Sunday, 29 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Bloody Well Stop Insulting My Intelligence

Okay. I've snapped. Actually, many regular visitors to this blog might well argue that I snapped long ago and they may very well be right. The truth is, the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena has never sat well with me and it probably never well. Anyway, the reason for my latest burst of anger on the subject has come from a shopping trip this afternoon at a popular shopping centre in the southern suburbs. Now, silly me though that it might be nice to walk to the bookstore and browse the new releases. And what do I get? This:

Fifty Shades of Grey. Three bays, filled from top to bottom with copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. And yes, that bottom poster on the right is also advertising Fifty Shades of Grey. All other new and popular releases by talented and well-respected authors such as Stephen King, Penny Vincenzi and Richelle Mead that would normally occupy this section of bookstore have been pushed a little further back inside the store. Now, don't get me wrong. First of all, I don't mind taking a couple of extra steps to find the books that I would actually like to read. I also understand completely why the store would merchandise their shelves this way. This bookstore is a business and the objective is to make money. Of course they are going to merchandise the books that are selling the most copies in the most prominent position within their store. They would be insane not to. The multiple copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels are not limited to only to bookstores. Downstairs at Big W, the merchandising is basically the same. Copies appear on a gondola close to the entrance, and typical of Big W, their display points out that their copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels are a couple of dollars cheaper than the ones being sold at Target. Inside the book department there are also copies of Destined to Play and Haven of Obedience, two novels which seem to be enjoying a greater degree of success thanks to the popularity of Fifty Shades. (For more on Destined to Play, you can read my review here.)

Anyway, all of this leads to one important question. Why the hell are these books so popular?

To recap my own thoughts on Fifty Shades, Ana is a dull heroine who allows herself to be bullied by a  spectacularly good looking and rich control freak, occasionally making a few shallow attempts at standing up to him along the way. But because Ana loves him, he changes and they live happily ever after. Oh, and there are numerous kinky sex scenes, a few of which take place inside Christian's 'Red Room of Pain'. It's all mindless drivel, but the publisher is marketing the books as liberating, because apparently, all women find freedom by being repeatedly sexually abused and denied the right to make basic decisions about their lives </end sarcasm>. 

The widespread popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has led to numerous articles in magazines, newspapers and online where various experts offer their views on the phenomenon. The most commonly held view is that the books have introduced women to erotic romance and that it is basically the female equivalent to porn. It's erotica written by women, for women. Women don't really want this kind of relationship in real life, an article in the August issue of the Australian Women's Weekly claims, but they might like to fantasize about one. Then there is the fact that between all of the ahem, kinky fuckery, in the book, there is an actual love story. The covers of the novels are fairly discreet, relying on symbolism rather than graphic images which have previously adorned the covers of erotic novels. (Read more here.) 

So why does this bother me?

Let me digress. When I was in my early 20s, I started buying Cosmopolitan magazine every month. Cosmopolitan was great. There was fashion, celebrities and a lot of useful advice. Thanks to this magazine, I could learn what to wear, how to behave, find my ideal man and how to solve problems that I didn't even know I had. After a while, my self-esteem began to decrease. No matter what I did, I could never transform myself into the perfect female, the one who was going to have a high flying career, find my soulmate and look hot in a bikini. Every month, I was basically being sold the idea that my life was shit, but hey, this magazine would fix everything! Until the next issue came out and I would have to start again. I eventually stopped buying the magazine and low and behold, my life suddenly improved. I no longer had this massive drive to look and act like an idealized version of femininity. In fact, I've found that I rather enjoy wearing Doc Martin boots in favour of high heels, my favourite t-shirt has a pair of identical frog cakes on the front and I love Levis branded jeans. I wear fuck all make-up, have a strange sense of humour and enjoy discussing literature and the arts with my family and friends. In other words, I've found self-esteem and a massive amount of freedom by simply allowing myself to be just that. Myself. (And for the record, that aforementioned copy of the AWW was purchased by my mother. She loaned me the article when I mentioned this blog.)

So back to Fifty Shades. How does this relate to my experiences with a certain women's magazine? Fifty Shades is allowing women to express their sexuality. Really? Or is it just introducing them to problems they never knew they had?

Think about it.

Here is another note on the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. In my facebook news feed and on the pages of various book related groups of which I am a member, I've seen numerous updates from women stating that they have decided to read THE Fifty Shades of Grey, as if choosing to read a book is a daring, hardcore thing to do. Inevitably, someone else urges them on, someone else chimes that they have read it and loved it and another person debates whether they too should or should not read it. Are these women interested in discussing sexuality? Or are the simply reading the book because it seems daring and makes them feel a part of a special group?

