Saturday, 28 December 2019

Aussie Author Challenge 2020

Exciting news! The Aussie Author Challenge is back in 2020. Hosted by Booklover Book Reviews, this challenge is now in its 11th year and remains my favourite reading challenge.

Once again, I will be taking part and am looking forward to discovering some great new Australian books and authors. 

One of the best things about this challenge is the flexibility--there are many different ways to participate and there are many different levels, based on what is right for you. You don't even have to be a blogger, you can link straight to your Goodreads reviews. On a more personal note, I will be aiming for Emu, which is a new level that has been introduced to the challenge this year. 

During 2019 I read and reviewed 26 books for the Aussie Author Challenge and, for the first time, had the privilege of reading and reviewing a book written by a family member. (Lucky for me I genuinely enjoyed it and had no trouble at all writing an honest review.) I also discovered many new authors, and was reacquainted with some old favourites. Sadly, though, this was less books than in previous years as I have been quite busy with a number of other projects, from podcasting to polishing a couple of manuscripts in the hope that they may be good enough to submit to publishers in 2020.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Friday Funnies: Meet Della Duck

Sharing, because, seriously, is there anything more touching than the moment that Huey, Dewey and Louie were reunited with their mother, Della Duck? The makers of DuckTales put considerable thought and effort into the introduction of Della Duck into the series, a character who has previously only made fleeting appearances, with her sons usually in the custody of Donald Duck or, occasionally, Uncle Scrooge. The new DuckTales builds a convincing backstory, with Della being alone in space, unable to return until she had rebuilt her space ship. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Review: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) is back in Christmas Shopaholic, the ninth instalment in what has become a beloved series. Following on from their adventures in the United States, Becky, Luke and Minnie are back in England. Living in the country, Becky is helping her best friend Suze run a gift shop at her vast family estate and things are looking up. Christmas is coming, Jess and Tom will be returning from Chile and it seems that the whole family will be together to celebrate the holiday. Then Becky's parents drop a bombshell. They're renting a tiny apartment in a trendy part of London, and would Becky mind hosting Christmas this year?

And that, it seems, is only the beginning of Becky's troubles. Soon she and Luke are being pursued by one of Becky's ex-boyfriends (and his very ruthless girlfriend,) it looks as though Jess and Tom have split up and Jess doesn't want to tell anyone, and Becky's parents are acting like a couple of teenagers. Add to that the fact that Becky will do anything to get her hands on a perfect, one of a kind gift for Luke and there is a whole lot of fun and misadventures to be had in this light and fluffy read.

This one would make a perfect Christmas gift for any fan of the series. That said, this is the ninth instalment of the series and some of the jokes and adventures are starting to wear a little thin. (The reader knows that Craig is going to be trouble in some unexpected way, and there is going to be a rather odd but triumphant outcome to Becky's adventures with billiards.) Fortunately, Becky is quite an endearing character and there is always something warm and fuzzy at the very heart of these books, which will keep readers turning pages and wanting just a little bit more. There is no reason why this series could not continue for a few more volumes yet, should the author find inspiration.


Monday, 23 December 2019

Bah Humbug!

Sharing, because who hasn't felt like this at least once at Christmas time? For anyone who really isn't feeling the Christmas spirit, I hope you're doing okay amidst all the mass commercialism. 

Friday, 20 December 2019

Friday Funnies: Merry Christmas Mr Bean

Sharing, because somehow, it just isn't Christmas if someone doesn't make at least one reference to that episode of Mr Bean where he got a turkey stuck on his head. It is probably one of the best remembered episodes of the show.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Friday Funnies: Make A Daft Noise For Christmas

I've shared this one in Christmases past, but there is just something delightful about this very 1970s song by the Goodies (who as many of you will know, were also a music group, though they were better known for their television series.) It's fun, it's a little daggy and, after all, it's Christmas!

Friday, 6 December 2019

Friday Funnies

This week, just a short and funny clip from Merry Christmas Mr Bean, in which he encounters a pick pocket and helps out a Salvation Army band!

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Review: Beneath the Attic by V.C. Andrews

For fans of Flowers in the Attic of the many mysteries of the novel and its sequels is who was the first Corrine, the mysterious woman who slept in the swan bed, who gave birth to the formidable Malcolm Foxworth and whose granddaughter would be named after her and eventually persuaded to lock her children away in an attic and slowly poison them. Was Corrine the evil monster that Malcolm portrayed her to be? Or was she really the smartest Foxworth woman of them all, the one who was able to escape and leave every trace of Foxworth Hall behind?

