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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unpunished

After endlessly procrastinating (I have no idea why), I finally got around to reading Unpunished.  And I am so glad that I did!  Unpunished is written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a fairly famous feminist writer from the 20s.  She is better known for writing such things as The Yellow Wallpaper and Herland.  However, before she became a famous writer, she wrote a little mystery gently poking fun at mysteries of the time and providing radical (for the time) social commentary.  This mystery is Unpunished.

Unpunished is the story of a surprisingly (again, for the time) equal couple.  This husband and wife are joint detectives.  Every evening, they come home, cook supper, and then clean up together.  This might not sound jaw-dropping for today, but for that time period, this was pretty ridiculously unexpected.  The husband finds out about a new case in which a very unlikeable man has been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged (not hung, people), and poisoned.  As the couple digs into the mystery, they realize what a truly awful person this man was.  This man (sorry, I can't remember his name) ruled all of the women in his home with an iron fist and oppressed so many people that were "lower" than he was to such an awful extent that any number of people are suspected for murdering him.  In fact, the reader is actually expected to sympathize with the suspected members, rather than the murdered person.  The family is miserable and oppressed and would like nothing better than to get back at this tyrant.  Gilman writes so bitterly about this man that I was quite sure that she had had some experience with somebody rather like him.  I went back and read the preface and, sure enough, her brother-in-law was, apparently, a hateful and bossy old somebody who ruled her after her father died.

Aside from being a good mystery that left me saying, "What?!" at the end of it, this story was well written and made some pretty important commentary, even for today.  Sure, bossy old fathers forcing their young daughters into unwanted arranged marriages isn't happening very frequently, but the way people interact with each other and the world is still a relevant topic today.  This book is slow going at first, but the story starts to seep in to you after a few chapters.   I highly recommend it

And I have the amazon link.  Our library was discarding it and I just happened to catch it, so I don't know how many libraries are keeping the book.  (I'm not saying that your library doesn't have it- our's has the unfortunate tendency to throw out the old books and keep buying new, more "relevant" books.)  Happy Reading!



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Henry Reed

I'm back again today with yet another wonderful children's book, this time for slightly older readers.  This book is in my personal library and the other day I just randomly picked it up and started reading it.  The book is called Henry Reed's Babysitting Service.  Henry Reed is the son of an ambassador who travels all over the world.  Every summer, he comes to his aunt and uncle's cozy little 1950s New Jersey neighborhood.  There are several books, but my favorite is definitely Henry Reed's Babysitting.  After the previous summer which is covered in the first book, Henry returns to Grover's Corner and proceeds to plan another moneymaking scheme with his friend Midge.

After conducting lengthy surveys of all the neighbors, they see that there is a real need for babysitting.  And there starts the fun.  There is the busy housewife for whom they cook hamburgers, little knowing that the "hamburger meat" is really ground horse meat for the poodle; and there's the extremely naughty little girl who is surprisingly good at hiding from her caretakers.  But no matter what Henry and Midge do, they always have surprising adventures.  And of course, as in all good 50s children's books, adults are blissfully absent, meaning that the children can have uproarious times without any supervision whatsoever.
Henry and Midge

The book is written in a diary form (something I don't normally enjoy reading), but the stories are so funny and interesting that it works quite well.  I think that the diary form actually works very well for the reader because Henry's voice comes through so clearly without interruptions from the author.

I first heard of these books in middle school, when my dad read one of them aloud.  I remember loving them at once, so it was fun to read through this book again. This story is really great for any age.  Along with Henry's very funny voice are the great illustrations.  All 5 of the Henry Reed books were illustrated by the famous Robert McCloskey (who illustrated and wrote Blueberries for Sal).  Anybody as young as 6 would get the humor and the adventures and there is something timeless about the stories, even with the 50s American references.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

Please Don't Eat the Daisies was a re-read for me.  It is the comedic essays of a New York theater woman in the 50s.  Jean Kerr was, apparently, married to a famous drama critic and was known for her humor in the 50s and 60s.  This was her first foray into writing.  Each essay is hilarious and covers such topics as "How to be a Collector's Item" and "Dogs I Have Known" (my absolute favorite).  This book is interesting because, although it covers such dated topics and ideas, there is something so recognizable about the experiences and thoughts covered.  And I think that's why this book is still so amusing today.  Added to this already great book are the funny pencil drawings done by Carl Rose.

