Monday, 24 February 2020

Review: The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

The Light After the War is a gently written story of two best friends, Vera and Edith who find themselves displaced after the tragic events of the Second World War. In 1946 and in their late teens, these two Hungarian women find themselves as refugees in Naples. They have lost everything they loved after a daring escape from a train headed to Auschwitz. What follows is a story that spans from Italy, to Venezuela, to New York to Australia as Vera carves out her career--and finds true love along the way.

Just as the title hints, this one is very light reading. Vera has clearly had a difficult time of it, but her extraordinary childhood (during which she became proficient in several different languages,) helps her to make the most of every situation while she pulls her dear but slightly less responsible best friend Edith along with her. Though they suffer some setbacks, many things came a little too conveniently, or easily, to Vera, which became annoying in places. Ultimately, though, this would be an excellent book to place in the hands of a reluctant reader, particularly one who might otherwise be put off by stories of refugees and survival due to graphic or confronting content. For seasoned readers, it makes for a bit of light escapism.

Random Trivia: This novel was inspired by the author's grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of The Light After the War.


Friday, 21 February 2020

Sweet Number Puzzle (Clip From the Curiosity Show)




My third and final (for now) clip from the Curiosity Show is this awesome number puzzle. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Review: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

The first instalment of American author Katharine McGee's futuristic Thousandth Floor trilogy opens with a young woman falling from an apartment block one thousand floors high. We know nothing of her, apart from the fact that she is young, female, at a party and she deeply regrets speaking with someone only referred to as 'him.' From there, the plot takes a step back in time to two months earlier (but don't worry, this book is set in 2118 so we're still well into the future,) and begins to depict the lives of several teens. There is Avery, a genetically designed beauty, whose combination of wealth, looks and sweet personality mean that she could have anything--except for the boy she truly loves. Her best friend is Leda, a slightly bitter young woman who has been cruelly let down by the boy she loves, and whose anger soon becomes an obsession. The third member of their group is Eris, equally as kind as Avery, but whose life takes a dramatic twist when her parents separate and she finds herself living in greatly reduced circumstances. Then there is Rylin, an impoverished teen whose romance with a rich kid may be her salvation, or her downfall. And finally, there is Watt, whose invention is not only illegal, but is something that could do irreparable harm to a number of people.

A little depressing in places, though thoroughly entertaining, the author kept me guessing right until the end which one of these teens would fall--and who would be responsible. In many ways, this feels like a futuristic, speculative fiction version of something akin to Sweet Valley High with plenty of rich kids, frenemies and gossip--and I love it. Who says that speculative fiction cannot have some light and bubbly moments?

On the whole, this one is an entertaining read, packed with entertaining characters and an absorbing mystery.

Recommended. 


Friday, 14 February 2020

Puzzle - Ship Sailing Around Earth (From The Curiousity Show)




Following on from last Friday, I thought that I would share another fun clip from The Curiosity Show. This clip concerns the QE2, and has a problem to be solved for viewers. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone was there. Everyone remembers it differently. That's the premise of Daisy Jones and the Six, a fictional biography of a band who hit the big time in the 1970s and then broke up for reasons that have remained a secret. Until now. 

Written as a series of time-ordered interviews, intended to sound a little like something out of Rolling Stone magazine this one is a light read. 

While it Daisy Jones and the Six certainly had a lot of readers offering up positive reviews since it was released last year, I am sorry to report that I cannot share their enthusiasm. For me, this one was mildly entertaining, but perhaps not as clever or as insightful as I had been led to believe, or, perhaps, I as I had led myself to believe.



Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Review: Emma by Jane Austen

Emma, Jane's Austen's third novel, shows a slight change of direction for the author. After penning two similar but different tales of young women whose futures depended on them marrying well (and in spite of some surprising odds,) Austen turned her hand to Emma, a story featuring a spoiled and imperfect heroine. 

Emma is beautiful, part of England's upper middle classes and basically born into a life of privilege. She has no need to marry and is determined that she will not--however that does not stop her from trying to matchmake her friend Harriet, who is not quite so well off. Or to be more honest, for Emma to meddle and break up the blossoming romance between Harriet and a local farmer and set her up with the local clergyman, which has disastrous results--something which her good friend Mr Knightly cautioned her against. After this, several months pass in which Emma learns a number of useful life lessons, mostly in not interfering, being a bit nicer to people and getting a comeuppance of sorts when it turns out that two major characters have been secretly engaged the whole time. Fortunately, Mr Knightly is there to balance Emma out and well ... I don't think I'm really giving away terribly many spoilers there.

