Friday, June 28, 2013

The Case of the Lamp That Went Out  -  1899
Augusta Groner
190 pages
genre  -  Mystery
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

At the beginning of this book there is an introduction to our detective, Joseph Muller.  I checked on Project Gutenberg.  The same intro is at the beginning of each of the five stories available.

It says Joseph Muller is "one of the great experts in his profession. In personality he differs greatly from other famous detectives. He has neither the impressive authority of Sherlock Holmes, nor the keen brilliancy of Monsieur Lecoq. Muller is a small, slight, plain-looking man, of indefinite age, and of much humbleness of mien."

And now for the mystery:

Anna, the pretty blonde girl who carried out the milk to the residents of several streets of Hietzing, Vienna, Austria, was making her deliveries on this clear September morning.  In a shallow ditch she sees the body of "a young and well dressed man, who lay there with his face turned toward the street.  And his face was the white frozen face of a corpse."  He had been shot in the back.

I enjoyed reading this story.  It kept my attention.  There were not a lot of drawn out paragraphs or long monologues.  It was interesting to watch Muller use various means to gather information and clues. 

There were a couple of points to the ending that I did not like or agree with.  I haven't figured out a way to share these issues without giving away spoilers.  If anyone who reads this book would like to talk about the ending, I would enjoy that.

About the author  - 

Augusta Groner was born in 1850 as the daughter of a government official in Vienna, Austria. From 1876 to 1905 she worked as an elementary school teacher. In 1879 she married the journalist Richard Groner.

In 1890 numerous detective stories and novels, some of which were translated into English and Scandinavian, were published.  Groner wrote the first detective series of German literature.  She used a more masculine version (Auguste) of her name as a pseudonym when she was writing crime fiction.

For her work, she was honored in 1893 by the Literary Department of the World Fair in Chicago.  

Augusta Groner died in Vienna in 1929.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Evelina's Garden  -  1899
Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
124 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

"When Evelina was a girl, not one of the young men of the village had dared address her.  She was set apart by birth and training, and also by exclusiveness of manner...Her father, old Squire Adams, had been the one man of wealth and college learning in the village."

There was one young man who caught her Evelina's eye, and he seemed to return her regard.  But he was shy and intimidated by her family's situation.  So he married someone else, and Evelina's heart was broken.  Evelina built a huge wall around her garden and became a recluse.

"When Evelina was nearly seventy years old...a young girl appeared...Nobody had seen her come to town, and nobody knew who she was or where she came from..."  This girl is "the image of Evelina in her youth."  And she is wearing one of Evelina's old gowns.

This novella was very well written and is almost poetic in its telling.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  I will definitely look for other works by this author. Pembroke is Freeman’s second novel. It was regarded as “the most profound, the most powerful piece of fiction of its kind that has ever come to the American press” by author Kate Chopin (1850-1904).

About the author  - 

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman was born on October 31, 1852 in Randolph, Massachusetts.  She attended Mount Holyoke College for one year.  Freeman's parents were orthodox Congregationalists, causing her to have a very strict childhood. She later finished her education at West Brattleboro Seminary.

Freeman began writing stories and verse for children while still a teenager to help support her family and was quickly successful. While working as secretary to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., she began writing poetry and novels.

When the supernatural caught her interest, the result was a group of short stories which combined domestic realism with the supernatural.  A few of Freeman's ghost stories are still anthologized, perhaps most notably "Luella Miller" and "The Wind in the Rose-Bush."  

At the age of 49, she married Dr. Charles M. Freeman of Metuchen, New Jersey.

In April 1926, Freeman became the first recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  In November of that year, Freeman joined Agnes Repplier, Margaret Deland and Edith Wharton as the first four women ever elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Freeman died March 13, 1930 and was interred in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Camera Fiend  -  1911
Ernest William Hornung
160 pages ?
genre -  Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Tony "Pocket" Upton is almost seventeen-years-old, a student at a resident school in England, and has suffered from asthma as long as he can remember.  Pocket makes regular overnight trips into London to meet with his doctor.  But this last trip is one that he'll always remember.

Even though the book is written about a teenager, it felt like it was meant for adults.  There are so many twists and turns and surprises in this story.  Very suspenseful.  The author did a very good job of slowly deepening the plot and pulling me into the story.

