Thursday, 30 April 2015

Review: Before the Fire

Set in the lead up to the London riots of 2011, Before the Fire is an intelligent and believable coming of age story about an eighteen year old boy who is grieving for his best mate. Kieran, better known by his nickname, Stick, believes that his life is finally starting to take a turn for the better. He has suffered a few traumas during his childhood--the death of his sister and his parents divorcing soon after. Stick lives with his mum, who has OCD and who is reluctant to admit that there is a problem. His dad, meanwhile, has remarried and he and his new wife have two daughters. It is not difficult to see why Stick is resentful of his situation, though his parents are presented as being basically okay people (despite their failings,) and who most definitely care about their son. Anyway, Stick and his best mate Mac have organised a trip to Spain, where they are planning to live and work, and Stick is thoroughly looking forward to the change and to leaving Manchester behind. But on the evening of their going away party, Mac is murdered and Stick is left behind ...

Before the Fire is brutal in its honesty and in its portrayal of a troubled teenage boy. And this is exactly what makes it such a compelling read. Far from offering an idealised view of adolescence, the author tells things as they are, presents readers with real-life problems and writes situations that made me stop and think about human nature. I also liked the paring of Stick with J, a delinquent girl with a penchant for trouble. The whole thing is about as far away from a cliched YA romance as you can get and as a reader, I thoroughly appreciated the contrast. Stick, his family and his girlfriend are all far from perfect, but the situations felt real and easy to identify with. I may not necessarily condone everything that the character does, but I loved having the opportunity to try and understand why he did it.

The London riots themselves provide an interesting backdrop and parallel--just as Stick wants answers to the death of Mac and to avenge it--the riots were caused by a demand for answers and a way of avenging one person's murder. It is interesting what Stick does when he finally finds himself face to face with Owen Lee, the man responsible for Mac's murder--the scene shows a real test of character.

If you're looking for a hard-hitting, confronting read about what life can be like for some kids, then Before the Fire is an excellent choice. Recommended.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Writers on Wednesday: Lynette Washington

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I am chatting with Adelaide author, Lynette Washington ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

I’m a short story writer, teacher, editor, reviewer and mother.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

My latest book (as editor) is a short story collection called Breaking Beauty. It is a collection of 28 stories by 27 writers, all on the theme of beauty.

We asked the writers to write about beauty, but we didn’t expect that they would be so brutal with the idea! In the end, what I learnt was that beauty rarely exists without a dark side, a grubby underbelly. 

The stories are so diverse and tackle the theme from so many different angles that it’s a real insight into the complexity of the idea of beauty – which I think is one of the (sometimes dangerous) obsessions of our time.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

I got started late in life. My first (significant) publication was the short story ‘The Swarm’ which was published in an anthology called Stoned Crows and Other Australian Icons edited by Julie Chevalier and Linda Godfrey and published by Spineless Wonders in 2013. It’s a gorgeous collection of prose poems and microfiction poking fun at the idea of established Australian identity and culture.

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

Actually, my proudest moment was showing my kids ‘The Swarm’ in Stoned Crows and writing a little inscription in a copy of it for each of them to keep. They are well and truly too young to read the story, but I wanted them to know that I’d done something important. That was the moment I said to myself ‘you are a real writer, your dreams have officially come true’.
Another moment came at the book launch for Breaking Beauty. My kids were there, of course, and they got to see Mum being something other than mum. For me it’s vital that my kids know I’m doing work that is important to me and that I’m working hard to achieve my goals.
Those moments of celebration – writing the inscription, taking them to the book launch – make those things real and show them the results of my hard work.

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

At the moment I’m wearing far too many hats for my own good. I’m working on finishing my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, writing reviews for The Clothesline (a digital arts website, also based in Adelaide), and doing odd editorial jobs around the place.
My main focus, that I tell myself over and over, is getting my manuscript ready to send off to agents and publishers. It’s a collection of connected short stories and I’m really excited about it. I’ve worked on it for more than three years and it’s time to cut the apron strings and see if it survives in the real world!

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

I’ve tried eBooks and without a doubt I absolutely prefer paper books. I sit in front of a screen all day, most days, and when I read fiction that isn’t for work purposes, I want it to be in paper form. It’s easier on the eyes, it’s nicer to hold, and I like knowing where I am in relation to the whole story just from how the book feels in my hands. I also love looking at a large shelf full of books, and lending much-loved books to friends.

