Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Polly Brewster #5, Polly's Business Venture


Yay! This book was fortunately a huge improvement over the last one--even if I still don't much like Polly herself. The girls all come back to New York and are immediately invited to a party on Mr. Dalken's yacht. Polly gets her invite from Tom, which makes her blush--yes, the ice queen isn't utterly indifferent. Anne's counseled him that he must be brotherly and patient until Polly's had her fill of her career, but of course he follow this approximately 10-15% of the time. He does convince her to walk with him on the yacht, where they're promptly swept overboard after a collision. He saves her life, for which she's grateful, but basically she continues in a mix of being scared by his feelings for her, annoyed by his attentions, and being oblivious to him.

Supposedly Polly and Nolla are to work in the mornings in Mr. Ashby's shop, continue to take classes in the evening, and acquire antiques on runs out to the country in Mr. Dalken's chauffeured limousine. In reality, the first two are NEVER depicted once, while several chapters are devoted to the latter. Of course, the girls habitually discover priceless relics for ridiculous prices, while the writing mocks the ignorance of the sellers. I love doing this sort of thing in real life, but this is easily the least thrilling portion of the book. The girls also spend a goodly portion of their time on night life, considering how busy they're supposed to be. Polly manages to acquire yet another swain in Jack, the protege and ward of Mr. Dalken.

It's fortunate that the girls have such luck at finding valuable antiques, because another landslide has buried their mine back in Pebbly Pit. This is doubly bad, because pretty much all their friends have invested in it as well, which makes Polly feel really guilty. Mr. Alexander from the last book comes to the rescue by shipping out to Pebbly Pit to see if he can uncover the mine again. The girls also offset their expenses some more by taking on some decorating jobs, one from Jack, and another from Mrs. Courtney, a wealthy, wise, and dignified divorcee. Guess who else is getting divorced? Mr. Dalken, whose wayward wife has found someone else she wants to marry. Hmm, I wonder what the girls will think to do with these two deserving middle-aged single people?

There's plenty of other romance in this book. At one point, when Tom is ill, Polly says she'll marry him in two years, if she hasn't found anyone better--harsh, but better than anything else she's said. I'm thinking that she's finally being reasonable, as it's obvious that she prefers him, plus John and Anne were engaged for two years. Of course, it's like Patty's promise to Mrs. Van Reypen in Patty's Fortune, and she ends up recanting, to my annoyance. Nolla and Paul continue along in their generally less melodramatic/more pleasant fashion--Nolla tells him that she's going to have her career first, then they can form a partnership. In the meantime, they can enjoy each other. Why can't Polly be that reasonable?

At the end of the book, Mr. Dalken invites everyone, including Mrs. Courtney, on a year-long yacht trip to the Orient. I know Jennifer has speculated on where Clair Blank got her inspiration for the Beverly Gray series, and it seems to me that Polly Brewster would have to be thrown in with those sources. I mean, career girls take extended yacht trip with lots of boys to the East? We'll see how it matches up in the next few books. I've now finished all the free titles available, so you guys will get a change to catch up on my incessant posting while I wait for media mail to take its course.

  • When Dodo sees Polly blushing over Tom's telegram, Dodo thinks that she, "had hiterto firmly believed Polly to be a man-hater." You and me both, Dodo.
  • Tom is described as being "unsophisticated with girls." He's finally stated to be "almost twenty-four" (to Polly's "nearly eighteen"); he's handsome, wealthy, out in society, etc. How is he unsophisticated?
  • Speaking of Tom's age, Jim is now said to be "about the same age as Polly," e.g. eighteen. This can't be true, unless he was done with one year of college and working on a mining crew at age fourteen.
  • Kenneth is said to be the handsomest. Then he and Jim pretty much disappear. As does Dodo, for the record
  • While he drives me a bit crazy, I think Tom's emotions on Polly's return are well-written by Lillie. He's built the whole thing up too much, and she's scared and avoids him. He ends up really depressed and berating himself, telling himself that he's too old (well . . . ) and unappealing and so forth.
  • Tom is encouraged by Anne (acceptable), his family (acceptable), and John (what!). This may be a more modern sentiment, but does a guy really encourage his best friend to pursue his underage sister?
  • Once every book, there will be a footnote indicating that the particular story being told is true. In this case, it's one of the antique-finding stories.
  • When they're rescued by Liberty Island, Polly and Tom are revived by the Schaefer Method, which is an old method of CPR done when prone.
  • Both Nolla and Polly can be impulsive and get carried away at times. The difference is that Nolla's intentions are always good when this happens (trying to make people like Polly, trying to get Polly and Tom together), while Polly's are petty and vengeful (at points she'll manipulate a situation or say things to purposely be hurtful to Nolla and Tom).
  • I've been trying to figure out Polly's appeal to guys, and apparently it's supposed to be that she's both beautiful and completely disinterested in guys, which piques their fancy. It might work for the guys, but it's not doing it for me.
  • Nolla is frequently shown to be the only person to understand something about Polly or to do her kindness. Polly isn't shown to reciprocate, which I think affects the believability of their friendship.
  • While this series reminds me a lot of Patty Fairfield, I don't like it nearly as much. To me, Tom lacks both the appeal and control of Bill, while Polly lacks the fun, the likability, and the grace of Patty. Patty doesn't want a real suitor, so she laughs them all off till she's ready, and they all deal with it. Polly's unable to deal gracefully with all the men who are interested in her, and ends up hurting Tom pretty frequently. In turn, Tom provokes Polly constantly, because he can't be patient and careful with his feelings.
  • Also, Polly has no regard for Tom's feelings--she's never, "Oh, this great guy loves me, I should feel honored and treat him respectfully, even if I don't return his sentiments." Instead she's annoyed and disdainful.

Polly Brewster eBooks


The copyright on several of the Polly Brewster books has run out, which means they're available in free ebooks, through various websites. My favorite has been Google Books, because it has the straight-up scans, with all the quaint inscriptions, library markings, and internal illustrations. In case you missed it, by the way, I've gone back and added the internal illustrations from Google, now that I've figured out the "clip" function. The illustrations from Polly and Eleanor are from Project Gutenberg, although they're not available for every title.

Speaking of the internal illustrations, I really love the ones for this series. I think they're gorgeously done, plus the 1920s fashions are just fabulous. The illustrator is Harold S. Barbour. I've not been able to find a lot of information on him, but he lived from 1889-1961 and illustrated for several series books. He did the illustrations for one of Lillie's other series, another Girl Scouts series, as well as the Pee Wee Harris and Roy Blakely books.

In case you want to also give this series a try, or just want to read them for free, here are links to the titles that are freely available:

Polly of Pebbly Pit
Polly and Eleanor
Polly in New York
Polly and Her Friends Abroad
Polly's Business Venture

Monday, August 17, 2009

Polly Brewster #4, Polly and Her Friends Abroad


I have to say that this is my least favorite Polly book so far. The plot is both boring in itself, as well as being an extremely more boring version of the three book European vacation arc in Patty Fairfield. I think my main issue is that this series' strength is in its supporting characters, who, save my girl Nolla, are all back home in the States, and most of the newly introduced characters are either unpleasant or blah.

The book starts off with Polly, Nolla, the Ashbys, and Mr. Fabian crossing the Atlantic and arriving in Dover. They meet up with Mr. Alexander, a folksy, self-made Western millionaire--how many veins of gold ARE there in Denver, by the way?--his twit of a wife, Mrs. Alexander, and his daughter Dorothy, who has the unfortunate nickname of Dodo. Mrs. Alexander's goal is to marry Dodo off to an impoverished title, but of course, Dodo decides she'd rather follow in Polly and Nolla's footsteps and become an interior decorator.

