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Dig Here! is a bunch of familiar elements — teenage girl best friends, missing treasure, a cranky aunt, and abandoned house, etc. — assembled in a way that didn’t feel familiar. I found myself wondering a lot whether this was the book Gladys Allen set out to write.

The main character, Sandy, is the daughter of missionaries. She’s sent to boarding school during the school year and to various relatives during the summers. When Dig Here! opens, she’s facing the prospect of spending the summer with Aunt Cal, who she’s never met, and who is related to her only by marriage. Aunt Cal says it’s okay for Sandy to bring a friend with her, so she invites her best friend, Eve, and it’s a good thing for her that she does. Eve is a much more forceful personality than Sandy is, and she’s also more adventurous, more sensible, and probably smarter. She’s even better at dealing with Aunt Cal, in part because she’s better at cooking and housework and, I don’t know, getting up on time than Sandy is.

This is one of the things that makes me unsure Allen knows what book she’s writing. Someone — maybe one of Sandy’s parents, in a letter? — talks about how sunny and sweet Sandy is, but all we actually see evidence of is Eve being better at everything. Towards the end you get a little more of a sense of Sandy as a person in her own right, but not much.

It’s an Augusta Huiell Seaman kind of setup. On their arrival at Aunt Cal’s the girls find that Sandy accidentally exchanged suitcases with a fellow bus passenger — a hair tonic salesman, judging by his luggage. A trip to exchange the suitcase for Sandy’s leads them to an old house, and hair tonic guy behaving suspiciously. Then the house turns out to be the one that Aunt Cal should have inherited from her uncle — and would have, if her shiftless cousin hadn’t hidden his will. There also may or may not be an emerald buried somewhere around the property. I’m not sure Eve and Sandy know which of these mysteries they’re investigating, but they investigate with a will, and with the help of cute farmboy Michael, and, eventually, the various hindrances provided by their school friend Hattie May and her brother Hamish. Hamish fancies himself as a detective.

I think what makes Dig Here! feel unusual is that books like these tend to have a very narrow focus. The kids solving the mystery are usually a small, tight-knit group. The crotchety relative exists to have their heart melted by the main character. You get your protagonist, his or her friends, whatever adults they live with, and maybe a villain. But in Dig Here!, everything’s part of a larger picture you don’t see. There are characters you never meet, like Sandy’s parents and Aunt Cal’s cousin. And the characters you do meet have stuff going on that the kids don’t know about. There are subplots that Sandy and Eve don’t find out about until the end, and then only as an afterthought. Aunt Cal is investigating on her own account, and doesn’t tell Sandy anything about it. And she doesn’t need to confide in Sandy — she’s not socially isolated, she’s got friends, and they probably know more about the mystery than Sandy does, too. It gives the book a different feel than you’d get from Seaman, or from any mystery where the kids hide what’s happening from the clueless grownups. And I enjoyed that.

The downside of the kids not having most of the story is that their side of the mystery isn’t that interesting, and the characters I enjoyed most were the ones Allen spent the least time on, but it was fun.I don’t think I need to seek out more books by Gladys Allen, but if I ended up reading another one, I wouldn’t be upset.

Tagged: 1930s, girls, gladys allen, mystery

2 Comments on , last added: 11/29/2014
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2. The 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s birth

On 27th October 1914 Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, South Wales. He is widely regarded as one the most significant Welsh writers of the 20th century.Thomas’s popular reputation has continued to grow after his death on 9th November, 1953, despite some critics describing his work as too ‘florid‘. He wrote prolifically throughout his lifetime but is arguably best known for his poetry. His poem The hand that signed the paper is taken from Jon Stallworthy’s edited collection The Oxford Book of War Poetry, and can be found below:



The hand that signed the paper

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;

Statue of Dylan Thomas, Maritime Quarter, Swansea, by Tony in Devon. CC-BY-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,

Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;

These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,

The finger joints are cramped with chalk;

A goose’s quill has put an end to murder

That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,

And famine grew, and locusts came;

Great is the hand that holds dominion over

Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften

The crusted wound nor stroke the brow;

A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;

Hands have no tears to flow.


The post The 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s birth appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Jane of Lantern Hill

General consensus seemed to be that, after The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill was the best L.M. Montgomery book. So, when I detached myself from the internet yesterday and had a mini reading spree, it was the first thing I read. I mean, after I finished the Nero Wolfe book I was in the middle of.

I’m sorry I’m late to the L.M. Montgomery party, but I’m not sorry I’m getting to read these books for the first time now. There are children’s books that I’ve read as an adult and wished I had read as a kid, but Jane of Lantern Hill isn’t one of them. Yes, reading it at the appropriate age would have been a very different experience, but I don’t think it would have necessarily been a better one; I have so much more context for things now. This is just me trying to rationalize, though. Mostly I can’t imagine enjoying Jane of Lantern Hill more when I was a kid than I did yesterday.

