Zebra and Other Short Stories by Debra Adelaide

Zebra.jpgTitle: Zebra and Other Short Stories

Author: Debra Adelaide

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 326

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A body buried in a suburban backyard.

A suicide pact worthy of Chekhov.

A love affair born in a bookshop.

The last days of Bennelong.

And a very strange gift for a most unusual Prime Minister…

Tantalising, poignant, wry, and just a little fantastical, this subversive collection of short fiction – and one singular novella – from bestselling author Debra Adelaide reminds us what twists of fate may be lurking just beneath the surface of the everyday.

~*~

In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of humanity and the human condition, from a dream about a murder, and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, and suicide pacts, and an interesting story about the last days of Bennelong – a man who was captured and served the governor of New South Wales and travelled back to England, told from the perspective of Governor Phillips’ wife. Finally, the novella-length story Zebra is about an unnamed female Prime Minister in Australia who is gifted a zebra – and how this changes her and her life, and her relationships with those around her in government and her neighbours.

Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition, and how we respond to the world and people around us, and how we handle ourselves. They are subversive, touching on the things we do not speak about, or the things about ourselves that we have to hide from the public, or the public persona versus the private persona and how we reconcile these. Or, the lengths humans go to in order to ensure their quirkier, fantastical aspects of their lives are kept private, and hopefully not released. This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each perspective has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To make this connection, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – that represent which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave, and unique – it is something I have never seen before and where some might think it takes away, I think it makes each story, each section and finally, the entire anthology more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives, you always find yourself engrossed wholly in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.

If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra – about a female PM. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, and varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Zebra was my favourite because I enjoyed the way the PM dealt with her neighbour, her staff members and everything in her life – too many to quote, I think. I liked that she was allowed to be human in her own world – we were allowed to see the vulnerabilities of politicians we never see in the media, such as when she was contemplating whether she should call Malcolm on a work pretence, but really, she just wanted to tell him how she felt.

Each character can represent people at different stages of life, or at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The subtlety in each story is excellent and enjoyable. It allows the reader to imagine some of what happened without completely explaining it, and this is the power of the stories in this anthology – that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they might handle things, and what happens in the story.

Debra Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.

Short story collections are often hard to review, because they don’t always necessarily always link through a theme. In Zebra, the only discernible link is the subversiveness of the stories and characters, and the fantastical elements and quirkiness that feels uniquely Australian that connects these stories. I found this to be very effective, and it allows for the stories to be read in isolation, or as whole, seeing the progression of human nature and tearing ourselves away from our normal, everyday lives that might feel suffocating or claustrophobic. Debra Adelaide allows readers to feel like they were in that enclosed space with the characters until that final release of what constrains the characters, the narrators of the stories, and this release is like a weight lifting off the reader’s chest.

I quite enjoyed these stories and their uniqueness that showed another side of human life. Each story is tightly plotted and tells the whole story succinctly in a way that feels like a novel or epic story.

An excellent read if you enjoy short stories.

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Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

kensy and max 3.jpgTitle: Kensy and Max: Undercover

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Spies/Adventure

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 5th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: How do you keep your head in the game when someone wants you gone? When those dearest to you are far away and the future is so uncertain . . .

Kensy and Max are back in London for no time at all before things begin to heat up – quite literally. As a result, Granny Cordelia ships them off to Australia on an undercover mission. The twins find themselves planted in a posh Sydney school where first appearances prove to be deceiving.

What seems like a straightforward assignment turns into something so much bigger. Kensy and Max must employ all their spy skills – the fate of their parents, and who they’ve been searching for, depends on it.

~*~



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When Kensy and Max’s London home is destroyed, their grandmother, and the head of spy agency, Pharos, sends them off to Sydney on an undercover mission. Here, they must befriend Ellery and Donovan Chalmers, and find out what their parents are up to and why. To do so, they will attend the same school, where they also become friends with wannabe spy, Curtis, who is their neighbour, join the choir, and Max becomes a cricket whiz. But in the midst of their success at school, they are worried about their parents, and where they are. The people their parents are looking for are somehow connected to what Kensy and Max are looking into, and it will be up to the intrepid twins and Curtis to find out.

 

Since the first time I picked up a Kensy and Max book, I have loved them. They are perfect for anyone to read, and it is the kind of series that I wish I had had as a kid, because Kensy and Max are not typical kids, and not typical of what we expect a boy and a girl to be – they are unique and filled with faults, and this is why they are great characters. Because they are allowed to be who they are and make mistakes. Also, being able to travel the world so much is pretty cool, and training to be a spy is a childhood dream of many kids that is captured by Curtis in this novel, and his determination to solve the mysterious goings on around him – and maybe he will be one of the best assets Kensy and Max have ever had.

As Kensy, Max, Fitz and Song investigate the Chalmers, hints are dropped about Annabel and Edward through, and Annabel’s parents – will Kensy and Max finally be reunited with their parents, and find out what really happened to Annabel’s parents? It is this mystery that has driven the first three books, and I did cheer at the end of this book, and look forward to the next book and where we go with Kensy and Max. It is a fantastic series and I really hope Curtis shows up again – he’s awesome and I loved his friendship with Kensy – he’d fit right in at Pharos, I think.

At first, the twins think their mission is simple: find out what Tinsley Chalmers is up to. Yet things get more complicated, and the chapters that feature characters other than Kensy and Max cleverly reveal secrets slowly and lead up to a conclusion that I never saw coming. We soon learn who the twins need to look at more closely, though. The mystery and all its elements are written so well and work together to create a mystery that even our adorable twins have no idea they’re going to uncover. But when they do, will it be one they wish they had, or one that is best kept secret?

With twists, turns and secrets, this series is an excellent spy series – it’s spy kids, and I love it. I’m also enjoying learning about ciphers as I go, and ways spies communicate. It’s the kind of series kids and anyone rally, can read and enjoy thoroughly.

Challenge Check-In: February

In February, I didn’t read or review as many books as I did in January. I managed to read twelve books this month, bringing my yearly total to twenty-six, and have made some progress on my challenges. Some reviews are yet to go up, but this will wrap up what I have done:

#Dymocks52Challenge

General and #Dymocks52Challenge

  1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
  2. What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson
  3. The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble
  4. The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion
  5. The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  6. The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers
  7. The French Photographer by Natasha Lester
  8. Harry Potter: A History of Magic, The Exhibition Guide by British Library, JK Rowling
  9. D-Bot #8: Dino Corp by Mac Park
  10. Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  12. 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor

pb history of magic

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#AWW2019 Challenge

  1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth – Reviewed/Revisited post
  2. What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – Reviewed
  3. The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – Reviewed
  4. The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – Reviewed
  5. The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – Reviewed
  6. The French Photographer by Natasha Lester – Reviewed and Q&A
  7. Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey – Reviewed
  8. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – Reviewed
  9. 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor – Reviewed

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Book bingo:

Themes of Justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Themes of Inequality: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – AWW2019

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Book set on the Australian Coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Book set in the Australian Mountains: The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers – AWW2019

Written by an author you’ve never read: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Some of these have posts up, and some don’t – this is based on my reading log.

February Round Up

 

Book Author Challenges
Beauty in Thorns Kate Forsyth AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General
What Lies Beneath Us Kirsty Ferguson #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The Dog Runner Bren MacDibble #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The House of Second Chances Esther Campion #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General, Book Bingo
The Familiars Stacey Halls #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General
The Orchardist’s Daughter Karen Viggers #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, General, Book Bingo
The French Photographer Natasha Lester #AWW2019 #Dymocks52Challenge, General, Book Bingo
Harry Potter: A History of Magic, The Exhibition Guide (paperback) British Library, JK Rowling #Dymocks52Challenge, General
D-Bot #8: Dino Corp Mac Park #Dymocks52Challenge, General
Kensy and Max: Undercover  Jacqueline Harvey #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, General,
The Things We Cannot Say Kelly Rimmer general, #AWW2019, #Dymcoks52Challenge, PopSugar
52 Mondays Anna Ciddor general, #AWW2019, #Dymcoks52Challenge

 

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Book Bingo Five: A book set in the Australian Mountains.

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We’re now into March (How did that happen?) and my fifth book bingo for the year, and i have checked off seven of my thirty squares now. Initially when I got this card, I though this square – a book set in the Australian Mountains – might be a challenge, because I wasn’t sure what book would fit this square until I got The Orchardist’s Daughter from Allen and Unwin to review.

