The Twits by Roald Dahl

The Twits was one of the very few books that I actually read as a young child (even if it was with the rest of my class). At the time, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. I came back to it again around the age of fifteen and that time it didn’t really do anything. It felt childish and infantile. Then, recently, I decided to read it again as an adult so that I could write a review of it… turns out my love for it had returned!

It’s a short and simple novel about two people (Mr and Mrs Twit) who are basically just really awful towards each other and all-round disgusting people. Many of the chapters are just about nasty things that they do to one another (for example, Mr Twit goes out of his way with an elaborate prank to make Mrs Twit think that she’s dying of a terminal illness) and it’s just so over the top and so absurdly ridiculous. I laughed out loud many times. The quirky illustrations from Quentin Blake certainly help in that department.

Later, you’re introduced to a character called the Roly-Poly Bird, who has been imprisoned by Mr Twit and this ultimately leads to a storyline about the Twits finally getting their comeuppance. The ending is comically bizarre, but I don’t think I liked it quite as much as the early chapters where the pair of them were just being awful people. It’s a book you’ll get through pretty quickly (easily finished in one or two sittings) and I think it’s likely to be entertaining to most people – particularly younger readers. Then as an adult it kind of has an extra layer of humour because you know that the things they do are actually really, really terrible (and it’s treated so casually). Though I can find Roald Dahl a bit hit and miss, this is definitely a hit.

Rating: 8/10

Buy it here.

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Indiana by Amantine Aurore Dupin

This was another of the novels included in the Reclaim Her Name collection. Originally, Indiana was published under the name George Sand (the penname by which Amantine Auror Dupin is better known), but this project sought to republish works by female authors who originally had to use male pseudonyms due to the negative attitudes to women when they were originally writing – and that’s exactly what they did.

Set in France around the time of the revolution, the story follows a woman named Indiana. She’s married to an older man named Delmare and is perpetually unhappy because of her marriage. It was essentially something she was forced into and her life is miserable. However, she tries to find happiness through an affair that she has with a man named Raymon de Ramiere – but he’s a pretty scummy character and she soon finds out that he treats women absolutely awfully, creating even more misery for her.

The novel does a great job of highlighting how difficult the lives of women could be during this period of history (well, upper-class women, at least). Aside from Indiana, the other major female character is her maid, Noun and the two of them both have pretty horrible lives. I felt perpetually sorry for both of them. To make matters worse, the reason for all of their misery comes down to men. Even the one seemingly nice man, Ralph, ultimately turns out to be just as bad. But, hey, “nice guys” usually pretty are quite unpleasant once you scratch under the surface.

It’s a very bleak novel overall, to the extent that it can occasionally veer into melodrama. It is all horrible things happening to people without any real respite, which I imagine could be quite off-putting for some readers, but I found myself reading on, curious to see where it went. I was rooting for Indiana all along as well, hoping that she’d get at least some kind of happy ending.

Speaking of the ending – I have mixed feelings. I won’t spoil it for anybody who’s planning to read the book, but I thought that the ultimate ending was really horrible… but it’s kind of portrayed as if it’s a happy ending. I couldn’t tell if the author was genuinely trying to display this horrible outcome as a good thing or if she was trying to highlight the awful values of the time which would have lead some to consider this awful outcome to be a good thing. At first, I thought it was the former, but imagining it to be the latter does help me to appreciate the book more.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed it and I do respect it for highlighting the historic struggles of women, but its doom and gloom vibes can get to be a bit overwhelming at times. I think I’ll definitely be trying more of her work in future though.

Rating: 8.2/10

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Falling Behind on Book Reviews

I’m falling quite far behind on my book reviews – in fact, I’m almost a year behind now, with over twenty book reviews I still need to write! It’s fortunate that I was badly ill in that space of time and so wasn’t able to fall even further behind on them.

I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on getting them all written before I write other things, as I’d like to be back in a position where I can review a book as soon as I finish it, rather than just adding it to the end of a very long list. Normally, I like to have reviews interspersed with other types of blog posts, but I’m going to put the usual structure aside while I try to catch up. Apologies to those who aren’t as interested in book reviews!

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Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, The Fool and The Dead by Steve Cole

The Time Lord Victorious series is an interesting project: it’s a multi-media Doctor Who story arc which encompasses multiple incarnations of the Doctor and is told through books, comics, audio dramas and, probably, other formats as well. It’s really intriguing.

At the end of the episode “The Waters of Mars” the Tenth Doctor declares himself the Time Lord Victorious and decides that he is above the laws of time. In the next episode “The End of Time” he mostly seems to have moved passed this and is more in a state of shock about how far he’d gone. Some fans were disappointed that the Time Lord Victorious wasn’t explored in more detail and that’s what this series sets out to do.

At the start of The Knight, The Fool and The Dead, the Tenth Doctor arrives on a planet during the ‘Dark Times’ – an era of history to which time travellers are not supposed to visit, but he has decided to do so due to his new Time Lord Victorious mindset. Here he learns about a race called the Kotturuh who bring death to every planet they visit. By this, I mean that they introduce limited lifespans to peoples living in peaceful immortality. They decide how long a species should live for – naturally, this doesn’t sit well with the Doctor and he decides to take action against them.

Along the way, he’s joined by a young woman named Estinee who lives in the Dark Times. She acts as a kind of one-off companion and is a very interesting character: right at the start of the novel, she witnesses the destruction of her home planet, which naturally leaves her as somebody with a rather bleak view of the world. She’s reluctant in joining the Doctor for this adventure, but I really enjoyed what she brought to the story and, by the end, was quite stunned by her actions.

Meanwhile, the Doctor also meets an Ood named Brian. Brian, it seems, knew the Doctor in another incarnation, but the Doctor has no recollection of this (I look forward to later parts of the series explaining who Brian is). Brain is very much the ‘official’ companion for the story. As a very unconventional companion, it was fun to see he and the Doctor interacting with one another. He’s also a very mysterious character: after all, Oods shouldn’t exist at this point in history. It is he, the Doctor and Estinee who really carry the story.

Throughout the story, there are a couple of flashbacks to moments in earlier Doctor’s lives, which I enjoyed. It’s a nice treat for fans and it does a good job of tying it into the deeper universe of Doctor Who. In fairness, they don’t really add very much to the story, but there’s nice little bits of unashamed fan services and I certainly have no problem with that.

If I had to fault the story, it would be on two main points: the first was that, as much as it does indeed explore the Doctor in Time Lord Victorious mode, for a lot of the story, it does kind of feel like a slightly generic Doctor Who adventure (apart from the ending, which was crazy and really enticed me to continue the series). The other point is that the idea of a species imposing life spans on already-evolved races seems kind of strange to me… wouldn’t every species lead miserable, over-crowded lives without death? The idea that death didn’t used to exist, but was imposed on the universe by a malicious force is a very strange one indeed and I’m not entirely sure I like it… but as it will be explored in more depth later on, I’ll reserve my judgement for now. It may turn out to be more interesting than I thought!

So all in all, an enjoyable Doctor Who story which was easy to read, but which did have a couple of problems. It was by no means bad, but there are certainly better Doctor Who novels out there. But, if the purpose of this novel was to make me excited about the rest of the Time Lord Victorious… well, then it achieved its purpose!

Rating: 6.9/10

Buy it here.

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Diddy Kong Racing 2 fan project

I recently started a new project called Diddy Kong Racing 2. As regular readers of my blog will know, I am quite a fan of the Donkey Kong series and I thought it would be nice to bring together all the various strands which stem from it. I loved Diddy Kong Racing and the way that it introduced characters who would then go on to have their own series, so I thought it would be nice to create artwork of a hypothetical ‘Diddy Kong Racing 2’ which featured a huge roster of characters – covering all things related to Donkey Kong, Banjo-Kazooie and Conker the Squirrel. I’m then making racer profiles which are inspired by the trophies in Super Smash Bros.

Of course, I want to go further than just those three series though – I want to incorporate the elements of the Super Mario games which are connected to Donkey Kong, characters who from any other franchise who have had significant interactions with characters from any of the series above, other characters created by Rare ltd, characters created by Playtonic Games and other former Rare developers, characters who have crossed over with Yooka-Laylee, characters created by other people who are clearly working to replicate the feel of these series, as well as characters from comic book and TV adaptations of these games. There are probably others who don’t fit within this outline, but this gives a general idea of the scope I am planning for this. I have a list of 275 characters I want to include and it will no doubt get longer! I’m really looking forward to getting them all done and I hope that you will all enjoy it.

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The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

This was the first main entry in the Legend of Zelda series to be released on the Game Boy Advance – a remake of A Link to the Past (along with a new side game, Four Swords) had been done before, but this time they decided to tread wholly new water and I think they did an exceptional job.

Done in the classic 2D, top-down perspective this game has Link travelling around Hyrule to collect different elements which can then be forged into a sword that will be powerful enough to defeat the sorcerer Vaati, who has taken over Hyrule Castle. A standard story for the series which sets up a fun adventure, but one which sets itself apart from previous games because this time Link gains the ability to shrink himself down to a tiny size, which he uses to interact with a race of little creatures called Minish. It also opens up a whole world of possibilities in terms of new challenges and puzzles, letting Link interact with everyday objects while only the size of an insect. It’s pretty cool and gives you multiple perspectives from which to look at every room and every puzzle.

Link’s trusty companion in this game is a talking hat called Ezlo (who Link wears on his head). Ezlo is short tempered and sarcastic and I found him to be quite entertaining. Indeed, the whole game is filled with a colourful cast of characters: there are many NPCs who fans of the series will recognise from previous games. You have Mutoh and the carpenters, Beedle, Tingle, Anju, Goron Merchants, Malon, Talon and many others. They all get to do quite a lot, as this game focuses quite heavily on side-quests (similar to Majora’s Mask, in that sense). These are normally built around kinstones (rare items you can collect on your travels), which can then be ‘fused’ with the kinstones of NPCs and cause something to change in the world. I thought that this was a really fun addition to the game and made Hyrule feel like a real, living, breathing world, rather than just the generic fantasy location in which the game takes place.

On another note, I really enjoyed the selection of enemies that are in this game – again, it’s a nice mixture of things you’ll have encountered in previous games all brought together. You’ve got all the classics like Octoroks (land octopuses who spit rocks at you), Like Likes (bizarre tubular enemies who eat you and steal items) and Wallmasters (creepy hands which take you out of dungeons), then also enemies from the 3D games like the Moblins as they appeared in The Wind Waker and ChuChus (strange jelly creatures). Of course, there are new enemies too (Keatons who will mug you, for example) and even some crossover creatures, like Bob-ombs and Lakitus (from the Mario series) and Puffstools (from the Pikmin series). It’s fun to fight such a variety of monsters and it actually brings to mind Link’s Awakening.

As a side note, with all these great characters and enemies to fight, there’s actually a figurine collecting side quest which gives you the opportunity to collect figures of literally every character in the game – it really makes you appreciate them all and I always enjoy collection-based side-quests in games, so it was fun for me to try and fill up my figurine set.

All in all, it’s a brilliant game. Often overlooked (even when just the 2D games in the series are considered), but I think it has a great interpretation of Hyrule and its people and is something all Nintendo fans may benefit from playing.

Score: 9.3/10

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Becoming Political

I can remember having dinner with a friend about eight years ago and we were talking about politics. Back then, the world was a very different place and I liked to describe myself as politically neutral. To this day, I don’t have an affinity for any particular political party or politician, but I realise that political neutrality is simply not possible.

I have always held on to various moral beliefs, relating to things like helping those in need, sharing with others, not discriminating against people for things beyond their control and, simply, being kind whenever possible. These moral beliefs are very important to me and I try to behave respectfully of them at all times. However, over the years, more and more often, I found people viewing these moral beliefs as political issues – it was almost hard to believe that people could take issue with these points when, frankly, they’re such simple and basic morals.

All the while this was happening, I gained some first hand experience in the government’s failures towards its people and learned about the horrible experiences of close friends. Now, of course, we live in a world where the government has been responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of innocent people and we’re just supposed to accept that.

At this point in time, I would be considered by lots of people to be a very political person. Indeed, one person even stopped being friends with me because they disagreed with things that I believed. But I don’t like to think of myself as political – all the political parties have large flaws and are fallible and I never vote for a party for the sake of voting for a party – but I do like to think of myself as somebody with a strong sense of morality which, these days, it seems, means that you are a political person. I almost feel like a stereotypical bitter old person in saying this, but it sometimes feels that there is a genuine lack of basic morality in our society these days.

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A Phantom Lover by Violet Paget

This was another of the books included as part of the Reclaim Her Name project, which republished a collection of works by women authors who had had to use a penname because of negative attitudes towards women, but now puts the author’s real name on their work. Originally, A Phantom Lover was published under the name Vernon Lee.

Though it’s actually fairly short in length, that doesn’t stop it from being a really delightful gothic novel. It’s told in the first person by a portrait artist who has been invited to the Okehurst estate in order to paint a woman named Alice Oke, who lives there with her husband, William Oke. The artist becomes really quite obsessed with Alice, because he finds her to be intoxicatingly beautiful in a rather unconventional way. But his fascination with Alice soon evolves beyond an interest in her appearance, as she reveals herself to be a very aloof, enigmatic and mysterious woman who is practically obsessed with the actions of one her long-distant ancestors. Strangely, she also looks identical to the painting of a lady from her family’s past too. Soon it becomes clear that there are serious problems in their relationship – the artist even stays longer than necessary just to observe then with a kind of morbid curiosity.

The three main characters are all very well developed, from the curious (yet detached) artist, to the melancholy Alice whose head is in the past and William, a fairly silly man who takes himself too seriously. Their lives are then set against the backdrop of Okehurst – a very vivid setting which really helps to bring the story to life, you can really see the creepy old estate. It’s such an enjoyable tale, that I am surprised it’s fallen into relative obscurity. I really enjoyed it and hope that more people will have the opportunity to discover it soon. There’s so much mystery and intrigue throughout the story and you’ll find yourself wondering what’s actually going on – most likely, you won’t guess and the ending will catch off guard, because that’s what happened with me and I found the whole experience very enjoyable.

Rating: 8.6/10

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I Forgot How Good Life Can Be

I don’t think that life amidst the pandemic has been particularly hard for me. Yes, I may have been made redundant because of it, ended up getting seriously ill in the middle of it, then contracted COVID-19 this year and almost died from it – but mentally, I’ve been fine. I’ll admit that, in the very early days, I found myself feeling a a bit lonely from time to time, but it was never that bad since I live with a good friend. I mostly just saw it as an opportunity to read more, to play more video games, to write more fiction and to catch up on the endless TV shows and movies I want to watch on Disney + and Netflix. So that’s what’s what I did and I was quite pleased with the amount of personal projects I managed to get started/complete.

My pandemic life is very different to my pre-pandemic life – I used to visit friends all the time and take lots of long walks. Now, as a consequence of getting quite ill, I’m not strong enough to have long walks and, of course, for the my own safety and theirs, I’ve seen very few friends. I’ve not really thought much about the change though, and instead had more of a “right, this is what life is now then” sort of attitude, enjoying the things I have been able to do. Plus, of course, it was nice not to have everywhere be so crowded and it was nice not to have to commute into work.

While I am still quite strongly incapacitated, over the past few weeks, I have actually gone out and done a small few things. It’s been really nice to see people again and have nice long conversations with them and, frankly, it’s been good to get out of the house (even though I love my house). Just this evening I went outside for a short walk (I still can’t go far) and I was thinking about how nice it had been to go out and I realised how much I’d missed it. It’s like I’d forgotten how good life can be, because I’ve not thought about how good it is to go out and see people in a long time and now I’ve done it again, it’s brought it back to me. It was a little chilly on my walk today and as I was out on the streets, I thought about all the times I’d headed out in the dark to go and make visits to people and have fun nights out – it made me excited to do that again soon. I know it’s not going to ‘back to normal’ any time soon, with the pandemic raging on despite a lack of any safety measures, but I’m soon to have my vaccination and I know lots of other people have had theirs and I am excited to do at least a small portion of the activities I used to do.

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The Last Shadow by Michael Hardy

Like many books that I read, I went into The Last Shadow without knowing anything about it. Literally nothing – I’d never even heard of it before, but the author requested that I review it for a free copy, and who am I to turn down a free book? As it turns out, I was very fortunate to be offered it, as it was an enjoyable novel which I’d never have read otherwise.

The story primarily revolves around two girls: Nadia and Kris, who both so happen to find themselves at the abandoned Bright Pool Amusement Park. As I’m sure you can tell, this is a horror novel, because what other genre ever uses an abandoned amusement park as a setting? Soon they encounter Alfredo the Ringmaster, an evil entity lurking in the shadows and find themselves coming up against all kind of evil creatures.

It’s a very vivid story, which paints a very colourful picture in your mind. I could quite easily imagine this as a horror movie that came out in the 80s. It’s got just the right mixture of extreme gore and violence, mixed together with just a bit of self-aware humour that can joke about how over the top some of the things which happen are. Sometimes it feels quite fun and campy, but that is then contrasted against the fact that the things which are happening to the characters are genuinely very harrowing.

As the story goes on, you also get to find out how about the lives which lead Kris and Nadia to this point and I liked that the complete backstory had been fully planned out for each character as it’s not something that always happens in this kind of genre. The only thing that’s a bit of a shame is that the end of the novel doesn’t really feel like the end of the story: it’s like its the end of a first episode in a TV series about the adventures of Nadia and Kris – but, then, if the author is planning a series of novels, then that may well have been intentional.

Aside from that, I did think that there was occasionally a sentence or two which sounded a bit strange. It wasn’t hugely problematic, but it kind of interrupted the flow of the story and would take me out of things from time to time. I’m not a literary snob, so it didn’t really bother me a huge amount, but I can imagine it being slightly more annoying for some people.

Overall though, this was a fun read. The whole book played out like a movie in my head, which isn’t something I can say of every book I’ve read and I found myself really enjoying the dialogue between the two main characters as it was often quite snarky or jokey, which made them both quite endearing. I also never would have guessed one of the twists which is revealed towards the end of the book, so that was a nice surprise. If that sounds like something up your street, I definitely think it’s worth a try. Fans of horror movies and vampire fiction will probably get a lot out of this.

Score: 8/10

Buy it here.

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