American Girl, keep giving us Dolls of Color for Girls of the Year.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Book Blather Book Reviews: Samantha's Surprise

Samantha's Surprise: A new author!
Seasonally appropriate greetings to y'all as we wrap up a--well, pretty up and down 2015. The end of the year approaches, and with that all the proper holidays, the big overwhelming one being Christmas. Or Giftmas, as I call it, what with the not being Christian and all. Did I do much for the holiday? Can't say I did. I did something though. Namely, ate. What do you want from me? Anyways. Vanilla Bean Buttercream/Grace is on the way out, and the new kid, Lea Clark, is on the way in. You can hear all about it in my new post after the year, "1/8th? 1/8th? Really, AG?" (Spoiler: That won't be the title, but that will come up.) And before I get into the book proper, a mini rant as posted to AGC and my Instagram account,1 modified and expanded here.

Hi, AGIG! Which is full of teenagers. Let's have a little talk about how to conduct yourself on IG with communicating with AG on their account, @americangirlbrand. Every year, AG releases a Girl of the Year. (She's been problematically White, but I've so bitched about that. I'm getting my update to the grid ready as we speak.) And every year, AG doesn't reveal her until January first. They do little online teasers, videos, and hints to hype up the release. They've been doing this since Chrissa at least--I still have somewhere on my comp the image of Chrissa with three buttons over her face so we couldn't wholly see her. But they do that--the hints and teases. Today was the video one. And under it, all over, was the same shit.

"Its lea Clark ag we all know"
"You guys are really bad at hiding stuff."
"I already know how she looked like 2 months ago"
"lol basically everyone on AGIG knows what she looks like and who she is"2

And so you are now getting educations. Sit down, children. I said sit down.

First of all, AG didn't leak or spoil anything. You all did, digging and searching and finding leaks all over the net. That I don't really bitch too much about, because I've seen images of Melody Ellison and my reaction can basically be boiled down to "give her to me and give her to me now." But going on their media and going "lol spoiled it" is as immature as you all are. They leaked nothing. They didn't leak about Ellie, they didn't leak about BeForever, they didn't leak about Grace, and they're not leaking about Lea. You are leaking about her.

Secondly, they hype like this because it's part of the marketing. They've been doing it since at least Chrissa--somewhere on my hard drive I have images of her  but with buttons over her face because AG didn't want to spoil her completely and was revealing a button a day to get a peek at her over the course of December. And they do this. But that's what they do, for the hype up til the first of January. They don't just say, "It's Grace Thomas!" Or "Welcome Isabelle Palmer!" That's not fun for them, that's not amusing, and that's not what they want. So guess what they don't want to hear in their comments? "ha ha we already know we looked at all the leaks it's So-and-So!" Because you are ruining the fun for those that maybe don't go digging around Google and looking at Youtube and getting everything spoiled for them. Do you also go around spoiling recent movies?

I'm sure a lot of you are young--and by young I mean there's at least a 10-15 year age gap between me and you, if not more. And this is your first taste of social media. So you think that this is appropriate or funny or that AG somehow doesn't know that a lot of people know. But you would be wrong. AG wants to do this the marketing way, which is hints and flirting with info releases. Leaks don't please them even as they please us. And neither do massive spoilers.

So if you all could collectively stop being a bunch of little shitty immature children and spoiling the reveals in the comments of their posts? That would be super awesome! 

Fucking squealers.

Sincerely, A Grown Ass Collector.  

So, with that out of the way for a while, time to book it. 

Samantha's Surprise, unlike the two books before it, was not written by Susan Alder. She had quietly been put off the project--and never to write again, if the searches for her name are any indication. Too much class talk, too much about the poor, not enough happiness and rich people being rich. Not Pleasant Company, that topic.3 So she was booted out the door and replaced with Maxine Rose Schur, who not only is still writing but lists Samantha's Surprise on her webpage. Go her.  The book was still illustrated by Nancy Niles at first release and came out originally in 1986 with Samantha, like the two before it. If you have the BeForever versions, this is chapters 13-18 of Manners and Mischief. I'm still using the chapters from the original since I'm using my old collections that way. So, future ref, when I finally get to Maryellen's books, I'll be breaking her volumes into six "books" and giving them fan nicknames, because I'm cool like that, but reffing whatever chapter numbers they got. 

Chapter One: Christmas Wishes, or How Much is that Dolly in the Window?4

"Wait, Samantha!" the book starts. Is it Nellie, Sam's girl of lilac tunnel shenanigans and education in the Mouth Better School for Learning and Lesbianism? Ha ha ha no. She's been shoved to the side, thank you.5 It's Ida Dean, Sam's friend from the previous book. You may remember her as the little drama queen who was pretty sure she would shit herself and die if she had to ever give a speech in public, thus bringing eternal shame to her rich family. Ida hands Sam a red envelope. No, it's not Chinese money and this isn't Lunar New Year (which was year of the Snake in 1905). The Chinese are segregated into Chinatowns so as not to bother the well to do white people who need them to scapegoat later. It's a fancy pants invitation to a  fancy pants Christmas Party for Fancy Pantaloon Girls, written out in the book properly with cursive and swirly whirly letters and everything. Six o'clock in the evening, Thursday December 22, respondez s'il vous plaît. The French lessons in school are paying off. They'd better, at private school prices. 

Ida talks about how they're going to have her brother do magic tricks and they'll play ladies' ring and charades. Samantha squeals with anticipation. All searches that don't pull up jewelry imply that perhaps ladies' ring was a game of guessing who's hiding the ring among a circle of people passing it around on a string. A proper sit down game for proper young ladies. I wonder if they'll play some What D'ye Buy too. The two girls think this will be the Best! Christmas! Ever! and talk back and forth about what they want for presents. Ida really wants ice skates and--not a doll house or a sled or a stereoscope--but an actual cocker spaniel, because cocker spaniels are so in. And what does Samantha want? The dolly in the window of Schofield's Toy Store. She's beautiful, all in pink and in her hand there's--

Samantha, you've already played this tune before. Literally. You played the piano to earn the money for Lydia. Then again, you gifted Lydia to Nellie since she had never had such a fancy doll before, because you are a generous, adorable little girl who cares. I'll allow it. 

