The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold

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Title: The Song from Somewhere Else
Author: A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Fantasy/Magical Realism
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 1/12/2016
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Price: $24.99
Synopsis: Frank doesn’t know how to feel when Nick Underbridge rescues her from bullies one afternoon. No one likes Nick. He’s big, he’s weird and he smells – or so everyone in Frank’s class thinks.

And yet, there’s something nice about Nick’s house. There’s strange music playing there, and it feels light and good and makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever.

But there’s more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Or the only one who needs help.

~*~

The Song from Somewhere Else tells the story of Francesca “Frank” Patel, bullied by a group of older boys in her school, led Neil Noble and his friends, Rob and Roy. The day she is out searching for her cat, Quintilius Minimus, they accost her, and tease her about the stutter that only appears when they bully her. She is rescued by Nick Underbridge, a boy in her year that is a bit of a loner, but whose act of kindness brings them together for the summer holidays whilst Frank’s friend Jess, is away with her family overseas. This unlikely friendship blossoms as they bond over a love of painting, feeling alone and Swingball. While she is at Nick’s house, Frank hears music that makes her feel good about herself, and she longs to have it at all times. When Nick reveals a secret to her that nobody else knows, their trust in each other grows from there. But what does Frank do with the secret, and how do the events that occur in the novel change her?

Told over the course of five days, with each section a separate day or night, Harrold’s prose sets a scene of mystery and magic, which invites the reader into the world. Aimed at children between nine and twelve years of age, The Song from Somewhere Else can be read by anyone. It is an ageless and timeless story that tells us that there is always someone there for us, and that sometimes, it is the person we least expect it to be.

The mood of the story isn’t overly dark, nor is it overly light. It has complexities about the characters and what is really happening that are conveyed through the black, white and grey illustrations of Levi Pinfold. Each illustration reflects a scene within each chapter, and shows the development of the story in a visual way, allowing the readers to imagine the characters as they read but also in a way that doesn’t feel overly prescriptive. They add to the charm and mood of the story, enhancing the reading experience.

I enjoyed this gem of a book, and enjoyed the way it dealt with issues of secrets, families, friends and bullying in an accessible yet poignant way.

Born A Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

born a crime.jpgTitle: Born a Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: John Murray/Hachette

Published: 29th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: Growing up mixed race in South Africa, this is the fascinating and darkly funny memoir from Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he gleefully provides America with its nightly dose of serrated satire. He is a light-footed but cutting observer of the relentless absurdities of politics, nationalism and race — and in particular the craziness of his own young life, which he’s lived at the intersections of culture and history.

In his first book, Noah tells his coming of age story with his larger-than-life mother during the last gasps of apartheid-era South Africa and the turbulent years that followed. Noah was born illegal — the son of a white, Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother, who had to pretend to be his nanny or his father’s servant in the brief moments when the family came together. His brilliantly eccentric mother loomed over his life — a comically zealous Christian (they went to church six days a week and three times on Sunday), a savvy hustler who kept food on their table during rough times, and an aggressively involved, if often seriously misguided, parent who set Noah on his bumpy path to stardom.

The stories Noah tells are sometimes dark, occasionally bizarre, frequently tender, and always hilarious — whether he’s subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a colour-obsessed world; whether he’s being thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit or being thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters.

~*~

Trevor Noah’s biography, Born A Crime, finds a way to deal with apartheid South Africa and growing up during this time and the turbulent years that followed in a moving, humourous and effective way. Growing up in a world where your very existence is considered a crime because your mother, a Xhosa woman, had relations with a white Swiss man at the height of apartheid can shape you. Using his comedic skills, Noah manages to convey the hatred and segregation, and struggles of the era to an audience who may not be quite familiar with it. We know it happened, we know how bad it is – but how many of us who didn’t live there at the time or who haven’t spoken to people who lived through it know how truly bad it was? Noah’s ability to tell the story through the eyes of a child who did not quite understand at first how his existence was breaking the law, and the innocence of these days illustrated how some people may have tried to deal with it – protect your children, yet they will still become aware of the harsh realities surrounding their lives.

Noah discusses the flaws in apartheid, and how the logic of race classifications was actually illogical: The Chinese were classified as black, but the Japanese were classified as white: Noah’s suggestion is that as South Africa received imports from Japan, they were given the white classification to keep them happy. Yet at the same time, a black person could become classified as coloured, or an Indian person could become classified as white. A coloured person could become classified white and a white person could have their white status downgraded to coloured or black. Even a child born to two white parents, he says, could be classified as coloured and the family separated unless the parents chose to reclassify as coloured. Yet Noah was too white to be black and too black to be white – so where did he fit in?

Trevor Noah has told a side of apartheid that may not have been possible to tell in the early nineties, so soon after it ended. As he is mixed race, Trevor Noah was able to move between the groups at school: speaking various African tribal languages, English and some Afrikaans, his ability to be a chameleon in a world where colour was given a lot of attention was something he soon found he could use to his advantage. In writing this memoir, he has invited fans of his comedy and other readers into a world that had humour, love and some moments of pure terror and fear, and the confusion that some people had, not knowing how to deal with a boy who could speak at least seven languages and who wasn’t quite white, but wasn’t quite black. Like all of us, these experiences growing up in the final years of apartheid and in the years following, where people who were still products of apartheid weren’t always sure of what to do, have shaped Trevor. His words can affect everyone. Though he is a comedian, his words are strong, and could encourage unity and working together, showing the ineffectiveness of dividing people up based on race or skin colour. Further division came in the category of black based on whether you were Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu or a member of another tribe or cultural group, and this could determine how you acted within this group according to your gender. Apartheid not only set race against race, but sometimes set people who had been classed as one race against each other.

Reading this book was eye opening – I knew how bad it was from my parents, and that’s why they left, so I wouldn’t grow up exposed to any of the impacts of apartheid, because it could affect everyone adversely, as Noah pointed out. Though some groups gained more privileges than others, the fact that these could be taken away with what Noah describes as the slash of a pen and the whim of the person wielding it, likely instilled fear in many. Noah’s world as the child of a black woman and a white man, a mixed race child, in a world that didn’t accept him or always know what to do with him, is one that not many of us will really know, yet through his words, we can visit and find out what it was like – mainly for him, but also, the world seen through his eyes as to how anyone and everyone could be affected by apartheid is just as powerful. The limitations of what people could do for work were determined by race.

A great read for anyone who lived through apartheid, or who wishes to know more. Trevor Noah shows that people have the ability to become more than what society tells them they are, that yes you may struggle and fight, you may face adversity but in the end, you can get there.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by JK Rowling

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Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

Author: J.K. Rowling

Genre: Fantasy/Screenplay

Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette

Published: 18/11/16

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 291

Price: $39.99

Synopsis: When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone . . .

Inspired by the original Hogwart’s textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and featuring a cast of remarkable characters and magical creatures, this is epic adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition for any film lover or reader’s bookshelf.

The film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will have its theatrical release on 18th November 2016.

~*~

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them started life as a text book by magizoologist Newt Scamander, used by students at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. From that mention, it became a book for fans to buy, with the proceeds going to charity. Fifteen years later, a screenplay has been written for a movie, featuring the renowned (and fictional) Newt Scamander as he journeys to New York to continue his journey of discovery. However, his magical suitcase goes missing, and it is not long before things start to go wrong, and before MACUSA, the American equivalent of the Ministry for Magic, and No-Majs (Muggles), start to notice. One poor Muggle gets caught up, and it is up to him, Newt and two sisters to find the beasts and ensure the secrets of the wizarding world are kept a secret. Alongside this adventure is the subplot of the Second Salem group, trying to enforce their views and bring back a new age of witch hunting. Though it is just the screenplay of the film that was released on the same day, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is delightful, and it ties in nicely with the backstory to the Harry Potter novels, giving fans insight into the days of a text book author, how another nation viewed magic and dealt with secrecy, and also hinted at things to come with mention of a wizard who history told the wizarding world was dangerous, in the days before Voldemort attended Hogwarts and rose to become the most feared wizard within the world of Harry Potter.

Set in 1926, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a tight, well-told story that has the potential to continue on in further movies. I have not yet seen the movie, and do not feel that reading the screenplay first will ruin the experience for me when I am able to: it has given me a peek at the New York wizarding world, and some insight into the characters, but only a little, and the movie will only build on that. Reading a screenplay can be a little different to reading the book: as it is less descriptive, imagining the settings and characters takes a little more time than with a novel, however, if you know the actors in the movie, then knowing what to imagine is a little easier, and I have an idea of who to expect in the role.

Another great story of the wizarding world from JK Rowling; I look foward to seeing the movie.

Ride Free by Jessica Whitman

 

 

ride free.jpgTitle: Ride Free

Author: Jessica Whitman

Genre: Popular Fiction

Publisher: Arena/Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When legendary polo player Carlos Del Campo’s will is read to his grieving family they’re shocked to discover he has a daughter, Antonia, he never told them about. Not long after this revelation, Carlos’s eldest son, Alejandro, sets out to find his long-lost sister.

 

Having always dreamt of one day being reunited with her father, Antonia – aka Noni – is heartbroken when the half-brother she’s never met arrives on her doorstep with news of Carlos’s death. Despite her anguish she decides to accept Alejandro’s offer of a job in the family polo business, though she worries about her outsider status.

 

When Enzo Rivas, the Del Campos’ loyal stable master, sees what a brilliant rider Noni is he’s convinced she could transform the family polo team’s lagging fortunes. Complicating things is that he and Noni are rapidly falling in love with each other. Then a secret from Noni’s past threatens both her new life and her budding romance with Enzo …

 

Full of secrets, scandal and passion, Ride Free is about overcoming fear to find happiness in life – and love.

 

 

~*~

 

As someone who is not a big reader of the romance genre, unless the romance and the other aspects of the story are given equal footing, this book wasn’t to my personal tastes. The concept of a secret daughter, one that has been hidden from the family was intriguing, though. Jessica Whitman’s Antonia (Noni) is close to turning thirty after finding out eight years previously about her father’s death and being taken back to the Del Campo family. She hasn’t had an easy life though, and is struggling to find her place. Yet again, polo makes an appearance, and I found that even though it is an important part of the Del Campo family, it perhaps needed a little more background for readers that might not be familiar with it.

 

I found myself wishing that the romance between Noni and Enzo had been given a little more meat, and when it turned into a love triangle between her ex, her and Enzo, I had hoped for a little more than the ex just appearing with her mother and Noni falling into a tizzy over which man to go with. Refreshingly though, she wasn’t the only one flailing in the throes of a romance. Seeing Enzo do so was interesting, and gave him an extra dimension that would have been interesting to explore further.

The one downfall I have had with this, and Wild One has been that the most interesting storylines – the film making and the secret daughter plots, played second fiddle to the others. I felt these would have made the stories meatier, and given the characters more depth, as they all felt either too perfect, or in the case of Noni’s ex, too imperfect. Even though I didn’t enjoy either of these books, and admittedly read them rather quickly to get onto the next review book in my piles, I still think they have their place and their audience. This audience is not me but more likely people who want a relatively quick read that doesn’t need much interrogation of plots and characters, or romance lovers. It is definitely written to these audiences and those searching for escapism.

Third Time Lucky by Karly Lane

third time lucky.jpgTitle: Third Time Lucky

Author: Karly Lane

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Arena/Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd November, 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When her marriage ends, December Doyle returns home to Christmas Creek. Will she conquer her fear of heartbreak? A heart-warming novel about betrayal, ambition and the power of love.

After a disastrous marriage, December Doyle has returned to her home town to try to pick up the pieces of her life and start again. She’s also intent on helping breathe new life into the Christmas Creek township, so the last thing she needs is trouble.

Bad boy Seth Hunter has also returned to Christmas Creek, and trouble is his middle name. Wrongly convicted of a serious crime in his youth, Seth is now a successful businessman, but he’s intent on settling some old scores.

As teenagers, December and Seth were madly in love, and seeing each other again reawakens past feelings. But will Seth be able to overcome his destructive anger about the past, and can December conquer her fear of heartbreak to make their relationship third time lucky?

~*~

As someone who prefers my romances either as a sub-plot, a smaller part of the story or akin to a Bridget Jones type story, with characters who aren’t quite perfect but like each just as they are, who make mistakes, who have flaws that I can identify with, I found Third Time Lucky to be an interesting compromise between these and the stereotypical romance novels of instant love that are quite popular amongst other readers. I read this one in two nights, so the pacing was good and managed to ensure that the story moved along well, and wasn’t bogged down, but that the importance of the individual and joint journeys, and the goals, weren’t ignored. Nor were the motivations of Seth and December – holding back gave the story an element of suspense.

It is still a romance novel and typically not a genre I would pick up immediately in a bookstore, and likely one I would ordinarily bypass, even though I like to try and give most things a fair chance before judging them I did enjoy the setting – Christmas Creek. It felt like I was in a small town, and each character, supporting or otherwise, seemed to have a few layers and flaws – nothing was perfect and the author managed to write this well.

This was also the first Karly Lane book I have read – and the first time I had heard her name, or seen one of her books. Her writing style is often clear, though in one instance of recalling the past, it felt like it was happening at the same time as the rest of the storyline – though it became clear a few sentences later that it had been a recall scene, so that was okay.

Finally, this would be a wonderful stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift for someone who enjoys romance, or who is just after a new read. It is a quick read, and probably a nice holiday read to take a break from the seriousness of the world.

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

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Title: Murder in Midwinter

Author: Fleur Hitchcock

Genre: Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Published: 23rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: When Maya takes a photo from the top of a bus, she has no idea of the trouble it will bring. The bright shop window is gorgeous but the couple arguing in front of it look as though they want to kill each other. And when the flash goes off, they look as though they want to kill her too…

Then a body turns up. The police suggest Maya should go away for a while – somewhere remote, somewhere safe. Her aunt’s farm in the Welsh mountains is a perfect place to hide, and soon it’s snowing hard enough to cut them off completely. No one can get in and n one can get out. But does that mean there’s nothing to fear? 

