The History of England by Jane Austen

Though she’s better known for writing fiction, Jane Austen did also write the occasional piece of non-fiction, particularly when she was a teenager. The History of England is one of these, but it’s not what you think. Rather than a serious summary on the history of England, it’s a very satirical piece which gives a summary of each monarch from Henry IV through to Charles I. In her own words, it was written by “a Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant” historian.

It’s genuinely quite a funny piece of writing, with her making very sarcastic remarks about pretty much all of them. It’s always funny when one of them is suspected of having had somebody killed, for example, and she’ll make it very obvious that she believes that they did, without saying it outright. Although, I have to admit that the archaic language use does occasionally dampen the humour (on the other hand, other times it strengthens it!).

The History of England is very short and can easily be read in one sitting. In my edition, it was published alongside Lesley Castle – an unfinished novel that Austen wrote as a teenager. From what there is of it, it’s hard to make out what the overall story would have been, but it’s made up of various characters writing letters between one another – they’re all very flawed and superficial characters, but that’s the point of it. Though it does feel a little aimless (just talking about upcoming weddings or social gatherings), the back and forth between them is amusing and entertaining. You may not read it in a single sitting, but it is also very short and you’ll get through it quite quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed both of these short pieces of writing. It’s nice to get a glimpse at the short little bits and pieces Jane Austen wrote when she was young and I think most fans of classic literature would enjoy reading this, though it certainly isn’t as substantial as a full novel (or even most short stories).

Rating: 7.3/10

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Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods was a book that hooked me from start to finish. I read it all in a very short space of time and, of course, it left me eager to read the rest of the Little House series. Farmer Boy is the second book in the series, but it’s a very different experience to the first.

While Little House in the Big Woods was about Laura’s childhood, Farmer Boy was instead about the childhood of her husband, Almanzo. Maybe it’s because these weren’t experiences that she had lived herself, but this book seems to lack the magical sentimental feeling that the first book was able to convey. The first book describes a really beautiful life, whereas the life Almanzo leads feels pretty bleak.

For example, Almanzo does gruelling amounts of hard physical labour around the farm he lives on (even as a child) and this is described in a lot of detail. No doubt, this is a highly accurate look at the difficult lives people led back then and I wouldn’t want to fault it for that, but after the first book, I went in expecting something very different.

The early chapters describe how a teacher was recently murdered by a gang of violent teenagers who didn’t like being told off at school and the fact that teenagers may do this to their teachers is just treated as a fact of life. Nobody even thinks about doing anything about it. The world in which Almanzo grew up was a particularly nasty one.

Nonetheless, there were several bits I really liked. At one point, there’s a really hard winter, with heavy snowfall and it describes everything that they had to do to ensure their lives weren’t too seriously disrupted. It was all so vivid and left such a strong impression that you can almost imagine what it would have been like to live through it.

Overall though, I had one big problem with this book: throughout it, there was a pervading “work is life” message. Yes, it may be true that people living in that time will have had to dedicate so much of their time to working just to survive and that the options for other things to do in very rural areas were limited, but I feel like that can be highlighted as a “look how hard their lives were” kind of way, rather than “it’s right to spend most of your existence working” because it made it all seem even more depressing.

The weird obsession with work seems to come most strongly from Almanzo’s father, who I thought seemed like quite an unlikeable person. Though he wasn’t all bad, he seems to spare no love or affection for his wife and children and instead seems to be more interested in just making sure they learn the hard lessons of life. He’s such a cold man and I honestly just felt sorry for Almanzo having to live with him most of the time.

This book is definitely a curiosity and I am glad I read it, but I enjoyed the experience much less than I did the first book. The first book was a nostalgic account of someone’s childhood in a long gone age, while this book is about the misery of poverty in 1860s America. Fans who loved the first book should brace themselves for quite a change. Also, as it has no real connection to the first one, feel free to read this one if you haven’t read the first yet.

Rating: 6.4/10

Buy it here.

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My Immortal by Tara Gilesbie

Fan fiction has a bad reputation, which is a shame, because I’ve read some really great pieces of fan fiction before. Of course, it’s not all good and, indeed, some of it is just as bad (if not worse) as the reputation that precedes it. My Immortal is a perfect example of that: it embodies every negative stereotype of bad fanfiction, but is “so bad it’s good” and I have to admit that it had me laughing out loud tonnes of times throughout.

Set in the Harry Potter universe, the story focuses on a new student at Hogwarts called Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, whose name the author frequently misspells. Ebony is a big fan of everything related to goth culture, but has very strong feelings against anything she deems as ‘preppy’. Ebony is a vampire and she looks down on all the other students. I think she was probably partially inspired by Bella Swan from Twilight, as Ebony is a lot like a highly exaggerated version of Bella.

The story focuses on Ebony’s day-to-day struggles as a teenage girl, with Voldemort’s presence looming in the background… except the way I’m described it makes it sound much less silly than it is. Seemingly written completely seriously (though some believe it may have been a satire) the book contains Harry Potter changing his name to “Vampire”, Tom Riddle being called “Tom Bombadil”, Snape videoing Ebony in the bath so he can blackmail her, a sexual relationship between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, a sudden cameo by a gothic Marty McFly and the time travelling DeLorean, Good Charlotte coming to perform at Hogsmead, Dumbledore constantly shouting and swearing, etc. It’s all utterly bizarre, but at the same time strangely alluring. You can’t look away.

Originally, My Immortal was published in instalments via and it’s very obvious that there was no overall plan and that the author just made it up as they went along. During its original publication, somebody hacked the account and published their own chapter which ties up the story and the author just left it up along with their actual chapters. Ironically, even though the hacker seems to be a better writer than the main author, I enjoyed this chapter this least. It lacks the off-the-walls insanity that the others provide.

The biggest problem with the book for me was the fact that it was genuinely hard to know what was happening sometimes, because the spelling was just so bad and the plot so incoherent. Sadly, it also remains unfinished, as the author suddenly stopped updating it after a while.

Of all the books I’ve reviewed, this is probably the hardest one to give a ranking out of ten. I loved it as a piece of comedy and enjoyed discussing it with friends… so maybe it deserves a high score? On the other hand, I don’t believe that it was intended to be a comedic piece of writing, so can I give a good score to something that’s failing to do what it sets out? For that reason, a square down the middle 5 out of 10 seems the fairest way to score it.

Read it here.

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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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