Gendered Reading: Why Do We Still Insist on Gendering Books?

Over the past few months and years, I have been following online discussions about the way people gender reading – not only the act of reading, as a pursuit that girls are said to prefer, but the books we give younger children and what we expect of them as they grow and how they develop their reading tastes. Trends in publishing for children and young adults, but especially children, at that age of discovering independent reading and what they enjoy for themselves, can be gendered – targeted stories about princesses being saved for girls, and boys playing sports for boys, for example, are the two extremes. Girls are frilly and passive, boys are dirty and active. It sometimes seems that there is no in between, and children are often presented with books chosen by adults, the ones who buy the books – which, when you only know a few brief facts about a child, can be hard, because what if you buy the wrong book? Understandably, people like to play it safe, and that is where gendered reading can come in.

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseYesterday, I followed Word of Mouth TV and Jacqueline Harvey on Twitter as they tweeted and chatted about and at the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, with the Australian Society of Authors and the Children’s Book Council of Australia, on the issue of gendered books and reading, and how adults in the lives of children – whether implicitly or explicitly, in schools and libraries, guide children towards books “for girls” or “for boys”. Which brings me to the question – just what are boy books versus girl books? Well, apparently, if you’ve been following the discussions, a few things boys won’t read, or are said to be discouraged from reading:

 

– a book with love in the title

– a book with a girl on the cover

– a novel (boys apparently prefer comic books)

– a girl in the title

– a female author.

 

However, as adults, parents, teachers, booksellers and librarians, we encourage girls to read widely, but still within what is seen as “acceptable” for girls: no crime, no violence, passive princesses! LOVE! As a girl reader who has read widely since the age of six, war and crime have never been a deterrent. Spies? GREAT, I love Kensy and Max, and so do many other boys and girls when I read the reviews – and adults. Yet, Jacqueline Harvey has only had the chance to present to one or two groups of just boys – rather than mixed groups or just girls, and George Ivanoff pointed out that he saw that the boys in the mixed group were just as enthralled as the girls – excellent news for Kensy and Max, Alice- Miranda and Clementine-Rose. In my view, anyone can read anything they desire, and that they feel ready for – readers should be free to explore the world around them, so whenever I see people asking for “boy books” or “girl books”, I often feel the desire to point out that books do not have a gender, they are just books. Kensy is exactly the kind of girl character I would have enjoyed as a kid – because she was so different and refused to be overly girly.

 

So why do we encourage these reading habits? Is it because we associate reading with characters in popular culture like Hermione Granger and Rory Gilmore (By the way, two of my favourite characters), or even Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds? The lack of male characters who enjoy reading, and who aren’t broody and sullen like Jess Mariano, also of Gilmore Girls? Girls as readers seem to have a few role models to look up to when it comes to reading and seeing themselves as readers but also as people who have interests beyond reading. Boys, it seems, are always shown as the hero, or the nerd (Spencer, but he’s an adorable nerd, and a positive reading role model), or Jess, who often faced unfair comparisons with certain literary men, like Holden Caulfield, whilst Rory, and indeed girls, have many to be compared to. Supporting characters can be readers if they are boys – Percy Weasley, but often, they fade into the background, and so, it feels, does reading as a pleasurable activity for our boys.

 

Of these characters I know of, Spencer, Rory and Hermione are the three whose reading is prominently and positively portrayed – to the point where other characters don’t blink. And when the other male characters in these books and shows – Derek Morgan, Harry and Ron, Dean or Logan – are shown as sporty and brave, or disinterested in reading (Ron), or a someone who would rather disrupt learning than learn (Logan), we don’t blink either. My point is these, whilst exceptionally well written characters, and ones I can either love or hate in varying degrees, are characteristic of how we portray what it means to be a boy or a girl, and therefore, what activities and indeed, books we desire them to read. And perhaps this is why we are seeing a trend in books aimed at both boys and girls by authors like Kate Forsyth and Jacqueline Harvey, and George Ivanoff, and a trend in reimagined fairy tales for girls who dare to not be a passive princess – gone are the days of the prince saving the day, Rapunzel can save herself now!

