Saturday, 30 November 2013

Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh can be a little bit (actually, she can be a lot,) petty. She's a bit immature, swears, does not like marketing gimmicks, but uses them quite jokingly on the blurb to her book, has great insight into human nature (and the behaviour of her dogs,) and she draws odd but fantastic pictures of herself and her loved ones using Microsoft Paint. (Or perhaps she uses a different similar programme. I don't know her and have not actually asked. So you know, I could be wrong about that last one.)

Anyway, as many readers would already be aware Hyperbole and a Half started out as a blog a few years ago, featuring well, words and hilarious pictures that told stories about Brosh's life, which gained a lot of momentum after her brilliant posts about her personal struggles with depression. And there is a lot to like about the website. It's silly, it's insightful and you're kind of left with the feeling that the author is secretly irritated with you and/or laughing at you for liking and enjoying it. Oh, and it wasn't updated for a really long time after Brosh gained a book deal with Simon and Schuster.

Anyway Hyperbole and a Half, the book, is more of the same insight and silliness that we can see on the website. About fifty percent of the book is new material, the other fifty percent is some of the best posts from the sight, though, disappointingly (for me, anyway,) my personal favourite The Four Levels of Social Entrapment was not included. There seemed to be no consistent themes or sections, each post just seemed to have been chosen at random and placed inside the book in an equally random position. I have no doubt fans and followers of the blog will lap this book up and leave five star reviews in all the right places. Personally I think its a funny book with a bit of wiggle room for improvement--the author needs to work on themes and pacing and making the entire book work as a whole, rather than slapping down little pieces that work well on their own and expecting it to all fit together. But maybe I'm being too harsh here. After all, it is based on a blog and the very nature of blogging is that posts can be quite random and don't need to fit in with one another.

Anyway, if you like cartoons that tell stories and you're in the mood for a book that is as honest as it is silly, then Hyperbole and a Half is the perfect choice.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Off Topic: Opinions and How Not to Have Them

Hi. My name is Kathryn and I have an opinion.

I wish there was a support group for people like me. (So far, the closest thing I have found is the INTJ discussion board on Personality Cafe.) If I have a failing, it is probably that I have an opinion about absolutely everything. And not only do I have an opinion about everything, but I am absolutely, unfailingly always right. And not only am I absolutely, always unfailingly right but I never speak up and offer my opinion unless:
  • I think this is vital information that another person will need to know as this will somehow help them, no matter how trivial the issue is.
  • This is an area where I genuinely believe myself to be an expert and I'm trying to offer an alternative viewpoint that will help the other person in their understanding of a particular topic.
Consequently, I have this strange expectation that other people will feel this strange, overwhelming gratitude that I have taken the time to offer them my most sacred opinion. And when that doesn't happen (which is often,) I have a tendency to get all hurt and sulky and retreat back into my cave and complain because really, other people just don't understand genius. (Purists take note. I'm using the word genius in a slightly sarcastic sense here.)

As regular readers of this blog would know, the reality is, I am sometimes naive and I am sometimes wrong. And sometimes I am just too damn reactive. I get annoyed about misconceptions of popular or famous books, though I'm (slowly,) learning to restrict that level of annoyance to my blog and not to level it at other people, though usually I do so because I want them to enjoy and understand the themes of the book on as many levels as I did. (See? I'm an uptight, arrogant arsehole.) I am also a hypocrite, because I believe in freedom of speech, know that all reviews are subjective and that people are allowed to react in any way they please to a book. I believe that a true artist should know and understand the value of humility. And truth be told, I wouldn't like it if every blog I visited or every goodreads review that I read said exactly the same thing about a book. And if I'm taking the time to comment, the writer of the review has usually impressed me in one way or another.

On the other had ... I have a Honours Degree in English Literature. For better or for worse, I've worked hard to earn my fucking stripes and my right to have an opinion. And one day, I am going to learn a respectful way to pass on my knowledge ...

Friday Funnies: Calvin and Hobbes Dance

Found this awesome little clip on YouTube and thought that it would make a perfect post for Friday Funnies. It's fun, it's simple and more importantly, we see young Calvin and his buddy Hobbes move.

As anyone who has some knowledge of the Calvin and Hobbes comics and their brilliant creator, Bill Watterson, would already be aware, Watterson was not a fan of merchandising. He refused to allow his beloved comic to sell out. No Calvin and Hobbes merchandise was ever allowed (you can occasionally find unofficial things, usually stickers or t-shirts depicting a defiant Calvin pissing on various logos,) as he felt it would cheapen his comic. Calvin and Hobbes has never been made into an animated television series or film. Some fans might argue, therefore, that this clip is an abomination of Watterson's vision. Personally, I'd like to think that if it was made by aspiring artists, distributed freely (and not for profit,) and did not offer any kind of political comment that Watterson would approve. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

After reading Wintergirls, I was quite surprised by the nature of some of the debate about the book that has been bouncing around on Goodreads for the past three or so years, particularly some comments that admonish the main character for her behaviour. Now, while I believe that all book reviews are subjective and any one who has read a particular book is entitled to an opinion and they are entitled to react in any way they please to the story and the way it is told, I have to admit I was a little bit stunned that some readers did not seem to understand Lia or where she was coming from, or what the author's intentions were for the character. Is Lia a perfect character? No. Is Lia a good role model? No. 

