Saturday, 31 December 2016

Review: Five Go Gluten Free by Enid Blyton (text by Bruno Vincent)

Five Go Gluten Free is a hilarious parody of modern day problems ... staring a slightly grown up version of Enid Blyton's beloved Famous Five who are navigating their way through adulthood and the 21st Century with muddled results. In this adventure, a grown up Anne is inspired to take up a gluten free diet after Dick gives her a new cookbook for her birthday. The others agree to go along with it, and the results are well ... lets just say it turns out that the five are human after all. (Well, four of them. Timmy is still a dog, even though Anne forces the diet on him as well.)

This one is what it is, and it's great fun so long as you go in looking for a few laughs and nothing more. The pictures provide a lovely bit of satire, and other beloved characters from the series find themselves the butt of various jokes--I loved Uncle Quentin's car, which runs on peanuts and could explode at any moment. It never quite meets the benchmark for Famous Five parodies that was set by The Comic Strip Presents in the 1980s, but there are some great moments.

Not a classic, but lots of fun.

Recommended to grown up fans of the Famous Five.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Friday Funnies: I Wanna be a Doctor!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

It was a twitter recommendation that led me to discovering this beautifully written story of how one act, one secret and one summer has lasting effects on three adult lives. Told from the perspective of a group of older women from a small church in Southern California known as the mothers, who play a role within the church that is not unlike that of The Holy spirit. (And if one wants to dig deeper into the religious subtext, the Pastor and his wife are the cold and judging father, while the child born at the end may just well be the saviour ... for the characters in the story at least, anyway.)

The first character we are introduced to, thanks to the mothers, is Nadia Turner, a seventeen year old girl who is smart, about to be the first in her family to go off to college, and, most importantly, she is grieving for her mother who committed suicide a few months earlier. It is the death of her mother that leads her into the arms Luke Sheppard, the twenty-one year old pastor's son who, quite frankly, Nadia is too good for. Lacking guidance, Nadia is a young woman who has big dreams, is grief stricken and is just trying to do the best that she can with what she has. Unfortunately, this leads to an unwanted pregnancy, an abortion and a series of communication errors that will impact on her young life.

Luke is the next major character in the book. Much like Nadia, his life is shaped by communication errors, one of which leads him into the arms of Aubrey, who is Nadia's best friend and who, again, is probably too good for him, and could quite possibly do with a better best friend. Of the group, Aubrey is the only one who is genuinely religious, and even that has much to do with her past and seems to be sorely tested at times.

Communication (or the lack thereof,) hypocrisy, hearsay evidence and discrimination are the major forces at play in The Mothers and the author handles these with an expert hand. With the possible exception of Aubrey and perhaps Nadia's father, everyone is a bit of a villain as well as a bit of a victim and the author has a lot to say about hypocrisy, particularly where religion is concerned. The writing itself is absolutely beautiful and had a way of drawing me in and convincing me to read an extra chapter or two, even when I didn't really have the time. I enjoyed a lot of the subtext (i.e. upper room,) and the sympathetic portrayal of each of the characters.


Friday, 23 December 2016

Friday Funnies: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Just thought I would share this Christmas song ... despite the fact that it is probably the Christmas song most universally hated by retail staff. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Writing a Draft?

Just a bit of inspiration for your Wednesday. Happy writing, everyone!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Although I was unable to take a great (or even decent) shot of these, it was lovely to see a new selection of Christmas decorations in Rundle Mall this year. Wooden blocks spelled out messages such as the one above. I also spied a sign that said Peace and another that read Merry. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Apple Paperback Review: Merry Christmas, Miss McConnell! by Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna

On select Sundays I will be reviewing some of the old Apple Paperback titles from my childhood. These titles were published, or republished by Scholastic during the 1980s & 1990s and were written and set in the United States. In Australia, these books were typically only available from libraries or could be ordered through catalogues that were distributed through primary schools. Most of these titles are now long out of print or have been updated and republished for later generations ...

I remember reading Merry Christmas, Miss McConnell! when I was in year six at primary school and being quite taken with the story about three kids who have a lot of trouble relating to their strict new teacher. It is Christmas time and the beloved fifth grade class teacher, Mrs Jackson, has gone on maternity leave. Mrs Jackson is replaced by the strict Miss McConnell who orders the kids about by blowing a whistle and never seems to let them have any fun. It's a blow to the main character, Meg, who is already experiencing problems at home--her dad has injured his back and cannot work, and her mother is working two low paid jobs and has a lot of concerns about money. It is looking like this is going to be the worst Christmas ever. And then, after a prank goes wrong Miss McConnell cancels the concert that Meg and her friends were going to perform in at the local mall. But Miss McConnell has a secret, and one that could perhaps lead Meg and the others to discover the real meaning of Christmas ...

