Bloomsbury Girls

Vivien had lost count of the number of times young female students and staff from the surrounding universities and museums had come into the shop asking for certain women authors, only to be met with an unexpected lack of success. Only Agatha Christie, Nancy Mitford, and Daphne du Maurier could reliably be found on the shelves, mostly because they continued to produce and sell and were therefore harder to ignore.

Bloomsbury Girls was a very pleasant read with a great ending but I didn’t like it as much as The Jane Austen Society. I think that maybe the small village bucolic setting gave me a Deja Vue nostalgia that called up so many gentle English countryside novels and cozy mysteries that I have read over the years. The very insularity appealed to me for whatever reason. Of course, the ties to Jane Austen and the shades of her novels in the characters and their relationships were also a plus.

This one is set in bustling post-war London. This is probably an advantage over JAS for most readers, and I was looking forward to the change of scene as well. It centers around 3 underestimated women working in a new, used, and collectible bookstore run by men. At Bloomsbury Books Daphne DuMaurier is referred to as “that romance writer.” Beautiful Vivien, whose fiance was killed in WWII is smarter, more talented, and more business-minded than all of the men in higher positions, but since she is a woman, she doesn’t get the opportunity to enact her progressive ideas. Until she does. Grace is Vivien’s friend and the secretary to the “shaky but iron-fisted” manager of the bookstore with his 51 inflexible rules. She sympathizes with Vivien, but she is a peacekeeper, not a rabble-rouser. She is trapped in a bad and emotionally abusive marriage, with seemingly no way out. And last but not least, we have Evie Stone, a favorite character from The Jane Austen Society. Evie is one of the first women graduates of Cambridge but has been denied a career in academia because of sexism and the political “old boy system”. She takes a job organizing and cataloging the huge and constantly growing rare books section of Bloomsbury books. But she has an ulterior motive. Thanks to her brilliant work with Jane Austen’s family library, she knows there is a book there somewhere that she has to find. Her ultimate dream is to see that long-forgotten and neglected works by women authors of the past are brought to light and properly recognized.

Evie often found herself frustrated by the discrepancy between the archival preservation of male writing and that of their female counterparts—how every sketch of a twig that [famed 18thc. Botanist] John Loudon had ever even whimsically composed was being carefully safeguarded by several British museums, while an entire novel by his wife had become only a minor footnote in the record of her husband’s work.

Real Life historical figures in the book world of the day all play a part in how the women achieve their dreams, with an assist from another important (fictional) character from The Jane Austen Society. And it is pretty spectacular how the three women escape from the bonds of tradition, sexism, and stagnation. It’s pretty clear that Natalie Jenner was inspired by real-life events and women who moved the needle forward for female empowerment. Towards the end, the series of events which by cause and surprising effect upend the bookstore, the opportunities for our heroines, and the academic establishment itself is tightly woven and immensely satisfying. But getting to that end was at times a bit too slow-moving and meandering, which the fast-paced and well-constructed last quarter of the book only highlighted.

Of course, I rarely read a book that doesn’t have at least a little romance. And two of the three stories were charming in that regard. The third started out very promisingly but was stymied by the irritating character traits and bad behavior of the couple. Although I wasn’t bowled over by the book as a whole, many aspects kept my interest going, and the way it all ended made up for most of the more frustrating aspects.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

September 17, 2022

The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner

And the society itself sounded like a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid, and one Hollywood movie star.

I really really like this one. I started it on Audible read by Richard Armitage and finished it on Kindle. As many have pointed out, it has a lot in common with a book that really spoke to me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. England recovering from the devastation of WWII…an outsider welcomed into a small community of the like-minded… gentle romances…bookish conversations. It also reminded me of the work of the 20th-century English novelist, D. E. Stevenson. And this one has a Hollywood Movie Star and Jane Austen!

Winding through the story of the diverse group of society members are shades of some of the plots and characters from Jane Austen’s novels. Particularly PersuasionEmma, and a cad straight out of Sense and Sensibility. Or is it Mansfield Park? Or Pride and Prejudice? Or Northanger Abbey?)
The novel is character-driven, but the characters would probably not be all that interesting to many people. But I felt like I was drawn in and a part of their small world. I cared about them and their sufferings, secrets, and fates. I was invested in their mission to save Jane Austen’s house and the library, which was full of secret priceless treasures revealed thanks to a scholarly teenage housemaid. I was anxious and concerned because their chances of success looked pretty slim at times. Then we are given hope in a surprise twist I did not see coming.