Here's a excerpt from the book:
"It's not just our own dogs that bother me.  The dogs I meet at parties are even worse.  I don't know what I've got that attracts them; it just doesn't bear thought.  My husband swears I rub chopped meat on my ankles.  But at every party it's the same thing.  I'm sitting in happy conviviality with a group in front of the fire when all of a sudden the large mutt of mine host appears in the archway.  Then, without a single bark of warning, he hurls himself upon me. It always makes me think of that line from A Streetcar Named Desire-'Baby, we've had this date right from the beginning.'  My martini flies into space and my stokcings are torn before he finally settles down peacefully in the lap of my new black faille.  I blow out such quantities of hair as I haven't swallowed and glance at my host, expecting to be rescued.  He murmurs, "Isn't that wonderful?  You know, Brucie is usually so distant with strangers."

Illustration found from some Ebay listing.  I had the worst time trying
to find an illustration for you (I was being lazy and didn't feel like getting
up to get my camera).
This book is perfect distraction reading.  My recovery from the oral surgery has been longer than expected and this was the perfect antidote.  This book would also make great on-the-fly reading because each essay is fairly short and the essays could be read in any sequence and still make perfect sense.  I recommend this book for anybody that likes humorous reading and a little slice of late 50s American life.

The Doris Day movie.  This movie was not that great.
I think I didn't like it in large part because I had just read the
book.  There's just no way a movie can capture a funny voice
and a collection of essays without messing everything up.
I think that this might have been a tolerable movie, had
I not just read the book.
I've linked to both the book (there's several used copies on amazon) and the instant-watch movie, should you be curious about either.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: The Ivy Tree

I have (yet another) Mary Stewart review for you today.  Her books are wonderful recovery reading, which explains the many reviews of her books.

I think that the Ivy Tree might be one of Stewart's most gripping stories.  It is the tale of a woman named Mary Grey.  One day, while she is sitting on a stone wall, a young man comes up to Mary and, calling her Annabelle, begins to berate her for leaving the family and breaking their grandfather's heart.    She firmly tells him that she is not Annabelle, that his cousin Annabelle is long dead.  Con, the young man, convinces her to come disguised as Annabelle to get her portion of her dying grandfather's rich fortune.  Then, she will give most of it to Con and get a small portion for herself.  However, when she gets to the estate, she begins to make friends with her grandfather and her flighty cousin, who has just come to visit.  It quickly becomes clear that Con is planning on getting rid of this cousin as soon as possible to make more money for herself.  Mary-now Annabelle- is stunned and doesn't know what to do.  To add problem upon problem, she finds herself falling in love with the man that Annabelle once loved.

This book has a lot of suspense and less classic mystery-ish qualities, than Wildfire at Midnight, the last Mary Stewart book I reviewed.  The story was exciting, and quite convincing.  There is a revelation that comes about 5/6 of the way through the book that made me shriek aloud and read as quickly as possible to find out what the outcome was.  As always, Mary Stewart has written a wonderful story that  is enjoyable for many people.

Country Girls Read just wrote a lovely tributary post for Mary Stewart.  Stewart just died on Saturday.  I was so sorry to hear that, but glad that her books will live on for many years to come.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: Wildfire at Midnight

This book was wonderful.  I read it in a day while I lounged on the couch with ice packs.  The story was about young Gianetta, a woman who has just had a painful divorce from her much different, brilliant author husband.  Feeling sad and lonely, she travels to a hotel on some remote Gaelic island to stay for the summer.  While there, she discovers that there is a strange mystery in her midst.  Just a week before she arrived, somebody among the hotel party shot a villager.  Everybody urges Gianetta to return home at once, but she is determined to find the murderer.  Into this scene comes her ex-husband.  A few days later, two women from the hotel who were hiking are killed.  The anxiety in the hotel reaches a new level as police and inspectors swarm the place looking for the murderer.  Meanwhile, Gianetta finds herself drawn to a handsome and mysterious visitor at the hotel who her ex-husband strongly dislikes.
Isn't her coat and that purple and gold scarf pretty?
I think I need a 50s plaid coat.

This book was far more murder mystery-ish than any of Mary Stewart's books.  However, there were still the same cozy descriptions of the outdoors and of the clothes.  This is one of my favorite things about Stewart's writing.  I was also pleased because this the first time that I guessed correctly who the murderer was.

