We are still very much in the grip of winter here, but spring is just around the corner. Not that many weeks until flowers appear again…

It’s almost over in this time zone, but I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you spent it with someone you love. Or doing something you enjoy – that counts too!

Magnolia heart, Vancouver, B.C., April 2016.

Magnolia heart, Vancouver, B.C., April 2016.

season-of-the-briar-h-f-brinsmead-1965-001Season of the Briar by H.F. Brinsmead ~ 1965. This edition: Oxford University Press, 1965. Illustrated by William Papas. Hardcover. 202 pages.

My rating: 3.5/10

Brutal rating, isn’t it?

I put it this low because I truly believe that even with full allowances given for Season of the Briar being aimed at a teenage audience, this highly capable author could do exponentially better. (Anyone else know and admire Pastures of the Blue Crane, written a mere year before this one?)

I had such high hopes for this novel, and there are bits and pieces which are wonderful, but the plot imploded early on and what might have been a fantastic “finding oneself” story got all improbable boy’s-own-adventure, with a highly manufactured dramatic fantasia about a young hiker lost in the Tasmanian wilderness, and her supernaturally tinged rescue.

Quickie overview:

Four young men find summer work on an Australian weed-spraying crew which is sent to Tasmania. They encounter and re-encounter a group of hikers heading for the alpine area surrounding as-yet-undammed Lake Pedder, and, when one of the hikers gets lost during a sudden change in the mountain weather, several of the weed sprayers decide to assist in her rescue, with mixed results.

Before the hiker goes astray, the spray crew has reached a hidden valley peopled by eccentric Euro-Tasmanian old-timers who are so desperately caricatured as to irretrievably shake this particular reader’s faith in the probability of the tale, even before the rescue mission episode. Even the beautifully written descriptions of the glories of the Tasmanian wilderness (Stunning Lake Pedder! An endless pink granite sand beach! ) weren’t enough to woo me back.

Laboriously comical pen and ink illustrations by William Papas detract rather than add to the overall effect.

To be fair, there are a number of good things going on with this book. Such as a certain amount of bildungsroman-style character development, and a believable depiction of the evolution of the relationship of a group of people thrust into close companionship 24/7 and subjected to some truly challenging work and living conditions. One of Brinsmead’s sons worked on a similar spray crew, and the versimilitude of this aspect of the tale has obviously come from some personal familiarity with the enterprise.

Brinsmead was an articulate and passionate naturalist and conservationist, and this comes through loud and clear in her written appreciation of the southern hemisphere wild country as depicted here. At first I found her approving view of the liberal application of herbicides to portions of this wilderness quite troubling, but it soon clicked that she was all about getting rid of exotic flora in order to preserve the native stuff, and, along with that, to improve the state of agriculture in the region.

It’s a very 1960s’ sort of teen/young adult-market story, and I should probably modify that rating to reflect its period, but, as I have said already, Season of the Briar disappointed me in how it so closely missed being something more than what it turned out to be.

P.S. – I still think highly of Hesba Fay Brinsmead! A fascinating, deeply earnest personality as well as a more than decent writer. I have a growing collection of her novels and memoirs; Season of the Briar is something of an anomaly compared to the others I’ve read.

 

 

 

bitter-heritage-margaret-pedler-1928-2Bitter Heritage by Margaret Pedler ~ 1928. This edition: Hodder and Stoughton, 1928. Hardcover. 316 pages.

My rating: 4/10

A hugely predictable melodrama about a young woman whose father has disgraced himself, and by association her, by a massive financial gamble with other people’s money which failed. His subsequent suicide makes things even worse.

Our heroine Herrick -“a child-woman of seventeen” – is brutally dumped by her fiancé who fears disgrace by association – “I can’t put – forgive me – the daughter of a thief, of a swindler, in the place my mother’s held. Or” – his voice dropped a little – “make her the mother of my children.”

Oh, ouch.