Recently I’ve read a couple of beautiful books that have been created, in print, with a bespoke aesthetic in mind that have reminded me that paper books can be beautiful artefacts as well as devices to transmit story. Angela Meyer’s Captives and Michele de Krester’s A Ghost Story both have gorgeous illustrations peppered throughout that are touch-worthy artworks in their own right. eBooks have yet to achieve this.

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

I’m a fan of both.

I was published by a small, boutique publisher in South Australia, MidnightSun Publishing, and the experience was entirely wonderful. I developed a strong, personal relationship with my publisher. I was consulted every step of the way and given considerable freedom. I was encouraged to assist with all aspects of marketing and publicity (something I enjoy).

I feel like I learned an enormous amount about the industry, gained important contacts and was able to produce a book I was proud of and had a great investment in. It was a process I would repeat in a heartbeat.

Having said that, I know many writers who are achieving significant success and personal satisfaction publishing their own books independently and I salute them! The industry is big enough for both, and should accommodate both.

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

Wow, that is a tough question. Can I refer you to my blog, where I list a bunch of books that I love, along with the reasons I love them?

For those who can’t be bothered following a link…well…I’ve never been good at reducing anything to the ‘1 greatest thing’.

I will be annoyingly vague and say ‘the one book that speaks to you the loudest’. I’m not a believer in ‘the canon’ as such. I don’t think there is a single list of books that everyone should read. I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’ve only ever seen the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t consider myself a lesser reader or writer because of these facts. There are just too many great books in the world. Everyone’s ‘canon’ should be different. It should include whatever you want it to!
Just read what speaks to you the loudest.


You can buy Breaking Beauty on the publisher’s website:
And Amazon:
And at all good bookshops!


The Clothesline

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simson

I have to admit, I was very reluctant to read The Rosie Project.  

In fact, it ended up staying at the bottom of my to-read pile for thirteen months. When you write a book review blog, writing reviews of books that have received a lot of hype, and that everyone seemed to love, can often prove difficult. It's easy to end up looking like a pretentious dickhead if it turns out that you're that one reader who hates it, and it's just as easy to look like a sheep who is following a collective oohing and ahhing if you love it. And if you're ambivalent, well someone who loves it is going to try and convince you that you should love it. Consequently, I ended up reading The Rosie Project only after I was stuck at home with a virus and had exhausted most of my to-read pile. (Don Tillman would be shocked by my methods, I'm sure.)

By the time I was three pages in, I realised that I was probably going to be joining the collective oohing and ahhing. There is no escaping it. The Rosie Project is a very cleverly told tale of Don Tillman, a man of extreme intelligence and who routine. He also has very poor social skills. Anyway, Don decides that it is time that he found himself a wife and starts searching in the only way that he knows how--by creating a questionnaire that will help him find an ideal match. And then along comes Rosie, a woman who, according to his questionnaire would be his least likely match. Through misadventure, the inevitable happens and Don learns that love isn't necessarily something that can be planned, or that one can apply scientific methods to.

I've read a number of reviews of The Rosie Project and I have noticed that many readers focus on the possibility that Don may have Asperger's, (the second chapter paves way for the possibility,) but the book never mentions whether or not Don has been diagnosed with Asperger's or any other developmental disorder. Ultimately, I suppose it is left up to the reader to decide. At the heart of the book is an unlikely love story, and with a main a character that I, as a reader, sometimes invested in, cheered for and occasionally became angry with. And this, of course, may just be the same as how I might react to someone like Don if I knew them in real life. 

Highly recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015

Monday, 27 April 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Located in North Adelaide since 2012, this statue is titled Simpson and his Donkey and pays tribute to medical personnel who served the Australian Army Medical Corps. 

It was surrounded by a beautiful array of petunias when I photographed it in mid-March 2015. 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Review: Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowy

As well as being a contender for the novel with the longest title that I have ever read, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You is probably one of the stranger YA novels that I have read this year. Told completely in lists, we learn the story of Darren Jacobs, a young man who is, well, having a little bit of a rough time. His parents have divorced, his brother has left for college, his best mate has just moved away and then he is hit with a bombshell. His dad is gay. Darren loves his dad and wants for his dad to be happy, but he is also at an awkward age, where his childhood is not quite over yet and the adult world, and the way that adults handle their relationships, seems quite frightening, strange and occasionally stupid. Enter an unexpected road trip with Zoey, a fascinating but eccentric girl from his school, and Darren soon finds himself discovering a newfound sense of independence and self-acceptance.

