Showing posts with label Paul Moxham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Moxham. Show all posts

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Mystery of Adventure Island by Paul Moxham

Title: The Mystery of Adventure Island
Author: Paul Moxham
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

This is a story, set in the fifties, about four kids who sail to an island just off the coast of England for some camping fun and end up investigating a ghostly presence. It’s written very much for the age group depicted in the story, so adults might find it a rather simplistic and unfulfilling read. it's number two in a series, and to me it felt very unrealistic, but my biggest problem with this novel was that genderism was rife in it.

I know it’s set in the fifties, so we can’t expect it to be thoroughly modern in all regards, but I don't see that setting it half a century ago gives the author blanket permission to put women in the back seat again. Yes, it if was 1943 and he's writing about a military operation behind enemy lines, then the chances are it was all men; however, this is in the fifties and it’s about kids, so why are the girls are consistently treated like they can’t take responsibility or carry heavy loads, and they are given to emotional break-downs and act like scaredy-cats? I found that obnoxious.

I know that one of them was very young (eight years old), but still, do they have to be presented in such a negative, passive light?! I realize that this book might be largely aimed at boys, but this doesn’t excuse the approach if the take-away for boys is that girls are second-rate or second best, not up to it, and in need of constant protection and direction. Any young girls who read this are going to get the same message.

The story begins with the boys and girls fixing up a small sailing boat and taking it to an island about three hours sailing up the coast from where they live. The problem is that this is the fifties and they're a mixed-gender group going on a camping trip, unsupervised by any adult. This struck me as odd for the era; it’s especially odd in that, given this amazingly liberal attitude towards norms and propriety for that time, we see a strongly contrasting conservative approach in how the girls are treated.

The boys are making all the decisions, they're rowing the boat, they’re unloading the boat while the girls are sent off to scout for a camping site. The girls are the ones shown to be scared of the ghost while the boys are all macho. The girls want to leave while the boys want to find out the truth about the ghost. It's not just the girls, either: at one point mom acknowledges her subservient place to dad in a grammatically odd statement:

Their mother smiled. “If you’re happy, then I’m too..."

I just found this to be painful to read and the mystery to be very simplistic with little motivation or rational for the children's actions. It’s obvious it's not a ghost, which means the kids could be in real danger. This is not some fictional supernatural nonsense, but a real person who wants them off the island. He could be a smuggler or a psycho. Neither one of those is likely to be very friendly towards - or considerate of - the kids, yet not a one of them ever voices any concern for what could be a very real threat to their own safety. This doesn’t impress me with their smarts.

They pass up the chance they have to sail away, and they merely row around the island from their initial camp site to secrete their boat in a small cave, before venturing back ashore to try to find out who this guy is. Maybe he's just a lonely guy who built the now ruined church and tried unsuccessfully to start a community on the island, but these kids don’t know that, and it’s really none of their business why he's there - and he's not alone. The kids discover another two guys and later a young woman arrives. This supposedly deserted island is positively crowded by this point!

Here’s another oddball piece of writing:

Will, who was now carrying the binoculars, peered through them. “It’s a rowboat. I can see one person in it.”
“Why would a person come to this island alone?” Joe wondered

Seriously? This is a huge mystery?!

This is part of a series of stand-alone books about these kids, so you don't have to have read previous volumes to enjoy this - if it’s your cup of tea that is - and because of that, I am doubtlessly missing some history from earlier volumes. Maybe one or more of the kids are children of cops and so have some sort of motivation from that, but that possibility aside, rational and compelling motivations - unless you count merely being meddlesome and tiresome - were not in evidence in this volume.

I lost interest in it pretty quickly. The writing is pedestrian at best, with nothing really Earth-moving going on. Maybe undiscriminating children in the middle-grade age range will enjoy it, and if so, good luck to them in finding a series that they can read, but nothing here made me think that my own kids would be interested, and I can’t recommend it based on what I read.

The Mystery of Smugglers Cove by Paul Moxham

Title: The Mystery of Smugglers Cove
Author: Paul Moxham
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with the 'Hardy Boys' story of the same name or with the Disney Press story Annette and the Mystery at Smugglers' Cove, or with the Syvanus Cobb story The Smuggler of King's Cove, this rather uninventively (and arguably ungrammatically) titled novel is set in the fifties, aimed at young children, and number one in a series of highly improbable 'adventures' which always seem to happen to the same few children. If they had been written better, they might have been a worthy read, but as it is I cannot recommend this any more than I could the first in this series, and after reading two of these in a row, I certainly have no intention of reading any more.

I had too many issues with this to rate it 'worthy'. One of these was in the quality of the writing. There were some spelling gaffs and some grammatical issues, such as using the term "...going a bit faster than her and Sarah..." when it ought to be "...going a bit faster than she and Sarah...". This may not bother some people, particularly young readers, but it jumped out at me. There were other weird sentences such as "...storm clouds moved inland towards the coast..." - no, 'the coast' comes before 'inland'. If the clouds are moving inland, they're moving away from the coast! If they're moving towards the coast then they might be threatening to move inland later - or they may be moving out to sea! It was just poor writing.

Another instance of thoughtless writing was when the boys were following a smuggler's tunnel dug from the beach up into a house on the headland. I've seen such tunnels in Cornwell, and they are tiny - even a child - which was what they used to run these tunnels, would have had to to crawl. Even if such a smuggling route had begun as a natural cave, there would have to have been some tunneling at some point to get them up to the house, yet here these kids are walking along the ridiculously roomy tunnel, and they come to a blank wall. That the wall was not natural ought to have clued them in that there was something else here, but instead of looking up (why does no one ever look up?!) we read: "Only a madman would build a tunnel that ended in a blank wall...". That they didn't get this right away - that either it had been deliberately blocked off, or there was a hatch above them just made the kids look stupid and short-sighted, and it robbed them of any credibility as mystery solvers. Perhaps younger readers won't mind that, but I hate stories that talk down to kids. They deserve better.

That the kids are not too smart is evidenced elsewhere in the book, too. At one point, we read, "The afternoon wore on, but Will never arrived. Wondering what could have happened to delay their friend, they headed back home disappointed." Never once do any of them think of going to Will's house to see if he's there or if he got sick or delayed or something. It doesn't imbue me with much faith in kids who are clearly unimaginative, especially in their ability to get things done, which is what this novel is supposed to be all about! If they cannot step-up with such a simple thing as finding out what happened to Will, and they all give-up and go home at the drop of a hat, where is my rational for believing that they can come through in resolving a smuggling case later? It's simply not authentic. The earlier actions betray the later premise. Again. this may not bother younger readers, but it bothers me that poor writing is being foisted on kids who can handle and who certainly deserve better.

There were some genderist issues such as the author writing, "Like many twelve year old boys, Joe was always on the lookout for an adventure", as though only boys have this desire for adventure, no girls need apply. The sentence could just as easily have read: "Like many twelve year old boys and girls, Joe was always on the lookout for an adventure". I know this novel is set in the fifties, which is a cool idea, but this doesn't mean we have to write to the mind set of the fifties, but this book definitely was, with the boys taking strong leadership roles and the girls just along for the ride. Yes, the girls were younger, but this doesn't mean they have to take a complete back seat all the time in all things and always be the ones who are scared and squealing. I resented this intensely.

In short I cannot recommend this novel as a worthy read.