Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Way of the Wind  -  1911
Zoe Anderson Norris
134 pages
genre  -  Literary Fiction
my rating  -  5 out of 5 stars

I have been contemplating how to approach writing a review that would come close to giving the praise and consideration that this work deserves. I am VERY surprised that I have not heard of this book before, if not in a high school English class, then I should have read it in one of my college literature classes! It is that good.

From the beautiful hills of Kentucky, a scared young bride travels to barren unpopulated Kansas to join her husband, who has been preparing their future home. To her dismay, there is only a dugout for a house and the constant repressive winds.

"The wind seemed to make sport of her, to laugh at her.  It treated her as it would a tenderfoot.  It tried to frighten her...It shrieked maniacally as if rejoicing in her discomfort.  At times it seemed to hoot at her."

Although there was little conversation, it is relatively easy to read. The imagery of the wind, the tall tales of the 'cyclones' in Kansas, the mystery of the wise men from the East, and waiting to see if the young husband would prevail more than kept my attention.

This book inspired quite a conversation between my husband, teenage daughter and me. Is it man vs. himself or man vs. nature? Is there a greater significance to the wind? Who are the wise men from the East who would come a build a magic city there where the rivers meet? I would encourage any teacher to include this marvelous work in their curriculum.

As far as I can tell, Ms. Norris only wrote two other books. She was also a newspaper reporter. I would strongly suggest that you look up her "Interview with Mark Twain's Cat". Very cute!

About the author  - 

Here is a newspaper article reporting her death:

Kentucky Woman Predicted Death in the Last Issue of Her Magazine

Harrodsburg, KY.  -  In the last issue of the little New York magazine, "East Side", Zoe Anderson Norris wrote: "I am going to take the journey to the undiscovered country very, very soon." Word had just been received that she is dead; that she died as she dreamed and predicted, "very, very soon".  Mrs. Norris was Miss Zoe Anderson. She was born 47 years ago in this city. She was married to S. W. Norris, by whom she had one daughter, Mrs. Fletcher Chelf, who lives in Harrodsburg. Mr. Norris died several years ago. On the East Side, where she lived in a little five-room flat, Zoe Anderson Norris was beloved by many whose names are known in the social and literary registers of New York, and by hundreds whose condition in life led them by the narrow little ghetto world.
Mrs. Norris had been a contributor to magazines, she had done active newspaper work, and five years ago she began the publication of the little magazine. She was best known of recent years by writers and newspaper people generally as the founder and spirit of the Ragged Edge club.

Zoe Anderson Norris died 

Feb. 13, 1914.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Old Man in the Corner  -  1909
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
186 pages
genre  -  Mystery
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

Miss Polly Burton is at her favorite café, reading a newspaper when a man sits at her table and declares, "There is no such thing as a mystery in connection with any crime, providing intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation."

Polly "had never seen any one so pale, so thin, with such funny light-coloured hair...he looked so timid and nervous...he fidgeted incessantly with a piece of string..."

The man proceeds to relate the facts of a recent crime, and how he was able to solve the mystery just by gathering information at the courtroom and from the newspapers.  Polly is curious enough about the man and his ability to solve these cold cases that she continues to meet him at the café eleven more times. 

The 'old man in the corner' first appeared in The Royal Magazine in 1901 in a series of six "Mysteries of London". The following year he returned in seven "Mysteries of Great Cities" set in large provincial centers of the British Isles. The stories are told by an unnamed lady journalist who reports the conversation of the 'man in the corner' who sits at the same table in a teashop. For the book, twelve were rewritten in the third person, with the lady journalist now named Polly Burton.

The Fenchurch Street Mystery
The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace
The York Mystery
The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railroad
The Liverpool Mystery
The Edinburgh Mystery
The Theft at the English Provident Bank
The Dublin Mystery
An Unparalleled Outrage
The Regent's Park Murder
The De Genneville Peerage
The Mysterious Death in Percy Street

About the author  - 

Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi  was born in Tarnaörs, Hungary, and was the daughter of  Baron Felix Orczy de Orczi and Countess Emma Wass von Szentegyed und Czege. Her parents left Hungary in 1868.