Once in Dover, they meet up with Mrs. Fabian and their daughter Nancy, who are both pleasant and devoid of personality. They have been staying with Sir Charles Osgood, his wife, and their children, Angela and Jimmy. All of them are unpleasant and devoid of personality. Mrs. Alexander fails in marrying Dodo off to Jimmy, and they're off to the Continent. They meet up with at least one more titled man, Count Champys, but everyone returns to the US unmarried and with enough antiques (pottery and furniture) to furnish several mansions. Really, large portions of the book consist of them driving through the countryside and emptying the peasants' homes of Wedgewood and Sheraton tables.

Polly barely figures in this book--she has no important dialogue or conflicts, not that anyone else does, either. Her only development is to become more priggish. Even Nolla is a little bland. Dodo's only character trait is to occasionally have more Western speech. Ruth and Nancy are interchangeable, and, if left out, would not be missed. I could forgive the whole "nothing happens" bit, if only there was some witty banter or humor, but the whole book is very dry. Here's hoping Polly's Business Venture is better.

  • There's a decent amount of "patriotic" anti-German slurs, America's the greatest, rah-rah sort of thing. There's also some awkward religious references.
  • Mr. Alexander is supposed to be very charming and endearing with his lack of social polish and Western ways. I found him to be supremely annoying and constantly felt embarrassed for him.
  • They escape from an earthquake in Rome, which has innumerable strong aftershocks. This was a. inaccurate, I think, and b. so very boring.
  • This has been a theme in all the books, but Polly is jealous of anyone having a romance--not because she wants one, but because she wants John, Nolla, etc. to herself. This seems more than a little childish for a supposedly mature young woman.
  • Jimmy very annoyingly leaps around in his affection from one of the girls to another. When he sets on Nolla, Polly does what she does best and FREAKS. She pulls Nolla aside and honest to goodness threatens to write home to Paul and tell him that Nolla is a "dreadful flirt," and that his childhood friend Dodo is gorgeous and wealthy, and oh, he should totally marry her. Again, childish much. Crazy much, really.
  • Jimmy needs to marry for money. In a continuity error, Ruth is first stated to have a fortune, as the only daughter of the wealthy Ashbys, and later not to be desirable as a wife to Jimmy due to lack of money. Nolla and Polly have MORE money, so maybe he's just supposed to look MORE in their direction?
  • At this point, Lillie seems to have a pretty clear prejudice against low-born society wives, because Mrs. Alexander is a bit of hyper-annoying ridiculosity in the mold of Mrs. Dalken and Mrs. Maynard.
  • The people back home cease to exist. They're rarely mentioned, and the girls neither send nor receive letters or wires, save one letter apiece from Paul and Tom. I suspect this is why the book kind of sucks.
  • And finally, Dodo?! Really.

Polly Brewster #3, Polly in New York


So, Polly and Nolla head to New York to set up house with Anne and her mother, Mrs. Stewart. They lease a former carriage house/artist's studio, with the two girls being taken on as a project by the former leasee, Mr. Fabian. They take night classes with him, while going to Mrs. Wellington's school during the day. They make a frenemy in Elizabeth Dalken, a schoolmate, but when the girls rescue her from a fire (and NOW we head into series book stereotypes), they make friends. Moreso, however, they creepily befriend her father, Mr. Dalken and his friends, the Ashbys, who happen to be a an interior decorator, his wife, and their daughter Ruth, another one of the girls' classmates.

Jim and Ken are at Yale and happily run up to visit until warned away by Anne and Mr. Fabian, who insist that the girls need to focus on their studies. Tom helps the cause in his influence over his younger brother. Of course, Tom also anonymously sends Polly these ridiculous roses for Valentine's Day. There's also a Christmas visit with all the Evans, Latimers, Maynards (with brother Pete), and Stewarts (with brother Paul). They all spend the summer back in Pebbly Pit, where Polly's dad figures out the score with some hints from Nolla.

Back in the city, the girls find (I kid you not) a baby on their doorstep. The whole "mystery" with this is just ridiculous, along with their plans to "give" the baby to Mr. Dalken, whose son died several years ago. They're thwarted when the baby's believed-to-be-long-dead (in the war, no less) father shows up, but he takes a position in the Dalkens' apartment, so all is well. I mean, this would all be kind of awesome, but it does rather regurgitate a Patty Fairfield plot, which was in itself not at all unique.

In the end, John and Anne get married, and the Ashbys agree to chaperone the girls on their European adventure. Seriously, this series is SO Patty Fairfield/Beverly Gray in some ways (not that I'm complaining!). As the girls get on the boat, Tom confesses about the roses by leaving another bouquet in their cabin, signed, "Your Valentine that was, and is, and always will be, in this world, and in the next, and forever, Tom." Polly FREAKS, and honestly, it's much even for me, who normally eats this stuff with a spoon. The other girls convince this nincompoop that it's just a joke, and they're off to Europe.

I like this book, although I admit that it gets brownie points for me for reminding me so much of the Patty Fairfield books that take place in NYC. As the series goes on, though, I like Polly less, because she's both a Mary Sue and SO OBLIVIOUS IT KILLS ME. Just, argh, I know you're a simple country miss with a pure and noble heart, but do you have NO knowledge of human nature/NEVER notice anyone else's feelings? Argh. I continue to adore Nolla, though, who is just a ball. Nolla throws me for a loop by bailing on those romantic vibes with Ken, making some with Jim, then having a secret letter correspondence with Anne's brother Paul that's mentioned at the end of the book. Play on, Nolla.

  • Polly initially despises the city in this really annoying contemptuous way, mocking how in a hurry everyone is, the fashion, the crowdedness, etc. My girl Nolla loves it, of course.
  • Polly is offended by how, "Most every woman and girl I met had faces covered thick with layers of white chalk, with a daub of red on each cheek, and lips as scarlet as a clown's." Very 20s.
  • Polly is ridiculously provincial. She's never been in an automobile or used a telephone before. She's also never seen the ocean and says, "It's the only decent thing of which New York can boast."
  • At one point Anne pays a deposit in "yellow bills." I thought money was considered and referred to as green at this point?
  • My original timeline for the younger characters ages turns out to be completely off. Anne is described at the beginning of this book as, "just past 21," which means that Tom and John pretty much have to be 21 or older--especially when you consider that John is friends with Paul, Anne's brother, and unless they're twins . . . ? I'm now officially grossed out by 14 year old Polly and 21+ year old Tom. Ew. I forget that older school ages don't match up to modern ones/aren't as set in stone.
  • It's also said at the end of the book that the now 16 year old girls have surpassed the roughly 20+ years old Jim and Ken in maturity, due to their extra education. I guess this is why Nolla moves on to Paul?
  • Elizabeth Dalken is definitely more of a bad girl than ever appeared in Nancy Drew: "She could slyly cheat at bridge, smoke her mother's cigarettes, and flirt with the men who frequented her home, as well as her mother could." Mrs. Dalken is a terrible women who dared to leave her wonderful husband. She's the least sympathetically written character in the series by far.
  • At one point, the Polly and Nolla are accosted by young hoods walking home from their night art class. Before being rescued by Mr. Dalken, it's strongly suggested that the threat is sexual, and the scene is genuinely scary--very unusual for a series book.
  • Just so you know, Bob ends up engaged to some balding society aristocrat named Percival. Oh, Bob.
Still loving this series, but I need to sleep! Next up will be Polly and Her Friends Abroad, which is mistakenly referred to at the end of this book as Polly and Eleanor Abroad.

Polly Brewster #2, Polly and Eleanor


In the last book, Polly and Eleanor discover a long-lost gold mine. In this book, it's buried by an avalanche in the opening chapters. However, they don't give up hope of its being accessed, which conveniently allows Lillie to add in brother John, his attractive friend, Tom Latimer, his younger brother Jim, and Kenneth Evans, who is both working for a mining company with Jim and the (spoiler) nephew of the dead man who originally found the mine. Phew. I would have tried to explain this all more in the last review if I'd known they all crop up again.

