Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Island of Adventure (Book Review) #1944Club

This is my final entry for the #1944Club:

Title: The Island of Adventure (published in the US as Mystery Island)
Author: Enid Blyton
Illustrator: Stuart Tresilian
Publication: Macmillan, 1944
Genre: Juvenile mystery series
Plot: In this series launch, Blyton sets the scene with the two pairs of siblings who will feature in all eight Adventure books. Philip Mannering (13) is spending his summer catching up on algebra at the home of one of his teachers when he meets orphaned Jack (14), obsessed with birds, and Lucy-Ann (11) Trent and their insolent parrot, Kiki. Philip, passionate about animals, and his sister Dinah (12) live with a difficult uncle and aunt on the coast when they are not away at school. When Philip heads home to Craggy-Tops, Jack and Lucy-Ann sneak away with him, and Philip’s Aunt Polly and Uncle Jocelyn reluctantly allow them to stay as paying guests at a massive but rundown house on a cliff without electricity or running water. Strange lights on the nearby Isle of Gloom leads to the children’s first mystery together (including caves, secret passages, a dark well and a copper mine) and the acquaintance of Bill Smugs, eventually revealed as a policeman and who plays an important role in the series.

Audience: Children who like mysteries and can ignore gender stereotypes for the sake of a good story
Borrowing a boat (without permission, of course) to explore the island
My Impressions: Everyone knows that Enid Blyton’s body of work was disliked by adults and librarians, perhaps rightly, for her formulaic plots and jingoistic attitude to “others” – French, American, gypsies, etc. Yet most children love her books (500 million copies sold around the world) and I was no exception. The Adventure series was the first I read because most of them were published in the US and my mother owned a couple (first editions!). Later I found Malory Towers and St. Clare’s, which I immediately loved (how I yearned for boarding school and midnight feasts), and with difficulty in pre-Internet days obtained both complete series from England, rereading often.

One particularly memorable part of this book takes place in a deep well with interior staples that are used to descend to a secret passage under the sea:
Bill couldn’t reach the first iron staples, so Philip had to fetch a rope. It was tied tightly to an iron post by the well, and then Bill slipped down it, and placed his feet on the first staples.“I’m all right,” he said. “You come along as soon as you can, Philip – let me get down a few steps first – and for goodness’ sake don’t slip.”The girls did not go – and, indeed, neither of them liked the thought of going down the steep cold well-shaft with only insecure staples for a foot- and hand-hold. They watched the two disappearing down into the dark, and shivered.“It’s beastly to be left behind, but I honestly think it’s beastlier to go down there,” said Dinah.

Even as a child I found these characters were one-notes: Jack always excited about some bird; horrible animals always crawling out of Philip’s clothes; Dinah overly quarrelsome; and Lucy-Ann, very babyish and often relegated to housekeeping chores. In this one, the girls get left behind for the big adventure and I don’t recall if that was always the case. Such recognition of Blyton's flaws did not prevent me from enjoying and rereading the entire series and certain phrases such as “fusty musty dusty!” always stuck in my mind.
Philip meets Kiki the parrot

Stuart Tresilian was a talented illustrator contracted to Macmillan. Although there is no mention of the war in this book, the 70th edition I am reading states that Tresilian’s home was bombed while he was working on the illustrations. It also quotes a letter from Blyton showing her endorsement of Tresilian’s work: “Let’s get a tip-top artist, one who can really make the characters live.” (obviously, she talked like one of her own characters) She was especially pleased with his depiction of Kiki the parrot.

I think it holds up well, although modern children probably would not have the freedom to explore so widely by themselves and their friendship with Bill (a mysterious single man) would be frowned on.  But half of the best books depend on fictional characters being able to have adventures of which their parents or guardians would not approve!

Source: Library

Images copyright to Macmillan

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Young Bess (Guest Book Review) #1944Club

When I realized that my mother’s favorite book, Young Bess, was published in 1944, I asked her to contribute a review for the 1944 Club, in which Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings promote a specific year of published books.