So what's in the doll's hand? Gingerbread? Ham? Fistfuls of dollars? Let's go see!

I need it, I want it, I really like her mane.
They get to Schofield's Toy Store and press up against the glass, because this is 1904 and that's how we advertise the hot new toys instead of learning about them on the Today Show or Good Morning Mount Bedford. There's a teddy bear--which is so in seeing as they just were invented--and tops and pull cocks and there she is. All in pink, holding a tiny wooden soldier. It's Clara from the Nutcracker. And this was back in the day when dolls were rarely made in various versions. So she is one of a kind, thanks.

"So you're going to get her from your grandmother, right?" Ida asks.

"Uh..." Samantha goes, stalling for time, "no. Haven't asked. Can't."

"Charles Dickens and The Ghost of Christmas Past why not?" Ida says, once again summoning her fainting couch and blatantly cursing. 

"Because Lydia. Two books and one lilac tunnel ago, I gave her away."

"You Absolute Holiday Fruitcake, Samantha," Ida says, "if I got a doll as fancy as Lydia I wouldn't have just given her away like some sort of commoner."

"I gave her to Nellie Not Appearing Much in This Book, because plot said she'd never had a doll before in her life."

"Oh." Ida pauses, catching herself before saying something rude about the Irish. "So ask for the new one. You're dollless. That's not what's in."

Sam looks at Fancy Clara, and then shakes her head. "I don't think Grandmary will do it. It'd be terribly extravagant." Terribly. But then again, Sams, you did give her away for a good cause. 

"Ask anyways," Ida says as they walk on. "Worst she can say is no." No, the worst she can do is make Samantha go to bed without supper and switch her, or sell her to the pagans.

"Maybe I can ask," Sam says more to herself. The girls part ways at the corner and Ida minds her own damn business for the rest of the book. (Spoilers.)

Samantha dodges a coal wagon for historical era ambiance and makes her way to the house. She goes in the front door and the house smells like sugar cookies, because they have a cook. She heads to the kitchen where Mrs. Hawkins lives and there Mrs. Hawkins is, stirring a pitcher of hot cocoa for Christmas ambiance. Mrs. Hawkins turns into a fluffy mother hen as she says Samantha is a sorry sight in her wet and snowy clothing, and after getting her out of her wet things and next to a warm stove she gets her into a dry martini. Wait, I mean a plate of sugar cookies and a cup of cocoa with lots of cinnamon, just how Samantha likes it. 

Excuse you, Samantha, but cinnamon is expensive. Take a little less. 

"Christmas is only two weeks away," Samantha says, sitting in the lap of warm and luxury. 

"So that is, and I've got a lot to do," Mrs. Hawkins says, thinking to herself about all the fucking cooking she'll have to do (because rich people never cook their own meals like some sort of pagan) and how she'll only get her Christmas nommables after Samantha and her family have picked off the good parts of the ham and like, all the carrots. Bet you dolls to dollars Nellie's family will have to do the same after the Van Sicklens are done with their food.

Sam fishes out a piece of paper. "Look what I have! It's a design for a gingerbread house!" 

There's a quick and boring game of Find the Spectacles before Mrs. Hawkins looks at this ambitious sketch by Samantha Mary Parkington, Esq. "How big are you planning this Victorian house looking gingerbread structure?"

"About two feet by two feet," Samantha says, like it's fucking nothing. 

"You sure this isn't a train station?" Mrs. Hawkins says.

"It's big but we'll put all kinds of candy things in it! Licorice for the drawbridge ropes! Caramel for the doors! Cinnamon drops for bricks! Taffy for pillars!" 

Samantha, use the denser candies for structure and the taffy for trim, or your house will fall in an earthquake. Gingerbread structural integrity is very important. 

"Can we do it?"  Samantha says eagerly. 

Mrs. Hawkins remembers she's paid to put up with Samantha's shenanigans and raise her hopes. "With a lot of ingredients and quite a bit of time, and just a pinch of luck, we can do this."

And a fat helping of fairy farts, servant work, and unicorn magic. 

"Yay!" Sam says, hugging Mrs. Hawkins. "Let's do it Saturday!"

I'm pretty sure Mrs. Hawkins will be doing like, all the work while Samantha licks spoons and asks questions. Still, for Samantha this is going to be the Best. Christmas. Ever. 

Chapter Two: Presents and a Party Dress, or Company's Coming for Christmas

Samantha, after getting her fill of sugar cookies and cocoa, heads up to her bedroom and locks herself in before going to her closet with her chair and fiddles with a pink box.

Samantha, I don't think puberty is for another few years--oh wait no, my bad. This is a pink hatbox where she's hiding all the gifts she's making for the holidays. She takes them out one by one, so we all know who's getting what. Jessie, our resident Negro Seamstress, is getting a strawberry satin pincushion. Her baby boy Nathaniel--the reason she almost left her job without a word before Samantha called Grandmary on her shit--is getting a book about a lost dog that Samantha wrote herself and bound with red yarn. Grandmary is getting a lace heart sachet with dried rose petals. Mrs. Hawkins will get a chain since she's forever losing her glasses. (Her husband gets nothing.) Miss Nellie Not Appearing Much in This Book will be getting a sewn blue velvet cape for Lydia to wear. And Uncle Gard, Samantha's favorite and only uncle and the Main Man in her life6 is getting a small box just the right size for cufflinks that Samantha is still decoupaging.

So we've got sewing, writing, bookmaking, and decoupage--and probably repurposing that chain. Creative little munchkin, isn't she? Also this is 1904 and children don't just buy presents, that's not good breeding. You make most if not all of them, because making gifts builds character.

Sam just has the lid to go, and she fusses through her paper scrap collection and with her glue pot before sticking a pansy and the words "with love" on the top. The box is now super perfect and Uncle Gard will think it's absolute pants.

