Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!


Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie


Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler, Frank Miller


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that reviews not be released until a month before publication, which is in October 2019, but since Amazon-owned Goodreads already has nearly sixty reviews as of this posting, I don't see any harm in publishing mine and getting it off my lengthy to-do list!

This was written like a movie and it didn't work. A novel needs to be written like a novel, but I understand this was conceived as a multimedia project and I think that was the problem: we really got a sort of a movie script translated into a novel. I understand Netflix has plans to televise this next year, but I won't be watching. I can only hope they do a better job in the writing, because although I was intrigued by the plot and I tried to like this, I couldn't get with it and DNF'd it at just over 25%. Initially, when I'd seen Frank Miller's name attached to it, I'd thought it was a graphic novel, but it isn't. It's a really long book which goes nowhere fast, and Nimue is sadly-lacking in anything to appeal to me in a main character

Having grown up in Britain, I'm familiar with the Arthurian legends, but I'm far from expert in them and I didn't realize, initially, that Nimue is one of several names that are given to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. The thing is that in this novel, she was such a non-entity that I wasn't impressed with her at all. She's a changeable, inconsistent, weepy little brat of a girl who is all over the place.

Her mother's dying wish is that Nimue take this magical sword to Merlin, who will know what to do with it, but at one point very shortly afterwards, Nimue is considering selling the sword for some cash so she can escape! This is after she supposedly feels really wretched that all of her people are dead, and despite the guilt that she carries over a fight with her mother before her mother died. Shortly after that, when a guy wants to take the sword from her, she suddenly decides she wants to keep it from him and cuts off his hand! Way to keep a low profile Nimue.

What really turned me off this novel though, is how this guy Arthur (yes, that Arthur, apparently), moves in on her, starts stalking her, and suddenly she's getting the wilts and the vapors whenever she's near him. He takes over and Nimue loses all agency, becoming totally dependent upon him in true YA fashion. Barf. That's when I call "Check please, I'm done here." Why even have a female lead if all you're going to do with her is make her subservient to a male? Why even call the male Arthur? Just call him Jack and be done with it. That's the most over-used name in literature for the alpha male, so go with it, and forget about making your story original.

The book - in the portion I read anyway - completely abandons all Arthurian legend, just FYI. I didn't worry too much about that, because it was supposed to be different, but a nod and a wink to it here and there would have been appropriate. And in the end it wasn't different from so many others I've read. It was an Indiana Jones from medieval times: Arthur Jones and the Very Lost Crusade. That said, the whole thing about Arthurian legend is that it's always presented wrongly - with knights in shining armor. The people who gave rise to these legends never were those knights. Arthur was at best a tribal leader, dressed not in chainmail but in a leather jerkin and leggings.

Most of the writing, while shallow, was serviceable, but some of it was downright bad. We got the trope of the flecks in the eyes, which is so rife in YA that it's nauseating. Usually, it's gold flecks so kudos to the writer for going with green, but it's still flecks! That wasn't even the worst part though. The worst part was when Nimue noticed these: she was, for reasons unexplained, practicing sword-fighting with Arthur. It was night. They were hiding in a copse off the road, to avoid being seen, and at best had a small fire so how, in the virtual pitch dark, is Nimue going to see green flecks - or any kind of flecks - in Arthur's eyes? It doesn't work! Let's quit it with the YA flecks.

Did you know that 'whicker' describes movement? Well that's not surprising - because it doesn't! A horse whickers when it makes soft whinnying noises. It has nothing to do with movement - except movement of the lungs and larynx! Yet this writer has this: "He whickered his horse down the road at a trot." What the hell does that even mean? Did the horse whicker as it trotted down the road? That's not what he's saying here. Maybe he means the horse moved down the lane like the late Alan Whicker, the globe-trotting and much imitated British television presenter? That could work, I guess: "As the Kaleidoscopic Knights ride reverently along the rocky road, we have wonder why the nefarious, nincompoop Nimue isn't with them...."

At one point - during her ever-changing attitude toward the sword - Nimue declares, "I have to bring the sword to Merlin." Actually she has to take the sword to Merlin. I know in modern usage, people say 'bring' and it's bad grammar, but it's what people do. The question is, would this modern parlance have been in use a thousand years ago? I doubt it, and this is emblematic of another problem with the story - the modern lingo. I don't expect the writer to write it in medieval English, but I do expect at least a nod and a wink to cadence and modes of expression back then, yet here, the language is completely modern in every regard. Disbelief is not only not suspended, it's hung, drawn, and quartered, and dead and buried.

This inattention to what was being written sometimes comes back to bite the author such as in, "She realized that whatever was inside her darkness had made her come, had somehow drawn her there," which made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. It was merely bathroom humor I'm afraid, but the real problem was that I had to read this sentence twice more before I properly understood what he was saying.

That's not a good thing, and it wasn't the only time, but fortunately it didn't happen often. The damage was done though and the problem was that the unintended humor in that sentence made me keep thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and having lines like "...if I went around sayin' I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" running through my mind didn't help to take this seriously, especially since I was having trouble taking it seriously to begin with! So while I think the basic idea for this story was a good one, the execution of if left far too much to be desired for my taste. I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

After the disappointment of Princess Ugg, I might not have read another Naifeh novel, but this one was already in the works, so I ended up reading it and was glad I did. I don't believe in pirate treasure stashes. I don't think pirates were the kind of people to hoard their loot. I think they spent it as fast as they stole it, and while I'm sure there were some who set themselves up in a new life after a piracy voyage and never went back, I think the majority just spent all they had, and then went right back to sea to go after some more.

