Small book blogs we love!

A little while ago, we asked all the darling bookworms of tumblr who are running a book blog to share their site or reviews with us. As the owners of a small book blog ourselves, we know how hard it can be to build a following and we’re trying to help out by compiling a list of small book blogs we believe deserve more attention. All this to revive booklr as a community: help each other out! 

So eventually we’ve selected five book blogs/reviewers that we simply adore (in no particular order): Check them out!

Number one is Beth’s blog ‘Betwixt-these-pages’, which can be found here
I think most people love penguins, so you can’t really go wrong with these reviews. Beth even reviews her books through little penguin pictures, of which the ‘hot and steamy’ one is my favourite (found here)! But it’s all there: a summary, her opinion, a diverse set of reviewed books and lots of colourful aspects to attract some attention to her reviews, which she really does deserve. Also, her style of writing is not only very honest, but very nice and accessible to read.
Why we’d recommend this blog: the reviews look great and amazingly fun and, hello, penguins.

Number two is a blog run by two authors under the name of-books-and-pen, which can be found here.
This appears to be quite a small blog, but the site looks adorable! The books reviewed here are very diverse, from old literature to graphic novels and manga. When reviewing anything, the authors really go into detail and depth about this book, which makes for a great review. Also, the authors just appear to be very friendly.
Why we’d recommend this blog: they make a fair point that most book blogs focus on new releases, and old books deserve just as much attention!

Number three is yet another author who writes her reviews on tumblr, by the name of ‘alwaysbringabookwithyou’, which can be found here.
Grace writes relatively short reviews, usually starting off with a short summary or introduction to the book reviewed, to grab your attention, followed by her personal opinion and rating. She mostly appears to be reviewing young adult books, but there are some classics in there as well. She has built up quite a following already, but she definitely deserves to be mentioned here anyways.
Why we’d recommend this blog: Short and well thought through reviews, which give you an idea of the book instantly. If you’re dealing with a ‘to read or not to read’-dilemma, these reviews are brilliant. Also, check out her book recommendations: you will not be disappointed.

Number four seems to be a bit of an undiscovered gem, from the tumblr ‘thebookishone’, where reviews can be found here.
These reviews are short and sweet, with a clear and unapologetic opinion on each novel. A great variety of books are present, but hardly any notes on them, much to our surprise. No decorations, no distractions: just books and opinions. We love it.
Why we’d recommend this blog: I just loved how this author simply states their honest opinion on every book they read, which we enjoyed immensely.

Number five is Sophie’s blog, called ‘parchment-and-petrichor’, which can be found here. When you start off your blog with these words: ‘Prick my fingertips and I’ll bleed ink for you’, we’re immediately fans. Sophie appears to review mostly young adult books, but the way she goes about it is very nicely organised and it looks great. She has great skill with language and her reviews read like novels in themselves. Her analyses are very good and her opinions are clear.
Why we’d recommend this blog: I love how she starts off her reviews by recommending this book to ‘those who enjoyed’, followed by a number of titles. Very original and useful!

And as a cheeky little bonus honourable mention, here’s a small blog we’re just really curious about to see what will happen with this one next 

This is a cute little blog, from the tumblr named ‘confessions-of-a-readaholic’, and her blog can be found here.
Cute blog, but I’m guessing she’s still starting out, because there are very little reviews to be found on her site as of this moment. But we really like the way she writes, so we’re curious to see where this goes.
Why we’d recommend this blog: to show some support to her and see where it goes!

So, we’re really hoping our readers will show some love to these blogs and authors as well. Us bookworms should support each other, right?
These are just some suggestions for now, but maybe we’ll do another one of these posts again some time, so if you own a book blog or site, let us know: we always enjoy reading them. 

 

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

Once in a while, I finish a book and just go ‘huh’. It might be that the ending was sudden, or not what you expected, or more depressing than what you knew you signed up for. With A Handful of Dust (1934) it was all three: it’s the story of a marriage that spins disastrously out of control and then just goes on spinning until you go ‘huh’. Luckily, Evelyn Waugh is far more eloquent than I am, so instead of generic noises, he produces subtle, beautiful prose and a wonderful satire of rich people’s lives.