And I learned a some new things:

* myrmidon - a member of a legendary Thessalian people who accompanied their king Achilles in the Trojan War; or  a loyal follower, especially one who executes orders unquestioningly

* asthma cigarettes were used to deliver alkaloids with bronchodilator properties. They were sold commercially for asthma treatment until just before the middle of the 20th century

* stereoscopic camera - a special purpose camera for amateurs to take 3D photos
I'm not sure how many pages this book is.  Amazon says that their ebook is 160 pages, but it seemed much longer than that.  If you are reading Amazon's ebook, you'll see the page numbers in the middle of the sentences.  The last page is 319. says their ebook is 206 pages.  Dodo Press's printed book is 222 pages. 
About the author  -
Ernest William Hornung was born June 7, 1866 in Middlesbrough, England, son of John Peter Hornung, who was born in Hungary.
Hornung spent most of his life in England and France, but for two years he worked as a tutor in New South Wales, Australia.  Although his Australian experience was brief, it influenced most of his literary work.  Nearly two-thirds of his 30 published novels make reference to Australian incidents and experiences.
Hornung married Constance Doyle, the sister of his friend Arthur Conan Doyle on 27 September 1893. Hornung worked as a journalist.
The stories of  A. J. Raffles, a "gentleman thief", were published first in Cassell's Magazine during 1898 and the stories were later collected as The Amateur Cracksman (1899). Other stories of the series include The Black Mask (1901), A Thief in the Night (1905), and the full-length novel Mr. Justice Raffles (1909). Hornung also co-wrote the play Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman in 1903.
Hornung died in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, in the south of France on 22 March 1921.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Abbot's Ghost  -  1867
Louisa May Alcott
76 pages
genre  - General Fiction
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

This is the second post in a row where I am reviewing a lesser known work by a famous author.  If you have a favorite old book, chances are the author wrote others as well, and you might enjoy those books too.

Louisa May Alcott is best known for her book, Little Women, which was published in 1868.  Alcott had already written ten other books by that time, three of them under the name of A. M. Barnard.  The Abbot's Ghost Or, Maurice Treherne's Temptation A Christmas Story was published with that nom de plume.

List of major characters:
Sir Jasper - a young man who recently inherited a title, estate and money
Miss Octavia - his younger sister
Maurice - their invalid cousin, loves Octavia
Frank Annon - a suitor for Octavia
General Snowdon - elderly, but newlywed
Edith Snowdon - his young and beautiful wife

Friends and family gather at an English manor home at Christmas time. There are several plots: the romance of Octavia, the revenge of a lady, and the terrible secret between Jasper and Maurice. The story kept my interest for the most part. There was a good ratio of conversation and description. It did tend to bog down towards the end when everyone gathered around the fire to tell ghost stories.

My favorite line from the book?  "Human minds are more mysterious than any written book and more changeable than cloud shapes in the air."

I did struggle deciding which genre this story would be.  There was more drama than romance, and then, of course, the ghost.

There is a minor formatting issue with Amazon's ebook.  A tiny box inside a word - "paying his respects to Madame M * re, as his hostess was called by her family" and other such markings are throughout the book.

About the author  -

Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832, in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on her father's 33rd birthday.  She was the second of four daughters.  Alcott's early education included lessons from Henry David Thoreau, but she received the majority of her schooling from her father.  She also received some instruction from writers and educators such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends.

Poverty made it necessary for Alcott to go to work at an early age as an occasional teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and writer.  Her first book was Flower Fables (1849), a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In Little Women, Alcott based her heroine "Jo" on herself. Where Jo marries at the end of the story, Alcott remained single throughout her life. 

Alcott died at age 55 of a stroke in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 6, 1888, two days after her father's death.  She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, near Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, on a hillside now known as "Authors' Ridge".

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Fair Barbarian  -  1881
Frances Hodgson Burnett
156 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  5 out of 5 stars

This is the first rating of  5 stars I have given since I started this blog.  I have to admit that Burnett is one of my favorite authors, but I sincerely enjoyed reading this story.  And I couldn't find any faults with it.  I would like to hear from any of you and how you would rate this book.

