August Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

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The Mysterious Benedict Society Quartet // by Trenton Lee Stewart

I first read The Mysterious Benedict Society back in 2007, when it was first published.  I can’t remember how I initially found it – probably browsing about the library – but I enjoyed it so much that I purchased it soon after.  The fantastic cover art and interior illustrations drew me in, and the story was strong enough to make the read well worth it.  Since then, I’ve read this book several times and enjoyed it more with each reading.

//published 2007//

Our story begins with Reynie, a boy whose parents died before he remembers, and who now lives in an orphanage.  Reynie is basically a genius, incredibly intelligent and keen to learn.  One day, he and his tutor are reading the newspaper – as they do most days – when they come across a rather odd ad:  “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”  Reynie responds, and soon finds himself involved in a series of tests – and then even more.

This is a children’s book, so much of the writing is rather simple.  However, Stewart has not dumbed-down his story, which has a fabulous villain and lots of action.  As an adult, I found small snippets of it to be verging on polemic, but in some ways I think the almost-spelling-out fits in with the age of the targeted audience.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a preachy book by any means.  Reynie and the trio with whom he soon joins forces (The Mysterious Benedict Society – Sticky, Kate, and Constance) infiltrate a school for the gifted that may or may not be a mere cover for something much, much more sinister.

I love the bit where the kids are first entering the school.  A couple of the older students, Jillson and Jackson, are showing them around.

“It sounds like there are no rules here at all,” Sticky said.

“That’s true, George,” said Jillson.  “Virtually none, in fact.  You can wear whatever you want, just so long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt.  You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you are clean every day in class.  You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it’s during meal hours at the cafeteria.  You’re allowed to keep the lights on in your room as late as you wish until ten o’clock each night.  And you can go wherever you want around the Institute, so long as you keep to the paths and the yellow-tiled corridors.”

“Actually,” Reynie observed, “those all sound like rules.”

Jackson rolled his icy blue eyes.  “This is your first day, so I don’t expect you to know much, Reynard.  But this is one of the rules of life you’ll learn at the Institute: Many things that sound like rules aren’t actually rules, and it always sounds like there are more rules than there really are.”

And I do appreciate Stewart’s apt summation of government schools:

Rote memorization of lessons was discouraged but required; class participation was encouraged but rarely permitted.

All in all, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a fun and engaging story with relatable characters and a solid plot, yet also manages to be thoughtful at a level that is challenging for both its target audience of middle schoolers and older readers as well.  I highly recommend it.  5/5.

//published 2008//

//published 2009//

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma are also enjoyable reads, but not quite as engaging as the first book.  I hadn’t read these two as often as the first book, so I really enjoyed delving back into them.  The entire cast of characters returns for these books as the pursuit of the villain from the first book continues.  These two books lack the deeper level of the first book, but are still well-paced and fun stories, and a lot of the questions from the first book are answered.  I would have appreciated a slightly more involved epilogue, but for the most part solid 4/5 reads.

//published 2012//

The final book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a prequel that looks at a formative season in the childhood of Mr. Benedict.  This is actually probably my second-favorite of the four books.  I really like that Nicholas isn’t a perfect kid, and his character development is done very well, especially the way that he learns to see that everyone has a motivation for what he does, and that understanding that motivation before passing judgment is an important part of life.  Another 5/5.

March Minireviews – Part 2

I realize that we are now several days into April, but I am trying to wrap up the backlog of March reads.  It always makes me sad when I have to reduce the pile this way, but life is just too busy to keep up on the blog, I’m afraid!

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1910//

I actually love the Psmith books, although many people find him rather obnoxious (he is).  This book had a whole new level of interesting since I read Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith.  In those books, we discover the foundation of the friendship that is at the heart of Psmith in the City, so that added much more depth to the overall story.  In many ways, Mike is actually the central character, with Psmith playing a bold supporting role.  Mike is such a steady, stolid character, which contrasts all the better with the rather pompous Psmith.  I also love how whenever Wodehouse has Mike refer to Psmith in conversation, Mike always says “Smith.”  Wodehouse’s subtle decisions to keep or drop the P are cleverly done.

Another favorite thing of mine is discovering connections between different books and events, so it was great fun to find a reference to Three Men in a Boatwhich I read last fall.  All in all, Psmith in the City is a delightful 4/5 (on the Wodehouse scale, where a 1/5 is the same as a 4/5 for normal books) and definitely recommended – although you’ll enjoy it even more if you read the Mike books first.

From Italy With Love by Jules Wake

//published 2015//

This books is actually a DNF, so I’m not sure why I’m bothering to mention it, other than to see if someone else has actually finished it and thinks that I should totally keep reading because it gets better later on.

