Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas Traditions in Boston (Book Review)

Title: Christmas Traditions in Boston
Author: Anthony M. Sammarco
Publication: Fonthill/Arcadia Publishing, paperback, 2017
Genre: History/Illustrated Nonfiction
Description: This is a warm and delightful description of the celebration of Christmas in Boston from 17th century Puritan days to the present. Anthony Sammarco, a Boston native who spends all of his free time researching, writing, and speaking on iconic historical aspects of local history Is a delightful raconteur, both in person and through his books. He describes the restrictions on celebration in the Bay Colony’s early history, followed by the development of new traditions as Anglicans and Catholics emigrate to and settle in the Boston area.

I was particularly interested in Lydia Child, a writer and abolitionist known for having written “Over the River and Though the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go.” While many readers may already know that Germans such as Prince Albert popularized the Christmas Tree in England and the United States, I did not know it was a German-American in Cambridge, Harvard professor Charles Follen, who had one of the first Christmas Trees in Boston 1830s, or that Prussian-born Louis Prang (1824-1909) introduced the Christmas card after settling in Boston and establishing a lithograph business (Prang is also known for supporting women artists). I do enjoy old fashioned Christmas cards!
Reading these stories about Christmas traditions being inspired by Germans reminded me of Louisa May Alcott who may have known some of these individuals (not just the poor Hummel family). Anyone who ever read Little Women (spoiler alert) knows that moment of betrayal when the reader realizes (a) Amy March is marrying Laurie instead of Jo, and (b) that Jo gets stuck with dumpy Professor Bhaer. I went to my mother in horror who, although not yet a librarian, always knew everything. She explained to me that German immigrants and culture were very influential in 18th and 19th century America – Germans were the second largest immigrant group after the English - that they were intellectual and very influential as to the development of American culture, and that Jo March was attracted to Professor Bhaer’s intellect and kindness. That is, alas, not what your 9 or 10 year old wants to hear. It will be interesting to see if the new BBC/PBS series can manage to make him appealing.

Audience: Fans of Boston history and those who enjoy Christmas decorations and traditions. Those who enjoy this book should join the Lost Boston group on Facebook where Anthony leads discussions about historic Boston and iconic institutions of the past. He also shares his speaking schedule there and I recommend attending one of his events, if you are in the area.

Both the Boston Globe and Herald have covered the publication of this book, and you can see Anthony himself on youtube.

My Impressions: This book is a treasure trove of knowledge about locations and traditions in Boston which we sometimes take for granted, and is almost as much fun as hearing Anthony in person. I loved hearing about bell ringing on Beacon Hill and the sign on Boston Common near a crèche in 1963 that asked passersby to stop for a moment in memory of President Kennedy. The photos are plentiful and delightful: one of my favorites is of the infamous Mayor James Michael Curley, at home next to his Christmas tree, with his wife and son, all examining a drum. Their gifts are wrapped in plain white paper with ribbons (pre-scotch tape). My mother will like the part about Ted Marier who founded the Archdiocesan Choir School at St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge (growing up my sister and I were not fans of the incense but we always enjoyed the singing).

Source: I purchased a copy at an author event held at the beautiful Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts. I know Christmas is over but you don’t need to wait until next year to order this charming book.

This is my last review of 2017!  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Into the Night (Book Review)

Title: Into the Night, Killer Instinct #2
Author: Cynthia Eden
Publication: Harlequin, paperback, December 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Two FBI agents are caught in a merciless vigilante’s crosshairs in New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden’s new Killer Instinct series

Sheltered in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains is the suspect who has summoned FBI agent Macey Night’s fears to the surface. Every day that the “Profiler,” a vigilante serial killer, escapes justice is another day she’s reminded of what it is to be a ruthless predator’s prey. Capturing him is a craving deeper than anything she’s felt in a long time. But Agent Bowen Murphy, equal parts sexy and volatile, seems hell-bent on changing that. Working together—needing, living and breathing each other—they’re entwined to distraction.

