‘Ginger Rogers and The Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak’ by Lela E. Rogers ~Book Review


I found a copy of this tale while on a book hunt in dusty barn trunks on an old southern piece of farm land. Here’s the official information:


The plot of this book is a typical WWII children’s “patriotic” spy-ring mystery.  Ginger Rogers is a telephone operator in a swanky hotel, who gets involved in breaking a plot to steal American bomb technology.  Romance is just as much of the book as the mystery though…handsome and rich men abound and vie for the affection of the little telephone operator.


My thoughts on it fall into a couple of categories:


Writing quality: It was written by a movie star’s mother (not an official author), and I was curious to see how it would measure up to the average child’s mystery of it’s day. It started out nicely and had the charm I love in that old style. As I kept reading I noticed an abundance of adjectives and extraneous details which made the quality plummet quickly. There were a lot of extra sentences and words explaining things that the reader would have automatically picked up on. A stiff edit could have made it a very pleasant read. Of course, I’m by no means a qualified critic of writing! 🙂


The Story: A simple mystery, easy to guess in a few parts, but fun for it’s intended audience. The thing that I loved most about it, was Ginger’s attitude towards her work. She has what many folks would consider a dull and tedious job: eight hours locked in a tiny room working as a switch-board operator for a hotel. In the middle of the night. Day after day. Year after year. Yet she is cheerful and never complains. On the contrary, she find great joy in preforming her job to the best of her ability. She has the old-fashioned pride in her work that is consistent both in old children’s fiction, and among the old folks that I know from that generation. But it is lacking among the fiction and people of this generation.

To them it seemed the occupation never mattered. The pride was in how the job was tacklednot in what it was. The converse is what I find emphasized in today’s fiction: make sure that the job is good enough, “you need to do what you love,” “find a job that makes you excited to wake up and work everyday,” “Is this job fulfilling?,” don’t be satisfied until you find the job of your dreams” and so on.  Whereas the old books tend to whisper the message: “the secret is not in doing what you like, but in learning to love the job you have been given,” “cultivate an attitude that makes you grateful for your job, and a joy for others to be around,” and on and on. This is a topic I could use an abundance of adjectives on. And a few pages of proof and quotes from old books. 😉

The old books did encourage ambition and lofty goals, but not to the exclusion of quiet faithfulness, contentment, and pride in the ‘here and now’… The attitudes considered important stand in stark contrast to the “inspiring” Pinterest quotes and memes of today which sometimes are encouraging, but often tend to make people dissatisfied with their life instead of being grateful and tearing into the job with a ‘gung-ho’ attitude and a cheerful whistle ….


The romance and the mother/daughter relationship areas of the story, which made up most of it, weren’t good. Ginger is a Disney-princess “follow what your heart tells you about this man” sort of girl. She has a few good thoughts and evaluations (based on valuable listening to ‘intuition’ that would make Gavin de Becker proud), but mostly it’s unsubstantial. Not the sort of reading that turns little girls into strong or wise women.


The Vocabulary:

I was pleasantly surprised.  From these pages came unusual words such as:

  • ermines
  • surcease
  • mezzanine…


Overall I don’t think it’s a very worthy book. I was curious to read it mainly because of it being written by Ginger’s own mother. The historical aspect of this series had me curious as well, and I wanted to understand and study a few things about these Whitman books, their popularity, etc.  It was a fun study, and light reading. But not one I’d recommend searching out, or adding to little girl’s libraries.

The folks who might like it are book collectors, as well as historians and Ginger Rogers memorabilia collectors. And there’s a copy in at least one museum that I know of…



“We’ve just not been grateful enough lately,” Ginger said emphatically. “That’s what’s the matter with us.”

“I haven’t been, I know that,” Mary admitted.

“It’s not only you Mommie. It’s both of us. We’ve been too busy about our silly little affairs to be grateful for all our blessings. That’s why we’re all mixed up.” Ginger thought a moment, then went on, “What a thing for two people like us to do! Both of us know that gratitude opens the way to joy, yet here we are…!”



Both of the above books are currently available in the Box Thirteen Shop!


Do And Dare by Horatio Alger Jr.~Book Review

Herbert Carr’s father died. His mother’s job was taken away by an ambitious storekeeper. With no means to live on, 16 year-old Herbert takes it upon himself to provide for the two of them. By his ambition he finds several jobs and works cheerfully–even under mean employers, until he finds a proposition that suits him perfectly. He hires on as an assitant and companion to a sick man who came west for his health. His new work brings prosperity to him and his mother, and also sends along all sorts of excitement: being tried for crimes he didn’t commit, attacked by robbers, waylaid by stage-coach bandits, fighting Indians, and like adventures as he “strives to succeed.”

Originally published in 1884 by Porter & Coates, it was one of Horatio Alger Jr.’s famous books for boys: tales of ambitious poor boys who persevere with grit and finally succeed financially by hard work and diligence. Many folks accurately call his stories classic “rags to riches” tales…

Compared to many similar and contemporary works:

It’s far easier to read than G. A. Henty novels, the story pacing is much quicker, and it is geared towards younger boys. It’s not as engrossing as R. M. Ballantyne’s tales, nor is the writing and development of the characters nearly as good. The writing style reminds me a lot of the Bobsey Twins Series by “Laura Lee Hope.”  The similarity is not really surprising considering the connection Edward Stratmeyer had with both series.

Do And Dare is a simple story, packed full of morals and character, some adventures, and old style vocabulary. It is a classic boy’s tale, nothing exceptional and not on my favorites list, but fun nonetheless.

The book Do And Dare is currently available in the shop HERE

Summer 2017 Vintage Books Reading List

My reading list is never confined to the seasons. Just the same, it is tremendous fun to select a few titles from the stacks of unread books and purpose to read them over the summer.  Of course, I often read quite a few books that you’ll never seen a trace of on my list…sometimes one comes to my attention and slips ahead of the books that have been patiently waiting their turn in orderly lines across my dresser. 🙂

This list is about half of the books I intend to read this summer—the vintage half. The modern books, which tend to be non-fiction, don’t make it on this list. 🙂 I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few Louis L’Amour, P.G. Wodehouse, or Mary Stewart titles creep onto this stack between now and the 21st… But without further ado, here is my vintage summer reading as far as currently planned:

  • Drums by James Boyd. First published in 1925. This is one of those classic adventure tales that I never had a chance to read yet. Also ’tis one of the books that inspired David McCullough, one of my favorite biographers, to become a historian. My edition is from 1958 and is illustrated by the great N.C. Wyeth.
  • Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie. First published in 1941. A good old-fashioned mystery that should be loads of fun.
  • The Ridin’ Kid From Powder River by Henry Herbert Knibbs. First published in 1919.
  • Bull-Dog Drummond Returns by H.C. McNeile. First published in 1931. Bulldog Drummond is one of my favorite characters in the film world (as played by John Howard), and the books by McNeile are rapidly moving thrillers of the old-fashioned type. I can’t say positively just how grand this one is–until I read it, but I have my suspicions. 🙂
  • The Queen’s Bodyguard by Margaret Vandegrift. First published in 1883. This is an extremely RARE book to find an original copy of, and the oldest book in this stack! I was planning to put it in my shop last month, but in reading bits of pages it looked so interesting that I couldn’t stand to part with it before reading it myself. I hope it lives up to it’s promising appearance!
  • Lin McLean by Owen Wister. First published in 1898. Lin McLean is one of the characters in the famous “The Virginian” novel that flew through the book shops, carried iconic lines that Americans still quote today, inspired a popular western TV show, and had 6 films based off it from 1914 to 2014. It’s the only book I know of that has been made into movies for over 100 years. Anyway, long before it’s popularity, Owen Wister wrote Lin McLean, another western with many of the same characters, including the Virginian himself. I’ve been intending to read this, and am looking forward to seeing the humble origins of the famous characters that have affected our culture since the 1800’s.
  • The Wealth of Nation by Adam Smith. First published in 1776. Unfortunately, my copy is not that old! A classic work on economics that I have been eagerly trying to read for years. It’s going to happen this summer if at all possible!

What are you reading this summer? Any vintage books?

The Zeppelin’s Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim ~Book Review

England. WWI. Philippa Cranston is living a normal life, as normal that is, as one can live when ashamed of your husband who is the only man not working in the war effort. She thinks him a pathetic coward. But when a stranger steps in though her parlor window when she is alone with her sister-in-law to-be, and locks it behind him, it quickly becomes apparent that he is a highly trained spy.  An enemy spy.

