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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A young man in 1830s Minnesota becomes a logger and pioneers the technique of felling trees during winter so that the spring thaw will carry them to market.

Reaction: The distressing thing about Cornelia Meigs is that I always remember her other books I haven't reviewed yet as being better than the one I'm reading. :P Like The Windy Hill and Clearing Weather, this one suffers from a human villain whose actions don't come across as remotely realistic, either psychologically or (sometimes) in the realm of physical possibility. Our plucky young hero and his teammates on the side of Good have the same problem, actually -- physics and human psychology bend to their convenience, while twisting to hinder the villain's purposes. I mean, not just in normal storytelling ways, but in noticeable, "what the fuck does anybody here think they're doing" ways. :-(

Rating: One star. Because she did have the fools' gold identified as such from the start, which I don't think I've seen done in any other story that referenced fools' gold, and she described it accurately enough that my geologist's instincts twigged it straight off (though I didn't trust her enough to believe I was right).
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Traditional life in a Bulgarian village. Also a boy named Dobry has artistic talent, falls in love with the only available girl, and ends up going off to art school.

Reaction: It's clunky. I'm not sure if the prose is bad or just... I'm going to pull my favorite(?) line here: "[He looked] at the grandfather with the questioning wonder everybody feels when he sees a really living person who warms other people with that spark of God he always keeps burning in himself." I don't even know what's happening here, okay. ^_^ Nobody sounds like a human being, but -- well, it's a ride. :D

Rating: One star. I dislike Dobry as a character, the book isn't progressive or outstanding in any way, it's hard to follow what's happening or when anything is, and I yelled at the endgame kind of a lot. But it was entertainingly enthusiastic about whatever the hell it thought it was doing, which is more than you can say for a lot of these. *looks pointedly at The Old Tobacco Shop, still and hopefully forever the nadir of Newberys*
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Retold tales from the Kalevala, surrounded by a frame story about the Finnish Civil War of the late 19-teens. The frame story follows a preteen boy named Vaino (presumably there should be diacriticals there, but the book uses none) and his family through the conflict.

Reaction: No suspense, a lot of "oh, war is fun and thrilling!", very little nuance, no character development at all. I didn't like it enough to finish it.

Rating: One star, because it wasn't as gobsmackingly bad as most of the zero-star offerings we've had. I don't recommend reading it, though; there are far better Kalevala retellings out there, and the frame story is boring as hell.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: The most heteronormative possible treatment of a set of cultural customs with a LOT of potential for questioning gender relationships. about spoilers )

(I use past-tense verbs because the Communist takeover of Albania included efforts at eradicating gender oppression, and I don't know the current situation very accurately.)

And it's treated of in a GAAAH ) and none of the gender oppression stuff is questioned at all, just treated as an integral part of the structure of the story. Which is one way to handle writing about oppressive cultures, but I VERY VERY STRONGLY judge Ms Miller's choice to write this particular narrative (rather than, say, spoilers )). :P

Also, it's an incredibly slow book, laden down with exhaustive detail about Albanian rural life of the (unstated) time period. And due to a couple of odd wordings about a festival Mass, I don't even know how much I trust the author's research. O_O

Also also, in the spot where changing one attribution would have made Pran the first female Newbery protagonist to have agency - just letting her, instead of her boyfriend, suggest that she go have an effect on the plot ), and then just not having her GO ALL WIBBLY AND UNSURE ABOUT IT! - she, well, doesn't. :P One word. I'd have given this book four stars (lopping off the fifth because it's slooooow) if that had been the case. :PPPPPP

Conclusion: One star. Because the use of language and the research is relatively good, but I'm so angry about how pointless it was to make our formerly quite assertive-seeming heroine into a wishy-washy catspaw of her beloved Man-Hero at that one spot. BLAAAAAAAGH.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Tells the simple story of a rabbit who runs away from various scary loud noises, meets various other animals, and goes back home in the evening. Includes an ABC song consisting of the entire book sung to a tune composed by Ms Gág's sister Flavia.

Reaction: Disappointing. The music and the pictures are both good, but the lyrics which link the two are terribly flat. There is no plot, no humor, very little logical connection or progression from one letter to the next, and not even a funny turn of phrase to lighten the slog. A book with something like twenty pages shouldn't be a slog. O_O

Conclusion: One star, mainly because I can't give Wanda Gág zero stars. :P The tune and the pictures between them do actually deserve a star, though.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
[Note: I'm planning to post Mondays and Thursdays for a while. Also, I have my laptop hooked up to a desktop monitor and it seems to be working okay.]

Summary: A fictionalized version of the year or so leading up to Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage to India, seen through the eyes of the young Ferdinand Magellan and a highly fictionalized Jewish banker named Abel Zakuto.

Reaction: Oh, where to start? O_O I only got 13% of the way in before I gave up on this mix of bad research and utter nonsense with a nice thick scoop of misogyny on top.

Every single thing that could be slanted to the glory of Western explorers has been slanted so. Every single reference to women in the book is derogatory and stereotyped. There are two female characters, but by the point I stopped, it hadn't passed the Bechdel test even by implication, because one of them didn't talk, even offscreen.

And as far as I can figure, the portrayal of the political situation in Portugal at that time was made up out of whole cloth... to the point that "Abel Zakuto" was made up as a separate character from real-life Portuguese Royal Astronomer Abraham Zacuto, and was given most of Abraham's true history and accomplishments, apparently just to separate "Sympathetic Hero Character" from "person who has any sympathy or respect for the Portuguese monarch"! O_O BECAUSE CONFLICT, that's why. If you don't have a villain, make one up! *sigh*

Conclusion: One star. Half because because Mrs Hewes has an enjoyably brisk writing style well-suited to adventure stories, and half because -- even though it wasn't actually meant to come across as a romance -- the budding gay teen romance between young Ferdinand Magellan and fictional character Nicolo Conti was adorably sappy and quasi-realistic.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A collection of eighteen short stories and poems, previously published separately in a children's magazine, here gathered as a book and illustrated with 200 silhouettes by the author.

Reaction: Humor is a very subjective thing. Let's just put that out there. Me, for instance, I've never heard a Joss Whedon joke I unequivocally liked, but 99%1 of geeks seem to think he's the last word in humorous adventure writing.

1: 55% of all statistics are made up on the spot - including these. ;-)

So it's hard to criticize a book like this whose only stated purpose is humor. But, well, I didn't like it. I only managed to get through the first two stories, one of which was a long poem set in a "China" which only resembled any historical or traditional version of China in that the men wore their hair in braided pigtails and the women had tiny bound feet -- oh, and one character was a mandarin. ;P The other story was about a Caliph of Definitely-Not-Baghdad (this does not seem to refer to a Caliph in the specifically religious sense, the leader of a whole sect of Islamic worshippers, but to a more-or-less secular ruler of a city) who buys a clock from a Yankee con man in order that Mr John Bennett may try to write a parable on Daylight Savings Time, and fail miserably. You don't spork DST by ignoring how it actually works.

And the inherent racism in having a city full of "laughable" brown people conned by a Yankee deus-ex-machina, which left a bad taste in my mouth by itself, is followed up - in a later story (I flipped forward) about the same fictional Caliph - by an entire court of Persian astronomers and mathematicians who didn't know the earth was round. :P On which I gave up.

Conclusion: One star. I'm really tired of giving no stars to book after book, and this one's illustrations are impressively detailed and lively for silhouette-work, even though I am well prejudiced against them because of the offensive subject-matter: they started with a Chinese laundryman using his queue or pigtail as a clothesline, and didn't get any better. :P

I don't know if Mr John Bennett's older book Master Skylark, set in Shakespeare's England, is any good, but you can read it from Project Gutenberg at that link if you want a sample of his writing. ;S Like I say, humor is subjective, and he might not be as racist in Elizabethan England.
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A Southwestern Native American toddler gets lost in the desert, makes friends with a shepherd boy, and spends the rest of the book trying to find her family again.

Reaction: Oversimplified baby-talk narration, inaccurate representation of Navajo folktales, a protagonist of an unnamed tribe that is definitely not Navajo, and it takes ten pages for anything at all to happen? Plus bonus fat-shaming and chauvinism! Must be a 1920s Newbery, huh? *dry grin*

The setting showed fairly detailed research, but the "What tribe is she? Not Navajo! What tribe is she like? Navajo!" deal really made me eyeroll; it seemed like an excuse for sloppiness. I was reasonably impressed, though, by the existence of a subplot about a white man kidnapping Native children by government sanction to make them go to White-run boarding schools and forget their culture; I've never seen that historical fact addressed in any other work of fiction. Ever.

(I don't know if that says more about my reading than it does about the state of fiction.)

Conclusion: One star. For the boarding schools subplot.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Retellings of South American folktales apparently collected by Mr Finger in his youth.

Reaction: I didn't finish, because the retellings were... well, about half of the ones I read were pretty good but could have been better. The other half had this blatantly colonialist kind of "look at the quaint natives!" attitude going on. Also, whitewashing, and hints of sexism. I quit after a wise old man advised a guy who'd fallen in love with a star-maiden that he had a chance with her if he only wanted her for her beauty and not to make others envious. Because CLEARLY those are the only two reasons to romance a woman. I know fairy-tales aren't much on the "you don't actually know her, why don't you look around down here?" thing, but EVEN SO.

Conclusion: One star. For not being The Old Tobacco Shop. ;-)
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[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: SPOI-LERS! )

Reaction: Well, I only got through 120 pages, and I was quite happily reading Moby Dick at bus-stops before I started this project. ;P The writing is... I can find no other word for it than "hilarible". The book reads like it was written by a young Anne of Green Gables, with "instinctively felt" and overuse of italics all complete. None of the characters' actions make any sense beyond the thinnest of tissue-paper Plotty Reasons; I can't even introduce the thought of them having coherent personalities long enough to dismiss it with dignity, it merely pokes its head into the room and retreats holding its nose. :D

In addition, it becomes more drastically racist and offensive as we get closer to Africa; I gave up in Cuba, after flipping forward a few times and discovering lines like "three of us [were] arrant scoundrels, but all of us at least white of skin, surrounded by a black horde". And as if that weren't enough - I hesitate to use the p-word, but there are at least a great many very strong homages to Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, starting indeed with the frontispiece. I went into more detail in the liveblog post. You can, if you care to, also read the book itself via Project Gutenberg.

Conclusion: One star out of five, for doing quite a good pastiche of Mr Stevenson's writing voice (English-style, not Scottish-style; I would have forgiven a good deal for Scots dialect), and for not being The Old Tobacco Shop. It's a bit nice to have had the nadir set so early... ;P I just hope I never have it reset any lower.
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[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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