The setup is strikingly similar to that of The Blue Castle — the unhappy girl living in a strict, female-dominated household whose only escape is via her imagination, the awful aunts and uncles and the privileged cousin, etc. But Jane is a kid, and her family includes some non-awful people: her mother and father, who are estranged. Jane and her mother live with Jane’s grandmother, who basically hates everyone but Jane’s mother, and takes active pleasure in making Jane’s life miserable.

This is abuse. Her grandmother uses everything Jane does to reinforce a narrative where Jane is useless and terrible at everything and has “low tastes.” Anything that Jane does well or likes to do is either ignored or food for further criticism. Every nice thing that her grandmother gives is is secretly meant to make her unhappy. And Jane responds, as people being abused often do, by becoming bad at all of the things she’s told she’s bad at. It’s pretty uncomfortable reading.

But this is a mostly cheerful children’s book, and so there’s something irrepressibly humorous and interested in Jane that her grandmother can’t kill, and she gets to exercise those faculties when she goes away to spend the summer with her father on Prince Edward Island.

Jane’s first summer with her father is almost too perfect. They instinctively get each other, in a way that was enough like an idealized version of my relationship with my father that it almost made me uncomfortable. But only almost. What’s great about this section, though, is Jane’s confidence. Free of her grandmother’s influence, she knows she’s capable of doing all sorts of things. It’s interesting that so many of those things are in the areas of cooking and housekeeping — things her grandmother never repeatedly told Jane was awful at because she never allowed her to try them in the first place.

Even better is the fact that Jane takes some of that confidence back home with her at the end of the summer. And yes, she stands up for herself a little more, but my favorite thing is that her knowledge that she’s a capable person sticks with her and allows her to continue to be a capable person, doing better in school and becoming less clumsy. It’s great.

So, yeah, this book was so good for me in so many ways. I didn’t love the ending as much as I loved the rest, but I also don’t see how else Montgomery could have sorted things out, so I don’t really want to complain.

When I was finished with Jane of Lantern Hill I went on reading people’s recommendations/things I’ve waited for too long to read. Next up: The Adventure of Princess Sylvia, because I got mixed up and didn’t remember I was supposed to read Princess Virginia instead.

Tagged: 1930s, canada, lmmontgomery

8 Comments on Jane of Lantern Hill, last added: 6/18/2013
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4. Short Story Series #1: The super obvious

Of all the English classes I ever had, my 7th grade one was the best. And part of it was that my teacher was great, and part of it was that I realized that grammar is equal parts fun and fascinating — although I realize I may be alone on that one — but probably the single biggest factor was that we had to write an essay on a short story each week. And I could talk a lot about how helpful it was to have to churn out essays and learn to construct an argument and stuff, but what I’m here to talk about today is how much I hated the short stories.

Middle School and High School English classes do a lot to instill in kids the idea that serious literature is super depressing, and short stories, which tend to be sort of single-minded in pursuit of an idea, make it worse — at least with novels, there’s usually time and space to put in a few scenes that will make you laugh, or, you know, offer sidelights on a character that give you hope that they have inner resources to draw on and won’t spend the rest of their lives completely miserable. If they live to the end of the story, that is.

I mean, there were bright spots: “The Speckled Band.” Dorothy Parker. Vocabulary lessons. But I came out of Middle School English with the conviction that all short stories were terrible and that I would hate them forever, with a grudging exception for detective stories.

Anyway, the point of this is that for a long time I really believed I hated short stories — until a couple of years ago when I realized that I was reading short stories all the time, and loving them. It was just that they were short story series, character-driven and funny instead of literary and depressing. These days I get really excited when an author I’ve been enjoying turns out to have a series of short stories or two. So this is the first in what I expect to be a extremely rambling series of posts about those, and how much fun they are — starting with the super obvious.

Sherlock Holmes

It doesn’t get a lot more obvious than Sherlock Holmes, right? To the point where I don’t need to describe the series at all, because if you don’t already know the premise, you’ve been living under a rock since 1887.I’m only including the Holmes stories here to point out that they’re exactly the same as everything else I’m about to talk about — focused on a character, based around a central conceit, and closely tied to a specific setting. And all about a person who’s better at stuff than everyone around him, which is preferred, if not essential. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is, I think, the most fun — first collections usually are — and I retain my 7th grade fondness for “The Speckled Band,” although I think the one that kind of bowled me over the most when I first read it was “The Red-Headed League.”

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Project Gutenberg doesn’t have the complete Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes or Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, but you get the idea. And the novels are sort of beside the point in this context, but I will freely admit that my favorite Sherlock Holmes Thing is Hound of the Baskervilles, which I love probably beyond reason.

