The Enchanted April

By Elizabeth Von Arnim

“And the more he treated her as though she were really very nice, the more Lotty expanded and became really very nice, and the more he, affected in his turn, became really very nice himself; so that they went round and round, not in a vicious but in a highly virtuous circle.”

This was a lovely book narrated beautifully by Nadia May. The story is already well known, I think, if not from the book then by the multiple award-winning and Oscar-nominated movie, directed by Mike Newell. I saw the movie again a couple of months ago, was inspired to (finally) read the book, and now I want to see the movie again!

Four very different women disappointed by life and love, strangers to each other, decide to rent a beautiful villa in Italy together. Two are married and two are not. The two married ones, Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot were once in love with their husbands and vice versa but time and temperament have estranged them. Lotty is shy and spiritless and her husband squashes her. She has very little filter and is sometimes awkward and imprudent. She has not been an asset to his career. Rose has driven her husband away by her devotion to her church and doing good works for the poor. She coldly disapproves of him. He leaves her to herself and to her religion. She is confused by her unhappiness. Rose and Lotty are getting away from their husbands as much as they are attracted by the prospect of escaping London for beautiful Italy. Mrs. Fisher is a dried-up selfish old snob who lives in the past. Beautiful wealthy Lady Caroline is trying to escape men altogether. They all inevitably fall in love with her at first sight, much to her dismay, and won’t leave her alone. She calls them “Grabbers”. She was the most interesting of the four women, to me. Improbably nicknamed “Scrap,” She is self-absorbed, but I loved her. All she wants is solitude, but people won’t stop bothering her. Her lovely countenance hides inner bitterness, boredom, and disillusionment.

“…but it was her fate that however coldly she sent forth her words they came out sounding quite warm and agreeable. That was because she had a sympathetic and delightful voice…. Nobody in consequence ever believed they were being snubbed. It was most tiresome. And if she stared icily it did not look icy at all, because her eyes, lovely to begin with, had the added loveliness of very long, soft, dark eyelashes. No icy stare could come out of eyes like that… it got caught and lost in the soft eyelashes, and the persons stared at merely thought they were being regarded with a flattering and exquisite attentiveness. And if ever she was out of humour or definitely cross— and who would not be sometimes in such a world?—-she only looked so pathetic that people all rushed to comfort her, if possible by means of kissing. It was more than tiresome, it was maddening. Nature was determined that she should look and sound angelic. She could never be disagreeable or rude without being completely misunderstood.”

Poor lady!

One by one, by the end, all four of the unhappy women, have their lives transformed by the enchanted beauty of San Salvatore. Two marriages are restored when their husbands visit and see their wives transformed. Lady Caroline learns gratitude and sees herself with clear eyes, and finally realizes that love is a blessing, not a curse, and, perhaps, lets it into her life. Mrs. Fisher, who was thoroughly unlikeable and badly behaved for almost the whole book, learns life still holds love and value for her despite her age, starts to look ahead and not back. As they walk away from San Salvatore and the (enchanted?) villa, we hope and pray they take the enchantment with them permanently. We think they do.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 11, 2021

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021

The Pink Dress

By Anne Alexander

I don’t remember how I heard about this book. No doubt through my interest in girl’s series books. When I read all of the glowing reviews and looked around and saw how expensive it was, I couldn’t justify it but I did put an email alert on eBay so I would be informed whenever one came up for sale. Lo and behold, when one did, and I re-researched it, I saw that it was on Kindle for 9.99! There goes the once justifiably inflated price of another out-of-print book. Thank-you Amazon.

I just finished it, and I do see why people love it so. I still prefer Rosamunde du Jardin, whose stories are a little more complex, but this one really drew me in from the very beginning. Although sometimes, I grew very frustrated with how blind Sue was to her so-called friends, when she finally woke up and smelled the coffee, the resolution and climax were very satisfying. It was very realistic to how teens would think and behave back in the ’50s and probably even today. They are immature and insecure and very silly sometimes. The book had some surprises regarding her new cool boyfriend, Dave, who had quite a good character arc! In parts, it kind of reminded me of a John Hughes movie, or another favorite teen movie, Can’t Buy me Love.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 25. 2016

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

By Kate Douglas Wiggin

“Rebecca’s eyes were like faith,—”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” …Their glance was eager and full of interest, yet never satisfied; their steadfast gaze was brilliant and mysterious, and had the effect of looking directly through the obvious to something beyond, in the object, in the landscape, in you. They had never been accounted for, Rebecca’s eyes.

I loved the well-realized characters, life lessons demonstrated with a light, sometimes amusing touch, and words of wisdom. This is a great comfort read and trip back into time on par with, if not better than, L.M. Montgomery, Jean Webster, Louisa May Alcott, the Five Little Peppers and the Pollyanna series. It kept me interested from first page to last because of the quality of the writing. My only regret is the lack of any kind of sequel, unlike the previously mentioned works. It would have been lovely to see Rebecca’s continued progress into maturity and what life may hold in store for her. (Although, in truth, it is made crystal clear that her final place will be as a teacher and the wife of Mr. Aladdin, her wealthy mentor, Adam Ladd.) Still, the journey there would have been a treat to read. Although some, looking at this relationship through modern eyes, might find it inappropriate, It was written with innocence and I found it charming. The book is concluded with her path pretty much set and the financial problems that beset her family pretty well solved. It does seem to me that if not Rebecca, the story of her brother John, destined to be a doctor, could have made a wonderful continuation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 27, 2015

Mother Carey’s Chickens

By Kate Douglas Wiggin

This is the story of a wonderful single (widowed) mother raising her four children around the turn of the century. Because they are in very straitened circumstances they have to downsize. Nancy, the oldest daughter, remembers a yellow house they saw on a vacation to Maine when their father was alive where the family can live much more cheaply. Sound familiar? It was made into a Disney movie, Summer Magic.

For a while, this book is quite similar in tone and content to many other children’s books I have read from the turn of the century. It noticeably picks up around chapter 20, however. A neighbor family, The Lords, are introduced. This family is a piece of work. Henry Lord, especially, being a seriously messed up parent, to the point of tragedy. The two children are the bitter but brilliant Olive and the nerdy Cyril, who has tons of potential. As with her more famous Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, I would kill to read a sequel. Unfortunately, once again, Kate Douglas Wiggin did not oblige. The Lords are surely one of the most unique and non-stereotypical families in any literature of the time and genre.

There are several quite slapstick and delightful comedy scenes. I found myself pausing with delight and saying to myself, “Hey, this is really funny!” Among them, the resurrection of “You dirty boy”, a much-hated to the point of being a family joke, statue. Despite the family’s best efforts, it refuses to be broken so it can be disposed of. The deed is finally accomplished after they move into the yellow house, by a fall from a loft, after the initial move, despite supremely careless packing, failed to destroy it. However, Osh Popham, their friend and landlord, glues the whole mess together from “a thousand” pieces much to the family’s chagrin, and presents it to them during a solemn housewarming ceremony. The description of Nancy teaching her brothers and sisters how to pretend-faint on command and en-masse creates a hilarious picture in the mind’s eye. At her signal, this performance turned a serious and possibly weepy cliché moment into laughter instead of tears.

Mother Carey is a beautiful widow who is universally admired at first sight by all who meet her acquaintance. Yet somehow, I liked her too. Here is a rather poignant glimpse into her secret thoughts and emotions:

Was doing all that she could, she wondered as her steps
flew over the Yellow House, from attic to cellar. She could play
The piano and sing; she could speak three languages and read
Four; she had made her curtsy at two foreign courts; admiration and
Love had followed her ever since she could remember, and here
She was, a widow at forty, living in a half-deserted New England
Village, making parsnip stews for her children’s dinner. Well,
it was a time of preparation, and its rigors and self-denials must be cheerfully faced.

Summer Magic is my number one comfort movie, and it was amazing to read so many passages and scenes and dialogue that Sally Benson incorporated into the film. The book is considerably fleshed out with more characters and plots, but regrettably, only a bit where Nancy meets her future love, Tom Hamilton. Miss Benson obviously read the book very carefully and loved it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 13, 2015

An Officer and a Gentleman

by Rachel Lee

In a fit of nostalgia, I looked up a few of my old favorites. I read this a long long time ago, and it is one of my top favorite category romances. I must have read it at least 3 times. Probably more. I am amazed at the low ratings! I thought the chemistry between the two was sizzling. This one started me on a long binge of military-related romances which included Debbie Macomber’s Navy series (her best work, in my opinion) Lindsey McKenna’s Love and Glory series and Suzanne Brockman. All of these series were fantastic and when a new one came out, I was so excited! I’ve since lost interest, but it was great reading at the time. I wonder if they would hold up now?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

August 31, 2019

Passing Fancies

By Elizabeth Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield was one of my favorite traditional Regency romance authors and if I had to pick a favorite of hers, this one would be it. She really misdirects you into thinking one man will be the hero and love interest and the true love interest sneaks up on you. The romance is tender and touching.