Polly wants to access the mine because she wants money to go away to school. Her family's filthy rich, but her father is too desperately attached to his precious widdle Polly to allow her to leave the ranch. He also won't allow these beautiful glitter cliffs by the ranch house to be mined to finance the gold mine--again, to keep her at home. I'm really hating Mr. Brewster at this point. Fortunately, Nolla is over this ridiculosity and is a master planner.

Nolla (a.) gets her father to come to the ranch, hoping his bank will invest in the mine and that he'll let her go to New York with Anne, who's been offered a job in a girls' seminary, (b.) gets her mother to invite Bob to some posh camp-out, aka out of the way. Ken aids and abets by sending stones from the cliff to his father, who's invented some special polishing tool, and getting him to come out, too. Polly manages to aid her own cause by giving this impassioned speech on Girls of Today and needing to Experience the World and get an Education. If you need a hint on how all this turns out, the next book in the series is Polly in New York.

This book has ridiculous amounts of romance. Sary and Jeb get engaged, as do John and Anne. Anne's got to work the next two years, to put her brother through college (he's too proud to take John's money, but not too proud to let his sister "loan" him money from teaching school?), but then they'll be together. Until then, I suspect Polly and Nolla will have grand adventures under Anne's chaperonage. Polly and Nolla mostly hang with Ken and Jim, who I estimate at around 18 or so--one year of college under their belts, plus the last book guesses Ken to be this age. John and Tom are older, probably more in the 19-20 range, with two years to go of school, for the record. While I get some slight romantic vibes from Nolla and Ken, Tom has got it bad for the always-oblivious Polly--which Nolla is both amused by and encourages. I goofed and read a review for the final book, Polly Learns to Fly, and while I won't completely spoil it for you, Tom is the love interest for the rest of the series.

It's hard to tell from my summary (SO MUCH to cram into a few paragraphs), but this book was good to great. Great while I was reading it, in that I steamrolled right through it, if the times on my posts didn't clue you in. I fully plan to go right into the next one, as well. Good in that writing my post revealed that the plot meanders a good bit and is pretty silly as well. It reminds me of the early Beverly Gray books or Patty Fairfield in that sense--each book has multiple consecutive plots, and it's more about a period of time than anything.
  • This book has lots of unintentional ickiness. It probably speaks more about my juvenile sense of humor than anything, so I'll spare you most of it. Here's one example, though, Polly has "a graceful well-formed figure that was all the more attractive because of the charms her adolescence promised." *snickers about what charms we're speaking of* I told you it was silly. Sue me.
  • In the beginning, there's an Indian scout. Who speaks exactly like a Chinese cook character. As in, "Patsy good scout, too. Solly dem dead." Since when can American Indians not make an "r" sound?
  • Speaking of politically incorrect characters, there's a burro named N****r. Eek.
  • Fashion: the boys are coming for Sunday dinner. "Eleanor had loaned Polly one of her prettiest organdies, and had arranged her really beautiful hair becomingly. Silk stockings now encased Polly's shapely limbs, and her new low shoes looked twice as well with the sheen of silk above them." (side note: more unintentional ickiness twinges)
  • Bob, quite logically, tries to pair off with Tom, as they're the two loners in the crowd, and he's quite a catch. Unfortunately his opinion is, "Of all the empty-headed vain creatures it ever was my misfortune to meet, she takes the cake!"
  • Polly and Nolla are the same age (14), while Bob is older. Apparently old enough to be "out," want to get married, and to think Jim is too young, so I estimate 19ish?
  • I know the 14 year old Polly as a love object for 19 year old Tom should be considered gross/illegal by modern standards, but for some reason that doesn't generally bother me in old books. It actually does make me cringe a little in this case with all the references to her not precisely being post-pubescent.
  • Nolla's long term plan for her and Polly: "We propose going to Europe to study Italian, French, Spanish, and English periods and styles. If we have an extra year or so, to spare, we might go to Japan and Egypt." Based on the titles, I'm guessing most of these end up coming true.
  • Nolla's special failing is getting carried away and exaggerating, sometimes to the point of lies. Polly chews her out for this, and ends up reversing their position as friends--Polly becomes the leader. Honestly, this irked me, because I liked that the main character was the more passive one. Nolla and Mrs. Brewster are definitely my favorite characters, although I'd say that most characters are pretty likable.

Um, I'm going to wrap this up now, so that I can read the next book--a mark of a good book, no?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Polly Brewster #1 Polly of Pebbly Pit


I've been interested but wavering over the Polly Brewster books by Lillian Elizabeth Roy for some time. They were published by Grosset and Dunlap over a ten year period from 1922-1932 and later some titles were reprinted by Whitman. Based on the titles, I believe they feature a lot of exotic locales and possibly a focus on adventure. I thought there was some serious Beverly Gray potential. However, the series doesn't seem to be that popular with collectors, even though it seems that it was pretty popular in its time and many titles are easy/cheap to find. It also has the same cover art for all titles. Finally, I decided to suck it up and look for the first title in a free ebook, to see if I thought it was worth collecting the series.

Marybelle "Polly" Brewster is the fourteen year old daughter of a rancher and his lovely, highly educated wife. They all live on an isolated ranch in Colorado. Polly has one older brother, John, who is away at college in Chicago. In the first chapter, Anne Stewart, a young woman who'd worked as a schoolteacher in their area/is the younger sister of one of John's school chums, writes to ask if she and two wealthy girls she is tutoring can board that summer at the ranch. Mr. Brewster agrees, on the condition that his wife allow him to hire help around the house. Sary, a recent widow, comes to work for them, and Anne soon arrives with the two girls: Barbara "Bob" and Eleanor "Nolla" Maynard.

There are all the expected culture shocks as the two girls adjust to life on the ranch. Bob, the elder sister, is selfish and prissy, while Nolla, whose poor health has motivated the trip, is unspoiled and loves Western life. A lot of the book is centered around what the Brewsters see as a simple, healthy lifestyle, a la Alcott's Eight Cousins. Anne also subscribes to this, which is oh-so-convenient, as she and John are sweet on each other. Mr. Maynard does as well, which is why these two society misses are put in this sitch to begin with.

There are rattlesnakes, July blizzards, burros, mountain lions, grizzlies, and a lost/found gold mine. It's all so stereotypical and fabulous. Western series books aren't my favorite, but I feel this series has real potential. There's the obvious romance between John (who's about to show up, FINALLY, in the last chapter), plus some good hints at some to come. Finally, in the first chapter is the following line:
"Had the reply been other than it was, would these two girls have met and experienced the interesting schooldays, college years, and business
careers that they enjoyed through becoming acquainted that summer at Pebbly Pit?"
I LOVE ALL THOSE THINGS!

So, I've already ordered what books I can find cheaply, and I had to pry myself away from the second book in the series, Polly and Eleanor. To be honest, I have to say that I enjoyed the potential books to come maybe more than the actual first title, in that, again, Westerns aren't my favorite, and I prefer an older heroine. Hopefully, they'll live up to my expectations.

