Showing posts with label Vintage Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vintage Books. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols

Beverley Nichols is an author much beloved by both my grandmother and my mother.  Many times over the years, I have been discussing books with them and they stop to gush a little over how witty and sharp and generally great Beverley Nichols is.  I would always smile and nod, but, for whatever reason, never followed through and read something.  The other day, I finally borrowed a Thatched Roof and commenced reading.

I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed the book.  I love to read about people's decorating and gardening adventures and so Nichols's books really are right up my alley.  The gist of this gardening/home improvement autobiography is this: In the 1920s, Nichols buys a completely run-down little cottage with great potential and makes it over, with plenty of advice and opinions from the quirky locals.  In addition to this, it has a lovely garden, which he also fixes up, written about in another book.

There is, of course, much drama involving the whole house being turned into a "ye olde" cottage, filled with fake Tudor pillows and fake Tudor walls, and, well, fake Tudor everything.  I laughed out loud so many times at Nichols's wrath.  There are adventures and problems galore and the descriptions of the house make it sound perfectly lovely once Nichols finishes it.

Another thing that completely impressed me in reading this book was how Nichols made the house really come alive.  I could imagine every room of the house, every color scheme, every bookshelf, every open window.  Often home decorating writers have a hard time trying to describe their project.  In an era before beautiful home improvement books full of more shiny, artistic photographs than text, a book had to rely on the writer's skill as opposed to the crutch of photographs, a refreshing change.

Now, there were some lovely, lovely illustrations done by Rex Whistler did bring the personality of both the house and the book to life.  I appreciated how the illustrations were an aid to the writing, yet did not take the place of the writing.  I've included a sample illustration below:
Credit: Found off of Pinterest.  Not very credible, I know, I know...
The book is also laugh-out-loud hilarious at many parts.  All of the adventures were just plain hilarious, from the trials Nichols underwent, getting a housekeeper, to the descriptions of the nosy neighbors, judging him on the previous owner's choice of lawn statuary.

That said, Nichols got on my nerves by the end of the book.  He strikes me as a waspish little man, never pleased with anything and constantly critical of everybody around him, as well as being a completely priss about his house.  This is funny for awhile, but I couldn't read that indefinitely.  Oh and his blatant dislike for every. single. female who crosses his path?  Also quite annoying.

So those are my thoughts on A Thatched Roof.  Would I read something else by Nichols?  Maybe.  I loved, loved, loved this book, but I think, at least for me, his writing can only be taken in very small doses.  Maybe in a year, when I'm feeling inspired about gardening next March, I'll pull out another of his books about his beautiful garden and have another go.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Plot That Thickens by P.G. Wodehouse

As I was experiencing The Cold That Will Not Quit, I turned to my new stack of library books and knew in an instant what I wanted to read-P.G. Wodehouse.  P.G. Wodehouse can cure any ills, I am convinced, and I'm not quite sure why he has not made it onto my blog.  He is also extremely prolific, so you don't have the problem of feeling like weeping when you find a good author that wrote one book.  According to a page in the front of my book, he had written 80 books by 1973 (he started writing in the 19-teens). Wodehouse wrote the Jeeves and Wooster books, which are probably his greatest claim to fame, but in addition to that, he's written about all sorts of hilariously eccentric characters.

This book centers around a whole host of characters.  There is a secretary, Sandy Miller, in love with her boss-turned-fellow secretary, Monty Bodkin.  Unfortunately, Monty is in love with a beefy hockey player, Gertrude Butterwick, who is putty in the hands of her father who hates Monty and has forced the lazy aristocrat to earn his living for a year.  Added to this confusing puzzle is Monty's employer, the employer's controlling wife, and the employer's even more controlling step-daughter.  There is also a band of thieves disguised as friends and valets trying to steal the employer's wife's necklace.  Whew.

This book is classic Wodehouse.  It has lots of humor and sly pokes at the English upper-class, a cast of very eccentric characters that grow more complicated in their relationships by the minute, just a touch of bad guys (but only the bumbling kind), a little romance, and a problem that will be neatly solved by the end of the book.

This book was written near the end of Wodehouse's career (early 1970s) and, maybe it was just me, but I thought I could read the wistfulness in some of his references to gentlemen's clubs and "the old ways".  However, this book still has all of Wodehouse's charm and frivolity.  He lavishly sprinkles funny, well-rounded characters all through the book, makes word jokes left and right (my favorite kind of joke, by the way), and crafts a very funny, yet somehow also gripping, plot that left me hanging onto the book until the last page.

This book was the perfect thing to get me over the worst of the cold and I'm sure I made a funny sight sitting there wrapped in a quilt and alternately laughing and coughing my lungs up over a book.  I think of Wodehouse as being classic summer reading.  I'm not quite sure why, but I do know that, as soon as I had finished that book, the spring thaw began.  Hooray!

So if you are the kind of person that likes Wodehouse's humor (I would describe it as a combination of just-plain-silly, sarcastic and…well…there needs to be a term for Wodehouse's humor, because it is its own category) and would like a welcome-to-spring (or whatever season you happen to be in at the moment) read, then I really recommend this book.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Gipsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp

I guess I'm on a Margery Sharp roll!  This book review has been in the works for 2 months.  I read this book right after Christmas, then the review got buried in my drafts box and now I'm finally pulling it out because this book really does deserved a proper review.
Photo Credit: www.margerysharp.wordpress.com
A very interesting-looking blog devoted to Margery Sharp.

The Gypsy in the Parlor is told through the eyes of an eleven year old girl who, every summer, leaves her lonely, cold house in the city to live with her big, bold aunts and their uninteresting husbands, the Sylvesters.  The summer of our narrator's eleventh birthday, a new aunt, Fanny, the prospective wife of the youngest uncle, comes on the scene.  She is the complete opposite of the older aunts-frail, timid, weak, and, finally, the night before her wedding, she succumbs to a mysterious sickness that threatens to take down all the powerful Sylvesters.  Our nameless narrator is the only one who feels the slightest connection to Fanny and we watch as Fanny uses this to her advantage.  And then (I am working very, very hard not to give spoilers here), our narrator turns from Fanny's pawn to the force that brings Fanny down.

