Friday, 30 March 2018

Review: Uncle Scrooge #32

It's been a long time since I bought an Uncle Scrooge comic. Well, actually, the last time I bought one was in 2005 when Otter Press tried to bring it, and a number of other Disney comics back in print in Australia. Sadly, the Australian revival of Uncle Scrooge and other titles was short lived, lasting about six months or so. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Disney comics (usually imports from the US,) were far more abundant in Australia.* I used to buy them (mainly Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse,) from a comic shop in Twin Street where my Uncle T used to work. (Later, Uncle T ran a comics stall at the Reynella Markets, and eventually became a bookseller.)

Anyway, on a whim, I stopped by Pulp Fiction comics and had a look at their well stocked younger readers section, which was abundant with some lovely imports from the US. This Uncle Scrooge comic was one of them. Anyway, this particular comic featured Whom the Gods Would Destroy, an adventure that was originally published in Sweden and tells a fun, family friendly story in which Magica De Spell and the Beagle Boys team up to raid Scrooge McDuck's money bin. It's not the most original plot to feature the characters, but it's fun and, as always, it's the details (in this case a stolen wand) that make for fresh and entertaining reading.

Lots of fun.

*Most Disney titles ceased publication in Australia in the 1970s. You can read more about Australian Disney comics here.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Review: All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

Imagine a world where you are billed for every word you speak. A world where some words have a greater price than others, and where almost everything, from gestures to clothing, is subject to copyright. That's the world that Speth Jime is facing. From the day she turns fifteen, like all adults she will be charged for every word she speaks. Her transition will begin at her Last Day speech.

The only trouble is, Speth is refusing to give her Last Day speech. 

She has taken a vow of silence.

And she might just spark a revolution.

This was an intriguing read. Though a little farfetched, the novel has a lot to say about personal freedoms, and the dangers of regulating every aspect of our lives through lawsuits. Speth herself make for an interesting heroine--her vow of silence was unplanned, and now, such a drastic measure cannot be undone. And, of course, it turns out that silence has a very high price. The world building is done quite well. Ultimately, it's a great entry level Speculative Fiction novel, and a solid first instalment in a series. 

I'll be looking forward to reading the next instalment (titled Access Restricted,) which will be published in the US in late August 2018. 

Recommended. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

When I was asked if I would like to review I Have Lost My Way, I responded almost immediately with an emphatic yes. I've read about half of Forman's novels and have enjoyed every one of them. I felt certain that I would enjoy this one too, and I'm very pleased to report that I was not disappointed.

Told over the course of a single day, I Have Lost My Way tells the story of three very different young people who find each other in New York--Freya, a young musician on the cusp of fame, Harun who wants to run away from his family so that he can be with the person he loves and Nathaniel who has found himself alone after a family tragedy. The trio collide--quite literally--in Central Park. From there, I experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions as their stories played out as flashbacks, while their present situations and newfound friendships helped each of the characters to influence one another for the better. (On a side note, I loved the trip to Hayden's office.) Though the novel was quite short, and aimed at a YA audience, each of these characters is well rounded and pleasingly complex from Freya, a young woman with mixed Ethiopian and Jewish heritage who wants, or perhaps wanted, fame for the wrong reasons, to Harun, who is struggling with his sexuality and the fear that he won't be accepted by his strict Muslim family, to Nathan who didn't understand about his father's illness until it was too late.

This one was an easy but engaging read. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my review copy.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Review: The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

Estonia in the tumultuous days following the Soviet Occupation is the setting for this novel about knitting, friendship and, ultimately, survival. Kati is the daughter of farmers who has seen her dreams of an education dashed when her parents decide to sent her brother to university instead. With her homeland now being taken over by the Red Army, her family survive only because their farm is able to provide them with much needed essentials. Kati's only solace is knitting, a skill that her beloved grandmother has passed down to her. With the other women from her knitting circle she makes beautiful lace shawls but even that is soon under threat. Meanwhile, many, many miles away, Lydia, a wealthy young woman longs to get away from her controlling uncle. A visit to her father who is stationed in Estonia will lead to some shocking events. Truths are uncovered, but new friendships and new loves are discovered amid a brutal regime ...