But not to worry! Herrick is a plucky young thing (and beautiful, which is useful) and she goes out into the cruel harsh world and makes a new life for herself. We see her next a very few years later in Paris, working as a model for a famous dressmaker.

Herrick impresses all by her natural sweetness, including her money-minded employer (digression: are all Parisian dressmakers as deeply mercenary as vintage English novels make them out to be – think about that one, fellow readers – can you show me an exception?), and in particular an English client, Lady Bridget, who – quelle coïncidence! – turns out to have been the long-ago romantic flame of Herrick’s father, and the possessor of a letter written to her by him just before he pulled the fatal trigger instructing Lady Bridget to look after his darling daughter.

So now all is good. Correct? Herrick can leave her employment and enter into a mutually comforting relationship with Lady Bridget. Who just so happens to have a charming, handsome son…

No, wait. That would be too easy.

The son’s romantic feelings are engaged elsewhere, but he acts as a brother-like chum to Herrick, which comes in handy when she needs a masculine shoulder to cry on. As she does, because her life is soon complicated with not one but two impetuous would-be lovers. One being – all unknown, because Herrick and her sponsor are all being very cagey as to her familial origin – the son of a man who was ruined by Herrick’s father and who was only saved from disgracing himself by suicide by his sudden death by heart failure while written his goodbye letter, revolver on his desk.

When this comes out, hasty words are spoken, and it looks as though Herrick’s “bitter heritage” will stand in the way of her future happiness.

Another plot twist removes all obstacles. Shall I tell it? Or can you guess?

You know, I’m going to leave it unrevealed.

Just in case someone reading this with a view to reading Bitter Heritage wants a surprise.

And with that, I leave you. And this book.

Of “period piece” interest only, and forthwith shelved accordingly.

Note on the author, directly quoting from the very sparse Wikipedia entry which was all I could find about her on my web search:

Margaret Pedler (died 28 December 1948) was a British novelist, who wrote popular works of romantic fiction.

Initially Pedler studied piano and singing at the Royal Academy of Music, and published several songs for which she wrote both the music and lyrics. Over her career as a best-selling writer, from 1917 to 1947, she produced 28 novels.

  • The Splendid Folly: 1917
  • The House of Dreams-Come-True: 1919
  • The Hermit of Far End: 1920
  • The Moon out of Reach: 1921(?)
  • The Lamp of Fate: 1921
  • The Vision of Desire: 1922(?)
  • The Barbarian Lover: 1923
  • Waves of Destiny: 1924
  • Red Ashes: 1925
  • Tomorrow’s Tangle: 1926
  • Yesterday’s Harvest: 1926
  • Bitter Heritage: 1928
  • The Guarded Halo: 1929
  • Fire of Youth: 1930
  • Kindled Flame: 1931(?)
  • Desert Sand: 1932
  • The Greater Courage: 1933
  • Pitiless Choice: 1933
  • Distant Dawn: 1934 – published in England as “Green Judgment”
  • The Shining Cloud: 1935(?)
  • Checkered Paths: 1935(?)
  • Flame in the Wind: 1937
  • No Armour Against Fate: 1938(?)
  • Blind Loyalty: 1940
  • Not Heaven Itself: 1941
  • Then Came the Test: 1942
  • No Gifts from Chance: 1944
  • Unless Two Be Agreed: 1947
An early English-language edition, perhaps a little too "prettied-up", when one considered the darkness of much of the content...

An early English-language edition.

The Angel with the Trumpet by Ernst Lothar ~ 1942. First English language publication 1944. Alternate U.S. title The Vienna Melody. This edition: George C. Harrap & Co., 1946. Translated from the German by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. Hardcover. 439 pages.

My rating: 7/10

This is a dense, clever, sometimes powerful, occasionally humorous, and ultimately deeply disturbing novel, based as it is on the author’s own experiences as a member of the Austrian artistic and dramatic community in the years leading up to Hitler’s Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938.