Tony and Brenda Last are quite happy. They live at Hetton, the estate of Tony’s family, with their young son and loyal staff. The house is a terrible, ugly nineteenth-century building deep in the countryside, but Tony is devoted to its upkeep and spends most of his money on the estate. His wife Brenda is less fond of Hetton – she prefers the liveliness and thrills of London. Although she likes Tony, she’s also… bored. So what else can she do but take a random lover?

The answer should be: literally anything other than this. Her decision to take up with the insufferable John Beaver, leech of London society, starts her family on a road that leads to nothing but grief. ‘Beaver’ is used to living off other people. He is not rich, but too lazy to work, and instead waits by his telephone every day for ladies to invite him to lunches and dinners and parties – always last minute, when another, more interesting guest has cancelled and a place must be filled. Nobody likes him, but he is useful: the London upper-class society calls him ‘London’s spare man’. An affair with pretty, elegant Brenda is a great opportunity to him to be invited to better parties with a more popular set. To Brenda, the affair is entertainment.

Brenda’s carelessness is funny at first. She is nonchalant about deceiving her husband like only very rich, very spoiled people can be. She remains convinced that she is a good wife, at one point even setting him up with another woman in the hope that he will have some fun of his own. She doesn’t realise that all he really wants is her, and to live quietly at Hetton. As the story progresses, the minor characters are still funny but the relationship between Brenda and Tony is less and less so. Brenda’s carelessness becomes callousness, Tony is increasingly desperate and the couple’s friends, family and acquaintances are pompous and vain. After a tragic incident things start to escalate and every time you think they can’t escalate further, they do. I must have said ‘nooo!’ at least five times over the course of the book at a surprise death, deceit or decision.

I’m honestly not sure how much I liked the story. The ending especially was bizarre, but still something made me read on despite the cruel characters and strange turns of events. It even kept me reading past the frequent racist remarks, which I have to warn you are nasty. Apparently George Orwell called Evelyn Waugh “almost as good a novelist as it is possible to be, while holding untenable opinions”. Arab, African and Native American people are portrayed as inferior to English people and ridiculed, especially Native Americans, while the n-word is also used. It is something you have to get through if you want to read the book, because it’s not something you can read around.

The thing that kept me reading was probably the way Evelyn Waugh tells the story. It makes a far-fetched plotline plausible, and quite addictive, while it makes detestable characters intriguing. Brenda alone I hate completely, so much that I would gladly crawl into the book just to hit her whiny face. Tony is sympathetic if not too smart, Beaver is annoying and he calls his mother ‘mumsy’, but he isn’t worth getting worked up over. There are two minor characters I liked: Jock Grant-Menzies and Mrs Rattery. Jock is a sort of 1930’s fuckboy, the one you go to if you want an unoriginal kind of affair. He, like everybody else in London, knows about Brenda and Beaver but he actually hates having to keep it from Tony. He doesn’t seem as sneaky as the rest of their friends. His girlfriend at the time of the story is Mrs Rattery. She’s married, but she’s not at home much. She flies a small aeroplane, wears pantsuits and, like Jock, doesn’t care a lot about what people say about her. Mrs Rattery is mostly referred to as ‘the Shameless Blonde’ and Tony, when he finally meets her, is surprised that she doesn’t look like a chorus girl. Jock and Mrs Rattery are the ones who keep cool in a crisis, give fair advice and don’t play games with other people as much as the rest of the London gang do.

As far as the strange storyline goes: it grew on me. Characters made decisions that were hard to predict and I liked that. Tony, for instance, sets out on an expedition to find a mythical city in the Amazons with the help of an obsessed scientist. Weird as that seemed at that point in the book, it made sense after a while. Tony wanted nothing more than a simply family life at Hetton, and when he couldn’t get it he searched for this place that he had idealised in his head. Of course, he doesn’t find the vision of medieval English glory that he imagined but rather more adventure than a family man needs. Brenda, in the meantime, wanted fun and parties but finds her new life is harder than expected when the securities of her marriage with Tony are no longer something she can take for granted.

Somewhere in the midst of all this screaming irony, sarcasm and weirdness, this book charmed me. It was much like a high society Englishman from the 1930’s, I imagine: charismatic, problematic, eloquent, looks like something you can take home to your mother but you actually shouldn’t. I will probably read it again.

Jimmy Carr Award, for a book so shocking, painful and funny that it can only be British

Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust (London, 1934)

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Jo Robin

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

‘My name is Eva, which means ‘life’ according to the book of names my mother consulted. I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of those things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory.’

The first time I read these first few lines from the book, I was hooked, so I figured the only way to start off this review properly, is to let you bask in Isabel Allende’s brilliance as well. With a style and prose unlike any other, she has captured my heart and mind. Eva Luna is my favourite book by her, which I read at exactly the right time, when I was only thirteen years old. In my opinion, this book should be a compulsory read for any young woman.

Eva Luna tells the story of her life, starting off with her birth in some unknown South American country. Her mother was brought up by missionaries, she taught Eva to invent stories and brought her up in the house of an old professor. Her father was an Indian ‘with yellow eyes’, whom she has never met. After her mother dies when she is only little, Eva takes her mother’s place in the professor’s household, entertaining him with her stories, until he dies as well. She wanders around a little and meets Huberto Naranjo, a boy from the streets, whom Eva befriends. She then ends up, still very young, in the care of La Señora, who owns a brothel. She soon learns to take care of herself and uses her stories like a true Scheherazade to survive.

For a few years she lives peacefully at the brothel, where she meets a friend of Madame named Melicio, who goes by the name of Mimi at night. However, when the brothel is raided due to new laws, Eva has no choice but to move on once again. That’s when she ends up with Riad Halabi, a turk with a cleft-lip and his wife, and helps around their house and shop. But when the wife, Zulema, kills herself because she actually hates her husband, Eva is one of the main suspects and she flees with Riad, who then becomes her lover. Eva Luna then meets up with Mimi once again, now officially a woman, and lives with her for a while. Again, Huberto appears in her life, now no longer a street urchin but a fully-grown guerrilla fighter, and the two start a sexual relationship. However, Eva decides near the end of the book that he is not the man for her.

From the very beginning of the book it is mentioned that Rolf Carlé is the man that Eva Luna will marry. Though most chapters are told from Eva’s point of view, some offer a parallel narrative about Rolf’s life. He grew up in Europe and has come to South America as a photojournalist. This is how he has met Huberto Naranjo: while he was filming the guerrilla movement. Eventually he meets Eva through Huberto and after they participate in one last illegal act on behalf of the guerrilla movement, Eva and Rolf profess their love for each other.

The story is set in Latin America just after the Second World War. Many countries were in shambles at that time, and South America especially was a continent struck by poverty. Eva is not only South American, but she is also an orphan without any relations, poor and a woman. Her circumstances are less than ideal, but none of these facts about herself appear to hold her back. I admired this character immensely, not only because she was able to capture anyone with her tales (much like Isabel Allende herself does), but also because she never wants people to pity her. She does what she has to do to survive, she is eager to learn about life from all the diverse people she meets and she’s strong. At times she can be a little naïve, but then again, there has been hardly anyone to teach her. From a weak little girl without opportunities she grows into a strong-willed young woman, with a determination in life that I can only call admirable.

This brings me to my second point: Isabel Allende. Though I have never met her, I feel like I know her a little from all the books by her I’ve read and I have to say: what a woman! Maybe it’s that South American imagination, flair and magic, or maybe it’s just the well-read woman herself, but she writes in a style entirely new. It really is like Allende is sitting right in front of you, like you are in the same room as she is, telling you the story. Her prose manages to capture me every time, even when I don’t really like the story. But I love Eva Luna, because it really has that magical element, the telling of stories, mixed in with the reality of poverty and despair in a broken country. Sometimes the novel does feel like a strange combination of a telenovela and a political novel, which is quite common point of critique on this book, but I quite liked that. It’s a matter of taste, I suppose.

Let me just continue praising Isabel Allende a little more. Because, and this is often the case, the characters really do make the book. The characters are very diverse in this book, from a Turkish ‘ugly’ shop owner to a colourful and loving transsexual woman. Allende treats all of her characters with equal respect and as Eva learns from them, so does the reader. This is probably what I liked best about this novel: you join Eva Luna on her journey to becoming a young woman and learn when she learns. I was only thirteen when I first read this book, and I learned a lot. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Great women teaching little girls to become strong young women in their turn.

This brings me to my last point, which is the character of Eva Luna herself. Isabel Allende manages to make the story not about some girl who survives on her beauty or feminine charm; she gets by on her inventive personality. I think the next quote brilliantly illustrate how she simply gets on with things and how Allende breaks through all the stereotypes of a fragile woman in one swift motion.

‘I stopped examining myself in the mirror to compare myself to the perfect beauties of movies and magazines; I decided I was beautiful– for the simple reason that I wanted to be. And then never gave the matter a second thought.’

Strong women award: May we know them, may we be them and may we raise them

Isabel Allende, Eva Luna (Bogotá, 1987)

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Thura Nightingale 

The perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

We all know those people who are quiet, don’t contribute much to the conversation, and of whom it is hard to see what’s going on inside. They are somehow always present at social gatherings, supportive when you need it, and seem to know best what’s going on with everyone. Charlie, the protagonist, is someone like that, and that something is called a wallflower. Or as the book puts it:

“He’s a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

-Stephen Chbosky

This book is about how Charlie learns to crawl out of his shell to find a gang of people to call his friends in high school. The book spans about a year in total and is written in the form of letters he writes to an unidentified ‘dear friend’. He does this because he needs somebody to hear and understand his story without judgment. That is partly what this book is about: about the need to be heard and seen, and an acknowledgement of the bad things that happen in your life. This becomes clear when the book progresses and the truth of what happens in Charlie’s past is revealed. For example, his aunt Helen, he was very close with, died when he was young. She had been living with Charlie’s family for a while and both the reason for that and how she died are a mystery to Charlie. Also, there is the suicide of Charlie’s best friend Michael a few months before the book starts. Both events have left Charlie emotionally stunned and he is unsure how to deal with it all. This isolates him from his family and his peers at his high school. Then he meets Sam and Patrick at a football game and his life changes. One of the things they bond over is a great musical taste. At one time Charlie gives Patrick a mixtape. Here is the to listen to it while you’re reading this review: Charlie’s mixtape.

Charlie is the youngest of three children. He is from a loving, but distant family. Nobody in his home talks about emotions much. Also, he is an outsider. All of this does not help him to deal with his emotions. Luckily, this changes when he starts to make new friends. Patrick and Sam are adoptive brother and sister and are the first new friends Charlie makes. Through them, he is introduced to more people. Charlie is in love with Sam, but she already has a boyfriend. Not a good one though, but ‘we accept the love we think we deserve’, as is stated in the book to explain Sam’s behaviour. Another example of that in the book is Patrick’s secret relationship with a football player, which unfortunately doesn’t end well.

Soon Charlie discovers the downside of being a wallflower: you might know what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean you are a part of it. Throughout the book, he is trying to ‘participate’ more by hanging out with his friends, helping his loved ones and at some point, he even has a girlfriend. However, he is struggling, because he is used to do whatever everybody wants from him. His friends and family use him for whatever they need and he mostly lets that happen. This doesn’t exactly make him feel better about things. Through his new friends’ parties and actions, and especially cruising through a tunnel while blasting music in the back of a truck, he learns what it means to be alive. This culminates in the bittersweet ending where his friends leave high school (they are older), which means Charlie is alone again. However, he is not afraid, because he has learned how to be a part of the world. I thought that ending gave a lot of hope.