  • I don't know if it's the rustic location or what (the book hints at the former), but the fashions, language, and morals seem older than the 1920s.
  • Polly's ambition is to be an interior designer. I'm reserving an opinion on whether that's utterly random or rather interesting. Possibly both?
  • Polly is oblivious to romance and honestly rather opposed to it. WHY is this a requirement of series book heroines? I appreciate the feminist idea of not needing a man, having your own interests, etc., but it seems unrealistic to me that all these girls are clueless about romance and disinterested in boys. Plus it's supposed to relate to the heroine's purity/innocence, which is off-putting to me.
  • Bob says that a guy is, "not only handsome, but desirable as well." I assume that "desirable" had less risque connotations in the time period, but still funny coming from proper Bob.
  • At one point, they're going along "corduroy roads," which are large logs laid in mud. The mud comes up between the logs and then dries, binding them together. I can picture them looking just like corduroy.
  • I almost bailed on this book right at the beginning, because it spells Western speech phonetically. I HATE when books decide to write out dialects/accents like this (I adore Wuthering Heights, but still have never done more than scan any of Joseph's dialogue). It makes it so difficult to understand and takes me out of the story, which I suspect is the opposite of the author's intentions. Luckily, this is confined to Mr. Brewster (to a small extent), Sary, Jeb the hired man, and the occasional neighbor.
  • I normally like housekeepers, but Sary is written more like "colored" maid characters of the period. As in, she has the above horrible speech, is very foolish and vain, low class, and so forth. It seems like most authors are unable to write both mother and housekeeper/servant sympathetically--it has to be one or the other.
  • There's lots of fashion, although a lot of it isn't actually fashionable. Sary wears another woman's old mourning, a "rusty black alpaca." The girls wear the following to a dance, "dotted swiss . . . with blue sash and hair ribbons," (Polly); "simple flowered silk dress," (Anne); "Eleanor's flounced and furbelowed, but modestly high in the neck as became a girl not yet 'out,'" while Bob's "gown of rose-pink net, trimmed with elaborate gold embroidery, was extremely decollete, with narrow gold bands over the shoulders performing the double duty as sleeves and to hold the lower section of the dress up in place!" The natives are so frightened by Bob's dress that none of them will dance with her. Tee hee. And Sary thinks that part of it's missing and tries to offer her a scarf. Ha.
  • Polly wants to go to high school in Denver. Theoretically, Anne is helping her prepare for this, although no tutoring is ever depicted. By the end of the book, Polly wants to go to school in Chicago with Eleanor.
I apologize for the crappy photo. The book has internal illustrations, which I hope to add in once my physical copy arrives. Next up will probably be Polly and Eleanor. I know I still haven't posted The Secret Stair, but I have to admit that I didn't like it, which pains me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bonanzle Servers


In case you missed it (because I sure did), here's a note I found on a cached Bonanzle page:

"A quick maintenance note: we will be switching our web host on Monday evening, which will require us to physically move our servers from one location to another and re-setup all of the connections to and between them. We're planning to start the move at 10pm PST on Monday evening, and we'll be back online sometime in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. There could quite possibly be some intermittent issues on Tuesday as we iron out any hiccups that come about as a result of the move."

I spent several hours last night uploading 22 new items to Bonanzle, so it wasn't exactly reassuring to have it seemingly crash for several hours when I went to make final edits. I'm also not thrilled that, as far as I can tell, we weren't notified that this was going on. Right now it's working slowly and intermittently for me, slightly better in Internet Explorer than Firefox. Hopefully it'll be back to normal by tomorrow.

That said, this means I have 22 new items in my booth, mostly reading copies, if that's your thing--highest price on anything is $11.99. I've recently attempted a new method of organizing my Excel spreadsheets (how you KNOW you have too many books . . . ) and discovered I have several books that I've upgraded, so now all my duplicates are up for grabs. I also finally made a Lenora-themed banner for my booth (see above, obviously), which I'm not completely thrilled with, but which is still an upgrade from my previous generic one.

I've also updated my Blogger theme--thoughts? I need to get my Bonanzle widget matching/up and running, which may be fun today. It's an improvement on the blandness before, but I'd still love to have more of a 30s flapper-ish theme someday. I'm slowly figuring out how to modify all that stuff.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sharing the Love

Earlier this week, I had messaged a British seller about shipping costs for a Nancy Drew (movie) promotional shirt. She didn't get back to me until right before the auction closed, and I missed out on bidding. The shirt didn't sell, and she contacted me today with the following message:

If you are still interested, let me know and I will ship to you FOC. I had a bumper sale on my goods this time, so would be glad to do you a kindness.

How great is that? It's not a particularly rare or desirable item--there's one up for sale on US eBay right now, if you like it--but still an unnecessarily nice thing to do. Thanks, jnolan63.

So let me show some love by talking up my favorite series book sites. I'm sure you guys are familiar with most, if not all.

First up is a more unfamiliar one that I love: Girls Series Books: A Checklist of Titles Published 1840-1991. It's not cute or flashy, but the information is invaluable if you're looking for complete lists of titles, publication info, or even just browsing for a new series. I've used it before when trying to find other series by the same author (Pemberton Ginther). It's also good if you tend to like similar series--for example, I might look for Grosset and Dunlap or Burt series from the 1920s and 30s. I also love it for when I'm adding info to my ridiculous Excel spreadsheets about my more obscure series, as far as title # and printing year. I know the list is overwhelming but Ctrl+F is your friend here.

Second is Series Books for Girls, which I'm sure is (or should be!) familiar to most of you. It has information on several series, including more obscure ones--you will be at high risk for adding series to your collection based on this site. My favorite features are the format guides for Nancy Drew, Beverly Gray, and Judy Bolton, especially the latter two. Also fun are the cover art galleries, including for many foreign editions, and the information on Mildred Wirt Benson's non-Nancy Drew works.

Third is the Nancy Drew Sleuth Unofficial Site, which is also very popular. My favorites here are the information on seriously EVERY SINGLE Nancy Drew format/edition ever, like the twin thrillers, cameo editions, computer games . . . Really. The collectibles section is also fun. Not to mention, it's also the official website for the Sleuths.

Finally, there's Around the World with Nancy Drew. This site focuses on international editions of Nancy Drew, which are lots of fun. She has information on printing/publication, as well as great cover art galleries. My personal favorites include the Varty for Harold Hill UK dustjackets.




Shirley Flight #1, Air Hostess

The latest misfortune to befall my electronics involved me dropping my camera's rechargeable lithium battery down an air vent. So until the new one gets here, I'm stuck reviewing books of which I already have pictures on my computer. Thus you get Shirley Flight, Air Hostess.

Shirley is an overachieving multilinguial librarian/part time probationary nurse who still lives with her parents. In the opening pages, she receives news that she's been selected for an interview for Transcontinental Air Lines (TCAL). Switching things up nicely from Vicki Barr, it's her mom who's a nervous wreck, while her father is all into it. Obviously, she aces the interview, as well as surviving the eight week training course.

Along the way, she acquires a new pal, redhead Wendy Moreland, the daughter of a Secret Service man/diplomat. Naturally, they're dragged into international intrigue involving stolen Italian government documents. On the smaller scale, there is plenty of the sort of melodrama that can only abound with large amounts of girls/women. I'm a nurse, I know what I'm talking about here. She also meets First Officer Tony Garland, who remains her mysteriously platonic love interest for the rest of the series. He's portrayed as tall and awkward, and, yeah, I have a weakness. Too bad he's kind of a moron.

Of course, Shirley manages to save the document, Tony, Wendy, and, dare I say, the security of the world. How Nancy Drew of her. Too bad I prefer the vulnerability of Judy and Trixie. Which really sums up my opinion of this book: while I liked it more than The Great Bullion Mystery or Desert Adventure, Shirley is just too much of a Mary Sue character for me to empathize with her.