This one was enjoyable enough and funny in places, though I did feel that it dragged on for far longer than it needed to. The list format made the novel quite easy to read, and I think that many readers, especially teenage boys, will enjoy the format and the self-depreciating humour. From the perspective of an adult reader, it is a good reminder of how young people view the world and how eccentric adult behaviour can sometimes appear to teenagers. It also raises the issue of how, sometimes, we can know very little about the people around us, even when we love them and care for them, just as sometimes we may have trouble knowing and understanding ourselves.

I think this one will be enjoyed by teenagers, male and female, who are interested in reading something that goes a bit deeper and that raises some interesting questions.

I also love the clever black and yellow cover.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia and Netgalley for my ARC.

This book was read as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015

Category: Epistolary Fiction

Progress 5/12

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Friday, 24 April 2015

Friday Funnies: Bugs Bunny Comics

When we were kids, my brothers and I used to find these old Bugs Bunny comics like the one featured above floating around our local secondhand shops all the time. Many were bought, read and traded with other neighbourhood kids, a few fell apart and I think I may still have one or two packed in a box somewhere. I remember the covers better than the comics themselves, though they must have been enjoyable enough if we kept buying them. I cannot recall ever seeing a brand new one, or buying one from the Galactic Trading Post (a comic shop in Twin Street, Adelaide, where my uncle worked in the late 1980s and early 1990s,) so it is probable that they stopped printing them in Australia well before then. If anyone has any information on these old comics, feel free to share in the comments section. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Review: Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn J McLeod

Season of Shadow and Light by Australian author Jenn J McLeod is almost certain to delight fans and new readers alike. Featuring a cast of strong female characters this novel examines the concept of nature versus nurture and questions under what circumstances is it acceptable to break a promise.

The novel opens with Paige, a wife and mother who has lived a seemingly privileged life in a wealthy, upper-middle class suburb of Sydney. She has a wealthy husband, a wonderful daughter and her much-loved stepmother, Alice, lives in the house next door. However, there has been some dark moments in Paige's life of late--her son was stillborn and she has suffered a stroke, which has robbed her of her sense of taste and smell. Added to that is the discovery of a betrayal by her husband and it is completely understandable while Paige may not be feeling the best. She decided that a break is needed and with Alice and Paige's daughter, Matilda, in tow, she takes a road trip that leads to Coolabah Tree Gully, which in turn leads them to some surprising people, one of whom seems quite different on the surface, but who may be closer to Paige than she first realises ...

Season of Shadow and Light was an enjoyable read, one that kept me up well into the evening as I wondered how the terrible secret that Alice had been trusted with would be resolved. Although Paige was a strong and likeable character and it was wonderful to read about her blossoming relationship with Aiden, for me it Alice who I truly admired throughout the story. An exceptionally strong woman, Alice has suffered and sacrificed much, yet she has a lot of love for the people around her. Alice's reasons for her actions are something best left to be discovered by the reader, so I will not describe them in detail, but I will say that I was impressed by the character and how she handles a difficult set of circumstances. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed is the way each character and relationship is treated with respect and sensitivity. There is also a bit of fun with wordplay, as readers will discover in the first few pages.

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

P.S. Keep your eyes peeled for the Season of Shadow and Light blog tour:

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Writers on Wednesday: Rosanne Dingli

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I am chatting with prolific Australian author, Rosanne Dingli ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

Kathryn, I’ve been writing professionally for more than 30 years, with stints as journalist, columnist, reviewer, editor-in-chief, literary editor and more, working with academic, traditional, and commercial publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers. I have also taught and lectured in Creative Writing at ECU, TAFE, and at writing organizations in Western Australia. So I can say that I understand publishing and writing, how they work, and how fast the changes have taken place – especially since 2009. I understand what new writers need, so I have facilitated a great number of workshops, and have given talks specifically aimed at emerging authors.

I am not only an author. I also edit, typeset, and format and design books for new authors. This side-line is interesting and absorbing, and I sometimes prefer the work, because it offers a more reliable income.

My first book, my collected poems, was published by a small press in 1991, and my first novel by a South Australian press, now defunct, in 2001. Publishing has never been a problem – and it’s easier than ever now to put out a book and see some satisfying results for all the hard work. What is still difficult – and I suppose this will never change – is raising awareness about the existence of one’s books. Gaining recognition for one’s name, and increasing sales, have always been the hardest tasks facing any author.

I do not really rely on book sales for an income; which is lucky, because I don’t like that kind of pressure. Still, I try to publish a book every year, because it’s much easier to provide new books for an existing fan base, than to have to seek new readers for the same few books all the time.

Tell us about your most recently published book.

