Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Forever Amber By Kathleen Winsor

(Click here for information on the 2022 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. This week, the first selection, Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor)

forever amber

Well, Constant Readers, I vowed to get to our first massive tome of the summer in July, and I almost made it. How epic is Forever Amber? Well, it’s got a self-centered anti-heroine making her way through a Civil War and its aftermath, marrying men out of a sense self-preservation while fruitlessly pursuing her unrequited love (a gentleman born of a higher station than herself), who has married a refined lady… let’s see, Slavery in the Americas provides some key plot components… the Heroine escapes from a big fire… there is a dramatic scene involving her being shunned for wearing a scandalous gown… it was made into an epic movie with a lot of publicity surrounding the search for the leading lady…

I mean, I’m showing my American biases, but this does seem slightly familiar…

I wasn’t going to bring it up, but my friend Rachael (fellow 7th grade Junior Friend of the Library, and one of the very first supporters of this website) said it for me:

this is totally Gone with the Wind set in the 1600s

I don’t want to be too reductive, because Restoration England is a very fertile period as a setting: there is a Civil War, religious conflict, a plague, London’s Great Fire, and women started acting on the stage. All of which and so much more will figure into the life of Amber St. Clair as grows from a self-centered farm girl of 16 to a haggard old crone of… 26.

The book opens with a lengthy prologue detailing the story of Amber’s parentage, as a young noblewoman defies her parents arranged marriage to the Earl of Radclyffe and runs away with her one true love, as he prepares to join the Royalists to fight in the civil war on behalf of Charles I. Already pregnant, she stays with a peasant family in the countryside under the assumed identity of Lady St. Clare. Dying in childbirth, her last wish being that the baby is named Amber, after the color of her father’s eyes.

The book switches back and forth between Amber’s story and the real-life intrigue in the court of Charles II, liberally mixing historical and fictional characters. Throughout the book, Amber pursues her first love, Bruce, Lord Carlton, although he vows that he will never marry her.

Amber rises through London society, marrying or dallying with a con artist (he steals all of her money, landing her in debtor’s prison); an infamous highway man (he busts her out of prison and takes her into his gang before being captured and executed); a college student (she gets him expelled); the Captain of the King’s guard (killed by Bruce in a duel); various fops and nobleman; an elderly middle-class merchant (he conveniently dies and leaves her a fortune); an impotent Earl who is revealed to the reader to be her mother’s betrothed (!!!); and King Charles II himself. Continue reading

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Rod Serling’s Night Gallery

Don’t miss television’s most imaginative show…

night gallery

If it’s summer, it must be time for watching reruns on TV and checking out novelizations of movies and TV shows out of the local library!

(What? Isn’t this everyone?)

A few summers back we took a look at one of Rod Serling’s anthologies of “Twilight Zone” stories, so this year I present another scintillating selection of Serling short stories…*

*(You have to read this aloud in Serling’s voice to get the full effect)

Background: After The Twilight Zone was finally cancelled in 1965 (ratings, budget overruns and creative clashes with CBS had made things touch-and-go for the series since the start), Serling tried a number of other projects, some more successful (Planet of the Apes) than others (the one-season Serious Western The Loner); as a beloved media personality he served a pitchman for TV and print ads and taught writing at Ithaca College in upstate New York.

Arguably, his second-most-famous TV project was Night Gallery a horror/sci-fi/fantasy/thriller anthology series that he wrote for and hosted. While there seems to be a small and devoted group of Night Gallery fans, I have never been able to get into the series for much the same reason it didn’t catch on in the 70s: the writing isn’t as good and the format is weird.

Originally aired as part of Four in One, one of the “wheel series” format shows that enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1970s: 60- or 90-minute episodes in which each series would air one or two episodes a month in rotation. The other Four in One series included McCloud, San Francisco International Airport and The Psychiatrist. At the end of the 1970-71 season the Four in One concept was canceled, Night Gallery was picked up as a weekly series and McCloud was moved over to the most successful version of this format, the NBC Mystery Movie wheel, which begat Columbo, McMillan and Wife and Quincy, ME.

This tie-in was published in 1971 as a mass-market paperback was the first of two Night Gallery story anthologies- although my copy is a library-bound discard from the South Seneca Junior High School library, a district which serves the Finger Lakes towns of Ovid, Lodi and Interlaken (Serling’s final resting place). Continue reading

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Love At First Sight (First Love From Silhouette #9) By Elaine Harper

How could nature have produced such virile perfection?

love at 1st sight

Background: I am on the record about how I’ve turned around my opinion on Silhouette’s First Love romances (“AMERICA’S publisher of Contemporary Romance”), at least when it comes to Elaine Harper’s terminally loopy Blossom Valley adventures, especially when they involve tenuous connections to major holidays and constant bird-based peril.