Title: Young Bess
Author: Margaret Irwin
Publication: 1944
Genre: Historical Fiction

The original cover
Recently there has been a spate of novels about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII and his wives. And, of course, Elizabeth I as queen has been extremely visible in fiction, on stage, in opera.  More unusual is the vivid portrait of Elizabeth as a vulnerable girl in Margaret Irwin’s memorable book, Young Bess. It begins in 1546 with the 12-year-old Bess on the ship Great Harry with Henry and his entourage, and ends eight years later at the death of her young brother Edward VI. In between she copes with loneliness, treachery, and dangerous rumors about her relationship with her stepmother’s husband, all the while learning how to survive and eventually to rule. There are many well drawn characters, such as her kind stepmother Catherine Parr, her feisty governess, Cat Ashley, her tutor, Roger Ascham, and the noblemen jostling for power over the boy king.
The book is scrupulously accurate; that is, it makes good use of the historical evidence, and doesn’t go far afield. Obviously, we cannot know what Elizabeth’s thoughts were, or what actually went on between her and Thomas Seymour. But if there are to be historical novels featuring real people, this is a model. Margaret Irwin went on to write two more novels about Bess: Elizabeth, Captive Princess (how her sister Mary imprisoned her in the Tower) and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain (well, you know that part.) They are very good, but Young Bess rules.
A more recent cover (the popular headless look)
A personal note: somehow I discovered this adult novel in fourth grade. From that moment I was fascinated by the period, and went on to read the rest of the trilogy and much more, and to choose as my college major the Renaissance and Reformation. In England long afterward I saw the original of a letter Bess wrote in 1548. It was a thrill, especially since I had known it word for word since I was ten.

Source: First edition/personal copy
Deborah Kerr was originally to play Elizabeth
in the 1953 MGM movie but wound up as Catherine Parr 
Stephanie Martin

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Christmas Camp (Book Review)

Title: Christmas Camp
Author: Karen Schaler
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2018
Genre: Fiction/Romance
Plot: Haley Hanson is an up and coming brand strategist at Bergman Advertising, and is about to bring in a huge client, Tyler Toys, which should deliver her the partnership she craves. Instead, her boss sends her to Christmas Camp, a feel good week at a quaint country inn where he hopes Haley will learn the true meaning of Christmas. After she returns, he’ll let Haley compete with jovial Tom for the right to pitch the business to Tyler Toys (which is complete unfair, as Haley did all the finagling to get the meeting in the first place; maybe she has a discrimination lawsuit).

Dutifully, albeit gritting her teeth, Haley goes to Holly Peak Inn (presumably somewhere in New England) where Ben Jacoby, a kindly widower, tries to instill a love of Christmas in his guests. His son, Jeff, an architect from Boston, has taken the week off to help his father with the Christmas Camp and because he is hoping to persuade Ben to sell the unprofitable inn and relocate near him. Jeff doesn’t appreciate Haley’s disdain for Christmas traditions but there is an immediate chemistry between them that both unnerves Haley and makes her yearn for his approval. When Haley forgets about the pressures of work, she enjoys the lively group of characters enrolled at Christmas Camp, the two Jacoby men, and even begins to enjoy the holiday activities Ben organizes. However, her growing friendship with Jeff is threatened when Haley, using her small business expertise and enthusiasm, develops a plan to help Ben keep the inn. Can Haley achieve her career dreams, find the spirit of Christmas, and perhaps some true love as well?

Audience: Fans of chick lit and holiday romances – what, you didn’t know that was a thing?

My Impressions: This is a pleasant if somewhat saccharine romance that feels like a Hallmark movie, which is not surprising because (a) the author has written original screenplays for Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies and (b) this is actually going to be a TV movie. What saves the book from an endless parade of angels and Christmas cookies (not that I am in any way anti-cookie – some of you know that my first word was cookie and I have used it frequently ever since) are the appealing characters: Ben, who misses his deceased wife and preserves the inn’s Christmas Camp in her memory; Jeff, who is judgmental but cute; inn guests including teens who rival Haley in their impatience with Christmas traditions; and Max, an endearing golden retriever who likes to wake up Haley at dawn, leash in mouth, hoping for a walk. I wanted to check in myself!

Haley is portrayed as a soulless workaholic who freaks out when she is separated from her phone, and this seems extremely unfair. She knows she will need to create and pitch her vision of Tyler Toys right after she returns to work and Christmas Camp keeps its participants busy with cookie making and holiday decorating from dawn to dusk, which her boss knew, so it is reasonable to stress about the pending assignment. Cute Jeff is offended when she gets distracted by her phone but wouldn’t anyone if she (a) cared about her job, and (b) was about to be sabotaged by a coworker while she is on a mandatory vacation. Although her boss had Haley’s well-being in mind (and wound up being right, I suppose), he reminded me of the men who tell you to smile when you are not in the mood and feel more like kicking them. And what’s wrong with being committed to your job? No one criticized Jeff for dashing to Boston on a work related errand but every time Haley tries to check her email she offends everyone in sight. People need jobs to afford these fancy inns!
Still, it is a cute story and I would definitely watch the movie (air date does not seem to exist yet) or spend a few days at this inn – especially if the attractive innkeeper is included. 

Purchase Links: HarperCollins * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tuesday, October 16th: A Bookish Way of Life
October 16th: Instagram: @wellreadmama
October 17th: A Chick Who Reads
October 19th: Into the Hall of Books
October 22nd: Ms. Nose in a Book
October 24th: Instagram: @biblio_files
October 29th: Literary Quicksand
October 30th: Books and Bindings

Cookies image copyright to Glorious Treats,

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Dragonwyck (Book Review) #1944Club

The 1944 Club is a theme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1944 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog. 1968, 1951 and 1977 have also been promoted.
Title: Dragonwyck
Author: Anya Seton, author of Katherine and My Theodosia
Publication: Houghton Mifflin, 1944
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 19th century Connecticut and New York

Plot: Miranda Wells is the delicately lovely daughter of a no-nonsense Connecticut farmer, more likely to be caught reading a book than doing her chores, when her mother receives a letter from a rich cousin. Nicholas Van Ryn, master of a breathtaking estate in the Hudson Valley, Dragonwyck, invites Mrs. Wells to send a daughter to be his daughter’s governess. Abigail Wells has a hard life and wants better for her daughter, so she and Miranda use all their ingenuity to persuade dour Ephraim to let his daughter go (and he nearly changes his mind when they reach New York City and he sees what he considers the useless excess of their hotel, Astor House; he rightly thinks an extravagant lifestyle will go to Miranda’s head).

From the moment Miranda lays eyes on her kinsman, Nicholas Van Ryn, she is captivated by his Tall Dark Stranger looks and charismatic demeanor. She is swept away up the Hudson to Dragonwyck, and awestruck when she first beholds it – a gothic and foreboding mansion that hides dark secrets. Nicholas’ wife is an unhappy woman interested only in sweets (not that there’s anything wrong with that, unless you devour the wrong cake), who immediately resents Miranda, and little Katrine is a stolid child, happier in the kitchen than in the classroom. Nicholas is both a kind benefactor, providing Miranda a beautiful new wardrobe, and a capricious host, ignoring the fact that his wife and guests consider her nothing but a servant. Miranda is so bedazzled by her cousin that she makes excuses for his dark moods, the harsh way he treats his tenant farmers, and his impatience with his family. Everything she observes is colored by the deep attraction she feels for Nicholas, but this is a dangerous yearning that could lead to disaster . . .

Audience: Fans of historical fiction, gothic enthusiasts; those interested in the history of New York State. Seton grew up in New York and Connecticut, and loved history. My Theodosia, which I recently reviewed, is about Aaron Burr’s daughter, known now to millions.
Not Mr Darcy

My Impressions: Anya Seton’s Katherine is one of my all-time favorite books, a magical story, widely considered an outstanding example of historical fiction, and I thank Sister Sessions, the shrewd librarian who led me to it in 7th or 8th grade. Surprisingly, I had never read this one, Seton’s second novel, which is very different, although both are about innocent young women, initially out of their depths, who develop into strong, determined women. Miranda is intimidated by the dark halls of Dragonwyck and her awkward situation, disliked by her hostess and completely in the power of her manipulative host, who can move her to euphoria or misery with a few words. From the minute they meet, the reader experiences the same roller coaster sense of imminent doom as the heroine, although she tries to ignore it.

Dragonwyck is a compelling read, although too over the top to be considered a great novel like Katherine. On the other hand, I read until 3 am, unable to predict where Seton was taking her narrative, and finished it as soon as I got home from work the next night. From the obese, sullen wife and the outspoken doctor to the Irish maid who becomes Miranda’s only friend, Seton creates memorable characters, but most of all lurking in the background is the immense and unnerving Dragonwyck, a character itself, designed by its obsessive owner. And I did not mention the plain spoken doctor from Hudson, the closest town to Dragonwyck, whose sturdiness and integrity is a sharp contrast to the dangerous charm of Nicholas Van Ryn.  Even though we know Nicholas is a bad guy and Jeff Turner is good, Nicholas is far more fascinating!  The reader feels his sensuous appeal along with Miranda.
Part of my fascination with this book is that my grandmother grew up near the imaginary Dragonwyck in Newburgh, New York (where one of the Van Rensselaers mentions a soiree) and I was fascinated by the painstaking historic detail. As always, Seton’s research was exhaustive, and her portrayal of 19th century New York, both the social scene in Manhattan and life on a remote, affluent estate in upstate New York, is vivid and convincing (and does not make me crave to be part of The 400 – although I would choose the most excruciating party over the chicken Miranda is expected to kill and pluck in the first chapter). And the depiction of steamboats racing on the Hudson is enough to give a gentle reader nightmares!

Movie: Friends tell me the movie of Dragonwyck, billed to audiences as in the tradition of Rebecca, starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Vincent Price, and Jessica Tandy, is well worth seeing but my old author Leonard Maltin only gives it 2 ½ stars. I must ask movie maven Laura her opinion.   She will doubtless appreciate the pageantry of the production.

Source: Library

Sunday, October 14, 2018

I Know You Know (Book Review)

Title: I Know You Know
Author: Gilly Macmillan
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Twenty years ago, eleven-year-old Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were murdered in the city of Bristol, their bodies dumped near a dog racing track. A man was convicted of the brutal crime, but decades later, some believe he was innocent.

Since childhood, Cody Swift has been haunted by the deaths of his childhood best friends. The loose ends of the police investigation consume him so much that he decides to return to Bristol in search of answers. Hoping to uncover new evidence, and to encourage those who may be keeping long-buried secrets to speak up, Cody starts a podcast to record his findings. But there are many people who don’t want the case—along with old wounds—reopened so many years after the tragedy, especially Charlie’s mother, Jess, who decides to take matters into her own hands.

When a long-dead body is found in the same location the boys were left decades before, the disturbing discovery launches another murder investigation. Now Detective John Fletcher, the investigator on the original case, is asked to reopen his dusty files and decide if the two murders are linked. With his career at risk, the clock is ticking and lives are in jeopardy…

Audience: Fans of psychological suspense – authors such as Nicci French, Denise Mina, Tana French, Sophie Hannah

My Impressions: Gilly Macmillan is an author I have been meaning to read so I was pleased at the opportunity to review her new book. This is a dark mystery about the murder of two children twenty years ago and the present day discovery of another body in the same location, and the connections between them.  Macmillan delivers a number of twists and crafts vivid and complex characters – although some were hard to like. The most interesting were Jess, the one-time single mother of one of the murdered boys, who has rebuilt her life and has the most to lose if the case is reopened, and John Fletcher, the detective who thinks he is smarter than anyone else.  Jess clearly made some mistakes as a young mother but is portrayed with some sympathy although she continues to make poor choices.  Some of the story is told in podcasts which was a key element of the plot but seemed too gimmicky to me (maybe I would feel differently if I had succumbed to the podcast craze).  Also, at times, I found the plot hard to follow as the author moved back and forth from past to present but it was a fast-paced and entertaining read.

Purchase Links: Harper Collins * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Review Stops:

Tuesday, September 18th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, October 2nd: Comfy Reading
Tuesday, October 2nd: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, October 4th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, October 4th: 5 Minutes For Books
Saturday, October 6th: Instagram: @brookesbooksandbrews
Tuesday, October 9th: Jessicamap Reviews
Wednesday, October 10th: As I turn the pages
Thursday, October 11th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, October 11th: Into the Hall of Books
Friday, October 12th: Write – Read – Life
Saturday, October 13th: Tales of a Book Addict

Monday, October 8, 2018

When the Men Were Gone (Book Review)

Title: When the Men Were Gone
Author: Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, October 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Football is an important part of the community in Brownwood, Texas, as it is in many small towns. Tylene Wilson became a football fan as a child, attending games with her father and drawing up plays for fun. Now, as an Assistant Principal at the high school, she has seen too many of the town’s young men go off to fight in WWII without returning, including the football coach. Determined that the seniors will get to enjoy their last season, Tylene takes on the role of head football coach but encounters unexpected hostility from people she’s known her whole life. Can she get the team behind her and make it to the first game of the season?

Audience: Fans of television’s Homefront and Friday Night Lights; fans of folksy historical fiction

My Impressions: Based on a true story, this is a warm and affectionate portrayal of a small town with all its quirks. Brownwood is the kind of place where everyone turns out for the funeral of the former football coach but where some of Tylene’s closest friends will shun her when she tries to help preserve the football season. I especially liked the descriptions of Tylene’s childhood: the time she spent with her father learning about football and going to games with him, regardless of weather, and was surprised by the revelation that he had not been a diehard fan but rather had turned himself into a fan for his child (I was reminded of Jeremy Lin’s father, Gie-Ming, who had not played in Taiwan but, after arriving at Purdue for graduate school, taught himself the game so he could help his children learn the sport). I also enjoyed the description of determined teenage Tylene applying for a bookkeeping job at her future husband’s auto body shop – he was the perfect foil for her: loyal and thoughtful. This was an enjoyable read although I would have liked the book to cover the whole season, not just the first game.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins * IndieBound * Barnes & Noble * Amazon
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read those reviews by clicking below:

Review Stops:

Tuesday, October 2nd: bookchickdi
Thursday, October 4th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, October 5th: Lit and Life
Monday, October 8th: Doing Dewey
Wednesday, October 10th: Instagram: @theliteraryllama
Thursday, October 11th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 16th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, October 17th: Instagram: @writersdream
Thursday, October 18th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Royal Order of Fighting Dragons (Book Review)

Title: The Royal Order of Fighting Dragons
Author: Dan Elish
Publication: Vesuvian Books, paperback, ebook, 2018
Genre: Juvenile Fantasy
Plot: Ike Rupert Hollingsberry is trying to be a normal sixth grade at a private school in New York City but random strangers and social media constantly remind him of his father’s tragic death while filming a cult-like TV show called The Fighting Dragons. Ike was a child when his father died and has learned to tune out obsessive fans and does not listen to his classmate Elmira when she tries to tell him the show was not really a fantasy. However, when Ike is attacked by a giant locust, he discovers inner strength that allows him to face down the monster until Elmira comes to the rescue unexpectedly.

Ike and Elmira are joined by two other descendants of the original show’s lead characters and learn they are the next in line to take command of the Royal Order of the Fighting Dragons, and their first assignment is to fly dragons, which Ike had previously believed did not exist. Now Ike is a reluctant but resolute leader, following in his father’s footsteps, and the four children, with some help, must lead the battle to save the world from the enemy locusts!

Audience: Think Gordon Korman meets Rick Riordan meets James and the Giant Peach. My nephews (11 and 13) really like quest-based fantasy and I am sure most children their age would enjoy this.

My Impressions: First of all, what a stunning cover which beautifully sets the tone for a quirky fantasy. In this lively adventure story, there are six very different children, all with their own quirks and personalities. Ike is an appealing main character, one minute avoiding bullies in the cafeteria (which anyone can identify with!) and the next fighting off a giant locust (ugh) and learning how to manage people (tell me your secret!). Author Elish uses humor and the epic tradition of King Arthur to craft a fast-paced story.

Locusts were a real problem in the 19th century in this country. I wondered if the author had ever read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder? That is the book in which locust destroy the Ingalls’ crops and completely demoralize the whole family and other homesteaders, per the New York Times:

Sweeping across North America, flying hordes of Rocky Mountain locusts were once an awesome and horrifying sight, huge glittering clouds of insects laying waste countless acres of crops. Throughout the 1800's, the whirring swarms periodically ravaged farm fields from California east to Minnesota and south to Texas. 
The locusts were easy to please, eating barley, buckwheat, melons, tobacco, strawberry, spruce, apple trees -- even fence posts, laundry hung out to dry and each other. 
When women threw blankets over their gardens, the locusts devoured the blankets then feasted on the plants. Farmers lit fires, blasted shotguns into the swarms and scoured their fields with so-called hopperdozers, large metal scoops, smeared with tar or molasses to grab as many of the offenders as possible. But it was all to no avail.
I had two small concerns: one was that when Ike is given his father’s sword he finds the initials of his ancestor, SMH for Sir Matthew Hollingsberry, were engraved on it – but no one would monogram an honorific! That is like monogramming a D for Doctor. Second, an Italian character’s name is Alexandro Lafcadio Cortesi, and I believe an Italian boy would be called Alessandro. Moreover, he uses several variations of “miei amici” and not all seemed accurate. An editor should help with such issues.

Purchase Links: Amazon * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the author and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Friday, September 21st: Write – Read – Life
Monday, September 24th: Instagram: @biblio_files
Wednesday, September 26th: Instagram: @lifebetweenwords
Friday, September 28th: Instagram: @throneofshatteredbooks
Monday, October 1st: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, October 2nd: Instagram: @e_mellyberry
Thursday, October 4th: Instagram: @megabunnyreads
Friday, October 5th: Read Till Dawn
Tuesday, October 9th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, October 10th: InkyMoments
Thursday, October 11th: Instagram: @betty_books
Saturday, October 13th: Instagram: @alurkingbooknerd
Friday, October 19th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read