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Thanks to Adria Locke Langley’s decision to let Verity Martin tell the story of her charismatic husband’s political career, A Lion Is in the Streets is a political novel that can be enjoyed by folks who don’t like political novels.

As the book opens, Hank Martin is dead, killed by an assassin’s bullet. As Verity listens to a reporter tell the story of Hank’s life, she recalls the events as she saw them.


 

A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley

Blakiston, 1945. 345 pages. 1945 bestseller #6. My Grade: A-.


 

cover of "A Lion is in the Streets" is solid gray with title in silver

Don’t judge this book by its cover. It’s not a boring novel.

A Yankee schoolteacher, Verity fell for a southern peddler with dreams of being governor.

While he was out organizing a political machine, she stayed home in a little share-cropper cottage.

Almost from the first, Verity knew Hank’s sex appeal was a potential threat to her marriage.

It took her years to realize Hank’s lust for power is even more destructive than his sex drive, not only for their family but also for the whole state.

Langley does a superb job of making these people seem real. They are complicated bundles of inexplicable contradictions.

In some ways, each character knows the others better than they know themselves.

Like politics, much of the plot has to be grasped from innuendo. You’ll need to read slowly, picturing the scenes, or you’ll miss the point.

The effort is worth it.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

I don’t often find a book that I want to buy for my own collection, but I found one in So Well Remembered.

It’s a novel that bears re-reading.


So Well Remembered by James Hilton

Little, Brown 1945. 328 pages. 1945 bestseller # 7. My Grade: A.


On Sept. 1, 1921 as the Great War ends, Browdley Mayor George Boswell sees the foundation stone laid for the slum-clearance project so dear to his heart.

That evening George learns his wife wants to marry a budding young diplomat she met in Austria.

George gives Livia a divorce and throws himself into local politics with renewed vigor.

Twenty years later, George meets Livia’s son, Charles, a badly wounded flyer. George and Charles become close friends, forcing George to face his past — and Livia — again.

Livia is either criminally selfish or certifiably insane. Given her history, both are equally possible.

Incorruptible and totally without rancor, George will work as long as it takes to provide decent housing, good schools and medical care in Browdley — even if the town doesn’t want those things.

In So Well Remembered, James Hilton produced a gem whose plot, characters, insight, optimism, and humor more than atone for the sentimental drivel of his more famous novels.

I hope you’ll like So Well Remembered as much as I do.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Cass Timberlane: A Novel of Husbands and Wives is really two books represented respectively by the title and subtitle.

In the main story, Cass Timberland, 41, an intellectually astute and emotionally dense Minnesota judge falls for a young girl with “fine ankles and a clear voice” who testifies in a negligence case.


Cass Timberlane: A Novel of Husbands and Wives
by Sinclair Lewis

Random House, 1945. 390 pages.  1945 bestseller # 5. My Grade: B-.


When Jenny loses her job, Cass persuades her to marry him.

Without a job to go to, Jenny is bored. Cass encourages Jenny to go out with his buddy Bradd, whom he knows to be a womanizer.

What happens is predictable to everyone except Cass.

Cass is a hoot. He can recognize the stupidity of things he does when other people do them. What he doesn’t see is that dumb is dumb no matter who does it.

Sinclair Lewis sketches other characters — especially those in the other marriages —well enough to make them individuals, but not well enough to make them interesting. They add nothing to the main plot.

However, many of Lewis’s individual sentences are delightful. For example, Juliet Zago takes out a library book on “Freud’s translations from the original four-letter words.”

If you can be content with such small pleasures, you may enjoy Cass Timberlane.

As a novel, Cass Timberlane is a dud.

 

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

In The White Tower, James Ramsey Ullman turns several familiar themes inside out and upside down.

The result is World War II adventure story that appeals even to sedentary readers like me.


The White Tower  by James Ramsey Ullman

Lippincott, 1945. 479 pages. 1945 bestseller # 4. My grade: B+.


Spine art for The White Tower shows mountansand rocksHit by shrapnel during a bombing raid, Martin Ordway’s plane goes down in the Swiss Alps near a village where he spent his student vacations.

While friends arrange to slip him out of the country, Martin poses as a tourist. He organizes a group to climb the village side of Weissturm, the White Tower, which has never been scaled.

Besides Martin, the group includes an aging British geologist, a depressed French writer, an arthritic Alpine guide, an Austrian woman separated from her Nazi husband, and a German solider who is also a renowned mountain climber.

Sounds like a set-up for a Hollywood movie, doesn’t it?

Well, Ullman avoids that trap. No clichés for him.

Characters are well-drawn.

Action is tense.

Mountain settings are shiveringly vivid.

Contemporary readers may find the occasional German and French phrases difficult — today’s readers lack the language skills our 1940’s forebears had — but I could usually get the gist.

Whatever your linguistic skills, The White Tower remains a great book to climb into bed with.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

In The Black Rose novelist Thomas B. Costain takes readers back into the Dark Ages with a romantic tale that sweeps from England to China.

The bastard son of a Crusader, Walter of Gurnie hopes to make a fortune in the Far East so he can come back to England and be somebody.


The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain

Doubleday, Doran, 1945. 403 pages. 1945 bestseller #5, 1946 bestseller  #8. My grade: B-.


 

Walter  gets caught up in the common people’s fight for justice against the nobles.

Dust Jacket of The Black Rose

This novel was on my parents’ bookshelves.

When their role becomes known, Walter and his sidekick, Tristram, skeedaddle.