Although this one contains a bit less romance than Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and a little less humour, Emma is an enjoyable read, though a little slow in places. Most of the drama (and comedy) comes from the author's believable commentary on human nature and what life was like for women in the early nineteenth century. (For example, the character of Jane Fairfax contrasts Emma nicely, a young woman who is born into poverty just as Emma has been born into privilege and whose accomplishments mean that Emma envies her. However, Austen has the good sense to keep the character slightly in the background, meaning that the readers sympathies lie with Emma, who dislikes her for fairly trivial reasons.)

Overall, Emma has become a classic for a good reason and will no doubt continue to be enjoyed by readers for many generations to come. 

Friday, 7 February 2020

Curiosity Pen Colour




Following on from my review of Curious Recollections yesterday, I thought that it would be fun to share one of the videos from The Curiosity Show's excellent YouTube Channel. This one is short and a bit of fun, check it out!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Review: Curious Recollections: Life in the Curiosity Show by Rob Morrison

Like many kids who grew up in Adelaide (or anywhere in Australia, really,) in the 1980s I used to tune in to The Curiosity Show every week. I was part of the last generation to experience first run broadcasts of the show; sadly it finished up in 1990 when I was nine years old and just old enough to try out a least a few of the experiments on the show for myself. I can still remember some (or at least parts of,) the segments now. Where else could a kid learn how ships were able to be placed in bottles, how pencils were made, and how you could make your own pair of sunglasses using a bit of cardboard?

In Curious Recollections,  Curiosity Show co-host Rob Morrison gives a fun and honest insight into his time with the show--from the time his demonstration led an errant Humphrey B Bear shout the f-word on television, to how he was called upon to give expert evidence about dingoes in the famous Lindy Chamberlain trial. (Morrison gave evidence in the Morling Inquiry in 1986.) There's also plenty of anecdotes about the many adventures that he and his co-host Deane Hutton experienced during the shows impressive eighteen year run. (It turns out that yes, they really are subjected to people shouting, "Curiosity!" at them in public, along with certain other things that I disagree with.) 

Just the right length and a lot of fun, this book is the perfect addition to the bookshelves of fans of the series. 

Highly recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2020.

PS Morrison and Hutton also now own the rights to their programme which they have made available free on their YouTube Channel. Check it out here.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Review: Jeeves and King of Clubs by Ben Schott

With permission from the P.G. Wodehouse Estate, British author Ben Scott has created this clever tribute to Jeeves and Wooster, suggesting that Jeeves was a British Intelligence agent all along, and now  both he and Her Majesty's Government require the assistance of Bertie Wooster to ferret out a fascist spy.

This one was an entertaining enough read that brings back some of the greatest characters from the original series (think Madeline Bassett and Roderick Spode,) and the author creates some truly funny situations. However, it ultimately lacks the punch of the original, and I'm not sure that I approve of how the storyline featuring Iona was wrapped up. While I'm all for artistic licence, an important part of these novels is their predicability and the fact that we know that at the end, both Jeeves and Wooster are going to be basically back to where they started from again. That said, the author delivers some great lines and his prose often feels like a fine tribute to Wodehouse.



Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Review: Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

New York Times bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed have teamed up to create a fun, fresh novel about politics, religion and adolescence. Jamie and Maya are both having a lousy summer. For Jamie, his whole summer has been about helping his mother organise his annoying (but cute) little sister's Bat Mitzvah. Meanwhile, it's Ramadan, Maya's parents have announced a trial separation and not only is her best friend about to move away to college (while Maya still has a year left at high school,) but she seems to have more or less forgotten Maya's existence.

Oh, and add to that their parents are expecting them to go about canvassing door-to-door on behalf of a local political candidate. Together. When they barely know one another.

What follows is a summer where the pair learn a lot about themselves, about speaking up for the things that matter, and the niggling feeling that they may just be falling in love ...

This was a fun and fresh read that handles some difficult subject matter well. We live in a difficult political climate and the authors do not shy away from some of the dirty tricks that are often used during elections (or in this case, a by-election,) and the importance of speaking up for the things that matter, and to keep speaking up, even when the outcome isn't favourable. It also perfectly highlights how a pair of teenagers not yet old enough to vote can make a difference in their local area. However, where this novel really shines is through its accurate depiction of how Jamie and Maya fall in love, in spite of some opposition from their parents mostly due to their differences in religion. 

This is a great read, handled well and with a whole lot of warmth. 

Highly recommended.