 

And books aimed at both boys and girls that tell stories of men and women, across a diverse group of people, who have dared to be different to what their respective societies, cultures, nations and times in history expected of them, and why Disney movies are starting to pull back on ending it with the marriage of the main male and female characters. There are quite a few to name that have done this over the years, but the three recent ones that stand out to me are Frozen, Brave and Moana, where it was love of family that saved the day. Sure, Anna might have ended up with Kristoff (I had Hans picked as the villain from the start – if they look too good to be true, they probably are), but it was the love she had for Elsa, and Elsa’s love for her – their acts of true love, that drove the movie and the idea that love does not have to be romantic to be powerful. It is the same love we see in Kensy and Max, and in the Other Worlds series, especially in book two, Beast World, narrated by a girl, Xandra, who is also disabled. George Ivanoff wrote her really well and made sure she was represented as a disabled girl in a way that wasn’t demeaning. In our Twitter conversation, he said he had written books one and three with a male protagonist, and two and four with a female protagonist, and hoped boys reading them would continue with the female characters.

 

Unpacking gendered reading and representation of this in film and other media is not going to be resolved in this one post. It requires self-reflection, and asking ourselves why do we hope boys will begin a series with a boy and continue reading the books narrated by a girl? Why do we assume boys are naturally more interested in comics, sports and certain male-coded things rather than fairy tales or girl spies, or anything that girls are supposed to inherently be drawn to? We assume, we don’t ask, unless we think the child is old enough to decide for themselves – and at what age do we start this? Before they start school? When they’re learning to read? Somewhere in between, or only once they hit age ten? My own reading experiences are varied. I read Narnia at age nine, and books like The Wind in the Willows, The Neverending Story and a few others that might have been deemed “boy books”. I also read what are likely deemed “girl books”: The Babysitters Club, Seven Little Australians, Little Women (many, many times), and The Secret Garden, amongst many others. These days, I read whatever I can, and whenever I can. I read books by women, by men, by both, by people with various identities, and books aimed at boy, girls and everyone in between. I laugh with Bridget, I spy with Kensy and Max, I paint with Rowly, and explore all avenues of history with Kate Forsyth. I traverse London with Charles Dickens, and solve crimes with Phryne, and so many others that I cannot list, otherwise this will become an exegesis rather than a blog post.

 

 

During this blog post, I have worked in the binary because many discussions I read do. This is a whole other level that needs unpacking, the inclusion of all genders, and perhaps a really good reason why we should refrain from using the terms “boy books” and “girl books” – and just go with books so we can all feel included, and all find our way to characters we identify with. This layer is something I do not have enough of an understanding about yet, and will leave to those who do to comment on and write about – and leave it at we need to stop gendering our books and reading habits. Just Read.

 

A list of books that we can all enjoy, whatever our gender:

Kate Forsyth

Chain of Charms series

The Gypsy Crown

The Silver Horse

The Herb of Grace

The Cat’s Eye Shell

The Lightning Bolt

The Butterfly in Amber

Jacqueline Harvey:

Kensy and Max series

Kensy and Max: Breaking News

Kensy and Max: Disappearing Act

George Ivanoff

Other Worlds series

Other Worlds: Perfect World

Other Worlds: Beast World

Other Worlds: Game World

Other Worlds: Dark World

frogkisser

 

Garth Nix

Frogkisser!

Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Have Sword, Will Travel series

Have Sword, Will Travel

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Comment with your books that you’d recommend to anyone regardless of gender – I have based this on what I have read!

 

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Nevermoor #2)

Wundersmith.jpgTitle: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Author: Jessica Townsend

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian

Published: 30th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 475

Price: $16.99 (PB), $24.99 (HB)

Synopsis: Wunder is gathering in Nevermoor … 

Morrigan Crow may have defeated her deadly curse, passed the dangerous trials and joined the mystical Wundrous Society, but her journey into Nevermoor and all its secrets has only just begun. And she is fast learning that not all magic is used for good.

Return to the magical world of Nevermoor! Morrigan Crow’s perilous adventures continue in the most anticipated sequel of the year, a treat for all fans of magic and Wunder. 

Morrigan Crow has escaped her deadly fate and found a new home in the fantastical city of Nevermoor. She has also discovered that she has a strange and magical ability. But will her unique talent be a blessing or another curse?

Now that Morrigan and her best friend Hawthorne are proud scholars in the elite Wundrous Society, she is sure that she’s found a place to belong at last, but life is far from perfect. Can Morrigan prove that she deserves to be in the Society – or will an unexpected new enemy ruin her new life?

Praise for Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow:

Winner 
Dymocks Book of the Year 2018
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards 2018
Winner Book of the Year for Younger Children, Australian Book Industry
Awards 2018
Winner The Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian
Book Industry Awards 2018
Winner Book of the Year, Indie Book Awards 2018
Winner Children’s Category, Indie Book Awards 2018
Winner Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award, Australian Booksellers Association Awards 2018
Winner Best Children’s Fiction, Aurealis Awards 2017
Winner Younger Fiction, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (UK) 2018
Shortlisted The Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018
A CBCA Notable book
Voted #1 in the Dymocks Kids’ Top 51


‘Unexpected, exciting and funny. Like Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Doctor Who swirled up together.’ – Judith Rossell, ABIA Award-winning author of Withering-by-Sea

‘Exciting, charming, and wonderfully imagined, it’s the sort of delightful, grand adventure destined to be many a reader’s favourite book.’ – Trenton Lee Stewart, New York Times bestselling author of The Mysterious Benedict Society series and The Secret Keepers

‘It really is brilliant, with an engaging plot, plenty of twists, memorable characters and a marvellous sense of humour. Pick it up and the hours disappear, just like magic.’ – Daily Telegraph

‘An exciting and charming middle-grade read that will hook readers aged 10 and up with intricate imaginative detail and its sheer energy … a compulsively readable romp that fans of ‘Harry Potter’, Terry Pratchett or Studio Ghibli will gobble up.’ – Books and Publishing

~*~

Morrigan Crow’s journey began in Nevermoor, where she was whisked away from the Wintersea Republic on Eventide, the day she was destined to die, by Captain Jupiter North, whose red hair and flashy clothes were, and still are, in stark contrast to the black clothing donned by our heroine. Released exactly twelve months and twenty days after Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow picks up shortly after the first book, with Morrigan (Mog to Jupiter North), living at the Hotel Deucalion with its rooms that change depending on what you need at that moment, and the vampire dwarf, Frank, causing mischief and planning epic parties – this time to compete with a new hotel nearby, which is all in good fun amidst Morrigan’s acceptance into WunSoc, and her unit, Unit 919. Accepted by Hawthorne and Miss Cheery, Mog must work to earn the trust of the rest of her unit, as she grapples with her newfound identity as a Wundersmith, and she must fight all the prejudice flung at her because of it, and show everyone that there are good Wundersmiths, that they’re not all like Ezra Squall, who is trying to get back into Nevermoor.

As Morrigan starts her classes – at first, dully with only one class, referring to an abridged edition of the history of Wundersmiths, with a wuntortoise as her teacher – Professor Onstald – and gradually gaining a second class where she discovers the world of Nevermoor and all the sneaky, secret streets that lead to dangerous places like the Ghastly Market, or have rather unpleasant results, like vomiting everywhere. Despite this Tricksy Lanes, and their more nefarious relations, Morrigan finds herself in all sorts of trouble with Ezra Squall as Jupiter is called away more often, to the point where she fears she will have to leave WunSoc and Proudfoot House, but Morrigan will come to learn that loyalty and choice are what will make her the Wundersmith she is, and it is her loyalty to those who are around her in Nevermoor that make her a wunderful character. As she ventures into the world of WunSoc, along with readers, things are  not always as they seem, and there are threads and hints at certain things that are so subtle, the impact their reveal is given is magical and powerful.

I’ve been with this series since the first book came out last year, and it is absolutely delightful. Filled with everything from snarky cats to best friends, magical doors and rooms that change the type of bed you have based on what you need, I enjoyed my latest stay at the Hotel Deucalion, and spending time with Fen and Jupiter again. Fen is a character who doesn’t hold back, she tells it like it is. She is one of those characters who you really want to get behind and cheer on because, well, she’s magnificent and even though she’s full of snark and sarcasm, she truly cares for Mog and Jupiter.

Like many fantasy series before it, this series begins with an orphaned, or unwanted child, living a rather mundane experience until someone – in this case the enigmatic Jupiter North, arrives to whisk Morrigan away to a new, colourful world of magic and wonder, where good and evil fight each other and dastardly people lurk in the shadows, trying to disrupt the lives of those wanting to get by in Nevermoor peacefully. And, like in similar series, the threat of Squall will grow until a face-off – but the execution of Morrigan’s journey is as unique as every other story in the same genre. What Morrigan has to do is and will be unique, she is unique, and she shows people that they can overcome the bad things and shows that just because a certain fate is ascribed arbitrarily to you, it doesn’t mean you have to fulfil this fate. You can change it, and with Jupiter and Hawthorne’s help, that is just what Morrigan does.

Morrigan and Hawthorne are the heroes and friends we need – loyal, not perfect, and willing to learn from mistakes. Hawthorne’s loyalty to Morrigan, following certain events that turn the rest of their unit against her, and his willingness to do anything he can to help his friend, are what make him one of my favourite characters. There is nothing Hawthorne wouldn’t do for his friend, and I absolutely loved that.

