Showing posts with label Richard Peck. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Peck. Show all posts

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

Rating: WORTHY!

Written in 2013 by an author who died almost exactly a year ago, this was a fun little audiobook which frankly dragged a bit for me towards the end, but given how short the book is and how much fun the first two-thirds of it was, I'm not about to mark it down for that, especially since it wasn't written for my age group!

This mouse not only has a question mark tail, he lacks a real name and is known as Mouse Minor for the most part - and he is minor - small for his age. It seemed so obvious that I don't see it as a spoiler to reveal that this mouse is royalty. He's sent to school but ends up getting in trouble over a caterpillars-in-lunch-boxes incident to which Mouse Minor neither confesses nor denies. He runs away instead and ends up on an adventure in which he's kidnapped by bats and eventually gets an audience with Queen Victoria herself who seems, I have to say, curiously unafraid of mice.

Richard Peck is an American and while he does for the most part get his 'Britishisms' right, there are times when he strays, but most Americans won't notice those, especially not children. Overall though, this was a fun romp and I commend it as a worthy listen, but I should warn you that this is an old style children's novel (Peck was in his late seventies when he wrote it) and so it contains some violent concepts which tend not to appear in children's books written by younger authors. These include a somewhat bloodthirsty discussion of the beheadings in the French revolution, which goes on a little bit too long, and also instances of Mouse Minor contemplating having his brains beaten to jelly by the school bullies - that sort of thing, so be mindful of that.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Rating: WORTHY!

Here's how to write a decent first person voice story! There were some issues with this, notably gratuitous animal cruelty and lack of justice, but overall the story was a worthy one and an enjoyable read and shows that once in a while, first person can be told without it being nauseatingly unrealistic. A lot of authors, not only in the YA field, could learn from this.

It's told (and rather like a reminiscence), by Eleanor McGrath of Indiana, who lives with her brother Jake in a podunk village which is just beginning to wake up to the disastrous rise of the internal combustion engine. But this isn't about ill-considered decisions, or big oil, or pollution and climate change. It's a love poem to the early automobile, some of which were awful, others of which were works of art. It's also a coming of age story - not of the young girl, but of the countryside, which was about to lose its isolation and idyllic innocence to the rape of petroleum and brute force or the carbon age, amply represented by the villains of the piece, the Kirby family, who are the only rivals in town to Jake and Peewee's garage, where you can get gas, flats fixed, and free air! Try getting that these days!

When I tell you that the story begins with a tornado, and it's not the most tumultuous event, you'll get an idea of the upheaval that's to come, when Eleanor's comfortable and happy life starts to be completely remodeled in the same way a modern vehicle's flimsy front-end is readily remodeled by an accident which wouldn't hardly even faze one of the older, solid-steel vehicles like the Stutz Bearcat which is a centerpiece of this story (you can hear that bear chasing that cat all around!).

It's not the only vehicle to get an admiring nod. All the early ones are here: the Cadillac, with it's electric self starter(!), as well as a host of vehicle you may never have heard of much less surmised existed, such as the Brush Motor Car Company's vehicle with a wooden chassis! Actually it did feature metal cross-bracing, which you will not learn from this novel, but nonetheless there it was. It helps if you keep in mind that back then, these vehicles were quite literally thought of as horseless carriages, and no one saw any reason to design them as anything other than carriages. If you look up pictures of the oldest of these vehicles, you can plainly see it.

The names are unfamiliar, too. They have gone out of business or been subsumed under modern mega-corporation names, and all the charm and individuality has been lost to convenience, cost-cutting, and shared resources. Thus we no longer have the Stoddard-Dayton, the Peerless, the Packard, the Pierce-Arrow, the Stevens-Duryea, the Apperson Jackrabbit, or the Marmon Wasp, although others, such as Chevrolet, will be very familiar, and it may be a surprise to learn that some names have a very long history.

Eleanor, better known as Peewee, for want of a more original name, is also a work of art. She's one of the most unladylike ladies you ever saw, but please don't misunderstand that to mean she's crude, entirely uncultured, or plain ignorant. She isn't, far from it. But you wouldn't want to call her a girl or talk about her wearing a dress if you didn't want a tongue-lashing. She'a feisty, capable, fearless, non-nonsense girl who has everyday smarts, and who is every bit the measure of a boy. She has no problem getting under a car and checking your brakes (which, like your steering, were not hydraulic), or popping the hood and fixing your carburetor or blowing out your blocked fuel line.

Eleanor and Jake's life really turns around when some city girls breeze into town. Why they show-up there isn't satisfactorily explained. Yes, it has to do with their idea of resurrecting the local library, but why this library in this little town? Because they heard of the tornado? We don't know. Either that or I missed it! But the point is that they encounter Jake and Eleanor when they have the inevitable car trouble. As much as we might love those old cars for their personalities and looks, those vehicles could be very unreliable, even more so than modern ones. But they were a hell of a lot easier to fix, and willing owners could do it themselves, and took pride in it. There were no complex electronics and computerized engines. The engines themselves were bare bones, and only just starting to become powerful and migrate form as little as one cylinder(!) to twelve!

