Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Best Books of 2015

Best Book Overall

Don't underestimate this tale of bullying and peer pressure in the early twenty-first century ... where some of the weapons are new and where the consequences can be cruel and complex.

Honourable Mentions

Best Biography
Best Australian (Contemporary)

Best Australian (Literary/Memoir)

Island Home by Tim Winton

Best Romance

Best YA

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016

For the third year in a row, I will be participating in the Eclectic Reader Challenge. Hosted by Book'd Out, the challenge aims to encourage readers to step out of their comfort zones and try new books and genres. This year, the twelve categories are:

  1. A book about books (fiction or nonfiction)
  2.  Serial killer thriller
  3.  Paranormal romance
  4.  A novel set on an island
  5. Investigative journalism (non fiction)
  6. Disaster fiction
  7. Steampunk sci fi
  8. Any book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  9. Psychology (non fiction)
  10. Immigrant Experience fiction
  11. YA historical fiction
  12. A debut author in 2016

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Review: Island Home by Tim Winton

I grew up on the world's largest island begins this beautifully written landscape memoir by one of Australia's most beloved authors. In Island Home Winton masterfully details the West Australian landscape, adding in his personal memories and his occasional (and entirely appropriate for the subject matter) political view. 

This one is very easy reading, pick it up and let the details of the Australian landscape take you away. What really struck me--and is something that I have never thought about--is just how diverse the landscape in Australia actually is. The Western Australian landscape that is so beloved and written about so beautifully, is so different from what I experience here in South Australia, and travelling east or north provides new sights and experiences again. It is also a novel of enormous change--Winton grew up in the 1970s and has seen many changes to the landscape and many of them are not for the better--and a wake up call to preserve the unique beauty that we have in this land before it is lost for good.

Highly recommended. 

Monday, 28 December 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

In early December, Hurtle Square copped a yarn bombing courtesy of the City South Association, Catherine House and the Adelaide City Council. I think the results look pretty good.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Aussie Author Challenge 2016

In 2016 I plan to take part in the Aussie Author Challenge for the second year in a row. For those of you who are not familiar with the challenge, it is hosted over at Booklover Book Reviews, is now in its seventh year and encourages participants to read books by a wide range of Australian authors. There are three levels of participation--Wallaby, Wallaroo and Kangaroo. This year, I am aiming for Kangaroo, which is the top level.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: Fan Outrage at Suggestion that "Batman Smells"

NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--Self confessed Batman "superfan" Davinda Smith, age 8, has been outraged by recent rumours that have been circulating among the children in his neighbourhood that his favourite superhero has a problem with his body odour and personal hygiene. "People have been really mean about it," Davinda told our reporter. "Poor Batman. He's just out there, doing his job and trying to defend the world against evil, and all people can do is laugh at him and make up silly songs saying that he smells. It's not fair, and I want to put a stop to it."

Davinda was further annoyed that his favourite Christmas carol, "Jingle Bells" had been ruined in the process. "Now every time I'm at the shops and I hear Jingle Bells, some other kid has to ruin it by singing the Batman version," he sighs. "I just want things to go back to the way they were last Christmas, when I was still only seven. Back then, in the good old days, everyone was a lot nicer and a lot better behaved ..."

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and followers.
May the holidays and 2016 be great.
May you all smile, laugh and be merry.
May you all learn not to take life too seriously.

~ Kathryn.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Review: Lost in His Eyes by Andrew Neiderman

Prolific American author Andrew Neiderman (best know for his novel The Devil's Advocate and for his work as the ghostwriter for V.C. Andrews, following Andrews) makes a welcome return to romantic suspense with Lost in His Eyes, a novel about an upper middle class woman who finds herself caught up in an illicit affair with a handsome stranger. But a sinister twist lurks between the pages in this book--and when I found it, I wondered how I never saw it coming. 

