Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Little Colonel's House Party

The Little Colonel's House Party is written by Annie Fellows Johnston. It is the fourth book in the Little Colonel series.

This story is about the house party of Lloyd Sherman, nicknamed the Little Colonel (see the first book in the series: The Little Colonel) and takes place in Kentucky. Three girls, Betty, Joyce, and Eugenia, came to spend the summer with her and her mother, Mrs. Sherman. Mr. Sherman and the Old Colonel, Lloyd's grandfather, had business in Virginia over the summer, so Mrs. Sherman and Lloyd would be home alone for a bit. As a treat, her mother let her have the house party.

The first to arrive was Elizabeth Lloyd Lewis, or Betty. Betty was a sweet little girl, much loved by everyone who knew her, who entertains writing ambitions. She came from the country where she had been staying with her aunt and uncle, being an orphan. Her mother had been a great friend of Mrs. Sherman's. Mrs. Sherman was Betty's godmother.

Betty came in a bonnet and carried very few clothes, but Lloyd and Mrs. Sherman took care of her embarrassment quickly. She lost some of her country manners but not her sweetness before the other guests arrived.

The second guest to arrive was Joyce Ware. (She has a story all her own in The Giant Scissors.) Her mother was also a great friend of Mrs. Sherman's, but Mrs. Ware was a poor widow living out west for her health. Joyce loved drawing and painting and planning all sorts of fun. She quickly made friends with Betty and Lloyd.

The third and last girl to come was Eugenia Forbes from New York City. She was Lloyd's cousin and they hated each other when they were little, but her mother had died and Mrs. Sherman insisted on inviting her so she would not be lonely during the summer. Eugenia was a spoiled only child who got pretty much whatever she wanted from her father.

The four girls learned much that summer together. When three out of the four caught measles from going to a gypsy camp against orders, Betty and Mrs. Sherman plan many good things to cheer them up. Later Betty fell ill from helping her friends, though she herself did not go to the gypsy camp. The sickness threatened her eyes and caused great dismay amongst the other girls, particularly Eugenia because it had been mostly her fault that they went to the camp at all. The girls learned the story of the Road of the Loving Heart and the danger to Betty's eyes was averted.

The girls promise to try their best to follow the story of the Road of the Loving Heart and they each get a gold ring with a love knot and the word "Tusitala" engraved on the inside to remind them always.

I enjoyed the story, though it is written for younger children. I have read a number of these stories, but I chiefly like the smaller stories told inside of them such as "The Road of the Loving Heart" in this one. It is these which make the books worthwhile to read.

The Slim Princess

The Slim Princess is an amusing story by George Ade about a young girl named Kalora who lived in a country called Morovenia. In this particular country (fictional, I believe), fat women were considered beautiful. The fatter they were, the more beautiful they were.

As you can imagine from the title of the book, this caused some problems when a girl was thin. Kalora was thin. Her father, the Count Selim Malagaski, also Governor-General of Morovenia, was in distress, for the customs of the land forbade him from marrying off his younger daughter until his elder daughter was married. But no one came to bring suit to her, for the rumor of her thinness had spread abroad (though no one had seen her, it being improper for women to be seen by those outside the home). His younger daughter was beautifully fat and duly sought after by many young men. But she could not marry any until her sister was gone. And her sister would not get fat.

The reason for her thinness was her fondness for exercise, instilled in her at any early age by her tutor, a professor named Popova. At some point prior to the beginning of this story, the Count Malagaski had dreadfully insulted him. So, he took revenge by teaching his eldest daughter new sports and exercises until she like them so much, she would not stop.

In desperation, her father had British consul and his wife for a small garden party, and (claiming it was in regard for foreign customs) had his daughters out in the hopes that at least one young man among the party might fall for Kalora. She comes greatly swathed in clothes so as to appear heavy, but a dreadful trick played upon her by some young men reveals how light she truly is.

She, greatly upset, accuses them of mocking her in front of her father's guests and throws off some of her quilted clothes. Now it was quite clear to everyone how thin she was and therefore how ugly she was. Her father quickly takes everyone off to look at his stables, while Kalora stays in the garden quite furious at everyone.

Suddenly, a young American appears on the garden wall which he had just scaled. He sees Kalora and pretty nearly falls in love with her on the spot. She likewise falls in love with him after he tells her how beautiful she is. Unfortunately, some guards enter the garden and, catching sight of him, rush at him to seize him. He jumps at them and knocks them over, and then he swings back over the wall.

