Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Review: Harley Loco by Rayya Elias

Once again, a big shout out to the Reading Room for my review copy of this book.

I rarely read memoir, as most of the time I find it either dull or heavy on the misery/shock value. Fortunately, Rayya Elias's memoir, Harley Loco is neither of these things, which makes (for me, anyway,) interesting reading. With Harley Loco, the reader is taken through the author's early childhood in Syria, her family's transition to America and the long and wild journey that Elias makes to first discover and accept her sexuality and then to overcome drug addiction. Bullied at school, she takes things into her own hands and moves to New York as a young woman to work as a hairdresser where she slowly frees herself to explore her sexuality away from her family. She also begins to experiment with drugs and with music. Over the years, she experiences everything from infatuation, to homelessness and eventually, prison.

What I loved about Harley Loco is rather than asking for sympathy or pointing the finger at others, Elias takes full responsibility for her past, her actions and her choices in life. The memoir itself is written in an easy to read conversational style. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Review: Mimi by Lucy Ellmann

First, a big shout out and thank you to the Reading Room for my free review copy of Mimi. And now that the disclosure and a very sincere thank you are out of the way, I'll start by saying that when I first picked up Mimi and read the first ten or so pages, I found myself wondering what the hell is this book? Once I had read the first thirty pages, I was absolutely hooked by Lucy Ellman's eccentric prose and her massively self-centred lead character, Harrison Hanafan. 

The novel opens on Christmas Eve in New York, when Harrison slips and sprains his ankle. The lovably eccentric Mimi comes to his rescue, but what follows isn't the standard My Fair Lady style romance of a stuffy old man whose life is turned upside down by a lovely eccentric. Instead, we learn more about the selfish and bitter Harrison and the things that have helped to shape him. We discover that he has recently broken up with a woman who was not his soulmate (the equally self-centred Gertrude,) that he works as a plastic surgeon and that he might not be such a terrible guy after all after he rescues a stray cat. (Even if the twit does make one very false assumption about the cat.) As the story progresses, we learn more about Harrison's childhood and watch him grow and blossom through his relationship with Mimi. The novel in itself is a feminist one and its interesting to watch some of Harrison's experiences play out and what events change his perspective on the world. The ending had me laughing out loud in places and seemed to be the perfect way to showcase the transition that the lead character had made through the story.

This one is a perfect read for when you're looking for something quirky, intelligent and just that little bit different.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review: The Vagina Buffet by S.J. Tierney

I purchased a copy of this one after reading about it over on Australian Writers Rock! a truly awesome site that showcases a number of Australian writers and their authors. (And yes, I am featured on there.) Anyway, this one sounded like a lot of fun, it being the memoirs of a former Brazilian waxer tied in with a lighter, Kaz Cooke-style commentary on the female anatomy. The goal of the author is to normalise the female anatomy--as a former beautician she was surprised to discover how many women felt insecure about their bodies and the lack of understanding of how their own bodies functioned.

This one was a fun and quick read that kept me entertained on an otherwise miserable evening. Many of the authors adventures amused me, including one that involved some, ahem, painting (I'll let you discover that for yourself,) and there are some rather cute cartoons as well. Well worth reading for a lighthearted look at the female anatomy. 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Time Magazine April 9 1965

Found this image while I was searching for something else Schulz-related and I just had to share. Apparently in 1965, Peanuts made the front cover of Time. Though a long-time fan of the comic, it never ceases to amaze me just how many remarkable achievements were made by one humble, daily comic strip. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Review: Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell

Well. Who would have thought that I would end up reviewing a Doctor Who novel on here? Although I've been a fan of the series since about the time when Colin Baker was happily regenerating into Sylvester McCoy (easy one of my favourite doctors,) I can't say that my interest in the series ever moved on to reading the books. Anyway, earlier this year when BBC Books released the 50th anniversary editions of eleven books, re-releasing one of the best books featuring each doctor, I just couldn't resist picking up some of them (I haven't quite got a complete collection,) and giving them a go.

And wouldn't you know it, the first book I review features the tenth doctor?

You know, as a female in her thirties, I'm almost reluctant to admit I like the tenth doctor. Of course, Tennant is a brilliant actor and put his heart and soul into being The Doctor and there was also some very brilliant scriptwriting and each of his three companions during the run were superbly cast. But that said, there's something about being my age, a Doctor Who fan and saying that you think David Tennant did a good job that brings up entirely the wrong impression--that of being the love-sick fangirl who only likes the show for the actor that has been cast as the lead. And in my case, that notion simply isn't true. (And for the record, of the 'modern' doctors, my favourite is the ninth doctor anyway. Eccleston is an equally talented and diverse actor, but played a slightly more morose doctor.) But this last paragraph has just avoided one point that is vital to this review. I'm reviewing a book featuring the same characters, not an episode of the television show.

Beautiful Chaos was originally published in 2008 and features the tenth doctor and Donna, shortly before Donna's adventure where she saves all of humanity and the Doctor erases her memory. In this adventure, the Doctor and Donna visit earth as Wilf has discovered a star and a party is to be held in his honour. It's not hard to guess what happens next--all pretty standard Doctor Who fare, the star isn't a star, someone is trying to control various humans and take over earth and you know who has to find a way to save everyone. But that's cool--it's basically a young adult novel and back story featuring the Noble family and the introduction of Wilf's elderly girlfriend who is suffering Altzimers makes it all worth the while. The themes of memory and memory loss are entirely appropriate, given what lies in Donna's future and the topic is sensitively handled. On the whole, this one was a very enjoyable distraction.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Review: White Walls by H.M.C.

Early last week, I had the pleasure of reading White Walls, the debut novel by H.M.C. White Walls tells the story of a psychiatrist who returns to a small town to rebuild her life after her marriage ends unhappily. Jade soon finds work at the local psychiatric facility and discovers that her patients are linked in more ways than one ... And more importantly, could the accusations of corruption by her delusional patients be real?