Jeeves and Wooster

Then there’s P.G. Wodehouse. And if Sherlock Holmes is typical of the thing I’m trying to talk about, I don’t know what the Jeeves

7 Comments on Short Story Series #1: The super obvious, last added: 6/15/2012
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5. Snobbery with Violence

I ordered Snobbery with Violence, by Colin Watson, on the recommendation of Cristiane, and on the whole I liked it, but I do have some reservations. Well, a  lot.

Snobbery with Violence is a discussion of some of the most popular authors of crime fiction between, approximately, World War I and the 1960s, when the book was written. Watson’s premise is that an era’s most popular fiction tells you the most about its reading public, and obviously that’s a thesis I can get behind. What bothered me was that most of the snobbery involved seemed to come from the author. Colin Watson may think he likes mystery novels, but my impression is that he hates them and the people that read them.

The best parts are when he recounts the plots of ridiculous thrillers by Edgar Wallace, Sapper, and the like — my favorite includes an episode where Bulldog Drummond hits a tarantula between the eyes with a poker — but once he finishes the description, he always makes sure you know that he’s laughing at the authors and the readers, not just the funny plot twists. At times, the book feels like a list of popular mystery writers with a brief explanation of why each one was bad. He rarely gives anyone credit for anything positive.

I also, somewhere near the middle of the book, became a little bit suspicious of Watson. I wasn’t very familiar with most of the writers he talked about, but I have read all of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels, and when Watson began to talk about them, I could see where he was simplifying things in order to make his points, and where that simplification led to false impressions.

An example: he talks about a bit in Have His Carcase in which Harriet Vane spends time with a professional dancer. She can dance with him, says Watson, but she can’t socialize with him for any other purpose than to get information from him, because heroines have to be chaste. And that’s true enough, as far as it goes, but Watson probably ought to have chosen another example, because we are frequently reminded, throughout the books in which she appears, that Harriet Vane used to live with a man she wasn’t married to, and to leave that out seems deliberately misleading. And it’s a little thing, but it made me doubt Watson’s information on the books I was less familiar with.

So, yeah. Watson is a horrible snob who hates popular authors, the reading public, and television, and I don’t think he’s the most ethical writer out there. But Snobbery with Violence is a fun book to read, and it’s helped me to add lots of things to my reading list. Just — if you read it, take it with a grain of salt.

2 Comments on Snobbery with Violence, last added: 10/28/2010
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6. Murder at Bridge

I sort of don’t like how odd and ends of more-recent-than-1923 fiction pop up on Project Gutenberg, although I recognize that’s just me being silly, or a tiny bit annoyed by the fact that lots of things with interesting titles turn out to be short stories from SF magazines, which really aren’t my kind of thing. But you also get the odd mystery novel from the ’30s, ’40s, or ’50s, and those can be pretty entertaining. Murder at Bridge, for example. It’s from 1931 and it’s by Anne Austin, who apparently wrote several mystery novels between the late twenties and mid thirties, although Google Books is choosing not to make them available. Or, I don’t know, they could all be under copyright. But Murder at Bridge seems not to be, and Google hasn’t made their text of that available either. Whatever. Let’s just say that Google Books is, as ever, a mystery to me.

Anyway. Murder at Bridge. The setting is a moderately sized city called Hamilton, the detective is an investigator attached to the DA’s office who has been saddled with the name “Bonnie Dundee,” and, thankfully, you don’t have to know much about bridge to figure out what’s going on.

Also attached to the DA’s office is Penny Crain. She’s a secretary now, but until her father went bankrupt and ran off to New York she was part of Hamilton’s social elite, and her old friends still include her in their activities and try not to let things get awkward. She’s still part of the Forsyte Alumnae Bridge Club, Forsyte being the fancy East Coast finishing school that Penny and the women in her social circle attended. Austin tries to make a big deal out of it, but it’s almost entirely irrelevant to the mystery. The bridge club isn’t though, because is has a new member, and she’s not a Forsyte girl. Her name is Juanita Leigh Selim, and she’s a Broadway dancer who one of the local women, Lois Dunlap, has brought to Hamilton to help found a theater group or something. She’s tiny and dark-haired and very beautiful, and the women of Hamilton mostly like her, even though all of their husbands have kind of fallen in love with her — most notably Penny’s boyfriend, Ralph Hammond.

So. Nita Selim gets shot at the end of a bridge party at her house, and all of the club members are there, along with most of their husbands and boyfriends, plus This guy named Sprague who Nita brought from New York with her. And because Penny asks him to and he’s a little bit in love with her, and also because it’s, you know, his job, Bonnie Dundee investigates.

