Monday, March 24, 2014

The Maid of Maiden Lane  -  1900
Amelia E. Barr
203 pages
genre  -  Historical, Romance
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

According to, verbose means:  using or containing an excessive number of words; wordy. While I was on the website I also looked up grandiose, which means: characterized by feigned or affected grandeur; pompous. 

Both excellent words I would use to describe the writing in The Maid of Maiden Lane. Perhaps the author was trying to replicate a much earlier time in American history and the speech used during that time.

Here is part of the opening paragraph:  "Never, in all its history, was the proud and opulent city of New York more glad and gay than in the bright spring days of Seventeen-Hundred-and Nighty-One (1791). It had put out of sight every trace of British rule and occupancy, all its homes had been restored and re-furnished, and its sacred places re-consecrated and adorned."

Soon we are introduced to a young lady, Miss Cornelia Moran.  "She might have stepped out of the folded leaves of a rosebud, so lovely was her face, framed in its dark curls...She was small, but exquisitely formed, and she walked with fearlessness and distinction.  Yet there was around her an angelic gravity..."

Cornelia is the Juliet in the story.  I will leave you to decide who fits the role as Romeo.

What saves this book from a 2-star rating is all the awesome one-liners.  Here are a few:

" had better be without liberty, and without God..."
"New York is not perfect, but we love her."
"The Dutch, as a race, have every desirable quality. The English are natural despots."
"Truth is wholesome, if not agreeable..."
"The man who calls a woman an angel has never had any sisters..."

And my favorite?  "Death, is like the setting of the sun. The sun never sets; life never ceases. Certain phenomena occur which deceive us, because human vision is so feeble - we thinks the sun sets, and it never ceases shining..."

About the author  -

Amelia Edith Huddleston was born on March 29, 1831 in Ulverston, Lancashire, England.

In 1850 she married William Barr, and four years later they migrated to the United States and settled in Galveston, Texas where her husband and three of their six children died of yellow fever in 1867.

With her three remaining daughters, Mrs. Barr moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey in 1868. She went there to tutor the three sons of a prominent citizen. Barr did not like Ridgewood and did not remain there for very long. She left shortly after selling a story to a magazine.

In 1869, she moved to New York City where she began to write for religious periodicals and to publish a series of semi-historical tales and novels.

By 1891, when she achieved greater success, she and her daughters moved to Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. 

She had sunstroke in July 1918 and never fully recovered. She died on March 10, 1919 in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York. She was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Major Barbara  -  1905
George Bernard Shaw
96 pages
genre   -  play
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

At the beginning of the play, Lady Undershaft has asked her adult son, Stephen, to join her in the library to consult with him on an important issue.  Should she ask her estranged husband for more funds for him and his two younger sisters who are engaged to penniless (comparatively) men? 

You see, Mr. Undershaft has an unusual profession: he deals in warfare.  Stephen complains to his mother: "I have hardly ever opened a newspaper in my life without seeing our name in it.  The Undershaft torpedo! The Undershaft quick firers! The Undershaft ten inch! the Undershaft disappearing rampart gun! the Undershaft submarine! and now the Undershaft aerial battleship!"

This play is a wonderful selection for a book club to read and discuss.  There is so much going on.  You could debate about so many things: Barbara and the Salvation Army, inheritances, values, the power of money, and the qualities needed to be a politician.  Which brings me to my favorite quote in the book:  "He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything.  That points clearly to a political career."

About the Author  -

George Bernard Shaw was born in Synge Street, Dublin, on 26 July 1856 to George Carr Shaw, an unsuccessful grain merchant and sometime civil servant, and Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly Shaw, a professional singer.

Shaw briefly attended the Wesley College, Dublin, a grammar school operated by the Methodist Church in Ireland, before moving to a private school near Dalkey and then transferring to Dublin's Central Model School. He ended his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School.

Influenced by his reading, he became a dedicated socialist and a charter member of the Fabian Society, a middle class organization established in 1884 to promote the gradual spread of socialism by peaceful means.

In the course of his political activities he met Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and fellow Fabian; they married in 1898. The marriage was never consummated, at Charlotte's insistence, though he had a number of affairs with married women.

Shaw's plays were first performed in the 1890s. By the end of the decade he was an established playwright. He wrote sixty-three plays and his output as novelist, critic, pamphleteer, essayist and private correspondent was prodigious.

Shaw died at the age of 94, of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred by falling while pruning a tree. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife, were scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Miss Million's Maid  -  1915
Berta Ruck  (Mrs. Oliver Onions)
407 pages
genre  -  Romance
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

"My story begins with an incident that is bound to happen some time in any household that boasts - or perhaps deplores - a high-spirited girl of twenty-three in it."  Horror of horrors, Beatrice talks to the young man living next door!

