A quick little historical mystery with a very small field of suspects. It's well-written enough and the setting of Victorian-era Cornwall is nicely ev...moreA quick little historical mystery with a very small field of suspects. It's well-written enough and the setting of Victorian-era Cornwall is nicely evoked, but the glaring flaw for me was behavior by the characters that just didn't ring true for the time period. It seemed highly unlikely to me that the Litchfields would so frankly discuss family matters with a total stranger whom they'd barely known for a day, and even more unbelievable that Drucilla would blurt out a serious and deeply personal accusation against someone at the dinner table, rather than confronting them privately or seeking proof first.(less)
This book contains three short novelettes: "The Nighthawk Trail," "Vamp's Bandit" and the title story, "Rifle Pass." The most entertaining of the thre...moreThis book contains three short novelettes: "The Nighthawk Trail," "Vamp's Bandit" and the title story, "Rifle Pass." The most entertaining of the three is definitely "Vamp's Bandit"—it has one of Brand's signature plain-spoken narrators and a good deal of witty dialogue. But the plots and the actions of the characters in all of these stories are pure fairytale. I don't know if they're really any flimsier than other Brand stories I've read, or if they're too similar to the plots of others I've read, or if I've outgrown Brand a little bit, but there it is. "Rifle Pass" has all the same hallmarks—hero with skills far above the common man; much dancing in and outside the law for the pure fun of it; "good" bad guys who are quite willing to switch sides and loathsome "bad" bad guys whose abilities just about match the hero's. "The Nighthawk Trail" I'd already read before in another collection, a few years ago—that one's a Speedy story, and naturally one doesn't expect anything but fairytale in a Speedy story.(less)
3.5 stars. I'd probably have liked these stories even better if a number of the endings hadn't turned out a bit unsatisfying—some of them were unexpec...more3.5 stars. I'd probably have liked these stories even better if a number of the endings hadn't turned out a bit unsatisfying—some of them were unexpectedly downbeat where I'd expected a different resolution, others just seemed to fizzle a little toward the end. The beginnings, however, are quite wonderful; Freeman's descriptive writing paints charming pictures of the New England village and farm settings. Most of the stories (the title story an exception) involve middle-aged or elderly women, widows and spinsters; plain and simple people, sometimes quirky and frequently stubborn and set in their ways. The conflict often revolves around a seemingly little thing that has a great significance in their lives, and it doesn't always end happily. A number of the stories are humorous and quite charming, though, and a few downright funny.
Some of the recurring themes in this collection reminded me a bit of L.M. Montgomery's short stories, though Freeman's are rather better-written. The idea of a romance derailed for ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years by stubbornness or a misunderstanding must have been a popular concept of the era. (Freeman's young men also show an alarming tendency to break engagements, whether because of domineering mothers or the distraction of another pretty face!) Freeman also writes more exclusively of the plain village and country folk—most of her characters speak in a casual dialect—where Montgomery's were all over the social scale.(less)
My first experience of Dorothy Johnson's work—and it was excellent. These four Western stories are wonderfully well-written, and not run-of-the-mill,...moreMy first experience of Dorothy Johnson's work—and it was excellent. These four Western stories are wonderfully well-written, and not run-of-the-mill, either; the concept of each is original and attention-holding. My favorite was "The Hanging Tree," a novella-length story set in a gold-mining camp, with its unique, carefully-drawn characters and slowly but surely unfolding plot. I've never seen the movie, and now I don't really feel I want to; I believe it's considerably different from the original story—and anyway, fresh from reading it, I can hardly imagine any film adaptation justly capturing the unforgettable characters of Frail, Rune and Elizabeth.
Of the other three shorter stories, "Lost Sister," the story of a woman returned to her family after forty years of captivity among the Indians, is the best, I think. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" probably seems a little sketchy because I've seen the movie, and the short story is a mere seed of the idea that was developed into a screenplay—but taken as itself, just as a short story, it's a pretty good one. "A Man Called Horse," the story of a man taken captive by Indians who integrates into the tribe as a means of survival (and planned escape), is probably my least favorite of the four by comparison, but is just as skillfully executed as the rest.
I'll certainly be reading more by Dorothy Johnson.(less)
I found this collection of short stories, all dealing with the life of British military and civilians in colonial India, very much a mixed bag. (That...moreI found this collection of short stories, all dealing with the life of British military and civilians in colonial India, very much a mixed bag. (That seems to be my reaction to Kipling in general—some of his works I love; others I just don't get.) They range in tone from the cheerful and whimsical to cynical or macabre. India is something that always seems to be lurking in the background of Victorian England and its culture and literature, so it's rather interesting to get a glimpse at the workings of the British community there, which seems like a unique culture all its own. A few of my favorites were "False Dawn," "Tods' Amendment" and "The Rout of the White Hussars." "A Germ Destroyer," "His Wedded Wife" and "Cupid's Arrows" were good too.(less)
3.5 stars. This is one of those occasional cases where the writing style is really the most notable and entertaining thing about the stories: the dead...more3.5 stars. This is one of those occasional cases where the writing style is really the most notable and entertaining thing about the stories: the deadpan narration and dialect, and the way humor is derived from every variation of crook and "character" on Broadway and around the racetracks—mainly by serious, almost naïve-sounding understatements regarding their tempers and pursuits. (Once you've read a certain amount of these stories, you'll find yourself thinking in present tense.) Some of the situations in these short stories are honestly very funny, but on the other hand (or at least when you've been reading a steady diet of them for a while) some feel a bit forced and trite; once in a while the narrator's dialect gets a little too involved and repetitive for his own good.
