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When she learns of her sister’s engagement, eight-year-old Bettina “Betty” Vanderpoel cries, “He’ll do something awful to you….He’ll nearly kill you. I know he will.”

Sir Nigel Anstruthers turns out as nasty as Betty predicts.


The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1908 bestseller #5.
Project Gutenberg ebook #506. My grade: A-.

Green, hilly English countryside with a few sheep grazing, no people in sight.When he realizes Reuben Vanderpoel won’t support him, Sir Nigel craftily isolates Rosalie from family back in New York, then bullies her into transferring her property to him.

While Rosalie withers, Betty is educated in France, Germany, and in company of her astute capitalist father.

At 20, Betty goes to England to see Rosalie.

Sir Nigel has thoroughly cowed Rosalie and Ughtred, his son to whom the estate is entailed.

Betty takes charge, using her charm and her father’s money to make the estate liveable and her sister comfortable.

Inevitably, the Vanderpoel heiress is swarmed by suitors.

Betty’s heart, however, throbs for Lord Mount Duncan, who scorns the practice of marrying American money to put a deteriorating English estate to rights.

Although Frances Hodgson Burnett gives the novel the love-interest of a romance and the suspense of a thriller, the novel is deeper than those categories.

Burnett explores personalities, digs into gender roles, and shows how England and America were separated by culture and reunited by money.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Rex Beach’s The Silver Horde is a breathless story of competition to make a killing in the short salmon spawning season.

Engineer Boyd Emerson and “Fingerless” Frasier, whom he rescued from police on an ice-floe in Norton Sound, arrive in Kalvik, Alaska, just barely alive.

Salmon spawning

Salmon spawning


The Silver Horde by Rex Beach

1909 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg E-Book #6017. My grade B+.


All doors but one are closed to them.

Miss Cherry Malotte, a lovely young entrepreneur living alone, takes the men in.

She convinces Emerson to start a salmon canning company to compete with her arch enemy, Willis Marsh.

Emerson has a girl in the States whose rich father disapproves of penniless engineers and wants his Mildred to marry Willis Marsh.

Even without peeking,  readers know how the romance will end.

What they don’t know is how bloodthirsty salmon fishing can be.

Beach makes sure they don’t remain ignorant.

Cherry has a past; Boyd has depression. Those traits make make them miserable.

Frasier is another matter.

The good-hearted crook talks incessantly to fill Boyd’s morose silence. Frasier tells Boyd:

If you prefer to swallow your groans, you do it. I like to make a fuss when I suffer. I enjoy it more that way.

And readers will enjoy The Silver Horde: Beach doesn’t let any character’s misery get in the way of his story.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: “Salmon Spawning at Hood Canal” by Hood Canal

 

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Kindred of the Dust is an old-fashioned romance about love that’s based on trusting the loved one’s character.

Pile of oak logs

Oak logs

Hector McKaye is the richest lumberman Washington state and first citizen of Port Agnew.  His son, Donald, is like him in business acumen, integrity, and rejection of humbug.

Donald is smitten by Nan Brent, a poor local girl with beauty, brains, character, and a bastard son.

Hector admires Nan but won’t have his beloved son tarred by association with a fallen woman.

Son Donald is “man enough to scorn public opinion, but human enough to fear it.”

Because this is a romance, we know Donald will defy his father and that eventually Hector will come round.

But Peter B. Kyne gives an unexpected twist to the plot by presenting the story from a male perspective: The central love story is that of father and son. The details of the Nan-Donald marriage come out in the context of the father-son relationship.

Against these two love stories, Kyne pipes a counter melody of Hector’s marriage and the marriage of Hector’s plant manager.

Kindred of the Dust is not a great novel, but it’s far from ordinary.

Kyne explores issues of morality and hypocrisy in both public opinion and personal behavior.

He leaves several intriguing loose ends as unspoken testimony to the fact that if you believe in a person’s integrity, you accept that person’s word without demanding proof.

Kindred of the Dust
By Peter B. Kyne
Illustrated by Dean Cornwell
47 chapters
Project Gutenberg eBook #13532
1920 bestseller #2
My grade: B

Photo credit: Oak logs by stroinski

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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If Garrison Keillor had been CEO of a pork-packing business in the 1890s, he might have written Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son.

Since he was not, George Horace Lorimer undertook the task, producing a bestselling novel brimming with funny stories, shrewd advice, and love.

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Each of the 17 chapters of the novel is presented as a letter from John Grahman to his son, Pierrepont, beginning when Pierrepont enters Harvard University.

From the other letters, readers can trace Pierrepont’s career.

Without describing either of the Graham men, Lorimer develops such vivid portraits of them, I felt I’d known them for years. What’s more, I felt I was a better person for that acquaintance.

The father is nobody’s fool. He wants his son to be a good man, a good businessman, and, eventually, a good husband and father.

After graduation, Pierrepont joins his father’s firm at the bottom rung. Pierrepont’s less than stellar performance In the mail room draws a rebuke from his rather.

