Saturday, 8 January 2022

Five Go to Sleepy Lake (Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero)

4/5

" No book is dangerous in and of itself, you know. But historically, reading a book in the wrong way has led to terrible consequences." - Edgar Cantero, Meddling Kids

Like most people who grew up in the UK, I've read my share of Enid Blyton novels. For me, it was St. Clares, Malory Towers, and The Faraway Tree. This novel takes off a concept that Blyton played with a lot (and I mean a lot, I can think of at least three series she wrote that are like this just off the top of my head) - kids solving mysteries. Specifically, it takes off The Famous Five, with a side order of Scooby Doo. 

The premise is simple: 13 years ago, The Blyton Summer Detective Club - Andy, Kerri, Nate, Peter, and their dog - unmasked the Sleepy Lake Monster... but what if a human in a mask wasn't the true culprit at all?

Whilst all of the characters are very much their own people, you can easily work out who they're referencing. Peter - the group's late leader - is similar to Fred from Scooby Doo (and, yes, he does like to split up the group). Kerri, an attractive redhead and the brains of the group, is a combination of Daphne and Velma. Nate scans onto Shaggy, although I think less so than Peter and Kerri did onto Fred and Daphne. He's Kerri's cousin and a big fan of horror and fantasy. Whereas she's a sceptic, Nate will whole-heartedly embrace supernatural theories. He's also on drugs to stop him from hallucinating Peter and, at the start of the story, has committed himself to a mental hospital. Andy doesn't have any Scooby Doo equivalent, but she's pretty clearly inspired by George from The Famous Five. I'm not overly familiar with the series, but George is easily the most well-known character and probably the most extreme of Blyton's tomboy characters in that she doesn't just have interests that are traditionally considered masculine or go by a traditionally masculine nickname - she flat-out hates being a girl. By the events of the novel, Andy is older and therefore much more mature than George. She describes herself as butch and retains the traditionally masculine style and interests of her youth, but she also reflects on how she felt about being a girl when she was a child and sees it as a result of having a very religious upbringing and being judged by her community for choices such as having short hair. It wasn't about being female so much as the ideals and social norms forced on her for being female.   

It's hard to talk about the plot without spoiling anything that's really happening in Blyton Hills - where Andy, Kerri, Nate, Peter, and their dog used to spend their summer holidays - though this book is probably best likened to John Dies at the End in that it's a wild ride and you shouldn't take it too seriously or you just won't enjoy it. When I read the first 40 or so pages, I let myself get far too bogged down in some of the writer's unusual choices. For example, sometimes he switches to a screenplay-like style, makes up some of his own words, and he also describes Kerri's hair like it's a living thing. When I picked it up again over four months later, I flew through the remaining 400 or so pages in two days. 

One thing I really didn't like was how the romance plotline was resolved. Kerri outright states early on that she doesn't think she's interested in dating women. There's no reason why she couldn't decide later in the story that she is interested, and it doesn't have to be written like it's a huge revelation, but I don't feel like we were given any further development on the subject at all. The other character (spoiler redacted) just kissed her and we don't actually see any reaction from Kerri that's positive or negative, but the next time she speaks they're an established couple. It really made me think of the ending of Measure for Measure. It's not like you couldn't see the relationship coming, but I was expecting Kerri to be the one who initiated since she'd already rejected them. It doesn't help that when the other character first admits that she likes Kerri, they respond to her rejection by asking her if she's ever tried dating women and Kerri responds that she hasn't, but she hasn't tried skydiving either and she doesn't think she'd like that either. After the kiss, the character drops a line about how they'll try skydiving too. In general, "but have you tried it", is not a great line to hear when it comes to anything to do with romance and bringing it up again when they got together just made the whole scene uncomfortable. It feels like Kerri had to lose her agency for the romance to work.

 Have you ever taken a long break from a book in the middle of reading it?

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Friday, 31 December 2021

2021 Wrap-up

And so 2021 comes to an end.

It's not been a great year (I'm sure most people feel the same - global pandemic and all), but I finally managed to move jobs in November so - overall - I'm going to try and be happy with it. That was my major life goal this year, after all. 

Usually, I'm super prepared for the new year on the blog and I have lots of posts scheduled into January. This year, I am writing this wrap-up on the 30th of December.

News from the Reading Front

Looking back at my resolutions for this year, I haven't really done too badly. I absolutely blew my Goodreads goal out of the water. Due to the volume of manga I was reading, I upped it several times so it started out as eighty books and ended up at 200. Admittedly, I didn't read a lot of novels and most of the ones I did read were three stars at best, but I'll take it. Ironically, I still haven't finished my favourite manga series - because I had already bought a lot of Haikyuu!! volumes before I subscribed to the Shonen Jump app, I'm buying the rest of them so I'm reading slower than I could be.

Best Novels I've Read This Year...


Manga Series I've Been Loving This Year...
 
 

 

Reading Challenge Wrap-ups

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2/5

 Chunkster Reading Challenge 3/5

Annoyingly, I read a couple of books that missed the 450 page minimum by less than fifty pages - special mention to The Duke and I which was 440 pages.  

Ivyclad Bingo 2021 Wrap-up

Childhood Friends: My Hero Academia Volume 1 by Kohei Horikoshi

Fantasy: Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater

Fake Dating: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Heists and General Thievery: The Furies by Katie Lowe (really pushing my luck here, but there is a break-in)

EBook: Days Volume 22 by Tsuyoshi Yasuda

Novel over 400 Pages: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Sci-Fi: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

Author is not from the USA: Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

Historical: Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine and Myth in a Man-Made World by Elinor Cleghorn

Supernatural Creature: Witch Watch Volume 1 by Kenta Shinohara (at the current count, witches, ogres, tengu, werewolves, and vampires, oh my!)

Mythology: Shaman King Volume 1 by Hiroyuki Takei (again, bit of a stretch, but Shaman King does include bits and bobs of different mythologies)

Published in 2021: For the Love of Friends by Sara Goodman Confino

Horror: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

News from the Writing Front

I haven't quite reached my goal of finishing editing my story and sending it to my beta reader, but I have edited the first two parts of the story (so over half of it) and my beta reader has seen and fed back on both parts, so progress has been made.

Personal Goals

Amusingly, I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be cutting down on social events and saying no to things I didn't think I'd enjoy this year and I have recently set this as a goal for the coming year. 

As a result of not saying no to things that sounded like I would not enjoy them, I have now taken part in an escape room. I do not recommend.

Happy New Year! Do you have any goals for 2022?

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Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Announcing Ivyclad Bingo 2022

It's that time of year again when I post my Ivyclad Bingo card for the coming year. For those of you who are new, this is a no-pressure, low-commitment reading challenge where every time you read a book that fits a prompt you can cross that prompt off the bingo card.

If you would like to play, the rules are simple:

1. Make a post on your blog announcing your participation -

(Or shove it on the end of a wrap-up post - we're not fussy.)

- And link back to this post. You're all welcome to use the graphic. If you don't have a blog, you can simply create a challenge shelf on Goodreads.

2. Announce your participation in the comments.

3. Read! And you can read anything for this challenge. I don't care if it's a 900 page classic or a 30 page comic, cross off the box if it fits. It doesn't matter when you started the book either. If you finish it in 2021, it counts! It's up to you whether you go for just a row or the full board.

Behold, the categories for 2022.
 
Classic
 
Anything from The Colour Purple to Alice in Wonderland and everything inbetween.
 
Here are some lists of classics for inspiration: 1, 2, 3.
 
Not Set in the USA
 
Any novel not set in the USA. It's really that simple. For an added challenge, if you live outside of the US (like me), you could try to read a book that is neither set in the US nor your own country. 
 
Haunted House
 
Houses that are haunted, whether by actual ghosts, dark secrets, or something altogether more sinister...
 
Published the Year You were Born
 
Thank God for the internet. Any novel published the year you were born counts - how flexible you wish to be with what counts as technically being released the year you were born is up to you. 
 
Library Book
 
Support your local library by crossing this square off your bingo card!
 
Male Protagonist
 
A book with a male protagonist. Harder than it sounds if YA novels are your books of choice.
 
By an Author You Haven't Read Before
 
So long as you've never read one of their books before, it counts. 
 
Fairies
 
Fairies. Fae. Fey. The Fair Folk. Whatever you wish to call them, cross off this square if you read a book involving fairies. 
 
Someone Gets a Hug
 
A character needs a hug... AND THEY GET IT. Iconic. 
 
Dysfunctional Family
 
Families that are just a little bit messy (aren't they all?) Bonus points for royalty. Bonus bonus points for non-fiction. 
 
Sequel
 
Any book in a series EXCEPT the first. 
 
First Person Narrator
 
Having just finished two books with first person narrators, I question why I didn't put this on last year's card...
 
Witchcraft
 
Some little girls aren't sugar and spice. Some little girls throw slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails into their cauldrons and cackle over the contents.
 
These are the little girls (not that they have to be girls) we want to read about to cross off this square.
 
No Romance
 
A novel with no romance subplot. Good luck.
 
Published in 2022
 
Not just a book that's new to you, but new to everyone.
 
Non-Fiction 
 
Non-fiction books about a subject of your choice - personally, I'm interested in non-fiction books about how people (specific or general) lived throughout history, women, and crime.

If you want to take part, just drop a note in the comments!

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

November Wrap-up

It's easy in your twenties to think, "I am achieving nothing." I mean, I'm 25 next year and I haven't reached any of my major life goals. 

But here is something I've achieved - I've moved jobs, which is (hopefully) going to help my mental health going forwards.

News from the Reading Front

Good news! I've now caught up on Ace of Diamond as far as it's been released in English, so I can't bankrupt myself binge-reading it any further!

(Now seems like a good time to remind anyone that you can subscribe monthly to the Shonen Jump app for $1.99 - that's somewhere in the £1.42-£1.47 range if you're British - and read up to 200 chapters per day. This series is not on it, but it does include Haikyuu!!, My Hero Academia, Naruto, Jujutsu Kaisen, and a bunch of other huge series. Binge-read responsibly, kids!)

  • Ace of Diamond volumes 25-35 by Yuji Terajima

News from the Blogging Front

I know that three posts (including my wrap-up) isn't a lot for a month, but it's an improvement on the last three! Also, if you missed it, behold, my latest You're Watching Wednesday post is about Eternals, making it my first post for that feature since January that isn't about an anime.

...That said, I'm watching Big Windup right now, so don't expect it to start a trend...

Meanwhile, in the Real World...

I took an actual, proper break from editing that I wasn't allowed to feel guilty about this month, so that I could settle into my new job. I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things in December. 

Have you started your Christmas shopping?

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Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Who Wants to Live Forever? (You're Watching Wednesday #22 - Eternals)

Good morning. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

The feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)

I really want to like Eternals - I really, really want to like it - because it has all of the pieces a film needs to be amazing... they're just a little off in terms of placement and the film wasn't engaging as a result. Due to the huge cast of characters (there are ten Eternals) - all of who are well-characterised - there just isn't a lot of time for anything else. The Eternals have been on Earth for thousands of years, having been sent there by their God, and they're like an immortal, dysfunctional family.

A major issue is that exes Sersi and Ikaris (pronounced Icarus) - who were together for 5000 years - have no chemistry. None. This is particularly noticeable next to Makkari and Druig, who have five minutes of screentime together at best and are completely adorable. They're flirty and playful, and Makkari is much more affected by Druig's apparent death than Sersi is by Ikaris' betrayal. In fact, the film does plenty of other relationships beautifully. Phastos and his husband are shown to be very happy together and a great team in parenting their son. Thena and Gilgamesh have a totally platonic, but deeply loving relationship. You don't get a lot of characters in stories who live together without being romantically involved - unless they're going to become romantically involved or pursue other romantic relationships and eventually move out - so they were a real breath of fresh air. Meanwhile, I wasn't even convinced that Sersi ever loved Ikaris. When he confesses to her, she doesn't look happy and turns away. The next thing we know, they're kissing, then they're doing something more, then they're getting married.

The other relationship that gets completely bungled is the one between Sersi and Sprite.

Sprite is an Eternal stuck looking perpetually like a young teenager. I think every adult can recognise how much that would suck - think of all the things adults can do that kids can't and then think about never having the opportunity to do any of them even though your ID should show an age somewhere in the thousands. Sprite's power is illusions and she can take an adult form using them, but, if someone touches the illusion, marks appear on her and give her away. In the beginning, she's tagging along with Sersi and they seem to be pretty close - she's been spilling little snippets of the truth to Sersi's boyfriend and she mentions to Ikaris that they were both lonely until Ajak sent her to join her in London. Partway through the film, Kingo reveals that Sprite has an unrequited crush on Ikaris, comparing her to Tinkerbell, Ikaris to Peter Pan, and Sersi to Wendy. I don't really feel like we'd seen any evidence of that so far, but this crush ends up influencing basically all of Sprite's actions in the rest of the film. In a later scene, she's one of the characters who tries to get Ikaris to overrule Sersi as the leader, and when he decides to stand against the other Eternals, she leaves with him. I kept expecting the fact that she and Sersi were, you know, friends, to come up again later - particularly after Ikaris left her as the final line of defence between the other Eternals and her goal. But no. Sprite actually ends up stabbing Sersi. This is never addressed later either. I get that her primary motivations as a character are that she wants to grow up and fall in love, but her crush on Ikaris feels more like an informed character trait than something that actually exists within the film and is an extremely thin reason for her to follow Ikaris and betray the rest of the Eternals in the process. 

So much of the film revolves around these relationships that we really have to believe in them for the film to make sense. And I just don't. It sucks, because I do like Sersi as a character. She has a phenomenal amount of kindness and - honestly - if anyone's memories of Earth could save it from being destroyed by an angry celestial, hers can. I believe that the other celestials trusted her as their leader too, but Ikaris and Sprite are really key characters and her dynamics with both of them just didn't work. 

All that said, I did like the characters and I do look forward to seeing them in future films, particularly Makkari, Druig, and - despite what I've said above - Sprite. With what happened at the end, Sprite, who left with Kingo, is the only Eternal who we can say for certain knows that something is WRONG right now. I want to see what she'll do!

Have you ever watched a film you want to love, but just can't?

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