Clea Howard is the bored, upper middle class wife of the somewhat dull Ronnie and a bratty teenager named Kelly. Life is dreary, until she finds part time work, and encounters a mysterious but handsome man at the supermarket. Soon Clea and Lancaster are arranging secret meetings and Clea finds herself in the midst of a fantasy like illicit affair. But not all things are like they seem.

This was an enjoyable and surprising read with a clever twist at the end. Parts of it felt a little like a soap opera and perhaps a bit over the top, and the way that most of the upper middle class women were portrayed as frigid and terrified of their own sexuality bugged me just a little, the concept is intriguing enough, as was the way I got a few (illicit) giggles at upper class snobbery. At first, I had Lancaster pinned as a kind of stalker (he seems to know a bit too much about Clea's business,) but the truth is something far more surprising and is handled expertly by the author.


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

How old is Jon Arbuckle From Garfield?

It is no secret that Garfield from the beloved Garfield comic strip counts his birthday as June 19 1978, and that every year the comic strip has a special birthday celebration. In recent years, the celebration has become an even bigger event, spilling over to social media and when Garfield turned 25 there was even a special Garfield themed cruise. But one questions remains? If Garfield's birthday is June 19, making him thirty-seven years old this year, then how old is his hapless owner, Jon?

Well, here is your answer.

Source: Go Comics

In a comic strip that debuted on December 23 1980 Jon declares that he is twenty-nine years old, and that he would be thirty, but he was sick a year. (His illness was never specified, though it is completely within the realms of possibility that Jon spent time in a mental asylum.) If Jon has indeed aged in real time, this would put his possible birth date at December 23 1950, making him sixty-five years old today, or sixty-four if one does not count the year that Jon was sick. Alternatively, Garfield Wiki states that Jon's actual birthday is July 28 which is the same day as Garfield's creator, Jim Davis, though Davis was born in 1945.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Review: An Outback Christmas by Louise Reynolds

An Outback Christmas is a surprising romance about an unlikely pair who end up spending Christmas together. Carrie Holt lives in isolation and has absolutely no plans to celebrate Christmas--this year or any other. But her plans change when two strangers, Adam Davidson and his young son Tyler, find themselves stranded on her property and in need of help. As Adam and Carrie grow closer, the truth about her tragic past comes to light ... and Adam and Tyler may just be people she needs to help her heal.

I enjoyed reading this short and light novella, which provided the perfect (romantic) distraction during a busy time of year. Adam and Tyler were very easy to identify with and Carrie's problems--and the reason she had closed off her heart--were quite sad though understandable. 

A charming Christmas tale. Recommended.

Thank you to Destiny Romance and Netgalley for my reading copy. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Hurrah! It's Christmas time in Adelaide once again and the streets are decorated for the season. This year, I got my first decent snap of the big Christmas Tree in Victoria Square (after five years of trying,) which has quietly become a city icon. Rundle Mall went for a colourful theme with its decorations this year, while Father Christmas found a new home--keeping watch and giving all a wave at the Grote Street entrance to the Central Market.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Review: All That We Left Behind by Robin Talley

What We Left Behind is a beautiful, coming of age novel that featuring two young people who are searching for a sense of self. It is also a love story. It is also mass market fiction published by Harlequin Teen which makes the next bit even more surprising--the young couple at the heart and soul of this story are Gretchen, an openly gay teenage girl who is comfortable with her sexuality and Toni who identifies as genderqueer. Throughout the past two years of high school, Toni and Gretchen have been the 'it' couple at their school and their relationship is fairly smooth. But when they start college--Gretchen at New York University and Toni at Harvard, the distance and their differing experiences begin to tear them apart. For Gretchen its the chance to make new friends (including the repulsive Carroll and gothic Samantha who proves herself to be quite sweet despite appearances,) while Toni is befriended by some transgender upperclassmen and begins to ask some big questions about gender and identity and slowly begins to make some even bigger decisions. Is Toni truly genderqueer, or is she transgender as her new friends seem to think? 