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

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Review: Karen's Witch by Katy Farina

With the Baby-Sitters Club Graphix novels proving so popular with readers, it was only a matter of time before the Little Sister books got a look in. And Katy Farina does a commendable job of developing the first book in the series into a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that has a far more contemporary feel than the original. 

Just as with the original series, the novel opens with Karen Brewer being six going on seven. There is a big emphasis on the fact that Karen and her little brother Andrew divide their time between two houses, however, this story takes place over the course of a weekend at their dad's mansion. (This is a theme that continued through the first three books of the original series, with each of them focusing on a weekend spent at the Brewer's mansion.) Anyway, this time around Karen is a bit freaked out by the crazy old lady who lives next door, who she is convinced is a witch. Along with her friend Hannie, Karen searches about for evidence, which leads them to confronting the neighbour, which, in turn, leads to Karen learning a life lesson about snooping, though she remains convinced that the lady is really a witch. And that's really it. This one is a short, cute story suitable for kids aged between six and about nine. The illustrations are a bit more cartoonish than the BSC graphix novels, though that seems totally appropriate.

For me, this was an okay read. Although I read and enjoyed some of the Little Sister books during my childhood, I never read this particular title, so it was less of a nostalgia trip for me and, consequently,
a little bit less exciting for me to see the story reimagined. That said, there is a lot to offer young readers, especially those who aren't quite ready for, or maybe can't get quite enough of, the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. 

Sidenote: These books are set a little later than the latest title in the BSC graphix series, so sharp eyed readers will notice a couple of differences that may seem like continuity errors. 

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

How do you review a book that was long-listed for the Booker Prize before it was even released, won the coveted prize jointly with another title, even though that is against the rules, and is displayed prominently in every bookshop and every Big W across Australia. How can any reviewer possibly write a fair assessment of a novel that has received so much hype, and has been embraced so warmly by readers?

For this reviewer, with great difficulty.

A sequel to Atwood's acclaimed novel The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments takes readers back to the Gilead, and introduces us to three different narrators--the formidable Aunt Lydia, a child named Agnes who is growing up in Gilead and Daisy, a young woman who has little idea how much freedom she has in Canada until her adopted parents are murdered and a shocking secret about her past in revealed. Eventually, the three characters all intersect in a story that neatly ties up any loose ends that were left behind in The Handmaid's Tale, whilst offering plenty of social commentary along the way. 

There are no doubts about it, this is an enjoyable read. There is something hugely enjoyable about Atwood's slightly mischievous prose and just waiting to see how the story will come together. And it is undoubtably going to be one of the few Booker Prize winners that will be truly enjoyed by a broad readership. And yet ... there is also a sense that something is not quite right with this one. The Handmaid's Tale never struck me as the kind of book that needed a sequel, though I suppose with the recent television series gaining momentum, it gives the author opportunity to have some creative control and the final word on what really happened in Gilead after Offred's escape. There's also the question of the enduring and perhaps unexpected appeal of the original some thirty years after it was released. But for all the hype and awards that The Testaments has received, it is really more of a belated celebration of the cultural impact of the original? In all honestly, I don't know. It's a good book, I liked it, a lot of other readers liked it, and it has won the most important literary prize in the world. As for The Handmaid's Tale, it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1986, losing out to The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis, a book which, so far as I know, is not enjoying the same level of cultural impact in 2020 as it did in 1986.

The Testaments is an intriguing read, regardless.

Recommended.

PS Margaret Atwood will be touring Australia in late February/early March and will be visiting most capital cities though, strangely, Adelaide is not one of them. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Review: It Sounded Better in my Head by Nina Kenwood

There is one simple truth that everyone who ever graduated from an Australian high school with plans to go to uni knows. The few weeks between receiving your ATAR and being offered a place at university is one of the most awkward, nail biting times of your life. Written with a whole lot of heart, It Sounded Better in my Head is set during those few weeks. Natalie has just finished year twelve and received her ATAR, and things should be all right over the next few weeks.

And then her parents announce that they are splitting up.

On Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, her two best friends, Lucy and Zach are now a couple. Natalie would feel like a bit of a third wheel, except for the fact that she's suddenly getting a lot of attention from Zach's brother Alex, a ratbag with a lot of rowdy friends. Lucky he has a big heart.

Suddenly, Natalie doesn't know who she is, or how she fits in with things anymore. And life isn't like the picture she had in her head.