It’s also an ambitious traditional-style family saga, following the stories of three generations of a prominent Viennese family, the piano-making Alts, and incorporating cameo appearances by various high-profile historical characters.

We have Mozart in a flashback scene of the performance in the Alt family music room of the composer’s personal rendition of Die Zauberflöte in its entirety, high soprano arias and all. The ill-fated Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf, who has carried on an illicit romantic relationship with a young woman who then marries into the Alt family; his dramatic suicide (real) takes place on her (fictional) wedding day. A highly unlikable Adolf Hitler appears first as a student who takes and fails an entry examination to art school alongside one of the Alt sons, and later in full dictator mode.

The rise and fall of the Alt family is something of an analogy to that of Austria itself, and it feels very deliberate. Lothar paints a damning portrait of a family, and by extension a people, who turn on their own for political expedience.

I am of course referring to the persecution of the Jewish population. Perhaps nowhere else in Europe had those of Jewish heritage become so much a part of existing society that their “Jewishness” was merely a descriptor, not a barrier to social standing, or to one’s career, and definitely not to one’s participation in the fine arts.

So how, in a few short years, did an entire society turn against a portion of itself, and why where “decent people” unable to prevent the tragedy of the ethnic-religious “cleansing” which accompanied the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich?

Troubling, indeed. But much more recent political events very close to home show that this is not an outdated possibility. Enough said.

Political and historical significance aside – and this is a valuable book to read for its documentarian atmosphere for anyone who is interested in the time period it covers, 1889 to 1938 – The Angel with the Trumpet is also an absorbing dramatic novel.

I did feel that the novel was just the slightest bit weak in its failure to fully engage me in the lives of its characters; there were few times when I completely identified with any of them, or cared deeply for their joys or despairs, though I certainly found myself deeply interested in what would happen next.

The ending is ambiguous, for the book was published before the conclusion of the war, but it shows a gleam of hope, that amongst all the evil of the time some people still cared for the wellbeing of others, and for their troubled, deeply changed, but still beloved country.

adrienne-gessner-ernst-lothar-2The author, Ernst Lothar, was a theatre director and producer as well as an established writer when he fled Austria for the United States in 1938, along with his wife, actress Adrienne Gessner. Lothar’s loving nostalgia and poignant despair for his lost homeland are very evident in this novel. The couple returned to Austria after the war, and continued to pursue their artistic endeavours. They are buried under the same headstone in a Viennese cemetery.

mv5bntk5zte2nzytyjrlmc00mwuwlwe4n2qty2flztc1mwm4yzy4l2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndy3mzu2mdm-_v1_sy1000_cr007161000_al_This novel was made into a 1948 Austrian film, with Adrienne Gessner filling one of the secondary roles. It was remade in Britain in 1950, starring English actors but using much of the Austrian-shot footage.

The Angel with the Trumpet was recently republished by Europa under its alternate title, The Vienna Melody. Those with experience in reading vintage novels will find much to enjoy, though its relatively slow pace and matter-of-fact portrayal of dramatic scenarios may fail to completely engage the modern reader.

 

 

First edition dust jacket illustration, sadly not my copy.

First edition dust jacket illustration, sadly not my personal copy.

Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom ~ 1934. This edition: Corazon Books, 2016. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1909752269. 327 pages.

My rating: 7/10

My second-ever Ursula Bloom novel and I enjoyed it, though it never quite breaks into A-list status. Maybe A-minus?

Anyway, I liked it, and it’s a keeper, for those times when one requires an utterly effortless diversionary read. (I also own the equally engaging and so-close-to-A-list 1965 mild psychological thriller The Quiet Village, but I don’t think I have chatted it up here yet.)

I’m keeping my eyes open (in a casual sort of way) for more novels by this supremely prolific writer, and have been for some years. They are surprisingly rare in used book stores, at least on this side of the Atlantic, or at least in the ones I have frequented. There must be stacks of them out there somewhere.