With his good looks, charm, and a piece of unusual information, he quickly convinces–almost forces–the two patriotic women to shield him and help him in his espionage. What started out as begrudging help quickly slips into affection between Philippa Cranston and Lessingham–the undercover agent. Tension follows as suspicions grow and time is running out…

This tale of espionage and romance is a quick moving and gripping tale. Filled with action, LOTS of dialogue, and narrow twists. I certainly cannot fault the book for any lack of ability to catch my interest and hold it.

It’s the first book I’ve read by Oppenheim, the famous, wealthy, writer of thrillers. I enjoyed his writing style and am not at all surprised that his works were so famous (if this tale is a good sample of his work).

There was one major flaw in the book that kept me from really enjoying it, and that was the main character’s lack of character. Philippa was not only a bad wife after she met the dashing, deceitful spy, but was before he ever appeared in the story. As the book went on, I kept expecting her to improve, but she only became more irritating as the tale plunged on. Near the end she does start to do what she should, but for the wrong reasons. It is merely a change in circumstances that make her decide to fulfill her duties and do what is right at the end—not a change of heart.

And that is very frustrating in a main character!

The story was wonderfully woven with a few delightful new angles and tangles and mysteries not typical to this sort of spy story. It made for a good distraction and a quick novel when I was feeling under the weather one day, and I had great fun tearing apart all Philippa’s poor decisions and coming up with what she should have done instead… Nonetheless, it missed being added to my favorites.

I do love the title, a perfect name for a mystery. 🙂 Zeppelins are airships, much like the blimps of today, and were used extensively by Germany during WWI. They were not a threat to be taken lightly…so when this book came out in 1918 the title carried a strong connection to recent history, especially to all British citizens…

The Zeppelin’s Passenger is currently available in the shop HERE.

Reading Records, Fortunes, and Vintage Books

This past week I found this post about George Vanderbilt’s personal library in the Biltmore Mansion. Two points in it intrigued me:

First, the records he kept of ALL the books he’d read from age 12 to his death. And second, the fact that one third of the books he purchased were vintage–antiquarian–purchases.

I’ve been pondering written histories, legacies, and libraries a lot, and those two habits of his were not only a help and pleasure to himself, but a valuable contribution to his family.

The list would be of personal family value–for to know a man’s reading material is to know a man’s mind and interests. Some folks write biographies for their descendants, be it a multi volume set, a “Dr. Jones” type leather bound “grail diary,” or two handwritten pages. But wouldn’t it be a great strategy to leave a record of all the books you’ve read along with a biography (or in lieu of it for those who don’t keep personal histories)? And if that list has ratings or a few thoughts scribbled by each title, so much the better! I know I would pay a high price to have a list of books read by my parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Particularly some of them! 🙂 After all, who wouldn’t find it delightful to learn their Great-Grandmother’s favorite mystery novel when she was a young lady in the roaring 20’s?!

The popular website Goodreads does, in effect, fulfill a part of that for many of us in this generation. But it is not the same as a complete, tangible, and easily found REAL paper list you can place in someone’s hands and lock in the family secret chest…

I have kept a written record of the books I’ve read since I was 13. The first few pages are on “scrap” paper, but most of them are simply written out in pencil on notebook paper and filed away on the bottom shelf in my library.  Seeing the photos of Mr. Vanderbilt’s “books I’ve read” journals has made me seriously consider investing in a nice handmade leather-bound book (there are a lot of fine ones on Etsy). It would last longer than papers tucked in a book and would be far more handsome, classy, and durable. Not to mention it would age into a fine vintage book itself within a few generations.;)

The second habit of making one third of his book purchases of vintage books, shows fine business sense and aesthetic taste.  It is always wise to purchase things that appreciate in value. Any businessman knows that.  A library of vintage books will likely double in value over 20 years. And those who leave their libraries to their descendants will realize, that in merely a few generations, a sizeable fortune can be amassed from the increase in value of books they paid mere dollars for.

And aesthetically, the price can’t be measured in dollars!

Here’s to building libraries intentionally!