This was an entertaining read, set in a time that will be instantly relatable to anyone who graduated from high school with aspirations to go to university. Natalie makes for an interesting character, a reclusive teen who finds herself slowly making contact with the outside world, and who has little idea or understanding of how to navigate a very awkward first relationship, especially when she has no one to confide to. 

At times Natalie's naivety was hilarious, though at other times it felt as though the author pushed the envelope a little too far and it could become annoying. On the whole though, this is a warm and fuzzy book that should tick all the boxes for its target audience, while having enough there to be enjoyed by adult readers.

Recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2020.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Review: Jeeves and the Impending Doom by PG Wodehouse

Released fifteen years ago for Penguin's 70th anniversary, this short volume features two of the funniest Jeeves and Wooster stories. The title story, Jeeves and the Impending Doom focuses on Bertie as he finds himself invited to the formidable Aunt Agatha's residence only to find himself stuck on an island on the grounds with one of his enemies. The second and my personal favourite of the two, Jeeves and the Song of Songs involves a musical night in which Bertie conspires to break up the engagement of Tuppy Glossop and a Miss Bellinger after it becomes apparent that Tuppy has jilted Bertie's cousin in favour of Miss Bellinger. (Although most of Bertie's interference is at the urging of Aunt Dahlia.) It ends, of course, in a most amusing fashion. 

This is a short and fun collection, perfect for old fans and new ones as well. And with the 85th birthday of Penguin Books coming up, one wonders if any new special publications will be released this year.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Review: Supergirl Being Super by Mariko Tamaki & Joelle Jones

Origin stories for all of our favourite superheroes seem to be abundant these days, particularly in the DC universe, where creators are often allowed a fair bit of creative license, so it is fortunate, then, that this particular volume is of outstanding quality. This time around we meet Supergirl as Kara Danvers, a teenager growing up in Midvale with her loving adoptive parents who have very kindly kept her super powers and the fact that she arrived on earth in a spaceship a secret from the rest of the town. However, things start to go awry when an earthquake hits the town during a school sports carnival that costs one of Kara's dearest friends her life. From there, Kara begins to realise that something much more sinister may be afoot until she eventually discovers a shocking truth.

Perfect for teenage readers, this one is an excellent introduction to a much-loved character that will be appreciated by new and old fans alike. Beautiful artwork accompanies a solid storyline. Contains volumes 1 through to 4 of a limited series.

Recommended.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Review: Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Two brothers have unexpectedly been thrown into a war that has been running for generations. Brighton is dead keen to be a part of things and wishes that he has powers, but in the meantime is happy to settle for being a star on social media. Emil, meanwhile, wants a quieter life but finds himself thrown into the spotlight shortly after his eighteenth birthday when a dangerous situation fuels powers that he never knew he had. And both brothers need to make choices that may have deadly consequences.

The novel starts out well, and certainly features an interesting pair of opposites as lead characters. The concept is interesting enough for an Urban Fantasy, but it is let down by some issues with pacing, and the world building is nowhere near as strong as it could be, leaving me to feel a little lost in places. I was also left scratching my head as to why Emil would even be asked to go into battle with a mere two weeks of training. (Sure, he may have had powers, but he had yet to learn how to control them.) One of the novels strengths, however, lies in the fact that it has a gay lead character and that nothing about that particular aspect of the story feels forced or as though it was done to check a box, which can sometimes be the case in YA.

If the name on the front cover sounds immediately familiar, yes, Infinity Son is written by the same Adam Silvera who penned History is All You Left Me and They Both Die at the End, both of which are clever contemporary YA novels that feature diverse characters and realistic situations that are handled with sensitivity and depth. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC of Infinity Son.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

V.C. Andrews Ruby to be Made into a Lifetime Film

For months now, there have been hints over on the official V.C. Andrews Fan Page on facebook that there will be some big things happening in the V.C. Andrews fandom in 2020. And then, last weekend, a huge announcement dropped, with news revealed that Lifetime will be developing Ruby and its three sequels and prequel into a series of five telemovies.

News of a Ruby/Landry series making its way to the small screen isn't exactly news. Rumours of a possible Ruby TV series titled The Landry have been circulating since about 2007, and for a time, IMDB even had a page dedicated to the series. The Complete V.C. Andrews website (the most detailed VCA fansite on the web,) notes that there was still talk of a series recently as 2016. The page also details that at one time or another pitches had been made to Netflix and Warner Bros and, surprisingly, Lifetime previously showed interest in Ruby as a limited series. (Read more here.)

So why should this news be any different?

