Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mini reviews

Step To The Music
Phyllis A. Whitney, il. Jack Keats (cover)
1953, Thomas Y. Crowell Company

It was the chin of a girl who possessed more determination and spirit than was always good for her.  The face as a whole was more striking than pretty, yet suddenly, foolishly, Abbie Garrett longed to be pretty.

 Abbie Garrett is 17 when her southern cousin Lorena arrives at her Long Island home.  At the same time, her former neighbors, Douglas and Stuart McIntyre, arrive back from years in southern schools.  The lives of all four quickly become overwhelmed by the outbreak of the Civil War, which pits the southern-sympathizing Douglas and Lorena against their neighbors.  Pretty, headstrong Lorena frustrates the plainer (in all senses) Abbie, but what would be a minor irritation in peace becomes a much bigger issue in war as the men begin leaving and Abbie's fragile southern mother withdraws into herself. 

The romances are predictable and the male hero, Stuart, is just another irksome know-it-all, but there's a real charm in this old book.  A strong sense of place and the well-drawn characters make it an interesting read despite the general dullness of the main characters.

Armitage Hall
Eleanor Noyes Johnson
1965, The Macmillan Company

When I thought of all the perfectly fabulous girls I'd met that day, it did seem mean that the only goop should be my roommate.

16-year-old Navy brat Judith Clearmont heads off to Armitage Hall, the Maryland boarding school where her mother and grandmother spent happy girlhoods, in a state of excited expectation which can't live up to reality.  But it does!  Armitage Hall is fabulous!  Her new friends Bo and Moonie and Cynthia are fabulous!  The really wonderful team rivalry of the Green and the White is fabulous!  Life in fox-hunting Maryland is fabulous!  If only that goopy Laura hadn't arrived. 

Dad always says that I jump to conclusions about people, and I guess he's right.  I took one look at Laura and decided she was a goop.  I'll admit I was half asleep, but  honestly, I never saw a girl before who was so all one color.  She had on a camel's-hair coat, which would have been all right except that her shoulders sagged as if it were too heavy for her.  Her hair was just the same shade as her coat, and I couldn't see her eyes because she wore glasses with tan rims.

Judith eventually relents, but not before you've developed a lasting dislike for her, one which taints the rest of the meandering book.  Judith's none-too-interesting life at an all-girl boarding school in deepest Maryland is skimmed, the action skipping ahead every few months.  A little sympathy for her develops when she reveals her fear of horseback riding - her mother was a good rider - but it's squandered by the flat, vague nature of her riding lessons and the horse show she attends.

An odd, English-boarding-school narrative set in America, which points up the worst of that genre without really using much of the very appealing side, the one which J.K. Rowling used to such good effect in the early Potter books.  I suppose part of it is the age; the Potter books also started becoming nasty as the kids got older.

Other books by Johnson
Buffington Castle
Mountaintop Summer
King Alfred The Great
The Wishing Year
Mrs. Perley's People

Some Merry-Go-Round Music
Mary Stolz
1959, Harper and Bros.

Pumfret And Son, Knit Goods, was a small firm in a huge, dark building near Wall Street.  All day, now that it was summer, embattled traffic sent its roar through open windows, and in Miranda Parrish's corner of the outer office a dusty fan on top of the filing cabinets turned its big head from side to side and wheezed and stirred the heavy air like batter in a bowl.

19-year-old business school grad Miranda's stuck in a boring office with five male bosses she sums up, silently, as three cowards and two bullies.  She loves her working-class family, but her parents' unending arguments and her brother's union speeches are slowly driving her nuts.  At work, the owner's awkward, snobby son has a crush that's half flattering and half creepy.  One friend is getting married out of sheer desperation -

I absolutely hate being poor... Making do is the worst expression in the world, and it's what we're having to do all the time.

- and another is determined to get out of her bland office and into a shiny office tower.  Miranda's frustrated conclusion is that:

It isn't the job that counts, but where you do it.  I'll be there are lots of girls like us who aren't ambitious but have to work, and of course it's where we do it that matters to us... Connie and I, we're just marking time.

Miranda's shocked back to life, finally, and begins taking steps to push herself back onto a real course.

Obituary for Eleanor Noyes Johnson

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Place of Her Own (1962)

A Place of Her Own
Ann Mari Falk (translated from the Swedish by Annabelle MacMillan)
Copyright 1962
English translation 1964 by Harcourt Brace & World Inc.

"Since when did you begin to classify peopl eas 'nice' and 'not so nice'?" Lottie inquired.
"Yesterday," Stina said. "Back home everyone is pleasant."

15-year-old Stina Sandblom is leaving her island home after the death of her parents, and going to the big city, Stockholm, to live with her recently married sister Lottie and her husband Olaf. 

The young couple is welcoming, but their apartment is tiny, Lottie is pregnant, and Stina finds adjusting to her new school difficult.  A quiet person, she is bothered by teasing about her rural accent, and distracted by how hard it is to study in the cramped living quarters. But one girl seems nice, and Stina decides to take a chance  and invite Astrid home for a visit. 

And of course, a romance.  Stina falls for Markus, a studious and nerdy boy she treats with more affection than passion until he helps her solve a major problem - Lottie's newborn and the fraying nerves of his young parents is making study impossible.

Oh, how the baby cried! Olie paced the floor, holding his son in his arms. Finally he would begin to gurgle contentedly and put his fist in his mouth, but the minute he was put back in his basket, the noisy concert began afresh... But now Olie and Lottie had begun to quarrel over the most trivial matters - things they would have laughed at a few months before.

Nice problem novel from Europe.


About the Author
She seems to have written a number of books in various genres – some are clearly children’s picture books, some seem to be murder mysteries (going by the covers), but only one is pretty obviously also a young adult novel, Who Is Erika (1959)


Other editions

1972, Scholastic Book Services

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Search!

A reader writes:

Hello.  I am on a quest to remember a book I read a long time ago.  I THINK the book involved twins.  One part I remember clearly, the girl or girls were giving tours in an old house.  They accidentally found a loose panel in a stair railing.  In it was a letter written by a man that was in love with the then owner of the house.  She was told about the letter and realized her love from long ago hadn't deserted her, he was waiting for her.  It was a touching story in a great book AND I can't remember the title!  Can anyone help me?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Vicki’s Mysterious Friend (1947)

Vicki’s Mysterious Friend
Emma Atkins Jacobs, il. Jean MacLaughlin
1947, The John C. Winston Company

Her upstairs room was none too warm in winter; so Vicki wriggled herself into a faded brown wool jersey and jerked the side zipper snugly into place.

A very promising beginning, with clothing porn.  In a small city in Washington, nineteen-year-old Vicki Burnett has been stand-in mother for her four younger siblings since their mother’s sudden death five years earlier.  She (of course) has someone to do the heavy lifting in Aunt Bertha, but it’s to Vicki that all the million small chores come – keep Bob (14) from drifting into trouble with his pals, wrangling the small children Donald (7) and chatty Susan and, most of all, dealing with pretty, popular little bulldozer…er, sister, Margery.  As the book opens, Margery blows into Vicki’s bedroom to demand big sis do some sewing for her (she’s got a hot date). Vicki weakly protests she has to work on her sketches (she’s a budding interior designer in college) but capitulates quickly.

At that moment the door burst open and Margery swept in. She wore a dark gray Chesterfield coat with a scarlet beret and mittens. Gold-blond curls framed her gay young face. Her eyes were very blue and her saucy mouth was vividly accented with cherry-red lipstick. She carried a green frock, which she tossed on the bed.

Somehow, it’s obvious the underlying theme of this book is going to be sister rivalry.  And indeed, a handsome young man soon arrives at the door.  He has nearly killed Donald, who was sledding on a dangerous street.  The kid’s fine, so we’re told – he then vanishes from the book.  He existed only to bring together Brian Royce with the mostly legal female members of the family.  They will fight over him like cats over a fish head.

And then we switch gears and discover that their father is sick.  He owns a bakery and his hard work and stress over supporting a large family have given him a “bad digestive condition” and his doctor says he needs a six months break in a warmer climate – say, southern California – to recover fully.  He stresses over who will run the business, and Vicki volunteers.

For a while, we watch Vicki struggle mildly to learn the baking business and make inexpensive d├ęcor changes to the shop and sign. She realizes how hard her father’s worked to support them all, and begins to wonder if she really wants to finish that design course instead of staying with the family business.

And then we switch out again.  While the above action was going on, Margery and Vicki had been jousting for the McGuff.. er, Brian Royce.  He seems a swell guy, charms the family, dates both sisters genteelly.  But Bob, drifting into a tough part of town, finds Royce in a seedy bar. The man manipulates Bob, who’s found himself in a bit of a argument with the bar owner, into keeping his mouth shut about seeing Bob in this disreputable place. 

The first half is snappy and interesting enough, if not fully realized. The mystery that begins with Royce’s strange, unsavory behavior simply ruins the book.

Other books by Emma Atkins Jacobs
The Secret Spring (1944)
Far West Summer (1949)
Trailer Trio (1942)
Smooth Sailing (1954)
A Chance To Belong (1953)
For Each A Dream (1958)

Kirkus review

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book search!

A reader writes:
I am looking for a book printed sometime in the 1940 or 1950s. Set in pioneer America about a young woman, poor relation, unpaid servant type being forced to marry much older wealthy abusive widower. Rescued by long lost brother taken as a child during Indian raids. Girl is taken to woods by brother taught to  live in woods as mountain man type. Brother halls build sturdy cabin and such. Then one day disappears back to life he misses leaving sister to fend for self. After much time she rescues man from marauding Indians. Escape to Fort rescued at last minute by brother who has reverted to Indian. (Long but thought more detail better.)

I have to say, this one sounds wonderful and I'd like to read it myself.  Some of it is similar to a very, very good book from 1946 called Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I don't think it's the same book, though.   Anyone?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

More long-lost books

Two more book requests!

1) I'm looking for a vintage teen novel from the fifties or sixties about a girl who goes out for cheerleader. On the day of tryouts she realizes she has chosen an outfit that looks almost like the uniform--white sweater and navy blue skirt. She's embarrassed about that but she winds up making the squad and a bunch of new friends.

2) I'm looking for a teen novel about a girl going to Marde Gras for the first time. She winds up walking thru the streets alone. At first she enjoys her freedom but then she playfully sticks her hands in a fountain that is changing colors. It turns red and that reminds her of blood. It's sort of a gothic mystery novel.

The first doesn't ring a bell for me, but the second reminds me of Phyllis Whitney, who wrote many gothic mysteries and some for teens. She did write a New Orealeans-set book, Creole Holiday (1959). Anyone else?


Monday, September 21, 2015

Another lost book

Another reader in search of a long-lost teen novel.  Anyone recall this one?

I'm looking for a book where a young girl was attacked from behind, hospitalized and was sent drugged chocolates which her nurses ate.  She recovered and went home to her father, David's estate.  Her boyfriend, a photographer, turned out to be the bad guy.  Her father's partner, Blair/Bruin protected her as best he could from everything,  Something about a boat explosion at the end.  Thanks if you can help me find this book!!