The entire book from beginning to end is amazing, and fits in so well with the previous book, naturally, and gives a deeper look into the characters, but still with enough mystery to ensure there are secrets to come out in later books. I look forward to the continuation of this series, and where Mog goes from here.

Booktopia

Book Bingo Twenty – A Book by an Australian Woman, A book that’s more than 500 pages and a foreign translated novel.

Book bingo take 2

It’s that time of the fortnight, when Book Bingo Saturday with Amanda Barrett of Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith of Theresa Smith Writes has rolled around. As this is my second go around, and after this week and next fortnight, I still have ten squares left, there will be a few posts where two or more squares are included, and where books used from last time will appear in a different square, to ensure complete coverage should I not be able to read something new for any square. As the year rushes towards the final months, I’ve got many books that will potentially fill each of the remaining squares in November and December.

This week sees three books – two by Australian Women, which gives me a bit of a double bingo for that square, and a bingo in a down row – Row Four, as seen below:

Book bingo take 2 .jpg

Row #1 down

 A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

A book with a yellow cover:

A book written by an Australian woman:  Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A forgotten classic:

A book that became a movie:

Row #4 -BINGO (down)

 

A book more than 500 pages: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018,

A collection of short stories: Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane – AWW2018

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018

A funny book: Archibald, the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, Illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky -AWW2018

A book written by someone under thirty: The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady – AWW2018

Across:

Row #3:  –

 A book written by an Australian woman: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

A prize-winning book:

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018*

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1)

Row #1 – –

 A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

A book written more than ten years ago:

A memoir: No Country Woman by Zoya Patel – AWW2018

A book more than 500 pages: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A Foreign translated novel: The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti

cherry tree

First off. a foreign translated novel – The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti. The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree is the story of nine-year-old Mafalda, who has a genetic condition known as Stargardt disease, affecting her vision that will eventually result in complete blindness, exploring a world of disability not often seen in books, and in a realistic, and touching way, using personal experiences to do so.

It is one of those rare books that allows disabled children and readers to see themselves in it, and to see that there are other disabled people out there, not just them. It makes these readers feel less alone, knowing other people live with disability whether it is the same one, or different ones. It is also about finding connections, and people who will stick by you throughout life, and help, and the reality of life and the ups and downs that affect us all. My longer review is linked here.

the clockmakers daughter

The next two books are by Australian women, and both fit into the square for A book by an Australian woman, and one fits into a book over five hundred pages. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. Published on the twelfth of September, The Clockmaker’s Daughter weaves in and out of time and space, between decades and centuries, and throughout generations of people all connected in some way to Birchwood Manor. The focus is on the 1860s, and the Magenta Brotherhood – an artistic guild that hints at Pre-Raphaelite influences, and dips into the early decades of the twentieth century, and hints at a character researching and reading about Birchwood Manor, whose story bookends those f the others, and reaches a conclusion that is a little ambiguous but at the same time, delightfully executed in a way that the stands of ambiguity are what makes the overall mystery work – not everything is straightforward or clean-cut, and not every answer will be uncovered, nor will any sense of justice necessarily be dealt out – or does it need to be? Was an honest mistake made, did people just not realise? It is these unanswered questions, that, even though the mystery of Birdie’s fate is solved in a way, nobody will ever know, and in this instance, it worked out really well.

Kensy and Max 2My third book fills the book by an Australian woman square as well – Kensy and Max: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey. In the second book in the Kensy and Max series, the twins are in training to be spies at Pharos, and the headquarters called Alexandria during their Christmas break with their friends and teachers – who are also spies. After Christmas, they will set off to Rome with other classmates who are none-the-wiser to the spy training going on around them. Whilst in Rome, Kensy and Max receive more coded messages from their parents and are caught up in their first mission to save the Prime Minister’s son – but is one of their classmates somehow linked to the disappearance of the boy, or is it merely her family they need to be suspicious of? And which student does everyone need to look out for and avoid? Together with their new friends, Kensy and Max will solve the case – the first of many and keep hot on the trail of their missing parents. Will Kensy and Max finally be reunited with their parents?

Kensy and Max is a series for all readers – regardless of age and gender. They defy gender roles and are heroes for children today, where there are many books coming out where male and female characters defy stereotypes and take on their own identity rather than the stereotypes perpetuated by earlier works, which of course, drew on the world that inspired them. Kensy is the kind of girl hero I needed growing up, to have alongside Matilda Wormwood and Hermione Granger, the kind of character who isn’t what she seems and who stands up for herself and her beliefs and doesn’t let people define her – especially those who don’t like her. She is heroic yet at the same time, can be vulnerable and needs grounding – but threaten those she cares about, like her brother, and I reckon you’d be sorry! I adore this series and I cannot wait for future books to see where Kensy and Max take us next.

