Mademoiselle Misfortune Carol Ryrie Brink (1935)

“What’s the child looking at,” asked Miss Weatherwax?
“Oh, everything!,” said Alice. “It’s all so beautiful!…If you’ve never seen it before, you ought to take a long, long look. You’ll never see it just this way again.”

…said the little old American woman, “That’s right, I’ll never see it again for the first time, will I? Well, Alice, let’s stare.”

I gave this book 5 stars. I am not sure it deserves that many. Not that the book was bad, but it was a bit fluffy and short on any real complication. However, this year has shown me that I sometimes need fluff and a sweet, happy reading experience with characters whose evolution is optimistic and positive.

The story takes place in France with the close knit Moreau family. Alice Moreau is 14 years old and the oldest of six girls. Her brother Edward, the oldest and the only boy, is often her foil for excursions and attention. He is to follow in their father’s footsteps as a diplomat for the French government, although he is unhappy as he has no choice in the matter. Alice is looking for her place in the world frustrated that Edward is the child her father chooses when he and Madame Moreau attend cultural and social events and who has seen more of life than she has.

But that all changes when a short, older female ball of fire descends on the family. Miss Weatherwax is the sister of Monsieur Moreau’s great friend, John Weatherwax, a well-known American explorer and authority on the Incas. They met when Moreau was sent to Peru. Weatherwax has died and his sister, who spent her entire life looking after her brother’s finances and other details leaving him free to travel, has never left the States herself. Now it is her time for adventures and exploring and it seemed obvious that she should begin her explorations in France and with the family of John’s old friend. However, she has given the Moreaus no advance warning.

Miss Weatherwax does not speak French, but the Moreau children are fluent in English due to their father having been educated in England. The children are not terribly fond of English but their father forces them to speak, especially at mealtimes. After Monsieur and Madame Moreau visit Miss Weatherwax’s hotel for dinner, she invites them to the Paris opera with the stipulation they bring one of the girls. Alice is thrilled that she, not Edward, is finally the chosen one and is in blissful heaven as she prepares for what she hopes is a special experience.

In the middle of the Grand Escalier de l’Opera Miss Weatherwax and Alice stared and stared.

Alice shines in diplomacy herself as she navigates poor Miss Weatherwax through the rites of the box seat after a kerfuffle ensues with another opera goer. Alice translates between the angry seasoned Frenchman and the naive American spinster and manages to smooth out if not a lasting peace, at least a temporary armistice for the duration of the evening. It is obvious to Miss Weatherwax Alice is the perfect traveling companion for the trip she has planned to the French Riviera.

They set off on an unforgettable trip full of danger, intrigue, a foiled kidnap plot and further diplomatic trials. Alice comes into her own not only as a diplomat in her own right, but develops detective skills, rescues a precious cat, foils and solves a kidnapping and spins stories for her sisters back home. This is a coming of age story not just for Alice and Edward, but for the entire Moreau and Weatherwax families. The perfectly resolved ending gave each and every one everything they wanted!

“The Six Misfortunes I call them,” said Madame Toussaint. “Six daughters! Six misfortunes, if you wish to have my opinion of the matter!”

[Alice and Miss Weatherwax] left their packing and went to stand for a few moments on the balcony overlooking the sea. A long shining path of moonlight spread out before them on the water, and Alice said, “That is our road, Mademoiselle. It’s all shiny and bright, and all the things that both of us have missed will be on it.”

Carol Ryrie Brink (December 28, 1895 – August 15, 1981) is best known for her frontier historical novel Caddie Woodlawn, which won the Newbery Medal in 1936.

Title: Mademoiselle Misfortune
Author: Carol Ryrie Brink
Publisher: The Macmillan Company
Date: 1935
Device: Hardcover
Pages: 267

Challenge: Classic Club

Two 2016 Reading Events

I am sharing information today on two 2016 reading events I just heard about, in case anyone else is interested. One is a read-along the other is a challenge. I find these events instructive as well as fun to do and a good way to share with others our mutual reading interests.

littlehouseThe first one is the Little House Series Read-along co-hosted by Smoke and Mirrors and An Armchair by the Sea. They have scheduled 11 specific books to be read one a month, with the 12th a suggested title or one of your choice related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I plan to participate in one of the months, but I am not sure which one at this moment.

The second event is a Reading New England Challenge hosted by Emerald City Book Review. From the website:

Reading New England, a year-long challenge intended to draw attention to the wonderful writers and books of the six New England states, along with publishers, booksellers, literary locations, and more. Each month will have a special focus, and readers will be encouraged to choose books from those twelve categories if they wish, but there are no requirements other than to read at least one title that falls within the general theme.littlewomen

 I will definitely participate in the whole of this one as I am doing a Louisa May Alcott year with the Women’s Classic Literature Event.

Hope to see you at one of these!

Putnam’s Minute-a-Day English for Busy People, Edwin Hamlin Carr (1921)

Or “Let me give a Resume of the Subject” [i]puts12

My public library is one of my favorite places to buy used books. In a large area of the lobby, there are rows and rows of books spanning all categories. My favorite is the one they call ‘vintage.’ Mostly acquired from estate sales these are books published around the turn of the 20th century through the 1930s, which is MY time. Not that I lived then, a sorry turn of fate, but it is a time that has always felt familiar. I regularly find something that excites me.

puts6My latest find is called, Putnam’s Minute-a Day English for Busy People, published in 1921 . Like many popular grammar and English usage books of the day, it is a call, a method, a philosophy to get Americans on the same grammar/word-usage page. Because “someones” have decided that certain language constructions ain’t correct any longer or that we all must get clear on the same pronunciation of words. The word baptize, for example, was sometimes pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, bap tize’, instead of the more modern bap’ tize. (Although a little later in time, in the 1947 film, Life with Father, William Powell as Clarence Day, uses the former pronunciation throughout as he tries to make up his mind on whether or not to get bap tized’).

An example from Putnam’s:

Articulate the a???
Articulate the a???

Edwin Hamlin Carr wrote Putnam’s, not as a serious, laborious tome, but for ‘supper-table fun; language games for school and home….” [ii] Through the “laws of association” where only the correct forms are presented, he uses poems, ditties, rhymes and brief stories from newspapers and magazines to illustrate the issue at hand. Think Grammar Girl, 1921! Here’s an example (click on all the photos for an enlarged view):

'Halloo' is out and 'Hello' is in
‘Halloo’ is out and ‘Hello’ is in

'ear-a'? Really?
‘ear-a’? Really? And not ‘air-a’?

For me, Putnam’s is at once an early 20th century American English grammar concerned with correct syntax and pronunciation for English speakers and perhaps emigrants as well as a historical document of early 20th century American cultural self-expression.

Carr wants you to know umbrella is 3 syllables, not 4

“Supper-table fun” for sure, after a few drinks!


Carr believed that following his method of association would give the interested person “an accurate and effective form of English expression…if he will give to the task at least one minute a day.” [iii] And due to the fact that my copy had written notes throughout, in that old-fashioned cursive reminiscent of my grandparents, makes me believe that Carr’s purpose in writing the book was taken seriously, at least by the previous owner of my book.

To give a little context, William Strunk, self-published his ‘little book’ in the late teens and wrote it specifically for his college students, whereas Putnam’s was written for the home and family. Project Guttenberg has this original text if you would like to read Strunk before White got involved and it became Strunk and White’s Elements of Style!

I have to admit that as much as I have enjoyed reading this from a historical perspective, as a sort of primer on the issues and questions plaguing American language critics of the time, it is also an enjoyably useful book for those of us who could use a little nudge in the right grammatical direction!

From chapters on grammar and pronunciation to spelling, syllabication and “suggestions for party games,” I hope you find these examples fun and enlightening. And remember,

“A bit of correcting every day,
Drives the wrong syllabication away.” [iv]


And how did I do with this ‘resume’ of the book? Was it a decent summary? And did you pronounce it ray zu may’ ? Maybe something for YOUR next supper table!


[i] p. 17.
[ii] p. iii.
[iii] p. iii.
[iv] p. 261.

Old Books….

I’ll let you define “old book” for yourself. For me, it is anything before the 1950s.

I am not sure why I am drawn to old books, although I do have a historical sensibility about things in general. When I am interested in something I go back to the source, the foundation, the original. I am often surprised by its relevance. The New Age, the Modern Age is really the Old Age gussied up with contemporary lingo and sometimes we don’t even know the idea is not new.

I read classic literature almost like primary source documents. I am pulled into its time and sensibility, the social and political atmosphere, its cultural context, even its gastronomic display. I’ve been reading like this since I can remember. My surroundings fade and I fall through the rabbit hole of the past.

I am not an obsessive-compulsive reader. And while I often have more than one book going at a time, I don’t hurry the process. I think about what I am reading. Books affect me and I am often in a state of that affectedness. I love when that happens; when a writer, living or dead, has caused me to pause, to feel, to learn. I am grateful to have been so changed.