Tag Archives: review

Review: ‘Apocalypse Now Now’ by Charlie Human

27 Oct

now

Rating: ★★★★☆

Set in Cape Town, ‘Apocalypse Now Now’ follows the story of sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko, the enterprising kingpin of pornography-peddling schoolyard business The Spider. When his girlfriend Esme goes missing he discovers a secret supernatural underworld and, with the help of a grizzly bounty hunter sidekick, must try to avoid gang wars, his meddling younger brother, being devoured by giant crows – and an apocalypse or two.

The title comes from a common South Africanism relating to the amount of time to elapse before an event occurs. In the near future; not happening presently but to happen shortly. Continue reading

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New Fiction Review: ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

17 Aug

tdtcq

Rating: ★★★★★

For ‘The Day the Crayons Quit‘, debut author Drew Daywalt and international bestseller Oliver Jeffers have teamed up to create a colourful solution to a crayon-based crisis.

It’s a creative book that will delight adult and children alike. One day, young Duncan finds a stack of letters where his crayons should be. They’ve gone on strike. It turns out that his Red crayon feels overworked, what with the amount of firetrucks and red apples Duncan has been colouring in. Yellow and Orange aren’t talking at all. Grey laments that elephants are an awfully big expanse to cover all by himself, and White has an existential crisis over the meaning of it all. “Could you please use me sometime to colour the occasional pink dinosaur or monster or cowboy?” asks Pink, while Beige reclaims its name with pride. Meanwhile, all Black wants is to maybe work on a rainbow or two. Who could blame him?

green1

I’m just going to say it: this is a fantastic book! The end, no moral. If this is not the outright winner of whatever ‘2013 Children’s Book of the Year Award’ currently exists, I will be very surprised. The concept is genius, and Oliver Jeffers’ childlike illustrations truly bring the text to life. It’s certainly made me feel incredible guilt over all the melted crayon art I made a couple of years ago.

‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ may actually be more suitable for older readers — some of the letters are a little too long and the jokes just a little bit too clever for the teeny tiny target audience — but if money was no object, I would still buy it for every child I know. The only questionable element I could find was Peach being the ‘naked’ crayon, while Brown was mentioned in passing as being used to colour bears. (I mean really? ‘Peach’ ≠ ‘Flesh’, you guys.) I don’t know if this is just me reading too much into it, but it would’ve been nice to have a bit of diversity in such a colourful book.

New Fiction Review: ‘Acorn’ by Yoko Ono

12 Aug

Frankie just finished reading ‘Acorn’, a book of instructional pieces by conceptual art extraordinaire Yoko Ono. S/he thought this:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Yoko’s great. Really, she knows what she’s doing. Her ideas are interesting, she’s clearly quite well read and well informed, she’s an intense and acute observationist, and she’s as much a presence on paper as she is in person. She’s an extraordinary artist, and no one needs reminding. But she’s not my artist. She doesn’t speak to me, she doesn’t resonate, she barely inspires a ripple in my imagination.

And that’s not to say that I don’t have imagination; I make songs, I make collages, I have an investment in art-making and conceptual thinking. But I’m also a pretty standard young person: barely any money, still unsure what I’m willing to do as a real job, concerned about the way I look and how others perceive me, inspired by various Westernisms and very much an urbanite. I’ve been toughened by the city, toughened by a fairly working-class upbringing, toughened by having to deal with assholes on a near-daily basis, toughened by being an unsigned, unloved musician, toughened by club and drug culture, toughened toughened toughened, made bitter, twisted, cynical, unbearable, and pissed off to the max (and yes, that’s everyone else’s fault, actually). Continue reading

New Fiction Review: ‘The Herbalist’ by Niamh Boyce

11 Jul

herby

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I won my copy of ‘The Herbalist’ through a Goodreads First Reads competition and was immediately struck by how much the cover looked like that of ‘Call the Midwife’. I don’t believe this choice was accidental. The texts share a common thread; both novels are historical fictions that pertain to women’s bodies, and both have a heavy religious presence.

‘The Herbalist’ is the story of a small group of women in 1930s Ireland. It details how the seemingly trivial appearance of a charming foreigner, who enters their market square one day to pedal his miraculous wares, changes their lives forever. It’s a novel about social convention, secrecy and seduction. Each woman is faces with her own choice to make and burden to bear, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Continue reading

New Fiction Review: ‘The Academy: Game On’ by Monica Seles

12 Jun

gameon

Author Monica Seles is a retired tennis champion. She won the French open at sixteen and went on to become the number one ranked woman in tennis, winning a total of nine Grand Slam titles before retiring from the game in 2004. I know this only because I read her biography in the back of ‘The Academy: Game On’, which I won through a Goodreads First Read competition. ‘Game On’ also has another author in very small print on the title page, so I’m guessing it was ghost written – not that it really matters.

