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?

Recommended.

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.

Recommended.

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.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas

Opening shortly after the ending of Throne of Glass, we meet Celaena once again. Having recently done the impossible and won the coveted spot of the Kings Assassin, Celaena is now torn between what may just be her destiny and the expectation that she will kill for the King of Ardalan. It's lucky that this young woman is so strong willed. Unfortunately, she is also about to be sorely tested--who can she trust? And what is she going to do about a love triangle that is developing between her two protectors, a captain and a prince. 

This one starts off slow--by the time I was halfway through, I was fairly convinced that this one was mostly filler, intended to explain what the character did between the first and third books in this series. (That talking door knocker really annoyed me, by the way.) Fortunately, at about the halfway mark, the story gains a lot of momentum and certain themes that were present early on begin to make a lot more sense. As well as a lot of action, there is a very sad moment when a key character is murdered, but the whole thing propels Celaena toward her true destiny. And what a destiny it may be, if the revelation toward the end of the book is anything to go by.

Ultimately, this one is entertaining, but let down by a slow start.

Recommended.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Friday Funnies: Bringing You the Worst (and Occasionally the Best) Material From the Web


Thursday, 10 October 2019

Review: Sensitive by Allayne L Webster

Australian author writes about a young woman with a severe case of eczema with a lot of warmth, empathy and just enough reality to stop the whole thing from going over the top. Samatha is thirteen years old and has just moved to a new town in South Australia with her family. Starting at the local high school, she is keen for her peers not to know of the chronic eczema and other allergies that she suffers from. This is not easy, thanks to an over-protective mother, various doctors who do not always know best, and classmates who have troubles of their own. 

This isn't a book that is so much about finding a miracle cure for an illness that can be quite uncomfortable, especially during the teenage years, as it is about a young woman who learns to cope with her flare ups and journeys toward a place of self-acceptance. It's also a story of how treatments can be mismanaged by so-called experts and others who only want to help. 

An ideal read for those in their early teens and for anyone else who knows and understand the hell that is a skin allergy. Or for anyone who wants to understand, really.

Recommended.

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

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

A retelling of Shakepeare's The Tempest by Margaret Atwood? How could this one possibly be anything less than brilliant? Then again, I think the bigger question is how come this one turned out to be even better than I had expected?

Set in modern times, Felix is a Canadian based director who has led a rich and varied career, culminating in him directing various Shakespeare plays at a very prestigious festival. This year he plans to put on a showing of The Tempest. Unfortunately, this is also the year that nasty social climber Tony has decided to knife him in the back and take top spot. Disgraced, Felix retreats to a run down and isolated house in a small town, where he talks to his deceased daughter and plots the perfect revenge. 

Hag Seed is easily one of the best Shakespeare adaptions I have ever read (and that is saying something, considering just how much I loved reading New Boy a few weeks ago.) Atwood takes readers on a ride that is both believable, facile and an absolute fitting retelling of the Tempest in every sense of the word. Very few authors could weave the Shakespeare play that they are retelling into the narrative; Atwood makes it fit in a way that appears wholly effortless. As always, Atwood is a little bit devilish with her characters and the narrative works all the better for it.

Highly, highly recommended. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

One of the most raw and brutal young adult novels I have read to date, How I Live Now tells the story of Daisy, a fifteen-year-old American who, when the world is on the cusp of a war that no one quite understands, is packed off to live in England with her aunt and four cousins that she has never met by her spineless father and domineering step-mother. It soon becomes clear that her cousins have some very unusual talents. While Daisy is in England, war breaks out. Separated from the adults, Daisy soon falls in love with her cousin Edmund. Soon though, the pair are separated by circumstances beyond their control--and Daisy will learn a brutal lesson in what it means to love someone.

I am not going to lie. This book is not pleasant reading. Most of the adults in this book are either arseholes or kind but extremely negligent. Nor does it shy away in depicting the brutal reality of war, and the fact that when put to the test, some will not rise and become heroes, while others will carry internal scars that will last a lifetime. The themes of incest are quietly underplayed--after all the characters are young and living in dangerous times. All of that said, there is something compelling about this book, something that will keep readers turning pages and searching to see just how Daisy lives now.

Recommended, though not for the easily offended or faint of heart.


Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Review: Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson

In Paris Savages, Australian author Katherine Johnson tells the story of a shameful and little known--but extremely important--part of Australian history. The year is 1882. The Badjala people have been facing many problems since white settlers arrived in their island home K'Gari (a place which contemporary readers may also know as Fraser Island,) including the fact that their population has faced a steady decline due to a number of massacres and also illnesses. Among the white settler population on the island is German scientist Louis Muller and his daughter Hilda. Louis has received an offer--for him to take three of the Badjala people with him and Hilda to Europe--where they will perform as part of a human exhibition for large crowds. Louis welcomes the idea, believing that it will help, rather than harm them. Meanwhile, three of the Badjala people agree--Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera--mostly because headstrong Bonny believes that he will be able to meet with the queen and tell her that he's had enough of what is happening on K'Gari. Meanwhile, it only Louis' daughter, twelve year old Hilda, who has doubts about the whole thing--and for a very good reason, as the narrative soon shows.

Meticulously researched and written with a lot of empathy, Katherine Johnson expertly tells a story of cruel injustice, and how even those with good intentions can get things so very, very wrong. Readers will no doubt be compelled by Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera and for good reason.

This will leave you devastated in the way that only a well researched work of historical literary fiction can.

Recommended.

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

Thank you to Ventura Press for my copy of Paris Savages.