Monday, September 30, 2013

The Red House Mystery  -  1922
A. A. Milne
216 pages
genre  - Mystery
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

It took me three times to get past the beginning of this book.  It seemed slow and confusing.  But I'm glad I persevered.   It's a great story.

Mr. Antony Gillingham "had come to Waldheim [which is somewhere in England] for a holiday".  Antony was an thirty-year-old attractive man, with "a clean-cut, clean-shaven face", and "a pair of grey eyes which seemed to be absorbing every detail".

When Antony hears that The Red House is only a mile away from his inn, he decides to go visit his good friend Bill Beverley, who he knows is staying at The Red House. 

As Antony approaches the open front door of the house, he sees a man in the hall "banging at a locked door, and shouting 'Open the door, I say; open the door!' "  The man tells Antony that he had heard a loud bang come from inside the study.  When they finally manage to get into the room, they find a man shot between the eyes. 

Later that evening as Antony was pondering the day's disturbing events, "He laughed suddenly, and lit his pipe.  'I was wanting a new profession,' he thought, 'and now I've found it.  Antony Gillingham, our own private sleuthhound.  I shall begin today.' "

Antony recruits his friend Bill to be his 'Watson' and together they solve the mystery.

About the author  - 

Alan Alexander Milne was born in Hampstead, London to parents Vince Milne and Sarah Marie Heginbotham and grew up at Henley House School, a small public school run by his father. One of his teachers was H. G. Wells, who taught there in 1889–90.  Milne attended Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied on a mathematics scholarship.

While at Cambridge, he edited and wrote for Granta, a student magazine. Milne's work came to the attention of the leading British humor magazine Punch, where he was to become a contributor and later, an assistant editor.

Milne married Dorothy de Sélincourt in 1913, and their only son, Christopher Robin Milne, was born in 1920. In 1925, A. A. Milne bought a country home in Hartfield, East Sussex.  He retired to the farm after a stroke and brain surgery in 1952.  Milne died in January 1956, at the age of 74.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Three Margarets  -  1897
Laura E. Richards
106 pages
genre  -  Young Adult
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

Three cousins are asked to spend the summer at their uncle's house on Long Island, NY.  These three young ladies have never met each other, and their lives are completely different from the others.  But they are cousins and they all have the same name:  Margaret Montfort. (They have been named after their grandmother.)

Rita is the oldest and comes from Cuba.  Her mother was Spanish, and Rita's temperament is as fiery as you can imagine.  Margaret is next in age, is from the American Northeast, is an only child and a recent orphan.  Peggy is the youngest, is from the wild, wild West, lives on a ranch and is one of nine children.

While it was interesting to see how Margaret managed her two cousins, nothing too exciting happens, except for some drama in the end.  And it ended just how I thought it would.  According to Wikipedia, Three Margarets is the first of six books:

  • Three Margarets (1897)
  • Margaret Montfort (1898)
  • Peggy (1899)
  • Rita (1900)
  • Fernley House (1901)
  • The Merryweathers (1904)

  • My favorite line in the book?  "...during the clear, calm days and years...we ought to be, laying by, as it were; storing up light and strength and happiness for the dark days when we may so deeply need them."

    About the author  -

    Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards (February 27, 1850 – January 14, 1943) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to a high-profile family. During her life, she wrote over 90 books, including children's, biographies, poetry, and others. Her father was Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Julia Ward Howe, Laura's mother, was famous for writing the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    In 1871, Laura married Henry Richards. He would accept a management position in 1876 at his family's paper mill at Gardiner, Maine, where the couple moved with their three children.

    In 1917, Laura won a Pulitzer Prize for Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, a biography, which she co-authored with her sister, Maud Howe Elliott.

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    The Height of the Ridiculous  -  1830
    Oliver Wendell Holmes
    8 stanzas, 32 lines
    genre  -  poetry
    my rating  -  5 out of 5 stars

    What would the result be if you could write as funny as you could?  I imagine that it wouldn't be as powerful and dramatic as what happens in this Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem.

    "I wrote some lines once on a time
    In wondrous merry mood,
    And thought, as usual, men would say
    They were exceeding good.

    "I called my servant, and he came...

    "He took the paper, and I watched,
    And saw him peep within;
    At the first line he read, his face
    Was all upon the grin."

    You'll have to read the poem to find out what happened to that poor, poor man.

    1830 proved to be an important year for Holmes as a poet.  He began writing poetry for his own amusement. Before the end of the year, he had produced over fifty poems, contributing twenty-five of them to The Collegian, a short-lived publication started by friends from Harvard.

    About the author  -

    Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1809.  He was the first son of Abiel Holmes and Sarah Wendell.  Holmes attended Phillips Academy at the age of 15.  Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, Holmes was accepted at Harvard College. 

    Holmes intended to go into the legal profession.  By January 1830, however, he was disenchanted with legal studies.  Holmes switched to medicine.  He was awarded his M.D. from Harvard in 1836.

    On June 15, 1840, Holmes married Amelia Lee Jackson. They had three children: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Amelia Jackson Holmes, and Edward Jackson Holmes.

    Holmes died quietly after falling asleep in the afternoon of Sunday, October 7, 1894. As his son Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote, "His death was as peaceful as one could wish for those one loves. He simply ceased to breathe."

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    Lizzie Leigh  -  1855
    Elizabeth Gaskell
    54 pages
    genre  -  General Fiction
    my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

    "James Leigh died just as the far-away bells...were ringing for morning service on Christmas Day, 1836.  A few minutes before his death, he opened his...eyes, and made a sign to his wife...She stooped close down, and caught the broken whisper, 'I forgive her, Annie!  May God forgive me!'"

    James Leigh has been "hard, stern and inflexible", so when Lizzie, their only daughter, makes a serious mistake, she is declared dead to them, and her name is not to be spoken.

    But now the master of the house is dead, and Mrs. Leigh is determined to find her prodigal daughter.  She must still be alive.  Mrs. Leigh convinces her two sons to leave their home and move to Manchester where Lizzie was last known to be and begin the search.

    This illustration by George du Maurier is for an 1865 edition of Lizzie Leigh.

    Elizabeth Gaskell tells a wonderful story of love, compassion and redemption.  The reason for only giving the story only 3 stars was the dialect used by the people.  It was at times difficult to understand their speech, and there were a few times I had to guess the meaning of the words. 

    About the author  - 

    Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born on 29 September 1810 at 93 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. She was the youngest of eight children; only she and her brother John survived infancy. Her father, William Stevenson, was a Scottish Unitarian minister at Failsworth, Lancashire, but resigned his orders on conscientious grounds in 1806.  (Does that sound similar to North and South?)

    From 1821 to 1826 she attended a school run by the Miss Byerlys at Barford House, and after that Avonbank in Stratford-on-Avon where she received the traditional education in arts, the classics, decorum and propriety given to young ladies.

    On 30 August 1832 Elizabeth married a Unitarian minister, William Gaskell.  The Gaskells then settled in Manchester, where William was the minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel.  They had six children, though only four lived.

    The Gaskells' social circle included writers, religious dissenters and social reformers such as William and Mary Howitt. Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Eliot Norton. Her close friend Charlotte Brontë stayed with them three times, and on one occasion hid behind the drawing room curtains as she was too shy to meet the Gaskells' other visitors.

    Gaskell died suddenly of a heart attack in 1865 at the age of 55.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013

    Bookworm  -  the game of reading and remembering
    an illustrated game
    for 3 or more players or teams
    designed and produced by Oxford Games LTD

    Last Saturday morning, I went to a nearby Goodwill thrift store to see if I could find any treasures.  Sure enough, I did.

    As soon as I got home from Goodwill, I enlisted my 18-year-old daughter to help me figure out the rules and play through a quick game.  Since there were only two of us, we modified the rules a bit.

    Bookworm is a board game that you play by listening to one of your opponents read an excerpt of a children's book.  You then can move your token spaces by answering questions concerning that excerpt. Examples of these books are:  The Swiss Family Robinson, King Solomon's Mines, Heidi, The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Rip Van Winkle,  The Scarlet Pimpernel, Granny's Wonderful Chair, The Ship That Flew, Daddy-Long-Legs, The Cuckoo Clock, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Black Beauty.

    One of the best things about the game is the booklet that comes with it.  Of course it includes the rules, but that's only two pages.  The rest of the booklet is a list of the books selected to be part of the game.  Each book has its publication date, the author's name,  his or her birth and death years, and then  a synopsis of the book. There were many books I recognized and had read, but there many I had never heard of.  I look forward to finding some of these books.

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Masterpieces of Mystery: Riddle Stories  - 1920
    Joseph Lewis French (editor)
    276 pages
    genre  -  Mystery, Anthology
    my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

    In 1920, Joseph Lewis French gathered together some tales that he called 'riddle stories'. In the preface it identifies a riddle story as "the most naive form of the mystery story. It may contain a certain element of the supernatural - be tinged with mysticism - but its motive and the revelation thereof must be frankly materialistic - of the earth, earthy."

    In my opinion, his definition of a riddle story is a riddle.

    The short stories included in this anthology are:
    The Mysterious Card by Cleveland Moffett - Couldn't wait to see what the card actually said.
    The Great Valdez Sapphire by Anonymous - Just okay, but has a good ending.
    The Oblong Box by Edgar Allan Poe - It's Poe; of course it's good. Is the movie on DVD?
    The Birth Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne - Typical Hawthorne. Sad, sad, sad.
    A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins - Very clever bad guys with very clever tools.
    The Torture by Hope by Villiers de l'Isle Adam - Good thing we have the Geneva Convention now.
    The Box with the Iron Clamps by Florence Marryat - Gruesome.
    My Fascinating Friend by William Archer - Truly a fascinating story. Surprising ending.
    The Lost Room by Fitz-James O'Brien - Odd. Not sure how to explain the happenings.

    Over all, a wonderful collection of stories.

    About the editor  - 

    Joseph Lewis French (1858–1936) was a novelist, editor, poet and newspaper man. The New York Times noted in 1925 that he may be "the most industrious anthologist of his time." He is known for his popular themed collections and released over twenty-five books between 1918 and his death in 1936.

    He founded two magazines, The New West (circa 1887) and The Wave (circa 1890).  Afterwards he worked for newspapers contributing poetry and articles.

    He struggled financially and in 1927 New York Graphic, a daily tabloid, published an autobiographical article they convinced him to write, titled "I'm Starving--Yet I'm in Who's Who as the Author of 27 Famous Books."

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013

    The Diary of a Nobody  -  1892 (in book form)
    George and Weedon Smith
    140 pages
    genre  -  Humor, Epistolary
    my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

    Charles Pooter and his wife Carrie have been in their new home for a week when Mr. Pooter decides to keep a diary.  "I have often seen reminiscences of people I never even heard of, and I fail to see...why my diary should not be interesting."  He writes in his journal from April 3 through July 11 of the next year.

    The following is a collection of humorous recitations of their everyday lives:  the troublesome boot scraper that everyone trips over; what happens when you take a extremely hot bath in a newly painted tub; the joys of raising a teenage son; dealings with the laundress, the butcher, the butterman, the next-door-neighbors and encounters with the upper class. 

    In all those wonderful, subtle, and silly examples of British humor, there are some clear points of normal humanity.  In other words, Charles Pooter is just like you and me.

    My favorite line in the book:  "...half the pleasures of life [are] derived from the little struggles and small privations that one had to endure at the beginning of one's married life.  Such struggles [are] generally occasioned by want of means, and often helped to make loving couples stand together all the firmer."

    About the authors  - 

    George Grossmith (9 December 1847 – 1 March 1912) was an English comedian, writer, composer, actor, and singer.  In 1873, George married Emmeline Rosa Noyce, the daughter of a physician. The couple had four children. Grossmith died at his home at the age of 64.

     Weedon Grossmith (9 June 1854 – 14 June 1919) was an English writer, painter, actor and playwright.  Weedon illustrated The Diary of a Nobody. In 1895, he married the actress May Lever Palfrey. They had one child, a daughter, Nancy. He died in London at the age of 65.