  • I really was turned off by Shirley's mom, better known as Mumsie. She's the quintessential 50s mom, with no life outside her daughter and husband. She says things like, "You know what a bear he can be if his breakfast isn't done just how he likes it." Which somehow reflects more on her than on her husband. I normally love series book moms (or housekeepers as the case may be), but Mumsie gives off moron vibes.
  • Moreso than Sara Gay or Sally Baxter, I had to look up a lot of Britishisms. Just so you know, a "rasher" is a thin fried slice of bacon/ham, "Lancashire hot pot" sounds suspiciously like American pot roast (only mutton/lamb) and veggies, and a "prang" is a crash. Or cocaine, depending on the decade. I'll let you guess which it is in this story.
  • There is lots of great fashion. Shirley wears a "trim terylene suit and half-length sheepskin coat," while her socialite coursemate wears a "natty line in half-length flying coats with a broad white lambswool collar." Lola, the countess/spy (love it!) channels her inner Madonna with a "startling leopard skin coat with fingerless black netting gloves." At one point Wendy buys "multi glitter sandals" and wears "a fluffy pullover and tailor-made jeans."
  • They go to a dance at a club, where Wendy "daringly matched her red hair with a sheeny and romantically fully-skirted evening frock and satin pumps of the same vivid hue, with the whole ensemble given a little additional hint of glamour with crossed low-sweeping shoulder bands and a waist girdle with a chic bow and dangling ends of narrow strips designed in gold and emerald-blue. Glittering brooches pinned to the pumps drew the eyes down to full length." I thought it rated its own bullet point.
  • This book had an obvious wit that I enjoyed. Their instructor self-deprecatingly says that, "One of the first duties of an air hostess is to learn to stay awake, even in the most provocative of circumstances,"--the provoking element being his teaching.
  • Lola-Madonna says, "If my blood is blue, then it is probably cigarette smoke." Love. It.
  • Wendy calls herself and Shirley "the pals of the two crossed fingers." You know, like when you cross two of your fingers, and say, "We're like THIS." I'm borrowing this at first opportunity.
  • The second girl to get dismissed is constantly hounded for being a leftie. She gets "remonstrance" when she attempts to use her left hand, and it's cited as one of the reasons for her clumsiness and why she's kicked off the island. I thought this went out with the Victorians, but apparently I was wrong.
  • At one point they're put into a decompression chamber to see how they'll react if the plane loses pressure at high altitudes. The tattletale girl they nickname Snooper has hidden a past history of neurasthenia, and she goes totally crackers once her mask is off.
  • Shirley is a Mary Sue's Mary Sue. Who wouldn't be a little internally pleased if your arch-enemy turned out to be a bit of a nutter? Hint: not Shirley. Not only does Shirley never do anything wrong, the only time she ever gets in trouble is when she's covering for someone else. Shirley, you're not a Christ figure. Please stop. No one can relate to you. And while you probably assumed this, she does rescue a child from soon-to-be fiery wreckage. *eye roll*
  • And in a final note, Shirley Flight has the most hideous, middle-aged tranny cover art of any of the World Distributors series. However, I think the blue airplane boards are adorable.
So, while this book definitely had more charm than the other two titles I've read in this series, it still suffered from the same failures as the other two. Namely, that Shirley has no personality and an unusually high percentage of the characters suffer from what a lot of romance readers refer to as TSTL: Too Stupid To Live. I have another title, The Flying Doctor, but apparently I should avoid making predictions about what I'll be reviewing next. You all like surprises, no?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Vicki Barr #11, The Ghost at the Waterfall


I know I said that The Secret Stair would be next, but I lied, okay? Anyway, I have to say that The Ghost at the Waterfall is a rather unusual series book. The book opens with Vicki's friend/RN Ruth Hall asking Vicki to fly her up to a remote area of Canada, to nurse her brother, who's injured himself in a mining accident. Betty Sue that Vicki is, of course she agrees. Good old Bill gets her set up in a plane, and off they go.

All is well until they run into a storm and short on fuel. They're forced to make a landing in a clearing in a remote area. They find a hunter's lodge, which unfortunately is inhabited by fur smugglers instead of hunters. Vicki and Ruth are (naturally) discovered hiding in a closet. Two of the smugglers have just shot the third smuggler, who is an odd character--a rough and tumble woman whom they first mistake for a man, and who is also the leader--and one of the men's wife. The men leave for a smuggling run, forcing Ruth and Vicki to care for Jody, the wounded woman.

Once the men are gone, the girls fly to the mine with an incriminating ledger they've found, after first getting Jody set up in relative comfort and safety. Ruth is left to nurse her brother as planned, while Vicki makes contact with a Mountie and tells him about the situation. He wants to take over, but Vicki (of course) feels an obligation to care for the injured woman.

Back at the lodge, the Mountie patrols the woods, while Vicki stays in the cabin. Like a genius, she falls asleep at the kitchen table, and the woman is able to steal the gun. The Mountie has no way of knowing that Vicki is now being held as a prisoner. Eventually, of course, they're able to capture the woman and all her accomplices, with the assistance of Vicki and Bill.

  • This book has a really odd, claustrophobic feel. I really felt the isolation and desperation of the situation. In that way, it reminded me of Behind the White Veil, which is, in my opinion, the very best Vicki Barr book. Interesting, when you consider that they were by two different authors, Julie Tatham and Helen Wells.
  • This book reminded me in ways of several other series books as well: The Mystery at the Ski Jump, a Nancy Drew book about fur smuggling, the original text of The Message in the Hollow Oak, another Nancy, which is set in rural, wooded Canada, and the Madge Sterling book, The Missing Formula, which has the same setting. Allow me to here plug the Madge Sterling books, which I think are really underrated. They're a breeder set by Mildred Wirt, published by Goldsmith. I got all three on Amazon, in dust jacket, for about $5 apiece.
  • This book has some more seriously romantic vibes between Vicki and Bill than most of the other books, which feature a playful flirtation. In the end, Vicki is rescued by Bill, who "senses" something is wrong when she doesn't return on time.
  • Is Ruth ever mentioned before this book? I don't recall her, although it's been awhile since I read the earliest books. I tend to file nurses away in my mind, since I'm an RN.
  • The titular ghost at the waterfall is this alleged "Indian legend." The gang takes advantage of this legend by using Jody dressed up in Indian garb, yelling, as a signal for the nights when they're receiving furs. Yeah, it really makes no sense. It's also supposed to scare off the locals. I mean, how Scooby Doo of them.
  • EVERYONE in this book seems to be a pilot. As in Jody and her husband, and I think a few others. I guess it's somewhat more plausible considering the remoteness of the location, but it still seemed a bit of a coincidence.
I quite liked this book, although it didn't have the light-hearted feel that I tend to prefer from a series book. It was much better to me than #10, The Search for the Missing Twin.

I have a question for collectors out there. My copy is ex-lib, which in this case doesn't bother me, as it's in beautiful condition. However, the dust jacket is still in the library mylar, which is glued to the front end papers. Should I attempt to detach the mylar (lighter fluid? scissors?) or slit it from the front and remove the dust jacket, or what? There's nothing on the spine, so it still looks quite good on the shelf. My first instinct is to leave it, but it does have a less than beautiful overlap seam on the cover, which you can see in the picture.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kicking myself . . .


I have several more obscure eBay searches set up to send me e-mail alerts. I was asleep at a ridiculously early hour last night and therefore missed the alert ("beverly gray" burt) for the following auction: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140335782117&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:1123



I'm dying here, folks. When I saw the original thumbnail in the e-mail, with all those distinctive gray covers, I tried to tell myself there might just be multiples, maybe if I was lucky, they'd have In the Orient, which I've yet to find in a Burt edition. But no.


Someone got every Beverly Gray title ever printed in Burt editions. Including At the World's Fair. For FIFTY DOLLARS. *dies again*


What kills me about it is that the seller knows enough to say that it's a hard to find title, but not enough to have any idea of the value. When you add in World Cruise and In the Orient, both hard to find in Burt printings . . .

To end this on a more personally positive note, I acquired my Burt edition of World Cruise in dust jacket when a seller sold multiple Burt copies in djs of the series, including World's Fair. Sometimes when a seller is selling off a collection, it helps bring more attention to the individual listings than it might when selling only one. If the collector is known to other collectors, this can be especially true.
In this case, though, I believe so much attention was focused on World's Fair that buyers overlooked the other hard to find titles. I also acquired at least one other title--I think Senior? --very reasonably. If I'm not mistaken I paid between $20-25 for World Cruise and about $15 for Senior. While there's not uncommonly a couple of copies of a Burt Senior in dj up for sale on Abe or sometimes Amazon, at that time, this was the only Burt copy of World Cruise available online, with or without dj. I've had my Burt alert set up on eBay for over a year now, without another copy turning up, so I'm pretty pleased. In fact, I was contacted by another buyer almost immediately after the auction closed, wanting to purchase it.