Beneath the Attic, the first volume in a three part spin-off prequel series written by V.C. Andrews ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman seeks to answer that question. The novel opens in the late 19th century with Corrine a spoiled and sexually precocious young woman who finds herself in a bit too deep when she makes the acquaintance of Garland Foxworth, an ultra rich twenty-something. Garland wastes no time in taking advantage of Corrine, grooming, seducing and date-raping the young woman. What follows is an irate father, a shotgun wedding and a very foolish decision by a young woman too naive to know what is good for her, with parents who are easily seduced by the promise of money and a good family and business reputation. 

While this novel certainly seeks to answer a question that has been debated by fans of the original series for almost forty years, what it lacks is depth and authenticity. In many respects, Corrine speaks and behaves like a modern teenager, rather than a young woman brought up in a respectable middle class family. There are also other problems--the speech used feels too modern. (I found myself raising my eyebrow just a little when a British maid used the term "loo" to describe a toilet, a word which was not commonly used in Great Britain until the 1940s.) As is often the case with the modern V.C. Andrews titles, there was a fair bit of uncomfortable sexual content that felt as though it was there for shock value, rather than adding anything to the story. (Yes, okay, V.C. Andrews herself was the queen of adding bizarre sexual content for shock value, but she had a unique way of weaving it into the story in such a way that the plot rarely worked without it.) Garland Foxworth is portrayed as a very different man to the happy, charismatic man who (lets face it) got away with marrying a woman forty years his junior in Garden of Shadows (also penned by Neiderman, and possibly based upon notes made by V.C. Andrews and VCA editor Ann Patty.) This Garland is controlling, calculating and a little cruel. Then again, he is also younger. And the Garden of Shadows version was a man seen through the eyes of Olivia Foxworth, a VCA character who would probably make anyone seem jolly and downright nice by comparison. 

But perhaps the biggest failing of this book is the fact that very little actually happens. Yes, Corrine is pregnant with whom the reader supposes is Malcolm, but the whole thing could have been told in a short story, or perhaps even the first part of a longer novel. 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Review: Generation F by Virginia Trioli

Originally conceived as a response to Helen Garner's controversial non-fiction novel The First Stone and published in 1996 when the author was a young and up and coming journalist, Generation F remains as relevant today as it was when it was first released. This one offers a no holds barred look at the need for feminism, while also examining precisely why many women just put up with sexual harassment, when they shouldn't have to. 

I will be honest. Reading parts of this book made me feel angry. I picked it up knowing that it would make me feel angry. After all, it is the kind of book that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities that are firsthand experiences for many, many women. 

What I did not expect was just how angry I would feel, or that there would be moments when I would have to put the book down and take a deep breath. This isn't the kind of book that offers answers; instead, it unflinchingly tells it like it is. Or how things were for women in Melbourne in the 1990s which is depressingly much like the experiences of many women across Australia in 2019. And obviously, it talks quite a bit about The First Stone and explains the core question at the heart of that book--why the young women involved may have gone to the police and why they didn't just tell the university professor to stop.

I first become aware of this book at about the point when the MeToo movement gained momentum. Aware of its relevance, I tried in vain to source a secondhand copy (after all, it had been out of print for about twenty years at that point,) and was unsuccessful. (Well, I could have bought a copy if I'd been willing to pay a very dodgy amazon seller US$100.) Anyway, it seems that I wasn't the only person on the planet who saw the relevance of this book--it has now been republished by Scribner and comes complete with a new forward and afterword.

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Review: Toffee by Sarah Crossan

Told entirely in verse, Irish author Sarah Crossan's latest novel is a tale of a young runaway desperate to find a place to call home and her relationship with an older woman whose mind is slipping that believes her to be her long lost sister Toffee. Allison comes from a very broken home. Her father is abusive, her stepmother, the only person who ever loved her has left, and Allison made what she now knows is the foolish decision not to go with her when she asked. However, when her father's abusive leaves her with facial scarring, Allison knows that she has to run--far and fast. Determined to track her stepmother down, she finds herself in Cornwall, living with Marla, a lonely and confused old woman. Maybe Marla knows that Allison isn't Toffee, maybe she doesn't. She has good days and bad days. Through their relationship, and her friendship with spoiled Lucy, Allison learns much about the way that people treat one another.

