Jan. 9th, 2011

bobquasit: (Daffy)
Outside Looking inOutside Looking in by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An odd book. James Lincoln Collier is particularly gifted at first-person narratives of teenagers that feel very real. But this book feels a bit flat. Fergy has been traveling the country with his parents and sister; his father is a thoroughly unlikeable grifter and egomaniac. His mother inexplicably goes along with this, and his little sister is an out-of-control kleptomaniac. Fergy wants a "normal" life, and when a chance comes to try to escape life on the road, he makes the obvious choice.

The thing is...unlike other Collier books, this one seems oddly flat. It's not a bad book, but everything is a bit more two-dimensional than in most other Collier books; it doesn't seem as real, and the choices mostly seem obvious. I might even say that the plot is a bit simplistic and unbelievable. It's worth a read if you like Collier, but if you're not familiar with his work, try Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 first - and try to get one of the older editions, one with the illustrations by Lorenz! After that, I'd recommend his historical books over this oddly dated and somehow lifeless novel. He's a very good writer, but this simply isn't his best work.

Update: Looking back, I think I see what the problem is with Outside Looking In. A good story needs to have some point on which the reader can connect. I suspect that may be particularly true for first-person narratives. It's not necessary for the reader to have have the exact same experiences, of course, but in some way there has to be an element with which the reader can identify.

In Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, for example, George Stable's desire for success drives him to make some reckless decisions. He gets in way over his head. We've all had that same sort of general experience.

But in Outside Looking In, there's really not much to connect to! Fergy starts out living on the road with an abusive father - a man who is SO vile and one-sided that there's no conflict at all. You'd no more consider staying with him than you'd consider staying with a rabid tiger.

That flatness of character, incidentally, also has an impact on Fergy's mother. Why does she stay with such an obviously abusive man? One who is clearly destroying their children's lives, as well as hers? It makes no sense, so she immediately becomes an unsympathetic character.

Fergy's life has nothing in common with that of most readers, I think - unless you grew up constantly on the run in a van with a gang of con men, without schooling or friends. If so, this is the book for you. But for everyone else, I think that the book will leave you cold.

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bobquasit: (Daffy)
With Every Drop of Blood:  A Novel of the Civil WarWith Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War by James Collier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this one up along with several other books by James Lincoln Collier at the library. I've long been a fan of his Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, and since I was thinking of that at the library one day, I picked up several more books of his on a whim.

But With Every Drop of Blood almost got returned to the library unread. I read another book of his first, Outside Looking in, and it had been rather disappointing. And despite the old maxim, the cover of With Every Drop of Blood was remarkably boring-looking, at least for me. Still, I hadn't gotten around to returning it before I ran out of reading material, so I ended up giving it a try.

I'm glad I did. It turned out to be one of those books that you can't put down; you have to know what comes next. Gripping, you know what I mean? It's the story of a Southern boy during the Civil War, but told in relatively modern language (albeit not irritatingly so).

There's a bit of synchronicity here, as it happens. The very first thing in the book is a statement by the authors about the language in the book, specifically - and I hate to mince words, but this review is going up on Facebook and I have young readers - the "N-word". They use it several times for historical accuracy, but use it less than the people at the time would have.

That said, the book is certainly appropriate for ages 12 and older, and probably appropriate for most children from 10 up. And it's certainly very readable, very compelling, and fascinating. The only criticism I can make is that it ends rather rapidly. And when I reached the end, I very much wanted to know what happened next!

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bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
New Year's Eve has been a dud for us for a long time. When I was young, we used to spend it with the family of a friend of my father's from work; that was a lot of fun. But Teri and Sebastian both fall asleep long before midnight every New Year's Eve, so I've spent pretty much every on my own - or asleep myself.

But this year was different. I'd heard that the Edaville Railroad was closing, probably for good. I've been going there since I was a baby, so of course I insisted that we should go.

The weather was warm for the time of year; we got there right at opening time, 4PM. The sun was going down, and the Christmas Festival of Lights was going full blast. We went to the cranberry and train museum building; Sebastian and I went upstairs. In the past there had been a free cranberry juice dispenser, but it was gone. The glassed-in honey bee hive was empty too. Sebastian still had some fun running around through the maze, although he's so tall now that he was easily able to see over the walls.

After that we went down and rode the Ferris Wheel. It was a LOT of fun; chilly, but it went fast and gave us an incredible feeling when we went over the top. We laughed and laughed. My fingers were freezing in the cold air at the top of the Ferris Wheel, but luckily I didn't drop my phone!

Later we took the train. By coincidence, the steam engine was on loan from the Boothbay Railway; when Edaville closed in 1991 a lot of their rolling stock was sold off, and some of it ended up in Boothbay. The steam engine wasn't from Edaville, but it was still a funny coincidence.

The train windows steamed up quite a bit, but it was still a lot of fun; there were light displays and painted wooden figures on the sides of the tracks and among the cranberry bogs. We chatted with an older couple nearby, who took a picture of all three of us. At one point the train stopped, stood still for a while, and then backed up for perhaps 500 feet. Then it went forward again.

When we got off the train, we ran down past the tracks and Sebastian played on several of the other trains that had been turned into playground installations. Then he got hungry, so we went to the cafe and had hot dogs and french fries. Perhaps it was the cold air and running around we'd done, but the food was delicious. After that Sebastian played a game and won a penguin toy (what else?), and then I bought a fried dough and hot chocolate with whipped cream and jimmies. There's nothing like fried dough with steam coming out of it on a cold day, and the hot chocolate was really good; just the right temperature, hot but not too hot to drink.

By then it was getting late, so we headed towards the exit. Just before the souvenir ship was a large trailer that said "heated mine", and next to it was a gold-panning sluice. The hot water running down it was steaming. We talked to the man there, and discovered that the inside of the trailer was set up as a mine - Bear Creek Mine - with interesting rocks and fossils inside. It wasn't too expensive, so Sebastian put on a miner's helmet with a little light on it, and I accompanied him inside the dark trailer.

Inside, the walls were covered with rock-like stuff (foam, I think), neat-looking fossil art, and little holes with fossils and gemstones - nothing valuable, of course, but cool nonetheless. It took Sebastian quite a while to find everything, but there was no rush. While we were inside, Teri had a nice chat with the owner. They also had the gold-dust panning sluice, but I was out of cash and they couldn't take cards. Still, Sebastian loved it so much that he wants to have them do his birthday party next year. I think we will!

Teri had also heard from many people that the park was for sale for 11 million dollars, but it apparently wasn't selling. The owner, everyone said, was going to subdivide the land for luxury houses or condominiums if the place wouldn't sell as a park. If that's true, it's a terrible, terrible shame. Edaville survived an eight-year shutdown in the 1990s, but if the land is divided up for housing, Edaville will never be able to come back. It's such a wonderful place, so much fun, and it's been running since 1947! Why is this being allowed? The place is a genuine New England treasure!

We made a final stop at the gift shop, and I splurged on memorabilia. We got lots of fun Edaville stuff. I just hope that the place stays open so we can come back again and again. And some day, with Sebastian's children.


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