In general, This author’s forte is non-stereotypical characters, or at least her heroes and heroines usually have a little quirk or two that makes you very fond of and invested in them. She is amazing at creating a sweet sexual tension between the love interests without anything more than a kiss. To add to the appeal of her books, many are lightly interconnected by family similar to my other favorite, the great Patricia Veryan. A while back, her books had become available on Audiobooks, and I have re-read a few of them. Sadly, they didn’t quite hold up with the passage of time. But this one, and a few others, are still among my favorites. Strangely, it is those which remain out-of-print and hard to find at a reasonable price.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

February 21, 2013

Lucy Carmichael

By Margaret Kennedy

Who would have thought small town and academic politics could be so interesting? Our heroine retreats from society to a small unimportant little institute for the arts far away from her home. She is escaping the pity of friends and strangers upon being left at the altar. She is devastated and depressed. How she finds her way back to being her charming charismatic self is the thrust of the novel. Along the way, she grows attached to her colleagues and acquaintances, as do we. They are ordinary people with full helpings of both good and bad, strengths and weaknesses. Surely even the most ordinary-seeming of people would become extra-ordinary if observed by a writer such as Ms Kennedy. Unexpected things happen in unexpected ways. One of the things I liked best about the book, besides character studies and developments was that the plot did not advance down a lazy and predictable tried and true path. The ending was excellent. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 17, 2017

The Feast

By Margaret Kennedy

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy is not a romance, romantic comedy, or a mystery or a thriller or “women’s fiction” or any other type of book I usually gravitate to. It is a novel-length character study of over 20 players. They are all gathered at a family estate turned vacation guest house on the Cornish coast at the base of a cliff. The evil, the disgusting, the pitiable, the contemptible, the good, the innocent, the admirable, the irritating, the heroic, the strong and the weak are all dissected and revealed with a surgeon’s expertise.


We know from the beginning that a portion of the 23 now lies crushed to death by the fallen cliff. By the end, we know that the dead are not innocent victims of chance. They were the authors of their fate. As were those who were spared. The choice they made to attend “the feast” sprang from some goodness within them. It is beautifully written with many beautiful descriptions and thought-provoking passages.
Describing the sadness and isolation of one of the characters towards the end of the book, Margaret Kennedy writes,

This was the second evening she would spend all alone up here, shut in with her troubles, while the light sank away….Dusk, in this room, had no soft and lingering tints; it was merely the failure, the death of day. And the silence of this room had no peace, no repose. It was sterile and empty.

I wish I had read this on Kindle because of its highlighting capabilities and ability to search and find certain parts about certain people. This is one of those books that one can reread again and again and find more meaning and insight each time. I learned of this book a couple of years ago thanks to the wonderful blog, http://anotherlookbook.com/ which seeks to uncover and restore some of the “really-good-but-almost-entirely-forgotten books that “languish on library book shelves for decades” or “yard sales after someone’s grandma passes away.” But fair warning: do not visit this website unless you have a couple of hours to spare.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

September 8, 2019

The Sherwood Ring

By Elizabeth Marie Pope

“A gentleman can hardly continue to sit,’ he explained, in his serenest and most level voice, ‘when he asks a very remarkable young lady to do him the honor of marrying him. And – ‘he somehow contrived to grin at me wickedly, ‘I usually get what I want, Miss Grahame,’ he added, and pitched over in a tangled heap on the floor.”

This was a lovely light read involving friendly helpful ghosts and 3 charming love stories. I would have been so captivated had I read this as a young teen. I was pretty captivated as an adult. I would recommend this for any romantic teen who loves innocent love stories and history. Peaceable Sherwood was a wonderful character who provided a good portion of the gentle humor in this tale. He reminded me of Geoffrey Delavale in Patricia Veryan’s Journey to Enchantment

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 27, 2019