Review 2164: Classics Club Spin Result! The Moorland Cottage

When I selected The Moorland Cottage for my Classics Club list, I didn’t really read what it was about. Then when it arrived—a print-on-demand novella without any extraneous information—I thought maybe it was a gothic story, since most Victorian writers wrote some early in their careers. However, it is a romance with a strongly moralistic ending.

The Brownes live in an isolated cottage on the moor. Mrs. Browne is the widow of the respected curate of Combehurst. She dotes upon and spoils her son Edward while scolding and nagging at her daughter Maggie. As a result, Edward is selfish and unheeding, while Maggie is loving and giving.

When the local squire, Mr. Buxton, who was friends with Mr. Browne, decides to send Edward to school, the Browne children meet Frank Buxton and his cousin Erminia, both about their same ages, with Frank being a little older. Both Buxton children are impressed by Maggie but dislike Edward, and Maggie and Erminia become good friends.

As young men and women, Edward has not improved his character, while Maggie is good and beautiful, used to thinking of everyone but herself. Frank falls in love with Maggie, but Mr. Buxton is strongly opposed to their engagement. Then Edward’s misdeeds complicate the situation.

I had to laugh when I saw this novel described as “feminist” on Goodreads. When I was a little girl, I detested a fairy tale called “Patient Griselda.” It was about a prince who subjects the girl he loves to a series of painful tests to see if she is worthy of him. I wanted the girl to tell the prince to buzz off. This novel is going in the direction of Griselda except it is Edward, not Frank, who is always making demands. Thankfully, the ending was a little better than I expected. The novel has a strong religious message but one that seemed wrong-headed to me.

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Review 2158: Half-Blown Rose

Vincent (a woman named after Vincent Van Gogh) is living in Paris, separated from Cillian, her husband, after his latest book revealed that when he left Ireland at 15, he left behind a pregnant girlfriend. Vincent and Cillian have been married for more than 20 years, but he had never told her about this.

While Vincent is teaching writing and creativity classes in Paris and considering having an affair with Loup, who is half her age, Cillian calls constantly trying to reconcile.

I don’t usually do this, but very soon after starting this novel I tried to figure out how old Cross-Smith is. This was because at about page 2, Vincent wonders if Loup is still looking at her and thinks, if he isn’t I’ll die. I thought, is this woman 12 years old? The character is 44, by the way.

Nevertheless, I continued reading, because the situation started to come out and it seemed intriguing, even though I was dreading the hot affair that I could see coming.

Then, at about page 75 begins a series of emails between Vincent and her husband’s illegitimate son and his mother. They are unbelievably juvenile, including lots of exclamation points.

Vincent is hanging around with artists and academics, and their conversation is absolutely unconvincing. And don’t get me started on the playlists (really?) and the number of references to Vincent’s menstrual blood. This was a DNF for me.

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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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