Thursday, 2 April 2015

Review: The Duff by Kody Keplinger

Originally published as part of (then) teenage author Kody Keplinger's Hamilton High series, The Duff has recently been made into film which will be released in Australia in April. And, of course, a new edition of the book, with a film tie-in cover is now available. Anyway, there was something about the bright cover and the concept of The DUFF (which stands for Designated Fat Ugly Friend,) that appealed to me, which I suppose may explain how the book found its way on to my to-read pile, despite the fact that I am well outside of the novel's intended YA audience. 

The Duff opens with Bianca Piper, a seventeen-year-old senior high school student Bianca, who is a little bit short, a little bit plump, and a lot smart and sassy. Bianca's best friends Casey and Jessica are gorgeous. But that has never been a problem for the trio until bad boy Wesley calls Bianca the DUFF of her group. Suddenly, Bianca starts questioning everything about her friendship with the others and her status in the group. And then the novel takes well, a bit of a surprising turn when, desperate to escape all the drama that is happening at home (and there is a bit of it,) Bianca initiates a friends-with-benefits relationship with Wesley that he seems a little bit too happy to be going along with. Over the course of the novel, Bianca learns a few important life lessons about facing up to her personal responsibilities and also that labels (such as the DUFF,) are false and not worth paying attention to. 

While The Duff has been enjoyed by many readers, this one did not work quite so well for me. I suppose some of this may be a generational thing--back in my day when teenagers used to ride on a pterodactyl down to the local library or bookshop instead of a bus, sex in YA was rather a big deal. Judy Blume's Forever was considered to be the hottest and most definitive fiction book on the subject, and often the focus was on first relationships. (The consequences of which were sometimes dire and over-the-top, such as in My Darling, My Hamburger.) That said, I don't think there is anything wrong with sex in YA, I don't think that it must always be accompanied by morals and life lessons, or that the characters *must* be in a relationship but ... (cue grumpy thirty-something,) I was surprised by just how flippantly sex was treated in this book. There is nothing graphic in there (not that I would be offended if there had been,) but something about the way the characters regarded their sexual lives at age seventeen seemed a bit off-kilter to me. Bianca claims that she feels empowered to be intimate with a boy who she cannot stand, and states that she is doing so to escape from her problems, but her reasoning and the complications of her doing so are never really explored in a way that has any real substance. It is just something that Bianca does, which eventually leads her to an unlikely romance. Wesley's bullying of Bianca, labelling her "The DUFF" is never properly explored either--was Wesley attracted to Bianca all along and teasing her, or did he really think that?

Anyway, there are some interesting thoughts on how labels can and do affect people and that people cannot run away from their problems forever. And lets not forget that this was the debut novel from an author who was still in her teens--how many people could have written a book and beaten the odds to have it published at that age, and then had it become a best seller? The answer is, not many. So much respect for that.

Although I did not enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to, I can see why many readers did and why it would make an appealing teen movie.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Writers on Wednesday: Avril Sabine

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I'm chatting with Australian author, Avril Sabine ...

Tell us a bit about yourself …

I've been writing since before I started school and making up stories even before I could write. From the very first book I read, I knew I wanted to be an author. And no matter what has happened in life, I've always written stories. There have been times when life has been far too busy, but even if it meant going without sleep I've continued to write.

Tell us about your most recently published, or about to be published, book?

My most recently published book is part of a five book series, Dragon Blood. It's a young adult urban fantasy set between Queensland, Australia and a dragon world. Amber stumbles upon a dragon race that has the ability to take human form. She's thrust into a world of warriors, assassins, clans and survival of the fittest.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

I actually published four novels all at once. Elf Sight, Dragon Lord, Through Your Eyes and Demon Hunters 1: Blood Sacrifice. They are in different genres with Dragon Lord aimed at children while the rest are young adult. I tend to mostly write fantasy or urban fantasy, but I do enjoy writing other genres. Such as horror, contemporary, paranormal, fairytales, post apocalyptic and thrillers. I guess I just love to write.

As a writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?

My proudest achievement would have to be the first time I finished a novel. You could call it my first major step on the path I chose to take. It was probably more like a novella in size, but I was twelve years old. Reaching 'The End' of a novel for the very first time was pretty amazing. It took me the entire year and there were moments when I wasn't sure I'd reach the last page, but when I did I felt like I'd climbed Everest. After that, I wrote at least one novel a year all through my teens, sometimes more.

What books or writing projects are you currently working on, if anything?

