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.  Alverstoke is so perturbed by Felix’s condition he sends for the doctor early in the morning.   The doctor is impressed by how well Alverstoke deals with the wretched boy and asks if he has children.  “Not to my knowledge,” he replies.   He reassures his new best pal, Dr. Elcot, that Frederica is a very competent nurse.

The next morning Frederica arrives in Alverstoke’s traveling carriage with many of the things an invalid needs (such as lemons for lemonade).   She is very tactful, except sometimes with her own siblings, and admires Miss Judbrook’s new parlor carpet, which wins over that disgruntled lady.  Frederica tells Alverstoke her mother suffered from rheumatic fever (bronchitis) and Felix has inherited his deceased mother’s weak chest.  Frederica reveals that her uncle-in-law died but Miss Winsham, instead of helping the Upper Wimpole Street household, is supporting her newly widowed sister.   Frederica is also concerned about Charis’ spending too much time with Endymion back in London but has enough sense to realize that is out of her control.   She is surprised when Alverstoke says he is not returning to London but is moving to an inn at Hemel Hempstead;  she does not realize he is staying to support her and the inn is to protect her reputation.

Chapter 23

Alverstoke returns to the farm at 6 pm, refreshed, and immediately notices how much more comfortable Frederica has made the sick room.  However, Felix seems very feverish.   Together, they make him swallow his medicine, then Alverstoke makes Frederica go to bed.  He says he will drive back to the inn at midnight after she is rested.   She is grateful for his help, not questioning why.   Alverstoke admits to himself that although fond of Felix, he is there because he has “fallen deeply and reluctantly in love with” Frederica and wants to help her.  The bored leader of ton is finally thinking of someone else before himself.

He and Frederica get into a routine.   He seems to have most of the daytime shift with Felix while Frederica catches up on sleep, then she wakes up and he returns to the Inn.  On the second day, Jessamy arrives with a valise full of books, the Waverley novels to read aloud to Felix, plus books for him to study.   Feverish though Felix is, he recognizes Jessamy and is pleased to see him, although Jessamy is shocked by his appearance.   Jessamy also tells Alverstoke that Harry and Miss Winsham quarreled, and Miss Winsham packed her trunk and moved in with her widowed sister, leaving Charis unchaperoned.   Frederica admits to Alverstoke that this concerns her and he decides he will intervene with Endymion, if necessary, to save her worry.   Alverstoke admits to himself he will sacrifice anyone to reduce her stress, except Felix or Jessamy: “he had become fond of the infernal brats – though he was damned if he knew why.”    At the end of the chapter, Frederica shares with him that Felix’s fever has broken and we know (if we had doubted) that the boy will recover.

Chapter 24

As Felix continues to improve, life at Monk’s Farm becomes almost normal.  Alverstoke’s very proper valet Knapp feels out of the action over at the Sun so offers to help tend to Felix.  This frees Frederica to spend a little time away from the sickroom so Alverstoke takes her on short rides in his phaeton or go on walks with him.  They chat about everything but he realizes she shows no sign of recognizing his feelings or reciprocating them but Alverstoke is now sure how he feels:
His own doubts were at an end.  The more he saw of her the more he loved her, and as he had never loved any woman before.  Not the most beautiful of his mistresses had inspired him with a desire to shield her from every adverse wind; he had never pictured the most amusing of his well-born flirts presiding over his several establishments; and far less had he contemplated a permanent relationship with any of these ladies.  But after knowing her for little more than two months Frederica had so seriously disturbed the pattern of his life that he had been cast into a state of indecision: a novel experience which had not been at all agreeable.  When he was pitchforked into her little brother’s fantastic adventure he had still been in a state of uncertainty; since then he had spent more than a week in close companionship with her, and under conditions as unromantic as they were uncomfortable, and all his doubts were resolved: he wished to spend the rest of his life with her, because she was the perfect woman he had never expected to encounter. 
His lordship, in fact, had fallen deeply in love.  He was also undergoing yet another new experience: Frederica showed no sign of returning his regard.  He knew that she liked him; once or twice he had dared to hope that the feeling she had for him was more than fondness, but he could never be sure of this, or forget that on the only occasion when he had given her the faintest reason to suspect him of gallantry she had instantly set him at a distance.  
(We suspect she is not indifferent because of the way she reacted in Chapter 16 when Harry said the Marquis was old and Frederica said he was in the prime of life)

When Alverstoke decides to test the waters, it is nearly disastrous because Frederica is obsessed with Felix’s recovery and is thinking about Dr. Ratcliffes’s Restorative Pork Jelly!  Well, pork jelly, such as Dr. Ratcliffe’s (or Ratteliff’s) Restorative Pork Jelly, was highly recommended for loss of appetite or any sort of consumptive complaint, per author Lauren Gilbert.  Still, maybe not worth missing a proposal for a mere jelly!   Alverstoke laughs at the situation and prudently decides to bide his time.