This story is cute and a little bit different in that polly, a new girl at a boarding school where young girls sometimes foolishly fantasize about pirates, is actually the daughter of Meg, the pirate queen. When Meg's pirate crew come looking for Polly, it's out of desperation. There's a map (there's always a map!), and the pirates think perhaps Meg's daughter is the very one who can find it for them. Now since this is Meg's loyal crew who were presumably with her when she hid the treasure, you'd think at least a few of them would know exactly where it was, but no! Hence Polly.

I honestly don't believe there ever was a legitimate pirate map either for that matter. Why would any pirate commit their precious knowledge of their treasure (assuming there even was any) to paper or parchment or whatever? It would be foolish and go against the very grain of a pirate's character! Besides, pirates were largely illiterate and relied on sound memory to supply everything they needed to know to get from A to B and plan their pirating. They had no need of the written word or the drawn map.

But they kidnap Polly thinking she can help them retrieve this map and at first she's completely against it, but then she becomes involved and sneaks out of school at night to go on adventures. It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that she can, like Santa Claus, get it all done in one night (or eventually, in a couple of days' absence), but this is fiction after all - and pirate fiction at that! So Polly becomes ever more involved and eventually she does find the map but the treasure isn't what the pirates thought it would be. I thought the story might continue with a second map that had been hidden in something they found in the treasure vault, but the story pretty much wrapped up after that.

This is a series as far as I know, so it's possible there are other volumes which continue the story (maybe with that second map, assuming there is one), but just as Polly seems done with pirating after this adventure, I think I'm done with Naifeh now. It was a bit oddly-written. Naifeh isn't English and so doesn't quite get the lingo down, and much of it is rather anachronistic so his attempts to make it sound period were a bit of a waste of time. He doesn't know what 'The Sweeney' is for one thing. The term wasn't in use back in the classical pirate era. The Sweeney is rhyming slang: Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad, referring to a division of the London Metropolitan Police. Obviously that didn't exist in the old era of piracy and neither did the stories of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

It was a bit much to think only a young girl could open the treasure vault since most pirates probably had a young boy or two on their crew who could have done the same thing, but overall, I enjoyed this tale. It was a cute and fun story, and while it was nothing which made me feel any great compulsion to search out other volumes, assuming they exist, I did enjoy this one and commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

One of Fred's Girls by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood


Rating: WORTHY!

This isn't normally the kind of book I read, leaning toward the old west and romance, but it was told in such a sweet and realistic way that I was able to overlook my reservations and enjoy it as a story about life in the old west rather than as a romance. The author puts to shame so many other YA writers who think people fall in love instantly ('instadore' as I call it). She even has a love triangle - after a fashion - going on here without making it farcical and ridiculous. YA authors could learn a lot about how to write realistic romance from reading this, and some of them sorely need an education if they want to avoid becoming part of the problem.

Another draw for me was that Fred Harvey's girls were a really thing. I have a distaste for novels that are titled after the fashion 'The ______'s Daughter' or 'The ______'s Wife', labeling these women like this one does, as though they're a possession of Fred Harvey. It's an annoyance, but this is how they were known back then. Harvey really did have a chain of restaurants tied to the railroad network, where he (or rather the girls he hired) served fine food quickly; it was not the same as the larded, calorie-laden, obesity-driving fast food we eat today! These restaurants had a good, solid reputation, and the girls were highly trained and had standards imbued into them, so they were considered a 'catch' by the men who encountered them. Consequently, many of them got married and made good matches, but there was a penalty for those who quit their job before the year's contract was up: they had half their year's wages docked.

This story is about a fictional girl named Bonny who is looking for a better life and when she sees Harvey's ad in a newspaper looking for girls to go out west and work in the restaurants she sees it as a chance to earn money to buy her mother a new porch for the farmhouse, so off she goes. She travels alone initially, and we have the trope of her running into someone famous - Horatio Alger in this case - which seemed a bit much to me. This was a more civilized time and traveling alone not so bad, if a little scary for her, but after she pairs up with another girl heading for the same life she has chosen, things look up. At first she feels a bit lost and homesick at eh new restaurant, especially since it's so new it hasn't even been built yet. Food is served in some converted railroad cars, but soon she's working the job without a second thought, and meeting men.

Will is the railroad telegraph operator, but soon he moves up to become a representative of Fred Harvey's with regard to a new trade that he and Bonny helped originate: selling Indian crafts and wares at the restaurants, which turns into a profitable sideline. It's so successful that Will is soon coopted into setting-up an Indian camp at the upcoming Chicago world's fair, but when measles strikes the Indian village, Bonny's other acquaintance, a doctor named Joshua, comes to the fore. Bonny doesn't feel especially drawn to either of these men, although Will seems to occupy her thoughts more and more since she's become such good friends with him and he's a real gentleman.

Seeing her two closest friends happily marry two very different guys - one a wealthy rancher and the other a poor, down-to-Earth gold prospector yet to strike anything, Bonny is stuck wondering if she's expecting too much in waiting for her idealized man to put in an appearance, and whether she ought to take Joshua or Will more seriously or at least quit giving either the inadvertent impression that she might be seriously interested in them.

I really enjoyed this novel despite it being a bit out of my usual fare, and I commend it as a worthy read.



