Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

The process of growing from child to adult is always fascinating. Change is by its nature uncomfortable in difficult. People frequently try to keep their habits the same. Yet, childhood cannot last physically, mentally, socially, philosophically or spiritually. Young ones are constantly prodded to change by changing surroundings and expectations. Some change for the better; others become rotten and fall off the vine. Rose shows a lovely example of a graceful journey from childhood to adulthood that many could copy to their benefit. On another note this book feels so familiar in tone, style and language that I find it hard to comprehend that is was written and published over 140 years ago. I guess great books stand the test of time because they feel universal. Be sure to first read Eight Cousins to fully enjoy this novel.

Rose and Phebe return to from their years abroad in Europe traveling alongside Uncle Alec. Both have grown in manner and intelligence while away from Rose’s seven cousins. Phebe has blossomed into an astounding singer and Rose has acquired expanded ideas about female independence and autonomy. In Europe, Rose decided to devote her life and inherited family fortune to charity. The idea of her squandering her fortune in this way instead of keeping it in the family by marrying one of the elder cousins frightens the rest of the family. Rose is appalled by this disrespect towards her own free will instead deciding not to immediately commit or entertain the idea of marriage. This mildly upsets the family who are taken aback by this young independent woman. Archie, who the Aunts had assumed would marry Rose, becomes smitten with Phebe after just one song. Later on Archie’s affection causes a controversy among the Aunts. To think that the eldest cousin would sully the family name by marrying a woman from the poor house. The family is back together for better or worse. If you wait for spring time, you will see Rose in Bloom.

 

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/rose-in-bloom-by-louisa-may-alcott/

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2804

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Swamp Island by Mildred A. Wirt (1947)

Being out in the swamp reminds me of the overused political phrase “drain the swamp”. Others have written on this subject but I will trespass on it again. It remains true that swamps covered large swaths of the eastern United States before American expanded and those swamps were drained for agriculture and personal gain at the expense of plants, animals and natural ecosystem. The swamp was here first; the unnatural suburbs and farmland appeared second. All smart-alecks remember to “flood the farmland” instead of “draining the swamp”. Or you could just grow up and not parse trivial, obscure political references. I bet Penny Parker wasn’t musing upon political phraseology while quietly paddling through the swamp.

Penny and Louise, who had rented a small dingy, paddle out into the swamp to collect swamp flowers. Penny going ashore accidentally lets Bones, Louise’s dog, run off leash into the swamp. While searching for the dog, they chance upon two men talking suspiciously. When they notice the girls, they threaten the two high schooler with guns to stay away. Unable to look more for Louise’s dog, the girls return to Riverview dejected. Will Louise ever see her dog again? At home Penny learns that a convict has escaped and is rumored to be heading back to Riverview. He had stolen fifty thousand dollars from a local bank and though charged with the crime the money had never been found. Penny wonders if one of the suspicious swamp men is the recently escaped convict. Rent a dingy and push off towards Swamp Island.

 

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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35083

Signal in the Dark by Mildred A. Wirt (1946)

The publishing industry is rough these days. Newspapers profits are spilling like water through publishers hands and many papers have been forced to close or layoff staff. Looking back on former ages of newspaper popularity make bygone eras seem like paradises in contrast with current difficulties. This Penny Parker mystery illuminates the difficulties of publishing a paper in the average American town 70 years ago. A journalist fired over investigative reporting that exposes his boss and a local paper struggling to retain talented writers corrupt that rosy picture. Maybe the news industry has always been a frenetic, cutthroat business with more losers than winners. One wonders which era was more stable for publishers.

The ever curious and adventurous Penny Parker is pushed into another fast paced Riverview mystery. Convincing her father, a local newspaper publisher, to allow her to work in the newsroom Penny is immediately confronted with the exciting but tiring life of the professional reporter.  Staying late to finish her copy she is called to report on explosions at a local chemical plant. While interviewing plant employees she and her colleague are confused with the saboteur because the criminal and Salt Summers, the Riverview Star’s ace photographer, were wearing similar coats. A mob of workers descend upon him and Penny as they pursue the real criminal. Fearing that Salt’s camera and pictures will be broken by the mob Penny stows them in the next available spot, the open window of a passing car. Noting the license plate as the car drives away she proceeds with a policeman to Salt’s aid. The next day Riverview Star has great first hand information but the photos are lost. Where are the photos and who sabotaged the chemical plant? Turn off the lights and wait for a Signal in the Dark.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34850

The Woman of Mystery by Maurice Leblanc (1916)

One of the hardest feats that an author can accomplish is not allowing the reader to skip ahead to the end. I don’t mean physically; the annoyed reader can flip to the final chapter at any point. There is no reader comprehension test that unlocks each successive chapter. No, the author must simultaneously convey that the end is worth waiting for while not ruining it.  The end must be the only possible option, an inevitable conclusion, that the reader could never have dreamed up independently. That is a large weight for mere words to bear. Sometimes the plot is so original that the ending feels flippant and irrelevant. Other times the plot is engaging but the ending becomes so fixed and clear ahead of time that the reader is forced to leave early from boredom. Maurice “Mo’ Mystery” Leblanc has the knitters gift. The ability to dangle many different yarns in front of the audience before at the very last moment crafting them into a nice fashionable story.

