Saturday, 31 August 2013

Low Self-Esteem Magazine

I knocked this one up in photoshop after reading a popular woman's magazine for the first time in a couple of years. What amazed me was the way the particular magazine went after their target readership, selling them a series of thinly disguised lies which were intended to first inspire fear and low self-esteem and then the idea that this good and kindly magazine could help them fix it all.

I figured that if the editors of Cleo and Cosmopolitan ever decided to start telling the truth, the cover would look something like this ...

Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday Funnies: Bart vs. Australia

Okay, I confess. This isn't actually a part of the iconic episode of The Simpsons Bart vs. Australia. In actual fact, it's some additional footage that was created in 1999 to act as part of a Simpsons themed attraction at Fox Studios in Sydney. But it's still funny. Even if Homer does blow the whole of Australia to bits and then laugh about it.

Bart vs. Australia is, of course, one of the most controversial episodes of The Simpsons to air to date. As an Australian, I've never quite known how to take it. It is as inaccurate and insulting as it is funny. Or maybe it is funny because it is so inaccurate and insulting. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Originally conceived as a Phd thesis, Burial Rites is a well-researched and highly readable novel about the final days of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman in Iceland to be executed. Author Hannah Kent uses a vast amount of historical records and legends to examine and explore what may have happened leading up to the murders of Natan Ketilsson and his houseguest Petur Jonsson, and the months that followed until Agnes's execution, to create an absorbing tale set against a backdrop of poverty and a cold, unforgiving climate.

Despite the depressing ending (after all, the reader knows from the outset that this novel is going to end with the beheading of the protagonist,) I thoroughly enjoyed reading Burial Rites. Agnes is presented as a well-rounded character. Who Agnes really is, and who those near her believe her to be, are shown to be two very separate things. It was interesting to watch her friendships with Margret and Toti develop over the course of the story. 

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: Into My Arms by Kylie Ladd




Yeah, okay, that's enough wells. I have mixed feelings about Into My Arms, the third novel by Australian author Kylie Ladd. I don't quite agree with the read it and love it sticker that's on the front of the novel--the issues raised within made me feel a little uncomfortable. But then again, I suspect that was the purpose of the novel. It's not intended to be a rosy, happily ever after romance. 

Into My Arms tells the story of Skye, a young woman from Melbourne. She has a good life. She has a devoted partner, is close to her twin brother (the pair were conceived via IVF,) and a good relationship with her hippy, widowed mother. And then she meets a man called Ben, very quickly becomes infatuated and a string of events, each one more dramatic than the last, occurs. I'm not going to offer any plot spoilers here, but this certainly isn't your typical romance. It also studies a number of issues that are very relevant to modern Australian society.

Social issues are deftly handled by the author in this well-written romantic drama. There is an interesting subplot about Asylum seekers and another about dementia. I cannot say that I liked Skye or found her terribly easy to relate to--in many ways she came across as self-centred and impulsive. Still, it's one worth reading when you're in the mood for exploring a variety of social issues.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Review: Eighty Days Yellow by Vina Jackson

Shout out to the Reading Room for my review copy of this novel.

Tea comes in a variety of flavours and to some extent, colours. There is Peppermint, Camomile or Green Tea for example. Even the humble black tea comes in a number of varieties--English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Ceylon. All tea is different and tea drinkers will usually favour one variety over another. This is where the expression, "Not my cup of tea," originates from. It's a way of explaining that the same thing can come in many varieties and some varieties are going to be preferable to others. You can use the expression on a number of things which are by means bad or terrible, but just not for you.

And so, consequently, I will start my review by saying this. Eighty Days Yellow was not my cup of tea. It is not technically a bad book--it was written by a pair of English authors, one of them quite established. The characters are well rounded and interesting. The writing isn't bad. It is certainly dark.

But it just wasn't for me. The story, of musician Summer who agrees to play a private concert for the sexually adventurous and dominant Dominik just did not digest well. The story itself is basically a darker shade of erotica. There is no romance. Just sex. And despite the way the novel is marketed, the author is very definitely a different cup of tea to what was served in Fifty Shades of Grey. The darker side of BDSM is definitely there. Summer doesn't always have a good time. 