I strongly suspect that the author of this one has seen A Charlie Brown Christmas as there are a couple of parallels between the book and the beloved Christmas special, and there is even a reference to Charlie Brown's scrawny Christmas tree. Unlike most of the Apple Paperbacks, this one is set inside a Catholic school, which made for interesting reading. The story does not have a great deal of depth and I think that one of the two big reveals about Miss McConnell (the reason behind her using a whistle,) could have been fleshed out more. That said, this one proved itself to be a fun and heartwarming Christmas tale and one that still stands up well today. 

About the author: Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna was the author of many Apple Paperbacks including the Murphys series. She also penned two Dr Quinn Medicine Woman tie-in books.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday Funnies: Make a Daft Noise for Christmas by The Goodies

I know I've shared this one before, but just for a bit of a Christmas themed laugh, I thought I'd share it again. Funny song, funny group ... pity the crowd looks a bit bore every time the camera turns on them, but I guess the canned laughter sort of makes up for it ...

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Review: The Better Son by Katherine Johnson

The Better Son was an award winning novel before it was even published and it is not difficult to see why. The beautiful prose tells the story of Kip, the younger of two brothers, growing up on a farm in Tasmania in the early 1950s. Father Harold is suffering Post Traumatic Stress following his role in the Second World War, and also appears to hate farming, his wife Jess, and his youngest son with a frightening vindictiveness. By contrast, the older brother Tommy, is considered to be wonderful by Harold, and occasionally comes across as spoiled (and a little vindictive,) though he is not always treated well. One day, Tommy and Kip discover some caves near their farm, and the location becomes their secret hideaway. But tragedy is looming, and one day only Kip will come home. 

Told in third person narrative from the perspectives of Kip and farmhand Squid, the story moves across a number of years. Secrets are revealed slowly, and over time it becomes clear how the lives of each of the characters are shaped by their choices, and the secrets they have kept. At times, I found the scenes featuring Harold very difficult to read, and I often felt for Kip who seemed to be shaped by circumstances that were out of his control. Squid was an interesting character who helped bridge parts of the story together.

The Better Son is an intriguing novel of secrets and lies.


Thank you to Ventura Press for my reading copy.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2016

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Review: Hamlet by John Marsden

Shakespeare's Hamlet is given a very contemporary YA re-imagining by Australian author John Marsden in this occasionally creepy book of the same name. Marsden takes a common YA theme--honest teens battling against unfair and corrupt adults--and blends it seamlessly against the backdrop of a story about greed and madness. In this version, Hamlet is a teenager driven to madness by the need to avenge his father's murder, unsurprisingly, his mother and uncle/stepfather are controlling arseholes. Supporting characters Orphelia and Horatio are both in their teens and are written quite well, with themes of puberty woven into the plot.

This one was published in 2008, but I had no idea of it's existence until a friend found a copy and emailed me about it. Any new or previously unknown John Marsden title is always a pleasant surprise. While this one may not be one of his best (let's face it, the Tomorrow Series is awfully difficult to beat,) it is an interesting quirky read in it's own right and was well worth my time.


Monday, 12 December 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Beep! Beep! This genuine Pageant car pulled up in the Central Markets a little while ago and looks destined to stay there until Christmas Day. I think it looks great, and the Christmas trees are a nice touch.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

1990s Nostalgia: Shannon & Curtis join Home and Away

Just a bit of light and fluffy 1990s nostalgia this week, this short clip shows a new pair of foster kids entering Summer Bay for the first time. Shannon and Curtis were a pair of teens whose adoptive parents had died. Everyone thought that they were brother and sister, and were shocked when the pair shared a kiss, but later it turned out that they were only 'adopted' brother and sister. Their arrival is symbolic of a more innocent era from the series, where most of the drama revolved around troubled teens who (nearly) always learned to become responsible adults during their stay in Summer Bay, thanks to the gentle guidance of the adult residents. 

