The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

Published: 29 January 2019 (print)/29 January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harlequin Australia/Harlequin Audio
Pages: 440/10 hrs and 52 mins
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…

This is a fantastic story if you know the history of Henry VIII and his wives and even if you don’t it is an amazing, complicated drama about high school politics which can only be told in the setting of an American school. Even if you don’t understand the entirety of the Tudor history Capin still tells an engrossing story and provides enough clues without ever breaking from the present day reality.

Not only is the premise brilliant, but Capin is a master with her metaphors. She doesn’t throw them in your face right from that start but when they come out they are the ideal representations of who these character were and the roles they played in history. The comparisons are not exact for obvious reasons, but Capin is incredibly close with her high school student equivalents and the more I thought about the historical events and the events and characters in the narrative I was even more in awe.

Our narrator Cleeves is a budding journalist and the use of journalistic chapters is a clever touch and while it does put everyone in their high school boxes, it works as an additional storytelling tool from Cleeves’ perspective. I love Cleeves because she has a journalistic mind but she is also passionate about what she wants and while she is a “good” character, she isn’t afraid to step outside the lines for a bit of fun either. She is a feminist and a fighter and the amount of girl power in this book is so fulfilling. Capin via Cleeves isn’t afraid to point this out and I loved how Cleeves isn’t afraid to speak out.

I loved everything about Cleeves, she isn’t pure but she is malicious either. Her friendship to Henry is solid and seeing her react to the things around her and the events that unfold is marvellous. Capin draws you in and once you are in deep to this stunning tale of drama she starts to plant her seeds and despite knowing the history you still aren’t entirely sure about what will happen. It’s an incredible journey to go on.

There is a strong chance I love this book more because of the ties to history. I got quite excited when I realised who characters were representing and what roles they were playing as the story unfolded. I can see how this might be too dramatic and convoluted for some people and overly dramatic, but if you read it as a modern Henry VIII then it becomes just as dramatic as history has always made it out his life and relationships to be, perhaps compressed into a few months rather than over years.

What makes this a strong story I found was that it wasn’t even much of a stretch. When I thought about Henry VII and his relationships, it easily translated into high school drama. While some of the historical events have been excluded, there is still enough to see the events of Henry and his court unfold in the modern day. Capin includes key aspects of Henry’s life and the lives of his wives, and while not everything is translatable, the references that are there are creative and true to her characters.

As I say, so much comes back to metaphors and Capin’s ingenious weaving of history into a modern setting which works so ridiculously well. I never even thought I needed a retelling of Tudor history but now that I have it I’ve realised what magic I have been missing out on.

You can purchase The Dead Queens Club via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

Published: 2002Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction/Biography
★   ★   ★  ★  ★  – 5 Stars

1427408The inside story of the one of the most successful British stand-up comedians, as told by the person best qualified to reveal all about the man behind the comic, his wife of over 20 years – Pamela Stephenson. Once in a lifetime, there strides upon the stage someone who can truly be called a legend. Such a person is the inimitable, timeless genius who is Billy Connolly. His effortlessly wicked whimsy has entranced, enthralled – and split the sides of – thousands upon thousands of adoring audiences.

He’s the man who needs no introduction, and yet he is the ultimate enigma. From a troubled and desperately poor childhood in the docklands of Glasgow he is now the intimate of household names the world over. How did this happen, who is the real Billy Connolly? Only one person can answer that question: his wife, Pamela Stephenson. Pamela’s writing combines the very personal with a frank objectivity that makes for a compelling, moving and hugely entertaining biography. This is the real Billy Connolly.

This is a great biography of the best comedian by the most suitable person. Who better than Billy’s own wife to write a well deserved and respectful biography.

When I read this it was before I really got into Billy Connolly. I had seen a few bits and pieces and loved what I saw but I didn’t have access to see anything else. Reading this book gave me so many more insights into his life and work and made me respect him all the more.

Billy’s life was not perfect by any means and he had a rough upbringing. The stories and memories Stephenson explores break your heart, make you laugh and actually don’t make you close the book pitying Billy at all. You see where he has taken this pain and what he has done with it and you applaud him for pressing on and pushing through it.

There are so many sides of Billy explored in this, from his childhood to his music and comedian days as well as his life with Stephenson. This book is filled with jokes and humorous anecdotes that soften the darker aspects but a true biography is never all smiles and laughter. A brilliant book and an engaging, emotional and entertaining read.

Naughty Kitty by Adam Stower

 

Published: 1st July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Templar Books
Illustrator: Adam Stower
Pages: 33
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

Lily’s mum finally agrees to buy her a new pet – but it’s not a doggy, it’s a kitten. When things start to go wrong around the house, Lily is quick to blame her new furry friend.

One. Kitty is the cutest kitten ever. Stower’s illustrations are the best. I love how he has managed to convey a confused kitty, a perplexed kitty, and a kitty looking innocent in the face of accusation.

Two. The actual story is wonderful as well.  Reading this story is fun on numerous levels, not only are the pictures fun to look at, but each page gives us a chance to see what “Kitty” actually did, and seeing poor Lily become exasperated at her poor disobedient cat is delightful.

Genuinely I could stare at the illustrations all day. Combined with Lily’s desire to punish her kitten, the cat itself looks bewildered and the true culprit lurking adds to the humour and certainly my delight.

Stower’s captured the tone and voice of a small child and I could hear Lily’s voice as she scolded her kitten and I pictured this child berating her cat as she tried to stop its destructive behaviours. The story is adorable, especially when the dramatic irony comes into play. Who doesn’t love it when picture books contain dramatic irony?

This would be a great book to read aloud because with such wonderful and detailed illustrations, there is a lot to unpack as you read and it becomes interactive as kids see who really caused the messes.

I discovered this is a sequel when I’d finished, I may have to track down the first one because if it’s anything as good as this, I’ll be quite happy.

You can purchase Naughty Kitty via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Published: 23rd October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia
Pages: 362
Format: Paperback
Genre: Crime
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

This is definitely my new favourite Jane Harper book. From the start I was immediately pulled in, the voice and tone drew me in and I wanted to stay in this story and keep reading.

Nathan doesn’t set out the solve the mystery of his brother’s death, but a few things don’t sit right with him and little by little he tries to fill in the gaps. This is not a police procedural story however, the focus is on trying to come to terms with his brother’s death and while the family wonder about what happened to him, it is also about getting through the grief together.

Harper hints at secrets and events, baits us into keep reading and honestly it works. Not quite so much to get answers, the anomalies are not followed up like a detective would, but the tone feels so comfortable that you want to keep following this narrative. She lays down clues and hints that you don’t even realise long before but at the same time once she has planted a seed the tone shifts and a whole other component is explored. It never felt out of place, or unconnected, and I couldn’t help but marvel at how she mixed everything together so seamlessly, never breaking from the flow of the story. She doesn’t focus constantly on speaking in riddles, she gets on with the story while making well placed and relevant hints about characters throughout which could easily mean nothing as they could everything.

Harper captures the outback environment brilliantly without resorting to long details and descriptions. She uses the characters and the story itself to reflect the harshness of the land and the dangers it holds. One great surprise was the blink and you miss it reference to some familiar faces from Harper’s debut novel, The Dry. I enjoyed the connection to the two stories but Harper also uses it to add an entire new layer to the characters as well.

I loved being in this story and I loved everything about this story. I loved these characters and their honesty and their secrets. I loved Nathan and his fractured, broken self but still with a strong family commitment buried deep inside. His character is one of honesty but also one of damaged resilience. Harper could have gone so many different ways with his personality but she dances on the edge of the line skilfully instead of making him cross it which I adored.

People are right when they say this is Harper’s best book to date because there is a comfortableness about this book, but it is one that still contains mystery and heartache, and complications that don’t overwhelm one another but coexist side by side remarkably, balanced back and forth as the story progresses.

You can purchase The Lost Man via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Published: 11th October 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Candlewick
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Pages: 56
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Two turtles have found a hat. The hat looks good on both of them. But there are two turtles. And there is only one hat. . . . Evoking hilarity and sympathy, the shifting eyes tell the tale in this brilliantly paced story in three parts, highlighting Jon Klassen’s visual comedy and deceptive simplicity. The delicious buildup takes an unexpected turn that is sure to please loyal fans and newcomers alike. 

This is such a sweet book! And nobody dies! Not that that should stop you from opening the book. It is fantastic in all the other ways.

This is the final book in the delightful hat trilogy and Klassen is as strong as ever. From bears and hats, to fish and hats, we’ve come to turtles and hats.

In a different approach there are multiple parts to this story. I was curious about this change in formula but it works so well. There is a wonderful message about friendship, but also the same cheeky, slyness that Klassen works so well into his story. There is drama and suspense, but there is also heart. I loved the message and I loved that it remains a hat story even though it differed slightly.

At its core it is a book about sharing, greed, and friendship and with a lot less murder than before.

Once again, Klassen puts all the expression in the eyes. So much is said in a pair of unblinking eyes, a shift to the left, a shift to the right. It’s brilliant. I have come to love his illustration style and I am so glad there are three books in this series because one was never going to be enough.

You can purchase We Found A Hat via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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