Bowen’s used to operating on impulse: act, don’t feel. Now Macey and the controlled terror behind her beautiful eyes have him rethinking everything, including his rule to never get close to a colleague. He’s willing to fight for a future with Macey, but the consequences of love could be deadly.

Audience: Fans of authors such as Suzanne Brockmann (I love her Troubleshooters series, although it is one of very few series in which I suggest not beginning with book 1), Tami Hoag, Lori Foster (see my review of Close Contact)

From Cynthia Eden: "My 'Killer Instinct' series . . .focuses on dark and sexy suspense–but suspense with a definite romance element. All of the books in this series feature characters who’ve had up-close and personal experiences with killers…the killers have been their friends, their lovers, their family members. Because of this closeness, the characters in my “Killer Instinct” books have a unique understanding when it comes to serial killers…and catching those predators."

Heterochromia images
copyright to
My Impressions: I thought this was a much stronger installment in the series than the first book I read where the main character had been in denial most of his life that first his father and then his brother were serial killers. Macey is a former doctor who barely escaped the rogue surgeon at her hospital, a serial killer known as “The Doctor”, and she is now an FBI agent, part of the undoubtedly special team assembled by Samantha Dark (the most interesting member of the team). They are all profilers but with an unusual twist – each one has a very personal connection with a serial killer. This is creepy and makes chitchat about their pasts problematic but is supposed to help them with the behavioral analysis aspect of the job. While there is a prohibition on romantic entanglements among team members, that does not prevent Macey and her teammate Bowen from hooking up when they should really be getting sleep or concentrating on the many possible suspects . . . that is one of the challenges of fast-paced romantic suspense – making the romance plausible during a stressful period, and Eden handles it by showing the glimmers of attraction existed before Macey and Bowen are thrown together.

Part of Macey's appeal to serial killers is that she has two different colored eyes (heterochromia).  This condition, which is usually benign, does not run in families but fans of Anne of Green Gables will recall that it features as a major plot device in Anne's House of Dreams involving Leslie Ford's husband.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for including me - please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:
December 28th: Book Nerd
December 29th: Evermore Books
January 2nd: Jathan & Heather
January 3rd: Books a la Mode – excerpt
January 4th: A Fortress of Books
January 5th: Deborah Blanchard
January 8th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt
January 8th: From the TBR Pile
January 9th: Books & Spoons
January 10th: Moonlight Rendezvous
January 11th: Becky on Books
January 12th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
January 16th: Books & Bindings
January 17th: Mystery Suspense Reviews
January 17th: Nightbird Novels – excerpt
January 18th: Stranded in Chaos
January 19th: Natalie the Biblioholic
January 22nd: Smexy Books
January 24th: Buried Under Romance
Wednesday, January 24th: Girls in Books – excerpt
Monday, January 29th: Romancing the Readers
Wednesday, January 31st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – excerpt
TBD: The Sassy Bookster
TBD: What is That Book About – excerpt

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Relative Stranger (Book Review)

Title: A Relative Stranger
Author: Anne Stevenson
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Hardcover, 1969
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Julie, a freelance artist, living in London, has had a hard time concentrating on her career since her much older brother Richard disappeared nearly three years ago. Involved in some kind of espionage, Richard is being held in a prison by unspecified bad guys. But when Richard is released, Julie is asked to help identify the aloof stranger and she isn’t quite sure it’s her brother. Then the mysterious but attractive Stephen Archer appears at her front door with a postcard from Richard just as Julie receives on herself, and she really doesn’t know who to trust . . .

Audience: Fans of Mary Stewart. While there will never be another Mary Stewart, there are a few good wannabes and Stevenson, who wrote seven novels in the 70s and early 80s, was one of them. My mother introduced me to both authors.  In return, I have introduced her to Susanna Kearsley who is definitely the best substitute Stewart currently writing (her books are quite different in some ways but certainly appeal to Stewart fans).

These books have quite the gothic look
My Impressions: I never mind rereading books that are dated but there was one scene in particular that really came across as inappropriate, given the current climate! Julie is visiting the publishing company she freelances for and the art editor who is her boss flirts with her very casually in front of his secretary Anne:

He had known Julie for more than a year and professed himself enraptured by her legs. . . 