The big question is, of course, can their relationship survive? Will their differences ultimately force them apart? Or can they still be the same couple as before, as Gretchen and Tony? Do they even want to be?

I enjoyed reading What We Left Behind. One of the biggest joys of reading is, always, the opportunity to walk in someone else's shoes and to learn and understand what they are going through. Gender identity isn't something that I've ever had to think a lot about, so I was fascinated by Toni's journey--not only the struggles with things like wanting the right to wear pants to high school, but the other things that cis gender people are probably extremely ignorant of, such as how gender based the English language actually is, and how much we focus on labels instead of trying to respect and understand others as people. And that perhaps, even when other people have the best of intentions, gender identity is a very personal thing and one should not apply labels to anyone else--even Toni's new friends seem a bit too keen to assume that Toni is transgender and keep referring to Toni as a 'he.' And then, of course, there is Gretchen's story--she's very much the character who is left behind and forgotten as Toni searches for a sense of self and the author did an exceptional job of showing her hurt and frustration. And there are some sad bits as the characters struggle through the transition from high school to college, which is always a difficult, icky time. 

This is a complex and diverse story with a few sad bits and stumbling blocks, and cliffhanger ending. It is also one that is well worth the journey. Recommended. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Review: Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson

Before I Go to Sleep is a very cleverly plotted thriller with an interesting premise. Christine is a middle-aged woman who, when she wakes each morning, cannot remember the past twenty years. Her only link with a normal life is her patient and long-suffering husband Ben, and the journals that she makes about her days. But the journal comes with a chilling note--that Christine should not trust Ben. Who is her husband, really? Why should Christine not trust him? How did she lose her memory in the first place and does she ever have a hope of getting it back? Over the course of a day, Christine reads through her journal entries and discovers just how dangerous her situation may be ...

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this one and guessing at some of the twists and turns. My instincts about Ben were spot on and most of the suspense came from wondering if and how Christine would be able to escape the situation. The story is well written and the author cleverly drip feeds the reader information, always giving the reader just enough to keep them wanting more. The ending is satisfying, though I cannot help but wonder at what the future may hold for Christine.

Recommended, though fans of the genre have probably read this one already.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Review: November 9 by Colleen Hoover

November 9, Colleen Hoover's latest New Adult romance is about Ben, an aspiring writer, and Fallon, a former teen actor who is trying in earnest to resurrect her career after she was badly injured in an accident. The pair meet one day, on November 9, the day before Fallon moves from LA to New York and end up spending a romantic day together. Over the next five years their lives each take many separate twists and turns, though they continue to always meet on November 9 every year. And then one day, Fallon discovers that Ben has been keeping a terrible secret from her which changes their relationship forever ...

By now, readers should not what to expect--and what not to expect--from a Colleen Hoover novel, and she gives just enough to satisfy readers. There is plenty of heat--though just enough to titillate rather than shock readers, tragic pasts and misunderstandings, and of course, readers get to see both sides of the story through the lives of Fallon and Ben. It's a nice romance, perhaps not so different from her other books, and as always, her characters show an appreciation for the arts and Ben's book makes up an important part of the story. A little irritating was the way that the author inserted a number of lazy contemporary idioms into the narrative, such as the feels and insta-love however, some readers may get a giggle out of this. There is also a bit of commentary on the place of a book boyfriend and the differences between romance books and the kind of romance that might be desirable in real life. Which, I suppose, helps to make the unlikely romance between Fallon and Ben a bit more understandable--I do not think there would be many many who would rescue Fallon the way Ben does at the start of the story and I sincerely doubt whether many women would be as forgiving as Fallon is at the end of the story. 

Recommended to fans of contemporary romance. 

