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Millionnaire Daniel Maitland comes home as a young woman leaves his Manhattan apartment building whose other occupants are away.  Maitland senses someone has been in his rooms.

Nothing is missing, but there’s a small, woman-sized hand print on a table. Maitland sets a brass bowl upside down over it.

miscellanous brass bowls.

Any of these brass bowls would do to protect a woman’s hand print.


The Brass Bowl by Louis Joseph Vance
1907 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg ebook #8741. My grade: B-.

Warned by his lawyer the family jewels kept at his country home could tempt burglar Dan Anisty, Maitland goes to retrieve them.

On the ferry, he sees the same woman he saw leaving his building earlier and falls madly in love.

She’s on her way to steal Maitland’s jewels.

So is Dan Ainsty.

By coincidence, Ainsty and Maitland look like identical twins.

Who is the woman?

How does Ainsty know which houses are unguarded?

Could a beautiful woman possibly be a bad one?

It’s all very mysterious and very confusing, especially to Maitland, whose mental processes are, at best, lethargic.

Like the plot, the main characters are too familiar to be interesting.

The Brass Bowl might have worked as a movie — it has chase scenes and gunfights plus a janitor and a detective straight out of silent films — but there’s not enough substance to satisfy any but the least discerning readers.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

At the birth of the twentieth century, Americans were obsessed with European royalty, their own recently ended Civil War, and their rising status among nations.

In The Port of Missing Men, Meredith Nicholson takes all three obsessions and weaves them into thriller that can still keep today’s readers’ full attention.

Emperor Franz Joseph looks frail in this 1901 photograph of him at a bridge dedication.

Aging Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I dedicates a bridge in 1901


The Port of Missing Men by Meredith Nicholson
1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook#13913. My grade: B.

Spies sent by the Austrian Prime Minister failed to recover an important document that can determine who will succeed the present ailing monarch.

Count von Stroebel meets in Geneva in March, 1903 with a young man calling himself John Armitage. Armitage owns a ranch in Wyoming but could easily make people believe he is the legitimate heir to the Austrian throne.

Von Stroebel shows Armitage a photograph of the thief, a man known to Armitage as Jules Chauvenet.

Armitage and Chauvenet are both pursuing Shirley Claiborne, the pretty daughter of an American ambassador.

Before they part, von Stroebel tells Armitage, “Do something for Austria.”

The novel has no more character development than necessary for a thriller: Nicholson puts all his energy into the complicated plot.

Needless to say, the story ends with criminals brought to justice and love triumphant.

The plot and characters are readily forgettable.

The tidbits of European and American cultural history Nicholson includes will stick.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Weavers is a romance, but it’s mostly about David Claridge.

David leaves his English village around 1850 for Egypt, where his good looks, Quaker habits, and scrupulous honesty are novelties.


The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
1907 bestseller #2, 1908 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg ebook #6267. My grade: C+.

Book illustration, statuary, and photograph of Spinx and pyramids

Artifacts of travels to Egypt in 19th and 20th centuries.

Prince Kaid asks David to be his right-hand man to bring European-style prosperity to Egypt.

Within five years David is “a young Joseph” to the pharaoh and the darling of the British public.

David’s favored status is resented by Egyptians who prefer the old ways of bachshesh, bribery, and brutality.

Defending an English girl from an Egyptian, David kills him with a single punch. The dead man’s brother covers up the murder, planning to use it later to make himself ruler of Egypt.

The girl goes back to England and marries a rising young politician who takes a dim view of David’s uncredentialed foreign activities.

The Weavers is chock-a-block with plots and characters, but Gilbert Parker doesn’t make any one of them believable. David himself is hardly more than a coloring book outline.

Today, The Weavers is useful primarily as a reminder of how long England has been involved in Middle Eastern affairs.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Postcard of street scene in Yokohama, Japan about 1900 shows cluttered sidewalks, rickshaws, telephone poles.
After her husband’s death in 1900, a Southern belle agrees to teach kindergarten in a mission school in Hiroshima.