Thus ends my twentieth book bingo post of the year. Post twenty-one will be up in two weeks time.

Booktopia

Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 1.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Mystery/Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages:240

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…

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers-all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?

~*~

When Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes, awakens on her fourteenth birthday to find herself quite alone – her mother has up and left, leaving no clues as to her whereabouts, apart from a book of ciphers that Enola must follow to uncover the truth. In the days following her mother’s disappearance, Enola’s much older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock arrive to make proper arrangements for their sister in London in light of the situation they find her in, where her education befitting a proper lady has been woeful, and the money sent to assist has been spent elsewhere. So, whilst Mycroft prepares his sister for boarding school, and Sherlock returns to his mysterious ways in London, Enola sneaks off and soon finds herself embroiled in disguises, a search for her mother and knowledge of a kidnapped marquess, whom she is determined to track down. At the same time, she must dodge her brothers, so they cannot find her, hide from her murderous villains and help the marquess get home. With all this chaos going on, can Enola maintain her cover and make sure she is undetected?

The Enola Holmes series takes a new look at Sherlock Holmes and his family, and inserts a what if – what if Sherlock and Mycroft had a sister – what would she be like? In this reimagining, she takes more after Sherlock, the detective, than Mycroft, who is the more responsible of the two.   Written in a style akin to the original Holmes stories, but with a feminine twist, the Enola Holmes mysteries looks to be an intriguing series, with books one and two published by Allen and Unwin out today.

Enola is very much like her brother, Sherlock, taking advantage of disguises she picks up along the way and puts together with the clothes Mycroft orders for her to attend boarding school. She is good with ciphers, and manages to elude those pursuing her, and is a master of escapes. Using her skill with ciphers to create new identities for herself, Enola is about to embark on a series of quests and mysteries that will hopefully lead her to her mother, whilst her brother, Sherlock, is hot on her heels – it will be interesting to see whether they eventually team up to defy Mycroft in future books.

What I enjoyed about this book was not only the female lead, but the very different take on the Sherlock Holmes stories and the detective story trope, set in Victorian London with the underlying theme of Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people weaving in and out of the shadows Enola keeps to, yet fears as she tries to find her mother and solve the mysteries that she stumbles upon along her way.

An excellent start to the series, and my review of book two will be following this one.

Booktopia

We Three Heroes (Medoran Chronicles) by Lynette Noni

3D-WTH.pngTitle: We Three Heroes (Medoran Chronicles)

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: EMBRACE THE WONDER

We all have to do our part if we’re to survive the coming storm.

Alexandra Jennings might be the hero of The Medoran Chronicles, but she would be lost without her three closest friends. They are her heroes, and like all heroes, they each have their own story.

Meet the real D.C. in Crowns and Curses and discover how she becomes the princess Alex once despised but now adores.

Follow Jordan on his healing journey in Scars and Silence as he struggles in the wake of being rescued from his living nightmare.

Walk beside Bear in Hearts and Headstones as he faces an unspeakable trauma while helping his world prepare for the coming war.

D.C., Jordan and Bear are the heroes of their own stories.

It is time for their stories to be told.

~*~

Alex has her story told in Akarnae, Raelia, Draekora, Graevale and next year, it will conclude in Vardaesia. In each book, the presence of her three best friends, Dix (D.C., or Delucia Cavelle, the princess of Medora), Bear and Jordan remain throughout, steadfast and important to her journey, even when she’s had to hold things back from them. Now, it’s their turn for their stories to be told. drawing on events from the previous four books, and Dix’s childhood before she entered the academy to bring their characters into their own stories in their own right, and the recollection of certain events from the first four books from their perspectives. So it’s crucial that if you want to read this one, you must have read the first four books – which are all very good, and filled with brilliant humour and friendship.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe first novella, Crowns and Curses, is D.C.’s story, starting when she is thirteen years old, and still living at the palace – she’s friendly with Jeera, who is training to be a warden, and knows Kaiden and Declan, but the rest of the children have believed the stories the son of a diplomat, Maxton has told about her. And it is here that we learn why she doesn’t trust people at Medora initially and learn why she has her own room, why Jordan and Bear aren’t her friends, and what she had hoped for when she awoke to Alex in her dorm room in Akarnae, and lastly, how the three became friends. Through the events in this book, and D.C.’s interactions with Maxton and her initial interactions with Jordan and Bear, and the rest of the students, we learn why she has found it hard to make friends – and share her joy in finally finding people she can count on in her life away from the confines of her royal life.

