Monday, March 30, 2020

The Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont

Title: The Lark in the Morn (Haverard Family #1)
Author: Elfrida Vipont
Publication: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1970 (original UK publication 1948)
Genre: Middle grade fiction/series
UK paperback edition

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Five Things

Bicycle stores are considered an essential service, so are open.  I brought my bicycle to get turned up in case I crave exercise (it seems unlikely, admittedly) and picked it up the other day “distantly” and rode it home.   While it is true that one never forgets how to ride a bicycle, I was definitely out of practice and somewhat resembled Curious George:

Instead of finishing Kokoro for my book group, I picked up Victory by Susan Cooper, a timeslip novel I recommend by this talented writer.  My Radcliffe Book Group met remotely when I was only about halfway through so I am dutifully completing Kokoro now.

I also just finished All the Best Lies, which was a good thriller about a cold case, set mostly in Las Vegas.  Two quibbles: somehow I put this on reserve without realizing it was the third book in a series.  You know how much I hate reading things out of order!   Also, at one point someone slashes the tires of the main characters’ rental car.   One of my pet peeves is the Too Stupid to Live protagonist who does incredibly stupid things when in danger.   Here, post-tire slashing, the heroine stormed off emotionally outside alone without a jacket, without money, without a phone, despite believing a killer knows where she is staying!  Later, she goes for a run!   There are legitimate ways to endanger your characters without exasperating your readers.  Can you think of books where you got so exasperated with the characters it spoiled your enjoyment of the book?

I am a little nervous of my new toaster so I have only used it once.  Could it be because of this pessimistic message?  

I am not usually home when the mailman comes but now I rush to the door to see what he has brought.  It is always disappointing!  Yesterday, a Macy’s circular, a postcard from a radio station to the previous owner, and my Excise tax.   I would like more information on how this $185.50 is going to be spent, please.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

More Frederica, Chapters 22 - 24

When we left Frederica, in the eponymous book by Georgette Heyer, the heroine's youngest brother Felix had stowed away in a hot air balloon and come to grief when the balloon descended into a tree.   Frederica asked Lord Alverstoke to pursue the balloon and he is now in charge of the injured Felix at a farm outside London.
Chapter 22

Alverstoke’s night at the farm minding Felix is very stressful.   At least grumpy Miss Judbrook feeds him quite adequately but Felix tosses and turns all night, feverishly moaning or calling out for Frederica.  My favorite bit is when he wakes up and asks where he is, and Alverstoke replies, “You are with me, Felix,” which he knows is silly when he utters it, but Felix is comforted. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Victory by Susan Cooper, a timeslip story about a ship's boy at Trafalgar with Admiral Nelson

Title: Victory
Author: Susan Cooper 
Publication: Margaret K. McElderry Books, hardcover, 2006
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fantasy

Plot: This is the story of two children, separated by two hundred years, and how each crosses the ocean to cope with a new life thrust upon them.  One child is Sam Robbins, a powder monkey aboard the HMS Victory, the ship in which Vice-Admiral Nelson will die a hero’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  The other is Molly Jennings, an English girl transplanted from London to the United States in 2006, fighting a battle of her own against loneliness and depression.

My Impressions: How did I miss this timeslip novel by Susan Cooper with so many appealing characters?   Molly’s life changed when her widowed mother met and married an affluent American, who was working in London.  At first, the blended family, which includes stepbrother Russell, five years older than Molly, manages to coexist, and Molly continues at her school while Russell continues at the American School in London, and a new baby, Donald, unites the family. But when her stepfather gets transferred back to the US, Molly finds suburban life in Connecticut alien and unwelcome, and is desperately homesick.  On a family trip to Mystic, she finds herself in a naval bookstore where she is drawn to a biography of Admiral Nelson, which she purchases and reads. Back in 1803, a farm boy, Sam Robbins, is rescued from an abusive father by a kind uncle, a rope maker in Chatham, who offers him a home.  For five days, Sam enjoys working at the Chatham Dockyard, and then he and his uncle are press-ganged on their way home and forced into the English Navy.  The depiction of life on board the Victory is vivid and fascinating, in all its brutality and not ignoring the rats (ugh).  Even the minor characters are carefully and well-drawn, particularly the crew of the Victory, Molly’s grandfather (a former Naval man), and, of course, Admiral Nelson himself.  But it is Molly’s instinctive interest in Nelson that connects these two children across the centuries. . .
Portrait of Nelson by Lemuel Francis Abbott
An Author’s Note by Susan Cooper reveals that there was a 13-year-old Samuel Robbins on the HMS Victory as a ship’s boy and the names of all the crew are listed on the Victory’s website, www.hms-victory.com.  How fun it would be to go visit!  I have never been to Portsmouth, England, only Portsmouth, New Hampshire (a delightful town).  Cooper concludes by writing: “Sam Robbins’s encounters with Admiral Nelson are not historical; they came out of my imagination, and I loved writing them.  Perhaps I wrote this whole book only for the change of meeting one of my greatest heroes, just as I was lucky enough to meet Shakespeare in a book called King of Shadows and Merlin, long ago, in a sequence called The Dark is Rising.  Writers are fortunate people.”

