Leah A. Zeldes

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Leah A. Zeldes

Leah A. Zeldes’s book reviews

A classic romantic adventure of the early 20th century, first of a six-book series. If King Edward VIII grew up reading this sort of stuff, it explains a lot about his abdication. I don't suppose he did, though, since George Barr McCutcheon was American, with the period's usual American fascination with royalty combined with certainty that the American way is best and that Americans are naturally superior to all others. While traveling cross country, Grenfall Lorry falls in love with a young woman he meets on a train, a Miss Guggenslocker from Graustark. She sails for her homeland almost immediately, however. Unable to forget her, he finally resolves to travel to the tiny Eastern European principality to try to track her down. Arriving in her hometown, he discovers that Miss Guggenslocker isn't who she seemed.
01/09/2017
This wry novel on class conflict in 19th-century England chronicles the lives of four Oxford men from very different backgrounds and outlooks: Harry Oswald, a brilliant mathematician, although neither he nor anyone else can forget that his parents are plebeian grocers; Arthur Berkeley, a clergyman and composer with surprising origins; and the Le Breton brothers, sons of a military officer, gently-born but not wealthy — Ernest, a single-minded socialist, and the more conventional and selfish Herbert — as well as Oswald's sister, Edie, and Lady Hilda Tregellis, daughter of an earl. The story isn't complimentary to the aristocracy or the period's status quo, and dwells on issues which, outside of the hereditary element, seem very relevant to the widening income gap in the U.S. today. It's interesting reading, with excellent characterizations, though it moves slowly in places.
01/09/2017
In this 1909 romance about English politics, a man named Mannering is called from his retired life in the country to return to politics as a conservative leader. He resists, and members of his party bring pressure to bear in unscrupulous ways, among them a beguiling duchess in incognito and a secret out of his past, the single less than honorable act of his life. Yet once in office, Mannering doesn't toe the party line, in part because his eyes become opened to the plight of the working class. Mannering is a little too good to be true, but much of the political chicanery seems realistic. As such, it's depressing reading in this election year. This is well written, but I prefer Oppenheim's action novels.


07/17/2016
A paean to fishing with live bait, which the author tries to justify over the more skilled and prestigious art of fly fishing, as exemplified by this practical advice:“If you find yourself camping by an unknown brook, and are deputed to catch the necessary trout for breakfast, it is wiser to choose the surest bait. The crackle of the fish in the frying-pan will atone for any theoretical defect in your method.”



07/17/2016
The start of Trollope's Barsetshire novels, "The Warden" satirizes both church sinecures and fiery reformers. The problem for modern U.S. readers is grasping the role the Church of England played in 19th-century British society. It also requires patience with Trollope's sometimes ponderous prose, and his tendency to make his characters well-rounded at the expense of their humorous qualities.
07/17/2016
Strange lights and bizarre doings at an estate in the Bronx take lawyer Lester and newsman Godfrey on their weirdest case yet. Is the "White Priest of Siva" involved a genuine mystic or a fake Hindu humbug? I agree with previous reviews that this isn't the best of the series, but I disagree that maligns Hinduism — it merely exhibits the uninformed views of it that the average New Yorker of 1913 might have had, which ignorance, of course, is what enabled the crime to occur. That Lester can make no sense of Hinduism in his first reading about it is unsurprising — it is an extremely complex and diverse collection of sects, and Lester, as we've seen in the earlier books of the series, isn't the brightest of Watsons. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who hadn't read the preceding volumes, but if you liked those, this one is well worth reading, and suffers mainly in comparison to the excellence of The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet.
07/17/2016
Summoned to catalog a library in a remote district, antiquarian Leonard Middlebrook falls upon the completely unrelated murder of a chance met stranger, which turns out to be part of a complex scheme. The mystery itself is interesting, but the story moves slowly, and since Middlebrook is mainly a hapless and disinterested observer whose presence doesn't advance the plot, his narration seems rather dull and static. Some parts of the novel appear to have been manipulated just so Middlebrook could be on the scene to report on them, and the whole thing might have been better with an omniscient narrator.
05/18/2016
Subtitled "A Story of the Haps and Mishaps on an English Chicken Farm," this is the mildly amusing story of writer Jeremy Garnet, who goes to help his friends the Ukridges start a chicken farm at Lyme Regis, where he falls in love with Phyllis Derrick, the daughter of an irascible Irish professor. This early work shows Wodehouse's promise, but also that he was still learning his craft. The narrative suffers from shifting viewpoints, beginning in third person, switching to first person, and ending in a play script format. The romance occurs more or less in the minds of the protagonists, since their opportunities for meeting are few, and limited. And the potential humor of the chicken farm is far more restrained than it ought to have been. (Read Betty MacDonald's "The Egg and I" for a more hilarious look at chicken farming.)Wodehouse called this his least favorite of his books, and you can see why. Still, it's worth reading, if only for passages like this: “Waterloo station is one of the things which no fellow can understand. Thousands come to it, thousands go from it. Porters grow gray-headed beneath its roof. Buns, once fresh and tender, become hard and misanthropic in its refreshment rooms, and look as if they had seen the littleness of existence and were disillusioned. But there the station stands, year after year, wrapped in a discreet gloom, always the same, always baffling and inscrutable.”
05/18/2016
Emma is probably the most controversial of all Jane Austen's books. Critics and scholars laud it, while the reading public and schoolteachers stick to Austen's earlier books. For all that Austen famously limits the reader to the viewpoint of her protagonist, and even as a coming-of-age story, "Emma" is extremely predictable, and Emma Woodhouse is such a conceited young woman, full of her own consequence, for most of the book that it becomes difficult to care that she gets over herself, somewhat, later on. Austen might have made a joke of Emma's snobbery and meddling, but she simultaneously invites us to sympathize with her. While Austen's powers of subtle irony and gentle wit are at their height in this novel, their objects — the mildly censorious Mr. Knightly, hardly a romantic ideal; his ill-tempered, introverted younger brother; the kindly, prosy Miss Bates; the valetudinarian Mr. Woodhouse — mostly seem undeserving of her skill. Only in the upstart Mrs. Upton do we get a humorous character at which Austen deservedly pokes her sharpened pen.
05/18/2016
A short historical novel set during the 17th-century English Civil War. A small boy whose family has sided with the Cavaliers against the Roundheads becomes an almost unwitting pawn in the skirmish, frightening his Puritan captors into believing him a witch. Neither the action nor the characterizations are very exciting, but it may be of interest to students of the period.
05/18/2016
Natasha Madison - Romance with Spunk
FEATURED AUTHOR - When her nose isn't buried in a book, or her fingers flying across a keyboard writing, she's in the kitchen creating gourmet meals. You can find her, in four-inch heels no less, in the car chauffeuring kids, or possibly with her husband scheduling his business trips. It's a good thing her characters do what she says because even her Labrador doesn't listen to her... As our Author of the Day, Natasha Madison tells us all about her book, Tempt The Boss. Please give us a short introduction to… Read more