Interesting contrast in the casting--both Isla Fisher (Shannon) and Shane Amman (Curtis) were seasoned actors by the time they arrived on the set of Home and Away. Both had appeared in short lived soap Paradise Beach and a number of children's television programmes. While Isla Fisher would go on to become a Hollywood level actress and is the author of three novels, Amman gave up acting after he left Home and Away in 1997 and, to the best of my knowledge, has never appeared in any of those tacky 'Home and Away: Where are they Now' features that seem to pop up online or in the pages of TV Week every now and again.

PS Just in case you are wondering, Shannon and Curtis were soon causing their own fair share of trouble, as can be observed here and here.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Friday Funnies

One of the things that constantly amazes me about the Peanuts comic was how its artist and author Charles Schulz was able to say so much in one small square, with a simple, inked picture and a few words. This simple square captures perfectly some of the less pleasant feelings that we experience when we're in love with someone--stupid actions, barely thought through, followed by agonising moments of self-doubt.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Review: Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

Because You'll Never Meet Me is a story told in letters, detailing the correspondence between teenagers Ollie, who lives in the United States, and Moritz who lives in Germany. Neither Ollie nor Moritz are ordinary boys--Ollie has an allergy to electricity meaning that he must live in a remote cabin with his mother, and Moritz, has a pacemaker (hence why they can never meet,) and an almost supersonic ability to see despite the fact that he literally has no eyes. Through their correspondence both will reveal their struggles with their peers (Moritz is a target for bullies, while Ollie struggles with Liz an 'ordinary' girl who wants to cure him rather than understand him,) and they will learn some remarkable life lessons, before a startling, life changing revelation is made ...

Though a little gross in places, this one is a thought provoking read, one that seamlessly blends real life teenage themes with science fiction. Optimist Ollie is a contrast to the bitter and distrustful Moritz and both boys clearly need each other more than what they realise. 

Because You'll Never Meet Me is enjoyable, a little far-fetched but, ultimately, powerful. 

A sequel, titled Nowhere Near You will be published in February 2017.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for my reading copy, via Netgalley. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

1990s Nostalgia: McDonalds Ad

This ad was is clever, memorable and oddly annoying. It also features something that an advertising agency could never get away with today--showing a child under the age of twelve eating junk food.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday Funnies: Kermit And Grover The Sunglass Salesman

Following on from my previous Kermit and Grover clip, I just couldn't resist sharing this little bit of fun and silliness ...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review: Finding Cinderella by Colleen Hoover

Finding Cinderella is a short novella featuring Daniel and Six from Hoover's Hopeless series, and unsurprisingly, it's a romance. As always with Hoover's novels, the fun is seeing how the couple get together, despite the odds working against them. 

It's been a long time since I read Hopeless and I have yet to read it's sequel Losing Hope, so most of the minor characters were a little bit fuzzy for me. Fortunately, this one stands up pretty well on its own merit, detailing the unlikely romance between Daniel and Six. The novella begins with Daniel making out (and eventually sleeping with,) a girl that he meets ever day in a janitor's cupboard at their high school. He never sees her face or learns her name, but he hopes that one day he will. One year later, he's almost given up hope of finding this girl, when Six (the best friend of his best mate's girlfriend,) returns from a student exchange from Italy. The pair are instantly smitten in a way that Daniel hasn't felt about anyone since his experiences in the cupboard and well ... I think we can all guess what happens next, but the journey is interesting enough, as is a rather heart wrenching plot twist. 

This one is a short and enjoyable romantic read. Even better, it's available to download for free from the Amazon Kindle Store.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: Arid Lands Part One by HMC

This short eBook had me asking one vital question as I got to the last page--when will I get to read part two. Ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Mad Max, this is the story of Elizabeth, a young woman who is living with her family in a bleak, future version of Australia where resources, particularly food and water, are scarce. Elizabeth is one heck of a tough young woman who is fighting to feed her family.

This is a solid introduction to what absolutely has the potential to be a killer series. 

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Review: The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer's talent lies in her ability to write a page-turner that appeals most to readers who are not fans of the genre. Twilight, for example is not a classic horror novel, though it soon became phenomenally popular with teenage girls and any adult reader who, though they could see the many failings within the narrative, enjoyed the series anyway. The Host presented a taste of science fiction, one that contained more than a dash of romance. And with her latest novel, The Chemist the author pens a sci-fi thriller about an ex-government agent who is on the run from the very department that employed her in the first place.