The town of "Slowbridge had been shaken to its foundations.  It may as well be explained...that it would not take much of a sensation to give Slowbridge a great shock."  You see, Slowbridge is used to being even and respectable, regarding the outside world with distrust.  "...tea-parties were Slowbridge's only dissipation..."

"It was Miss Belinda Bassett who received the first shock..." Who shows up at her door one morning?  Her 19-year-old niece from Nevada, America, Miss Octavia Bassett, the prettiest, the most extraordinary-looking, stylish young lady Miss Belinda had ever seen. 

Octavia is used to directing her own affairs, wears several diamond rings, and admits to being spoiled by her father.  Octavia's unique attitude and excessive frankness stuns the neighborhood.  It was quite amusing to watch how everyone in Slowbridge deals with their new resident.  I lost count how many times I had a grin on my face as I read this book.

Burnett is best known for her children's books:  A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy.

About the author  - 

Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett was born 24 November, 1849  in Cheetham, near Manchester, England. When her father died three years later, the family had severe financial difficulties. In 1865 they emigrated to the United States, settling near Knoxville, Tennessee. There, Frances began writing to help earn money for the family, publishing stories in magazines from the age of 19.

In 1870 Frances's mother died and in 1872 she married Swan Burnett. They lived in Paris for two years while Swan studied to become a doctor.  Their two sons were born there.  After the second son was born, they returned to the US to live in Washington DC.  She began to write novels to help support her new family.  She was a popular writer of children's fiction, although her romantic adult novels written in the 1890s were also popular.

Burnett enjoyed socializing and lived a lavish lifestyle. Beginning in the 1880s, she began to travel to England frequently and bought a home there. Her oldest son, Lionel, died of tuberculosis in 1892, which caused a relapse of the depression she struggled with for much of her life.

Frances divorced Swan Burnett in 1898 and married Stephen Townsend in 1900, and divorced him in 1902. Towards the end of her life she settled in Long Island, where she died in 1924.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Inchcape Rock  -  1820
Robert Southey
17 stanzas, 68 lines
genre  - poetry
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Inchcape (or the Bell Rock) is a notorious reef off the east coast of Scotland, near Dundee and Fife.  According to legend, the rock is called Bell Rock because of a 14th century attempt by the abbot from Arbroath ("Aberbrothock") to install a warning bell on it. 

"No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
The Ship was still as she could be;
Her sails from heaven received no motion,
Her keel was steady in the ocean."

Who knows how long Sir Ralph the Rover's ship has been becalmed there off the coast of Scotland.  Long enough for him to think of some mischief to perform.  If 'no good deed goes unpunished', just imagine what a naughty deed will do.

Considering this poem was written almost 200 hundred years ago, it is remarkably easy to read.

About the author  -

Robert Southey was born 12 August 1774 in Bristol, England, to Robert Southey and Margaret Hill and educated at Westminster School, London.  After experimenting with a writing partnership with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he published his first collection of poems in 1794.

Southey married Edith Fricker on 14 November 1795. She was the sister of Coleridge's wife, Sara Fricker. The Southeys set up home at Greta Hall, in the Lake District, living on a tiny income. Also living at Greta Hall with Southey and supported by him were Sara Coleridge and her three children following their abandonment by Coleridge and the widow of fellow poet Robert Lovell and her son.

From 1809, Southey contributed to the Quarterly Review, and had become so well known by 1813 that he was appointed Poet Laureate after Walter Scott refused the post.

In 1838, Edith died and Southey married Caroline Anne Bowles, also a poet, on June 4, 1839.  He died on 23 March 1843 and is buried in the churchyard of Crosthwaite Church, Keswick.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Across the Mesa  -  1922
Helen F. Bagg
209 pages
genre  -  Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Twenty-four year-old Polly Street of Chicago has three grievances:
1) she is driving an electric car.  "Her soul yearned for a gas car."
2) her brother, Bob, is getting married in Arizona.  And her family wasn't going.
3) her ex-fiancé of one week had already asked someone else to the Mandarin Ball.

The only one Polly has control over was going to Arizona.  So she decides to travel to her brother's mine in the northern part of Mexico, and then go with him to Douglas, Arizona for his wedding.  But Polly's letter informing Bob of her plans doesn't reach Mexico in time.