“Hey, Anne ---“ He pulled his secretary around by the skirt as she passed his desk.

“When are you going to marry me, Julie?”
She shook her head, smiling.
“Well, if you won’t marry me, when are you going to sleep with me? This afternoon – I’ve no appointments this afternoon, have I, Anne?”

It turns out he roomed with Julie’s brother at university which surely makes his flirting even less acceptable (and remember, a freelancer is often totally dependent on his/her one contact to secure additional work) although I know it was a different world then.

Source: I remember enjoying A Relative Stranger back in the day and picked it up at the Brookline Library recently for a reread. Now, of course, I am trying to recall which of her books I read and which were never at my library in those pre-Internet, pre-Inter Library Loan days, and how to obtain some of the more obscure titles.   Note: there is another Anne Stevenson who is a British poet.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Waking in Time (Book Review)

Title: Waking in Time
Author: Angie Stanton
Publication: Switch Press/Capstone, hardcover, 2017
Genre: YA Timetravel
Plot: Abbi is excited to begin her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, although it is bittersweet because she recently lost her grandmother, an ardent alumna who had encouraged her to apply. But one morning she wakes up in 1983 and realizes she has gone back in time, but is still a student at Wisconsin – in fact, in the same dorm and same bed. Frightened and afraid she might not be able to return to present day, Abbi makes two important friends: handsome Will, another time-traveler, born several generations before her, but moving forward in time instead of backward like her; and a geeky college professor who might hold the key to Abbi’s ability to regain control of her life.
Audience: Fans of YA fiction and/or of time travel; University of Wisconsin alumni.

My Impressions: I have always been a fan of time travel, and the unusual college setting added an element of appeal to this book. Because the book is written in the first person, the reader really suffers with Abbi as she tries to navigate the past and determine whether there is some reason she is having this adventure. I would have liked more plot development and more description of her classes and college life but at least the author provides some vivid depictions of the girls Abbi befriends in the past.  Even Abbi's grandmother attended college substantially after Betsy Ray and Carney Sibley but their experience is still of great interest.

A couple years ago I was at a big crew race in Worcester and wound up talking to some University of Wisconsin rowing fanatics. They were very proud of the fact that crew was Wisconsin’s first varsity sport, dating back to 1874. That made me enjoy Will’s devotion to crew even more and gave it plausibility as the one constant while he moved about in time.
Fun Historical FactClick here for a great look at Dorm Life in 19th century Wisconsin.  Women were first admitted to Wisconsin in 1863 and degrees were awarded in 1869. In contrast, my alma mater, Radcliffe College, was not even founded until 1879! 

Source: My sister lent me this book which she had checked out of the Newton Free Library. I am especially pleased to have found a novel published by Capstone, which is headquartered in Mankato, MN, the ancestral home of Maud Hart Lovelace. I recall John Coughlan, the founder, was a big supporter of MHL (I seem to remember that he came briefly to one of the Betsy-Tacy conventions and I was introduced to him by the talented Kathy Baxter). I know the publishing company has continued to thrive after his retirement but as much of Capstone's output is nonfiction I have not had much exposure to it.   I do have to laugh, however, that this time travel novel is classified as Realistic Fiction on the publisher's site!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Close Contact (Book Review)

Title: Close Contact, A Body Armor Novel
Author: Lori Foster
Publication: Harlequin Paperback, November 2017
Genre: Romance

Plot: After inheriting her grandmother’s isolated farmhouse, Maxi Nevar is trying to make it her home despite some odd events that make her wonder if she has a poltergeist. But when she wakes up in a nearby field with no memory of how she got there, she is smart enough to realize she needs professional help. Unfortunately, the logical choice, Miles Dartman, is the man with whom she had several one night stands, then ignored, so it is more than a little awkward to pursue him to his new employer. It turns out that Matt, a former Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Fighter, has just become a bodyguard with Body Armor, a personal security agency, run by the glamorous Sahara Silver. Although Miles is still angry that Maxi blew him off, he is immediately protective of her, plus can’t wait to have sex with her again, so is all too willing to move in with her. From that point, while the stalking and other dangerous events keep on coming, at least Maxi is pleasurably distracted by her own personal martial arts expert while they try to figure out who wants her to disappear. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense. Enter the Rafflecopter Sweepstakes for a chance to win a copy:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound

My Impressions: Lori Foster is one of those authors I always meant to read so I was pleased when TLC Book Tours invited me to participate in this tour. This was a fun, quick read with appealing characters, who have abundant chemistry, and a dramatic denouement. Although a big sports fan, I had to look up MMA and am amused by the concept of a bodyguard company consisting of martial arts experts, somewhere near Kentucky (given this is a series, there is clearly a lot more going on in this part of the world than I would have guessed to occupy this group of excessively attractive men!). In this instance, a private investigator would have been more useful in determining which of the people in Maxi’s life was tormenting her - although he might not have been as sexy as Miles (tell me, however, why it is considered appealing for a man not to wear underwear?). Where Foster is most successful is in depicting the friendship among this group of guys, most of whom appear to be former fighters and were featured in previous books in the series (you may want to go back and start this series in proper order but it stood alone fairly well).  Foster did a good job in creating motives for several potential bad guys although the real perp was fairly obvious to me, if not to Miles and the oddly named Maxi. While the haunted house/stalker plot was not very exciting, the book passed the test of making me want to read more of the series – Sahara was the most intriguing character in the book, both her personality and her determination to find her missing brother, and I will definitely read her story when it comes out, next in the series!
Source: Thanks to TLC Book Tour for providing me a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Please check out other stops on the tour below:
Monday, November 20th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, November 21st: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, November 22nd: Recommended Romance
Thursday, November 23rd: Books, Coffee & Passion
Friday, November 24th: What Is That Book About – excerpt
Monday, November 27th: Evermore Books
Monday, November 27th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Monday, November 27th: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, November 28th: Cara’s Book Boudoir
Tuesday, November 28th: Sultry Sirens Book Blog – excerpt
Wednesday, November 29th: Reading Reality
Thursday, November 30thThoughts of a Blond
Friday, December 1stSmexy Books
Monday, December 4thThe Sassy Bookster
Monday, December 4thNatalie the Biblioholic
Tuesday, December 5thOMG Reads
Tuesday, December 5thOf Pens and Pages
Wednesday, December 6thJathan & Heather
Thursday, December 7thAll Things Bookaholic.
Friday, December 8thCheryl’s Book Nook
Monday, December 11thMoonlight Rendezvous
Monday, December 11thNightbird Novels
Tuesday, December 12thBooks & Spoons
Wednesday, December 13thMystery Suspense Reviews
Thursday, December 14thBooks and Bindings
Friday, December 15thBecky on Books

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Now, Not Ever (Book Review)

Title: Not Now, Not Ever
Author: Lily Anderson
Publication: Wednesday Books/Macmillan, Hardcover, 2017
Genre: Young Adult
Interview: I am so pleased to interview Lily for Staircase Wit!

SW: I loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, and am eager to read your new book which I know is inspired by The Importance of Being Earnest, my all time favorite play. What inspired you to do retellings of classics?
LA: I have always loved retellings—pretty much since the first time I read Jon Scieszka’s Stinky Cheese Man picture book when I was little. Even now, I read pretty much every fairy tale and classic literature retelling I come across. But I wasn’t finding retellings of the things that I loved—plays. I’m a lifelong theater geek. Certain plays—like Much Ado About Nothing and The Importance Of Being Earnest—have stuck around just as long, if not longer, than other stories being retold. Their themes still resonate with audiences all over the world, every day. It seemed silly to me that they weren’t being transformed into YA novels. And I waited and looked around before I decided to do it myself! 
SW: You seem to understand the ups and downs of teen friendship. Do you have any friends who have lasted since teendom?
LA: I actually have a lot of friends that I met when I was a teen! My group of closest friends all met doing youth theater together and we’ve stayed close ever since, which means that we have been through the highest highs and lowest lows between middle school and adulthood. Teen friendships can be hard because everything is SO INTENSE when you’re a teen, but finding the right group of people who won’t bail when things get hard is key. 

