Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Review: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor

Readers are in for a treat with The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, a hilarious debut with a big heart by Matson Taylor. The year is 1962 and Yorkshire dwelling Evie has just completed her O levels. She's also had  well, a bit of a celebration which has caused her to be late to start the morning milk run. But not to worry, instead of taking her bike, she'll just borrow her father's MG and do the whole thing quickly and in style. This particular adventure ends in a hilarious fashion (for reasons the reader will soon discover,) and sets up this quirky novel about a sixteen year old girl who is trying to find herself. Which, quite frankly, isn't easy when her mother died when she was six months old and now her otherwise kind and sensible father, Arthur, has fallen hard for Christine, a scheming woman who would put Snow White's stepmother to shame. And now that Arthur and Christine are engaged Evie knows she must put a stop to it, but first she needs some help from her neighbours, the kindly Mrs Scott-Prym and her mysterious but oh-so glamorous daughter Caroline. 

This book was a lot of fun from the first page, and had me smiling in a number of places throughout--a certain adventure with a button stands out as a real highlight. In Christine, the author has created a character that I loved to hate, while Mrs Scott-Prym, Caroline and even Elise created the perfect antidote to these horrible woman and provided the lovely Evie with some much needed support. The flashbacks work well within the context of the story--never too long--and provided some much needed background detail. Overall, this is an excellent read, fun and funny with a little bit of sadness sprinkled in there.

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy.   

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Review: Cat's Café: A Comics Collection by Matt Tarpley

A recent addition to my bookshelf is the first Cat’s Café comic collection by Matt Tarpley. A gentle comic, Cat’s Café is renowned for its exploration of mental illness and the message that a little bit kindness can go a very long way--whether it's being kind to others, or kind to oneself. The comic has created some memorable characters in Cat, the kind and wise owner of the café, anxiety ridden Rabbit and coffee dependent Penguin just to name a few. (And Kiwi, of course. How could any self-respecting fan forget Kiwi?) 

I have been a huge fan of Cat's Café for a long time now, to the point where I've probably shared one comic or two too many on Instagram or Facebook. Reading through the collection I soon discovered that although each individual comic is beautifully drawn and well written, and offers a positive message, the collection soon becomes a little too sweet. I think I would have liked a bit more of Kiwi's antics with the knife, which was conspicuously absent from the collection. But maybe that isn't what the author and publisher intended for this particular volume. Ultimately, though, the comics offer a positive message without getting bogged down in politics or details. (For example, the characters are always known as what animal they are, and their genders are entirely irrelevant. Cat, Rabbit, et all could just as easily be male, female or non-binary. And it really doesn't matter one iota.) 

Most of the comics are pretty similar to this one:

Note the gentle storytelling, themes of kindness and helping others. And the subtle colour change the final pane. 

Overall, Cat's Café is a lovely concept and this book is an excellent resource to keep on the beside table for when things are well, not quite right.


Friday, 31 July 2020

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Review: There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

Twin sisters Eva and Mana live surprisingly similar lives, in spite of the fact that they live on opposite sides of the world in very different countries. In Prague, Eva lives on a flat on the third floor with her grandson Ludek. In Melbourne, Mana lives on a flat on the third floor with her husband, Bill, and her granddaughter, Mala.  Both houses are filled with much warmth and love, though both Mana and Ludek are growing up in the shadow of events that occurred many years before they were born, events that shaped and determined the lives of both sisters--the one who stayed in Prague after 1938 and the one who escaped to England with the help of their father, and the one who stayed behind and saw their home change through a war it's aftermath and then the events of 1968.

Set in 1980 the stories of the two families are mostly told through the eyes of Mala and Ludek and are told in a way that is sparse but beautiful. No words are wasted as the author describes the freedom of childhood, gently contrasted against the horrors that were suffered by Eva and Mana. In the background, the author quietly shows the sense of dislocation that Mana and Bill (who once upon a time went by a different name,) experience in Melbourne, despite having lived there for so many years. After all, Australia can be a very cruel place at times.

Overall, this is a short and beautifully written read that highlights the innocence of childhood against the backdrop of an older generation who suffered greatly. A perfect read for anyone, but this one may be of particular interest to adolescents who are making the transition to reading adult literary fiction.

Highly recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2020

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Review: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

What do you get if you combine a world that's shaped like a disc and carried on the back of a giant turtle, a spectacularly incompetent wizard, Death, the world's first tourist and a piece of luggage that is made entirely out of wood and carries itself with its multiple pairs of legs?

Why, Terry Pratchett's first Discworld novel of course!