Having been an avid knitter since the age of twelve (a hobby I had to give up following an injury,) and having also known a number of people who fled Estonia during the Soviet Occupation, I was immediately drawn to this book. I found it to be an intriguing, character driven historic novel about two women who are quite different (at least on the surface,) but become an important part of each others lives through the hardships they experienced. Their story was quite different to the ones that have been passed down to me, but made for compelling reading. My only real criticism was that I couldn't quite tell what age group the novel was aimed at--in some parts it felt like adult historical fiction, in other parts the romantic element overtook the story to the point where it felt more in line with a pleasantly written NA romance. I certainly enjoyed the descriptions of the shawls and the way that the characters bonded over knitting.

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia and Netgalley for my copy of The Lace Weaver.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Friday, 23 March 2018

Review: Betty & Veronica Friends Winter Annual

Betty and Veronica are back and still fighting for Archie's attention in this neat little digest. Most of the comics have a winter theme, and fun abounds as we read the comic capers of these BFFs and a selection of stories that feature some of their friends--from Archie and Jughead to the glamourous Katy Keen. 

This was my first visit back to the original Archie universe after reading Riverdale, and I was surprised at just how young the comics seem--it's definitely the sort to thing that would be of more interest to pre-teens and nostalgia buffs, rather than a strictly teenage audience. This book was published in digest format, and features comics from the Betty and Veronica series which was published between 1987 and 2015. (The series itself was recently relaunched with a more teenage and contemporary feel as part of the Archie reboot.)

Lots of fun. Recommended.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I'm going to start this review with a confession. When I was thirteen, almost fourteen, I got ditched by a girl that I had been friendly with for some time. I was rather hurt about this and got my revenge in a rather strange (and mean) way. Her favourite book was A Wrinkle in Time. Now, at that time, this book was out of print in Australia, and ordering books online wasn't really a thing, so the only copy that my (former) friend had access to was at the local public library. I took great delight in borrow the single copy and keeping it for as long as I could without incurring a fine, or sometimes, I'd find it on the library shelves and go and hide it somewhere else in the library. Over the course of a few months I put it with the dog books, in the knitting section among the small range of VHS tapes and well ... you get the idea, until I eventually got bored with it and moved on. The only problem with this nasty little scheme of mine (apart from the fact that it prevented everyone else from reading the book too,) was that I never actually bothered to read it. In fact, I hadn't even thought about this book in years, until I learned that Disney had made it into a film and I discovered a movie-tie in edition for sale at QBD. (And no, I was not tempted to buy all the copies.) Anyway, I decided to buy a copy and discover for myself what the big deal was about this book.

And, well, it was okay. Cool. I probably would have got a lot more out of it when I was younger, but such is life. Anyway, the story revolves around Meg, an intelligent young women. Meg's parents are scientists, and her younger brothers are well liked around town. Meg and her youngest brother, Charles Wallace--an apparent child genius--are often considered stupid by those around them. Charles Wallace did not talk at all until he was about four and now only speaks to people that he likes. Meg on the other hand, takes little interest in school, is easily distracted, is often defiant and has trouble getting along with others her own age. Anyway, Meg's father has been missing for about a year, which is the subject of a lot of gossip for the local townspeople. Anyway, it turns out that Mr Murray been stuck on another planet. Three mysterious women give the family news of him before sending Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin--an older boy who also feels as though he doesn't quite fit in--on a quest through a wrinkle in time to rescue Mr Murray. And it is Meg, the least gifted of the three, who might just be able to save them all ...

Undoubtably, this would be an exciting read for kids or for anyone who feels as though they don't quite fit in--what isn't said is quite interesting, as is my guesses about what the author may or may not have known about Autism and ADHD in 1962 and whether her writing was intended to be accurate portrayals of kids with these symptoms. (Charles Wallace is almost certainly somewhere on the spectrum, Meg may or may not be, but she also shows signs of ADHD.) It also raises the question--is it even fair for a reviewer to label the characters when the author does not do so? It also demonstrates the isolation that some kids who are smart, but who do not do well at school, feel in their everyday lives. 