Well, for a start it has been confirmed. And not only has Lifetime given the project the green light, but the roles of Ruby and that of her wicked twin sister Gisselle have been cast--the pair will be played by twins, Australian actors Raechelle and Karina Banno. (Some of you may remember Raechelle Banno from her stint as wild-child Olivia in Home and Away.) Production on the first of the films (presumably Ruby,) will begin later this month.

Lifetime has a huge history of turning V.C. Andrews books into TV movies with uneven results. Starting with Flowers in the Attic in 2014, which gained some praise from fans for remaining truer to the books than the 1987 film, the network then went on to make movies out of the next three novels in the series, which was then followed in 2016 by a TV movie of My Sweet Audrina that left out a number of key characters from the book, most notably Sylvia, Audrina's youngest sister whose intellectual disability keeps Audrina tied to the house, and Billie, Arden's mother who is cruelly seduced by Audrina's father. 

And then in 2019 Lifetime released the Casteel series. Criticised by fans for their not unwarranted concerns about the change in Heaven's hair colour (a key element in the book, as Heaven believes her dark hair to be cursed, yet the real trouble happens when she dyes it blonde,) the films proved popular enough with viewers to be considered a ratings success. In Australia, the films made it to free to air television (they were aired as a series of midday movies on Channel 7, the same network that, perhaps not so coincidentally makes and broadcasts Home and Away.) This is noteworthy in itself, as previous Lifetime VCA films have only been broadcast on Foxtel. In Australia, the films were rushed onto DVD as a box set and, surprisingly, were released months ahead of the planned DVD releases in the United States. They're also still available to view on 7 Plus. Back in the United States, they have been replayed on Lifetime on multiple occasions. 

As for Ruby and its sequels, they may very well make interesting TV movies. The books were the second series to be completed in their entirety by VCA ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman, and while sitting squarely in the realm of a trashy, guilty pleasure read, they are also considered to be his best among fans. Well researched, with plenty of references to Voodoo and a surprisingly accurate account of the Louisiana court system, Ruby tells the story of a teenage girl who lives with her impoverished grandparents in the swamps of Louisiana in the early 1960s who discovers that not only is her potential boyfriend her half-brother, but she also has an identical twin sister who lives in New Orleans with their father and his wife (who he was married to whilst embarking on an affair with Ruby's mother.) Following the death of her grandmother, Ruby flees her drunken grandfather after he tries to sell her, and travels to New Orleans to meet with her long lost father and twin. From there, multiple twists and turns develop, from stolen boyfriends, teenage pregnancies, incest, a voodoo curse that lands Gisselle in a wheelchair and a daring escape from a mental hospital after Ruby's wicked stepmother tries to have her committed. And that's all just in the first two books. The whole thing is gloriously soap like, and has an addictive trashy quality that if done well, will probably have fans talking for months, if not years.


Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Review: Checkmate by Malorie Blackman

Set after the events of Knife Edge, the series shifts its focus from Sephy to her daughter Callie Rose. Growing up is tough, especially when Callie Rose's mother is keeping secrets from her, and when no one will tell her what happened to her father. Her friendship with Tobias from next door often seems to get her into trouble. And then of course there is the general dysfunction that surrounds her family--Sephy's inability to be close to anyone, even the man that she should marry, the vast difference in the circumstances of her two grandmothers, and the secretive Uncle Jude who very quietly spoils her. But Uncle Jude's attentions come at a huge price as he carefully grooms Callie to become a suicide bomber for the Liberation Militia. 

This novel very much gets to the heart of how and why children agree to become suicide bombers. The narrative is quite complex in places, and like the two previous novels in the series, is most definitely aimed at readers on the more mature end of the YA spectrum. Although I found some parts of this novel distressing on a personal level, I found the story to be quite compelling and extremely well written. 

Recommend.

To date, there are two more books in this series to, Double Cross and Crossfire and a television series made by the BBC will air sometime in 2020 in the UK. Hopefully an Australian air date will follow. There are also rumours of a sixth novel to be released in the future, though I have no evidence that this will happen.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Review: Hearstopper Volume 2 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper Volume 1 ended with Charlie and Nick exchanging a kiss. But what comes next? While Charlie agonises over the fact that he has kissed a straight boy, Nick is busy coming to terms with his his attraction to Charlie. Nick knows that he has liked girls in the past. But now he likes a boy and what does that mean?

Volume 2 is a story of two teenagers navigating their first relationship. For Nick, it means the slow realisation that he is bisexual and that not all of his friends may be happy for him. Equally, Charlie has to wait for Nick to come out when he is ready. Meanwhile, Charlie's friends are all very concerned that he is going to get hurt. What follows is a very touching story, gently told that should have broad appeal, regardless of the age and sexuality of the reader.

