Two from Galilee: A Love Story

All-text cover of Two From Galilee touts Marjorie Holmes' book "I've Got to Talk to Somebody, God"
Cover art wasn’t what drew readers to “Two from Galilee.”

In Two from Galilee, novelist Marjorie Holmes pieces together a plausible but saccharine story to cover what is known from the gospel records about Mary and Joseph, the parents of the Christ Child.

Holmes fills in the pages thanks to a good imagination supported by research into Jewish customs of the time.

Mary is the prettiest, most sought-after girl in town. Her parents are poor, but they expect Mary to marry above her station. Joseph wouldn’t be their choice: His family isn’t prosperous enough for their Mary.

Joseph is a handsome, hardworking young man, some half dozen years her senior. In love with Mary since they were children, he’s been waiting for her to grow up.

Joseph’s father, a wood worker, is slipshod about completing work on time if the job doesn’t interest him; as a result, his family is even poorer than Mary’s.

Mary can twist her father around her little finger—and does—to get her parents to accept Joseph as her bridegroom.

When she’s later found to be pregnant, she goes off to spend time with her relative Elizabeth, who has conceived her first born late in life.

Reading Two From Galilee won’t do anyone any harm, but its not likely to do anyone much good either.

Two from Galilee: A Love Story by Marjorie Holmes
Revell [1972] 223 p.
1972 bestseller #8. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Secret Woman: Implausible diversion

Victoria Holt’s The Secret Woman is an old-fashioned mystery story arising from the Victorian aristocrats’ need for a male heir carry on the line.

Dust jacket of The Secret Woman
Book Club Edition dust jacket

The leading lady is Anna Brett, a orphan in the care of an eccentric maiden aunt who buys but rarely sells antique furniture in an English seaport dominated by the Crediton shipping firm.

When her aunt dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving an-all-but bankrupt business, Anna gets a job as governess Castle Crediton. She owes her job to Chantel Loman who had come to nurse Aunt Charlotte and became Anna’s confidant.

It’s Chantel who sees Anna has fallen hard for the Crediton’s bastard son, Captain Redvers Stretton, about whom dark things are hinted.

Chantel, who had become nurse to Captain Stretton’s disturbed wife, seems more interested in Rex Crediton, the acknowledged son and heir to the family’s fortune.

Lady Crediton plans for Rex to marry the daughter of a competing firm, effectively merging the two.

The Secret Woman contains only nice, appropriately Victorian upper-class murders: no blood in sight, no police on the premises.

Holt keeps the story moving so readers don’t think too hard about the multiple implausibilities in the story until after they’ve finished the tale.

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, ©1970, Book Club Edition, 374 p.
1970 bestseller #8. My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Love Story: Plotline without characters

Erich Segal’s Love Story is what book jacket blurb writers describe as “a slender novel.”

The story is narrated by Oliver Barrett IV, a high IQ, prep-schooled, WASP rich kid who is a pre-law student at Harvard.

Checking out a book at the Radcliffe library, he checks out the girl at the desk, Jennifer Cavilleri, a music major from Cranston, Rhode Island, which, in Oliver’s family’s world is the wrong side of Boston.

The pair exchange insults and fall madly into bed.

Oliver splits with his all-too-perfect father over his decision to marry Jennifer.

Oliver Barrett III will not pay Oliver’s law school tuition.

The couple scrounge to put Oliver through law school.

He makes the Law Review, graduates third in his class, and gets a good job.

Then they find out Jen has leukemia.

I’ve not seen Love Story the movie, but it would almost have to be better than the book.

Oliver is a self-absorbed, over-age adolescent. There’s nothing in the novel to account for his rocky relationship with his father, which is the pivot on which the story turns.

Segal’s novel was ideally suited for the movies: It’s really just a plot line lacking characters to bring it to life.

Reviewer’s note: I learned after writing this review that Paramount had already approved Love Story for production when they asked Segal to turn the script into a novel as a marketing tool. Released on Valentine’s Day in 1970, it stayed 41 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Love Story by Erich Segal
Harper & Row, 1970; 131 p.
My grade: C+.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mrs. Mike is a charming teacher

In Mrs. Mike, Benedict and Nancy Freedman created a story in which humor and heroism struggle against tragedy and terror. The good wins, but the price is heavy.

Mrs. Mike dust jacket
Mrs. Mike, first edition jacket

In 1907, 16-year-old Katherine Mary O’Fallon leaves Boston for Calgary, Canada promising her mother she would “dress warm and keep dry and not go out into the night where there were bears.”

She’s scarcely off the train before Michael Flannigan of the Canadian Mounted Police sweeps her off her feet and into the Northwest Territory where bears are just one of the dangers.