Like many, I struggled to understand “the vote” of the society regarding how to advise one of their members. But I think it had something to do with this perspective from Mimi, the Hollywood star.

“…we are lucky if we get to live in places where so many people care—the trick is understanding why they care. Here, what I love, is that you care because you have a history together. You have known each other’s parents and grandparents…In Hollywood, it’s quite the opposite. Everyone comes there to start new and makes up a history—…Anyway, in a town where no one even knows your real name, let alone where you come from, what is tethering you to anything? What is there to keep you on the ground?

But I still didn’t like it, agree with it, or really fully understand it.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Jane Austen that in this book, so closely aligned with that great author, it all works out in the end. And I will add that the epilogue was everything an epilogue should be. Even though this is a fictional treatment of a real Society, the Knight Family, their home, and Chawton, it was loosely tethered enough to reality that I learned a lot.
And I agree with Adeline about Emma.
**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 19, 2022

The Secret Quest (Judy Bolton # 33)

By Margaret Sutton

Always there was some bright hope there, like the sun itself, lighting the way. Mysteries would puzzle Judy for a time and then be solved…But always the quest would go on.

Still in Washington D.C., Judy and Honey, who is on “vacation” from her job as a fabric designer, get involved in industrial espionage involving solar energy-fueled rockets. After picking up the wrong suitcase at the airport the girls pursue the owners, two old-fashioned elderly ladies to return it and get Honey’s clothes back. Inside the old ladies’ suitcase is an antique coffee mill with some mysterious diagrams hidden inside. Peter recognizes something fishy is going on. Also fishy is Honey thinking she saw a shifty new co-worker with the ladies. We find out that Honey’s career might be in jeopardy. Finally, they figure out that the sisters have returned to their home near Roulsville with Honey’s suitcase.

But before they cut short their D.C. trip to follow them, they run around Washington and, at The Smithsonian, they meet a young solar scientist that Honey is attracted to (She is irritated with Horace), go to a very progressive Unitarian Church (The sermon is about the sun-worshiping Akhenaten, the first monotheist), and are waylaid by President Kennedy and Jackie’s (“Isn’t she beautiful?”) motorcade. On the way home, they visit Gettysburg, where they have to lure the ever-present Blackberry out of a cannon with some sardines which Judy just happens to have handy. When they get home they find Honey’s workplace on fire and learn that Horace has gotten attacked and beaten up. Goodness!

When they get to the big old isolated house of the elderly sisters, Dorcus and Violetta Jewel, they are not exactly welcomed with open arms. The old ladies are being victimized by their nephew who is an imposter, of course. Because their real nephew is the shy nice scientist, Henry Jewel, whom they met in D.C. This guy is on the F.B.I.’s 10 most wanted list! After convincing the women that the creepy guy upstairs is not their nephew, outsmarting him, and narrowly avoiding disaster (violent poltergeists, getting shot, and drowning) everything works out. In the end, the Jewel family is re-united, the scientific diagrams are safe in the hands of our government, Honey’s job is secure, and she is “almost” engaged to Horace. Peter gets to work from home and is put in charge of rounding up the gang responsible for all of the mayhem, which, surprise, includes Honey’s scary rival at work.

This one had some positive aspects but it kind of made my head hurt. I liked that some of the characters from the last mystery (The Whispered Watchword) were seamlessly incorporated into this one. There was lots of science and history which I liked, we briefly meet up with Lois and Lorraine back in Roulsville, the Horace/Honey courtship was advanced a bit, and the wrap-up at the end was nice. The characters were well developed. However, there were too many crazy coincidences. Four men (five if you count the imposter) in or talked about in the story had the same name, which was confusing. There were a lot of perplexing and nonsensical decisions made and developments that occur.