I am curious about the use of the word Gypsy in the title.  First of all, in my edition, it's spelled Gipsy (and spell check doesn't seem to object to this, either).  Is this simply archaic spelling?  Spelling used in a specific geographic location?  This makes me very curious and I think I will have to do some research about this.  The other thing that I wonder about is how the word "Gipsy" is being used in this book.  The Gypsy is, of course, Fanny Davis, but the book never comes out and says that she is of Romany descent, so is this being used in the sense of, "person who is of dark and mysterious origin" or, "person who has done much traveling and is dark and mysterious"?  Just in the context of this book, I'm guessing it's the latter, but I'd love any feedback you have.

I was impressed by how well Sharp wrote a child narrator.  Writing about children is a skill that many authors don't have, let alone writing through a child.  I can think of many examples of gifted authors who simply could not convincingly write about or through children.  This is the only book I know of by Sharp, though, where a child is the key storyteller, so this surprised me even more.

The book's time setting did not look promising to me.  The story begins, "In the heat of the spacious August noon, in the heart of the great summer of 1870…", and I gave a little groan.   In my humble opinion, prior to, oh, the 90s,  a lot of authors were very unskilled at handling historical fiction and positively ruined a perfectly good storyline with all sorts of annoyingly anachronistic things that weren't necessary.  For the most part, I absolutely love fiction written in this era (1930s-60s), but once those authors turn to historical fiction, I quickly abandon the book.  All that to say, Sharp actually did a very good job.  The time period was very well written.  The observations on the decline that so many wealthy women would fall into was fascinating and so believable.  The narrator tells us, "It wasn't, at the time, particularly uncommon.  Ladies lay in declines all up and down the country…" and gives a very witty and biting description of declines and the lower-class's perception of them.

Of course, Sharp's wonderful dry humor is present throughout the book as it is in all of her writing.  This isn't one of her more famous books, but it should be.  I laughed and laughed throughout this book and was completely engrossed until the last page.  In fact, this book was so captivating that, when I was first reading the synopsis on some blog, I actually got a burning curiosity about the Fanny Davis mystery (and that was just from reading a synopsis, people!).  I really recommend that you find this book.  I suspect you might have a difficult time finding it, but I think it's worth it to search for it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Nutmeg Tree

"I had a little nut tree and nothing would it bear; but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear…."
-A nursery rhyme and also made reference to in this book title.

This book, written by the accomplished Margery Sharp, was the perfect book to get me out of a bit of a reading rut.  I was feeling generally whiny in that late-February way and I idly reached for a flimsy little WWII edition of The Nutmeg Tree.   Feeling pretty unimpressed, I opened it and proceeded to become completely engrossed for the several hours that the little book lasted.

The Nutmeg Tree centers around the very charming, very much lower-class, middle-aged theater woman named Julia.  When she was very young, she got pregnant with and consequently married a soldier during WWI and, after he died, she went with the baby girl, Susan to her new in-laws house.  However, this proper, upper-middle-class life was completely stifling for Julia, so she leaves Susan to be raised by her grandparents and returns to the city life without a pang.

Fast forward 20 years later to Julia Packett who is in a sad state without a current man and not a prospect in sight.  She receives a letter from her very, very proper daughter urging her to come.  Susan has fallen in love with and wants to marry an improper man and grandmother doesn't approve.  Eager to win her daughter's respect and love, Julia determines to go and sort out Susan's problems, while remaining at all times a perfect lady.  But Julia, who can't seem to avoid some trouble at once realizes that her prospective son-in-law is definitely the wrong sort, begins to fall for Susan's eminently respectable godfather, and has to find a way to solve her pressing money troubles.  Can Julia, through all of these trials, come to respect herself in spite of her rough past, or will she continue to keep up the facade of a respectable lady?

I'm sure that Julia's life affairs must have been truly shocking for the time this was written.  While Julia's actions definitely don't raise eyebrows today the way they did back then, I am still amazed that we can come to love, even respect Julia through the book.  It shows real skill, I think, to be able to pull off a sympathetic, but not entirely respectable character, particularly at that time.  I really appreciated the emphasis Sharp placed on Julia's good traits rather than her social standing.  While Julia had had a rough past, she was still a kind, generous woman who was quick to sympathize and willing to help and that, in the end, was what counted.

I was also interested in how lightly Julia's abandoning her daughter was taken.  In fact, that is one area where I think you would see more social stigma today as opposed to in the late 30s.  Julia states very pragmatically that Susan will have a better education, better opportunities, and will generally become a more respectable member of society if she stays with her grandparents as opposed to traveling with her free and easy mother.  I think that attitude, while still in existence is at least less apparent today.  Of course, one attitude makes a very good story and the other, more modern attitude would probably not be as interesting to write about.

I completely fell in love with these characters while reading this short book.  This was one of those books that you read as slowly as possible in order to draw out the story.  The Nutmeg Tree is out of print now, but I think you could still find it many places.  I own this book, but I know that my library also has it.  Really, seek this book out.  If only for a few hours, it raised me out of my late-winter doldrums.

Friday, February 13, 2015

3 Quick Book Reviews and an Update

Hello, dear readers.  I am still here, lest you thought I was frozen into the side a snowbank, never to appear again.

In spite of my lack of blog activity, I have been up to a lot of things, some reading related.  I have 3 books on the reading pile, two of which I have finished.

1. Don Quixote-
My latest Classics Club read.  It's funny and enjoyable and the translation done by Edith Grossman is great.  I've been enjoying just a few chapters every evening by the fire with hot Earl Grey tea, my new favorite.  I usually make the tea into a London Fog-with lots of steamy hot milk.
But back to the book, there is something so eerily amazing about reading a book that is so old.  I'm quite enjoying it and there will be a full-fledged review, once I've finished it.

2. Small Victories by Anne Lamott-
I love Anne Lamott's writing and this is her latest book.  I have about 5 pages in the book and I can't wait to get a review up about it.  Lamott has had a strange, at times pretty rackety life, but the thing that strikes me reading her books is her incredible grace and wisdom through all kinds of scenarios that I am not entirely sure how I would handle.  If you haven't read anything by Lamott, this is definitely a must-read.

3. The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp-
This is a re-read, but I do love Sharp's incredible sly wit.  The Nutmeg Tree is about a young, irrepressible widow who is left in the early days of WWI with a baby.  After a dreadfully boring stint as a respectable young widow, she leaves the baby with her kindly in-laws and heads to the city. Susan, the baby, grows up dull and respectable, until she falls in love with an unscrupulous man and Julia has to help her get out of the mess.  It's really funny and was a very quick read.