Reading D.C.’s story is powerful and moving, and where once, at the beginning of Akarnae, readers may not have liked her much or been unsure about her, she is a character we have all come to love and appreciate for her fierce loyalty to her friends. Even though parts of Dix’s story are sad, and lonely, the princess that fans have come to love is still there, and there were times pre-Akarnae when all I wanted to do was hug her – this story brings much more to Dix’s character than we first find out about, and I really enjoyed reading this one, because understanding why D.C. acted as she did is important to understanding her and her journey and how bullying and deception has affected her in the past, and how she has no desire to relive that. With Alex, she sees a chance to make a new friend, someone who has no idea who she is and who comes from another world – Freya as our world is called in Medora. When this is shattered, I felt for her deeply and cheered when she finally became friends with Alex, Jordan and Bear. I also appreciated the sneaky little nod to Harry Potter early on in Dix’s story, which has a happy ending, or at least, as happy as these endings will get.

The second novella takes place around the events of Raelia and Draekora, where Jordan is under Aven’s control, and what happens after. Scars and Silence is Jordan’s story of overcoming the control Aven once had over him, and of dealing with the death of his older brother years before the start of Akarnae, and the struggles with his own mental health as a result. But he’s not alone – Dix sits up with him every night, Bear and Alex are always ready to talk, and help will also come from a source Jordan – and I will say me too – never anticipated. This new-found ally and confidante will help Jordan just as much as his friends do. Like many people, Jordan masks his pain, and struggles to reach out – until his friends, and especially Dix, let him know they are there. This is powerful because it lets readers know they are not alone either and that it is okay to ask for help.

Jordan’s story is heartbreaking, and filled with tension as he yearns to separate himself from his family and their rigid expectations that they had for him, and for his brother – expectations that weight heavily on Jordan and led to events that changed Jordan forever that have deeply affected him, and perhaps, give an understanding of why Jordan presented the way he did initially, until he let Bear, Alex and Dix in and trusted them. This is a story that shows again that we are all vulnerable, human but also that we have the strength to overcome hard times, and that whilst the pain may not completely go away and there will always be scars, silence doesn’t always help – I enjoyed gaining more insight into Jordan, because it helped understand the person he was in the first four books, and gave an insight into where he will be going in Vardaesia next year. Jordan’s story gives a little hope that things will be okay, and that whatever happens, he knows Dix and his friends will always have his back, which is an extremely powerful and important message to send.

Finally, there is Bear’s story in Hearts and Headstones – a dark hint at what is to come, though if you’ve been following the series, you’ll know what is to come – those four words – “Graevale is under attack,” – and the subsequent battle and gut-wrenching, heart-destroying finale – except this time, we see it all unfold through Bear’s eyes. Most of the events of Bear’s story are taken from Graevale, and what happened to him during the meetings with the other races and communities of Medora as Alex tries to get them onside before Aven can attack. It is with the arrival of the four words – Graevale is under attack– that the heart-pounding events begin, and even knowing what was to come, who our heroes were going to lose – was shocking.

Ending with the inevitable cliffhanger that will take us into Vardaesia, We Three Heroes is a great addition to the series, exploring the effects of the events on characters other than Alex, but in a way that fits in with her story, and shows the loyalty these four friends have towards each other. Each novella explores a different demon and tragedy for each of Alex’s friends, and this insight into them has been an interesting and emotional journey for both character and reader – despite the shocks and gut punches, it is still one of my favourite series, and I know there will be more but that’s what makes it powerful: knowing bad stuff will happen but also knowing there are heroes willing to go out and stop Aven from achieving his goal. Each story and its inevitable conclusion are like a punch to the guts, reminding us that we are human, as are the characters we love, and that I will come back to again and again. This is the series that got me blogging seriously as a reviewer – I now have lots to catch up on and get many books now – so thank you to Pantera Press and Lynette Noni for getting me into my blog on a bigger scale. This series will always be special to me for that reason. I look forward to the release of Vardaesia next year.

Booktopia

The Colours of all the Cattle (No.1 Ladies Detective agency #19) by lexander McCall-Smith

Mma Ramotswe 19.jpgTitle: The Colours of all the Cattle (No.1 Ladies Detective agency #19)

Author: Alexander McCall-Smith

Genre: Crime, literary fiction, mystery

Publisher: Hachette/Little, Brown

Published: 11th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 231

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The new Botswana book from bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, this is Mma Ramotswe’s nineteenth wonderful adventure.