This is probably more for hardcore erotica fans than the occasional reader of romance. It is followed by two sequels and a spin-off.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Review: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Following on from yesterday's post on The Face on the Milk Carton today I am reviewing the fifth and final novel in the Caroline B. Cooney's intriguing Janie Johnson series. I found this novel totally by chance a little over a week ago, when I was walking through Dymocks. As anyone who has read my previous post would be aware, as a teen I was quite a fan of The Face on the Milk Carton and it's sequel What Happened to Janie. I was unaware that two more sequels, plus an eBook, had been written about the poor, tortured Janie Johnson, who was suffering quite an identity crisis, having discovered that she was abducted as a toddler and that the people who had lovingly raised her as their own were in fact the parents of the woman who kidnapped her. This is all explained as Janie abductor, Hannah, was a member of a religious cult and fooled her parents into believing that Janie was her daughter and that she was trying to escape from the cult and the husband that the cult leaders had chosen for her. In actual fact, Hannah had been scared to make the trip back to her parents house alone and had abducted Jennie Spring (who she renamed Janie,) in order to win their sympathy. She left the house and was never seen or heard from again, though in the sequel, two of the Spring kids discover that she has been arrested for prostitution. Anyway, the series follows Janie's coming of age as she slowly gets to know her birth family while remaining loyal to Frank and Miranda, whose only crime was to believe that they were more fit to raise her than their daughter. It's a slow process and, frankly, the third and fourth sequels don't look all that interesting to me.

Anyway, Janie Face to Face opens about three to four years after The Face on the Milk Carton with Janie about to start college in New York. In New York she will be equal distance between both of her families and won't be forced to choose one between the other. She will also have a greater degree of anonymity as the whole story has been quite a media circus which she has found quite draining.

And then some researcher starts bugging her for interviews.

Meanwhile, the reader finally gets to see the story retold from Hannah's perspective. There is no mention of her arrest for prostitution and she is portrayed as a far weaker, childish and far more self-serving character than Frank and Miranda's description of her in the original book. She would also appear to have no conscience, which is, again, inconsistent with Frank and Miranda's description of a child who was obsessed with knowing the difference between wrong and right. But hey, maybe Frank and Miranda just wanted to see the best in their daughter. I was half expecting to find Hannah to be a character who was remorseful and wanting to atone for her sins but not knowing how, but the reader can plainly see that she's a villain. Most of Hannah's part of the book show her closing in on Janie, who she blames for stealing away Frank and Miranda's affections. Her arrest for prostitution is not mentioned at all in the novel. 

Meanwhile, the Johnson and Spring families and their friends are all being pursed by a crime writer and his team of researchers for interviews about the abduction. Some of the other Spring kids (well now technically adults,) are more willing than others--for Brendan it's a chance to come into his own, Stephen is more interested in finding Hannah and seeing her punished and Jodie is her usual self-righteous self. As for the Johnson's, Miranda doesn't want to say anything and Frank is now barely able to speak due to a stroke.

Much of the novel's suspense and best moments come from one of the biggest plot holes. The difficulty is that The Face on the Milk Carton was published in 1990, an era before mobile phones and the Internet were accessible by the general public. Janie Face to Face was published in 2013 and makes numerous mentions of iPhones, facebook and the Internet. Yet only four, or perhaps three and a bit years, are supposed to have passed. To think that The Face in the Milk Carton was set somewhere around twenty years after it's publication requires a huge suspension of belief. However, the suspension of belief is worth doing in some respects one watches Hannah uses modern technology to close in on Janie. 

There is also another important plot to the novel, that of Janie organising her wedding to Reeve. Through her wedding and decision to change her name back to Jennie, she finally grows closer to her birth family and at last, the Springs get some real closure and can feel as though their sister/daughter has finally returned to them. 

In many respects I enjoyed this novel. However, in many respects it had moved away from the original novel. Hannah was not at all who I pictured her to be and it was odd to see her portrayed as a villain in a series that showcased so many well-rounded characters and multiple sides to the same story. It looks as if Janie/Jennie has finally got some closure, but in all honesty, I would not be surprised if one day, the author penned another sequel. Daughter of Janie, perhaps?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

1990s Nostalgia: The Face on the Milk Carton

There are some books that stay with you practically forever.