The son mends his ways, buckles down, and, thanks to some coaching from Dad, begins learning the business he will some day manage.

If you love a good yarn, or aspire to a leadership role, don’t miss this novel.

Common sense rarely appears in such attractive wrappings.

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
Being the Letters written by John Graham, Head of the House
of Graham & Company, Pork-Packers in Chicago, familiarly
known on ‘Change as “Old Gorgon Graham,” to his Son,
Pierrepont, facetiously known to his intimates as “Piggy.”
by George Horace Lorimer
Illus. F. R. Gruger and B. Martin Justice
1903 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg EBook #21959
 

Photo credit: Pork Loin by morderska

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Craftsman-style home, 1917

Craftsman-style homes like this were popular in George Babbitt’s day.

George F. Babbitt, 46 has vague yearning for something other than being making money, but he’s not sure what it is. In college, he had dreams of being a lawyer and doing battle for truth and justice. He settled for “selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.”

He is bored with his wife and baffled by his children. Immersed in business deals, civic clubs and community boosterism, he usually manages to insulate himself from feeling or thinking.

When his pal Paul Riesling shoots his wife and lands in jail, Babbitt falls apart. Paul was Babbitt’s only link to his youthful ideals. Babbitt takes a mistress, drinks too much, offends his fellow businessmen.

His wife’s need for emergency surgery brings Babbitt back to himself.

Sinclair Lewis skewers Babbitt’s materialism, his ignorance, his self-delusion. Sadly, every character in the novel is the mental and moral equivalent of Babbitt. Babbitt’s son may wish to do great things, but nothing in the novel suggests anyone ever lives up to their ideals.

Lewis is funny in small doses but after by the half-way point his satire becomes depressing. If America in 1920 had been as bad as Lewis suggests nobody would have purchased this novel, let alone made it a best seller.

Babbitt
by Sinclair Lewis
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1922
401 pages
Project Gutenberg ebook #1156
1922 Bestseller #10 (shared honor)
My grade B-
 

Photo: Where my favorite dog lives by Linda Aragoni

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Thomas Wolfe House in Asheville, North Carolina

Thomas Wolfe House in Asheville, North Carolina

Youngblood Hawke is Herman Wouk’s contribution to the shelf of novels by novelists about novelists. The novel has the usual plot complications readers expect as the rube with the typewriter is taken on, taken in, and taken over by shysters.

The story opens with Arthur Youngblood Hawke’s sale of his first novel to Prince House. The novel is promising rather than good.

Art figures he needs to write about seven books before he’ll know his craft. He aims to be first a successful author, then a rich one, living off his investments while he writes great books.

Art invests the income from his books in enterprises from hog futures and commercial real estate to self-publishing. His financial successes and failures are spectacular, but they are never what’s important to him. His world is the pad of lined yellow paper that he fills hour after hour.

Like most other novels about novelists, Youngblood Hawke contrasts the mercenary publishing world with the world of the art. But Wouk’s cast of colorful characters makes clear that the profit motive operates throughout society: even artists have to eat.

And the most tenacious of the followers after fortune may be somebody’s mother.

[Herman Wouk based Youngblood Hawke  on the life of Thomas Wolfe.  The photo above shows the boarding house owned and operated by Wolfe’s mother where Wolfe lived until he went to college.]

Youngblood Hawke: a novel
Herman Wouk
Little, Brown (paper)
© 1962
783 pages
1962 bestseller #4
My grade B+

 

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni
 

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Margaret Deland’s The Iron Woman opens conventionally enough but  quickly develops into a complex psychological study that winds up as an interactive novel in which readers select the ending.

A pair of half-siblings whose mother runs Maitlin Iron Works and two other local children settle their conjugal futures one afternoon in an apple tree. Blair Maitlin will marry Elizabeth Ferguson,  whose uncle is the mill superintendent; Nannie Maitlin will marry David Richie, the adopted son of a widow newly moved to town.

Mrs. Maitlin showers money on Blair. When he refuses to go into the family iron business and instead marries Elizabeth, Mrs. Maitlin cuts Blair out of her will. She decides to endow a clinic and put David, now a doctor, in charge.

As Mrs. Maitlin is dying, Nannie forges her mother’s name so  Blair gets the money intended for the clinic.

All the remaining characters are  miserable except Elizabeth’s uncle, who has gotten widow Richie to say she’ll marry him.

At that point Deland addresses her readers directly, laying out the options available to each character. She leaves readers to figure out how to end the book.

To do that, they have to decide whether the  title refers to Mrs. Maitlin, who runs the iron mill; or to the widow whose sweetness belies a steely determination; or to Elizabeth, who finally decides she can master her temper.

A fiction writers’ group or book club looking for a novel that will engage readers need look no further than The Iron Woman.

The Iron Woman
by Margaret Wade Campbell Deland
1911 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #6474
My grade: A-
©Linda Gorton Aragoni

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