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 décor 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!!


Monday, September 7, 2015

Flair for Fashion (1967)

Flair for Fashion
Betty Ferm
1967, Julian Messner
A Career Romance for Young Moderns

Her black hair was brushed to perfection and capped her head in a casual, to the shoulder length. A new white lace blouse enlivened the dark V of her jacket, and just the right amount of powder duster the tip of her slightly tilted nose.

And thus are we introduced to Ellen Matthews, en route to New York to claim her prize from fashion school; a six-month internship with Countess Gardella at the House of Etienne. 

She gave the gown a pin-tucked shirt waist bodice with a long, cuffed sleeve. The suggested fabric to be used was chiffon, with a low-cut matching colored slip. She added a billowing skirt and indicated that the half-inch belt was to have a round buckle made of the same chiffon.

This design wins her the internship, and is later dubbed Black Magic. It not only wins Ellen her shot at New York success, it will affect all her relationships at the House of Etienne.  Starting with the Countess’s son, Tony.  Because the Countess is ill when Ellen reaches New York, and Tony is in charge.  And her introduction to Tony is to overhear him say he needs an experienced assistant, not “some callow kid who’s still wet behind the ears.”

Meanwhile, in Ellen’s personal life, she’s bunking with conveniently placed relative Aunt Laura, who lives in New York and is largely dismissed by Ellen and her cozy nuclear family for being a finicky spinster. Already interested in the Saint Louis ingénue is handsome blond ad man Bill Jennings, whose company handled the contest for the House of Etienne.  Bill’s a slick native New Yorker whose innate sneakiness fascinates and repels Ellen in equal amounts.  And of course, she ends up with a thing for her dark, suave, faintly French boss, Tony. 

Extreme amounts of clothing porn.  Ferm describes what virtually everyone is wearing in virtually every scene, and makes it clear that this is Ellen’s fascination in life.  Which is great. 

He was very handsome in a black mohair suit with a woven silk tie. He wore a French-cuffed white shirt with jeweled cuff links that matched his tie stud….

The descriptions are rather flat and overdone.  This side is rather dull, for once. 

But the motivations, and the tale of a young, rather naïve girl thinking over her instinctive reactions to various situations – those are wonderful.  At one point, Ellen giggles at the complicated process of ordering wine, and Bill tells her something she had never considered before – that the fashion world involved more than creative design, that ordering wine and being a social creature was part of the business as well.  In another fine moment, Ellen’s assumptions about a fat friend – and about her boring, old maid aunt - are exploded. Just as Ellen is mentally giving both women – one thin and colorless, the other fat and dressed in loud patterns – a makeover, fat Mrs. Boorman stuns her:

“Of course,” Mrs. Boorman remarked, as they sat down at the table, “I could look even slimmer if I wore solid colors.” Ellen almost dropped her tomato juice. It had never occurred to her that Mrs. Boorman understood that.  She had assumed the heavy-set woman chose her flamboyant clothes from a lack of judgement.

Mrs. Boorman continues that she kept up with the styles for years, obediently changing with the times to suit each era.

“Then I decided to take a stand. I picked the colorful dresses I liked best and stuck with them. My daughters are horrified, but I’m happy.”

The romances were dull, the 1960’s swinging New York scenes hysterical –

Greenwich Village was alive with activity. Ellen caught glimpses of a dungareed girl with one blond braid down her back, a thin, bearded fellow with a canvas under his arm, a couple swaying jerkily outside a nightclub to a drum beat that echoed savagely from within…

- and Ellen’s career plots were as predictable as the romances.  But the underlying characterizations were very good, and the ideas good.  The larger teen romance itself was just not good.

Kirkus review 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Identify this book!

A reader emailed a book description, hoping I'd recognize their long-lost teen novel. 

Quick question, have you come across or do you remember a book from the 1950s set at a college campus within the fraternity/sorority system? The most significant moment from the book is the "golden couple" driving off down fraternity row and getting in a car accident that kills them both. There's a similar moment in Anne Rivers Siddons "Heartbreak Hotel" but it's not that book.

I couldn't help; it doesn't sound familiar to me.  Anyone else? 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The New Lucinda
Grace Gelvin Kisinger,
1958, Thomas Nelson & Sons

Lucinda Taylor is 16, blonde, blue-eyed and tall but as a studious, serious girl, she knows she’s not popular and she feels dull and ignored in her hometown of Exeter.  Reading a magazine article, she finds inspiration in a story about a girl who transforms the way she acts and how others think of her. Cindy wishes she could do this too, but in a town where everyone’s known her since birth, how can she?

So it’s lucky her dad is transferred to Woodmont, a town just far enough away to make Cindy’s makeover doable.  And she pulls it off.  She’s cool, she’s mildly indifferent, she’s unenthusiastic – she’s everything a popular girl should be.  Fighting her inclination to be friendly and engaged with a group of friendly girls, Cindy instead cozies up to Rose Walsh, a sleek and predatory girl, and falls wildly in infatuation with Malcolm “Mack” Gordon. But are these people, who Lucinda’s identified as the most popular kids at Woodmont, really all that desirable?