In addition to all of this reading, I'm working and doing as little outside as I possibly can (which usually means just the once-a-day trudge to do the animal chores and then scurrying inside as quickly as possible).  I'm also dreaming of summer through a big stack of summer clothes that I have waiting at the sewing machine.  So see?  I haven't turned into a frozen brick of ice.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle

As part of giving up library reading for the month of January, I've been spending lots of my perusing my own bookshelves.  I have quite a collection of children's books from my own childhood and one that I re-read on a whim during this Christmas vacation was Meet the Austins.  Pretty much everybody I know has read and loved this dear book by Madeleine L'Engle.  If you haven't read this, I am, frankly, shocked.  You must go at once and read it.
I think this might be an original.  See the 60s hair and the mother below in her 60s swing coat?



Meet the Austins is narrated by 12 year old Vicky Austin.  Right on the cusp of adolescence, Vicky, along with her charming family-Her father, mother, older brother, John, younger sister, Suzy, and younger brother, Rob, as well as a kindly bachelor uncle and a doting adopted aunt-experience a whirlwind series of events.

It all starts after a description of a lovely day that completely convinced me of L'Engle's writing powers before the book really started.  This description was so lovingly written that I instantly flashed back to so many evenings like this in my own childhood.  Everybody roaring around, dinner cooking, the mad race to the telephone every time it rings.  And then everything comes to a standstill when Aunt Elena, mother's roommate from boarding school, calls and tells them that her husband is dead in a plane crash, along with his copilot who has left a little girl.

Of course, the Austins agree to take in the little girl, Maggy, since Elena, who was made her godmother, is a concert pianist about to go on tour.  Maggy completely upsets the family's daily life by turning out to be a train wreck of a child.  But, over time, she comes to find a home with the loving Austins.

Along the way, there are funny and charming family stories.  There is one, in particular, that made me laugh out loud in which the whole family dresses eccentrically to shock one of the uncle's snobbish girlfriends.  The Austins have all kinds of adventures while getting used to the shell-shocked Maggy, from picnics to stargazing to a trip to see the grandfather who lives in a barn.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is that it is a direct refutation of Hemingway's famous quote about unhappy families, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  This book shows that, no, happy families are different and interesting and absorbing.  To be miserable does not necessarily mean that one is romantic or interesting or enjoyable to read about.

The story is also interestingly written.  It's written exactly like a child telling you a (slightly longwinded) life story.  Of course there's a plot and direction and flow to the book in a way that a child's story wouldn't, but there is something about the quality of the writing that is so childlike.  For one thing, everything is presented exactly at face value without a lot of analysis on the part of the narrator.  Also, the sentences are kind of run-on.  It's not in a bad-writing-run-on-sentence kind of way, but in a child talking kind of way.  Just think about the last conversation you had with a 12 year old.  That's what the book reads like.  But trust me, it's charming, not annoying.

Some interesting things stood out reading this book this time through.  The main thing was my perception of Maggy.  Now, realize that I last read this book in 6th grade, maybe.  I absolutely despised Maggy and was truly enraged at how she consumed the Austin family life.  This time around, I ached for her lack of family and her brattiness simply read as a very sad, neglected little girl.  Also, there were some pretty dated discussions and references (this book was published in 1960) that I thought were funny reading this time around that I never would have thought to notice back whenever I first read this.

This book is so beautifully told, so funny and poignant, there is just no way you can go through your whole life and not pick up this book at least once.  If you have a child in your life, this would make an absolutely marvelous read aloud.  And if not, or even if you do, you must read this for yourself.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden

Well, dear readers, I'm back!  I'm afraid I've left you in a bit of a blogpostless desert, so I have a nice long book review for you today to make amends.

I started the beginning of a long Christmas vacation and, to celebrate, I grabbed the book on top of my (mountainous) book pile-The Diddakoi.  It had been highly recommended to me, so I was eager to start it.  I read the whole book in about 2 hours and then emerged, blinking, into the real world.

The Diddakoi is about a 7 year old gypsy girl, Kizzy, who lives with her great-great grandmother and her beloved horse in a caravan on the edge of an old English admiral's property.  There are some of the loveliest description scenes I have ever read, such as this one:

"And they (her clothes) did smell, but not of dirt.  Gran washed them often, hanging them along the hedge, while Kizzy wrapped herself in a blanket; they smelled of the open air, of woodsmoke, and a little of the old horse, Joe, because she hugged him often."

And with that little quote, I am instantly transported to this scene.  However, Kizzy's romantic life outdoors is not to be.  She is sent to the local school with the (spoiler alert: nasty!) children.  They tease and torment her, calling her all kinds of awful derogatory terms that were, apparently, in common vernacular at that time and place, from "Diddakoi to "Clothes-Washer" to many, many more.  They pull her hair and push her and smack her and make fun of her endlessly, to the point where it isn't just little kids insulting, but real, concentrated hatefulness.  And, to make matters worse, the teacher is a well-meaning lady who has no idea how to handle the children.

One day, Kizzy comes home from school to the news that her grandmother has died.  The gypsy relatives show up, burn the caravan, as is customary, and then prove themselves to be quite unsavory people.  Kizzy runs away with dear Joe, her horse, who has just been threatened with being sent to the butcher.  She goes to the first place she knows: the admiral's large mansion.  He takes her in, despite being an old curmudgeonly bachelor and he and his two trusty assistants from the navy nurse her back to health (oh, yeah, she got pneumonia somewhere along in there).

But Kizzy's happiness is not to be and she is taken before a local magistrate and told that she must leave the kindly gentlemen and go somewhere with a woman's influence.  After all sorts of awful adults discuss children's homes and foster parents, she is taken in by the kind, yet serious magistrate herself.  And Kizzy proceeds to learn to be a Nice English Middle-Class Person.

After I finished the book, I was in too much of a daze to analyze properly.  But now I'm ready.  Let me just say that the book gets worse, actually.  Stop reading here if you don't want more spoilers.  Kizzy is really abused by the little girls in her class.  There's one scene where they think her neck might be broken from being beat up.  It's awful, really.  But the thing that most offended me is that Rumer Goden refers several times to the girls picking on Kizzy as, "kittens fighting with their fur all on end".  By using the word "kittens", Goden has instantly made this situation "not that bad" and nothing more than children's nonsense.