SW: What were your favorite books when you were a teen?
LA: Whew. Well, get ready for me to date myself because I was into some early aughts club bangers. I loved The Princess Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books. I was super obsessed with The Outsiders (although I somehow never saw the movie?). And I was reading a lot of comics and manga—mostly Ranma ½, Kodocha, and anything from the X-Men universe.

SW: From your website, I can make some guesses about books you like to recommend as a librarian – are there any hidden gems you can share?
LA: I’m an elementary school librarian, so I get kind of shouty about great middle grade novels. Everyone should be reading Anne Ursu, Grace Lin, Varian Johnson, Natalie Lloyd, Sheila Turnage, Kat Yeh, Megan Morrison, and Mac Barnett. 

SW:  Great, some new authors for me!  I also see you are a fan of Little Women (if you have never visited Orchard House, I volunteer to take you on a tour when you next visit Boston), have you read one of my favorites, The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton – also set in Concord?
LA: OMG, visiting Orchard House is literally my greatest dream. I’ve never been to Massachusetts—I actually only visited the East Coast for the first time this year when I went to New York Comic Con!—but I will get there and will totally take you up on that tour guide. I haven’t read The Diamond in the Window, but I will put it at the top of my TBR! I love old-school kids’ books.

SW: What do readers tell you is their favorite thing about your books?
LA: I usually get people repeating back their favorite jokes from the book, which I love because those are also my parts I like best, too. 

Thank you, Lily!   Keep me posted on your travel plans to Boston!
Click to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway through 11/22/17.

Plot: Elliot Gabaroche does not want to spend the summer at home in Sacramento or attend mock trail camp at UCLA. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mother's base in Colorado Springs. What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she's going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

My Impressions: This book is so new I don’t yet have a copy – can’t wait! You can buy it from Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Amazon, or at your favorite bookstore.

About the Author: Lily Anderson is an elementary school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California, far from her mortal enemy: the snow.

Please visit other stops on the Fantastic Flying Book Club tour:

November 14th

November 15th

the bookdragon - Review

November 16th

YAWednesdays - Guest Post
Amanda Gernentz Hanson - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 17th

BookCrushin - Guest Post
Book Munchies - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 18th

November 19th

We Live and Breathe Books - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 20th

The Mind of a Book Dragon - Review + Playlist

November 21st

Boricuan Bookworms - Review + Playlist

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Whispering Mountain (Book Review) #1968Club

The 1968 Club is a meme created by Simon from Stuck in a Book, who chose a literary year and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year.  Check out all the reviews here!  When I realized the other book I had chosen, Cousin Kate, had been reviewed by several people, I wanted to pick something not previously included, hence:
Title: The Whispering Mountain
Author: Joan Aiken
Publication:  Jonathan Cape, hardcover, 1968
Genre: Children’s fantasy/historical fiction/speculative fiction – part of the twelve book Wolves Chronicles that begins with the beloved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Plot: When Owen’s irascible grandfather, old Mr. Hughes, discovers the legendary golden Harp of Tiertu, he brings unwanted attention to the small Welsh village of Pennygaff. Everyone has a claim to the Harp, including the mysterious Seljuk of Rum, an obscure order of monks which has mostly moved to China, and the local lord of the manor. In fact, the Marquess of Malyn hires two rascals to seize it when old Mr. Hughes, who manages the Pennygaff museum, insists on researching the rightful owners. The thugs snatch both Harp and Owen, who is falsely accused of the theft. With the help of his friend Arabis, a young girl who is a talented herbalist, and his frenemies from the Jones Academy for the Sons of Gentlemen and Respectable Tradesmen, Owen seeks to clear his name and solve the prophecy of the Whispering Mountain, which concludes: “And the men of the glen avoid disaster / And the Harp of Tierto find her master.”