There's a knock on the door. "Miss Samantha!" Jessie says, interrupting Glue Fun Time. Shit! Sam hides her Gift Porn in the box and stuffs it under the bed, then hides her scraps and moves her chair back out the closet while Jesse tells her to open the door, and then unlocks the door. Can't get no privacy, man, Sam could have been thinking about lilac tunnels and cans.

"C'mon, child," Jessie says with the authority she's allowed towards a young white girl as a Negro, "your Christmas dress is done and I just need to hem it." Samantha follows her to the Magical Sewing Room, eager to see her fancy dress. Jessie makes her wait for it, as she tells her to strip out of her dress (and down to her petticoat, bodice, stockings, and long underwear) and close her eyes for a big surprise. Sam does as she's told and something cool and crisp slides over her head.

"Can I see can I see can I?" she says.

"Heaven's shit!" Jessie says. "You've grown two inches since I measured you, Miss Samantha. Up like smoke in chimneys, fuck." Damn those growth spurts. She tells Sam not to look so that she can fix the hem because it will make the difference.

Sam does as she's told, but can't help talking. "Ida Dean's having a Fancy Party for Fancy Girls in two weeks. Do you think I can wear this dress to it?"

"Ask your grandmother," Jessie says, as she continues repinning the hem.

"I just love Christmas," Samantha says. "Everything about getting ready for it is fun." Samantha is not doing a lot of the labor like the servants are, so of course she sees the work as fun. "I've made all the decorations we're putting up--cotton snowmen and paper snowflakes and Saturday Nellie is coming to make pinecone wreaths."

"And the angels out of blue silk I showed you?" Jessie said.


Jessie compliments her on her hard work before saying she can open her eyes and see. Sam looks at the mirror and is a vision of red cranberry taffeta and white lace and ribbons, like the Pleasant Company Design Department intended.7 

And it was so pretty she could barely contain herself.
"This is the Best. Dress. Ever!" Samantha says ever so solemnly. Jessie agrees, saying it's fine enough for a princess.

Someone sniffs behind her. Samantha turns to see Elsa scowling and complaining that Samantha is playing dress up at this hour. It's tea time and Elsa has to fetch her down to the parlor, and here she is not even properly dressed! Jessie lets Elsa know politely that she'll be right down. Elsa, offended that some Negro mother has the nerve to talk to her, snaps about fussing with frills at teatime and walks down the hall, her shoes making tsk sounds.

Excuse the fuck out of you, Elsa, but Jessie is trying to do her job too, so shut the fuck up and stop being a white bitch.

Samantha changes back into her other clothes, fixes her all important stockings, and races all the way to the parlor. "Grandmary Grandmary I have the most exciting news!" she says, remembering her curtsy like a proper girl.

"Delightful," Grandmary says, not giving a shit she was a little late and probably taking that time to tell Elsa to remove the stick in her tights and let Jessie do her job. "Time for tea."

Samantha has to wait for Grandmary to ask about the news because children are seen and not jabberjays. Once she's asked, she babbles like the little Gemini she is. "Ida Dean's having a Christmas party and it's at night and her brother will do magic and  there will be games and can I go and can I go in my new dress?"

Grandmary sips her tea before speaking. "Samantha, one question at a time," she chides. "Two at a time is unbalancing." A bit picky, but whatever, Grandmary's job at present is to Be Victorian. "To answer one question, you may go to the party. And to answer the other, you may wear your new dress, since you are growing quickly and should get all the wear possible from it."

Go, Grandmary. Samantha thanks her delightedly.

Grandmary says she has a surprise back, but since she does not rush anything, she butters a biscuit before she speaks. "Your Uncle Gardner will be spending Christmas with us as usual. But this year, he will be bringing Miss Cornelia Pitt with him, and she will stay for the holidays and through the new year."

Coming over for that long in this era of Edwardian fancy? They might as well be married.8 Samantha is super excite about this--Cornelia has ginger hair and smells of violets and she is, like, super cool and elegant. Grandmary lets Samantha know that Cornelia is a guest and a special friend of Gardner's, and they must make her feel welcome. Like Grandmary don't already know what's going on between them. Guest nothing. Gardner probably gave her a jangle and asked to invite Cornelia for the holidays, and Grandmary wondered for a moment or two if he'd gotten her in the family way before remembering that she was not the kind of woman to ask after that. She knows what's about to come up and things are about to be rather complicated.

Samantha assures Grandmary that she'll welcome her and make this the Best. Christmas. Ever! She's already worked at the decorations and planned the gingerbread house that Mrs. Hawkins will be doing all the work on.

Grandmary says that, while that's good of her, she may have done enough already and it's best if she stays out of the way since things will be very busy now. Samantha wonders why the Charles Dickens grownups always seem to think the best thing for children to do is nothing at all. C'mon--she's gotta string cranberries and hang snowflakes and pick out the candy for the gingerbread house and they've got to find the perfect tree and with Cornelia coming, there's even more she's going to need to do, including get Cornelia a perfect present.

Samantha doesn't know it but something is about to fuck shit up.

"Picking gifts is hard!" she bursts out.

"What's that now?" Grandmary says.

Grandparents be having those hearing ears.

"I was just, um--you know, gifts and complicated and stuff. You have to guess so much!"

"True. But people can also let you know what's appropriate."

Samantha agrees, but is also thinking about the doll. That she wants. That she wants so much. Doll doll doll doll doll you should ask you should ask--

Samantha clears her throat. Grandmary pours tea. Samantha starts to ask. Grandmary looks at her like she can stare through her. Samantha mumbles. Grandmary tells her to speak up. Samantha dances around the words. Grandmary asks her to come to the point.

You could cut the tension with a butter knife.

"Wow, sure looks like snow through the weekend!" Samantha blurts out. Grandmary agrees.

Alas, Samantha does not have the courage right now.

Still. Best. Christmas. Ever.

