Saturday, 31 December 2016

Review: Five Go Gluten Free by Enid Blyton (text by Bruno Vincent)

Five Go Gluten Free is a hilarious parody of modern day problems ... staring a slightly grown up version of Enid Blyton's beloved Famous Five who are navigating their way through adulthood and the 21st Century with muddled results. In this adventure, a grown up Anne is inspired to take up a gluten free diet after Dick gives her a new cookbook for her birthday. The others agree to go along with it, and the results are well ... lets just say it turns out that the five are human after all. (Well, four of them. Timmy is still a dog, even though Anne forces the diet on him as well.)

This one is what it is, and it's great fun so long as you go in looking for a few laughs and nothing more. The pictures provide a lovely bit of satire, and other beloved characters from the series find themselves the butt of various jokes--I loved Uncle Quentin's car, which runs on peanuts and could explode at any moment. It never quite meets the benchmark for Famous Five parodies that was set by The Comic Strip Presents in the 1980s, but there are some great moments.

Not a classic, but lots of fun.

Recommended to grown up fans of the Famous Five.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Friday Funnies: I Wanna be a Doctor!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

It was a twitter recommendation that led me to discovering this beautifully written story of how one act, one secret and one summer has lasting effects on three adult lives. Told from the perspective of a group of older women from a small church in Southern California known as the mothers, who play a role within the church that is not unlike that of The Holy spirit. (And if one wants to dig deeper into the religious subtext, the Pastor and his wife are the cold and judging father, while the child born at the end may just well be the saviour ... for the characters in the story at least, anyway.)

The first character we are introduced to, thanks to the mothers, is Nadia Turner, a seventeen year old girl who is smart, about to be the first in her family to go off to college, and, most importantly, she is grieving for her mother who committed suicide a few months earlier. It is the death of her mother that leads her into the arms Luke Sheppard, the twenty-one year old pastor's son who, quite frankly, Nadia is too good for. Lacking guidance, Nadia is a young woman who has big dreams, is grief stricken and is just trying to do the best that she can with what she has. Unfortunately, this leads to an unwanted pregnancy, an abortion and a series of communication errors that will impact on her young life.

Luke is the next major character in the book. Much like Nadia, his life is shaped by communication errors, one of which leads him into the arms of Aubrey, who is Nadia's best friend and who, again, is probably too good for him, and could quite possibly do with a better best friend. Of the group, Aubrey is the only one who is genuinely religious, and even that has much to do with her past and seems to be sorely tested at times.

Communication (or the lack thereof,) hypocrisy, hearsay evidence and discrimination are the major forces at play in The Mothers and the author handles these with an expert hand. With the possible exception of Aubrey and perhaps Nadia's father, everyone is a bit of a villain as well as a bit of a victim and the author has a lot to say about hypocrisy, particularly where religion is concerned. The writing itself is absolutely beautiful and had a way of drawing me in and convincing me to read an extra chapter or two, even when I didn't really have the time. I enjoyed a lot of the subtext (i.e. upper room,) and the sympathetic portrayal of each of the characters.


Friday, 23 December 2016

Friday Funnies: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Just thought I would share this Christmas song ... despite the fact that it is probably the Christmas song most universally hated by retail staff. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Writing a Draft?

Just a bit of inspiration for your Wednesday. Happy writing, everyone!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Although I was unable to take a great (or even decent) shot of these, it was lovely to see a new selection of Christmas decorations in Rundle Mall this year. Wooden blocks spelled out messages such as the one above. I also spied a sign that said Peace and another that read Merry. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Apple Paperback Review: Merry Christmas, Miss McConnell! by Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna

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 ...

