Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th March 1999
Publisher:
Penguin
Pages: 133
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

“Dear Your Majesty the Queen,

I need to speak to you urgently about my brother Luke. He’s got cancer and the doctors in Australia are being really slack. If I could borrow your top doctor for a few days I know he/she would fix things in no time. Of course Mum and Dad would pay his/her fares even if it meant selling the car or getting a loan. Please contact me at the above address urgently.

Yours sincerely,
Colin Mudford.

P.S.
This is not a hoax.
Ring the above number and Aunty Iris will tell you.
Hang up if a man answers.

I know this probably doesn’t quite count as a true LGBTQIA book so I may be cheating a little here including it in my Pride Month. I first read this for uni back in 2009 and really enjoyed it. I loved the play on words Gleitzman has with the title and I liked how such a short story could contain such deep and meaningful content while still being simple and at times even humerous.

The narrative is told through Colin’s third person perspective and it’s a great tactic to understand Colin’s age and mindset. His naivety and childlike logic about what is happening and how every problem has a simple solution or was an egregious injustice made you understand that even at twelve Colin’s world had simple answers and solutions.

When I first read it I don’t remember thinking how strange it was to send Colin away to England while his brother was sick. I understand the reasoning of his parents but I also feel that it would be a terrible and selfish thing to do and I love how this is reflected in the story. Colin’s various schemes to cure his brother are fanciful but full of heart and with the logic of a twelve year old who doesn’t know any better they make perfect sense in his head.

It is a fleeting moment Colin spends with Griff and Ted, fleeting really in a lot of ways because of the length of the story but Gleitzman has captured a lot of heart, a lot of innocence and a lot of compassion in a light on the outside deep and moving on the inside narrative. Having Colin know and understand about AIDS and homosexuality as well as the slurs used towards gay men at the time is beneficial because the narrative explains it to readers through Colin’s comprehension without it needing true explanations from adults in the story. I also liked that Gleitzman has him knowledgeable about these things but doesn’t let the stigma interfere with his good nature and kindness.

The realism is beautiful and heartbreaking and Gleitzman balances this sweet story of a kid writing to the queen and trying to track down doctors to help his brother alongside serious social issues and medical realities that don’t always have a happily ever after.

Long Lost Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 5th April 2016 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 323
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★  ★  ★ ★ – 5 Stars

As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel–the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author’s own experiences as a ship’s officer and a lawyer.

As soon as I saw this book was being published I put it on my list because I love things about the Titanic and this story sounded incredible. The small decisions and indecisions and multitude of factors that contributed to the Titanic disaster is amazing and this book shows how a series of events outside of the Titanic’s control also contributed to the rescue effort and the aftermath.

Dyer does an absolutely fantastic job placing us there on the night with the SS Californian. We get the perspectives of multiple people on multiple ships, those in charge and those in board and honestly the fictional story Dyer has woven about these people’s lives and their hopes, dreams, and families is incredible. I became invested with these passengers and their experiences, I was there with Stone as he reports what he sees and the doubt, anger and injustices of the events in the time afterwards. The alternating points of view, even if brief, give another sliver of detail and evidence about what happened that night and seeing it play out as you read, when you know the outcome, is actually quite hard because seeing the failures, even in a piece of fiction, is heartbreaking.

I often find myself getting angry when I learn something new about the failures that led to the sinking of Titanic and how much of it was human error as well as natural circumstances. I get angry at those who put class above survival, I get angry at empty lifeboats, I get angry that no one responded in time to the distress signals. This book ignited my passion again and it was fascinating to see a perspective I’d never seen before.

The research Dyer has done is evident and even the fictionalised passengers felt like they came from a real place. They were alive on the page which honestly made reading their story even more heartbreaking because essentially these were real people. These are their stories and the stories of the hundreds of others who perished on that night.

When things get this much attention and you dive deeper into the causes you realise there is more than one person responsible for such a tragedy, but it also makes you realise that if one person had gone a different path, made a different decision, done their job properly, then you realise how close everything came to being completely different and with one different decision hundreds of lives could have been saved.

The exploration of human nature, the flaws, the failings and the clear evidence that when put in a corner humans can often be their own worst selves if it means survival and self-preservation will captivate and anger you as you read. I was fascinated and ashamed and amazed by every page and every moment and Dyer has gone into such detail that I believed and mourned for their characters and their circumstances whether they were on the ship or not.

There is so much more to the story of Titanic and this is another brilliant tale about those on the outside looking in and how it isn’t just those on the Titanic that are responsible, but those around her as well. This story is a fascinating look at the aftermath as well as the night itself in how the press, public and those involved reacted and coped after the fact and the quest for finding justice for the lives lost that night.

Long Lost Review: To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th June 2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hot Key Books
Pages: 504
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy/Short Stories
★   ★  ★  ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Far to the north of the magical Old Kingdom, the Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for almost a hundred years. It is not an easy task, for many dangers threaten the bridge builders, from nomad raiders to Free Magic sorcerers. Despite the danger, Morghan wants nothing more than to join the Bridge Company as a cadet. But the company takes only the best, the most skillful Charter mages, and trains them hard, for the night might come when only a single young cadet must hold the bridge against many foes. Will Morghan be that cadet?

Also included in this collection are eighteen short stories that showcase Nix’s versatility as he adds a fantastical twist on an array of genres including science fiction, paranormal, realistic fiction, mystery, and adventure.

Nix has always been a masterful storyteller and these short stories are evidence of that. In a single story that focuses on one moment in time, Nix has the ability to give you an entire understanding of the world with only a few words and in doing so you gain total comprehension of what this world is like and who these characters are.

