Monday, 30 June 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Book Sculpture Adelaide City Council Library

When the Adelaide City Council opened the doors on their new library in Rundle Place, they decided to do a bit of innovative advertising ... in the form of several towers, made entirely out of books that had been deleted from their catalogue. It's an innovative way to advertise a library and to get continued use out of unwanted books, though I doubt they would have survived the weather for very long ...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Review: Thornydevils by TW Lawless

Set in Melbourne during the late 1980s, Thornydevils is a sexy, action packed romp featuring larrikin and hard living journalist Peter Clancy. Peter likes his booze, his women and his coffee (especially, I suspect from the scene in Townsville, his coffee,) and is an all round decent guy in his own way. Working for Melbourne publication The Truth, Peter has found himself promoted to the position of columnist and in the possession of a police scanner ... and then his adventures with a drug ring begin.

Although I have not read the first novel in the series, I found Thornydevils quite easy to read and follow. A number of the side characters were well-drawn (drag queen Concheeta and her boyfriend Ted for example,) and just the fact that the novel was set in an era of police corruption and in a time before mobile phones and the internet makes for a brilliant set-up. Recommended for fans of Australian crime literature.

Finally, a big shout out to author TW Lawless for sending me a review copy of his work. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Review: Cherry Bomb by Nina Valentish

Cherry Bomb, the debut novel from Australian music journalist Jenny Valentish, is a roller coaster ride through the world of fame, sex, drugs and most importantly, rock and roll. Seen through the eyes of twenty-one year old Nina Dall, the novel tells the story of the rise to fame and inevitable fall of the Dolls, a band that Nina formed as a teenager with her cousin Rose. Running alongside the Dolls own rise to fame is the story of their Aunt, Alannah Dall who is trying to make a career comeback and who may just be a little bit threatened by her nieces and their rise to fame. 

Cherry Bomb offers readers a no-holes-barred view of the Australian music industry as it is at present--from the indignity of the Dolls having to perform at the local shopping centre to their eventual success overseas--as well as giving an account of Nina's own troubled upbringing and her personal difficulties surrounding addiction and overcoming child sexual abuse. There is also the interesting backstory of Alannah, her dealings with her family and just who and what she is willing to sacrifice to get what she wants. Alannah's own story allows readers the chance to have a glimpse at the history of Australian music and at a look at the music scene in the days before Australian Idol, YouTube etc. The author offers some brilliant insights into human nature and I found that even some of the minor characters, such as Hank to be well-drawn. With all that said (and there is lots in this book to like,) I struggled slightly with the narrative in places and found the lists and reviews that appeared within the middle of chapters to be a little distracting. (Though I do love the soundtrack at the end.) Overall though it is an well written book with an interesting and well executed plot.

Shout out to Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for my review copy.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Friday Funnies: Cookie Monster the Coffee Break Machine

Found this brilliant pre-Sesame Street (note the teeth) clip featuring Cookie Monster. This clip was created as a training video for IBM. A year or so later it was re-made with a green version of Cookie Monster and aired on the Ed Sullivan show. You can see that version below (note: the YouTube title is incorrect):

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Review: Chocky by John Wyndham

The final novel to be published by John Wyndham in his lifetime* Chocky is a slow, menacing and carefully plotted tale about a pre-pubescent boy who is befriended by an alien voice known to him as Chocky. And everyone, including Matthew's adoptive father David (who narrates the tale,) believes that the boy is suffering from a kind of psychosis. The story unfolds slowly, though by the time Matthew is eventually abducted by his psychiatrist, is it obvious that Chocky is a real being who has possessed Matthew and is using him to study earth from afar.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was published in the late 1960s, much of this novel feels very dated--the methods of psychiatry and also David's dismissive attitude toward his wife Mary and daughter, Polly. There are some lovely moments, such as where Chocky teaches Matthew to swim so that he may save Polly from drowning and where all of the members of the Gore family do their best to accommodate Chocky. The bulk of the narrative is quietly and cleverly menacing before moving toward a surprising end and Chocky's eventual departure. Although not Wyndham's finest novel, Chocky is a satisfying read. Recommended for fans of Wyndham's other novels. 

*Note: Web and Plan for Chaos were published many years after the authors death. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Writers on Wednesday: Sarah Bourne

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I put my questions to Sarah Bourne, author of Never Laugh at Shadows ...

Tell us a bit about yourself ...

I was born and raised in London, escaped to work in the USA after college, and have been on the run ever since. My first training was in Occupational Therapy, and I worked in Mental Health to fund my passion for travelling, finally arriving in Sydney's Inner West where I intended to stay for two years, and forgot to leave. Now I run my own Counselling practice, teach Yoga and write. My husband, three children, two dogs and cat are all very supportive and long suffering when I disappear into books and writing for days on end.

Tell us about your recently published book ...

Never Laugh at Shadows is the story of Winsome Natakunda, a young Ugandan woman born into a family on the wrong side of politics. Her father was a Democrat in the brutal Amin and Obote regimes, and regularly taken away to be tortured for his beliefs. He and his family lived in fear, as did many people at the time. As a young woman, Winsome goes to London to study, but away from her family, and with no news from them, she becomes so anxious and depressed that she attempts suicide. In hospital she meets Angela, a woman with a long history of mental illness, who helps her piece her life back together. Winsome and Dominic, Angela's son, fall in love, but Winsome knows that she must go home and find out what's happened to her family. She arrives to discover that her father has been tortured again, that her mother talks to spirits in the  graveyard at night, and that there is a new epidemic in her country – AIDS. She knows she has to stay, but she is so torn about leaving Dominic... Essentially, it is a story of love, loss and resilience.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

That would be in the school magazine when I was about twelve. We had to write a story about something that happened in the summer holidays. I'd been to Devon and spent quite a bit of time hanging around a haunted castle. My story of trying to stay there one night to see the ghost became an overnight sensation in the school mag! And many years later, became the opening scene for a YA trilogy. I was offered a contract for the trilogy, and turned it down – partly because I thought the publisher, who shall remain nameless, was a bully, and partly because the lawyer I consulted about the contract suggested that I should be getting more out of it! I sent it to another couple of publishers and agents, none of whom were interested, and lost heart, so now it's languishing in a virtual bottom draw. I think of that whole experience as my apprenticeship and a very steep learning curve!

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

Well, getting published has to be it. I actually entered the manuscript into a competition, the prize for which was a publishing contract. Months later, when I'd given up all hope and practically forgotten about it, I received an email to say I'd been long-listed. Three weeks later, I was told I'd been short-listed. Two weeks after that, I had the news that I was a runner up. I was disappointed, but at least I had something now to put in a pitch letter to other publishers or agents. Then, a few days later, I received yet another email from the publisher saying that they wanted to publish it anyway! Excited doesn't cover how I felt. I danced, I sang, I called all my friends, tweeted, facebooked...

What are you working on now?

Well, apart from the work of trying to get book sales up – endless marketing – I'm researching solitary confinement. I have an idea for a book that involves a woman being arrested as a terror suspect and being kept in solitary for weeks on end. From a psychological point of view, the consequences of solitary confinement are very interesting, and having worked in Mental Health, I always like to have something edgy to get my teeth into.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I'd love to have a little getaway at a beach where I could sit and write with the waves pounding the shore in the background, or even a study at home that I could retreat to. The reality, however, is that I sit with my laptop in the family room when the kids are at school, and tap away with the dogs looking at me with their soulful eyes pleading for a walk, and the cat on my lap – or keyboard! I suppose that's one of the great things about writing – you really can do it anywhere.

Which do you prefer, ebooks or paper books, and why?

I love real books that I can hold and turn the pages and see in my bookshelves. And I love bookshops  and always spend far too much in them! But I have to admit that I do have a kindle, and I read on it quite a bit just for convenience, and the fact that I can finish one book and immediately download another – I am a voracious reader. I hope that we never see the end of hard copies of books though. That would be really sad.

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

I'm going to be slippery here and dodge the question! I have loved so many books in my life that I couldn't possibly choose just one that I think everyone should read. It all comes down to personal preference. I love crime fiction (not that I write it!). Having said that, I'm drawn to any work of fiction that is peopled with strong characters and has a plot that I can feel involved in. Some contemporary authors I love are Kate Atkinson, Kamila Shamsie, William Nicholson, Henning Mankell, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anne Patchett...the list goes on and on. And then there are the classics, Dickens, Hardy, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Hesse...

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

Hello! I loved Adelaide when I visited some years ago, so I think you're all lucky to live there. And so close to such great wine country!


The book isn't in bookstores yet, so it can be found on Amazon US, Amazon UK or on, in paper or digital versions. If you live in the US or UK, you should be able to get the book in bookshops soon.

Tweet me @sarahbourne007

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Review: What Came Before by Anna George

What Came Before is an occasionally erotic literary thriller about the nature of love, limerence and a man and a woman who caught in an exhilarating but toxic relationship. The novel opens at the frightening climax of David and Elle's relationship--he, a lawyer, is sitting in his car and confessing into his dictaphone that he has just murdered his wife. Elle, meanwhile, is floating above her body. Throughout the course of the novel, both David and Elle reflect on their passionate, but ultimately destructive relationship.

Intense and often gripping, I found myself reading this one in a relatively short space of time. Author Anna George does a brilliant job of depicting David and Elle's relationship, showing how all the red flags were there from the beginning, but how Elle, blinded from infatuation, was unable to see them. It was also lovely to read about a different side of Melbourne, about its upper-middle classes. Likewise I enjoyed reading about Elle's work as a filmmaker and smiled a bit at some of the comments made about the Australian film industry--and very well done were the parallels between Elle's film and her relationship with David. The ending is surprising and somewhat dark, though fitting.

This is not a book where one falls in love with the characters or sighs at a happy ending--rather it is a complicated tale that stuck in my mind for the few days after I finished reading. Recommended for lovers of Literary fiction. 

Finally, a big shout out to The Reading Room and Penguin Books for my review copy.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Review: September Girls by Bennett Madison

My only regret about September Girls is that I discovered its very existence after some controversy regarding the title on a certain popular book cataloguing website. That is kind of a shame, considering that this is a brilliant, well-written and challenging YA novels that I have read this year. 

September Girls tells the story of Sam, an awkward virginal-but-horny teenager who spends the summer with his dad and older brother at a beachside tourist town. There is something a little bit odd about the girls in town--they are all beautiful, they all look very similar (thus making it difficult for many to tell them apart,) and for reasons that are unknown, they all seem to be drawn to Sam, particularly DeeDee and her older sister Kristle. In between the chapters told from Sam's perspective are narratives from the girls, who speak collectively as 'we' and would appear to wash up on the island at age sixteen and disappear again when they turn twenty-one. The only way to prevent their disappearance is to seduce a virgin boy. Which may explain why Sam is suddenly so popular.

What could have easily dissolved into an idiotic porn fantasy for boys (and I think the fear of this is where much of the criticism of the book has come from,) plays out on some very clever levels. Using magic realism and a narrator that is easy to identify with, author Bennett Madison tells a story that raises questions about personal freedom, feminism and what it truly means to be a man. (I'll give you a hint: Sam's transformation from boy to man has nothing to do with virginity.) There are some clever subtitlies within the narrative--for example the women's magazines that DeeDee finds so stifling but is forced to read are called Her Place. There is also an interesting sub-plot involving Sam's mother and her own journey of self-discovery. 

I enjoyed this one for its metaphors and icky, accurate depiction of adolescence. Recommended YA reading, though it may not appeal to all readers or tastes.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Friday Funnies: The Young Ones

I'm running this one a week later that I intended, for reasons stated last week. Anyway, it's another favourite clip of mine from brilliant BBC comedy series The Young Ones. Wish I could find a clock like that one ...

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Happy Birthday Garfield

As is traditional on Kathryn's Inbox on June 19 every year ... I would like to take the opportunity to wish Garfield the cat and his comic strip a very happy birthday. Thank you Jim Davis for all the laughs. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Review: The Underwharf by Gaby Naher

I found a copy Naher's debut novel from buried amongst a pile of books at my local secondhand store. Something about the front cover, with its colouring that is as garish as it is dark and lack of capital letters anywhere, made it clear that this one was a relic from the mid-1990s a long-forgotten era in Australian publishing, where publishers tried to appeal to a younger market by making their books look a bit different and a bit more hardcore than what the adults were reading, drew me to the book. What the hell was this old thing? Would it be any good. And, frankly, it's kind of a shame that this book has such a strange cover and the unusual font used inside (Rotis Semi Serif,) is a bit distracting because the story itself is bloody brilliant.

The Underwarf switches between the past, present and future to tell the story of Sophia, daughter of Zelda--an ambitious publisher and single mother--and her quest to learn the identity of her father, a journey which eventually takes her to London, before a reunion in New York. Through the narrative of the past, we learn about Sophia's youth in Sydney, summers spent with her sparkly grandmother Nella and best friend Sam, her leaving school and the events that help to shape both Sophia and Sam as people and their friendships with Jake. The present takes through London, as a promiscuous and emotionally damaged Sophia fails to find her father but succeeds in finding someone much more important--herself--before returning to Sydney to make amends with Zelda and Sam. The final (and shortest of the narratives,) takes Sophia through the lead up to her eventual meeting with her father.

Author Gaby Naher (who was in her twenties when this book was published, and has since gone on release a memoir titled The Truth About My Fathers, and who now works as a literary agent,) does a brilliant job of demonstrating how Sophia is shaped by the events of her past and her relationships with Nella, Zelda and Sam. Much of Sophia's promiscuity is not graphic, though frightening at times and always very fitting for the story. It is also wonderful to watch her grow as a character--from an immature and demanding girl, to a capable young woman. 

This one was a real surprise treat for me and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Recommended. 

Monday, 16 June 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Fountain, Rundle Mall

Burt Flugelman's Spheres, or, the Malls Balls, might get all the fame, but don't under-estimate one of the other great icons of Rundle Mall, the Fountain. At present, this beautifully coloured and designed fountain sits directly outside of Adelaide Arcade, but it has moved several times since it was first installed in North Terrace in the late 1800s. The fountain (then a dull brown,) was later moved into Rundle Mall, near Gawler Place, before being repainted and moved again to its current location. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: Fallen by Lauren Kate

Fallen is the first instalment of a four part series about Luce and Daniel. Daniel is a fallen angel, Luce is a young woman who destiny is to fall in love with Daniel in each of her many lifetimes. The only catch is that she always dies at about age seventeen, just as soon as she falls in love with Daniel, often spontaneously combusting when they experience their first kiss. (As one does.)

Very rarely does a book leave me with as many conflicting feelings as Fallen did. I suspect that I would have loved reading this one when I was in my teens. As an adult who occasionally reads YA, however, it was a little well ... difficult to suspend my disbelief in places. The concept was brilliant; the gothic school where Luce and Daniel seemed confused and quite unrealistic. In the beginning it seemed as though Luce was in a reform school or juvenile detention centre, in other spots, they seemed to be in an strict, though co-ed boarding school which a bunch of inept teachers and dull subjects. Some of the plot threads do not weave together as easily as they could do--the fire and subsequent death in the library for example, or the fact that Mr Cole was a surprising ally. Most of the characters felt very underdeveloped to me. I never got a real sense of why all of the angels flocked to this particular school--if it were simply coincidence or for greater reasons--and I never got much of a sense of the characters and their personalities, with the poor, tortured Penn being the only real exception. 

Fallen was first published around the time that Twilight was still enjoying bestseller status and inspiring a whole genre of rip-offs (dark, gothic-inspired romances featuring teens,) so I am left wondering if perhaps Fallen was rushed into publication and suffered from some poor editorial decision for that reason. But that is pure speculation on my part.  

On the positive side, the prose is light and easy to read.

Unless you're a fan of the author or well inside the intended audience, then Fallen is probably going to have limited appeal. 

This book was read as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014

Catogory: Gothic Fiction

Progress 5/12

Friday, 13 June 2014

Frirday Funnies: The people's poet is dead (Vale Rik Mayall)

First and foremost, a big bloody screw you to Rik Mayall for going and dying on us, meaning that I totally had to go and reschedule some of my Friday Funnies posts. (Amusingly, I had a different Young Ones clip to share this week.) Anyway, in all seriousness, Rik Mayall was a brilliant comedian and in keeping with his style of humour, I think it's totally appropriate to share this strangely prophetic clip. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Writers On Wednesday: Stefan Vucak

Once again, it's time for Writers On Wednesday. This week, I put my questions to Stefan Vucak ...

Tell us a bit about yourself …

As a kid, I liked doing things all other kids liked doing – until I discovered books. After that, I was gone, lost in the universes those books opened up for me and dreaming of writing my own. I had a great time at school, even though English and its convoluted grammar rules did give me some trouble, but those rules gave me a grounding how to write. My first effort was pretty awful and I am glad it will never see the light of day. That thing went through two rewrites, but it still isn’t something I want to share. Call it my training wheels.

My first successful book, although not perfect, a science fiction work, was presentable and I tried for a long time to break into the traditional publishing market while holding down a demanding job in the IT industry, which kept me very busy. But writing has always been a passion and a drive, and I kept at it in my spare time. When eBook publishing took off, I at least got my books out to readers. These days, I am no longer in the IT industry and I spend my time writing, reviewing and being a hardnosed editor. It hasn’t been a bad journey, enabling me to produce eight sci-fi books and four drama/thriller novels. As long as that fire of creation burns within me, I will keep writing.

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

Some years back, still trying to break into the traditional publishing market, having written seven sci-fi novels, I decided to branch into contemporary fiction, thinking it will improve my chances of getting a traditional publisher. It was a productive change and I wrote four novels, but I am still looking for that publisher. Having spent a couple of decades writing science fiction, the characters I created kept tugging at my soul. The last book in the series had opened a window into a whole new adventure, and I simply had to tie up the loose ends, not only for my own piece of mind, but also for all those readers who followed the series. Having finished Strike for Honor, I decided to bite the bullet. In Guardians of Shadow, having destroyed a Kran invader, Terr, Teena and his brother Dharaklin, head for Orieli space where they will begin their cultural exchange mission. In a devastating Kran attack, Teena is taken and Terr seeks to rescue her, confronting an implacable enemy. The Krans also attack Anar’on, the fabled world of the Wanderers. In retaliation, the Wanderers seek to wipe out the blight invading their space. Wielding the hand of Death, Terr is prepared for a final confrontation.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

Having written three books in my sci-fi series, making submissions to traditional publishers and agents and not getting anywhere, I wondered if I was wasting my time pursuing an ambition to be a writer. After all, I had a successful career in IT. When eBook publishers emerged, it opened a window of opportunity to get my books out there. I made several submissions, and one day, I received an e-mail with an offer from an eBook publisher. Reading it gave me a very warm fuzzy. I made it, and I wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner. It really was a highlight of my day. The first book I published was With Shadow and Thunder, a 2002 EPPIE finalist. This success provided an outlet for my books, and a steep learning curve about the eBook publishing industry. After switching from several eBook publishers, not satisfied with the deal where the publisher took most of my royalties and did nothing in return, I decided to self-publish, and haven’t looked back.

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

I am half-way into a new political drama/thriller novel, and I am making hard work of it. Why hard? Despite all my planning, research and writing a detailed outline, when it comes to the actually writing, the story has a number of possible twists and turns, which makes me pause. Of course, my characters sometime take me along a path I did not intend going, and that can be both good and bad. Good inasmuch this can enrich the story, and bad because of the temptation to stray too far from the outlined plot. This tug of war always happens with my books, and I sometimes allow my characters to fly, but I always set the course!

Without giving away too much of the plot, Proportional Response involves a foreign power setting off a natural calamity with the intention of crippling the United States, leaving this power dominating the world’s political and economic agenda. The plan is partially successful and the power responsible now watches with apprehension as an enraged America seeks to uncover the culprit.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I have a study with a window that faces the morning sun. On two sides are tall bookshelves filled with all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction. A traditional desk simply wasn’t large enough to give me space to write and still hold my tower computer and printer, so I had a specially designed workbench made. Now, there is lots of space for everything. The window comes in handy, allowing me to stare absently at nothing in particular, waiting for my thoughts to get ordered.

I always write using a writing pad. I tried composing directly into the computer, but it just doesn’t work for me. Editing and everything else I can do on the computer, but original manuscript must be done on my pad. I used to write using a pencil, erasing stuff as needed, then transcribe the finishes pages into the computer. After a while though, I found this hard on the eyes and switched to using a pen. The problem with a pen is that I could not erase my mistakes, which left my manuscripts full of strikethroughs, slashes and notations. That’s okay. No one will see that except me. I prefer silence when I write the original manuscript, but I don’t mind some background music when I’m on the computer.

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

Today, eBooks are the rage, and they are everywhere. With tablets and smart phones, anyone can download and read an eBook when they have a spare moment or are just lounging on the sofa with a few minutes to spare. For me though, I prefer the tactile feel of a real book in my hands with a tumbler of bourbon at my side to lubricate the thinking processes. I get more involved with a real book: turning the pages and the rustle they make, the smell of a new book, or an old one I dug out of my library. These things cannot be reproduced by a tablet device. Anyway, I found tablets hard on the eyes after a while.

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

Every writer would like to see his or her books plastered in every bookstore, making thousands of sales. I am no exception. However, the harsh reality is that most of us will not achieve that dream, but I don’t write simply to sell my books. I write because I want to share something of my vision, and hopefully entertain my readers. If my books manage to open a new window and make readers think, that is a bonus.


Twitter: @stefanvucak

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Review: The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead

The second instalment in Richelle Mead's future/fantasy Age of X series gets off to a slow start, before each of our three leads find themselves on surprising but life-changing adventures. While book one introduced us to the characters and the futuristic world of the Republic of United North America (Canada and parts of the US,) which is technologically advanced, once ravaged by disease and intolerant of all religion, book two expands on that world and the discoveries made at the end of book one about Gods and religions.

For Justin, it's a trip to dangerous neighbouring country, Arcadia, where he will work as a 'diplomat' while Mae is appointed his bodyguard but will be posing as his concubine during their trip to the backward and sexist nation. (All of this is intended to help the scheming Lucian score political points, as he hopes to win the next election.) Young Tessa, meanwhile, has found herself an appointment as an intern to scheming journalist Daphne. 

Both Mae and Justin have some surprising religious experiences whilst in Arcadia, which help both gain a sense of self ... particularly Mae who is still grappling with the understanding that she is one of the elect, or chosen ones, and her connection to Freya, though her journey plays out in a wonderful way. Justin, meanwhile, begins to bind himself more and more to Odin in some surprising ways. The once innocent Tessa, meanwhile, learns how to play the system and people to get what she wants, before making some important realisations about loyalty. 

Parts of the novel felt very confused and disjointed, though Mead does a brilliant job of connecting the three separate stories together toward the end. The novel ends on quite a cliffhanger, with a new relationship severed and the introduction of another God ... and in keeping with the themes of Nordic and Germanic mythology, this God is none other than Loki, who I imagine will play a big part in the next book in the series. 

The Immortal Crown is an intriguing read, a little slow and a little disjointed in places, though it ties together beautifully. Readers will definitely need to pick up a copy of Gameboard of the Gods (book one in the series,) before reading this one for the complex, futuristic worlds make sense, though this one is definitely a winner. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Dark Heart, Art Gallery of South Australia
During March and April the Art Gallery of South Australia had this unusual, half sunken house on their front lawn to advertise their Dark Heart exhibition. An intriguing advertisement, I couldn't resist taking a photograph before heading inside to take a further glimpse of this exhibition ...

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I just knew that when I picked up this book and learned that the heroine was terminally ill, that it probably was not going to end well. That said, the ending was still a bit of a surprise. Sort of. 

The Fault in Our Stars is a book that has received a lot of publicity in recent months, thanks in part to the popularity of the author with his target audience and the fact that it has just been made into a film, which opened in Adelaide this week. It tells the story of Hazel, a young teenage cancer patient who has lived longer than anyone expected her too, thanks to a tumour shrinking miracle. Hazel is a little bit too smart and a little bit too cynical at times, which is unsurprising given her situation in life. She is also horribly depressed and knows very few people her own age. Her parents insist upon her going to a support group for teenagers with cancer (which she loathes,) and there she meets Gus, a young man whose cancer has been supposedly cured after his leg was amputated. The novel tells the story of how they slowly fall in love and ponders what it must be like to be a teenager with a terminal illness.

I struggled with this one more than I would have liked and that is no fault of the author. This is a well-written book, has (mostly,) likeable characters and offers some real insights into a little-discussed peril of adolescents--that a few will not make it to adulthood and live with realities that are almost unthinkable and difficult for their peers to understand. Massively underplayed is the side-plot where support group member Isaac's girlfriend breaks up with him because she can no longer understand or handle his illness and the temptation to simply walk away becomes too great. (Though I loved the scene where Isaac eggs her car.) Hazel and Gus's interactions with an author who cannot give them the answers that they so desperately seek is amusing. (And, perhaps, a good metaphor.) So, really, I am scratching my head to understand why I did not enjoy this one more. Maybe it is the fact that Hazel comes across as a smart-arsed spoiled brat, as do her friends. Maybe it is because I was not expecting the ending. Maybe it's because when I was eighteen one of my friends died of cancer and it brought back a whole lot of memories about how horribly incompetent I was at handling the whole thing. 

Or more likely, it is the fact that the characters and their situations have a big, fat horrible ring of truth to them. Hazel and Gus are very human. Their not idealised characters. They're ordinary, annoying teenagers who just happen to have a serious illness. And perhaps right there lies the real magic of this book ...

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Review: Being Jade by Kate Belle

Being Jade is a beautifully written, occasionally erotic and occasionally dark tale of a woman who lives by her own rules and challenging notions of what it means to love and what it truly means to be loyal to another person. Australian author Kate Belle (who wrote the brilliant novel, The Yearning,) creates an interesting portrait of a marriage through her characters Banjo and Jade. When the novel opens, we meet Banjo as a ghost. He is recently deceased, killed in an accident shortly after walking out on his wife of more than twenty years. As Banjo tells us his side of the tale, we learn that the pair met when they were in their early teens. He has always been the stable one, from a good, charitable family. Jade was the ratty one, the daughter of an unnamed prostitute. Jade blossoms a little under the gentle guidance of Banjo's family, but we soon discover that her eventual marriage to Banjo will not be a traditional one. As Jade explains when questioned about one of her affairs, 'Banjo, I love you but you have to understand, my body is mine. You can't own and control me.' (p.60).

Banjo reluctantly accepts Jade's infidelities. As the novel progresses, moving back and forward between the past and the present--sometimes with a first person narrative from Banjo and sometimes with a third person narrative from the perspective of their younger daughter Lissy, we learn more of Jade and her affairs and the impact that it has on the entire family. It is something Banjo reluctantly accepts, something that sickens their older daughter Cassy and something which younger daughter Lissy tries hard to understand. The second half of the book, where Jade is inconsolable through her grief at losing Banjo, slowly shows us Jade's side of the story via Jade's artwork and Lissy's meetings with the men that her mother had relationships with. The identity of the final man, the one Jade dared to bring home, along with an unseen piece of artwork, are stunning but beautiful revelations.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and the glimpse it gave us of a unique woman and her family. The writing flows well and the scenes shift easily back and fourth between past and present. The author does a brilliant job of subtly challenging traditional notions of family and fidelity, as well as showing that sometimes there can be more than one side of the story. Brilliant and highly recommended. 

Finally, a big thank you to Simon and Schuster for my review copy. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Writers On Wednesday: Darrin Mason

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I am chatting to the brilliant and funny Darrin Mason, author of 33AD ...

Tell us a bit about yourself …

I have worked much of my adult life as a freelance cartoonist (I am an Australian Cartoon Award winner) whose work has appeared in a number of Australian newspapers and magazines (People magazine and The Truth newspaper to name but two) and as a producer at 4BC radio in Brisbane, Australia. I am one hell of a funny guy with a dark sense of humor who now writes stories that make as much light as possible of the things I find there. I also dabble in the dark side, full stop. That said, I have always returned in one piece so perhaps the dark side isn't so dark after all. Above all else though, I am a fan of Batman. (The 1960s TV version, the late 1980s/early 1990s Michael Keaton version, and the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale trilogy are the only ones that matter. You can forget the rest). As the Metallica song goes, nothing else matters. 

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

33AD is a short parody of the last twelve hours (or so) of the life of Jesus Christ. It's funny and God will smite thee down if you do not buy a copy this very moment so go forth and do so.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

My first published piece was actually a cartoon in the local paper. The story goes that the council wanted to preserve the trees. I had someone wondering how they would fit them in those little jars. And thus, my friends, began an award-winning career.

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

I am working in earnest on a horror novella called ELIZABETH: RISE OF THE KILLER QUEEN. The lead character is based loosely on Elizabeth Bathory, a 16th century Hungarian countess of whom I am particularly fond. It will be out in time for the 400th anniversary of her death (Aug 2014).

Do you have a favourite place to write?

My office. Thinking, on the other hand, of what to write takes place wherever it does.

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

Ebooks are easier to publish while paperbacks/hardcovers can be shown off to those that come to my home. Both have their pros and cons.

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

ON WRITING by Stephen King. It tells you everything you need to know about writing and entertains at the same time.

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

Yes. Brisbane, Australia is a much better place to live. If, however, you choose to stay in Adelaide the least you can do is make your life less miserable by reading more of my books. Thank you.



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Review: We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

We Are Called to Rise left me in tears. The debut novel Laura McBride tells a beautiful and complicated story of how a number of people in difficult circumstances find themselves rising to help others who are in need. Set in Las Vegas, the novel offers readers a very different picture of the city, devoid of the stereotypes that are usually seen in books, film and television. This isn't a tale of fast women and casinos, this is a tale of real people--Avis, whose husband is leaving her for another woman and whose son has returned from Iraq as a changed man, Roberta a woman who fights for social justice, Luis another soldier who is in hospital following a very traumatic incident and Bashkim, an intelligent eight-year-old boy who is the son of Albanian refugees. The first third of the novel allows us to meet the characters. A surprising incident occurs after Bashkim is assigned to be Luis' pen-pal for a school project, however another, far greater incident occurs about a third of the way in that causes many of the characters to bind together in one way or another to help Bashkim, his baby sister and their father. For Roberta, it's a matter of seeing justice done. For Luis, it's a way to atone for a previous mistake. And for Avis, it is a major wake-up call and turning point when she comes to the realisation that she alone cannot help her son.

The ending ties many of the characters together nicely, and offers a wonderful commentary of the human spirit and the good that we can each find within ourselves. I loved the different narratives that ran through the novel, particularly the 'voice' that the author gave to Bashkim. Luis was another character who I found fascinating. I also loved the vivid and very real depictions of Las Vegas. A great novel for anyone who wants to read about the eventual triumph of the human spirit. Highly recommended.

Finally, a big shout out to Anna from Simon and Schuster for my review copy.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Haigh's Car, April 2014
Spotted this delightful vehicle parked on the edge of Gouger Street, just near CIBO a little before Easter. No doubt the car is connected with the company it is advertising, as there is a Haigh's store inside the Central Markets, just a few short steps away. A few weeks after taking this photograph I saw the vehicle and its driver again, but I was not quick enough to get a chance to speak with the driver. (Who probably has people bugging him with questions about the car and requests for chocolate all the time anyway.)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Review: The Word Ghost by Christine Paice

First of all, a big shout out to the Reading Room and publishers Allen and Unwin for my free review copy. Thanks!

The Word Ghost is, without fail, a real treat. This eccentric tale introduces us to the equally eccentric (but utterly likeable,) Rebecca Abraham Budde, the daughter of a Church of England minister who is enjoying a most idyllic adolescence in a small town in England in 1973. Rebecca, who would rather be known as Abraham, is fifteen years old, and rejects politics, biscuits and bombs. She accepts Walnut Whips, David Bowie, Deep Purple and Dave. Dave, of course, being an attractive teenage boy that she sees every day at the bus stop and has never spoken to, but knows that he is 'the one.' Luck is in store when it turns out that Dave is equally attracted to her. Their romance is short lived, however, after a small mishap when Dave's mum arrives home early. (Cough, cough.) Rebecca and her sisters soon find themselves being packed up and moved to an even smaller village, where their father has taken up a Parrish. Rebecca resolves to hate it there.

And then she encounters a ghost. Algernon Keats is not only the cousin of the famous poet, John Keats, but he is living in Rebecca's bedroom, where he happily writes poetry, much to the amusement of the literature loving Rebecca. And then there is Algernon's sister who lives in the house across the street. His sister went insane after being rejected by a complete cad and wants revenge, despite the fact that George March has now been well and truly dead for many years and his distant descendent, brooding artist Alex, is now living inside the house part time. Quite a few amusing love triangles abound within the narrative, with the poetry, ghosts and humour making some very interesting contrasts against the icky themes of adolescence and betrayal, with 1970s England as a backdrop. Algernon was a character I loved, Dave was a pretty accurate portrayal of an ordinary, horny teenage boy and Alex was an absolute bastard, though his character rings very true. 

I highly recommend this one for fans of English Literature or anyone who just wants to sit back and immerse themselves in something a little bit different.