And maybe, just maybe it will all come good in the end.

This is exceptional reading, the kind of YA novel that will be a hit with its target audience while at the same time ticking all the right boxes for adult readers--whether they usually read YA or not. It is a complex tale, exploring the different ways that people can hurt--and heal--those that they care about. Some of the verses left me a bit of an emotional wreak, but they told the story well, emphasising many of the experiences of the characters without going too over the top.

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

Pip's Drysdale's second novel takes a sophisticated walk into the lives of an aspiring actress and an up and coming businessman. On the surface, it would appear that Charlie has it all--a career in marketing, a possible career as an actress and a charming, sexy and most of all, devoted husband. But when Charlie sees a picture of Oliver on Tinder, a photograph that she took on her honeymoon no less, her world comes crashing down. What follows is twist upon twist and, it seems, that Oliver's infidelity may be the smallest problem of them all.

Set in the world of London's sophisticated upper middle classes, this story has lots of intrigue. The twists are quite interesting, the lives of the characters are far from ordinary, it's questionable who Charlie can trust, if anyone. The story itself has a real addictive quality that kept me reading and wanting to know more right up to the very end. I also loved the way that each chapter represented a supposed episode of a Netflix series based on her life that Charlie was creating. The only real problem with this one is its lack of depth, which often felt at odds with the dark subject matter. Still, many readers will find this an enjoyable summer read.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC of The Strangers We Know

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Review: From the Ashes by Rowena Holloway

Adelaide Author Rowena Holloway's Ashes to Ashes trilogy comes to a final, shattering conclusion in From the Ashes. This time around, former weathergirl turned investigative journalist Charlotte Ashe finds herself going undercover at a brain injury clinic. Which is fine, except in a fitting opening to the novel, we know that six weeks after she starts there, a fire breaks out in the clinic, and afterward, Charlotte is missing. From there, the author weaves seamlessly between the duel timelines, crediting her readers with enough intelligence to put together various clues as the mystery deepens.

From the Ashes is one heck of a page turner. I loved the duel narratives and putting together many of the clues. Admittedly, Charlotte annoyed me a little on occasions, however, it wasn't difficult to see that she was a woman who had suffered some huge setbacks (just read the first two novels in the series and you'll see,) and she certainly didn't have many people who believed in her and all that she was trying to achieve. Overall, an enjoyable spine-tingly read.


This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2019

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Review: 488 Rules For Life by Kitty Flanagan

What started out as a joke, and a short sketch on The Weekly, parodying 12 Rules for Life, ended up becoming an actual novel after people kept stopping author/comedian Kitty Flanagan in the street and telling her that the whole thing was a good idea. And the result is absolutely hilarious, if for no other reason than there being a little ring of truth to many of the rules that the author suggests. (Then, of course, there is also the opportunity that one gets to laugh at all of the rules that they don't think are strictly necessary.) Divided into various sections, this one has most faucets of life in contemporary Australia, from the fact that fruit salad is often spoiled by the presence of too many filler fruits, to the inconvenience of walking through a cafe with a number on a stick as one tries to find a table. 

I probably got more than my fair share of chuckles and yes moments out of this one, but I can think of worse things.


Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Review: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Perhaps one of the most famous works of scandal fiction of all time, Lady Audley's Secret has something to either titilate or offend absolutely everyone. This isn't an academic kind of a classic by any stretch, or even the best of its era, but there is something absolutely addictive about this book. Lady Audley is young, beautiful and mysterious. Everyone, but for her stepdaughter, loves her and she manages to charm all that she meets. Then one day the paths of Lady Audley and that of her husband's nephew Robert and his loyal friend George Talboys, a man who is suffering an intense grief for his recently deceased wife, cross and things are never quite the same. Robert is determined to get to the bottom of why Lady Audley behaved so strangely around his friend, and why George has not been seen since. He knows there is more to the story, but to get to the truth, he will uncover a deception so huge that it involves bigamy, child abandonment, insanity and perhaps even murder ...

This novel most definitely falls into the category of a guilty pleasure read and it works all the better if one is to consider it such. Lady Audley is an intriguing and bedazzling character--though something of an airhead, her ability to manipulate all around her is second to none. In places her character reminded me somewhat of Corrine Foxworth, the vapid and self-centred mother from Flowers in the Attic who locked up and ultimately poisoned her children in the hope of winning back her inheritance. (Given V.C. Andrews love of gothic literature, and her own genius at spinning guilty pleasure tales, I would not be surprised to learn that she had, indeed, read Lady Audley's Secret.)  Robert himself is a fairly boring character, but a useful one who drives the story.