Paul Delrose embarks on a WWI spy thriller like no other. The entire time you keep asking: how can all these characters be in two places at the same time? His journey begins with his marriage to Elisabeth as rumors of a French-German war start brewing. The happy couple is innocently decides to marry now. They wonder who would want war in these happy times. The pairs positive outlook, tinted by the recent marriage, blinds them to war until it has snuck up behind and jumped them. A depressed Paul heads off to the front lines to fight for France with lingering concerns about his country and his recent marriage corrupting his thoughts. Meanwhile, a confused Elisabeth stays in her families large castle near the French-German border against Paul’s wishes to clear the name of her mother. What has her mother, who died when she was young, been accused of? Paul recognized her in a family portrait and is convinced that she is the same woman who murdered his father. Brush up on your French and search for The Woman of Mystery.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34931

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/the-woman-of-mystery-by-maurice-leblanc/

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott ( 1875)

Uncle Mac may be the greatest exponent of practical philosophy for children. His philosophies are practical and all eight cousins benefited mightily by his presence. Novel ideas such as exercise and food as medicine dot the pages of this book. These small crumbs of advice sweeten a rollicking story in the perfect way, not too sugary. I wish I had internalized this advice as a young child. Life would have been easier.

Twelve year old Rose Campbell’s life has gone from happy to tragic. The death of her father, her only remaining parent, puts her in an uncontrollably gloomy mood. She muddles around the “Aunt House”, a house where many of her aunts live, without any verve or energy for life. Her dad was everything to her and now life seems to drag. Along comes her Uncle Mac determined to care for this poor child and teach her the ways of the world. His simple, real world advice endears him to her immediately. There father-daughter relationship blossoms as they both go to extreme lengths to make the other happy. In time, she gains more friends quickly growing chummy with the merry band of seven male cousins who live nearby. They take her on adventures and she mediates their feuds. Her dearest friend, Phebe, is ever dependable and supportive. In short, she learns to run, laugh and be happy again by taking Uncle Mac’s miracle course. The once sickly child now explores the world with vibrant curiosity. Don’t be shy; introduce yourself to the Eight Cousins.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2726

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The Green Jacket by Jennette Lee (1917)

The desire to be personally invisible is not a popular one. I have not conducted studies but it seems people try to reach the limelight more than they try to flee it. One wonders if invisible people, not people who are visually invisible but those that blend in and are overlooked, purposely shun attention or if they take no energy towards reaching the spotlight.

In The Green Jacket, Jennette Lee introduces us to a genre busting detective. Strong, smart, forgiving, and quiet Millicent “Millie” Newberry attacks her work like a combination of two great fictional detectives Ms. Marple and Father Brown. The younger than middle aged, slightly plump Mrs. Newberry, frequently dressed in grey and green, has the power to melt into the background like a younger Ms. Marple. While Ms. Marple is overlooked because of her age, bearing, and gender Millie is overlooked because of a cultivated attitude of indifference and a false appearance of inattention. This new female detective takes leniency to the level of Father Brown proclaiming that she does not trust the modern jail system. Instead, she finds the criminal, if one exists, and decides if jail is the best option. Most murderers are flung behind bars; sympathy is found for petty thieves, embezzlers, thugs and other small time criminals. Her office has grown very large with many well dressed women and men busy at typewriters, desks, and office chairs. Millie’s old boss, Tom Corbett, introduces her to an cold case he could never solve. An emerald necklace stolen without a trace. Unlike some crime fiction where the lines of good and evil are defined cleanly Millie must decipher a crumpled mess of lies, distrust, and misunderstand. She moves with class, dignity and sympathy in pursuit of that shining green necklace. This book is like a winter blanket and a cup of hot chocolate for the detective novel aficionado. Stand up and try on The Green Jacket.

 

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/the-green-jacket-by-jennette-lee/

 

The Shadow of the Rope by E.W. Hornung (1906)

“I’ll have what he’s having,” shouts a boisterous, heavyset man with a jolly face wearing an old fashioned three piece at the Mystery Authors Club. The declaration brings the eyes of the room towards a small table with short bespectacled man hunched alone over a small table alternatively wolfing down food and scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad. Three empty dishes lie on the other side of the table surrounded by five yellow crumpled pieces of paper. Unfazed or unaware of the attention the author continues his crude dinner writing ritual. End scene. I’m one of those people who always assumes everyone in a niche field knows everyone else. In the case of mystery authors I imagine a sort of old fashioned English club that every great mystery author frequents regularly. The man at the table in this case is E.W. Hornung rushing towards the deadline of his new mystery novel.

Rachel Minchin was born to a poor family in Australia and she worked humble jobs later gaining berth to England as a Lady’s companion. On the voyage, she and Mr. Minchin, a forty year old mining expert, fall in love and quickly get married. The new marriage bliss doesn’t last as Rachel realizes that her husband is a much different in London than on a boat. Mr. Minchin is murdered the night before Rachel planned upon leaving him. The police and the public convict Rachel immediately in the court of public opinion. After a weeklong trial, Rachel is declared not guilty to the disgust of the attentive public. Alone at night without means or wiles to procure bread and bed Rachel is helped by a stranger who’d watched the trial. The next day, the rich stranger J.B. Steele proposes a marriage of convenience where neither must discuss their past. In desperation to shed public scrutiny and the Minchin name Rachel accepts and moves to Steele’s English country house. The stereotype of the English country village with its gossiping locals and scrutiny of outsiders make the pairs secrets ever more fragile. Rachel is a sympathetic bewildered character and J.B. Steele is a gruff man full of mystery. The question of who really murdered her late husband permeates the tale. Not sliding cleanly into popular whodunnit or detective novel cliches E.W. Hornung creates a compelling mystery full of brutal dead ends, shocking revelations and believable cast of characters. Sit in the dark and read The Shadow of the Rope.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12590

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/the-shadow-of-the-rope-by-e-w-hornung/