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review: All That's Left Unsaid by Rowena Holloway

Set against the luscious backdrop of Italy, All That's Left Unsaid is a rich and detailed account of a young Australian woman who finds love and some surprising truths when she travels abroad to solve a mystery on behalf of her ailing mother. Harriet 'Harrie' Taylor is not in the happiest of circumstances--she's lost her job, and her lover, and now her mother, whom she has never gotten along with wants her to travel to a small Italian town to discover if some recently discovered remains are those of a friend from many, many years ago, who her mother has never once mentioned. But things--and people--are not always as they seem in this small town, but getting to the truth might just be the thing that helps heal the rift between Harrie and her mother. 

All That's Left Unsaid is a thoughtfully written mystery with a cast of intriguing characters and secrets. This is a book with a lot of depth and demands slow and careful reading--which is perfect for readers like me who prefer something original over manufactured, mass market thrills. Like Adelaide author Rowena Holloway's first novel, family secrets lie at the absolute heart and soul of this novel, and are as surprising as they are believable.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: Entire Community Forever in Debt Over Facebook Christmas Comments

NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--The residents of Nowheresville have been left forever in debt to nineteen year old Milton McLean after a comment that he left on the popular social media site facebook earlier this week. 'I can't believe that we were all so ignorant and stupid,' Veronika Singh, the Mayor of Nowheresville told our reporter. 'This single comment, from the brave and brilliant keyboard warrior, Mr Milton McLean, has changed our way of life forever.'

The incident occurred a week ago, when the local radio station Nowhere FM shared a meme on their facebook page asking their listeners whether or not they preferred to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." While followers were quick to chime in with their preferences, it was left up to Milton to bravely point out that Christmas celebrations were adapted by Christians from pagan rituals. "I don't think any of us knew that," Mayor Singh said. "It had certainly never occurred to me. I thought that Christmas was a very secular, Christian holiday that was based around going to the shopping centre to spend money that you don't have, buying things for other people that they don't want."

Local resident, Charlie Gunther added that he thought that Christmas was a secular, Christian holiday that involved, "Inviting the whole family around for lunch so that you could all have a bloody great argument and then not speak to one another until the following Christmas." Other local residents had been equally confused, with some assuming that it was a secular, Christian holiday that involved all shops and restaurants playing repetitive and annoying songs about snowmen, winter wonderlands and other things that were entirely irrelevant to the Australian climate in late December. 

"Fortunately, Milton's comment has changed everything," Mayor Singh says with a smile. "We can now blame pagans, as well as Christians, for all of these ridiculous rituals ..."

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review: The Girl in 6E by A.E. Torre

The Girl in 6E is the kind of book that would ordinarily cause me to roll my eyes and move on, given the fact that this is yet another previously self-published book that became a global best seller, featuring explicit sexual content and violence, that is supposedly written by a married, upper middle-class and extremely attractive MILF. Yawn. 

Anyway, long story short, I found a copy on a remainder table at one of those sale book shops that seem to disappear just as soon as they spring up, bought a copy just for a giggle and then found myself feeling like a bit of an idiot when it actually turned out to be a half-decent book. Yes, it's explicit and it revolves around a young, female protagonist who earns a crust by performing sex acts in front of a webcam and yes, she does have extreme homicidal tendencies, but, on the whole, the story is engaging enough. (The writing is so-so, but I wasn't exactly expecting Shakespeare. It does what it sets out to do.) Deanna is certainly an unlikely person to be searching for a child who has just been abducted--however she feels that she has little choice in the matter when the police overlook some crucial evidence that she has provided them linking the abduction with one of her creepy clients. The author has certainly done her research on paraphilias, from the mildly amusing to the downright weird. And there is a love interest in there as well, in the form of nice guy and saviour Jeremy. 