After New York City, a cross-country road trip to Yellowstone Park, and two books set in Washington D.C., I hope we can just stay home for our next adventure, The Puzzle in the Pond.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 8, 2022

The Whispered Watchword (Judy Bolton #32)

By Margaret Sutton

Judy, Peter, and Blackberry are in Washington D.C. and get involved with investigating the mob. Since Peter got shot in a previous book, he is there for a refresher course and brings along Judy and for some reason, Blackberry. While there, he is assigned to investigate a crime syndicate ring. The manager of the hotel they are staying at is being threatened into paying protection money. If he doesn’t pay, his little daughter will be kidnapped and even killed. He does not know where to turn as he refuses to give in to the mob, but will not go to the FBI or the police because he fears reprisals. To make matters worse, his own relatives are involved with the mob unbeknownst to him. A senator who is fighting for tougher crime laws is also in danger. Yikes. To add to Judy’s concerns, Blackberry is missing from their motel room. There is a lot going on in this one. (Blackberry is Judy’s cat )

This one gets pretty messy. I will say that Margaret does a good job of incorporating the mystery with an educational tour of the Capitol for her young readers as well as providing a cautionary tale on joining a crime syndicate. I loved Judy’s musings on freedom and patriotism. We also spend a lot of time in the less savory parts of our nation’s capital. The middle chapters are taken up with Judy being led around in circles by her sketchy new “friend” Liz who tells her that her husband is an FBI agent when he is really working for the mob and related to Mr. Rocklin, the hotel manager. Liz is a confused 17-year-old who can’t decide between protecting her stupid husband or doing the right thing and being straight with Judy about what is going on. I struggled with Liz and what her game was.

To make a long story short, Judy is imprisoned in an abandoned building (again!) while rescuing Rosita, Mr. Rocklin’s 8-year-old daughter from a violent death. Blackberry, himself kidnapped by the mob, is found safe and sound making himself at home in the Capitol building basement ridding it of its mice problem. Judy cracks several mysteries in this one.

There were some weird things about this one that I could not overlook.

Why did Mr. Rocklin think Blackberry was a warning from the Mob when his motel allowed cats?

Why did Peter and Judy even bring Blackberry on a long car trip to Washington? Is it any wonder something bad happened to him?

Why did Walter Krut, one of the head mobsters, think Blackberry’s collar was made of solid gold? (He didn’t, but I only figured this out after a careful re-read.)

After getting led astray by Liz (another problem) Judy gets an offensive and sanctimonious lecture from one of Peter’s colleagues (and tour guide) on her wifely duties being married to a G-man (with Pamphlet!). Nope. Just nope.

Judy, lost and driving on the mean streets of D.C. in the pouring rain, hails another passing car to ask for directions. While driving. With her windows rolled up. Successfully.

The victimized Rocklin family was not very sympathetic. In fact, they were kind of hateful. and that especially includes Liz’s husband Charlie who was a wet noodle. I don’t believe for a minute that he was going to go back to rescue Rosita, despite what he told Liz.

Judy uses a childhood yell that only Peter would recognize to call for help when she hears a siren outside the abandoned house. “Hip deminiga folliga sick de hump de lolliga yoo hoo!” Luckily Peter is with them and answers in kind. I bet his FBI buddies got a real kick out of that.

The FBI intercepts an attack on the senator’s life mid-speech. (Shades of The Manchurian Candidate!) Right when he was pulling out a deadly fountain pen. (Poison dart? It couldn’t have been a very high-caliber firearm. Or maybe he was going to scribble him to death.)

Once Rosita is rescued, her father refused to press charges against his cousin by marriage for her kidnapping and attempted murder. WTF? Is he insane!?

So while the bones of the story made sense and were interesting a lot of the details did not hold water and it was distracting and bothersome. The problems could have been fixed easily. They were not major holes. I feel like Margaret was let down by her editor. On to The Secret Quest!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 17. 2022

Katherine’s Marriage

by D. E. Stevenson

Katherine’s Marriage was a good and worthy sequel to Katherine Wentworth, picking right up with Katherine and Alec on their honeymoon. In a cave. A very nice cave, but still. I really wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read the first one and loved it as I did. The first couple of chapters kind of got on my last nerve with Alec and “the brownie.” When all was said and done, the only interest for me was continuing my acquaintance with characters that had so engaged me. And unfortunately, Katherine, at times, is a bit of a wet noodle here in contrast to the first book.