Walter and Tristram hook up with a caravan led by Mongolian General Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. The party includes 81 girls being sent as a present to Kubla Khan.

Walter and Tristram help Maryam, a girl sired by a Crusader, to escape. Walter marries her.

The trio make a fortune in China.

Then the men get separated from Maryam and return without her to England.

The Black Rose would be worth reading just for its comparison of the cultures of West, Middle-East, and Far East in later 13th century.

Neither the characters nor the plot is believable, but Costain moves things along quickly so readers don’t have much time to notice. The result is an entertaining novel with some educational value slipped in.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

We here in the Northeaster U.S. have had a long, hard winter.

We’re ready to enjoy some sunshine.

Even if the temperature doesn’t climb above 40 tomorrow, you can bask in the warmth of smiles with one of these funny vintage novels.

The Reivers

The Reivers is a folksy, rambling tale William Faulkner puts in the mouth of Lucius Priest,  an old man telling an “when I was your age” tell to his grandson.

Lucius recounts how in 1905 when he was 11, he and two pals who worked at the family’s freight business borrowed his grandfather’s automobile and drove  from Jefferson, Mississippi, up to Memphis, Tennessee.

One of the men traded the automobile for a horse, intending to win—how could they not win?—repurchase the auto with part of the proceeds, and come back home ahead of the game.

The Reivers has the kind of corny absurdity that’s a hallmark of country folk who know how to entertain themselves when nothing much is happening.

Fran

If The Reivers is humor for humor’s sake, Fran is humor for satire’s sake.

Writing in 1912, John Breckenridge Ellis uses Fran to satirize the “deserving orphan” novel formula that was wildly popular from the time of Charles Dickens until World War II, when the supply of orphans in the US and Britain dried up.

Orphaned after the death of her mother, Fran seeks out the scoundrel who abandoned her late mother, announces she plans to make his home her home, and does.

Ellis makes Fran’s father a hypocritical philanthropist, which give Ellis the chance to lampoon the pseudo-religious as well as the orphan novel formula.

Fran’s youthful appearance—she’s nearly 20 but looks about 13—allow Ellis to put her through the typical experiences of all fictional rescued orphans, such as going to school, dressing properly, and learning to be polite.

Fran’s school experiences are a hoot. Here’s a sample of what happens:

“Fran,” [school superintendent] Abbott reasoned, “if we put you in a room where you can understand the things we try to teach, if we make you thorough—”

“I don’t want to be thorough,” she explained, “I want to be happy. I guess all that schools were meant to do is to teach folks what’s in books, and how to stand in a straight line. The children in Class A, or Class B have their minds sheared and pruned to look alike; but I don’t want my brain after anybody’s pattern.”

Claire Ambler

In Claire Ambler, Booth Tarkington uses humor to edify.

Claire Ambler is an American heiress with unswerving loyalty to herself.  She’s a flapper of the jazz age, blissfully seeing herself as the center of the world.

“All her life—even when she was a child—she had seemed to be not one person but two. One was an honest person and the other appeared to be an artist. The honest person did the feeling and most of the thinking; but the artist directed her behaviour and cared about nothing except picturesque effects.”

Tarkington lets Clair flap until it’s clear to readers, if not to Clair herself, that her self-centeredness is not simply funny: It’s downright dangerous.

Sources

The Reivers is readily available from libraries and online book sources in a a variety of editions and formats. There’s also a film version, if you’d rather view than read.

Fran is available for download free at Project Gutenberg.

Claire Ambler is not available either through Project Gutenberg or in re-issue. I recommend you try WorldCat to see if it is available in a library near you.

The 1945 bestseller list includes some famous authors and some famous titles.

Topping the list were two fat novels, Forever Amber, back for a second year, and The Robe back for a third year.

1945-01_for-amber_fc_3401945-02-dj_therobe Writer sits amid newspapers and crumbled drafts of book

Forever Amber  was turned into a film in 1947, but The Robe didn’t make the silver screen until 1953 when its release again pushed the novel to the top of the bestseller list.

The number three bestseller, Gentleman’s Agreement, is a novel better known to most of us from the 1948 film version in which Gregory Peck plays the reporter man who passes himself off as Jewish.

James Hilton of Random Harvest and Lost Horizon fame is on the 1945 bestseller list with a book that’s better than either of those: So Well Remembered. (Lost Horizon is coming up for review here this summer with the other 1935 bestsellers.)

Sinclair Lewis also appears with a novel that’s more entertaining than some of his more famous titles: Cass Timberlane.

As is often the case, some of the less-well known authors’ books are well worth reading today.

Here’s the full list, with dates you can expect my reviews to be posted.

  1. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
  2. The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
  3. The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain [04-April-2015]
  4. The White Tower by James Ramsey Ullman [07-April-2015]
  5. Cass Timberlane by Sinclair Lewis  [11-April-2015]
  6. So Well Remembered by James Hilton [14-April-2015]
  7. A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley [18-April-2015]
  8. Captain from Castile by Samuel Shellabarger [21-April-2015]
  9. Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham [25-April-2015]
  10. Immortal Wife by Irving Stone [28-April-2015]

horse-drawn carriages stand on hill overlooking Italian town Plane flies by snow-covered mountain cover of "A Lion is in the Streets" is solid gray with title in silver


Before we move on to the bestsellers of 1935, you, dear readers, will have a chance to express your views on the best reading from the 1945 bestsellers, and I’ll do the same.

  • Reader pick their favorites of 1945  [02-May-2015]
  • My picks of the 1945 bestsellers [05-May-2015]

 

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