Was she supposed to be?

Of course bloody not. The beauty in Lia's character and in the authors writing is its truth. Lia is not easy to like and her actions stem from the fact that she is in the midst of an episode of a quite serious illness. This is not a romance. This is not a girls own adventure. This tough bloody reading and the author has written it in such a way that its target readership should be able to understand. Provided, of course, that they want to be able to understand it.

Wintergirls tells the story of eighteen-year-old Lia. Lia has suffered from outbreaks of Anorexia Nervosa and often self harms. The author leaves no holds barred as to how serious her situation is and some of it is some pretty heavy duty stuff. Add to the mix the fact that her former best friend has just died under dubious circumstances, alone in her hotel room. On Lia's phone there are thirty-three messages from Cassie, all sent the day she died, begging for help. What follows for Lia is a downward spiral into starvation, self-harming and pushing away all the people that she cares about while she suffers grief and another outbreak of her illness as she searches for a place where she will have to feel nothing at all.

On the whole the narrative is designed to depict the troubled state of Lia's mind. For example, 'Mom' is crossed out when it appears and Dr Marrigan is written beside it, thus illustrating Lia's efforts to distance herself emotionally from her mother. Much is made of the number 33 and there is an entire chapter devoted to the words: Must. Not. Eat.

And, obviously, some of the things Lia does are not very nice. True to life though and it is this which makes her story so bloody interesting. Of course, this also means that her emotions are quite complex, though the author does a commendable job of explaining them to readers. The winter setting is as dark as the themes of the novel and I have to admit, I rather liked the last line of the novel:
I am thawing.
I highly recommend Wintergirls particular to those readers who are looking to be challenged or to understand more about other people and how, sometimes, others can act quite badly and selfishly as a way of hiding their own suffering. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Writers on Wednesday: Aishah Macgill

This week for Writers on Wednesday the multi-talented author, publisher, indie book store owner and the co-ordinator of the brilliant Australian Writers Rock! website Aishah Macgill gives some brilliant and very unique answers to my questions ...

Tell us a bit about yourself …

This would be one of the hardest questions of all to answer. I was on an online dating site for a while and I wondered why I only got ninny’s contacting me. Then I realised my profile, that I wrote, made me sound like a twit, so...

I try to live life with honesty, integrity and openness. I just love to write. It’s like an itch I have to scratch, a hunger I must feed. When I think, I am always writing a book in my head or making a movie. When I write a book, I have already written most of it- in my head, but without as much detail. Does anyone else think like that? If you do, my number is...

Tell us about your most recently published, or about to be published, book?

I have just completed the third book in a trilogy, titled The Bone Seer Paranormal Romance Trilogy. In between the 2nd and 3rd books I wrote another book. I think that was a good thing to do, it gave me some time to reflect and breathing space to ponder where the trilogy was going. The trilogy is an epic story. It touches on the subjects of life after death, the meaning of life, meeting a soul mate again from a past life and my political views of the world.

I thought, it’s my book, so I may as well use my views as the characters viewpoint. I enjoy a bit of political intrigue as well. I was a member of a communist party when I was younger, so I am a bit of an old leftie. I’m certain I have a long forgotten ASIO file somewhere. I’m sure it would contain something like, “a harmless flake, easily misguided and influenced by her more dangerous, commie peers,” or similar. If it was today and I was young, I would be a greenie or a feral, or maybe a feral greenie, the term greenie didn’t exist back in the 1970’s. But some of that old, idealistic fervour and anger, and the desire to make the world a better place still lingers on in my psyche today; and it comes out in the story line of the trilogy.

I also consider myself a ‘seeker of truth’, meaning, a seeker of knowledge and enlightenment. I have a serious interest in traditional styles of meditation and Vedic thought. I love eastern philosophy, particularly Hinduism. I love that their gods and goddesses actually have sex, not like our western dogma, where we attempt to be so puritanical that we can only have a virgin birth. In one Hindu myth, a particular god and goddess are constantly at it up on Mount Kailash in the Tibetan Himalaya, they’re in a cave and it’s their eternal love making that keeps the world going round. And if you interrupt them, as one hapless, curious rishi did, you’ll be burnt to ash with the glance of a third eye.
I have intertwined much of my own philosophy into that of the main character, Isabella Matthews. Only she’s much smarter than me.