While I generally like to cheer on a fellow collector instead of a reseller, I'm hoping these titles show up again. I don't have much hope for World's Fair, but I would definitely have some interest in In the Orient, although I would prefer a title in dust jacket. When you think about it, there almost has to be fewer Burt copies of this title than World's Fair, as they printed it for a much shorter time before Grosset and Dunlap acquired the rights to the series.
Worry not, I should have a decent review post up for Pemberton Ginther's The Secret Stair eventually. Unfortunately, my primary computer has finally drawn his last breath, so I've been getting by on a decade old clamshell iBook, which is painful in the extreme to use.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vicki Barr #8, Peril Over the Airport


Awhile back, a discussion on the comparative prices of foreign editions emerged in the comments on one of Jennifer's posts. To make a long story short, I wound up with a ridiculously cheap (admittedly imperfect) British edition of Peril Over the Airport. I know I've kvetched all over the place about how I don't enjoy Vicki as a pilot. Well, I stand corrected. Peril Over the Airport is a perfectly satisfying series read.

Vicki has become obsessed with learning to fly, and everyone else, conveniently enough, is obsessed with helping her realize this. The asexually oblivious Dean's old war buddy Bill Avery has conveniently opened a small airfield near Fairview. Vicki talks her boss into getting reassigned to Chicago, sweet talks her parents, and all systems are go for flying lessons.

While Vicki's lessons go well, someone's clearly trying to sabotage Bill's airfield. Prime suspects include the mogul who needs Bill's land for his own airport and the mechanic weirdo that Vicki suspects of being Darnell, another war buddy of Dean's who went psycho killer/AWOL. I'm trying to be less spoiler-y (and long-winded), but the ending isn't much of a surprise. Obviously, the culprit(s) are caught, Vicki gets her pilot's license, and Bill's airfield is saved.

Why did I enjoy this book? There was action all the way through, and it held my attention enough to finish in one setting, without having to force myself along. I like Vicki's mother and sister in this story, although I miss the other stewardesses. And all the male characters irk me: see below.
  • This book was published in 1953. Dean and Bill are old enough to have old war buddies. So, thirtyish? For some reason, I never pictured Dean being that old. Of course, it's not as though most series books have any relationship to real time.
  • Bill: rest of the series as Dean: the previous books in the series. Vicki's two great boring/platonic loves. I prefer Vicki, but I have to admit that Cherry has more romance.
  • It really, REALLY bothers me that Vicki has to grovel and get permission from her father to take the lessons. She gets it, natch, but still. She's an adult.
  • Bill reminds me of a bad romance alpha male. "I am going to treat you like CRAP, and believe murderers instead of you, but it is okay because I have charisma! Plus, I'm totally hot!"
  • In that vein, all the guys unrepentantly belittle the work of stewardesses.
  • Good continuity: in the earlier books, Vicki's little sister Ginny is proclaimed to be an ugly duckling, who will, just like Vicki, soon emerge as a beauty. In this book, Ginny starts to be described more flatteringly.
  • Shoe love: "low heeled play shoes. . . yellow cotton, sling back and open toes, with a flat bow atop."
  • It's odd to me that Vicki Barr would be published in Britain, considering the Shirley Flight series would be competing. I admit they're very different, though.
  • For the curious: the book has solid blue textured boards and is published by Sampson and Low (a la Nancy Drew). It lists to itself on the front and black flap and the back cover has a Dana Girls ad.

Monday, June 22, 2009

C &L Mystery Stories for Girls #2: The 13th Spoon


Sorry for the long break--I've been out of town for several weekends and got out of the habit of posting. I got a lot of reading done, though, so expect more frequent posting this week. And, finally: The 13th Spoon.

Carol Breck is a college girl working as a secretary to Alan Hoyt. His two most prized possessions are a Watteau fan from his great-grandmother and a set of 12 apostle spoons that he has amassed over the years, starting with the "master spoon," featuring Christ. He receives the 13th and final spoon, St. Simon, as a birthday present from his friend Major Walton. Soon after, Carol wakes up to a robbery in progress. Mr. Hoyt has been injured, and the spoons and fan are all gone.

Carol is taking the place of Claire, the previous secretary. Claire is a beautiful, rather shallow girl, who is supposedly going to Charleston to care for an invalid aunt. In actuality, she plans to elope with a rather questionable young man. He stands her up, and Claire is left in the position of being jobless and having spent all her money on a trousseau. She accuses Carol of committing the theft, but she is not believed. In the end, Claire becomes the trophy wife of a wealthy South American, Señor Manuelo.

There are some strange chapters from the point of view of an amnestic man, who is pretty clearly being manipulated by some criminals. As the book progresses, some of these chapters are from the perspective of the criminals themselves--primarily the former fiance of Claire. The man slowly regains his memory and figures out that he is Frederick Parsons, a former protege of Mr. Hoyt. Parsons returns six of the spoons to Mr. Hoyt as his dying act. Carol makes an appearance, and tracks down three of the thieves. Six more of the spoons are found in their lodgings, and Carol also tracks down the fan. Carter, the former fiance, slowly takes over these chapters. In the final chapters, at a party celebrating Carol's successes in finding the thieves, he arrives, bearing the master spoon.
  • The 13th spoon really refers to two different spoons: the 13th one that Mr. Hoyt obtains (St. Simon), which he says he treasures the most for being from Major Walton, and the master spoon (Christ), which is the most valuable and separate from the 12 apostle spoons.
  • This book has excellent fashion. Clair has a "rose -colored wrap, . . . beaded Juliet cap, and . . . gold embroidered mules," for pjs, as well as a "filmy primrose dance frock." For the party in the final chapters, Major Walton buys Carol a "lovely grapey chiffon embroidered in the same soft color," with a hat with a "transparent droopy brim," and a "pale fluffy summer fur scarf." The housekeeper, Mrs. Biggs, wears a "darling rose chiffon."
  • Carol has a really fun college chum named Alice. They plot to open a store to sell "character jewelry" and flabellum to their classmates. Carol gets her idea for the flabellum from a visit to Major Walton's fan collection.
  • Another fun college chum, Beatrice, is nicknamed "Beefy." Eek.
  • At one point, Hoyt tells Carol to send some delphiniums over to Burpee, to prove that their color, a particular bright blue, exists. Fordhook Farm, the family home and experimental farm for the Burpee seed company, is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This story takes place in Warrington, Pennsylvania.
  • Pem again psychs me out by hinting (I thought) at romance with at least three characters: Mr. Hoyt himself, Major Walton (even though they're both significantly older than Carol), and Mr. Hoyt's hot young nephew. Nada happens.
  • Alice "was in the throes of modernity and spared herself all capital letters" in her letters to Carol. Here's one example in full:
    dear sherlocka we are set to arrive on the exact second pray thank that thoughtful and astute employer of female labor the hoyt for asking us en masse as it were beefyof course is a free woman but the undersigned has arranged a sub for the week i begin my vacation that much sooner because of this event please wire at bs expense what color your garments will be don't want to duplicate harmony above all is our motto until then--and perhaps afterwardtoo i remain respectfully alice whelen p s luckily b is rotten with riches i shall do my utmost for the dear girl
I. Loved. This. Book. It is fabulously twenties and fun. It's also very interestingly written, with all the different viewpoints, and much more complex than even this long summary/review indicated. It also has a very different feel from The Jade Necklace, which shows off Pem's versatility as an author. I just bought The Secret Stair on Amazon, and I'm impatiently awaiting its arrival. In the meantime, next up will be Betsy Hale, my first true series book from Pem, and Vicki Barr's Peril Over the Airport.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

C&L Mystery Stories for Girls #1, The Jade Necklace


Roslyn Blake is the orphaned child of a scientist/explorer and a mother who died when Roslyn was four. Since her father's death, she's been under the guardianship of the Chiltons, consisting of the horrid father, the lovely mother, sweet and beautiful daughter Muriel, and son Bob, the wannabe inventor. Roselyn's ambition is to be a professional pianist, but Mr. Chilton appropriates her personal funds that she was to use for lessons to buy this folly of a house, Belleview, out in the country.