After their blissful honeymoon, in which we meet the laird, MacAslan, and his daughter, Phil, which apparently feature in one or two other books by D.E. Stevenson, the newlyweds are confronted with a few challenges. First of All, Alec’s neurotic and manipulative sister, who they thought had been neatly dispatched to Europe and then Australia, returns like Carrie from the Grave. She is horrified that her brother is married when she expected to return to her place in his house dominating his life. Unlike Katherine, who seems to have lost some of her charm and personality, Zilla hasn’t changed a bit. She returns in all her dark and hateful glory. How she is dealt with yields some entertaining chapters and tense moments. No sooner than that is solved than Simon, Katherine’s usually lovely 16-year-old stepson suffers a personality transplant similar to what happened in the first book. When we get to the bottom of that, the third and last crisis rears its head: Sir Mortimer Wentworth, Simon’s tyrannical grandfather with an anger management problem, summons Simon to scary Limbourne. He is not on his deathbed, but has had a health scare, which has caused him to re-evaluate his relationships for ill or good. There are some shenanigans with a new will, which is always good value in a rich English aristocratic family story.

The book ends on a happy hopeful note albeit a bit abruptly with a bit of an interesting drama left on the horizon. We also wonder what the future holds for Simon and Phil. And what about the Limoge jug in the first chapters? And what about Lance and Anthea? I would have read a third book. At the end of the story, Katherine is pillow-talking with Alec, “We’ve been married for sixteen weeks; I wonder what we shall feel like when we’ve been married for sixteen years.” It’s a rhetorical question. With a couple this nice, sensible, and devoted to each other, there is no doubt whatsoever. **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 4, 2022

Katherine Wentworth

by D. E. Stevenson

I realised that I was worn out in body and spirit with the strain of struggling along by myself, coping with the children and trying to make ends meet on an inadequate income. I had prided myself upon my independence and somehow or other I had managed . . . but now I began to wonder whether independence was so important. Perhaps one could pay too highly for it. Here, in this peaceful spot, with Mrs. MacRam to provide a firm cushion to lean upon, I gradually began to feel like a different creature. I felt years younger, with a returning zest for life—as one sometimes does when convalescent after a long illness. Colours looked brighter, food tasted delicious and every day was a pleasure.

Well, it’s a tie. This book is tied for my favorite D. E. Stevenson so far with Miss Buncle’s Book or the 4th in the Miss Buncle series, The Four Graces. But this is very different from the Buncle books. While those were clever and gentle satires of English country life and just funny, there wasn’t much funny or quirky about this one. It is a lovely family drama reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s best. It is about both the consequences of freedom and independence versus being “chained up” and, sort of conversely, the importance love and sharing one’s burdens.

Katherine Wentworth is a 27-year-old widow raising her 16-year-old stepson, Simon, and her two own young twins. Although a very happy “whole family” they struggle financially. We learn that her beloved late husband, Gerald, was from a very wealthy titled family but was cast off when he refused to fall in with his father’s plans for his future and made his own way after going to Oxford and later becoming a professor. To add to those sins, as a young man, he married an Italian girl who later died in childbirth. Katherine has had nothing to do with his family and vice versa. Meanwhile, she meets a former school acquaintance, the neurotic shallow Zilla who has a very nice and attractive brother. Despite being independently wealthy, Alec works as a successful lawyer much to his sister’s frustration. She is very possessive and manipulative and wants him constantly at her beck and call. In spite of Zilla, Alec and Katherine become good friends. At the end of Part One, Zilla offers Katherine, who sorely needs a care-free vacation, her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland for the summer. And much to my wonderment, as I went into this book cold, Simon is contacted by his grandfather and summoned to his father’s family’s estate, Limbourne. It seems the heir is dead, and the estate and title will eventually pass to Simon. As Simon says, He wants to make sure I “don’t eat peas with my knife.”

**Some Spoilers**

Part two takes place at Limbourne. Simon refuses to go without his “Mums,” Katharine. Although they are welcomed courteously and treated well on the surface, Katherine and Simon know it is not for their own sakes, but because they have no other choice. The estate is entailed and Simon will inherit it no matter how the family feels about it. Yet, because Simon is an awesome kid, the tyrannical and intimidating grandfather genuinely likes and approves of Simon. Katharine is afraid. There is something not quite right with the family at Limbourne. There is something vaguely sinister and uncomfortable about the place.

