Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: Amnesia by Peter Carey

Australian author Peter Carey's latest novel is an interesting take on personal freedom, Australian history and the sometimes uneasy diplomatic relationship that Australia has with America, all written in the authors trademark smart-arsed style, the kind that makes readers either love or loathe this particular author. At the opening of Amnesia young woman from Melbourne, Gaby Baillieux has unleashed a worm into the computerised control system of a number of prisons in Australia, the United States and in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, in Sydney, left wing journalist Felix Moore is being sued for libel for reporting on a rumour. The pair soon come together in the most surprising and perhaps ironic of ways--after Felix is more or less kidnapped and held to ransom until he agrees to write a biography of Gaby Bailliex that will help her win the sympathy of the Australian public (thus decreasing her chances of being extradited to the United States.) 

Throughout the narrative Carey retells parts of Australian history that have been forgotten--parts of our collective amnesia--such as the Battle of Brisbane and former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's relationship with the CIA shortly before his infamous sacking in 1975. (Did the CIA really get rid of Gough? This is a conspiracy theory that I have heard many times, though it was never mentioned when I learned about the constitutional crisis of 1975 in high school ...) It is fitting that these forgotten parts of Australian history are mentioned in Amnesia as each of these events are somehow connected with Gaby Bailliex and her family history. Bailliex herself is a complex character, a young woman who seems to want desperately to be seen making a stand and doing something proactive against things that she believes to be wrong.

I enjoyed reading Amnesia. Although it probably sounds like a cop-out by someone who is unwilling try a little bit harder (and perhaps it is just that,) I strongly suspect that I am not the best or most qualified person to be offering a detailed review. It is a book, I feel, that would be immensely enjoyed by readers who has a strong grasp of Australian history and politics--including some that which is made up of our collective amnesia--and who can bring that prior knowledge with them to the book. 

Or maybe in a funny way that is the point--to illustrate how much of Australian history remains unknown to its citizens.

Thank you to Penguin Books Australia and The Reading Room for my review copy.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Q&A With Ellie O'Neill author of Reluctantly Charmed

Today is my stop on the Reluctantly Charmed blog tour and to celebrate, I'm chatting with author Ellie O'Neill about her debut novel, Irish Folklore and a few other things besides ...

Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, Reluctantly Charmed. Can you tell me a bit about your journey toward publication? Is writing a novel something that you have always wanted to do?

Yes, definitely.  I had that unscratchable itch that people talk about. I tried hard to develop my voice over the years by writing a lot of short stories and studying and dissecting books that I’d read and loved.  When I got the idea for Reluctantly Charmed I did something that I probably wouldn’t recommend to other aspiring writers, but at the time I felt like I’d nothing to lose, I was single, free and it was pre-recession.  I quit my job in London where I was working in advertising, and moved back home with my parents in Dublin.  I worked part time in a newsagents and focussed 100% on writing.  It was a real privilege to be able to do that, and I’ve my parents to thank for it (hence the book dedication).  It’s as difficult to get published as it is to write a book, although I secretly thought that I might be one of those overnight success stories, I wasn’t.  Getting an agent was a long trawl.  I was swimming in a sea of rejections for a long time, which is difficult to take.  Reluctantly Charmed had become my baby, and it’s hard to hear someone say that your perfect baby isn’t attractive to them.  I toughened up, and often with a rejection can come a critique, and now and again there was some truth to the criticism (as difficult as that was to hear) so I found myself rewriting and redrafting.  I went through two agents in the northern hemisphere, I was delighted to be accepted but then found that there was jarring of opinions on the direction of the book.  I had to stick to my guns, I was confident that the story could be told my way somehow.  I had moved to Australia (that’s a whole other story involving horses, a walk across Spain and a gorgeous man) and Reluctantly Charmed hit a plateau.  It didn’t seem like it would ever get published.  It was very disheartening.  And then out of the blue, came an email from an agent in Melbourne, Jacinta di Mase, who had read a version a year before, and loved it, and was wondering why she hadn’t seen it on book shelves (so was I) I signed immediately.  And Jacinta worked her magic and in the space of five weeks she had publishers vying for it.  It was surreal.  I think timing, luck, a good agent and many rewrites have finally got me to publication day.

Fairies and Irish folklore are major themes in Reluctantly
Charmed. Did you have a lot of fun doing the research for the book?

I did.  So many folklore stories are funny and just a little bit crazy.  They’re really entertaining.  I was also really surprised at some of the modern day fairy stories that I came across, like a motorway build in the 90’s in the west of Ireland being diverted because of a fairy bush.  And once I let people know what I was researching I was told a lot of funny stories too about grandparents and fairy rings, and curses.  It’s all told with a wink and a laugh. 

Was it fun coming up with each of the seven steps that Kate has to publish to receive her inheritance?

Yes definitely.  My sister helped me with them, she’s a gifted wordsmith.  They’re very much inspired by Yeats and his poetry, and the beautiful world that he creates.  It was important that the steps were a glimpse into the fairy world, they had to feel intimate and secretive.  Also I wanted to convey the duplicity of the fairies, they’re great fun but can be frighteningly evil too.

What soon became obvious to me, as a reader, were the many differences between Kate and the first Kate McDaid aka the Red Hag. In what ways are the two women similar?

They’re not really.  I think their childhoods were similar, very free and easy, but then the Red Hag got taken by the fairies and her life spun out of control from then on, she made her own choices.  And I think Kate has learned from her mistakes. 

Initially, Hugh seems like quite an unlikely love interest for Kate and some of their early encounters are quite amusing. Did you have fun coming up with Hugh’s character and in what ways do you think that he is a better match than say, Matthew or Jim?

I love Hugh.  He’s all man.  He is where Kate belongs, even though she doesn’t know it initially.  His love of nature, his affinity with animals, Kate doesn’t realise it at the beginning but this is her natural connection to the world too, and that’s part of her initial attraction to Hugh.  That and he’s gorgeous.  Jim belongs to her past, the city life, materialistic and superficial, the depth of emotions were never there for him that she can have with Hugh.  I’m very fond of Matthew, I thought it was important for Kate to have a straight male friend to give her a different opinion on things, and interestingly Matthew is not as cynical about the fairies as Kate is.  He’s intrigued by them.  I never wanted a romantic relationship between them, he was always a sounding board and a confidant.  And I hate the idea that men and women can’t be friends, of course they can!

Aside from writing, what are some of your hobbies and interests?

I love movies.  My perfect day is two good movies back to back in the cinema with popcorn refills.  I’ll watch pretty much anything, love an action flick, rom com, thriller.  I just love movies. 

What are your plans for the future? (In other words, are there any upcoming novels for me to look forward to?)

There is.  I’m working on another book at the moment, which I’m really excited about.  It’s only beginning to take shape so I can’t tell you much about it!

Finally, this one is a signature question that appears on many the author interviews on my blog … Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?

I really hope that you enjoy Reluctantly Charmed, I’d love to hear from you if you do.  And I hope that Reluctantly Charmed takes me to Adelaide to meet face to face with readers and to chat about life and love and everything inbetween.

Thank you very much for stopping by Kathryn's Inbox, Ellie. I loved your answers as I am sure that many people who are reading this will too. We would love to see you in Adelaide one day. Reluctantly Charmed is available from all good book retailers ...

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

Shopaholic to the Stars is the seventh novel in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. By now, fans of the warm-hearted Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) know what to expect and author Kinsella delivers on the laughs and unlikely situations as she pokes gentle fun at modern life and first world problems. This time around, Becky finds herself in Hollywood while her husband Luke works with a new client, actress Sage Seymour. Soon, Becky finds herself bitten by the celebrity bug and has her sights set on a new career as a celebrity stylist. But things in Hollywood are not always as lovely as they seem ...

As previously stated, this one is the seventh novel in a series. The Shopaholic series has been around a long time--in fact I was in my teens when I read the original, The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic and have even written a nostalgia post on the book on my blog. The novel was so successful it spawned several sequels that chronicled Becky's life of the course of about five years as she developed from a ditzy university graduate to a wife and mother. Along the way, she discovered that she had a long-lost half sister and had a number of unpredictable adventures that almost always involved her spending money and finding unusual ways to recoup any lost funds. In 2009 the first two books were made into a Hollywood feature film that, apart from the names of a number of key characters, had very little to do with the books. (The film, for example, was set entirely in New York and Becky was portrayed as American, rather than British and the backgrounds and careers of many major characters was altered.) Shortly after the film was released, a sixth novel came out, titled Mini Shopaholic. A little thin on plot and with some twists that were more unbelievable than funny (Becky and Luke's disastrous attempts to buy a house for example,) one thing was obvious. The magic of the earlier novels was gone. So where does the seventh novel sit?

Shopaholic to the Stars is a better novel than its predecessor. While it is a not a great novel in its own right, it does have some fun moments. There is no real character development--mostly the comedy comes from Becky being ditzy, Luke being stuffy and slightly disinterested and a number of side characters such as Suze and Tarquin having their own adventures. Alicia Bitch Long Legs makes an unwelcome reappearance and this is the first book in the series to end on a cliffhanger--it looks as though there will be a sequel set in Las Vegas. 

