Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

Set in the late eighteenth century and originally published in 1932, this book has a lot of conflicting cultural mores and values to balance, and I’m just not sure it works in the feminist-imbued twenty-first century. A virtuous young lady, Mary Challoner, disguises herself as her sister who has a date to run away with the rakish and self indulgent Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal (Vidal for short). In the first chapter Vidal very casually murders a would-be highway robber and leaves the body lying in the middle of the road because he’s too lazy to dispose of it. Then he wounds his opponent in a duel, leaves him for dead, and rushes off to arrange his assignation with Mary’s feckless and gullible sister, Sophia. So, Mary, to save her sister, runs away with Vidal, reveals herself after a while, and hopes that Vidal will lose interest in ruining Sophia. Instead, Vidal decides to abduct Mary out of spite, and he comes close to attempted rape until Mary shoots him in the arm with a pistol.

After all of that set-up, we’re supposed to believe that Vidal is just a misunderstood “bad boy”, kind of a Rhett Butler character, and Mary is just the girl to take him in hand and tame him. Oh, and we know that he’s really a good guy deep down inside because when Mary gets seasick while crossing the Channel with her abductor, Vidal fetches a basin for her to throw up into. By the time they get to France, they are in love with each other although neither one is aware of the other’s regard, and all that remains is for them to discover their mutual admiration, soothe and get the approval of the parents on both sides of the match, assuage Sophia’s wounded pride, and save Mary’s reputation and honor.

I’m just not buying. Vidal never does come across as a good character, although Mary thinks he is. If she marries him, Mary Challoner is in for a rude awakening when he murders a servant someday for polishing his boots the wrong way or tells her that he didn’t know that she would mind his having a mistress on the side. Vidal is not shown to be misunderstood or misjudged, but rather he is absolved of all responsibility and guilt for no discernible reason. He’s actually a cad and a murderer. And if there is such a thing as slut-shaming, Sophia is a victim; it’s said to be justifiable to abduct her because she’s a naive but willing runaway. However, Mary is supposed to be honorable and a cut above her sister because she would never really run away to Paris with Vidal; it’s all a horrible misunderstanding, an adventure, and an accident.

What with the male-female double standard for marital and sexual behavior in the 1930’s and the class distinctions for what is honorable and moral behavior in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this romance is a hot mess. Honorable, decent girls shouldn’t fall in love with their would-be abductors and rapists, and if they do they can expect trouble in the subsequent marriage. As for Vidal, he doesn’t deserve a wife or a mistress, and I don’t believe his protestations of innocence and undying affection for Mary.

The spectacle of the various characters in the novel chasing one another all over France is somewhat entertaining, but othe wise this novel is both infuriating and forgettable. I’ve liked some other Heyer Regency romances, but I’d recommend giving this one a pass.

11 Favorite Nonfiction Books I Read in 2014

I read over 200 books in 2014. Of those, if I counted right, only twenty-two were nonfiction. So, when I say the “11 best” or 11 favorite”, I’m including half of the nonfiction books I read this past year. The first two on the list were my favorites; the rest are in no particular order.

The Last Lion 2: Winston Spencer Churchill Alone, 1932-40 by William Manchester. I love Winston Churchill. I would have been afraid or at least disinclined to work for him or to eat at his dinner table; he did not suffer fools gladly and did not treat even his employees and friends with great consideration for their comfort. But reading about him is a delight.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. Good Christian apologetics, good story.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre.

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller.

Blue Marble: How a Photograph Revealed Earth’s Fragile Beauty by Don Nardo. The story of the iconic picture of earth from space taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. Skip or skim the boring parts, but most of this one is a fascinating look at the rescue of art treasures from Nazi theft and from Allied ignorance.

Rich in Love: When God Rescues Messy People by Irene Garcia. People and relationships are messy, and Ms. Garcia doesn’t pretend that all of the stories of her many foster children and adopted children turn out well. Some are still struggling with bad choices and bad beginnings. But this was ultimately a hope-filled book about the way God uses imperfect, messed-up people to sow His grace into the world.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. Kind of grisly, but fascinating in its detail about a vision of progress and light alongside a serial killer’s vision of deceit and murder.

Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin. Interesting family, interesting book, written for children but it tells as much as I wanted to know.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. I just finished this one a few days before Christmas. I laughed, I gasped, I read passages out loud to my unappreciative family. In short, I was captivated by reliving the summer of 1927.

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Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

I really enjoyed certain aspects of this murder mystery set in 1932 among the rich, royal, famous, and impecunious of England. It had the flavor of I Capture the Castle mixed with Downton Abbey mixed with a little P.G. Wodehouse. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the Duke of Glen Garry and Ranoch, aka Georgie, finds herself unmarried, without funds, and without a real goal in life. She decides to leave the drafty castle in Scotland that belongs to her older brother the duke, aka Binky, and try her luck in London, unchaperoned and completely unsure about her future plans.

“I reminded myself that it is the 1930’s. Young ladies were allowed to do more than embroider, play piano, and paint watercolors. And London was a big city, teeming with opportunities for a bright young person like myself.”

Georgie, in addition to being of the aristocracy, is also a (very)minor royal, thirty-fourth in line to the throne. The title and the relations don’t get her much in the way of money, but she does get a summons from the queen (Queen Mary, wife of George V) and a commission to do a little bit of harmless spying on Prince Edward and the American woman he seems to have become involved with. However, Georgie finds that surviving on one’s own is more difficult than she had imagined, and spying on a prince comes with its own hazards.

Georgie is a wonderful character, intelligent but innocent. I liked her, and I liked seeing her navigate her way through the perils and amusements of a certain segment of London society. However, the minor characters are not so delightful. Georgie takes up with an old school friend whose constant advice is that Georgie must lose the dreadful “burden” of her virginity as soon as possible. Georgie doesn’t take her friend’s advice, but she is sorely tempted. And she never really mounts any kind of a moral or philosophical defense against this promiscuous and shallow idea of what life is all about.

So, I liked the setting, the plot was OK, and the main character is fun to watch, even if she is a little too easily influenced by foolish and unsavory characters. But the constant drumbeat of propaganda in favor of promiscuous, unattached sexual encounters spoiled the rest of the story for me, even though the actual sexual escapades in the book are limited in number and off-stage. I probably won’t read the rest of the series.

1932: Events and Inventions

March 1, 1932. Charles and Ann Lindbergh’s young son, Charles Jr., is discovered missing from his crib in the family home. Ten weeks after his abduction, Charles Jr. is found dead just a few miles from the Lindberghs’ home. Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who will be tried, convicted, and executed for the crime, proclaims his innocence to the end.

'Last Emperor of China' photo (c) 2010, tonynetone - license: 1, 1932. Japan proclaims Manchuria an independent state called Manchukuo and installs Manchu (Chinese) Emperor Puyi as puppet emperor. (Without the minerals and food supply obtained from their occupation of Manchuria, the Japanese probably could not have carried out their plan for conquest over Southeast Asia or taken the risk to attack Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December, 1941.)

May 16, 1932. Massive riots between Hindus and Muslims in Bombay leave thousands dead and injured.

May 20-21, 1932. U.S. aviator Amelia Earhardt becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

May 29, 1932. The first of approximately 15,000 World War I veterans arrive in Washington, D.C. demanding the immediate payment of their military bonus, becoming known as the Bonus Army. On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell orders the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police meet with resistance, shots are fired and two veterans are wounded and later die. President Herbert Hoover then orders the army to clear the veterans’ campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commands the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children are driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

June 15, 1932. War breaks out between the South American countries of Bolivia and Paraguay over control of the Gran Chaco, a forested plain between the two countries. Paraguay needs the resources from the Gran Chaco, grazing land and hardwood from the forests, and landlocked Bolivia needs access to the Gran Chaco in order to trade overseas. The war will last until 1935 and will be the bloodiest military conflict fought in South America in the twentieth century.

September 20, 1932. Mohandas Gandhi begins a six-day hunger strike in Poona prison. This fast was the start of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables (Dalit), whom he named Harijans, the children of God.

