Sunday, 24 July 2016

Apple Paperback Review: This Can't be Happening at MacDonald Hall! (Bruno & Boots #1) by Gordon Korman

On select Sundays I will be reviewing some of the old Apple Paperback titles from my childhood. These titles were published, or republished by Scholastic during the 1980s & 1990s and were written and set in the United States. In Australia, these books were typically only available from libraries or could be ordered through catalogues that were distributed through primary schools. Most of these titles are now long out of print or have been updated and republished for later generations ...

Bruno and Boots are a pair of best mates who attend a boarding school in Canada where they get up to all kinds of mischief, much to the ire of their headmaster Mr Sturgeon, aka The Fish, and much to the amusement of the delinquent girls who attend the neighbouring Miss Scrimmages Finishing School for girls. This Can't be Happening at MacDonald Hall is the first book in the series (not that it really matters,) and tells the story of how the best mates are sent to stay in different dormitories as a punishment after a series of pranks, one of which involves replacing the Canadian flag at the front of the school with that of Malbonia, a fictitious nation made up for the book. The pair of troublemakers find themselves with new, and entirely unsuitable, roommates and conspire to make The Fish change his mind, with some hilarious results.

Amusing and full of situations that are a little bit larger than life, this book stands the test of time--which isn't surprising as it has been republished and reprinted many times since it was originally published by Scholastic in 1978 and is still in print now. Parts of the story had me laughing out loud, particularly the gun toting antics of Miss Scrimmage. Originally, the book was a stand-alone, later it formed the first of the Bruno & Boots series, which was later renamed MacDonald Hall and developed as a television series, while a television movie Bruno & Boots: Go Jump in the Pool debuted recently in Canada. The Canadian setting is also unusual for an Apple Paperback title.

About the author: Gordon Korman was just twelve years old when he wrote the original manuscript for his first novel, This Can't be Happening a MacDonald Hall! He sent it to Scholastic and it was published when he was fourteen years old. Since then, Korman has enjoyed success as both an author and a filmmaker and has been published by Scholastic many, many times. As well as Bruno & Boots, he is also the author of the highly successful Bugs Potter series. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Friday Funnies: Tracking Rabbits Snoopy Style

After being harassed by Frieda, Snoopy gets straight onto the case to chase some rabbits--his way. I love the visual gags in this comic strips. It is both illogical, and perfectly logical at the same time (after all, Frieda never said how Snoopy should track rabbits.) And the humour arises because, like Frieda, none of us are expecting to see Snoopy appear dressed as Sherlock Holmes. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Review: The Factory by Paddy O'Reilly

Hilda is an Australian girl, incarcerated in a Japanese prison as she has been accused of murder. Bit by bit, she writes out her story--that of a university student who went to Japan to research the Koba, a mysterious, performing arts group (one that seems more like a cult than a theatre group,) who disbanded many years before when they were seemingly at their peak. Through her research (which includes a stay with the "new" Koba,) Hilda finds herself caught up in a web of complex stories, people and lies, and her research may come at a huge cost ...

I enjoyed reading this unusual story of an Australian girl in a strange place, trying make sense of something that is, ultimately, difficult to comprehend and, perhaps, none of her business. Hilda's obsession with the Koba is both intriguing and tragic. The author has much to say about Japanese people and culture, and their relationship through both Hilda and her ratbag companion, Eloise. The final revelation at the end of the novel is fitting, though one can only ponder at Hilda's future. Will she get that transfer to an Australian prison and be able to leave Japan and the Koba behind her for good? And does it ever truly end well when foreigners try to investigate the goings on of a country that they can never truly understand?


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Review: Whitefern by V.C. Andrews

The ending to V.C. Andrews' third novel My Sweet Audrina was always tragically ambiguous. Audrina finally had the chance to leave Whitefern, the grand old mansion that had kept her prisoner since her ninth birthday, and at the last minute, she blew it, believing that a better future may be possible for her and her husband, Arden. This always left me speculating whether it was possible for Audrina to have a happy ending, or if she was indeed cursed to stay and suffer in the house that had kept her, and her memory, prisoner for so many years. Whitefern, the sequel to My Sweet Audrina, is set twelve years after that ending. Penned by long serving V.C. Andrews ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman, Whitefern offers one possible spin on what may have happened to My Sweet Audrina's tragic, titular heroine. 