Recommended. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Review: The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton

Beloved Australian author Tim Winton's latest novel is a timely mediation on toxic masculinity that packs a powerful--though occasionally depressing--punch. Jaxie Clackton is a teenage boy whose life is altered forever when he discovers the body of his abusive father crushed beneath the family car. Believing that he'll be accused of murder, Jaxie packs his things and decides to find refuge with the one person who understands him. To reach her means a long trek through the saltlands--harsh, dangerous country--and it's a journey that yields surprising results when he encounters an isolated hut and an eccentric Irish priest who believes that Jaxie is an instrument of God ...

This was a novel that was in beautiful and disgusting in equal parts. Winton has a knack of getting inside the minds of his young male protagonists and sharing that journey with the reader. Jaxie's life has been shaped by the worst kind of masculine influences, as has the lives of other key characters though in a different ways. Fintan is an entertaining character and the one who might just be able to help Jaxie find the peace that he is so longing for. Or if nothing else, he demonstrates such patience with Jaxie that it certainly has an impact on the young man, particularly at the novel's brutal climax. 

The novel is written in a style that is just as brutal as the landscape it describes and it works all the better for that.

Recommended. 

This novel was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Monday, 19 March 2018

Review: Dawn and the Dream Boy (BSC TV Series Episode 7)

I suspect that I've never seen this particular episode of the BSC TV series before, as I could not remember a thing about it, whereas with some of the others, I could remember a thing or two, whether it be a pie in the face of a mean girl, or a slogan that was yelled out several times during the episode (count on Court.) Or maybe this episode is just less memorable for me, because it moves away from the core themes of the series, babysitting and responsibility, and moves a little closer to romance, a theme that was often included but was never a core part of the BSC books. 

Anyway, in this episode, Dawn becomes a bit infatuated with Jamie Anderson, a boy from their grade who plays on the school soccer team. Only trouble is, she has never even spoken to him. Never mind. It turns out that he and Mary Anne have English together.  In a further stroke of luck, Mary Anne has been tasked with collecting Jackie Rodowski from soccer lessons which are being taught by none other than Jamie Anderson. She puts in a good word for Dawn, introduces the pair and then ... a mix up when Jamie phones Dawn and Mary Anne's house. Believing that he is talking to Mary Anne, Jamie asks Dawn out, who promptly says yes. The day of the big date (well, actually, they're going to an afternoon soccer match,) arrives, Jamie knocks on the door expecting Mary Anne, and of course Dawn comes out. The mix up is soon released, leaving Jamie a little red faced, Mary Anne uncomfortable and Dawn downright furious. The stepsisters fight, leaving the other Babysitters to try and patch things up before the pair ruin the upcoming Sweethearts dance. Anyway, after the pair nearly ruin the decorations, a truce is called and Jamie proves to be quite the gentleman at the dance, treating Dawn with kindness and he asks her to dance ...

This one was a lighter and fluffier episode, though it did leave me scratching my head a bit as to why anyone would organise a sweethearts dance for a bunch of kids aged between 11 and 13. It's certainly a world away from the Flintstones themed school disco that I went to at age twelve at my primary school. I was also surprised, but touched, that Jamie treated Dawn nicely--again it's a world away from any of the popular, sporty boys I knew at that age. 

But then again, maybe that kind of thing is interesting to the target audience.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Friday Funnies: Sabrina the Teenage Witch Reboot


Seen this cover before somewhere? It's the first instalment of the Sabrina reboot from 2014. Like all good comic books there is a bit of parody in there as well ... and this one takes on none other than...



