I'm a self-employed consultant and freelance editor. I live in West Yorkshire, UK with my husband and our six rescue cats.
I'm married to fantasy author David M. Brown and my grandmother wrote historical romance, so I suppose you could say writing is a family affair!
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Smashwords book reviews by Donna Brown
- Toonopolis: Gemini
on Sep. 02, 2011
As much as I’ve thought about it, I’m still finding it difficult to see how I can possibly do justice to the imaginative, wonderful, glorious feat of writing that is Toonopolis. Jeremy Rodden has taken the best and worst of a range of things that were dear to us in our childhoods (but probably drove our parents crackers) and remain endearing to us now as – even though we are allegedly adults – we prove ourselves to be simply bigger kids.
Toonopolis is like putting on a time travelling fluffy dressing gown covered in fairies or footballs that transports you to every Saturday morning of your youth and adolescence and every snatched moment of your adulthood where you pretended you weren’t watching Dungeons and Dragons, Donald Duck or Thundercats but were secretly loving every minute. It encapsulates the lack of logic that surrounds not only cartoons but also video games and how willing we are to suspend disbelief in our quest for entertainment but also shows how, when we are willing to do that, things can be much much more enjoyable.
As a ‘grown up’ who readily admits to recently watching all 80 episodes of Batfink, wiling away hours on World of Warcraft and loving Studio Ghibli, there are some cringing moments in the book for me. Not, let me hasten to add, that I’m cringing at the author’s work: absolutely NOT. Instead, I’m cringing at myself. Yep, I’ve spent that Saturday morning killing rats in a basement in a quest similar to one Gemini is offered. I’ve built up a party that – whilst it seemed logical at the time – had as much sense to it as Gemini’s band of merry men (including talking Eggplant, mechanical dog and Miss Fire). And I’ve loved every minute.
Toonopolis is a bundle of fun but it does have some serious underlying messages to it too, including the importance of not leaping to conclusions without all the facts and the necessity of accepting yourself rather than constantly trying to fight against what or who you are. Additionally, it has an ending that raises many questions and leaves you wondering, thoughtful and wanting more. Thankfully this is only book one of the Toonopolis Files so we can share a cheer that there’s more of this wonderful world to encounter.
How can you not love a book that is, in essence, an Alice in Wonderland for the modern era? Or in which distance is measured in PEZ candies? Or where the author paradoxically uses an impressive and varied vocabulary so deftly to tell a story that makes you feel young enough to have a spelling book again? This is a book for everyone who accepts that as logical as they may think they are, there’s still a bit of the illogical rebellious Saturday morning slob in them. And really, it’s a book for all those people who aren’t like that because, by the end of it, they will be.
on Nov. 14, 2011
I always think of doodling as something a little random, innocuous, with little meaning behind it but in truth there has long been a school of thought there suggests there’s actually more that lies beneath the simple doodle. Jonathan Gould’s novella seems to fall into a similar category. On the surface, it seems lighthearted, fun and not very serious at all. Look a little closer, however, and Doodling is full of surprises. And what remarkable surprises they are.
I empathise wholeheartedly with Neville. The world is racing and sometimes I – like many others – feel like I’m barely clinging on by my fingertips. What can we do but keep clinging? Neville experiences a rare look at the world beyond the world and the discoveries are – frankly – frightening. Strange party people who will celebrate any occasion possible in the strangest of ways. Competitive types who are utterly driven by the desire to win and never realise that not everyone can be a winner. Toaster people who desperately need something to worship and yet when their quite illogical beliefs prove to be founded, find themselves utterly lost. (What’s that Voltaire quote: “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” – “If God didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him”. Some people need something to believe it but seeing it in front of you is a different ball game!)
There are a few conclusions that can be drawn at the end of Doodling including ‘It takes all sorts of people to make a world’ and ‘As hard as it is to keep the world spinning. it’s always going to be more difficult alone’. However, there’s a very clear conclusion that Jonathan Gould is a very intelligent author who can write remarkably humorous fiction with an incredibly clever streak running through it. He’s either a satirical genius and knows it or he’s a satirical genius who doesn’t yet realise it: either way, expect a literary explosion in the future. This is not the kind of writing that can be kept under wraps.
on Nov. 29, 2011
I live in a back to back terraced house. I know that my roof is... well, I'm not actually sure what colour it is and it's raining so I'm not going out to check. But say it was blue. That should mean that my neighbour's roof is also blue, right? But what if they KNOW they their roof is pink?
When I opened Flidderbugs and read the first couple of lines, Orwell's 1984 immediately came to mind, more specifically Minitrue (aka The Ministry of Truth). In truth, my associations weren't too farfetched: there are aspects of Flidderbugs that mimic the absurdity of Minitrue and its slogans WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
Flidderbugs is an interesting tale of what we know versus what we believe. Do we believe something because we know it to be the case? Or do we know something because it fits in with our beliefs? Can politics, like religion, prevent us from approaching situations logically? And is it always in our best interest to listen to the information that is fed to us from those who - allegedly - know better?
Doodling, Gould's first title (and a Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Humor semi finalist), was a fabulously fun read with a heavy smattering of satire. Flidderbugs takes satire to a whole new level. Yet its real genius lies not in that but in the fact that you don't actually realise the strength of the messages until you've completed the book. Flidderbugs simply seems like a good read (saving initial Orwellian thoughts) but it's the period after you've closed the final page or put down your ereader that the heavy thinking kicks in.
What an amazing achievement: fiction that provides you with an incredible and fun read but leaves you full of thoughts long after you've finished the final paragraph. More please, Mr Gould. Much, much more!
- The Myth of Mr. Mom - Real Stories by Real Stay-At-Home Dads
on Dec. 04, 2011
It’s the typical Ladybird book image: Daddy with a saw and Mummy with an apron and a baking tin and it can often catch people unawares to see anything other than this, even though the family dynamic is a constantly changing thing.
I had firsthand experience of this recently. My husband is much better at housework than I am but I’m (affectionately) known as “DIY Donna”. So when David left to go to work recently and the door was sticking, I grabbed my rasp and file and set about fixing the problem. And boy didn’t I get some strange looks! Granted I was wearing yellow pyjamas with little pink pigs on and a pink towelling robe but I can’t help but wonder if a man in a dressing gown would have been met with quite the same incredulity.
I have to say, I’m not remotely maternal in the conventional sense (i.e., unless the children in question are furry with paws) so I couldn’t compare my own experiences of parenthood but I have faced stereotypes myself: I’m a woman so I must want children. I have six cats so they must be child substitutes. I’ll reach a ‘certain age’ and suddenly my biological clock will kick in. All poppycock, of course, so I was interested to read The Myth of Mr Mom to read about the writers’ experiences of facing – and hopefully overcoming – gender stereotypes of a different kind.
There are eight stories in The Myth of Mr Mom and surprisingly each one is quite unique, something Jeremy Rodden himself comments on in the afterword. These stay-at-home-dads or stay-at-home-pops (and my word even their abbreviations of SAHD and SAHP seem to start them on the back foot) have faced many similar scenarios or battles but each has started from a different point and approached their journey in a different way.
There were two stories that really stood out for me. One was a very humorous tale from Christian Jensen (“Mr Mom: A Retrospective”), which amused me greatly but also underscored my reasons for not wanting to be a mother. (Sorry Christian: I’m guessing that wasn’t your main aim!). I say that because there’s a clear an evidence love for Jensen’s children evident throughout the essay, despite the dry wit and sarcasm, which made it very touching but also made me very aware that I wouldn’t have the patience or compassion to take on his role!
The other story that touched me was “Little Pink Umbrella” by Charlie Andrews. It touched me because I loved the idea of the father who stands, quite willingly, on a corner with a little pink umbrella, waiting for his daughter. Of course, there is a much more to the story than that but it stopped me in my tracks. My own father did many things for me that I daresay didn’t fit with his ‘conventional role’ but which he did for my sake. This is the aspect of fatherhood that often goes unrewarded or even unacknowledged. We joke about man flu or the father who can’t even get a diaper on. We assume that a man with a baby is stepping in or has been ‘lumbered’ for the day (my great maternal instincts kicking in again there!) but actually we often do ‘fathers’ the same disservice that woman as a whole were done for many years. We make baseless assumptions about their validity and societal value, their roles and responsibilities and most of all, who they are.
If The Myth of Mr Mom had a flaw for me, it’s that I would have liked to read an essay from someone much older who had really had to fight against the norm, not just of recent decades but an earlier, stauncher and perhaps more judgmental time period. Not that the stories contained are not inspirational but I think that would have added an extra dimension for me. However, Rodden mentions a potential second volume so perhaps this is a tale yet to be seen.
I have made this a ‘Christmas Pick: For Dads’ because I don’t think you need to be a Stay-at-Home-Dad to enjoy it. In fairness, I don’t even think you need to be a male to enjoy it. However, I do think it will resonate with loving fathers because the key thing that links all of these stories is fatherly love and bundles of it. Buy this for your father and show them not only that you love them but that you love the love that they gave you and that every sacrifice – large or small – has not gone unrecognised.
- Kiwi in Cat City
on March 05, 2012
Vickie contacted me about her book (a shamefully long time ago, I must admit), knowing I had a love of cats and I agreed to review it. I have started this book several times and stopped several times – NOT, I hasten to add, because I didn’t enjoy it or was finding it hard to get into. Quite the opposite. Instead, I found I loved the book and it has been to my particular chagrin that it has taken me so long to get the real focused time I wanted to spend with this book and nothing else.
Because readers, this is a wonderful story. But then, I had a feeling it would be.
So great was my love of this fun tale of the adventures of Kiwi, that I was even able to overlook the fact that there are two children as central characters. Yes, I know this is a book for children aged 9+ up but I am not a big fan of children in books and films. Believe me, I am not the maternal type! However, Amy and James are written as well mannered children that I’m sure even I could spend an afternoon with (even if they are a bit naughty for trying to go along with Kiwi’s adventures instead of going to sleep!). Besides, Kiwi is able to work a little magic to make the children considerably more likeable in my view!
Johnstone is a wonderful writer, able to weave a magical tale. She also has an excellent understanding of the behaviour of cats and injects this knowledge expertly into the tale. Her pace and timing is perfect and despite this being a book made up largely of prose, Johnstone nonetheless manages to make it poetic throughout.
I loved the exploits of Kiwi, Madame Purrfect and Inspector Furrball. Okay, okay – even the antics of James and Amy. This is the first in the series of Kiwi books and I’m roundly convinced that Johnstone will be called upon to write many more volumes. I believe she is currently working on book four and I can see this becoming a series that wouldn’t be out of place on the bookshelf of any family home, library or school. Bravo on a superb book!
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any other compensation. All opinions are my own.