Crimson Mountain

And then she heard the sound of his car coming and her heart quickened. He was coming! The color sprang to her cheeks and a light to her eyes, though she had no intention of looking like the personification of joy, and wouldn’t for anything have had him know how glad she was to see him.

But he saw it, and his own heart was filled with a great joy, which was all quite wrong for a soldier about to go back to camp, and no knowledge of where he was to be sent, or if he would ever come back again. Well, at least this joy was his to keep and remember when he had nothing else.

I can’t for the life of me find the website where I first saw Grace Livingston Hill’s books mentioned, but I believe the opinion was that they were squeaky-clean old-fashioned romances and pretty good as long as you didn’t mind very proper characters, Christian morals, and eventual repetitiveness of plot. I have a feeling that that reader is probably correct. Crimson Mountain didn’t quite have the drama of an Emilie Loring or Louise Platt Hauck romance, but it was pleasant and very sweet.

Lovely young Laurel Sheridan grew up in Carrollton near Crimson Mountain with her wealthy parents. Since their deaths and the loss of most of the money, she has been staying with cousins in the city, whom she fears are planning on marrying her off to one of their well-to-do friends. Laurel doesn’t mind the partying crowd but also doesn’t feel completely comfortable with them, even Adrian Faber who has been paying her special attention. She decides to try earning her own living and heads back to Carrollton to interview for a substitute teaching position. While taking the scenic route across the mountain, her car breaks down along a cattle track. Luckily, Phil Pilgrim is also passing along the road, and after saving her from being trampled by cattle he feels bound to help her out the rest of the way as well.

Phil also grew up in Carrollton, but had only known Laurel to see her because he was a few years older and had a less happy story. He lived with his grandfather on Crimson Mountain and worked at the local filling station. After his grandfather died he put himself through college for mechanics on athletics scholarships and is now in the army, home to sell the farm to be used as a munitions plant before shipping off to camp.

Though Phil is only around for two days, he offers to chauffeur Laurel around while her car is repaired. The two of them spend a good portion of the time apologizing for inconveniencing each other, and feeling like they’ve know each other their whole lives, which is only true technically. Eventually, however, Phil must leave, and Laurel promises to write to him. She is less than thrilled when Adrian Faber arrives the following week to attempt to claim her affections. Two other men she knew in the city also appear at the same boarding house. One night, Laurel overhears a conversation about a plot to blow up the munitions plant. Can she stop worrying about Phil and get the information to the right people in time?

I genuinely liked both Phil and Laurel, and their attraction to each other was sincere and sweet, a blend of love at first sight and childhood sweethearts. They are the kind of people everyone loves to love–Laurel the kind, unspoiled society girl, and Phil the honest, hard-working man who wants to make something of himself.  If handled differently they could have easily been obnoxious, but instead they come across as role models.

Part of this is due to the religious elements in the books. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t mind Christian fiction as long as it’s not heavy-handed or overly doctrinal. Crimson Mountain gets a bit close to that boundary at times, but not enough to give me something to disagree with, and still comes across as sincere rather than preachy. Surprisingly, one of my favorite passages is when Laurel realizes that letting God’s glory shine through her means “keeping everything clean and fine about you,” like being patient with the men in the boarding house even if she’d just rather dream about Phil. It reminded me of A Little Princess, and Sara Crewe’s own outlook.

I almost think the book would have been better without the munitions plot, because it all seemed somewhat shadowy and necessitated focusing on the actions and thoughts of characters other than Laurel and Phil. However, the book would have had pretty much no suspense without it. It also, unfortunately, was probably a very real concern at the time.’

Crimson Mountain was written in 1942 (my Grosset and Dunlap copy has the wartime conditions paper notice in the front), and nothing quite matches a book written during the war with the war as part of its plot. Thousands of women were in Laurel’s situation watching men go off to camp without knowing if or when they would get shipped overseas. Thousands of men were like Phil, feeling guilty for encouraging a relationship when he might realistically never see her again. It’s a sobering thought, and every time I think of WWII through a romantic lens I have to remind myself that that’s not the case.