I thought that White Walls was a brilliant, insightful thriller. The author shows some real insight into the mechanics of mental illness and every character from Jade to Sam, a young woman with a severe personality disorder, is well plotted and well thought out. There were a number of surprising plot twists that kept me reading well into the night. It's difficult to say much more about this one without giving too much of the plot away, but it does make you question who you can trust, why and whose version of reality one should listen to.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Review: Twin Flames by Carolyn R. Prescott

Clever, insightful and different are the first three words that come to mind when I think about Twin Flames, a debut novel from American writer Carolyn R. Prescott. Twin Flames moves not only between the past and present, but through dimensions, as it tells of a love story between two soul mates or twin flames, Lily and Ahhatome as they are known in the current era, or Sings to Flowers and Little Bear/Two Bears as they were known in a past era. The two worlds collide and set off a surprising series of events when seventeen year old Lily is admitted to hospital with concussion and begins to experience a past life regression and discovers her life as Sings to Flowers. Meanwhile, now living in the fifth dimension, Ahhatome watches his soulmate from afar.

I was thrilled when I received the review request for this one from Outskirts Press as the concept of soulmates and past life regression intrigued me. I'm pleased to report that Twin Flames did not disappoint. (I also loved the gorgeous butterfly bookmark that the author so kindly provided along with a personally signed copy of the book.) Highly recommended for anyone interested in the concepts of past life regression and soul mates.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Opinions of a Novice. Or, I Feel Grouchy Today.

You know, if I were to have written Flowers in the Attic I would have changed one thing. If I had been the author, then there would have most surely been some point where the protagonist, Cathy, found and confronted the evil grandfather that she and her siblings had been so cruelly hidden away in an attic from from. I would have loved to have read a spectacular confrontational scene where everything comes together--the grandfather, the abusive grandmother and the mother who is trying to murder her children.

Now this should tell you one very important thing. This:

I am not the author of Flowers in the Attic and nor am I qualified to be.

Flowers in the Attic is a best seller. The author (who passed away when I was five,) and publisher really aren't going to benefit greatly from my opinion. Still, I think that Cathy confronting her grandfather would have made a spectacular scene. However, this was not the author's vision when she sat in bed late at night with her typewriter night after night. A scene where the children confronted their grandfather would not only have changed the ending considerably, it also would have buggered up any chances of a sequel where Cathy gets revenge on her mother. This was also the major mistake made by the scriptwriters of the 1987 film adaption of Flowers in the Attic, which ends with the children confronting their mother on her wedding day. The ending was basically panned by fans and critics alike and for one good reason. The scriptwriters tampered with a hit. It also ruined any chances of there being a film adaption of the sequel.

So what does all this mean. Well, as you know, I review books. Lots of them. I read a lot more books and I read a lot of other people's reviews of book. The majority of reviews I come across are always going to be well-written and fair. But sometimes, I come across some things that really annoy me. As some of you may remember in my recent review of Gameboard of the Gods, I had a bit of a crack at some of the reviewers on goodreads who felt that the author should have stuck to writing YA novels about vampires. Umm, excuse me. I think the author has a right to choose what subject matter she writes about. She doesn't owe you anything. I saw a similar outcry when J.K. Rowling released The Casual Vacancy. It seemed that some readers couldn't understand why the author of Harry Potter would suddenly want to write a novel about small town politics that was, essentially, a criticism of middle-class England. Again, Rowling doesn't owe you anything. Sure, it's disappointing when your favourite author who you've grown up writes a book that you have trouble connecting with (or dare I say it, understanding,) but it doesn't mean that they should stick with one subject or do something simply because you're a fan and you think it would be a good idea. Yes, I understand that reviews are subjective, about freedom of speech and by all means people should give an honest opinion, but I do wonder at times, do some of these people actually think, or look outside of the realm of their own surprise or disappointment? Are they judging the book on its own merit, or are they judging for not being the book that they wish the author had written?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Bonus question: Do you think authors should stick to writing in the genre they are most famous for?

Monday, 1 July 2013

Review: The Last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy

First and Foremost, a big thank you to Allen & Unwin and the Reading Room for my review copy of this book. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find this one waiting for me on my doorstep. 

I found myself utter absorbed in this tale which gives a unique spin on two important but sometimes overlooked points in history, the five-week blackout in Auckland in 1998 and the death of Bobby Sands in Belfast in 1981. The story opens with Megan 'GoGo' Siglo, a woman in her late twenties who runs an alteration and mending store in Auckland in the late 1990s. On the same Friday that Auckland finds itself without electricity, an Irish dancing dress is brought to the store. The dress is a family heirloom and three people soon want it back--Trisha who brought the dress in, her lover, Shane and Shane's wife Milly. Although GoGo often hears sordid tales of how the garments were damaged, the dress, the love triangle and most importantly, Shane soon draw her in. GoGo lies about the state of the costume and a friendship soon develops between herself and Shane, who begins to tell her a story about  his days in Belfast in the early 1980s. Soon, it becomes obvious that it is not only the dress, the love triangle or the tales of Ireland that are keeping GoGo interested ...

I loved the attention to detail in this one and the backstories of both Shane and GoGo and the development of their relationship. I also have to admit, I enjoyed both the New Zealand setting and the fact that it was set during the five week blackout. The depiction of GoGo's relationship with her husband is a very honest one--neither good, nor bad, just honest. I liked that. There were a few minor things that bothered me--perhaps it's just the generation gap and things were different fifteen years ago--but GoGo, her husband and their 'friends' seemed a little old for people who were only in their twenties. But I do love what happens to the dress in the end.

Overall, well done.