This was an enjoyable read, perhaps even more so than the first volume. 

Recommended.

Fans of Charlie and Nick will be thrilled to know that Heartstopper Volume 3 will be released in early 2020.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Review: Heartstopper Volume 1 by Alice Oseman

I've been hearing whispers about YA author Alice Oseman's graphic novel Heartstopper for a while now, mostly words of praise, though I had little idea of what the story was about. Curious, and discovering volumes one and two on sale at QBD I picked them up. What I got with volume one is a heartwarming tale of two seemingly different boys, who are thrown together by circumstance, but choose to become friends and then, maybe ... something more.

Charlie Spring is in year ten at an all boys high school in the UK. He is openly gay and his experiences in coming out the previous year put him in the path of some school bullies. He enjoys music and has a real creative streak. At the beginning of January, he finds himself placed in a new vertical tutoring group.* There, he meets Nick, a boy from the year above him. The pair are seemingly quite different. Nick is a star on the school rugby team, outgoing and very popular. Surprisingly, he and Charlie become close friends straight away. And then, well, Charlie finds himself agonising over his crush on a straight boy, Nick finds himself asking some questions about who he really is. 

This was a sweet story. Some parts of the narrative felt a bit too obvious in places, though it is worth remembering that the story is pitched at a teenage audience, many of whom may be going through similar experiences to Charlie and Nick, or who may be navigating the awkwardness of a first crush, and will be able to identify with the agony of not being sure whether their crush likes them back, even when it is obvious to everyone else around them.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn when I reached the end of the book that this one is a prequel of sorts to Alice Oseman's prose novel Solitare which features Charlie's sister Tori as the main character.

Anyway, this one is a fun, heartwarming read. Recommended.

*Note: Some schools in the UK have adopted a system where students of different grades are placed together in homerooms and tutoring groups, in an effort to stamp out bullying and to encourage students to develop new friendships outside of their usual peer groups. This is known as vertical forms, or vertical tutoring.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Friday Funnies: Blandings




While I'm on the subject of Blandings, here's a short snippet from the television series. 

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Review: Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse

As well as Jeeves and Wooster, author PG Wodehouse penned another much loved series, Blandings. Featuring the dotty Lord Emsworth, and some other eccentric characters (including a pig,) this series is rarely out of print and at one point was adapted for television by the BBC.

Something Fresh is the first Blandings novel, first published in 1915. And while readers are introduced to dotty Lord Emsworth, the real stars of this one are Ashe Martin and Joan Valentine, a pair of twenty-somethings who, on the lookout for a bit of an adventure, find themselves posing as servants at Blandings in order to steal back a particularly valuable scarab that Lord Emsworth unwittingly placed in his pocket, much to the ire of the father of his son's fiancée. Various misunderstanding abound though everything works out for the best in the end.

This was an enjoyable light read that spends a lot of time making fun of Britain's idle rich, amidst some truly funny descriptions. While by no means PG Wodehouse's best novel, it is certainly a lot of fun and a solid introduction to Blandings.

Recommended.


Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Review: Puddin' by Julie Murphy

Dumplin' was just so brilliant that I am thrilled that author Julie Murphy has penned a companion novel. Puddin' tells of the unlikely friendship that builds between two characters, Millie and Callie. Seemingly, these are two very different girls. Millie is kind, studious, struggles with her weight and has a loyal circle of friends, most of whom are misfits at their high school. Callie on the other hand is a stereotypical mean girl--pretty, a part of the most popular crowd in school, a part of the school dance team and, ultimately, has no real friends, only rivals. Circumstance throws the pair together, when Callie takes the fall for her dance team trashing the gym that belongs to Millie's uncle. As the pair begin to work together at the gym, Callie for the first time learns about the importance of having real friends, whilst coming to terms with the fact that she is no longer a part of the popular crowd at school. Millie, meanwhile, learns a valuable lesson in standing up for herself and following her dreams. And both girls learn lessons in the right way to go about making their voices heard. 

This was a fun, feel good read featuring two very different main characters. While Millie was easy to like almost from the beginning, it took me a while to warm to Callie, though she was a lot of fun to read about. (In particular, I love the part where Callie confuses Millie's kindness with bitchiness.) 

As always, author Julie Murphy does a brilliant job of depicting life in a small American town. And, of course, there were some excellent love interests. 

This is a fun read, perfect for lovers of YA fiction and anyone else who cares to join in. 