The Hidden Auditorium is my fourth novel. It is a companion volume to the previous one, According to Luke. They are both cultural mystery/thrillers with a romantic aspect. They take the reader on a chase that includes art, music, history and other verifiable facts. There is mystery and real history taking place in locations that readers say are the essence and background of everything I write. I feel that location is one aspect in fiction that really grounds action and character. Luckily, I have travelled quite a lot, and most of my locations have been experienced first-hand.

Tell us about the first time you were published.

I have published many, many short pieces, such as poems, short fiction, columns, articles, reviews, essays, and so forth since 1985. My book of collected poems came out in 1991. Titled All the Wrong Places, it was launched by Literary Mouse Press – way back when eBooks were still a dream, and when it was still not the done thing to publish one’s own work. The launch was great fun, we sold a great number of books, and it seemed like an adventure at the time. Now, with the slim volume, which contains 90 poems, republished under my own imprint, I am seeing a small revival in interest.

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

The fact I’m still writing and publishing, and selling more books than ever before, is very gratifying. My publishers all closed their doors, including my most recent one, BeWrite Books, who took me and my first novel on when Jacobyte Books in South Australia shut their doors in 2004. BeWrite published another two of my novels. In 2009, I realized how easy it was becoming to self-publish, so I launched several of my own titles – mostly collections of awarded and published short stories – myself. The success is moderately pleasing. We all wish we could achieve more sales.
When BeWrite Books closed down in 2012, all my titles, including my novels, became my sole responsibility, and I have never looked back. My latest novel is the only one of my books that has never been in the hands of a publisher.

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

I have just finished my fifth novel, which is now in production, and have started my sixth. They are both departures from my usual artsy mysteries, and are both a bit of a risk – but isn’t that what we independent authors are most adept at doing … taking risks? I am writing what I love, in a style that I love.

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

I tend to prefer paper books, because I work on a screen all day, and the last thing I want to do is take another screen to bed with me at night. So I sleep surrounded by paperbacks – stacks of them. I hunt down cheap copies of titles by my favourite authors, and read them several times each. Pure enjoyment.

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

Both. Definitely both. There was a period when I was a hybrid author, with both trad-and indie published volumes, and the tandem effect made me very happy. It is the ideal situation for any author. When the time comes, I might seek another publisher willing to take on a couple of my titles.

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

I do not believe in “should”. It’s a very misleading and deluding word. Just as there are many character-types, many kinds of personalities, many sorts of habits, likes and dislikes, preferences and tastes, fields of endeavour and areas of expertise and knowledge, there are different books. There are appropriate books for everyone, and they are certainly not the same books, whether fiction or non-fiction. I know what I should read, perhaps, but I’m not about to suggest that everyone else should do so too. I have a set of favourite authors which I regularly suggest to other people, and a few of these are Annie Proulx, Robert Goddard, AS Byatt, John Fowles, Ian McEwan, Anita Shreve and Nicci French.

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

I’ve only been to Adelaide once, I’m afraid, and it’s too long ago to be relevant today, but I would love to return and give a couple of readings. I do have readers there, and a couple of fellow authors, such as Meredith Whitford. An author who writes historical fiction based in South Australia, Stephen Crabbe, knows a great deal about this fine Australian state. Perhaps he would be a fascinating choice for an interview.

Thank you so very much for inviting me to meet your readers, Kathryn – this has been good fun.


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Review: Weightless by Sarah Bannan

At the time of writing this post, Weightless by Sarah Bannan is my favourite read of 2015. The novel offers readers an unflinching look at the nature of bullying, mental illness and how easily the tables can be turned. Do two wrongs ever make a right? Was bullying really the cause of a high student's suicide, or just one of many unpleasant experiences that contributed to Carolyn Lessing's decision to take her own life? Did the system fail Carolyn, or did she fail herself?

Set in a high school in Alabama, Weightless is hauntingly narrated by a group of Juniors who refer to themselves as a collective "we." They live in a town with a two major interests, religion and football, though mostly they spend their time praying that the school football team will win. (In many parts of America high school football teams can be a huge income earner for the school.) Anyway, the kids at the school have known each other since birth. No new kids ever arrive here. The current crop of students know all of the unspoken rules about social conduct--cheerleaders don't socialise with kids on the swim team for example, and that certain couples belong together. When new girl Carolyn arrives in town, she has no idea of these "rules" and soon makes enemies of popular girls Brooke and Gemma for breaking them. Over the course of the year, the bullying becomes worse, what friends Carolyn has made drift away and she is dumped, brutally first by popular boy Shane and then by popular boy Andrew. Along the way, we see numerous instances of cyber-bullying, rumours gone wild and the odd glimpse into Carolyn's personal life which suggests that her personal and home life may not be quite as she makes out and that has a mental illness. The final few chapters focus on the aftermath of Carolyn's suicide and how the bullies become targets on a national and very public scale.