There were a few things I didn’t like so much about this book, like Penny’s chartreuse dress with big brown polka dots, but mostly I thought it was pretty good. You’re given a lot of clues — easily enough to allow you to solve the mystery, but not all at once. And Dundee’s investigation proceeds sort of similarly — he follows up on different clues, and sometimes he gets bits of helpful information and sometimes he doesn’t. Most of the characters are just interesting and likable enough to work, and even Nita, the sexy dancer who brings her lover with her from New York and flirts with everyone’s husbands isn’t vilified, which was surprising and pleasing.

But hey, maybe I really just liked it because I figured out who killed Nita and how it was done before Bonnie Dundee did. I never manage that.

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7. The Wheel Spins

I was doubly predisposed to like The Wheel Spins, by Ethel Lina White: first because it’s a train mystery and train mysteries are delightful, and second because it’s the basis for my favorite Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes. But I think I would have liked it anyway.

Iris Carr is an heiress who has been vacationing in an off-the-beaten-track town somewhere in Eastern Europe with her rowdy and obnoxious group of friends. She has a falling out with one of them right at the end of their trip, and opts to stay on for another couple of days so that she can travel alone and further indulge her tiresome fondess for thinking in cliches. Just before her train comes, she faints from sunstroke, and although she manages to make it onboard, she ends up in a car that’s already full. The other occupants are a pretty dour Baroness and a number of her hangers-on, plus Winifred Froy, an English spinster traveling home after a couple of years governessing.

Iris is feeling sort of hostile towards the world in general, so it’s somewhat unwillingly that she allows Miss Froy to drag her off to tea and tell her all about her octegenarian parents and their sheepdog that’s really a mutt. Afterwards Iris naps in the compartment, and when she wakes up Miss Froy is gone. At first Iris is glad not to have to listen to her anymore, and dreads Miss Froy’s return, but Miss Froy doesn’t return, and when Iris finally questions the other passengers, they deny that any such person was ever there at all. Iris enlists the help of a professor of modern languages and his friend Max Hare, but they find no trace of the missing governess, and soon they become convinced that Iris is suffering from the aftereffects of sunstroke, and made up the whole thing.

What’s really clever is that there’s no conspiracy, really. I mean, yes, Miss Froy has been abducted — White doesn’t leave you in doubt of that — but the rest of the passengers aren’t in on it. They all have different motives: backing up an employer, seeking publicity, avoiding publicity. One woman is convinced that her infant son is deathly ill and wants to avoid the possibility of the train being delayed. Two spinster sisters were victims of persecution after the last time they did something public-spirited, so they’re not trying that again. Hare keeps trying to get the Professor to do things, but all the Professor wants to do is sit down with the spinsters and figure out if they have any mutual friends.

And it’s not like Iris is the most altruistic person, either. The day before the the train trip begins, she vows never to help anyone again. When she first starts looking for Miss Froy, it’s because she needs her claim that the woman existed to be validated, not from actual concern. Later, she’s a bit haunted by the thought of Miss Froy’s family waiting for her at home — especially the dog. Whatever the reason, she can’t quite bring herself to give up on Miss Froy, even in the face of universal disbelief. Even Max Hare, Iris’ love interest, thinks she’s crazy — and, in my opinion, totally disqualifies himself from being anyone’s love interest when he decides to drug her for her own good. But even so, you can see how he came to the decision, and it’s not easy to condemn him. It’s not easy to condemn anyone, This is a book about how one person’s private motives can affect someone else’s life without either of them being aware of it. Nobody is entirely honest, but nobody is evil, either, except maybe the people who are planning on feed

2 Comments on The Wheel Spins, last added: 5/5/2011
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8. Tea Rose Mary Janes {A Shoe Refashion of Sorts}

Don’t you love it when you are so inspired to do something that you have to do it RIGHT NOW?

Several weeks ago I saw these 1930s floral-pattern and metallic shoes on Pinterest (from the Thought Patterns blog):

Beautiful!  I immediately bookmarked this image, on Pinterest, and in my mind.  I knew there was a way to make/refashion similar shoes.  I had a starting base:

Very old, maybe 1920s or ’30s Mary Janes.  You can see me wearing them here.  I had been thinking about getting them professionally repainted/dyed a darker color for fall but had been putting it off for no particular reason.  (OMG, I just realized, looking at this photo, the perforations form a heart in the center!)

So I’ve been trying to figure out how I was going to get the roses on here.  Paint them?  (HA!)  Waterslide decals?  (Probably not suited to leather.)  Decoupage with Victorian clip art?  (Might be messy.)  I have a whole bunch of Victorian stickers on my stationery drawer that I haven’t used.  While decorating a package today (for a certain little fairy friend), I realized that the stickers were printed on thin, clear plastic.  Eep! Just the ticket.

