Thursday, 27 February 2020

Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Takes a Breath is a novel about a young college student from a loving but slightly crazy Puerto Rican family who comes out shortly before flying away to start a summer internship with her favourite feminist writer. Once she gets there she wonders if things will ever be the same between her and her mother again. And why won't her girlfriend answer her calls? Add to the mix that Harlowe Brisbane's motives may not be as pure as they seemed in offering Juliet the internship, and readers are left with an entertaining story of identity, feminism, what it truly means to come out and, ultimately, the importance of having--and using--your own voice.

Juliet was a joy to read about as she grew emotionally and spiritually over the course of the novel. Harlowe is portrayed quite realistically as a white saviour who nearly always misses the point and whose motives more often than not are quite self-indulgent. 

Ultimately this is a well written, novel of self discovery.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Review: Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore

The debut novel of journalist Karina Kilmore (better known in the papers are Karina Barrymore,) is a gritty tale of backstabbing, corruption and murder set in Melbourne. New Zealand journalist Chrissie O'Brien has moved to Australia to start afresh after a personal tragedy. Which would be fine, if it wasn't for the fact that she is in a near constant state of self-loathing, and that her boss and most of her colleagues resent her very presence, landing a good job just at the point when many other journalists are being fired. Determined to prove herself, Chrissie begins work on a story about possible corruption on the docks. But when a female dockworker turns up dead (shortly before she was due to talk to Chrissie,) things start to take a very nasty twist. And Chrissie won't give up her battle to expose the truth, no matter what the cost.

If you are searching for is a twisty crime novel that features a main character who is both flawed and interesting, then Where the Truth Lies is for you. The author offers a gritty depiction of Melbourne, a city that despite being one of the largest and arguably, most interesting, in Australia, is rarely paid the attention that it is due in commercial fiction. And Mike makes for an interesting side character who gave the story some much needed balance.

That said, I have a couple of grumbles with this one,  in particular, Chrissie's dark past and reason for her self-loathing is revealed too soon. I feel very strongly that the author has what it takes to write a solid crime novel--something to rival The Dry--and, hopefully, readers will see this with her next offering. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

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

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.


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.