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Blog category: Book Reviews

"Captivity and Restoration" by Mary Rowlandson

Published in 1682 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was one of the first books published in the New World. It became a best seller in the New World and in England and went through fifteen editions by 1800. In the literary history and review, A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter calls it the first American literary form dominated by Women’s experience. Continue reading .

"Mary Barton" by Elizabeth Gaskell

First published in 1848, Mary Barton was Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel. The story is set in the English city of Manchester during the 1830s and 1840s and deals heavily with the troubles of the working class poor at the time. The first half of the novel chronicles young and beautiful Mary Barton and her romantic vacillations between two lovers. The second half of the novel becomes a murder mystery and courtroom drama. Continue reading .

"These Old Shades" by Georgette Heyer

In this quasi-sequel to The Black Moth, Heyer changes the names of the characters, although their personalities remain recognizable and their histories and relationships remain much the same. The story follows as an amusingly twisted romance, forcing the reader inside the skin of a young ward–admiring, yea, worshiping a character who has no right to be admired, much less worshiped. Georgette Heyer skillfully keeps the reader guessing how this story could and should resolve itself, and the joy of reading the story is that anyone who has read Heyer previously knows not to take anything for granted. Continue reading .

"The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel" by Baroness Orczy

If you have read the first four books of the Scarlet Pimpernel series, you now know how addictive this series can be. The fifth book in the series, The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel will not disappoint you. League is a collection of stories and testimonials, related in content and character, but each able to stand alone with a discernible beginning and ending. This format is especially effective in demonstrating Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s enchanting storytelling skill, as it often allows the reader to take in an entire episode in one sitting. Continue reading .

Antarctica: Life on the Ice

In Life on the Ice, each story describes some facet of life or work in Antarctica. Ms. Rogers includes contributions from a well-chosen cross-section of Antarctic workers: a dishwasher, a cook, a general assistant, a writer, a scientist and a bureaucrat. A decade ago, when I realized that I was never going to make it into the space program, I applied for a job in Antarctica. If I never get the call for placement in Antarctica, I can comfort myself with fantasies fulfilled by the stories herein. Continue reading .

"The Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton

First published in 1913, this is the story of Undine Spragg. Undine’s social and monetary aspirations show themselves early in her life, as she convinces her parents to move from their comfortable existence in the Midwest to New York City. There she throws herself into high society and finds her ambition and greed grow as she climbs the social ladder, all the while hoping to keep her checkered past hidden from view. Continue reading .

"Youth and the Bright Medusa" by Willa Cather

Mix a liberal dose of Opera with a pinch of Art. Add a dollop of Wall Street and season with a few wasted lives. This combination comes close to the recipe for Youth and the Bright Medusa. The plots in most of the stories have more in common with a Picasso painting than the great American novel. I’ve read enough short stories to realize that authors frequently use this genre to break a few rules. However, several of the stories left me hanging uncomfortably, and the smile level of the story was not sufficient to incline me to forgive. Continue reading .

"Sanditon and Other Stories" by Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s juvenilia, unfinished work and extended pieces are just as enjoyable to read as the six great novels. My absolute favourite is Lady Susan but I’m fond of Sanditon, too, and its perceptive but quiet heroine, Charlotte Heywood. Sanditon is full of references to Austen’s own reading and contemporaries, Fanny Burney’s Camilla, Walter Scott’s Marmion and the poetry of William Cowper. It would be an interesting undertaking to read what Austen read. Sadly Sanditon was never finished but Austen’s wit and humour is evident throughout. Continue reading .

"The Leavenworth Case" by Anna Katharine Green

Horatio Leavenworth, Esq., a millionaire, is murdered in his library while he is engaged in reviewing a book he plans to publish. He was shot cleanly in the back of the head (with his own pistol), meaning that he did not turn his head when his assassin entered the room. This fact led detective Ebenezer Gryce to conclude that he recognized the footsteps of his assailant and felt he had nothing to fear from this person. Thus begins this first novel in the “Mr. Gryce” series. Continue reading .

"The Story of an African Farm" by Olive Schreiner

Olive Schreiner is a well-known name in South Africa, largely (but not only) thanks to this book. She wrote it while working as a governess on a farm of an Afrikaner or boere family in the arid Great Karoo region of South Africa in the late 19th century. It was an immediate success, yet quite controversial because she wrote critically of the boere for their a-cultural lifestyle without books or other forms of cultural activity. Schreiner was, of course, correct in her criticisms. But for people struggling to survive in hostile natural conditions with very little means and the nearest neighbor 30 kilometers away, cultural activity was a luxury. For most of the time between 1653 and 1949 the focus of the boere was on survival. Continue reading .

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