Before I even finished this I found a few more Grace Livingston Hill books Bookmooch to save for a rainy day. I starting flipping through one, and it seemed to be about a spoiled selfish girl–who wore make-up and smoked and snuck out to meet boys–who learns her lesson in life. So apparently not all of her books are for me, but if I can find any others as sweet as Crimson Mountain then I’m a fan. (Provided, of course, I make sure my literary diet consists of more substantial fare as well.)

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Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Reading Notes

February has been one crazy month; so far I’ve had an eye infection, a car accident, and a stomach bug, not to mention a pile of midterms to grade. This would have been a four-day weekend, but both days were taken away to make up for all the earlier snow days. Yes, I know we had the time off earlier instead, but there’s not another break for teachers until Easter.

Despite what the lack of posts suggests I have been reading, just not finishing books. Halfway through February I am still making progress on my reading plans. I’m more than two thirds through The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which both is and isn’t what I expected. I’m reserving judgment until I see how it all turns out. Ivanhoe is much slower going, and also read less because it’s my purse book. I just reached the 100 page mark this afternoon, though, and the action is starting to pick up. Right now a mysterious knight is having surprising success at the tournament, making many fans and also an enemy. Sir Walter Scott seems to have borrowed heavily from existing material in spinning his tale, whether or not his sources were accurate.

It may seem sort of silly, but with longer books like these I find myself constantly checking how far I am, and how far I still have to go. Right now I only have about twenty minutes a day to read; sometimes it feels like I’m not making any progress, and there are so many other books I want to read as well! I don’t usually read two dense books together, so that might be part of the problem. Once I get lost in the story, though, I stop looking at page numbers and they seem to pass quickly.

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 9:12 pm  Comments (2)  

February Reading Plans

I’ve been in the mood for romances lately–not the Harlequin kind, or even modern chick-lit, but stories with love and maybe a bit of adventure as well. This could be due in part to the proximity of Valentine’s Day. I’ll read a good love story at any time, though, and my current phase dates back through Enemy in the House and A Splendid Hazard, with some online stories as well.

If I’m not reading I like to think about what to read, and picked out some books for February based on my mood. Here are what the book descriptions have to say.

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. “The noble young Ivanhoe returns home from the Crusades to claim his inheritance and the love of Rowena, a princess of an ancient Saxon line, and becomes involved in the struggle between Richard Coeur de Lion and his brother John.” Robin Hood and his Merry Men also make an appearance. I have vague memories of the Wishbone version of this one, mostly that there was a character named Rebecca.

Crimson Mountain, by Grace Livingston Hill. This is a 1940’s romance. “Laurel Sheridan, once wealthy and sheltered but now orphaned, gets a job teaching school in the little town of Carrollton near Crimson Mountain. She is rescued from danger by Phil Pilgrim, who is home from the army to sell the old family homestead to the government for a munitions plant. She remembers Phil long after he returns to duty, and has no interest in the parties of the gay set to which Adrian Faber belongs, though he constantly pursues her.” I’m pretty sure I could start reading this one right now and it would occupy me for the rest of the night.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles. I knew pretty much nothing about this book, and am a little surprised. The jacket calls it “an unconventional love story that examines the nature of Victorian society, the notion of individual freedom, and the emergence of the modern age.”

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig. I keep saying I plan to read this series, so why not start? Romance and secret plots sounds like the perfect blend of what I’m looking for.

I’ve actually already started two of the books. I’m keeping Ivanhoe in the car for whenever I have a few minutes to kill, and The French Lieutenant has five-page chapters which makes it perfect bedtime reading, at least early on. I have too many midterms to grade to handle a book that I couldn’t put down!