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Kathryn's BSC Graphix Wish List

As mention in my review of Boy Crazy Stacey yesterday, it looks as though we have more BSC Graphix novels on the way. First up is Karen's Witch, the first Baby-Sitters Little Sister novel to be adapted as a graphic novel. And just a few days ago Ann M Martin confirmed that Logan Likes Mary Anne will be the eighth book in the series on her official facebook page. And in addition to that, starting in 2021 Scholastic will add six more titles to the series, two per year. Just for fun, I am adding my wish-list of titles that I think will make a good addition to the graphix series.


The Ghost at Dawn's House (Book 9)

How could readers not want to know more about the secret passage in Dawn's bedroom? I'm voting for this one purely because the secret passage was such an important part of the original series.

Kristy and the Snobs (Book 11)

There's a lot to like (and a little bit of heartbreak, sniff, Louie,) in this one, which shows Kristy adjusting to life in her new wealthy neighbourhood after her mother remarries. Plus I really like the way that the first three of Kristy's stories are linked and I'd really like the graphix series to continue on with her story.

Jessi's Secret Language (Book 16)

If there is one thing that this series has lacked so far, it is one of our favourite baby-sitters. Okay, I know that in the original series Jessi wasn't introduced until after Stacey (temporarily) moved back to New York with her parents, but the series has already found a way to include Mallory as a member of the club, so maybe there is a way to include Jessi too. I'd love to see this one adapted, especially as it features a lead character learning sign language in order to communicate with her sitting charge.

Claudia and the Bad Joke (Book 19)

Of all the members of the BSC, Claudia got the worst deal when it comes to modern adaptions. Her first adventure, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls was a little too outdated to be adapted as a graphic novel, and consequently, the Claudia graphic novel we got was Claudia and Mean Janine. And that was released oh, about ten years ago now, meaning that we should be due for another Claudia book soon. Chronologically, the next book in the series is Claudia and the New Girl but that book tends to cop a lot of criticism from old fans, who are quick to point out that the members of the BSC seem a bit too possessive of Claudia and that perhaps Ashley isn't the only controlling character in the book. So I vote for a bypass on that one. Which, in turn leads me straight to Claudia and the Bad Joke, where a prank by a baby-sitting charge puts Claudia in hospital and sparks an all out practical joke war between the child and the members of the BSC which ends with the girls all learning a valuable lesson in why Betsy behaves the way she does.

Mary Anne and the Great Romance (Book 30) & Dawn's Wicked Stepsister (Book 31)

A real turning point in the series is when Mary Anne's dad marries Dawn's Mum. (Aww.) I'd love to see this included, though if done as a two-parter like in the original series, it may drag on a bit. So maybe we could have one slightly longer novel that switches viewpoints halfway through? Just a thought. 

Kristy and the Baby Parade (Book 45)

I'm picking this one simply because it is generally considered to be one of the lowest points in the series, and one of the most boring. I'd love to see it turned into something good.

Dawn's Big Move (Book 67)

After suffering through her parent's divorce and moving to the other side of the country (book 4,) saying good-bye to her brother when he moved back to California to live with their dad (book 15) and some new living arrangements when her mother remarries (books 30 & 31,) it is no wonder that Dawn is feeling a little homesick. This one focuses on Dawn's eventual decision to go and live in California for six months of the year. 

Stacey vs the BSC (Book 83) & Stacey and the Bad Girls (Book 87)

Stacey was always a little bit more mature than the other members of the club. This causes some conflict in Stacey vs the BSC, which involves a fairly realistic plot where Stacey feels that she has outgrown her friends. Many fans consider this one to be the most memorable moment of the later novels. The story is later resolved in Stacey and the Bad Girls, when Stacey comes to realise that her new friends from the popular crowd are just using her, and that even though she and the other members of the BSC may have their differences, they are still her real friends. I think these two could be adapted fairly well into a single volume.

Welcome to the BSC Abby (Book 90)

A few years before the Baby-Sitters Club ended its massive 130 book run, a new club member was introduced to the BSC, Abby. Although she is often forgotten by fans, Abby had an interesting backstory. She and her twin sister lived with their widowed mother in the house next door to Kristy and her family. She was a little tomboyish, asthmatic and she and her family were Jewish. It would be lovely to see the graphix novels make something out of this character.

Snowbound (Super Special 7)

Probably the most adaptable of all of the Super Specials, this one takes place over the course of an evening where all of the members of the BSC find themselves stuck in different parts of Stoneybrook during a severe snowstorm. 