Now, I understand that bullying as we have to come use the term was not a commonly addresses issue at the time Godden wrote this (60s, I think, but don't quote me).  And I have read (and heard personal stories) of pretty awful things happening at the time because adults were just not paying attention.  But here's the thing that made me truly disgusted at the end of the book.

SPOILER!  SPOILER!

After these girls beat up Kizzy over and over, they are finally caught by the Magistrate who scolds them and takes Kizzy home with her.  Some of the adults are properly upset and agree that these girls must be punished.  But the magistrate prevails and says that they must none of them do anything, because, after all, "this is a children's war".  Gah.  This excuse absolutely makes me froth at the mouth. And so they do nothing.  Kizzy is hauled back to school where, magically, she is made a popular British schoolgirl who is fascinating to all and everybody starts using the derogatory terms in a fascinated, loving kind of way.

This argument of, "This is a children's war.  We can't get involved," might be appropriate if the kids are bickering over something minor and nobody is getting singled out and pummeled.  But this?  This is truly disgusting.  And that's the thing that drove me wild about this book.  This is not normal children's behavior and Godden was treating it as such.  And it may have been a different time, but children have not changed that much in the last 50 years.  It does make me wonder what kind of tortured childhood Godden might have had.  And the ending message that Kizzy should have faced actual bodily harm so that she could end up popular and beloved by the little demons who hurt her?   Sheesh.

This book I was loaned was an old library copy and was marked, "Youth", which surprised me.  Evidently, Godden wrote this as a children's story.  I know I wouldn't hand that book to any early-chapter-book-reader.  And, really, it is an adult's story.  There are all of the heinous bullying scenes, but the book isn't even written from Kizzy's perspective.  The story is being told about Kizzy, but there's almost no internal dialogue from Kizzy's point of view.  It's the perspective of an adult outsider, looking in.  All to say, this is very much an adult's book.

The way that gypsies were addressed in the book was also interesting.  They were written about in a very romantic way, alternating between shock at their "wild ways" musing over their gorgeous outdoors, rugged life.  It was a little weird and probably not something you'd read in a book today.

So what did I like?  Well, the first 1/4 of the book, with the cozy caravan scenes and the heavily romanticized loveliness of it all.  Oh, and the section where the kindly admiral goes to the department store and buys Kizzy piles of lovingly described clothing.  And Rumer Goden is a truly gifted author.  She wrote An Episode of Sparrows, which I loved and she is a very good storyteller.

In closing, I wouldn't really bother with this book.  TBR piles are too high anyway.  However, I'm not going to scream, "Don't read this!" from the rooftops.  If you're really in the mood to have a good British Schoolchildren in the 60s analysis, then go ahead and have a good time.  Believe me, there's plenty to analyze.  It also appears that people who were exposed to this book as children/teenagers and have fond memories associated with this book seem to speak far more favorably of it than the people who picked it up for the first time recently, like me.  So if you've read it before, then go ahead and give it a reread!  You might have a completely different reaction.  I'll be back tomorrow with a picture post.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Peggy Parsons at Prep School

My latest read has been a very indulgent one-Peggy Parsons at Prep School-one of those boarding-school-girl books from the teens and 20s that were a dime a dozen back in the day.  I have a certain fondness for these books and found this particular one in a dusty little, out-of-the-way bookshop that was housed in an old mill.  I think the charming setting went to my head, because I bought three or four of this genre of books, I read all of them except for this one, which I finally got around to reading just this past week.

Peggy Parsons, etc. etc. is, of course, about Peggy Parsons and her multitude of wholesome adventures at her charming prep school.  Of course, there are the characters who have to be won over by Peggy's charming personality.  And there is the problem that is cheerfully solved by the resourceful heroine.

In this book, the main problem is the joining together of a handsome college boy (who conducts a serenade with the glee club for the prep school girls in the first chapter, by the way…that part was pretty fabulous) and his long-lost,  gruff grandfather who has a soft spot for Peggy.  But, along the way, there are picnics and midnight fudge parties and matinee shows at the local theater and strict headmistresses to win over.

Here are two excerpts from the book, so that you get a picture of what this book is like to read:

"The domestic science class, well under way with an excellent teacher, decided to have a 'bacon bat', after the custom of the Smith College girls, all by themselves on some bit of rock that jutted into the river….There was a jar of bacon strips in a paper bag, the bottle of olives in another paper bag, and two dozen rolls, a generous supply in the biggest paper bag of all.  There was a tiny box of matches, too, that Peggy slipped into the pocket of her rust colored jacket."

And…one of those fudge scenes that are so frequently talked about in this type of book:

"The room, with the little whispering group of girls in it, some on couches and some on the floor, garbed in all the delicate shades of boudoir attire, pale blue, pink, and rose, saffron yellow, lavender, and dainty green; with the tiny spurts of golden candle flame dotted here and there on table and mantlepiece; with the hot, chocolate-smelling fudge bubbling away in the chafing dish, looking like some fairy meeting place…When the fudge was done they put the pan out of the window and hoped that it wouldn't fall down and all be lost.  It didn't, and before it had fairly cooled, they cut it and lifted the squares in their eager fingers and ate them with greedy pleasure, down to the last, last crumb."

The book by no means displays good writing and is quite formulaic, but there is something so charming about such adventures, full of pretty 20s clothes and archaic food the likes of which I have never heard or seen.

I don't quite know why these books hold such charm for me.  They are often sub-par-ly written and, after you've read one, you've read them all, but for some reason, that doesn't disgust me.  They were also obviously a huge money-maker (rather like the Nancy Drew books) back in the day and written in large part to secure the attentions of girls for years on end while more and more books were churned out.  In a modern book, I would not hold with any of these things and would firmly refuse to ever pick up such a cheap bit of book, but something about the age of this book keeps me from throwing it out or refusing to read it.

I wonder, did these boarding schools actually exist, or were they romanticizations of a certain school-girl lifestyle that rarely, if ever, existed?  I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know that these authors always present these stories as if every other girl was going to one of these boarding schools that are always full of fun and games and little education.

If this sounds like something that you would enjoy reading, purely for a little enjoyment and light reading, I highly recommend seeking one of this type of book out.  They are fast reads and are an interesting, much-forgotten bit of fiction.  Unless you just happen to stumble upon a few of these at some cheap bookshop, they can be very hard to find and, when found, ridiculously expensive.  Also, most libraries don't have them anymore.  So if you happen to find one, like I did, snap it up and enjoy yourself!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

This book was fantastic.  It's written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who wrote fiction back in the 1920s.  She was quite controversial and, apparently, shocked quite a few people with her educational/political/philosophical beliefs.  This book, The Homemaker, amazed me at its surprising currentness.
I love this cover, by the way.  Isn't it cozy?

The Homemaker is about a husband and wife who both despise their roles.  Evangeline Knapp tries to be the perfect housewife-scrubbing everything in sight every minute, creating perfect meals, hating it all and, subsequently, being terribly mean to her 3 kids.  Lester Knapp works at a store in a job that he hates.  He has no freedom and what he really wants to do is read poetry and hang out with his children.   The children all have various health problems and are nervous wrecks.  After Lester is fired from his job, he falls off of the roof, breaking his back and forcing his wife to go out and get a job at the very store that fired him.  Evangeline finds out how much she loves working in the clothing department, advising people and organizing everything, and becomes generally a kinder and happier person.  After his back begins to heal, Lester realizes how much he loves being home and taking care of his family.

But once Lester recovers, the Knapps realize how much they love their new way of life.  They all have an unspoken dread of returning to the way things used to be, but they know that if Lester does not return to a new job and Evangeline does not come home, society will completely disapprove.

I'm not going to tell you the ending, but I promise that it's good.  This book amazed me with its modernness.  We have to remember that in 1924 this would have been a message that would have left most people reeling.  I can only imagine the shock that this book must have caused.  It's obvious that Fisher was well ahead of her time.

I loved this book for the cozy domestic details, the fabulous story line (Fisher is a fantastic writer), and the way that the characters were presented.  Fisher is very, very good at writing sympathetic characters that you instantly begin to identify with.  I grew to love these characters and genuinely hope that they would find a way to be happy.

I really recommend this book to anybody and, really, this book could still produce a thought-provoking discussion today about men's and women's roles and how they do and do not work.  The book is a very fast read (I read it in a day).  It's a perfect book to curl up by the fire with.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Miss Read

I have been knocked out by the most awful head cold.  I'm left with watery eyes, a dripping nose, a sore throat, and a dull headache.  Gah.  And it add insult to injury, today was Music Sunday at church.  Every 5th Sunday, we have a gorgeous, completely music-centric church-service and today's was particularly gorgeous.  And, people, I couldn't sing.  I was disgusted.  I came home and brewed myself a cup of tea and pulled out a Miss Read novel while the rain gently drizzled down.  It was lovely to curl up with a gently gossipy novel and forget about my streaming head cold for a few hours.
Miss Read, otherwise known as Dora Saint.

Miss Read wrote these two cozy, gentle series about two English villages.  The stories are just daily life accounts, rather like having a long gossip session with a good friend.  The two series (Thrush Green and Fairacre) are both about small country villages full of eccentric characters who, in spite of their quirks and foibles, are lovable people.

The stories are told by Miss Read herself as though she is just filling you in on the town news.  Here's the excerpt from the back of the book, as the book itself isn't really summarizable (no, that's not a word, but I'm sick and my brain isn't functioning, so I'm allowed to make up words):

"This sleepy, pristine setting conceals a flurry of activity among the villagers.  Rumor has it that Mr. Venables is considering retirement just as the village's teacher is about to make an important decision. Molly Curdle prepares for a new baby.  The kindly vicar, Charles Henstock, works on his sermon-quite unaware of the disaster that will overtake him.  However, there is never any doubt that all will end well in this very English village."

There is nothing thought-provoking or challenging about these books.  They are simply stories about everyday people living everyday lives.  The goings-on are mild and rather uninteresting, if one is used to thrilling, action-packed, drama-filled novels, but that's really the charm of these books.  Their gentleness is what is so drawing about them.  

I think the last time I read one of these books was when I was sick.  These books are akin to a cup of hot tea or a very thick wool blanket (you know, the kind that is so heavy you can barely move your shoulders).  If you are suffering from any sort of ailment, pull yourself off of your sickbed and stagger to the library and pull one of the shelf.  If you aren't suffering from any ailment, just keep these books in the back of your mind for next time your nose runs.  They make being sick positively enjoyable.  


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages made me laugh until I cried.  This story is written by the famous Shirley Jackson who is most well-known for her short story The Lottery.  But after writing such dark stuff, she went on to write a memoir about raising her children in an old, rambling, New England farmhouse.

Shirley Jackson, along with her husband, raised 4 children, all of whom appear to have been spunky, rambunctious, hilariously funny children (although now that I think about it, isn't that the definition of most children?).  The story starts when Ms. Jackson and her husband are house hunting.  They have been kicked out of their apartment and they are looking at houses to raise their baby and toddler in.  After months of searching, a raggle-taggle farmhouse that is lacking in pretty much any modern convenience is secured and the family moves in.  From the story of Laurie heading off to school and returning a changed, swaggering man to the birth of Barry, their youngest son, when Jackson shouted at all of the nurses because of her pain medication, the stories are all captivating and enjoyable.

Each chapter (they're very long) is an essay-type story about one of her children's exploits.  My absolute favorite story was of the middle daughter, Joanne, who had a vivid imaginary life, with complicated relationships and many children, whom she could also become at times.  One day, they head to the department store (I do so want to step back in time to a 1940s department store) with Joanne and her imaginary family in tow.  The results are disastrous (and wildly funny).

Knowing Shirley Jackson's previous writing, I am in complete awe of how she manages to write in such a different tone.  The tone in these stories is one of warmth and love and humor, rather than dark bitterness.  It is a truly skilled author who can switch between such different writing styles.

This is one of those books that I could not put down.  I read and re-read each word, so as not to miss any little bit of Jackson's writing.  Her style is so captivating.  I laughed and laughed and then read aloud sections to my (sometimes) listening family members.  I was torn between gobbling up the whole book in one sitting and reading about 5 pages so as to make the book last.  Isn't that the best kind of book?

Some of the books I review, I end up saying, "Well, this is a book for (blank) type of person, but if you're not (blank) type of person, don't bother reading this."  This is not that type of book.  These witty, charming stories could be enjoyed by anybody.  If you have ever spent even half an hour with a child under the age of 12, you will instantly recognize so many of the experiences and adventures.  Please, please go read this, my dear readers.  I guarantee that you will thank me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: The Gabriel Hounds

On our very last vacation trip of the summer, I read only one book.  Now, to be fair, it was a loud, busy family visit that didn't allow for lots of time spent in thinking and reading.  But I'm a reader and a book blogger, so of course I couldn't go without at least one book.  I picked a Mary Stewart novel, naturally.  And that's the great thing about Mary Stewart.  She can be read on the road and in a loud, chaotic house and still be comprehended and enjoyed.  I read most of it on the way out, a bit one evening, and then the rest on the way home (when I wasn't napping).
Now I want a raspberry coat with a purple flower at my throat.

The Gabriel Hounds is, in my opinion, one of Mary Stewart's creepiest novels.  It's not like her magic-ey books, that are slightly reminiscent of her Merlin writing, full of spells and mild magic and other worldly experiences.  It's also not that wild-chase thriller theme that runs through so many of Stewart's books.

The Gabriel Hounds is the story of Christy Mansel, a young aristocrat who is traveling abroad in the Middle East.  While there, she runs into her handsome, impetuous, equally wealthy cousin who is also traveling.  They agree to go look up their eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet living in a palace called the Dar Ibrahim, a women well-known in Lebanon (or The Lebanon, as Mary Stewart archaicly calls it).  But they find that there are strange things afoot at the Dar Ibrahim, where sinister Arab servants (*cringe*...I know...) and a mysterious doctor minister to the demanding old lady.  Christy and her cousin (who is also the love-interest...surprise!) find that as difficult as it is to get into the old castle, it may be even more difficult to get out.

Throughout this book run sinister threads of drug overuse (particularly hashish) and cultural problems with the Middle East.  The natives in the book are treated with an extremely racist suspicion that feels kind of weird to read.  However, Mary Stewart's writing surpasses some of the awkward racist descriptions.

This was not my favorite Mary Stewart (Nine Coaches Waiting will always hold that special position in my heart), but it was definitely good.  The story was well crafted and I sat at the edge of my seat in the car, the seatbelt digging into my neck, skipping bathroom stops so I could find out what happened.  There was even one panicked moment where I realized I couldn't find my book and that it was stuck in the back of the trunk.  But I finally retrieved it and kept reading.  This was a great book!  If you are fond of Mary Stewart, this is a must-read.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fahrenheit 451

Whew!  This book was good, but kind of overwhelming.  Well, that's very strong, but it was definitely a grim read for the first part of the book.  So here are my thoughts about it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of those books that, apparently, everybody except me read in late middle school/early high school.  I managed to never pick up that book, but now I finally just did.  It's a dystopian novel written in the 1950s before dystopian novels were written en masse.  It is about a world where a select few live with all of the privileges that include walls of their houses completely converted to screens so that the people can "live" with their movie characters.  Books are burned by firemen because they encourage critical thought and keep the people from being perfectly placid.  The story is told by Guy Montag, a firefighter who suddenly starts to feel bad about burning all these books.  He meets a teenaged girl, Clarisse, who is like no other person he has ever met.  She spends time outside and thinks and mentions talking to her family instead of watching the walls, like most people.

Later, Montag is stunned when Clarisse is killed and he becomes disillusioned with his work of burning books.  Along with a team of old English professors, writers, and avid readers, he sets to work, smuggling books and saving them from the burning piles.

So first of all for the part I didn't like-The conversations between Clarisse and Montag were weirdly stilted.  Ray Bradbury's writing gift is obviously not conversations.  In fact, most of this short novella is descriptions and passive rather than active voice.  Every writer has it beat into his or her head at some point that passive voice must be actively avoided (haha).  Yet Bradbury skillfully uses passive voice without it becoming dry or poorly written.  I was impressed.

I was amazed by how much I loved this book.  It's a very dark book, but the end message (I'm not going to give away the ending to you) is one of hope and reconciliation.  Sure, great damage had been wreaked, but there was ultimate hope.  The other thing I found enjoyable about the story was how pro-books it was.  Of course, most books are "pro book", but this was was quite explicit about the need for reading in society.  As you can probably imagine, I very much appreciated this.

...And now I will stop procrastinating and work on bag packing.  I'm off for a trip that will take me away from this blog until next Sunday.  Until then, I hope you all have a lovely week.  The side bar with archives is there, as always.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay

This is a book I read a while ago, loved, and then forgot about because I wasn't blogging yet.  I pulled it out again today and realized what a wonderful book it is and how much it needs to be talked about.  Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough is the story of two friends in the 1920s from rather upper crust backgrounds who travel Europe together after they leave Bryn Mawr. This book is so wonderful because it perfectly captures the utter innocence of these two post-college girls traveling through an unfamiliar part of the world.  The book has the added benefit of being hilarious.  It's a different kind of hilarious from A Girl Named Zippy, but it's still quite funny.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach ached.

The book says that it is written by both Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner, but all of the writing is told from Cornelia's point of view, so I'm not sure what Emily was doing.  However, the writing is brilliantly done and does not appear to need any added input from anybody.  Each chapter follows some part of the girls' travels.  I am amazed at all of the details remembered after such a long time (1942).  There is nothing vague and fishing through memories about the writing.  It is told as though each event happened yesterday.  From a disastrous tennis game (This is story I cried with laughter through) to buying two little dogs that proceed to pee on chairs in the Ritz Hotel, every single story is captivating and most of them are very funny.

I really have no complaints about this book, other than I laughed too hard.  There are some mildly racist remarks made about Italians for about 2 pages, but definitely not strong enough to make any huge difference in the book.

The illustrations are fantastic.  They are all pencil drawings, done of various events throughout the book.  They had the added bonus of being very funny and perfectly mirroring the writing style of the authors.  Here's an example of what they look like:
A picture taken shamelessly from Flickr.
I wish I could force everybody I know to read this book.  If you are in need of a little reading pick-me-up, or if you aren't, you simply must read this book.  Each anecdote is told at a crisp pace, filled with hilarious events that sound almost as if they were made up.  If you only can read one memoir for the rest of your life, this is the one you should choose.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yes Sister, No Sister

Recently, I've been reading the memoir Yes Sister, No Sister.  I've mentioned it several times on this blog.  It ended up being a really fun story of a young woman in the 50s who leaves her military parents in India to go to study nursing in Yorkshire.  She starts work with her school friends at Leeds General Infirmary and proceeds to have all kinds of fun and challenges in her path to nursing.