I decided to write the trilogy, (though it didn’t start out as one, it was only going to be one book), as I had myself an inexplicable yearning for the love of a man I met many years ago. I couldn’t shake it. I decided to consult a psychic, who told me I had been in love with this man in a past life, that I had been imprisoned and he told me he would rescue me, but he never arrived and I died in jail, wondering why he didn’t fulfilled his promise. She said he had died but nobody told me and that was why I had suffered from these abnormal pangs of want that had no logic. So, I decided to write a novel based on this premise, of love lost and found through lifetimes. I invented the time and place and the circumstances, but I wanted to get across those incredible, but irrational feelings of loss I’ve had to contend with.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

My first book was self published on Amazon and I did it all by myself. I struggled to find out how to do it, once I figured it out, then I decided I would start a business doing it for others who struggled as much as I did.

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

My proudest achievement would be finishing any one of my books. I have a long history of not finishing things and procrastinating. You may never read this interview as I may never actually finish it and submit it to Kathryn.

[I'm glad you did ~ Kathryn.]

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

I am tidying up my trilogy, the 3rd book is currently being edited and will be published on Amazon in a few weeks. Then I have another 20 or so books in mind to write and I will decide which one I will finish first.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I love writing in cafes with good coffee and cheap food. I have a favourite but the owner, I think, is a bit sick of me, so I’ve been spreading my love around town. I write better surrounded by noise, out of the house.

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

I love both equally. It’s like having two children, each has their own unique quirks and features. I don’t favour one over the other.

I can read quicker on a kindle and they don’t weigh your arms down when you read in bed. You know how books get really heavy after a while and you have to constantly change positions to achieve a comfortable reading pose.

With a paperback, I can flick through the whole book, casually with ease and stop the pages with the press of a finger. Real books are nicer for non fiction, especially if they have pretty pictures.

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

 Hmm, I don’t think there’s one book like that, one for everyone. But Shantaram by Greg Roberts is a fave of the past decade. Before that I would have said anything by Herman Hesse. So anything by Herman Hesse would maybe be closest to that idea, but more the concept of an author that everyone should read. So read at least one of Hesse’s books in your life. I can only imagine what they must be like in German if the translations are still so magical in English.

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

I’ve only been to Adelaide once, and the water was so terrible, so I feel sorry for you folks. Is it still the same hard water? But I grew up in Horsham, which is not that far from Adelaide by Australian measure, and we shared the same weather patterns. Fuqing really, really hot and really fuqing cold. And Horsham has terrible water too, so we have alot in common actually, only our town water had dead sheep rotting in it. It started as a pristine waterfall in the Grampians, and as it gently meandered through the paddocks toward town, in an open channel, the sheep used to frolic by the banks and fall in and drown, and they were left there. Along with an overdose of pesticides and herbicides sprayed on all the wheat, it was an undrinkable cocktail. Alas, anyone who had blonde hair, it was tinged green with the chlorine. Everyone had tank water to drink though. No one in Horsham is without a tank or two in the backyard. Do Adelaide peeps have tanks too?

In my trilogy, the home town of the main character is Edenhope. People from Adelaide may have actually been to Edenhope, at least once in their life. And in the book, I do mention Adelaide, once.

Thank you Aishah--to answer your question, yes lots of houses in Adelaide has a rainwater tank, though it rarely rains here.

As always, we've got cool links so that you can find out more about Aishah and her work:

twitter: @aishahmacgill

PS I am one of the many authors to be included in Aishah's anthology, SoulMate Conversations.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

The second novel in Mead's Bloodlines series isn't a bad book. That said, I could not help but feel disappointed or feel that, somehow The Golden Lily failed to set the benchmark that was set by the first book in the series and it definitely strays a long way from the action packed Vampire Academy. The only thing that inspired me at all was the budding (and forbidden,) romance between Alchemist Sydney and bad boy Maroi Adrian. But perhaps I am being too harsh a critic?

Anyway, in this instalment, Sydney is still based at a boarding school in Palm Springs where she is protecting fifteen year old vampire princess, Jill. There are a couple of subplots involving witchcraft and Sydney's budding romance with the boring, human and unmemorable Brayden who ditches her anyway, but in this instalment the major threat to the Vampires and Alchemists is the Warriors, a group who have broken away from the Alchemists and basically get off on murdering the most harmless members of the Maroi they can find and fool themselves into believing that they are big, brave men. Sonja Karp is the unlucky vampire to get kidnapped and Sydney is the one who has to rescue her ... with a little help from her friends.

The Golden Lily is a decently written book, but it feels very much like a lack-lustre instalment in an otherwise good series, bridging the gap between Sydney's appointment in Palm Springs and her (probable) abandonment of the Alchemsts for witchcraft and a romance with Adrian, rather than a novel in its own right. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Review: Wifey by Judy Blume

Judy Blume is best known for writing honest and realistic fiction for children, so I was a little bit surprised when, a little while ago, I discovered that she has also written three books for adults. Her first adult novel, Wifey, was released in the 1970s and is precisely that ... adult. 

In many ways, it is difficult to tell that Wifey is written by the same author who brought us Blubber, Deenie and Forever. While Blume's books for children and young adults talk openly and seriously about a range of serious topics, Wifey is a sexy satire about a boring-as-bat-shit middle-class American women named Sandy who is unhappy with her role as a wife and mother and unhappier still with her somewhat lacklustre sex life. As for the rest ... well it's all a bit predicable by modern standards, with the heroine longing to ditch her life for something less conventional in order to find sexual fulfilment. Wifey really isn't Blume's best or most memorable novel and it certainly feels as stifling as Sandy's situation in places. (And maybe, just maybe, that is the point of the novel ...) 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Writers on Wednesday: Dan Bosserman

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday, where we get to meet a wide range of unique and talented authors. This weeks featured writer is Dan Bosserman, a journalist from Boring, Oregon. Dan's unique answers to my somewhat generic questions really put a smile on my face and I hope that you enjoy reading them too ...

Dan Bosserman (in Maroon shirt) watches as the Governor of Oregon signs a proclamation
declaring August 9 'Boring and Dull Day' which celebrates the pairing of Boring with a sister city, Dull
in Scotland.
Tell us a bit about yourself …
I’m 71 years old (born nine months to the day after the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941). I was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, but left there before I was old enough to remember it. My grandfather was a minister in the Church of the Brethren, a pacifist congregation; therefore, my father was a conscientious objector during WWII. The neighbors called me “Weatherstripping,” because I protected my father from the draft. Both my parents grew up in Peace Valley, Missouri—my mother in a log cabin with clay floors built by her father, a part-time newspaper writer.
In 1950 we moved to Oregon, where I grew up on an 80-acre farm, after my mother divorced my father and remarried. After high school I attended Bob Jones University for a year in Greenville, SC, where I lost my Christian faith, then joined the US Navy, which decided to send me to University of California, Berkeley, to become an officer. I quit after a year and went back into the enlisted Navy. By that time I was married. I’ve worked at various jobs since I left the Navy in 1963, often two or three at a time. I’ve been by turns a dishwasher, a breakfast cook, a stock clerk, a warehouse foreman, a trucking industry dispatcher, a telephone solicitor, a furnace tender in a lead foundry, a newspaper distributor, a state park ranger, a real estate salesman, a retail flower store manager, a used tire recycler, a garbage truck driver, an industrial radiographer (X-ray technician), a Continuous Improvement coordinator, and a part-time newspaper writer and editor. I suppose it’s only coincidence that while I was a state park ranger I regained my Christian faith and am now an active member of Living Way Fellowship of the Foursquare Gospel in Sandy, OR.
I’ve been married three times and divorced twice. My present marriage has lasted 38 years. I have five children by three wives, ranging in age from 49 to 26 (the children, not the wives). I still work in the X-ray department of Precision Castparts Corp., a manufacturer of large parts for jet airplane engines. I will probably continue working there until I’m at least 75, having made very poor provision for retirement.
My day job is really only to finance all the other things I’m involved in: Board of Directors for the Sandy Actors Theatre, where I sometimes act and/or produce; active participant in the Boring, Oregon, Community Planning Organization; worship team (blues harmonica) at my local church, where I’m also the head usher; algebra tutoring at the AntFarm, a local youth center; and newspaper work at The East County Gazette in Sandy, OR. Then there are the goats, Daphne and Tess, and the large garden on our property in Boring.
On my 63rd birthday, I began riding a bicycle to work—32 miles round trip every day, rain or shine. I logged 20,000 miles over four years before shoulder injuries forced me to abandon that exercise.

Tell us about your most recently published, or about to be published, book?
I’m about to sign a contract with Arcadia Publishing for a book about Boring, Oregon, for their Images of America series about small communities in the USA. This will be a collection of photographs (or other images) with about a 200-word essay concerning each image.

Tell us about the first time you were published?
The very first time I was published was in a one-time-only edition of a grade-school newspaper. The story was “Dick and Jane’s Revenge,” and told the story of the characters in unused textbooks coming to life in the wee hours of the night and performing pranks to make life hell for the wicked principal of the school I attended. That school had two rooms—four grades in each room, no more than four students in each grade. I was 13 years old in the eighth grade.

As writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?
My proudest achievement is almost always the one I’ve just finished at any given time—in this case a front-page feature in the newspaper I work for, called Survivor Damascus. It draws a comparison between the TV “reality” game show Survivor and the travails of a small local community that incorporated as a city only 10 years ago and now is about to decide whether it will disincorporate.
Overall, though, my proudest achievement (and probably best-known in the wider community) is an intermittent series I write as part of my regular On the Other Hand column, consisting of official reports from an undercover space alien—disguised as me—to his superior at the Institute for Galactic Studies. These reports profess to be observations on native customs and rituals on Planet Earth, but almost always get it wrong, confusing economics with religion with entertainment with politics with sexual fantasies, etc., etc. Along the way (if I’m successful in my attempts) I manage to make some subtle ironic or satirical (not to say sarcastic) commentaries on human society. Once a reader failed to understand (or I failed to make clear) that the column was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and wrote to the editor complaining that what he had read was obviously untrue. This gave me the opportunity to write another column on the uses of satire, citing Jonathan Swifts A Modest Proposal. For three months after that, I began each of my columns with the following caveat: WARNING: The Surgeon-General has determined that reading this article may subject you to statements that are not strictly true.           
I have a stock response when one of my readers tells me he or she always reads my column: “Oh, you’re the one!”

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

I have a fantasy story about a prophetic talking unicorn that can be seen and heard by only a limited number of people—the middle-aged hero of the piece and his precocious teen-aged daughter being the chief among them. And there is a collection of stories called Tales of Viet Nam, some of which actually are about the Viet Nam war. I work on these sporadically in tiny bits of time squeezed into the rest of my schedule.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

My ideal favorite place to write would be in one of the cabins at Olallie Lake in the Jefferson Wilderness Area, preferably on the front porch overlooking the lake, weather permitting. More realistically, I prefer sitting at the computer in the 12’ x 24’ office building we’ve had constructed in our back yard, 100’ away from the house.

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

I prefer paper books, probably just from habit. I’m not very religious about my preference, particularly because I’ve never even used an eBook. My answer would be much like Aldous Huxley’s reply when asked for his opinion about the General Strike in England. “Nevertheless, they wanted my opinions. I gave them my prejudices….”

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

Aside from the Bible? Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

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

Please don’t judge us in America by our politicians, either left or right. I’ve been reading about Adelaide, and think I’d like to retire there—if I ever get time to retire.

You can learn more about Dan Bosserman here ...


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Review: Jim Henson the Biography by Brian Ray Jones

Today, I am throwing convention to the wind and am going to review a book that I have not yet finished reading. I may never read this one totally from cover to cover. But that's okay with me. This one, I am enjoying more by reading it one bit at a time--a randomly selected chapter here, a randomly selected chapter here. Brian Ray Jones biography of Jim Henson is so detailed and comprehensive that, at times, it feels like I am reading an encyclopaedia. An encyclopaedia that flows well perhaps, but certainly a very detailed book.

As a one-time puppeteer (a weird gig I volunteered for back in my uni days, which subsequently made me appreciate the complexity of some of Henson's puppets,) and a long time fan of Henson's work, particularly The Muppets I was interested to read more about Jim Henson and the background story to a man who was absolutely passionate about his work. Henson was a hardworking man who believed passionately in what he did. It is as interesting to read about his interactions with children as Kermit on the set of Sesame Street as it is to read about his efforts at turning The Witches into a feature film despite Roald Dahl's acidic comments about the script and dislike of the films ending. (Chillingly The Witches would be the last film that both Henson and Dahl worked on before their respective deaths in 1990.) There is an entire chapter devoted to The Dark Crystal and another to Labyrinth. Oh, and fans may be interested to know that Henson discovered the nonsensical Ma Nah Ma Mah song after hearing it usds on the soundtrack to an Italian sexploitation film titled Sweden: Heaven and Hell.

This one is a great read for fans of Henson and The Muppets ... though not necessarily in the one sitting.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Best Forgotten Free From Amazon Kindle Store

Today and tomorrow only, I am offering my novella, Best Forgotten as a free download from the Amazon Kindle Store. Best Forgotten is a strange little tale about a young woman named Kellie-Sue who wakes in hospital, unable to remember the last eighteen months. But there's more. The last thing that she can remember is planning to kill her ex-boyfriend. Did she do it and get away with it? Or did something else happen at Morgan Stones house that night? Click here to download your copy and find out ...

Review: Jump by Sean Williams

There was quite a bit of pre-release debate about Jump (published as Twinmaker outside of Australia,) over on goodreads, during the past few months. Oddly, it was some of the more negative, or perhaps judgemental, comments that really make me sit up and think that Jump may be a book well worth reading. Why? Because people were slamming it? Hell no. Because this one obviously wasn't a strictly by-the-numbers piece of YA fiction. It seemed that at least one or two readers had been shaken out of their reading comfort zone. I liked the idea of that. I liked the idea that, quite possibly, Jump might have something different to offer readers. So, of course, I had to read it ...

Jump is a YA Sci-fi novel set in the near future, in a world where people travel by D-Mat, a worldwide teleportation system. The novel opens with Clair and her friend Libby, a pair of likeable girls who live a fairly typical existence for teenagers of their era--in the first chapter we see them vying to join the Crashlanders, a clique who organise Rave like parties in remote parts of the world. The story really gets underway, however, when both Clair and Libby receive a meme, (or chain letter,) inviting them to use Improvement, which offers them and others the chance to change things about their appearance. Libby uses it but Clair is skeptical. Then it turns out that Libby has fallen into a trap. To rescue her friend, Clair finds herself asking a lot of questions about the world that she lives in. Perhaps the d-mat is nowhere near as safe as its creators claim and perhaps there is a lot of room for people to misuse teleportation for personal gain. From there, the reader is taken through a wild ride as Clair starts making a number of enemies and finds herself on the run (and constantly being shot at,) along with a motley crew of individuals. Without giving too much away, there were some excellent plot twists, and an exciting showdown and another interesting plot twist that leads in to the sequel, Crash. I thought that Clair was a decent heroine, who in many ways reminded me of a Doctor Who companion--she had that blend of intelligence, ethics and resourcefulness.

Overall, I enjoyed Jump and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a YA novel that reaches a little bit outside the square. If Twilight style romances are your thing, however, you may be a little disappointed ...

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review: Forbidden Heart by Virginia Andrews

The Forbidden Heart is a short, eBook only sequel to Virginia Andrews Forbidden Sister and acts as a bridge between Forbidden Sister and the next full-length novel in the series, Roxy's Story. Set entirely in France (thus making it the only Virginia Andrews novel to be set entirely in Europe,) Fobidden Heart picks up where Forbidden Sister ends, it tells us what happens to Emmie after she was abandoned by her sister in Paris. She is now living with her uncle and his partner, has made a new friend in Denise, a young woman who works at her uncle's restaurant and has found a possible new love interest in Denise's cousin, Vincent. All good, right?

Well, not really. As a reader, I found myself struggling with the story quite a bit. I suppose some of this is my own fault, as I expected the story to be about how Emmie settled in to her new life in Paris. What I got was a slightly jumbled and unrealistic tale full of French stereotypes that ends quite abruptly. As scathing as it sounds, I suspect the only research on France that Virginia Andrews ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman did before writing Forbidden Heart was to flick idly through the introduction of French Women Don't Get Fat--and if you think I'm joking, there is a reference to this book in Forbidden Heart. A character central to the story, Denise, is a bit of a laughingstock and lacks confidence owing to the fact that she is, well, of the larger persuasion. We are expected to believe that Denise is the only woman in all of France to weigh above fifty-five kilograms and therefore she must be unhappy, and because she is unhappy and well, fat, no man is ever going to love her. But that's okay, because the only man Denise has ever been interested in is her cousin Vincent and he has always been nice to her. But, of course, Vincent isn't really interested in dating his cousin and he falls for Emmie instead. 

Emmie, I might add, is slender and blonde. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, Denise gets depressed, one character attempts suicide and nothing really gets resolved at the end of the story. The whole thing is so removed from the real Virginia Andrews and her vision (dark, gothic inspired fairytales-gone-wrong such as Flowers in the Attic,) that one has wonder why one, the publisher even bothers to put her name on this rubbish any more? Granted Forbidden Sister was the first Virginia Andrews book to make the New York Times best seller list since the Logan series was released in the mid-to-late 1990s, and was actually half decent when compared to other recent releases e.g. the Heavenstone Series, Daughter of Darkness, however, it sometimes feels as though the publisher and ghostwriter are simply churning out tales about miserable kids or young women in highly unusual situations because they really don't know what else to do, but they know anything with the name Virginia Andrews (or V.C. Andrews in the lucrative US market,) slapped on the front cover is bound to make money regardless of the content. And before you accuse me of slamming the ghostwriter who for many years did a commendable job of imitating Virginia Andrews style and completing her unfinished works, while continuing to write novels under his own name, I'll say this. Andrew Neiderman does not lack talent. I find the way he moderates and speaks with the fans on the official V.C. Andrews fan page on facebook commendable. However, I think that he could do far better and is selling himself short. Or to put it another way, come on Mate, lift your game.

Bonus Question: Are you sometimes disappointed by books by your favourite authors. If so, which book and why?

Friday, 15 November 2013

Friday Funnies: Snoopy Dances

Found this cute little gif and felt that I would like to share it with you lovely folk. Schroeder is sharing a tune while Snoopy dances and Lucy listens. See, this is where gifs are quite lovely. It's a little picture shared from one person to another or perhaps shared with an audience, designed to tell a message or perhaps convey a certain feeling. This one has a message of fun and contentment with a dash of class added in.  

Thursday, 14 November 2013

1990s Nostalgia: Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacey

Millions of girls will grow up thinking that this is the right way to act ... that they can never be more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal is to look pretty, land a rich husband, and spend all day on the phone with their equally vacuous friends talking about how damn terrific it is to look pretty and have a rich husband!
~ Lisa Simpson

Today I am paying tribute to one of the most awesome episodes of the long-running animated series The Simpsons. I still remember the first time that I saw this one, though it was almost two years after the original US airdate. I was fourteen years old, had just started year nine at high school and was well, rather unhappy myself. I was the quiet, smart and unpopular kid of my grade. I was the girl who didn't quite fit in, the girl who simply could not see her potential, and who wished desperately that she could be anything other than what she was.

And then I saw Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacey.

To give you a quick recap, this is the episode where Lisa purchases a talking Malibu Stacey doll. She takes the doll home and is quickly disappointed when the doll only says shallow, meaningless things like, "Don't ask me, I'm just a girl." Lisa decides that Malibu Stacey is a poor role model and appeals to Stacey Lovell the disgraced creator of Malibu Stacey who had been fired from the company years before. Together, Lisa and Lovell come up with their own doll that they name Lisa Lionheart who is voiced by Lisa and offers encouraging phrases such as, "Trust in yourself and you can achieve anything." Eventually the doll is trumped by the makers of Malibu Stacey who release a new Malibu Stacey doll with a new hat. Only one girl purchases a doll, but Lisa realises that if she can get through to just one girl, it will all be worth it. Oh, and there is a funny subplot involving grandpa getting a job at Krusty Burger. 

Obviously, it's The Simpsons and any kind of message is offered with a big dash of fun satire and at times makes fun of itself, but the episode really spoke to me. What I learned as a kid was that it was okay to be different, to want something more than a new hat and to look at things a bit more carefully. And like just one girl buying Lisa's doll, it didn't really change my world overnight. What it did give me was the strength to keep plodding on ...

Bonus Question: Which is your favourite episode of The Simpsons and why?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Writers on Wednesday: Di Bates

Welcome to Writers on Wednesday, where we meet a broad cross-section of talented writers. This week I am lucky enough to be talking to the very talented and very, very prolific writer, Di Bates ...

Tell us a bit about yourself …

I’m a full-time, prolific Australian writer who, with her author husband Bill Condon, makes a living from writing and have done so for the past 20 years. Between us we’ve published over 250 books.

I’ve published with many different publishers both mainstream and small and written fiction and non-fiction ranging from picture books to adult novels. Many of my books were commissioned. I’ve a background in journalism, advertising and book-selling. Bill and I live in an outer suburb of Wollongong NSW.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia) is a cross-over novel based on the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a girl around twenty, and a boy around ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police.  Hundreds of stories with the picture were run in national media, including a TV program, Missing People. This resulted in the parents of both children contacting police. The boy was said to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Callico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.

I remember being very distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

About thirty years ago I received a letter from Penguin Books saying they were going to publish my children’s book Terri. I was so excited I ran up and down the street like a small child whooping and laughing. When I rang my mother with the exciting news, her response was ‘That’s nice, dear. Did I tell you that your sister won the Tomerong squash championship?’ This was when I first realised that nobody is ever as happy as you are when you have success as a writer.

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

There are so many outstanding moments, but having published in excess of 120 books, mostly for young readers over 30 years is quite an achievement; that, and winning the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature.

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

I’m always working on a writing project! Having just finished writing an adult crime thriller, The Freshest of Flesh, I’m now about 10,000 words into a junior novel about a child who, with his siblings, is taken into care.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

Always in my tidy and comfortable office, but really I can write anywhere.

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

I prefer paper books because this is what I’m used to but I can see a day when all books are electronic. So sad to think of the loss of book shops and libraries, plus all of the jobs for the wonderful people in those industries.

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

As someone who’s always published traditionally, that is what I know best and am most comfortable with. My experience is that small publishers are more communicative and work harder to promote their authors and titles.

I find it very sad that authors today are required to be so proactive in marketing and publicising their work instead of being allowed to get on with what they are most talented in, which is writing.

Currently I am preparing a budget to crowd-fund a website on Australian Children’s Publishing so I’m making use of modern technology to put writing out into the marketplace (simply because no-one else in Australia is promoting our wonderful children’s poetry).

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

Gosh, there are so many I love, but I would highly recommend the YA novel, Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God which won the 2010 Prime Minister’s inaugural Awards for Literature. It’s a bittersweet novel with amazing characterisation and insights. (Should I mention it was written by my husband, Bill Condon?) To be fair, I’ll also add The Book Thief  by Australian author Markus Zusak.

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

Please read my books and support the local industry by buying Australian. A book a day keeps the miseries at bay...

