The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Published: 1st December 2001 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 David R. Godine Publisher
Pages: 138
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic/Paranormal Gothic
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller–one that chills the body, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?

Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully–and for Kipps most tragically–The Woman In Black.

I read this expecting to be unnerved and unsettled but it didn’t quite reach that point. Overall it was enjoyable, but I found it a bit boring and slow at times. I understood the haunting, creepy nature but it didn’t grab me like it probably should. For the most part it was an ok story and I was curious about it, but that was as far as I got.

Reflecting the stories of centuries past this isn’t a horror story to frighten you, it’s meant to put you ill at ease with stories of ghosts and a mysterious woman lurking in graveyards. Small towns on moors with constant fog with secrets and unwilling to trust strangers.

You have to wait for the story to kick off and once that happens the plot unfolds properly and you get a few explanations and events that keep you intrigued. One thing I wasn’t expecting was how much the ending affected me. After reading about Kipps and his life, his experience with this old house and what he finds there I was anticipating the ending, but when it came to read about it I was quite moved. It’s that I remember most from this book, for that I give Hill credit for her writing. It burrows in when you think you aren’t paying attention and then turns your emotions on you in unexpected ways.

This is a relatively short book and it was better than the film, though both tell the story well. I think I missed that ending from the film which to me made this book all the better.

You can purchase The Woman in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st August 2005Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Australia
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? 
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor… 
The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? 
I’m Muslim. I whispered.

Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens.

It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practicing the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school.

Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate!

I thought I would like this more. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t the amazing book people made it out to be. It felt clunky and uneventful, and while there are great moments that shine through, the moments that falter stand out more.

The dialogue was…awkward. Conversations didn’t feel natural and Abdel-Fattah uses a lot of them to explain everyone’s back stories or Amal to educate the character (or us) about various topics and situations. They never seem to talk about anything else. The language was stilted and while what they are saying is valid and important, it doesn’t sit comfortably in the story. I don’t mind being told these things, but I think a more seamless inclusion was needed. This includes the excessive amount of metaphors and examples used, I understood that Amal wearing the veil sparked a need to educate the people around her but I felt overloaded with them.

I enjoyed the parts where Amal talks about why she wants to wear the veil and why it is important to her. I loved that I got to dislike the principal because of her own opinions and prejudices, no matter how subtle they were. And I liked Amal not putting up with anyone’s ignorance or preconception; her confusion, real or mocking, over why there is a problem at all is wonderful.

What was weird was being late reading this, it feels so old but it wasn’t at the time of course. I did not realise this was published in 2005, I thought it was the early twenty tweens, not the mid-2000s. The benefit of this however was I did enjoy reliving 2002 when Big Brother and Craig David were hot topics of discussion, I even think a bum bag reference was made which was fun.

It wasn’t all bad. There are some good moments like Amal’s frustration of being the token Muslim and I enjoyed getting to read about Muslim practice and faith. But it remained an average book, one I couldn’t connect with and whose clunky writing never let me fall into the story completely.

You can purchase Does My Head Look Big in This via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman

Published: 26th April 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Tricycle Press
Illustrator: Mike Dutton
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★  ★  – 3 Stars

Donovan’s two moms are getting married, and he can’t wait for the celebration to begin. After all, as ringbearer, he has a very important job to do. Any boy or girl with same-sex parents—or who knows a same-sex couple—will appreciate this picture book about love, family, and marriage.  The story captures the joy and excitement of a wedding day while the illustrations show the happy occasion from a child’s point of view. 

The story is told through Donovan’s point of view and seeing his experience of the world and the Big Day was fun as Newman has mimicked the excited mind of a child and the urge to be a kid despite the importance and the fancy clothes he has to wear.

I liked the book and I enjoyed the story, I just found I couldn’t get into a rhythm reading it. It reads off like a list of things, which from a child’s mind works, but reading it I couldn’t get the flow right. The sentences are long and without punctuation which admittedly helps to convey the mind of an excited child. It is clear Donovan is going through a list in his mind of things he has been told to do and what not to do. It does make it hard to read and you have to find your own rhythm when reading but it is nice.

There’s no big agenda or message, it is all about Donavan doing his best on the Big Day. The focus is on him doing his job well and that makes it a different kind of read. One where the focus is on the child experience and his role, not the type of event. Having said that, it’s a great book that normalises a same-sex marriage and the family dynamic.

Dutton’s illustrations are good and help support the story Newman is telling. Donovan explains each step of his day and Dutton illustrates beside it in both full page and smaller illustrations. Overall, it’s a good book that promotes a child doing an important job and taking pride in doing it right. What he’s doing essentially doesn’t matter and it demonstrates that there are a lot of things you have to remember when doing an important job, especially for people you love.

You can purchase Donovan’s Big Day via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

More Than Friends by Liv Devereaux

Published: 5th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 47
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Short Story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Dana and Hope used to be best friends in elementary school. When they got to high school they lost touch. Dana got busy with soccer and Hope found a boyfriend. When they are paired up together for a project, Dana and Hope get the chance to get to know each other all over again. They’ll realize that both girls have changed in the last three years of high school. 

I picked this not looking at the page length, rather by the summary. I could easily see this as a full novel though, Devereaux easily could expand this into something longer, the bones are there. As is it is sweet, a bit rushed and easily solved, but at 47 pages you can’t expect anything but happy coincidences and easy solutions.

Despite this, it was a nice story, and even though it was short it felt established and rounded and a satisfactory read. Dana and Hope were good characters, the dual narration offers two perspectives and two stories, a great chance for readers to see the misunderstandings and hidden secrets which make young romance so lovely.

I would read this again if Devereaux expanded this into a full novel, but for the time being it was a lovely story about young love and repairing friendships.

You can purchase More Than Friends via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

First Kiss by J Tomas

Published: 29th August 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 JMS Books LLC
Pages: 11
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Short Story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Noah Lipinski has a fierce crush on Doug Hathaway, a hot jock on the high school football team whose locker is fifteen down from Noah’s in the hall. When Melissa Bradshaw, only the most popular girl in school, suddenly shows an interest in Noah, he suspects he’s being set up for a cruel joke. She asks him to Homecoming and he refuses to go.

After school, the doorbell rings and Noah’s sure she’s back to pester him about the dance. But when he opens the door, he finds Doug there instead, with an explanation and a much better offer than Melissa’s.

At 11 pages there is a lot of pressure to make a fully rounded story and Tomas almost hits the mark. For a short story is covers the key intrigue points but there wasn’t enough time to get a feel for the writing, or get settled into the story. It is an enjoyable snippet, but I wasn’t totally caught up in the story, Noah was a good character, and I could see the approach Tomas was aiming for, but there just needed a bit more to cement the narrative. Tomas brushes past the characters, enough for the reader to get a glimpse at who they’re meant to be, but nothing sticks beyond one dimension.

I’m not 100% sure more pages would help, there can be power in a short story, there needs refinement in the writing though to make the characters count in the space they have and bring across depth in the story.

You can purchase First Kiss via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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