Thursday, July 11, 2019

George Washington's Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yeager


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook that was written evidently for a much younger audience than I represent. The book was read by Kilmeade, and he did it in such a strident and breathless voice that I couldn't stand to listen to it. Worse than this though, the facts were presented in such a biased and fanciful fashion that I found myself having a hard time swallowing everything he said. It felt much more like listening to florid fiction than to historical fact.

The secret six were actually known as the Culpeper ring, named after a Virginia County. They were spies who fed information out of New York City to Washington about the activities, movements, and plans of British troops in NYC. The main two members were Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend. The best information they got was when they laid hands on a British naval Code handbook. That was less through spying than from luck, but it served the French Navy well.

While these guys (including women) did provide other valuable information, the value of some of their activities was debatable. It's arguable that the defeat of the Brits and surrender at Yorktown did more than any spies did, and this victory was brought about as much by the French and Spanish as it was by the US, if not more so. Cornwallis could well have withdrawn rather than surrendered had the port not been very effectively blockaded by the French.

The secret six were spies for the revolution forces, which side was consistently presented as upstanding, brilliant, heroic, and fine, whereas, of course, the British were evil villains. This was exploited most obviously in the report of the British prison ship HMS jersey, which was pretty brutal, but this was war and it was in the early 1780s, when people were hardly the most civilized and no Geneva convention existed. Additionally, the revolutionaries were considered traitors, so the Brits were not very much disposed to treating them kindly. Not that Washington had many prisoners to exchange anyway, since the British captured far more US forces than the other way around. That doesn't make what happened palatable, but it does provide some context that this helter-skelter account fails to do.

Another thing this story doesn't make clear was that Washington, who could have exchanged prisoners, was disinclined to do so because he didn't want to exchange professional British soldiers for civilian volunteers and conscripts! He didn't consider it a fair exchange. How brutal was that? Remember these were the guys who were fighting for the rich folk who didn't want to pay taxes. That's what today, we call Republicans.

The rich were the guys who claimed they wanted the vote, but none of the guys fighting on the front line ever had the vote! Only about 6% of the population were eligible to vote in 1789! In short, the pretext of the revolution was bullshit, yet those who were wealthy were not the ones dying en masse on the front lines or being interned (and interred) in the HMS Jersey! How long did it take for American Indians to get the vote? For African Americans? For women? This wasn't a fight for freedom - it was a fight for the rich, and the poor paid the price on both sides. When that emancipation was truly sought, it started a civil (read not-at-all-civil) war a century later.

So my take on this is that if you're looking for an historical account, don't look here. If you're looking for an hysterical account, then this is the audiobook for you!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I survived the Joplin Tornado by Lauren Tarshis


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know what made an old woman think she could write a novel about a little kid surviving a tornado but...I'M JOKING! Lauren Tarshis isn't old and even if she were it wouldn't matter. I don't subscribe to the 'write what you know' nonsense. The rule ought to be 'write what you can make a good story out of' (or maybe, in some cases, 'write what you can get away with', but let's not go there), and this author has almost made a career out of writing this "I survived" series. I say 'almost' because she's written other stuff and novel writing isn't all she does.

She started this series though, in 2010 with I Survived the Titanic (start big, right? Or write...), and has published a score or so of these. All these stories are based on real historical events, not all of them natural - or even human-caused - disasters, this particular one has its roots in the EF5 tornado which slammed Joplin, Missouri on Sunday, May 22, 2011. In addition to scores of deaths. It did almost three billion dollars in damage.

This was a mutant tornado, and as such was a good one to dramatize in this fiction based on the real disaster. I listened to the audiobook, and the main character is an eleven-year-old boy named Dex, whose father went to college with a guy who now makes a career out of chasing tornadoes and talking about them on his TV show, which is of course mandatory watching for Dex and his father. Why not his mother, I have no idea. Dex also has an older brother who is in the Navy Seals. I don't know why that was included because it's irrelevant to what happens in the story. His brother could have been a criminal or a younger brother, or a school teacher or anything. It made no difference to events.

Dex meets the tornado chaser by accident - literally, and gets invited to go chasing the next morning. They end up being caught in this monster tornado that precipitated rapidly and right outside Joplin. It was a cell of several tornadoes inside a shield of rain that was almost a mile across, and it hit Joplin right on, carving a path through there before heading off into the countryside and finally dissipating.

Dex's story is really very short, and the action in it is pretty violent at times, so you might want to exercise caution in who you let read this, but for most boys in middle grade it would probably be a worthy read. I don't know if girls would be likely to get into it in the same way, but maybe a few would. Certainly they ought to consider the educational value. It's read in fine style by Thérèse Plummer, and afterwards the author talks about the real tornado, how it formed, and the damage it did, so this makes for a really educational work. This isn't a series that I'm interested in pursuing, but maybe a child of appropriate age would, and I commend it as a worthy listen!


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Painting Masterclass by Susie Hodge


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "Creative Techniques of 100 Great Artists" this book of almost 300 pages does precisely what it promises, and explores well-known (and lesser-known) works by artists both classically famous and bubbling under. In each case a painting is depicted and discussed, including the paints used, the techniques employed, and imparting some information about the artist as well. Susie Hodge has an MA in Art History from Birkbeck, University of London, and has has written over 100 books not only on the topic of art.

If I have a complaint - and notwithstanding that it may seem churlish to complain about a book that has commendably assembled five-score masterpieces for our perusal and education - it would be that once again we're faced with something designed for a print version and therefore being inadequately represented in ebook format. Too many of these paintings are unfortunately - some might say scandalously - split across two pages which is never - ever - a good thing. In the ebook version it's worse, because there is a thick gray line down anything that dares to be in landscape orientation. Additionally, the book has a glossary and an index, but again the index is for the print version, and is not 'clickable' to navigate in the ebook.

