Review 2084: Babbacombe’s

I asked Dean Street Press to rush me some books so that I could participate in Dean Street Press in December, and they have responded beautifully. Here’s a review of a book I received on Tuesday.

Beth Carson is a little disappointed after leaving school with high honors to take the job her father has arranged at Babbacombe’s, the large department store where he’s been employed for 30 years, instead of going to secretarial school. However, money has always been tight in the Carson household, and she is eager to help contribute.

Despite things being tight, the family is reluctant to take on a paying guest—George’s orphaned niece, Dulcie. But George feels guilty about neglecting her even though he didn’t like her father. When Beth goes to the railway station to collect her, she meets a nice young man after she is tripped up by his dog.

Dulcie turns out to be an unpleasant surprise for the family, but Beth finds herself enjoying her job in the dress department, even though it is at first exhausting. Then one day she is stuck in the elevator with the man from the railway station and finds out he is David Babbcombe, the boss’s son. When Beth learns he doesn’t work but collects an allowance from his father, she says she’d be ashamed to take money she didn’t earn.

Smarting from this, David, who threw away an opportunity at Babbacombe’s once already, goes to his father’s office and asks for a position. His delighted father starts him at the bottom this time instead of the top—in the meat department. He also has a secret from his father, he has submitted plans for a plane he designed to the government.

As David pursues Beth, her scruples interfere. Her father believes people should stay in their places, and she is sure Mr. Babbacombe wouldn’t approve of David dating one of his shop girls. Also not helping is Dulcie, who has decided she wants to marry David.

I’m having an inconsistent reaction to Scarlett’s work, probably because I don’t read too many straight romances. Although I liked another of her Cinderella stories, Clothes-Pegs, I often find the devices meant to keep the couple apart until the end are a little clumsy. In this case, Beth is almost stupidly obsessed by what their fathers will think, and Mr. Babbacombe’s confusion of the two girls doesn’t seem like him at all. Also, it seems to be a trope with Scarlett’s plots to involve a jealous, mischief-making other woman, which is a 50’s cliché. Still, this is pleasant light reading.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2064: Clothes-Pegs

After reading Susan Scarlett’s Summer Pudding, I wasn’t sure she was my jam. However, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Clothes-Pegs, a Cinderella story.

Annabel Brown is an unassuming young woman whose only ambition is to do well at her job as a seamstress before marrying some young man whom she loves. She has no idea that she is beautiful.

Her employer, Tania Petoff, has noticed her, though. Tania runs an exclusive dress shop, designing and making her own creations in the shop. When one of her models quits without notice, she decides to give Annabel a try.

At first, Annabel feels totally out of place in her promotion. Of the three other models, Bernadette, Freda, and Elizabeth, only Bernadette is nice, and she helps Annabel out with suggestions.

When Annabel sees Octavia Glaye at a fitting, she thinks she’s the most beautiful woman she has ever seen. But Octavia is jealous of how much attention her friend, Lord David de Bett, pays to Annabel. Annabel soon notices David, though, and falls in love with him on sight. She doesn’t have any illusions of a future with him. She is content to love him.

For his part, David is struck by Annabel’s naturalness and innocence but thinks he’ll probably marry Octavia. Octavia is ready to try to make Annabel regret any attention David pays her.

The Cinderella story was fun, but I especially enjoyed the parts about Annabel’s engaging middleclass family. Annabel is a nice, occasionally foolish but usually practical heroine who only gets into situations because of her lack of experience and the venom of others.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 2057: The Man in the Brown Suit

The Man in the Brown Suit is one of Agatha Christie’s early novels, and it isn’t quite like any of her others. Although it has a mystery of sorts, it’s not really one readers can figure out. Instead, it’s more of a romance/adventure story. The only thing that links it to some of her other novels is the presence of Colonel Race.

Anne Beddingfield has led a boring life, so when her father dies, the first things she wants is adventure. It seems obvious to her that she should go to London. While she is standing at the end of the train platform with another man, he looks up behind her and sees something that makes him back up quickly and fall off the platform in front of the train. When a man claiming to be a doctor checks him, Anne notices that he doesn’t check him correctly and in fact takes something from his pocket. She follows him out of the station and picks up a paper that he drops.

The man had been wearing a brown suit, and when Anne hears that a man in a brown suit is suspected of murdering a woman in a vacant house belonging to Eustace Pedler, she connects the two. She also figures out that the paper indicates an assignation to take place on a ship bound for South Africa, so she buys a passage on the ship.

The novel is written in such a jaunty style that it’s hard to take its dangerous situations seriously, and Anne has a rather primitive idea of a romantic partner (as are the ideas she expresses about men and women), but the novel is entertaining, as Anne falls into one predicament after another. She ends up with proposals from three different men, and although I think she picks the wrong one, Christie has had an exercise in fun.