Recommended to readers looking for something a bit explicit and a bit unusual. Not for children, teens or the easily offended. Or for people who would rather be reading Shakespeare. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Short Story Review: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, a story set in a small town (population 300) just prior to the harvest, remains just as haunting to me now, as what it did when I first read the story as a teenager. The suspense builds as the members of the town gather for the annual ritual, with some details being slowly, and carefully, revealed to the readers, as the lottery is drawn, with the protesting Tessie Hutchinson eventually being declared the winner. Or loser, perhaps, given her eventual fate of being stoned to death, with the other townsfolk uncaring to her cries of this being unfair. The story speaks volumes about conformity and the dangers of blindly following superstitions and rituals simply because they are tradition.

The story is cruel but an important one. Recommended.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

I may have featured this picture before, but I just love this colourful fountain that can be found in the centre of Moseley Square at Glenelg (or The Bay if you're a local). On a warm summer evening it is not unusual to see small children running in and around the jets of water. For the rest of us, the fountain makes a lovely centrepiece. 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Friday Funnies: The Goodies. Earthanasia (Muppets section)

One of the greatest moments from the BBC television series The Goodies is this scene from their Christmas episode, Earthanasia, where Tim is confronted with the reality that the Muppets are not real, and reacts somewhat violently. The scene shows just how surprisingly talented and diverse comedian Graeme Garden actually was--Tim Brooke Taylor, meanwhile, plays the part of a sooky, Mummy's boy to perfection. I've taken this clip from YouTube, where it was uploaded by a diehard fan of The Goodies.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Review: Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella

Easily the funniest and best Shopaholic novel in years, Shopaholic to the Rescue gets off to an above average start as Becky and her gang of misfits (and Luke, of course) make their way to Las Vegas to rescue Becky's dad and Tarquin and ends in an absolutely fitting--and funny--tribute to Ocean's Eleven. Becky and Suze find their friendship put to the test and there is a bit of a strange mystery about Becky's name--why are the daughters of all of her Dad's American friends named Becky?

Shopaholic to the Rescue is a brilliant and entertaining light read that proved itself to be a perfect pick me up on an otherwise dull day. Like all of Kinsella's books, it is not something that requires much analysis, after all this is written by one of the authors who helped to define the British comic chick lit genre back when it was in its infancy. It is also worth mentioning that Kinsella is still around now, fifteen (almost sixteen) years after the first Shopaholic book was released. The Shopaholic novels have survived a film adaption that bombed, and years of changes to publishing trends and consumer demand. Anyway, if you loved the other Shopaholic novels, then you're in for a real treat with this one.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Writers on Wednesday: Justin Sheedy

Welcome to another brilliant Writers on Wednesday post. This week I'm chatting with Justin Sheedy a great Australian author whose fourth novel Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer is well, dancing up a storm, both in Australia and abroad ...

Tell us about your most recently published book?

My 4th and latest book, “Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer”, published for Christmas last year. It’s my make-you-laugh-and-cry portrait of being a teenager in 1980s Sydney when, if teenage wasn’t dramatic enough, I was faced with the prospect of nuclear annihilation before I ever kissed a girl. Far from being merely my own ‘memoir’, it’s a portrait of the era featuring the issues and events great and small that made the decade: The hot end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, AIDS, Bob Hawke’s iconic “Americas Cup” moment, the music good & cringe-worthy, the horror of “Perfect Match” and 80s crimes of fashion. A French reader recently called it A TIMELESS BOOK FOR ALL AGES AND ALL NATIONALITIES.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

For “Goodbye Crackernight” (2009) for which I was this year featured on 7 News Sydney and on Radio 2UE. Think an “Unreliable Memoirs” for Generation X, it’s my portrait of childhood in 1970s Australia when a child’s prized possession was not a smart phone but a second-hand bike. The story is threaded together by recollections the now long-lost annual Australian festival of ‘Crackernight’ and all the things big and little that shaped the decade such as ‘String Art’, ‘Throw-Downs’, my parents’ keen nudist friends, the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, Australian evolving from a ‘white-bread’ society into a multicultural one, all as seen through the eyes of a child. It was recently pronounced by a reader A BOOK SO ENGAGING YOU FORGET YOU ARE IN THE MODERN WORLD.

