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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Teenaged "Young Fu" (he has a full name, but nobody uses it) and his mother move to Chongqing after his father dies. The book follows their first five years in the city, during which Young Fu becomes an accomplished coppersmith, learns to read and write, and has several adventures.

Reaction: *flomps* Glory hallelujah, we are DONE with chinoiserie! :D Young Fu is a realistic teenager living in (as far as I can tell) an accurately portrayed 1920s Chongqing. Sometimes he's full of himself, sometimes he screws up, but he's a generally good kid who works hard and takes good advantage of the luck he has. I feel like he might be just a titch too modern-Western in his kind of "pssh, evil spirits" attitude at times, but it is mostly earned.

Rating: Five stars. I'm so bloody happy to have a really good book set in China that I can't even criticize it. :D And it is honestly a good book.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: On the one hand, I was really epically impressed by the amount of detail research the author obviously did, and by the light hand with which she distributed the details to draw a clean, memorable picture. I was also massively impressed by the illustrator, Harrie Wood (definitely not the Australian civil servant), who did a full-page illustration in period style for the beginning of each chapter.

On the other hand, after a rather hopeful first chapter or two with spoilers ), the writing kind of devolved into "sympathize with THIS side!", and every single time it was the whiter side. (Except I don't know about spoilery conflict ). Was there a whiter side in that one?) Every time. I quit on the chapter about spoilery name ) the Muslim pirate, because the writing was all about how he was EVILLY EVIL and really he was a pretty cool guy. He just did his pirating at Europeans instead of at brown people, like proper European pirates do. *end ALL THE SNARK*

I learned a massive amount from all the Wiki-searching I did to check things this book was saying, though. It was packed chock-full of references to historical events and characters I'd never heard of before. I wouldn't have wanted to read it pre-Google - there wasn't quite enough background provided to help check anything - but I enjoyed it as it stood.

Conclusion: Three stars, out of five possible. It wasn't bad, it just could have been so much better, and all it would have taken is some more balanced writing. It came so close.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: Was... was this an experiment of some sort? Was Ms Montgomery trying to see how much irrational behavior by everybody involved she could fit into a Girls' Story? Or how much gratuitous emo!whumping it would take to make us keep sympathizing with a thoroughly dislikable protagonist surrounded by even more dislikable antagonists? WHAT IS THIS BOOK, Ms Montgomery? Was 1923 just a terrible year for children's books? I didn't expect much from Charles Boardman Hawes, but I know L.M. Montgomery could write. She just hasn't done it here. O_O

Nobody had a consistent personality. Nobody's actions made any sense. In the third of the book I managed to slog through, there was no humor and very little of the eerie or macabre - and LMM's pairing of humor and horror has always been her strongest point with me. The author kept protesting that Emily was mostly happy and mostly loved her life, but what we saw was UNRELENTING MISERY; not a speck of happiness was portrayed that did not get ruthlessly smashed in a predictable manner.

Had somebody in Ms Montgomery's life recently died? Wiki claims she suffered from depression; had she just plain run out of cheerful? Was the collapse of the post-WWI idealism bubble on which she floats Rilla of Ingleside (her previous book) getting her down? Did the demand for more stories cause her to pull out an old pre-Anne manuscript and not rewrite it sufficiently? (It reads a whole lot like the stories Anne is said to have written as a teenager, down to the heroine's raven-black hair and violet eyes.) WHAT HAPPENED?

Conclusion: No stars. I feel like I'm giving out the low ratings with a bit of a free hand here, but there was nothing in this book that I could hang a star on. Even the descriptions cloyed, and the one sympathetic character was a Magical Intellectually Disabled Person whose "disability" consisted solely of sassing at the over-serious characters, writing poetry, and occasionally going a bit psychic. I could have borne him as a 1920s portrayal of a high-functioning autistic person, but his "disability" was supposed to come from a bump on the head which materially changed his personality, and just... just, no. No.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A live Dutch doll about eight inches tall, named Nicholas, visits a fantasyfied New York City to see the sights.

Reaction: This book could have been so, so, so good. I love "virtual tour" stories about places I've never been; if this had been a good example of that genre, I would've had no complaints.

Sadly, it's not an example of the genre at all. It belongs to the very close but distinct genre of "tour guide disguised as fiction" - landmarks aren't clearly described, just mentioned offhand, with very specific directions as to finding them "on the ground", and it's really hard to stay interested in the storyline when whole chapters consist of "they went to this really awesome little place! and this one! and this one!" with no atmosphere to give a sense of the places. It's really clearly aimed at kids who live in 1920s New York and have the ability to follow in Nicholas's sightseeing footsteps.

WHICH IS SAD. A book that did give the atmosphere of these little hole-in-the-wall shops and big department stores would be an invaluable time-capsule story for its era! There are tiny hints of time-capsule things anyway, like the NYC-dwellers counting time by the flashes of the (then brand-new) stoplight at Forty-Second and Fifth - but just not enough. :-(

Conclusion: Two stars. I'd mark it much higher, but it was clearly never intended to go beyond its own place and time, and therefore doesn't really belong on the Newbery list.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE RUN OF THE MILL SO FAR I CANNOT EVEN. It's got pacing! And good dialogue and overall good writing, and is not creepy! And is really, really environmentally sensitive and awesome - Dolittle has rants against keeping tigers and lions in zoos, and against bullfighting, and a Bird-of-Paradise snarks about being hunted for her feathers, and all the things. It's glorious. Plus, the little boy actually sounds like his right age, and generally... if I had read this book as a kid I would have loved it most entirely to pieces forever. :D

Dolittle is a bit colonialist when he tries to rant about politics (the whole spoilers ) arc has some pretty colonialist overtones), and there are a couple of n-bombs dropped by a parrot who's generally a sympathetic character, plus an African prince serves partly as embarrassingly comic relief - although only partly. Get through his first two or three chapters and he mellows down to a sort of... blend between Thor and Jeeves, I want to say. It's kind of epic, and definitely ahead of the rest of these books that've portrayed people of color! :P Just not far ENOUGH ahead, in this particular category. o_O

Conclusion: Four stars. FOR BEING AWESOME. If it weren't for the N-bombs and the colonialism, I'd flirt with giving it five. Definitely worth a read if you can get through those chapters.

ETA Oct 6, 2012: There is a bowdlerized version, but apparently it's very badly done. That link has a good overview of it. The Gutenberg version is complete and unabridged; so is the most recent Penguin paperback, which I read.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
summary and reaction both cut for spoilers )

Conclusion: No stars. I said in the liveblog that this author should have been set to write acid trips behind the scenes of the universe instead of anything near kids, and I stand by that assessment. This book doesn't deserve to be dredged out of obscurity, although for completeness' sake I include the Project Gutenberg link. ;P

If you want a kids' book with better writing, equally unexpected silliness, and lower creepiness levels, I recommend anything by Edward Lear. I know he's not American; I think I had something else I was going to recommend that this reminded me of, but I've forgotten it. :P
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Review: I should mention up front that until the ending, this book's plot is very similar to another of the author's books ), so I was (consciously or unconsciously) comparing them throughout. Therefore, while this book does have good sections and excellent prose, I was most struck by its relative fail compared to the other book, cut for length and vague spoilers )

Conclusion: One star out of five, where a three-star rating is "meh". I'd strongly recommend reading other books by the same author instead, because she has done a lot of much better ones. Three suggestions:

* The Covered Bridge is arguably her best, certainly her most excerpted; it's set in post-Revolutionary War Vermont, and guest-stars Ethan Allen. Also, a little girl and an old lady are the central characters, and as I recall (it's been a while), the flashback stories are much better integrated than in most of her other books: not gems in a setting, but well-crafted parts that fit with the whole.

* Wind in the Chimney, also set in post-Revolutionary War times, is another excellent story, with a much more nuanced portrayal of the antagonist's motivation for her actions; it also features a good balance of male and female characters, with the female ones a bit more memorable imo, and the pacing of the various subplots is extremely well-handled.

* The Kingdom of the Winding Road, set in medieval-esque European-fairytale times, is a set of short stories with no frame, tied together by featuring the same mysterious wandering minstrel in bit roles. It's one of my very favorites - slightly reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Mysterious Mr Quin in tone (with fantasy replacing the murder-mystery elements), and absolutely beautifully written. Worth a look.

Overall, I'd say Ms Meigs's historical fiction is much better than her contemporary work. The Windy Hill is possibly the least good of her books I've read, partly because some things that wouldn't be as discordantly faily in a historical setting (feudal-style landownership, attitudes toward characters of color) stand out badly against the "latest improvements" modernity. It's a shame this is one of the ones that made it onto the Newbery list.

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