Not every classic has to be a great epic, or an academic work to be enjoyable, and Lady Audley's Secret certainly falls into the category of a guilty pleasure read. Or, perhaps, just a book to be read for pleasure. After all, who doesn't want to get amusement from their reading material from time to time?


Thursday, 14 November 2019

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Edie's husband Francis was missing in action, presumed dead, in France in 2017. Five years later, however, an envelope containing a picture of Francis arrives in the mail. Believing that this may be the proof that her husband is alive, Edie travels to France and becomes determined to find him. Meanwhile, her brother-in-law Harry, has also returned to France and his hoping to find his brother. What the two discover is something that will change both of their lives.

This book discusses something that not many authors dare to--the after effects of the Great War. The impact that such a raw and brutal war had on those who fought in it, their loved ones who were left behind, and for the ones who returned home and were just expected to get on with things. The sense of loss is all too real, and the story is a compelling one. However, parts of the story are let down by a slightly confusing narrative that jumps around from place to place and storytelling that feels slightly robotic in places. Still, readers looking for a story of everyday people who are trying to rebuild their lives after such a terrible war, will no doubt be intrigued by this one.

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Many followers of this blog may remember my review of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson's brilliant novel about a young woman who suffers through her first year of high school in the wake of a sexual assault that she refuses to talk about. Twenty years after Speak was first published, it has been superbly reimagined as a graphic novel. Coupled with Halse Anderson's haunting narrative, Carroll's illustrations expertly detail Melinda's inner turmoil and sense of isolation during a bleak time. And what makes this one work so well is that it truly brings to life how Melinda's art project offers her a transition from being a victim to being a young woman who is both empowered and a survivor.

There is very little I can say about the plot of this one, as I have already said it in my previous review, except to add just how well this story translates into graphic novel form. This one can easily be read on its own, or as a companion to the original.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Review: Imperfect by Lee Kofman

Imperfect is a raw and honest look at body perception. Author Lee Kofman shares her own experiences, growing up in the Soviet Union where by the time she was just eleven years old she had scars from major heart surgery and injuries sustained in a bus accident. These scars were treated as marks of honour--a testimony to her inner strength. However, when she and her family moved to Israel, she was left to believe that her scars were something that had to be hidden away. This attitude continued when she moved to Australia. But more than being a memoir, this book also takes a deep look into body image and how perceptions of our bodies can become a major influence on our sense of self. Written with a lot of sensitivity, the author explores issues such as extreme body modification, perceptions of body size and, ultimately, what it actually means to be living in a body that deviates in some way from what is considered "normal."

When telling the stories of others, whether it be that of Mia, Andy, Kylie or Frank and Gale, Kofman shows them first and foremost as people rather than being spokespeople for body image. All are much, much more than their bodies. 

I said it on twitter recently, and I will repeat it here. This book should be required reading. I have always considered myself fairly progressive when it came to body image, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how much this book challenged me. 

Highly recommended.

Thank you to author Lee Kofman and to Affirm Press for my reading copy of Imperfect.

This book was read as part of the 2019 Aussie Author Challenge.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Review: A Writing Life Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan

In A Writing Life academic Bernadette Brennan shines a light on one of Australia's most loved--and most brutally honest in the best kind of way--authors. Helen Garner first came to prominence with her novel Monkey Grip (read my review here,) and has often caused controversy through her refusal to adhere to various literary conventions. Garner writes herself into her literary non-fictions and many of her works of fiction have an autobiographical feel to them. But who is Helen Garner really? In this biography, Dr Brennan finds out. With Garner's permission, she accesses various letters, diary entries and other things that ultimately, offer a sensitive insight into a writer whose unusual style and vast amounts of empathy for others have led to a long and often controversial career. (Yes, there is a whole, and rather long, chapter about The First Stone.)

This is the kind of biography that does the author, and her many, many fans proud. For me, a reader who first encountered Garner as a university student some years after The First Stone was published and the controversy more or less forgotten, I have always found her to be something of an enigma. Truthful, earnest, intellectual, a good person, but perhaps not someone with whom I'd implicitly agree with about absolutely everything. (In return, I suspect that she would probably consider me rather childish, but seeing as my path and Garner's have never actually crossed, that's pure conjecture.)