From the About the Author page at the back of this Corazon edition:

Ursula Bloom was one of the most popular bestselling authors of the twentieth century. She wrote over 560 books, a feat which earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for many years, as the world’s most prolific female writer. She also wrote short stories, radio and stage plays, and worked as a Fleet Street journalist.

During her long career, as well as writing books under her own name, Ursula used the pen names Sheila Burns, Rachel Harvey, Lozania Prole, Mary Essex and Deborah Mann.

So what I really want to know now is who bumped Ursula from her “most prolific female writer” spot? Danielle Steele, perhaps? Let’s see what Google says…and oh golly! This Wikipedia page is an astonishing (and slightly troubling) thing. In recognizable names of English-language writers, it looks like both Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland have surpassed Ursula Bloom, with, respectively, 600+ and 722 published works. Who knew?!

This mind-boggling digression put behind me, here’s a quickie synopsis of Wonder Cruise.

An orphaned daughter of the vicarage, left destitute as is the tradition in these sorts of things, finds herself living in London under the thumb of a bullying older brother. She manages to attain independence through a secretarial job, but  begins to find that the daily grind is just that, with a long bleak vista a years-all-the-same stretching ahead, until a chance sweepstake win triggers a personal reinvention.

The usual sequence of events occurs, with the eventual finding of true love. Absolutely predictable, but decently readable. Sexual awakening is a great part the theme here, stated in those very words. The tiniest bit unexpected for a popular novel from 1934, but then again, not really, when one considers what else was going on in the actual and literary world at the time.

Corazon Books of London (“bringing you great stories with heart”), the republisher responsible for Wonder Cruise once again seeing the light of day, provides this enthusiastic blurb:

Ann Clements is thirty-five and single, and believes nothing exciting will ever happen to her. Then, she wins a large sum of money in a sweepstake and suddenly can dare to dream of a more adventurous life. She buys a ticket for a Mediterranean cruise, against the wishes of her stern brother, the Rev. Cuthbert, who has other ideas about how she should spend her windfall. Ann steps out of the shadows of her mundane life into the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Travelling to Gibraltar, Marseilles, Naples, Malta and Venice, Ann’s eyes are opened to people and experiences far removed from her sheltered existence in the offices at Henrietta Street, and Mrs. Puddock’s lodging house. As Ann blossoms, discovering love and passion for the very first time, the biggest question is, can there be any going back?

1909752266-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_You’re going to want to have your brown paper handy if buying this new edition, because it has one of the most gosh-awful covers imaginable. Hard to have people take you seriously when you’re seen with this in your hands!

But the contents are prime, nicely produced and easy to read, with very few (if any?) typos. Whoever reset this did a grand job, and this reader thanks you!

I hope some more Ursula Blooms are forthcoming from this source. I see that Corazon has also republished Bloom’s 1959 wartime memoir (and that would be the First World War, by the way), Youth at the Gate, which I am about to order, because I know it will be readable, and likely wryly funny, if Bloom’s fictional voice remains the same for her reminiscences. Again, Corazon’s cover art leaves something to be desired, but I guess we should be grateful for what’s inside, instead of griping about appearances.

Here’s something extra, a link to a 1974 mini-documentary on Ursula Bloom produced by the BBC. Watch it, it’s a mere 4 minutes long, and it’s rather fascinating to see our author typing away at full speed, producing some of those 5000 eminently saleable words per day!

From the East Anglia Film Archive’s link page:

Author Ursula Bloom sits at her writing desk tapping away on a typewriter, opening this profile of her life and career with old photographs and newly filmed material. Beginning with her extensive bibliography, which ranges from romance novels to biographies, the report highlights her many non-de-plumes, including Mary Essex, Sheila Burns and Lozania Prole, and her prolific output, often averaging 5,000 words a day and easily able to complete a novel within three weeks.