I went to work straight away.  No, I don’t know how durable this is and what will happen when I actually wear them out and about.  But I didn’t care, I was having too much fun.

And they are not perfect, there is a wrinkle here and there but I think they look pretty good.  I’m going to wait a while to see if the stickers start to peel off; if so, I might put on a coat of satin clear acrylic paint over them.

To finish these off I painted the trim a pretty, faded gold (“Champagne Gold” metallic acrylic paint from DecorArt).  These are now the prettiest shoes I own!  OK, so where to wear them?

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9. Musical City: The Saturday Kid

The Saturday KidI have a soft spot for picture books with period settings. They generally make everything seem more romantic. Of course life in the 1930s was in no way romantic, but there's no need to be reminded of it in every children's picture book, right?

In Edward Sorel and Cheryl Carlesimo's The Saturday Kid, Leo loves Saturdays, because that is when he gets to go to the movies. After the neighborhood bully, Morty gets him thrown out of the theater, Leo spends his time day dreaming of ways to get back at him. In his fantasies, Leo plays out hero rolls from his favorite swashbuckler, gangster or flying ace films. But its Leo's musical talent lands him a real life movie role which finally puts Morty in his place.

From the opening image of Leo at the front of an El train zooming over glorious pre-war buildings, Sorel's book is jam-packed with city scenes. Small apartment rooms on fourth floor walk-ups always have city views, the streets are crowded, theaters are lavishly huge and the automat is a nice treat. Leo thinks looking into other people's apartment windows is just like watching a movie! I suppose that is one way to spin it.

There are some nods to the turbulent times of the 1930s. For example, Leo passes through Union Square, which is full of angry looking people making speeches. I also loved the end papers which show the staff at Loew's Paradise, from the Elevator Operator to the Chief Usher, all in their incredibly dapper uniforms!

Want More?
View Edward Sorel's covers for The New Yorker or his website.
Cheryl Carlesimo blogs at The Huffington Post.

Big Kid: That is not what movie theaters look like inside.

1 Comments on Musical City: The Saturday Kid, last added: 8/8/2011
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10. Fall Sewing {Outfit: Garden Toile}

All I want to do is sew clothes.  I have many ideas for other crafty projects, including shop stuff, but at the end of the day I just want to make a skirt or cut out a new blouse.  Life has been a bit crazy lately and sewing for the pure fun of it is my therapy, I suppose.

The clothes I’m working on are fall items I can wear now.  Because, you know, it’s not really going to get chilly here ’til late October or so.

Here is a blouse I made combining pattern pieces from McCall’s M5977 and New Look 6022.  I shortened the sleeves, drafted the v-neck and made the bows.  I don’t recommend attaching sleeves to bodice pieces meant for a sleeveless top (which is what I did) because the armholes aren’t quite right but I don’t think it’s noticeable and fits comfortably anyway.

The original design had 5 larger, pointier bows going done the front.  Even after testing the placement I didn’t get a feel for what it would truly look like until I had made and attached all the bows.  (You might be able to see bias tape stitched down the center front on the inside; this was placed there to support the bows.)  But I didn’t like it afterall.  Don’t know why, it just seemed too stiff or something.  So I re-cut 2 of the bows and attached them just near the v.

The skirt is my favorite of the 2.  The colors look blown out in the photo where I’m modeling it but the fabric really is so pretty and has a nice, slightly coarse texture.  (By the way, I probably wouldn’t wear those shoes with this skirt out and about because they are too orange but I’m currently without dark brown pumps.)

And yes, I used Simplicity pattern 8418 for this skirt.  Of course!

I’m so glad it’s Friday.  Do you have any fun plans for this weekend?

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11. Dress Parade {Ghost}

Last year I picked up a couple of vintage dresses that needed some serious altering before I could wear them.  Recently I decided to take a break from fall sewing to make the necessary changes; I don’t buy vintage to simply admire or learn from them but to actually use them and these were hanging in the to-do section of my closet for too long!   They are somewhat delicate but I don’t mind, I’ll wear clothes until they fall apart (much to my mom’s chagrin).

One of the frocks mentioned I’ll share with you here.  Post-alterations it’s now my favorite vintage dress!  Once a 1930s floor-length gown it’s now a saucy, ethereal thing.   It has its original hem; I just moved the whole skirt up to preserve the ruffle whilst moving up the waistline too.  The waist before was more fitted (with a side snap closure) but now I can just slip it over my head. (Yay.)  Lately I’ve been making or altering dresses/skirts to make them hit above my knees–a more flattering length for me–but I didn’t want this to be too short.   Since the dress is sheer, my solution was to wear a slip underneath that was quite a bit shorter.  And don’t you love the capelet?  That tie!