I really liked the premise, where an eccentric uncle leaves his niece a rare antique car, but in order to inherit it she has to drive across Italy, following a specific route which he has laid out for her.  As part of an inheritance for this other guy, the uncle says that the guy has to go, too.  I always kind of enjoy crazy old meddling old people who set up the young’uns, especially from beyond the grave, so I was all for it.  However, so much of this book just didn’t make any kind of sense.  The uncle promised the dude, Cam, that he could have this special car, so Cam has already told his brother that they can use this car for some fancy car show where they’re going to make tons of money except they had to spend tons of money to get ready for it.  Except how did Cam know that the uncle was going to die???  (Maybe he actually knocked him off and the book turns into a mystery later?!)  So Cam is obnoxious the whole time, which also makes no sense because what he is actually going to inherit from this drive across Italy is the first chance to buy the car from the niece (Laurie).  So wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be buttering her up and trying to get on her good side?

Meanwhile, Laurie is actually engaged to this other guy, and it’s obvious from literally the first page that this guy is a total tool, and as the first couple of chapters progress, it’s painfully obvious that the dude is trying to get in on all the cash he thinks Laurie is going to inherit, but Laurie seems basically oblivious to the whole thing, and it really bothered me that she went off on this trip (and is presumably going to fall in love with) some other guy while still being engaged to the first guy, even if the first guy is a jerk.  I found it 100% impossible to believe that Laurie would inherit this car and not do any kind of research on it, even something as basic as finding out how much it’s worth.  I mean, seriously?

And honestly, I could have overlooked a lot of this if the story had been remotely interesting, but it wasn’t!  To top everything off, it was boring me out of my mind.  Plus, while as of around 30% through the book Wake hadn’t dragged me through any sexy times, she still kept hinting around at stuff, so I had to keep listening to Laurie get “flushed” and “flustered” a whole lot, and, even worse, be repeatedly exposed to the word “nipples.”  Please.  “Nipples” is not a word that engenders romance, so I don’t want to hear about them, or hear what some guy thinks about them, or even to really think about them within the context of a romantic encounter.  Ugh.

So yeah, a rambling DNF on this book, but at least it’s one off the list!

Nettle King by Katherine Harbour

//published 2016//

This is the third and final book in the Night & Nothing series.  Thorn Jack was engaging, Briar Queen was engrossing, and Nettle King was a solid finish.  Part of the problem was that there was just too much of a gap for me between Queen and King, so I had trouble getting into the groove of this story.  But overall – I really liked this trilogy, and definitely see myself reading it again.  In many ways it reminded me of the Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan.  These weren’t as funny as those, but it had a similar world-building in the sense that it all took place in a small, isolated community.

I also found myself comparing it a lot to The Fourth Wishwhich I had just finished.  In both stories, girls find themselves in love with guys who, due to magic, are basically eternal beings who have been around for centuries.  But where Wish felt ridiculous and contrived, I 100% shipped Jack and Finn.  Both characters are constantly seeking to put the other person’s safety and needs above their own.  Plus, they are a bit older (in college), and had a strong support system of other characters around them.  There was so much more depth to relationship between Jack and Finn than there was between Margo and Oliver.  I felt like Jack and Finn would be friends and lovers forever, but that Oliver and Margo would get completely bored of each other within months.

Anyway, the overall conclusion to the Night & Nothing series was quite satisfying.  I definitely want to read these books again within a tighter time frame, because I felt like I lost a lot of the intrigue by waiting so long between the second and third books.  A solid 4/5 for Nettle King and for the series as a whole.  Recommended.

The Wicked Marquis // by Marnie Ellingson

Thrift stores are rather awesome, and not just because you can get gently used clothes and furniture on the cheap.  They also tend to have a corner devoted to various types of media, with books, VHS tapes, battered DVDs, and scratched CDs all piled together.  I love rummaging through thrift store books, because sometimes, under the Readers’ Digest condensed versions and scads of romance paperbacks with scantily clad heroes and heroines in fond embrace – I find a little treasure.  And one of those, purchased for a quarter a few years ago, is The Wicked Marquis.

//published 1982//

This isn’t a book of high adventure or intensity, but it’s a fabulous go-to for a happy, relaxing, funny little story.  This definitely has echoes of Georgette Heyer, with a strong-minded but lovable heroine who is determined to rescue her cousin from a marriage of convenience (but no love), and in doing so, embroils herself with the Wicked Marquis himself.  It’s one of those wonderful little stories where there isn’t really a villain, where misunderstandings are minimal, and where you know that everything will come together in the end for a happy ending.