If I have praises, I have too many to list here in a review that's already yeay long, but the inclusion of so many female painters is definitely praiseworthy. The history of arts isn't that of white men, but for all that's written about it, you can be excused for being bamboozled into thinking it is. You can go back as far as you like - even to cave paintings (which get some coverage in the introduction), and it seems that the thrust (the male thrust, of course) is to exclude women as creators - like the caves were solely painted by men when we have no idea who the artists actually were. This book commendably does a lot to redress that sorry imbalance (and no, Joan Miró isn't female) and is the better for it.

After some fifty pages of material that is both introductory and educational, including a history of art (not quite the same as art history!), the book is divided into seven main sections, each with a dozen or so artists representative of that category:

  • Nudes
    I'm not sure why nudes get to be first. Sounds like naked aggression to me, but here we go (and I promise not to make fun of artist names or painting titles):
    • Titian - Venus of Urbino
    • Jacopo Tintoretto - The Origin of the Milky Way
    • François Boucher - The Triumph of Venus
    • Francisco Goya - Nude Maja
    • Gustave Gourbet - Sleeping Nude
    • Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - The Turkish Bath
    • Gustave Caillebotte - Man at his Bath
    • Georges Seurat - Models
    • Edvard Munch - Madonna
    • Paul Gaugin - Nevermore
    • Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary
    • Gustave Klimt - Danaë
    • Amedeo Modigliani - Red Nude
    • Suzanne Valadon - Reclining Nude
    • Jenny Saville - Branded
    • Cecily Brown - Two Figures on a Landscape
  • Figures
    Figures excludes portraits, which appear in 'heads'!
    • Michelangelo Buonarotti - The Delphic Sybil
    • Sofonisba Anguissola - The Chess Game
    • Paolo Veronese - The Wedding Feast at Cana
    • Pieter Breugel the Elder - Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
    • El Greco - Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple
    • Caravaggio - Deposition from the Cross
    • Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holfernes
    • Frans Hals - The Laughing Cavlier
    • Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas
    • Rembrandt Van Rijn - The Jewish Bride
    • Jacques-Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii
    • Édouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass
    • Honoré Daumier - Third Class Carriage
    • Edgar Degas - The Ballet Class
    • Berthe Morisot - The Cradle
    • Eva Gonzalès - Nanny and Child
    • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance
    • Egon Schiele - Seated Woman with Bent Knee
    • Balthus - The Card Game
    • Richard Diebenkorn - Coffee
    • Peter Doig - Two Trees
    That cavalier really isn't laughing, so I feel that portrait name has been treated rather...cavlierly. Also the Jewish bride wasn't so named by Rembrandt. Luncheon on the Grass was rather controversially imitated for an album cover by the new wave band Bow Wow Wow in the early eighties.
  • Landscape
    These are the gray divider line pictures
    • Claude Lorrain - An Artist Studying from Nature
    • John Constable - The Hay Wain
    • Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - The Bridge at Narni, Near Rome
    • Caspar David Friedrich - Mountain Peak with Drifting Clouds
    • JMW Turner - The Red Rigi
    • Jean-François Millet - Haystacks: Autumn
    • Oskar Kokoschka - Tre Croci Dolomite Landscape
    • Paul Klee - Hammamet with its Mosque
    • Claude Monet - Water Lilies
    • Edward Hopper - Haskell's House
    • Emil Nolde - Distant Marshland with Farmhouses
    • Frank Auerbach - Primrose Hill Study Autumn Evening
    • Julie Mehretu - Retopistics a Renegade Excavation
    • Hurvin Anderson - Untitled (Red Flags)
    Constable's painting is known as The Hay Wain but it wasn't originally named that by him. His less memorable name for it was 'Landscape: Noon'! It was subject to minor vandalism in 2013 in the museum where it's kept, but no lasting damage was done. there is a beautifully-rendered rose on the Klee page which to me far outshines the main painting. Nolde's watercolor is equuisite and Anderson's untitled beach scene is equally entrancing.
  • Still Life
    Isn't all painting still life, ultimately? LOL! Just kidding.
    • Floris van Dyck - Still Life with Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese
    • Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - Still Life with Peaches, a Silver Goblet, Grapes, and Walnuts
    • Henri Fantin-Latour - Flowers and Fruit
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Onions
    • Paul Cézanne - Still life with Cherries and Peaches
    • Georges Braque - Violin and Palette
    • Juan Gris - Grapes
    • Fernand Léger - Still Life with a Beer Mug
    • Georgio Morandi - Still Life
    • Georgia O'Keeffe - Jimson Weed White Flower No 1
    Gris's painting was curiously not done as a Grisaille. Go figure! Not sure how still a life with an empty beer mug would be, especially if it was the artist who drained it, but moving along.... Georgia O'Keeffe's painting is wonderful.
  • Heads
    Portraits.
    • Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa
    • Raphael - Madonna in the Meadow
    • Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour
    • Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring
    • Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - Self-Portrait with Two Pupils
    • Mary Cassatt - Portrait of the Artist
    • Piere Bonnard - Self-Portrait
    • Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
    • Eugène Carrière - Self-Portrait
    • André Derain - Portrait of Henri Matisse
    • Henri Matisse - Portrait of Derain
    • Amrita Sher-Gill - Hungarian Gypsy Girl
    • Pablo Picasso - Weeping Woman
    • Alberto Giacometti - Anette
    • Marlene Dumas - Amy Winehouse (Amy Blue)
    Mona Lisa is never described as The Laughing Lisa. I rest my case.... I have to say I am not convinced there was any pearl earring here. It seems to me, given the circumstances, that it was more likely that it was some sort of shiny metal - perhaps silver if it was the daughter of Vermeer's sponsor. No one knows what Vermeer titled it, but it became known as the girl with a turban until relatively recently when it became rather poetically known as "Girl with a Pearl." If you look at Vermeers featuring girls actually wearing pearls they look quite different from this one, but you pays your money and you takes your art. These were all created before the term 'selfie' came into use, so the much more formal 'self-portrait was a common title. I love the reciprocity of the Derain and Matisse works! Weeping woman was probably captured after Picasso jilted her for another woman, and 'Anette' looks like something out of a horror movie, so disturbing is it.
  • Fantasy
    This was an unexpected, but welcome inclusion.
    • Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus
    • Peter Paul Rubens - Minerva Protects Pax from Mars
    • Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - The Finding of Moses
    • Eugène Delacroix - The Death of Sardanapalus
    • Rosa Bonheur - Highland Raid
    • Ilya Repin - Sadko and the Underwater Kingdom
    • Edward Burne-Jones - The Doom Fulfilled
    • Marc Chagall - I and the Village
    • Francis Picabia - Dances at the Spring
    • Leonora Carrington - Self-Portrait
    • Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas
    • Howard Hodgkin - Robyn Denny and Katherine Reid
    • Philip Guston - The Street
    • Paula Rego - The Dance
    Repin's painting is remarkable, but I think that the Best Title Award has to go to Burne-Jones's painting. It's really hard to tell if Picabia's spring is a season, a water source, or even...a bedspring.
  • Abstraction
    I wish I could be more specific about this section but....
    • Wassily Kandinsky - Composition 7
    • Hannah Höch - Mechanical Garden
    • Joan Miró - The Poetess
    • Jackson Pollack - Autumn Rhythm (No 30)
    • Nicolas de Staël - Agrigente
    • Hans Hofmann - The Golden Wall
    • Helen Frankenthaler - The Bay
    • Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild
    • Cy Twombly - Untitled (Bacchus)
    • Gillian Ayres - Suns of Seven Circles Shine