Jennifer Ross (the author's real name is Jennifer Craig) tells the partly gripping, partly humorous, partly moving story of nursing in a warm, affectionate voice.  It is obvious that her early years as a nurse spent in Yorkshire were very good years, in spite of the long hours and sometimes cranky head sisters who ran the hospital.  There is also a whole host of likable characters, from kind Sister Busby who fixes the young surgeons' mistakes to Jennifer's best friends, Jess and Sandy.

I won't lie, there are definitely gory parts and Jennifer Craig does not gloss over the nasty hours of cleaning out bedpans and the man whose leg she felt pull off of his body.  This doesn't repulse me like it does some people, so I wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone because of that.  But to counteract the sometimes dark parts of nursing, such as seeing a dead body for the first time, there are things like the old man with the funny Yorkshire accent and the hours spent laughing with fellow nurses over funny incidents.

Jennifer Craig, along with being a good nurse (or so it appears from the stories), is also a good writer.  She doesn't bog the reader down with piles of technical writing and parts of medical procedures that are mentioned are explain in layperson's language.  Her writing style is breezy and funny and there is nothing pedantic or solemn about the way she presents this life story.  I think that it's kind of the nurse's version of the James Herriot stories.   I've always loved Herriot's writing style, so it's great to find somebody else who has the gift of being good at their profession and at telling a story.

If you are completely put off by the occasional mention of blood and guts, then please do not pick up this book.  But if that doesn't faze you, then go ahead and read this.  The stories are fantastic.  I had a heck of a time finding this book.  It appears to be only sold with Amazon UK and I couldn't find it at the library.  I finally found some place in North Carolina that had the book used.  So if you have this book at your library or close to you somewhere, you're very lucky!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vintage Magazines

I have a deep and abiding love of vintage women's magazines.  They're such a fascinating look into another time period, and they're fun to read to boot.  I've been reading vintage magazines for years and I thought that I should pass on the vintage magazine reading love.  They can be sort of difficult to find, but they're well worth the hunt.  These days, thanks to more accessible vintage stores and the online world, they can be found for prices that are not outrageous.  So here are my reasons for loving vintage magazines.


1.  That lovely smell.  There is nothing like musty paper.  It's so intoxicating!  It's interesting, because the smell is completely different from the scent of old books, but both are among my favorite smells in the world.

2.  The often-hilarious ads.  My favorite is one of a worried 50s mother trying to get her little boy to take his daily laxative.  It's only when one of her friends explains that little Timmy needs a children's laxative, not a big old adult one.  It's no wonder he hates the taste!  There are all kinds of ads from toilet paper to laundry detergent to hand cream.  Ads are another way to get a clear picture of what people were thinking about at another time.

3.  The illustrations and photographs in the stories.  There is something so cheerful and charming about the drawings and photographs that accompany the stories.

4.   The fashion pages.  You all know how much I love vintage fashion.  Most vintage women's magazines have a fashion section, much like today's women's magazines.  However, instead of "5 belts for under $75"(you know that just means that each belt costs $74.99), it's "This fall's coat patterns" or "Make a new apron in an afternoon."

5.  The (sometimes garishly colored) food.  The food almost never looks appetizing, but I still have fun looking at the pictures and laughing at the nasty-looking jelled recipes (chicken with tomatoes jelled in lime jello, anyone?)

6.  The stories.  The stories often have a soap-opera-ey bent to them, but occasionally you'll find something well written by a now-famous author.  The stories are usually divided throughout the magazine, so you'll turn from page 56 to page 75, where the next segment of the story is.  These magazines are worth hunting out just for the fun stories.  It's too bad that women's magazines have lost this charming feature.  Where else could you get 7 different short fictional stories for 25 cents then?

The only complaint I have about vintage magazines is their unwieldy nature.  They tend to be a lot bigger than magazines today (almost newspaper height) and it takes some upper body strength to keep the magazine upright while reading an article.  I've found that the best way to read them is to spread the magazine on the floor and flop down on the floor on your stomach and read, with your chin propped up on your elbows.

So if you should happen to stumble upon a vintage magazine (or, lucky you, magazines), snap it up.  You're in for a treat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday-Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike On A Book Cover

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup hosted by The Broke and Bookish.)

The topic for this Top Ten Tuesday is very close to my heart because I am so fond of book covers and they so often sway what I'm going to think about a book (I know, I know, how shallow is that?)

So first of all, the 5 things I don't like:

1.  Those little caption thingeys on a title.   I don't mean a subtitle, but those things that you often see on romance book covers.  "She was looking for a good friend, but he was looking for more..."  or something like that.  Those things make me gag.

2. When the cover of a book is just the movie cover.  That's why I never read the edition of a book that was republished after a movie came out.  Argh.

3.  Most 80s covers.  I know, how's that for a sweeping statement?  But they mostly drive me insane.

4.  All Amish Romance covers.  Now I have to preface this by assuring you that I have never, ever picked up an Amish romance in my whole life.  But those things are knee deep in the library and I've had plenty of chances to form opinions about them.  The people on the covers are always just people that look like models with a bonnet (or a straw hat as the case may be) smacked on top.

5.  Gorgeous vintage book covers that got "modernized" at some point and are now hideous.

So now that I've gotten my book cover hate out, here are the things I love in a book:

1.  Beautiful illustrations on a book- That's a big category, but illustrations that manage to enhance the book while still being unobtrusive enough to not take away from the book itself.  And I always prefer illustrations over pictures.

2.  Vintage book covers-You all know how much I love vintage books and the covers are one of my favorite parts

3.  When the title is based on some quote within the book.  A lot of authors do this, and I always like it.

4.  A clean, non-swirley, yet still interesting font.

5.  A title that makes me laugh.  I love those and those books almost always get put higher on my TBR list.

So those that's my Top Ten for the week!  Don't forget to stop by Broke and Bookish and share your
Top Ten.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Enemy

Well!  I just read (noticed I didn't say, "finished") the book that wins the Weirdest Book-Read-by-Me of the Year award.  I mentioned it in the library loot post two weeks ago and I had high hopes for it.  It languished for a while at the bottom of the library book crate and other, shinier books were read first.  Yesterday was muggy and rainy,  so I retired with Dear Enemy by Jean Webster.  The book is the story of young Sallie, a friend of Judy, the heroine of Daddy Longlegs-Webster's more famous book.  Tired of living a shallow life in Cambridge, Sallie agrees to become superintendent of the orphanage where Judy grew up.
And the cover was so fantastic, too…

This book is written in letter form and Sallie writes letters to Judy and her husband and the orphanage doctor, telling them about about her adventures in the orphanage.  There are accounts of reforming the unwholesome meals, leaving the windows open in the middle of January (this was the 20s where, apparently, it was fad to have sleeping porches and the like and to get plenty of healthy oxygen).  There is the steady winning over of the curmudgeonly staff and the gentle little romance with the dour Scottish doctor.  Now doesn't that sound like a cozy read for a rainy day?

