The Prince of Graustark (George Barr McCutcheon, 1914)

William W. Blithers is the richest man in the world. He’s accustomed to getting what he wants, and right now what he wants is to see his daughter a princess. Conveniently, the small eastern European country of Graustark is in a bad way financially and Prince Robin happens to be a bachelor. The ten million dollars spent to buy their debt is nothing to Blithers. What isn’t nothing is Maud’s opinions on the matter: she wants nothing to do with Robin and refuses even to meet him. Graustark, meanwhile, is dead set on their prince’s marriage to the princess of neighboring Dawsbergen.

Robin, traveling incognito as private citizen R. Schmidt, falls in love with a woman who travels under the equally assumed name B. Guile. His handlers know full well who Miss Guile must be and try everything in their power to separate them, but Robin has found his wife, even if it means abdicating the throne for her.

Delightful twist ending that’s not at all as expected, despite the chapter’s name.

Inscription: Signed Thurl W. Wilson on the front flyleaf. The ink wasn’t blotted, so the name’s mirrored on the endpaper as well.

Westover of Wanalah (George Cary Eggleston, 1910)

In Virginia, in the 1850s, Boyd Westover falls in love with his neighbor, Margaret Conway. They’re engaged to be married when Boyd is caught up in scandal — he’s accused of breaking into a girls’ finishing school in Richmond. It was a case of mistaken identity and the matter is cleared up when the real culprit is apprehended, but it only marks the beginning of Boyd’s troubles.

Margaret’s father, Colonel Conway, has known Boyd all his life and couldn’t approve of him more. Of course, he knows the accusation is baseless and thinks nothing of it. Aunt Betty, however, is altogether a more conservative woman. She already disapproves of Boyd for his having the nerve to propose to Betty at his own home and not at her father’s, as convention demands. Boyd is bared from leaving the city pending trial and depends on the mails to keep in touch with his fiancee. Aunt Betty, seeing a way to sully the young man’s reputation, waylays Boyd’s letters to Margaret and ensures that Margaret’s are never sent.

The Colonel can’t understand Boyd’s silence and it puts a barrier between them after Boyd returns home, nor can Boyd understand why Margaret hasn’t replied to him, and southern notions of pride and convention forbid either from asking for an explanation. It takes the arrival of Millicent, Margaret’s friend, to break the stalemate. Millicent, a Boston native, is visiting the south for the first time. There are many things about Virginia she likes, but the poisons of pride and convention are not among them. With only a few words spoken in confidence to the interested parties, all of Aunt Betty’s scheming is undone.

Inscriptions: on the front flyleaf, “Nina G. Sanborn, Wilton, Maine, November 8th, 1912”. Directly below that, “Elaine E Holmes, Wilton, Maine, August, 1913”. Nina’s hand is neat enough, but Elaine’s is obviously very studied and practiced. I should not be surprised if she were a businesswoman.

Evergreen House (Louise Platt Hauck, 1943)

It’s WWII and Evergreen House, a stately old mansion in Kansas City, has opened its doors to servicemen training at the air force base with nowhere else to go. The novel is slight on plot, being more of a character study — Cynthia Barstow its chief concern. With Gran’s advancing age, the running of the house has fallen increasingly more on her granddaughter. All around her she sees a constant stream of men, most of whom she’ll never see again after they’re shipped out, and a fair number no one will ever see again. And she sees love affairs and hasty marriages — ill advised at times, perhaps, but all passionate. Cynthia accepts without complaint her responsibility to the house and to Gran and to the men, but at the back of her mind she worries that, when the war is over, when the men are gone and Gran too, she’ll be all alone in Evergreen House — the last of the Barstows.

Inscription: “Property of Norwich State Hospital Patients Library” says the plate pasted inside the front cover. Over it has been written “Discarded 10-29 – 48 Chappell”.

Under the Greenwood Tree (Thomas Hardy, 1872)

In rural Wessex, a church string ensemble is upset by a newcomer to town who’s been engaged to replace them on the organ. Fancy Day is her name, and Dick Dewy — one of the redundant musicians — falls madly in love with her. She rather likes his attention, as she does anyone’s attention; if Fancy is nothing else, she’s an incorrigible flirt. It’s an uphill climb for Dick, what with his being the son of a simple country tranter (and I had to look that up, too — it’s an archaic term for mover) and the Days having pretensions to high society. At last, Dick wins out and he and Fancy are married, and though the other villagers doubt how long it will last, the couple are happy for the moment and that counts for something.

