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front cover of Cordelia UnderwoodReviews for Cordelia Underwood, or the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League - by Van Reid

From The New York Times - July 26, 1998, By Kit Reed.

A first novel that dwells in the peculiar eccentricities of late-19th-century Maine.

The more savage and risky the future, the more we fall in love with the past -- with those sweet, safe summer nights in some small town where adults murmured on wide porches and children collected fireflies. It was never quite like that, but nostalgia seduces us. Tensed for the millennium, who isn't tempted?

In his amiable, richly populated first novel, a bookseller from Maine named Van Reid draws a past that should soothe even the twitchiest reader. His re-creation of the summer of 1896 has its mishaps and villains, but it's so sunny that even the violence isn't too scary. Part of a projected trilogy, ''Cordelia Underwood'' first appeared in installments in a regional newspaper, The Lincoln Weekly. Diffuse and leisurely, the novel seems designed for long afternoons in a hammock.

Dozens of characters amble in. Every one of them has a story and is spoiling to tell it. There's the mysterious seaman who visits the Underwoods and their spirited daughter, Cordelia. Next come the crusty denizens of Portland's harbor, who sometimes speak in verse. They are closely followed by courtly Tobias Walton, assorted Underwood relatives and a pair of love interests for Cordelia. Then there are the founders of the Moosepath League, followed by brigands, rustics and the mysterious Sir Eustace Pembleton and his child lieutenant, who chug up and down the coast in a miniature steamboat. Oops. Let's not forget Sundry Moss and Ducky Planke.

The narrative waters off this carefully researched patch of Maine are thick with red herrings, and the story is so laced with outside events -- the balloon ascension, the ghost ship, the escaped bear -- that it takes time to get moving, but the sheer geniality of it all keeps the reader in the tent. The mysterious seaman stirs things up with big news: It seems that Cordelia's late uncle, Basil, has left her some property in northern Maine. Oh yes, and a cryptic note.

When the family goes to the wharf to collect Basil's sea chest, Cordelia saves Tobias Walton from falling into the harbor. Topping herself, Cordelia is saved from the drink by the dashing John Benning. Meanwhile (and there are a lot of meanwhiles), three silly charmers named Ephram, Eagleton and Thump converge on Portland for their 14th annual Fourth of July celebration -- and the glamorous Mrs. Roberto's jaunt in her balloon. Inspired by a news item, the three decide to form a club. What shall they call it? Without telling Tobias, they make him chairman of the Moosepath League.

Complications abound. Tobias rides a runaway wagon and is at the deathbed of the last survivor of a drowned ship when its phantom crew comes for him; he also goes with the sheriff to hunt smugglers. He catches that escaped bear (whose name, by the way, is Maude) and is so delighted when she stands on her head that he refuses to shoot her. In the realm of plentiful meanwhiles, the Underwoods have joined forces with Cordelia's great-aunt Delia, aunt Grace and cousins to inspect her land. They puzzle over Basil's mystifying note: ''Our Minmaneth is a young goatt.''

Perhaps because it's gentler than the future, the imagined American past seems to encourage stylistic liberties and excesses. (''It is fortunate that human ears do not independently cock toward interesting sounds, or those people in the immediate vicinity would have looked much like a kennel when the fox horn is blown.'') And there's a liberal sprinkling of cliches. Never mind. Reid's gazillion characters sparkle. Their collective adventures are engaging and (especially when talking in concert or at cross-purposes) they can be funny.

In a society populated by sterling types and delightful ninnies, even the villains are decent sorts. Escapists will be charmed by what the author, in an endnote, describes as a ''world of decency and kindness, goodness and laughter,'' in which there's plenty going on and nothing too terrible ever happens.

From - Reading Van Reid's first novel, Cordelia Underwood, is a little like moving to a small town where everyone knows everybody else and has for generations. Certainly the novel boasts a cast of if not thousands, at least dozens of characters ranging from the spirited title character, Cordelia, to a bear named Maude. The story, such as it is, begins in the year 1896 and involves a mysterious inheritance--a parcel of land in the north of Maine that Cordelia's Uncle Basil has left to her. But readers will find themselves less interested in Uncle Basil's bequest than in the kaleidoscope of eccentrics who involve themselves in it. The subtitle of Reid's novel is The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League, and it is with the formation of this secret club that much of the novel concerns itself. Every character has a story to tell and each fresh tale seems to spawn another; there are balloon ascensions, phantom sailors, mysterious notes, and determined suitors; fortunately, everyone is so charming and their yarns so entertaining that you don't really mind the many, many digressions from the purported main point of the book, namely Cordelia and her inheritance. Set in the 19th century, Cordelia Underwood exhibits some of that century's literary conventions, as well--originally published in serial form in a regional newspaper, it is a sprawling tale populated with singular personalities and intended to entertain. In short, it's perfect reading for those long, lazy dog days of summer.

From Library Journal - Reid's debut takes place in a simpler, gentler time in 1898, among the well-to-do of Portland, ME. It has parallel plot lines, one of which involves 23-year-old Cordelia Underwood, who lives with her parents and has just inherited from her Uncle Basil a parcel of land in upper, inland Maine that possibly contains buried treasure. The other plot line involves middle-aged Tobias Walton, a man of independent means who travels the world and who this year does his home state. Along the way he has picked up a valet by the name of Sundry Moss, twin brother to Varius Moss. Then there are the three nutty fellows who want Tobias to be the chair of their newly formed club, subsequently named the Moosepath League. In their journeys, Cordelia and Tobias cross paths with the strangest crop of crazies ever to sail into a Maine port or come out of a Maine forest. It's refreshing to read a story with no sex (just a little romance), hardly any violence, and absolutely no naughty words. Recommended, especially for the YA crowd. [This the first of three seasonal novels centered around Tobias Walton. Ed.] - Dawn L. Anderson, North Richland Hills P.L., TX. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.