I'll let you decide.

In the meantime, I've had enough of this nonsense and the constant insulting of my intelligence by claiming that this book is bold, insightful and revolutionary. Just like I retired from reading Cosmopolitan, I'm now retiring from the whole Fifty Shades phenomena. Frankly, there are better and more interesting things out there that I could be reading. And honestly, I'd rather follow my own instincts than what is currently popular. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Review: Jacaranda by Mandy Magro

Jacaranda is the perfect chill out, lift-your-spirits-on-a-bad-day read. With a strong, likable and thoroughly good heroine and a beautiful depiction of rural Australia, it is difficult not to get sucked in by this romantic read. I picked this book up on a rainy weekend when my spirits were quite low and found myself drawn in to the story of Molly Jones and her family and friends at Jacaranda Station.

Molly is a single mother in her mid-20s. She has a loving home on Jacaranda station with her grandparents and her daughter, Rose. She is secretly in love with Heath, the boyfriend of her workmate and friend Jenny who died in a tragic accident. Molly knows better than to make a move on her friends boyfriend, though Heath has other ideas. He knows that although he will always love Jenny, life must go on and that she would want him to be happy. But before he can make a move, Rose's father comes back to town, further complicating Molly's life ...

What I loved about this book was not only the beautiful, romanticised depiction of rural Australia, but the wholesomeness of the characters. Molly and Heath are strong and likable leads who often put others ahead of themselves. I found it impossible to hate Mark (the closest thing the book has to a villain), as he has his own set of problems and reasons for his roguish behaviour. Some quirky characters, such as lovable larrikin Kenny, round out the book making it a fun read.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Review: Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

In which our heroine marries her abusive boyfriend and gets herself knocked up, consequently ruining her life because she is a complete idiot. 

Okay, I confess. It actually took me two months to read the first three chapters of Fifty Shades Freed. Mostly this was because I was repeatedly distracted by books that I actually considered worthy of reading. 

Anyway, from the perspective of the plot, Fifty Shades Freed is probably about the nicest book in the trilogy. This is the one where Christian and Ana marry and an incident involving a kidnapper finally teachers Christian that he cannot control every aspect of his life. Christian makes peace with his past, he and Ana have children, blah, blah, blah ...

The same problems with bad writing, Ana's inner goddess and a talking subconscious plague the novel, along with the glamourising of abusive relationships and the gross misrepresentation of BDSM. The fact is, an abusive relationships do not have a happily-ever-after ending. Then again, 27 year olds aren't typically the CEOs of billion dollar companies, pregnancy does not guarantee marital bliss and anyone who isn't a qualified racing car driver who drives at that speed along a busy crowded highway would more than likely crash and probably kill half a dozen innocent motorists in the process. Oh, and there is some more kinky sex. Though why Ana enjoyed having her wrists tied together with her undies, I'll never know or understand. I guess I'm just not a romantic.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

An old friend of mine put me on to this clip yesterday. The author, Susan Cain, is an expert on introverts. (Good old TED talks, got to love them.) Anyway, Susan's argument is that in the modern world, introversion can often be looked upon and treated as a negative thing, despite the fact more often than not, introverts are deep thinking individuals who often have the know-how to put their creative thoughts and ideas into action.

As an introvert, I love her argument. Actually, who am I kidding? I think Susan Cain is not only a genius, but she has a lot of guts as well.

In my own experience, being an introvert is great. My friends and family admire my ability to think for myself. In fact, I'm usually the first one that the people in my circle come to for advice when they are contemplating trying or doing something for the first time. At work, my boss and co-workers will often talk to me about creative solutions for any problems at the office. All good, right? Well, no.

The thing about being an introvert is that I may be the smart, dependable one, but I'll never be the popular one. While most of the people I know are enjoying Saturday nights at the movies, sharing endless cups of coffee and tagging themselves in every city nightspot around Adelaide, I'm the one sitting at home in my pyjamas editing the html for this blog, jotting down notes for my next novel and perhaps warming milk for a cup of hot chocolate. And not only am I participating in rituals that are akin to social death, but I actually enjoy what I do. Over the years, I've become accustomed to sarcastic comments from co-workers, family and acquaintances.  Now, don't get me wrong. I do actually leave my house for purposes other than work. I do enjoy socialising. I just happen to prefer it when I'm with a small group of people who I know well, and where I can enjoy a stimulating conversation. In fact, sometimes, there is nothing more stimulating than chatting with another introvert. Introverts can say the most intelligent and interesting things. (But yes, I love the extroverts in my life too.)

In my work life, I've found that I can consistently achieve high results with mystery shoppers, generate high sales and have a sound product knowledge and the special requirements of many of our customers. Despite this, the majority of our regular customers prefer to be served by my colleagues, both of whom are very outgoing. Simply put, they just don't respond well to me.

Then there are the assumptions that introverts are miserable. In fact, a counter argument to this misconception can be seen in this wonderful clip from the television series, Daria

Here is the thing. I'm an introvert. I'm not wrong, just different.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Daria: I don't think that's how you spell 'uvula'

Funny Search Terms

On the stats page of this blog, I can see the search keywords that people use on the net that eventually directs them to this blog. Unsurprisingly, the most popular search keywords are:

Destined to Play by Indigo Bloome Review
Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James Review
1990s Nostalgia
The Sweet Life by Francine Pascal
Slam Book by Ann M. Martin

It's all nice and reflective of the type of books that I review and what is currently popular. However, more surprising are some of the other search keywords that pop up from time to time. Here are some of the stranger ones.

4. Ana Steele pubic hair gross.

Apparently, the fact that Ana Steele has pubic hair in the first two installments in the Fifty Shades trilogy has been much cause for concern and debate among some of the younger fans of the books. This makes some degree of sense, as younger fans of the series are more likely to be influenced by fashion and consider paying someone to pour hot wax on their genitals and then pull their hair out to be the correct and normal thing for all women to do. And that anyone who does not participate in such a ritual is ugly and gross. Well, young ladies, here is a few words of wisdom from your Auntie Kathryn, written in a way that you might understand. Christian Grey thought that Ana was beautiful. He did not mind that she had pubic hair, or that she did not look like a porn star or a supermodel. He did not care that she did post pictures of her breasts on her MySpace page, or that she didn't make duck faces in front of the bathroom mirror. You see, Christian thought that Ana was just beautiful as she was. He did not find her pubic hair gross at all. In fact, Christian even had pubic hair himself.

3. Hobbes, where are you?

I'm guessing this refers to a series of comics where Calvin's house is burgled and Hobbes goes missing. It's a wonder series of strips. So wonderful that I don't want to spoil the ending.

2. Capturing Angels.

Andrew Neiderman, is that you?

1. Mary-Ann Spier, first time sex.

Okay. I confess. I wrote a novelty blog post about the lovely Miss Mary Anne Spier from the Babysitters Club that contained a few silly and suggestive jokes. It never occurred to me that people might come here wondering when and where she lost her virginity. The answer is this. The Babysitters Club is a children's series. Puberty is never talked about at all, apart from the occasional mention of a bra strap. The thirteen year old protagonists never have periods and their dates never go further than holding hands or a quick peck on the cheek--which is about all their target audience of ten year olds is ready to read about. There is no sex in Stoneybrook. Ever.

Postscript 8 August 2012: We now have a new winner. Someone stopped by today searching for "Jon Arbuckle and Liz" porn. Umm, the pair star in a family friendly comic strip. Go figure.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Update: The Sweet Life by Francine Pascal

Bad news for Australian Sweet Valley fans. It appears that the latest Sweet Valley series, e-serial the Sweet Life, which chronicles the adventures of Elizabeth and Jessica as they enter their thirties, will not be released here until the 29th of July. Obviously, the next two weeks is going to be hell on the blogging/book review circuit, as I do my best to avoid any possible plot spoilers ...

(Then again, who am I kidding? The whole thing is going to revolve around the Wakefield twins breaking up and making up with their respective spouses. And expect Lila Fowler to have some kind of obnoxious, attention seeking role. And Winston Egbert ... Oh, wait they killed the guy off. Maybe he will come back from the dead, just like Olivia Davidson did in Sweet Valley University ... And I know I'm just going to love every trashy page.)

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Capturing Angels by V.C. Andrews

