Friday, May 31, 2013

The Unknown Wrestler  -  1918
Hiram Alfred Cody
250 pages
genre  - Inspirational Fiction
my rating  - 4 out of 5 stars

Douglas Stanton has worked as a curate in the city now for two years, focusing his efforts on the poor and needy.  But he is fed up with the hypocrisy and bureaucracy from his leaders, and is ready to quit.  In a final meeting with the rector, Douglas is told about the troubled parish of Rixton.  It has not had a clergyman for some time now.  They want Douglas to go serve there.

Douglas decides to arrive in the parish of Rixton disguised as a farm hand, to see what kind of difficulty the area is having, and what would be the best way to help the people there.  And boy, does he find out quick!

The author did a good job of making the characters come to life.  And it was easy to tell that the author was a clergyman himself.  There were a few times where the author couldn't help inserting a sermon into the story:

"...take a page from the life of the little bee.  People as a rule think that it gets honey right from the flower.  They are mistaken.  All it gets is a little sweet water.  But it takes that water, retires, adds something to it from itself, and by a process of its own makes it into honey...go to the Bible as the bee to the flower, and 'read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest'. Thus, through a process of his own, he is to bring forth the real spiritual honey..."

About the author  - 

Hiram Alfred Cody was born 3 July, 1872, in Codys, New Brunswick, Canada.   He was the only son of Loretta and George Redmond Cody.  For his early education, Cody attended a one-room schoolhouse in Thornetown.  After taking Latin lessons from the rector of the Parish Church at English Settlement, Cody became enamored of what the church had to offer.

Cody was ordained deacon at Christ Church Cathedral in Fredericton, NB. As a young Anglican priest, he responded to a call from the Yukon to minister to natives at Whitehorse. Shortly after his marriage to Jessie M. Flewelling, the couple arrived in Whitehorse in the fall of 1904. In 1909, Cody and his wife returned to Saint John, where he preached in St. James’ Church. He spent thirty-three years in the church.

 In 1942, Cody retired from the ministry and started to write his autobiography. He never got to finish it because of a stroke in 1948. The following lines sum up his life: “My ideal of life as a boy was one of adventure in which a married man and a clergyman had no part. I have long since found out my mistake, for I have learned by experience that married life, as well as the ministry, will supply adventures sufficient for one lifetime.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Gold Hunter's Experience  -  1898
Chalkey J. Hambleton
122 pages
genre  -  Memoir
my rating  - 3 out of 5 stars

"Early in the summer of 1860 I had a bad attack of gold fever...Gold had been discovered in the fall of 1858 in the vicinity of Pike's Peak...[the stories of returning miners] were fed out to the public daily in an appetizing way by the newspapers. The result was that by the next spring the epidemic became as prevalent in Chicago as cholera was a few years later."

Mr. Hambleton formed a partnership with three other individuals, raised $9,000 dollars and started gathering the equipment, supplies and men needed to furnish a mining outfit headed for Colorado.  

He tells all kinds of stories about driving young oxen, passing through millions of 'buffalo', meeting with the Native Americans in that area, food on the trail, prairie dogs and wolves, and information about prospecting and the fascinating miners that he met, including a young George M. Pullman.

About halfway to Colorado "We also began to meet the vanguard of the returning army of disappointed gold seekers...many of them were a sorry, ragged looking lot....[they] told sad stories about life in the mountains, the prospects and the danger from Indians on the road....Some of these chaps showed a humorous vein in the mottoes painted on the sides of their wagons. On one was "Pike's Peak or bust," evidently written on going out; under it was written, "Busted."

I love how he concluded his memoir: "In summing up the losses and gains of the expedition, I have to charge on one side two years and four months of time devoted to hard work, with many privations, and about $500 in cash which I was out of pocket.

On the other side, I had built up a fine constitution, increased in strength and endurance, gained valuable business experience, learned in a measure to persevere under difficulties, and to bear with patience and fortitude the back-sets, reverses and disappointments that so often beset...Did the enterprise pay?"

A special 'thank you' to the volunteer at LibriVox for taking the time to record this book.  While I could tell she was not a professionally trained vocalist, she did a fine job.

About the author  - 

I could find very little about Hambleton.  He was a prominent Chicago lawyer, real estate developer, and a member of the Chicago Board of Education. He wrote this candid account for family and friends, publishing it privately in 1898.

Friday, May 24, 2013

My Lady Caprice  -  1907
reissued in 1912 as The Chronicles of the Imp
John Jeffery Farnol
140 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

When Elizabeth's aunt asks Richard (Dick) Brent to allow her niece six months space "to give dear Elizabeth time to learn her own heart", Dick reluctantly agrees.  A week later Dick learns that the aunt really wants her choice of a suitor for Elizabeth time to woo the girl.  So Dick immediately leaves for the country and rents a room at an inn to be near Elizabeth. 

But the first person Dick meets in the area is Elizabeth's 8-year-old nephew, whose nickname is Imp.  Imp has a wonderful imagination; he loves to act out roles from his favorite books: Robin Hood, Aladdin, Long John Silver and Camelot.  And the Imp is always looking for a willing sidekick.

Dick quickly realizes that the way to his girl's heart is through this precocious child.  What grand adventures they have. 

I hope you are lucky enough to read this charming book with the beautiful illustrations.  They are by Charlotte Weber Ditzler.

About the author  - 

John Jeffery Farnol was born 10 February, 1878,  in Aston, Birmingham, and brought up in London and Kent. He attended the Westminster Art School, after he had lost his job in a Birmingham metal-working firm.

In 1900, he married Blanche Hawley, daughter of the noted New York scenic artist Hughson Hawley. They moved to the United States, where he found work as a scene painter.

The success of his early novels led Farnol to become a professional writer; he returned to England around 1910, and settled on the south coast. He produced around 40 novels, and some non-fiction and children's books. He, with Georgette Heyer, founded the Regency romantic genre.

He died 9 August 1952 after a long battle with cancer. His last book was completed by his second wife Phyllis, whom he had married in 1938.

If you want to know more about this author and his works, check out the Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Boarded-Up House  -  1915
Augusta Huiell Seaman
89 pages
genre  - Mystery, Young Adult
 my rating  - 3 out of 5 stars

Cynthia and Joyce have been best friends since kindergarten.  They even live next door to each other.  Well, except for the old boarded-up house between theirs.  It was a "...big, rambling affair of the Colonial type, with three tall pillars supporting the veranda roof and reaching above the second story...The place had been without an occupant for years."

The two young ladies are sitting on Cynthia's front porch one afternoon when they see a dog chase Joyce's cat towards the boarded-up house.  The dog soon wanders away.  The girls walk over to check on the cat, when they spy an open window into the cellar.  Looking for an adventure, the girls decide to climb in the window and snoop around. 

As they enter the dining-room, there is a mystery waiting for them.  "The table was still set with dishes...And the chairs about it were all pushed awry, and some were overturned.  Napkins, yellowed with age, were fallen about, dropped apparently in sudden forgetfulness.  The china and glassware stood as they had been left."

It takes awhile, but the girls do figure out what happened.  The story was easy to read, and it kept my attention.  But I have never cared for stories that rely on coincidence and leave out vital information to the readers.

About the author  - 

Augusta Curtiss Huiell was born in New York City, on April 3, 1879, the daughter of the bookkeeper John Valentine Huiell and his third wife, Anna Curtiss. Augusta's mother died in 1888. She graduated from Normal College (later renamed Hunter College) in New York City in 1900 and went on to teach elementary school.  She married Robert Seaman in 1906.

Following her marriage, she devoted her time to writing children's books.  Seaman wrote 42 books beginning in 1910 through 1949.  A few of Seaman's books have been reprinted, but many remain out of print. The rarest of her books are much sought after by collectors.

Her only child, Helen Roberta (Bobbie) was born in 1915. Robert died in 1927. In 1928 she married her second husband, Francis Parkman Freeman, foreman of the Phipps estate in Island Beach, New Jersey, the setting for several of her later books.

While living in Island Beach, Augusta held various offices in the local government, including Borough clerk, Tax Collector, and Borough Registrar.

She died at her home on Island Beach on June 4, 1950. She was 71.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Paying Guest  -  1895
George Gissing
70 pages
genre  -  General Fiction
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

In an effort to put money away for a rainy day or retirement, Mr. Clarence Mumford mentions to his wife that he saw an advertisement in the newspaper.

 "A YOUNG LADY desires to find a home with respectable, well-connected family, in a suburb of London...Can give excellent references. Terms not so much a consideration as comfort and pleasant society."

After discussing the idea, they decide to respond to the advertisement. A week passes before they hear from Miss Louise Derrick.  Mrs. Mumford meets with Louise, and it is agreed that Louise will move into the Mumford home in a few days.

What follows is typical teenage drama, either a hundred years ago or now.  The Mumford's first clue that their boarder was going to be trouble should have been when Louise admits she has a temper and has been arguing with her mother, stepsister, and boyfriend.  Introduce a second love interest, trips into London for shopping, staying out until late and you have a lot more turmoil.

The story was easy to read, but there wasn't much depth to the characters or plot.  I enjoyed reading the tale, but I won't read it again.  Maybe the author's other works are better. 