Chapter Three: Decorations and Disappointments, or A Stark Reminder Why Children's Feelings Matter


Miss Nellie Not Appearing Much in This Book makes her appearance finally in Chapter Three on Saturday morning, post pinecone wreathing it up. Samantha shows Nellie the gifts she's been working diligently on for some time now and has stored in her pink box.

Getcha mind out of the gutter.

She shows the decoupage box last, and Nellie agrees that it is the best of the presents and Gardner will like it. Sam knows he'll love it, and it's the nicest thing she's ever made for anyone. But she'll have to buy Cornelia's present since there's no way she can make something in just two-ish weeks, and ponders what to get.

"Bath salts?" Nellie proposes. She means the kind for bathing, not the drug. The medicine at the pharmacy has all the heroine and opium they need.


"Hankies?" Nellie offers, because Kleenex hasn't been invented yet.

"Maybe if they're lacy on the edge." Then Sam remembers that Cornelia likes cars, and cars don't go with lace for some reason. "Nah. It's gotta be super special."


"Okay, Nellie, I know I'm rich but I don't have that much money, even if that would be special. I'll ask Jessie. This new writer has you suggesting very impractical stuff."

Nellie says she's giving Mrs. Van Sicklen my biggest pinecone wreath, and worries she might not like it. Samantha assures Nellie she'll like it because everyone likes Christmas decorations.

Samantha, lemme introduce you in ten years to a little Jewish girl named Rebecca, who is about eight months old at present and lives in New York City. As for the wreath, Mrs. Van Sicklen will probably coo over it and then toss it in the fireplace, lest she catch Irish on her. Then again Mrs. Van Sicklen isn't nearly as bitchy as the Rylands. She might actually keep it for a bit before using it for kindling.

Samantha shows all the decorations she's made stored in a cardboard box--cotton snowmen, silk angels, and paper snowflakes she's been making since Thanksgiving. Sam: As soon as they're done with the bird, she's ready for the winter festivals. She tells Nellie she's going to put up the decorations this afternoon, and Nellie says the place is going to look like a fairy land.

And that's all the Nellie you get in this book, people! Hope you enjoyed her! She won't be back til Book Six, after everything's gone to near shit.9

That afternoon, after Nellie's been kicked out of the series for the next two books and one year, Sam takes her box down the stairs and decides she will start the decoration on the banister, unwinding a long string of cranberries.

"Excuse me, young lady," a man says in a uniform labeled Farrola Florist, stopping her before she can even wind the first string. He's got a large box with scented garlands that have big red bows on them. "Please get to stepping out of the way."


And that is when shit started to go down.
"Um, I have decorations too," Samantha says, and tries to explain the cranberry garland and how it might look nice with the stuff he's draping. The man sighs like Samantha is some sort of filthy little Irish urchin and tells her again to stand back and not disturb the fragile garland that will probably dissolve if little girls touch it.

Samantha steps back and right into Hawkins, who's carrying another of those Farolla Florist boxes, to go with the two others on the rug. Sam asks what's in the box. Don't worry, it's not a head. It's decorations. There's holly, laurel, ivy, mistletoe, and even miniature trees and red Christmas roses. Hawkins explains that Grandmary wants the house in full Yuletide splendor for Miss Cornelia's visit as he hangs ivy over the mantle.

But I thought they were celebrating Christmas--Oh right, the whole Christians putting Christmas near Yule thing to get the pagans to convert.

Samantha is agog, simply agog, and that's not eggnog. "But I made stuff, enough for the whole house," she says. Hawkins ignores her and continues decorating with the fussy things.

That's why you're not getting a gift, Hawkins. That and the factory thing before that got her in trouble with Nellie.

Samantha picks up her box and makes her way to the dining room. No one's about, so she starts to put things up. She puts the snowmen about on the wall lamps and near the meat platter and on the center of the table. The paper snowflakes go on the window with a little glue. She replaces a small oil painting with her largest pinecone wreath, and the cranberry garland she puts across the curtains. She puts up all her decorations and is rather proud of herself and her decor.

And then.

"What the fresh Charles Dickens and the Ghost of Christmas Present is this shit?"

It's Elsa. Ugh.

"Excuse me, what the Dickens are you doing?"
Elsa heads straight to the window and starts to tear off the snowflakes, bitching that she's got enough shit to do washing and dusting and polishing without having to clean up Samantha's crap too, and who the fuck left her alone long enough to put all these damn dustcatchers around.

Now I get she's likely been doing a fuckton of work as a maid for little credit, but gods. There's nicer ways. Elsa never shows them, though.

"They're the decorations I made!" Samantha says, breaking out the epic bitchface in both sets of illustrations. Elsa is speechless for about half a second before saying that they're having things done professionally for Miss Cornelia's visit, and so she doesn't care about her snowmice.

Snowmen, Samantha corrects her as she picks her decorations off the floor, and Elsa goes right on not giving a shit. "Get out my way," she bitches more, "I've got to dust the chandelier so it sparkles." Because Cornelia's going to notice the chandelier.

Samantha grumbles almost loud enough for Elsa that the way everyone's acting, you'd think December 25th was Cornelia Day. Pass her some salmon for that little burst of cattiness.

Samantha heads to the kitchen, hoping maybe to get comfort from Mrs. Hawkins. But no. Because she's hard at work making mince pies and pound cake and homemade peppermint drops and cranberry sauce and quince jam--wait, you made your cook make quince jam fresh? Why--moving on.

Sam takes one of the peppermint drops and eats it, saying that she has a good idea.

No answer. She speaks up and Mrs. Hawkins replies. Sam's got the great idea to put the peppermint drops on the gingerbread house they'll be making this afternoon, so it can look like a candy house right out of Hansel and Gretel.

Mrs. Hawkins sighs.


They're not making the gingerbread house. Grandmary has requested, with Cornelia coming, that there be only the best cooking, and that means Mrs. Hawkins is being run ragged making food and quince goddamn jam, and this means she doesn't have a moment for Samantha's gingerbread house.

Not even a little one?

Not even a little one. Mrs. Hawkins does try to at least let Samantha down gently, but then pulls the "but you're old enough to understand."

