Spoiler-Free Book Review: “My Mum Tracy Beaker” by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child. Most British kids who like reading have at least heard of her. I’ve written about her top ten books, though she’s now written over one hundred. Her stories are mostly about little girls in the working class dealing with real-life issues such as bullying, poverty, abuse, and family issues.

When I was small, my aunt bought me a set of some of Wilson’s best titles, such as The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star, Bad Girls, Buried Alive!, The Suitcase Kid, and Double Act. I read those books dozens of times all the way through my childhood and teens, and even got a couple of them as ebooks for a reread.

I bought Wave Me Goodbye last year and it was cool to see that Wilson’s writing style hasn’t changed much. I came across My Mum Tracy Beaker and immediately bought it; I liked the first three Beaker books and it was cool to see that the little girl I grew up reading about was now grown up with a child of her own.

91KcVczAr6L“Tracy has returned, hand in hand with her daughter Jess, she’s ready to make her childhood dreams come true. 

Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. They do everything together. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever, even when she shouts at her teachers!

Tracy has made the perfect home for Jess, leaving The Dumping Ground far behind her. Yes, their flat’s a bit mouldy. It’s only just big enough for two. And the Duke Estate is a bit scary. 
But it’s their happy home. 

Until Sean Godfrey, Tracy’s rich boyfriend, whisks them away to his mansion, life of fast cars and celebrity stardom. Will Jess’s brilliant mum turn into a new person altogether? And will Tracy realise that her childhood dream might not be what she needs after all?”

Despite having modern references such as selfies, Instagram, the internet, and cell phones, it was diving into this 400-page paperback still held the nostalgia of the ’90s with references to things like The Magic Faraway Tree (an old book by Enid Blyton, another childhood favourite) and The Wizard of Oz.

Tracy Beaker is still fierce and short-tempered, but she’s also a wonderfully sweet mother to Jess (from whose view we see this story). She always takes her daughter’s feelings into account, takes her seriously, and does her best to take care of her. Though Tracy has many problems from her difficult childhood, she’s extremely loyal and independent. She makes a big fuss of people’s birthdays, no doubt because she always had “half a birthday” in the Dumping Ground, the home she grew up in.

Jess is much shyer and is reminiscent of some of Wilson’s other books: she likes reading, she’s shy, gets bullied, and doesn’t have many friends. A sympathetic character like this is a Wilson trope.

We see characters from the first three books. Cam is there, of course, still with a wonderful relationship with Tracy, whom she refers to as her mother and says she loves her, showing how grateful she is the woman fostered her. There are other familiar faces, too, but no spoilers here!

A neat little easter egg is when Jess read two books; though they aren’t named, they’re described enough where I could understand they were Hetty Feather and Lola Rose, the latter of which is my favourite book by this author.

The story was pretty good, though it could have been shorter. Tracy can’t let go of her childhood dream; those who read The Story of Tracy Beaker might know she always dreamed of being rich and living in an enormous mansion with posh furniture. Jess, however, is happy with their little flat and it being just the two of them. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it’s Wilson’s best. Then again, it’s aimed at children so maybe I’ve just grown too big for it!

If you read this book, I’d recommend reading the first three books so you can spot the references. I give My Mum Tracy Beaker three stars out of five.

3stars

Get My Mum Tracy Beaker on Amazon

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6 Video Games That Changed My Life

For a lot of people, video games were a big part of our childhood and our adult lives, too. Games are fairly inexpensive, fun, and provide hours and hours of entertainment. We got a Nintendo 64 in around 1998, and my brother and I would spend our afternoons and weekends killing monsters, going on adventures, and making amazing memories.

If you’re like me, you have a few games that are not only rooted in your memory forever, but sorted of shaped who you are. Connections to places and characters can alter your perspective and make you see the world differently. It doesn’t matter that they’re fictional!

Let me share with you six video games that seriously changed my life.

1. Pokémon Fire Red

I never had one of the original Game Boys, but my cousin did, and he sometimes let me play the original Pokémon Yellow on his device. It seemed awesome, and when I got a bit older I finally got a Game Boy Advance and Pokémon Fire Red.

I have a tendency to get really, really into games, just like some people get really into books, movies, and TV shows. Fire Red sucked me right in. I fought Team Rocket, explored the exciting Kanto region, developed close bonds with my Pokémon buddies and became World Champion. I was completely in love with Fire Red and its story. This was around 2005, so I was about twelve years old.

I cared so much for my Charizard, Dragonair, and other Pokémon I had. Like a lot of ’90s kids, I remember watching the anime on TV and always remained biased that the first generation of Pokémon were the best. My little avatar was eventually so strong and I got super emotional when I finally managed to win the Pokemon league.