November 8, 1932. Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president of the United States. He promises to end the Great Depression with his “New Deal”, and he further promises that when he is president, “No American will starve.”

In 1932, unemployment in the US reaches between 25-33%—about 14 million people unemployed. A similar level of unemployment now affects Germany. The economic depression has spread worldwide.

Nothing To Fear by Jackie French Koller

My American History class has reached the era of the Great Depression, the 1930’s, and we’re reading Nothing To Fear by Jackie Koller. This read is going much better than the last book they were asked to read, Christy by Catherine Marshall. Christy is one of my favorite novels, but had I known when I wrote the syllabus that I would have a class of nine fourteen-fifteen year old boys, I might have chosen a different book to exemplify the early twentieth century.

Back to Nothing To Fear. All of the boys were enthusiastic about this one. It’s the story of a boy, Danny Garvey, who lives with his Irish American family—father, mother, and little sister Maureen–in a tenement apartment in New York City in 1932. Like all of the men in Danny’s neighborhood, Danny father is out of work and feeling desperate about providing for his family. Danny’s mother does laundry and ironing from her home for Miss Emily’s Hotel for Young Women. Danny shines shoes to make a few extra pennies.

But when Danny gets in with the wrong crowd and a window gets broken at old man Weissman’s store, Danny learns just how important his good name is to his father and eventually through the course of events, Danny also learns to value his own name and reputation.

Some bad stuff happens in this book, but it ends on a note of hope and perseverance. Danny and his mother trust in God and President Roosevelt to get them through the Depression, a trust somewhat misplaced in my opinion, but it’s true to the era and matches the stories that I’ve heard from people who lived during the 1930’s. Danny and his mom and all their neighbors are ecstatic when Roosevelt is elected, and even though, again realistically, the election of Roosevelt does nothing to improve the Garveys’ lives, they still cling to the hope that FDR will do something to end the Depression and return the country to prosperity. It reminds me of people nowadays who still maintain that President Obama will get our economy going again, except that I don’t think we’re as desperate as people were during the Great Depression. Therefore, we have a little room to see clearly that Obama is not our rescuer. FDR was any port in a storm and too much of a last chance for people to give up on him, even when he didn’t/couldn’t deliver.

I would recommend Nothing To Fear for boys ages 12-16 who are studying the Depression era in history or who just enjoy history and historical fiction. A few other recommended fiction books set in the same time period for children and young adults:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. Cassie Logan lives with her family in rural Mississippi and experiences the family closeness and racial tensions of the 1930’s time period.

I like these Dear America diaries:
Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift. Indianapolis, IN, 1932 by Kathryn Lasky.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Diary of Bess Brennan, The Perkins School for the Blind, 1932 by Barry Denenburg.
Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dalhart, Texas, 1935 by Katelyn Janke.

Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. Winner of the 2001 Newbery Medal. Fifteen year old Mary Alice is sent downstate to live with Grandma Dowdel while her Ma and Pa stay in Chicago to work.
Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Bud, not Buddy, Caldwell is an orphan who thinks he might just have a dad, Herman E. Calloway, bass player for the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Will he find Calloway, and is Calloway really his father?
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the story of a girl, twelve year old Abilene Tucker, whose father, Gideon, is a hobo. Abilene and her dad have been riding the rails together for as long as she can remember, but now (summer, 1936) Gideon has sent Abilene to live with an old friend of his in Manifest, Kansas while Gideon takes a job on the railroad back in Iowa. 2010 Newbery Award winner. Semicolon review here.
Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. For older teens and adults. Semicolon review here.
William S. and the Great Escape by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. William escapes his abusive home along with his little sister and brother, but can the three fugitives find a place to call home in a time when home is hard to find? Semicolon review here.
Turtle in Paradise by Jenifer L. Holm. Semicolon review here. Take one eleven year girl named Turtle with eyes as “gray as soot” who sees things exactly as they are. Plunk her down in Key West, Florida with her Aunt Minnie the Diaper Gang and a bunch of Conch (adj. native or resident of the Florida Keys) relatives and Conch cousins with nicknames like Pork Chop and Too Bad and Slow Poke.

Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham

1932. Ludelphia Bennett is ten years old, and she’s never set foot outside of Gee’s Bend, her small town tucked into a bend in the Alabama RIver. Ludelphia is blind in one eye, the result of a childhood accident, and she can’t swim. She’s never been on the ferry that crosses the river over into the village of Camden. No one in her family has ever seen a real doctor.

So when Ludelphia’s mama gets very sick after the birth of new baby sister, Rose, and Ludelphia’s friend, Etta Mae, recommends that Ludelphia fetch the doctor from Camden, the town across the river, it takes all the determination and bravery and quilting that Ludelphia can summon up to sustain her in her journey. That’s right, quilting. Stitching. Ludelphia sews on her patchwork quilt to tell her story, to calm her nerves, and to hold her world together.

The dialog in the book has just enough dialect to catch the flavor of the south in the 1930’s. And crazy Mrs. Cobb is a villain just scary enough for a middle grade book, and still not absolutely horrifying. The story itself twist and turns, but resolves in satisfying way as Ludelphia learns something about the world outside of Gee’s Bend and returns with not only help for her mama, but help for the whole town. And the ending is not an unrealistic solution to everything, just a way through for Ludelphia and her family to go on with their lives.

I started again with the needle. Mama always said you should live a life the same way you piece a quilt. That you was in charge of where you put the pieces. You was the one to decide how your story turns out.
Well, it seemed to me some of them pieces had a mind of their own.

I reckon when you grow up in one place you just naturally think every other place is the same as your home. I reckon it takes leaving to appreciate all the things about that place that make it special.
Dear Lord, I did want to go home.

Other takes:
Maw’s Books: “I enjoyed learning more about this real town of Gee’s Bend which is steeped in quilting history and was the inspiration for this novel. The book felt a bit slow near the beginning of the book but once Ludelphia began her journey, everything began to move along and I was fully invested in her story.”

Megan at Leafing Through Life: “Lu will meet both good and evil people and hopefully emerge on the other side with a better story for her quilt than she could have ever imagined. Drawing inspiration from the real Gee’s Bend’s rich quilting history, Irene Latham has crafted a beautiful story of her own. Leaving Gee’s Bend is a coming of age story set in a vividly drawn 1930s sharecropping community.”

Hope is the Word: “Irene Latham is not only a master at using dialect very unobtrusively, she also has a talent for figurative language. Again, Ludelphia’s voice is unforgettable.”

An interview with Irene Latham at Cynsations.

Leaving Gee’s Bend has been nominated for the 2010 Cybils Awards in the Middle Grade Fiction category.

Dorothy Sayers Quotations

I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.
— Dorothy L. Sayers (Have his Carcase, 1932)

I found this on an unfamiliar website. looks like the website for a Lutheran church.. I don’t know if Dorothy really wrote it or not, but it’s wonderful satire:

Creed of St. Euthanasia
(Commonly called the Atheneum Creed)

I believe in man, maker of himself and inventor of all science. And in myself, his manifestation, and captain of my psyche; and that I should not suffer anything painful or unpleasant.

And in a vague, evolving deity, the future-begotten child of man; conceived by the spirit of progress, born of emergent variants; who shall kick down the ladder by which he rose and tell history to go to hell.

Who shall some day take off from earth and be jet-propelled into the heavens; and sit exalted above all worlds, man the master almighty.

And I believe in the spirit of progress, who spake by Shaw and the Fabians; and in a modern, administrative, ethical, and social organization; in the isolation of saints, the treatment of complexes, joy through health, and destruction of the body by cremation (with music while it burns), and then I’ve had it.

I especially like the part where the spirit of progress spake by Shaw and the Fabians.

This last one is a favorite of Eldest Daughter. Lord Peter says to Harriet Vane:

??I know you don?t want either to give or to take. You?ve tried being the giver, and you?ve found that the giver is always fooled. And you won?t be the taker, because that?s very difficult, and because you know that the taker always ends by hating the giver. You don?t want ever again to have to depend for happiness on another person.”
Dorothy Sayers, Have His Carcase