Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Published: 1st November 2018 (print)/1 February 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 352/8 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Abbe Holmes
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

I knew my brother. I knew when he talked too much about Timothy his imaginary pet eagle. He was scared.
‘Whatever you do,’ I said to Davey on the walk to school, ‘Do not tell people about your eagle. Do not tell Miss Schweitzer about your eagle.’
He looked crestfallen. His shoulders slumped. He looked to make sure Timothy hadn’t fallen off.

Lenny, small and sharp, has a younger brother Davey who won’t stop growing – and at seven is as tall as a man. Raised by their single mother, who works two jobs and is made almost entirely out of worries, they have food and a roof over their heads, but not much else.

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopaedia. Through the encyclopaedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure, visiting places like Saskatchewan and Yellowknife, and the gleaming lakes of the Northwest Territories. But as her brother’s health deteriorates, Lenny comes to accept the inevitable truth; Davey will never make it to Great Bear Lake.

This was so highly praised I feared it was a Literature book that won the awards but was dull to read. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and instead it is a sweet and heartbreaking story set in the 1970s filled with sibling love and a love of information. There is a strong chance this book will break your heart but it will also fill you with love and admiration, you’ll become so consumed by these two siblings that everything in their lives becomes of vital importance to you.

Foxlee’s narrative is so beautifully written. It’s profound and magical and it captures so many feelings and emotions that are eloquent but never feel pretentious. The themes of loss and heartbreak are clear, but love and support are evident throughout as well. Lenny’s life is one where she tries so hard to be the big sister and the extra grown up her family needs but so often Foxlee shows she is also a little girl herself and with so much uncertainty around her, her own strength and determination doesn’t always have the reach required.

It was fascinating to see how Davey’s condition was dealt with and managed in the 1970s. It was also a wonderful look through Lenny’s eyes at her life with her brother and their life as a family. Lenny’s protectiveness of her younger brother, even when no one knew quite what was wrong, was so sweet. No matter what was going on with Davey he was still her little brother and she had to help and guide him through the world. You also feel the fierce pride and love Lenny’s mother had for her children, the way she advocates for them, not only with Davey’s condition, but in regards to the encyclopaedias as well. I loved how Foxlee uses the encyclopaedias as a focal point throughout and how it piques the children’s interests and passions. She beautifully captures the anticipation of the upcoming edition and highlights its importance in their lives.

Holmes does a fantastic job with the audiobook. She captures the childlike innocence of the children but also Lenny’s determination to be strong and brave for her mother and brother. I found myself completely absorbed in this story about Lenny and Davey and their discovery and fascinating with the subjects of each new edition of the encylocpaedia. This is a beautiful story and one that stays with you even after you’ve put it down.

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The Quiche of Death (#1) by M.C. Beaton

Published: 7th March 2006 (print)/5th July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 246/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Agatha has moved to a picture-book English village and wants to get in the swing. So she buys herself a quiche for the village quiche-making contest and is more than alarmed when it kills a judge. Hot on the trail of the poisoner, Agatha is fearless, all the while unaware, that she’s become the next victim….

I quite enjoyed this book. Agatha comes to the village from her big city job and Beaton provides all the explanations and justifications about why it’s possible. The problem being Agatha has built up in her mind what this kind of life would look like not understanding her own personality doesn’t quite fit in.

Agatha’s personality clashes with the gentler folk in the village but her own determination and insecurities push back and she gets herself into village life as she tries to live the life she’s always dreamt about. Entering the competition to try and assimilate but with no baking skills whatsoever she enters a bought quiche which cause more trouble and exposes Agatha’s fraud at the same time.

In a way you feel sorry for her, but other times you can see she only has herself to blame. The fact Beaton points out that prior to arriving at Carsely Agatha never had any friends is meant to make you sympathise with her, but also demonstrating her behaviour and interactions with other people it’s understandable why.

It’s a cosy mystery with a few rough edges. Agatha herself has a few rough edges herself as she smokes, drinks, swears and descents upon this quite village with her brashness and controlling nature. Coming from a world where money talks she uses that to solve her problems and her effect on the village is immediate.

The mystery itself was quite good, there are clues and secrets and it blends in with getting to know these new characters so the two work side by side. Keith does a good job as narrator, she has unique voices for the different characters and you can tell who’s going to be a reoccurring character. The story is a quick read but it didn’t feel incomplete, you get a sense of who the characters are and who Agatha is. Being the start of the series there are plenty of future stories to expand upon all the characters we have met and to delve further into the Carsely life.

You can purchase The Quiche of Death via the following

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Sword in the Stars (#2) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Published: 7th April 2020 (print)/ 7th Apr 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Rock the Boat/Bolinda audio
Pages: 355/10 Hours 48 min
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In this epic sequel to Once & Future, to save the future, Ari and her Rainbow knights pull off a heist…thousands of years in the past.

Ari Helix may have won her battle against the tyrannical Mercer corporation, but the larger war has just begun. Ari and her cursed wizard Merlin must travel back in time to the unenlightened Middle Ages and steal the King Arthur’s Grail—the very definition of impossible.

It’s imperative that the time travellers not skew the timeline and alter the course of history. Coming face-to-face with the original Arthurian legend could produce a ripple effect that changes everything. Somehow Merlin forgot that the past can be even more dangerous than the future…

After the first book I was expecting a lot from this sequel and a lot of answers and it certainly delivers. The old problems and new problems, as well as the world threatening and personal issues all coincide as each character makes their move through history and plays their roles.

Once again the creativity these authors show with creating a whole new, fantastically complex and stunning story but entwined seamlessly into the established Arthurian myth is something to marvel. These rich, flawed characters are in depth and unique and their complicated relationships with one another are never trivialised.

The diversity of the characters are highlighted further as they step into the past and I loved how the characters manage and reflect on their surroundings as a result. There’s conversations, so casual and important at the same time about identity. Coming from the future, even our future, it shows how far their society has come that this is such an everyday thing it isn’t even a big deal. Discussions about pronouns and having to be misgendered in the middle ages with the danger of hiding gender for protection – female and nonbinary knights are a hurdle but one that isn’t brushed over as a minor inconvenience. The characters talk openly about how it feels awful to be misgendered all day and how it wears them down. Capetta and McCarthy use the characters to remind us how whitewashed and male dominated this story has become over the centuries and how the middle ages were a lot more diverse than what has been told, even with the constraints of misogyny and sexism.

One of the things I loved, and it’s something that didn’t need to be included but I am so glad it did, was how the story breaks the fourth wall in a way with wonderful references to how the Arthurian legend has survived. Completely in narrative but the references are real with in jokes about the various versions of the legend told and retold throughout history in TV shows, movies, and other various books and retellings.

There’s so much contained within this story and it all works so well. There’s heart-warming romance, suspense and tension, action and drama all within a story of magic, time travel, space, and capitalism. I would love nothing more than to read more about this world and these characters but I also love that it’s confined to two books because those two books pack a punch I don’t know if I could handle another.

The conclusion is positively amazing. The way it fills in details and gaps, answers questions you didn’t even know were being asked and becomes a fabulous rich and complicated set of circumstances makes it the perfect story. This is the Arthurian retelling I didn’t know I needed but it one I will absolutely cherish.

You can purchase Sword in the Stars via the following

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Once & Future (#1) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Published: 26th March 2019 (print)/29th August 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 336/10 hrs and 54 mins
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

First and foremost this story is phenomenal! It’s the King Arthur legend, set in the future, set in space, with a female Arthur and a fabulous, beautifully constructed time loop of curses and legends and a beautiful cast of diverse characters that you will fall in love with.

The world building is definitely something to love – the world that’s been created is incredibly clever and diverse, not only in the planets and their various structures but in the community and the characters as well. Honestly the detail throughout is a constant delight every time something else pops up and the way the original characters and established mythology is woven into this entirely new story is brilliant. It is the myth we all know but it also has a new story unfolding too which was amazing to read about.

The reimagining of Arthur and his legend is incredible; the fact that it feels like a completely new story but also a well told one at the same time is a credit to the imagination and writing skill of these authors. There’s intricate, complicated magic and age old magic being used alongside new players and it’s in these overlaps that you see the remnants of the old stories come through and the mythology stand out in this new construction.

The characters are such a huge part of the magic of this story as well. Ari and her brother, their sibling dynamics as well as their bond over being fugitives is a solid connection. I loved the other bonds between characters and how even with Merlin as the newcomer he fits into this established group really well. There’s a beautifully fluid introduction of the characters and their relationships to Ari are well understood, often with their own backstories seamlessly included. The dialogue and casual conversations never felt clunky or forced, this is a huge benefit of setting the story in the future, it normalises conversations and makes debatable things in the present day feel like outdated issues. There was no need for explanations, things just were and it is well understood.

There is so much I could gush about in regards to this story. Truly from start to finish I was captivated; I was in awe, and I was blown away by how beautiful and smart and funny this entire book was. Even the conclusion was perfect. This is only book one in a duology but the way details and gaps in the story are filled and how answers are given for questions you didn’t even know were being asked is astounding, and the absolute majesty of how it becomes a fabulously rich and complicated set of circumstances makes it a perfect story and one I could reread until the end of time.

You can purchase Once & Future via the following

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Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Published:  20th October 1994 (print)/1st August 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dover Publications/Naxos Audio
Pages: 82/2 hrs and 36 minutes
Narrator: Anton Lesser, Lucy Whybrow, Geoffrey Palmer and cast
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Play
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Professor Henry Higgins, a linguistic expert, takes on a bet that he can transform an awkward cockney flower seller into a refined young lady simply by polishing her manners and changing the way she speaks. In the process of convincing society that his creation is a mysterious royal figure, the Professor also falls in love with his elegant handiwork.

I adore the movie My Fair Lady which is the film version of this play and I loved that now having finally read the play on which it is based that it is virtually the exact same story. The main differences are the play brushes over a few scenes which are expanded in more detail in the film that might have only been a passing reference. This doesn’t take anything away from the play it was a curious observance, but from a production point of view it makes sense to limit your set locations.

Another comforting and familiar piece is Henry is just as much of a pig, even though Shaw has Henry admit he’s like that, and have other characters point out his issues, I can’t understand why he is so horrible. His selfishness and arrogance still make me want to punch him in the face.

Other than that, I do love this story a lot. It is also a great play to experience as an audio because I got the different voice actors in my ear and while I had their voices I could picture Rex Harrison in my mind. I loved how the different accents and components of the story came to life it was like I was listening to the movie.

One of the parts that always resounded with me was when Eliza asks Henry what she is meant to do with herself now he’s finished with her. She has been made into a lady without a skillset to actually work in society as a “proper lady” and she is deemed too posh to return to where she’s come from. I felt it trapped Eliza into becoming reliant on Henry. Not to say they couldn’t remain friends, but he’s rebuilt her into someone she doesn’t know how to be and expects her to manage.

Which brings me to something I will never understand, where the romance element comes from in this play. I can maybe see Henry falling for Eliza and becoming reliant on her because he laments missing her, in his own way, and after all that time together you would grow accustomed to one another, but this I would not class as romance, even in 1927. Henry is too much of a pig and abusive for Eliza to want to be with him, she says so enough times. Good company and companionship might be the best they can give one another, with Colonial Pickering popping over occasionally as a third friend.

You can purchase Pygmalion via the following

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