"Yeah, I'm old enough to understand that if Cornelia wasn't coming, everything wouldn't be circling the sink drain," Samantha says, as she leaves the kitchen.  Have some more salmon.

Sam takes her box of decorations back upstairs, and bumps a bow of garland as she goes. She doesn't fix it, because fuck your garland and its fancy ass bows. If she can't decorate the house, she can at least decorate her room and think about the party. Two of her best snowflakes got ruined. Elsa, you bitch. She starts to fold tissue paper to cut a new snowflake, wondering why the Dickens everyone is being so damn fussy over Cornelia. She's not getting her anything special anymore--just some plain hankies. There.

There's a knock at the door, and Samantha opens it to find Grandmary standing there.

Shit happens in threes.

"Gardner's going to be here late Thursday afternoon," she says, "and since I'm Victorian and seem to think that children just are to do what they're told without feelings or protest, you're not going to the party anymore. Send your regrets."

Samantha protests, and Grandmary gives her the Old Victorian Stubbornface and says that it's the polite thing to do, with a tone that Samantha's opinion on the topic means about as much as Catholicism in America in 1904.

Samantha waits until Grandmary leaves to say she hates Cornelia and she's glad she doesn't have money for perfume, and she won't get her hankies either, or even bath salts in a paper bag. Miss Cornelia Pitt is getting a big fat load of nothing from Samantha Mary Parkington, Esq., as Samantha starts to sob.

A lot of people say that this was Samantha being bratty. Fuck that. Samantha is nine. Christmas is her favorite time of year. She wanted to have a nice holiday, and she was even excited that Cornelia was coming because Cornelia is awesome to her. But then everyone started fussing over the top for Cornelia to come and pushing her out and out more and more until she's stuck in her room, sad and hurt and disappointed. And she can't blame Grandmary, and she can't really blame the servants. So she put the blame on the person that's being fussed over: Cornelia.
But I'll blame Grandmary. Grandmary has made a big hot steaming in the snow Victorian mess. Children don't like being felt like they're supposed to sit down and shut up and only be trotted out like trick ponies when desired before being sent back away. Making her feel like shit because you're all Victorian super fussy about Cornelia is upsetting to Samantha. I know I don't like Samantha much as an AG face, but as a character? I give her her Christmas tears. She's a kid, and she's getting left out and denied because Grandmary wants to impress Cornelia with the fancy shit and it's making her granddaughter feel out of place. It's hurtful, and the idea that children don't have feelings and should just stay out of the way while everyone primps everything and dusts chandeliers is hurtful and mean. Children can get in the way. They don't mean to but they can. So instead of telling them to shoo, they need to be made to feel like they're not in the way and helping.

Sam has every right to cry her little heart out. She's being told she's in the way. She can't decorate with stuff she's worked hard on. She can't make a gingerbread house like she anticipated. She's being fussed at left and right. And then you say she can't attend a nice party, because she what? Just has to be there when Gardner and Cornelia arrive, even though she knows them both already, because in your Victorian mindset she's got to be there and be Pretty Girl Samantha. No allowance of opinion, no offering of options. Just stay there at home, missing a party, and she won't even likely be allowed to chatter much if you had your druthers. Just and has to sit there quiet and be seen and not heard.

Grandmary's gone stupid Victorian for Cornelia's arrival and it's wrecking Samantha's holiday.

Worst. Christmas. Ever.

Chapter Four: Someone Very Special, Or Cornelia Fixes Things


"Doesn't everything look...lovely," Cornelia says as she and Gardner arrive, privately thinking to herself that the place looks and smells like a pile of cinnamon and a pine tree made a baby that then exploded and threw up inside the house. Grandmary says she wanted things to be festive. Samantha doesn't even look at Cornelia, she's so upset. Grandmary asks if the trip from New York City was tiring, passing over proper tea like sandwiches.

"Psh," says Cornelia. "Motorcars are cool and Gardner drives great."

"You're brave to ride in them," Grandmary says, reminding us that she's against progress.

"Travel's all good," Cornelia replies. "And when the planes start to take people up, I'm going in them." Samantha, too would like to go up in the air and fly and feel a breeze. Grandmary says that there's little chance of ladies going up in planes. Grandmary would be shocked if she was around for the first stewardesses. Why, we've even got lady pilots now. Cornelia gracefully argues against Grandmary in a way Samantha can't even fathom, saying that someday people might even fly across the ocean in planes. Grandmary says perhaps in a way that implies total nonsense.

Oh ho ho.10

"Dude, I don't care how I travel!" Gardner pops in. "Plane, train, and automobile, elephants and rickshaws and dirigibles oh my! Dickens, fire me out of a cannon!" Modern day Millennial Gardner's going to be the one InstaGramming his holiday with friends (#Giftmas) while Baby Boomer Grandmary complains that no one hosts proper holiday parties anymore.11 Still, he is her only son and she pretends to be horrified and Sam leaks a giggle.

"But the totes Gogoats is sledding, ain't it, Sam my gal?"

"Yeah, but no sledding this year so far," Samantha says, without shooting Grandmary a look.

"Then we're going sledding tomorrow morning," Cornelia says. Grandmary tries to dissuade Cornelia from engaging in such activity, and to stay inside and do something feminine and genteel like sniff the pine garland while contemplating knitting baby booties. Cornelia comes back with it being good wholesome exercise.

Also it flushes up the blood for later activities. Oh ho ho. Samantha pleads too, and Grandmary gives in.

Sam thinks that maybe Cornelia can have some bath salts. The kind in a tall bottle with a fancy glass top.

The next morning Gard, Cornelia, and Samantha go to Fairwind Hill, which is covered in thick snow along with the rest of the town. Gardner loves the hill, and back when he was a boy in the Eighties and Nineties, he'd come up and imagine he was in heaven.

"Gard, you can probably imagine anything," Cornelia says. "Not life without you," Gardner says back. Geez, right in front of the kid. Sam takes about half a second to realize they're totes Gogoats in Twu Wuv.

Gardner asks who should steer, and Sam asks to be in the middle. Cornelia takes the back saying she feels like a caboose. Gardner pushes off and down the hill they go, fast and whoosh and Sam squeals and Cornelia shouts in a most unladylike fashion and they go so fast--

Watch out for that tree!

The sled veers out of control, sending everyone tumbling off and narrowly missing tree splattering injury and a quick end to Sam's series. Sam's got powder in her nose and Gardner's cracking up, and when he points Sam looks to see.

We can be ladylike LATER.
Cornelia is on her stomach, hat off her head, legs tangled, red faced and hair wet--and laughing her corset loose, practically. Cornelia is a grown up lady who plays with children. No wonder Gardner has a crank in his slacks for her. She's the best. 

"AGAIN!" Cornelia squeals, pushing herself out of the snow like it was nothing.

The three go sledding until they're soaked and breathless and red-nosed, completely exhausted. Sledding--it's the most fun you can have in the snow with your pants on and your skirts down. They then troop back to the house for hot lunch. Perhaps it was mince pie and quince jam that did not need to be made fresh anyways.

Post lunch, the three of them pile into the auto for a jaunt down to the shopping strip. There's the stationery shop with all its papery things and a rotating tree made of cards that plays Joy to the World. There's the shoemaker with wooden elves. Cornelia just adores stores at Christmas time. Next is Mr. Carruthers's Candy shop, where large red bins are shaped like sleighs and heaped with sweets. Fuck, Edwardian candy stores are my aesthetic. Cornelia points out chocolate truffles on a tray and Mr. Carruthers says they're the finest Jolie Chocolates from France, which is fancy pants. Gard says he'd rather have jelly beans. Sam is standing in front of the sugar wafers, and Cornelia says they'd be perfect on a gingerbread house, like she did every year when she was a girl.

"That's on the list of things that I don't get to do this year, because Mrs. Hawkins doesn't have time," Sam says.

"Whaaaat?" Cornelia says, channeling Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson.12 "Yeah, no, tomorrow morning we're doing that, pick out all the candies!" So they do--lemon drops and sugar wafers and honey sticks. Samantha upgrades Cornelia from bath salts to linen handkerchiefs. With lace edges. 

They cross the street and Sam begs to go to the toy store. They manage to make it inside the crowded store, where all the toys are toying about. Gard takes Cornelia to look at toy soldiers and Samantha goes to stare at the dolly in the window. Pretty Clara is still there. Damn. Samantha was hoping she'd have been purchased by Grandmary, but she didn't even tell Grandmary she wanted her. She wants this doll like I wanted Addy from the time I saw her in the AG catalog, she wants the doll like super burning, but Grandmary won't get her because Grandmary don't know. And Sam is convinced that someone else is going to buy that doll and get her for Christmas and unlike today they will never ever make one just like her ever again.

And then a hand reaches over and lifts the doll up calling her exquisite. It's Cornelia. She coos over the little Nutcracker and says she's the most wonderful doll in the store, and Samantha agrees. Cornelia gets Samantha. Just like, gets it and gets her. The Vibe, man. And for a hot second, Sam doesn't think about how the doll will never be hers.13 Gardner says the toy soldiers say they'd better head on back home before Grandmary worries. Just as they get to the car, Samantha says she's not going home with them. She forgot--uh--the vanilla that Mrs. Hawkins asked her to get. Yeah. Vanilla. That's used for cooking. Gard says they'll go together and Sam is like "No I mean, uh, there's nothing like walking home alone down the street for the holidays." Gard pauses, and then lets her go to have her secrets because this is 1904 and she'll statistically be fine. But don't be late.

Sam hauls bloomers to High Street and the candy shop, and gets a whole pound of imported Jolie French Chocolates for someone special.

Most. Adequate. Christmas. Ever!

Chapter Five: Exchanging Gifts, or Merry Christmas!14

On Christmas Eve morning, Sam and Cornelia are putting the finishing touches on their gingerbread house. Hands are sticky with icing and Sam's got chocolate on her face, but the house is neat and complete. It's not two by two feet with taffy pillars and a drawbridge, but there's sugar wafer cobblestones. Awesome!

Tasty cottage nomables!
Mrs. Hawkins compliments Cornelia's ability to actually go into a kitchen and be around things. Grandmary probably hasn't been in the kitchen since the early Eighties. Cornelia says she enjoys cooking, and Mrs. Hawkins says this makes her pretty skilled, since there's many a lady out and about that can't tell batter from butter, the vacuous ninnies. Gard comes into the kitchen, saying that they had best not butter Cornelia up and let her slip away. Gardner, please don't make me kinkshame you two. Sam groans at the awful joke. Gard says it's an awful good joke. Quit while you're behind, Gardner. Anyways, it's time to go out to get the tree, because plastic trees have not yet been made a thing and we get the tree fresh from the woods and shake the birds out, like the gods intended.

Sam and Gardner go out in the sleigh--this is not a task for cars yet--and are pretty quiet, horses and all, down the street under a red wool blanket. Then Sam points out that tomorrow's Christmas. Gard says it came pretty quickly, and Sam's like "Not really. I've been working on gifts for months! And your present took forever." Gardner pretends not to be interested. Sam asks him to guess.

"Is it smaller than a bread box?" Gardner starts, because breadboxes are still a thing. Yes. Also it's got parts of it that are green, can't be ridden on, doesn't sing, can't do handsprings, closes up, and it could be worn on his head in the summer but it would look silly. That adds up to--

A baby turtle. Well, he's not wrong. Except he is. Sam says she won't tell, but it's the most beautiful thing she's ever made for anyone. Then she tries to get him to tell her what he's giving her. Nothing doing. Three clues is all she'll get. Like a good schoolgirl it uses notes, unlike Samantha it always plays alone, and it's bound to please her. Sam doesn't have a Dickens and the Ghost of Christmas Future's idea what it is, so she's deep in thought all the way into the woods. They get to the river, tie the reins up, and walk about with an ax until they find the right tree. He chops it down, shakes the birds out, and they head back home.

Post dinner, Gardner compliments Mrs. Hawkins on outdoing herself for dinner. He'd better, poor woman had to make quince jam from scratch for no reason. The candles are burning low, the plum pudding has been noshed, and it is time to trim the tree, because this is 1904 and we don't just put trees up the day after Halloween like some sort of filthy pagan. They go to the parlor and Grandmary hangs up a pair of little glass slippers that she's had since she was six, back before the War was on.15 Gard puts up a brass trumpet, Cornelia puts up some crystal swans--and Sam puts up all ten of those blue silk angels because they belong there. Finally, her decorations. Last are the little candles and Gardner lights them all without setting the tree on fire. It's magnificent, all sparkly and fire inside and catching the ornaments. Just wait til there's electric lights, man. You can have those in red.

Tannenbaums and all.
They stare at the tree until Cornelia heads to the piano and starts singing O, Christmas Tree. They do carols until the candles burn low and it's time for sleeps.

While Samantha's laying in bed, listening to carolers go around singing stuff in the streets and hopefully not getting things chucked at them, she thinks for a second about the Nutcracker doll. Surely, she has been all bought and wrapped and under someone else's tree for the morning. She didn't have a chance because she never asked for it. Oh well. So much for life. She falls asleep to the thoughts of the doll dancing away and the sounds of carolers caroling.

Meanwhile Garner and Cornelia are enjoying butter games. I couldn't resist. 


Sam's the first one up, at seven a.m., wondering where everyone is. Sam, go back to bed. Eh, fine, she's up and has time to put her gifts under the tree in the parlor. The stocking by the mantle are full and there's gifts under the tree. None of them from Grandmary are big enough to be a doll. Le sigh. She puts her gifts under the tree.

Rustle rustle.

Ah, Cornelia's up too. She's in a forest green dress and carrying presents. Soon enough there's Gardner and Grandmary. Mrs. Hawkins is holding breakfast until the luxurious hour of eight a.m. so that they can open gifts. Samantha hates waiting.

Samantha starts to haul. First, there's a sewing kit from Grandmary. Very grown up with forty different threads, a thick pack of needles, and a cat-shaped pincushion, all in fancy compartments. Sam loves it and gives Grandmary her gift, the sachet that she can smell through the wrapping. Grandmary says she's a clever girl.

Gard gives her a red leather book of Christmas carols, and at the end is a key; wound up, it plays O Christmas Tree. Notes, bound (like a book), and plays by itself. She starts to give Gardner the small square box, but Cornelia stops to hand her a big box. Sam tries to guess what it is--is it from New York? It's wrapped so elegantly--

--hoshit it's the doll it's the doll it's the doll--

dolly dolly dolly dolly--
"I wanted it I wanted it how did you know?" Samantha says, clutching the doll to her.

"I didn't," Cornelia says. "I liked the doll so much I was sure you would too." Well!

Sam hugs Clara like I hugged Addy ten years ago in Colorado--putting her down is not an option. She picks up the little square box and her little Gemini mind switches as she hands it to Cornelia. She gives the large big box to Gardner. Advantages of not labeling the boxes!

"A pound of chocolates!" Gardner says. "Hunky dory." Plus it still aligns to his guessing. He's so going to post that on Instagram. So that means--

What a lovely little box Cornelia's got, all fancy with decoupage. It must have taken Sam forever. She's going to treasure it and keep all her jewelry in it. Gardner catches Sam's eyes and winks. You sly neiceling, he sees what you did there and he knows why.

Speaking of jewelry. Cornelia's going to need something small to keep in that box.

How about a diamond engagement ring? 

Sam loses all her dickens. OMG OMG her uncle's getting married! Grandmary is dabbing at her eyes with a hankie, she's so overcome. Though she may have known. Back in this day men tended to ask ladies' parents for their hand, and he'd already gotten approval. So this wasn't a proposal at the tree, and Gardner probably let his mother know and explain that's why she was coming for the holidays. Still, Grandmary, you were kind of a butt about things.

The wedding is in the spring16 and Cornelia asks Samantha to be a bridesmaid. Samantha agrees, giving her a super big hug.

A doll and a soon to be aunt?

Best. Christmas. Ever. 

Looking Back, or A Good Old Fashioned Edwardian Christmas

Can I start typing Giftmas? I can? Okay!

Giftmas back in the Edwardian era means sleigh bells, Saint Nick, carolers, and piles of presents and things. Giftmas was the big celebration of the year, and people went all out, especially the rich. Christmas was the best time of the year to show how much wealth you had and how you could flaunt it with elaborate parties and extravagant decor. Steamships could take the wealthy to trips to Europe much easier than they did back in the 1850s, and since England and Europe were still the center of culture in the world, people flocked there. Kings! Queens! Princes! Princesses! Americans imitated the English, and that included their fancy trees and traditions and cards.

Trees started as a German tradition--okay, they started as a pagan Yule tradition. But the modern tree started in Germany, where they did trees to the hilt. Queen Victoria--who was dead in 1904--was the first to popularize trees for English-centered places, including putting presents directly on the tree. Small things like watches and paint boxes and tops. Glass ornaments were also German. You also had the paper chains, the strings of popcorn, and the like. But there were also cookies, and since electric lights were not yet in strings people put actual candles on the tree and lit that shit. Hence getting fresh trees cause a dried tree would murder you and everyone you loved in fire. Still shiny.

And gifts? Oh yeah, the gifts. The ships imported the shinies--books from England, dolls from Germany, music boxes from Switzerland, and chocolates from France. But the in thing was the teddy bear, having recently been released in 1903 and named after Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, the president at the time. Blah blah he didn't shoot a bear, political cartoons were made, then toys. Stockings were filled with small trinkets like pens, hair ribbons, and candies.

Big family gatherings were the hot shit, and people ate what the fuck they wanted--which you should still do, because food is delicious. Soup, fish, ham, goose, breads, vegetables, and pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes. [/Uncle Phil] And then you had plum pudding, which was topped with holly--another thing yoinked from the English. After dinner were the carols, the parlor games, and the like.

