Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Review: Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian opens a year after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ended. Or, at least, it opens one earth year after Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmund all found themselves transported back to earth via the wardrobe. In Narnia, much time has passed. Lucy and her siblings have been reduced to the stuff of legends and an impostor sits on the throne of a different--and much more miserable--Narnia, while the rightful heir, Prince Caspian has only just discovered who he truly is. When he finds Queen Susan's horn and blows it, the four Pensive children find themselves transported back to Narnia--which is quite a pleasant surprise, really, considering that they were all at the railway station on their way to boarding school. Lucy and the others must all work together to ensure that the rightful King of Narnia finds his way to the throne ...

I enjoyed reading this one, and perhaps more so because I skipped The Horse and His Boy and was able to be reacquainted with the Lucy (my favourite of all the characters,) and discover what life had in store for her and the others after they left Narnia. I'm really becoming convinced that it is better to read the books in the order they were published, rather than the reading order suggested by the publisher. Once again, it was interesting to look at the religious symbolism and to see how the author used Narnia as a metaphor for children. 

Next up, I'm hoping to read and review The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Review: Stacey's Big Break (BSC TV Series Episode 3)

Okay, I'm going to come right out and say it. How come Stacey's diabetes was never mentioned in the scene where the Baby-sitters all go out for pizza? This was a massive plot point in the books--two books depicted the implications of Stacey's illness, and it was usually mentioned at any time when the sitters had a party that they brought in special food to accommodate Stacey's dietary requirements. I'm almost having a much trouble understanding that as I am understanding why Stacey would give up an entire modelling career in order to attend a play that is being put on by the Baby-sitters club that no one else, apart from a handful of neighbourhood kids showed up to? And why were they pushing Charlotte so hard to participate, when she clearly wasn't interested.

Anyway ... 

In the third instalment of the Baby-sitters Club TV series, Stacey gets "discovered" and starts working as a model. First posing for catalogues, and then by winning a fresh face competition, which gives her a lucrative modelling contract along with a whole stack of other prizes. The only trouble is, Stacey no longer has time for the Baby-Sitters Club, or to help her regular sitting charge, Charlotte, with her lines for a play that the club is putting on. She's not so happy with the situation, so she pulls the pin on the whole thing, and arrives just in time to see Charlotte perform. (Cue schmultz.)

I can't say that I enjoyed this one as much as the previous two episodes. Stacey's decision to quit modelling fell a bit flat, particularly as it didn't really portray anything of the dark side of modelling, apart from Stacey feeling a bit cold in a pair of shorts--I think it might have been a bit more believable (and still kid friendly,) if it had caused her to catch a cold, or if she had forgotten, or almost forgotten to take her insulin. The whole thing starts and resolves easily enough, and fair enough, it is a kids show. Maybe I've just watched too many in a row or something ...

PS Thanks to this episode, I learned why Kristy is wearing a crown in the promotional photo, above. No it isn't because she thinks she's a queen: it seems this picture was taken sometime during the filming of this episode, where Kristy has to wear a crown as she is playing the part of a Prince in the BSC play.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Review: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Being in desperate need of some cheering up, I purchased this graphic novel the other week and I found myself completely drawn in by this autobiographical account of Telgemier's years in Middle School, and her first year of high school. This happened, despite the fact that after I read and reviewed Drama (another Telgemeier graphic novel,) I decided that these books really were just for kids and I should bloody well read something a bit more age appropriate. Anyway, I bought a copy of Smile just at the right time and it turned out to be the right book to turn my shitty day around.

Smile tells the story of an accident that led to the loss of the author's two front teeth when she was in sixth grade. What follows is years of painful dental visits, braces and, at one point she has to wear a retainer with two false teeth attached. While all of this is going on, she has to navigate her first crush, the discovery of her real love (drawing) and some pretty awful bullying from the girls who are supposed to be her friends. Other events, such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 are detailed.

I really enjoyed this one, despite the fact that I'm a few years younger than the author and grew up in different part of the world. Schooling in Australia, particularly South Australia, is quite different to the experience of kids in America. Middle schools are slowly being introduced here, and my own high school had separate junior and senior campuses, but things like school cafeterias, dances and taking specialised classes with kids from other grades are totally alien to my experiences. Consequently, it was fun see what life is like for kids who do those things. And while I never had any problems with my teeth, one thing I could certainly relate to was some of the bullying that Raina had to put up with from her so-called friends. She was a bit artsy, and most importantly, a bit kinder, and this made her a target for the others, who liked to prop themselves up by making her feel bad. I also liked the moral toward the end--that life got better when she started focusing on the people and things that she liked. 