In 1880, the family moved to London. Orczy attended West London School of Art and then Heatherley's School of Fine Art.  It was at art school that she met a young illustrator named Montague MacLean Barstow, the son of an English clergyman; they married in 1894.

They had very little money, and Orczy started to work as a translator and an illustrator to supplement her husband's low earnings. John Montague Orczy-Barstow, their only child, was born on 25 February 1899. She started writing soon after his birth.

In 1903, Orczy and her husband wrote a play based on one of her short stories about an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney, who rescued French aristocrats from the French Revolution: The Scarlet Pimpernel. She submitted her novelization of the story under the same title to 12 publishers. While waiting for the decisions of these publishers, the play was performed in the West End. Initially, it drew small audiences, but the play ran four years in London. This theatrical success generated huge sales for the novel.

Orczy died in Henley-on-Thames on 12 November 1947.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Prince or Chauffeur?  A Story of Newport  -  1911
Lawrence Perry
176 pages
genre  -  Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Usually when I read a book with the intent of reviewing for this blog, I take lots of notes: names, ages, descriptions, facts, and interesting quotations.  After a few pages into the story, I became so engrossed in the tale, I forgot to do this.  I consider that a good sign.

The first words of the book are:  "John Armitage, Lieutanant U. S. N., followed the porter into the rear car of the midnight express for Boston..."  Lt. Armitage talks to the porter to pass the time until the train is ready to leave.  When the porter tells John that there was a man asking after him, he gets a description of the stranger and goes searching for him.  John sees the man just as he is getting into a taxi cab.

"'Missed him,' he said in answer to the porter's look of inquiry.

'Friend of yo's, suh?'

'Well,' said the officer, smiling grimly, 'I should have liked to shake hands with him.'

His desire would have been keener could he in any way have known the nature of the message which the curious stranger had sent to a squalid little house on William Street in Newport:

A. leave here to torpedo station on midnight train."

So begins this wonderful tale of train and boat rides, a pretty young lady, a Russian prince, a missing torpedo control, disguises, spies and some romance through it all.

About the author  - 

I could very little about the author on the internet. 

Lawrence Perry (1874-1954) was a sports reporter and drama critic for several newspapers, and for the North American Newspaper Alliance, and he also became an author of novels, plays, articles, short stories, and poems.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Domestic Tragedy  -  1921
Robert W. Service
3 stanzas  -  24 lines
genre  -  poetry
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Robert Service was 41 when World War I broke out; he enlisted, but was turned down "due to varicose veins." He briefly covered the war for the Toronto Star, then worked as a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver with the Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross, until his health broke.

With the end of the war, Service "settled down to being a rich man in Paris.... During the day he would promenade in the best suits, with a monocle. At night he went out in old clothes with the company of his doorman, a retired policeman, to visit the lowest dives of the city.".

During his time in Paris he was reputedly the wealthiest author living in the city, yet was known to dress as a working man and walk the streets, blending in and observing everything around him. Those experiences would be used in his next book of poetry, Ballads of a Bohemian.

A poem called " A Domestic Tragedy" was included in that book.

Clorinda met me on the way
As I came from the train;
Her face was anything but gay,
In fact, suggested pain.
"Oh hubby, hubby dear!" she cried,
 "I've awful news to tell. . . ."

Yes, I know I'm leaving you hanging.  You'll just have to read the poem to find out what the horrible disaster was.  Don't worry; you'll smile when you read the ending.

About the author  - 

Robert W. Service was born in Preston, Lancashire, England, the first of ten children. His father, also Robert Service, was a banker from Kilwinning, Scotland, who had been transferred to England. At five years old Robert W. Service went to live in Kilwinning with his three aunts and his paternal grandfather.

At nine, Service rejoined his parents who had moved to Glasgow. He attended Glasgow's Hillhead High School. After leaving school, Service joined the Commercial Bank of Scotland which would later become the Royal Bank of Scotland. He was writing at this time and reportedly already "selling his verses".

Service moved to Canada at the age of 21.  Service was hired by a Canadian Bank of Commerce branch in Victoria, British Columbia.  In 1909, he decided to resign to devote his time to writing.

