Book Reviews

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933) is actually Stein’s autobiography, written as if in her longtime companion’s voice. Considered one of the most accessible of Stein’s experimental, often ponderous works, it was a commercial and critical success. It is indeed narrated as if Alice is doing the writing, and this comes through in a fresh and vibrant manner.

Some of Gertrude’s colleagues didn’t much care for the book. Some thought it too commercial, as indeed, the author admitted that she cranked it out in six weeks as a way to make money. Ernest Hemingway, to whom Gertrude was a mentor, called it “a damned pitiful book,” and her brother, Leo Stein, who disliked Alice, called it “a farrago of lies.” Read More→

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Turning Twelve: Making Room to Grow in The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh

“What in the world has happened to Beth Ellen?” Harriet wonders, just a few pages from the end of Louise Fitzhugh’s classic 1964 novel, Harriet the Spy. Harriet is still eleven years old and she sometimes still calls her friend ‘Mouse,’ but Beth Ellen comes into her own as a character in the 1965 novel, The Long Secret.

The Toronto Public Library has eighty-two copies of Harriet the Spy (1964) but only six copies of what was billed as the “Further Adventures of Harriet the Spy” — The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh, which was published the following year, and only two copies of Sport (1979). Read More→

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A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Godden (1989)

A House with Four Rooms (1989) is the second part of a two-part autobiography by Rumer Godden (1907 – 1998). A noted and prolific novelist and memoirist born in Eastbourne, Sussex (England), her early years and youth were spent in India at the height of British colonial rule. Though her life was not without its share of struggles, it was often as dramatic and colorful as the stories she so skillfully created.

Interestingly, she based the title — A House With Four Rooms —on an Indian proverb, which says: “Everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual.  Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room, every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” Read More→

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a 1959 novel in the gothic horror genre, though it might be more accurately described as a literary ghost story. A finalist for the National Book Award, it’s a masterful story of psychological terror.

Hill House is a mansion built by Hugh Crain, long passed away. Dr. John Montague, an investigator of the supernatural, wishes to conduct a study there to find existence of spirits. With him are three young companions including the young heir to the mysterious house, and two young women. Read More→

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My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951)

My Cousin Rachel is a novel by British author Daphne du Maurier, first published in the U.K. in 1951 and in the U.S. in 1952. Echoing du Maurier’s masterwork, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel is a romantic thriller. It’s set primarily on a large estate in Cornwall, England, where du Maurier drew real-life inspiration from Antony House. There she saw a portrait of a woman named Rachel Carew, and the creative spark was lit.

So highly anticipated was My Cousin Rachel’s publication that the film rights were fought over even before it was published. David O. Selznick’s 1940 film adaptation of Rebecca had been hugely successful, giving him plenty of confidence in My Cousin Rachel’s prospects. In 1951, the year the novel was published in the U.K., Selznick sought the film rights.
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