Long list! But worth it. The paintings - some you may love, others you may hate - say a lot and are well-worth seeing, as is reading the breakdown of how they were composed, and what sort of paints and materials were used in their creation. This book is as remarkable as the paintings and I commend it as a worthy read for any artist or anyone interested in art.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Papa Put a Man on the Moon by Kristy Dempsey, Sarah Green


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a charming book for kids that runs along the lines of 'every little helps'. Papa had nothing to do with the Moonshot or with landing anyone anywhere, except in that he worked at a clothing factory and it happened to be one that produced a part of the lining for the Apollo space suit, so in the end, something he had touched in the course of his work went to the Moon and helped keep the astronauts safe while on the surface.

Sadly the book doesn't touch on the complexity of the Apollo Moon suit - or extra vehicular mobility unit in such typically tedious governmental jargon labeling that it was known as the EMU. Seriously. The suit was so complex that it took three years to design it and then another several years of modifications to reach the suit that was worn for the later Apollo missions. The one worn to the Moon debuted in early 1969 with Apollo nine. They were produced by ILC Dover which believe it or not was a subsidiary of Playtex, of bra fame, back then. The total weight of the suit all told was 200 pounds, but out in space and in the Moon's low gravity, it wasn't that much to carry.

The suit consisted of thirteen layers of materials designed to insulate, protect, and prevent air escaping, including rubber coated nylon, aluminized Mylar, Dacron, Kapton film, and Teflon-coated 'Beta filament cloth' to provide protection from fire after the horrible Apollo One fire in 1967. Naturally a children's book isn't the place to go into all that technical detail, but a word or two about the complexity would have been a good move. That aside, I liked this book for the unusual approach it took and for encouraging children to believe they can make a difference no matter what they feel is their lot in life.


The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn


Rating: WORTHY!

Martha Gellhorn is most often referred to, I have no doubt, as an ex-wife of Ernest Hemingway, like she has no existence apart from him, but she was a reporter who was in Madrid when the rebels were bombing it in the Spanish civil war; she went into Europe on D-Day or shortly thereafter, and was on the beach helping bring the wounded back to the hospital ship she was on while it was still being shelled. She reported on that war right to the end, and was present shortly after Dachau was liberated. After that, she had had enough of war and death, so she did not want to go to Korea, but she felt drawn back into things when the Vietnam war began. Her career spanned six decades and she died in '98 at 89. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

This book consists of a series of reports she sent back from her experiences, which were varied and often dangerous, and some of the stories are commented on in hindsight by the author. Her experience with Hemingway was a tiny part of this expanse of time. She met him in 1937 and they went to Spain together, and lived together on an off until marrying in 1940 after his divorce from Pauline Pfeiffer. They divorced in 1945, evidently because he could not stand that she also had a career. According to Wikipedia he once wrote to her asking, "Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?" evidently convinced she couldn't be both, though he could. She apparently asked, "Why should I be merely a footnote in his life?" and refused to discuss her relationship with that dick whenever she was interviewed about her work. Good for her.