Next, Harry posts down to visit, which is a mixed blessing.   It is good to see him supporting Frederica but he overreacts to Felix’s appearance, demands a specialist, and when Frederica says he could help by finding them lodgings where Felix can recover outside London, he doesn’t feel up to it. Harry also tries to get Alverstoke to tell him exactly how much has been expended on Felix’s behalf.   It is amusing that Alverstoke at the beginning of the book was determined not to pay a grouse towards any of the Merrivilles but now feels very differently.   Still, he is respectful of Harry’s pride and promises to give him a Dutch reckoning later on.
It is clear to Frederica that in her and Miss Winsham’s absence, Charis is spending all her time with "that blockhead" Endymion (clearly, his military duties are very light).  When she mentions it to Alverstoke, he brings up Charles Trevor and Chloe, and asks her if that romance will endure.  She thinks so, and suggests that when Chloe’s younger sister Diana is ready to make her debut, Alverstoke may be able to persuade Mrs. Dauntry to agree to the match (some feel the elder sister should be married before the next one is launched).   Alverstoke is amused by the machinations of her mind and asks why she cares.
“Do you mean that it’s no concern of mine?  It isn’t, of course, but I like them both so much – and one can’t but care for what becomes of persons one holds in affection, and try to help them.” 
As Alverstoke thinks about this, he supposes he must care about very few people, primarily Frederica, but then he realizes he cares about Felix and Jessamy as well, independent of their sister.    
Next to sally forth to Monk’s Farm is Lord Buxted, with the best of intentions but arousing no enthusiasm from those in attendance on Felix.   He is not allowed to see Felix or bring him a puzzle, and Alverstoke has to muzzle Jessamy to prevent him from being disrespectful.  Buxted is amazed Alverstoke is on the scene (both because it seems against his frivolous/detached nature and because of the implied intimacy he observes.   Alverstoke makes a big deal of the fact that he is staying at the nearby inn and implies he is just waiting for his valet to be spared from Felix’s bedside.   Then, Alverstoke ensures Buxted has special alone time with Frederica; Buxted proposes again, and she declines again.  Later, she scolds Alverstoke for setting her up like that and says how inconsiderate it was for Buxted to propose at a time like that when she is so concerned about Felix.   Alverstoke has a twisted smile as he knows he came very close to making the same mistake.

To read previous installments of this group read, click here.

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,  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.  Determined to protect her witness, she brings Nixie home with her, which is disconcerting for everyone.  With no DNA or clues, Dallas needs all the help she can get from the crew: Peabody, McNab, Feeney, Dr. Mira and, of course, the incomparable Roarke, in her unerring hunt for the killers.  This is the 20th book in the series.

My Impressions: I was working at Berkley when the In Death series was launched in 1995, more than twenty-five years ago.  I remember editor Lesley Gelbman telling the sales team that Nora Roberts was writing so fast she had decided to do a new series under a pseudonym.  This was about the time that Putnam started publishing Nora’s contemporary romantic suspense in hardcover instead of Berkley publishing as paperback originals.  When I heard it was a futuristic romance about a New York City policewoman I thought, this is not for me.  Thus, while I was a Nora fan, I didn’t get around to reading it for several years, which was a waste of the free copies I could have had – by then I was working elsewhere.  In the first book, the mid-21st century gadgets and hero/suspect Roarke got somewhat more attention from the author than Eve Dallas herself, but both Roarke and Eve turned out to have complicated and dark backstories., which are revealed gradually as the series progresses (well, you have to do something to keep a series fresh for this long!).

There has been a lot of publicity about the 50th installment – Golden in Death, which came out last month and I realized it had been quite a while since I had read any in this series, although I had continued to pick them up (I own 36 of 50), so I decided to start catching up.  I had mixed feelings about this audiobook.  Apparently, Susan Ericksen has done all the narration for this series but I thought she was shrill and I imagined Dallas sounding more like Lauren Bacall.  Her voice for Roarke seemed just right, however.  Eve experiences a number of flashbacks to the violence that destroyed her own childhood and her inability to relate to Nixie was convincing, although in real life no one would expect a homicide detective to bond with a child while in the midst of solving active murders. Naturally, Nixie idolizes Eve, who rescued her from near death but I was glad there was no thought of adopting Nixie, yet Roarke does bring up the issue of children:
He took her hands, kissed them. “I want children with you, Eve.”
The sound she made brought on a quick and easy grin. “No need for the panic face, darling.  I don’t mean today or tomorrow, or nine months down the road.  Having Nixie around’s been considerable education.  Children are a lot of bloody work, aren’t they?”
I am reminded that when Nora’s first Putnam hardcover hit the NYT bestseller list, there was a guy in Putnam sales named Mike Brennan who said to us, “Now she’s a legitimate bestseller!”  This made us so mad because it was her various paperback reps at Harlequin, Bantam, and Berkley who had worked so hard on building her sales in paperback, which got her into hardcover.  In my brief contacts with Nora, she seemed very practical and too down to earth to share that snobbery.