Audience: Children, fans of alternative history fiction or fantasy

My Impressions: This was a fun read, and would appeal to most fantasy readers. Owen is a quiet, bespectacled boy who is treated like an interloper, lives with an unappreciative relative, and is much braver than he seems at first (sound familiar?). Miserable in Pennygaff, he is too proud to burden his only friends, Arabis and her absent minded father Tom Dando, a poet, with his troubles, so he plans to set forth to seek his fortune, armed with nothing but his greatest treasure, a little book given to him by his father, “Arithmetic, Grammar, Botany & these Pleasing Sciences made Familiar to the Capacities of Youth."  Instead, he gets kidnapped, and that is when his adventures begin. The combination of the Welsh used by the characters (much of which can be guessed but I didn’t notice the glossary until I finished the book – I guess that proves I am not one of those read the last page first people) and the cant used by the two thieves might be off-putting to some but just takes a little getting used to. It is very reminiscent of the slang used in Black Hearts in Battersea, which is good training for Georgette Heyer!
Although I read and reread The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket repeatedly as a child, I have no recollection of The Whispering Mountain (maybe I didn't like that odd blue cover above - I remember that clearly), which is now considered a prequel to Wolves published in 1962 (her daughter Lizza has created a wonderful website with information Joan was probably too modest or too busy to share (plus, harder to do in a pre-web world), and is also working to keep all the books in print). I also read several collections of short stories and I remember the first book I ever put on reserve at the Newton library was the extremely scary Night Fall (back then you paid for a postcard which was sent when the book arrived).  
Joan Aiken with some of the NYC Betsy-Tacy Group
One of the big literary thrills of my life was meeting Joan Aiken in person when she did an event at Books of Wonder in 1998! I think I respectfully asked about her ruthless habit of killing off characters (I don’t recall to whom I was alluding although she does it somewhat gratuitously in The Whispering Mountain), and she told the audience at that event that she had planned for Dido Twite to drown (at the end of Black Hearts in Battersea) but an impassioned letter from a fan changed her mind and she is thus rescued at the beginning of Night Birds on Nantucket.

For those who don’t know – and I must admit it went over my head when I first begin reading these books at 8 or so – the Wolves books take place in an alternative 19th century in which the Stuarts had not been deposed by William and Mary. Instead, the Hanoverians are plotting to regain what they consider their rightful thrown. The Prince of Wales who appears in The Whispering Mountain is meant to be the son of James III. I have always intended to read the full series in order, so this is a good start, although I am surprised to find I am missing a few.

I am also a big fan of Joan Aiken's sister, Jane Aiken Hodge, who also wrote some wonderful historical fiction mostly set in the 19th century.  My favorite is Savannah Purchase.  She also wrote a fascinating book about Georgette Heyer.

Source: I own a paperback copy that shows Arabis riding a camel with her falcon, Hawc, perched on her head. Recommended.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cousin Kate (Book Review) #1968Club

What is the 1968 Club, you ask?  It is a year mostly remembered for tragedy.  Simon from Stuck in a Book chose a year, 1968, and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year for the #1968 Club.  This is a fun way to be exposed to a lot of interesting books, some of which I have heard of and some not.   The last time I participated it was 1951 and I reread All-of-A-Kind Family.
Title: Cousin Kate
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Dutton Hardcover, 1968; my edition is a Bantam paperback
Genre: Historical Romance/Regency/Gothic

The first copy I read
Plot: Kate Malvern is the intrepid but impoverished daughter of a deceased military officer who left nothing but debts. Trying to make her living as a governess, Kate has been dismissed from her position after her employer’s brother made improper advances (as my Latin teacher used to say, there is nothing new under the sun, nihil novi sub sole). Kate is lucky that she has somewhere to go in a crisis – her old nurse Sarah, now married into a family that runs a London inn. Sarah is worried about Kate’s future so writes to the aunt Kate has never met, and soon Aunt Miranda, Lady Broome, has arrived, full of affection, and brings Kate home to Staplewood, where she lives with her husband, Sir Timothy, and son, Torquil. Kate tries to adjust to a life of luxury but begins to suspect something is not quite right about her new home. In the meantime, Sir Timothy’s attractive nephew Philip is suspicious of her motives in accepting Lady Broome’s hospitality and Kate’s banter with Philip distracts her from her worries about Staplewood. Yet soon Kate finds herself at the heart of a diabolical scheme, cut off from Sarah with only her own good sense to protect her.

