Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: CHIP OF THE FLYING U by BM Bower

book cover Original Publication Date: 1906

Genre: western

Topics: Love, belonging, nature, art

Review by heidenkind:

When Della Whittemore moves to her brother's Montana ranch, The Flying U, Chip and the rest of the hands aren't expecting much. Chip specifically predicts she'll either be a prissy “sweet young thing”, an annoying cowgirl, or an old maid who wants to drag him to church. But Della immediately surprises him and earns the respect of Chip and the other ranch hands with her quick wit and easy-going nature. Now all that's left is for Chip to man up and admit his feelings for her.

I tend to avoid westerns. I read one Louis L'Amour when I was a kid, and the only thing I remember about it is that it was distinctly unmemorable. There are hardly ever any women in westerns, either, and when they are in them they demonstrate an alarming tendency to be kidnapped by Indians. It's just not my thing. But when I asked for romance novel rec's in Melody's Public Domain Google Group, Chip of the Flying U came highly recommended and I decided to give it the barest briefest hint of a try, just in case it didn't suck. Well, it absolutely didn't–Chip of the Flying U grabbed me in the first chapter. It was so much fun that I slowed down reading it when I got near the end, to drag the story out as long as possible.

First of all, BM Bower is a really good writer. She's very much with the show-and-not-tell. For example, by the end of the first chapter we know The Flying U ranch hands have a deep appreciation of irony. Shorty's not short and Happy Jack is morose–something's that inferred through dialog, not exposition.

And speaking of the ranch hands, the real strength of Chip of the Flying U are the quirky western characters, like JG Whittemore's housekeeper, the Countess, who constantly speaks in aphorisms; the pretentious Dunk; and of course the "Little Doctor" herself, Della.

But my favorite character is Chip! He's so well-drawn and layered: a combination of smart, snarky, defensive, and sensitive that's absolutely irresistible. But most of all I loved the fact that he's clearly based off the famous painter, "the cowboy genius" Charles M. Russell. Let's do a quick comparison, shall we?

  • Chip has no formal art training and has always enjoyed sketching. Ditto Charlie Russell.
  • Chip's paintings are based on his life as a ranch hand in Montana. Charlie Russell's paintings were based on his life as a cowboy in Montana.
  • The first painting by Chip that captures public acclaim is titled "The Last Stand," which shows, "A poor, half-starved range cow with her calf which the round-up had overlooked in the fall, stood at bay against a steep cut [snow]bank. Before them squatted five great, gaunt wolves intent upon fresh beef for their supper." The first work by Charlie Russell that captured public attention was "Waiting for a Chinook," which shows an emaciated cow in the snow surrounded by hungry wolves. In both cases, the painting was of something the artist saw himself.
  • Chip's nickname before he came to The Flying U was Kid. Russell's nickname when he was a cowboy was Kid Russell.
  • Chip signs his work with a "brand," or glyph, and his name. Russell famously signed his work with a buffalo head brand and either his initials or his name.
  • Finally, it's Della who pushes Chip to show others his work and sell his paintings because she believes in his talent. Likewise, it was Russell's wife, Nancy, who pushed Russell to charge high prices for his work and managed his career. "[S]uccess came tapping at the [Russells’] door or, rather, Nancy dragged success in, hog-tied and branded," the Russells' nephew once said.

So that was fun! But even without those references, Chip of the Flying U was a really good read. It can be classified as a romance–and the relationship arc between Chip and Della is really well-done–but it's more of a coming of age story for both the main characters. Della grows into her role as a doctor and Chip discovers his true talent. In between, there are round-ups, western dances, ranch hijinks, and a horse named Silver is saved.

I definitely recommend Chip of the Flying U if you're in the mood for a fast, entertaining, and well-written read.

Download Chip of the Flying U by BM Bower at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: The Ladies' Paradise - Emile Zola

Original Publication Date: 1883 Genre: Nineteenth Century Literature Topics: Human behavior, love, shopping (!)

Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (

As we’ve been enjoying the PBS Masterpiece series on Sundays featuring “The Paradise”, I picked up Zola’s book upon which this series was based. (To be honest, when I first started reading the original version, it became pretty confusing as there are some significant differences between the book and the TV version [naturellement], but with the names kept the same… I got it sorted out after a bit, but at first, it was really perplexing.) In the end, I decided that the TV series based was based only slightly on the original – there were loads of differences from one to the other, but both are good in different ways.)

This book is a long multi-volume series that Zola wrote about a family (and its offshoots) as it goes through generations in France in the mid-nineteenth century. (However, this volume works well as a good stand-alone story as I hadn’t read any of the original set prior to this.) The plot revolves around a large department store in Paris, and was based on the real Bon Marche store, one of the first department stores in real life at that time. (Previously, most stores only specialized in one thing: umbrellas, bread, tailoring, milliner, butcher etc.) When the Industrial Revolution arrived, it led to factories mass-producing cheaper goods which also contributed to the downfall of these very small shops.

As the book progresses, The Ladies’ Paradise as (the department store is named) is growing with Mouret, the young manager at its helm. Alongside him are his employees, his suppliers, and of course his customers, all of whom intersect and around whom the story evolves. Mouret is deeply ambitious and wants to grow his business as to be as big and successful as he possibly can, often putting business before other considerations (including his love life). In fact, business to Mouret is seen through a parallel lens as others viewed religion:

His creation was producing a new religion; churches…were being deserted by those of wavering faith, were being replaced by his bazaar…”

Mouret often espouses his goal of using his business to reach the end result of “owning Woman” through his strategy of selling almost every product possible that “Woman” would want. This huge selection of wares attracts all classes of women from around Paris and afar, and via the old theory of Supply and Demand, Mouret takes their money whilst still leaving them wanting for more. Perhaps not the newest idea nowadays, but back then, it was legendary and new and this was the first time that the city had seen all these things available for sale under one roof.

Along with Mouret’s desire to be a very successful businessman, his other desire is for women and in particular, one specific woman – Denise Baudu. But can his money and business acumen convince her to love him back?....

Zola was a writer (and the self-proclaimed leader) of the Naturalist school of thought which was all about writing very clearly and realistically about social problems facing people who lived in the city: poverty, slums, filth, sickness… Zola really saw his writing as a focus to bring attention to problems that the typical reader would rather not look at – a verbal written documentary of a kind, you might say.

Despite this serious tone, the plot rattles along with the speed of the train and with the machinations of a soap opera and, if I’m honest, there are places which are terribly overwritten at times. Despite this, the writing seems to work as it could be argued to reflect the gilded extravagance of the shop and the idea of over-the-top luxury it sells as needs to its customers. The description of the store as it grows over time are gloriously detailed (reminded me of Dickens’ writing at times), and, when combined with the drama of the store stuff and that of the local neighborhood inhabitants, makes a very rich story indeed.

So, in case you haven’t picked this up so far, I really enjoyed this read. As mentioned before, this volume is part of a huge long series, but as I’m not a series kinda person for most of the time, that’s not for me. However, I would pick up another stand-alone volume by Zola at some point in the future.

One note: there was a character in this volume called Madame DesFarges which I found *slightly* confusing as the Mme. Desfarges that I kept seeing in my head was the rebellious she from Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities (1859). Zola’s was written in 1883 so he must have been aware of this character.

1789 – French Revolution with storming of the Bastille

1789 – Queen Marie Antoinette gets guillotine

1803 – France sold Louisiana to USA

1804 – Napoleon comes to power

1815 – Battle of Waterloo (marks the start of almost 50 years of peace throughout Europe as there had been loads of wars all over the place up until this point)

1815      Napoleon sent to exile; King Louis XVII comes to power.

1831 -    First clearly defined worker uprising of Industrial Revolution

1848 – French revolution against monarchy à Louis Napoleon Bonaparte starts as President of French Republic

1851 – Louis Napoleon Bonaparte becomes dictator

1863-56 – Crimean War (France and Britain against Russa)

1870 – Franco-Prussian War (start of ongoing war with Russia for ages). Paris captured by Prussian forces à Napoleon outed and goes into exile. Much general unrest due to Republicanism vs. Monarchism parties.

1871 – Riots in Paris streets over resentment against right-wing government à new President (Adolphe Tiers).

1883 – This was when The Ladies Paradise was published. Zola was politically liberal which led him to be against the tough right-wing government.

Download The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola at Project Gutenberg/Unavailable at Librivox.