Awesome Links

My website is and my blog, Writing for Children, is I’m on both Facebook and Twitter.

Where can we find your books?

All my books can be purchased in bookshops. The most recent, The Girl in the Basement, is available as follows: Morris Publishing Australia -
Dennis Jones and Associates -
The Nile Bookshop: eBook available on Amazon, Smashword, Kobo, Apple and many online stores.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review: Confessions of an Almost Girlfriend by Louise Rozett

Sometimes it is good to think out of the square. Sometimes it is good to pick up a book that I would not normally read and give it a chance, anyway. And that was precisely the kind of mood I was in when I picked up a copy of Confessions of an Almost Girlfriend by Louise Rozett. There were many (subjective) reasons why I would not pick up a book like this:

1. The publisher. I rarely, if ever read books published by Harlequin, let alone Harlequin Teen. Mostly, this is because they publish "throwaway" books, the kind of thing that is unlikely to ever be reprinted, remembered or to stand the test of time. It's entertainment for here and now but don't fool yourself into believing that you'll be sharing this book with your grandchildren one day. You won't.

2. The title. Really. What is it about America and starting book titles with the word, "Confessions". Usually "Confessions" books are tales about people who take on a journey of self-discovery and or/self improvement. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that the characters aren't exactly evil creatures confessing to anything sinister. Actually, they're usually not confessing to anything at all. They're just ... people doing the best they know how.

3. The target market. YA romance. We get it. Girl meets bad boy. Girl falls hopelessly in love with bad boy. Bad boy ignore girl. Turns out bad boy is hopelessly in love with girl too and is afraid of hurting her. Bad boy gets over fear, something happens to pull them apart, something else happens to push them back together and they end in a state of eternal happiness, despite the fact that both characters are still in their teens. 

Anyway ... I picked this one up, just to see if I well, could, like it if I tried to. And honestly, this novel is not terrible, though I did find it terribly superficial. What was good about it was that it is, at it's core, this isn't just a love story. It is a tale about a young high school student who wants to find herself and to become who she wants to be. There is a subplot about bullying that doesn't resolve itself in a way that I would have liked and nor does the subplot about relationship violence. There are questions about family. As for the romance ... well that almost feels tacked on. There is a bit of innuendo in there between Rose and Jamie because it's a teen novel and it's kind of expected that at some point Rose is going to have her breasts fondled. And Jamie isn't the most dependable guy and you get the impression that he is still hung up on his ex though, pleasingly, Rose finds a way to move on. The ending makes it obvious that there will be a sequel, so I don't really know what will happen with Rose and her moving on, though it probably will be in a please-the-young-reader kind of way. (Rose will get her guy. The author just wants you to think that, maybe, there is a chance things won't work out.)

So ... if you're in the mood for a lightweight YA romance, Confessions of an Almost Girlfriend will probably fit the bill nicely, though it has little to offer besides ...

Bonus Question: How often do you step out of your reading comfort zone and read something different?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Let's face it. The Vampire Academy series was so brilliant that Mead just had to write a spin-off series. And once again, I might be a bit late for the party, but that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy Bloodlines, the first book about the Alchemists. At least, I think this series is going to be written from the perspective of the Alchemist. Sydney doesn't seem to me (or any to any of the characters in the book for that matter,) to be a good and loyal Alchemist. Sydney is well ... a little too much like Rose Hathaway, the lead from Vampire Academy--willing to think for herself and to break the rules for the right reasons. The Alchemists, who in many ways seem rather cult like, don't seem to appreciate that.

Anyway, Bloodlines opens with Sydney volunteering to go in the place of her sister to undertake a task that seems rather unpleasant. She has to act as guardian and protector to Jill, a newly discovered Maroi princess and sister to the Queen. Jill is in hiding, of sorts, at a boarding school in California. Sydney has to pose as Jill's sister and put up with an odd assortment of people who are assigned to the task of protecting Jill--including Adrian, Rose's rich bad boy ex-boyfriend from Vampire Academy. And then there are a few vapid boarding school kids and a very strange teacher, a mystery surrounding tattoos and the less than trustworthy Keith, the Alchemist district co-ordinator. Meanwhile, the real enemy slips under the radar for most of the book.

I enjoyed reading Bloodlines, though I had several problems with parts of the story. It's difficult to believe that no one other than Sydney could see Keith's many failings, that Adrian is a love interest is well, pleasantly obvious I guess, and Mrs Terwilliger, whose quirks were meant to be endearing just seemed annoying--in particular the unfunny and seemingly never ending "Sydney Melbourne" jokes, and false comments that all Australians are descendants of criminals. (Check your history books, Ms Mead.)

Anyway, I suspect that something other than Alchemy lies in Sydney's future and I am interested in seeing how this series unfolds.

Bonus Question: Which is your favourite vampire novel or series?