Audience: Fans of the divine Georgette, regency lovers, gothic fans (however, she mostly disdained her fans - lucky for her she lived in an era where her publisher didn't urge her to go to romance conferences and bond with her readers)
Georgette Heyer
My Impressions: How I love a good orphan story! Kate is the perfect heroine: plucky, self reliant, loyal, full of humor, and attractive. As an unmarried young lady of good family, Kate has limited options which include the genteel occupations of governess or lady’s companion, or to be taken in as a drudge by distant family. While Sarah Nidd, her old nurse, is extremely fond of her, Sarah knows it is not suitable for Kate to live in a common inn. On paper, Kate is thus very fortunate to be rescued by her unknown Aunt Minerva. The mystery of the book is the secret of Staplewood, why Kate’s aunt is so eager to offer her a home, and whether Kate can withstand the forces working against her.
My Heyer shelves

“You were going to say that you wonder why she did invite me,” [Kate] supplied. “Torquil said the same, yesterday, and I wonder what you both mean. She invited me out of compassion, knowing me to be a destitute orphan – and I can never be sufficiently grateful to her!”

He stammered: “No, indeed! Just so! Shouldn’t think you could! Well, what I mean is – Did you say, destitute, ma’am?”

“Forced to earn my bread!” she declared dramatically. She saw that he was quite horrified, and gave a gurgle of laughter.

“You’re shamming it!” he accused her.

“I’m not, but you’ve no need to look aghast, I promise you! To be sure, I didn’t precisely enjoy being a governess, but there are many worse fates. Or so I’ve been told!”

Cousin Kate is Heyer’s one gothic novel but is not as well executed or as convincing as her more traditional regencies. I can understand why some dislike it because of its unrealistic portrayal of mental illness. Moreover, I think her books got weaker towards the end of her life and this was one of her last four books.

What makes the book appealing to me is the minor characters, beginning with the Nidds, a vivid cockney family devoted to Kate, from the irreverent grandfather to the inarticulate grandsons. Lady Broome is not a sympathetic or convincing character as she plots to use Kate for her fell purposes but if you can suspend disbelief a little, it is not impossible to understand her quandary – having devoted herself to her husband’s family it is heartbreaking to her that the line might not continue. Her elderly husband, Sir Timothy, is also interesting: he welcomes Kate to his home and becomes genuinely fond of her, and loves his nephew Philip. But he turns a blind eye to his own son’s unhappy situation and does not interfere in Lady Broome’s or the doctor’s treatment of Torquil. Kate and Philip (well suited in an understated romance) are very fond of Sir Timothy despite his flaws.

Source: I own nearly every book Georgette Heyer wrote, and happen to have several copies of Cousin Kate – the edition I am rereading (above right) has a particularly lurid cover; I like the Fawcett one better.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Jonica's Island (Book Review)

Title: Jonica’s Island
Illustrator: Corinne Malvern
Publication: Julian Messner, Hardcover, 1945
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Plot: Back in 1660 when New York was Nieuw Amsterdam, a struggling settlement on the edge of the wilderness, Evanthus and Hielke Van de Voort were raising a family of six boys. When 13 year old Jonica Kleiger’s ne’er do well father is banished from the village for repeated drunkenness, Jonica is threatened with the almshouse.  Gerrit, her only friend, tells his parents of her situation and they decide to take her as an indentured servant to help Hielke in the kitchen.  Grateful to be spared disgrace, Jonica vows to work her fingers to the bone for a family she has always admired. Slowly her sweet personality and work ethic win over everyone but the grumpy eldest brother but Jonica’s newfound happiness is threatened when her father returns and tries to blackmail her into robbing her benefactors.   
Jonica celebrates the feast day of St. Nicholas
Falsely accused, she is banished from Nieuw Amsterdam, forced to serve Willem and his unpleasant wife on their rural homestead, nearly 100 miles north of the Dutch settlement.  Months of hard work pass with no warmth and little conversation, and Jonica has only memories of handsome Gerrit’s kindness to keep her going.   However, when she learns the Van de Voort family is in jeopardy, this brave young woman jeopardizes her indenture by making her way back home on foot, determined to repay the debt although it means dodging Indian massacres, arson, thunderstorms, and other threats. Can she regain her place with the family she loves?