She needs the money. She also needs to regain her equilibrium after a bad, seven-year marriage.


The Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little¹
1907 bestseller #1. Project Gutenberg ebook #7523. My grade: B.

The kindergartners salute her, thinking the enameled watch pinned to her bodice is a medal from the Emperor. They call her The Lady of the Decoration.

She, in turn, is fascinated by Japan’s scenery and people, especially the children. She longs to “take the whole lot of them to my heart and love them into an education.”

The Lady records her experiences in letters to her cousin back in Kentucky.

A vivacious blonde, the Lady causes a stir among the Japanese adults as well as the children.

When the Russo-Japanese War breaks out, she’s vocally pro-Japan, helping care for wounded soldiers.

Thanks to the Lady’s buoyant humor, despite the poverty and suffering she sees and the homesickness and unhappiness she often feels, the novel makes cheerful bedtime reading

Readers never learn the letter writer’s name, but they learn to know her. She sums up the years 1901–1905 in a letter:

I don’t care a rap for the struggle and the heart aches, if I have only made good. When I came out there were two kindergartens, now there are nine besides a big training class. Anybody else could have done as much for the work but one thing is certain, the work couldn’t have done for anyone else what it has done for me.


¹Frances Little is the pseudonym of American author Fannie Caldwell Macaulay. The Lady of the Decoration was her first, and most successful novel.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Happy 2017, novel readers.

If all goes as planned, in 2017 I’ll reach my goal of reading and reviewing each of the bestselling novels published between 1900 and 1969. Most of the novels I’ll review this year are bestsellers celebrating their publication on a year ending in a “7” between those dates.

2 girls giggle on a bed while woman seated beside them aims a pillow at a man

Illustration from The Younger Set

This year I’ll post reviews in chronological order, beginning with the bestsellers of 1907, 1917, and 1927.

Then I’ll skip ahead to 1967. (I previously reviewed the bestsellers of ’37, ’47 and ’57.)

I end my project by reviewing the bestselling novels of 1968 and 1969.

Review dates for 1907 bestselling novels

Man embraces woman in wedding dress

Satan Sanderson illustration

 Here is my list of the 1907 bestsellers. Dates in square brackets tell you when you can expect the review to be posted. Links take you the Project Gutenberg page where you can download the novel for free, or, if I previously reviewed the novel, to that review.

  1.  The Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little [Jan. 7, 2017]
  2. The Weavers by Gilbert Parker [Jan. 10, 2017]
  3. The Port of Missing Men by Meredith Nicholson. [Jan. 14, 2017]
  4. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett [also a 1908 bestseller]
  5. The Brass Bowl by Louis J. Vance [Jan. 17, 2017]
  6. Satan Sanderson by Hallie Erminie Rives (Mrs. Post Wheeler) [Jan. 21, 2017]
  7. The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon [Jan. 24, 2017]
  8. The Younger Set by Robert W. Chambers [Jan. 28, 2017]
  9. The Doctor: A Tale of the Rockies by Ralph Connor [Jan. 31, 2017]
  10. Half a Rogue by Harold MacGrath [Feb. 4, 2017]

Poll: your favorites of the 1907 bestsellers [Feb. 7, 2017]
My favorites of the 1907 bestsellers [Feb. 11, 2017]

I look forward to having you join me in my travels through time via vintage bestselling novels.

Project Gutenberg

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A large chunk of my year 2016 went into reading and reviewing bestselling novels.

In preparation for my annual choices of the best novels whose reviews I posted that year,  I looked back through the bestseller lists for 1966, 1956, 1946, 1936, 1936, 1916, 1906, 1918 and 1908.

I saw many titles whose stories I couldn’t remember.

Other novels I remembered because they were creatively awful.

Only a few stuck with me as stories that I remember for the right reasons: good storytelling, credible characterization, lucid prose, stimulating ideas. From those, I chose one novel for each of the nine years.

