"You Can't blend in
Book title: Wonder
The reader is never fully informed about just how deformed August's face must be, but it clearly must be quite a sight to behold if children cross the streets to get away from him, and he spent two years of his childhood hiding it behind a football helmet. With numerous surgeries ever since he was born to make him look somewhat human, August has had quite an ordeal already, but now he's facing something even scarier.
Now August is ready to go to public school, ugly face or not. With exposure to additional turmoil, mean kids and the inability to hide any longer, Auggie must find out who are his real friends and find his own way through this new life.
Now made into a major movie, the world knows about Wonder, so I was rather late to the party, I must admit. I particularly enjoyed Wonder because it doesn't fit into the "sick lit" genre in any way, but is simply about a special child dealing with ordinary problems and life.
As the story is not only from his perspective, but also from his teenage sister Via's, her boyfriend Justin's and some others. By opting to do that, Palacio not only manages to share the attention August is getting, but also points out that the problems August is facing are pretty normal ones. He is in no way special regarding the thoughts that keep him up at night, his fears and his need to be included into a group.
Similarly, when the perspective blends over to Via or her boyfriend Justin, we see that their problems, too, are very similar to August's, despite lacking a deformed face and looking "normal". The fear of abandonment, exclusion, loneliness, and the question what it all means follows each of the children and teens as they grow up, which makes this a unique ride for the reader.
Another feature I immensely enjoyed about reading Wonder, and which has influenced my writing ever since, is that it is simply a story. I have recently read so many books and texts where I felt the writers wanted to force as many "pretty" words on the page as possible. In Wonder, there is actually little detailed description, it is very dialogue-driven and therefore fast-paced, also because some of the chapters are only one or two pages long.
People who have been deterred of "sick lit" by works like The Fault in Our Stars of similar books can rest assured that such an atmosphere is not dominant in Wonder, because his illness is only the "MacGuffin" as it were. A MacGuffin is an object or occurrence that is needed to drive the plot along, without being the actual main part of the story. I feel his deformity is the MacGuffin to tell the story, but in its essence we read about a 10-year old boy whose simply struggling with growing up and coping with school - as so many children do.
This book was a heartfelt story without unnecessary emotion-dripping that opened my heart and made me miss my childhood at some points, while praying inwardly I am well over it in other places.
One word description: Heartwarming.
Imagine a wood in which children wander, but never return. Imagine a town which is used to weird things happening. Imagine you shouldn't leave your laundry out after six o'clock or terrifying things may happen...
The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin is a mysterious and well-written children's book, full with dark twists, riddles and two thoroughly enjoyable main characters. Attracting with aggressively purple pages (not on the inside), this books holds even more than it promises from the outside.
Follow Poppy into the town of Suds where her quirky grandmother lives. She already stumbles into the first mystery on the train there. Or why would anyone leave a miraculously silken-bound empty book on the train?
Together with her obnoxious and fantastic new friend Erasmus, Poppy sets out to find out why children keep vanishing in this town, and why no one seems to particularly bother.
But not all vanish simply into thin air, some also return, bald and lifeless, unable to speak properly.
And does the vanishing of children really have something to do with all the peculiar rules Poppy's grandmother imposes, like
Lock away the sugar
Don't leave any laundry out after six o'clock
or, most importantly,
NEVER DUST THE WINDOW SILLS.
Wreathing their way through adventure, Erasmus and Poppy soon learn the awful truth why kids keep popping into thin air, their eyes wide as snow and their heads deprived of dreams. It has to do with an old legend, the river, which may be far deeper than anticipated, and the Peggs who come at night...
As an advocate for giving children more to chew than most people think possible, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was, surmising from the colourful cover, surprisingly dark and took a few even darker twists towards the end. I thought Halpin's way of describing the scenery and surrounding especially enjoyable and the main characters possessed wit, emotion and reliability. Even though the illustrations were not entirely up to my taste, they still added plenty to the story and make for a truly wonderful children's book.
Especially through know-it-all Erasmus, we learn a lot and are guided well through the adventure, but he is not all knowledge and superhero. One especially great feature of the book was what happened outside the adventure. Poppy's Mum died in a tragic accident and the relationship to her father has been strained ever since,so when he comes to visit many emotions stir up. Additionally, topics like bullying, well-known children's fears and authentic school yard banter sneak their way through the main plot and give the characters complexity and texture.
It seeps through the lines that Halpin is a fan of fairy tales and folklore, as it is very reminiscent of a more complex and darker fairy tale. The woods, the witches, the mystery, it's all there, entangled into a delightfully sinister story, combed with friendship and sprinkled with fantastic words and concoctions I would love to come up with, too.
In terms of age recommendation, I would say eleven years and upwards. Smaller children may find witches making masks from their victims' skins a tad too much and children vanishing forever are also part of the plot.
"The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year."
A magnificent story of magic, engineering, a family saga and betrayal has the reader hooked from page one, on the life-transforming story of the brothers Emil and Kaspar, as well as Cathy Wray, a young runaway.
Papa Jack's Emporium is a place of magic, where dreams come true and where Emily and Kaspar grow up with their father as the most incredible toy maker in London. But the Emporium only opens for the Christmas season - as soon as the first frost settles and the first snowdrop unfolds her petals. This family saga starts in the early 20th century with 15-year old and pregnant Cathy Wray fleeing to London, so her parents cannot make her give it up for adoption. Stumbling into the Emporium, she becomes a sales girl and quickly falls for handsome and charismatic Kaspar. Emil, the other brother, is a quirky, weird boy, always shoved into the shadows by his superior brother.
But the shadows unfolding outside the Emporium as war knocks on the door also leave their imprint on the family, and when Kaspar is recruited, Cathy has to say goodbye to her sweetheart and step-in father of her child for a long time. Always trying to keep the Emporium afloat, a family crisis ensues when deeply traumatised Kaspar returns and everything falls into mayhem.
Genre-wise I would describe this book as a children's book for adults. From its playful cover and way it is written, it is suggestive of a children's book, but topics like war, mental instability and teenage pregnancy may be a little intense for young readers.
This book was a particular gem in my latest reading history, perfectly fusing magic and engineering, a little reminiscent of books like Northern Lights or Cogheart. The magically infused toys that literally come to life in this story are not perceived as too-out-of-the-ordinary, but it only adds to the magical atmosphere of the plot.
One particular wonderful aspect of the book was its perspective. Author Robert Dinsdalde foregoes all traditional "rules" of narrator and happily mixes all perspectives, sometimes providing an omniscient view, sometimes even out of the toys' views. Dinsdale does a great job of guiding the gaze of the reader, addressing us directly before pulling out again and directing it in a different way.
Instead of a usual story arch where something triggers the action before there is a resolution and happy end, this book simply follows the lives of this extraordinary family over a few decades, stricken with war, personal grief and growing up, all amidst the magic of the Emporium filled with toy soldiers, rocking horses and almost real-life stuffed dogs. Parts of their story (and I won't review which for spoiler reasons), were almost impossible to bear, as tragedy does not only strike once or twice, but in regular periods. Especially the incredible twist at the end comes as a huge surprise and is almost too shocking to take, but definitely a fantastic turn towards the end.
Fans who look back to their childhood nostalgically and love a pinch of magic will appreciate the wonderful story-telling and enchanting setup guiding through this story line - and you will never look at toy soldiers the same way again.
Truth be told, crime novels are usually not on the top of my book list and the main reason I dug into this tome was because it is written by J.K. Rowling (under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith) and because I've read the previous Strike volumes, too. The previous Strike novels consistently got darker and darker, and Career of Evil has appalled and thrilled me the most, but Lethal White does live up to expectations.
I marvel at the ability of Galbraith to keep the plot going without really much happening in the beginning - and still making the book an absolute page-turner. This time, we are led into the harsh realities of politics and the British government in the Houses of Parliament. Blackmail, kidnapping, left wing organisations and, of course, murder are all part of the game, which ends in a fulminate and breathtaking finale.
However, there is also plenty of character progression for the main two characters. Half of the book, the reader gets to witness the many rows between Robin Ellacott, Strike's pleasing-looking partner, and her indignant husband, Matt, who actually might be right in his jealousy of Strike and Robin's relationship. However, he comes across as such a chauvinist dickhead that as a reader you wonder how Robin can stick with him (but then, half of the book, so does she). Strike's progression is somewhat slower. Although we clearly see the approaching love affair between him and Robin emerge, he is still a man unable to keep up a relationship (which this book's girlfriend does not fall short of telling him repeatedly) and seems emotionally slightly crippled (also, he smokes too much).
With their business, yet again, on the verge of extinction, they take up a blackmail case involving a politician in the higher ranks - only for that politician to be found murdered in a most gruesome way.
However, this is by far not the only story line evolving in Lethal White. It generally seems to hold various plots together at the same time, and although that may appear to be a dangerous game to play as a writer, Galbraith easily pulls it off and manages to bring everything neatly together in the end. We also meet drug-head Billy who stumbles into Strike's office right in the opening chapters to ramble about a child he saw being killed many years ago - ironically very close to where the murdered politician's country house is situated! His brother Jimmy runs a left wing extremist organisation and gets all twitchy when being talked to about a supposedly dead child in the bog...
Even though sometimes the plot seems to be driven by coincidence (as in most crime novels, it appears) and I could guess who the murderer was before the big reveal, Lethal White was a thorough joy to read and definitely a page-turner. It is a pleasure to see a writer who owns the craft seemingly effortlessly pull together relatable characters, various plots and a gruesome murder scene. Definitely recommended for a long and rainy weekend - it will surely keep you entertained all weekend long!
Truth be told, summer is over and winter is coming. This summer I read a lot because I had a reading list from university, and I am grateful the list was about children's literature, as I have now dropped my studies at this stupid university (more on that in an entirely different post), so at least it wasn't for nothing.
On my YouTube channel you can find this video on my summer reading list with my review on it (SPOILERS). Individual and more detailed reviews will follow soon here in the Book Corner.
Recently I stumbled upon Zumbo's Just Desserts on Netflix and absolutely mesmerized by the level amateurs can bake (which makes me what? An incompetent amateur?)
Pastry chef Adriano Zumbo is renowned for his magical creations which are not only absolutely tasty (I have heard), but look incredible. From floating hats to profiterole towers, there is something for any taste.
In this show, twelve contestants go into the ring and bake something according to a specific theme (like fairy tales or chocolate). Then, the two weakest participants have to go into the Zumbo Test in which they have to re-create one of Zumbo's insane creations. The one performing worse in this task is eliminated.
The contestants are insanely skilled! Even though they are all amateurs, they know their craft and I am sure could outdo one or the other chef in a competition; however, the jury in the show is improvable. Rachel Khoo, who was absolutely adorable in her own TV show, comes over as a mean and humourless bitch and the other "jury member" who is only there to count down the clock and look pretty is Gigi. She has the most annoying voice you have ever heard (and if this doesn't intrigue to watch the show, I don't know what will). Zumbo himself seems quite nice, but with a sadistic streak whenever revealing the dessert the two contestants have to bake.
Also, there are various catchphrases in the show which are repeated again and again, which makes it pretty repetitive. Rachel Khoo wishes every contestant that their "all their sweet dreams may come true", which, at first, seems really nice, but becomes a tad bitter and almost mocking towards the end.
However, if you are interested in amazing baking and weird creations, this is the show to watch and I can only highly recommend it, so let the binge-watching begin...
Oh and in case you are wondering...all of the above given pictures are really desserts and a hundred percent edible!
I am a huge fan of the sitcoms How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory.
However, I think most fans can agree that towards the finishing lines, they often lose their level of greatness and descend to being solely endured, rather than enjoyed.
I can say that only for HIMYM, for sure, though. We all know how it ended, and most agreed that the ending sucked. However, I think the whole last season sucked to a standard which wasn't in any way acceptable any more. I mean, the episode with the last slap? Embarrassingly pathetic.
TBBT is my favourite sitcom in the world - even far better than HIMYM in my opinion. I think what is so great about TBBT is that it behaves atypical to many other sitcoms as, with the years and seasons, it actually always becomes better and better instead of worse. Think about it, we started with four quirky nerds and a gullible, yet sweet girl and we loved it; however, throw in Bernadette and Amy (my personal favourite, to be honest) and it becomes just hilarious and awesome. Also, I felt that the characters of TBBT were developing in some sort of way, which is often unusual for sitcoms which are so humorous. Don't get me wrong, the characters in HIMYM seemingly develop, too, but do they really? Mostly (and also in the end, more or less) we have Lily and Marshal in love and Ted, Robin and Barney in a weird threesome situation (again), so actually, they haven't been really developing - they only got older. Throughout the series they are still co-dependent on each other to an almost unbearable extent and towards the end I, and probably many more, was just glad I didn't have to see them anymore as they were simply annoying me.