I remember reading Merry Christmas, Miss McConnell! when I was in year six at primary school and being quite taken with the story about three kids who have a lot of trouble relating to their strict new teacher. It is Christmas time and the beloved fifth grade class teacher, Mrs Jackson, has gone on maternity leave. Mrs Jackson is replaced by the strict Miss McConnell who orders the kids about by blowing a whistle and never seems to let them have any fun. It's a blow to the main character, Meg, who is already experiencing problems at home--her dad has injured his back and cannot work, and her mother is working two low paid jobs and has a lot of concerns about money. It is looking like this is going to be the worst Christmas ever. And then, after a prank goes wrong Miss McConnell cancels the concert that Meg and her friends were going to perform in at the local mall. But Miss McConnell has a secret, and one that could perhaps lead Meg and the others to discover the real meaning of Christmas ...

I strongly suspect that the author of this one has seen A Charlie Brown Christmas as there are a couple of parallels between the book and the beloved Christmas special, and there is even a reference to Charlie Brown's scrawny Christmas tree. Unlike most of the Apple Paperbacks, this one is set inside a Catholic school, which made for interesting reading. The story does not have a great deal of depth and I think that one of the two big reveals about Miss McConnell (the reason behind her using a whistle,) could have been fleshed out more. That said, this one proved itself to be a fun and heartwarming Christmas tale and one that still stands up well today. 

About the author: Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna was the author of many Apple Paperbacks including the Murphys series. She also penned two Dr Quinn Medicine Woman tie-in books.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday Funnies: Make a Daft Noise for Christmas by The Goodies

I know I've shared this one before, but just for a bit of a Christmas themed laugh, I thought I'd share it again. Funny song, funny group ... pity the crowd looks a bit bore every time the camera turns on them, but I guess the canned laughter sort of makes up for it ...

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Review: The Better Son by Katherine Johnson

The Better Son was an award winning novel before it was even published and it is not difficult to see why. The beautiful prose tells the story of Kip, the younger of two brothers, growing up on a farm in Tasmania in the early 1950s. Father Harold is suffering Post Traumatic Stress following his role in the Second World War, and also appears to hate farming, his wife Jess, and his youngest son with a frightening vindictiveness. By contrast, the older brother Tommy, is considered to be wonderful by Harold, and occasionally comes across as spoiled (and a little vindictive,) though he is not always treated well. One day, Tommy and Kip discover some caves near their farm, and the location becomes their secret hideaway. But tragedy is looming, and one day only Kip will come home. 

Told in third person narrative from the perspectives of Kip and farmhand Squid, the story moves across a number of years. Secrets are revealed slowly, and over time it becomes clear how the lives of each of the characters are shaped by their choices, and the secrets they have kept. At times, I found the scenes featuring Harold very difficult to read, and I often felt for Kip who seemed to be shaped by circumstances that were out of his control. Squid was an interesting character who helped bridge parts of the story together.

The Better Son is an intriguing novel of secrets and lies.


Thank you to Ventura Press for my reading copy.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2016

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Review: Hamlet by John Marsden

Shakespeare's Hamlet is given a very contemporary YA re-imagining by Australian author John Marsden in this occasionally creepy book of the same name. Marsden takes a common YA theme--honest teens battling against unfair and corrupt adults--and blends it seamlessly against the backdrop of a story about greed and madness. In this version, Hamlet is a teenager driven to madness by the need to avenge his father's murder, unsurprisingly, his mother and uncle/stepfather are controlling arseholes. Supporting characters Orphelia and Horatio are both in their teens and are written quite well, with themes of puberty woven into the plot.

This one was published in 2008, but I had no idea of it's existence until a friend found a copy and emailed me about it. Any new or previously unknown John Marsden title is always a pleasant surprise. While this one may not be one of his best (let's face it, the Tomorrow Series is awfully difficult to beat,) it is an interesting quirky read in it's own right and was well worth my time.


Monday, 12 December 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Beep! Beep! This genuine Pageant car pulled up in the Central Markets a little while ago and looks destined to stay there until Christmas Day. I think it looks great, and the Christmas trees are a nice touch.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

1990s Nostalgia: Shannon & Curtis join Home and Away

Just a bit of light and fluffy 1990s nostalgia this week, this short clip shows a new pair of foster kids entering Summer Bay for the first time. Shannon and Curtis were a pair of teens whose adoptive parents had died. Everyone thought that they were brother and sister, and were shocked when the pair shared a kiss, but later it turned out that they were only 'adopted' brother and sister. Their arrival is symbolic of a more innocent era from the series, where most of the drama revolved around troubled teens who (nearly) always learned to become responsible adults during their stay in Summer Bay, thanks to the gentle guidance of the adult residents. 