Inscriptions: From the Livermore Falls, Maine public library. There’s quite a bit of marginalia throughout, most of which has been erased but some the librarian must have missed. It seems that somebody read it for a school book report and left their notes.

The Gold Shoe (Grace Livingston Hill, 1930)

Rich socialite Anastasia Endicott is snowbound on her way to a country dance and is rescued from icy death only by the timely arrival of Thurly Macdonald, who takes her back to his mother’s cottage. Thurly is a preacher and his mother Margret worries that this young “worldling” is going to turn his heart. Tasha soon goes home but forgets the shoe she lost in the snow, which Thurly found and keeps meaning to return but never does. Thurly must be out of town for several weeks, and not wanting his mother to be left alone, a companion is arranged — her niece, Hesba. Hesba is training to be a social worker or some such, but despite her devotion to “the Cause”, Margret takes a strong aversion to the girl and her plain attempt to seduce Thurly. Tasha, ignorant of religion as she may be, starts to look a lot more preferable.

Cutting to the chase, Hesba eventually finds a man demure enough to accept her domineering and quits Thurly, to Margret’s great relief. Tasha finds Jesus and she and Thurly live happily ever after.

Inscription: On the front flyleaf, “Waterboro Aug 16 1932, Ida R. Burbank”. On a little folded card pasted to the back endpaper, “J.R. Libby Co, 8/2 75”.

Bill Had an Umbrella (Louise Platt Hauck, 1934)

Deirdre is a wealthy heiress who stumbles into Bill’s life accidentally, at her wits end about what to do with Precious and Phillipe. P&P are, respectively, her late father’s second wife and stepson. Precious thought the fortune was Bart’s or else there’s little chance she would have married him, but now P&P live on at Riverview on Deirdre’s dime, and Deirdre — so desperate is she to avoid any and all conflict — can’t bear to throw them out.

But back to Bill. Bill’s an ad man, his mother Eleanor is a landscaper. Deirdre was fleeing from her troubles to California, but Bill persuades her to stay with them. His mother’s looking for assistant — at least, that’s the pretext. Bill, of course, really wants Deirdre to stay because he’s fallen madly in love. And it isn’t long before Deirdre responds in kind, although there is the hitch that she’s sorta-kinda already engaged to Arthur. Arthur’s been off for years in India or Tibet or maybe it’s Mexico now — you can never tell with Arthur; his interest burns fierce but is out quickly. Deirdre is quite sure he’s already forgotten, and he would have, were it not for Phillipe.

Phillipe, chafing under what seems to him an exceedingly small allowance, has attempted to win financial independence by investing in a fine and upstanding center for the artistic endeavors and bathtub gin — mostly bathtub gin — but unfortunately it’s just been raided and Phillipe needs cash to stay out of jail. One sob story to Arthur later, twisting the truth only slightly by replacing Deirdre’s name for his own, and Phillipe is in the clear and with several thousand to spare. But Arthur, chivalrously, must of course now marry his technically fiancee.

Cutting the story short, Bill thinks he’s been thrown over and Deirdre can’t forgive him his doubts and both are positively miserable until Eleanor patches it up. Arthur’s already skipped away to chase after opals in Central America, P&P take their newfound riches with them to Paris, and Bill and Deirdre are left at Riverview to plan their Christmas wedding.

Inscription: On the flyleaf, “Bill Platt, From Ann”. Relative, perhaps?

Big Game (Vida Hurst, 1928)

Mona falls in love with Bruce, her friend’s husband. Angst. Bruce falls in love with her and plans divorce, but then his wife becomes pregnant. Angst some more. Things are looking up (for Mona at least) when the wife dies after giving birth, but oh no, Bruce is jealous of another of Mona’s admirers and decides not to marry her. Angst a lot. Finally,  Bruce learns to trust and he marries Mona after all.

This was the worst written book I’ve ever read. It’s even worse than that Partridge Family novella — and I didn’t think that was possible. I don’t mean the story, which is a mediocre but not offensively bad romance; I mean the author has absolutely no grasp of basic syntax or grammar.

No inscriptions.