Anyway, even if you're not a particular fan of the author, this is still a truly insightful biography that is well worth giving a chance. 

Highly recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2019

Friday, 8 November 2019

Friday Funnies (Bringing You the Worst and Occassionaly the Best Memes and Comics From the Web)

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Flowers in the Podcast

Exciting news! This week I was guest on the very first episode of Flowers in the Podcast. Hosted by V.C. Andrews expert Lorraine Elgar (who some of you might know from the Attic Secrets blog,) and author Tylor Paige the blog is about all things related to author V.C. Andrews, coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Flowers in the Attic. On the first episode, I get to talk about the life of the author--something which I find fascinating as so little is publicly known about her. I was also thrilled to find out a few things about her life from Lorraine and Tylor, which I did not know previously. I may be biased, but I think this one is well worth a listen for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the author.

Anyway, you can listen to the episode here: 

Lorraine and Tylor will be continuing this as a series, along with Ellie Sanchez in weeks to come, and there will be some other exciting guests from the V.C. Andrews fandom as well. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

Friday "Halloween is Over" Funnies

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Review: Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkin Heads is a cute graphic novel, written by Rainbow Rowell (best remembered for Fangirl and the sort-of spin off series it inspired,) and beautifully illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks (best known for Friends With Boys,) which tells the story of the importance of friendship. Every autumn Deja and Josiah work together at the pumpkin patch. This shift is different. Tonight it is Halloween, and they are high school seniors. This means it is the last opportunity for this pair of seasonal best friends to work together. And they are determined to make the most of it. Their last night becomes something of an adventure as they travel through the patch looking for the girl who Josiah has never been quite brave enough to talk to. But what they find is something far sweeter than either ever intended.

This was a fun, cute read, that examines the nature of friendships and relationships, while using the fun parts of Halloween as a backdrop. The story itself does not require a lot of analysis--what can I tell you apart from the fact that it is wholesome, beautifully illustrated and the moral is something that many kids in the intended readership will be able to relate to?


Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Review: On Writing A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Love him or loathe him, one thing is certain. You will have heard of Stephen King. And even if you haven't read any of his novels, it is likely that you can name at least one of them. And you've probably see at least one (or even part of one,) of the films based on his works. On Writing is a unique book in that the first half is King's memoirs. The second half is a collection of tips for aspiring writers, things that King has learned over many, many years of writing. 

I am not going to lie. The whole thing is fascinating reading. King certainly had a unique upbringing, the younger son of a single mother who often struggled to make ends meet, during an era when people weren't necessarily kind to single mothers. He also speaks honestly about his struggles with addiction (his drug habit was so huge at once stage, there are entire books that he cannot remember writing,) and the near-fatal accident in 1999 that received a lot of press coverage. (He was midway through writing this book at the time.) The second half of the book offers advice that is both practical and filled with common sense--I certainly picked up a few things that I didn't know. The only thing that spoiled this book for me slightly is that parts of his advice is so often repeated as fact by some of the more boorish of people that one often encounters in writing who actually don't know anything but how to regurgitate writing advice from books on writing written by very famous people. That said, this would make an excellent resource for any aspiring writer, or perhaps even more experienced ones who are looking to improve their work.


Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Review: Z For Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien

Started by the author and eventually completed by his wife and daughter based on his notes, Robert C O'Brien's final novel is a haunting meditation on the rivalry between nature and science. Ann Burden is living alone in a small valley for over a year, perhaps the only survivor of a nuclear war. She has just enough to get by and to live a peaceful existence. That is until Mr Loomis arrives in his radiation proof suit. What follows is a battle of wills between a terrified young woman and a man determined to control every aspect of the valley.

I first read this one in year ten of high school when it was set as a class text. The story has stayed with me ever since and I was surprised when I re-read it just how much I remembered--in particular Ann's exile to the cave and the deadly cat and mouse game that followed. Much of the narrative is haunting, but believable. Loomis is, by all accounts, the worst that humanity has to offer--boorish, bossy, dismissive of the things that bring Ann joy, controlling, an attempted rapist and, a thief. Ann, on the other hand is intelligent and capable, though her innocence leads her astray early on in the narrative, allowing her to believe in a possible wedding between herself and Mr Loomis. By the end of the novel of course, all innocence is lost, and it is clear why she makes the choice that she does.* 

This one is entirely readable, written in an era when nuclear war was a very real threat.

Highly recommended.