Audience: Originally intended for young adults, this is most suitable for ages 10-12, although Malvern has dedicated adult fans as well.
Gerrit finally declares his feelings for Jonica

My Impressions: I used to say that much of what I know about Judaism came from All of a Kind Family and Gladys Malvern, as she was well known for several historical novels based on biblical characters.  My favorite was Behold Your Queen, about Esther, which I am happy to say is currently in print, as is The Foreigner, which is about Ruth and Naomi – both with beautiful new covers.  Her other historical fiction is also charming, with several set in New Amsterdam, and others about Lafayette’s daughter, historic New England, and one called Rogues and Vagabonds about the first acting troupe to perform in the American colonies.   

Part of charm here is the vivid depiction of daily life among the Dutch and glimpses of famous, including Peter Stuyvesant.   Malvern manages to include many Dutch customs without being heavy handed, with the result that this is more of a historical than a romance.  Gerrit and his brothers come to love Jonica as a sister but the reader knows she will wind up with the thoughtful young man, and it happens hurriedly at the end.

About the Author: Gladys Malvern (1897-1962) was a beloved author of historical fiction, as well as a 20th century contemporary series I loved about Gloria Whitcomb, an aspiring ballerina, and several biographies.  Her mother worked in the theater, and Gladys and her younger sister Corinne performed together in Vaudeville for many years, traveling throughout the country.  The descriptions of Gloria’s travels with the ballet troupe in Prima Ballerina, by train from one chilly theater to another, are especially vivid and doubtless reflect Malvern’s own experience.  While it seems like a hard life, she does convey a sense of camaraderie among the dancers and staff.

In her 20s, Malvern settled in Los Angeles with her mother and Corinne, where Gladys worked in advertising and Corinne studied art.   Eventually (perhaps their mother died?) the sisters moved to New York and shared an apartment.   Gladys worked hard at her writing until her first book was published.   Her love of the theater shines through many of her books, and she and her sister remained enthusiasts their whole lives.  Some of her papers are part of the New York Public Library collection.
Jonica gets unexpected help

About the Illustrator: Younger sister Corinne grew up in the theater with her mother and sister but a railroad accident forced her into “retirement” at the tender age of ten.  She turned to her second love, art, and studied at boarding school and then the Art Students’ League in New York.  She worked in fashion advertising and pursued art at night until she was able to support herself.  Some of her most enduring art is seen in the illustrations of her sister’s books.

Source: This is one of the few Gladys Malverns I never read/found as a child, and it has been out of print for many years.  I was lucky to get this copy from the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore via Interlibrary Loan.   Some Gladys Malverns are back in print thanks to Susan Houston and Beebliome and I urge you to try one, but Jonica's Island is very elusive and exorbitantly priced when it turns up.

Images copyright to Julian Messner; unclear if Pearson now holds the rights

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lois Lenski, Storycatcher (Book Review)

Title: Lois Lenski, Storycatcher
Author: Bobbie Malone
Publication: University of Oklahoma Press, hardcover, 2016
Genre: Biography/Children's Literature
Description: Many 20th century children – including, surprisingly, Oprah – grew up with Lois Lenski (1893-1974) as author and illustrator, and as a writer she expanded the experience of American children by writing regional fiction which depicted the ordinary lives of children from diverse backgrounds throughout the country. In this goal, she was supported by her editors and also by children who read her books and wrote to her, inviting her to come visit their communities so they could share their stories. Lenski won the renowned Newbery Medal in 1946 for Strawberry Girl and probably should have won it for Indian Captive in 1942 (both Indian Captive and Little Town on the Prairie were runners up to The Matchlock Gun (seriously)).