I always chuckle when people ask me what I'm working on, because I know they're going to get a glazed expression in their eyes when I start listing everything. I don't work on a single novel at a time. I'll write a first draft, set it aside and work on edits for another one. On average, I have anywhere up to twelve books I'm working on. Occasionally more. This gives me a chance to take a break and come back to each of them with a fresh eye in between each edit. One of the books I'm working on is my fourth Demon Hunters novel, which will be out in 2016. There are others that will be finished well before then, including another Fairytales Retold, a children's urban fantasy and a couple of short stories.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I can write anywhere and often do. It doesn't have to be quiet. I've even started writing at an extremely noisy party because a scene came clearly to mind and I wanted to get every single word down. I've written while a passenger in a car, on a plane, at the beach, in bed, on the couch, outside, on a treadmill, at shops, sitting on a swing at the park and using a voice to text program while doing the housework. And yes, I do use a desk sometimes.

Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why?

I actually love both. I have bookcases full of books. Nearly every room in the house has a bookcase, or several, except the bathroom because all that moisture isn't very good for the paper. I've got books from when I was a child, from when my parents were children and from when my own kids were little. Fiction, nonfiction, magazines, comics. An eclectic mixture of subjects and genres. And I love every single one of them and know I will buy more even though it's an effort finding space for each new book. But, I also love my ebook reader. I've had a few over the years. I love how light it is and how many books I can take with me when I go anywhere and that I can even read articles on it. It's good to use outside on a windy day and not have to fight to keep the pages in place as well as being just the right size to fit in a handbag. I know I've already mentioned it, but it's worth repeating. Ebook readers are amazing because I can carry an entire library with me wherever I go!

Aside from your own books, of course, what is one book that you feel everybody should read?

One book? Seriously? You expect me to be able to choose only one? But that's impossible. How can I choose only one? Maybe one of Scott Westerfeld's books. No, I know, one of Anne McCaffrey's books, or maybe Richelle Mead, or Cassandra Clare or J.K. Rowling, or… oh dear. Maybe I'll just have to draw a name out of a hat because I don't think there's any way I can possibly choose just one favourite author let alone a favourite book.

Finally … is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?

I'm looking forward to visiting your city. I don't know when, but I'll get there eventually. So I need lots of suggestions of places I must see when I get there. Interesting places that tourists don't usually get to see. Places that the locals know and love. They're the kind of places I love to see when I travel. So leave me a message on Facebook or email me and suggest some great places for me to visit.


On my website you'll find links to all my books, my release schedule and blog. You can also sign up to my newsletter to be kept informed about new releases, current projects, exclusive news, blog posts and more.

Book One In My Dragon Blood Series:

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Review: Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth by V.C. Andrews

Many, many readers will no doubt be familiar with Flowers in the Attic, the iconic gothic story by V.C. Andrews about the four Dollanganger children who were locked in their grandparents attic and slowly poisoned so that their mother could gain her inheritance. But what if Flowers in the Attic and its sequels never told the full story? That is the surprising premise of The Diaries a spin-off/companion series to Flowers in the Attic written by prolific pulp/horror novelist Andrew Neiderman, who in addition to releasing a large number of novels under his own name, has worked as ghostwriter releasing books under the V.C. Andrews name since the author (whose real name is Cleo Virginia Andrews, and who is usually published as Virginia Andrews in Australia*,) died of cancer in 1986. Initially, Neiderman was brought in to finish off the remaining books in the Casteel series, and Garden of Shadows, a prequel to Flowers in the Attic told from the perspective of Olivia Foxworth, the children's cruel grandmother. However, the novels proved so successful, (and the name V.C. Andrews so profitable,) that Neiderman continued to create new novels and series, inspired by V.C. Andrews genius, of which there is now more than sixty, covering a range of topics, from family sagas, to vampires, many of them varying in degrees of quality and shock value. Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth and its sequels are, perhaps, the most risky and ambitious venture to date.

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth opens with Kristen Masterwood an attractive young women (who has, it must be noted blonde hair cerulean blue eyes--fans of Flowers in the Attic will immediately get the reference,) who is a distant relative of the Foxworth clan through her mother who died when Kristen was quite young. The novel is set in modern day, picking up several years after Seeds of Yesterday (the final sequel to Flowers in the Attic, penned by the real V.C. Andrews,) left off. Foxworth Hall has burned down a second time and its owner, Bart Foxworth, who is described as distant and eccentric and who (disappointingly for me,) does not appear as a character in the book, is keen to sell the property and rid the family of it once and for all. There is no mention of the other members of Bart's family--half brother Jory, Jory's wife Toni, and Jory's children, twins Darren and Deirdre or the child that Jory was expecting with Toni at the end of Seeds of Yesterday. Bart's hated adopted sister Cindy, with whom he found forgiveness and who, it is hinted, may have become his significant other at the end of Seeds of Yesterday is also conspicuous by her absence. As a reader and longtime fan of the series, I found this massively disappointing. (I have always been a fan of the possibility of a relationship between Bart and Cindy, but, ultimately, I suppose, I'm a fan. A reader. I'm not the one who is telling this story.) Anyway, Kristen knows that she is distantly connected to the Foxworth clan and is intrigued by this connection. The only difficulty is that her mother has long since passed away and cannot reveal any information to Kristen about the connection and that her father is unwilling to talk about it. By coincidence, however, Kristen's father works in the construction industry and is an important part of the team that has been contracted to demolish what remains of Foxworth Hall. Kristen visits the site along with her father one day and there she makes a surprise find. Inside a tin that has miraculously survived two fires is a diary that belongs to none other that Christopher Dollanganger Junior, detailing his time locked inside the attic ...

