Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: YOUTH, by Isaak Asimov

Original Publication Date: 1952
Genre: fantasy
Topics: fantasy, aliens

Review by : Patty @ A tale of three cities

When the world quietens down after a long and intense day, I want a book that is nothing too elaborate or big - just simple, good writing and a reasonable length to help me relax.

Such a read is Youth, by Isaak Asimov.  Written in the 1950s, it is of the futuristic genre but with no fanfare.  It rather reminded me of the Twilight Zone programme that I so enjoyed in my own youth...

The plot is fairly straightforward:  life in a distant future, where our present and recent past is considered as the "beforethewars" era (I really enjoyed that word, nothing fancy but leaving so much to the imagination...).  The main characters involve two scientists, who try to take up contact with aliens in a foreign planet, with the view to take up trade relations. Already I'm amazed at the little bits of wisdom that I read in between this simple story:
... was it reasonable to destroy almost all their tremendous civilization in atomic warfare over causes our historians can no longer accurately determine?

With them, we get to see their respective sons, longing for a future of their own, preferably in a circus.  They in turn discover some uncommon-looking creatures they think could be their ticket into this wonderful life - so they keep them in a cage and try to take good care of them.

The book is short and more than enough for a 2-hour travel in Brussels.  I really enjoyed the language used, but also some of the messages used.  While waiting for a signal from the aliens, the two scientists start debating about whether the aliens could in fact be hostile.  The pessimist of the two explains why he sees things this way:

The world has been at peace too long.  We are losing a healthy sense of suspicion

Linking it with the Twilight Zone, I came to a point where the twists are non-ending - who's watching whom here:  the scientists the children, the children the little creatures, or the children the scientists who are in truth the little creatures?  One can come to their proper interpretation of the story, but one thing is certain:  for such a tiny size, this book certainly stayed in my mind long after I had read it...   

 Download Youth by Isaak Asimov at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: Lady Into Fox by David Garnett

Original Publication Date: 1922

Genre: Fantasy, Folklore

Topics: metamorphism, foxes, animals, love, marriage, loyalty

Review by Chrisbookarama :

Lady Into Fox by David Garnett is a weird little story. When I heard the premise, a lady turns into a fox, I thought that it was just bonkers enough to be worth reading. I thought there would be humourous shenanigans, but what I got from it was so much more.

David Garnett presents the story as a true story, one that he heard from the witnesses of the event.

Newlyweds Richard and Sylvia Tebrick are out for a walk in the woods one day, when Sylvia suddenly turns into a fox, instantly, like one second she's a woman and then BAM! She's a fox. There is no explanation for her change. It just is. The author says there was nothing to indicate that Sylvia would become a fox, although her hair is reddish and her maiden name is Fox. Be careful Jamie Foxx, this could happen to you!

Richard sneaks his foxy wife back into his home. He doesn't want anyone to know about Sylvia's change so he fires the servants and shoots his dogs (luckily he doesn't shoot the servants). At first, Sylvia continues to act like a lady, wanting to be fully clothed and eat at the dining room table, but over time her animal instincts take over and she becomes a fox completely.

Although Sylvia goes through this dramatic metamorphosis, it was Richard's change that affected me most. Of course at first, he's shocked and confused by it. He tries very hard to keep Sylvia from giving into her new animal personality. At times he even scolds her, but eventually he comes to accept what she is becoming. When Sylvia wants to be free, he lets her go, though it breaks his heart and he fears what may happen to her.
Now in cold blood he began to reflect on what he had done and to repent bitterly having set his wife free. He had betrayed her so that now, from his act, she must lead the life of a wild fox for ever, and must undergo all the rigours and hardships of the climate, and all the hazards of a hunted creature.
Richard becomes a misanthrope, he shuns the company of all humans. He only wants his fox-wife to come back to him. In the beginning, he waited for her to return to her human form, but later he doesn't even think of her as the woman she was, he accepts and loves her as she is.
No, all that he grieved for now was his departed vixen. He was haunted all this time not by the memory of a sweet and gentle woman, but by the recollection of an animal; a beast it is true that could sit at table and play piquet when it would, but for all that nothing really but a wild beast.
Richard himself becomes more and more animal-like. He lets his beard grow, becomes filthy, neglects the housekeeping, and spends much of the time in the woods.
All this disorder fed a malignant pleasure in him. For by now he had come to hate his fellow men and was embittered against all human decencies and decorum. 
Richard stays true to his wife, even though the neighbours think he's lost his marbles. They all believe she ran off with someone. One thing I found strange was that even though they think he's crazy, no one considers that maybe he murdered his wife and that's why she disappeared. No one calls the magistrate! I mean, that's the first thing I would think of doing.

Lady Into Fox is actually a beautiful story of love and accepting the people you love as they are. Garnett does a fantastic job of placing the reader into the mind of Richard. All his pain and anguish is real even though the idea of a woman turning into a fox is ridiculous. It seems perfectly acceptable that a man should love a fox. The only problem I had with the novella was the abrupt ending, though I think that is the standard for these kind of stories at the time.

Download Lady Into Fox by David Garnett at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Note: I recommend downloading the epub with images. The woodcut illustrations, by Garnett's first wife Rachel Alice, are charming and added so much to my enjoyment of the book.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: THE LOST DUCHESS by Anonymous

book cover Original Publication Date: 1909 (in The Lock and Key Library, ed. by Julian Hawthorne)

Genre: short story

Topics: comedy of errors, kidnapping, marriage, aristocracy

Review by heidenkind:

The Duke of Datchet is stressing out over a visit from the Prince of Wales when he receives very strange news: his duchess has disappeared! The duke is more irritated than anything, until he's presented with a note in his wife's handwriting along with a lock of her hair. It turns out the duchess has been kidnapped! The kidnappers demand 500 pounds in gold before 5:30 PM, or they'll send the duke the duchess' little finger. And if that doesn't work, "Other portions of her grace will follow."

I was expecting The Lost Duchess to be rather dire and serious, but it was the complete opposite of that—it was a delightful comedy starring a blustery, confused duke, a dimwitted duchess, and a clever dandy who happens to be the duke's cousin. Everything plays out like a caper movie (I adore caper movies), but more light-hearted and satirical than, say, The Sting.

The narrator of The Lost Duchess, Angleet on Librivox, did a fantastic job with all the British accents, giving each character his or her own voice, and playing up the farcical aspects of the story.

I would love to find out more about this story and the person who wrote it, because it was ridiculously clever and fun. I'm really curious about when The Lost Duchess was originally written, because in my head I kept picturing the characters in 18th-century garb. But on the other hand, it reads very modern—kidnapping people for ransom and sending severed body parts as proof of life is something I'd associate with the 20th century. I also wonder why the author decided to remain anonymous, since The Lost Duchess is really well-written and funny, and there isn't anything particularly offensive about it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to discover anything about the story beyond the fact that it was included in The Lock and Key Library story collection.

In any case, if you're in the mood for a fun comedy of errors and caper story, I recommend The Lost Duchess.

Download The Lost Duchess at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Friday, March 21, 2014

We're Looking For a Few Good Bloggers

blogger recruitment poster

Do you enjoy reading classics and finding forgotten classics? Do you want to share your latest bookish discoveries with other readers?

If you answered yes to these questions, we'd love to have you contribute to The Project Gutenberg Project!

How to apply

Send me (Tasha) an email at kitty fischer [at] gmail [dot] com with the following information:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Tell me about your blog/s (if you have one)
  • What's the first book/short story/poem you'd like to write about for PGP? Keep in mind we do allow cross-postings.

Applications will be open between March 21st and April 1st, 2014. Apply today, we'd love to have you!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

If You Love Jane Austen

emily eden
I thought this would be of interest to some of you--a memoir recommendation for lovers of Jane Austen.

Read the full post by Pamela Toler at Wonders & Marvels.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: THE POWER HOUSE by John Buchan

book cover Original Publication Date: 1913

Genre: mystery

Topics: civilization, espionage

Review by heidenkind:

Sir Edward Leithen, barrister and MP, is hunting with his friends in Scotland. After a few drinks, the men folk start trading stories of all the adventures they've had in exotic locales like Spain, Greece, and Jamaica. Then Sir Edward's like, "You guys are so lucky, I never get to go anywhere or do anything. Oh, right, except for that one time I SINGLE-HANDEDLY BROUGHT DOWN A CABAL ORGANIZATION OF ANARCHISTS INTENT ON THE DESTRUCTION OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION."

drop the mic
BOOM, bitches.

I enjoyed The 39 Steps, John Buchan's most well-known novel, and have been planning to dig into more of Buchan's work for awhile now (awesome random thing that has nothing to do with this review: When I first read The 39 Steps I tweeted about how much I liked it, and Buchan's great-grandson tweeted me back out of the blue to say thank you! That's one of the cooler things that's happened to me on Twitter). The problem was I didn't know where to start. Then I ran across The Power House, the first in the Leithen series, on Librivox and decided to give it a try. It wasn't as gripping a read as The 39 Steps, but it was fun.

Sir Edward Leithen is a very different character from Richard Hannay, the hero of The 39 Steps. In fact, it would be fair to say he's almost the polar opposite. Hannay is a dashing, witty rogue and outsider, while Leithen is a steady, conventional member of the British gentry whose life is an unvarying carousel of "flat, chambers, club, flat." Leithen's life would probably make Hannay want to blow his brains out, but Leithen is 100% down with the drudgery. That actually makes sense in the context of the novel, because Leithen represents civilization, with all its boring steadiness and routine. So who better to defend civilization against the Power House and its ominously polite leader, Andrew Lumley?

As a mystery, The Power House reminded me of The Pelican Brief. Leithen gathers clues through random pieces of information in the course of his lawyering that don't seem particularly important, but eventually lead him to a huge conspiracy. Suddenly people are chasing him all over London and trying to kill him! Improbable? Yes. But, in consideration of the two World Wars England was about to face, a lot of the stuff in the book was creepily prescient. I also liked the fact that the major baddie wasn't German, although his ideas are tied to Germans.

The Power House was a good read, although I wouldn't call it unputdownable. It's very short and fast-moving, and once Leithen starts getting into scrapes he takes to danger like a fish to water. Nothing fazes this guy! Not that there are a whole bunch of action scenes; The Power House is more of an intellectual puzzle (Leithen IS really smart) than a spy thriller like The 39 Steps. I think I probably would have prefered it if Leithen started freaking out, but keep calm and all that. I also thought the ending was a bit of a let-down—it seemed like the organization of the Power House collapsed too easily, and everything settled back to normal as if nothing had happened. Which I guess was the goal on Leithen's part, but COME ON DUDE. At least take a vacation or something.

So I can see why The 39 Steps is more well-known than The Power House. But I'd still recommend it to fans of spy novels/thrillers or even Edwardian fiction.

Download The Power House by John Buchan at Gaslight|Librivox

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


book cover Original Publication Date: 1918

Genre: romantic comedy

Topics: love, free will, battle of the sexes

Review by heidenkind:

Ambrose is a writer living in Greenwich Village, right on the edge of Washington Square. Despite the fact that he rarely has two pennies to scrape together, he has a fine wardrobe, wonderful friends, and only writes when he feels like it. Ambrose is living the dream, in other words. But when he adopts an orphan named Sonya (or is it the other way around?), Ambrose can sense his glorious life slipping away into one of conventionality and obligation. Will Ambrose be able to hold on to the life he wants while still doing the right thing?

Books like I've Come To Stay are the entire reason I started this blog. This novel is totally obscure and completely delightful, and I can't wait to tell everyone about it! In tone it reminded me of Gigi, or perhaps a 1910s American version of Notting Hill. In other words, I loved the hell out of it.

I've Come To Stay is a unique take on the romantic comedy. First of all, the people that populate it are fun and quirky, as one would expect from a book set in Greenwich Village. I'm a total sucker for stories that capture avant-garde communities and time periods like this, and I've Come To Stay does it perfectly. It's filled with people who've deliberately rejected the idea of being conventional and decided to become dancers, artists, writers, fashion designers, and political dissidents. They're not necessarily ambitious—Ambrose certainly isn't—except when it comes to freedom and self-expression. For instance, Sonya, the orphan who decides Ambrose is going to adopt her, was raised by her grandfather: express her individuality fully. If she feels like catching a ride on a hearse, she does it. Instead of the Bible she has had Nietzsche; instead of the catechism, Max Stimer; instead of geography she was from the cradle taught to dance by a fat, old Italian ballerina...

Another example is Camilla, the woman Ambrose is sweet on. She longs to escape her "horrible blue-serge youth" in the country, and accordingly has no interest in settling down, getting married, or being a mother, especially to Sonya. Will Ambrose be able to convince her that marrying him doesn't mean becoming a boring and conventional hausfrau?

There's a theme of obligation and responsibility running through I've Come To Stay that intersects with a subtly played out battle of the sexes. As Ambrose's Aunt Adelaide tells him, "It's that awful maternal instinct run rampant." Adelaide's theory is that women make men miserable by treating their husbands and boyfriends like children. But men do the same thing to women, as Camilla discovers when she's caught in her own web of obligation.

I wouldn't call I've Come To Stay a strict romance—most of the scenes and storylines have to do with Sonya messing up Ambrose's life, not the relationship between him and Camilla—but it is SO, SO FUNNY. The dialog between Ambrose and Camilla is sharp and clever, and Ambrose himself is droll and completely charming. His interactions with Sonya are also pretty amusing, since she's an insane, tiny drill sergeant ("When I'm one minute late to school I feel as if I had wasted my whole life") who's constantly trying to get him to toe the line.

When I got close to the end of I've Come To Stay, I honestly wasn't sure if Camilla and Ambrose would end up together, and I was more than a little worried they'd both settle down and decide to "grow up" or become normal. This novel could have gone in so many different directions, but the conclusion Mary Heaton Vorse writes is absolutely perfect and delightful.

If you like comedies, romantic or otherwise, I really hope you'll give I've Come To Stay a try. I loved it and predict it will be one of my favorite books of the year. I want to read all of Vorse's other books now!

Download I've Come To Stay: A Love Comedy of Bohemia by Mary Heaton Vorse at|Librivox

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: THE POISONED PEN by Arthur B. Reeve

book cover Original Publication Date: 1912

Genre: mystery, short stories

Topics: Detective, technology, corruption, science

Review by heidenkind:

"Professor" Craig Kennedy (what exactly he's a professor of I don't know—his first name might be professor) and his reporter friend/sidekick, Walter Jameson, are on the case of a string of mysterious crimes in this collection of short stories.

Someone on Goodreads described Craig Kennedy as "A poor man's Sherlock Holmes," and that's fair—but isn't that really true of 70% of detective fiction? Kennedy and Jameson are definitely "inspired by" Holmes and Watson; but even if the premise isn't very original, I found the short stories in The Poisoned Pen to be unusual and entertaining.

Admittedly, part of the reason why I liked The Poisoned Pen so much had nothing to do with the book itself, but the narrator of the audiobook version I downloaded, Elliot Miller. He was awesome! He gave all the characters their own voices, including Kennedy, who spoke like an olde-timey movie actor. The fact that Kennedy talked like Cary Grant was something I totally got a kick out of, and Miller was spot-on at reproducing that throwback Mid-Atlantic English accent.

I also really liked how women were treated in The Poisoned Pen. Not that it passes the Bechdel Test or that I would ever describe it as feminist or anything, but the female characters Arthur B. Reeve introduces are well-rounded human beings with their own motivations, NOT stereotypes or tropes (what a concept). For example, in "The Campaign Grafter," there's a suffragette who's sweet, fashionable, and idealistic. In "The Yeggman" (which I guess is a burglar?), one of the suspects is a woman who chews Kennedy out when he accuses her of trying to commit fraud. Instead of dismissing her as "hysterical" or "difficult," Kennedy admits he deserved the ass chewing and apologizes to her. And in "The Firebug," Kennedy solves a crime using handwriting analysis, concluding the writer of a series of letters is a woman. This kind of thing happens all the time in detective novels and on TV shows (I'm looking at you, Sherlock), and it normally pisses me off because it promotes ideas of gender essentialism (she checked her nails a certain way, she must really be a man!). But in The Poisoned Pen, Kennedy takes care to explain that determining gender based on handwriting is only accurate about 80% of the time, and the reason men and women tend to write differently has to do with the types of professions they gravitate toward and the amount of writing they do, NOT anything to do with their gender per se. So okay, Kennedy, I'll give you a pass on that one.

As for the mysteries themselves, some of the solutions in The Poisoned Pen were SO BIZARRE, I can't even. In one, Kennedy concludes the criminal disguised himself by cutting off the tips of his fingers and REGROWING THEM to produce new fingers (and thereby different fingerprints). Totally plausible you guys. In another story, Kennedy brings someone back from the dead. Literally. And then there was an instance where a doctor avoids dying from cyanide poisoning by washing out his stomach with hydrogen peroxide and then injecting said hydrogen peroxide into his bloodstream. LIKE, WHAT?

doctor who what gif

I'm no chemist or anything, but that sounds like it might do more harm than good.

That being said, I found the bizarro plot points more amusing than annoying. It's kind of entertaining how Kennedy uses devices of "the future" that seem very quaint and odd now.

Not that all of the stories are great (the last three are kind of a drag), but for the most part I'd recommend The Poisoned Pen to anyone who enjoys mysteries. And definitely check out Librivox's audiobook version if you're into that sort of thing!

Download The Poisoned Pen by Arthur B. Reeve at Project Gutenberg|Librivox