Another Child at War: The Boston Globe recently had an interesting story about a black 8-year-old named David Debias who passed explosives to the thundering guns of the USS Constitution on the night of February 20, 1815.  He was a free man, fighting for his young country but may have come to a terrible end (worse than dying in battle).

Death of Nelson: I am sure if I were English, I would have learned in school about the friendship of Admiral Nelson and Admiral Hardy.  Instead, although I knew about Nelson’s heroism, I read about his scandalous affair with Emma Hamilton in a Jane Aiken Hodge and watched That Hamilton Woman with Vivien Leigh.  Eventually, I heard the famous phrase “Kiss me, Hardy!” in Code Name Verity but until now did not know that Hardy was Nelson’s dear friend and that Nelson spoke to him as he was dying in the Battle of Trafalgar.
Susan Cooper

More Susan Cooper
: My review of Over Sea, Under Stone, which begins The Dark is Rising series

Source: Personal copy

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, a whodunnit set on an isolated Highland estate, cut off by snow

Title: The Hunting Party
Author:  Lucy Foley
Publication: William Morrow, Trade Paperback, 2020 (originally published 2019)
Genre: Suspense

Plot: A group of friends in their early 30s book four days at a winter Highland wilderness, Loch Corrin.   It’s a chance to relax together and celebrate New Year’s Eve.   Miranda and her husband Julien, Samira and her husband Giles, Mark, Katie, and Nick have been friends since they were up at Oxford.  Samira and Giles now have baby Priya, Nick has an American boyfriend Bo, and Mark’s competent girlfriend Emma has organized this trip, in part to be accepted by his friends.  Heather, the manager, and Doug, the brooding gamekeeper, have secrets of their own that brought them to the back of beyond.  The estate, while beautiful, is very isolated and cut off from the world once it begins to snow and the guests begin to quarrel – and then a guest is murdered . . .

Monday, March 16, 2020

Survivor in Death, bestselling romantic suspense about ferocious but vulnerable detective Eve Dallas

Title: Survivor in Death
Author: Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb
Publication: Putnam, Audiobook, 2005
Narrator: Susan Ericksen
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Series
Plot: Lieutenant Dallas is called in to a particularly brutal murder of the Swisher family: all killed except 9-year-old Nixie who was out of bed and hid from the intruders.  Finding a terrified little girl in a crime scene brings back terrible memories of her childhood to Dallas. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: From Wolfe Island to The Children of Green Knowe

Australian author Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island, a dystopian novel set in Chesapeake Bay, is this month’s starting point for Six Degrees of Separation, which is organized by Kate.  It sounds interesting but due to a busy semester, I was not able to add it to this month’s reading.  It does seem unusual that an Australian author would set a book in Virginia (or Maryland!) and name her narrator Kitty Hawke, which is a play on a famous North Carolina coastal town.   Maybe I will understand her reasoning when I read the book!  I notice all my books this month are by women - unintentional but interesting.
 

My first book is Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (1947).  Set on the Virginia coast like Wolfe Island, this is a famous children’s book, a runner-up for the Newbery Award, about the wild ponies on the island town of Chincoteague, Virginia.  I was not a big "horse book" reader but all of Henry's books were in my school and city libraries.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Down in the Cellar by Nicholas Stuart Gray - children's fiction with elements of fantasy and suspense

Title: Down in the Cellar
Author: Nicholas Stuart Gray
Illustrator: Edward Ardizzone
Publication: Hardcover, Dennis Dobson, 1961
Genre: Children’s Fantasy
Plot: The Jefferson children - Bruce, Julia, Andrew, and Deirdre – are staying with their uncle, the quiet Rector of Farthingale, for three weeks while their parents are in New Zealand. They happily explore the house and the village but it is when they discover a forgotten cellar in the rectory that complications arise.