From there, the novel works in duel narratives, going between sections of Christopher's diary and detailing Kristen's day to day life--which mostly consists of her blossoming romance with Kane, a wealthy and popular boy from her school who is also a bit intrigued by Foxworth Hall. We also see the effect that the story has on Kristen, she becomes quite caught up in it and desperate to know more, which is not unlike the effect that Flowers in the Attic had on me when I first read it as a fifteen year old, after finding a cheap paperback version at Kmart during the school holidays. Unfortunately, Kristen's life story is quite underwhelming--her romance with Kane is a little dull and the reader never does learn anything more about her connection to the Foxworth clan. Christopher's diary entries are very straightforward and lacked the drama of the original narrative in Flowers in the Attic. And while, obviously, no two people remember the same event in the same way, one of the most endearing elements of Flowers in the Attic has always been that it read like a gothic fairytale. This is true of all of the works by the real V.C. Andrews--one of her gifts was that of creating a world that was just like ours, but was also just a little bit darker and a little bit different. Consequently, her stories have a certain level of timelessness about them (a theme that she played on quite a bit in My Sweet Audrina,) for example--although Seeds of Yesterday was set in the late 1990s, it was published in 1984 and its depictions of the era are more or less authentic, due to the fact that she doesn't make a lot of references to fashion, technology or celebrities. By contrast, Neiderman's work has a more real world feel to it, and it lacks a certain level of darkness and melodrama. Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth is set in the real world and brings a real life quality to the story. It also subtly tears down the fairytale elements of Flowers in the Attic with Christopher writing off most of Cathy's behaviour as melodramatic and childish. 

In other words, it is painfully obvious that these two novels are written by very different authors.

I found Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth to be an entertaining exploration of how the events of Flowers in the Attic may have been experienced by Cathy's older brother, and I loved the memories that it brought up of the first time that I read Flowers in the Attic. As a strand alone novel it is enjoyable enough. However, it falls sadly short of the novel that inspired it, there are a couple of inconsistencies (Christopher Dollanganger Senior's own career ambitions are one example,)  and it asks far more questions than it answers. (Actually, I don't think it answers any questions.) Writing a sequel and getting everything right is a very tough gig, especially when the original book a very famous one and is not your own, so it is difficult for me to not like this book, especially when it stirred up so many memories. In a funny way, I did quite like it and enjoy it, and it probably is the closest that I am ever going to get to re-living the first time that I read Flowers in the Attic. So kudos to ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman for that. 

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth is, ultimately, an unlikely spin-off of the original that is probably going to be of limited interested to anyone who is not already familiar with the book that inspired it. Recommended, but proceed with caution. 

*Some titles published between 1990-2006 credit the author as V.C. Andrews. All other titles and reissues credit the author as Virginia Andrews.  

Monday, 30 March 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Trotman's Anchor, Moseley Square
This week's picture is of the distinctive anchor that sits in Glenelg's iconic Moseley Square. As well as providing some history and light shade, the anchor was apparently salvaged from the Glenelg foreshore many years ago. It's also a popular with kids who like to play on and around it.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Giveaway: Poison Ivy by Kathryn White

Fun. Friendship. Drama. Free books.

To celebrate the release of my latest novel, Poison Ivy, I have a couple of print copies of the book to give away to some lucky readers. For those of you who are not familiar with my book, the blurb reads:

Don't get me wrong. I wanted to tell you a nice story. But the truth is, life is not like that...

Ivy Brett-Masters has always been a bit of a prankster. But when an act of revenge goes wrong, fashion model Ivy finds herself in a lot of trouble. She might even go to jail.

Poison Ivy is not just a story about that. This is a story about family. About friendship. About loyalty. About HIV. About sexuality. Most of all it is a story about a young woman finding the courage to accept herself.

Entry is via the rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway