Thursday, 15 August 2019

Review: The Silhouette Girl by V.C. Andrews

The unreliable narrator genre gets the V.C. Andrews treatment in The Silhouette Girl, a lacklustre and slightly crude tale of a nurse who is being stalked by someone who identifies herself only as Scarletta. Pru Dunning is, a successful nurse who is living and working in LA. The future looks bright--Pru is good at her job and well-liked by her patients. She is forming a serious relationship with a lawyer whom she met on the job and has no reason to be unhappy ... but for the fact that she keeps receiving creepy answering machine messages from someone called Scarletta who seems to know far too many of Pru's secrets.

Turn to the second chapter and we meet stalker Scarletta as a teen, a poor little rich girl, with a domineering mother whose boorish ways make Scarletta and her father a laughingstock around town. Scarletta's story mostly revolves around her mother's sudden departure and her father's creepy behaviour. The story arc is typical VCA ghostwriter fodder, with long and dull depictions of a smothering, upper middle-class parent whose sole purpose is to make life harder for the main character and to make herself and everyone around her look, quite frankly, like complete fucking morons. Thanks to her mother, Scarletta is unnecessarily humiliated at school. (And what the fuck is it with VCA characters being unpopular and teased at school. Sure it worked in Dark Angel, and it made for a very creepy subplot in Petals on the Wind, but everything after that has just felt like the events of Dark Angel being regurgitated and without Heaven's infamous act of revenge.) I get that as readers, we're supposed to feel sorry for Scarletta, but honestly, I'd have a lot more sympathy for a character who actually stood up to her smother, I mean mother. Take for example, in the writings of the actual VCA, where four year old Carrie kicked and bit her domineering grandmother. Or to go further afield, take for example in Roald Dahl's Matilda the tricks the titular character plays on the adults who make her life a misery. Those moments satisfy the reader's appetite for justice, while encouraging them to read on. After all, it's far more fun to read about a character who stands up for herself, and is cunning enough to set traps for those who hurt her. 

Meanwhile, Pru has problems of her own, first with her stalker and then with a creepy ex patient who does creepy things to her. Creepy things that she just sort of brushes aside, as though date rape is something that happens and she just has to deal with on her own. Meanwhile, her relationship with lawyer Chandler is becoming more and more serious, which is fortunate for her, seeing as she is going to need him to help clean up when all the shit that has been stirring eventually hits the fan. Which it does ... in a fairly underwhelming way.

There is also very little in the way of closure at the end of the novel, and if not for a note in the back explaining about certain medical issues, I probably would have been left guessing as to what was going on. There is also a little swearing within the narrative, which I was not offended by, but I did find surprising, given that the novels are usually fairly clean in that respect.

As for the writing itself, most of it feels as though it is full of padding and offers what is, quite frankly, an extremely unrealistic portrayal of what it means to be either a young woman living and working in a big city, or a teenager growing up in the early twenty-first century. Parts of the novel are unnecessarily crude, which, unfortunately seems to be a recurring theme in the ghostwriters work. I've noticed this many times before in previous V.C. Andrews titles that are written by the ghostwriter--teenage sexual development is never handled with any kind of sensitivity or tact, and is often used as a vehicle for shock or gross out value. In this instance, we have Scarletta being pestered by a girl in her class to come to a private party, where the intent is for the two girls to hook up with two boys from their class. The party never eventuates, but much of the narrative is spent depicting Jackie's crude sexual comments, ones which are neither amusing nor realistic. Running alongside this is the subplot about Scarletta's father and his crazy pedophile fetish that involves nightgowns, one which echo that of Tony Tatterton in the Casteel saga. Or at least the ghostwriter version of Tony Tatterton. VCA never mentioned a nightgown in Dark Angel and it is hinted at that Heaven Casteel was conceived in Tatterton's study.

At this point in time, I think the real mystery is why I keep reading these novels. Certainly, the magic of V.C. Andrews work, gothic romances set in the second half of the twentieth century that always somehow featured strong and resourceful adolescents who were in dire circumstances, disappeared long ago, at about the point in time when the name of the author (who passed away from breast cancer in 1986,) became a franchise, with novels written by a ghostwriter and their plots adapted to suit whatever happened to be current trend. When Twilight was popular, we got a Vampire themed VCA novel. When mini-series were popular, we got three mini-series.  When a series of TV movies were made based on the Dollanganger Saga, we got a series of spin-off Dollanganger novels. It's a far cry from the days when V.C. Andrews was considered to be the leading writer of contemporary gothic novels.

And with a new series of prequels to Flowers in the Attic to be released later this month, I have no idea when or how this is going to end. Certainly, the preview to Beneath the Attic that is currently available on Amazon does not look promising, and nor do a number of the early reviews.

Considering the poor writing, it is doubtful that The Silhouette Girl would have even been published if it were not for the name on the front cover--a name that belongs to a woman who died more than thirty years ago but whose legacy has been spoiled by a market saturated with second rate and trashy novels.

Not recommended.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Review: After by Anna Todd

Sometimes, it can be the strangest ideas that have the biggest impact.

Some years ago, One Direction fan, Anna Todd, became intrigued by a particular type of One Direction fan art that started popping up on the internet, art which, bizarrely, gave the mostly clean cut band members a punk makeover. Todd decided to take the concept a step further, and turned to Wattpad, where she began to publish a One Direction Fan Fiction that starred Harry Styles as a tattooed bad boy who was attending college in the United States, where he encounters Tessa, a sweet and innocent young woman who is away from home for the first time.

The result? Todd's story racked up more than a billion hits, making it the most successful story to ever appear on Wattpad. An offer of publication--with the names of the band members changed--was made by Simon and Schuster. 

The result of that?

A five book series, a two-book spin off and plenty of weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. And, of course, a movie deal. (After was released in the United States earlier this year, and in Australia in July.)

A few years ago, I read after and reviewed it on this blog, dismissing it as more rubbish that had been published in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey. And, fair enough, its faults are many. The writing is a long, long way from perfect. And Hardin, as the male lead is now known, is a complete arsehole, Tessa is a fool to be with him and that twist at the end is just cruel. For a long time now, I've wondered why on earth this book was so popular.

And so, when I found a film-tie edition going cheap, I decided to revisit it. 

This is what I discovered.

After isn't a perfect book. However, there is something strangely addictive about this story, about sweet and innocent Tessa who wants so desperately to break free from her controlling mother, only to find herself at the whims of a bad boy. The relationship is toxic. Hardin is an emotional abuser. But there is something about the main character's innocence that feels a little bit relatable. The narrative doesn't require much thought--most of the characters are pretty flat, from bad girls Steph and Molly to nice guy Landon and Noah, the clean cut boyfriend from home that Tessa doesn't really love. But the story is also entertaining, easy to follow and it takes readers on one hell of an emotional roller-coaster as we wonder what is in store for this unlikely and toxic relationship. It's one of those things that I would hate to see played out in real life, but as far as a book with cliffhanger chapters goes, it's bloody entertaining. And that scene at the lake is smoking hot.

After was a story made up of many things that I should have objected to. But, as I said at the beginning of this review, sometimes it can be the strangest ideas that have the most impact. And that theory certainly holds true when it comes to this book.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Friday Funnies (Providing You With the Worst and Occasionally the Best Memes and Comics From the Web)

Title of post says all.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Review: Storytime by Jane Sullivan

Literary Journalist Jane Sullivan (who you may know from the Turning Pages column in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald,) spent much her childhood immersed in books. Now, many years later, she has decided to revisit those years and the many books that she read in Storytime, and take a look at how they shaped her to become the adult--and reader--that she is today.

One part memoir and one part literary criticism, this one was an enjoyable read. Full of nostalgia, the volume includes short essays from prominent Australian writers on their favourite books. The author holds nothing back as she admits to the many misconceptions that she made about the books that she read during her formative years. On a more personal level, I was very keen to see how many of the same books I had read as the author. The answer to that question, as it turned out, was not many, though much could be owed to the fact that I grew up in a different era, in an entirely different country. 

Although this one is an enjoyable read and offers a good dose of literary criticism, along with some interesting tidbits (I knew nothing of Lewis Carroll's uh, reputation,) this volume does feel a little self-indulgent in places and the author isn't necessarily kind to all of the books and authors she revisits. However, that particular failing is easy to overlook when examining this unique and honest book as a whole. 


Thank you to Ventura Press for my review copy.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobson, or Q to his friends, is about to graduate from high school. The path of his life looks pretty set--he'll go to college--but his life derails slightly when Margo Roth Spiegelman the cute and charismatic girl from next door breaks into his bedroom window and takes him on an adventure that is fun and unpredictable. And then Margo disappears.

Over the next few weeks, Q, with the help of his friends, begins to put together the clues as to what may have happened to Margo. And there are certainly plenty of them. (This isn't the first time that Margo has disappeared, nor is it the first time that she has left clues behind.) Along the way, Q makes some important discoveries and soon begins to ask the question--how well can you really know another person, and what does your perception of them say about you?

This one starts out fun, gets a little slow in the middle and then moves toward an unconventional but ultimately satisfying ending. (I didn't find the skipping graduation part particularly fair, or believable, but hey it's a book and it made for some highly entertaining moments as Q and his friends travel toward New York.) Prior to reading this book, I'd never heard of the concept of paper towns, though I found them quite amusing and fitting with the theme of the novel. Like all of John Green's work, there is a good balance between quirkiness and some more darker and realistic themes.


Friday, 26 July 2019

Friday Funnies (Providing You With the Worst & Occasionally the Best Comics & Memes From the Web)