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Review 2050: Summer Pudding

After Janet Brain’s employer’s office is bombed in the Blitz, she travels to the village of Worsingford where her mother and sister Sheila have made their new home. She has never been there before, but she makes a new friend on the train, Barbara Haines. Barbara’s reactions to some things she says should tell Janet that something is going on, but she doesn’t notice.

Janet arranged for her mother to move out of London into the country because her doctor urged her to make her mother get some rest without telling her she has a bad heart. Sheila was supposed to be doing the housework. But when she arrives at the cottage, she finds her mother more worn than ever and Sheila, beautiful and spoiled, doing absolutely nothing. Janet had planned to join the WAAFs but realizes she can’t leave her mother with Sheila.

Janet learns that Sheila agreed to teach Iris, the daughter of their neighbor and landlord, Donald Sheldon, months ago but has not kept her promise. So Janet goes over to Sheldon’s to offer her services. She is attracted to Donald, a widower, but finds him acting oddly when she tries to bargain for her pay. Donald also has a housekeeper, Gladys, who is jealous of him.

As Janet gets to know Donald, he alternates between seeming to care for her and seeming to disapprove of her even though she can’t figure out what she’s done. She doesn’t realize that Sheila has been telling lies.

Although the Furrowed Middlebrow books often involve some light, understated romance, they usually have other things going on as well. This is the first book I’ve read under this imprint that is a standard romance, with most of the action devoted to keeping the couple apart until the end. How good a romance is depends on how well you do this, and in this case, I think Scarlett (a pen name for Noel Streatfeild) doesn’t always handle it well. Characters over-react to other characters’ comments, for example. The situation isn’t too badly handled, though, and the book makes nice light reading. Straight romance novels are not usually my genre, though.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1897: The Metal Heart

On the Orkney Islands in 1942, a German U-boat attack on Scapa Flow leads the British to fortify the seaway’s defenses using Italian prisoners of war as labor. The Italians are located on the small island of Selkie Holm, one avoided by the islanders because of its evil reputation. However, twin young women, Con and Dot, also live there, having moved to a ruined bothy after events on Kirkwell that are not at first explained. Con is afraid, though, of Angus MacLeod.

When the Italians arrive, one falls overboard, and Dot dives in to save him. His name is Cesare, and he begins working in the camp commander’s office and trying to find ways to help the girls. However, he is stopped by the brutality of guard Angus MacLeod.

I liked Lea’s The Glass Woman, and I also like her apparent preference for placing novels in remote northern locations. However, I just wasn’t feeling it here. I felt as if the characters were being put through their paces, not as if the story evolved naturally. I also felt a certain sense of manipulation. Although I was interested to find out why the girls’ parents had vanished, I wasn’t very interested in the love story. I read about half the book, then stopped.

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Review 1811: The Blue Sapphire

Julia Harburn is sitting on a bench in Kensington Gardens waiting for her fiancé when a young man sits down beside her and tells her he is on a business trip from South Africa and doesn’t know anyone in London. He is perfectly polite and friendly, but when the fiancé, Morland Beverley, arrives, Julia can tell Morland isn’t pleased.

Julia is taken aback, then, when she comes home one day to find the man, Stephen Brett, having tea with her stepmother. But this isn’t a tale of a stalker—it’s the story of how Julia finds herself.

Julia was close to her mother, who died when she was younger. She has never felt that her father paid attention to her. In fact, he’s always been quiet and depressed. Since he remarried, she has felt in the way, and her stepmother encourages her to move out and find a job. Julia finally finds a room with an eccentric but friendly landlady, who gets her a job in a hat shop. Morland isn’t very happy with her decision, but he has been delaying their wedding until he gets a partnership in his father’s firm, and anyway he is in Scotland golfing.

Julia’s parents are away in Greece when she gets a letter from Scotland from an uncle she didn’t know she had—her father’s brother. He says he is ill and wants to see her, so she goes, even though Morland is very much against her doing so. Thus begins an even greater adventure for her.

This novel is just what you expect from D. E. Stevenson: a heroine who didn’t know she had it in her, some light romance, some self-discovery, and some entertaining characters. Even though I could foresee the result of the romantic angle from the first pages, it didn’t make reading any less enjoyable.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1782: The Toll-Gate

I was rereading some Georgette Heyer novels last winter as I replaced some of my ratty old 70’s copies, and I remembered The Toll-Gate as one of my least favorite of her romances. I was confused, however, for the novel was amusing and had a fun adventure plot.

Back the second time from the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Jack Staple has been intending to settle down. His mother and sister have accordingly presented a string of attractive, eligible girls, but Jack hasn’t been interested. He says he doesn’t want to get married until he receives “a leveller.”