I think this would be a great book to pass on to anyone who is feeling a bit insecure and unsure of themselves, particular teens and pre-teens, though anyone who has ever been a teenager should be able relate to this one. 

Highly recommended. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

Friday Funnies: Still a Dog

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Review: This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Set across fifty-four minutes This is Where it Ends tells the story of a school shooting, and it's impact on four students, all of whom are connected in some way with the lone gunman. Clare, Thomas, Sylvia and Autumn all have a reason to fear Tyson. Clare is his ex-girlfriend, Thomas wants to protect his twin sister Sylv from Tyson (there is a history of sexual assault,) and Autumn is the girlfriend of Sylv and the younger sister of Tyson.

And today, Tyson has walked inside Opportunity High with a gun. He wants to punish the kids who ostracised him, and he wants to punish our four main characters by forcing them to watch.

This story is made all the more horrific by the reality of just how common school shootings have become. It gives a very human side to the story--different to the headlines that we might see or hear about. The most tragic part of the story of all is that Tyson does it because he wants notoriety. He wants those who were close to him to suffer, and he wants to be remembered. 

The characters themselves are pleasingly diverse. This book isn't the domain of straight, middle class white kids who desire traditional careers. Clare, for example, is resentful that her older sister is regarded as braver than her because she has joined the military; while one of the heros of the day is Fareed, a refugee who keeps a cool head in all of the chaos, allowing him to come up with solutions that keep some of the other kids safe. Autumn and Sylv are dating one another and come from different cultural backgrounds. Given that the book is set over the course of fifty-four minutes and the subject matter, the author didn't have an easy job of establishing the characters or their personalities, so it would be easy to complain that the characters aren't really as fleshed out as they could be. However, it's also fair to say that we really only get a very tiny glimpse into their lives and into a gruelling fifty-four minutes during which they were focusing on survival. There are surprising examples of bravery and innovation, demonstrating just how clever teens have the potential to be.

Enjoyable, though morbid. Recommended. 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Review: The Wanted by Robert Crais

When a single mother finds a very expensive Rolex amongst her awkward and nerdy seventeen year old son's belongings, she has cause for concern. Tyson certainly has been behaving oddly recently. Desperate to get to the bottom of it all, she calls Private Investigator Elvis Cole. Cole soon finds evidence linking Tyson and his friends to a string of high profile burglaries ... but that is only the tip of the ice burg. Tyson may be in trouble with more people than just the law. It seems as though he may have burgled the wrong house and people ...

This was a fast paced crime novel set in Los Angeles. The author wastes no time, or words with his short prose, which made for a quick read. Cole is an interesting protagonist--he certainly gets involved in his cases. That said, this one didn't have a great impact on me--as a reviewer, I can find little to complain about, or, conversely, to compliment. If you want an escapist but still gritty crime novel set in one of the glitziest parts of the United States, this probably fits the bill.

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

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review: Dawn and the Haunted House (BSC TV Series Episode 2)

The second episode of the BSC TV series may have Dawn's name in the title, but it focuses almost as much on Claudia. As the episode opens, a few members of the BSC are out and about on their bicycles, putting up flyers to advertise their business. After one flyer is nailed to a post, Dawn points out Mrs Slade's house to the others. Dawn believes that she is a witch, but the other girls aren't convinced ... or are they. Later they return to BSC headquarters where they meet up with Claudia, whose behaviour is a little well, odd. What the other girls don't know (or what Claudia won't tell them,) is that she's having trouble with her schoolwork and her parents are going to make her quit the BSC unless her grades pick up.

Meanwhile, the BSC gains some new clients who, as it turns out just happen to live next door to Mrs Slade. The new sitting charges are quick to tell Dawn and Stacey some scary stories about Mrs Slade. That, and a strange encounter at a hardware store is enough to convince all of the BSC (well, everyone except Claudia, who is more interested in her schoolwork,) that Mrs Slade truly is a witch. From there things get out of hand, especially when Stacey and Mary Anne are babysitting for the new clients and they see Claudia at Mrs Slade's house. Has Claudia been kidnapped? Is Mrs Slade really a witch? Look forward to an ending that is as funny, cringeworthy and a little bit schmultzy.

This was the only episode of the BSC TV Series that I owned on VHS and, consequently, I viewed this one multiple times during the early 90s. Watching it again was a bigger nostalgia trip than some of the other episodes. Parts of it really made me cringe though, and not just because of the 90s fashions. Mrs Slade's appearance at the hardware store is quite over-the-top. Frankly, I'm not surprised that the girls thought she might have been a witch.

An entertaining nostalgia trip, though not always for the right reasons.