Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Young And Fair

Rosamund du Jardin
1963, J.B. Lippincott Company

Chicago, 1883: 16-year-old Lissa Powell, newly orphaned when her adoptive mother dies, finds a job at high-end department store Colby's. She finds new friends at her boarding house and at work, particulary the vivacious Effie Cunningham. But her biggest conquest is the handsome heir to the store, Greg.

Lissa's an appealing heroine, the setting interesting, the plot is predictable but agreeable. But somehow, there's something missing. There's an abruptness to the conclusion which could be due to the author's death - it was published posthumously, so perhaps there was a missing connection. She makes a good effort to bring a sense of late 19th century America to the book, and succeeds. And there is clothing talk.

Lissa lost no time in changing from her best dress into a white shirtwaist and blue cotton skirt.

But I think the writing is just about adequate. There's no spark, no sparkle to the lines, and no quickness or depth to the action. It moves dully.

She was looking for a room to rent and this familiar neighborhood was as good a place to start as any. In such a shabby, run-down area she should be able to find something cheap.

And there are such hackneyed character descriptions:

... tears filled her greenish-hazel eyes despite her effort to stop them, and the elfin triangular face beneath the curly brown fringe of bangs grew sad.

Fan website
The Malt Shop - du Jardin page
Image Cascade Books (publishers)
About the Author
Rosamond Neal was born in Fairland, Illinois. An early job was in a Chicago department store, Charles A. Stevens & Company. As a freelance writer, she published many stories in major women's magazines, including Red Book, Cosmopolitan, and Good Housekeeping. She also wrote radio scripts, and cowrote one book with her daughter, Judith Carol. There is a school, the Dujardin Elementary School, named after her in Bloomingdale, Illinois.

An old postcard of Charles A. Stevens & Company, which was clearly a model for Colby's in all its old-fashioned retail palace glory.

Other Books
Practically Seventeen
Class Ring
Boy Trouble
The Real Thing
Wait For Marcy
Marcy Catches Up
A Man For Marcy
Senior Prom
Double Date
Double Feature
Showboat Summer
Double Wedding
Wedding In The Family
One Of The Crowd

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle
L.M. Montgomery
1926, McClelland and Stewart Limited

Valancy wakened early, in the lifeless, hopeless hour just preceding dawn. She had not slept very well. One does not sleep very well, sometimes, when one is twenty-nine on the morrow, and unmarried, in a community and connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man.

Bullied and neglected by her extended family, Valancy Jane Stirling has grown to a miserable, shrinking womanhood, trapped between the conflicting demands of those around her. She listened to their admonitions to be proper, to be quiet, to be well-behaved and somehow all it's done is make her the family disappointment and old maid, ignored unles someone has a slighting remark to make, afraid of everything. Afraid of the one boy who tried to kiss her when she was sixteen. Afraid of being cut out of the will of a wealthy uncle. Afraid of her mother's endless icy silences. But in the privacy of Valancy's own thoughts, where her humor and soul have been hiding since childhood, she inhabits a wonderful fantasy world.

Valancy had two home - the ugly red brick box of a home on Elm Street, and the Blue Castle in Spain. Valancy had lived spiritually in the Blue Castle ever since she could remember... Always, when she shut her eyes, she could see it plainly, with its turrets and banners on the pine-clad mountain height, wrapped in its faint, blue loveliness, against the sunset skies of a fair and unknown land.

Back in cold, proper Deerwood, Valancy has always been plagued by ill health. But when Valancy, dullest and vaguest of old-before-her-time maids, goes to the doctor in secret about her sharpening chest pains, the results electrify her clan and her town.

For Valancy has been handed a death sentence. One year to live. And meek, frightened Valancy suddenly has nothing to lose, and nothing to fear. But her family does. Valancy doesn't tell her smothering, unloving family, who would make her final months as mindlessly painful as her previous 29 years, and they're confused when their humble victim suddenly becomes outspoken and fearless. And they're horrified when Valancy, so dull and proper, first moves into a disreputable household to care for a dying girl who'd been the subject of much gossip after bearing an illegitimate baby, and then marries local scoundrel Barney Snaith.