Like everything else at Limbourne, the rose-garden was a model of tidiness. There were grass paths between the beds—paths of velvet smoothness—and there was not a weed to be seen. I thought suddenly of my daughter and her remark: ‘Funny sort of garden with no daisies!’ She would think this a very funny sort of garden, there was no doubt of that. The roses grew in orderly array, each little bush perfect in shape, bearing perfect blooms. I asked Medlam how he managed to attain such perfection and he explained that there was a nursery behind the beech hedge so that any bush which was not perfect could be replaced. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it, ma’am?’ said Medlam, looking round with complacency. ‘It’s the best rose-garden in the county.’ It was beautiful of course—roses are always beautiful—but to my mind it was too tidy and neat. The roses did not look happy; perhaps they were aware that if they failed in their duty to their owner they would be rooted out, thrown on the rubbish heap, and replaced by another rose-bush from the nursery garden behind the tall beech hedge…. He escorted me through a gate in the hedge. Here there were more roses, dozens and dozens of little bushes, their exquisite flowers filling the air with fragrance. There were red and white and pink and yellow roses in prodigal confusion. ‘I’m afraid it isn’t very tidy, ma’am,’ said Medlam apologetically. ‘It isn’t really for show, you see. We just plants them here temporary until they’re wanted.’ ‘I like it,’ I said. ‘The roses here look natural and happy and their scent is far sweeter.’ Medlam did not deign to reply to this piece of nonsense.

A Metaphor for Limbourne and its denizens

His grandfather wants to keep Simon at Limbourne and under his power. Simon has a good head on his shoulders and is devoted to Katharine and his half-siblings but will he be seduced by the wealth and advantages his Grandfather offers?


Part 3 takes place at the rustic cottage in Scotland where Katherine is spending the summer with her 2 young children. She has reluctantly left Simon on his own to spend another week with his newfound family. He is happy and excited to do so. Much to her surprise, Alec has come to stay nearby as well, and she is not sure how she feels about that. One night, without warning, Simon shows up ahead of time and he is behaving strangely and disturbingly. He claims everything is fine but Katherine knows better. What the hell happened? **End Spoilers**


This was so good. I loved the lovely Katherine and her family with their strength and wholesomeness matched up against their wealthy and outwardly nice but inwardly corrupted relatives. The inevitable romance turned surprisingly tender and touching. I sighed. I am just starting the sequel now and am anxious to read if we visit Limbourne again. Can this family be saved? This book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 22, 2022

Discovery at the Dragon’s Mouth (Judy Bolton # 31)

Great galloping goldfish! Wait until the chief hears that it was you who smelled out these–” “the word is birds,” Judy put in quickly.

-Peter to Judy after the bad guys have been captured-

Judy and Peter are going to Washington so Peter can take a required refresher course for his career with the FBI and they have rented out their farmhouse to a couple taking care of their nephew. We learn that little Kevin was abandoned by his parents and that his father is wanted for questioning about a bank robbery in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Peter and Judy’s plans fall through and since her house has been let out, Judy and Honey decide to take a vacation together. To make a long story short, they end up going to Yellowstone National Park to return a package to the “perfectly stunning young man” who gave it to Judy by mistake. We follow Judy across the United States in order to get to “The Dragon’s Mouth” an attraction in Yellowstone National Park where Mr. Nogard was headed. Despite Honey’s crush on him, the reader senses that not all is on the up and up with the “dreamy” Mr. Nogard especially when Judy realized that “Nogard” is “Dragon” spelled backward.

I enjoyed this one. I liked the trip to Niagra Falls, Canada, and across my old home state of Michigan to get to Muskegon to take a ferry across to Wisconsin and on to Yellowstone. Along the way, they get lost driving around Mount Rushmore and things get pretty tense. But not half as tense as things get once they get to Yellowstone. The mysterious package gets stolen by a bear and Honey disappears. Judy sticks her foot in a hot spring and sprains her ankle and gets burned. They both end up captured by part of a bank-robbing gang (the Dragons) and Judy’s car is stolen. Judy gets knocked out cold by a window shade breaking a window to escape. Meanwhile, Peter is alerted by something Judy said in a postcard that she is unknowingly on the trail of the same bank robbers the FBI is after, and he hotfoots it to the park to meet her.

The last chapter is very satisfying as every little loose end is tied up and explained credibly. Except for a bit about static electricity which I won’t go into but believe me is batshit crazy. A very sweet and clever touch was the explanation of why Kevin’s dad asked him to put a candy heart inside his toy stuffed bear. Kevin’s parents turn out to be victims of the gang and he was not abandoned but left in a cabin to keep him safe. It turns out Judy’s ankle was infected and she had a fever during the final chapters which is a bit of a relief to know because she was a bit slow on the uptake near the end of the adventure. Honey learns that “Handsome is as handsome does”, and is happily reunited with Horace. Honey showed a lot of gumption throughout this mystery and adventure. She was an equal partner to Judy and even took the lead at least once.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 16, 2022

These Old Shades

“Dear Edward has given Fanny a chocolate-coloured coach with pale blue cushions. The wheat is picked out in blue.” He held the sheet at arm’s length. “It seems strange, but no doubt Fanny is right. I have not been in England for such a time…Ah, I beg her pardon. You will be relieved to hear, my dear Hugh, that the wheat still grows as it ever did. The wheels are picked out in blue.”

–The Duke of Avon, reading a letter aloud from his sister Fanny

This was a reread on Audible of a book I’ve read so many times I know a lot of it by heart, even though it’s probably been more than 2 decades since my last reading. The quote above, I remember, was when I read the book for the first time, my emotions went from enjoyment and anticipation to sheer delight. Although the incurably romantic and fun story still holds up, it suffers from the narration. Cornelius Garrett does not do well interpreting the suave, omniscient, and mordant Duke of Avon. Justin Alistair is an iconic character in the romance world, upon which many many subsequent romantic heroes by many other authors has been based over the years. I don’t think Mr. Garrett understood his character. He plays him in a voice that is too high-pitched and is sometimes bombastic and querulous. There is little nuance and little comic timing. In my own mind, I hear Avon’s voice as somewhat affected but not effeminate. I hear the unhurried, dry, and quiet tones of the late great Alan Rickman. Cornelius Garrett is no Alan Rickman.

That off my chest, although I was entertained, and enjoyed revisiting one of my old-time favorites, I wasn’t as charmed and admiring of Leonie this time around. Her devotion to “Monseigneur” and her impish spirited antics (“Egad, you wildcat!”) after restored to her true female self were a little much. But the plot, the dialogue, and all of the other characters, including Justin Alastair, as written, if not played, were as entertaining as always. It is no wonder that so many aspects of the book have been so copied, even to this day, almost 100 years later.

Two oft-criticized aspects of the book are the age gap between Justin and Leonie (40 vs. 20) and the other is the emphasis of birth over breeding in the determination of character. As far as the age gap, I do not have a problem with it. It is not all that much more than Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Bogie was 45 and Bacall was 20 when they met. Cary Grant was 59 and Audrey Hepburn was 25 years younger when they starred together in Charade. As far as the importance of genetics in the determination of character, the criticism hits home a bit more strongly. Genetics is certainly a factor, but it doesn’t trump everything. Despite 20 years of being raised as a peasant, we are told Leonie never exhibits any coarseness. And conversely, in regards to the peasant with whom she was exchanged at birth, despite being raised as an aristocrat, he is awkward in society and wants nothing more than to be a farmer. Of course in my early readings of this book, I didn’t think a thing about it. And you know, some difference between the two can be explained by the behavior of both sets of parents who knew the truth. But I mustn’t digress.

These Old Shades is a most entertaining read. It has it all: romance, wit, comedy, adventure, suspense, cheer-worthy moments, triumph, and emotion. I love the descriptions of the fashions and toilettes, the glitterati, both fictional and real, and the settings. Although it’s too much to ask any book to recapture the joy it may have first brought once upon a time, it’s good to revisit books that once brought that joy. **5 stars, of course.**

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 2, 2022

The Phantom Friend (Judy Bolton #30)

By Margaret Sutton

“Oh dear! wailed Clarissa. “I look terrible. My hair is dull. My hair is drab….”

“Turn her off, somebody!” Pauline interrupted. “We’ve heard that record before.”