Kathy adapts too readily to wilderness life to be entirely believable, but she is such a sweetheart readers will chalk it up to love and determination. Mike is also larger than life, but he’s not a paragon. We can forgive some exaggeration since Kathy tells the story and she’s biased in Mike’s favor.

The Northwest attacks Kathy and Mike where they are most vulnerable — through their children — and makes them question their commitment to each other.

Mrs. Mike speaks eloquently of the need to maintain a sense of perspective: Parents whose children have burned to death don’t fret over burned toast.

That’s a lesson worth learning.Identification of review of novel that wasn't a bestseller but has become a classic.

And Mrs. Mike is a charming teacher.

Mrs. Mike by Benedict & Nancy Freedman
Coward-McCann, 1947; 312 p.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Testimony of Two Men, one his own worst enemy

island is central image on dust jacket of "Testimony of Two Men"
Islands can be emotional as well as physical.

Taylor Caldwell begins Testimony of Two Men where more usual novels would have ended: Dr. Jonathan Ferrier has been acquitted of the murder-by-botched-abortion of his young wife, Mavis.

Unable to live among people who doubted his innocence, Jon has sold his practice to young Robert Morgan, who, of candidates Jon interviewed, seemed least likely to do harm.

Robert feels something akin to awe of Jon, for his culture as much as for his brilliant medical skill.

Jon finds Robert’s conventional, mamma’s boy behavior amusing.

Jon’s brother, Harald, made a marriage of convenience to a rich widow. She’s dead; Harald is living on an island with her nubile daughter, whom he wishes to marry.

When Robert sees Jenny, he’d like to marry her, too.

Jon thinks Jenny is a whore and Harald one of her sex partners.

Taylor Caldwell makes the novel part mystery, part romance, but always keeps her focus on the psychological development of her characters.

Jon’s insulting manner with people he thinks cruel, incompetent, or corrupt make him his own worst enemy.

Fortunately, he has some good friends who come to his rescue.

Caldwell wraps up the novel with enough of Jon’s hostility showing to prove she’s a good novelist.


Testimony of Two Men by Taylor Caldwell
Doubleday, 1968, Book Club Edition, 600 pp. My grade: A-.

© 2107 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Christy: Facts get in the way of fiction

After hearing the founder of the American Inland Mission tell about needs of impoverished people within a day’s train ride of her Asheville, N.C., home, against her parents’ wishes, Christy Huddleston goes off to teach in a one-room school in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains.

section of map of Cutter Gap, TN, 1912
Small section of map on inside cover of Christy.

From the moment she steps off the train in a snow storm and finds no one to meet her, Christy’s romantic ideas of Christian service begin crumble.


Christy by Catherine Marshall
McGraw-Hill, 1967 496 pp. 1967 bestseller #5. My grade: B.

Christy has over 60 students of all ages in a single room.

There are no books.

Students walk to school barefoot year round, heedless of mud and snow.

The smell of unbathed bodies is overpowering.

Cutters Gap has some assets. Handsome preacher David Grantland is one of them.

Another is Alice Henderson, a quiet and sensible Quaker woman who wants the highlanders to know that God loves them.

Prickly, anti-religious Dr. Neil McNeil is a third.

Catherine Marshall based her novel on her parents’ experience in Appalachia in 1912-13, telling the story through her mother’s perspective. That perspective seriously weakens the story: Marshall is too close to her real life characters to make their fictional counterparts feel real.

Like a sermon in a movie theater, the story just feels out of place.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Lost Ecstasy shows the Old West’s ugly underside

cowboy boots and woman's high heels beside bed on cover of Lost Ecstasy

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Lost Ecstasy turns the romance of the Old West on its head.

Handsome cowboy Tom McNeil can ride, rope, and sing baritone.


Lost Ecstasy by Mary Roberts Rinehart.
Doran, 1927. 372 pp. 1927 bestseller # 6. My Grade: B-.

His only flaws — binge drinking, womanizing, and using paper napkins— aren’t enough to put off pretty, Eastern heiress Kay Dowling.

She throws herself at Tom.

Kay leaves her fiance and family money for Tom, who at the time is working in a traveling Rodeo and Wild West Show .

When Tom is injured in the show and can no longer do cowboy stuff, Kay finagles a ranch for him to run by offering the local banker her pearls and a check from her aunt as security.

Tom is on the verge of making the ranch pay when Kay’s mother has a heart attack.

Kay goes home to care for her.

While she’s gone, a bad winter wipes out all Tom’s work. He ends up working the Wild West Show again.

When her mother dies, Kay must decide whether she loves Tom enough put up with his faults.

Kay and Tom are both stereotypes.

The plot is hackneyed.

Even the settings feel as if they were written on the back lot at Universal Studios.

The paper napkins, though, are a nice touch.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni