Archive for December, 2016

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Strawberry Acres

December 29, 2016

I’m almost positive someone recommended Grace S. Richmond’s Strawberry Acres to me. It seems pretty unlikely that I would have accidentally bookmarked a story about a family of siblings moving out of their apartment to run a recently inherited farm.

The Lane siblings (one girl and three boys, ages ranging from 16 to 24) and their uncle move out to their new property in a makeshift way at first, with a tent in their pine grove and Max, Alec and Bob commuting to their jobs in the city. All three are more or less reluctant to become farmers, but their sister Sally and their friends Jarvis and Josephine Burnside eventually bring them around.

It’s a similar setup to The Enchanted Barn, but it’s better. There’s more visible work happening, and the characters and relationships are great. Sally is, as expected, the heart of the family, but she’s not too perfect to like. Max is perhaps the most interesting character–smart and practical, but inclined to get his back up when other people make plans, to the point where they have to work around his stubbornness. And I loved the Lanes’ friendship with the Burnsides, who have not only stuck around through the Lanes’ misfortunes, but have stuck so close that there’s almost no awkwardness about financial disparities. That set of relationships was one of many reasons Strawberry Acres so frequently reminded me of Six Girls and Bob.

No one will be surprised to hear that I wished there was more detail–specifics about farming and fixing up the house, especially–but I have to excuse Richmond, because she has a lot of ground to cover. The story she’s chosen to tell needs to develop slowly, and she’s due a lot of credit for letting it span four years instead of trying to squeeze it into one or two. That means we have to skip over a lot of the slow stuff I like, but what we do get is almost note-perfect, so I’m disinclined to complain. I found Strawberry Acres to be a satisfying read, and one that probably ought to be sending me to another of Richmond’s books and not to a reread of Six Girls and Bob. But, you know, the heart wants what it wants.

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Christmas Stories: On Christmas Day in the Evening

December 23, 2016

Grace S. Richmond wrote a sequel to On Christmas Day in the Morning, and it’s called On Christmas Day in the Evening. It’s pretty religious, but mostly in a cute way. It takes place two years after the events of On Christmas Day in the Morning, and it revolves around the village church, which has been standing empty for several years after a series of disagreements in the congregation.

The Fernald kids, led by Nan, decide to open the church for a one-off Christmas service, hoping to bring the villagers together. They enlist Guy’s brother-in-law, a minister in a fashionable city church, and he in turn enlists a retired minister who hasn’t given a sermon in fifteen years, but knows all about the local quarrels.

Everything winds up exactly as you’d expect, and even the family grouch gets in on the Christmas spirit action, but the story didn’t move me. I think it’s because all of the Fernalds are totally fine, and nothing is at stake. Even the Fernald parents, the only ones who still live in the village, aren’t involved–they’ve stayed out of their neighbors’ quarrels. The characters who are involved serve as country stereotype comic relief, so they don’t help much either.

I think Richmond is trying to bring in exactly the kind of firsthand emotion the story needs when she introduces Elder Blake, but he’s not central enough. She might have done better to give On Christmas Day in the Evening a brand new setting and not bother with the Fernalds at all. I like them, and was glad to encounter them again, but nothing about them is essential to the story.

 

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The House With Sixty Closets

December 22, 2016

I started writing a review of The House With Sixty Closets when I was only about twenty pages in, because I was enjoying it so much. This is not that review. I stopped enjoying it.

Here’s the thing: I loved the first section. The second section is worthwhile. The rest of the book is pretty much a dream sequence, and I don’t deal well with those. But I really do unreservedly recommend the description of the sixty closets and how they came to be, and if you really feel like reading about portraits coming to life and giving out allegorical Christmas presents and throwing a party chiefly attended by closets, you can continue.

The book took on another dimension when I learned that the house with sixty closets was a real house and Frank Samuel Child (the author) lived in it and the girl whose parents would like to fit her with a muzzle was in fact one of his daughters. I think this might make the book worse, because it means that only the truthful bits were enjoyable.

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Christmas Stories: On Christmas Day in the Morning

December 15, 2016

On Christmas Day in the Morning, by Grace S. Richmond, has everything I want in a Christmas story: brevity, nostalgia, just enough sadness to highlight the happiness, and, most importantly, the Unity of Christmastimes.

Guy Fernald, paying his parents a visit one Christmas, is dismayed to find that he’s the only one of the six Fernald kids to show up at all. Edson, Oliver, Carolyn and Nan have families of their own, Ralph lives out West, and Guy himself has spent the bulk of Christmas day with the girl he hopes to marry. His parents are touchingly happy to see him, which only makes Guy feel more guilty, and he promises himself that next Christmas will be different. Fast forward to the following December, when Guy starts enlisting his siblings in his Christmas plan. The plan works out, and so does Guy’s romance, and the whole thing is sweet and satisfying and so heartwarming I cried a little.

There were a couple of dialogues between the parents that struck a slightly false note for me, and, as ever, I wanted more detail—food and presents and Guy convincing his siblings—but I’m not inclined to complain. The story, like the plan, is carried along by Guy’s enthusiasm, and everything else falls neatly into place.

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Ruth Fielding Down East

December 10, 2016

It’s been a while since I read a Ruth Fielding book. PG has added a bunch of them over the last few years, and now seemed like a good time to catch up. Yes, I ought to be reading Christmas stories instead, but when the universe tells me to read Ruth Fielding, I read Ruth Fielding.

Ruth Fielding Down East is the first post-WWI one, sort of. The war is still happening, but Ruth and Helen and Tom are back in the US. Tom will go back overseas again for a bit, but the girls won’t, and it’s time for Ruth to transition back into the world of moving pictures.

I’d forgotten how bad W. Bert Foster’s writing can be (this is one of his last few installments in the series) and it’s bad here, but the worst thing about this book is the plot, and that’s presumably Edward Stratemeyer’s fault.

Ruth is supposed to be smart, is the thing. But when her top secret screenplay is stolen, she continues to keep it top secret, even though she suspects the thief will try to sell it to a producer. The rational thing to do would be to get some description of the scenario on record, so that if it shows up she has some proof that it’s hers. Of course, if she did that there would be considerably less drama when the scenario does resurface.

Character-driven plots are nice. Plot-driven characters, less so, especially when the character in question has been pretty well established through fifteen books. There’s no reason for Ruth to act like this, other than to make the plot work.

So, yeah, I found that infuriating. But somehow, Foster won me over. I think it’s the bit where Ruth stays level-headed during an emergency, saving her friends and getting back her self-confidence. Or the way everything gets wrapped up exactly the way you think it will, and it’s so ridiculous that it’s sort of nice.Or that the random bit about someone lost in the woods turns out to be thematically relevant. Or that Foster is going for something as complex as a theme at all. Mostly I think that Ruth Fielding, as a character, shines through the worst things her writers can do to her. She remains my favorite Stratemeyer product.

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The First Violin

December 6, 2016

When Alisha recommended Jessie Fothergill’s The First Violin, she mentioned Patricia Brent, Spinster and the Williamsons. Based on that, I guess I was expecting something romcom-like. That is not what I got, but I wasn’t disappointed.

The First Violin is the story of May Wedderburn, the middle daughter of an English vicar. Adelaide, the oldest, is the strong-willed ambitious one, and Stella, the youngest, is smart and practical. May herself is dreamy, idealistic, and musical.

Her uneventful life is interrupted by the arrival of Sir Peter Le Marchant (wealthy, older, creepy as fuck). He wants to marry May, presumably so he can make her life miserable, but she wants nothing to do with him. She’s rescued by a neighbor, Miss Hallam, who is going to Germany to consult an eye doctor. She offers to bring May along as her companion and promises to arrange for singing lessons. Read the rest of this entry ?