The stories she told were typically personal interest stories, although not typically about only one person, but about many - sharing the same experiences under fire or impoverished by war. She wrote well and was a very descriptive and evocative author. The book contains three of her reports on the civil war in Spain, two on the Russian attacks on Finland, one on the war in China fending off the Japanese, twelve on World War Two, including one on the Nuremberg trials and one on Dachau. She covers ongoing conflicts which everyone who faced World War Two hoped would have been over for good, and includes nine reports on Vietnam, three on the Six Day War involving Israel's fight for sovereignty, and two on war in Central America.

I highly commend this book.


Hunting for Hidden Gold by Leslie McFarlane


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook read reasonably well by Bill Irwin. My problem with it was not only the antiquated story (this was written almost a century ago by Leslie McFarlane, writing as Franklin Dixon), but mostly the tinny accompanying music.

Leslie McFarlane was a journalist, not a musician, and while I have yet to confirm this officially, I remain pretty much sure that he never wrote any accompanying music for the story. Neither did Edward Stratemeyer who was the mover and shaker behind these books. So whence the impetus for the sad and annoying music in the audiobook edition? Is Bill Irwin not good enough to listen to without accompaniment? It really irritates me when audiobooks do this and I've had to listen to two or three lately which all have had music at least at the very beginning of the book. Why? Get a clue, publishers!

The Hardy brothers are evidently frequently put at risk of their lives by their thoroughly irresponsible father, by being tasked with helping him to solve mysteries. In this book, their own stupidity gets them into trouble, They're required to fly to Montana, to track down missing gold, and they have a three-hour layover en route. As soon as they reach the airport, they're accosted by a stranger who informs them that he has important papers from their father, but he has...wait for it...forgotten them, they're so important! He asks if the boys will accompany him to his home to get the papers. Rather than insist they have a flight to catch and cannot leave the airport, and request he brings the papers to them as he was tasked to do, they blindly go with him and end up tied up on a house! The Hardy Boys are morons. That's when I quit listening to this.

I get that the whole idea of the story is to bring the kids in because it's a kid's story, but the mark of competent writers is that they do this without having the kids look stupid or have them needlessly endangered by idiotic adults. Their involvement needs to be organic, and not blatantly incompetent or dumb. Leslie McFarlane simply wasn't up to it. And yeah, I know this story is antique and that sensibilities were different back then, but that doesn't mean I have to give it a bye today. Instead I give it a bye-bye. This story was garbage and it's warty, period.


Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell


Rating: WORTHY!

This is something of a Cinderella story and it was also another of those audiobooks I seem to have been listening to lately which gets off to a great start, falls flat in the middle, but picks up again towards the end, so overall I consider it a worthy listen, but it had an issue or two here and there along the way. It was read by Bianca Amato who did a good job.

Wilhelmina Silver has had an amazing childhood in Zimbabwe, despite losing her mother at an early age. Her father was still around and she was allowed to run wild, learning all she needed to from her daily adventures and from the extensive library her father had in their ranch. But when he dies unexpectedly and his nurse movies in on the family and starts taking over, Wil suddenly finds herself on the outs and is eventually and summarily packed-off alone to an English boarding school while her home is sold.

To Wil, the people in her school are as cold as the weather and her spirits as dampened as the climate. Wil runs away from school and lives on her own on the streets (and in a zoo!) for a while before finally returning to the school and finding a place there. The novel tells a good and interesting story when it finds its pace, but there are times when it rather drags and you're wanting something to happen which doesn't. I'm not a big fan of school bully and cruelty stories, so I disliked that part. It wasn't so bad, but it was a bit overdone and too black and white for my taste. I found it hard to believe that girls of breeding who attended this school would have been so relentlessly, uniformly, and openly cruel as depicted here. It didn't seem realistic to me.

The worst part about this story is that Wil is presented in the early chapters as fearless, feisty, and indomitable, but in England she seems completely the opposite. Yes, she has some grit and some inventiveness, but she seems like a different character from the one we'd been introduced to earlier, and while I get that being torn from a comfortable and happy home and dropped unkindly into a new life for which they're completely unprepared can knock the stuffing out of a person, it felt a bit like a betrayal of Wil that she was so consistently and so interminably presented as weak and lost. It felt wrong and inauthentic, and did the character a disservice.

That said, she took charge and bounced back and that's where the story improved for me, so while it has its faults, it's not too bad of a story for an age-appropriate audience.


Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook was read decently by Susan Duerden, with whom I've had largely a good experience over three audiobooks now, but the novel was overly long and rambling, and in the end this insistence on going endlessly on about things which were uninteresting to me and worse, which contributed little to moving the story along, was what lost me. I started skipping parts, which is never a good sign, and then I skipped the whole second half or so of the story, moving to the closing section to see if anything interesting had happened by then, and the answer to that was a short, sharp, "No!"

I share a first name with the main character, Ian Wigby, who is an orphan newly-moved in to Delphi Keep in the 1930s - literally a castle keep which has been given over by its owner, an Earl (this is set in Britain) for use as an orphanage. Ian is punished for a transgression by being put in charge of a new addition to the orphanage - a very young child who gets named Theo, and who becomes essentially a younger sister to Ian as the two grow up together. She's not his actual sister as the idiot blurb misleading asserts. I thought this was a really interesting premise and ought to have been put to better use in a story than this one had it.

Time passes in the story, and despite having matured somewhat, Ian still shows no sign of growing! He recklessly takes his "sister" exploring the chalk caves on the coast near the orphanage - a place he knows that the residents of the orphanage are expressly banned from visiting. The trip almost ends tragically as some supernatural and ferocious animal tries to kill them. They escape by squeezing through tunnels too narrow for the animal to follow, but it tracks them back to the orphanage and breaks in, putting everyone at risk. Meanwhile Ian gets into more trouble starting a fight with the clichéd school bully over ownership of a little casket he found while in the tunnels.

