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Book Review: “The Agony Column,” by Earl Derr Biggers

3234828Genre: mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: Geoffrey West is a young American staying in a rented flat in London when he meets another fellow American—the pretty daughter of a senator who is touring with her father. The year is 1914 and it is the hot month of July. Talk of war is in the air as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand makes headlines. But there is another column in the newspaper that catches both Americans’ attention: the personal notices in the Agony Column. As Geoffrey communicates to Marian via this modern-day version of Facebook, he delivers an exciting narrative of mystery, murder and suspense that may threaten his life.

My Book Review: I found this vintage publication on Librivox and found it to be a short but cute read. Chapters are long, but the plot moves right along and it didn’t take long to finish. All of the fun melodramatic elements of a dime novel are present in the tale: murder, spies, ladies in black veils, strangers at a restaurant, espionage, cloak and dagger, shadow-filled alleys…

This wasn’t the classic of the century, but it made for some good entertainment. It certainly had a couple of huge plot twists towards the end that kept me on the edge of my seat! (Talk about a way to keep a lady’s attention!) If you’re in the mood for something light, fun, and adventure-filled, you may enjoy this WWI-era story.  I know that for myself, I plan on reading at least one other book by this author!

*This book was also published under a different title: The Second-Floor Mystery.  I believe it was turned into an early film by this name.

*To listen to the Librivox audiobook for free, click here.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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1st Dramatic Reading Scene & Story Collection- on Librivox!

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Hi, there!  It’s been a little while since this was cataloged on Librivox, but I was saving it for spring to post on booklearned.  The project is Librivox’s first Dramatic Reading Scene & Story Collection (Vol. 001).  It isn’t too often that I get to take part in a dramatic project, so this was a fun opportunity to play a main role in one of the sections.  It was also enjoyable to discover a new author I hadn’t known too well of before this.  The short story I participated in was “The Garden Party,” by Katherine Mansfield.  I feel this is one of my favorite audio recordings to date, because I really sat down to analyze the story, the characters, their background, and how I interpreted the ending.  It really reminded me a lot of the book of Ecclesiastes, and it was from this viewpoint that I acted the part.

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”  ~Ecclesiastes 7:2

Unfortunately, I began to experience audio technical difficulties around the time I recorded this, so the background is not the best.  I’ve also had to set aside my recording for lack of a place to record.  So frustrating!  But I know that God will provide when He sees fit.

I hope you enjoy it and many other fine stories in the collection, including several L. M. Montgomery stories, Sherlock Holmes, and children’s stories.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2016 in LibriVox

 

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Book Review: He Fell in Love with His Wife, by Edward Payson Roe

8805214Genre: classics, romance; Inspirational

Plot Summary: James Holcroft is a widower farmer trying to keep his farm going, but is losing financially.  He needs a housekeeper (or so he thinks) and employs several different ladies who each in turn cheat, pry, and lie.  After suffering through the oppression of Mrs. Mumpson, Holcroft is done with housekeepers and is ready to auction off his farm for good… But then he meets a woman in need of a home and his plans are radically changed within an afternoon.  Will Holcroft and Alida make a successful business partnership, or will they form a different type of relationship altogether?

My Book Review:  Of course the title of this novel gives the end away, but it’s the getting there that makes this novel a delightful read.  I discovered this gem on LibriVox (which you can listen to for free here) and decided I wanted to read it for myself.  I had never heard of the author Edward Payson Roe and truthfully I was expecting a fluffy, vintage read.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find a book of substance which kept me from feeling guilty about reading a ‘romance novel’!  It being originally published in 1886, I was also expecting to have to work at understanding what was being said.  Instead, the narration and dialogue was a breeze to read through.  I wouldn’t have guessed it was written way back then!

One of the things I loved about the story was the lovely characters and their development.  There are three principle players central to the plot: Holcroft, Alida, and Jane.  Reading about their past histories to understand why they were the way they were, why they reacted the ways in which they did, and the decisions they made during the course of the book did much in making the story seem organic and believable.  Its funny how each of these characters think they want a certain thing and set out to obtain it, yet in the end find that their hearts need something much more important.

"Spring Sky," by Eric Sloane

“Spring Sky,” by Eric Sloane ~ “He did not know it, but his nature was being softened, deepened and enriched by these deep and unwonted experiences; the hard materiality of his life was passing away, rendering him capable of something better than he had ever known.”