On August 7 a new novel baring the name V.C. Andrews on the front cover will be released on to the global eBook market. Incredibly, this is the seventieth (or thereabouts,) novel to bare the authors name to be released since 1979. What makes this fact even more remarkable is that V.C. Andrews, who is most famous for her gothic horror/romance novel Flowers in the Attic, died in 1986 having published just seven novels in her lifetime--Flowers in the Attic, Petals to the Wind, If There be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, My Sweet Audrina, Heaven and Dark Angel, while a science fiction novel titled Gods of Green Mountain would be released many years later. In the years that followed her death, more novels continued to be released, completing the Dollanganger and Casteel Sagas, Garden of Shadows, Fallen Hearts, Gates of Paradise and Web of Dreams. It was only in 1990 that her estate finally announced that the author had died and these novels had been completed based on her notes, by a carefully selected author, who was later revealed to be Andrew Neiderman, a horror writer whose most famous novel is The Devil's Advocate. Neiderman had the same agent and publisher and V.C. Andrews and was able to mimic her writing style. What was more surprising was that in their letter, the Andrews family revealed that they would continue to work with Neiderman to write additional books based on her vision. Not only has the number of additional books far exceeded anything that V.C. Andrews wrote and published in her lifetime, but the books themselves have changed considerably. Gone are the family sagas, which would chronicle a young woman's journey toward maturity in the most dire of circumstances (many of the early books read like a fractured fairytale--for example in the Casteel saga, Heaven grows up in a poor, loveless family, discovers she has rich grandparents who want to adopt her and eventually finds herself with a wealthy but loveless family,) and would conclude with a sequel about the protagonists daughter and a prequel about her mother or grandmother (the last family saga to be published was the DeBeers saga ten years ago). Also gone are the bitter and twisted family matriarchs, whose misplaced sense of sin and poor decision making would impact on the lives of their children, grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren.  Instead, the books are stand-alone or two part novels that usually feature a young protagonist and increasingly seem to include paranormal themes--Into the Darkness for example tells the story of Amber, whose first boyfriend turns out to be a ghost. There's also the rather bothersome habit that Andrew Neiderman has of referring to her novels as 'the V.C. Franchise' on the official V.C. Andrews facebook page--if these books have become a franchise, then surely they have lost their magic and original vision, of keeping the memory of a unique and talented writer alive. On the plus side, the facebook page is updated regularly and personally by Neiderman. But that is small compensation for fans, who feel that the memory of their favourite author is now being dragged through the mud, rather than celebrated.

Capturing Angels is said to be another new direction for V.C. Andrews. According to the advertising material, V.C. Andrews, queen of Gothic fiction for twenty-five years, explores a new genre in her  [sic] women’s fiction debut—available exclusively as an eBook. A young mother struggles to keep her marriage together in the wake of her daughter’s kidnapping…and to keep hope of her return alive. (Source: In other words, the ghostwriter and publisher are turning to a new format and genre in the hope of keeping people interested. Personally, I feel this is a mistake. For one, these are not the tales that the author everyone is supposedly paying tribute to liked to tell. For another diehard fans have been complaining for years now on various websites (most commonly the facebook page,) that Gods of Green Mountain is available only in eBook format and that they would like to see it in print. Many fans have complained on facebook that Capturing Angels will be in eBook format only. Not everyone has or wants an eReader and many simply want a paper copy to keep with their collection. Strangely, neither Neiderman or Simon and Schuster has done anything to address demands or concerns of longtime fans. Perhaps the wisest thing for longtime fans to do is to boycott the novel completely and remember VC Andrews by re-reading the novels that she published during her lifetime.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Review: Destined to Play by Indigo Bloome

How do you want to push boundaries?
What does that mean?
What's different this time?
What if I don't want to?
How do I know I will be okay?
Are you crazy?
Am I crazy?
- Destined to Play by Indigo Bloome

Destined to Play is not necessarily a romance novel. It is not necessarily an anti-romance novel. It is a book about a woman who is persuaded by her former lover to let go of her sexual inhibitions over the course of a weekend and start a journey of self-discovery. Dr Alexandra Drake is an intelligent, capable woman of thirty-six, who is married with two children. The sexual side of her relationship with her husband, Robert, has cooled since their children were born. Enter Jeremy, Alexandra's former lover from her youth, who proposes that they meet in Sydney one weekend, while Alexandra's husband and children are away on a survival course in the Tasmanian wilderness. After recalling some of the details of some of their wild sexual encounters, Alexandra is easily seduced by Jeremy. Then he makes a shocking proposal. Jeremy wants Alexandra to surrender her eyesight and become totally dependent on him in every sense for the next forty-eight hours ...

