Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: Across the Great Barrier

Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede
Scholastic Press, 2011 (first edition); 339 pages

Across the Great Barrier is the second book in the Frontier Magic series, and I think it's better than the first book, Thirteenth Child. The pacing is better--Wrede isn't trying to cover years of Eff's life in 300 pages. Anyhow, this is the story of Eff, who lives on the edge of the frontier in an alternate-history United States. In a world where birth order affects one's magical abilities, Eff is a thirteenth child, which is supposed to be terribly unlucky. But she's also a twin and her twin brother is the seventh son of a seventh son, both of which are very, very good. In Across the Great Barrier, Eff travels into the wilderness beyond the Great Barrier to study the aftereffects of the bug swarms from the first book. She encounters all sorts of magical creatures and continues her study of magic.

I really enjoy this series, although I still want more information. This is an alternate-history world where the American Civil War took place in the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were powerful magicians, and no expedition has successfully made it over land to the Pacific Ocean and back. I really want some in-depth historical analysis, which totally isn't the point of the books.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: Freckles

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter
Indiana University Press, 1986 (originally published 1904); 352 pages

Freckles, an Irish-American orphan from Chicago, shows up at a lumber camp near the Limberlost Swamp, looking for work. Although he is missing one of his hands, the Boss believes that Freckles is suitable for a guard for 2000 acres of forest that the lumbermen can't get to yet. Some of the trees on this land are worth thousands as veneer, and an ex-lumberman wants to steal them as a way of getting back at the Boss, who fired him. Over the course of a year as the Limberlost Guard, Freckles finds love, family, and becomes something of an amateur naturalist with the help of the Bird Woman.

I always enjoy Gene Stratton-Porter novels, even if they are sentimental and somewhat ridiculous, and Freckles is no exception. It's a sweet book, but fortunately, not too sweet.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Watermill Press, 1987 (originally published 1911); 278 pages

It seems that Frances Hodgson Burnett liked to write about English orphans from India. When Mary Lenox's parents die from cholera, she is sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire. While there, she decides to look for the garden that her uncle ordered sealed up after her aunt's death in the garden.

I read The Secret Garden as a child, but it wasn't a favorite back then and it's not a favorite now. There wasn't really anything technically wrong with it; I just didn't like it. I did, however, like the Yorkshire setting. My ancestors were from Yorkshire (well, the ones that weren't Irish or German), about 50 miles southeast of Misselthwaite Manor, and I liked the glimpse into the landscapes they would have seen and how they would have talked before they immigrated to the United States.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Mud Puddle Books, 2006 (originally published 1920); 222 pages

I'm reading or rereading all of Agatha Christie's works in publication order this year (and the next year and however long it takes me). Here's my first entry on that subject.

My first book of 2014 is also Agatha Christie's first novel and the first of the Hercule Poirot series. Arthur Hastings, home on convalescence after being injured during World War I* is invited to an old friend's country home, Styles Manor. Shortly after Hastings' arrival at the house, his friend's stepmother is murdered. Providentially, another old friend of Hastings', famous detective Hercule Poirot, happens to be living in the village because the stepmother provided the money for some Belgians to immigrate to England to escape wartime Belgium. Because he can't resist a crime and because he is grateful to the stepmother, Poirot agrees to solve the murder.

This really isn't a terrible mystery, but compared to other Christie works, it's not her best. The plot is much "looser" than is typical of a Christie novel--everyone is accused of the crime at least once, Poirot is much too cryptic (I don't try to solve mysteries as I read, and even I was getting frustrated with the way he kept suppressing the clues), and the middle part of the book meanders too much while the ending is too rushed. Also, Hastings is unsurpassedly stupid. Poirot and Hastings have a sort of Holmes-and-Watson relationship, but Watson was never quite this frustrating.

*I wonder if Christie actually wrote this during World War I, since her next novel, The Secret Adversary is set in the post-war era but this one is not.