A spectacular work of humour and imagination, this one tells the story of Twoflower, Discworld's very first tourist and Rincewind, a wizard who did not pass his exams and who is now tasked with guiding Twoflower through a number of magical and very dangerous lands. There is plenty of laughs and surprising twists and turns to be had in this one as the pair try very hard to outwit Death (think, the grim reaper,) as he tries so very hard to claim Rincewind. Divided into four seconds that are roughly eighty pages long, the pair navigate various lands, meeting a number of strange people along the way, until they very nearly fall off the edge of the disc itself.

This one is highly entertaining, though perhaps not Pratchett's best. Obviously, this is the first in what become a much loved series of forty books written over a great many years, so various tropes and characters that are familiar to fans do not appear within. And, as is often the case with Pratchett, some sections do have to be read twice in order for the reader to feel their full comic impact. Overall, a unique read.


Monday, 27 July 2020

Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Baby-Sitters Club Netflix Series is Here! And it's Brilliant!

One of the biggest surprises to come out of 2020 (well, you know, apart from a global pandemic,) is that iconic children's book series, The Baby-Sitters Club has been reinvented as a Netflix original series. From the moment that I discovered the series was going to be a thing, I was worried. How could they possibly make certain iconic parts of the series relevant for the target audience in 2020? I mean, come on. No one uses landlines anymore. And some books, such as Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls are pretty dated. 

Then I started hearing bits and pieces about the show that started to make me think that maybe, just maybe the people behind it really knew what they were doing. From the moment that it was announced that Alicia Silverstone was cast in the role of Elizabeth Thomas (aka Kristy's mum,) and Mark Feuerstein as Watson Brewer, it was clear that the producers might just be finding a way to create a series that was relevant to contemporary viewers. And then the casting news kept on coming. A surprise, though in the most pleasant of ways, was the way an extra touch of diversity was added to the group. Instead of being the stereotypical California blonde from the novels, Dawn was to be Latinx. Her parents had divorced and her dad was now living with another man. And the most surprising thing was, when I thought about it, nothing about the changers altered the character. Dawn was still a girl moving to the opposite side of the country with her mother halfway through the school year, who had a strong sense of individuality.

Then there was Mary Anne. Something about her character being mixed race and raised by her socially awkward white father was a perfect fit for a character who was, arguably, the most complex of the girls.

But was this enough for the series to be a hit?

The series hit Netflix a couple of weeks ago. A little excited, a little nervous I watched the first episode. And it was brilliant. From the opening scenes, where Kristy complains that the punishment given to her by her school teacher--to write an essay on decorum--would never have been given to a male student--it was clear that this series was going to have girl power on full throttle. From there, I watched as modern day blended with some of the most iconic elements of the book. In fact, Kristy's whole idea of using a landline for the club, and having set times when customers can call, is inspired by watching her mother endlessly trying to find a babysitter online for her little brother. And then we get to see the actual phone--a 1990s style 'clear' phone that Claudia purchases from Etsy because it is 'iconic.' As it is. In the best kind of way.

The individual episodes are taken from the early books, though they have a thoroughly modern spin. (I laughed when I found out who the phantom phone caller was.) Each girl has her own struggles. Kristy's dad walked out on the family and she isn't too sure about her mother's new fiance, wealthy Watson Brewer. Claudia struggles academically and finds herself at odds with her parents. The sibling rivalry between Claudia and her older sister, super smart Janine, is portrayed realistically. And her relationship with Mimi is just as lovely as in the books. Meanwhile, Stacey keeps her diabetes a secret from her friends at the urging of her parents ... until she learns talk about it her way. And then there is shy Mary Anne, who struggles against her father and his suffocating rules (portrayed brilliantly by Marc Evan Jackson,) until she eventually finds her voice ... after standing up for a transgender child who she is caring for. And then along comes Dawn, the most confident of all the girls, who ends up leading a mass protest at summer camp. Oh and [[[spoiler alert]]] Dawn aunt is none other than Morbidda Destiny! And yes, there is a budding romance between Dawn's free spirited mother and Mary Anne's uptight father.

Diversity is subtly threaded throughout the show with a number of minor characters, without it being shown as a big deal. The writers are less kind, however, to Kristy's older brothers Sam and Charlie, portraying both as immature, selfish and more than a little insensitive. Even Watson is show to initially be dismissive of the club, asking if it is a place where girls go to learn about baby-sitting, though his attitude changes when Kristy explains her business plan. 

Overall, the series is well written and uplifting, and offers an almost wholly positive message for the target audience. The young actors bring a surprising amount of maturity to their roles, though not so much that they are completely unbelievable as twelve year olds. There's also just enough nostalgia to keep older fans happy, whether they are watching it with their own daughters or nieces, or if they want to watch a few episodes just for old times sake. 

PS Keep an eye out for two other iconic characters from the series in the final two episodes!