Monday, January 27, 2014

The Ups and Downs in the Life of a Distressed Gentleman - 1836
William L. Stone
230 pages
genre  -  Memoir
rating  -  2 out of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book where at the beginning you didn't know if it was going to be worthwhile to spend the time on it?  Such was the case when I started The Ups and Downs... 

The introduction is all about an ostrich, the importance of biographies, and an old Emperor from China.  Chapter 1 is about circles.  It's not until Chapter 2 that we meet the subject of the story. 

But somehow I was kept interested through long paragraphs, musings, digressions, and some great one-liners.  It is the one-liners that keeps this book from a one star rating.  Examples:

"...biography is history..."
"...somewhat questionable members of the piscatory family..."  (eels)
"Every patriotic Gothamite should rejoice at each successive indication of an improvement in architectural taste amongst us."

And the best for last:  "The reader has probably heard the story of the Yankee candidate for the mastership of one our common schools, who, on being asked by the inspectors whether he knew any thing of mathematics, answered that he didn't know Matthew, although he had seen a good deal of one Tom Mattocks, in Rhode Island; but he'd never hearn (sic) of his having any brother."

At the end of the book, the author assures us that "...every essential incident that I have recorded, actually occurred..."  I don't know if that's true, and if a Daniel Wheelwright really existed, but I'm glad I read the book.  I'm also glad it wasn't very long.

About the author  - 

William Leete Stone (20 April 1792  – 15 August 1844) was a journalist and historical writer mostly on topics relating to the American Revolutionary War.  His father, William, was a soldier of the Revolution and a descendant of Gov. William Leete.

At the age of seventeen, he became a printer in the office of the Cooperstown Federalist, and in 1813 he was editor of the Herkimer American. Subsequently he edited the Northern Whig, the Daily Advertiser, and the Hartford Mirror. He took a turn at editing a literary magazine called The Knights of the Round Table. He also edited The Lounger, a literary periodical which was noted for its pleasantry and wit. In 1821 he became editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, which place he held for the rest of his life.

Brown University gave him the Master of Arts degree in 1825. Stone always advocated the abolition of slavery by congressional action.  He was the first superintendent of public schools in New York City.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Enchanted Barn - 1918
Grace Livingston Hill
107 pages ?
genre  - Romance, Inspirational Fiction
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Over the years my mother has told me about her favorite books by Grace Livingston Hill.  I figured it was about time that I read one for myself.  I chose to read The Enchanted Barn.

Shirley Hollister, a young stenographer, is very worried.  Father has been dead for several years now and Mother is deathly ill. It is up to her and her younger brother, George, to support the family. 

Plus, they have received a notice that their apartment complex is being torn down and they have a couple of weeks to move out.  And it's coming up summertime.  It will be too hot for Mother to continue living in the city.  A new home needs to be found soon.

Taking advantage of an unexpected afternoon off, Shirley takes a trolley car going out-of-town.  She sees "...a wide, old-fashioned barn of stone, with ample grassy stone-coped entrance rising like a stately carpeted stairway from the barn-yard."  This would be a wonderful place to spend the summer.  Now if only the owner will rent the barn to them for no more than $12 a month!

Usually I don't enjoy reading inspiration stories as blatant as The Enchanted Barn, but somehow the author as able to pull it off.  Perhaps it was because I didn't feel as if I was being preached at, but that was just the way the characters believed.

Also, I don't think Amazon's estimate of the page count for this book is correct.  It seemed much longer than that.   Other editions of this book show that it has between 295 to 366 pages.

About the author  -

Grace Livingston Hill was born April 16, 1865  in Wellsville, New York to Presbyterian minister Charles Montgomery Livingston and his wife, Marcia Macdonald Livingston - both of them being writers.

Hill's first novel was written to make enough money for a vacation to Chautauqua in New York while the family was living in Florida. Lack of funds was a frequent motivator, particularly after the death of her first husband left her with two small children and no income other than that from her writing.

After the death of Hill's father, her mother came to live with her. This prompted Hill to write more frequently.

The last Grace Livingston Hill book, Mary Arden, was finished by her daughter Ruth Livingston Hill and published in 1947.

Hill died Jan. 1, 1947.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Plain Tales From the Hills  -  1888
Rudyard Kipling
256 pages
genre  -  short stories
my rating  -  2 out of 5 stars

This is my first experience reading anything of Kipling's works.  I did not enjoy Plain Tales from the Hills as much as I thought I would.  I should probably read later publications just to see how much his writing improved over the years.

Near the end of Kipling's years at college, his parents obtained a job for him as the assistant editor of a small newspaper in Lahore, Punjab, (now in Pakistan) called the Civil & Military Gazette.  It was in this newspaper that Kipling published thirty-nine stories between November 1886 and June 1887. Kipling included most of these stories in Plain Tales from the Hills, which was published a month after his 22nd birthday.

Some of the stories are quite short; others are longer.  Some of the stories are humorous; others are very sad.  Some of the stories have a moral; others seem to have no point at all.  Truly a grab bag of tales.  Only a few a the stories would I ever read again.

About the author  - 

Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865 in Bombay, India, to Alice MacDonald and John Lockwood Kipling.  John Lockwood and Alice had met in 1863 and courted at Rudyard Lake in Rudyard, Staffordshire, England. They married, and moved to India in 1865. They had been so moved by the beauty of the Rudyard Lake area that they named their first child, a boy, after it.

On 18 January 1892, Carrie Balestier and Rudyard Kipling were married in London, in the "thick of an influenza epidemic, when the undertakers had run out of black horses and the dead had to be content with brown ones."  The author, Henry James, gave the bride away.

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, used many themes from The Jungle Book in setting up his junior movement, the Wolf Cubs. 

Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, but at a slower pace than before. On the night of 12 January 1936, Kipling suffered a haemorrhage in his small intestine. He underwent surgery, but died less than a week later on 18 January 1936 at the age of 70.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Over Paradise Ridge  A Romance  -  1915
Maria Thompson Daviess
102 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

I had to read the opening lines of this book several times.  It just didn't make sense.

"Nobody knows what starts the sap along the twigs of a very young, tender, and green woman's nature.  In my case it was Samuel Foster Crittenden..."

I'm extremely grateful I persevered.  It's a wonderful book, written in an unusual style.  Somehow poetic, with plenty of wisdom. 

Young Betty Hayes has two very good friends who desperately need her help - Sam and Peter.  Betty has known Sam her whole life and now he is trying to start a farm from scratch with hardly any money.  Betty has known Peter for three years now and he is trying to write the next great American play.  She is constantly being torn between the two young men.

There are some fascinating supporting characters:  Sam's younger brother referred to as the Byrd, Peter's anxious father, Betty's crocheting mother just to name a few. 

One of my favorite lines in the book is the description of New York City.  "New York in the daytime is like a huge football game in which a million or two players all fall on the ball of life at the same time and kick and squirm and fight over it; but a night it is a dragon with billions of flaming eyes that only blink out when it is time to crawl away from the rising sun and get in a hole until the dark comes again."

I will certainly look for other works by this author. 

About the author  -

Maria Thompson Daviess was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky on Nov. 25, 1872. After her father died when she was eight, her family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. She studied one year at Wellesley College, and then went to Paris to study art.

Returning to Nashville, she continued to paint and also took up writing. Her first novel, Miss Selina Lue and the Soap-box Babies was published in 1909. The Melting of Molly, published in 1912, was one of the top best-selling books for the year.

In 1921, she moved to New York City, where she died on September 3, 1924. She did not marry and had no children.