Esme is a wonderful protagonist.  She is intelligent, interesting, and contented with her lot in life.  She isn’t afraid to stand up for the people she loves, but never comes across as obnoxious or ridiculous.  And despite the fact that she is adventurous and not particularly fussed about all of the societal regulations, she’s still feminine and even girly at times, enjoying a good chat about clothes and handsome young men.

All in all, I definitely recommend The Wicked Marquis, with a strong 4/5 rating.  And despite the fact that I’ve owned this book for several years and have read it several times, this was the first time that I bothered to find out if Ellingson wrote anything else.  I did find one of her books on eBay secondhand, and hope to read Unwilling Bride soon, although not in public, as the cover is absolutely ridiculous.

I mean seriously?!

February Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

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//published 2007//

So growing up, Konigsburg’s The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books.  As an adult, I discovered her book The View from Saturday and loved that one, too – a lot (I even read and reviewed it again!).  But for me, The Mysterious Edge just didn’t work the way her other two books did.  The plot is disjointed and strange, the characters inconsistent and unrealistic, and the entire premise centers around a lot of coincidences.

I really wanted to like this book – two kids becoming friends while helping an elderly lady clean out her house that’s full of interesting stuff – doesn’t that sound like fun??  But the old lady, Mrs. Zender, is really weird, and so are both of the boys – and not in the realistic, quirky way of some of Konigsburg’s characters in Saturday – just weird, weird: the kind of weird that leaves you scratching your head in puzzlement.

A lot of the story centers around a picture that one of the boys finds, a drawing of a naked woman.  Now we’re informed that this is art, so this is a “nude” which is different from just someone being naked.  But…  it still felt really inappropriate for the age of the characters and the intended readers, and, once again, was just kind of weird.  Like why does the picture have to be of a naked person??

There are almost some good discussions about how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, about people who are rich and people who aren’t, about whether or not a government should be able to decide what is or isn’t art.  But none of those conversations really go anywhere, so the whole book feels awkward and stunted.

All in all, 1/5 for a book that I wanted to like but just couldn’t.  I’m still planning to read some more of Konigsburg’s books because I have enjoyed a couple of them so very much, but I don’t see myself ever revisiting this one.

American Gardening Series: Container Gardening by Suzanne Frutig Bales

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//published 1993//

This is one of those random books that I picked up for a quarter at a library book sale at some point.  It’s not a terribly thick book, but it does have a lot of photographs and plenty of good information about choosing plants for container gardens and then keeping them alive after you’ve planted them!  Bales has a lot of enthusiasm for container gardening as it is very flexible and can be done in almost any amount of space.

I’ve been working through several gardening books this month, and I always glean some new tips and ideas.  This one is well worth the shelf space as a great reference book.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on planning container gardens – I think that a lot of times people go into container gardening assuming that you just sort of jam some plants in and it will look great, but this book spends some time talking about not just the color of the plants you are planting, but texture, size, and growing requirements.  Definitely recommended if this is a topic you’re interested in learning more about.

The Princess by Lori Wick

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//published 1999//

This is a (multiple time) reread for me, and I have a more detailed review here.  Sometimes I just need some happy fluff, and this book always fits the bill.  It involves my favorite trope (marriage than love), and just is a happy, gentle little tale that I have read many times and yet always find enjoyable.  I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump here at the end of February, what with starting my new job and being super tired all the time, so The Princess helped get me through!

Book vs. Movie: Austenland

I’ve read Shannon Hale’s Austenland a few times in the past and found it to be an entertaining and lighthearted read, full of humor, fun, and likable characters.  Recently, my sister and I had a great time watching the movie version, which came out back in 2013.  Both the movie and the book focus on the story of Jane Hayes.  In her early 30’s, Jane knows that part of the reason she is still single is because she is not-so-secretly yearning for her own Mr. Darcy.  When Jane has the chance to go on a special vacation to a location that has all of its guests dress and act like they would have in the Regency era, Jane decides to get the whole Mr. Darcy business out of her system once and for all…

Like I said, it’s all in good fun.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed the movie as well as the book – below are some of my thoughts on which of them told the story better…  (note: there will be spoilers)

  • Jane Hayes  //  Winner:  Book – While the movie does a great job portraying Jane, the book focuses a lot of Jane’s internal dialogue and direction, and that’s hard to get to in a movie.  Even though the book is in third person, we still spend a lot of time knowing what Jane is thinking and wrestling with.  The actress who plays Jane in the movie, Kari Russell, does do a pretty fabulous job relaying a lot of those thoughts through Jane’s expressions and body language, but it’s pretty hard to beat having those thoughts written out in black and white.
  • Miss Charming  //  Winner:  Movie – Movie Miss Charming is so completely perfect in every way.  Jennifer Coolidge nails her character, managing to make her obnoxious, ridiculous, and completely loyal and warmhearted at the same time.
  • austenland-nobley-jj-feild-37000191-469-268

    Seriously, how adorable is he?!

    Mr. Nobley  // Winner:  Toss-Up – I really like Nobley’s character in both the book and the movie.  Honestly, the movie gets an edge, but I think it’s mostly because JJ Feild is heart-stopping handsome in this one, plus has the perfect voice.  I shipped Jane and Nobley way more watching the movie than I did in the book.

  • Martin  //  Winner:  Movie – I think part of the reason that I liked the Jane/Nobley relationship better in the movie is because the movie didn’t work as hard to make Martin likable.  We get some hints much earlier on that Martin may not be everything he is pretending to be.  Also, the book leaves us a little ambiguous as to whether or not Martin really did like Jane on her own merits, so I couldn’t help but feel a smidge bad for him.  Movie Martin is way easier to dislike in the end (but Bret McKenzie is the perfect hottie for the role!).
  • Background Stuff  //  Winner:  Movie – One of the super fun things about the movie was that we got to see behind-the-scenes with the people who were working at Austenland, which meant that we knew Nobley, Martin, and the other guys a little more. It added a fun level to the characters.
  • Jane’s Mr. Darcy Obsession  //  Winner:  Book – The movie just took it a bit over-the-top.  Jane’s bedroom was completely unhealthy, and there is no way that her friends would have let her go so long without some kind of intervention.  Book Jane’s character really just wanted the romance and commitment of a Mr. Darcy – Movie Jane literally wanted Mr. Darcy himself, and it was a little too weird.
  • Jane’s Crazy Aunt  //  Winner:  Book – Mainly because her crazy aunt isn’t even IN the movie!  That was probably my biggest disappointment.  In the book, Jane’s crazy aunt is the one who leaves Jane the trip to Austenland in her (the aunt’s) will.  Even though the aunt only appears in the first chapter, I still thought she was a great character, and a perfect catalyst for Jane’s venture to England.  In the movie, Jane just decides to go to Austenland on her own, and spends her life-savings to get there, all of which just added to the weird level of Darcy obsession.
  • Ending/Epilogue  //  Winner:  Movie – The ending of the movie was A+ perfect and I loved it.  That like three minute ending was way better than the entirety of Midnight in Austenland.  I loved the way that we got a chance to see Jane and Nobley in their “regular” clothes, we got to see what happened to Miss Charming (fabulous), and just everything about the way it ended made me happy inside.

So, in the end, I’m really not sure which I liked, which is unusual – I generally way, way prefer either the movie or the book.  But in this case, I think that they both have a lot to offer.  It may be because Hale helped write the screenplay, so I think that she had a lot of influence to make sure that the movie didn’t stray too far from her original story.

There were definitely parts of the movie that just went a little too far into the “completely weird” direction, which I think the book never quite did.  But the casting for the movie was just completely perfect, and that, combined with a very satisfying ending, may mean that I ended up liking the movie just a little bit better…

Both are definitely recommended.

Freckles // by Gene Stratton Porter

Well, my friends, the time has arrived!  My first review for 20 Books of Summer!  First, a brief update on the List!

20booksfinalMy original post about 20 Books of Summer, being hosted by Cathy746, is here.

Here is the list of 20.  Links are to GoodReads, and titles that have been crossed off have already been read and are awaiting review…

As you can see, I am now on Book #5 (Life or Death), so things are tooling right along!

And now for Freckles. 

Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter

This book was originally published in 1904.  Its setting, the great Limberlost Swamp, is in eastern Indian, between Fort Wayne and I-70, and parts of it are still a park today.  I’ve always wanted to visit but never have gotten around to it, despite the fact that it is only a few hours away.  Porter, a passionate naturalist, was unafraid to brave the terrors of this virgin forest.  With a revolver and a sack of photography equipment, she spent a great deal of time exploring the swamp, photographing and making notes on its natural residents.  Porter wrote numerous articles on nature, several nature studies, and a dozen novels.  Even in her novels, Porter did her best to create a love not just for her characters, but for the nature that surrounded them.

