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Quote from Roger Gale: "There's to be nothing startling in this quiet house of mine."

Roger Gale came to New York at 17 from New Hampshire looking for a business he could turn into the American dream.

He made it happen. He also married.


His Family by Ernest Poole
MacMillan, 1917. 1917 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg ebook #14396. My grade A-.

Three daughters and 20 years later, Judith died, leaving Roger “deaf and blind to his children.”

Another 20 years later, Roger is emerging from his emotional deadness. His daughters seem foreign.

When Judith had told him before she died, “You will live on in our children’s lives,” Roger hadn’t believed her.

Slowly he sees that his children take after him, for better and for worse.

Edith is prim, controlling, totally absorbed in her husband and three children.

Deborah mothers 3,000 children. She’s principal of a school in the tenements that’s drawing national notice as a community educational center.

Laura is “a spender and a speeder,” with morals as skimpy as her clothes.

The sisters irritate one another and, in varying degrees, their father.

World War I starts.

Life happens.

So does death.

Ernest Poole’s characters are vivid, complicated, and annoyingly human.

Their life-changing events are pretty ordinary.

Their self-awareness is as dull as most everyone else’s, their influence as modest as most everyone else’s.

That’s why His Family feels real 100 years after its first publication.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Taylor Caldwell sets This Side of Innocence in the era of bustles and Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, but this odd tale of a dysfunctional family packs all the punch of a Netflix® drama.

Seeking happiness, the characters try the old standbys—sex, fulfilling work, filial duty—and still there’s something missing.


This Side of Innocence by Taylor Caldwell

Scribner’s 1946. 499 p. 1946 bestseller #2 .My grade A-.


After his son opts for a life of profligacy, a widowed banker adopts a cousin, Alfred Lindsey, as his heir.

When it appears Alfred may marry, Jerome comes back to the family home.

Unable to stop Alfred’s marriage, Jerome experiences a sudden desire to go into banking. Soon, he finds he like banking almost as much as he likes Alfred’s wife, Amilie.

When Amilie becomes pregnant by Jerome, Alfred divorces her.

Amilie marries Jerome.

They all live unhappily ever after.

The qualities that put This Side of Innocence on the 1946 bestseller list are untarnished by time.

The unusual plot is peopled by fascinating—though not likable—characters with complex and often confused motives.

Caldwell adds insightful musings on timeless themes like love, integrity, and tact.

The result is a novel with real staying power.

Look for it at your local library.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Mary Ellen Chase’s novel Mary Peters is a hauntingly lovely tale of ordinary people who face life head on.

Mary Peters is not a great novel, but it’s a good novel.

It’s about giving your kids love and discipline.

It’s about compassion, about doing right just because it’s right, and about the futility of cursing the weather.

Maine Wild Rose

Maine Wild Rose

Born on a ship captained by her father in Singapore in 1871, Mary Peters’ home is the sea. When she is 16, her father’s ship sinks: Mary, her mother, Sarah, and brother, John, to go home to Petersport, Maine.

Sarah Peters welcomes Jim Pendleton, the charming bastard son of a man who jilted her years before, setting the town agog.

When Jim takes off, leaving Mary’s best friend to die giving birth to his child, Sarah counsels her children not to condemn him, but to take the long view and wait for things to change.

Mary and John wait.

Things get better, then worse, then better again.

The novel has the feel of 19th-century New England. Death, suffering, infidelity, poverty are treated as facts. These things happen. No one with backbone wallows in today’s misery.

Life goes on.

Wise men go on, too.

Mary Peters
By Mary Ellen Chase
Macmillan, 1934
377 pages
1934 bestseller list #8
My grade: C+

Photo credit: Maine Wild Rose by kklinzing

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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frontpiece from "My Friend Flicka"

Everyone who has heard—or perhaps wailed—“if only I had a horse (or kitten or dog) of my own” will recognize the premise of Mary O’Hara’s novel My Friend Flicka.

Ken McLaughlin, a dreamy kid, the despair of his ex-military father and exemplary older brother, has failed fifth grade.

Ken insists that he’d be different if he had a colt of his own to raise. His mother pleads Ken’s case and Rob McLaughlin relents. When Ken chooses a colt from a line of horses his father regards as untamable, he ignites conflict within the household.

Often thought of as a horse story or a children’s story, My Friend Flicka really is not either. Horses are the McLaughlin business and passion; they become the canvas on which the family’s portrait is painted. The real focus of the novel is the family. The novel is as suitable for adults as it is for underachieving middle-school kids or for horse-crazy teens.

To achieve the happy ending that 1940’s young adult novels required, O’Hara resorts to a hackneyed plot contrivance, but she’s masterful at creating vivid, believable personalities.

The novel beats any of the film versions of the story. Look for it at your library or buy a copy at your local bookstore to give as a Christmas gift.

My Friend Flicka
By Mary O’Hara
J. B. Lippincott, 1941
353 pages

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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