Sunday, 26 May 2013

Review: Come in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James

Those of you who have been following this blog from the start may be very surprised to learn that I had never even heard of this classic Australian novel until very recently, when HarperCollins decided to rerelease it, along with several other classics under their Angus and Robertson imprint. Come in Spinner was first published in 1951 amid a wave of controversy, whereby both of the authors saw much of their novel hacked and cut because much of the content was considered far too inappropriate for the times. It was not until the 1980s and after the death of one of its authors that the book was eventually published in full and went on to become a top-rating miniseries on none other than the ABC.  (Note to my international followers, ABC stands for Australian Broadcasting Corporation and is a government owned television station.) Come in Spinner is set in Sydney during the tail end of World War Two and opens with what else, but a game of two up that is taking place in a hotel lift. The 700 page novel then goes on to tell the stories of a week in the lives of a number of women who are all somehow connected with the Marie Antoinette salon. The politics of the times is important, as is the conflicting roles of women in wartime Australia--the need for women to survive and make a comfortable life for themselves versus notions of duty and proper behaviour. Some characters were far easier to like than others--for example, it was far easier to identify with and feel empathy for Guinea and her younger sister Monnie, both of whom are basically good people who find themselves in trying circumstances (Guinea is being pursued by numerous American soldiers and believes that the one man she truly cares for does not want her, Monnie is tricked into working in a brothel,) than for Deb, whose idea of repairing her broken marriage isn't standing up for herself, but to have an affair with a wealthy and uptight older man who'll come in as a pseudo father figure and help organise her divorce. And then there are the stories of backyard abortions (no legal alternatives back then,) and the tragic complications that arise from such, gambling and the way the local women are treated by the young, American soldiers who are out to have a good time while on leave in Sydney. 

I enjoyed reading Come in Spinner though it seemed overlong in places and perhaps somewhat sensationalised in others. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

In Praise of Wile E. Coyote, Tunnel Artist

One of the biggest problems that I have with popular culture is that we tend to stereotype, or remember various pop culture icons for one thing, forgetting that they are often well-rounded people with a variety of talents. For example, Margaret Thatcher is often made a fool of in popular culture for her politics, while no one cares to remember that she was one of a team of chemists who invented soft serve ice cream. Yes. You heard it here. The Iron Lady invented soft serve ice-cream. Anyway, moving on, today, I am paying tribute to a largely overlooked piece of popular culture. While many remember the popular Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote for his inability to catch the Road Runner and his penchant for purchasing faulty consumer goods, I like to remember him for his spectacular ability to paint tunnels.

Yes. Tunnels.

Wile E. Coyote was an incredibly talented artist. With a few simple strokes of a paintbrush, he was able to create pictures of tunnels in the sides of rocks so vivid that cars, trucks and even the Road Runner could travel through them. This was despite the fact that Wile E. Coyote appeared to have no formal education and just three cans of paint. Observe:



This is, of course, a truly remarkable achievement. Wile E. Coyote, Tunnel Artist, we salute you.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

If Lousia May Alcott Lived in Modern Times ...

My recent post on Stephen King and the lack of success he would have if he was an unknown writer attempting to publish his first novel, Carrie, in the current era make me think of another author and the lack of success they would have writing for the modern market. Lousia May Alcott is another brilliant writer who probably wouldn't be able to find either publication, or an audience of willing readers, if she were alive today and trying to get published.

Granted, Alcott's most famous novel Little Women was written purely for commercial purposes. Prior to that, Alcott had attempted to write and publish several novels that were of little interest to anyone, due to their lack of marketable content in the time and era where she lived. And then there is that whole urban myth about how she hated little girls. Anyway, Little Women, proved so popular with it's themes of loyalty and living right that it soon spawned a sequel titled Good Wives where the March sisters grew up. Or three of them did, with Beth famously passing away. The oldest March sister, Meg, was married off at the beginning of the novel, starts popping out babies and subsequently does little in the remainder of the novel, suggesting that, despite the title, Alcott does not find married life to be terribly interesting or worthy literary material. Meanwhile, Amy travels overseas where she is reunited with Jo's childhood friend Laurie. They fall in love and marry, much to the vexation of Jo who had turned down Laurie's marriage proposal some time before. And, because Jo is the real star of the series, you'd think that Alcott would have a pretty kick arse romance for her in the works. After all, the book is titled Good Wives. All of the March sisters are meant to find their handsome prince. So who will he be? Will he be rich? Clever? Handsome?

Actually, Jo's husband-to-be is a bumbling professor in his forties named Fritz. Yes. Fritz. This guy:


William Shatner as Fritz Bhear in a somewhat forgettable
TV version of Little Women. 