I’m a sucker for a teen novel about trying to remake yourself.  Lucinda’s likeable, the pace is good, and the resolution is satisfying.  One major flaw – Lucinda’s identification of Rose and Mack as popular kids is never seriously discussed.  Rose, in particular, seems less popular than infamous.  Is Lucinda’s perception accurate?

il. Barbara Fox (cover)

1958, Scholastic Book Services


Author’s other books
The Enchanted Summer (1956)
More Than Glamour (1958)
Bittersweet Autumn (1960)
Too Late Tomorrow (1962)

Kirkus review of The New Lucinda
A blog with a review of More Than Glamour
Kirkus review of The Enchanted Summer
Kirkus review of More Than Glamour
Kirkus review of Bittersweet Autumn

Kirkus review of Too Late Tomorrow 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Answer For April (1963)

Answer For April
Jan Nickerson, il (cover) Lucille Wallace
1963, Funk & Wagnalls Company, Inc.

Although the others had gone back into the house, April Anderson watched the car until it was out of sight. She knew that Margo would insist that Jeff remove the Just Married sign and the paper streamers before they left the country road and started along the thruway. Her older sister had a large share of the Anderson dignity; Jeff, being an advertising man, wouldn’t mind. If the other drivers honked at him, he would give them a big grin, but Margo would be embarrassed. April thought that she would be too, in a similar situation.

Sixteen-year-old April has just watched her older sister Margo leave the family home for the last time.  Their mother is dead, their father is an aggressively helpless man, and housekeeper Mrs. Berry isn’t enough to keep the home lights burning. April quickly learns that Margo’s been doing a lot in the past few years, and that it all falls on her now. Younger sisters Amy (14) and Pam (12) are basically hers now.  Their 19yo brother Thayer Jr. is in Germany, serving in the military, and doesn’t make an appearance.

Tall. Blonde. Suave. Hollister.  April’s been semi-flirting with boy-next-door Spencer, but is immediately intrigued to find a strange blonde boy on her front doorstep.  He’s Hollister Jones, come to get tutoring in French from her impatient father (which is never quite explained, given Thayer Armstrong’s obvious dislike of teaching and apparent financial comfort), and triggers a girl-war between April and her long-time best friend Norma. 

The war is conducted largely by Norma, who reveals such depths of malice which are all met with familiarity by April, so that you wonder why our heroine was ever friends with her.  Then again, April’s response to Norma’s jealousy is to shrug; she’s oddly cold-blooded.

April’s real agonies are reserved for her family.  Which is inevitable, given that her father suffers from Fragile Father Syndrome (attacks many fictional papas whose wives have been conveniently removed from this life by a tension-heightening author; generally, FFS daddies are socially conscious, artistic, journalistic or otherwise unimpeachably Better Than Thou. Daughters usually in thrall to them, sons often avoid them.) Thayer, even regarded through April’s fond eyes, is an asshole.  An artist who loathes the commercial work he does to pay the bills, he has a long history of vicious arguments with son-in-law Jeff, an ad man, and reacts to modern music (apparently jazz) as if someone had struck him very hard with a club.  Which becomes more tempting, the longer he goes on.  His crowning moment is when it’s suggested everyone take their own plate to the sink after dinner.

Father looked distressed.

The poor man. He spends his days in his backyard studio with his Dachshund, Snodgrass, slaving over a hot palette, and here these evil women want him to walk his own dirty dish to the kitchen sink.

Modern music enters the plot through family friend and independent career woman “Aunt” Irene, who invites April for a visit to Boston and introduces her to various young friends.  One, a brilliant but moody musician named Tom, becomes infatuated with April.  You start to see Norma’s point.

“Every boy who comes along. First Hollister, then Neil Burgess, and Tom Barlow, and, of course, always good old Spencer. Why should you have them all?”

Sadly, this is about the extent of the clothing porn. 

Saturday evening had come. Temporarily renouncing all her responsibilities, April became a carefree teen-ager preparing for a date. What a wonderful feeling! As she stepped into her black suede pumps, she felt absolutely grown up.

A readable but not particularly lively book. 

Random points
Amazing names – Thayer and Hollister and Spencer and Snodgrass and Margo. 
Virtually no physical description – clothes, house, etc. Nada.  You fill in all the blanks.

That Cover
The two younger Anderson girls throw a Halloween party, true, but the cover is baffling.  The party covers a chapter and isn’t that big a plot, and the book itself goes from the start of autumn through mid-winter. 

Other books
Date With  A Career (1958)
Destination: Success! (1959)
New Boy in Town (1960)
When The Heart is Ready (1961)
Circle of Love (1962)
Bright Promise (1965) historical
Double Rainbow (1966)
Peter Pembroke, Apprentice

A review of  Nickerson's book New Girl In Town at Forever Young Adult blog