The best of the bestsellers

None of these nine novels will disappoint readers:

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, 1966
The Tribe that Lost Its Head by Nicholas Monserrat 1956
Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque, 1946
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 1936
The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson, 1926
The Real Adventure by Henry Kitchell Webster, 1916
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, 1906
A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter, 1918
The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg by Louis Bromfield, 1908

(Normally I would have ignored The House of Mirth because my review was posted in 2015, the anniversary year for the first time the novel hit the bestseller list, and it was one of my top choices for that year. The other bestsellers of 1906, however, were so weak that there wasn’t even a runner-up to choose this year.)

My favorites of the best bestsellers

My favorites of the bestsellers are not the best novels on the list: They are merely the ones that, for one reason or another, have most appeal for me personally.

The Fixer by Malamud

I dithered between choosing between two dark novels about resistance to oppression: The Fixer or the Arch of Triumph.  Both created shiveringly clear images of their ineffectual, almost pathetic, leading character’s suffering under political oppression.

My choice is The Fixer. I chose it mainly because in English translation Remarque’s novel feels ponderous and outdated. Since Malamud wrote in English, it seems more immediate.

The Real Adventure by Webster

I can’t deny part of the charm of The Real Adventure for me is the illustrations by R. M. Crosby. They made Rose Stanton come alive in all her scatterbrained young charm and maturing womanhood.

Webster’s story of the suffragette’s daughter raised with no ability to do anything but lead the sort of decorative, trophy wife life suffragettes said they despised stuck me as being psychologically spot-on.

So, too, did Rose’s ridiculous attempts to develop interests in subjects that interested her husband and his failure to recognize the motivation that underpinned them.

And Rose’s older sister, Portia, who resents having to pay the bills for her mothers’ and sister’s upkeep is so real you would recognize her on the street.

For 1916, Adventure was a real departure in fictional discussions of what marriage ought to be.

It’s still a real departure from what most marriages become.

I’ll remember The Real Adventure long after I’ve forgotten many better novels.

A Daughter of the Land by Stratton-Porter

A Daughter of the Land is a indefensible choice for a top novel.

It simply appeals to me.

Kate Bates is a country girl. She’d have been happy to marry before she was out of her teens if should could have had advantages equal to those her father gave her seven brothers: a house, a 200-acres of land, and farm stock

She knows she’ll get nothing, so at 16, Kate packs up and leaves home.

Kate makes many mistakes, but she learns from them, picks herself up, and goes on.

Life makes her more resilient but not harder.

Daughter is not as good a novel as The Real Adventure but it’s equally unusual for its day in its attitude toward women’s rights and marriage.

And Kate isn’t as appealing as Rose, but she’s someone you’d be glad to have as a neighbor and friend.


That finishes up 2016.

I hope you’ll be back in 2017 as I finish up my self-appointed task of re-reviewing all the bestselling novels published between 1900 and 1969.

Happy New Year.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

In my last post, I gave you a dozen clues containing the name of a bestselling novel from between 1900 and 1969. You were to answer with the name of another bestselling novel of that period.

Here are the clues and the answers I came up with. Your choices may be different as long as they make sense.


1. The Prince of Foxes is their den leader.

The Vixens

2. Simon The Jester would have felt right at home here.

The House of Mirth

3. The Weavers need this for their work.

The Shuttle

4. Encouraging words for someone at The Point of No Return.

Tomorrow Will Be Better

5. There’s nothing for The Listener to do here.

The Silent Places

6. The Daughter of Anderson Crow, Rosemary’s Baby, and B. F.’s Daughter are all members of this group.

The Younger Set

7. Whatever The Breakfast of Champions is, it isn’t this.

Red Pottage

8. The Gambler might have been willing to risk it.

The Hundredth Chance

9. The Judgment House sees both of these.

The Just and the Unjust

10. First thing Tomorrow Morning

Dawn

11. The Pretenders earn a living here.

Theatre

12. When The Rains Came this died down.

Wildfire


On the last day of 2016, I’ll post my picks for the best novels I reviewed this year. Check back to see how my choices measure up to yours.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni