Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Published: 4th December 1984 (print)/15th September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 208/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Kate Hood
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

1478198Distraught over her parents’ separation, Abigail follows a strange child called Beatie Bow and time slips back a hundred years where she becomes involved with an Australian shopkeeper’s family.

I was unsure what to expect from this, I’d heard great things about this Aussie classic and since it was reasonably short I was intrigued. I enjoyed the story from the start, I liked how Abigail is defiant and independent, and I loved the relationship she had with her mother.

I was quite drawn into the story by the end, it feels like a longer story than it is and time stretches on but does not drag. Park has done a great job mixing the time periods and blending the historical with the contemporary. Despite being published in 1980, there is a wonderful 70s vibe through this story because it is the time of the women’s liberation movement and this comes across in the dialogue between Abigail and her mother. Limiting minor spoilers I loved how fiercely Abigail is trying to reason with her mother over her relationship with her father. It gave a wonderfully modern feel to the story and I think Park does a great job satisfying both parties with how she handles the situation.

I was surprised by the ending but Park makes this work in how she loops it back to the earlier story. It subjects your expectations and keeps a little of the magic alive, certainly giving a satisfactory feel as a reader as we too have become attached to these figures of history as we spend time with them as well.

Kate Hood does a great job as narrator. Her use of accents makes each character stand out, though Park’s writing does that well enough as it is, with each time period represented through dialogue, language and descriptions.

The historical aspect brings to light a side of Sydney I hadn’t thought about before. The reign of Queen Victoria and the fact Australia is still reasonably new are charming factors, and Park shows us a little of how life was during that time. I understood how Park makes it sound rather peaceful and fulfilling, while also showing the hardships. The balance between the current times and the olden days is surely the perfect way to live and seeing Abigail come to that realisation was great.

For a time before young adult books were really a thing, this is a good coming of age story that fills in the gaps between kids and teens, for those early years before becoming a fully-fledged teenager and are still trying to navigate growing up and moving on from childhood.

You can purchase Playing Beatie Bow via the following

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Soulless (#1) by Gail Carriger

Published: 1st October 2009(print)/26 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Orbit/Hachette Audio
Pages: 357/10 hrs and 48 mins
Narrator: Emily Gray
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Steampunk/Paranormal
★   ★   ★    ★  ★ – 5 Stars

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. 

First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire–and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

I have so much love for this book, this world, this series, and Alexia herself. The story introduces us to preternatural woman Alexia Tarabotti. She has no soul which is information she can’t really share with anyone and when she touches someone who is of a supernatural persuasion she cancels out their abilities. This comes in handy when you live in a society with vampires and werewolves. I love her. She is sarcastic, she is polite and proper to the point of hilarity, and being soulless she certainly brings a lot of fun and frustration to those around her.

Soulless is our first introduction to Alexia and it is a fantastic introduction. It is also a brilliant way to introduce us to this Victorian world where vampires and werewolves exist in everyday society and are just as respectable as the next person. Please, please, please I beg you do not let the fact that there are vampires and werewolves in this deter you. It is not your Twilight, Anne Rice, or Vampire Academy vampires, or really any other vampire you’d be thinking of I promise you. This book and series has been described as a cross between Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse and I wholeheartedly agree. It is a steampunk, Victorian era, alternate reality where everything is the same, Victoria is Queen but instead there are werewolves and vampires which have been assimilated into society. There are rules, societal etiquette to consider, and they are highly civilised and these supernatural creatures are accepted into society no problem and society has evolved around them to accommodate.

The tone of the blurb is a great indication of the tone of the book. One thing I adored was Carriger’s use of language. It’s not so fanciful that it is hard to understand but her use of language is elegant, with wonderful humour without making it seem silly. There are dirigibles and glassicals and all many wonderful Victorian era inventions, phrases, customs, but there is a fantastic steampunk/paranormal/mystery part as well. This is the ideal way to introduce the world and society protocols because things have gone slightly haywire and in trying to work out the mystery behind it, you get told the history and standards of the modern world these characters live in.

The pure joy of this is not even these supernatural creatures, it is Carriger’s storytelling ability and her way with words and dialogue. There is mystery and danger and Alexia’s prowess at weaving through the chaos in her upper class manner is wonderful. The issue of societal rules and manners are half the fun as even as these dangerous and dastardly things happen social niceties must be observed. The absolute best way to experience this I my opinion is as an audio. I adored how Gray annunciates and it is quite fantastic to hear all the fancy words and the accents and inflections she uses are divine. If audios aren’t your thing though, the book is fantastic on its own because the story is captivating and the language and the dialogue Carriger uses only enhances this great narrative which is as delightful and hilarious as high society is allowed to be.

You can purchase Soulless via the following

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The Vanishing Stair (#2) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 22nd January 2019 (print)/22th January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Audio
Pages: 384/9 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalising riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unravelled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life. 

Johnson has done an amazing job with this sequel because it brings all the mystery of the first book and as the clues and evidence unravel it also raises new questions which I totally wasn’t expecting. We may find out the answers to some of the questions in Truly Devious, but the answers to the questions raised in The Vanishing Stair are as equally intriguing and in a way a whole lot more dangerous. The characters we fell in love with in Truly Devious are back, the events of the previous story still there but with a small jump in time. We get to see how the school and students have coped after the events of book one and how Stevie is managing as well.

One of the best things of this story is how Johnson has treated her characters. I love how each person at Ellingham have their uniqueness explored in a respectful and honest way. Stevie’s passion for true crime, as well as her own anxiety and self-care techniques are part of her day to day, and Nate’s introvert nature is accepted, jested about sometimes between friends but is never seen as a problem. The reasons that these students have been accepted into Ellingham is openly welcomed and celebrated and Johnson constantly reminds us that these are gifted kids who have a passion and a talent beyond the norm that they need to be free to explore and develop.

There is drama and mystery, all the things a good crime story should have. Johnson doesn’t hold back from the realities of this kind of story but she also tries not to be too gruesome or detailed. There is a good balance between what Stevie is capable of finding out due to her position, but has all the fun or sneaking out and maybe being in places you should go. The 21st century issue of technology with mysteries is used to the story’s advantage and using these modern conveniences doesn’t essentially make anything easier but it helps when Stevie is confined to a school in the mountains and has no actual job or resources to use beyond her immediate surroundings and her desire to find answers.

Rudd is once again a great narrator. Her voice captures Stevie’s uncertainties and her passion, you can see these characters come to life in your mind and all the teenage awkwardness, uncomfortableness and enthusiasm is all expressed perfectly. Her pace is wonderful and her tone keeps you engaged throughout.

This is a series you must read in order so if you haven’t already, you should check out Truly Devious. There is a third book coming soon so if you become enraptured in this series like I have, you won’t have to wait long.

You can purchase The Vanishing Stair via the following

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You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/5th March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin/Penguin
Pages: 288/5 hrs and 21 mins
Narrator: Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. I enjoyed parts of it, and how it didn’t become an Issue book, but at the same time I think it didn’t do enough to flesh out the issues it does raise. In essence it is a good story, there is a balance between Layla being the Minority Spokesperson but there is also a universal story about finding your place in the new school and being the awkward age of being a teenager.

Layla has dreams and she makes sacrifices to achieve those dreams. I like that there is a protagonist who isn’t shy and meek, or a full on fighter, she is loud and cheerful, which she is completely ok with, and she has goals.  She screams self-confidence and her Sudanese and Muslim traditions are part of her day and not huge plot points in the narrative, it’s a background part.

There are themes of ethnicity, belonging, family, and bullying which are all dealt with reasonably well. One thing doesn’t stand out as the main point of the book, they are all woven together like they are in life, coming and going and being ever present in the background. I did love that Layla doesn’t have to stop being a teenager to become a fighter against the bullying or an advocate for her heritage, she could just enjoy her life.