Another memorable book from my youth is The Face on the Milk Carton.  Like Judy Blume, Caroline B. Cooney was an American author who wrote realistic teen fiction. Unlike Blume, Caroline B. Cooney dabbled in a variety of genres and was a regular among the point horror authors in the early 1990s, a line up that included other greats such as RL Stine. She is still actively writing suspense novels for young adults.

Surprising then that during the Point Horror era, she would release the one book that would become her best selling and her most memorable.

The Face on the Milk Carton tells the story of fifteen year old Janie Johnson. Janie is a well adjusted, although slightly spoiled only child of ageing parents Frank and Miranda Johnson. She has never had to want for anything. And then one day, she spots a picture of herself, as a three-year-old on the back of a milk carton. The child on the milk carton is Jennie Spring, lived in a different state and went missing exactly twelve years ago. What follows is a page turning and gut wrenching ride as Janie and her friend Reeve try to investigate what happened. Did Frank and Miranda really kidnap Janie, or are other forces at work? Who is the mysterious woman named Hannah Javenson? Why do Janie's parents have a box of her belongings in the attic? As a fourteen-year-old, I literally lapped up all the drama and kept wanting to know what would happen next.

The novel ends on quite a cliffhanger. The author never intended to write a sequel, but three years later, a second novel What Happened to Janie, which deals with Janie's reunion with her birth family, appeared on the shelves and became just as popular as The Face on the Milk Carton. Together, both books were made into a TV movie titled The Face on the Milk Carton. There were a few differences from the book to movie, for example Brendan and Brian Spring do not appear in the movie and Jodie Spring is significantly younger and a far more sympathetic character, than the prickly Jodie who appeared in the book. According to IMDB the surnames of each family are also different, Jessmon and Sands. In Australia, the film aired one Friday night on Channel 10, shortly after I had read the first book but not the second. Needless to say, the second book was soon checked out from my local library. 

What I was unaware of, until very recently, was that the books about Janie would continue to be released. The Voice on the Radio and What Janie Found continued the series and slowly unravel the mystery of what happened (or may have happened,) to Hannah Javenson. Later, an eBook titled what Janie Saw was also released. The books no longer had the impact of the original or its finely written sequel, sadly.

At the beginning of this year a much longer, and final book in what is now known as the Janie Johnson series, titled Janie Face to Face was released. I'm looking forward to posting my review of this one tomorrow. (I also went through hell trying to find an image of the edition I read in the mid-1990s for this review, but that is another story.)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

Another big shout out to the Reading Room, this time for my review copy of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine.

I have to admit, this is another title that intrigued me. This novel is about a week in the life of the latest pop sensation. Who also just happens to be an eleven year old boy whose dream is to become the next Michael Jackson and seems to know more about music than what his mother, managers and the general public give him credit for. Johnny would also like to be reunited with his long-lost dad.

The Love Song of Johnny Valentine is an interesting and richly detailed book that spans out over the course of about a week (or was it a week and a bit,) detailing what life is like behind the scenes for the newest tween pop sensation. We know most tween stars in real life are a little older than Johnny, but the concept of this one and the darkly comical element, is brilliant. (His 'romance' and 'date' with another tween star is a highlight.) It showcases exactly how management and the media can manipulate the public into believing that someone who is, at heart, just an ordinary boy, is something bigger and better than the rest of humanity, as well as the very real risk that Johnny could be forgotten and replaced by someone else in a heartbeat. Mostly, it's a book that focuses on the pitfalls of fame and seems a little too detailed in places, (though I loved exploring Teddy Wayne's expansive knowledge of rock and roll,) but the journey leading up to Johnny's inevitable reunion with his deadbeat dad is enjoyable enough.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Review: Pretty Girl Thirteen Liz Coley

Okay, what if one day, you forgot the past three years of your life? What if, suddenly, you found yourself with the body of a seventeen year old? What happened? Where have you been? And why do your parents keep saying that you have been missing for the past three years? That is the premise of Pretty Girl Thirteen, a heart wrenching YA novel by Liz Coley. As anyone who has read my novella, Best Forgotten knows, partial or selective amnesia is a topic that I find quite interesting. Consequently, I was quite interested to see how this one pans out.