Porter does an excellent job with this in Freckles.  Her story of a lonely, orphaned young man, who is striving to make his way in the world, is balanced by the beautiful and terrifying vastness of the Limberlost.  Without getting too carried away, she still manages to convey the beauty of the birds, flowers, and other animals that live there.  Her sense of place is fantastic, and the setting is really a large part of what makes this story.  In a way, the Limberlost is it own individual – and very important – character in the story.

Our tale begins with an unlikely hero –

Freckles came down the corduroy that crosses the lower end of the Limberlost.  At a glance, he might have been mistaken for a tramp, but he was truly seeking work.  He was intensely eager to belong somewhere and to be attached to almost any sort of enterprise that would furnish him food and clothing.

In this first chapter, Freckles (in his early 20’s or possibly late teens) comes across a lumber camp.  He asks if they are seeking workers, and even though the cook, whom he approaches, says the boss couldn’t use Freckles, Freckles insists on speaking to the boss for himself.

“Mr. McLean, here’s another man wanting to be taken on in the gang, I suppose,” [the cook] said.

“All right,” came the cherry answer.  “I never needed a good man more than I do just now.” …

“No use of your bothering with this fellow,” volunteered the cook. “He hasn’t but one hand.”

And so we are introduced to Freckles’s other great handicap.  Not only is he orphaned and penniless, he struggles to find work because, as an infant, someone cut off his hand.  In a passionate interview with the boss, however, Freckles convinces McLean to give him a shot.  McLean is still logging a tract, but has purchased his next.  Within the new tract are several very valuable trees, and he needs a man to walk the fence twice a day – seven miles per lap – to make sure that the trees are not stolen.  McLean is extra concerned because another man from his crew recently quit, threatening to steal trees.  Black Jack is quite the villain, a man who knows the swamp and its secrets, hates McLean, and intends to have his vengeance by stealing the valuable lumber…!!!

Freckles is hired, and despite his initial terror of the swamp – which is full of rattlesnakes, cesspools, insects, and other dangerous things – and a hard adjustment to hiking fourteen miles a day (!), he makes good.  The rest of the story is Freckles, working hard to protect the lumber no matter what.  Freckles is the ideal hero of the early 1900’s novel – loyal, upright, responsible, brave, truthful, hardworking.  I’m not really sure why such heroes have gone out of style.  Freckles is no sissy, and would make an excellent role model.

It’s a funny thing, but despite Porter’s enthusiasm and love for the Limberlost, no character in her story ever suggests that the swamp shouldn’t be logged.  The attitude is definitely a reflection of its time.  McLean is never presented as a villain or a terrible man – he is simply doing his job and trying to do it well – a job which involves logging acres of virgin woods.

In the course of the story, we also meet the Bird Woman, Porter’s way of writing herself into the story.  The Bird Woman, whose name we never learn, is an avid naturalist who loves to photograph her subjects.  For the summer, she’s taken on an apprentice of sorts, a young woman whose name we also never learn.  When Freckles first sees her, he dubs her the Swamp Angel, and Angel she remains for the rest of the tale.

That Freckles falls madly in love with Angel should come as no surprise.  That Freckles believes himself – a penniless, one-handed orphan, in case you’ve forgotten – unworthy of the love of a beautiful creature like the Angel, should also be no surprise.  Still, despite using most of the normal cliches, Porter still spins an enjoyable little love story.  The Black Jack angle is quite exciting, and if Porter falls into the trap of her good guys being very, very good, while her bad guys are very, very bad – well, sometimes it’s good to read a story without much ambiguity.

Although Porter is wont to go off into paragraph-long raptures regarding the beauty and goodness of the Angel, she has still written a character who is no simpering maid sitting about waiting to be rescued.  Angel dashes about the swamp, shoots a gun, charms the bad guy so that she can escape for help, and then rides a bicycle miles across the rough corduroy to bring assistance to Freckles.  She is brave, intelligent, kind, and basically all the same qualities as Freckles.  Angel is always feminine but never weak.

The other characters are good as well, even when Porter doesn’t flesh them out a great deal.  Freckles stays with the Duncans, and this first glimpse he has into a loving family home is touching without being pathetic.

There is plenty of action, with Freckles adjusting to the Limberlost, the love story between Freckles and Angel, a rare type of bird nesting in the swamp, and (of course) the evil Black Jack lurking about, waiting to steal trees!

For me, the weakest part of the story takes place after the action leaves the Limberlost.  The part where Angel discovers Freckles’s heritage – through a series of perfectly-timed coincidences – feels very contrived and unnecessarily melodramatic.  Consequently, the last few chapters saw me rolling my eyes a great deal.

Still, this story is an easy 4/5.  It is classic literature for its time, an excellent story, and the setting is impeccably described.