Ian consistently struck me as a jerk and a dickhead, with poor impulse control and a dishonest streak. He's hardly an exemplar I'd want children to read about, and yet this book was the first in a series (not that, once again, the publisher will ever tell you this on the book cover, which is again, dishonest). For me the book was boring and it seems like it would be quite horrific for some of the intended age group who might read this, but I can't commend it primarily because of the poor, rambling writing.


Frida & Diego by Catherine Reef


Rating: WORTHY!

I've long been interested in Frida Kahlo and the life she was forced to live, so when I happened upon this larger format print book I saw in the library, I grabbed it up without thinking twice. It tells the individual stories of the childhood and youth of the two artists separately, and then of their life together, problematic as it was at times. It discusses their work and how events in their lives influenced it, and of Frida's struggle with health issues, beginning with polio, and then with a tramcar accident which resulted in a metal hand rail piercing her hip - a major and life-threatening injury from which she never fully-recovered and for which she was still having surgeries long after the accident.

As if that wasn't bad enough, she ended up falling for a serial philanderer which led to a codependent relationship that neither party could move on from, not even after they divorced. The book covers a lot of ground and contains a wealth of fascinating detail. The author has done her work without question.

The only thing about this book which bothered me was that so little of their art was depicted. There is a lot of imagery and quite a few of their paintings are included, but most of the pictures are photographs of them and their friends, so for me, too little of the art was on show. That aside though, I enjoyed reading this, and I commend it as a worthy read for anyone who is a fan of either artist, or even of art in general. Both the over-used phrases 'struggling artist' and 'tortured artist' apply quite literally to Frida Kahlo and she's always worth reading about.


Travels With Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a record of the author's adventures (mostly) when not reporting on war, the most entertaining of which, for me, was her trip to Africa on a whim, with little forethought and no planning. This woman was fearless and went wherever whimsy took her, reporting with an astute and amusing eye on everything she sees and experiences. She was a woman ahead of her time and an exemplar for feminism. She covers not only adventures in Africa, but also in China, in Eilat in Israel, and in Moscow.

She was not only a journalist, but also wrote novels. She's observant and witty, smart and insightful, adventurous and unstoppable. I commend this as a fascinating travelogue.


Kick Kennedy by Barbara Leaming


Rating: WORTHY!

Kathleen Kennedy was nicknamed "Kick" which sounds stupid to us today, but which was right in line with kids for the era in which she grew up. She was a part of a very large Catholic family, sister to John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy. This audiobook tells of her time from her first trip to Britain in the late 1930's and her eventual marriage to the Marquess of Hartington, heir apparent to the 10th Duke of Devonshire. She lost her husband to the war in Belgium in 1944, not long after the marriage, and died in Europe herself just a few years later, at the age of 28 in a plane crash.

This book which sports, I have to say, some rather fanciful story-telling here and there it seems to me, recounts her life and death, surround by Lords and Dukes and Grand Dukes and Viscounts, and Marquises. It's really quite shameful how spoiled-rotten these people were, and how easy their life was, drifting from one event to another, from one function to another, from one party to another, never doing a lick of work because they were so rich, they didn't have to. Now that doesn't make it right that she died so young, but it does make it hard to sympathize with her when she lived a life most people who live into their eighties can't even imagine.

That said it makes for an interesting read, even if parts of it are so far from one's personal experience that it seems like reading fiction even when it's true. Having started to fall for the guy, she found herself torn away from him by her father's insistence that his entire family return to the USA as hostilities between Britain and Germany, via France and Czechoslovakia's travails. The Kennedys had been welcomed and even somewhat revered in Britain, and Kick was very popular with her own set, but when Joe Kennedy started talking, back in the USA, about leaving Britain to it when it came to fighting this war, his popularity plummeted in the UK and he saw this starkly on his return.

Meanwhile all Kick wanted to do was return to see Billy. She eventually got her wish and they married to opposition from her Catholic, but far from catholic parents, and this was despite her not giving up on Catholicism herself. All she had to do was agree to the children being raised Protestant, and she didn't protest about that at all. The thing was that her husband stuck his head up, either unaware that he was being fired on by a German machinegun, or not realizing it was dangerous, and was shot in that same head. It was a whole week before Kick learned her husband of only four months had died - only one month after Kick's own brother, Joe Kennedy Junior, also died in a plane crash.

The book moves a lot more quickly after this and it would seem that Kick had changed her view of life by then, so instead of seeking out someone she truly loved, now she was little more than a gold digger. Having lost her status since her husband's death and seeing the dukedom go then to his younger brother (who was married to one of the feisty Mitford sisters), it wasn't so very long before she began chasing after the married 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was even richer and had higher status than her late husband had.

Prior to reading this I had little idea of Kick Kennedy other than being intrigued that she was JFK's sister and had died young and was tied to the area of Britain where I had grown up (she's buried in my home county). Now I've read this (listened to it, more accurately) and learned plenty about her, and while I commend this book as a worthy read, I can't imagine I would ever have actually liked Kick Kennedy had I been alive in the era which she lived. In fact, our social circles would have been so divorced from one another that I would never have even met her at all, and that would have been fine with me because she disgusts me.


Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a 1957 novel written by Kohner based on the experiences of his daughter who got in with a bunch of surfer dudes and learned to surf herself. The story isn't a biography, but is extrapolated from her experiences and turned into a fictional adventure in its own right.