~*~

A murder mystery for children ages nine and up, Murder in Midwinter introduces future fans of crime fiction and the possible future authors within this genre to a world of solving crimes. As it is aimed at children aged nine and older, there is no blood and gore, thus it fits into the cozy crime genre, like the works of Agatha Christie, Vaseem Khan, Alexander McCall-Smith and the recent Anthony Horowitz novel, Magpie Murders. Through Maya’s eyes, the reader experiences the crime, and the fear of having criminals after them, and not knowing what to do. Using their own initiative though, Maya and her cousin will find a way to get through the next few days and a way to help the police solve the crime.

Maya’ world is turned upside down when she sees the body pulled from the Thames and her sister doesn’t show up for a school concert. With the identifying streak of white in her black hair, Maya is going to be easy to find. She is sent away after her sister is found, but the fear is still there. Hours, and a long distance away from her family, Maya feels isolated in Wales, and having to deal with a cousin who hates her, and a sense of isolation from being trapped inside. When the huge snowstorms come and block people in the village and farm, and block anyone form using the roads, Maya feels a false sense of security, and hopes that this means that everything will be over soon and she can go back home.

A delightful and quick read, Maya’s adventure in crime solving for children is a great way to introduce eager readers to the genre. In the midst of a charming winter and Christmas setting, the reader and characters are thrown into a fast paced plot that takes exciting twists and turns to reach the resolution and revelations at the end of the novel. It is also a journey of finding new friends an family coming together. A story where Maya stands alone when she can abut receives help when she needs to – a wonderful heroine for young girls to identify with. Written from her point of view, it is much more accessible for the age group than other crime novels, depending on the individual reading level.

 

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

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Title: The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Author: Joy Callaway
Genre: Fiction/Popular Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd November 2016
Format: Paperback
Pages: 358
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Devastated after being jilted by the boy next door, Ginny Loftin turns to writing in an attempt to rewrite their story with a better ending. But it is among the painters, musicians, actors and other writers she meets at a Fifth Avenue salon that she finds new purpose and a second chance at love. A richly told historical novel of family loyalties, loss and artistic desires.
‘The creative sisterhood of Little Women, the social scandal of Edith Wharton and the courtship mishaps of Jane Austen . . . The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a delightful, and at times touching, tale of Gilded Age society and creative ambition with an inspiring heroine.’ New York Daily News

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie instead proposes to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up in her room and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends an elite salon hosted at her brother’s friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

But just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realise how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

~*~

A story that has romance within its pages, yet it is the kind that doesn’t take over everything else in the story that the characters experience and go through, and nor does it turn Ginny, the main character, into less than she is at the beginning of the novel. Virginia Loftin comes from a family of artistic ambition. Sister Bessie is a milliner, her twin brother Franklin is a painter, her younger sister Alevia is a musician, and Virginia is a writer. Only her oldest sister Mae isn’t an artist, taking to teaching orphans instead, yet supportive of the pursuits of her siblings. The years since her father’s death have been hard on Virginia’s family, all doing whatever they can with their creativity to bring in the money. Virginia’s best friend Charlie is an artist too, and together, they have grown up, sharing their love of art, painting and the written word. And an undying loyalty to each other that rarely wavers, and Virginia is sure that they will marry – until Charlie proposes to another woman.

As an aspiring writer, Virginia has faced sexism from other artists and writing groups because of her gender – because of how the society she was a part of at the time viewed the genders and what they were supposedly capable of. Virginia and her family, and Charlie, know that she is capable of anything. But Virginia still must find a way to prove herself, and it is The Fifth Avenue Artists Society that she attends where she uncovers a way to unlock her talent and to meet like-minded men and women. It all seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is: because nothing ever happens so easily.

Escaping as most writers do into her words, Virginia joins a society of artists – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society in New York, where she meets several characters who will change her life and the course of the lives of her family over the course of the novel. A courtship with fellow society member, John Hopper, encourages Virginia to share her writing, and to aim for publication of her work that is inspired by her feelings and the people around her. As she works on her novel, a shadow of mystery about Franklin’s new job begins to emerge, and it is not long before a series of tragic events unravel and reveal secrets that threaten to bring shame upon the family and alienate them from the upper class society that they are a part of.

A story that is based on the family history of the author, which gives the characters a depth and authenticity that makes one feel as though they are in late nineteenth century New York less than thirty years after the end of the American Civil War, where the war is briefly mentioned a few times to set the scene and the background to the families, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society celebrates the value of art to the individual, and society. It explores what society expected of men and women at the time, and what was accepted, but also shows a woman who, though she sees the value in the conventional, does not always ascribe to the roles society deems right. She is an intriguing character who ends up following her heart for love and for her goals of publication. An intriguing read that brings society life to light and shows how attitudes have changed in many ways.