The daughter of a parson who didn’t believe in school-based education, Bloom got an early start on her career, running a children’s magazine at age 10, and had a brief career as a cinema pianist before marrying a wealthy barrister and guards officer. Following his death during the influenza epidemic of 1918, Bloom and her young son continued living in the exclusive seaside resort of Frinton, the summer playground of the rich and famous during the 1920s. During this time she broke into journalism with a successful career as a court reporter, before meeting her second husband, naval lieutenant Charles Robinson Gower, in 1925. Fifty years later, the couple are shown in their sitting room, still happily married, both claiming it was the ‘best thing they ever did’.

 

wayward-bus-steinbeck-1947The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck ~ 1947. This edition: Viking, 1947. Hardcover. 312 pages.

My rating: 8/10

I am gradually coming to terms with the fact that there is no way I can do full justice to the books I read in the manner in which they deserve. Even the most dismal of the period pieces I willingly engage myself in are worthy of a fuller discussion than I am able to provide in the limited discretionary time this writing-for-pleasure blog inhabits in my current lifestyle.

So rather than wallowing in guilt about not being able to go on for thousands of words regarding each and every one (yes, I tend to be long-winded at the keyboard or pen in hand, something I paradoxically rather enjoy in others and quietly deplore in myself) I’m going to be all firm with myself and try to pop out hyper-condensed “reaction pieces” to more things – reviewlets, as I think we were all calling them in a similar discussion on someone else’s writing space not that long ago.

Did you get through all that? More posts. Less words each.

Go!

Yeah, and I would decide to start with Steinbeck, an eminently discussable author. (In other words, “Ha!” to the short-and-pithy reviewlet. I predict I won’t be able to get out of this one quick-and-easy, though I’m going into it with the best of intentions.)

I like Steinbeck. Generally quite a lot. As do many others, so musings on his books (especially the headliner titles) are easy as pie to come by, thereby releiving the johnny-come-lately book blogger to get away with minimal effort, for what else really can one add? There are a fair number of reviews out there for this book, for though The Wayward Bus isn’t one of the Big Important Novels, it’s reasonably mainstream, and a rather decent example of what the man was capable of at his best.

Juan Chicoy, a competent, handsome, humorous, middle-aged, Mexican-Irish-American mechanic-philosopher type, runs a small gas station and lunch counter at a fictional spot-on-the-road in southern California. He is aided in this by his perpetually bitter, frequently angry, and not particularly attractive (or kind) wife Alice. He loves her and stays with her (though opportunities abound for moving on with others more attractive – Juan is rather a fine figure of a man both physically and intellectually) for deep and complicated reasons, not the least of which being that no one else likes her.

Alice in turn loves Juan, single-mindedly and jealously, and his easy manner with all and sundry triggers much inner turmoil which generally leads to her making a fool of herself, ranting away at the easiest targets in the room.

Those targets at this point in time are the Chicoy employees, teenage apprentice-mechanic Ed (“Kit”) Carson, more commonly called “Pimples” for obvious reasons – he has a truly stellar acne affliction, which Steinbeck spells out for us in some detail – and young waitress Norma, a shy and homely type who nourishes a secret infatuation for Clark Gable.

Among his other endeavours, Juan owns and operates an old bus, one “Sweetheart”, under contract with Greyhound to provide a shuttle service along a secondary road between two official main-highway stops. This is the literary device which is used to assemble the cast of players who people this novel, a disparate assembly of travellers who walk in with their backstories, bump against each other for the twenty-fours hours or so which Steinbeck describes in vivid detail, before dispersing again into the wider world.

When the titular bus finally hits the road, approximately half way through the novel, its passengers consist of a successful businessman, his prissy, sexually frigid wife, their athletic university-student daughter, a travelling “novelty products” salesman, a beautiful, sexually arousing stripper masquerading for purposes of peaceful travel as a “dental nurse”, a cranky rural rancher type who hates absolutely everybody, Pimples/Kit, who begs to come along ostensibly to help in case Sweetheart breaks down, but in reality in order to bask in the presence of the delectable stripper, and Norma, who has just quit her job after being seriously wronged and insulted by outspoken Alice.