Polly has some wonderful adventures: shoot outs, a charming Mexican officer, hiding in a small cave, sleeping under the stars, midnight horse rides, avoiding a revolution, and looking for treasure.

Marc Scott, the assistant superintendent at the mine thinks "women have endurance, I'll say they have.  Built like Angora kittens, and with the constitutions of beef critters."

My favorite line in the book is "I guess I'm like Grandfather Street was in his religion.  He thought the Baptists were wonderful until he joined them and then the Presbyterians looked more interesting to him.  After he'd been with them a while he couldn't see how anybody could be a Presbyterian, so he joined the Unitarians.  People thought he was a turncoat, but he wasn't - he was just a sort of religious Mormon.  One church wasn't enough for him."

About the author  -

I couldn't find anything about Helen F. Bagg other than she sometimes used "Jarvis Hall' as a pseudonym. I saw at least 10 books and plays attributed to her.

About the illustrator  -

Henry Clarence Pitz was born June 16, 1895 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His father was a bookbinder who immigrated from Germany.  Pitz graduated from West Philadelphia High School and was awarded a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. There he studied illustration.

In the 1930s Pitz joined the monthly magazine American Artist as an associate editor and writer and was a regular contributor to the magazine for the rest of his life. Pitz also became a teacher at the Museum School.

In the 1960s Pitz was commissioned by Houghton, Mifflin and Company to write The Brandywine School which remained on the best seller list for ten weeks. Pitz published a comprehensive book on his favorite illustrator, Howard Pyle.

Pitz resided at 3 Cornelia Place in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. He died on November 26, 1976.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Cathedral Courtship  -  1893
Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin
48 pages
genre  - Romance
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

American-born Katharine and her elderly Aunt Celia are on a tour of England to see its famous cathedral churches. While visiting the Winchester Cathedral, an architect (Jack Copley) sees the two ladies and is smitten with the lovely Katharine. Of course, in those days you just don't introduce yourself. Luckily for Jack, Katharine drops a copy of their itinerary and he is able to follow the pair from town to town in hopes of getting to know Katharine. It's amazing the lengths Jack is willing to go to in order to be with her.

Katherine and Aunt Celia's third stop is in Bath.  My favorite part of the story is when Jack anonymously sends Katherine of copy of Jane Austen's Persuasion.  "...I had forgotten that the scene is partly laid in Bath, and now I can follow dear Anne and vain Sir Walter, hateful Elizabeth and scheming Mrs. Clay through Camden Place and Bath Street, Union Street, Milsom Street and the Pump Yard...I wonder if Anne herself was any more excited than I?"

The story is written in the first person perspective.  Each chapter is titled "She" or "He" depending on whose viewpoint it is.

There is formatting trouble with the Amazon ebook. The preface is right aligned and the main story center aligned with the page numbers in the middle of the sentences. I would suggest using Project Gutenberg to read this delightful tale.   No formatting issues,  you can see the wonderful illustrations, and read the interesting preface.

About the author  -

Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin was born Sept. 28, 1856 in Philadelphia, the daughter Robert N. Smith, a lawyer.  Her education was spotty, consisting of a short stint at a "dame school", some home schooling, a brief spell at the district school, a year as a boarder at the Gorham Female Seminary, a winter term at Morison Academy in Maryland, and a few months' stay at Abbot Academy, Massachusetts.

In 1873, the family moved to California. A kindergarten training class was opening in Los Angeles, and Kate enrolled. After graduation, in 1878, she headed the first free kindergarten in California, in the slums of San Francisco. The children were "street Arabs of the wildest type", but Kate had a loving personality and dramatic flair. By 1880 she was forming a teacher-training school in conjunction with her kindergarten.

In 1881, Kate married (Samuel) Bradley Wiggin, a San Francisco lawyer.  Ironically, considering her intense love of children, Wiggin had none. The Wiggins moved to New York City in 1888. When her husband died suddenly in 1889, Kate relocated to Maine.

In 1895, Kate Wiggin married a New York City businessman, George Christopher Riggs, who became a staunch supporter as her success grew.  She wrote the classic children's novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1903, as well as the 1905 best-seller Rose o' the River.

Wiggin became ill and died, at age 66, of bronchial pneumonia. At her request, her ashes were taken to Maine and scattered over the Saco River.