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Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

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

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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

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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

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Ex-soldier Arnold Furze has spent five years trying to bring Doomsday, a hillside farm, back to productivity.

Arnold falls for the pretty daughter of one of his milk customers in the cheap residential development below his farm.


Doomsday by Warwick Deeping
Alfred A Knopf, 1927, 367 pp. 1927Bestseller #3 My grade B+.

photo of dairy farm, 1921

Mary Viner is impressed by the sexy farmer, but turned off at the thought of being a farmer’s wife.

Mary debunks, heads for bright lights. Within a few months, she marries a wealthy financier with the personality of a fence post.

Arnold marries a farmer’s daughter. Their happy marriage is ended by a speeding automobile.

When Mary’s husband commits suicide over his financial failures, she returns to her late parents’ home.

In a standard romance, widow and widower would find each other again and live happily every after, but Warwick Deeping is no standard romance novelist.

Arnold and Mary both have a lot of maturing to do before either can think of happiness.

Deeping’s novel takes its name from the 1086 record of English land holdings called the Domesday, or Doomsday, book. The land is central to the novel.

Arnold and Mary, respectively, represent the war between enduring values and modernity. The split focus keeps Doomsday from being a great novel, but it doesn’t keep it from being fine entertainment.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The theme of The Hundredth Chance is familiar: A rough but noble man offers a marriage of convenience to an impoverished gentlewoman.

Ethel M. Dell keeps the story moving so readers have little time to notice how preposterous the characters and story are.


The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.  1917 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg Ebook #43069. My grade:B-.

Jack Bolton sits by Maud as he offers her marriage.

Jack offers Maud a marriage of convenience.

The poor gentlewoman is Maud Brian. Maud is 25 and worn out from caring for her 15-year-old brother.

Bunny is physically crippled from a fall in infancy and emotionally crippled by getting his own way ever since.

Maud refused rich Lord Saltash when he was named in an ugly divorce suit, but she remains infatuated with him.

Jake Bolton, a horse trainer for Lord Saltash, offers Maud marriage and Bunny a home.

The likelihood of the marriage succeeding is about 1 in a 100, but when Jake believes in the value of a horse or a human being, he’s willing to bet all on the hundredth chance.

Readers know how the story will end.

The real question is when will it end.

Dell’s characters are not believable enough to warrant close scrutiny.

The pasted on religious message is also suspect.

In the end, The Hundredth Chance fails because it does what 99 percent of novels on this theme do.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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photo of boxing gloves

 

The American setting of The Definite Object allows Jeffery Farnol to diversity his usual cast of minor characters with immigrants, gangsters, slumlords, and professional pugilists.

The variety adds complexity to the novel without noticeably changing Farnol’s usual story line.


The Definite Object: A Romance of New York by Jeffery Farnol
1917 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg eBook #16074. My grade: C+.

Half-English Geoffrey Ravenslee is “so rich that [his] friends are all acquaintances.”

He wants a wife who wants him more than his money.

When Geoff catches Spike Chesterton breaking into his mansion, he decides not to prosecute if Spike will take him to Hell’s Kitchen to meet his sister, Hermione.

Geoff gets a room in the same tenement as the Chestertons and proceeds to charm everyone except gangster Bud M’Ginnis.

Spike hangs around M’Ginnis hoping to break into fighting. He’s sure he could make a fortune to give Hermione the country home she wants.

Geoff’s courtly behavior wins over women.

Men, except M’Ginnis, are more impressed with his boxing behavior.

As English characters are thrown in with American characters, neither comes off as believable. The large cast allows ample time for the absurdities of the characterizations to punish the never-strong plot.

Farnol gets in some of his delightful wry observations, but they aren’t enough to raise this novel beyond the level of mediocrity.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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If Burke Denby had not been given all the frosted cakes and toy shotguns he wanted at the age of ten, it might not have been so difficult to convince him at the age of twenty that he did not want to marry Helen Barnet.

That opening sentence of The Road to Understanding made me hopeful that the novel was going to be better than the pabulum I expect from Eleanor H. Porter.

I was disappointed.


The Road to Understanding by Eleanor H. Porter
Mary Greene Blumenschein, Illus., Houghton Mifflin, 1917. 373 pp. 1917 bestseller #4. Project Gutenberg eBook #35093. My grade: B-.

Man listens to woman holding baby girl

Helen seeks a Henry Higgens to turn her into a lady.

Burke Denby is rich and spoiled; Helen Barnet is poor and spoiled.

Their fairy tale romance turns sour: Neither has life skills, self-control, or experience considering anyone’s perspective but their own.

Other than giving Burke an entry-level job in his business, John Denby does not help the newlyweds.

The birth of their daughter adds to the strain.

John Denby steps in with an offer of separate vacations for the pair at his expense: Burke to come with him to Alaska, Helen to take the baby and go visit in her hometown.

Helen and baby Betty disappear without a trace.

Burke never sees either again until Betty is a grown woman.

After establishing the personalities and conflict, Porter doesn’t let them develop as their natures and situations suggest. She has the spoiled Burke happily accepted as a regular guy by the men at his father’s plant, and Helen learn to manage servants so she need not have to cook for her family.

The book ends with a happy family reunion as believable as a zombie Santa Claus.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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