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Today, my friends Amanda and Theresa will also be posting a new book bingo post each, and each fortnight, it is always interesting to see what squares we fill and with what books, and whether or not we will be doing single or double bingos to make sure we fill all the squares by the end of the year. Some of my forthcoming reviews have been slated for certain squares but as they have not gone live yet, I will wait until those reviews are up to check off the squares.

orchardists daughter

The Orchardist’s Daughter is set in the south-east of Tasmania, around the mountains and forests. It is filled with various contentious relationships: a brother and sister, a husband and wife, Park Rangers and loggers, and humans and nature. It is a story with many threads that at the beginning, feel disconnected, but are still beautifully written, and that eventually weave together to create the overall narrative.

Check back in on the sixteenth for more book bingo action, and then again on the thirtieth of the month. With twenty-three squares to go, there might be some more double bingos coming your way.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

the familiars.jpgTitle: The Familiars

Author: Stacey Halls

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Zaffre

Published: 4th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘Assured and alluring, this beautiful tale of women and witchcraft and the fight against power was a delight from start to finish’ – Jessie Burton, bestselling author of The Miniaturist.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.

As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

~*~

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is four years into a marriage that has thus far, produced no heir for her husband, and she is enduring yet another pregnancy when she takes on a young midwife named Alice amidst the Jacobean ear witch-trials under James I and VI of England and Scotland. The book sees Fleetwood struggle through a difficult pregnancy as Alice helps her as best she can, and as Fleetwood works to decipher a letter from her husband that indicates she will not survive the current pregnancy – but is there more to this letter than Fleetwood can tell, and will she confront her husband about it?

Simmering in the background are fears of witches, and accusations against entire families of women, and some midwives, The Familiars explores the stories and legends behind the Pendle witch trials – taking place in 1612, when this book is set, and accounted for about 2% of all witches who were executed. Taking on this historical period in fiction is very interesting – it is not one I usually see, and when it is, it is focussed on royalty, or the actual witch trials, rather than the people at the peripheral, and how the absence of a midwife accused of witchcraft affects a life. Also, I felt the term witch hunt was never more accurate, as these people were accused of something they never did, and where accusations between families and against people were dealt with swiftly and without much consideration based on the testimony of a child. Eerily, the case of Louisa Collins, discussed in an earlier blog post, rested upon the same kind of testimony. This resulted in twelve people being executed during the summer of 1612.

Where many witch trial stories and  novels focus on the actual trials, and the polarising sides of the accused versus the accusers, and who is right based on the evidence left behind recorded by the victors and winners in history, The Familiars takes real people – Alice and Fleetwood and those they know – into a realm where the women involved and affected directly and indirectly tell the story.

Primarily told through Fleetwood’s eyes, and where secrets are slowly revealed throughout the novel at the right time, and that makes for an intriguing plot and mystery that is woven throughout the story. The strength of the story is the very feminine and female driven character and plot – where the men – Roger and Robert, are only there on the side. in fact, for much of the novel, they are absent or travelling, allowing Fleetwood and Alice to take charge of the story. The simmering fear of witches felt primarily male in this story – Fleetwood, though concerned, was not as convinced as the men in her life.

Based on real people, it is interesting to wonder if the real Fleetwood was like her fictional counterpart, and how she definitely did react to what was going on around her. Historical fiction is always a favourite of mine, especially when it explores eras not often explored or perspectives we don’t often hear from.

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Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of The Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 3.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of The Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Historical Fiction/YA/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Everyone knows Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes’ right-hand man – so when he goes missing, it’s a shock. Even Sherlock hasn’t the slightest clue as to where he could be. Enola is intrigued but wary; she’s still hiding from her older brothers and getting involved could prove to be disastrous. But Enola can’t help but investigate, especially when she learns that a bizarre bouquet – with flowers all symbolizing death – has been delivered to the Watson residence. Enola knows she must act quickly, but can she find Dr. Watson in time?

~*~

Enola Holmes is still hiding from her brothers, using her wits and a variety of disguises to evade them at every turn, and solve cases that the police, and her brother, Sherlock are unable to solve. Still in 1889, it has been six months since she left their care, in search of her mother and a life no predicated by societal norms and expectations. Living in lodgings, she discovers that Sherlock’s colleague, Dr John Watson has gone missing. Undertaking her own investigation, Enola discovers several bouquets delivered to Joh’s wife, Mary – and uses her knowledge of flower meanings to decipher what they mean. In doing so, she finds out that John’s life is in danger – so she sets about following the person who delivers the flowers – and what she discovers will hopefully save John’s life.