But y'all know not everyone decks the halls with wild abandon. See: Servants. They had to work double time to get the cooking, cleaning, and laundry done. So they got their celebration the next day--Boxing Day. That's when they got their gifts, ate their meals, and had a little bit of rest. Also sometimes the rich went to places and gave back to the community such as at hospitals and orphanages and the like.

What did the poor do? We're not talking about class anymore. It's not Pleasant.

Final Thoughts

Maxine Schur came in for one book and one book only, completing the three book-set for Samantha in time for release. Whatever Susan Alder did, it was enough to have her removed from even getting more than two books in and then write something divisive like Samantha maybe seeing how the poor spent the holiday or her and Cornelia helping some family and catching scarlet fever like Beth in Little Women. Still, Maxine did a nice job, even if she had to put Nellie out lest we actually think about class anymore, and wrote a good holiday story.

The sparkle of the season underlies a realistic sadness for Samantha or any child during the holiday season when everything is twisted around to accommodate visiting from one person. Samantha's upset reaction at not getting to do the things she'd planned for one by one because Grandmary's overreacting at Cornelia coming on was realistic and not very bratty at all--she felt left out and manipulated and it was because Grandmary was Dickens-bent on impressing Cornelia, something that didn't need to really be pushed since Cornelia already liked Gardner and the family. And then, all that fuss and fancy didn't impress Cornelia as much as spending time with Samantha and focusing on things that her soon-to-be-niece would enjoy. The holiday did improve, but it was really Cornelia and Gard helping improve them, because Grandmary didn't do good with helping Samantha feel needed and not in the way. No points for her.

Cornelia is my favorite character in this book, and in quite a bit of the rest of the series. She is written well and characterized here in a way that carries forward into the rest of her books--a sharp minded, active, forward-thinking lady who doesn't mind getting messy and exemplifies the change in mindsets and open to progress from the Old Guard Grandmary held fast to. She's the liberal to Grandmary's conservative. Cornelia's personality starts to shine more than from Book One, and given that she's involved in the rest of the books in the Central series and no less feisty. Cornelia's sisters, on the other hand I don't like. For reasons.

A good holiday book, and nice and toasty. 

Stay tuned for Book Four, where Samantha gets Tripped up and Double Pitted.

P.S. Elsa's a twat.


1 It even has Nellie. Fitting. This book barely does. Spoilers.
2 Actual comments from actual people. All of them bad.
3 See what I did there?
4 The one with the waggly eyes. Well, not really. But there were dolls with waggly "flirting" eyes.
5 The BF volume mentions her at the start, but in the actual text no so much.
6 No snark there. Samantha's major father figure is her uncle, and that's pretty sweet.
7 Review here. 
8 Spoiler! They totes do. I'll cover the short stories later on.
9 The BeForever Books are much better at having Samantha think on Nellie more than never instead of getting Twin Pitt-swamped.
10 Merry Giftmas.
11 I had something to say about that on Tumblr.
13 Shh don't spoil it for Samantha.
14 If you're reading along in the BeForever tomes, you will have two chapters left: A Guessing Game and Exchanging Gifts. They were originally just the one. So I didn't skip anything.
15 Even if I'm generous and say that Grandmary's only in her mid sixties, that would put her being six somewhere around the 1840s.
16 Specifically in Samantha Saves the Wedding. Later blather.


  1. Any hints about what Melody looks like?? Can you share what face mold she has at least? Please???

    1. I don't know any of that, except she's Black.

  2. Awesome! Can't wait for your later reviews. I love how you took note of Samantha crying after she learns she can't put up decorations and hit Ida's party, I thought it would've been ok for her to hit the party for a little while at least. Also love your comebacks at Millenial bashers (as if Gen X, Baby Boomers, Silent Gens, Greatest Gens and what not weren't put down by their elders). Kind of wish for Mary Ellen to have illustrations (I'm a nut for them). Just to toot my horn, here is some fan art I did of the girls I grew up with, maybe might do a "sequel" http://toongrrl.deviantart.com/art/American-Girls-10-years-later-II-363323166?q=sort%3Atime%20((american%20girl)%20AND%20(by%3AToongrrl))&qo=2

  3. I can't tell you how happy this made me. I adore your book blather!

    Excuse the fuck out of you, Elsa, but Jessie is trying to do her job too, so shut the fuck up and stop being a white bitch.

    I was actually screaming with laughter at this. Because I too believed that it stuck in her craw that a Black woman was liked more by Samantha and Grandmary (at least to my interpretation) so Elsa probably really resented Jessie.

    I always love your thoughts on the periphery as it were of these reviews. So dead on about that vile segment whining about Christmas parties and the latest ageism. I also like your thoughts on Cornelia and I'm gonna have to reread these again. I wish we knew more about Susan Adler and her story. I'm guessing because Samantha was one of the First Three, there wasn't the "committee" of editors that there is now for the books, which makes her being removed all the more fascinating to me.

    Thanks for yet another great post and merry Giftmas to you!

  4. Wait a sec who is this Melody Ellison...is she African American? I don't know anything about her, and I'm already crying tears of joy! At any rate, I'm excited to see another book overview from you, your posts always make my day.

    1. She IS! And her first book is out now!

  5. Replies
    1. I go to the store tomorrow to see her and will discuss my thoughts then.

  6. actualheathermcnamaraJanuary 3, 2016 at 7:11 PM

    I will never look at this book the same way again. (That is a good thing.)
    Also, having read Melody's first book, I have determined that she a) has autism, b) has anxiety, c) is gay (or at least bi or pan), and d) is a beautiful cinnamon roll, too pure, too good. I will be getting this doll please and thanks.

  7. "Quince jam from scratch for no reason"! LOL. This is the first AG book I ever read and I'm so happy you reviewed it. Really, really funny and insightful.

  8. I LOVE your book blathers! They are the best. Thank you!


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