Monday, August 19, 2013

Holly Hotel (Book Review)

Title:  Holly Hotel: a Mystery
Author: Elisabeth Kyle             IllustratorNora S. Unwin
Publication Information:  Houghton Mifflin Company, hardcover, 1947
Genre: Juvenile Mystery, set in Scotland
Plot:  After 12-year-old Molly Maitland’s father dies, there isn’t enough money to subsidize her home, Holly House, in the Scottish village of Whistleblow.  Afraid her mother will sell the house and move them to Glasgow, Molly tries to persuade Mrs. Maitland to turn Holly House into a small hotel, and she puts up a few notices for visitors as a test.  To everyone’s surprise, several guests appear, beginning with Julian and Jane, affluent orphans sent to the country for fresh air by their uncle.  Several mysteries ensue:  one involves a legendary poet, Mungo Blythe, whose descendant (another Mungo) is on a quest from America to Whistleblow because of a rumor that Blythe an unpublished work hidden in his home town.  Will Mungo Kerrigan find the lost poetic work so he can provide for his mother?  Who is the mysterious Mr. Brown who also seems interested in the lost poems of Mungo Blythe? Will the success of their venture enable Molly and Mrs. Maitland to save their home? 

What I liked:  I read several of this author’s books as a child but never came across this one.  My favorite was Princess of Orange, about the Mary of William and Mary (she was the sister of the Old Pretender).   This book is billed as a mystery for 8-12 year olds set in a whimsical Scottish village.   Sometimes one cannot but be amused by hard-up families in fiction who still can afford a loyal servant.  Here, it is made clear that Mrs. Maitland hasn’t been able to pay Locket, the elderly housekeeper and former nanny, but Locket stays out of loyalty to the family (and does not have anywhere else to go).  Once Molly has lured the first paying guests, Locket makes sure her wages are covered.  There is eventually a financial solution for the Maitlands, and  I wondered if there was a possibility down the road for romance between Molly’s widowed mother and Julian and Jane’s bachelor uncle.

I have come across the art of illustrator Nora Unwin previously but had not realized she was a scion of the famous English publishing family.  Surprisingly, she spent much of her adult life in America, living in Wellesley, MA in the late 50s and then settling in New Hampshire.  She wrote and illustrated 12 books of her own but was primarily known for her illustrations of other books, approximately 100.  She is best known for her collaborations with Elizabeth Yates, author of Amos Fortune, Free Man, a Newbery Honor Book.

What I disliked:  The story is pleasant but very tame.  I love reading about hotels and boarding houses so was more interested in the hotel than in the mythical poet; in addition, the mystery was not extremely absorbing.  I would have enjoyed this book more at 8 or 9, but I doubt I could get any of my nephews or nieces to read it now.  Their appetite for quiet country fiction has been destroyed by action-filled Harry Potter and Rick Riordan.

Source:  This book came from the Woods Hole Public Library, thanks to CLAMS – Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing. The librarians in Osterville could not have been nicer as I ordered dozens of books for my nephews to read this month, plus a few for me that are not available at my own library.  Gail, the children's librarian, was especially welcoming to us.

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