As the new library takes shape, so do events, with the Kirby family trying underhand tricks to run Jake and Peewee out of business and Jake having eyes only for the ten-lap county automobile race. But things never do turn out how you plan in these stories and events take some interesting, amusing, annoying, and even surprising turns.

It bothered me that there was gratuitous animal cruelty, as I mentioned. What do I mean by gratuitous? Isn't all animal cruelty gratuitous? Yes it is, but in a novel, there can be instances of it which contribute something to the story you're telling, and other instances where the author evidently thinks it's funny to have someone cut off a cat's fore-paw, or deliberately stomp on a toad. I don't think that's remotely entertaining, and I saw no reason for it to be in a children's book.

The other issue I had was with the Kirby family. They were evil and lacked all morality, yet nowhere do they get any sort of comeuppance. Yes in real life bad people do get away with bad things. The oil corporations immediately come to mind, along with the junk food purveyors and the financial industries, and certain mega-computer software corporations, and yes, a corporation is a person so we're told, so they're bad people. But in a children's story, we expect evil to be punished, and it simply isn't here. Nothing befalls the Kirby family. Their evil pays off in the end.

It bothered me that the feisty girl was a trope redhead, and she went by the trope name of 'Peewee' but those were not major issues for me. I'd like to have seen the other issues addressed, but if I stack those against the overall story, I have to conclude that the quality of the story outweighed them by a large margin, and I have to say that I liked it, and thought it was, for the most part, a well told and entertaining read. Note that this is the second successive Richard Peck novel that I've rated positively. That one is also set in the same era and features a strong female character.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck

Rating: WORTHY!

Richard Peck attended the same university that one of my older brothers did: the University of Exeter in Britain (the same university which JK Rowling attended), but I'd never heard of him until a review which I read mentioned this novel. I picked it up at the library, breezed through it in a few hours, and now I'm a Richard Peck fan! This saddens me because it makes me only too painfully aware of how many other authors there are out there - authors I would love to read if only I knew who they were - authors I will never read because I will never hear of them. Like I said - life is too short!

This novel shows up how badly written all-too-many YA novels are these days, wherein the girl has to have a male love interest or she can't function, or the story has to be overwrought or overdone, or to have a love triangle. There is, I'm sorry to say, a large number of female YA authors who could learn a huge amount from Richard Peck about how to create great, and strong, female YA characters, and how to build and portray relationships between boys and girls.

The novel is very well written, moves at a decent clip without being too slow or too fast, tells an amusing, slightly creepy, a little bit sad, and ultimately a very rewarding story. It's set in 1913/14, and the main protagonist is Blossom Culp, a self-possessed girl who comes from a dirt-poor background. The story begins with her thwarting a scheme she overheard discussed by local high school ruffians, to overturn all the (outdoor) toilets in the neigborhood. This venture alone is worth reading the book for. It's hilarious and inventive, and is what gets Blossom started on the story path.

Blossom's mother has "second-sight" - she's clairvoyant and has a reputation in town. She's helped the police solve a crime or two, but she's very hard on her daughter. Dad is nowhere in the picture. The most interaction they've had with him in several years is a postcard which he's had to have someone else address for him since he's illiterate, so there never is a message.

Let me say right here that I don't have any belief in the occult. I think it's all nonsense and fraud. There is no valid evidence whatsoever of anyone having any supernatural powers, or of any life after death, but I do love a good story which pretends that there is, and this was a classic example of such a story.

Blossom isn't considered to have her mother's power, but an event with a little child becoming hurt and Blossom seeing it in her mind and alerting the child's mother to the incident, leads to her having increasingly common visions, including the advent of World War One. She has to carry this horrible, horrible knowledge alone because she knows no one will believe her or try to prevent it were she to reveal it. The odd thing, though, is that she also has a vision of a massive ocean liner sinking, and a tragedy attached to it - a tragedy above and beyond the hundreds of frozen corpses which the Titanic strewed across the North Atlantic.

It's this issue which really takes over and propels this story, and it's so well written and so inventive that it keeps you right there all the way through. I've often seen reviewers berate a story because the character shows no growth, or doesn't change, and I frankly don't get that mentality. A story isn't about necessary change or growth. it's about interesting events (if it's a good one!) and interesting people. This is a case in point because while things do change around her, Blossom really doesn't change throughout this story. We learn more about who she is as we go, but there really isn't anything to her at the end - save for experience - that's significantly different from how she appeared at the beginning, yet this story was amazing!

There is another novel set in this same world, featuring a male interest of Blossom's, and Blossom herself, but the story is told from the boy's perspective. I am sure I will be reading more Richard Peck stories. I recommend that you read at least this one, which is one of two Richard Peck novels I've reviewed, both about strong female characters, and both set in the same era.