His passiveness starts to make sense further on in the book when more of his past becomes clear. It turns out that more happened when he was little than he remembers. Nobody has ever talked to him about that, and he has suppressed the emotions because of the trauma’s it gave him. In my opinion, this is handled very well in this book. Via the letters, you can see how Charlie’s confusion about the events grows. Also, the truth is not revealed at once, but in small pieces. This made a lot of sense to me because the topics are hard to think and talk about. A person almost never reveals full details of his or her trauma in one sitting. This gradual revelation also made clear Charlie’s own struggle with the truth and how to deal with the new knowledge. Story-wise the bit by bit revelation was also a good move. It took me a few reads before I had grasped the whole truth. And even now I am not sure if I have the ‘truth’, or my interpretation. Which makes this a very good book for group discussions and such. I am sure that everybody has their own theories about who the ‘dear friend’ is, what is wrong with Charlie and what exactly happened in his past. All these theories probably depend a lot on our own past and experiences, which we work into the blank spaces of the book. Maybe, because of that, this book can help teenagers, or older people, to talk about their own problems via their interpretation of the book. Not every detail is filled in so we as readers can fill in the details with our own stories. This opens the door to learn to accept bad parts of our stories, just as Charlie learns to be alright with his. I think books can help to feel us less alone and to find a way to say the things we want to say.

The downside of this book is that it can be melodramatic at times. True, that might be because I am either not the target audience, teenagers, or because I am Dutch and we pride ourselves on our rationality and coolness in the face of big emotions. It did make me sigh whenever a character voiced a semi-intellectual insight about people and friendship. Often they are the kind of wisdom that is true, but because you’ve heard it so many times at different places it starts to sound cliché and as if the author is trying too hard. But maybe that’s also what teenagers are: a little bit annoying and either too smart for their own good, or not self-aware enough to see that they aren’t. And that’s alright, we all have to go through things other people have done before. And that is another message of the book: own your life, only you can live it. I wasn’t annoyed when I first read it, so maybe I should leave this book for when I am in the right mood.

Another thing I like about this book is that Charlie messes up badly. Not with bad intentions, or because he is a bad kid, but because he didn’t know any better. It turns out that understanding what happens with other people is easier than making the right decisions in your own life. All the characters in the book mess up, but not because they are bad people. This is a good thing in a book for young people because it shows them it’s alright to mess up, and that you can fix things. Doing something bad doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a person who is alive and participates. Gradually, Charlie starts to realize that participating is good for him and makes him feel better, but also that his actions have an impact on other people, not always in a positive way.

There is a lot of good in this book, especially for people who have always struggled with being a misfit or with finding the courage to participate. Many bad things can happen in one’s life that make it difficult to go out into the world. Especially when you are a wallflower and hide from everyone. I hope this book will inspire those people to go out and ‘participate’ to find their own people. Also, I hope many people will read it and realize that it’s alright to feel bad about things. But most of all, I hope this book will find its way into the hands of a lot of prospective Charlies so they feel less alone.

Being alive award for showing us all that it’s less scary than it looks to participate and that it’s alright to not always be sure about how you’re feeling.

 

Stephen  Chbosky (London, 1999)

Bella bookworms 2

Bella G. Bear

 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When I walked through the children’s section of the local public library last week, I saw a girl of about ten years old, carrying a stack of books. As I was searching the shelves for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, she added one to many, lost control and dropped them all to the ground. Undefeated, she picked them all up, carried them to the counter and checked them out by herself, like the independent little woman she was. I smiled to myself, happy that ten-year-old-girls still borrow more library books than they can carry.

I didn’t find a copy of The Secret Garden in my library. Maybe it is now considered too old-fashioned a story (it was first published in 1911), or maybe some child had already borrowed it. All I found was an audiobook and although it was read by a posh Dutch woman who inexplicably did an Amsterdam accent for the Yorkshire locals, I enjoyed listening to it while cleaning my house. This story about children who refuse to accept the fate that grownups have thought up for them was one of my favourites when I was little. I think it still deserves to be read, despite its outdated style.

Mary Lennox is the ten-year-old daughter of upper-class English parents in India. She is a brat, which is what happens when a child is neglected by its parents and spoiled by the servants, always told how ugly she is but generally just ignored. She passes her time by reading books and playing with flowers and rocks in the garden, making tiny flowerbeds until something terrible happens that drastically changes her life: the entire household dies of cholera in a matter of days. Mary, enraged by the fact that everybody has forgotten about her, is found alone in her nursery. No-one knows quite what to do with the child until it is decided that she will be sent to a distant relative in England: the old, hunchbacked Mr Archibald Craven.