I recommend this book for pretty much anybody.  It's a good book for people who like to read thrillers, for people who like mysteries, romances, and vintage books.  It's a wonderful book and I'm already starting in on another Mary Stewart book.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: Thornyhold

So do you remember this post where I wrote about those beautiful editions of the Mary Stewart books? Well I got a bunch of them!  I am so pleased and excited to have all this lovely reading material.  So unfortunately, my library books have be pushed most definitely to the back burner.  I started with Thornyhold because I remembered loving it.

It's one of Stewart's most fantasy-filled romance.  It is set in the 40s and is the story of young Gilly, who inherits an old house named Thornyhold from her cousin.  This cousin was labeled a witch by the surrounding village and Gilly is fast discovering that she may have some of the same talents.  She also has to deal with the jealous neighbor and her dimwitted son who are out to get her.  However, not everybody dislikes her.  She befriends a little boy who is amazed at her abilities to cure animals and falls in love with the boy's writer father.  Along with a very good plot, there are wonderful cozy descriptions of setting up housekeeping in a little country house.

I will probably not be reading many of my library books until I finish these Mary Stewart books, so this will be a blogging series.  I'd love to have any of you read these along with me!  And the pretty editions are by no means requisite.  Most libraries, I think, have a good selection of Mary Stewart's writing.  I highly recommend all of them.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Egg and I by Betty McDonald

Oh, this book.  I loved it so much.  When I checked it out of the library on the advice of my mother (who has excellent book taste, by the way) I was pretty sure I was going to love it.  After all, Betty McDonald wrote my all-time favorite children's books, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.  But before she became a famous author, Betty grew up with an interesting and amusing family, then married a man who wanted to be a chicken farmer.  Following the advice of her mother, she let her husband, Bob, decide where they would live and what they would do.  They end up on a dilapidated, isolated chicken ranch in the northwest Pacific, surrounded by trees and a few neighbors, all of whom Betty looks down on.

I am so impressed by authors that can write about any situation and make it extremely funny.  It appears that Bob, whom she later divorced, was no picnic to live with.  There are stories of him flirting with a Native American women, making fun of Betty, and scolding Betty for not keeping the house perfect as well as helping him with all of the farm work.  Of course, the story is one-sided, but even so, to make that funny is no small feat.  Betty and her husband were without running water, electricity, and had a wood stove that barely functioned.  People cheerfully traipsed through her house and stayed for meals and lengthy visits.  The one part that bothered me was the frequent racism throughout the whole book.  There were many Native Americans living near the McDonalds and many of them appear to have been alcoholics.  She writes unkindly about a snowflake dance that some Native American children did in a school play, noting nastily, "They only thing snowflake-like about their appearance was the whites of their eyes."  Sheesh, Betty!  In the preface written by Betty's daughters, there is a vague excuse about Betty being very frightened by the Native Americans, and so writing in a "lighthearted" way about them.  They finish by saying, "We are sure that if Betty were alive today, she would address the plight of the American Indian in a much different manner."  Maybe.
The 1940s movie.  I am very tempted by this.
On the other hand, I'm worried that it's going to be nothing like the book...

After reading this book, I turned to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Farm.  I was fascinated by the fathers in the book.  Every. Single. One of them was just like Betty's husband Bob.  I was amazed!  Was this really the 1950s norm, or was Betty just writing the man that she knew the best?  I was also amazed that, as a child, this went right over my head.  Reading The Egg and I put the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories in a whole new light.

However, despite the blatant racism and the fact that Betty's husband got on my nerves frequently, this unforgettable autobiography was good.  Many of the characters were funny, the plot speed was perfect, and I am sure that this story will stay in my memory for a long time.  I highly recommend this book to anybody that has or has not read anything by Betty McDonald.  You will love it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Farm

I've been gathering my thoughts for about a week now to write about this book called The Farm.  The first page had me hooked.

"Johnny's earliest memory of the Farm was filled with snow and the sound of sleigh bells.  Riding through the soft-falling drift of white, he could see the fat rumps of the horses which drew the sleigh and the steam which rose from their wet coats as they plunged forward to drag it up the steep rise in the lane beyond the bridge over the brook...Then the sleigh came to a halt beside a white picket gate beneath the drooping black branches of the Norway spruce...Out of the house came a tiny old lady and three or four enormous people, and Johnny was swept in through a hubbub of greetings and noisy kissing into a room which was warm and had a delicious smell compounded of coffee and sausages, roast turkey, and mince pie." 

This lovely description had me all ready for a pleasant, cozy read about a boy growing up on a farm.  Instead, it was the history of an old farm and the author's family history as it tied into this midwestern America farm.  In the second chapter, I yawned and thought about stopping reading, but I kept going because that first page had been so good.  I'm glad that I kept reading.  It is a good author that can make their personal family history interesting to the general public.  Stories of all the family from the stern Colonel, the family patriarch, the vivacious grandmother, Maria, and the author's mother kept me interested until the very end.  

So, overall, this is a good book with well-developed characters and interesting, everyday adventures.  Although the writing style is pretty slow and I kept it for reading when I was fully awake, I am really glad that I stuck with this book.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lovely Vintage Books

It doesn't matter how good the book turns out to be, just finding those lovely, musty smelling books makes it worth it.  There are cozy little places that sell old books pretty much everywhere.  They're usually in obscure places, but once you find a good old book store, it's almost sure to be a treasure trove.  In this post, I'll list some of the great things about vintage books.  Posted alongside are pictures of pretty vintage books that I have accumulated along the way.

The books are almost always aesthetically pleasing.  Sometimes they have pretty dust jackets or ornate gold lettering, sometimes bright colors or an interesting font.  Of course, the cover of the book is no indicator of how well-written the book is, but a pretty cover makes a book a little more enjoyable to me.

The books are often well-loved.  I have found little notes on the inside, names written in shaky 3rd grade cursive and swirling old man's handwriting.  The pages are often a little dog-eared and the edges of the book are worn.  To me, this is the best review of a book I could ever have.

The stories are usually interesting and give a window into another time.  There is nothing like a book to get you to see a little slice of time through the eyes of someone living through it.  It is also my humble opinion that the stories are more varied and amusing than a lot of modern writing, although that is not to say that there wasn't poor writing long ago.

This week, I hope you are inspired to hunt for an old book, whether it be an old favorite or a new discovery.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier

Daphne DuMaurier is a very interesting writer.  When I opened Rebecca (DuMaurier's most famous novel), I fell in love.  I read the story through twice and it continued to haunt me.  It is a book that I still return to regularly
Crocuses!  Pictures in this post are of spring sightings.
However, Rebecca is the only one of DuMaurier's books that I have ever really enjoyed.  I read Jamaica Inn and liked it, but didn't adore it.  I didn't like the heroine and there was something odd about DuMaurier's writing style.  Then I attempted My Cousin Rachel and enjoyed it even less.  Two weeks ago, when I was at the library, I was browsing through DuMaurier's many works, thinking, "I need to get over this aversion and read something else by Daphne."
Pink rhubarb noses poking out of the ground!
Unfortunately, Don't Look Now, a collection of haunting short stories written in the 60s was my least favorite of all of DuMaurier's writing.  I happily started the first short story one drizzly evening and prepared to enjoy a good shiver.  At first, the story was very enjoyable, with a set of psychic twin sisters in Italy and two grieving parents.  But then, as I moved through the story, I started to frown.  A story that had great potential to be a good, eerie yarn, went down a gruesome path, ending (Spoiler Alert!) with the main character getting an ax thrown through his head by a dwarf woman.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good, haunting thriller, but this was too eccentric and gory to be thrilling.   I stopped reading. "Huh?" I said.  I skimmed the rest of the stories and found them just as odd.  I firmly shut the book and finished up the evening with something a little lighter.

Another kitty shot
In my opinion, Rebecca is the exception that proves the rule.  I don't particularly like DuMaurier's writing style, but she did manage to produce one pretty wonderful book.  So, I highly recommend Rebecca, but don't bother reading any of DuMaurier's other writings, unless you like lots of the supernatural and a very dark writing style.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kilmeny of the Orchard

Yesterday, I picked up Kilmeny of the Orchard by L. M. Montgomery, longing for a pleasant read after a rather ghastly book (review to come).  I highly enjoyed it.


Kilmeny of the Orchard is different from any of L.M. Montgomery's other writings in that it is written from a man's point of view.  It is the story of a young man who, just graduated from college, goes to teach at a small country school as a favor to a friend.  This man, Eric, meets a beautiful and mysterious girl name Kilmeny who is mute because of some sad story in her past.  Eric is bewitched by this girl and is determined to help her speak.



This is a very short story, at only 130 pages, and I read it in an afternoon in between various errands.  Despite its shortness, L.M. Montgomery manages to write a spell-binding story that leaves you gripping the book until the end.  It is quite predictable and extremely romantic.  Kilmeny is the exact opposite of the imperfect Anne of Green Gables, but I still enjoyed the book.  And, of course, there is the unfailing happy ending that is included in all Montgomery's books. 



I highly recommend this for a dreary, rainy day.  It's the perfect cozy read for March.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Tribute to Elizabeth Enright

Today I have another great children's author.  Elizabeth Enright was truly magnificent.  I think she was one of the most clever authors of children's literature that I have ever read.  I also think that her writing is a great peek into the American 1940s and 50s.  Let's do an overview of some of my favorites of her writing, shall we?

She wrote two books called Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away.



They are two stories of a life-long dream of mine.  In this story, Portia and her brother, Foster, go to visit their cousin Julian in the country.  Portia and Julian discover a dried up lake and a row of Victorian lake homes. The meet the lovable sister and brother Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton.  They have wonderful adventures exploring the old houses full of old clothes (eek!), furniture, and fantastic cubby-holes.  In the second book, Return to Gone-Away, Portia and her family buy one of the old estates, renovate it, and turn it into their home.

One of the wonderful illustrations from the book.
                                     

The Melendys is another wonderful book set in about 4 siblings in the 40s. Their names are Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver.  Aren't those interesting and pretty names?
There are 4 books written about the children and it is some of the best writing I think I have ever read.
Here's a link from this blog with wonderful quotes from the Melendys.

My copy is a pretty, old one with lovely illustrations, but this is the only one I could find online.

                                     

The Saturdays is about the 4 Melendy children and the clever way they spend their Saturdays.  They agree to pool their money, and each Saturday one of the siblings gets to go on some outing.  Along the way they meet people and have all kinds of adventures.

The Four Story Mistake is the story of the Melendys moving to an old country house.  The house is every child's dream with a huge attic and a huge basement full of treasures.  At their new home, they skate on the frozen brook, make new friends, milk goats, and hold a huge auction to raise money for war bonds.

In Then There Were Five, the children get a new sibling named Mark who lived on a neighboring farm with his dastardly cousin.  They have more adventures like those in The Four Story Mistake.

In Spider Web For Two, Mark, Rush, and Mona have all gone to boarding school.  Randy and Oliver are lonely, and so their father puts together a list of clues leading to a big surprise.  I didn't enjoy this one as well, maybe because the three older ones weren't there.  The four children balanced each other so well and I felt that lack of balance in this book.

Enright wrote many more children's books, but these are the two series that I loved the most.  If you pick up one of her books, be sure to set aside a hefty chunk of time, because you won't want to stop reading once you start.




Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hello and My First Book Review

Hello Blogging World!  I'm excited to be here blogging about one of my favorite topics: books.
I have loved reading since I was little and I could spend hours snuggled up under an old quilt with a good novel.  So, I decided to start a blog, mainly for myself, so I could have a way to document everything that I read and what I think of it.

I thought I would start with a book that is new to me and that I really enjoyed.  It's called The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.  I love L.M. Montgomery, particularly for her classic Anne of Green Gables series.
This edition is much prettier than my 90s paperback version
                                     

The Blue Castle is the story of an "old maid" named Valancy.  She lives with her manipulative mother and domineering aunt and has been ruled her whole dreary life by her close knit and unkind family.   He only consolations are nature books written by a mysterious John Foster and her imaginary "blue castle" where everything she wants comes true.  But, on her 29th birthday, all of this changes.  Valancy suffers from a heart condition and is told by her doctor that she will not live longer than one year.

Another pretty edition.  This one is a modern copy.

                                          
After a night of thinking back over her life, she realizes that she has never done what she actually wants to do.  She determines to live the rest of her life truly enjoying herself.  She proceeds to horrify her family by saying exactly what she thinks about everything, going to work for a dying woman who has a scandalous background, and doing whatever she feels like.  Eventually, Valancy finds her own Blue Castle.  

This book is so charming and I love the setting of the beautiful Canadian country.  The story is well-crafted and I was drawn in at once by Montgomery's wonderful writing.  I actually stayed up until 11:30 one night reading because it was so engrossing.  The book is a quick read (my copy is only 200 pages).   This would be a perfect weekend book.  

Reading this book has inspired me to read some of L.M. Montgomery's less well-known writings.  I look forward to writing more about my reading adventures!