There is something enjoyably unnerving about this cautionary tale as author Bannan carefully examines human nature--peer group pressure, unspoken rules and a fear of anyone who might be a little bit different. There is also a look at keyboard warriors and how easily the Internet can be used to say hurtful and damaging things about others. What begins as a witch hunt against Carolyn soon becomes a witch hunt against her tormentors and, really, no side is better than the other. Carolyn's essays and the transcripts of her discussions with the student guidance counsellor offer the reader some insights into her life. I also found it interesting that although Carolyn was easily smarter than her tormentors, Brooke and Gemma were far more adept at manipulating the people around them and this gives them the edge. Shane and Andrew come across as equally disgusting--both dump Carolyn at the first sign of any trouble (despite the fact that they supposedly care about her,) and have a much easier time escaping their small town in the wake of all the trouble. The question remains, of course, was all of it really their fault? Or did they just help contribute to a much bigger problem?

A thoroughly worthwhile read, and oddly addictive read, and a realistic glimpse into the nature of bullying as well as a look into the life of a teenage girl who is far more vulnerable than what she may appear on the surface. 

Highly recommended. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

At Christies Beach, they certainly know how to decorate a Stobie pole. (For the benefit of anyone who lives overseas or interstate, in South Australia we don't have wooden poles to hold up overhead cables. Instead, we use what is known as a Stobie pole and they are made from a combination of cement and steel.) This painted pole is located directly across the road from the high school (and may, technically at least be in Christie Downs, not Christies Beach,) and makes a nice contrast to the usual bland Stobie pole. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Review: The First Time We Met by Pippa Croft

British romance author Phillipa Ashley has veered into new territory with The First Time We Met, volume one of a steamy new trilogy set at Oxford University. Lauren Cusack is the daughter of a US Senator and has decided to study abroad for a short while to help mend her broken heart. Her plans take a surprising turn when she meets roguish English aristocrat Alexander Hunt and a steamy, but heartbreaking relationship begins.

What had the potential to be a fun, guilty pleasure read was let down by a clunky, clumsy narrative and a heroine who seemed more arrogant and ignorant than naive. Sadly, this one was not a winner for me, though some of the love scenes are scorching hot.

Not really recommended.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Review: Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger by V.C. Andrews

Echoes of Dollanganger, I suspect will be best remembered by fans for it's epilogue which describes a surprising turn of events--the return from the dead of a major character from Flowers in the Attic. (And yes, that character is a Foxworth.) Picking up where the previous novel in the Diaries series leaves off, ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman reunites readers with Kristen Masterwood, a heroine with blonde hair, cerulean blue eyes and a mysterious link to the Foxworth family. Kristen also has in her possession a diary that belonged to Christopher Dollanganger and is reading about his time locked away in the attic by his mother and grandmother ...

As was the case in Secrets of Foxworth (read my review here) the strongest scenes are the diary entries. This novel tells the second half of the story, where the children suffer the most cruelty, where Christopher's relationship with Cathy is challenged and when the surviving children plan their escape. Christopher's storytelling remains very precise and to the point. (How many teenage boys would be able to accurately and confidently use the word 'menarche' in a sentence, for example? Although correct, it is a surprising word choice, particularly when puberty would suffice and would much more likely be understood by his ditzy mother.) And once again, it is lovely to revisit those scenes from a much-loved book.

Kristen's story is marginally less interesting. Kane has found her diary and proves himself to be far less of a gentleman than Christopher Dollanganger by insisting to Kristen that they read the diary together in her attic and that he will wear a blonde wig, so that he and Kristen may pretend to be Christopher and Cathy. The roleplaying comes across as creepy, disturbing and, dare I say it, just a little bit funny for all the wrong reasons, rather than sexy.  

The most truly memorable part of this one was the epilogue and the discovery that a much loved character from Flowers in the Attic may still be alive and living under a different name. What then, of the chilling discovery that Cathy made in the attic all those years ago, the one that caused Corrine to go mad? Of course, it has been debated among fans before who may have started the fire in Foxworth hall, whether it was Cathy or Corrine (and either had their reasons,) but the real clue that Cory is dead comes from Corrine's reaction. At the end of Petals on the Wind, she is able to dismiss everything until she is confronted with the possibility that Cathy may have discovered Cory's body. It's our best clue that Cory is dead. However, in Echoes of Dollanganger we are provided with the possibility of a plastic skeleton, that the attic always smelled bad because it was never properly aired and that Cory may have been abandoned at the hospital and subsequently adopted by a wealthy family. Unless, of course, William Anderson's connection to the Foxworth family turns out to be quite different.