When I received the review copy of Destined to Play I had no idea what to expect or what the book would be like. It was for this reason that I was quite eager to read the book. I was not disappointed. As a reader, what kept me hooked was not the graphic depictions of sex, but the suspenseful element of the book. As Alexandra spent most of the novel blindfolded and unaware of her surroundings (without giving too much away, I will reveal that Jeremy tricks her on a couple of occasions,) I was pulled in as I tried to figure out where she might be and what was happening to her. It was this--and some of the very imaginative results--that kept me wanting to turn the next page and learn more. There were a few things about the story that bothered me--in particular I would have liked it if in the early parts of the novel if the author had of shown Alexandra to feel some degree of guilt in the early part of the novel and wonder how her decision to meet Jeremy again might impact on her relationship with her husband and children. Overall though, it is an interesting concept for an erotic novel and the cliffhanger ending left me wanting to know more--which is ideal considering that Destined to Play is the first in a three part series known as the Avalon trilogy. The sequels, Destined to Feel and Destined to Fly will be released later this year. Destined to Play is a sexy, fast paced novel that will no doubt enjoy some mainstream success while women's erotica (sorry, I just can't bring myself to type Mummy Porn,) remains topical. 

As previously discussed on my blog, Destined to Play will probably enjoy a large share of mainstream success, thanks largely to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey (and it's sequels,) and the recently coined (but ultimately degrading,) term "Mummy Porn". Like Fifty Shades of Grey, and perhaps surprisingly, Twilight (the book that inspired Fifty Shades,) Destined to Play explores the concept of a woman putting aside her free will and having all decisions about her future and welfare made for her by her lover. Just as Bella Swan achieves eternal youth by marrying a wealthy and sparkly vampire and Ana Steele never has to worry about her career or the other many uncertainties faced by college graduates, Alexandra does not have to worry about her husband or addressing the issues surrounding her failing marriage. All of these women have stern by supposedly loving men who make every decision for them, because the men, apparently, know what is best for their lovers. These men are also rich, and at least in the case of Ana and Alexandra take charge of purchasing their lovers clothing (which always results in the characters looking fabulous). These books explore the concept of a woman finding herself free of decision making. It might be an appealing idea for an escapist novel, but perhaps we should all stop for a moment and think about O from Pauline Reige's novel The Story of O who willed herself to die after her sadistic lover lost interest in her. (Fortunately, he granted her permission to do so.) I'm not convinced that this would be such a great idea in real life--in fact a relationship where one partner did all the decision making, rendering the other to be helpless and dependent on him would be considered abusive. Fortunately, outside of her and Jeremy's sexual adventures, Alexandra appears to keep some sense of self and is able to make decisions about her welfare. 

Destined to Play is the debut novel by Indigo Bloome and was sold to HarperCollins for an a six-figure sum (an achievement worthy of much respect). The author (who may very well be using a pseudonym) is married with two children and has lived in the United Kingdom and Australia. She started to write Destined to Play a year ago. For a wonderful interview with the author, I suggest that you click here.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Literary Quotes

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Charles Dickens

Friday, 6 July 2012

Feature Follow Friday

Hooray! It's time once again for Feature and Follow Friday, an awesome weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read, which is designed to help like-minded bloggers connect. This weeks all important question is:

Q: Jumping Genres: Ever pick up a book from a genre you usually don't like and LOVE it? Tell us about it and why you picked it up in the first place.

Hmm. I tend to flirt and skip between genres. That said, it's rare for me to read crime novels--in fact its probably the genre I read the least. I haven't read a crime novel in a long time (the last one was The Take by Martina Cole and even that was almost three years ago,) but I'm planning on reading JK Rowling's new novel when it comes out, which is supposed to fit into that genre. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Retail by Norm Feuti

Todays post is devoted to a comic strip that I have just recently discovered, the brilliant and very observant Retail by Norm Feuti. A strip that has been syndicated in newspapers since 2006 (Retail does not run in my hometown, hence why I have only just discovered it,) it revolves around the daily trials and tribulations of the staff at Grumbels, an average American department store. The main character is Marla, an undervalued middle-manager who seems to truly love her job. (The girl with the straight black hair in the picture above.) She is supported by the intelligent and overqualified Val and Cooper, the village idiot. Many of their troubles revolve around the expectations of their customers and those of management--troubles that any one who has worked in retail should be able to easily identify. This weeks series of comics, for example revolve around a customer attempting to return a bowling ball that was not originally purchased at Grumbles. The author of the comic, Norm Feuti has more than fifteen years of experience of working in retail, and his experiences show through the various predicaments faced by the staff.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Final For Better or For Worse Comic

Just thought I would share the final For Better or For Worse comic. For thirty years, this strip ran in newspapers across the globe and chronicled the lives of the Pattersons, a fictional family from Canada. Over the years, the characters including children Michael and Elizabeth grew in real time, while a third Patterson child, April, was born in 1991. Eventually the comic ended with the wedding of Elizabeth and her childhood sweetheart Anthony, and this beautiful update of what happened to the characters in the years to come.