Alice herself stays behind, locking up the lunchroom and then losing herself deeply in a series of bottles, a process thoughtfully and rather compassionately described by our author.

Each person in this random cast of players faces an inner crisis of sorts during their short journey, and the resulting interconnected character studies make up the novel.

Steinbeck makes no secret of who he sympathizes with and who he despises, and he uses his authorial powers to both reward and punish his pen-and-ink creations, leading us ultimately to a glimpse into the philosophical leanings of Steinbeck himself.

Good stuff, and a stellar example of John Steinbeck’s mastery of his particular genre, the “gritty American realism” school of writing, as I always think of it with just a hint of a lifted eyebrow. He knew exactly how good he was, too, and here he shows off his literary erudition by prefacing what is merely a humble road trip novel with a quotation from a 14th Century English morality play, Everyman:

I praye you all gyve audyence,
And here this mater with reverence,
By fygure a morall playe;
The somonynge of Everyman called it is,
That of our lyves and endynge shewes
How transytory we be all daye.

Or, put into slightly more modern English:

I pray you all give audience,
And hear this matter with reverence,
By figure a moral play;
The Summoning of Everyman called it is,
That of our lives and ending shows
How transitory be our days.

Indeed.

The Wayward Bus is, as its author points out, a contemporary morality play. Though it is decidedly a thing of its time, immediately post-war America, angst-ridden and brutally pessimistic and, also, cautiously optimistic, the personal dilemmas of its characters remain relatable today, some seven decades onward.

Note to self: re-read Steinbeck. My father’s personal library, now mine, included most of John Steinbeck’s novels and memoirs; I read these voraciously as a teenager and young adult, though not as much in recent years. There’s a lot to appreciate here, though occasionally the grit gets in one’s eyes.

 

 

 

The Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo by Richard Caton Woodville

The Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, by Richard Caton Woodville

Surfacing from a major word processing project having to do with the upcoming regional performing arts festival in which I am deeply and happily involved, and thinking that I really would rather be reading than writing.

Or, if writing, then writing about books, versus schedules, and ad copy, and begging letters asking for money, and also begging emails for things people promised me weeks ago and which still aren’t here, and eloquent explanations regarding a very clear (we thought) syllabus. So why did I think this year would be any different?!

Ah, well, it will be fun in the long run, when the participants hit the stage, and my role will mostly consist of sitting back and taking it all in, with snippets of frantic activity here and there. This particular deadline was met, and I have a little breathing space before the Next Big Thing is due, so I hope to be back in this forum for a bit.

I’ve read – or attempted to read – some supremely crappy things this past week or ten days, and some slightly ho-hum things, and a few gloriously engaging things.

A quick listing, more to keep my memory straight than for any other reason. these are all (or should have been) Century books, so slightly expanded discussions shall follow, with a separate post for each book.

Let’s see…

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer. 1937. This is the book Georgette Heyer often said she was proudest of, and I can see why. It contains a meticulously researched depiction of the Battle of Waterloo which deserves all of the good things scholarly critics have said about it over the years. There is  – of course! – a love story, but it is secondary to the heart-rendingly realistic historical stuff. Well done, indeed.

Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim. 1926. Oh joy! Oh bliss! What a sweet romp of a thing. I loved it. What happens when an unbelievably beautiful girl is born into a modestly situated, working class, strictly God-fearing family, unable to fathom how best to protect their jewel of a child from the increasingly lecherous gaze of every man who sees her? By marrying her off, of course, to the first man who offers for her, thereby shifting the responsibility to other shoulders. Beauty as burden is the theme of this little novel, with a dash of reluctant Eliza Doolittle-ism thrown in.