It pays to remember this is the narration of a thirteen year old girl and those around her are year eight students which is a great eye opener to the next generation because while some parts were reminding me of my own year eight experience, the language and the technology is a new experience. There are also great male/female friendships. I was worried at the start based on how Abdel-Magied introduced them, but it was great to see that girls and boys could be friends without it being an issue.

Unfortunately Abdel-Magied’s writing is not entirely seamless, there is some repetition and the language can be clunky. I didn’t mind the teen slang, it may date but that was fine. It was more that I think it needed another edit, needed to be refined a bit more. This is evident listening to the audiobook. Even though Abdel-Magied reads it herself, and she does a decent job, it makes you even more aware of the writing as it can be jarring at times and highlights the flaws.

It skirts along big issues but doesn’t focus on them any further. Initially a good idea, and while I am glad Layla and the book doesn’t become focused on those issues, by the end I think it needed a bit more depth and maybe more length. In a strange way it felt like the start of a series, that all the issues half introduced in this story would be addressed in the next book. There were a lot of issues half raised and I kept expecting certain things to have more of an impact.

One thing that irked me is I honestly can’t see how this can be classed as an LGBT book like I’ve seen when it happens in the last few pages of the book and has no effect on the plot whatsoever. It could be edited out and it would mean nothing. For all the parts that work, there are just as much that doesn’t. It’s a book that borders on two sets of audiences, kids and teenagers. Layla is 13 and I think anybody over that age won’t get as much out of it as those who are younger. There’s some great messages in there that suit the younger age bracket that can escape being brushed over with minimal depth.

You can purchase You Must Be Layla via the following

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Published: 5 September 2017 (print)/5 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperTeen/Harper Audio
Pages: 373/8 hrs and 30 mins
Narrators: Michael Crouch, Robbie Daymond, Bahni Turpin
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

I am so, so glad I kept reading this. I tried twice to get going but I don’t know whether it was too late at night or I wasn’t in the right mood on the day, but I almost didn’t keep reading. I’m glad I was rewarded for my persistence though because this is a beautiful story. This story answer the question about what would you do if you knew today would be your last day? Where would you go? What would you do? Who could you meet?

In this not so distant future the technology exists to let people know the day they will die. The problem is they don’t know until the day of when they get that fateful phone call. I loved that there was no explanation about how or why this system came into practice but it has been in long enough that people are used to it, but not so long either. I also loved how there were enough new technologies to allow people to experience things they never thought they would, and that society had evolved to allow spaces for those on their last days to enjoy themselves and be with others like them. This was also a brilliant way to explain and explore the world from so many different voices and experiences.

I will give away nothing but there is a beautiful heart in this story and with these characters. I loved the alternating points of view, not only from Rufus and Mateo but from the other perspectives we’re shown. Through these other eyes we see the wider world, other experiences and gain more insight into the way this future works with people knowing the day they will be dying. The three narrators do a fantastic job. Each one brings a different approach for their roles which makes the right tones sit with the right moments. Turpin’s role is separate from Daymond and Crouch but it still helps create a fantastic mood for this story. Daymond and Crouch bring these boys to life and I loved that I was caught up in the story and their narration allowed me to get lost in the story and not focus on anything else.

This is a story about connections and life and not even so much as living it like it is your last day regardless but also about making whatever you do count. Make it matter. There’s a mixture of opinion about whether it is better to know when you will pass away, and if you must know, certainly knowing a future date is better than knowing the day of. I loved there is no real explanation about how this all came about but I love that it is clinical, accepted, debated and still new.

There is so much to say about this wonderful beautiful story and yet not so much to say either. The best way to experience this book is to read it, book, audio or other. You won’t regret it and it will do wonders for your outlook on life.

You can purchase They Both Die at the End via the following

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