The last season of TBBT so far (10, if you haven't stayed up-to-date), started out pretty poorly, too, in my opinion. My man and I were sorely disappointed of many episodes and although it's been catching up in the last three or so, it just doesn't seem to work so well anymore.
I have a theory to this. The moment Lily and Marshal got Marvin, the quality of the sitcom started to drop. Now, Bernadette and Howard have a baby, and it happens again. Why is that?
Well, people who have babies don't meet their friends everyday in a tiny apartment and have time for the things Lily/Marshal and Bernadette/Howard seem easily to find (things like buying comic books, hanging out with their friends every day and sipping drinks).
HIMYM and TBBT base on groups of young people who come to a city where they have no family and find each other (more or less, of course some exceptions, but, hey, Howard is Jewish - his mother wouldn't let him go anywhere). It is fun to watch them have fun and do unspeakable things most of us can only dream of, which is why we love to watch it; however, throw in a baby in the equation and it suddenly just seems sad.
Lily and Marshal still hang out in the bar ALL THE TIME although they have a baby to look after. Bernie and Howie still have dinner in a teeny weeny apartment (compared to their house) and he seems to be free to play with his friends at the same time Bernadette meets with Penny and Amy.
I am, of course, not saying you cannot maintain friendship when you have a baby, but I doubt that young parents have the energy and time to spend so much of it with their friends, seemingly abandoning the baby in the process.
I have to admit, I like the way TBBT deals with it better, as it works in a different way than HIMYM (so profound, isn't it, but these really are the things I think about in my leisure time...sad). In HIMYM everything works over much more time frames and gives a more general insight into life whereas in TBBT we mostly see how the characters meet in the cafeteria or in one home, without really knowing how much time was in between (whether they eat together nearly every day or just every week). Therefore, it makes a little more sense to think they have just put their daughter down after they spent the whole day with her; still, the baby just kills the sitcom...or probably family does, as I hardly believe anyone who had a healthy, young family would spend so much doing things they did in their twenties...only compare to SATC, four young, single New Yorker women who constantly meet for cocktails? Alright. Four grown women who have children, work and other commitments? Sad.
My prayers have been heard! Hallelujah!
After wishing for another TV show as witty, entertaining, funny and yet serious as the wonderful Gilmore Girls, I have finally managed to dive into an equally wonderful and quirky series now.
Unsurprisingly, it is by no one else than fantastic Amy Sherman Palladino herself, the original creator of Gilmore Girls. And of course, I am taking about the great Amazon TV show, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.
Having binge-watched Murder and Nashville lately, I was slowly drifting into a really dark, paranoid and anxious place in my soul and craved a show which would make me laugh and entertain without the permanent use of car accidents, shootings, drama and personal tragedies which are beyond any human to grasp. Having had an initial obsession with Nashville, I found it dragged me down and when I encountered Mrs Maisel, I was hooked from minute one.
This time, Palladino leads us into the 50s in New York where the young couple Mr and Mrs Maisel live with their very Jewish parents and fantastic humour. He, a wannabe comedian, dreams of a stand-up career while she, the marvelous Mrs Maisel, is the actual comic. After a failed performance, her husband not only abandons the idea of becoming a comic, but the one of his marriage, too, and Mrs Maisel becomes a divorcee-to-be, which not only sends herself but her parents and friends into a huge frenzy. We witness great dialogue between housewives, members of the Jewish community and a rough New York with all its quirky individuals.
As to be expected with Palladino, dialogue is much and quick with lots of pop culture references and simply wonderful to watch. Mrs Maisel is such a likable character, as are her overdrive Jewish parents and the regular comedic allusions to Holocaust (and only a true comedian could joke about that).
Palladino has Jewish heritage herself and it feels like a fantastic fusion of Gilmore Girls and Fiddler on the Roof. Obviously, it serves many cliches, but hey, aren't cliches not just truths which have been stated too often?
Sadly, the first season only consists of eight episodes, but I cherished every bit of it and cannot wait for season two to commence! Mrs Maisel, we want more and we want it now!
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