A search goes on through the town for him, but he escapes. Meanwhile, he has left a magazine with Kalora. Her father finds a peculiar ad in one of them for putting pounds on in America, and mistakenly thinks America is a land where you can gain a pound a day. So he decides to send Kalora there at once with Popova and a number of ladies to escort her.

On arriving in America, Kalora throws off all restraint and goes to many parties and outings, growing thinner and fitter than before. Her ladies are all convinced to put on modern clothes and join in the activities. Popova greatly enjoys the grand dinners they attend. The Count, hearing from the his consul in America how Kalora is behaving, orders her home at once. She obeys, but not before meeting the young American man who had climbed the wall once again.

Back home, her father punishes her and all the ladies and Popova for such outrageous conduct. But the young American man has followed Kalora and visits the Count. I need not tell you any more for you to guess the outcome of that visit.

This was a most amusing book, though I believe it encouraged disrespect to those in authority a bit too openly. However, the idea of the story is funny, and the end is the best.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

So I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi this past Saturday. Jo got it out from the library.

It is a fast-paced story told in first person by the main character Charlotte Doyle. She is a thirteen year old girl who had lived in England most of her life although she was actually American. Her father had been an agent of a company to England, but he was just called back to America. He took the rest of his family with him and left Charlotte to finish her term at the boarding school she was attending. She is to join them in America later. That is the background.

A Mr. Grummage has charge of her until he gets her to the boat she is to go on. Unfortunately, the two families she was to travel with were unable to make it, and Charlotte finds herself the sole passenger on a large dirty ship. Her cabin is small and dirty and cockroaches crawl in her bunk.

Several of the sailors warn her to leave the ship before it sails, but she does not know what to do, so she stays.

As the story progresses, we find that the captain of the ship, Captain Jaggery, seems nice but is actually pretty cruel. The sailors have plotted a mutiny, but that fails due to Charlotte's interference. Later, she realizes how cruel the captain is, and joins the side of the sailors. To convince them how sorry she is for the accidental deaths of two of their mates, she dons sailor garb and learns how to work around the ship.

In the midst of a hurricane, the first mate is murdered. The Captain Jaggery accuses Charlotte. She stands trial and is condemned to be hung in twenty-four hours.

Obviously, she isn't, or else she wouldn't be telling the story. I shall not say how it is all resolved, as that might ruin the story. But everything is resolved before the end and they reach harbor at last.

But now Charlotte's mother and father refuse to believe her story, and force her to stay in her room reading solemn books until she is cured of such "nonsense". Charlotte can take no more and runs away to sea.

I found the journey across to be aggravating and exciting at the same time. Aggravating because I, as the reader, know the captain is bad, but Charlotte refuses to believe so at first. Then the story begins to feel like A Series of Unfortunate Events in that everything that can go wrong does. But exciting because one doesn't know how it will all resolve itself.

I disliked the ending because after finally resolving the trouble on the ship, it is not at all satisfying to have no one believe Charlotte about what happened.

The author drew a contrast between the rough but friendly sailors and the polished, refined, Bible-reading captain and the respectable, orderly parents of Charlotte. The captain was hypocritical and the parents almost so. The sailors on the other hand, although they lied and swore, respected the Bible much more that the captain did.

I am not altogether sure about the overall message, as it almost seemed to imply that it was better to be free and daring than orderly and respectable, but it may instead have been the author's intent show that it is better to be kind and loyal and fair rather than to be unjust and prejudiced.

It is a good exciting book, and I recommend it, though I give a word of caution. Don't stay up all night reading it, no matter how much you want to, or else you will not be able to get up in morning.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Anna of the Five Towns

Anna of the Five Towns is a book written by a man named Arnold Bennett.

Anna Tellwright is a young girl living with her tyrannical father and her little stepsister Agnes. A man called Henry Mynors is love with Anna and Anna has only just realized this when the story begins.

Her father is a shrewd businessman and a miser. He rules his house rigidly. When Anna comes of age, he hands over her inheritance to her, including an earthenware works rented by Titus Price, the superintendent of the Sunday School in the Wesleyan Methodist Society.

She enters a business partnership with Henry Mynors. Her father is well pleased with Henry because Henry has shown himself to be a good business man though he is still young.

Later, Henry's relatives (his aunt and uncle, I think) invited Anna on a trip with them and their daughter and Henry to the Isle of Man. She accepts their invitation. Henry proposes on this trip and Anna is very happy.

At home, Titus Price, already in debt, is going bankrupt and keeps putting off the paying of the rents. Anna's father threatens him often and forces Anna to push him to pay. She, however, is feeling sorry for them and in particular for Titus Price's son William. When William confesses to her that a bill of exchange his father had sent to her was forged, she risks her father's wrath and destroys the bill in the night. Her father is furious when he finds out, and even more so when he finds it had been forged all along. He calls Anna names and forbids her to tell Henry Mynors.
She complies, but now there is a wedge between her and Henry.