It turns out that ‘Game On’ is your typical rags to riches plot, set against the backdrop of a very exclusive sports academy. You know, “17-year-old tennis superstar in the making gets the scholarship of her dreams… and more than she bargained for”. It’s sort of like Mean Girls meets Bend it Like Beckham, with a touch of The OC (‘cause they’re all so super rich).

The girls were fairly interesting, and this novel definitely passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. There’s the protagonist, Maya, who is fairly likeable, punk Cleo, rising star of the ultra conservative golf scene, Renee, a girl rich enough to buy her way in to the Academy, and Glamazon Nicole, Maya’s heroine – and competition.

‘Game On’ is filled with all the hot guys and frenemies you’d expect. I haven’t read a lot of teen romance, but I imagine the romantic interests are fairly typical of that genre as well (bad boy vs. shallow stud). There are so many twists and changes of heart that my eyes were flicking back and forth across the page like I was witnessing a tennis match. Some of them were predictable, some of them I didn’t see coming and they struck me with the force of a tennis ball hurtled from a malfunctioning ball machine. (Are these tennis metaphors going a bit too far?)

This novel had a slow start but picked up the pace very quickly. It was genuinely funny at times, and although I never found myself laughing aloud I did find myself smiling a lot. The author does have a tendency to spoonfeed the reader a bit with her descriptions and there are a lot of instances of wishing she’d show instead of tell. This sentence on page two we probably could have gleaned for ourselves: “Finally, she had done it. This sixteen-year-old have-not from central New York with absolutely no connections whatsoever had somehow made it into the most exclusive club.”

Some of the description made me wince a little bit, like calling Cleo “an Asian girl with a towel wrapped around her head” the first time we see her, and

“You will be able to pick a Russian from a Belarusian from a Czech at a hundred yards in three seconds flat. Facial features, skin color, clothing, hairstyles […]”

feels borderline racist and wasn’t really necessary to the story or plot at all. ‘Game On’ also has a very “feel sorry for the poor beautiful rich kids” feel. For example, this quote:

“The only things Maya had ever heard about the way she looked were how freakishly tall she was, how creepily blue her eyes were, how plain blonde her hair was.”

Like, you can’t really just add an unflattering adjective to a word and make it so it seems like she doesn’t fit society’s idea of the perfect woman. Come on, Seles!

Also, after a dad says something offhand to his son:

“Jak and Maya found each other’s eyes. The pain was almost physical. Certainly worse than anything the kid he injured was feeling.”

I kind of disagree, considering that the character in question had just broken a fellow football player’s arm so hard that he’d let out a scream which sounded “primal, like a wounded animal”!

The whole novel offers an interesting commentary on class divides. I know it’s never going to happen in a million years, but a spinoff series about Cleo and her life as a Chinese immigrant who is also a lesbian would be A-MA-ZING. I really liked Cleo and it was super inclusive of them to put a lesbian in BFF role, but they really skimmed over her romance with Svetlana. Like we didn’t even meet the girl. I’m hoping to see more of baby dyke Cleo and her radical undercut in the sequel – although, speaking as a queer girl with an undercut, Cleo is pretty misogynistic for a queer girl with an undercut.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. And what I mean by that is that when the sequel comes out, I’m prepared to spent actual, real money on it. Nice serve, Seles.

New Fiction Review: ‘Doll Bones’ by Holly Black

1 Jun

dollbones

I won my copy of ‘Doll Bones’ through one of Goodread‘s First Reads competition and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I was in the stages of recovering from a particularly bad ‘The Graveyard Book‘-induced book hangover. I hadn’t read any of Holly Black’s previous works (no, not even the Spiderwick Chronicles) so I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought this book might make an appropriate supplement to Neil Gaiman’s novel. I was not disappointed.

‘Doll Bones’ is an unexpected coming of age story which follows three preteen BFFs who are on a quest to placate a ghost who may, or may not, be haunting them in the guise of a bone china doll. With a father like the one in ‘The Neverending Story‘ and a naïvety concerning his affect on girls his age, Zach is a cute choice for protagonist. I love that he wasn’t a bit ashamed to be carrying around this doll, and his concern about growing up and having to stop playing with the girls was touching and poignant. One particular passage near the beginning reminded me of the first half of the latest Hyperbole and a Half blog post:

That was why Zach loved playing: those moments where it seemed like he was accessing some other world, one that felt real as anything. It was something he never wanted to give up. He’d rather go on playing like this forever, no matter how old they got, although he didn’t see how that was possible. It was already hard sometimes.