 

Mma Ramostwe’s friend will persuade her to stand for election to the City Council. ‘We need women like her in politics,’ Mma Potokwani says, ‘instead of having the same old men every time . . .’ To be elected, Mma Ramotswe must have a platform and some policies. She will have to canvas opinion. She will have to get Mma Makutsi’s views. Her slogan is ‘I can’t promise anything – but I shall do my best’. Her intention is to halt the construction of the Big Fun Hotel, a dubious, flashy hotel near a graveyard – an act that many consider to be disrespectful. Mma Ramotswe will take the campaign as far as she can, but lurking around the corner, as ever, is the inextinguishable Violet Sephotho.

 

At the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe is pondering the meaning of her life and whether in fact there is one. A meeting with Mma Potokwani – who runs the local orphan farm – provides unsettling inspiration.

 

It is Mma Ramotswe’s instinct for selflessness, her calm and rational thinking, Mma Potokwani proclaims, that make her a perfect candidate for a newly vacant seat on the local council. Who better than Precious Ramotswe to defend the community against corruption and injustice?

 

Meanwhile, part-time detective Charlie is assigned a troubling case. He is keen to prove both his ability to his superior, Mma Makutsi, and his worth to Queenie-Queenie who has captured his heart; and Mma Makutsi is confidently in pursuit of a ruthless property developer.

 

The path to triumph, however, is beset with problems for Charlie and Mma Makutsi, while Mma Ramotswe comes to recognise that it is not political power that gives her life its vital purpose – it is simply her inherent desire to understand and support those who need her most.

 

~*~

 

Heading back to Botswana with Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and their friends and families is a welcome respite from the world we live in today. In the latest instalment, Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, takes a back seat from investigations as she begins to run for the local council, with one goal, and spurred on by the woman who runs the Orphan Farm her two children – Puso and Motholeli – came from: to prevent a big business owner and property developer, Gobe Maruti – from building the Big Fun Hotel right next to a cemetery where the late loved ones lie. Mma Potokwani, like others in the community, fears that the once the Big Fun Hotel is a success, developers will want to disturb those resting in the cemetery – and Mma Potokwani is convinced that Mma Ramotswe will be able to do something about it. As Precious works on her campaign, part-time detective Charlie must look into an elderly man getting hit by a car, and the mystery of the absence of a car that colour, whilst trying to impress a young woman called Queenie-Queenie. Mma Makutsi investigates the property developer to assist the campaign and find a way to discover the motives behind her nemesis, Violet Sephotho, from the Botswana Secretarial College, who is also standing for council and supporting the development of the hotel. Mma Ramotswe is not sure politics is for her, but with her team rallying around her, she decides to let things happen as they do.

 

Each character has obstacles and challenges to overcome in their daily lives as detectives, and Charlie as a mechanic with Tlokweng Speedy Motors and Mma Ramotswe’s husband, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, grapples with his own case, and the mystery of a car that ran down a doctor and hasn’t been seen since. As they plot to prevent to construction of the hotel, each case somehow intersects a little, apart from the case of the car that has been missing since running Dr Marang over, which has links to other characters in the story.

 

As each plotline intersects, the race to be a councillor begins to make Mma Ramotswe wonder if politics is the place for her – doing so is the right thing for her community, however long she is able to serve on the council. In Mma Potokwani’s eyes, Precious is the perfect candidate to prevent the Big Fun Hotel being built next to a graveyard – seen as disrespectful by many, and in Mma Ramotswe’s gentle, firm way, she agrees to help stop the construction – and speak out against the council that seeks to disrupt Gaborone, and its gentle citizens going about their lives. Within these books. Africa leaps off the pages in sight, sound and smell, and is vivid and inviting to readers new and old.

 

The Colours of All the Cattle makes a wonderful addition to the series, and there will hopefully be more to come.

 

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is one of those series that is fun and comforting and a light, gentle read with a sense of simplicity and tradition yet at the same time, explores the ways societies and people change, but also, want to stay the same, without disruption to lives. It is a charming series, and the most recent novel is no exception, filled with the places and people that readers have come to know over the past twenty years and nineteen books. The charm in this series is in the simple beauty these characters see in their world, and the connections they make, as well as the understanding they have for each other, a world where they do not begrudge friends and family mistakes. Not all characters are perfect – they have their flaws and make errors in judgement at times. But the case will be solved, and all will be right in Zebra Drive and Gaborone.

 

 

The Colours of all the Cattle (No.1 Ladies Detective Agency #19) by Alexander McCall-Smith

Mma Ramotswe 19
Title: The Colours of all the Cattle (No.1 Ladies Detective agency #19)

Author: Alexander McCall-Smith

Genre: Crime, literary fiction, mystery

Publisher: Hachette/Little, Brown

Published: 11th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 231

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The new Botswana book from bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, this is Mma Ramotswe’s nineteenth wonderful adventure.

