Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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Uncanny Tales

October 17, 2017

I’m a bad audience for scary stories, and I know it. First, I don’t usually buy into them, and second, the scarier I find them the less likely I am to enjoy them. Fortunately Mrs. Molesworth’s Uncanny Tales aren’t particularly uncanny.

The first of the stories, “The Shadow in the Moonlight,” was my favorite. It features a shadowy presence that travels around the walls of a room, and it is genuinely creepy, but not so creepy that it scared me. I did wonder at times if the family being haunted was so large because they needed more people to independently confirm the haunting, but if it was, I wasn’t bothered: I liked them. It’s easy to figure out where the ghost is coming from, but what it’s doing and how they get rid of it are clever and cool.

The only other proper ghost story in the book is astonishingly boring and pointless, and I didn’t care about the possible ghost and definite industrial espionage one, either. The others are…fine, I guess. I liked, in a lukewarm way, the one about a young man who breaks his engagement and refuses to tell anyone why, but mostly everything is just sadness and coincidences. The last story in the book appears in my notes only as “insufficiently creepy clock.”

Am I purposely going for the Molesworth books I think I’m less likely to enjoy? Well, yes.

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The Cuckoo Clock

October 16, 2017

The Cuckoo Clock is another Mrs. Molesworth, and my first experience with her more fanciful stories. I gather that this is one of her most famous books, but I’m not that into it.

The protagonist is Griselda, a young girl who has been sent by her family in India to live with two elderly aunts. The house is cool, and her aunts are kind, but it’s a cold and dreary winter and she has no one to play with. Then she starts talking to a cuckoo that lives in a cuckoo clock that belonged to her grandmother. The cuckoo is probably really alive — not just in a dream, or her imagination — and he takes her on a series of adventures to places that don’t exist, like a version of China populated by dolls. Griselda is a little inclined to grumble, and the cuckoo is condescending, but they do seem sort of fond of each other.

Honestly, in spite of all the things that happen to Griselda, it feels kind of mundane. She goes places and looks at stuff, but nothing really happens, and she doesn’t talk to anyone. Interaction may be why the real world bits are more fun than the imaginary stuff, even though not much happens in the real world, either.

It’s kind of weird, how I’ve immediately gone from avoiding Mrs. Molesworth to cutting her a lot of slack, but that seems to be what’s happening. I don’t really care about this book, but I didn’t not like it, and even when I don’t like her, I think she’s really good.

 

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My New Home

October 13, 2017

My second Mrs. Molesworth was My New Home, which was nice, but never really felt like it got started. The narrative conceit (a young girl telling the story of her own life) is good in theory, but in practice the entire book feels like exposition.

Helena Wingfield (she thinks her middle names are also important, but I do not) was orphaned at a very young age and lives with her grandmother. She doesn’t really interact with other kids, until a nice family nearby starts sending their kids over to learn French from Mrs. Wingfield. Which would be fun to read about, if Mrs. Molesworth wasn’t in full-on tell-don’t-show mode.

The first person narration isn’t the problem. First person usually makes things more immediate, not more distant. An excess of realism might be part of the problem: this could in fact be how a girl in her early teens would tell the story of her childhood, but that doesn’t make it a good way to tell a fictional child’s story. An excess of foreshadowing, plus immediately stopping when you reach the foreshadowed events, is definitely a problem. But you know what? I’m not mad at it. I just think Mrs. Molesworth was capable of writing a version of this book I would have enjoyed much more.

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Found Yet Lost

October 12, 2017

I went to a very nice book sale last weekend and…accidentally bought a book I already had. This is what comes of buying books and then not reading them.

Anyway, it was Found Yet Lost, by Edward Payson Roe, and this time I read it immediately. It’s a Civil War story. There’s this girl, Helen Kemble, and two men have been in love with her since they were all children. Albert Nichol is a captain in the Union army, and is presumably everything that is fine and upstanding. He and Helen are not quite officially engaged. Hobart Martine is unspecifically disabled, and therefore is not regarded by anyone as a legitimate love interest.

Nichol is struck by a shell and left to rot in a ditch, and Martine, wanting to do Helen a service, goes South to see if he can recover the body. He doesn’t find it, but he does talk to Nichol’s men and to other soldiers from their town, and impresses everyone with his courage. Then he goes home for just long enough to form a deeper friendship with Helen and her parents before returning to the South to work as a nurse.

After the war, he and Helen get closer, and she slowly falls in love with him. Roe seems to feel this requires an excuse, so: apparently Helen feels things very deeply but her feelings don’t necessarily last. Great. Martine is inclined to think she just pities him, but eventually he’s convinced, and they make plans to get married.

Just before the wedding, he’s summoned to Washington, DC to see a sick cousin. In the hospital, he runs into Nichol, who has amnesia and an unpleasantly altered personality. Come on, you knew that was coming, right? Martine has to decide whether to tell everyone, or pretend he never saw Nichol, but Martine has never done an underhanded thing in his life, so he brings Nichol home with him and does his very best to spare unpleasantness to everyone but himself.

There’s also a short story at the end of the volume, about a farmer’s daughter who comes home after spending time in the city. Her father is worried that she won’t be satisfied with their simple life anymore. She wants to know if her fancy city suitor shows up as well in the country as he did in town. It’s cute.

It’s not bad, this book. But it’s not good enough for me to want two copies. Does anyone want one?*

*I’ll mail it anywhere in the US. I don’t want to make a big giveaway thing out of this. I’ll give it to whoever wants it and if more than one person wants it priority goes to frequent commenters.

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The Third Miss St. Quentin

October 5, 2017

I’ve been avoiding Mary Louisa Molesworth’s books for years, for no reason I can explain, but sometimes I go looking for something Cinderella-y and this time her The Third Miss St. Quentin was the thing that I found. And I’m glad of that, because it’s really good.

When I go looking for Cinderella stories, it’s because I don’t have a better way to look for what I really want: stories about people who are treated badly for a while and then get to have lots of nice things. The Third Miss St. Quentin isn’t that at all. Instead, it’s sort of a riff on the plot of Cinderella, but with a completely different emotional arc. The keynote of the story is that the Cinderella character is actually treated really well by almost everyone, almost all of the time. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Tom Slade at Black Lake

September 21, 2017

I think you can see Percy Keese Fitzhugh growing as a writer over the course of the Tom Slade series, especially in the wartime sequence of books. Tom Slade at Black Lake comes after the war, but it’s more part of that sequence than the next one, not just because it deals with the consequences of the war, but because Tom is still kind of there in his head.

It seems weird to have a juvenile series where the hero goes off to war and then comes home and picks up where he left off. In another author’s hands it probably would be. But Fitzhugh knows exactly how much he’s put Tom through, and that things won’t be the same even if he does plunk Tom down in exactly the same place, and he takes Tom’s mental health as seriously as the lingering weakness in his wounded arm.  Read the rest of this entry ?

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Tom Slade with the Flying Corps/Captain Blood Day 2017

September 19, 2017

Look, I know it’s Captain Blood Day, and really I should be posting about a Sabatini book, but…I think Sabatini would mostly approve of Tom Slade, seeing as many of his heroes are also a) cripplingly honorable and b) super awkward. Anyway, Happy Captain Blood Day! May we all be as ready with a good comeback as Peter Blood.

Tom Slade with the Flying Corps is, honestly, kind of amazing. It’s not perfect, but it’s clever and unexpected: a mostly-successful experiment. Read the rest of this entry ?