I saw this book in various places in the lead up to Christmas, so it felt like a good book to end the year on. The Queen is feeling a bit down, and is...moreI saw this book in various places in the lead up to Christmas, so it felt like a good book to end the year on. The Queen is feeling a bit down, and is looking for things to cheer her up. A series of events put her on the path to heading out of the palace unannounced and taking a train on her own. Various members of the palace staff realise that this could be a quick road to disaster and head out to try to intercept her.
This is a quick, funny read, filled with historical and pop culture references. I didn’t feel that I fully accepted the portrayal of the Queen – it was more doddering old lady who doesn’t understand the internet than the Queen we see wearing 3D glasses to see her Christmas message. This didn’t distract from the enjoyment in the story though – giving us an almost alternative universe Queen, rather than the one we’re used to.
There’s a lot of enjoyment, also, in the various characters who head off to intercept the Queen. There’s an odd couple feel to most of them which manages to be funny and interesting at the same time. This isn’t great literature and it’s greatly improbable in parts, but as a What If . . . story, it’s an awful lot of fun.
I’m not a big sports fan, but I’ve read a number of books which made me care about the sports involved. Mike Lupica is one example, but Bryce Courtena...moreI’m not a big sports fan, but I’ve read a number of books which made me care about the sports involved. Mike Lupica is one example, but Bryce Courtenay did it with boxing in The Power of One and Tandia and Juggling with Mandarins by V. M Jones did it with both soccer and rock climbing. Unfortunately, Louis Beside Himself didn’t have the same effect.
Louis is a bright boy who is obsessed with words, while his father is obsessed with teaching him the latest wrestling moves. Unfortunately neither wrestling or words become very interesting as we are taken through a convoluted tale of runaways, breaking into houses and friendships. It’s hard to summarise the story easily, because it felt less like a story, and more like a laundry list of elements that the writer has to include – popular ‘sport’: check; long words: check; diverse group of friends: check; mystery to solve: check; temperamental older sister: check; distracted father: check. None of the elements quite gel the way you hope they will and it leave you with a bit of a confusion of a book.
My other quibble was the love of words thing. When it’s done well (Lemony Snicket) big words are awesome in books. But constantly using big words without the humour of Snicket leaves you feeling a little frustrated and annoyed.
If you have a wrestling fan, they might enjoy this book, but if you know nothing about wrestling, this book won’t convert you. Pick up a Mike Lupica or Lemony Snicket book instead.
Time Travel seems to be a consistent theme in children’s fiction, a lot of the time serving as a device to turn the story into historical fiction whil...moreTime Travel seems to be a consistent theme in children’s fiction, a lot of the time serving as a device to turn the story into historical fiction while still allowing for lots of exposition (since the character learns about the time period at the same time as the reader). This was fairly similar to other time travel books I’ve read (and I seem to have read quite a few!). Sam Sullivan is a nice enough kid, but he seems to find trouble wherever he goes. His parents have broken up, his father isn’t always reliable (there’s a strong history of gambling) and there’s never enough money. To make a bit extra, Sam works at the markets, but soon discovers that people play music for money. He tries it himself, playing his trumpet at a nearby monument, but suddenly finds himself being pulled back to Melbourne in 1900.
There’s a lot going on in this book and both 1900 and present day Melbourne are written quite vividly. It was a bit of a jolt when someone pointed out that the states hadn’t federated yet (that happened in 1901) and I appreciated that little piece of history snuck in, especially when there’s moments when you feel like 1900 wasn’t really that long ago. The story does drag a bit at the end of the book – it almost feels like the story has been told and completed, but there’s still more to go. That made it less appealing to me.
This is a good read for people who like historical fiction, especially Australian historical fiction. With Sam constantly finding himself in trouble, despite good intentions, it’s the kind of story which would appeal to some kids who don’t always read. I dare say it would make a very good read aloud book too.