Oh, yes, I added some thread belt loops so I can wear a ribbon when it suits my fancy.  (I just read on Coletterie a great post about how to make such belt loops by machine although I make mine by hand.)

I love the look of winter white or cream during the cooler months.  There is almost celebratory about it, especially when contrasted with dark or jewel tones.  (The starry stockings, by the way, are J.Crew tights from the girls’ section that I refashioned.  I no longer have a garter belt and for now they are staying up by sheer willpower.)

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12. Girl Alone

I started by really liking Anne Austin’s Girl Alone, but as it went on, I found myself getting more and more creeped out, and I didn’t really realize why until I got to the ads at the back of the book. The storyline is a straightforward, predictable one, mostly. It goes like this: Orphan (Sally Ford) is sent to work as a hired girl on a farm for the summer. There she meets a cute boy (David Nash). They end up running away and joining up with a circus for a while. Then the mother Sally’s never known shows up and adopts her. This would be an extremely unsurprising children’s book, right? Only it’s not.

Sally is 16 and very sheltered, and even before she leaves the orphanage the outside world and the farmer bringing her home with him are treated as a sexual threats. David is 20, and he’s a nice guy, but his attraction for Sally and hers for him is primarily physical. He understands that his desire for her is inappropriate, and the fact that she doesn’t kind of underlines why. The circus stuff is pretty cool, and Sally becomes a fairly successful fortune-teller, but she and David are mostly separated, and their few meetings leave me increasing unconvinced/creeped out by their relationship.

Then Sally’s mother, Enid Barr, shows up and stops Sally and David from getting married, which is nice, and drags Sally off to boarding school, which I think is probably a really healthy decision. But there’s an extra layer of complication. Sally was the result of an affair that Enid had as a teenager, and now Enid is married to a man who has forgiven her for her youthful indiscretion but is pretty uncomfortable about being faced with it’s product. They adopt her and make her a debutante, and because she’s pretty and rich a few men show interest in her, but she doesn’t feel she can accept a proposal unless she tells the truth about her birth, and Enid won’t let her do that. And anyway, she still wants to marry David. Finally, after being rejected by this guy Mr. Van Horne who’s been following her around and sexually harassing her since she was in the circus, her mother admits defeat and lets her do that, much to everyone’s relief.

At first I couldn’t put my finger on why all of this made me so uncomfortable. All of the elements of this story are ones I’ve had no trouble with elsewhere. But then I saw the ads at the end, which were all for scandalous stories of divorce and betrayal and things, the kind of books that say “how racy can we be and get away with it?” They looked like fun, in a pre-code Hollywood film kind of way. And then I sort of understood. Girl Alone isn’t just a more grown-up version of a typical children’s story; it was purposely created to be as adult as reasonably possible. It just doesn’t work, because there’s a dissonance between “orphan girl runs away and joins the circus” and “16 year old girl makes out with her 20 year old boyfriend.” Both of those are things I’m open to, and I believe that the first can be done well in a way more suitable for adults than for children, and that the second can happen without setting off statutory rape alarms in my head, but Anne Austin manages neither of those things.

It might work is Sally was different. The Sally we see is sweet and timid and worryingly innocent. The Sally we’re told about is a sparkling, clever, talented actress. Neither rings true. The outgoing Sally, made just a bit more convincing, might have made the book work. The shy, innocent Sally always seemed too clueless to understand what was happening around her, which made a really poor argument for her ability to consent. In the end, Girl Alone made me feel kind of dirty. I don’t know that this would be the case for everyone, and I’ll freel

6 Comments on Girl Alone, last added: 11/15/2011
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13. Cecilia's Year

Cecilia’s Year
Author: Susan Gonzales Abram and Denise Gonzales Abram
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
ISBN-10: 1933693029
ISBN-13: 978-1933693026

Cecilia’s Year covers the life of a 14 year old Mexican-American girl who lives on a ranch in New Mexico during the Depression era.

Cecilia is smart, bookish and determined in her quiet way to follow her dreams. One of those dreams is going to high school instead of marrying and being a stay at home wife and mother as is expected of girls in that era. The book is set up with each chapter dedicated to a different month on the ranch with rich cultural details and a profound sense of community. The family and friends Cecilia has surrounding her are all very definite personalities and each feels real and true.

Cecilia’s Year has a down home feel to it with a strong Mexican flavor. Even though I grew up decades after Cecilia did and in the city, most of the core values, the family she lives with, the dichos (sayings) and food they eat is much like what I grew up with in my Mexican home. Some things always remain the same. The book really resonated with me for those reasons as well as being a great and engrossing story. You just have to love Cecilia and root for her. You hope she gets everything she dreams of and that’s the magic of reading a book like this – you end up really caring about the characters. They become real to you. Cecilia’s story is heartfelt and lovely.

