Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Published: October 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen and Unwin
Pages: 242
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” will inherit her family’s treasure: the Newington Emerald. A dazzling heart-shaped gem, the Emerald also bestows its wearer with magical powers.

When the Emerald disappears one stormy night, Newt sets off to recover it. Her plan entails dressing up as a man, moustache included, as no well-bred young lady should be seen out and about on her own. While in disguise, Newt encounters the handsome but shrewd Major Harnett, who volunteers to help find the missing Emerald under the assumption that she is a man. Once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure that includes an evil sorceress, Newt realizes that something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.

In Newt’s Emerald, the bestselling author of Sabriel, Garth Nix, takes a waggish approach to the forever popular Regency romance and presents a charmed world where everyone has something to hide.  

Having not read the blurb beforehand and diving straight in simply because it was a Garth Nix book, this wasn’t at all the story I was expecting. That isn’t to say it wasn’t wholly enjoyable. I learnt about the regency, historical, and magical elements as I went. It wasn’t until the end that I realised exactly what it was but this didn’t dampen my enjoyment at all.  The story is full of real-life history but is laced with magic and fantasy as well. I love that one of my rare experiences to a historical regency romance is through Garth Nix and his elements of magic and fabulous storytelling.

I loved this style of regency romance. I am sure it isn’t the way a historical regency romance is meant to be but the story was funny and enjoyable and I was pulled along through the pages. The story was compelling, and the characters were complicated and unique with relationships, histories, and grudges. I’ve taken a shine to regency stories with a touch of magic and supernatural of late and this is a great addition.

I loved the disguises and the subterfuge, the fact Newt has plans while also having no real plan at the same time is fantastic. There are tongue in cheek moments, the story is light and not overly complicated but detailed enough to set the story which is all I needed.

The story ends with a grand masked ball which is what you want from your regency stories. Plus all the flirting and bickering and secret disguises makes it even more enjoyable. This is a fantasy in a regency setting, not a classic regency which, knowing nothing about the genre, I think it means Nix can do whatever he pleases and the story will be magnificent regardless.

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The 130-Storey Treehouse (#10) by Andy Griffiths

Published: 20th October 2020 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Australia
Pages:
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Andy and Terry have added 13 new levels to their treehouse and now it’s even more out of this world than before! There’s a soap bubble blaster, a GRABINATOR (it can grab anything from anywhere at any time), a time-wasting level, a toilet paper factory (because you can never have too much toilet paper), a super long legs level, an extra-terrestrial observation centre and the best bookshop-in-a-treehouse-in-a-tree-in-a-forest-in-a-book in the whole world!

After nine previous incarnations of this book it’s always interesting to see how the story never gets old despite the fact it is so formulaic. Having said that though, with 13 new storeys there are a myriad of new adventures waiting to be had, and while the previous 117 storeys go largely forgotten each time, it’s always a curious endeavour to see what Andy and Terry (and Jill when she’s involved  – which is never enough in my opinion #MoreJillContent) get up to.

With so many wild adventures possible, it’s always a nice change to have a simpler story that doesn’t involve too much chaos. This is one of those stories and it was a refreshing change, Griffiths balances his books out well so the series includes both styles so you don’t get burnt out on too much activity but there aren’t too many simpler and less action filled ones either.

As much as I enjoy the antic of Andy and Terry and the incredible complex and creative ways Griffiths weaves together all the various levels and chaos of the treehouse into a story, it is also nice when the adventures can be exciting without being busy. This is a fantastic story filled with excitement, mystery and suspense but it’s linear in a way some of the previous stories are not. There’s action and consequence but without things coming in from left field all the time steering the story off course – which have their place and are incredibly fun – but I did notice this had more of a straight line story. There’s journeys into space, enjoyment in a time wasting level, and a not so subtle reference about toilet paper which are only part of the fun.

I’ve done a lot of the previous books as audios but this one was a paperback and it was nice seeing Denton’s illustrations again. The tiny details and the small friends that live and hang out in the treehouse alongside Andy and Terry are fun to look at as they embark on their own antics and getting to visualise the various storeys and what they involve is wonderful.

You certainly do not have to have read the previous books in order to enjoy the story, which goes for all of the books in the series. Part of the formula is that Andy introduces everyone and the treehouse each book so every time can be someone’s first time. Despite having this structure to work around it’s still fun to marvel at how creative the story can be in-between, even when defying physics and logic, laws of space and time or general sensibilities.

You can purchase The 130-Storey Treehouse via the following

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Rusty by Chrissy McYoung

Published: March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hairy Phish Publications
Illustrator: Chrissy McYoung
Pages: 56
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Rusty is a dog that is going through the foster care system. Rusty is struggling to cope with all the rules and controls in his life and as such – keeps behaving in ways which cause his carers to leave. Rusty wants to give up and disappear, until things change. Rusty meets Rose.

I had the chance to hear McYoung talk at the Write Here! Festival a few weeks ago and hearing her talk about this book was fantastic and getting to chat with her a little bit afterwards as I bought her book was a delightful experience.Rusty’s story is about fostering and McYoung uses Rusty’s story to talk about how he can’t live with his mum and dad, and the troubles he has as he moves from home to home. This is such a powerful story because McYoung doesn’t hide from harsh truths, and she doesn’t sugar coat the experience of being cared for by multiple strangers and how scary that can be.

Through Rusty’s experience we see him go to multiple homes and be looked after by lots of people. Rusty’s feelings and thoughts are told and we see how he feels confused and unsure about his situation. There’s also a wonderful exploration about how when Rusty feels scared and trapped he will lash out. As a metaphor for a struggling foster child, as well as for an actual dog, this is a powerful message. Making people understand that there are real feelings and thoughts for those in Rusty’s situation and that everything feels too big, and out of control.

Even though Rusty is portrayed as a dog, his actions fit those of a child. He attends school, wants to phone his parents, and wants to play with friends but he’s confined by strict rules he doesn’t understand.

Through amazing illustrations we see Rusty’s thoughts and confusion about why people go away and not understanding why his carers act the way they act. So much is said in them and the way McYoung conveys Rusty’s feelings are impactful. There is humour as well, McYoung adds funny scenes and moments in pictures to bring up the mood like Rusty living under the sea or in a castle guarded by a knight, but the heart of the story and the emotional impact remains true.

What makes this story wonderful is that while there isn’t a perfect ending – there is hope. And hope and imperfection is important especially for children who see their own lives reflected in Rusty’s story.

There are eight additional pages of amazing facts and helpful resources at the back of the book to explain that Rusty’s story is based on real people McYoung has worked with (with some creative licence). She provides information about the various out of home care that kids are placed into in Australia as well as the variety of guides in how to help people who experience some of the intense emotions and reactions that Rusty experiences

This is an important story about an important subject and one that is explored well through this medium. Rusty’s story is one that needs to be told not only because it educates everyone but it might help someone find comfort in a similar situation.

You can purchase Rusty via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (#8) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 15th December 1999 (print)/ 1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 196/5 hrs and 37 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The local ladies all deem Mr John a wizard, so when Agatha finds a few grey hairs on her head, she makes a beeline for the handsome Evesham hairdresser. As well as sorting out her hair it soon becomes clear the charming man also has designs on her heart – but their future together is cut short when Mr John is fatally poisoned in his salon.

It’s hard to pick up an Agatha Raisin book randomly in the middle of a series because they so often follow immediately on from one another you feel like you’re coming in the middle of a scene. Even when Beaton recaps about who everyone is and how Agatha ended up in Carsley the stories still open following on from the last chapter of the previous book most of the time. This is one of those times where the events of the previous book are still playing out.

I really enjoyed this story, probably in part because there was a good murder to focus on, and because James was not in the story so there was less pining and whining going on about him. Agatha’s vanity is out in force and so are her judgements. For someone so scared of being judged by others, she does a fair amount of judging of her own.

The murder is intriguing, a lot of misdirection but it ends up being relatively obvious. But it’s easy to get caught up in the characters and their misadventures while they try and solve the mystery so it is quite enjoyable. Agatha pushes boundaries and breaks so many laws while she inserts herself into this investigation but that’s part of her charm and Beaton does show there are often consequences for doing so, this is no exception.

I loved how we saw more of Charles, he is a fun character who flits in and out of Agatha’s life as he pleases. He is also a good friend to her and they have a better relationship than Agatha does with most people. She frustrates him and he can be flippant and self-centred but at this point I think every character except Mrs Bloxby and Bill Wong are self-centred in some way. His inclusion added some fun and humour into the books which had been missing for a while and it gives readers a break from all the bland or horrible characters we’ve seen so far.

After a few dodgy storylines I’m glad that the stories are seemingly back on track. I know when all the characters are back in the picture it will probably revert back to despair and lovesick Agatha but Beaton can often write an interesting murder mystery so hopefully that outweighs the rest.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham via the following

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Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Published: 30 May 2017 (print)/7 May 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Greenwillow Books /Harper Audio
Pages: 385/8 hrs and 51 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Kelly and Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

I really enjoyed this book, it was wonderful and a little heartbreaking and surprising but there was also a great familiarity too. The characters and their relationships felt real and each character was fleshed out, even if they were only minor characters I still got a sense of who they were. There are strong friendships that are established but also fresh new ones that grow and seeing Eliza work through these with her own anxieties and coping mechanisms was extremely validating.

Online communities and forums get great representation and reading a book that celebrates loving something enough to create art and fanfiction in a normal, non-judgemental way is great. Zappia captures the relationships and friendships of online interaction really well and I loved how she makes a point of explaining how these connections are just as meaningful as in person friendships.

However, for a story about online communities and finding friends across the country bonding over common interests I will admit I hated that Zappia uses the worn out irksome trope of the “40 year old dude in a basement” which alone is annoying but Zappia goes a little bit further adding insult to injury with descriptions of having Cheeto dust on his fingers and “a Star Wars shirt that doesn’t fit his growing girth.” Look, I get it, it’s a well- known trope but it is a cheap joke and one that I am really tired of seeing dragged out, especially in this kind of book. There could easily have been a better line for Eliza’s apprehension, even just the age would have sufficed, we didn’t need the extra judgement and mocking, no matter the context. Just because it isn’t your fandom, doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

On the plus side, many other stereotypes are broken with the demographic and age of fans for Eliza’s work. I liked that popular internet content is showcased as being for all ages and can hold such important meaning in people’s lives, it isn’t only teenagers but adults too who enjoy the content and consume it and engage regularly as fans online.

It isn’t only the online experience represented well, Zappia also handles issues like depression and anxiety in realistic and believable ways. Eliza’s experience and her fears are conveyed through the narrative naturally and through Eliza’s eyes we see how her mind works to build up these feelings and what triggers them.

Overall I enjoyed this book for giving a space to celebrate the internet culture and the fandom experience. I love that it came from original content and wasn’t based on established media and at times I really wished I could read more of Eliza’s web comic.

You can purchase Eliza and Her Monsters via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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