Mary Anne and the Secret in the Attic (Mystery 5)

Of all the characters, Mary Anne had the most tragic backstory. This volume features a new, but completely believable twist about her early years and is, perhaps, one of the strongest novels in the mystery series.


PS The novels I think we'll actually get after Logan Likes Mary Anne! are as follows:

Claudia and the New Girl
Kristy and the Snobs
Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye
Little Miss Stoneybrook ... and Dawn
Mary Anne and the Bad Luck Mystery
Stacey's Mistake

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Review: Boy Crazy Stacey by Gale Galligan (BSC Graphix 7)

The BSC Grapix series is back with another fine adaption of another beloved Baby-Sitters Club title. Old fans often remember this particular title with a special kind of nostalgia. After all, this is the novel that introduces readers to Sea City, a location that would appear in the series several times. It also features beloved original character Stacey in her second adventure, and one that is a lot more lighthearted and fun than her previous story. And if that wasn't enough, it is also the first time that we see the two most different original members of the club--Stacey and Mary Anne paired together, and they make for a surprisingly strong pairing.

Anyway, for the uninitiated, the plot for this one is pretty straightforward. Stacey and Mary Anne accept a two week baby-sitting assignment to accompany the Pike family (yep, that's the one with eight kids,) to their favourite holiday spot in Sea City, New Jersey. While they are there, Stacey develops a crush on an older lifeguard, and neglects her baby-sitting duties much to the frustration of Mary Anne who one, doesn't want to get left with all the work and two, fears that Stacey is going to end up very hurt by Scott. Fortunately, there are a couple of boy baby-sitters in Sea City who help the pair to set everything right, and the Pike kids all do a good job of keeping things entertaining. And Stacey comes up trumps when she helps Byron get over his fear of water.

Galligan's illustrations give the story a fun and contemporary feel, and add some much needed diversity into the story. In all honesty, I probably enjoyed this one a little more than Kristy's Big Day as it felt a little less rushed. 

Highly recommended.

In other news, while Gale Galligan will be finishing up with the BSC Graphix series following the release of Logan Likes Mary Anne in September, the BSC Graphix series is set to continue with six more titles to be released, two a year from 2021. In the meantime, fans can also enjoy Karen's Witch, the first of the Baby-Sitters Little Sister books to be adapted as a graphic novel, which was recently released in the United States, and will be released in Australia in February 2020.

PS Stop by tomorrow for my BSC Graphix wish list.


Friday, 10 January 2020

Thursday, 9 January 2020

There's Something About Mary ... Bennet

Image courtesy of Project Gutenburg
When Pride and Prejudice was released I sincerely doubt that Jane Austen would have had any idea that, some two hundred years after its release, the character of Mary Bennet would see a rise in popularity. The least amiable of the five Bennet sisters, Mary is described as being rather plain and bookish, and something of a boor as she over-estimates her ability as an intellectual and a musician. In the book, she provides little more than comic relief. And, let's face it, Mary is a supporting character in a novel that is intended as a social satire. She doesn't have to be accomplished. All she needs to do is find some way to unintentionally cause embarrassment to her older sisters Jane and Lizzie.

In recent times, though, readers have taken a more sympathetic view to Mary. After all, it is not easy being the middle sister, especially when the others have all paired off, and nor could it be easy being the least attractive of the sisters. She is paid very little attention by the others. And out of the five sisters, she is the least likely to marry--tragically, she is the only one to show any interest in marrying the foolish Mr Collins and even he doesn't want her. 

The thing about Mary is that she also embodies what it means to take comfort in books. Mary has been rejected by everyone around her, which gives her time to develop a sincere interest in reading. Unfortunately, she lacks real life experiences and insight into human behaviour, which hinders her ability to understand her chosen reading material, though this may improve as she grows older. And, as the novel closes, Mary is still in her teens. There is plenty of time for her to grow and develop, especially as there is only one sister left at home instead of four, and Mr Bennet has now pledged to keep a closer eye on his unmarried daughters. (And there is always the possibility that the marriages of her two older sisters will help Mary advance socially.)

In recent times, Mary Bennet has become a popular character to feature in Jane Austen fan fiction, reinventing the character as a deep thinker and an independent women. Several novels have been published featuring the character, most notably The Forgotten Sister by Australian author Jennifer Paynter, which puts the authors own spin on the character. 

But then again, this may not be what Austen intended for the character. In a biography written by her nephew, he claims that she told her family that after the events of Pride and Prejudice, Mary married a law clerk and was content to be a star in Merryton society.