Almost as soon as they get there, they're put upon to host a Chinese lord (Mr. Wang), his valet Hop Kee (and the valet's pet monkey), and his older friend/advisor (Mr. Han). Roslyn has a snuff bottle and what she believes to be an imitation jade necklace, both posthumous gifts from her father. The latter disappears, and she alternately suspects Hop Kee and his monkey. She thinks she's recovered it from the room of Mr. Wang (placed there, she believes, by the monkey), but she's actually stolen the real thing that her necklace imitates. Oops.

In the end, Mr. Chilton moves to New Zealand, to sponge off of his wealthy cousin; Mr. Wang (who is half-American, the son of the former owners of the house) proposes to Muriel and buys the house from Roslyn for his mother--giving Roselyn the money for piano lessons; and Bob goes to University, courtesy of his aunt. The necklaces are each restored to the appropriate owners.
  • Roslyn keeps telling herself that she'll be of age in three years. I'm not sure if "of age" means 18 or 21, therefore I'm not sure if she's 15 or 18. Whichever, Muriel is 4 years older.
  • I've read far too many Agatha Christie novels. I've been conditioned to believe the brother and the adopted daughter will always fall in love and was sadly disappointed/honestly confused when this didn't happen. I mean, they call each other Bobsy and Rosey!
  • The Honorable James Chilton is really almost TOO bad. He's unpleasant to read about, and it was distracting to be thinking things like, "How's Pem going to get out of this one? Killing him? How?"
  • That said, Pem does give you some insight into the guy. He's been disowned by his wealthy British family, and he thinks he knows more about money than he does. He enjoys the misery of others, especially if it's directly controlled by him. He makes Muriel wretchedly embarrassed by his matchmaking efforts with Wang--reading about it made me just wince in sympathy.
  • There's definitely some racial stuff in this book about the Chinese. Think "How do they even see through those eyes!"
  • Pem is just so good at writing about emotions and feelings, with a mixture of showing and telling. Roslyn's passion for music, her love for her adoptive family (especially her relationship with Bob), and her frustration with Mr. Chilton and his use of her money come across as being very genuine.
  • The family's pet name for Muriel is "Mew," which I think is rather cute.
  • Roslyn wears"the old yellow silk that had come from Bangkok and the gold woven band that had been a savage's bracelet," while Muriel has a "soft green" gown with "rhinestone fringes." Mrs. Chilton wears"coral sequins," and other guests at a ball wear a "mound of pink satin," a"beaded cerulean crepe," and a girl has a gown of "flaming red, with sparkling heels to her red velvet slippers and a huge red ostrich-feather fan."
  • Finally, this story takes place in a fictional town in Pennsylvania, where Pem was from. Bob goes to Lehigh University in the end, and Mrs. Chilton moves with her sister to Clinton, which is near Pittsburgh.
It's hard to explain why I like this so much--all I can say is that it's in the details. Highly recommended. Next up, The Thirteenth Spoon.

Pemberton Ginther

Well, I was right to be tempted by Pemberton Ginther's The Jade Necklace. Before the first chapter was even over, I was bowled over by how great the writing quality is compared to other series books of the time. Her writing reads like a really good period book, not just a cliched, cranked out Syndicate manuscript (although heaven knows I love those, too!). I ran right through this book and straight into the next one, The Thirteenth Spoon, which was every bit as good. At this point, I'm actively pursuing ANY title by her.

Pemberton Ginther was the pen name of Mary Pemberton (Mrs. George A.) Heyer. She was an artist as well as a writer, and she illustrated many books, as well as painting and working in stained glass--a real renaissance woman. From what I can tell, her art career pre-dates her career as a writer, beginning in the 19th century. She then wrote several series in the 1910s and 20s: Betsy Hale, Miss Pat, Beth Anne, Nancy Lee, and Hilda. I've not yet read any of these, so I'm not sure what their focus is (mystery, romance, adventure, etc.), but I certainly intend to investigate.

The titles that I've read, as well as a third, The Secret Stair, were originally published by the Macrae Smith Company in 1928 and 1929 and then republished in 1932 by Cupples and Leon. While I've never examined a Macrae edition, the page numbers match up, so I assume the two editions of each are identical. I imagine the dust jacket art is different, although I've been unable to find pictures online to confirm this. The frontispieces of both of the books I've read are initialed "FW," so they are not illustrated by her.

The fact that these weren't written specifically for the Mystery Stories for Girls series probably explains why they're so different from the other titles. The heroines and subject matter are a little older and their problems/situations are more adult--another title, The Door in the Mountain, is especially childish in comparison. At 305-308 pages, they're also almost a hundred pages longer than The Clue at Crooked Lane, for example. Pem is also very thorough in fleshing out characters--there are no colorless sidekicks, but a lot more emotional turmoil. There's fewer series stereotypes, and they just don't have the same feel as a typical series book. I'm very curious to see how her actual series books read.

I'll have reviews of the books I've read up shortly. This actually started out as the review for The Jade Necklace but got FAR too long. Can you tell how excited I am to finally find another good author/book?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lilian Garis Books for Girls, Nancy Brandon


I got interested in the Lilian Garis books for girls recently, for several reasons. They all have original, different cover art (Thelma Gooch!), with glossy frontispieces and internal illustrations. They're also more affordable/easier to find than some other series books from that period(20s-30s), which happens to be my favorite era of series books. I've also been in the mood for books along the lines of the Patty Fairfield series (I love, adore, and WORSHIP Patty Fairfield, btw), with a focus more on fun and frivolity.

That said, I've never knowingly read a title by Lillian Garis, although she wrote under so many pseudonyms, it's hard to say. I mean, the woman wrote hundreds of juvenile fiction titles, but I've somehow successfully avoided them all. Do I own the entire Melody Lane series? Yes. Have I read a one of them? Nope. Do I own/have read the entire, utterly obscure Arden Blake series, by Cleo, her daughter? Yes. So I have no excuse for this lapse, besides the fact that her writing has the reputation of not aging well/being pretty bad. All of the books in this series consist of pairs of books about a protagonist (i.e., 1st book=Female Name, sequel=Female Name's Noun)

So my first foray with Lil is with Nancy Brandon. Nancy's mother is a businesswoman, and Nancy--who despises all activities domestic--wants to follow in her footsteps. Her first venture is in running a "whatnot shop" on her summer break from what I assume is high school. While doing so, she learns that (a.) business is harder than she thought and (b.) one must attend to at least SOME domestic responsibilities. She makes new friends because she's so great and popular, and there's a vague mystery involving a local professor who disappears at will. It's completely obvious that he's going underground somehow, but all these simple townfolk are evidently too, well, simple for that conclusion. In their defense, though, it's never clear to me why it has to be a secret, anyway.
  • Nancy's mother is young and pretty and mistaken for her younger sister. That part is all very Nan/Patty Fairfield.
  • This book is unusual in that Nancy is fatherless (no explanation, just that her mother is a widow), rather than motherless. I also liked the angle of Nancy's mother working and being successful in the 1920s and Nancy hating housework.
  • In case you couldn't figure it out from the summary, nothing really happens. Which can be okay--almost nothing ever happens in Patty Fairfield--but with Lil at the helm instead of Carolyn Wells, it's just boring.
  • Lil has that annoying tendency to tell rather than show. Which is particularly annoying when she's TELLING us how great Nancy is while SHOWING us that she's rather obnoxious.
  • Isn't it weird to be reading about a Nancy that isn't Drew?
  • The one aspect that I thought was well-written was Nancy's relationship with her younger brother Ted. They alternately fight, then have friendly moments that are rather understatedly tender.
  • Other props? Lil describes characters' looks and fashion constantly. Yellow is Nancy's color, btw. She's tall and willowy, with shiny black curls and dimples. Attire worn through the book includes "a simple blue ratine," a sport costume, with "a very fancy jacket and a light wool and silk plaid skirt," "all the known signs of college life . . . a worsted tam o'shanter (in summer), . . . a sweater to match, with a tan golf skirt and --heavy stockings, ending in good, strong, walking Oxfords," "brand new, quite modish heliotrope dress," "her oldest gingham and her most battered big straw hat," " a frame of grey veils, set over a small summer hat," "yellow and white tissue dress," "black satin bathing suit," "geranium georgette," "silver silk dress and black-satin-trimmed-with-silver grapes hat," and, my personal favorite, a "howling yellow gingham."
  • This book is a romance-free zone. *sigh*
This book was okay, I suppose, if not exactly what I was looking for. I think I'll get the sequel, Nancy Brandon's Mystery, but probably not the other (gulp) sixteen books in the series. Upcoming? I just got Pemberton Ginther's The Jade Necklace, which is very tempting. I also got five of the Josephine Lawrence Books for Girls, by Cupples and Leon, for much the same reasons that I got Nancy Brandon. I know five sounds excessive just to try out, but a seller on ABE had them in dj for $4 each, with nice combined shipping.

I got a first-time home buyer tax credit this year, and some of it went to new porch furniture. So the reading for the last couple of posts (and probably the next several) has taken place with Jules the dachshund on these:

Brad Forrest Adventure Series, #5, 6, & 8


I purchased this set of books on a whim--the description sounded like good potential for the ridiculous, a la Christopher Cool. And while they're nowhere near Chris Cool levels of amazing, they're pretty campy. They're also extremely short--I can put one away in about 35 minutes. It was written as a Canadian series (a bit unusual) with eight volumes published in 1965, along with what are believed to be eight ghost volumes. Each title is in the format of Brad Forrest's Location Adventure. New York Adventure deals with heroin smuggling/the UN (yes, really), Yucatan Adventure is about Latin American revolutionaries, and London Adventure is a classic Cold War/defected/kidnapped scientist plot.

The front of each book has what sounds bizarrely like a brief bio for a company newsletter, which I believe I must reproduce in full.

"Bradley Raymond Forrest was born in Ottawa but he grew up in Toronto where his father's newspaper empire has its headquarters. Mr. Forrest owns a farm in Quebec and a Montreal house, so during the holidays, Brad learned to speak French fluently.

He is taking political science at the University of Toronto, and he plays hockey, golf, and football; he is keen on skiing and small-car [as opposed to large-car?] racing and, as a flier, he has his multi-engine ticket. Hunting and skeet shooting have made him a fair shot, and mountain climbing, skin diving and riding have kept him very fit. Although Mr. Forrest is very wealthy, he believes that his son should earn his holidays, so Brad has done all sorts of jobs in the newspaper business when not engaged in disentangling himself from his many fascinating and sometimes [no, always, trust me] dangerous adventures."

I mean, really. The awkward changes in tense, the random punctuation, the never-ending sentences . . .
  • Brad has NOT done all sorts of jobs in the newspaper business. He has been sent to multiple locations to do such things, but inevitably ends up involved in international intrigue. Furthermore, his dad's job activities are described more as a diplomat than a news tycoon.
  • There's never any explanation of the non-existence of Brad's mother. I assume she's dead, but it's not stated in any of these three volumes.
  • Why is it almost never a dead FATHER? I guess it ruins the whole "must be rich enough to go on constant expensive adventures" thing.
  • The wealthy blond athlete is in a frat. I know you're shocked. There's just as many mentions of him doing school work as there are of him doing newspaper work. AKA none.
  • Girls are not mentioned AT ALL in these books. A little weird, considering he's supposed to be 18, good-looking, great guy, tons of money. While they're short (younger audience?), there's plenty of violence (older audience?), so I'm not sure why.
  • He also doesn't have a chum. Instead, he has a different secondary helper character in every book. So another oddity. Brad Forrest has issues with close relationships?
  • I swear, this boy kids kidnapped/held captive more than Nancy Drew. We're talking multiple times per book.
I really wish the ghost titles had been published, particularly the adventures in Toronto, Nassau, and Anchorage. Of the existing titles, I wouldn't mind getting my hands on Madagascar, Calgary, and Hallifax. Speaking of fatherless main characters, my next review will be one of the Lilian Garis Books for Girls, Nancy Brandon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Judy Bolton #9, The Mysterious Half Cat


This might have to be my favorite Judy Bolton book of the moment.

The book opens with Judy dreaming a strange dream in the hammock--Blackberry splits in half, with the tail end following Peter and the head end following Arthur. Judy buys a dream book from a beggar, trying to figure it out, while the boys are just concerned with which half of the cat contained the heart. *eye roll*

The Boltons are getting ready to welcome Dora "Scottie" Scott and her little sister Carol for a visit. She was friends with Judy in Roulsville and is now coming back from Alaska to look for relatives. Judy's excited to have her back at first, but Scottie is now moody and honestly pretty unpleasant most of the time. Carol has a bizarre brain malformation that makes her "language deaf" and needs expensive experimental surgery to fix it. Where, oh, where, can their old miserly grandfather be?


Judy tries to distract Scottie with a mystery. Wing Lee, the Chinese laundry man (almost as good as a Chinese cook!), has been hearing strange ghostly noises in his cellar every week. Judy lies in wait and hears them talking about splitting the cat in half. They decide that the beggar has something to do with the mystery and follow him to his house on upper Grove Street. Scottie's been excessively interested in the guy--I'm sure you can guess who he is. He gets beaten up by boys looking for his hidden riches. Judy's figured it all out by now, but the grandfather says he can't claim his family now that he's not got any money--he's not claimed them all along, because he's afraid they'll take his money, and now that he trusts them, he needs it back, to give them a show of faith. Yeah, weird/not much sense.

Of course, Judy scares the boys into giving the money back, she puts it in a bank, so that he won't be tempted back into his miserly ways, and Carol successfully has the surgery. The Scotts move into a house across the line on upper Grove Street, which furthers the Judy Bolton Gentrification Project, and everyone lives happily ever after.
  • I don't see how Lorraine ever agrees to marry Arthur a few books down the line. I mean, she's supposed to be so jealous, and Arthur only decides to marry her after Judy turns him down. He seems so clearly to prefer Judy in these early books.
  • Blackberry ex machina: he stays in the house with the beggar when he's injured. Judy et al. only discover the now seriously ill beggar in searching for Blackberry.
  • Peter doesn't show the night they sneak into the miser's basement.. Judy's so upset about him not coming (and possibly scaring them with his flashlight) that she CRIES. When they straighten things out, she apologizes and wants to know how she can make it up to him. He responds by kissing her in the middle of the road. *sigh*
  • When Judy asks Honey about where Peter was, she says, "You know yourself, Honey, that any kind of an adventure is lots more exciting to share with Peter than with Arthur." Was there ever any doubt about who she ends up with?
  • Everyone in these old books stays out as late as I ever did--parties end at two and three in the morning, they go breaking into houses at midnight. People in the thirties didn't have the eight o'clock curfews, only go with chaperones, etc. that you might expect.
  • It's a little odd to me that Horace, Peter, and Arthur, who are grown men with jobs/in law school, gallivant around with these high school girls. However, this happens all the time in pretty much any pre-1960 book, so I guess I should take it as gospel.
It's odd that I like this book so much when I think the main mystery (beggar/grandfather) is so stupid and the guest secondary characters (Scottie/Carol) are SO annoying. But to me, this is the last classic Judy mystery--she graduates from high school at the end of the book, and the next volume ushers in the whole engagement scenarios, and the next has her working for Peter, which starts off the whole pre-Roberta arc. This the last one with them all running around in a group, before a new crowd of secondary characters are ushered in. And, honestly, the kiss. It's almost as good as when Peter kisses her after she's nearly strangled to death in The Yellow Phantom. I love that she totally almost died, and all she can think about is how she can't wait to tell Pauline that Peter kissed her.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for romance. Nancy Drew would NOT approve. Anyway, next up, randomly enough, is a few volumes from a Canadian series, the Brad Forrest Adventure Series.
 
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