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.

You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

Published: 25 September 2018 (print)/25 September 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press/Scholastic Audio
Pages: 256/ 4 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Alex Gino, Nora Hunter and Blythe Auffarth
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Jilly thinks she’s figured out how life works. But when her sister Emma is born Deaf, she realizes how much she still has to learn.

A big fantasy reader, Jilly connects with another fan, Derek, who is a Deaf Black ASL user. She goes to Derek for advice but doesn’t always know the best way to ask for it and makes some mistakes along the way. Jilly has to step back to learn to be an ally, a sister, and a friend, understanding that life works in different ways for different people, and that being open to change can make you change in the best possible ways.

Coming off the back of Gino’s other works I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book but I was surprised I didn’t love it as much as the others. While it covered important topics and explored a learning experience around important issues I couldn’t find a lot of love for the book overall.

As a character Jilly is young and naïve at 13. The way Gino has written her is hard to like, but you can see her good intentions behind her actions even if they’re wrong. Her perspective of her life and family as an only child becoming a sister and the challenges that brings was interesting and Gino gave her a good voice in that regard to capture her confusion, her good intentions and her sense of confusion as she navigates new ground.

I liked the online environment set up for the Roses and Thorns books Jilly loves and how the discussion forum is designed in the realm of the books. If you can get past that at 13 Jilly finds the ear of a person attractive, you can see how the friendships she’s formed on the forum are comforting but also how only knowing someone online can change how you see them because you’re only provided with the information they want you to see which can be different to who they really are.

Primarily this is a story about deafness, but it also covers racism too. I guess if you look at the surrounding characters like profoundinoaktown (aka Derek) and Alesha to be there to educate Jilly it helps but it isn’t their job to educate her about the Deaf or black community and in terms of story that is acknowledged in a small way which is commendable.

Jilly makes mistakes and learns from them, often when she is trying to help or through misunderstanding. I liked how Gino didn’t turn it into a huge fight or major issue, Jilly was wrong, she is corrected by someone who knows better and she accepts that even if she is a little hurt since she thought she was helping. Taking the time to listen to people when they tell you you’re doing or saying the wrong things is a great lesson to put in this story, especially one dealing with race and disability.

Having said that, there are other issues with this story away from the Big Important Topics that ruin this book without needing to delve deeper into meaning and intent and rights of authors. I felt the content, writing, and the characters all fell short. Even with Gino’s acknowledgement about their connection to the Deaf community it still feels like it is missing more substance. There’s a lot of unnecessary and annoying repetition around Jilly’s sandwiches and the conversations between Maisy and Jilly’s dad are incredibly irritating, and while I can see how Gino is trying to create a world around Jilly and these are the factors in it, it was too much at times to tolerate.

Despite the positive message I couldn’t get past the tedious repetition or the flat, one dimensional characters that are easily forgettable. In conjunction with the annoying writing which having to experience as an audiobook made it more noticeable and grinding, this story is average at best which is a shame considering Gino’s other works.

You can purchase You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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

Published: 20th October 2020 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Australia
Pages: 384
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

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Never and Forever (#4) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 22nd September 2020  Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Xar and Wish are on the final leg of their journey. First stop: The Mines of Unhappiness. Here, starvation is never far away for the Magical creatures who toil in its horrible depths. Xar and Wish must escape and fast; Xar needs to take control of his ever-growing Witchstain, and Wish must achieve her Destiny. But the Tazzelwurm is in their way, a grotesque monster who threatens to block every entrance.

Time is not on their side, but the forests are calling them. Will their combined strength be enough for the BIGGEST quest so far; to defeat the Kingwitch once and for all?

With this being the final book in the Wizards of Once series I am a little sad it’s ending. I liked reading about Wish and Xar and their mismatched merry band of adventures but Cowell gives them a fitting send off and brings together everything that has been building up over the last three books. There are perils and sacrifices, magical powers and other things even more powerful at play and seeing our young heroes face these challenges and go against the odds is fantastic.

The whole series is about finding one’s true worth and capabilities and with the right guidance, gentle encouragement and positive reinforcements it shows how powerful that can be. The negativity of parents and evil doers in the story have been pushed against from the start and the contrast with characters who have faith and trust in Wish and Xar are a great example of nurturing giving the best results.

There are a lot of lessons learnt in this final story and the misjudgements and criticisms by characters are altered – which have been pointed out through the whole series by the narrator and other characters, but having it acknowledged is an important step. Cowell doesn’t do an immediate flip of opinion, she uses the characters to admit mistakes, realise where they’ve gone wrong, but she doesn’t redeem them entirely either which I found a great move because one small action can’t change a lifetime of habits.

Wish is still a stubborn and determined force as the fight to defeat the Kingwitch continues and it’s great to have her courage grow and see her seek guidance from those around her. Xar is wonderfully flawed in his own way – yet he is loyal and brave and seeking the approval of those around him. Cowell’s done a great job through this whole series showing that trying and failing is not worth nothing, and that the adventure and the experience can change you for the better despite any misgivings or mistakes. She also never makes us forget they are still children but the mission and the importance of success is a strong driving force and doing the right thing is what matters.

The unknown narrator once again is fantastic in their observations about children and adults, about responsibilities and doing the right thing. We do find out who this unknown entity has been the whole time and while it was an interesting surprise, I didn’t feel it overly remarkable.

I read the paperback version this time round and got to experience Cowell’s illustrations throughout. Her style is fascinating because it is simple but rough and complicated and I love her designs of the characters and creatures. With the paperback you miss out on the delightful David Tennant narrating but you get the two page spread of illustration and Cowell’s use of dark pages and sketches.

It’s a gripping and satisfying conclusion to this series. There are a lot of players by the end but Cowell balances it well and each gets their own ending and role to play. It wouldn’t be a Cowell story with some heartbreaking moments amongst those of triumph and while I didn’t start crying, there is no doubt she has power in her words that on the surface look whimsical and silly, but look closer and you can see commentary about love and justice, about bravery and believing in yourself. Also the failures of adults and the imperfections of the world and family.

I know there are mixed reactions to the final chapter and I’m torn about how I really feel about it – I liked it in some ways but I understand the criticism as well. It shoehorns the story but it is also a nice hint at future events. I agree on some level it was unnecessary but I can see what Cowell was trying to do. I only wish she’d known that her stories are wonderful and powerful enough without needing to end it how she did. In a way it takes away all the effort, creativity and uniqueness of the previous books.

Overall though, it is a beautiful story of found family with magic and adventure from the beginning until the very end.

You can purchase Never and Forever via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Knock Three Times (#3) by Cressida Cowell

Published: 17th September 2020 (print)/2nd June 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder Children’s Books/Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 384/ 6 hrs and 5 mins
Narrator: David Tennant
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Xar and Wish are heroes with a huge task ahead–confronting the Nuckalavee is not for the faint hearted. But with Magic and Iron together, they might just have a chance of saving their beloved homes from those who seek to destroy everything they hold dear. The third electrifying book in The Wizards of Once series fizzes with magic and introduces us to a host of glorious new characters: bears and piskies and magical pins and needles to name but a few.

There is something wonderful about Cowell’s stories. I love her writing and the language she uses, the way it’s telling us a story and the voice brings cheekiness and drama, but also a type of sorrow as well. The matter of fact approach to narration is an extra delight and it’s the combination of all of these types of writing that make this series so enjoyable.

Cowell balances the silly and the quirky with the serious and the dangerous. The world she has created flips from fun to dangerous easily and the suspense and tension over what is going to happen remains even while there are jokes flying about and quirky characters around.

I think this may be my favourite out of the three, there is so much going on and the humour and plot is on point and every character plays a role. There is adventure and revelations, fun times and sadness, and I adore how Cowell can make serious topics fit so beautifully in amongst a seemingly light hearted fantasy story.

There is a more in-depth look at both Sychorax and Encanzo and their relationship and histories, as well as the origin of the Wizard/Warrior feud. We also see a greater insight into the supporting characters that surround our two heroes. Their own stories get some attention and in doing so broadens our understanding of the world.

I know I say this every time, but David Tennant’s narration is once again pure and magical. He should be in charge of narrating all the books for the rest of time. Cowell’s writing is already fun and full of wit but Tennant’s delivery and inflection bring it off the page and it sucks you into the story so well.

As the penultimate book in the series Cowell is building up to a grand finale and with all that happens and is revealed in this book I can only imagine what is coming for the grand conclusion. This series is all about mischievous children, long standing feuds, curses, magic and adventure. It’s also filled with wit, charm, and sorrow making it a beautifully complex story about a complex world filled with complex characters and it’s an utter delight to read about.

You can purchase Knock Three Times via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Previous Older Entries