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 6:19 pm  Comments (3)  

Picadilly Jim

I was home again mid-week–for ice this time. The nasty weather outside seemed the perfect excuse to curl up with a P.G. Wodehouse. I think these little Overlook editions are just darling. I found them at a Half-Price Books last year and have been keeping my eye out for others ever since. They would look so nice lined up on a shelf.

Though I’ve watched the TV show, I’ve never read any Jeeves and Wooster, or indeed any Wodehouse. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with a stand-alone novel, but it was definitely still entertaining.

Jimmy Crocker is an American playboy and ex-newspaper man who has taken London by storm, much to the dismay of his social-climbing stepmother. His latest escapade, a bar fight over table reservations, threatens her hopes of getting Jimmy’s father made a Lord. Mr. Crocker simply wants the titling over with so he can watch a baseball game again. Jimmy starts to feel a little bit of remorse for the results of his actions, and when he overhears a pretty girl in a restaurant denouncing his name it’s the final straw.

The best option, it seems, is to lie low for a while and try his fortunes with his unknown aunt and uncle in New York. Mrs. Pett, his step-mother’s sister, runs a modern-day salon for young up-and-comings. Her son Ogden is a spoiled, insufferable brat with a history of being kidnapped. Mr. Pett is a wealthy Wall Street businessman who can’t find any peace and quiet in his own home. The household is rounded out by his ward Ann Chester, a capable and confident young woman with flaming red hair and a personality to match.

Wodehouse barely lets us get all the characters straight before its time to hang on to our hats. Jimmy falls for Ann at first sight (and is not alone), but it turns out that for reasons of her own, Ann hates the very idea of Jimmy Crocker. Naturally the solution is for him to pose as someone else, especially given that the reputation of “Picadilly Jim’s” exploits would make getting a job difficult. He finds employment under the name Mr. Bayliss to be equally difficult, however. Because he bears such a resemblance to the infamous Jimmy Crocker, Ann suggests he pose as that gentleman to gain favor with Mr. and Mrs. Pett. Impersonating himself leads to a whole new can of worms–because he’s not the only resident in the house who isn’t who he seems.

This book is a riot of absurd happenings and coincidences, all piling up on each other. The humor is mostly in the plot, with some comedic phrasings as well. Overall it was highly entertaining.  It does have romance, but in a very matter-of-fact way; Jimmy turns out to be more sentimental than Ann. It took me a while to figure out who she reminded me of until I finally recalled another Anne, the narrator of Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit. Both have a strong sense of adventure and a lack of any overtly feminine qualities. That’s not to say that either isn’t an enjoyable character!

Jimmy is also very enjoyable, and stays true to himself. Even though he regrets some of the consequences of his actions, and reigns them in, he remains flippant and a little lazy. I found this much more believable than any type of reform would be. Jimmy is also a discredit to my love affair of journalists, but since it was a temporary job more than a career I don’t really count him as a newspaper man.

I think of Jeeves and Wooster as so quintessentially British that I never realized Wodehouse himself eventually became an American citizen. The characters are definitely American in some indescribable way, especially Jimmy, Mr. Crocker, and Ann. Perhaps it’s the slang, or their attitude. I really can’t say for sure, especially as about 95% of my notion of what’s “British” comes from books and movies. And I admit I share Mr. Crocker’s love of baseball and confusion over cricket. I still have absolutely no idea how it’s played.

I did note that though the book was published in 1917, and several characters make a transatlantic voyage, there was almost no mention of the war going on. In fact, the newspapers seem to be solely devoted to society gossip. Even Willie Partridge’s explosive invention is talked about vaguely in terms of political implications. I forget sometimes that we were neutral up until that year, at least officially.

There will definitely be more Wodehouse in my future. I also want to go back and revisit the TV show, since I watched it as a child with my parents. It will be interesting to see Hugh Laurie now that I know him best as Dr. House!

This book is on the Guardian list for the “Comedy’ category. That’s my first so far this year. (Also, I am completely up to date with reviews. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution!)

Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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