The Prelude to Adventure by Hugh Walpole. 1912. A Cambridge undergraduate accidentally kills a despised fellow student in a moment of righteous rage, all unwitnessed, except by God, wherein lies the key to the tale, as Olva Dune struggles mightily with his conscience and his newly wakened awareness of a Higher Power. Things are complicated by his confession to a religion-addled compatriot, and even more so by his falling in love. Much inner dialogue, and a rather odd non-resolution at the end. Often referred to as a psychological drama, and that does sum it up as well as anything. Not a murder mystery in the traditional sense of the word, which is what it is also occasionally described as. One of Walpole’s more obscure early works, uneven here and there, and more than slightly morbid, but nonetheless diverting to an acceptable degree.

Little G by E.M. Channon. 1936. A charming summer-set fluff piece about a misogynistic Cambridge mathematics don falling all unwillingly into love. There is tennis, and much drinking of tea in shady gardens, and long country walks. There are roses, and a flower show. There are cats. This one made me happy, and my inner cynic turned away and let me enjoy it to the utmost. A keeper.

How Firm a Foundation by Patrick Dennis. 1968. A naive English teacher is roped into a job tutoring a millionaire’s lackwit children, and finds himself deeply involved in a tax dodge involving the making of an unplanned “art film”. Patrick Dennis of course was the author of Auntie Mame, and there are glimmers of that happy satire here, but the splashes of cheerful vulgarity which rather enhanced Mame and The Joyful Season are poured on here by the bucketful. It sounded promising. It doesn’t work. This thing stinks.

Bitter Heritage by Margaret Pedler. 1928. A hugely predictable melodrama about a young woman whose father has disgraced himself, and by association her, by a massive financial gamble with other people’s money which failed. His subsequent suicide makes things even worse. Never mind, our tumbled-down heroine impresses everyone by her plucky cheerfulness and finds herself bumped back up into posh society, but not without some overblown drama and much talk of blackened names. A period piece, one might safely say.

Seems to me I’m missing something, but I think I’ve got most of them pinned down.

Back soon!

Okay, back the next morning, to add the two I forgot.

Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom. 1934. An orphaned daughter of the vicarage, left destitute as is the tradition in these sorts of things, finds herself living in London under the thumb of a bullying older brother. She manages to attain independence through a secretarial job, but  begins to find that the daily grind is just that, with a long bleak vista a years-all-the-same stretching ahead, until a chance sweepstake win triggers a personal reinvention. The usual sequence of events occurs, with the eventual finding of true love. Absolutely predictable, but decently readable. Ursula Bloom was a stupendously prolific B-list writer (over 500 published works; more on that in my “proper” review) but she did know how to turn a phrase. Sexual awakening is a great part the theme here, stated in those very words. The tiniest bit unexpected for a popular novel from 1934, but then again, not really, when one considers what else was going on in the actual and literary world at the time.

The Slave of Silence by Fred M. White. 1906. A highly improbable romantic melodrama which was one of the most deeply boring things I’ve come across in recent years. A beautiful young woman is forced into an appalling marriage with a wealthy scoundrel in order to save her father from disgrace (he’s been speculating financially with other people’s money, yadda yadda yadda) and the vows are just pronounced when the wedding is interrupted by the announcement that Dear Dad has been found dead. Is she really married? Or not? And when the paternal body disappears before a postmortem can be performed, things become very convoluted indeed. A crippled criminal mastermind in a wheelchair, a couple of interchangeable Scotland Yard/Senior Army Officer investigative chaps, the true lover of our confused heroine wandering about in various disguises, doors conveniently left open while key plot points are being discussed by the bad guys…you name it, this thing has it. I’ll save you reading it. The baddest of the bad guys end up dead, and true love prevails. And our heroine ends up rich again (I think) because of some ruby mine or something in (possibly – I forget the exact place) Malaysia. Or Java? I dunno. A dull book by a rather interesting writer, and despite my “run away!” recommendation for this particular work, I think I will expand on Fred M. White. Old-style sci-fi “Doom of London” disaster novels ring any bells? Our Fred was the writer of those, and I must admit my curiosity is piqued.