I loved Alida Armstrong.  I could totally identify with her personality and motivations, especially her heartfelt wish for a safe and secure home.  Holcroft is a man of the earth, a farmer through and through, and his desire is to be able to remain on the land where he has lived all his life.  He’s just trying to keep anything more in his life from changing.  But what they both find they really need is to experience genuine love.

What made this book so enjoyable was Roe’s perfect touch at story pacing.  The characters and events seem to happen along naturally at just the right time.  He marinates them in the cause and effect juices of the previous chapter, and then ups the suspense to keep us from getting too comfortable in a book where the title gives the end away.

Part of how he does this is through the cat-like character of Jane.  I inwardly groaned when she showed up on Holcroft’s doorstep one rainy afternoon, for the same reasons in which Holcroft and Alida wished she hadn’t.  The farmer and his wife are just starting to get to the point where they are discovering feelings for each other.  Things are developing along quite nicely between them, and then all of a sudden there is a third party that puts a little obstacle in their way.  Now things aren’t quite so cozy!  But at the same time, you feel sorry for this poor little girl who has grown up feeling like she never belonged anywhere.  I admire her for her sense in making a way for herself despite the foolishness of her mother.  Jane makes it difficult for anyone to feel affectionate toward her.  Holcroft and Alida are good people, yet human.  They know Jane yearns to be acknowledged and to be secure.  The addition of this ‘intruder’ in the story makes for some misunderstandings, and hence heightened suspense.  But she is also the one who saves the day in the end.  Jane adds an even more heartwarming element to the story.

"Woman Reading," by Edouard Vuillard

“Woman Reading,” by Edouard Vuillard ~ “…she entertained and interested him, although she said so little, and by some subtle power she unloosed his tongue and made it easy for him to talk to her. In the most quiet and unobtrusive way, she was not only making herself at home, but him also; she was very subservient to his wishes, but not servilely so; she did not assert, but only revealed her superiority…”

As I was reading, I was struck by the immense understanding the author had of men and women, –their needs, values, psyches.  In fact, this is much of how the story forms naturally, through all the misunderstandings, motivations, and consequences.  James Holcroft has no interest in promising to love and cherish another wife and refuses to take the traditional marriage vows.  Yet he does just that in his actions towards Alida.  He is a good and kind man and she senses this.  In turn, she does her utmost to be a wife who does her husband good and not harm, like the Proverbs 31 woman. It doesn’t take the man in Holcroft long to recognize her beautiful personality.  His character becomes incredibly attractive to Alida, and before we know it, they are in love.

The only small thing I didn’t think was believable enough was how soon Alida trusted Holcroft.  After her ordeal with previously marrying such a skunk as Henry Ferguson, I don’t see how Alida’s sensitive personality would have easily trusted another man.  Even though she married for convenience, I don’t think she would have learned to love him so quickly in real life.  Or, at least she would have struggled with trust issues.  Also, I wish the ending was a tad more romantic.  🙂

There’s something for nature lovers in this book as well.  I loved how the story is woven among the timeline of spring, from March to late June.  The weather, flowers, buds, and birds are detailed along with the growth of the romance between the farmer and his wife.

This book has the wonderful makings of a Hallmark movie (Holcroft played by none other than Aidan Quinn, OF COURSE!).  It sort of reminded me of stories like Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Magic of Ordinary Days, and Seasons of the Heart.  You’ll find this to be a sweet sentimental tale that clearly goes beyond ‘fluffiness.’  Don’t pass over this gem!  It may be your new favorite book!

Aidan Quinn as Holcroft?

Aidan Quinn as Holcroft?

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Librivox: “Bunyan’s Characters, Vol. II”

e4abbee444a88b6eb22529beb5f243e9Hi, all!  Last year I enjoyed taking part in a collaborative project on Librivox, reading three chapters from “Bunyan’s Characters, Vol. II” by Alexander Whyte.  This work is a commentary on the different characters from John Bunyan’s classic book, “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Whereas Vol. I analyzes the characters from Pilgrim’s Progress, Vol. II follows the characters from Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 2: Christiana.  There were many volunteers who participated in reading this work; I read chapters: (9) Mercy, (15) Feeble-Mind, & (20) Madame Bubble.  I think Feeble-Mind was my favorite one to read, and really got into the part!  I hesitate to share #20 because I know there’s mistakes in it, but I figure no one’s perfect and I should stop pretending I am.  So, here they are, mistakes and all!  🙂

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in LibriVox

 

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LibriVox: Hans Christian Andersen Collaborative Work

07e9d5dd93208e30fc7aef5950a660dbHi, there!  About a year ago I contributed to a LibriVox group project that read various Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales and short stories.  You can listen to The Bird of Popular Song (Section 21) here, and also many other fine readings from other Librivox volunteers.  Stories include: The Snowdrop; The Ice Maiden; The Psyche; The Snail and the Rose-Tree.  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2015 in LibriVox

 

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Book Review: The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton. 4 = Recommended ReadingGenre: classic; inspirational; mystery; intrigue; suspense; drama

Plot Summary: Gabriel Syme, a poet from Saffron Park, finds himself in over his head in a nightmarish mystery.  From secret meetings, to anarchist intrigues, to wild chases and a flight for his life, Gabriel finds that no one is as they seem.  Who is the man called Sunday?

My Book Review: To be honest, I wasn’t greatly looking forward to reading this book.  A couple years ago I had read The Napoleon of Notting Hill (see my review here) and wasn’t enthusiastic about it.  But I wanted to try my hand at another work of G. K. Chesterton, and I know his books are good for the brain, so I decided to stretch myself once again.

And I’m glad I did.  I liked this one loads more than The Napoleon…  It also happens to be considered Chesterton’s best book.  I was pretty much hooked from the beginning chapters, and actually felt excited about finding out what happens next.  Mysteries that just get more mysterious all the time, impersonations, car chases, secret meetings in secret rooms…  What more could you ask of a thriller?  I’m having a little trouble writing this review because to tell anything more would be to give it away!

The subtitle of this short book is entitled “A Nightmare.”  Given Chesterton’s penchant for hair-brained story-lines, I think this is an apt description.  A lot of intellectual dialogue takes place (hence, get your quote-books ready), but it’s action packed as well.  [Edit: After reading some of Chesterton’s comments about his own novel, I feel I understand it a bit better, which is to say I understand that even the author didn’t take his book seriously enough to understand all of it!  It is, as he reminds us, A Nightmare.]

"He felt he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality." ~The Man Who Was Thursday

“He felt he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality.” ~The Man Who Was Thursday

When reading The Napoleon…, I came away from it feeling like there was a lot going on that I was not comprehending and needed a commentary to understand it more deeply.  I found that to be the case with this book as well, though I liked it immensely better and felt I could comprehend it a little easier.  There was a three part introductory commentary at the beginning of the copy I borrowed from the library, but frankly I needed a commentary to understand the commentary!  I hope I can get my hands on a better discussion of this classic work.  It seems to be one of those books you could go on dissecting for years and years and still never get to the bottom of it.  I guess that makes it a true classic! 

I’m not sure exactly why this book appealed to me so much.  Maybe it was the action, the unbelievable events.   Maybe it was because it wasn’t what I was expecting when I checked this brown, dull-looking book out of the library.  Or maybe it was because, even though I’m no lit. professor, I couldn’t help but recognize and glean little gems of spiritual allegories in the unfolding of the story.

If you feel you want to give your brain muscles a workout while being taken for a thrill ride at the same time, this book is for you!  It won’t take long to read.  I recommend a good commentary to go along with it!

Have you read this book, too?  Leave your thoughts on it below!

Listen to a free audiobook version of The Man Who Was Thursday.

Or, you can listen to a radio dramatized version from Mercury Theatre, originally aired in 1938:

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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Librivox Dramatic Work: Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey

7b907934bd3f67dabc7af19f773fa8c7Hi!  Today I was excited to discover that Librivox just catalogued a dramatized audio project I took a small part in: “Northanger Abbey,” by Jane Austen.  This was a lot of fun, and was the first time I tried out a British accent, so I hope I was convincing enough!  I played the small role of Anne Thorpe in Ch. 14.  This project was narrated by Elizabeth Klett (a Librivox favorite) and includes other great voices.  You can listen for free to the entire work free by clicking here.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in LibriVox

 

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