Among my favorites in the collection were "A Story Goes With It," "Butch Minds the Baby," and "Breach of Promise." "The Bloodhounds of Broadway" and "Palm Beach Santa Claus" were pretty funny too. Classic film fans will recognize the original stories for "Little Miss Marker" and "Madame La Gimp" (filmed as the charming Lady For a Day); but from what I know of it, I don't think "The Lemon Drop Kid" has much in common with the Christmas movie of the same name.
Whether the stories are good or middling, there's almost always some phrase that'll give you a fit of giggles—I got a real kick out of the bit in "The Lacework Kid" where a man borrowing money gives "his Kathleen Mavourneen, which is a promise to pay that may be for years and may be forever."(less)
3.5 stars. Although these stories are pleasant, I prefer Montgomery's novels. The main problem with these short works seemed to be a lack of tension—m...more3.5 stars. Although these stories are pleasant, I prefer Montgomery's novels. The main problem with these short works seemed to be a lack of tension—most of them unrolled exactly as I expected them to. There's little tension or sense of expectancy; no real question as to what might happen next. The predictability might also stem from Montgomery's tendency to use the same plots over and over. There are many resourceful young people being unexpectedly rewarded for unselfishness or hard work, many romances renewed after years of misunderstanding, many family feuds being patched up one way or another. I lost count of the long-lost relatives who turned up. And a lot of the romances, particularly the earlier ones, featured the same kind of flowery dialogue, melodrama and flawlessly beautiful heroines that Montgomery poked fun at through Anne Shirley's early literary attempts. (Speaking of Anne, anyone who's read the series will recognize how Montgomery drew on her short fiction for material. A lot of these stories feature characters, descriptions and whole conversations that were transplanted almost intact, with slight changes of names.)
On the positive side, Montgomery evidently relished describing the beauties of nature in detail, and the stories that deal with simpler, homey and humorous situations are enjoyable. A couple of my personal favorites were "Them Notorious Pigs," "How Don Was Saved" and "The Bride Roses." And "The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby" had the best closing line of all.
Holiday stories are frequent here too—there's multiple Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's tales. My favorite of these was "Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket." Another thing I found interesting was the Western element that appears now and then. Several stories mention people going west to work on ranches or settle on the Canadian prairies, and a few are actually set there— a romance on a RCMP post, a pair of Christmas stories about settlers' families. The best was "How We Went to the Wedding," a story about a trek across a flooded and obstacle-filled prairie by wagon.(less)
I'd read and loved a couple of Kathleen Norris' novels before, and these short stories are every bit as wonderful. My top favorites are "The Tide-Mars...moreI'd read and loved a couple of Kathleen Norris' novels before, and these short stories are every bit as wonderful. My top favorites are "The Tide-Marsh," "The Measure of Margaret Coppered" and "Rosemary's Stepmother." They're chiefly stories of love, family life and relationships—between sweethearts, husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, in-laws and more. Norris writes about the little details of everyday domestic life in a way that makes them seem both appealing and significant. And fittingly for a writer who placed so much emphasis on the joys of motherhood, I noticed that she is also able to write characters of children in a natural way and incorporate them into a story well. There is plenty of charming humor through the whole book, but some of the stories ("Bridging the Years" and "The Rainbow's End" in particular) are touching enough to bring the tears to your eyes.
(I must say, though, the one character I did want to give a good shaking was the heroine of "Making Allowances For Mamma," for the way she kept putting her flighty mother before her husband!)
The stories are mostly set in California, with a few forays to Boston and New York. It's a California of the Edwardian era that seems like another world nowadays, with the different settings—from suburban bungalows to country villages to remote ranches, and even an electrical power plant deep in the redwood-forested mountains—evoked in beautiful detail.
It isn't often that a volume of short stories impresses me this much, but now that I've finished the book, I'm going back and re-reading them to savor them a second time. Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.(less)
A wonderfully charming short story, set in WWI (first published in 1918, I think) about a young sergeant who has a penchant for getting into scrapes a...moreA wonderfully charming short story, set in WWI (first published in 1918, I think) about a young sergeant who has a penchant for getting into scrapes and drawing the ire of his general. The tale of what happens when he makes a rash bet and then gets his whole troop into a comical scrape on the eave of their last leave before embarkation, it's filled with sparkling wit that had me laughing out loud several times (and quite a bit of interesting detail on the camp life and equipment of WWI troops on the move). I've only read one of Mary Roberts Rinehart's famous mysteries so far, but her non-mystery works are getting to be real favorites!(less)
3.5 stars. The stories are nicely written, but tend to be the quick, action-filled variety; there's not so much of the incisive character study found...more3.5 stars. The stories are nicely written, but tend to be the quick, action-filled variety; there's not so much of the incisive character study found in some of Brand's best work. The first few scenes of "The Lion's Share" are among the best in this regard, and the character of Sheriff Tilly in the same story is a good one, but the ending feels a little rushed and clichéd. The most entertaining and wittiest piece of work in the collection is probably the letter that opens the first story.(less)