Thursday, April 7, 2011


 A WOMAN NAMED SMITH - Marie Conway Oemler
 DAISY'S AUNT - E. F. Benson
THE WOMAN IN THE ALCOVE - Anna Katharine Green


After I finished reading Miss MacKenzie, other books were recommended on my screen.  All of them free from Kindle. They are all books from the 19th or early 20th century. Kindle states they were transcribed by volunteers! Since then more have appeared and I've added them to my list. Some by authors I've heard of Benson (famous for his Miss Mapp series) and Elizabeth von Armin (Enchanted April), but others I've never heard of but have enjoyed.  What is delightful is finding all these books for free at my fingertips. I've already made back the price of my Kindle by all the free books I've accessed from what I call The Land of Lost Books - now no longer lost!

A WOMAN NAMED SMITH is a very surprising book. Set in the turn of the century in South Carolina, it is the story of a woman who inherits a house in a small Carolina town. Up to that point in her life, she had been an executive secretary for fifteen years and she brings along her friend, "the worst file clerk in the world". Again I was intrigued to find two such independent women in a novel of this period. They proceed to face a hostile town but two friendly neighbor men and what may be ghosts. The author's handling of the black characters in the book is racist in the sense they are servants, speak in a special dialect, and are stereotypical of an uneducated, superstitious characterization of black people, in patronizing terms, although with a tone of affection. It is not unlike the representation of servants and the lower class in English novels. There is one very racist scene of a vagabond black man who is about to attack the heroine before he is scared away.The "n" word is used by both blacks and whites more as a common way of speaking than as a perjorative, an interesting comment on the time of the writing. There is also a Jewish character and two Moslems treated respectfully. The turnings of plot are those of a Gothic novel, involving secret Masonic chambers, and of a romance novel - in this case with the twist of the supposedly plain heroine receiving three proposals while her beautiful companion pines away for the man of her choice.  A happy ending ensues.

DAISY'S AUNT is romance and a comedy of manners set in England again at the turn of the 19th century. The aunt in question has just returned from a year abroad in which she was healing from the death of her husband of eight years, a drug addict and alcoholic. She returns happily in love with a new man to discover that her young niece is in danger of marrying a roue who unbeknown to the niece had been the illicit lover of her now dead sister in Paris. Having promised the dying woman not to tell her sister of her dissolute life, the aunt decides to win the man away from her and thus show her his shallowness. She has faith her own lover will understand and not desert her, but she soon faces another problem, the roue is actually a good man at heart.  All resolves happily.The book is enlivened by the witty dialogue of some of the minor characters.

THE WOMAN IN THE GREEN ALCOVE is a mystery set in turn of the century New York. A woman is murdered at a fancy ball and her diamond stolen. The immediate suspect has just proposed to the young heroine. She must find a way to convince the police she is innocent. Although her guardian is rich, she has just completed her three year nurses training because she wanted to be independent. Again I was intrigued by such enterprise (although since my own grandmother became a nurse at that same period of time I shouldn't have been). Her nurses' training proves helpful in the solving of the crime.

THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS is a serious novel set in Scotland and written with much Scottish dialect, only some of which is footnoted, but the rest is understandable through context. It is the opposite of a cozy village novel in the Highlands story. The village is full of backbiters and greedy merchants out to do each other in or at least use each other to advantage. The family at the center of the book is the most hated in the village, not without good reason. The father, John Gorlay, is at the height of his power as the novel opens, and has no generosity or kindness to his neighbors. His wife is a slattern, weak-willed although good at heart. His daughter is dying of consumption and his son is a waster. There are only one or two characters in this book I could like, but nevertheless, Douglas opens up the minds of younger and older Gorlay in such a way that I kept hoping there would be redemption for them. The depiction of alcoholism taking control of the younger Gorlay gave me understanding into his addiction. It is a sad but gripping book.

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