The Making of Matthias (J.S. Fletcher, 1898)

Matthias is an orphan being raised by his grandmother on a rural English farm in the early 19th century. The passage of time is unclear, to say the least, and Matthias always acts like a toddler, but towards the middle he’s ten years old and at the end he’s fifteen.

I suppose this is a children’s book, but dear god, don’t read this tale of depression, death, and woe to a child. Even the pictures are miserable.

Inscriptions: On the title page, “Brenda, Christmas 1906, With love from F.S.”

Rollo’s Museum (Jacob Abbott, 1839)

Rollo and his friends start up a collection of curiosities — unusual shells and rocks, pressed flowers, things of that nature — and decide to a make a museum out of them. By that, I mean that they formally organize a museum with a president, secretary. treasurer, and so forth. Rollo has a minor tantrum when he’s not elected to any office, since it’s his cabinet the collection is stored in.

No inscriptions.

Rollo in Switzerland (Jacob Abbot, 1858)

Uncle George intends on going on a three week tour of Switzerland and asks Rollo to join him, which he happily does. Sister Jane stays with the parents in Paris while father still recuperates from his injury. (What is this injury and how much longer is it going to last?) They travel upon the lakes, atop the glaciers, and across mountain passes. A good portion of the book is devoted to Jungfrau — which they don’t climb, of course, but they do make a two-day outing of climbing one of the foothills to get a spectacular view of it. They get to see and hear and avalanche on the great mountain. In the end, they make their way to the Rhine to book passage back to Paris and Rollo’s parents.

Inscription: With the same stamp most of my Rollo books are stamped with, “Roy A. Evans”, on the front flyleaf. Above it, with a smaller but more decorative stamp, it says “Roy Evans, Alfred, Maine”.

Rollo in Rome (Jacob Abbot, 1858)

Rollo and his uncle George continue their tour of Europe. Set during the tumultuous Italian unification, like Rollo on the Rhine the land they travel through doesn’t exist anymore. Much is made of the travel itself — particularly as they cross from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies into the Papal States — about the borders, the checkpoints, inspections, and passports. George explains how the government says its to prevent criminals from escaping justice, but really it’s because the government doesn’t represent the people and restricting their movement stops them from being overthrown.

Also fascinating to me are how few people there are. They visit the Vatican museum to see the statuary and there’s thirteen people there. I’ve been there, too, but there were several hundred times that number when I went.

Inscriptions: stamped “Roy A. Evans” in purple ink on the front flyleaf.

Rollo on the Rhine (Jacob Abbot, 1858)

Twelve year old Rollo travels down the Rhine with his uncle George. This directly follows Rollo in Switzerland, which I have and should probably have read first, and continues the adventures of Rollo and Jane in Europe that started with Rollo on the Atlantic. Jane isn’t in evidence in this story, though. She’s referred to once and Rollo writes her a letter (about observing drunken students stumbling down the road and injuring themselves), but where she is, I don’t know.

To a modern reader, the greatest interest lies in that the Germany described simply doesn’t exist anymore. For one, they’re not traveling in Germany, they’re traveling in a myriad German-speaking petty duchies and principalities. Two, all the sites of interest they visit were destroyed in WWII with the exception of Cologne Cathedral. Three, even the Cologne Cathedral they visit isn’t there anymore — they saw it after it was left unfinished and stood a virtual ruin for 400 years. Work had just resumed and it would be another twenty or thirty years after this book was written before it was completed.

Inscriptions: stamped “Roy A. Evans.” on the front flyleaf.

The Cabin on the Prairie (C.H. Pearson, 1869)

Starts preachy and ends a Chick tract. Tom, the eldest son of a family of settlers on the frontier in Minnesota, wants to run away to some more civilized place with schools where he might get an education. That isn’t possible, though, because… because. Mother’s best argument seems to be that his clothes are crude homespun and everyone would laugh at him. A missionary arrives and begins tutoring Tom. Crops fails and they’re broke. Wildfire burns them out. Flood washes away their cabin. Indians attack, kill several, including Father. Destitute, Mother becomes a babysitter for the General’s children at the fort and Tom becomes a preacher.

Inscription: “Harold Libby, Xmas 1900” on the front flyleaf.

Camp Lenape on the Long Trail (Carl Saxon, 1935)

Instead of going to Wild Rose Camp as he has previous summers, Dirk Van Horn, son of a wealthy banker, is sent to the much humbler Camp Lenape. It will do him good to mix with other kids, his father believes. The adjustment period is difficult and he makes an enemy of Brick Ryan, one of his tent mates. The Long Trail is a sixty mile canoe and hiking trip to Mount Kinnecut. Along the way, Dirk and Ryan are kidnapped by a couple of outlaws looking for ransom. In the escape, Ryan is injured and Dirk has to carry him up the mountain to find the others, and so wins acceptance into Camp Lenape.

Inscriptions: In the right margin of page 159, someone’s drawn a skull and crossbones in blue marker.

Boots and the Mystery of the Unlucky Vase (Edgar Martin, 1943)

Boots and Her Buddies evidently was a newspaper comic strip I’ve never heard of. Near as I can tell, this is a novelization of one of the strip’s story arcs. Well, most of the book is just descriptions of one-off gag comics, one after another, with the barest of linking dialogue:

“Hey do you remember [three panel comic]?”

“That was a great time. What about [three panel comic]?”

“Yeah, it was very similar to what happened in [three panel comic].”

Storywise, all it establishes is that it’s WWII and that Boots feels like she’s not doing enough for the war effort. On page 157 of this 248 page book, we arrive at the vase. Boots takes a receptionist job at a car plant repurposed to make airplane engines. Two German spies, one of whom might actually be Hitler, steal blueprints from the plant and hide them in the vase. The vase is awarded to Boots for being such a good worker. Boots and some other people are kidnapped by the Germans but are soon rescued by a paratrooper. Who was just flying overhead. Coincidentally.

Inscription: “Tina, from Mother” on the title page.

Elsie’s New Relations (Martha Finley, 1888)

So this was a book. I’ve considered reading it for years as it has a very attractive cover, with flower designs and gilt lettering. And it turned out to be this all along.

It’s overtly Christian and leans heavy on the moralizing. In modern terms, it would probably be classed as a young adult novel. And it’s about child brides. Several of them. And it very much uses the term “child bride” and sees nothing wrong with it.

First, there’s Zoe and her husband Edward, who she dropped out of grade school to marry. As a consequence, Edward is tutoring Zoe — or as he charmingly calls her, his “little girl wife” — so that she might someday be intellectually capable of talking to him, but Zoe is a willful child and must first be taught submission and obedience.

Second is Violet, who has just become the second wife of Captain Raymond, a man who has children her own age. Son Max is rather smitten by Mamma Vi himself. Lulu, the difficult middle child, also needs to learn to submit and be obedient.

After the Captain ships-out, they all leave for their ancestral home Ion, a southern plantation, replete with either slaves or essentially-slaves (“lazy niggahs” to quote the book) that speak in a dialect so thick it’s challenging to read. Grandma Elsie of the title turns out to have also been a child bride married off to her father’s friend, an adult when she was born and who knew her all her life. And it’s she who does the teaching.

This was, undoubtedly, the most disturbing book I’ve read in a very long while.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “Private Library of Bernice Claire Bassett, Vol. No. 10”. On the facing flyleaf, “From Pearl, 1903”. You have my sympathies, Bernice.