So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mary Louise by L. Frank Baum writing as Edith Van Dyne

L. Frank Baum wrote book series for girls under the nom de plume Edith Van Dyne. Mary Louise is the first of a series featuring Mary Louise, a plain ordinary rich girl whose grandfather is wanted by the State Department. The novel starts with Mary Louise in a private boarding school while living with her grandfather and mother in a small town. All is well and she has been getting very close to the old man until he is recognized by a stranger staying at the hotel. It is then that Mary Louise's family steals away in the night leaving her alone at the school to face the sudden knowledge that her grandfather is a wanted criminal.

She doesn't know where he is or why the government is seeking him, but she knows deep in her heart that he is too good to have done anything wrong. Watched by secret agents who seek to find the old man through her, Mary Louise must find her way through a cloud of suspicion. The book is the story of how she goes about seeking to find her grandfather and to prove his innocence. A very good adventure story but it is plagued by Baum's stereotyping of black servants and a disabled friend that he refers to as "the chair-girl" because of her wheel chair. An interesting glimpse into the children's books of the early 20th century.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Talks With Dean Spanley by Lord Dunsany, 1936

A first person narrative of a man who meets Dean Spanley, an elder minister, at his club and discovers the Dean has a strong belief in Reincarnation. He begins to suspect the Dean has more than a belief, he may have actual memories of a past life and becomes determined to find out. Hoping to find scientific proof of the transmigration of souls if he can get Dean Spanley to talk, the narrator invites him to dinner. Believing in the adage "In vino veritas" he plies the Dean with wine. When Spanley drinks too much Imperial Tokay, a rare Hungarian wine, he starts talking about his former life as a country hound in the first person.
The narrator is astounded by the revelation and invites Spanley back several times hoping to discover scientific proof of reincarnation in Spanley's stories of his life as a dog. Each visit is harder since Spanley does not like to drink to excess, but each lapse reveals more of his canine existence.
An excellent short novel full of wonderful detail and dry understated humor. Recently made into a film called simply Dean Spanley starring Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill, this is a delightful tale.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley (1922)
A novel by Lord Dunsany.

"Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley conveys its young disinherited protagonist through a fantasized Spain, gifting him with a Sancho Panza companion, good luck with magicians, and a castle" -- The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

Lord Dunsany's first novel, this is a historic fantasy set in a pastoral Spain that could never exist with all the charm and innocence that the author attributes to it. Don Rodrigues sets out on a quest to find a war to fight in so he can win a castle and wealth of his own. Along the way, he finds a loyal servant who wields a mighty fry pan and encounters a magician who shows them how to astral travel and allows them to see the past and the future. Hi finds a lady he loves, wins his castle in a fantastic manner and they "live happily ever after."

The beauty of the story is in Dunsany's prose which is a delight to read and well-suited to the fantastic setting he creates. I totally enjoyed this first novel by one of my favorite authors.