Is the mysterious old man who calls himself William Anderson really who Kristen believes him to be? (Or is he just a nut?) Will his story help to explain Kristen's own connection to the Foxworth family? These questions remain open at the end of Echoes of Dollanganger and I hope that they, along with the fortunes of Cathy's children Jory, Bart and Cindy, and her grandchildren, Darren and Deirdre, will be revealed before the conclusion of the Diaries series.

Recommended for fans of Secrets of Foxworth. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Friday Funnies: Help! Memes!

This one was so weird that I just had to share it.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin

Denton Little's Deathdate is a deliciously dark and offbeat YA comedy/drama about coping with death at a young age ... or not. Set in the not-so-distant future, Denton Little lives in a world where everybody knows the exact date of their death, though they have no idea how it will happen. And seventeen-year-old Denton Little's death date is fast approaching, though not before he gets through a few firsts, such as his first hangover and his first and, somewhat awkward, love triangle. From there, the author creates a number of surprising twists and turns, including a strange virus (featuring a very unusual purple rash) and some almost-brushes-with-death with a yellow car.

Although the premise was a little far-fetched, this novel was bloody amusing in all the right ways and I found myself happily suspending my disbelief throughout a number of odd twists and turns that will no doubt appeal to the target YA audience. Many of the characters felt very human and it was interesting to see the way that they coped with the surefire knowledge that, on this given day, someone who they care about will die. And then, of course, there is the way Denton himself reacts to the news. The author has a lot of fun exploring the subject matter, for example, there are some great scenes where Denton's funeral is held the day before he dies and he gets to deliver his own eulogy. The ending was something of a surprise, though, going back, I could see that the author had perfectly set all of the groundwork. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. 

Highly recommended.

Finally, a bit shout out and you to Simon and Schuster Australia and Netgalley for my review copy. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Writers on Wednesday: Susan Murphy

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I am chatting with Adelaide based author, Susan Murphy ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

I’m an author with HarperCollins Australia, mum to 3 fabulous ratbags, wife of 15 years, marriage celebrant, university student, teacher, Government employee and self-confessed chocolate addict. I’ve been found on numerous occasions hiding in the pantry while eating my stash.

My life can be chaotic most of the time, but I don’t seem to be able to function when I’m standing still! I work 3 days a week in a Government department and conduct wedding ceremonies (and a range of other ceremonies) on weekends. For the last few years I’ve also been travelling the country teaching Ongoing Professional Development to marriage celebrants and doing a writing degree with the University of South Australia.

I have an amazing little albino cockatiel who insists on being on my shoulder at every opportunity and a couple of gorgeous puppies, Bubbles and Jasper who keep me on toes (usually hiding things they’ve chewed before my husband gets home).

Tell us about your most recently published book?

‘Confetti Confidential: They Do, I Don’t’ is a fun chick-lit story loaded with cringe-worthy moments, family, love, weddings and disaster. When the main character, Genevieve discovers that her husband of 19 years has been having an affair she confronts him in a dramatic scene. Left hurt and fed-up, Viv decides that she no longer believe in love, in fact she can’t stand it, but unfortunately as a marriage celebrant it’s constantly in her face. With 10 weddings already booked and paid for she decides that once they’re done, then so is she. She’ll give up being a celebrant forever. With her 3 crazy sisters by her side and best friend, Tom, Viv sets out to get through all 10 weddings which result in some hilarious moments. As new men enter her life she also has to once again navigate all that it is to be single including paranoia, waxing, awkward sexual encounters and embarrassing slip-ups. Overall, this book is a mix of love and heart-break with romance, fun and laughter.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

As an aspiring writer I never thought I’d hear those words ‘we like it’ from a publisher, but in August last year (while walking down a street in Hawaii, those wonderful words were uttered by the good people of Harper Collins and only 6 months later on Feb 1st 2015 ‘Confetti Confidential: They Do, I Don’t’ was released.

My children, of course, immediately thought we’d won the lotto when I started hollering in the middle of the street and doing a happy dance. They were pleased, but deflated to find out I’d only been offered a publishing contract. I was over the moon!