First Love published 236 titles between 1981 and 1987, so this one originally appeared very early in the run, although I have a reissued edition with “A Blossom Valley Book” on the cover and the “Special Offer” price of 99-cents. And while there is nary a mention of the infamous, drama-fueled Bird Sanctuary in the story, it is featured on the map of Blossom Valley on the inner cover.

The Plot: The good folks over at Fiction DB inform us that this is the very first title Elaine Harper penned for the series, as well as the first set in Blossom Valley, and is thus the origin story of recurring character Janine Anderson, last seen around these parts as the freezer queen who broke Todd Roberts heart, leading to much bird-based drama. Continue reading

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Announcing the 2022 Edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club!

Full name: Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature Defined As Books Authored By, About or Widely Read By Women in the 20th Century. This year, the Love Stinks edition.

I’m announcing it early and trimming the titles down to three because we shall open with a massive doorstop…

forver amber

Sex and social-climbing in Restoration England, and side discussions about book-banning, girls’ names, underappreciated actresses, and misremembered film-flops. (July)

gotta be me

Speaking of revisiting unjustly maligned women… (August)


And just in time for Halloween! (September)

The Imaginary Summer Book Club FAQ can be found here. 

This week I’ll be working on answering comments, emails and updating Name That Book! Keep watching this space!

Posted in Non-YA Fiction | Tagged | 14 Comments

Movie Madness And/Or Mania: Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones (1971)

Back in 2014 I wrote about the 1967 teens-in-trouble classic Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, in which author Ann Head (the penname for non-YA writer Anne Wales Christensen), tells the story of how two high school seniors cope with pregnancy by getting married first and dealing with their terrible families later. A few readers fondly remember the 1971 ABC Movie of the Week adaptation, which has since become available on YouTube.

mr mrs bojo

I was surprised how closely the plot of the TV movie stuck to the novel, including the unsympathetic parents and a number of implied references to pre-Roe vs. Wade abortions.

For the most part, the changes are superficial: a few character names are different, the action is moved safely to the past-year of 1956 and from the non-specific south to what looks like southern California (EDIT: a sharp-eared reader caught that during the do-over wedding minister McLean Stevenson [!!!] identifies the state as Maryland). A key supporting player’s subplot is cut short, but it doesn’t impact the story too much.

Opening on a sunny beach with the Platters playing on the soundtrack (any Back to the Future fan can tell you this signifies HIGH FIFTIES), 16 year old Julie (conventionalized from the novel’s July) mopes on the beach while her friends screech away about baloney sandwiches, and she has soon confessed to Bo Jo, her casual boyfriend, that she’s had a doctor confirm that she is pregnant from JUST THAT ONE TIME. Before the credits have finished rolling, they’ve visited the Justice of the Peace in the next town and have had their first marital spat, after Julie points out that they’ve never even said “I love you” to one another. Continue reading

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Fat Jack By Barbara Cohen

“A person never gets over high school, Judy.”

fat jack - Copy

I’ve written before about my general impression of YA fiction moving from topical issues based on shock value in the 1970s (Drugs! Cults! Satan!) and into more internal crises of the characters in the 1980s; Fat Jack, published in 1980 really strikes me as a transitional piece between these two eras. It sets up a few sensational topics, a potential scandal and a teenage betrayal, but then is ultimately about adults maybe or maybe not regretting the choices they made.

The Plot: Opening in the present day of 1980, thirtysomething Judy Goldstein catches up over dinner with an old classmate, Jack Muldoon. Judy has attended a recent high school reunion and expresses the shared disappointment of her classmates that Jack, a successful and Emmy-winning TV writer hadn’t attended.

“They all remembered the play… They all remembered you.”

This seems to be a painful point for Jack, and he and Judy verbally skirmish over an as-yet unnamed “betrayal”. Agreeing to finally talk it out, their respective spouses conveniently out of town, Jack and Judy start a full postmortem on their friendship and high school experience. Continue reading

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Kathleen (Sunfire Romance #8) By Candice F. Ransom

There were times she wished she’d never come to America…

SF kathleen

Background: Scholastic’s Sunfire series is a cautionary tale about judging a YA Romance by its cover. Lurking behind the overheated cover art and melodramatic taglines are some of the best stories and most interesting heroines of the genre.

Sort of a historical counterpart to Scholastic’s Wildfire Romances, the series was authored by a handful of Scholastic regulars, such as Vivian Schurfranz and Willo Davis Roberts, and are formulaic, but reliably consistent in quality.

Each volume features a feisty 14-to-17 year old heroine facing an American historical crisis and the choice of two (or more) suitors. Spoilers: she’ll choose the one with the more progressive ideas about women’s rights.

In general, the longer, earlier books in the series focus on a general historical era, and the later, skinnier volumes use specific historic events as a backdrop, often dramatic disasters.

The Plot: In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, I present a tale about all the things Irish-Americans love about their ancestry: death, famine, discrimination, and mysteriously missing snuff boxes!

I have to jest, because the first part of Kathleen is extremely harrowing for a YA Romance. I have frequently noted that the feisty young women who populate the Sunfire series are able to act independently (sometimes to an anachronistic degree) because they usually end up orphaned in the opening chapters. Kathleen takes that plot device to the extreme. Continue reading

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Movie Madness And/Or Mania: The Late Great Me! Story Of A Teenage Alcoholic (1979)

A number of ABC’s Afterschool Specials (and CBS’s School Break Specials and NBC’s Special Treat) have been made available on YouTube; while usually associated with heavy-handed renderings of TEEN ISSUES (DRUGS! DRINKING! SHOPLIFTING! CULTS! ALL THE GREATEST HITS!) a number of these specials adapted contemporary YA literature, and not necessarily ones dealing with ISSUES…


…But then of course sometimes they DID.

We reviewed Sandra Scoppettone’s harrowing 1976 YA social-problem novel back in 2014; I was aware of a TV adaptation made as part of the seminal ABC Afterschool Special series, but until recently it hadn’t been available to view through any video streaming services. Continue reading

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Christopher Cool TEEN Agent #3: Department of Danger By Jack Lancer

The Department of Danger! There was something about the words that sent a faint chill down Chris’s spine.

cc dept of danger

Background: It is somewhat comforting that (for at least a few more volumes) I know I can always fall back on Jack Lancer’s Cold War relic of a boys’ series, featuring the completely baffling spy adventures of Ivy League golden boy Christopher Cool and his stealthy, Indian-y roommate Geronimo Johnson, in the employ of the Top-Secret Educational Espionage Network (TEEN):

This hush-hush corps of bright young students had been specially developed by the CIA on the theory that its members would be less open to suspicion than older agents.

In previous volumes, you may recall that Chris was mostly repeatedly rescued by Geronimo and feisty (duh) redhead (of course) co-ed agent Spice Carter. At least when he wasn’t being totally inconspicuous by donning blackface and wrapping himself up in the living room drapes as a “disguise” and getting chased by bats or hunting Nazis in the Middle East.

Author “Jack Lancer” is a pen name for James Lawrence, who wrote for a number of G & D series, but is probably best known for his work on the James Bond and Friday Foster comic strips (the latter of which was adapted as a movie for Pam Grier). Under his own name he also wrote the trashy, semi-pornographic Dark Angel series… which in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I can direct you to my essay about that series contained herein!

The Plot: While Christopher Cool adventures have so far been variously disorganized, confused and baffling, this third volume seems particularly phoned-in. Geronimo and Spice aren’t given much to do (they barely even rescue Chris at all!) and (FINALLY) a new TEEN Agent is introduced, only to be whisked away after one paragraph. We’ll get to him. Continue reading

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Happy New Year, New Book and Site Updates!

I am very excited to announce the publication of Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950 to 1985, the third collection of essays on 20th century popular and pulp paperbacks and mass culture. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, it includes my piece “Coming of Age Between Apocalypses: Young Adult Fiction and the End of the World.”  


Check out the great reviews the book has been getting! (linked in the Editors pages above)

In conjunction with the book’s release, the legendary City Lights bookstore is hosting a 2-day virtual symposium February 26 & 27, 2022. If you are interested in checking it out, information and (free) registration is available through the City Lights website.

The book is available for purchase through PM Press, City Lights, your favorite independent bookseller, or yes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

More updates! Another dozen requests have been added to the Name That Book! Page, so be sure to take a look and see if any of the descriptions ring a bell for you. I have also updated with a number of suggestions and even a few SOLVED titles.

Keep the comments, questions, Lost Books, and suggestions coming! Looking forward to a new year of Lost Classics!

Posted in Non-YA Fiction | 6 Comments