Mma Ramostwe’s friend will persuade her to stand for election to the City Council. ‘We need women like her in politics,’ Mma Potokwani says, ‘instead of having the same old men every time . . .’ To be elected, Mma Ramotswe must have a platform and some policies. She will have to canvas opinion. She will have to get Mma Makutsi’s views. Her slogan is ‘I can’t promise anything – but I shall do my best’. Her intention is to halt the construction of the Big Fun Hotel, a dubious, flashy hotel near a graveyard – an act that many consider to be disrespectful. Mma Ramotswe will take the campaign as far as she can, but lurking around the corner, as ever, is the inextinguishable Violet Sephotho.

At the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe is pondering the meaning of her life and whether in fact there is one. A meeting with Mma Potokwani – who runs the local orphan farm – provides unsettling inspiration.

It is Mma Ramotswe’s instinct for selflessness, her calm and rational thinking, Mma Potokwani proclaims, that make her a perfect candidate for a newly vacant seat on the local council. Who better than Precious Ramotswe to defend the community against corruption and injustice?

Meanwhile, part-time detective Charlie is assigned a troubling case. He is keen to prove both his ability to his superior, Mma Makutsi, and his worth to Queenie-Queenie who has captured his heart; and Mma Makutsi is confidently in pursuit of a ruthless property developer.

The path to triumph, however, is beset with problems for Charlie and Mma Makutsi, while Mma Ramotswe comes to recognise that it is not political power that gives her life its vital purpose – it is simply her inherent desire to understand and support those who need her most.

~*~

Heading back to Botswana with Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and their friends and families is a welcome respite from the world we live in today. In the latest instalment, Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, takes a back seat from investigations as she begins to run for the local council, with one goal, and spurred on by the woman who runs the Orphan Farm her two children – Puso and Motholeli – came from: to prevent a big business owner and property developer, Gobe Maruti – from building the Big Fun Hotel right next to a cemetery where the late loved ones lie. Mma Potokwani, like others in the community, fears that the once the Big Fun Hotel is a success, developers will want to disturb those resting in the cemetery – and Mma Potokwani is convinced that Mma Ramotswe will be able to do something about it. As Precious works on her campaign, part-time detective Charlie must look into an elderly man getting hit by a car, and the mystery of the absence of a car that colour, whilst trying to impress a young woman called Queenie-Queenie. Mma Makutsi investigates the property developer to assist the campaign and find a way to discover the motives behind her nemesis, Violet Sephotho, from the Botswana Secretarial College, who is also standing for council and supporting the development of the hotel. Mma Ramotswe is not sure politics is for her, but with her team rallying around her, she decides to let things happen as they do.

Each character has obstacles and challenges to overcome in their daily lives as detectives, and Charlie as a mechanic with Tlokweng Speedy Motors and Mma Ramotswe’s husband, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, grapples with his own case, and the mystery of a car that ran down a doctor and hasn’t been seen since. As they plot to prevent to construction of the hotel, each case somehow intersects a little, apart from the case of the car that has been missing since running Dr Marang over, which has links to other characters in the story.

As each plotline intersects, the race to be a councillor begins to make Mma Ramotswe wonder if politics is the place for her – doing so is the right thing for her community, however long she is able to serve on the council. In Mma Potokwani’s eyes, Precious is the perfect candidate to prevent the Big Fun Hotel being built next to a graveyard – seen as disrespectful by many, and in Mma Ramotswe’s gentle, firm way, she agrees to help stop the construction – and speak out against the council that seeks to disrupt Gaborone, and its gentle citizens going about their lives. Within these books. Africa leaps off the pages in sight, sound and smell, and is vivid and inviting to readers new and old.

The Colours of All the Cattle makes a wonderful addition to the series, and there will hopefully be more to come.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is one of those series that is fun and comforting and a light, gentle read with a sense of simplicity and tradition yet at the same time, explores the ways societies and people change, but also, want to stay the same, without disruption to lives. It is a charming series, and the most recent novel is no exception, filled with the places and people that readers have come to know over the past twenty years and nineteen books. The charm in this series is in the simple beauty these characters see in their world, and the connections they make, as well as the understanding they have for each other, a world where they do not begrudge friends and family mistakes. Not all characters are perfect – they have their flaws and make errors in judgement at times. But the case will be solved, and all will be right in Zebra Drive and Gaborone.