Mr Craven lives on the Yorkshire moors in a house with a hundred rooms, most of them locked. Mary soon finds out that he once had a wife, whom he loved dearly, but since her death he can’t seem to find anything to live for. He travels too get away from his life and seldom talks to anyone, Mary included. The young girl doesn’t see him until a good month after she arrives. Instead, she clashes with the servants who are to take care of her, especially chambermaid Martha. Mary has to learn to dress herself, eat porridge and listen to the frank Martha, who is a down-to-earth young woman from the moors with no patience for temper tantrums. Slowly, Mary learns some healthy social behaviour from the rough but kind people who work in and around the house. Her encounters with Martha, Martha’s animal-loving younger brother Dickon and the gardener Ben awaken for the first time a need for human company and even empathy in her.

The house is enormous but devoid of toys and most doors are locked, so Mary prefers to entertain herself in the gardens. There are flower gardens, kitchen gardens and orchards, and one forbidden garden. Martha warns her that Mr Craven has locked the gate to his late wife’s garden and buried the key. Of course, Mary can’t help herself and searches for the forbidden garden and a way to get in. Outside, she enjoys herself more than she had ever expected. The moors differ from India in every way, especially the weather. In England it is often cold, it often rains, and the wind makes noises like someone is crying when it blows over the sloping plains. But then, just when Mary has gotten used to the weather, she hears the crying noise again and this time it comes from inside the house. It’s not the wind. It sounds like a child.

The mystery element of the book is resolved rather quickly, and what follows is an account of children trying to outsmart the grownups around them, who have rigid ideas about what children should and shouldn’t do. It won’t surprise you that the forbidden garden is opened eventually, becoming a secret paradise to play and work in. As spring sets in, the children flourish with the bulbs and rosebushes in an unsubtle but fitting metaphor: children, like flowers, are resilient. But to blossom, children, like flowers, need fresh air, sun and attentive care.

The book is clearly turn-of-the-century. There is a colonial approach to India, a country that is described as mostly exotic, its inhabitants submissive. There is some dubious medical information (Dickon claims that he has never caught a cold because he is always outside and never sits home by the fire). At the same time, some of these images are criticised within the story. The book makes clear that the Indian people in the Lennox household were not submissive by choice, but placed in a difficult position, dependent on Mary’s arrogant and frivolous parents. The tenacious idea that sickly children should forever stay in bed in a dark room is also shattered. Fresh air and physical therapy are championed instead – ideas that sprouted in the second half of the nineteenth century and are broadly accepted today.

I love stories of things or people that are carefully fixed. There is something so satisfying about the idea of a garden that is brought to life again and maintained, or about children who blossom when given attention and someone to look out for them. On top of that, parents who think that their own enjoyment or grief is more important than their children’s wellbeing are admonished in favour of Martha’s mother, who has a lot of common sense, an open ear and a very big heart.
What bothered me about the book was its style. Frances Hodgson Burnett is known for her romantic writing, which sometimes tends towards the sickly sweet. She attaches a sort of mysticism to nature that I personally don’t like. Nature doesn’t cure everything, and while it can be overwhelming and beautiful, rapturous descriptions of flowers and animals can become a little tiring after a while. The story could have done with a bit more subtlety: beauty in nature can be implied without hitting your over the head with it.

What gives the book its enduring quality is the interaction between three-dimensional child characters. Some of the children are neglected and raised terribly, and are therefore angry and jealous. This behaviour is not punished in the story, like you would expect in a book from 1911, but subject to some intense character development. For all her sentimental romanticism, Frances Hodgson Burnett displays a surprisingly nuanced and detailed way of writing about children, the way they behave, talk and interact. Her writing style was outdated even in her own time period, while these psychological elements of her story are actually quite ahead of her time. You just have to struggle through the elaborate descriptions to get to the heart of the story.

At its core, this story is about children who refuse to accept that they are lost cases, even though the people around them have given up on them. They try to fix their environment and each other as best they can, and are determined to make their own decisions about what they want to do with their lives. I think we can do with a lot more spunky ten-year-olds in literature. As adults, we should take care not to forget what those boys and girls are capable of.

Pippi Longstocking Award for independent and sassy children who sneak outside and shout at their elders

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (New York/Portsmouth, 1911)

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Jo Robin