Growing up is inevitable and sad. Something gets lost but it doesn’t have to be lost forever… not if you don’t want it to be. I find myself wanting to write this C.S. Lewis quote down and slip it between the pages of one of Zach’s books (like he was doing in one of the library scenes): “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

‘Doll Bones’ is different to other quest plots in that the characters actually know they are ‘questing’. The children are fans of J.R.R. Tolkein, Doctor Who and other fantasy worlds; they relish the idea of their adventure, and some of the themes about growing up and putting toys away etc. play into this hope against all odds that magic can be real. This can be a little postmodern at times, for example when Zach is wondering about all the questers who must have failed before the heroes finally prevailed in the stories he loves, but it’s a nice touch and very fun to pick up on while reading.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend this book for children under the recommended reading age as it’s quite creepy – unless they’re connoisseurs of Goosebumps or whatever the contemporary equivalent is. I think a child revisiting this book when they’re fully grown will find it even more precious, after they’ve lived their own bildungsroman. Older readers should be able to get through this book in a couple of days. It’s really that absorbing. When you’re not reading it you’re wondering about the characters and their plight, and I think that’s the mark of a good novel. Black is clearly brilliant at creating story worlds, and despite the fantasy element of this one it was still totally believable. I’ll certainly be checking out her other writings – especially now as I have another book hangover to deal with!

Topdeck Travel: Days Twelve Through Fourteen

14 Aug

Amsterdam.

Oh hey internet. You know how in my last entry I was preparing for something called ‘Amsterdamage’? I was not wrong. The reason you haven’t heard from me in almost ten days is because I was in recovery. Picture foetal position and weeping, but the good kind of weeping, you know? Anyway, here’s what happened:

Day Twelve

Our first stop in The Netherlands was Rembrandt Hoeve, a clog-factory-slash-cheese-with friendly staff. Maybe a little too friendly. The clogs were actually really reasonably priced compared to what you’ll find in the heart of Amsterdam, and you got to see them being made. The cheese wasn’t really anything special in my humble opinion, but you got to sample it and see that being made, too.

Third time lucky?

As we were driving through Amsterdam I could see that we must have just missed Pride by a few days. There were rainbow flags and balloons everywhere! When I was there last year I think we’d missed it by a week as well. Oh well, there’s always next year…

Once settled, Jamie took us on a tour of the Red Light District (I’ve already shared my opinion on that particular subject), and then took those of us who were willing to brave it to a live sex show at a place called Moulin Rouge. It was pretty entertaining but once you’ve been to The Box everything kinda pales in comparison.

After the show we all went to a bar and a few of us went to a coffee shop and things just got a little hazy after that. I think even if I lived there I’d never get used to just being able to light up whenever I could afford it. Even the concept of smoking tobacco indoors is far too European for me.

Day Thirteen

The penultimate day of our tour began with an optional bike ride, which I happily slept through. It was a free day, and Vicki, Rachael, Florence and I took the tram to Waterlooplein to try and replace the sunglasses I bought there last time. However, we were a bit too early and the markets were still setting up, so we went to see the famous Flower Markets instead.

Then I dragged Florence all the way from the markets to the cafe next to Anne Frank Huis because I wanted to show off my knowledge of local cuisine. You probably won’t believe me but Lunchroom Dialoog has the best paninis in the entire universe. Goats cheese, honey and thyme, I swear. You know how a regular panini is like a piece of awful dry lukewarm bread? Like the second you take a bite of that Costa crap you wonder why you wasted £6 on the same taste you could’ve got from chewing on the napkin? Not here. No sir, not here.

Next stop was the Homomonument, which is right around the corner. At its most basic level, the Homomonument is a giant pink triangle (actually, it’s made up of three triangles) – but it was designed to inspire and support lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination, which was particularly pertinent in the wake of our visit to Dachau. There were some quotes that people had scattered around on printed pieces of paper that I didn’t really understand, but I saw a woman crying on its steps and all I wanted to do was hug her.

Florence and I went to the RLD to buy fishnet tights for some reason and then went to Spui to check out Cafe Hoppe, a recommendation from Jamie. It’s a pretty cute little bar that’s been standing since 1670.

And then, to our last meal.

Our last night together was always going to be bittersweet. We may only have known each other for a fortnight, but I know these people better than I know most of the kids I graduated with last month. We went to a bar beforehand, a couple of us had a smoke, and then we went for dinner before an optional cruise (which everyone clearly took). The cruise had a free bar so I think we were all pretty content.

Here’s Vicki, myself, Patricia and Rachael on the cruise. Why yes, I am completely out of it, thanks for asking!

canal

After the cruise we went to Pirates Bar, what Jamie affectionately called ‘the worst bar in Europe’. The songs changed every thirty seconds, the floors were sticky, people were smoking, it was dark, and you had to pay to use the restroom. I ordered a vodka and mixer and it was over nine euro — but then again, the barman let me have it for free… and there was fire breathing. So it was actually pretty rad.

The night got pretty messy and in closing I think Australians are the reason why they’re banning tourists from coffee shops.

Day Fourteen

On our last day I woke up feeling a little.. spacey from the night before. I wasn’t the only one! It’s a shame, because I was really looking forward to Bruges. I still enjoyed Belgium though! We had waffles. And my goodness, do Belguins love their dogs. I swear I saw a dog in a pram.

We touched back down in London just in time to hit rush hour on the tubes. It feels incredibly weird to be around so many English accents again. In many ways, I can’t believe it’s over. I think I crammed more into those fourteen days than I had into my whole life!

Stay tuned over the next few days for my overview of the trip, then normal broadcasting will resume.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Days Ten & Eleven

5 Aug

Day Ten

Austria was a nice quiet day for me. I managed to sleep off some of the quasi-Freshers’ Flu that I’ve been the last to contract, while everyone else paraglided and canyon-jumped to their hearts’ content in Tyrol, Austria. The hostel has more of a homey vibe than a lot of places we’ve stayed.

We also managed to be there for the town’s summer festival. As it was also Vicki’s birthday, we pretty much had to try the ‘ski shots’ (six shotglasses fixed to a single ski) and local beers.

Having improved my drunken German loads, I was ready for Deutschland!

Day Eleven

I’m currently writing this in a freaking castle in the Rhine Valley, Germany. A castle. We just had an excellent chill out sesh with Croc on guitar again.

Today was quite a sombre one though, all things considered. This morning we drove to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. It was probably one of the most emotional experiences of my life. Travelling through the youth hostels of Europe, it’s easy to forget things like this. I’m so glad that Dachau is included on the Topdeck itinerary; it’s so important to remember the past — especially when it’s harrowing — so that it is never repeated.

We were stuck in traffic for a while so Jamie put on Love Actually for us all. I’ve seen it maybe twenty times but amused myself with the recent knowledge that the girl who sung ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ voices Marceline from Adventure Time.

“All I want for Christmas is to bury you in the ground.”

I gotta go now because we’re going to a little place called ‘Amsterdamage’ tomorrow.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Nine

3 Aug

Up for breakfast at 9.30 today, which happens to be the longest sleep in we’ve had all trip. Which is new, because usually getting up before noon is a triumph for me. We all headed into the heart of Venice for gondola rides and mask-buying. Apprently the local delicacy is squid ink pasta but I couldn’t find it so we had pizza instead.

Matt, Florence & Little Lion Man on a Venetian gondola.

 

Me, Patricia, Isabella & Laura on a Venetian gondola.

Another short update for me – it’s a masquerade party at the hostel bar. PICS TO FOLLOW!

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Eight

2 Aug

Ciao bella! Today was also hangover day. Grande grande hangover day.

There was a toga party at the hostel last night. I did not wear a toga, but I did drink until I felt like sheet.

The hostel here has a real Schoolies vibe. It doesn’t feel very ‘authentically Italian’ but it is a nice atmosphere for sure. Loads of Aussies by the pool, in the bar, talking loudly to each other in the toilets…

But I’m missing the important thing about today. T H E  V A T I C A N.

Today Topdeck went to the smallest state in the world. Our tour guide was pretty much the best I’ve ever seen – a bubbly American who never stopped talking for a second. She showed us the Vatican Museum, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistene Chapel, where my grandmother took me once when I was very small. I remember last time it was so packed that we were pushed forward by the crowd so much that I was swept away, like something out of a stampede scene from The Lion King. This time we got to surpass the crowds outside, so there was enough breathing room to truly appreciate Michelangelo’s ceiling frescos and the aesthetics of a room so literally awesome.

I think I’ve watched too much Arrested Development.

I’ve made a decision to not go too overboard for the rest of the trip. After the Vatican we bussed to Venice where we’re staying at Camping Jolly. Everyone’s still at the bar now – some guys from another trip even got naked in the middle of the dancefloor – but I’m not really feeling it. I’m still feeling pretty lovesick. This trip is going really fast – it’s hard to believe we only have six days left. But I’m not used to sleeping alone, I miss my partner, and I’m sleepy so I’ll make this a short one.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.