Because I didn’t have the wires or stuff to trade Pokémon, the last part of the game was inaccessible to me. If I can’t 100% a game for whatever reason, it always seems even more mysterious and exciting.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I know I’m not alone on this one. Ocarina of Time is still the best Zelda game in my opinion. With a great story, an explorable world, really cool temples, this was another game I spent hours and hours of my childhood on this game, really cared about Epona, Saria, Malon, Zelda, Ruto and, of course, Link himself.

This was the first ever game I played and I still love love love it to this day.

3. Dragon Age: Origins

I have my brother to thank for introducing me to what was probably the best roleplaying fantasy game of the 2010s (though Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion comes a close second). As a teenager who loved fantasy (still do), I lost myself from the very beginning in the rich land of Fereldan and its story.

I love games where you create your own character (2000s-2010s Sims games, anyone?) and immediately chose to be a Dalish Elf. I, like many other girls around the world, fell in actual real love with Alistair, one of the characters, and changed my own character halfway through so that I could be a human noble and marry him at the end.

Though there are some quests that are a pain, the game is truly gorgeous with a rich story and unforgettable characters. I cared about Alistair more than I cared about a lot of real people and even now he makes me give a dreamy sigh. Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third of the DA series, is also absolutely fantastic, but Origins has that special place in my heart.

4. Fallout 3

I didn’t think Fallout 3 would really be my kind of game. I wasn’t keen on post-apocalyptic style games since I found them to be depressing. However, I gave it a try.

I could make my own character again! Similarly to Dragon Age, I could choose dialogue options and either be nice or cruel. I explored the world, completed missions, and saw a glimpse of what the world (or Washington D.C., at least) could be like after a nuclear war. It was sobering as it was thrilling.

This game got me more interested in the United States and although I’m not American, I felt a sort of patriotic rush of sadness at the sight of the ruined city.

5. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon

Another Pokémon game makes this list with Mystery Dungeon, which was released in 2005. I probably played it in around 2006 or 2007 on Game Boy Advance.

This game is unlike the usual “become a trainer, capture Pokémon, and become Champion” playthrough. In Mystery Dungeon you’re transformed into a Pokémon (which one you become depends on your answers to the quiz at the beginning) and you help out other Pokémon with problems like getting lost in caves or getting separated from their friends. The game has no human people in it at all and provides insight into a completely different side of the Pokémon world.

I got really attached to your best friend in the game, whom you are always with. He even stays by your side when you are blamed for something you didn’t do and you go through a lot together. I cried my eyes out at the end and thoroughly enjoyed the game and all the adventures you go through. I was 14 years old when I played it and it touched my heart.

6. Final Fantasy X-2

(Still one of the coolest openings in any game, ever).

I had never played any Final Fantasy games before. We always had Nintendo consoles and didn’t get a PlayStation until what felt like way after everyone else. I remember my brother’s friend came over and played Final Fantasy X-2 and I was just besotted.

As an eleven-year-old, I thought the pretty, crazy-dressed fighter girls were the coolest I had ever seen. I particularly loved Paine, with her gothic-style look and giant sword. I hadn’t played X, so I didn’t know who Yuna was talking about when she mentioned Tidas from the first game. To me, he was mysterious and I wanted to know so much more about him. Yuna’s song 1000 Words still makes me cry.

This was before the time when I could just pull my phone out my pocket and search. I didn’t know who this man was or if Yuna would ever see him again. I was just the right age where I thought the three female characters were the coolest girls ever. It was something of a unique experience.

The game itself has horrible gameplay and awkward as hell animation but I think there are many people out there like me who think of FFX-2 as a guilty pleasure.

We all have memories we hold dear from our days of being kids. Whether it’s a memory of a place or person, TV show, movie, or game, we love to hold onto the unique feeling we got from the experience. Have you ever played a video game that changed your life?

Pretty Yokohama

Day 29

Yesterday I met some people from university who I hadn’t seen for years. We went to Yokohama, the second biggest city in Japan and a short train ride away from Tokyo. Yokohama is relatively quiet, spacious for a Japanese city, and has an awesome Chinatown selling goods and food from (where else?) China. It also has a pretty big presence when Chinese New Year comes round in February.

The port is also really pretty and, like that day, we could see some ships getting ready to port. It’s much nicer on a sunny day but still made for a pretty impressive view.

We had lunch in Chinatown and then tucked into some coffee and pie at a cafe. It was a lot of sugar and calories but hey, it was a special day. We passed the small theme park, including the large Ferris wheel. It’s something which I always look at and think “that’s pretty,” while refusing to get on.

Pretty sunset

We did purikura, a photo booth where, as you can see, you can edit your photos after taking them. At just 100 yen each (400 yen per session), it wasn’t an expensive venture. LEP refers to the group we were in at university, and since it was 2012 since we all first met, we called that day the LEP Reunion.

Yokohama has a completely different vibe to Tokyo. In Yokohama, I always feel more relaxed with that “weekend feeling.” Still, I’ve never worked in Yokohama which is probably why. Still, everyone who has been to both cities would probably agree that Tokyo is the more hectic, if equally charming, of the two.

Oh, yeah. I also broke my shoe.

If you visit Tokyo, be sure to take a day trip to Yokohama, it’s a really cool place 🙂

Playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Again

Day 28

Guyyyyyyys. It finally arrived.

Hnng.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a fantastic game and one that was played for thousands, probably millions of hours worldwide in the late 00s. As a lover of fantasy roleplaying games, I did my fair share of exploring, Oblivion gate closing, questing, and guilding. My younger brother, Calum, fell in love with the game and that was the first of many he ended up playing.

Upon finishing Skyrim and Dragon Age and listening to the Oblivion soundtrack I knew I needed to play it again. I never knew until recently (which might have saved me a lot of trouble) that the Japanese and the American PlayStations are the same; as in, you can play an American game on a Japanese console and vice-versa. I found Oblivion for a fairly reasonable price on Amazon, waited several weeks for it to arrive, and was suddenly jumping on the spot.

Would it be just as magical as when I first played it? Video game graphics have come along way since 2006. But as the music played, I was a happy teenager again, ready to dive into Tamriel and close shut the jaws of Oblivion.

Sometimes when you play a game for the nostalgia, it ends up being a bit disappointing. Last year, when I still had my Wii U, I downloaded Pokemon Snap which, to my delight, was available on the virtual console.

I finished it in about two hours thinking was that it? As a kid I spent weeks exploring the levels, taking photographs, collecting items and wondering where I needed to go to unlock new stages and new Pokemon. I’m not saying that it isn’t a good game; I just didn’t get the joy out of it that I did as a child because now I already know where all the secrets and items are.

Oblivion, however, is still as perfect and awesome and insane as it was twelve years ago, and I’m ready to waste time I could be spending reading, writing, or having a social life completing quests and helping Martin Septim realise his destiny as king. For the Emperor!

A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

Day 25 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

What’s your favourite childhood memory? A lot of the time, experiences from younger, more innocent times seem not only far away, but sort of magical because you know you’ll never get them back or feel that way again. One great memory I have is when my mum, her best friend Clarky, and my brother all got into the car one day. When we asked where we were going, they said it was a surprise.

This happened more often than you’d think. One time, we drove all the way down to Windsor to go to Legoland. Other times we’d go to bed on a normal night and wake up in the car park overlooking the pebbly shores of Portree for a surprise holiday on the Isle of Skye.

So when my brother and I got into the car at seven and nine years old, respectively (if I’m correct in thinking that this was 2002), we were pretty excited, making wild guesses all the way to York. I hadn’t been there before, but of course it would go on to be the city in which I went to university.

We arrived at York Station, and I remember thinking, even as a little kid, “why are we going to the train station when we just arrived by car?”

Our view was something like this:

Except there were a lot more people. Some, to mine and my brother’s bewilderment, were dressed as Harry Potter characters.

Then it happened. The scarlet steam train pulled up, so long I couldn’t see the end, and stopped before us. The exact train that takes Harry Potter to Hogwarts every year. The Wizard’s Express.

“Surprise!”

We went insane.

In short, the Wizard’s Express took us to Scarborough. We sat in a compartment, did a special Harry Potter quiz (I think only up to book four at that point), and bought a mass of Potter themed sweets, such as chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Acid Pops, and a ton more inside a little cauldron.

It was the best. Now when I look back at all the effort my mum and Clarky put into it – back then, we didn’t have a computer, so it’s likely they looked it up in a magazine or newspaper – spent their hard earned money on tickets, packed everything we needed and then took us there, it makes me so warm and happy inside.

It isn’t possible to do a trip like this now, which I think is for several reasons:

  • In 2002, Harry Potter was popular, but not the billion-dollar industry it is now.
  • Tickets for a trip like that would probably be hundreds of pounds and have years of waiting lists.
  • Another reason, as some of you might know, is that the actual Wizard’s Express currently only has two carriages and is at the National Railway Museum.

Even back then I was writing books, and I briefly had a story in progress that involved a school trip where the kids travel around the world on the Hogwarts Express, a sort of mixture between The Magic School Bus and a Jacqueline Wilson book.

That trip is still a hugely fond memory. No one else I knew had done it, and I never saw it advertised again after that. After The Prisoner of Azkaban movie came out in 2004, Harry Potter gained a massive following, so it wasn’t really special and personal anymore. That’s OK though, because as far as I’m concerned, only me, my brother, Mum, and Clarky, as well as a few other people who were there that day, have ever taken that magical journey from York to Scarborough and back on the Hogwarts Express.