I loved the diversity and similarities in the stories, and I loved that they captivate you from the first sentence, drawing you in. It is always fantastic to return to the Old Kingdom and the story of the bridge is wonderful, but the short stories are pretty amazing as well. Set across different genres and eras Nix’s voice is through all of them and it’s amazing to see his twists on genre, well-known stories and mythologies.

Across the 18 stories there are vampires, unicorns, spies and legendary kings to name a few, as well as further stories about Nix’s own work. The way Nix mixes together multiple elements and builds them into the new story is incredible and seeing the familiar references or inspiration throughout shows off how clever he can be.

I love everything Nix does and with a collection like this it goes to show that my admiration isn’t unsubstantiated.

You can purchase To Hold the Bridge via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Long Lost Review: The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th July 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hot Key Books
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

The funny thing about stop signs is that they’re also start signs.

Mayzie is the brainy middle sister, Brooks is the beautiful but conflicted oldest, and Palmer’s the quirky baby of the family. In spite of their differences, the Gold sisters have always been close.

When their father dies, everything begins to fall apart. Level-headed May is left to fend for herself (and somehow learn to drive), while her two sisters struggle with their own demons. But the girls learn that while there are a lot of rules for the road, there are no rules when it comes to the heart. Together, they discover the key to moving on — and it’s the key to their father’s Pontiac Firebird.

This is one of Maureen Johnson’s earliest books and it’s fascinating to see how far she has come over the last fifteen or so years. This was also one of the first books I read of hers and I’ve been on the Maureen Johnson train ever since. 

The story is about family and loss, about trying to recover afterwards but there isn’t a deep sadness about it. We see how each of the girls cope with their grief and the lives they’re choosing to live. The point of view changes but Mayzie is the main focus of the story for the majority of the time. Palmer got my sympathy because she was sad and often ignored, and Brooks goes off the rails a bit but there is a sisterly relationship explored throughout as they try and cope and come together. Johnson shows how May is the one who is trying to keep everyone together and functional and her stress and flustered moments come across really well. It was interesting to see it come from the middle sister and not the eldest as you’d expect. 

One thing I disliked was the May/Pete thing that Johnson had going, mainly because Pete did a 180 from being a horrible person to May for most of the novel that I couldn’t look past. It comes so out of the blue that it felt forced and throws you, especially coming from characters we have gotten to know for most of the story. The “romance” is probably the part I liked the least, at no point are we rooting for Pete at all since he has been so horrible, and the secret adoration isn’t something I’m keen to believe. 

I hate to say this, especially about a Johnson novel, but I wanted a little extra something to make it stronger. The story needed a bump, just a little one to give it that extra something and make it stand out more. There isn’t any real structure which lets you focus on the characters themselves and not a lot happens for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story, it was good, but I’d probably best describe it as a warm story – no huge moments or events but it was well told and nice. The good news is the ending brought everything together wonderfully which was quite satisfying and of course it was filled with Johnson humour which was an enjoyment level all its own. 

Long Lost Review: The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 26th February 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Australia
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Romance
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

Lily is a producer on a successful cooking segment for a daily morning show. The new chef has just arrived on set and he is drop dead gorgeous. And despite everything – the sabbatical that Lily and her flatmate Simone are taking from men, the fact that Jack is a work colleague – Lily falls head over heels for him.

And while Lily battles her feelings, her flatmate Simone breaks their pact and starts dating some guy from her wholefoods shop. That guy turns out to be Jack. Up close, Lily bravely watches on as romance blossoms between Simone and Jack. Or does it? They don’t seem to have much in common, apart from their striking good looks. And Lily and Jack just seem to get each other. Is that the same thing as falling in love? And could she ever dream of betraying a friendship? Lily has to make some difficult decisions about work and home, and realises that if she doesn’t take life by the scruff of the neck, she is the one who’ll be picked up, shaken and dumped. 

I really loved this book. I had it sitting on my shelf for years and I finally got around to reading it in 2017 and I have to say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was made into a TV show but I can’t bring myself to watch it because based on a cursory glance at the first few episode summaries it clearly changes a few things I absolutely loved about the book so I haven’t watched it. I’m sure it is still good in its own right but I want to preserve my book memories.

The blurb makes the story sound more like unrequited love than I believe it initially to be. Naturally, after having sworn off men, the perfect one walks into Lily’s life, but what I loved was that Lily and Jack’s relationship doesn’t start off perfectly. She takes a while to warm up to him and their friendship and work/life banter is much more enjoyable than having them get together. Yes Lily starts to get a crush on Jack, but it doesn’t consume her or become to focus of the novel, her determination to further her career is the focus of her days and Foster balances her work and her downtime really well so Lily’s whole life is encapsulated without having every tiny detail and event laid out.

I loved that Foster didn’t go the jealous friend/unrequited love route she could have done. Yes it is there in the tiniest instance, but Lily is so in denial over her feelings for Jack initially she never pines over Jack being with someone else, nor does she obsess over him like a lovesick puppy. It was really refreshing and I loved the different approach to having her feelings be the be all and her job and life be brushed over while she spent her time thinking about him.

So much of everything is done wonderfully in this. The right balance of fun, seriousness, and romance. I love Lily as a character, she is young but growing up, she knows what she wants and has a goal in mind, but she also has a little fun as well. I definitely think a reread of this is in order because I remember it being such a wonderful read filled with the surprises and delights to entertain while also feeling real and having an emotional impact.

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