Fun, light reading for Shopaholic fans, though anyone expecting the magic of the earlier novels may feel a little short changed. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's first Young Adult novel is a bittersweet tale of depression, memory and self deception, combined with a little bit of magical realism and some fitting references to Sylvia Plath. The novel opens with Jamicia 'Jam' Gallahue, a teenager who has shut herself down emotionally after the death of her boyfriend, being sent to a boarding school for kids with special needs. At the school, Jam is chosen for a special and exclusive English class along with four other students, where they will be studying Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The choice of The Bell Jar is totally appropriate as all students in this class have closed themselves off emotionally. However, when their teacher asks the students to keep a journal, it becomes clear that this truly is an extraordinary class. Through their journals, the students are each taken back to the moments directly before their lives took a strange turn. Together the students meet to talk of their experiences and a strange bond is formed that helps them to heal. But the real twist in the story is yet to come ... and it certainly is a surprising one. 

Belzhar was a quick read. The themes of love, loss and, ultimately, acceptance were easy to relate to and are totally appropriate for the teenage target audience. I enjoyed the twist at the end and found myself nodding my head at Jam's predicament--although her situation was extreme, I think we have all had moments when we would rather not see or hear obvious truths. Although I felt that the novel could have been longer and gone a bit more into the stories of Jam's classmates, I did enjoy it as it was. Recommended. 

Big shout out and thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my review copy. Thanks!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Writers On Wednesday: Rachel Amphlett

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week, I am chatting with the very talented romantic suspense author, Rachel Amphlett ...

Tell us a bit about yourself …

I’m originally from the UK, and we moved over here in 2005 to the northern suburbs of Brisbane. We got our citizenship in 2010, and we’re currently renovating a house in our spare (!) time. In the past, I’ve helped run a pub, dabbled in radio, been a TV/film extra (including a James Bond film!) and worked in the UK publishing industry as a sub-editor.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

Before Nightfall is a story about a woman, Kate Foster, who takes on a new job for an international electronics organisation with defence connections, only to be kidnapped and held for ransom six months into her new role. She has to try and recall everything she was taught during a pre-deployment hostage training course – one which she almost failed.
Finn Scott, her instructor six months ago, is tasked with finding Kate, but he’s got demons of his own to deal with, and time is running out for them both.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

When I was testing the water confidence-wise with my writing, I undertook a six-week online creative writing course through the Australian Author’s Marketplace. At the end of that, I began to send stories away for competitions and anthology submissions. Back then, I was writing speculative fiction (which I still have a soft spot for), and I was over the moon when AusSF, an online anthology of spec fic flash fiction picked up one of my stories and published it. That and a few other successes with short stories gave me the confidence to try my hand at a full-length novel, which became my first thriller, White Gold.

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

Every little step forward makes me proud. I really didn’t expect the sort of success I’m seeing after only three years, to be honest – I just set out to write because I had to. I needed to get the ideas that were going around in my head onto paper.

I think one moment that will always stay with me was being invited by Sisters in Crime to read an extract from my first novel, White Gold, at the book launch for Stella Rimington’s book The Geneva Trap here in Brisbane in 2009. To be able to spend time and talk with the ex-Director of MI5 and have her share my enthusiasm for storytelling was amazing.

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

I’ve got a political thriller parked at the moment while I’m working on a romantic suspense. I tend to bounce between the two, which sounds like madness but actually works really well because if I can’t make the words flow on one, I go and work on the other.

The idea is to release them both in 2015 so I can then get my head down to research and write the third in the Dan Taylor series of thrillers.

On top of that, I’m targeting the two weeks over Christmas to develop my first screenplay.

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

Both – I tend to buy my favourite authors’ books as paperback and everything else as eBook. EBooks make it so much easier for holidays too, don’t they? I remember going to Cuba 10 years ago – we had one suitcase for books, and the other for clothes. It was ridiculous.

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

Both. I’m a huge fan of the hybrid publishing model – yes, I’m independent but I’ve got a great amount of respect for the traditional publishing industry as well. I think as long as we’re telling good stories and getting people to read, that’s all that matters.

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

For non-fiction, I’m going to have to go with Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s one of those craft books you can go back to time and time again and discover something new that you can apply to your own work.

Fiction-wise (this is a tough question!), I’m going to recommend Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed. It’s what got me into the thriller genre as a teenager.

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

*Waves* I love Adelaide – I was last there about 4 years ago for the Tour Down Under. I like the way you can jump on a tram and be in Glenelg within 20 minutes or so.

We very nearly ended up in South Australia as only that State and Queensland were offering the type of visa we emigrated out here with. Sadly, it was the cold weather in winter that kept us away, but you do have some wonderful scenery around there, so, to quote Arnie, I’ll be back!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Bicycle park, anyone? I've noticed these awesome little bicycle parks popping up around Adelaide and Glenelg in recent times. Taking up one single car parking bay, these racks can fit several bikes and are undoubtedly there to encourage commuters to cycle around the city and suburbs.