This was a bit of a surprise of a book which I found myself half desperate to finish and half desperate to put down because I felt so bad for the char...moreThis was a bit of a surprise of a book which I found myself half desperate to finish and half desperate to put down because I felt so bad for the characters.
The book is about a couple from the bush, struggling after their son was taken from the Easter Show. At the same time, Tina, who is doing almost anything to survive in Kings Cross, finds a boy tied up under a kitchen table. What follows is a story told from multiple perspectives as Tina rescues the boy and works to reunite him with his parents.
It’s a strangely compelling book. It would probably get a bit tedious if we were with one person all the time, but this way we get to meet different personalities and different stories, which all work beautifully into the main narrative. There’s a sense of urgency hanging over the whole book, and there’s a lot of times where the reader knows what is happening and the characters don’t and you wish you could just reach into the book and tell them. The ending is a little too neat for me, but then it’s told from the boy’s perspective, so it’s not an adult narrator which could make it a little neater. I did find myself wanting more at the end of the book, but all in all it was a really good book, even though it wasn’t the type I usually read.
Like J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, this is a book about what happens to a group of people after a ‘good guy’ dies. In this case, the other peopl...moreLike J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, this is a book about what happens to a group of people after a ‘good guy’ dies. In this case, the other people are fellow members of Rory Buchanan’s Division 2, cricket team and their wives. Each chapter gives us another point of view from one of the nine people (we also learn about Rory’s widow), with a few general chapters about ‘big events’ which occur.
In The Casual Vacancy, the people who we learn about are rather different and don’t necessarily interact with each other. In Last Summer, they’re almost too close, so the events that happen – finding a long lost mother, separation, cheating, suffering possible medical issues – almost feel like too much. Additionally, since there’s a whole chapter on each character, you really start to get into their story, then you’re catapulted into a new one, left with a generally dissatisfied feeling.
I didn’t find most of the characters particularly likable (actually, I found most of them pretty shallow) or particularly interesting, which made it hard sometimes to remember which character I was reading about. I think I would have liked the book a lot more if it had narrowed its focus – if it had chosen to look more in depth at a smaller selection of the people – which would have allowed some of the characters to grieve in a more simple fashion, without big life changing events also going on. If you’re particularly looking for a book about what happens to people when someone dies, I would suggest The Casual Vacancy over Last Summer. Or take a slightly different focus and read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or in the children’s books – Love Aubrey.
This is a book that totally grew on me. It’s about Matilda, (everyone calls her Tilda), who lives in rural Tasmania. She’s far from being a perfect st...moreThis is a book that totally grew on me. It’s about Matilda, (everyone calls her Tilda), who lives in rural Tasmania. She’s far from being a perfect student, though she’s very smart, spending a lot of time wagging school with her boyfriend. Then one day she spots an elephant seal on the nearby beach. The elephant seal, who seems to be far from it’s normal home, is heavily pregnant, and the subsequent birth of her baby ends up turning Tilda’s life completely upside down.
This is very much a book that unfolds as you read it. There’s no big passages of exposition, instead you learn about Tilda’s home life, about her friendships, even about her school principal as the book unfolds. It’s very clear to the reader that every character has a story, whether big or small, and that lives intertwine, especially in smaller country towns.
I was feeling a little ‘meh’ about this one when it started – I felt like it was treading over ground that I’d seen many times before. But then there would be a subtle twist, and I’d be left facing a completely different direction. It’s a book that’s stayed with me since I’ve put it down, too, and I find myself wanting even more of the story – especially to find out what happens next. The English teacher in me has a bit of a field day with the themes to explore, but I think most readers would pick up on some of them.
If you like this book (and I thoroughly recommend it), may I suggest reading Juggling with Mandarins, Shooting the Moon or Buddy by the New Zealand author V. M. Jones. This book reminded me very much of those books, and I thoroughly recommend them too!
This is, obviously, a book about the middle Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice – the one who, along with Kitty, is most likely to be overlooked. T...moreThis is, obviously, a book about the middle Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice – the one who, along with Kitty, is most likely to be overlooked. Told from Mary’s point of view, it offers us some background to Mary’s personality and actions, while giving us another point of view of the Darcy/Bingly/Wickham events.
Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen books seem to the the flavour of the month at the moment. Although I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, I cannot claim to be the biggest Jane Austen reader, so there may be some things which alluded me. But it was lovely to see such well known, almost mythic, events told through the eyes of another person. Sometimes, though, this seemed a little neat – such as when Mary knew of Wickham’s deceitfulness long before Lydia ran off with him.
The other thing that feels a little odd is when Mary sets sail to the colony of New South Wales to meet up with her (lower class) fiance. I can’t see Mary marrying out of ‘rank’ like that, and the scenes in Sydney feel a little tacked on, like the author wasn’t quite sure where she wanted to end the book. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining and easy read – perfect for a summer holiday, or for reading on a cold day with a warm cup of tea!
This is the third in the children’s Parvana series, or the fourth if you include the companion book. I really enjoyed the first one, about a girl in A...moreThis is the third in the children’s Parvana series, or the fourth if you include the companion book. I really enjoyed the first one, about a girl in Afghanistan forced to pretend she was a boy after her father was taken away. I read it to my class, so I was excited about reading another book to find out what happened to her. Sadly, I was left a little disappointed – but I’m not sure if it was because of the choices the author made, or because I wanted it to turn out differently.
The book is written in a different way, with flashbacks throughout the book, before we come back to a ‘current day’ where Parvana is being held by the US Military. I like this, as I feel it acknowledges the growth in readers who have read the previous books about Parvana. Parvana’s life looked like it was getting a little better for a while, then it just got worse and worse, with Parvana losing precious people and being in extreme danger. Then she was taken by the US Military.
This grates on me a little. Although there was no excuse for the actions of some soldiers during the war, it almost feels like the US is being used as an easy target. A few soldiers are written as sympathetic, especially after Parvana assists an injured soldier, but it is clear that they are the ‘enemy’, even more than the remnants of the Taliban which are the cause of most of the disasters which befall Parvana. It also refuses to acknowledge that there is a coalition of countries involved in the war in Afghanistan.
I also got extremely agitated when Parvana and her mother stubbornly stuck by the school they had set up, even when it was clear they were in danger. This is more of a privilege thing, though. If things got that dangerous for us in Australia, hopefully we’d have people to turn for. For Parvana and her mother, there was no where to turn and really, no where to run to. Sticking with the school was pretty much their only choice.
So, I’m up and down on this book. I feel the ending is a little neat, but it was nice returning to such a great character. It wasn’t the way I wanted Parvana’s story to end up, but I could see the issues which Deborah Ellis was trying to raise. It was worth reading, but probably not worth a reread, or even being put to the top of the pile unless you really loved the previous books.
This is a collection of short stories for Young Adults, which are meant to be set in the city and act as a companion book to the collection Town. Alth...moreThis is a collection of short stories for Young Adults, which are meant to be set in the city and act as a companion book to the collection Town. Although it was named city, it felt more like ‘inner city suburb’ rather than the centre of a busy city. There were the traditional ‘gritty’ stories about drug dealers and getting caught up in crime, but nothing really happens to those characters – or if it does, it happens after the story has finished. There’s some connections between the stories, but I read it in short bursts, so I may have missed some of them. Another ‘linking mechanism’ throughout the book was a graffiti artist who wrote haikus around the city. I think this was supposed to come across as poetic, but the adult in me just saw it as a destructive action – there are many other ways to communicate without doing something illegal.
There was some lovely patches of writing, but I never cared about the characters, mostly because I spent so little time with each of them. The book as a whole felt like an exercise in writing, rather than a cohesive book. It was mildly enjoyable, but never held my attention for very long.