Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (41)

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. Let's do one of some random old books because why not? I find these posts entertaining to do, and they help me get rid of books.

And this isn't on a Monday even! I'm trying something new.

The Rescue of the Red-Blooded Librarian by Judith Hollands

Published: November 1st, 1989 by Minstrel Books.
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 71 pages plus an About the Author and list of other books.
Part of a series? There's like five or six of these things in the Ketchup Sisters series.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Ten-year-olds Monica and Dee Ellen team up as detectives and before long are pledging their friendship in ketchup (rather than blood). When a famous necklace is stolen from the local museum, they have their first case--an investigation of hilarious proportions.

Thoughts: Well, this is a bad start. This one doesn't really fit with the others, really, but I didn't really feel like going through my bookshelves to find something that fit better. This is, you know, fine for its time and what it is. It's become a little dated. Special shout out to the blue eyeshadow and "Dip 'n Set" styling gel.

There's nothing wrong with it, but it's aimed at a very young audience and very basic. I don't think it's something the kids I baby-sit would want to read, so I'm just going to pass it on.

Loretta P. Sweeny, Where Are You? by Patricia Reilly Giff

Published: In 1983 by Dell Yearling, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing.
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 127
Part of a series? Yeah, there's at least one book before this.
Got via: Library withdrawal.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Junior sleuth Abby Jones can't believe her good luck when she stumbles onto a hot clue that could lead to the perfect crime. Together with her pal Potsie, she begins a search for someone named Cindy, who's in danger of falling victim to the mysterious Loretta P. Sweeny on the Fourth of July.

Though the tricky trail finds them under the boardwalk, tripping over a mummy, and hiding in a deserted theatre - there's still no trace of Cindy. Will Loretta P. Sweeny beat Abby to a bang-up ending?

Thoughts: This was pretty cute. I love middle grade mystery books and the beach setting during the summer is neat. I really want it to be summer already. There's some dated language that has become offensive, but only in one instance. I got rid of like four other Giff books when I was weeding my collectio so I think I'll keep this one for now. I have a soft spot for mysteries, this one was fun to read, and I really liked that the mystery was actually something a kid could solve.

I probably wouldn't give it to a kid I didn't get to keep and explain why some things aren't okay to say anymore, but it was a cute read, mostly. (It was also really hard to find a picture of this cover.)

And Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright

Published: It was first published in 1944, but this edition is from Dell Yearling in 1987. The most recent reprinting seems to be in 2008, and a kindle version was released at the same time.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 241
Part of a series? Yeah, this is the third out of four books.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Come meet the four Melendy kids - Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver! With Father in Washington and Cuffy, their housekeeper, away visiting a sick cousin, almost anythin might happen to the Melendy kids left behind at the Four-Story Mistake.

In the Melendy family, adventures are inevitable: Mr. Titus and the catfish; Rush's composition of Opus 3; Mona's first rhubarb pie; Randy's arrowhead; and the auction! But best of all is the friendship with Mark Herron, which begins with a scrap-drive and comes to a grand climax on Oliver's birthday.

Thoughts: Well, my teeth hurt now from reading this. Okay, no, that's kind of mean. This is very sweet. Excessively, almost painfully, sweet, even. Everything is extremely happy, even with a war going on. The kids are very, very brave and do their part collecting scrap metal and every one of them has a special talent or interest and their house is oh so perfect and I kind of want the Addams family to move in next to them and torture them. Just a little.

They're too perfect. Frankly the book borders on saccharine. This is the kind of book I could see being the thing people remember reading as a kid that made them hate reading childrens' literature. It's just too perfect. They never make mistakes! Ever! Besides the youngest falling down a well, nothing bad ever happens in the book, and there's not even any consequences of that. They don't even get yelled at. Everything they do goes perfectly to plan, and nothing ever goes wrong.

It's not especially interesting and it's casually racist, sexist, fatphobic and very, very dated. Like it's not even the lack of technology or carriages thing dating it. It's the attitudes, the writing, the lack of anything happening. It was dated in 1987, basically. It's hilarious to see the contrast between the cover and the original 1944 illustrations because they're totally different. If you've got a nostalgia thing for this one going on, I won't judge (much) but for me it came off as a dull book about very privileged, impossibly perfect children. This one does not get to keep its spot on my shelf, and I would not recommend purchasing the reprint or the kindle version.

A Fabulous Creature by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Published: Originally published in 1981, this edition was released in 1988 by Dell Yearling. A kindle version was released in 2014! And it's only 5 bucks. That's not bad.
Genre: Contemporary YA.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 240
Part of a series? No, standalone.
Got via: Library withdrawal.
Amazon / Abebooks if you need a physical copy

Summary (from goodreads): James Fielding is ready to dive into his plan for the summer - the Don Juan Project, guaranteed to transform him into a successful ladies' man. But his parents have decided to spend the summer at an isolated resort in the Sierra Nevadas, and James is pretty sure he won't even catch a glimpse of a girl.

But to his surprise, he meets two girls: the pretty and ruthless Diane Jarrett, and Griffin Donahue, a free spirit more at home in the forest than the real world. The summer holds even more wonder when James discovers a magnificent stag in a hidden valley. But will sharing this fabulous secret destroy something he has come to cherish?

Thoughts: What a surprise! Although perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. The Velvet Room was one of my favourite books as a kid, and I enjoyed several other of Snyder's books as a kid. (I also thought she had the coolest name as a kid, and still do.) This has aged quite well, too. The lack of texting and internet and such does date it slightly, along with the occasional reference to celebrities of the time, but it's never in a distracting way. Honestly, I've read modern YA set in the 80s or 90s that does more reference dropping and frankly that's not a trend I'm a big fan of. (Don't get me ranting on that.)

There is some casual racism from one character, but it's actually only like one occurance and that character isn't meant to be wholy sympathetic - I think you're meant to feel uncomfortable, not like how it was just accepted in, say, that last book up there. There's also one use of the R-word that startled me, but it isn't really used as a slur, and at the time the book was written, it's used in the way the word was used before it became a slur. Today I'd think it was highly innappropriate, as it was in a recently published MG I read where it was used as an insult. In this context, it's more like when you watch the Great British Bake Off and they use it talking about yeast. Startling, but not meant offensively. Would I prefer it edited out? Yeah. But not enough to turn me off the book.

And I think since the book is aimed at an older audience, you could use it as a way to talk about what's acceptable changing, and have a very interesting conversation.

James is also a really interesting chracter and fifteen year old white boys usually aren't so much, lol. It's actually endearing how bad he is with girls. He never comes across as creepy or leering, just inexperienced and a little gobsmacked by pretty girls. The book talks about his sexuality and even his sex drive some in a very frank way without getting gross or over the top about it. I've read books where I thought even teen boys would be uncomfortable about the portrayal, and this avoids that. James gets to be a character with depth who has many interesting and facets and sexual feelings, not just a walking erection.

And for a relatively quiet book plot-wise, it really is interesting. The language and prose are wonderful and I think a lot of the attitudes are surprisingly modern, like the conversation about hunting. It's pretty darn white (although really, in the context of a rich people resort thing, that does kind of make sense - see country clubs) and pretty much straight. However, there is a mention of gay people actually existing and while not the best context (James thinking another guy must either be gay or a girl's brother because he's not looking at her while she's sweaty), for 1981 it's at least something. Between that and how the book talks about sex, I'm kind of impressed. A little bit of envelope pushing never hurts, and there were definitely nudges here.

Honestly I'm okay recommending this one. Keep in mind the 1981 context, yeah, but it's a very interesting read and I think it could stand well among modern books. And you could have such interesting conversations with, like, students about how things have changed or stayed the same in the 35 years since it was first published. I'm keeping this one for sure, and I'm glad it got a reprint.

So that was interesting! One book I'm definitely keeping, two I'm getting rid of, and one maybe. I also looked up Zilpha Keatley Snyder and she was pretty epic. She had something like 44 books published in her life, including ones coming out when she was in her 80s. You rocked, Ms. Snyder. We miss you.

Peace and cookies,

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