On going to visit a friend, he loses his way and comes to a toll-gate that is manned at night by a terrified young boy. The boy tells Jack that his father told him to mind the toll-gate for an hour, and he hasn’t been back. The boy is terrified of a man his father sometimes meets during the night. Jack decides to stay with the boy until his father returns. Then the next morning, he receives his leveller, in the person of Nell Stornaway.

This novel is just delightful, and I don’t understand how I misremembered it so badly.

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Review 1744: Regency Buck

On her way to London with her brother Peregrine, Judith Taverner mistakenly stops in a town hosting a prize fight and has an unfortunate encounter with a man in a curricle. When the siblings reach town and call on their guardian, Lord Worth, they find that he is the man in the curricle. Their father mistakenly designated their guardian as the fifth Earl instead of his friend, the fourth, who has died.

Judith is headstrong and determined to make a splash in London society. Although Lord Worth gives them assistance with suggestions and introductions, he and Judith continue to clash. Judith’s cousin Bernard Taverner warns her that Lord Worth may have designs on her fortune, which is large enough in itself but even larger if something happens to her brother Perry. Then Perry is first challenged to a duel and later his carriage is attacked. Judith and Worth are getting along better, but does someone have designs against Perry?

Most of Heyer’s Regency romances tend to either be funny or have an element of mystery (although they all have amusing dialogue). Regency Buck is one of the latter, with an engaging heroine, a mysterious plot, and as usual, perfect period detail.

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Review 1719: The Nonesuch

Often when I am in the middle of some hefty nonfiction book, I take a break by reading some sort of light fiction. I was reading a biography of Lyndon Johnson when I thought I hadn’t read any Georgette Heyer lately, so I picked The Nonesuch out of my library.

The inhabitants of the village of Oversett are all interested when they hear that Sir Waldo Hawkridge, known as the Nonesuch, has inherited Broom Hall from the miserly Joseph Calver and will be arriving to look it over. The young men are excited to see this notable whip. Up at Staples, kindly Mrs. Underhill is dismayed to learn that Sir Waldo has arrived with a lord, his young cousin Lord Lindeth, for her unprincipled but beautiful ward, Tiffany Wield, has announced that she means to marry into the nobility. Tiffany’s governess/companion, Ancilla Trent, remarks with her customary humor and calmness that they will just have to convince Tiffany she is wasted on anyone under a Marquess.

Lord Lindeth meets Tiffany after she carefully arranges an encounter while he is out fishing. When Waldo sees her and her affect on Lindeth, he is dismayed. However, he is much struck by Ancilla. It is Ancilla who does not have a high opinion of Corinthians, the set to which Waldo belongs.

As usual with Heyer, this novel is full of likeable characters, humor, and an engaging hero and heroine. I tend to like Heyer’s sillier plots best, because they are so funny. This is not one of them, but I enjoyed it very much just the same. A perfect Covid-era lightener. (I re-read it last January.)

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Review 1651: Three Weeks

I realized earlier this month that the deadline I set myself for finishing my Classics Club list is coming up this summer, with about a dozen books left. I’ve been reading lots of classic novels, just not necessarily the ones on my list. I have also read many of the ones on my list but just haven’t posted my reviews yet. So, I decided I was going to have to accelerate my schedule of reviewing and reading them in hopes of getting all my reviews posted on time. Here is one of them.

Elinor Glyn was a romance novelist at the turn of the 20th century whose works were considered scandalous at the time. Three Weeks is the story of a young English man who has an affair with an older Russian queen.

Naïve young Paul Verdayne fancies he is in love with the parson’s daughter, so his mother ships him off for a tour of the continent. He is young and sulky and hates Paris but, being a sportsman, enjoys Switzerland. While in Geneva, he becomes fascinated with a striking woman who is traveling only with her servants.

This mysterious woman, about ten years older than Paul, takes him in hand and begins opening his mind to art and ideas. Soon, they begin a torrid affair. But this affair must remain secret, because there is danger.

First, I found it difficult to buy that this sophisticated, cultured woman would fall madly in love with a gauche, uncultured young man whose only interest is his dog and horses and whose only attraction is his good looks.

Next, Glyn’s writing is florid and overwrought. It is often cloying and downright silly. The style resembles that of writers from the Romantic movement, which was well over by the time Glyn was writing. I have an idea that Glyn may be the type of writer Forster was mocking in A Room with a View.

Finally, the idea that Paul could become informed and educated just by spending three weeks with his mistress is ridiculous. The novel doesn’t say that he is interested in being more informed but that he comes back from his experience poised and culturally literate, enough so as to impress people with his elegance. Right.

In short, this is a really silly book.

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