Gidget's actual name is Franzie - we do not learn her last name in this novel although I understand it's revealed in a sequel as Hofer. She becomes Gidget when she starts hanging with the surfer guys, having run into them after being rescued from an undertow by a mocking surfer. None of these guys use their real name. Like super heroes, they go by supposedly cool titles like Kahuna and Moondoggie. Since Franzie is a female of diminutive stature, a girl midget, she's dubbed with the portmanteau monica: Gidget.

Initially she's not welcomed - this is a guys' club after all, but not everyone is hostile to her, and she ingratiates herself by delivering lots of food to them, purloined from the larder at home. The surfing guys appreciate this and gobble it down, and slowly she becomes assimilated into their group. She especially raises the hackles of the self-absorbed Moondoggie, so you know he's the one she's going to get hitched to. The one who takes her under his wing initially though, is Kahuna, an expert surfer who travels the globe catching the waves wherever they lure him. The other guys are typically college students down for the summer.

Gidget, who at fifteen, can't afford a board of her own, sometimes manages to get rides doubling-up on a surfboard with one of the surfers, starting with Kahuna, and after she stays overnight (after a party gone wrong), in Kahuna's beach hut, Moondoggie gets the wrong idea and starts a fight which Kahuna wins. Losing patience with both of them, Gidget grabs one of their surfboards and goes out to ride a huge wave - something she's never done alone before. With some concentration and supreme effort, she nails it, and that seems to break some tension. She and Moondoogie start seeing each other romantically.

This was a sweet, innocent and slightly scary story given how much freedom Gidget is allowed by her parents and what a potentially risky alliance hers is, but times were in general far more innocent back then and Kahuna proves himself to be a real gentleman - more so than Moondoggie initially is. So this was a fun and interesting story, well-written, if a little clichéd, but worth the read.


NPR American Chronicles Exploring space


Rating: WARTY!

This was a short audiobook consisting of excepts (excerp-tuhs as the NPR people pronounce it!), and I was not thrilled with this at all. It was very superficial. The only interviews that were interesting were the ones with the astronauts, notably, John Glenn, veteran space traveler John Young, and African American astronaut Bernard Harris, but htose were very short. The rest of it I could have managed without, including the tinny and annoying musical accompaniment to far too many of the items. Even those astronaut interviews were rather superficial, so I cannot recommend this, especially since I haven't commended it in the first place and I don't intend to!


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Only Woman in the Room by Beate Sirota Gordon


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a memoir written by a woman (Beate Sirota as she then was) who, through her extensive knowledge of Japan, having grown up there despite being born in Austria, and because she spoke several languages, including English, German, and Japanese, was part of the American delegation which went to Japan after World War Two, and helped draft the constitution, in her case, specifically a section on women's rights (which was largely gutted by the old white men unfortunately) before the final draft was presented to the Japanese so everyone could pretend the Japanese came up with this instead of the Americans.

The story is short and to the point, which I appreciated, but it contains enough detail to paint a vivid picture. It tells of her growing up on Japan, of her time in the USA during the war, working on translating intercepted Japanese military messages, of bigotry, bias, and racism, and of her return to Japan, not knowing if her parents, who were there during the war, were even still alive. Happily they were (and not even interned!), and the story of her involvement in post war planning and then moving back to the USA where she became heavily involved in trying to encourage cultural exchanges between the USA and Asian countries, was both moving and educational, as well as entertaining.

The author writes well and gives the right details without getting bogged-down in material that contributed nothing to both enjoying and learning from the story. I'm not a big fan of memoirs, but i commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell


Rating: WORTHY!

This is something of a Cinderella story and it was also another of those audiobooks I seem to have been listening to lately which gets off to a great start, falls flat in the middle, but picks up again towards the end, so overall I consider it a worthy listen, but it had an issue or two here and there along the way. It was read by Bianca Amato who did a good job.

Wilhelmina Silver has had an amazing childhood in Zimbabwe, despite losing her mother at an early age. Her father was still around and she was allowed to run wild, learning all she needed to from her daily adventures and from the extensive library her father had in their ranch. But when he dies unexpectedly and his nurse movies in on the family and starts taking over, Wil suddenly finds herself on the outs and is eventually and summarily packed-off alone to an English boarding school while her home is sold.

To Wil, the people in her school are as cold as the weather and her spirits as dampened as the climate. Wil runs away from school and lives on her own on the streets (and in a zoo!) for a while before finally returning to the school and finding a place there. The novel tells a good and interesting story when it finds its pace, but there are times when it rather drags and you're wanting something to happen which doesn't. I'm not a big fan of school bully and cruelty stories, so I disliked that part. It wasn't so bad, but it was a bit overdone and too black and white for my taste. I found it hard to believe that girls of breeding who attended this school would have been so relentlessly, uniformly, and openly cruel as depicted here. It didn't seem realistic to me.

The worst part about this story is that Wil is presented in the early chapters as fearless, feisty, and indomitable, but in England she seems completely the opposite. Yes, she has some grit and some inventiveness, but she seems like a different character from the one we'd been introduced to earlier, and while I get that being torn from a comfortable and happy home and dropped unkindly into a new life for which they're completely unprepared can knock the stuffing out of a person, it felt a bit like a betrayal of Wil that she was so consistently and so interminably presented as weak and lost. It felt wrong and inauthentic, and did the character a disservice.

That said, she took charge and bounced back and that's where the story improved for me, so while it has its faults, it's not too bad of a story for an age-appropriate audience.