Jo March has a love interest who isn't hot. And he isn't a millionaire. It's the most unlikely romance in literature since Marianne from Sense and Sensibility got hitched to that old army guy. (Who was superbly played by Alan Rickman in the film version, but that is another story.) And, I repeat. He isn't hot. He's not hot folks.

And this leaves me wondering and pondering what would have happened if Louisa May Alcott was trying to publish Good Wives in the present day. What would readers in the post-Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey era make of a love interest who isn't well ... hot. Or rich. Or even you know, hot underneath all of the dorky professor outfits. I can almost see the tirade of complaints on goodreads. I read through all of these pages just waiting to see who Jo would end up with ... and she goes and marries some crusty old professor. I'm giving this book half a star on that alone. And that's just assuming that the book even makes it to publication. I can just see someone trying to encourage the author to drop Fritz's age by about fifteen years, jack up his income and add in some totally unnecessary paragraphs about his six pack. Totally unnecessary and counterproductive to any point that the author may have been trying to make about Jo holding out for a man who values her independence and intelligence, but hey, you know, at least he's hot. 

**Note. In Australia and many other parts of the world Little Women and Good Wives are published as two separate volumes. In the US and Canada, the books are always contained in the same volume and are published as Little Women

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Today I am choosing to review Carrie by Stephen King simply because one, it was relatively quick and easy for me to read and two, because it wasn't anything remotely like fucking Twilight or any other novel featuring teenagers that I've read in the past few months. (And boy, does it feel good to say that.) I've read far too much YA lately. No, cancel that. I've read far too much of the sheep varient of YA where every book just seems to copy the last best selling YA book that hit the market and the romances all feel like a watered down, teen angst version of Fifty Shades of Grey, which was also a rip off of Twilight anyway. Now, don't get me wrong. I've read and reviewed some great and very original YA novels in my time. Girl, Stolen by April Henry is one example. But lately, it feels like everything I pull out of my to-read pile is yet another YA romance. And my blog is starting to have that horrible feeling of sameness to it. I'm reviewing the same type of books all the time and they're the same as what a large number of other book bloggers are also reviewing. Plus, the fact is, I'm thirty-one years old and sometimes I want to read something a little less fluffy. So, anyway. Carrie ...

Like a lot of people who grew up in the 1990s, Carrie was one of the first 'grown up' novels that I ever tackled, and probably the first that I properly understood. As always, King's genius lay in creating an ordinary American town that has sinister overtones. Told partially in the present and partially in flashbacks disguised as newspaper articles and the autobiography of the long-suffering Sue Snell, the novel tells the story of a shy young woman, who is raised by her insane and eccentric mother. Carrie is taunted by her peers, until a well-meaning classmate finds a way for Carrie to go to the prom, where she is voted homecoming queen. And then a group of kids who are basically as stupid as they are arseholes humiliate her by covering her in pigs blood and Carrie gains her revenge by using her telekinesis to kill as many people as possible before dying. The end. 

Now, if King was an unknown writer trying to publish Carrie today, I fear that he would end up having a huge fight with his publisher, as the publisher would insist on changing well, practically everything about the novel. The telekinesis could probably stay, but that would no doubt be considered a remarkable gift or talent that a very special or select group of teenagers in a post-nuclear war America were born with. And the reason Carrie's mother is so protective of her, isn't because she is a bitch or anything, but because she wants to 'protect' her daughter as the Big Brother style government would no doubt have her sent away. And at the prom, Carrie gets voted prom queen because everyone suddenly realises how awesome she is and decides that they love her. And prom king, of course, is a boy who is cute, just a little bit smarter than her and working undercover for a group who is planning to overthrow the government, and they need Carrie's help, because only a girl with telekinesis can save them. And, of course, nothing gets properly resolved at the end of the novel, because this is the beginning of a new fourteen part series, with options for film rights and a spin-off television series. And some really cool tie-in merchandise such as Carrie t-shirts, lunch boxes and some very special sunglasses that prevent anyone from seeing your eyes move, meaning that you too can pretend to be telekinetic. 

But you know what? I reckon Stephen King would hate that. If he were an unknown author trying to sell the manuscript to Carrie, he'd say fuck that and either keep searching for a publisher who was willing to do it his way, or self-publish and because you know, hey it's Stephen King, the book would end up making a fortune and he'd soon capitalise on the whole thing, creating a successful publishing firm that ended up taking over the globe. Or maybe I'm just guessing ...

Friday, 10 May 2013

Feature and Follow Friday



This week I am taking part in Feature and Follow Friday, an awesome weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, designed to help like-minded book bloggers meet, reconnect and make some fantastic new connections. This week's all-important question is:


Q: Happy Mother’s Day! Who is your favorite mom from fiction?

Wow, you folks don't ever make it easy for us, having to pick just one favourite. There are plenty to choose, though I'm willing to bet that plenty of book bloggers today placed Molly Weasley as their favourite. So, as much as I love Molly, I'm not choosing her. =P

My choice is Marmee March from Little Women. She loves all four of her daughters equally, though for different reasons. Her advice is always fair and sound, even if it isn't what her children always want to hear. In Good Wives it is Marmee who offers Jo comfort when she feels (quite wrongly) that her life is not working out. 

So who did you choose?

PS I'm still looking for bloggers who are interested in reviewing a copy of my latest YA novel Behind the Scenes. Contact me at inboxreviews@gmail.com if you would be interested in featuring my book on your blog.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Think Out Loud - Scam Emails



Time again for Think Out Loud, an awesome weekly meme hosted by Thinks Books. The purpose of Think Out Loud is for book bloggers to think outside of the square and post on topics other than books.  This time around, I am going to post about 419 email scams. I'm sure you know the ones. You get a poorly expressed email with an offer that is too good to be true. I always just delete them, but sometimes I'm tempted to give them a crazy answer. Here are some examples of real scam/scam emails and the replies I would secretly like to send:


Sender: Forrest Gimp  
To: Undisclosed Recipient 
Of course you have never heard of anything like that before because it was impossible for average people!

Welcome to the brand new revolutionary website! There are over 5,000 people on it already; all of them are busy making money - $70 Every single minute! Do not miss your chance to check this out! [Link to "course" here]
As soon as you click on the link given above, you will join the unique project that is absolutely FREE until Tomorrow.
 My reply: Dear Mr or Ms Gimp. Thank you for your message. What bad luck that 1, I opened your message a day late and 2, I am not an average person anyway. Despite what the people at the hospital where I am currently situated tell me, I know that I am in fact a superhero who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Also, my board and lodgings are paid for by the government so I had no need for money.
Sender: Don Grayson
To: Undisclosed Recipients
 
I have been trying to reach you.
My reply: Dear Mr Grayson. Thank you for your message. All of our operators are currently busy, please email again later.

Sender: Reyna Todd
To: Kathryn White 
Hi there kathryn,
Can we meet? :-) [link to profile on dating site]
I'm waiting for you :-) xoxo 
My reply: Dear Ms Todd. Thank you for your message. I'd love to chat online and sponsor your voyage to Australia but I'm late for my appointment with the debt collection agency. 


Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched is yet another YA book that has been sitting on my to-read pile for a while (which poses the question how come there are so many YA novels on my to-read pile, if anyone has a theory please comment below,) and turned out to be yet another worthwhile read. Matched is another dystopian novel, this one about how ever faucet of the lives of the citizens of an unnamed country are dictated by a governing body known as 'the Society'. The Society are basically Big Brother with more mind control and less hate. The citizens are so controlled that they have all been brainwashed into believing that everything the Society does is good, just and for the betterment of humankind. The Society controls every faucet of its citizen's lives--from where they live to what they eat and who they marry.

The novel opens on the day of seventeen year old Cassia's matching ceremony. This is basically like a debutant ball, but instead of being introduced, the young women learned who they have been 'matched' with--that is the person they are going to marry. The matching is apparently a very scientific process decided by the society based on both the personalities and the genetics of the people who are to be matched. Rather than discovering that she has been matched to someone who she finds abhorrent (as I feared she would at the beginning of the novel,) Cassia's match turns out to be a dream come true--her best friend Xavier. But when another boy's image pops up briefly on Cassia's match card, she begins to wonder ...

The first part of the novel tells of various happenings that lead Cassia to question her world--the death of her grandfather, her friendship with Ky and the discovery of some poems that the Society has outlawed. The second part leads to her making some decisions that destroy her world--rather than being the noble heroine, the author allows Cassia to make mistakes. The book itself is quite slow in places, though I enjoyed reading about the budding friendship/forbidden relationship between Cassia and Ky. Xavier is a complex character and it is difficult at times to see whether he is a good or bad. The ending leaves a lot of room for a sequel. (I wasn't at all surprised when I checked on Goodreads and discovered that Matched is the first in a trilogy.)

Matched is a decent read for those moments when you want to take time out and read something a bit slower. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Happiness is Having Your Own Library Card


Image says all ...