Coming back to Enola Holmes was delightful. I love the original Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, as well as the Robert Downey Jr movies. Here, though, Nancy Springer has put a new twist on the stories. Where most retellings position the quirky detective and his long-suffering partner in contemporary settings – Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in modern London, or Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in modern day New York, this one still sits in the late 1880s, but posits the idea that Sherlock and Mycroft had an unknown sister, someone who society wasn’t aware of, but would soon become aware of.  The original Holmes stories are told from Watson’s perspective – and I have read them all, and the only family member I recall being mentioned is Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother. So, it is plausible to think Sherlock may have had a sister.

Again, Enola manages to evade her brother’s as she investigates John’s disappearance, and those who are linked to what happened. She’s a wonderful character, who despises the expectations of a Victorian girl, yet uses what she has available to her, and the norms of Victorian society to her advantage, as well as her knowledge of flowers and ciphers to form her various identities. These are quick reads, and of course, it is inevitable that Enola will solve the case as the main character. Aimed at children and young adults, these are great books for any age group, and can be appreciated by fans of the original as well as introduce a new audience to Sherlock.

This is turning out to be a very good series, and one that will surely have fans clamouring for the next instalment. I look forward to seeing how Enola continues to evade her brothers, and if, potentially, she ends up working with Sherlock, and both of them driving Mycroft to despair.

Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2) by Nicki Greenberg

zelda stitch 2Title: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2)

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Fantasy/Children’s

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Zelda Stitch is back in the classroom and ready to start Term Two. Will teaching be easier now everyone know she’s a witch? Or will there be more mischief than one witch can manage?

Goals for Term Two:
1. Be the best teacher I can be.
2. Keep my spells to myself.
3. DO NOT UPSET MELODY MARTIN.

What’s a witch to do? Zelda is likely to end up in a truckload of trouble if she can’t even follow the rules she sets herself. Especially when there’s an impressionable young witchling in the class, and the vice principal is on the warpath.

Soon both Zelda and the secret witchling are battling unruly magic, peer pressure and a seriously mean PE teacher. And then there’s the weird smell…

With the school camp coming up fast, Zelda has her work cut out for her. And as usual, Barnaby is only making things worse.

Will Zelda get to have her hero moment – or will she cause everything she cares about to disappear?

More magic, mischief and mayhem from Zelda Stitch, the wayward witch.

~*~

The new school term isn’t off to the best start. Zelda has a broken arm, her magic isn’t working as well as she’d like, and her cat, Barnaby, is being snarkier than ever. He seems to take great pleasure in watching her struggle with magic and everyday things, unlike Melvin, Briony’s cat, who is always kind and helpful. At school, Zelda has to contend with Principal Melody Martin, and her niece, Phoebe. Melody and Phoebe are also witches, and Zelda needs to follow her own rules to ensure the rest of the class doesn’t find out.

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On top of this, she has a snarky PE teacher to deal with, an upcoming school camp and Barnaby doesn’t seem to be making things easier for her – nor does her mother. Can Zelda help Phoebe and keep her own magic under wraps? Or will Zelda’s self-imposed rules shatter under increased pressure to be as normal as possible?

The second book in the Zelda Stitch series follows the same diary style format as the first one – a style that shows the world through Zelda’s eyes, and the story is told just as effectively and as enjoyably as if it were a straight narrative style. It engages the reader, and makes for quick, engrossing reading, as many books in this style do when they are written effectively by the author. Nicki Greenberg has done an excellent job using this style, as she captures Zelda’s voice, humour, observations and those of the other characters wonderfully.

As Zelda goes through her second term teaching, she faces more trials and triumphs while trying to balance teaching and being a witch. As her unpredictable magic seeps out, Zelda must find a way to work out which magic is coming from her, which magic is coming from Phoebe and if any is coming from Melody – before the school camp and before something goes really wrong. I’m really enjoying these books – yes, they are a quick read, especially for me, but they are also filled with fun, and whimsy. Zelda is a very entertaining character, and also very caring. She wants what is best for her class, especially Phoebe, and does whatever she can to follow her own rules and stay out of trouble. The plot follows this struggle very well, and captures the challenges of peer pressure and school – which even if you’re not a witch, can be very tough things to deal with. Showing how children cope with these issues in fiction, and through the lens of a young witchling shows children that it’s oaky to be scared, in an entertaining and accessible way using humour and sensitivity.

This is a great series for anyone who loves a good read or for younger readers who are just starting to branch out and read books on their own, or with a family member. I hope readers out there enjoy it.

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