Whitefern opens with the passing of Damian Adare, Audrina's controlling father. A last minute change to his will leaves a fifty one percent share of his business to Audrina (instead of Arden, as originally intended,) leaving Arden infuriated, and causes a greater divide in an already unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Audrina's sister, Sylvia who has an intellectual disability, has blossomed into a beautiful young woman and a talented artist. The only difficult is that Sylvia keeps babbling nonsense about babies and then it becomes more and more obvious that she is pregnant ... but the question is, who is the father of Sylvia's baby, and is Arden really the nice guy that he made himself out to be all those years ago?

Ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman takes a logical approach to answer the questions about who and what Arden Lowe really is--it's an interesting spin on the character and it does put forward a possibility about the character that I, as a reader, had never contemplated before. That said, the character of Arden conflicts somewhat with the boy who appeared in My Sweet Audrina, the cowardly and torn bystander, who tries to do right, but sometimes acts selfishly and often causes more harm than good. (Think for example, where Arden has an affair with Vera because he truly believes that Audrina is not going to come out of her coma and he believes that he is man enough to save the evil Vera from herself.) Sylvia certainly seems changed, as does her relationship with Damian Adare, who never seemed to care for her much. Audrina herself sounds like a tired housewife who is accustomed to becoming secondary to everyone else, despite once being a young woman who was filled with so much optimism--and so much love for her family--as a child that she was able to forget the darkest parts of her history in order to please her controlling father ... and to keep herself sane.

As always seems to be the case in the recent ghostwriter books (and, I note, is a point that was already raised by VCA superfan Lorraine Elgar on the brilliant Attic Secrets blog,) is there is a certain level of sexual perversion to the book that cheapens the story. Certainly, V.C. Andrews work was melodramatic and never shied away from describing a multitude of taboo subjects whether they be rape, incest or, indeed, sadomasochism, but they were often done in a way that added to the overall Bronte/Dickens inspired gothic feel of the novels. In Whitefern some scenes, such as where Arden rapes his wife as a means of mocking her (and with little consequence,) felt as poorly written and as trashy as they were uncomfortable for me to read. 

Although it was interesting to return to Whitefern, this novel feels as though it is centred very much in the real world. It often used logic and the worst parts of human behaviour to explain certain plot twists and it certainly offered some fresh answers to some of the questions that were left unresolved at the end of My Sweet Audrina. Such things are Andrew Neiderman's trademark style--in his own work and that as ghostwriter--and I think as a stand alone novel, this one would have stood up as one of his better recent novels. (So long as one ignores some of the less-than-erotic sexual content.) As a sequel to a book written by another author, it is inevitably going to suffer many comparisons, the most obvious of which are style and setting. My Sweet Audrina was, of course, a gothic inspired fairytale--set in a world that just ever so slightly darker and different from our own. V.C. Andrews seemed to truly understand what it meant to be imprisoned (she was unable to walk, and lived most of her life with her mother, with whom she did not always get along,) and that sense is obvious throughout the book, as is the signature prose, quiet menace and a strange sense of childish innocence, that is nearly always lost or betrayed in some cruel way. Neiderman is, of course, a different writer with his own style, and it is unfair to draw too many comparisons, though ultimately, it is clear that Whitefern and My Sweet Audrina are two very different books, with very different endings and characters who are older and who have changed somewhat. Still, what holds this story together is the sheer love that Audrina has for her sister--which is very true to form. The final confrontation, though  a little rushed, is a fitting tribute to the original. 

Ultimately, Whitefern is a book for diehard V.C. Andrews fans, the ones who have always wondered what could have happened next ...

Thank you to Simon and Schuster (USA) and Netgalley for my copy.

Whitefern will be released in the United States on July 26, and should be available in Australia in August 2016.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

In between the dull, grey slabs of cement that make up Topham Mall (that little arcade that runs between Currie and Waymouth Streets,) are some truly quirky and colourful works of art. In recent times, Topham Mall has gone from being one of the ugliest and most run down arcades in Adelaide to something that is just as colourful as it is unique.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Friday Funnies: No no nope beaky buzzard

Just because my week hasn't had enough cowardly beaky buzzards in it, I thought that I would share this clip.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Mini Review: The Note by Amanda Linehan

The Note is a short, clever tale of what happens next after a one night stand. When Julie wakes, she expects to be alone. She also expects to find a note ... only this time there is none to be found.

This was an enjoyable enough story about a young woman who goes about the morning after with the expectation that she is going to be let down, only she does not know how. The author provides a bit of a twist toward the end that works within the context of the story.