Henry treats Anna as though he is just humoring her fancies to help people further increasing the wedge between them.

Finally, the scandal comes out that Titus Price, who has by now hung himself out of despair, had embezzled money from a church building fund. William prepares to leave for Australia. Before he leaves, Anna gives him an envelope with some money. She realizes she has been in love with him all along and that he is in love with her. They part, and she marries Henry Mynors, and that is the end of it.

I disliked this book in part because it does not end happily. I generally dislike those sort of stories because I believe stories ought to end happily just as the great Story will one day end with Christ's return. Of course, that is not happy for those who reject salvation, but it is good nonetheless. And when I mean that a story must end happily, I even mean some stories in which a favorite character dies in the end because even if the main character dies, it can still end happily (ie. Scottish Chiefs, A Tale of Two Cities, etc.). But this story has no hope at the end, just a tiresome existence. And it seems slightly unexpected that she would suddenly find she was in love with William Price, especially after being so happy when Henry Mynors proposed to her.

Another thing I found irksome was the wordiness of this book. Although there are some wonderful word pictures in here, I believe they could have been even better without being so wordy. The author likes to tell the reader about his characters rather than show them. But perhaps this style of writing was customary of the period the author lived in.

Something else that bothered me was a revival described in this book. In Chapter 4, the Wesleyan Methodist Society holds a revival. Anna attends and is convicted. Henry gives her some fairly good advice about how not everyone experiences a sudden conversion and to just lean hard on Jesus. But it is more man-centered in her practice - she is striving to be good. And then the affects of the revival on her seem to be forgotten towards the end of the book, just as though it had never happened. Well, I suppose that is not entirely true. I think it is supposed to be implied that her experience leaves her kinder to struggling people. But it doesn't quite ring true.

And that is at last the end of this review.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Penelope's English Experiences

I have just finished reading Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin, the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It is an amusing account of an American woman's visit to England.

Penelope's English Experiences is written in first person as thought it were a diary or a series of letters from an American artist Penelope Hamilton. She describes her time in London with two other women from America in the first half of the book. In the second half, she describes her stay in a small house in the country. She begins by summing up herself and her companions in a few short sentences thusly:

Smith's Hotel,
10 Dovermarle Street.

"Here we are in London again,--Francesca, Salemina, and I. Salemina is a philanthropist of the Boston philanthropists limited. I am an artist. Francesca is- It is very difficult to label Francesca. She is, at her present stage of development, just a nice girl; that is about all: the sense of humanity hasn't dawned upon her yet; she is even unaware that personal responsibility for the universe has come into vogue, and so she is happy.

"Francesca is short of twenty years old, Salemina short of forty, I short of thirty. Francesca is in love, Salemina never has been in love, I never shall be in love. Francesca is rich, Salemina is well-to-do, I am poor. There we are in a nutshell."

As the book progresses, we discover that this neat profile of Penelope and her friends changes. Penelope does fall in love and in doing so finds her aspirations of being an artist do not satisfy her as much as being a woman.

"I am not painting, these latter days. I have turned the artist side of my nature to the wall just for a bit, and the woman side is having full play. I do not know what the world will think about it, if it stops to think at all, but I feel as if I were 'right side out' for the first time in my life; and when I take up my brushes again, I shall have a new world within from which to paint,--yes, and a new world without."

The book is interspersed with descriptions of scenery in London and the country and funny incidences like the one of the three women trying to learn to gracefully eat soft-boiled eggs from the shell. Although Penelope falls in love, this is kept in the background and only appears in small segments in which she wonders whether she is in love with love or with the man who proposed to her.

I think my favorite incident was from the chapter The ball on the opposite side. In this chapter, Penelope and her companions notice a gentleman and his two daughters enter a nearby house for sale. After questioning the butler about the man, they find that the man is Lord Brighthelmston who has rented the house for a week for his three daughters and two orphan nieces to give a ball. The three find the preparations being made all week engrossing. They send invitations to some of their close friends to visit them the night of the ball for a "Private View". The evening of the ball, they watch the proceedings with as much interest as if they had prepared, cleaned, and decorated for it and were going to it themselves. The women and their friends try to guess what everyone is saying and doing, and they build romances for all the people involved. I liked this part best because it is exactly the sort of thing I would do myself.