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

Finishing! Honestly, I have never felt prouder than I did the moment I finished writing this book. (That was until the edits came back!) I remember that the day I finished it I felt as if I had just been let out of prison after a long stint. That sounds bad, but it wasn’t. My head had been in this story for so long, constantly re-working the characters, their lives and their stories. I’d ride the bus thinking about them, cook dinner with them talking to each other in my head, I was like a zoned out potatoe. I’ve learnt now how to turn it on and off rather than have it constantly consuming my thoughts, but when I finished this manuscript it was like being set free for the first time in months. It felt amazing!

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

I’m currently working on book 2 in this series which is set for released May 1st 2015. I’m also working on another wedding based story set in Hawaii, given my recent travels there and have plans for a few other chick-lit, fun reads.

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

Oooooh, hard one! I’ve always been a book person. I like the feel of a book and turning the pages, but after getting my first Kindle for Christmas, I have to admit, it’s pretty damn awesome. I jump around a lot with my reading so being able to take a Kindle loaded with different genres when I’m travelling or on the bus is fantastic. I gave myself a neck injury from carrying a hand bag stuffed with a Patricia Cornwell novel in it once. Those things way a tonne (but are so worth the injury!)

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

I respect both 100% Traditional publishing isn’t for everyone and neither is Indie. I think that writer’s need to do what feels right for them and their work and if they feel they want or need a traditional publisher then great, but if not then Indie is a fabulous way to get their work out there and read by the masses. When I look for books I go by what appeals to me about it, not by who published it.

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

Well, if you’re a writer or love words then Mark Tredinnik’s ‘Little Red Writing Book’. I fell in love with it when I had to read it as a text for university. It really made me think about my writing and the way I portray things.

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

Let’s have coffee! I’m a born and bred Adelaidian and spend most lunchtimes in book shops in and around the mall. I’m hoping to have a launch for ‘Confetti Confidential: They Do, I Don’t’ sometime in April in or around the CBD, (yet to be decided). Keep an eye on my Facebook page: for details.

~ Lol, we probably see each other at bookshops and cafes all the time and never realise, Kathryn.


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

The moral and ethical implication of embryo donation are at the heart of Claiming Noah, the debut novel from Australian author Amanda Ortlepp. Catriona and James are keen to start a family. When an IVF treatment is successful, they decide to donate the remaining embryo. Childless couple Diana and Liam, meanwhile, have just received the news that they have been waiting for--after a lengthy wait, an embryo is available. Two boys are born, just a month apart. The lives of Catriona and Diana could not be more different. Diana happily settles into motherhood, while Catriona suffers a psychotic episode that sees her removed temporarily into psychosis. When Catriona returns from hospital, she notices some differences in Sebastian, her son. Meanwhile, Diana's son, Noah, is missing ...

Claiming Noah is not so much driven by the mystery of who took baby Noah (that is fairly obvious,) but the implications that Catriona and James' decision to donate an embryo had on their lives, the lives of Diana and Liam and ultimately, the life of Noah. Who does Noah belong to, really? Diana and Liam? Catrionia and James? Or is he in actual fact a part of all of their lives?

This novel is filled with gut wrenching emotional drama as the reader shares in the lives of the characters--pregnancies, psychosis, abductions, custody battles, affairs and the heartache of discovering that ones spouse has done the unthinkable. The writing itself is very accessible, Ortlepp does not fill narrative with medical or legal terminology, or overlong descriptions and makes complex issues easy for her readers to understand. I found the ending to be satisfactory, given the issues.

Recommended, but keep some tissues nearby.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my review copy.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015

Monday, 13 April 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Rhythm by Greg Johns 
This large artwork has graced the Glenelg foreshore since 1978 and has survived many upgrades to the area. Titled rhythm, it is made of up a series of well-paced semi-circles and looks lovely with the beach in the background. In summertime, it is not unusual to see children playing on and around the artwork. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Review: Twice Upon a Time, Edited by Joshua Allen Mercier

Twice Upon a Time is a brilliant new anthology, featuring some very clever retellings of fairy tales, folklore and ancient myths and published by the Bearded Scribe Press. Fairytales, folklore and myths are, of course, tales designed to educate us on everything from the changing of the seasons, to morality tales on how to live right. Each story in Twice Upon a Time puts a new twist onto this old theme. The authors are as diverse as the stories (and their new settings,) themselves. There are some debut authors, along with some more established names. My personal favourites were Forbidden Fruit (a clever retelling of The Red Shoes,) while The First Day of Winter was a wonderful re-imagining of The Selkie Bride (the latter already being one of my favourites from Clarissia Pinkola Estes' brilliant Women Who Run With the Wolves.) Another great highlight was Tarran Jones' All That Glitters, a retelling of Brothers Grimms The Silver Hands.

At 706 pages (much the same size as my own, old copy of Grimms Fairy Tales,) Twice Upon a Time took me a little while to get through. I soon found that I enjoyed it best when reading just one or two stories in a sitting, as this gave them maximum impact. (I often find that if I read three or more short stories in a row, that they begin to blend together and lose some of their impact.) Anyway, if you love fairytales and retellings, this one deserves a place on your bookshelf, or a spot on your eReader.

Thank you to Joshua Allen Mercier for my electronic ARC and also to Tarran Jones for signing my print copy (in gold, no less, which I thought was a lovely touch.)

This book was read as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015 

Category: Retellings

Progress 4/12

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Guest Post: Lisa Joy "Traditional Publishing is a Partnership"

Hi folks. Lisa Joy, author of Yes, Chef! has been kind enough to write a guest post for us today. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her thoughts on how traditional publishing is a partnership and I think that you will too, Kathryn.

Traditional publishing is a partnership  - Lisa Joy

Two years ago, if a psychic told me my debut novel would be chicklit, I would have dismissed them as a charlatan. I wrote fantasy and read literary fiction, but when I began writing Yes, Chef! there was no doubt in my mind that the voice was chicklit.

When you begin writing a book in a genre you’re not overly familiar with it’s difficult to know what readers will expect; what notes in the story they’ll want you to hit. As a new writer, I tried not to get bogged down by this. When I wrote Yes, Chef! I didn’t have publication in mind. Of course, I thought it would make a nice added bonus but I honestly just wanted to prove to myself that I could finish a book and I had so much fun achieving this goal.

I was surprised and ecstatic when Penguin picked it up so quickly for their Destiny Romance imprint. I didn’t think of myself as a romance writer but I was well aware that publishing was a business and, like it or not, we all must fit in to a package readers will recognise (at least in the beginning). The number one question a publisher asks when reading your manuscript is - will it sell? The sales team wants to hear things like – It’s a little bit Devil Wears Prada and a little bit Bridget Jones’s Diary, and even though I knew this before I submitted, I had no idea just how much these comparisons would impact on the finished product.

One of the first hurdles my editor and I tackled was making my heroine, Becca, more likable. I struggled with this in the beginning because I’d never considered whether or nor she was likeable. To me, she was just herself. I was writing about a good-hearted but selfish young woman who was unsatisfied with life. She worked in a stressful, thankless environment that brought out the worst in her. Yes, you want to slap her every now and then but, in my mind, that’s what made her growth throughout the story more rewarding. My editor, with all her experience and wisdom, knew that a heroine that was too negative was more likely to make readers put the book down and not pick it up again.

The next major point we worked on was the ending. My editor wanted a ‘happily-ever-after’ moment and again I struggled with this because I still didn’t believe I’d written a romance. I didn’t see this so much as a compromise but more as a learning curve. I knew my book was more about friendship and work-life balance and dealing with dissatisfaction, but if I thought about it, I too cheered when Mark Darcy kissed Bridget Jones in the snow, lifting her off the ground so her underpants were on show to the whole street. During the whole editorial process I was assured that these were just suggestions; some I compromised on and others I stuck to my guns on in order to preserve the authenticity of the world I had created.

When it came to the cover, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had ideas of a London skyline. I wanted readers to know they were in for a bit of armchair travelling when they read the book as there are also scenes in Istanbul and Florence. The original eBook cover is illustrated and stylised; you immediately know it’s chicklit. I’ll admit the paperback cover is slightly more girlie than I would have liked but I trust in Penguin’s knowledge of the market and what’s selling and it does depict the sense of fun in Becca’s story.

I think being originally published under a romance imprint impacted on the way my book was marketed, which is understandable. And yet, I still struggle to know how to label it. It’s not romance as Becca’s romantic trysts are really more of a sideline than a main event. I’m also not sure if it’s strictly chicklit as I’ve had a number of men say how much they enjoyed the book. Foodie fiction is the term that sits best and I’ve enjoyed exploring this genre in my second book, which, fingers crossed, will be release by Penguin this time next year. I’m still discovering who I want to be as a writer and I have no doubt that with the support of my editor this will become clearer over time the more books I write.

As with any good partnership, traditional publishing is partly about compromise in order to reach your common goal. And yet, I wouldn’t be without it. I have no doubt that Yes, Chef! is a better book for their experience and skill, their knowledge of the market and enthusiasm and support for my writing. In the end, letting go of a little control in order to produce a better finished product seems a small price to pay.