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Time Travel seems to be a consistent theme in children’s fiction, a lot of the time serving as a device to turn the story into historical fiction while still allowing for lots of exposition (since the character learns about the time period at the same time as the reader). This was fairly similar to other time travel books I’ve read (and I seem to have read quite a few!). Sam Sullivan is a nice enough kid, but he seems to find trouble wherever he goes. His parents have broken up, his father isn’t always reliable (there’s a strong history of gambling) and there’s never enough money. To make a bit extra, Sam works at the markets, but soon discovers that people play music for money. He tries it himself, playing his trumpet at a nearby monument, but suddenly finds himself being pulled back to Melbourne in 1900.
There’s a lot going on in this book and both 1900 and present day Melbourne are written quite vividly. It was a bit of a jolt when someone pointed out that the states hadn’t federated yet (that happened in 1901) and I appreciated that little piece of history snuck in, especially when there’s moments when you feel like 1900 wasn’t really that long ago. The story does drag a bit at the end of the book – it almost feels like the story has been told and completed, but there’s still more to go. That made it less appealing to me.
This is a good read for people who like historical fiction, especially Australian historical fiction. With Sam constantly finding himself in trouble, despite good intentions, it’s the kind of story which would appeal to some kids who don’t always read. I dare say it would make a very good read aloud book too.
I’m not a big sports fan, but I’ve read a number of books which made me care about the sports involved. Mike Lupica is one example, but Bryce Courtenay did it with boxing in The Power of One and Tandia and Juggling with Mandarins by V. M Jones did it with both soccer and rock climbing. Unfortunately, Louis Beside Himself didn’t have the same effect.
Louis is a bright boy who is obsessed with words, while his father is obsessed with teaching him the latest wrestling moves. Unfortunately neither wrestling or words become very interesting as we are taken through a convoluted tale of runaways, breaking into houses and friendships. It’s hard to summarise the story easily, because it felt less like a story, and more like a laundry list of elements that the writer has to include – popular ‘sport': check; long words: check; diverse group of friends: check; mystery to solve: check; temperamental older sister: check; distracted father: check. None of the elements quite gel the way you hope they will and it leave you with a bit of a confusion of a book.
My other quibble was the love of words thing. When it’s done well (Lemony Snicket) big words are awesome in books. But constantly using big words without the humour of Snicket leaves you feeling a little frustrated and annoyed.
If you have a wrestling fan, they might enjoy this book, but if you know nothing about wrestling, this book won’t convert you. Pick up a Mike Lupica or Lemony Snicket book instead.
Adult Contemporary Fiction
This was a bit of a surprise of a book which I found myself half desperate to finish and half desperate to put down because I felt so bad for the characters.
The book is about a couple from the bush, struggling after their son was taken from the Easter Show. At the same time, Tina, who is doing almost anything to survive in Kings Cross, finds a boy tied up under a kitchen table. What follows is a story told from multiple perspectives as Tina rescues the boy and works to reunite him with his parents.
It’s a strangely compelling book. It would probably get a bit tedious if we were with one person all the time, but this way we get to meet different personalities and different stories, which all work beautifully into the main narrative. There’s a sense of urgency hanging over the whole book, and there’s a lot of times where the reader knows what is happening and the characters don’t and you wish you could just reach into the book and tell them. The ending is a little too neat for me, but then it’s told from the boy’s perspective, so it’s not an adult narrator which could make it a little neater. I did find myself wanting more at the end of the book, but all in all it was a really good book, even though it wasn’t the type I usually read.
Adult Contemporary Fiction
I saw this book in various places in the lead up to Christmas, so it felt like a good book to end the year on. The Queen is feeling a bit down, and is looking for things to cheer her up. A series of events put her on the path to heading out of the palace unannounced and taking a train on her own. Various members of the palace staff realise that this could be a quick road to disaster and head out to try to intercept her.
This is a quick, funny read, filled with historical and pop culture references. I didn’t feel that I fully accepted the portrayal of the Queen – it was more doddering old lady who doesn’t understand the internet than the Queen we see wearing 3D glasses to see her Christmas message. This didn’t distract from the enjoyment in the story though – giving us an almost alternative universe Queen, rather than the one we’re used to.
There’s a lot of enjoyment, also, in the various characters who head off to intercept the Queen. There’s an odd couple feel to most of them which manages to be funny and interesting at the same time. This isn’t great literature and it’s greatly improbable in parts, but as a What If . . . story, it’s an awful lot of fun.