The book is a tribute to the author’s mother and a note at the end tells what happened to the real Cecilia. Sepia toned photos are included as well as a glossary of Spanish dichos.

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14. Clothes in the 1930s

I’ve been toying with writing a novel set in the 1930s and without fail when I mention this I get the following response:

“Why? The clothes were so drab then! Set it in the 1920s!”

Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think that the Depresssion meant no good clothes were made or worn for an entire decade. I blame Carnivale. My friends have visions of women in faded print dresses and men in worn suits covered in dust.

High fashion in the 1930s was the very opposite of drab. Think of the 1930s movies of Kate Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard. Think about the clothes they wore. Gorgeous! Insane! Over the top!

Yes, most people couldn’t afford those clothes, but that was true in the 1920s, too. Photos of NYC street scenes in the 1920s were just as grey as those of the 1930s.1 And, really, at what point in history have the majority of people worn haute couture?

One of the reasons I want to set my book in the 1930s is because of the sharp contrast between the very rich and everyone else. The clothes speak volumes.

Also the 1930s was the heyday of Madeleine Vionnet who invented the bias cut and totally shaped the look of the 1930s with her (mostly, but not always) slinky clothes. Vionnet is one of my favourite designers.2 She was a genius, who created some of the most beautiful clothes I’ve ever seen.

Photo by Ilan Rubin

This Vionnet dress is from 1938 and according to the New York Times is “made from silk tulle, panne velvet and horsehair with a silver lamé underdress and Lesage embroidery.” I’m betting it was not made in a day.

There were good clothes in the 1930s, okay?

  1. And, no, not just because they’re in black and white.
  2. Also a really good boss who paid her workers above average wages (unlike, say, Coco Chanel) and covered their healthcare and training.

19 Comments on Clothes in the 1930s, last added: 3/12/2008
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15. The Galloping Ghost

The Galloping Ghost is the second book I’ve read by Roy Judson Snell. The first was The Blue Envelope, which was an adventure for girls set in Alaska. I thought it was okay, but I questioned Snell’s choice of title: the blue envelope is largely irrelevant. Can I say he’s got a problem with irrelevant titles [...]

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I’ve just returned from a vacation, which should explain the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks, but right now I’m looking to excuse what I expect will be a lack of posts over the next couple of weeks. I don’t seem to be able to read anything but Nero Wolfe.

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17. Ub Iwerks and Flip the Frog

Dallas Poague of Monkey in a Dryer and Pally Pal paper toys has recently put his love of the great 1930s where his internet is! Although the site is currently under construction, his tribute to Ub Iwerks is chock fulla interesting facts, comical cartoons and a 90-minute biography of the man behind the man who swiped The Mouse right out from under him (citation needed)! So go pop some corn, grab a sarsaparilla and while away the day watching cartoons in living blackened white – just the way your grandparents like ‘em!

Posted by Stephan Britt on Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog | Permalink | No comments
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3 Comments on Ub Iwerks and Flip the Frog, last added: 4/22/2010
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TURTLE IN PARADISE, by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House 2010)(ages 8-12). It's 1935, and eleven-year-old Turtle has been shipped off to live with her aunt, uncle, and a boatload of cousins in Key West, Florida, where, to her, everything is strange. How will she adjust to life as a Conch? Will the boys ever let her into the Diaper Gang? And will her mother ever come back for her?

Drawing on family history, Holm provides a fun and fascinating look at a young girl trying to learn the ins and outs of a strange, new world. Evocative of a bygone era, and with just a touch of The Little Rascals, TURTLE IN PARADISE is an enjoyable and sometimes bittersweet read.

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19. Dress Parade (Blue)


I have this habit of buying vintage for a bargain (because pieces are damaged, ill-fitting, etc.) and taking forever to getting around to making repairs and thus wearing said items.  But I’ve made the commitment to change this bad habit into a good one and I’m working my way through my to do pile. This is the first post of my vintage dress parade and I’ll detail the fixes and tweaks I’ve made for each one.  I’ll try to remember to include “before” shots next time, hee hee.

The above late 1930s or early ’40s dress was quite the steal as it was falling apart in various places, had a motley crew of ugly buttons and was an unflattering mid-calf length.  My fixes:

  • Changed the buttons to clear glass ones with faceted edges; I figured this would work well both in the light-colored printed (and flocked!) fabric as well as the navy blue organza.  (My camera died before I could get any close up shots.)
  • Added bust darts for a better fit.
  • Trimmed the flutter sleeves for a little bit more modern look.  (I felt like I would fly away before I narrowed them down!)
  • Hemmed the skirt by a few inches.  Each tier in the skirt was a little bit wider (taller?) than the proceeding one, from waist to hem.  Instead of hemming just the bottom tier (and messing up the sequence) or hemming each tier (too much work!), I hemmed the second navy blue tier to match the width of the first one.  This way there is still some order/design to the width of the tiers.
  • Used the piece I trimmed off the skirt and turned it into a sash (original belt was missing).  I can see here that the sash could stand to be shortened (that’s the beauty of taking photos of your projects - you see things you might miss in the mirror!).
  • Made other minor repairs like loose seams, wonky tiers, etc.

