Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty — Reread Review

In Jaclyn Moriarty‘s Ashbury/Brookfield series, it’s quite a leap from Feeling Sorry for Celia to Finding Cassie Crazy in terms of the complexity of the plot and the depth of the characters. The jump from Finding Cassie Crazy to Becoming Bindy Mackenzie is bigger still. In the US, it was published as ‘The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie’, which gives you some idea of the dramatically higher stakes compared to the earlier books.

Unfortunately, it only partly works, at least for me as an adult reader. As far as I remember, when I read it closer to Bindy’s age, I really loved it, but at 34 the entire ‘murder’ plot feels unrealistic and also… uneccessary. There is more than enough going on in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie; the book doesn’t need a criminal gang of adults (who are, incidentally, almost as inept as the cast of teachers and parents).

I don’t know how I’m going to tell Dad. He will be so disappointed in me. I know it.
But he could not be as disappointed in me as I am in myself.

Becoming Bindy MacKenzie, Jaclyn Moriarty

What Jaclyn Moriarty does exceptionally well is Bindy’s character arc. Like Emma Woodhouse, Bindy starts the novel extremely unlikeable — in a peculiarly relatable way — but develops from there. Now that I no longer find these books as hysterical as I once did, the set-up section did feel a little long, but the look into Bindy’s history, and the way it explains why she is the way she is (without her first person narration ever being aware that’s what she’s doing) is really effective.

Emily Thompson may be many things, but, above all, she is loyal, determined and brave.
Imagine if she were my friend.

Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, Jaclyn Moriarty

As in the other two Jaclyn Moriarty books I’ve reviewed, all the other teenage characters are also well drawn, despite Bindy’s initial insistence on hating them all. Everyone (bar some of the adults) is a fundamentally good person, and that’s really nice. Reading about their developing friendships is the reason I sped through Becoming Bindy Mackenzie extremely fast, without even looking at the page numbers or realising when I was starting a new chapter.

Overall, I’d position Becoming Bindy Mackenzie as my second-favourite of the Ashbury/Brookfield series. There’s a lot to like, but the thriller plot doesn’t fully work for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Arctic Curry Club by Dani Redd — New Review

Cover: bookshop.org

I picked up The Arctic Curry Club because my dad’s street has a ‘curry club’ and I was amused by the coincidence. From the blurb, I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of book I would be getting, or whether I would like it, but the snowy arctic setting of Longyearbyen in Norway made it seem like an appropriately wintery read for this time of year.

There had been dark days, but she had cared for me too. Cared for me so much I could still feel it, decades after her death and thousands of miles from India.

The Arctic Curry Club, Dani Redd

It took some time for me to get invested in Maya. At first, her negativity created a barrier, making it difficult to sympathise with the hardships she was going through. The sudden journey to India, taking us away from the main plot and into a family mystery subplot that I could probably have done without was also pretty jarring.

For my whole life I had been looking for home. Perhaps I had to keep moving forward in order to find it.

The Arctic Curry Club, Dani Redd

But then Maya returned to the arctic and her life started to change in really compelling ways. I love character development, and Maya’s really kicked off around this point. Suddenly, I was reading chapter after chapter, ignoring my page goal for the day to keep uncovering Maya’s story. Dani Redd continued to include the history subplot, which never fully engaged my interest, but it did tie up with the main plot at the end in a way I could appreciate.

I thought about sending this to my dad, purely because of the coincidence with the name, but in the end I decided it wasn’t really his kind of book. Besides, I wasn’t willing to part with it, which is surely an indication of just how Dani Redd managed to turn things around.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett — Reread Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Having not read The Secret Garden since I was in my early teens, I’d forgotten quite how much the book focuses on my favourite thing: character development. Mary begins the novel as a demanding, antisocial brat who has no idea how to make herself, or anyone else, happy. Not only that, but the narrative likes to explicitly point out how much she’s changing. The Secret Garden, like What Katy Did and Pollyanna, is one of those books that makes me want to be a better person.

Four good things had happened to her, in fact, since she came to Misselthwaite Manor, she had felt as if she had understood the robin and that he had understood her; she had run in the wind until her blood had grown warm; she had been healthily hungry for the first time in her life; and she had found out what it was to be sorry for someone. She was getting on.


The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

And yet, despite the fact that my mum was an extremely keen gardener, I have no desire to go out and get myself ‘a bit of earth’ — even if such a thing were possible, living in London. And Colin’s belief in ‘the Magic [of positive thinking]’ comes across a little too much like The Secret with its law of attraction and vision boards. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, Frances Hodgson Burnett presumably wanted to write a compelling story, and not a self-help guide, so the fact that there’s little concrete advice to take away from The Secret Garden shouldn’t be a mark against it.

Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the wood in the park outside the garden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild creatures, there was a deep little hollow where you could build a sort of tiny oven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it. Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury, and very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king — besides being deliciously satisfying.


The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

One detail I really enjoyed on this reread was the character of Susan Sowerby — I’d forgotten that Dickon was Martha’s brother, and that their mother was featured at all. She’s a fabulous maternal figure, and I particularly liked that even Mrs Medlock had respect for her.

The Secret Garden would be a really good book to read in the spring. Even in summer, however, I did grow my very first blue rose in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so clearly the Magic does work, at least a little bit.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Emma by Jane Austen — Reread Review

As someone who loves character development, it’s probably not surprising that Emma is my favourite Jane Austen novel, out of the ones I’ve read, anyway. ‘Character grows from selfish, spoiled child to empathetic woman’ is probably my absolute favourite development trope, and that’s certainly the broad outline of Emma Woodhouse’s arc, with some romance thrown in.

I find Emma’s faults particularly relatable. She lacks the consistency to devote herself to practice, and so her skills are never as good as she feels that they should be. Not only that, but what young woman hasn’t deceived herself as to the signs that somebody else is interested in the relationship she wishes that they were? In Emma Woodhouse’s case, it’s made even more cringe-worthy by the fact that all her incorrect assumptions about people’s behaviour end up making life more difficult for others far more than for herself.

‘No. I think, Miss Woodhouse, I may just as well have it sent to Hartfield, and take it home with me at night. What do you advise?’
‘That you do not give another half-second to the subject.’

Emma, Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s comic characters in Emma are every bit as good as the inestimable Mrs Bennet, and I think definitely funnier than anything you’ll find in Sense & Sensibility. Humour is subjective, of course, but I laughed out loud a few times, which is pretty impressive for a book written over 200 years ago!

The obsession with people marrying within their social rank is a little troubling for a modern reader. It’s hard to get behind Mr Knightley’s objections to Harriet on the grounds that she’s ‘too low’, and it’s especially galling that, although Emma argues against these at first, she ends up agreeing by the conclusion of the novel. That, and Mr Knightley’s having been in love with Emma since she was 13 (and he was 29), are truly the ‘stuck in its time’ elements, to steal a phrase from the great All About Agatha. I can definitely see how readers would be put off by this, even if they can make it through Emma’s deliberately flawed personality.

Mr Knightley somewhat redeems himself in my eyes, however, by being the one person who’ll tell Emma hard truths about herself. In a novel that’s all about character development, it’s hard to imagine a more attractive suitor than the one who sees your faults, will help you overcome them, and love you for the efforts you’ve made! That’s true love right there, as I’m sure both he and Emma would agree.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mr Doubler Begins Again by Seni Glaister — New Review

Although Mr Doubler Begins Again is about an elderly man, it feels to me like a Bildungsroman. Mr Doubler is learning how to be himself, a better version of himself, after the loss of his identity as a husband. The rest of the characters are similarly adapting to new stages in their lives, whether that’s a husband being put into a care home or retirement from a rewarding line of work. It’s very cohesive, without seeming repetitive.

But Mrs Millwood thought he was kind and brave. Doubler wondered if it might be possible to become those things just through her belief in him.

Mr Doubler Begins Again, Seni Glaister

I was talking to Nickie — actually before I read this book — about what you call a love story when it isn’t a capital-R Romance, and we talked about Bridget Jones’s Diary and how it’s actually about discovering a life outside the very narrow margins of the fall in love, get married, live happily ever after story that we’re familiar with. Mr Doubler Begins Again feels like it fits the same criteria: it’s a novel about what happens after (long after) the happy ending. There is a love story, too, which is simultaneously integral to the plot — the book doesn’t really get good until Mrs Millwood is introduced — and yet ends in such a way as to feel superfluous to Mr Doubler’s character development.

Apart from feeling like the very beginning was trying a bit too hard, I really enjoyed Mr Doubler Begins Again, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for anything else Seni Glaister writes or has written. I’d recommend especially to people who enjoyed films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Calendar Girls and The Intern.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard — New Review

I positively raced through The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr. After a slightly disorientating beginning — there were a lot of capitalised nouns clustered together in the first few pages, and I found it was affecting the way I voiced the prose in my mind — it was very easy to read. Elvira suffers from a Condition, and the book is written from her first person perspective, but it’s very clear. I did wonder at times how accurate it was to nuero-atypical people, because some of the terminology wasn’t what I’ve come across before. I definitely found myself rooting for Elvira right from the beginning, wanting her to succeed at life and grow as a person.

Maria found a CD called Chilled Classics, not one that Mother owned. “We give it go,” said Maria. “Perhaps it calming.”
It wasn’t.

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr, Frances Maynard

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr, Frances Maynard

The mystery aspect didn’t live up to the strong character development, at least for me. There are things that Elvira doesn’t understand, because of her Condition, which were quite obvious to me as a reader, and that meant I always felt like I was one step ahead with working out the plot about her father. I read quickly because I wanted to get to the point where Elvira solved the mystery, but none of it was really surprising. I enjoyed reading about Elvira going out into the world and meeting new people more than I enjoyed any of the answering of suspenseful questions.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys strong character development in their novels, but probably not to anyone who reads primarily for plot.

Next, I’ll be reading Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre.

Rating: 3 out of 5.