Do you record the books you read? In a book? On paper? Goodreads?  What percentage of your book purchases are vintage?

What I’ve Been Up To This Spring

*Photo credit to my amazing sister*

Spring always leaves me trying to catch my breath, but also with a pile of accomplishments that make the rush worth every minute of it. Putting in a large garden is among my favorite spring activities, but all the Box 13 bookish things are a delight as well.  The past few weeks have found me:

  • Hunting up several more “lost libraries” and acquiring two of them. One found me driving down back streets in a sleepy historic town. I found the deserted house, got permission of free reign from the owner, and dug through a personal library collected over a period of 90 years. A hunt through deserted property brings on all sorts of singular events from spiders, mildew, and must— to suspicious neighbors, gas meter men, and piles of the most curious antique “junk.”   The other vintage book collection came by the less romantic, but slightly adventurous, way of the internet.  Making deals on libraries several states away that I have never even had one glimpse at is a bold undertaking.
  • Reading half a dozen vintage books on my reading list: The Prisoner of Zenda, Salute to Adventurers, Love Among the Chickens, God and Country, The Zeppelin’s Passenger, and Lady Baltimore.

Three of them were excellent. One was terrible. And the other two…they are a long story. 🙂 I’d love to write up reviews on them if I find a few spare pockets of time.

  • Listening to THIS PODCAST by David MacAlvany and being thrilled with the discussion of books and legacy. The bit about books starts at 3:38 and ends around 14:10 and it’s grand!


  • Reading a book that a film was based off, and also watched a film based off a book. I always find it fascinating to see how filmmakers try to turn a book into a movie…


  • Reading C. S. Lewis’ letters and being pleasantly surprised that we hold the same views on abridged books (“can’t bear them”) and the uniform”picked” series like “The Hundred Best Books” (terrible, stale, and guilty of “standardization of the brain”).


  • As always, mailing out orders (and trying to beat my own shipping time!), answering questions, cleaning & sorting books, and trying to convince myself that I cannot keep all the nice books for my collection (which I generally succeed at, as evidenced in the fresh piles of books that have been added to Box 13 shop recently).


And now I’m off to work once again… 

What vintage books have you been reading this spring? Let me know in the comments below!

Odds & Ends

There have been quite a few new additions to the shop lately including the seven books pictured above! Head on over to Box Thirteen to take a look!


Articles I’ve Been Enjoying Lately:

 This is an excellent article speaking about the propensities of readers, and the “myth of the self-centered reader.” Full of truth and quite fun to pursue!

A fascinating piece that delves into the free books printed for the soldiers during WWII. It’s an important piece of WWII history, as well as the history of books themselves, and their role in the generations that came before us. It reminds me of another, oft-overlooked time in history when free books shaped the course of men’s lives (and indeed the entire American culture and ideals from that time forward).

And I leave you with this favorite quote of mine by Charles Spurgeon:


The Scent Of Old Books

Many things in life surprise us. Years ago when I decided to hunt out forgotten books and help folks build their libraries of fine old collectables, I would have been surprised at the skills it would force me to acquire. It seemed so simple: go on book hunting adventures, bring them to my desk, list them online, and mail them off to someone’s home. But that’s not how it really happened…not at all!


  • Many, many hours of study on making your books visible in the overwhelming load of information on the internet.

  • Learning an entirely new set of terms and specialized vocabulary that pertains to various wear and aging patterns of books that never occurs in the average conversations of one’s life. 

  • Finding a decades-old mark on a book and spending days trying to figure out what caused it (because that is a great factor in determining value etc.). And doing the same thing for a different mark the next week. And the next.

  • Spending a day deep in research on a long-forgotten 1800’s publishing company, trying to sleuth out exactly when the book you have was published, being that they seemed to delight in omitting the copyright and publication dates. And that strange delight was quite catching—scores of publishers did the same thing a hundred years ago. 😉

  • And the list goes on…

One of the fun things that I unconsciously picked up in all my study of, and handling of books was a unique sense of smell.  As lovers of books I’m sure you know what I mean. There is the exciting crisp scent of a brand new book–opened for the first time, and the lovely scent of history and the libraries of generations gone before in an old volume. The rich scent of a leather binding. The musty pages of a novel from 100 years ago…

For many years as I borrowed books from friends I could identify the house they came from simply from the hint of fragrance trapped in the pages. Then one day after operating the bookshop for awhile, I woke up to the realization that I could also identify the publisher and set of books (sometimes to the decade!) by the smell of the pages. Even after the book has traveled and after all those different houses it has absorbed scents from over the years. Now, it is not always possible. Some books I can’t identify at all by the smell alone. But there are a few that are so unique that it makes it as simple as watching the sun rise.

And there is a scientific explanation for it–it has to do with the chemical composition of the paper. In old books especially the quality of paper varied widely.  The cheaper published antique books (still nice cloth-bound hardcovers) were published with cheaper paper, and were more affordable for your average American.  Often the long-running children’s series had an economy version, and those particular series are the easiest to identify by smell.

If your interest is piqued, this video has some fascinating information for book lovers, collectors, and historians. It’s a quick summary of a rather detailed subject!

It is time consuming and hard work to date and sell books. Often it takes hours of research to find one clue about a book and it’s history. But I love it, and I heartily echo the grand 1914 poem by A. Morgan and say:

Thank God for the might of it,
The ardor–the urge, the delight of it–” *

It’s a complicated, yet immensely fun job. And I’m off to continue…


*The poem is titled “Work: A Song Of Triumph”

Thank God for the might of it,
The ardor–the urge, the delight of it–
Work that springs from the heart’s desire,
Setting the brain and the soul on fire–
Oh, what is so good as the heat of it,
And what is so glad as the beat of it,
And what is so kind as the stern command,
Challenging brain and heat and hand?

Thank God for the pace of it;
For the terrible, keen, swift race of it;
Fiery steeds in full control,
Nostrils a-quiver to greet the goal.
Work, the power that drives behind,
Guiding the purposes, taming the mind,
Holding the runaway wishes back,
Reining the will to one steady track,
Speeding the energies faster–faster,
Triumphing over disaster.
Oh, what is so good as the pain of it,
And what is so great as the gain of it?
And what is so kind as the cruel goad,
Forcing us on through the rugged road?

Thank God for the pride of it,
For the beautiful, conquering tide of it,
Sweeping the tide in its furious flood,
Thrilling the arteries, cleansing the blood,
Mastering stupor and dull despair,
Moving the dreamer to do and dare.
Oh–what is so good as the urge of it,
And what is so glad as the surge of it,
And what is so strong as the summons deep,
Rousing the torpid soul from the sleep?

Thank God for the swing of it,
For the clamoring, hammering ring of it,
Passion of labor daily hurled
On mighty anvils of the world.
Oh what is so fierce as the flame of it?
And what is so huge as the aim of it?
Thundering on through death and doubt,
Calling the plan of the Maker out.
Work, the Titan; Work, the friend,
Shaping the earth to a glorious end,
Draining the swamps and blasting the hills,
Doing whatever the spirit wills–
Rending a continent apart,
To answer the dream of the master heart.
Thank God for a world where none may shirk–
Thank God for the Splendor of Work.


John Buchan on the Library


Most authors, one would assume, have a love of books. But there are a few authors who have such a love of books and fine libraries, that it appears in their works with great regularity. John Buchan is one such man. In reading through his Richard Hannay series this past year I was surprised how many times he made reference to books, or described in glowing terms the library of a main character. Even the antagonist in The Three Hostages gets his library detailed for the reader.


Now, I’ve always loved libraries. The authors who bring fine libraries to life in their novels, however, are rare. It happened a lot in film. Take Henry Higgins breathtaking library in My Fair Lady, the grand library where “X” appeared in The Last Crusade, or Sir Lindenbrook’s study in the 1959 Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Books figure as a large part of the atmosphere in movies. Those filmmakers made such a marvelous and beautiful background with those shelves of books. Why don’t more authors do the same in their medium? I don’t know. Maybe because many modern writing courses tell writers to avoid detailed description (it slows down the action). But for whatever reason, it is not common.


Maybe that’s why Buchan’s descriptions stand out. He wrote action-packed thrillers. Mysteries and adventures. His pace is not hampered by his fine descriptive prose. It adds a beauty that makes it a step above the typical “thriller” novel. Stunning descriptions that paint a scene across your mind’s eye with all the vividness of a sunrise. And he concentrated much of this prose on books and libraries. Much to my delight. Tucked skillfully between the kidnappings, manhunts, murders, romance, and fistfights are the loveliest portraits of a gentleman’s study, and rows upon rows of well worn books.


I’d like to quote many of the sections in the paragraph below, but I don’t want to rob the reader of discovering them in the context of the stories, so I’ll limit myself to a few short pieces from The Island Of Sheep.

“He opened a door and ushered me into an enormous room which must have occupied the whole space on that floor. It was oblong with deep bays at each end, and it was lined from floor to ceiling with books. Books, too, were piled on the tables, and sprawled on a big flat couch which was drawn up before the fire. It wasn’t an ordinary gentleman’s library, provided by the bookseller at so much a yard. It was a working collection of a scholar, and the books had that used look which makes them the finest tapestry for a room. The place was lit with lights on small tables, and on a big desk under a reading lamp were masses of papers and various volumes with paper slips in them. It was a workshop as well as a library.”

…the books had that well used look which make them the finest tapestry for a room.

I love that sentence. If I were ever to write a book on home décor I would put that in large, bold type where it couldn’t possibly be missed. 🙂

“…and above all a library. That library was the pleasantest room in the house, and it was clearly Haradsen’s favorite, for it had the air of a place cherished and lived in…It was lined everywhere with books, books which had the look of being used, and which consequently made that soft tapestry which no collection of august bindings can ever provide. ‘The treasures were my father’s,’ said Haraldsen. ‘Myself, I do not want posessions. Only my books.’ ”

“In the library after dinner I got my notion of Lombard further straightened out, for the room was a museum of the whole run of his interests. Sandy, who could never refrain from looking round any collection of books, bore me out. The walls on three sides were lined to the ceiling with books, which looked in the dim light like rich tapestry hangings…”

Have you read an author whose love of literature and libraries permeates his writing? Do you have a favorite Buchan quote on books?


Repost: “What Does Your Library Say About You?”

In reflecting back on the year that has just closed and paging through my old blog posts, I found one that was by far and away the favorite of my readers. I thought I’d share it with you all again, so here is a re-post of my most popular article:

Imagine that a complete stranger walked into your house when you were away. As they walked past your bookshelves and gazed at the choice books that you selected to occupy them, what conclusions would they draw about the kind of person your are? What is the message your books send?

Henry Van Till once said “Culture is religion externalized”. Your religion is proclaimed by the culture you create in your life and in your home, and one of the most bold revelations  of your worldview and what you deem important is your library (or the lack thereof).

All over America you can see shelves of books that amount to nothing more that fluff, indoctrinated history, cheap romances, mindless escapism, immoral “classics”, entertainment, poor art, and a bad writing style.  The message that those books whisper are “I’m here to relax”, “I need to escape from work and life”, I’m addicted to the thrill of mental romance affairs”, ” I have no higher goal in life than to entertain myself, fantasize, and dream”…..and so on.

Once upon a time that was not so.

The libraries of our founding fathers and mothers were nation changing libraries of individuals who had a distinct purpose in life, principled men and women with goals who amassed books filled with the knowledge and resources to carry out their plans and educate themselves.

As a Christian woman I want my library to be stocked with tools to help me carry out my missions and plans. And to be a worthy collection of high quality books that will stand the test of time and last for generations among my friends and descendants.  I want to fill my library with books that will delight a vigorous mind and well disciplined tastes; volumes on history, theology, culture, music, law, art, science, biographies, economics, warfare, education, etiquette, practical skills, and a well stocked stack of reference materials to assist in the art of writing, along with a choice selection of great, inspiring fiction and literature. The kind of library that would state “I have an exciting and grand purpose in life”, “The world will be different because of my life”, “I’m not here to dream and drift with the tides”, “Here there be dragons…and dragon slayers!”, “I’m changing culture”, “My time is too valuable to waste”, “I delight in work and dominion” etc.

In short, a library filled with the kind of books that leave our stranger with the impression that the house’s occupant surely must be away on important business or an outstanding adventure.

Your books do speak. They tell people:

Who you admire.

What you value.

What your tastes are.

What you believe.

What you aspire to in life.

One does not need to be a Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to deduce those things.


What does your library say about you?