*On that, I remember that one of the exercises we had in my year ten English class was to write an essay on what happened to Ann after she left the valley. I received an A for my suggestion that she travelled on foot, and utilised her local knowledge to find another valley, in spite of the fact that I had missed the obvious point, that the book is made up of diary entries. The very last chapter of the book is also Ann's very last diary entry, despite the fact that she had the diary with her when she left. The outlook was very bleak indeed for Ann Burden. My English teacher, Mr Apps, always did have a strange sense of humour. In fact, in the unlikely event that he is reading this, he is probably laughing right now.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Friday Halloweeny Funnies

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Review: My Brother's Name is Jessica by John Boyne

What happens when, one day, your older brother announces that he is actually your sister? British author John Boyne who you may know best as the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas ponders this question in My Brother's Name is Jessica, a book about Sam, a boy in his early teens, who struggles to find acceptance when his beloved older brother Jason makes the tough decision to tell his family that he is a transgender woman. Their parents, their mother a conservative MP with ambitions of becoming Prime Minister and their father who acts as her Secretary, do not want to know and hope to shove the whole thing under the carpet. Sam, meanwhile, just does not understand. And that is what the crux of this story is about. One kid, struggling, and often sadly failing, to understand just how difficult life is for another. 

There is no doubt about it, this is a compelling read. Sam is an interesting kid, one who loves his older sister, but just doesn't understand Jessica's struggles. And until he visits their aunt, there is really no adults who can offer Sam any kind of useful direction on how he can best support Jessica. Fortunately, Sam is a good kid at heart and it is he who may best be able to convince his parents and perhaps even the wider public that Jessica is just as worthy of love and acceptance as anyone else.

Readers looking to understand how discrimination against transgender people can affect siblings will no doubt be interested to read this one. Recommended.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Review: Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by PG Wodehouse

There is nothing like a PG Wodehouse novel to brighten one's spirits on an otherwise dull day and Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit is no exception. Originally published in 1954 and number 11 in the Jeeves series, most of the characters including the minor ones are, by now, well and truly established. Consequently, the reader knows that that they are to be entertained by a story of Britain's bumbling upper classes and it is just a question of who features in this volume to create a bit of trouble for Bertie Wooster, what this will lead to and how Jeeves is going to get him out of it.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit opens with Bertie opting to grow a moustache that doesn't suit him, much to the annoyance of Jeeves who strongly advises against it. Unfortunately, the moustache soon catches the eye of Lady Florence Cray, a writer who is currently penning a serial for a magazine owned by Aunt Dahlia that she is hoping to sell for a hefty sum. Worst still for Bertie, Florence is presently engaged to Cheesewright, a brutish man who would beat Bertie to a pulp, were it not for the fact that he is relying on Bertie to win the darts competition for the Drones club. Meanwhile, there is a little spot of bother with some missing pearls that could be the undoing of all of Aunt Dahlia's plans to sell the magazine. Of course, it is up to clever butler Jeeves to save the day.

This one was entertaining enough, though quite honestly, I felt that it was a fairly tired instalment in the series. There were a couple of loose threads that were not tied up at the end of the novel. That said, it was still easy enough for me to enjoy this one with its the over-the-top situations, the clever use of the English language for maximum comic effect. And, obviously, the point of these novels is to entertain and not to inspire great philosophical discussions or pages and pages of analysis from readers.

Overall, a fun read.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Review: Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Until it was announced, I never believed that Raina Telgemeier would pen another autobiography. After all, what was left to tell, after she had penned about her adolescent adventures following on from the loss of her two front teeth in Smile, or about the awkward relationship that she had with her younger sister in Sisters?

It turns out that there was something more. Guts is a prequel of sorts to Smile and tells about the author's final year at elementary school. Beautifully illustrated, this graphic novel depicts her struggles with anxiety that begin shortly after she experiences a tummy bug. After seeing another kid teased for puking at school, Raina begins to fear that this too could happen to her. And she becomes determined not to allow it to happen, which means being very, very particular about what she eats and about other things. She also has some problems with an outspoken girl from her class who isn't always very kind to her and some of the other kids. As her worries increase, so too does her tummy troubles.

Although intended for children, this one will be instantly relatable to readers of any age who have struggled with anxiety or with the difficulties of being a sensitive kid. I think the real magic of these books is while they speak perfectly to the target audience, they is also something in there for older readers as well. Sure, we may not be in fifth grade, but we remember only too well what it was like to have similar experiences. 

Highly recommended.