... Flowers in the Attic! It's cheeky and very clever considering that both Sabrina and FITA resonate with a similar target readership, along with the fact that Sabrina and Cathy Dollonganger are not only about the same age, but similar in appearance. I love it! 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

This middle grade graphic novel certainly packs a punch for realism. And that's no surprise, considering that it is an autobiographical account of author Shannon Hale's experiences at Elementary School in the 1980s. All young Shannon really wants is a friend. She finds one in Adrienne, but as they get older, Adrienne wants to expand her social circle, which leads her to becoming friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their grade and the leader of 'the group.' From here on the author recounts her experiences with the group--their rules and complexities--and Shannon's experiences as a kid who wants to hang on to her friendship with Adrienne but who doesn't want to be a part of the group. Suddenly, every day at school is like torture, where Shannon doesn't know if the other girls will talk to her or not, if she'll be teased or not and what lies ahead. Meanwhile, life at home isn't great either. The middle kid in a family of five, Shannon often finds herself facing the wrath of Wendy, her abusive older sister, and her parents seem to be closing their eyes to the whole situation. Can life get any harder? Maybe being put in a class away from the group might just be the best thing that ever happened to Shannon ...

This may be a short book, but it really packs a punch. Female friendships, especially during the primary school years (or elementary school in the United States,) can be quite complex, and often confusing for introverted kids like Shannon, who are really only interested in having one or two close friends, rather than a large group of friends. They're not always interested in complex rules or doing things just to stay friends with the other girls, which can often lead to them being lower on the food chain, and they can become victimised, particularly by other kids who want to find themselves higher on the social chain. (In this book the mean girl isn't the leader of the group, but another girl, Jenny, who wants to consolidate her position as the leader of the other girls.) I found that it was quite true of my own experiences in primary school--in year five there was a particularly toxic situation where it seemed like every few weeks the core group would kick one of its members and then start bullying her. I was kicked out three times and bullied. Sometimes I'd befriend the kids who were bullied and, sometimes, and I'm ashamed of this, but I think it's also important to own it, I would take part in the bullying. I remember inventing a particularly nasty nickname for one of the other girls which stuck all the way through primary school. Anyway, I think this would be a great book to pass on to kids, and a great starting point to talk about the complexities of friendships. I think there is a lot of value in the way that Shannon resolves her problems--by learning from the behaviour of some of the nicer kids in a higher grade and seeing how they treat others. The novel also touches on mental illness. Shannon demonstrates some signs of OCD and anxiety that go largely ignored by her family, and it becomes obvious that Wendy has her own set of complex problems that are unaddressed, in part because there was not so much awareness of behavioural disorders and their signs during the 1980s, when the book is set.

I also loved LeUyen Pham's illustrations, which added a whole layer of imagination to the novel, often accurately depicting Shannon's feelings. 

A compelling and realistic read. Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Review: The World According to Bob by James Bowen

Picking up from A Street Cat Named Bob, The World According to Bob tells us a bit more about the lives of Bob, a particularly intelligent cat and his companion, busker, The Big Issue seller and recovered addict, James Bowen. Their friendship is a remarkable story, as is the way that James has and continues to turn his life around, despite the numerous challenges that he faces such as ill health, people making false allegations about him to the police and various bureaucratic matters that he has to put up with as a seller of the The Big Issue. 

James owns up to his past and takes responsibility for it, which is a big part of what makes this memoir so interesting. Well, second biggest part. Obviously his friendship with Bob is the most biggest part of this book. I was also interested in reading the parts about how the first Bob book was written and published--the author had no idea how his life was going to change, or how many readers would want to hear his story.

This is a fairly quick, but an enjoyable and ultimately uplifting read. 

Recommended--especially to anyone who loves cats.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Sydney in 1932 is the setting for this paranormal story featuring two young women who are very different, but for one quirk. Both can see ghosts. Kelpie is a kid living on the streets of Sydney. The ghosts help (or sometimes hinder,) her survival. Meanwhile Dymphna is the girlfriend of a gangster who has long learned to ignore the ghosts. The pair bond over the corpse of gangster Jimmy Palmer, and Dymphna declares herself Kelpie's new protector. But things in Sydney are changing and neither Kelpie nor Dymphna is safe ...

Told over the course of a day, Razorhurst is a mostly entertaining read. I say mostly as it had some faults that hindered the storytelling--in many ways it feels overlong and a little claustrophobic. The depiction of Sydney, and of the era, feels quite authentic. In some ways, the book felt a bit like a Sydney version of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, bigger, showier, bolder and with a bit more gore.

Recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Review: Riverdale All New Stories

As comic and TV fans will no doubt be aware, the quirky and dark teen drama series Riverdale is a re-imagining of the Archie Comics, with Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica facing new challenges after one of their classmates drowned. And now the TV series has made its own transition into comic book form. It's like an Archie comic, only darker and characters who look more like the actors from the show than their original comic book counterparts. This series of comics tells shorter stories of what happened in between episodes of the television series. I have only seen bits and pieces of the television series, so it was interesting to come into all of this with my memories of comic book Archie still at the forefront of my mind.

I was expecting something quite dark, and Riverdale provided me with just that. While you might be able to share an Archie comic with a twelve-year-old (because who loves reading about high school kids more than twelve year olds,) this is definitely for older teens and adults. On a personal level, the biggest surprise of the comic was how much it made me love Veronica and Jughead--I've always been a little biased toward Archie and Betty--so I think I was more willing to accept the other two characters in their re-imaged form, while I silently cursed the others. There is also a significant amount of bonus material in the back, explaining the history of the comic and how the characters have evolved over the years. There's also a new Archie reboot comic included, which highlights the differences between Archie and Riverdale.

An enjoyable though slightly dark distraction. Recommended.

PS Just for fun, I bought a Betty and Veronica digest that I found at my local newsagent today. If I enjoy it enough, I may feature it in an upcoming blog post.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)



I snapped this one at Adelaide Railway Station. Love the bit that says "No Sleeping on Platform Only Dancing".

Monday, 5 March 2018

Review: Claudia and the Missing Jewels (BSC TV Series Episode 6)

Claudia has started making funky jewellery and she already has a buyer! A lady who runs a jewellery store in town loves what she sees when she discovers Claudia selling her wears at a local fair and puts in an order--complete with a fifty dollar deposit--for Claudia to make some more. After working with Kristy and Kristy's young stepsister Karen on the jewellery one afternoon, Kristy and Claudia are shocked to discover that the jewellery is missing. Could Julie, the mature age student who Kristy's Mum hired to do odd household jobs at the Brewer/Thomas house be a thief? The Baby-Sitters are determined to find out!

Once again, this episode works around the premise of the BSC jumping to conclusions without all the facts, and the question of whether they spend too much time with the club and not enough with their families. This is the only episode in the series to feature Karen as a leading character, and sadly, she's reduced to being an annoying little sister, rather than the imaginative kid that I remember from the books--one who was so popular that she even got her own spin-off series. The moral to the story is relevant enough, though.

This is also the only appearance of Julie within the BSC universe. She's not shown as being a maid as such and her studies are mentioned at one point--I think the creators of the show don't want to reduce her to the position of being seen as a servant or in any way lesser than the other characters. She's just a lady who is a little, well, eccentric, and she's trying to make a living. 

This was a little wearing in places, mostly because the mistaken identity thing has been done in a previous episode. And even though Claudia gets her name in the title, this is just as much Kristy's episode. 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Friday Funnies: The Count Is an Elevator Operator



The interesting thing about Sesame Street was that in between all of the lessons about well, everything for small children, there were also many great comic moments, usually between two muppets. In this particular scenario (which would have worked just as well on an episode of the Muppet Show,) the Count gets a job as an elevator operator and works with his usual, well, enthusiasm.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Review: Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter

There is plenty of gore--and a very sinister crime to solve--in Gallery of the Dead, the latest thriller from bestselling author Chris Carter. Detective Hunter of the Ultra Violent Crime Squad is called to a shocking crime scene and it soon becomes clear that the killer is intent on making his victims into a well, disgusting piece of art.

A hardcore psychological crime novel is a bit of a departure for me as a reader, but it was interesting to give this novel a chance and to piece things together to see if I could guess at what was to happen next. (Turns out I can't.) I found the whole thing interesting in a morbid kind of a way. This title will probably appeal to readers who are interested in reading about the darker side of humanity.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my review copy.