Interesting contrast in the casting--both Isla Fisher (Shannon) and Shane Amman (Curtis) were seasoned actors by the time they arrived on the set of Home and Away. Both had appeared in short lived soap Paradise Beach and a number of children's television programmes. While Isla Fisher would go on to become a Hollywood level actress and is the author of three novels, Amman gave up acting after he left Home and Away in 1997 and, to the best of my knowledge, has never appeared in any of those tacky 'Home and Away: Where are they Now' features that seem to pop up online or in the pages of TV Week every now and again.

PS Just in case you are wondering, Shannon and Curtis were soon causing their own fair share of trouble, as can be observed here and here.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Friday Funnies

One of the things that constantly amazes me about the Peanuts comic was how its artist and author Charles Schulz was able to say so much in one small square, with a simple, inked picture and a few words. This simple square captures perfectly some of the less pleasant feelings that we experience when we're in love with someone--stupid actions, barely thought through, followed by agonising moments of self-doubt.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Review: Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

Because You'll Never Meet Me is a story told in letters, detailing the correspondence between teenagers Ollie, who lives in the United States, and Moritz who lives in Germany. Neither Ollie nor Moritz are ordinary boys--Ollie has an allergy to electricity meaning that he must live in a remote cabin with his mother, and Moritz, has a pacemaker (hence why they can never meet,) and an almost supersonic ability to see despite the fact that he literally has no eyes. Through their correspondence both will reveal their struggles with their peers (Moritz is a target for bullies, while Ollie struggles with Liz an 'ordinary' girl who wants to cure him rather than understand him,) and they will learn some remarkable life lessons, before a startling, life changing revelation is made ...

Though a little gross in places, this one is a thought provoking read, one that seamlessly blends real life teenage themes with science fiction. Optimist Ollie is a contrast to the bitter and distrustful Moritz and both boys clearly need each other more than what they realise. 

Because You'll Never Meet Me is enjoyable, a little far-fetched but, ultimately, powerful. 

A sequel, titled Nowhere Near You will be published in February 2017.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for my reading copy, via Netgalley. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

1990s Nostalgia: McDonalds Ad

This ad was is clever, memorable and oddly annoying. It also features something that an advertising agency could never get away with today--showing a child under the age of twelve eating junk food.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday Funnies: Kermit And Grover The Sunglass Salesman

Following on from my previous Kermit and Grover clip, I just couldn't resist sharing this little bit of fun and silliness ...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review: Finding Cinderella by Colleen Hoover

Finding Cinderella is a short novella featuring Daniel and Six from Hoover's Hopeless series, and unsurprisingly, it's a romance. As always with Hoover's novels, the fun is seeing how the couple get together, despite the odds working against them. 

It's been a long time since I read Hopeless and I have yet to read it's sequel Losing Hope, so most of the minor characters were a little bit fuzzy for me. Fortunately, this one stands up pretty well on its own merit, detailing the unlikely romance between Daniel and Six. The novella begins with Daniel making out (and eventually sleeping with,) a girl that he meets ever day in a janitor's cupboard at their high school. He never sees her face or learns her name, but he hopes that one day he will. One year later, he's almost given up hope of finding this girl, when Six (the best friend of his best mate's girlfriend,) returns from a student exchange from Italy. The pair are instantly smitten in a way that Daniel hasn't felt about anyone since his experiences in the cupboard and well ... I think we can all guess what happens next, but the journey is interesting enough, as is a rather heart wrenching plot twist. 

This one is a short and enjoyable romantic read. Even better, it's available to download for free from the Amazon Kindle Store.