Next: I love wearing this ’50s dress.  I found it soon after seeing (500) Days of Summer and thought it looked like something Zooey’s character might wear.  I bought a pale grey-blue crinoline just for this dress.  I’m also wearing the same pale blue slip I’m wearing under the dress above.  I considered going dark but then you wouldn’t be able to see the print on the sheer fabric very well.  Anyway, here’s what I did:


  • Removed the sleeves: this dress had half sleeves with quick and dirty hems that were not so great.  Since I don’t like fixing/sewing sleeves I just took them off and finished the openings by simply folding under the edges (which doesn’t always work due to the curves but luckily it did in this case).
  • Let the waist out: the wearer before me had a tiny waist and had taken it in in several spots around the ruched waist panel.
  • Hemmed the skirt. (I will almost always do this!)
  • Repaired little holes and opened seams.
  • (I thought about pinning on that dark blue rose that I’m holding at the waist along with a ribbon sash but the flower is a bit dark and I think the dress looks nice unadorned.)


Hope you enjoyed this little dress tour!

(By the way, thanks for the Lucy love from the last post - it made her blush!)

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20. Dress Parade (Yellow, Part 2)


I’ve had this dress for almost a year, picked it up for $15 at the antique market.   It is almost a relief to have finally done my fixes on this dress; clothes are really moving from the to do rack to the closet!  I really love this dress, I feel really at home in it.

Here’s a look at the before:


A 1970s version of a 1930s dress.  You can’t see it in the photos but the little flowers are flocked which I love (not much flocking left but still counts for something).  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the style, only it needed some repairs here and there.  But for the most part I don’t like high necklines; I feel too closed up.  And the sleeves were shortened in a slapdash fashion by its previous tenant (Hmm, I sense a trend) so I had to do something about that.


This is what I did:

  • Cut out and lowered the neckline; removed neck facing that was clearly visible under the sheer fabric.
  • Added a pleated Petersham collar that I tacked down by hand. (The stitches seem very obvious to me even though I tried my best to not sew too tightly; I might redo it but it’s fine for now.)
  • Cut the sleeves down, leaving a little bit of the previously gathered fabric which I hemmed creating little ruffles.
  • Fixed some general wonkiness around the bust seam.
  • Cut off the lace and ruffle at the hem and shortened the skirt.  I considered fixing and re-attaching the ruffle but decided I liked the simplicity of the plain hem.
  • The ties were very much uneven so I shortened one. (I did not match the lengths exactly as I don’t see a problem with them being off just a little.)
  • Fastened a little brooch to the neckline (from Seventh Muse).  I’ve fashioned other things like a yellow velvet bow and such which I can switch out at will!


I have to say I quite enjoy detailing all the repairs and alterations I do to my vintage finds and I hope you do too!  I think so, and I find your comments very kind and encouraging.  Thank you.

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21. 1930s Inspiration {Kit Kittredge: An American Girl}


I love to watch movies for the costumes.  (And if you’re anything like me, you do too!)   I had placed Kit Kittredge: An American Girl in my Netflix queue months ago for this very reason.  I’ve never had much interest in the American Girl doll phenomenon (I have to admit, I’ve been more of a Barbie fan) but when I saw the trailer for this movie I figured it would be a wealth of Depression era fashion inspiration.

“Depression era fashion inspiration” sounds rather contradictory.  But even those families who had to pinch their pennies often managed, with a lot of creativity, to produce unique and pretty clothing for themselves.  Feedsacks, scraps and old clothes were given new life and transformed things like day dresses and quilts.

My favorite part of everyday 1930s fashion (besides the sweetest prints and handmade sweaters) are the little details: plackets, collars, ties, buttons, etc.!


I don’t want to spoil the movie for you so I’ve only posted some of my favorites. There are plenty more highlights in the movie, including lots of inspiring grown-up wear!  (I even spied some Remix shoes.)  It’s a cute family film with a wonderful cast (Stanley Tucci, Abigail Breslin, Joan Cusack and Julie Ormond), albeit a little slow at times.  It would be a good movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening with a pot of tea and some vintage sewing or knitting to work on.

Have you seen this movie?  If so, what are your thoughts?  What costumes movies do you find inspiring?

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