. And for some italicized words, there are strange marking within the word; like a double dotted 'i', and upside down '?', and a '1/2'. But if you don't mind those, this is a very enjoyable, easy book to read.

About the author  -

Alice Muriel Williamson was a British author born in 1869.  She was only about 5 feet tall, a petite, graceful little figure, with English blue eyes and blonde hair.

She married Charles Norris Williamson in 1894.  They teamed up together to write under the name of Mrs. C. N. Williamson. There is an interview of Alice in the August 27, 1927  Morning Telegraph newspaper.  It reports that Mrs. Williamson says, "I wrote the plots for our stories, but he always planned our trips and made notes for me.  I consulted him on the way a man would do things. "Would a real man act as this man does under similar circumstances I would say, and Mr. Williamson would reply, 'No, my dear, he would not,' and then we would change the scene."

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Romance of An Old Fool
by Roswell Martin Field  -  1902
158 pages
genre  -  General Fiction
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars
Mr. John Stanhope describes himself: he was 'dangerously over forty, and my hair...was conspicuously gray in spots, my figure was good...I was still in a position to be in the matrimonial running if I tried".   John's estranged wife has been dead for a while now, and he's starting to think he might be lonely.  So John covertly looks around at the single ladies in the area. 

Which leads me to my favorite line in the story: "...the sixth [eligible lady] perished miserably after returning to me one of my most cherished books with the leaves dog-eared and  the binding cracked. For I hold with the greatest philosophers that she who maltreats a book will never make a good wife."

In an effort to avoid a card party, John goes out of town. He decides to visit the village where he grew up. He wanders around the area remembering people, places and events of his childhood. Most of all John reflects on his first love, Sylvia. He goes to Sylvia's old home and finds her older sister living there with Sylvia's orphaned daughter, Phyllis. There begins the romance.

This long novella is written in first person, so John is telling his own tale. The first three paragraphs are tedious and a bit confusing, but if you'll push on through them, the story begins to pick up and make sense.  There are three other reviews right now on Amazon, two with 4 stars and the other with just 1 star.

I'm still pondering the title. Why does John call himself an 'old fool'? Everyone deserves love, and at anytime in their lives. I don't think John can be blamed for trying to find affection and companionship.

About the author  -
Born and raised in Vermont, Roswell Martin Field became a well-respected lawyer early on in life. In 1825, at the age of 18, he was admitted to the bar in Vermont. Moving to St. Louis in 1839, his early practice dealt largely with land claims.  Roswell Field's greatest achievement is arguably his defense of Dred Scott, the enslaved man whose freedom case Field took on in the early 1850s.  This case would be noticed by a unknown lawyer in Illinois named Abraham Lincoln who would use it in his 1860 Presidential platform.