In that year, Valancy, for the first time in her life, is happy. She adores Barney's snug little cabin in the woods, the beauty of nature all around her a feast for her eyes after living in a cramped and ugly house. Barney makes a good companion, undemanding and comfortable to live with, asking only that Valancy respect his locked study. She agrees wholeheartedly, finding more than enough to do in simply being her own person for once - free to eat when she likes, swim all day in the summer, sleep late or go to bed late, etc.

Holmes speaks of grief 'staining backward' through the pages of life; but Valancy found her happiness had stained backward likewise and flooded with rose-colour her whole previous drab existence.

And then - disaster. Will Valancy and Barney's idyllic existence survive an utterly unexpected piece of news?

About the Author

Books by L.M. Montgomery
Anne Of Green Gables (1908)
Anne Of Avonlea (1909)
Anne Of The Island (1915)
Anne Of Windy Poplars
Anne's House Of Dreams (1917)
Anne Of Ingleside
Rainbow Valley (1919)
Rilla Of Ingleside (1921)
Chronicles Of Avonlea (1912)
Further Chronicles Of Avonlea (1920)
Emily Of New Moon (1923)
Emily Climbs (1925)
Emily's Quest (1927)
The Story Girl (1911)
The Golden Road (1913)
Pat Of Silver Bush (1932)
Mistress Pat (1935)
Kilmeny Of The Orchard (1910)
Magic For Marigold (1929)
A Tangled Web (1931)
Jane Of Lantern Hill (1937)

Anne of Green Gables websites
There are many websites and forums devoted to Anne and her creator. One clearinghouse of them is Tickled Orange

Montgomery's books star Prince Edward Island, which has responded gratefully to the tourism results. Prince Edward Island tourism site

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ann Porter, Nurse

Betty Baxter Anderson, il. Roberta Paflin
1942, Cupples & Leon Company

"Miss Porter, why are you entering nursing?"
Ann was prepared for the question, but it had come abruptly. She was determined not to falter. "At this time particularly," she said slowly and thoughtfully, "I think women should be of some value to the world. I don't want to be worthless. Trite as it sounds, I want to do my bit."

The time is 1942, during the Second World War, but Ann's comment has a more personal side. Yes, there is a desperate need for nurses both overseas and at home, but she has a more personal, secret reason for wanting to be of value. The chic, beautiful brunette startles her new friends at the nursing Training School with her wardrobe, her awkwardness with household chores, and her secrecy, but she's friendly and quickly forms good relations with sporty Texan Marge Nelson, shy Carol Kane, and handsome intern Robert Coran. She also forms a nasty enmity with scheming redhead Lita Wilson, who also wants Robert, and who quickly realizes Ann has something to hide.

Ann and Marge find an abandoned baby on the hospital doorstep, and take an interest in his fate as he's taken in and operated on for a clubbed foot. Junior, as the infant is dubbed, provides a link between Ann and Dr. Coran, a link encouraged by everyone but Lita and the strict no nurse/intern fraternization rules.

An interesting story with good pace and appealing characters. The writing is better than many series books, without being exceptional. Most notable lacks are very little sense of place, and some stilted dialogue. The mystery of who Ann is, and why she is hiding her identity, is fairly engrossing, but while the revelation is satisfactory, the wrap-up is not. One unique item is the mention of the Amana colonies near the nursing school, and the girls' visit there. And Anderson has a very nice talent for making domestic scenes warm and desirable. For example:

The thoughtful Winchesters had lit a fire in the little iron stove in the warming shack and left a plate of sandwiches and a thermos of hot coffee. "There's enough food for a half dozen," Ann thought. "It was certainly sweet of them."

About the author
An Iowa native who later moved to California. Anderson wrote twenty books for children and teens.

Other books by Author
Peggy Wayne: Sky Girl 1941
Connie Benton, Reporter 1941
Nancy Blake, Copywriter 1942
Julie Brent Of The WAAC 1943
Four Girls And A Radio 1944
Holly Saunders, Designer 1947

Children's Books
Secret Of The Old Books 1952
Curtain Call For Connie 1953
Adventures In 4H 1938
Alabama Raider 1957
Powder Monkey 1962