Although I have never visited England, and I do not know if this book is an accurate portrayal of England, I recommend this book to those who wish for a bit of amusement. The descriptions are well written and well worth reading. Each chapter describes some part of London or the country in a peculiar fashion. I think I will read this story again sometime.

Book Review - Sylvie and Bruno

Jo and I love reading books together. We have read between two to three books in the past couple months. The last one we read was Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll (the author of Alice in Wonderland). As it is a little known book (indeed I had never heard of it before), I thought I would review it so others may benefit from our reading.

Sylvie and Bruno is a story that amuses children but requires one to be grownup to fully enjoy it, similar to the books Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh.

It is written in first person and switches from the author's trip to the country to the author following the adventures of two fairies. Sometimes it can grow confusing until you realize the author keeps falling asleep and dreaming. At the times when he is dreaming about the fairies, conversation is light and nonsensical. When he is awake, the conversation still has elements of nonsense, but acquires a more serious tone. A rudimentary knowledge of mathematics and logic is helpful to understanding the conversation at times as in this quote:

"'For a complete logical argument,' Arthur began with admirable
solemnity, 'we need two prim Misses--'

'Of course!' she interrupted. 'I remember that word now.
And they produce--?'

'A Delusion,' said Arthur.

'Ye--es?' she said dubiously. 'I don't seem to remember that so well.
But what is the whole argument called?'

'A Sillygism?'

'Ah, yes! I remember now. But I don't need a Sillygism, you know,
to prove that mathematical axiom you mentioned.'

'Nor to prove that 'all angles are equal', I suppose?'

'Why, of course not! One takes such a simple truth as that for granted!'"
I cannot give a neat little summary of the book because it has two pieces and neither quite ends in a definite manner. Here is the best I can do:
Section one is that which contains the fairies' adventures. The two little fairies, Sylvie and Bruno, live in "Outland" of which their father is Warden. There is a plot by the Warden's brother to take over Outland and become emperor. The Warden knows it, but does not let on that he does. Then the Warden leaves and we find out later that he has become king of another land. Sylvie and Bruno join him later. That is really all of a plot for section one. Sylvie and Bruno have a couple of other adventures, but these are not as important.
Section two is that in which the author is awake. Here the author is an old man with heart problems. A young friend of his, a doctor, asks the author to stay with him in a house in the country. On the way there, the author meets a young lady. It turns out the doctor is in love with the lady. He (the doctor) has just inherited some money so he can finally ask the lady to marry him. Before he does so, he wishes to ascertain her feeling towards him. The author tries to do so for the doctor, but never gets very far. In the end, the lady marries her distant cousin who shows up, the doctor goes to South Africa, and the author leaves for business in the city.

I think the chief thing of interest in this book is the conversations. Some are thoughtful, some are witty, some are silly, some touch views of theology (not all of which I agree with), but they almost all have a piece of truth.
I think there was one section which most stood out to me most of all. It has influenced the way I read books ever since. It is as follows:

"'By no means!' replied the Earl.
'What I mean is intensity of thought--a concentrated attention.
We lose half the pleasure we might have in Life, by not really attending.
Take any instance you like: it doesn't matter how trivial the pleasure
may be--the principle is the same. Suppose A and B are reading the same
second-rate circulating-library novel. A never troubles himself to
master the relationships of the characters, on which perhaps all the
interest of the story depends: he 'skips' over all the descriptions of
scenery, and every passage that looks rather dull: he doesn't half attend
to the passages he does read: he goes on reading merely from want of
resolution to find another occupation--for hours after he ought to have
put the book aside: and reaches the 'FINIS' in a state of utter
weariness and depression! B puts his whole soul into the thing--on the
principle that 'whatever is worth doing is worth doing well':
he masters the genealogies: he calls up pictures before his 'mind's eye'
as he reads about the scenery: best of all, he resolutely shuts the
book at the end of some chapter, while his interest is yet at its
keenest, and turns to other subjects; so that, when next he allows
himself an hour at it, it is like a hungry man sitting down to dinner:
and, when the book is finished, he returns to the work of his daily
life like 'a giant refreshed'!'

'But suppose the book were really rubbish--nothing to repay attention?'

'Well, suppose it," said the Earl. "My theory meets that case,
I assure you! A never finds out that it is rubbish, but maunders on to
the end, trying to believe he's enjoying himself. B quietly shuts the
book, when he's read a dozen pages, walks off to the Library, and
changes it for a better!'"

I recommend this book for people who are needing a laugh. The Professor's plunge bath, phlizzes, the Other Professor, and the abundance of rhymes and songs are all memorable. And perhaps when you are done, you will wish for a clock that will reverse the whole sequence of events for an hour.
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