It could have been better, it could have been worse.

There is some really gut wrenching stuff in here that was quite hard for me to read. As I found out more and more of what happened to Angie and how her amnesia took place, as well as some of the events in her life that preceded it, I felt quite sad. Multiple personality disorder is a subject that isn't often discussed YA fiction and some of the experimental treatments (i.e. probably not performed in real life,) that Angie takes to 'erase' three of her six personalities quite difficult to read about. There seemed to be other medical inaccuracies in the book as well--how could the doctors who performed a very thorough examination of her not have noticed that she had given birth to a child? But all of that said, the novel remains interesting and the characters likeable. I appreciated the way that Angie made choices that were best for her and not those that would have made her popular among her peers. The point the author of was trying to make is how a teenage girl could find a way to survive in the most horrific of circumstances and the aftermath of her survival and that makes for interesting, though not perfect, reading. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Review: Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

Big shout out where shout outs are due, thank you to the Reading Room for my review copy of this book. 

Dance of Shadows is a YA paranormal romance set in the world of a New York based ballet school and tells the story of Vanessa Alder who wants to solve the mystery why her older sister, Margaret disappeared from the same school three years earlier. Other strange and sinister things are going on at the school, students are disappearing and Vanessa isn't sure who she should trust, her loving older boyfriend Zep, or the mysterious and nasty Justin.

I found Dance of Shadows to be quite an intriguing mystery and found myself turning the pages as I wanted to know more about what happened to Margaret and what sinister forces were at work at the school. Justin makes for quite an interesting hero/anti-hero. Zep, or Zepplin Grey was less interesting, but boys who have little more than good looks and the ability to spin out the odd insincere compliment rarely are. I guess who the villain may be and was right, but what may have happened to Margaret remains cloudy and leads on to a sequel.

That said, and perhaps it is just my age showing here, I felt the book was lacking something. We never really get to know any of Vanessa's classmates apart from basic stereotypes--i.e. Blaine is gay, Steffie is Vanessa's best friend and Anna is beautiful, popular, dating Zep and hates Vanessa. It would have been nice to see their characters expanded a little, but perhaps this will happen in the sequel. Some of the drama/horror wraps up a little too nicely, but again, perhaps there is more to come in the next book. Overall, this is a sincere and macabre effort, but probably isn't a book for anyone outside of the intended teenage audience.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

National Bookshop Day

This afternoon I was lucky enough to take part in National Bookshop Day. For those of you who are unaware, National Bookseller Day is an annual event in Australia that celebrates the place of independent bookstores in the community. I was one of the authors who appeared at Collins Booksellers Edwardstown and was lucky enough to sit on a panel with Aprille Legacy, author of the Soul Trilogy and Hannah Kent whose debut novel Burial Rites caused quite a stir, both locally an overseas. And I also met Peppa Pig who turned out to be the real star of the day, but that is another story ...

Bonus question: Did you celebrate National Bookshop Day today? If so, how and what events were there in your local area?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Kathryn's Word of the Day


1. Oily.

2. Excessily smug, smarmy or self serving.
Kathryn was repulsed by the unctuous bastard and his lack of manners toward her, but found it difficult to describe the specific or exact offence caused.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: Child Welfare Experts Shocked by Dodgy Cyborg Parenting

CARTOONLAND--Child Welfare experts are calling for an immediate end to laws allowing cyborgs to adopt children. "Frankly, the situation here in Cartoonland is out of hand and the problems are only getting worse," child welfare expert, S Claw, PhD, told our reporters. "We've had one shocking instance of an eight-year-old girl who was adopted by a particularly hapless Cyborg Detective who appears to have left the important parts of parenting up to the family dog. There is also the question of the child's physical safety. Since her adoption by her cyborg 'Uncle' this child has been placed in numerous dangerous situations and has been abducted by various crooks and enemies of the state practically every week. The physical and psychological scars must be enormous."

The child, dog and her 'Uncle' were reluctant to speak with our reporters outside court. While the child spent most of her time staring at what appeared to be an oversize iPad, her Uncle simply shouted, "Go-go-gadget Copter," before flying away with his niece and dog. The trio then crashed into the side wall of a public convenience. All injuries were minor.