I can't help thinking Roarke will be one of Nora's lasting achievements!  Her heroes are mostly of a type but there is only one Roarke and he is both fierce and sensitive, attractive, crazy about Eve, and able to provide anything she wants (except freedom from her past).  In the last book, he desperately wanted to destroy those who knew she was being abused by her father and let it continue because her father was a source.  Eve told him that it would destroy her if he killed for her sake.   Reluctantly, he promised to step down.

Source: Although I enjoyed this on audiobook from the library, I actually own the hardcover.
Off the Blog: Look at the Valentine I found when I looked inside my copy!  The artist is now a college graduate, which shows how long it has been since I looked at this series.

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.   A mysterious hiding place needs someone to hide – but when the children find a wounded young man and decide to protect him in their cellar, they are menaced by unnerving strangers suddenly interested in their activities and soon the police suspect they are up to something and try to make them reveal their secret. Can they and should they withstand the pressure?

My Impressions: I loved Nicholas Stuart Gray’s fantasies when I was growing up, especially Grimbold’s Other World, Over the Hill to Fabylon, and The Apple Stone – they were whimsical, full of humor and memorable characters, but did not come across this book, his first, until a few years ago.  Reading it made me acutely aware of how influential E. Nesbit (1858-1924) must have been to Gray (1922-1981), an English playwright and writer, primarily of children’s plays and books.  I thought I was the only one but it turns out there are other enthusiastic fans of Gray’s juvenile fantasies, including Neil Gaiman and Terri Windling.  I have not read The Stone Cage, which is some people's favorite.

Bruce, the oldest sibling, reminds me of Oswald Bastable.   Although conscious of his role as head of the family (so to speak) and seemingly self-confident, he is not as clever or as brave as he would like to be and it is often his twin sister Julia who provides practical leadership or his academically brilliant brother Andrew who comes up with a plan, while Deidre, the youngest, is just plain fey and sees thing that aren’t there – or are they? There is an element of the supernatural emanating from the villains of the story, the villagers who are pursuing Stephen, whom the children have secreted in the cellar, that is like the first book of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series: the reader believes there is evil lurking but everything appears normal to all except the children.  Here, it is five-year-old Deirdre who sees the “lantern-men” and the others who live inside the hill, recognizing the threat to Stephen before her siblings do.   Is it worth keeping such a dangerous secret when they know nothing about Stephen in the first place?

While Gray's later books received greater acclaim, this has the power to terrify but also to charm.
Favorite Quotes: Even after we’d been living with him for a fortnight, he looked surprised each time we trooped in to meals.  And we aren’t truly all that peculiar.  I admit we’re a bit apt to talk all together, to save time.  And we move rather fast occasionally.  Uncle just wasn’t used to us, though after a bit he did stop jumping when he met us around corners.
“I’ve had a phone call,” said Uncle.
“From the police?” asked Julia, before I could stop her. 
“No,” said Uncle James.  “Should I have?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “They can’t possibly know anything.”
“You relieve me,” said Uncle. . . “Bruce,” he said, “I’ve always found you trustworthy, if erratic. . .”
I was glad to hear this, and said so.  Though I wasn’t sure about the last bit.

Andrew is two years younger than we are, and slightly weird.  He reads books. Non-fiction.  On purpose. He gets them from the Public Library, where he has managed to make the librarians so impressed that they give him almost any book he asks for.  Fearful things, about electronics, and biology, and geology, and mathematics, and such.  At first when he abandoned space-ships for this line, we thought he was going mad.  Naturally.

“Rules were made to break,” suggested Andrew.
Julia said that was a very immoral proverb, and he said he’d heard Uncle say it.  Julia said she betted he . . . Uncle . . . didn’t know that he . . . Andrew was listening.  Andrew said even if he didn’t, he’d said it.  I said that listeners never heard any good.  Andrew said I was confusing the issue.  As I’d confused myself, too, I returned to the main problem.

But all I saw was Stephen, walking lightly and by himself toward the blank and dirty broken plaster of the cellar wall.  A sort of grief came over me in a wave. . .  Stephen glanced round at my brother and sisters, and back again to me.  “Kind Julia . . .” he said, “and clever Andrew and Deirdre who sees to much . . . they’ll forget all that they’ve seen.  The Lady of the Hill wishes it so.  And you, Bruce, who have seen so little, will remember everything.  The Lady of the Hill wishes it so.”
“Forget!” cried Julia, “as if we could ever forget you!”
. . . “You will,” said he.  “It’s far better that way, Julia.  Anything to do with magic is best avoided where possible.  It’s very strong and very dangerous stuff.  And there aren’t any words to say think you as you ought to be thanked.  But still I thank you.
Off the Blog: Such fun to see my nephew playing Mush in Newsies this weekend!

Source: Personal copy