An impoverished high-society elderly aunt, her 23-year-old niece Beatrice Lovelace and their maid Nellie live at No. 45 Laburnum Grove, Putney, S.W., London. The aunt refuses to allow Beatrice any association with the neighbors. "They are not our kind...And although we may have come down in the world, we are still Lovelaces, as we were in the old days when your dear grandfather had Lovelace Court. Even if we do seem to have dropped out of our world, we need not associate with any other.  Better no society than the wrong society."

The poor girl is pretty much a recluse.

Everything changes when the maid inherits a lot of money from an American uncle. Beatrice becomes the maid, and Nellie tries to find her way in Society.

What you think might happen definitely does not. What you think will become a turning point in the story is only a side plot.  This wonderful twisty tale kept me on my toes, always wondering what is important.

About the author  -

Amy Roberta Ruck was born on 2 August 1878 in Punjab, India, one of eight children by Eleanor D'Arcy and Colonel Arthur Ashley Ruck, a British army officer. The family moved to Wales where Ruck went to school in Bangor. She then studied at Lambeth School of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art (from 1901) and at the Académie Colarossi in Paris (1904-5).

In 1903 Ruck began a career as an illustrator for magazines such as The Idler and The Jabberwock. From 1905 she began to contribute short stories and serials to magazines such as Home Chat. One such serial was published as a full-length novel, His Official Fiancée (London, 1914), and its success marked the beginning of Ruck's career as a popular romantic novelist.

On 1909, she married the also novelist (George) Oliver Onions, and they had two sons. 

Widowed since 1961, she died in Aberdyfi, Wales on 11 August 1978, only nine days after her 100th birthday.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Winning of Barbara Worth  -  1911
Harold Bell Wright
329 pages
genre  - General Fiction, possibly Literary Fiction
my rating  - 4 out of 5 stars

Three men and a boy are headed from the port city of San Felipe, California to Rubio City, a frontier town along the Colorado River, where "there is only a rude trail - two hundred and more hard and lonely miles of it - the only mark of man in all that desolate waste and itself marked every mile by the graves of men and the bleached bones of their cattle." 

I really like how one of those men describe the desert where Rubio City is located.  "A thousan' square miles av ut wouldn't feed a jack-rabbit.  "Tis the blisterin', sizzlin' wilderness av sand an' cactus, fit for nothin' but thim side-winders, horn'-toads, heely-monsters an' all their poisonous relations..."

Along their way to Rubio City the travelers find a horse on its last legs.  They follow its tracks to a wagon with no one nearby. They see more tracks, but these tracks are made by small feet, possibly a woman.  They follow those until they find a dead woman, with a four-year-old girl at her side.  The girl says her name is 'Barba'.

This is a fantastic book.  Every once in a while, the author would insert wonderful poetical segments.  My favorite is when the author describes the monsoon season of this area:

"...the spirit of the Desert issued its silent challenge.  It was not the majestic challenge of the mountains with their unsealed heights of peak and dome and impassable barriers of rugged crag and sheer cliff.  It was not the glad challenge of the untamed wilderness with its myriad formed life of tree and plant and glen and stream.  It was not the noble challenge of the wide-sweeping, pathless plains; nor the wild challenge of the restless, storm-driven sea.  It was the silent, sinister, menacing threat of a desolation that had conquered by cruel waiting and that lay in wait still to conquer."

Amazon reports that its ebook edition is 329 pages.  Most printed books are over 500 pages.  Also, more than 15 movies were made or claimed to be made from Wright's stories, including Gary Cooper's first major movie, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

About the author  -

Harold Bell Wright was born on May 4, 1872 in Rome, New York to William and Alma Watson Wright.   When Wright was eleven years old his mother died and his father abandoned the children. For the remainder of his childhood Wright lived with various relatives or strangers, mostly in Ohio.

In his late teens he found regular employment painting both works of art and houses. After two years of what Wright called "pre-preparation" education at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, Wright became a minister for the Christian Church.

In 1902, while pastoring the Christian Church in Kansas, he wrote a melodramatic story, entitled That Printer of Udell's.  It was Wright's second novel, The Shepherd of the Hills, published in 1907 and set in Branson, Missouri, that established him as a best-selling author. 

Harold Bell Wright married Frances Long and had three children from this marriage.

Although mostly forgotten or ignored after the middle of the 20th century, he is said to have been the first American writer to sell a million copies of a novel and the first to make $1 million from writing fiction.

After struggling most of his life with lung disease, Wright died of bronchial pneumonia on May 24, 1944 in La Jolla, California.