Ahem.  It was definitely not.  Now before I criticize this book, I'm going to just give a little preamble.  Yes, I do realize that this was a different era and that people had different views than they have today, different things were acceptable, etc, etc.  But I couldn't get behind the general disturbing weirdness throughout the book.  Sallie and the Scottish Doctor are ardent believers in eugenics, of all strange things.  The doctor, an extremely "scientific" sort, we're assured by the author, gives Sallie these weird long lectures on how there are some people who are born "feeble-minded".  There is nothing to do for them, so says the doctor, but to keep them secluded until they die out and then won't we all be happier.

But wait, it only gets more awful.  There is a little girl at the orphanage whom Sallie supposedly feels terrible for who won't respond to any teaching.  Sallie tells the doctor in one of her letters that she just wishes that the doctor could euthanize this little girl to end her misery and put an end to a race that will go nowhere good.  I feel slightly ill just writing that.  I am sorry, but even in a different era, that is just disturbing.  After that particular impassioned letter, I found that I had no more sympathy for Sallie, her romantic Scottish doctor, or any of the other characters.  I'm sorry Jean Webster, you took things entirely too far this time.

If there had been one brief paragraph, I would have rolled my eyes and kept reading, but this was a repeated theme throughout the whole book.  So I smacked the book shut, started the second Her Royal Spyness book and sat down to write this post.  The End.  Oh, and don't read this unless you are far more tolerant than I and can stomach some really weird social commentary.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, Or, An Old Favorite

After reading this post and thinking about my own experiences with Daphne DuMaurier, I thought I would write a post about Rebecca.  I've had some duds with DuMaurier (remember this post?), but Rebecca is one book that I really enjoyed.  I first came across the book when I was pretty young-10 or 11- and my mother gave it a glowing recommendation.  I eagerly started the book and was instantly drawn into that world so different from my own.  It's the story of a young, nameless woman who lives her life a nobody.  Then, she marries a rich, haunted man and goes to live at his romantic, English estate, only to discover that he has a dead first wife whom everybody still reveres. Rebecca is the title of the story and the name of Mr. Dewinter's first wife.  Her presence surrounds Manderley and haunts all of the people that live there.  For an 11-year-old, this was the epitome of romantic adventure and I was thrilled by the grown-upish-ness of the story.  I think I read it in one or two sittings.

I still love the story, but I have no idea why.  Sure, it's thrilling and an exciting (though extremely improbable) romance.  However, it's not exactly the sort of thing I normally read.  I like cozy, non-tortured, traditionally happy endings.  Rebecca has none of these, yet it continues to stay with me as one of the best books I've ever read.  Why?  Well, after some musings, I think there are several things that make this book so exceptional that even I would love it.

First of all, the mystery is so convincing.  It just pulls and pulls at you until you find yourself having to know what happens, no matter what.
From the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Second, the characters are quite well, and creatively, drawn.  Well, except for the nameless main character, who is so obviously missing from the action.  But that's on purpose, so that doesn't really count.  But other than her, the characters are all interesting, exciting, and quite 3-dimensional.  The most exciting of the characters is the evil Mrs. Danvers, who ends it all (that's all I'm saying and if you've read the book, you know what I mean).

There is just enough redemption to redeem the story (if that makes any sense).  There is an end to the bad characters and the good characters, more or less, end up happily.
The second Mrs. Dewinter and the creepy housekeeper,
Mrs. Danvers.

And finally, Rebecca is such a character unto herself, even though she is quite dead.  This makes the story so irresistible.

So, those are my thoughts about the book Rebecca.  Tonight, I'm considering watching the Alfred Hitchcock movie....

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: Nine Coaches Waiting

Nine Coaches Waiting is probably Mary Stewart's most well-known (and well-loved) book.  And I can see why.  This was the second time I've read this book and it was just as enjoyable as the first time I read it.

In this book, young Linda Martin goes to Chateau Valmy in the French Alps as a governess.  There is a sad past involving brutal orphanages that is mentioned briefly, but other than that, we know absolutely nothing about her.  When Linda arrives at the chateau, she is struck by its beauty and grace and is determined to do well.  But after several days, she begins to realize that the chateau is full of dark secrets.  There is the pale, shy little boy named Philipe and host of characters that surround him: the creepy, yet brilliant uncle and the aunt who is nervous and takes pills, the friendly American who is working as a forester, and the wild young cousin who comes for visits.  After one harrowing night where Philipe narrowly misses being shot in the woods, Linda begins to suspect the uncle and his son.

This book is quite gripping.  In some of Mary Stewart's books, she overdoes the atmospheric suspense a bit, but in this book, that hefty does of suspense works wonders.  As Linda and Philipe creep through the foggy forest and hide in a little wooden cabin to escape the evil uncle (whoops, spoiler...but you knew that was coming), you can just feel the tension build.  The characters who were evil were just evil enough to be convincing and the good characters were nice, but not nicity-nice.

The one thing that mildly annoyed me was the French.  The French characters would speak English to Linda and then just say one or two random words in French.  As Linda is speaking only English (even though she knows French quite fluently-it's her one power over her employers, they don't know she can tell what they're saying), I have no idea why they're assuming that she just knows the occasional French word.  But that's such a nit-picky thing and it wasn't a huge part of the plot, so I really shouldn't complain.  At least it wasn't as bad as the 50s movies where all of the characters speak English throughout the whole movie with a stilted, awkward French accent.  Gah.

Of course, I read this book in the new edition I got with the pretty vintage illustrated cover.  I am having so much fun reading these books all over again in a nice edition.  This book is a must-read.  If you never read another Mary Stewart book again, this is the one to read.  But I say that with every Mary Stewart book I review, so just read any of the Mary Stewarts and you'll be glad you did.

I can't do the Amazon link for these Mary Stewart books because they're only sold through Amazon UK.  So for my American readers, if you want to get this specific edition, google Amazon UK and then type in any of the Mary Stewart titles and you'll find them.