Monday, February 27, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (40)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason. Or vague themes that make more sense in my head than on the screen.

Through the Hidden Door by Rosemary Wells

Published: It was first published in 1987 by Puffin. My edition is from Point, and there was a re-release in 2002, and an e-book released in 2012 by Open Road Media Teen and Tween.
Genre: YA... thriller? I think thriller.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: (Editing Laina - I think I gave this away already and I forgot to fill this part in. Goodreads says 272 and that sounds about right.)
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Abebooks / Publisher's Website

Summary (from goodreads): Barney's life is a mess. Everyone thinks he's a snitch. His former friends want to kill him. Even the headmaster of his school wants him gone. No one but secretive little Snowy Cobb will speak to him. But after Snowy and Barney discover the hidden cave deep below the earth, the promise of ancient treasures wipe away the threats from above. And when they uncover strange artifacts untouched for centuries, a web of unknowable danger begins to unravel-and Snowy and Barney may not survive.

Thoughts: Well this is a freaking weird book. Rosemary Wells' writing style is fairly distinctive, but it's a style not everyone is going to be into. I read a handful as a kid, and I had trouble getting into them sometimes. I haven't read a recent novel of hers, but older ones, at least, can be hard to connect with at times.

And this one is incredibly dated. Let me point out one of the biggest things - Barney is bullied at school, so his dad gives him a gun to take to school. And this is basically seen as okay by everyone who knows! They don't even really make a big deal out of it when he shoots at several of his classmates who have been bullying him!

In general, the book is almost constantly casually offensive in that very 1987 way. But it is especially very racist. And yes, you can say that's how a lot of media was in 1987, but they released an ebook version in 2013. They did not change or update it. This is essentially releasing a book in 2013, aimed at teenagers, that is incredibly racist and badly researched. Obviously for those reasons, I do not recommend this one.

Also honestly it was kind of boring at times. It just did not keep me wanting to read it. I'm going to be getting rid of this one.

Come Like Shadows by Welwyn Wilton Katz

Published: It was first published in 1993, and this edition is by Puffin Books in 1995.
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 289
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Libary weed,
Amazon / Abebooks / Author's Website

Summary (from goodreads): Kinny is thrilled when she gets a summer job as an assistant at the Stratford Theatre Festival, but things go wrong almost from the start. The director is strange, the actors hostile, and a woman is killed in a freak accident. Could it be that the play, Macbeth, really has a curse on it?

Asked to find a mirror to use as a prop, Kinny discovers an ancient one in a junk shop, a mirror that seems to have mysterious powers. Mesmerized, Kinny sees visions in it and is drawn to the past and the real Macbeth - and three mysterious women who seem to wield great power over both the past and the present. But what is their power, and what do they want from her?

Thoughts: Well, I just realized the summary on the back of the book is wrong. It's straight up wrong. It's different than this one, for the record, and it mentions something that never happens in the book. So, you know. We're off to a good start here.

This book is a year younger than me. It's over twenty years old. It's definitely not the worst aged book I've read, but it is dated. It doesn't read like modern YA, for sure, and there's a lot of moments that are offensive. There's a fair amount of casually fatphobic comments, one frankly racist remark that I thought was really unnecessary even in the context it tried to achieve, and there's just general moments that are dated and don't work for me.

I do think this is a book full of interesting ideas. A book set in a theatre during a professional play being put on? Interesting. A YA book that talks about Canadian history and Quebec politics? Interesting. A book that uses Macbeth as both background and a character? Interesting! But I don't think they combined as well as they could have. It's almost like each of them you kind of checked off and was done with after a certain point.

Overall, I think I liked the idea of this book better than I liked the book. I like books set in Canada, and I thought having parts of it set in Scotland was really interesting, too, but it just didn't do it for me. I don't think I would read this again, and because of that, I think I'll be passing this one along. And because this is quite dated, I don't think I would put my recommendation on it. If you are a sucker for theatre books, or books about Macbeth, or any of these elements, you may enjoy this, but there are a few too many things that make me wince in this to recommend it personally.

I read a little about the author, and that she hasn't been able to write for several years, but if she ever did come out with something new, I would definitely be interested in it.

The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy

Published: It was originally published in 1995, and this version I believe was published by Puffin in 1997.
Genre: Contemporary YA verging on thriller territory.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 185
Part of a series? No.
Got via: Withdrawn library book.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Befriended by Miss Credence after falling from a tree in the garden of the sinister Squintum's House, Hero finds herself being drawn into a world where the line between fantasy and reality becomes more and more blurred.

Thoughts: On the back of my copy of this, the plastic covering stuff has bubbled and made it going in impossible to read. I had no idea going in what this was going to be about.

Holy cow this surprised me. This is a weird little book, but it is so good. It's creepy and the atmosphere is absolutely amazing. I think I put it down maybe once the entire time I was reading it. Hero is about twelve in this, I believe, and does sound somewhat older than she actually is, but it works because of a reason mentioned in the book that I'm not going to spoil, but makes total sense when you get to that point and when you get to that point, you're just like, "Oh, yeah".

Since it is a little over twenty years old, it is a tiny bit dated, but not as much as you'd think. There are references to computers and laptops, and it makes sense for there not to be cell phones since the family is kind of weird and their parents don't even keep a television in the house. Mahy feels ahead of her time with attitudes towards some stuff, at least going by this book. She actually talks about racial profiling at one point in this book. While there might be an argument that the character that scene involves is a touch stereotypical, I don't think it's so heavily so that it becomes negative at any point, and the character is overall very positive and those things themselves are never treated as bad things. If it was a depiction of a character of colour today, I would probably want a little more, but for 1995, I think it's pretty good. I can't see it hurting anyone, and that tips my hand a lot to be like "okay, cool".

The family in this is weird, and imperfect. Hero, and her siblings, all call their parents by their first names, including in the narrative, and that takes a little bit to adjust to, but it really does work for this book. They're very non-traditional, and the book neither bashes that nor says that it's perfect. It basically presents it as another way to live that like all things will have its ups and downs. I so loved the little moments where the author showed that even with problems, they care for each other.

The writing of this reminds me of books even older than it, but in a timeless way. There's just something about the way Mahy builds up the atmosphere and the tension that works so, so well. Honestly, it's shocking that this book is less than two hundred pages and yet manages to do everything so well. The fairly large cast of characters are all unique and defined, the creep factor is incredible, and everything just works so well. Warning for an animal being killed in this that surprised me, just for the record. It isn't hugely graphic, but if you're sensitive to animal death, it could be upsetting.

I'm keeping this, and I highly recommend it. It's mature, creepy, and awesome.

Witch's Fire by Beverly Butler

Published: First published in 1994, this edition is was released by Puffin in 1995. Huh, that's three Puffin books in a row. Weird coincidence!
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 135 plus an about the author
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I'm not sure. I've had it since I was a kid. Gift, maybe.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): When firelight reflects in a windowpane, they call it witch's fire. There may be some truth in those words.

Kirsty Hamilton has had to accept a lot of hardship—life in a wheelchair, her father's new wife, and moving far from anything familiar. As if that's not bad enough, her bratty stepsister, Pam, is convinced that a witch is trying to take possession of their house. Kirsty thinks Pam is crazy—until the living room window reflects a door that doesn't exist, the cat hisses at things that aren't there, and Pam's boundless energy begins to drain away.

As Pam gets weaker, Kirsty begins to realize the danger they're in, and suddenly their fate depends on whether Kirsty can resist the pull of another world—or whether she even wants to.

Thoughts: Well, here's another surprise! I read this about a million or two times as a kid, and I was surprised to see how well it had aged. This is a small book about strange things that go on in a new house that was said to be owned by a witch. And also has a disabled main character who has recently lost her mother and older sister dealing with adjusting to living in a new place with her father and new step-family after spending two years living with her grandmother. It's a surprisingly deep book for how short it is, and I really appreciate that.

Other than some slightly dated technology (I'm not sure kids today know what a tape deck is, honestly), this still works very well. The emotional aspects are given the depth they need, a great feat considering the length of the book. The characters bond and grow, and it feels emotionally satisfying. It's a great book to read about this time of the year since it's set in November and has a lot of talk about cold and snow, and because it's creepy - great for those who want to keep the Halloween scares going just a little longer.

I also think the representation of the issues it tackles is very, very good. The book really captures the awkwardness of a new family and of people who have been separated for a while and are getting to know each other again. I thought it handled Kirsty grieving for her mother and sister and finding closure, especially since it had been two years since their deaths. And, especially important, I think, I found how the book treated Kirsty's disability very, very good. She has times when she gets frustrated in general, but she also talks about how much she loves how her wheelchair gives her control and Independence.

The "about the author" at the back of the book says that the author lost her sight at the age of fourteen, and while it's obviously not the same thing, it does feel like the author knows what it's like to want a story where a character who is like you gets to be bold and brave and not in an "inspirational" way but in a "fight off an evil witch" way. I believe this is the last book the author published, and that really seems to be a shame. I would have been really interested in seeing what else she could do.

Honestly, besides the small about of datedness with technology and occasionally the language (there's one particular use of "queer" to mean strange or unusual, but it's obviously meant in a harmless way), I seriously would have no problems recommending this. It's not perfect, but I think it was written with care and sensitivity, and I quite enjoyed it. This one gets to keep its place on my shelf.

So, we're fifty-fifty year. We'll see what happens next time!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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