About the author  - 

George Gissing was born on 22 November 1857 in Yorkshire, England.  Gissing's father died when he was 12 years old, and he and his brothers were sent to a boarding school.   In 1872, after an exceptional performance in the Oxford Local Examinations, Gissing won a scholarship to Owens College.

Gissing's academic career ended in disgrace when he fell in love with a young prostitute, Marianne Harrison. He gave her money in an attempt to keep her off the streets and when funds ran short he stole from his fellow students. Gissing was prosecuted, found guilty, expelled, and sentenced to a month's hard labor in Belle Vue Gaol.

After serving his time, he travelled to the United States, where he spent time writing and teaching.  In 1877, Gissing returned to England.  He found and married Marianne 2 years later. They separated in 1884, although Gissing continued to support her financially until her alcohol-related death in 1888.

On 25 February 1891, Gissing married Edith Underwood. The marriage was not successful. Edith was prone to fits of temper and violence.  The couple separated in 1897; in 1902, Edith was certified insane and was confined to an asylum.

In July 1898, he met Gabrielle Fleury. Ten months later, they became partners in a common-law marriage as Gissing was unable to divorce Edith. They moved to France.  Gissing died from emphysema on 28 December 1903 after catching a chill on an ill-advised winter walk.

Gissing once said of himself, 'I carry a desert with me'.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cupid's Understudy  -  1909
Edward Salisbury Field
128 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

After spending several years in Paris, Elizabeth Middleton of southern California, finally returns to the United States by steamship, where her father is waiting for her. And like many of us today, Elizabeth struggles to get through Customs.  She is missing 2 of her 7 trunks. 

To their rescue comes "a good-looking young man; tall and broad-shouldered and fair, with light-brown hair, and the nicest eyes you ever saw."  His name is  Mr. Blakely Porter.  Mr. Porter had been on the ship with Elizabeth.  "He noticed me a lot on the boat..., but he didn't try to scrape acquaintance with me. He worshipped from afar."

When Mr. Middleton discovers that Blakely is going to California , he invites Blakely to travel with them in their private boxcar.  That certainly gives the young couple time to get to know each other.  The rest of the story is an amusing tale of Blakeley overcoming his mother's snobbishness. 

About the author  -

Edward "Ned" Salisbury Field was born February 28, 1878 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Edward and Sarah Hubbard Field.  Edward was an employee and friend of William Randolf Hearst where he made drawings for Hearst newspapers, signing his drawings "Childe Harold".

As a young news man in his 20s, Field became the secretary of Fanny Stevenson, the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson. After Fanny's death in 1914, Field married her daughter Isobel Osbourne, who was 20 years his senior. Field became a successful Southern California real estate developer. In the 1920s oil was discovered on some of his property which made them wealthy.

Field died September 20, 1936, at Zaca Lake, California. He was 58 years old.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Man Who Lost Himself  -  1917
Henry De Vere Stacpoole
301 pages
genre  -  Adventure
my rating  - 4 out of 5 stars

Victor Jones, of Philadelphia, has been in London now for 3 weeks.  It should have only taken one week to secure the contract for his fledging business, but a different company won the bid.  Victor has less than ten pounds in his pocket, he owes money to the hotel and he has no idea how he will pay for his return passage to the United States.

Victor sees "a very well dressed man of his own age and build" come into the bar at the hotel.  "This man's face seemed quite familiar to him, so much so that he started to rise and greet him.  The stranger, also, seemed for a second under the same obsession, but only for a second; he made a half pause and then passed on..." 

The two men are identical.  "The same...colour of hair, the same features, shape of head, ears and colour of eyes, the same serious expression of countenance."  What follows is a fantastic tale of mistaken identity, blackmail, daring escapes and a certain lovely lady.  The author did a wonderful job of inserting humor at certain points in the story for comic relief.

My favorite line in the book is:  "...he was presently rewarded with the sight of the present day disgrace of England.  Out of the bathing tent, and into the full sunlight, came a girl with nothing on, for skin tight blue stockinette is nothing in the eyes of Modesty; every elevation, every depression, every crease in her shameless anatomy exposed to a hundred pairs of eyes...'That girl in blue.  Don't any of them wear decent clothing?' (Victor asks the gentleman seated next to him.)...'The scraggy ones do,' replied the other..."

About the author  -

Henry De Vere Stacpoole was born 9 April, 1863 in Kingstown, Ireland.  His father was William C. Stacpoole, a teacher at Trinity College and headmaster of Kingstown school and Charlotte Augusta Mountjoy of Canada. Henry had chronic bronchitis as a child, so, in 1871 he, his mother and three sisters moved to Nice, France, for his health.

Henry attended Malvern College in London, studying literature and writing. He studied medicine next at St. George's Hospital, then University College and finally finishing his degree at St. Mary's Hospital.

A ship's doctor for more than forty years, Stacpoole was an expert on the South Pacific islands. His books frequently contained detailed descriptions of the natural life and civilizations with which he had become familiar on those islands.  His best known work is the 1908 romance novel The Blue Lagoon. He also wrote under the pseudonym Tyler De Saix.

Stacpoole married Margaret Robson on 17 December, 1907. The Stacpoole family moved to the Isle of Wight in the 1920s and lived there until his death. He was buried at Bonchurch in 1951.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Man From Snowy River  -  1890
Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson
13 stanzas, 104 lines
genre  - poetry
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

I often regret that I do not read much poetry.  But what kind of poems would be good to begin with?  After thinking about it for awhile, I came to the conclusion that it would be easiest to start with literary ballads or narrative poems. 

According to Wikipedia:  "...most ballads are narrative in nature, with a self-contained story..."  (Coincidentally, the Wikipedia article about ballads features a section concerning bush ballads and shows a cover of Banjo Paterson's 1905 Old Bush Ballads.)

Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were writing for the Sydney Bulletin in 1892 when Lawson suggested a 'duel' of poetry to increase the number of poems they could sell to the paper. The Man From Snowy River was a result of the 'duel'.

The poem about a colt that has escaped its paddock and is now running with the 'brumbies'  and the owner's effort to get the horse back.  All the crack riders have assembled to try to recapture the expensive horse.  Among those gathered is a young man.

'He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
    Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,'

Mount Kosciuszko is the highest mountain in Australia, with a height of 7,310 ft.  Eugene Von Guerard painted this about 30 years before Paterson wrote The Man From Snowy River.

About the author  - 

Andrew Barton Paterson was born 17 February 1864 in New South Wales.  Paterson's early education came from a governess, but when he was able to ride a pony, he was taught at the bush school at Binalong. In 1874 Paterson was sent to Sydney Grammar School.  At 16, he became a clerk in a law firm and in 1886 Paterson was admitted as a qualified solicitor.

In 1885, Paterson began submitting and having his poetry published in the Sydney edition of The Bulletin under the pseudonym of "The Banjo", the name of a favorite horse.

Paterson became a war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age during the Second Boer War, sailing for South Africa in October 1899. His graphic accounts attracted the attention of the press in Britain.  He was editor of the Sydney Evening News (1904–06) and of the Town and Country Journal (1907–08).

On 1903 he married Alice Emily Walker. The Patersons had two children, Grace and Hugh.  Paterson died of a heart attack on 5 February 1941 at the age of 76.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dawn O'Hara, the Girl Who Laughed  -  1911
Edna Ferber
152 pages
genre  -  Women's Fiction
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

I made the mistake of reading a review of this book someone had left on Amazon.  What that person wrote was so well said that it's easier to quote that review than trying to rephrase it in my own words.

"How can it be possible that Edna Ferber wrote this book over 100 years ago? She had to be so cutting edge at the time, because the story of Dawn O'Hara is valid even today. Or, perhaps, our lives really are not so different from the lives of yesterday."  by Stay Curious (CA, USA)  June 4, 2012

Twenty-eight year-old Dawn O'Hara has suffered a complete physical and nervous collapse.  The doctor insists that she leave her job ("Newspaper reporting, h'm?  In New York?  That's a devil of a job for a woman.") and convalesce at her sister's house in Wisconsin.  For at least 6 months.

And here's a quote from the book concerning the Girl Who Laughed part of the title: "Surely you would not have me take myself seriously!  That's another debt I owe my Irish forefathers.  They could laugh - bless 'em! - in the very teeth of a potato crop failure.  And let me tell you, that takes some humor...I'll squeeze a smile out of the corner of my mouth, somehow."

The author did a wonderful job of bringing this incredible woman and other characters in the book to life.  I really came to care for them.  And is Milwaukee really as German as Ferber has portrayed it?

About the author  -

Ferber was born August 15, 1885 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a Hungarian-born Jewish storekeeper and his Wisconsin-born wife, Jacob and Julia (Neumann) Ferber. Edna graduated from high school in Appleton, Wisconsin and briefly attended Lawrence University. She took newspaper jobs at the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal before publishing her first novel.

In 1925, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book So Big. Three of her works – Show Boat, Saratoga Trunk and Giant – have been developed into musicals.

Ferber never married.  In her novel Dawn O'Hara, the title character's aunt is said to have remarked, "Being an old maid was a great deal like death by drowning – a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling."  Ferber died at her home in New York City, of stomach cancer, at the age of 82.