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

When readers vow that they will be reading my books more than once: There are ‘great’ books we find ourselves labouring through, on occasion books that we adore.  But rarer are the books that we would consider re-reading. It is this sort of quality writing that I strive with every fibre of my being to achieve.

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

I’m currently 60% through writing my 5th book, “No Greater Love”, Part 3 in my Australian historical fiction trilogy which I began in 2012 with “Nor the Years Condemn”, then “Ghosts of the Empire” in 2013. My trilogy brings alive the stunning true (and untold) saga of the shining young Australians who flew as pilots against Nazi tyranny in World War Two. Far from being a ‘boys’ story’, the response from female readers has been heartfelt: The loss of any young person in war is a tragedy but the youth whose story I tell were the 'shining ones', rendering their loss doubly heart-rending for the reader. Also, for every 20-year-old who flies a Spitfire, there’s a poor mother cursed to let him go, a secretly dominant war girl, and an amazing girl pilot or two! All based on fact. Book 3, “No Greater Love”, will be out for Christmas 2016, Book 1 recently called by a reader A STORY AND CHARACTERS THAT WILL STAY WITH ME FOR YEARS TO COME.

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

Anything that gets my writing read and enjoyed by people. Though I am amazed by a recent ‘back-lash’ against eBooks in favour of ‘books without batteries’.

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

I’ve written 4 books now in 2 completely different genres on subjects no other Australian author is writing about, all of my books since 2009 now with the warmest reader response and PROVEN SALES RECORD. (I’ve had 4 sell-out book-signing events just this year so far at Australia’s premier bookstore, Dymocks George Street Sydney, with another planned for the busiest shopping day before Christmas.) All this, however, doesn’t seem to register with traditional publishing companies in Australia. Until it does, I’ll be Indie Publishing. Though perhaps a decent Literary Agent reading this right now knows an Australian publisher who needs to make some money…  Last I heard it was all of them…

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

“Going Solo” by Roald Dahl because it’s a thrilling, true adventure full of hilarity, humanity, tragedy and resilience all told as if with the involuntary perfection of a child’s eye.  Also because, as an author, I’ve gone solo and am still flapping my wings.

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

Yes. Enough people have enjoyed my books so far for me to be confident that YOU will. Whether it’s my make-you-laugh-and-cry portraits of Australian society in the 70s & 80s, or my more serious Australian war historical fictions, I’m always putting up a mirror to Us, to how we are and how we were. What I’m writing is OUR story.

All Justin Sheedy’s books available at Dymocks HERE, at Amazon in paperback and eBook HERE and orderable via your local bookstore.

His personal Facebook page HERE, Facebook page for his novels HERE, for Goodbye Crackernight HERE, for Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer HERE, for his Twitter page HERE.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Review: My Life As a Fake by Peter Carey

Australia's infamous Ern Malley literary hoax is the inspiration behind My Life As a Fake Peter Carey's novel from 2003 which tells the story of Bob McCorkle--who comes into being as entirely imagined entity, and lives out the rest of his days as a figure not unlike Frankenstin's monster, a gentle giant who has far more scruples than his weak and somewhat pathetic creator. And the whole thing is bloody brilliant.

The story begins in 1972 with Sarah Wade-Douglas, a London based editor of a poetry journal who is promised with the ultimate scoop, the chance to travel to Kuala Lumpur to meet Christopher Chubb, a failed Australian poet and disgraced literary hoaxer. As Sarah meets with Chubb, she discovers just how terrible this man is haunted by his past--and quite literally--by Bob McCorkle, the fake poet that he made up in the 1940s in a bid to make an old friend and editor that had rejected his work appear foolish. (Ern Malley being, of course, the creation of two conservative poets who wanted to prove that modernist poetry was rubbish. Malley rose to fame after being published in literary journal Angry Penguins.)