It kills me to give a Judy Bolton book less than 3 stars but this one was not only flawed but “dull and drab.” Sorry! Judy is still in New York with Irene after their last adventure sorting out the scary Lake family and they have been joined by their friend Pauline Faulkner and another girl at Radio City Music Hall. They are going to tour a TV studio and watch Irene’s local variety show which seems to owe a lot to the old Shirley Temple’s Storybook TV series. They meet the naive and tiresome Clarissa Valentine, an aspiring actress from West Virginia, who wants to return home after not making it in New York City. Her money for her ticket is stolen by a cashier and the girls give her money to go back home. When she disappears from the group during the show, it is suspected that it was all a big scam to get their money. During the tour of the TV studio, the girls are victimized by Subliminal Advertising, and the reader is victimized by a never-ending diatribe on its dangers. Judy and Clarissa constantly bewail their dull and drab hair and can’t stop thinking about Golden Hair Wash. Somehow, a con man who specializes in kidnapping people and scamming churches out of their money gets involved in the story. Clarissa gets kidnapped because she is mistaken for a famous guest actress on Irene’s show and the actress ends up in the hospital and Peter gets shot. It’s all a big muddle and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Especially when Clarissa with her kidnappers posing as her mother and father end up at a surprise party in Judy’s house in Dry Brook Hollow. I might have been generous and given it 3 stars but Judy’s out of character swanning around as if in a trance talking about her nightmares and her dull and drab hair just got on my last nerve. Pauline Faulkner with her cynical outlook and sarcastic remarks was my favorite character in this one.

According to her daughter, Lindsey Stroh, Margaret used Vance Packard’s milestone book, The Hidden Persuaders as research, and apparently it really got to her. She wasn’t alone as subliminal advertising and mind control concerned a lot of people in the 50s and 60s. But it is called “as dangerous as an atom bomb” several times which is way over the top. Judy and Clarissa’s overreaction to the commercial for Golden Hair Wash which contained subliminal tactics overshadowed the mystery and adventure and even Peter ending up in the hospital (again) and in trouble with his boss. Unlike much of her laudable social commentary, it is not subtle and not integrated smoothly into the plot. It’s as if Margaret felt compelled to warn her young readers about mind control, but by the time she got back to writing a Judy Bolton story, it was too late.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

February 27, 2022

Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe

By Debbie Johnson

As sweet and pleasant as this was, I don’t think the style of this author is for me. I listened to this on Audible and am not sure how much this influenced my lack of enthusiasm. I was drawn in by the narrator’s voice and charming accent at first, but after about halfway through it started to get on my nerves. On the surface, this seemed very reminiscent of a Rosamunde Pilcher, D.E. Stevenson, or Marcia Willett at first.

Laura, a young widow with a young teen daughter and a younger son finds herself in need of some income. She sees an advertisement and writes a long letter to the owner of the Comfort Food Cafe in Dorset and is offered a job there for the summer. She is still grieving, we are told and told, the sudden death of her husband about 2 years prior. He was her childhood sweetheart and they were married for 14 years. But she didn’t come across as still devastated. She seemed pretty chipper, actually. (Maybe it was the narrator?) Her daughter Lizzie is a typical teen girl with no more brattiness or rebelliousness than is normal for a girl that age. She seemed like a pretty nice kid. The son, Nathan is pretty much a nonentity.

She settles in smoothly to her job with the quirky ex-hippie owner, Cherie, and her merry band of quirky customers who are like family. She meets cute with a very nice and sexy Veterinarian who looks like a “young Harrison Ford” and who goes around shirtless a lot. Romance ensues. The meet-cute involves underwear flying out of her suitcase and landing on his head. It was cute but at least two of my favorite authors would have created laugh-out-loud comedy out of the situation. Two bad things happen near the end, but in one case, it leads to opportunity, not tragedy, and the other is foreshadowed pretty expressly. It was too bad so sad, but, not heartrending. Laura goes out on a limb and organizes a reunion for two people who haven’t seen each other in 50 years. She is very nervous about it but it all goes fine.

In the end, to her children’s and her new friends’ and her new boyfriend’s dismay she decides to go back to Manchester at the end of the summer as planned for no good reason. That was the one occurrence in the book that really stirred my feelings. Unfortunately, that feeling was disgust. I was so turned off by her senseless decision to leave her godsend of a situation to go back home, that I was totally unmoved by the inevitable change of mind and happy ending.

This book is an amiable diversion with a shadow or two here and there that we are told about. There is very little tension, suspense, or anticipation. It’s smooth going, but I guess I prefer my fiction with more peaks and valleys, hilarity, and tears. But you know, you get what you are promised, “comfort food”, and there is certainly a place for that. But not for me, at least not at this time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2022