After World War I, Service married a French woman, Germaine Bougeoin, and the two lived in Europe, mainly in the south of France, until the poet’s death in 1958.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blue-Bird Weather  -  1912
Robert W. Chambers
152 pages
genre  - Romance
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

John Marche's doctor has told him that he better "go somewhere for a rest or ultimately be carried, kicking, into...the 'funny house'."

So John heads to the Foam Island Duck Club for some down time, and maybe get in a little duck hunting.  It is an 11-year-old boy by the name of Jim that picks John up from the railroad station and drives him out to the clubhouse in a rickety wagon.  And it's Jim's older sister, Molly, that is the cook and housekeeper for the lodge. 

Molly also volunteers to act as John's bayman.  And that means they spend lots of time together in the duck blind waiting for the waterfowl to show up. 

But it's very odd that John never sees their father, who is the manager of the clubhouse, while he is there.  And why does the handwriting in Jim's school book have "a vague sensation of familiarity" about it?

I especially enjoy books where the author takes the time to use lots of adjectives.  This book is a good example of that practice.  For example, here is a description of John's first meal at the clubhouse:  "she...placed before him...his steaming soup, a platter of fried bass and smoking sweet potatoes, then the inevitable broiled canvas-back duck with rice, and finally home-made preserves - wild grapes, exquisitely fragrant in their thin, golden syrup."

About the author  - 

Robert William Chambers was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 26, 1865 to William P. Chambers, a famous lawyer, and Caroline Boughton Chambers, a direct descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, Rhode Island.

Robert was first educated at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute,and then entered the Art Students' League at around the age of twenty.  Chambers studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and at Académie Julian, in Paris from 1886 to 1893.  On his return to New York, he succeeded in selling his illustrations to Life, Truth, and Vogue magazines.

Then, for reasons unclear, Chambers devoted his time to writing. His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of short stories published in 1895.

On July 12, 1898, he married Elsa Vaughn Moller. They had a son, Robert Edward Stuart Chambers.

Chambers died on December 16, 1933 after having undergone intestinal surgery three days earlier.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Good Luck  -  1896
Mrs. L. T. Meade
141 pages
genre  -  Inspirational Fiction, Young Adult
my rating  -  2 out of 5 stars

Patience Reed was "an old cherry-cheeked woman.  She had bright blue eyes and firm, kindly lips...She was wonderfully pretty.  Her little face looked something like a russet apple...Her hair was snow-white, and rather fluffy in texture..."

And Mrs. Reed was at the Out-Patients' Department of the London Hospital that foggy morning.  Her right hand had been hurting "awful - right up to the shoulder."  The doctor's verdict is the equivalent of writer's cramp.  That means no more needlework. How will she support her six orphan grandchildren now?

Alison, the eldest girl, was now seventeen and working in a clothing shop.  Harry, the eldest boy, is somewhat of a scamp and a real concern to his grandmother.  David was fifteen and was doing something for himself.  The youngest three are Polly, Susie, and Kitty, and they are all attending school.

The story revolves around a series of events that brings great concern to the family.  How will they survive without Mrs. Reed's income from her needleworking?

Although I enjoyed the story, there were a few inconsistencies that bothered me.  The author didn't keep straight which boy was older, which girls shared which bedrooms, and how long they lasted on the money they had.  There were quite a few loose ends at the conclusion of the story, and there was a bit too much preaching for my taste. 

About the author  -

L. T. Meade was the pseudonym of Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith (1844–1914), a prolific writer of girls' stories. She was born in Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, daughter of Rev. R. T. Meade, of Nohoval, County Cork.

She later moved to London, where she married Alfred Toulmin Smith in September, 1879.

She began writing at 17 and produced over 300 books in her lifetime. She was primarily known for her books for young people. However, she also wrote "sentimental" and "sensational" stories, religious stories, historical novels, adventure, romances, and mysteries, including several with male co-authors.

Meade was also the editor of a popular girls' magazine, Atalanta from 1887-93. She was a feminist and a member of the Pioneer Club.