Juliana was a chemist who was employed by a top secret government agency (one so top secret that it doesn't have a name,) developing concoctions that helped torture some of the CIAs most wanted criminals. The department became infected by paranoia, and after her colleagues try to kill her, Juliana goes on the run, living under a number of alias as she travels through the United States. Then one of her colleagues tracks her down and offers a surprising proposal--if she can return to them and help with one final case, they'll let her live peacefully. Juliana agrees, but nothing about Daniel, the schoolteacher suspected of trying to import a deadly virus into the United States is quite as it seems and Juliana soon finds herself on her most frightening adventure yet.

My feelings on this one remain mixed. That romance is certainly something, and I love the way that the author takes a very well deserved stab at Fifty Shades of Grey in the torture scene. (Seriously, who can blame her?) There is a very predictable plot twist early on in the narrative, but it works very well within the context of the story. A little confusing was the way that Juliana's name changed within the narrative every time she changed identity (though, thankfully, most of the time it was Alex,) and I think it would have been a bit easier on me if the author had called her Juliana throughout. 

This one is enjoyable enough, but it pays to keep an open mind. If you read The Chemist because you think it's going to be a hardcore thriller, or somehting comparable to The X-Files then you're an idiot. And if you read the The Chemist because you want to pick at its faults then you're an arsehole. It's a book best read for entertainment.


Monday, 28 November 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Snapped this strange little thing outside the Art Gallery of South Australia a few months back. It was there to advertise an exhibition, the name of which escapes me for the moment ...

Saturday, 26 November 2016

1980s Nostalgia: Edward Joins The Band

This one is 1980s Nostalgia, sort of. I don't remember this episode of Edward and Friends at all. A little wet, but entertaining ...

Friday, 25 November 2016

Friday Funnies: Everything's Normal

Looks remarkably like my house ...

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Review: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Beside Myself is a literary thriller that had a lot of tongues wagging when it was released several months ago and it's not difficult to see why--the premise is utterly intriguing. Six year old identical twins, Helen and Ellie agree to swap places just for one day. But when Ellie refuses to swap back, the course of Helen's life is changed forever. While she watches her twin live a happy life, her own is filled with illness and addiction, and no one will believe her claims that she is Helen and not Ellie ...

This novel is complex and intriguing. It's also dark as hell and depressing. And, language warning everyone (and my sincere apologies to the author and publisher,) but that twist at the end is utterly fucked. Or brilliant if you look at it through the perspective of the complexities of human nature and ego. (Or the unwillingness of some people to admit they were wrong, and had been hoodwinked by a six year old, to the point where they were willing to cause significant harm to another person and their wellbeing.) There is no real sense of justice here, which may have been the author's goal, considering the underlying moral to the story. As a metaphor for sexual, physical or psychological abuse, it shows some incredible insight. 

On a more positive note, Beside Myself raises some important questions about how a persons upbringing can shape their adulthood, and the serious damage that can be done when an adult chooses not to listen, or not to believe, a child when they tell them something important. 

Recommended to readers who want to ponder big questions about how adults are shaped by their upbringing. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review: Something to Say by Frankie Press

Sometimes cute, sometimes crude, sometimes thought provoking and nearly always hilarious Something to Say provides readers with a slice of truth, deliciously served inside a very beautiful, and very quirky, book. Something to Say is Frankie Magazine's very first book and it contains stories that have appeared inside the magazine during its twelve year run. (Meaning that I've probably read a number of them before, but hey, these are definitely worth a second read.) The book itself is presented beautifully, on notebook style paper, that sometimes feels like a bit of a contrast to some of the crude and sweary articles, but that makes it kind of cool. There are lots of reflections on life, and those odd things that happen to all of us--one author reflects on how a trip to the service station in the middle of the night led to being pelted with a pie and then an escape with a couple of Kinder Surprises in hand. There is commentary on family, fashion (or family and fashion, as one author reflects on how he wears his grandfather's old clothes,) and nearly everything in between.

I read this one in small snatches over the course of several days, as is often the case with non-fiction anthologies, the stories are often better and have more impact when I read just one or two at a time.

Lots of fun. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Frankie Press for my reading copy. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

A repeat this week, but I love the way that this tree blends in perfectly with the mural behind it. This picture was taken on the corner of Hunt Crescent and Beach Road at Christies Beach. The building is home to a shop that specialises in reptiles and reptile care ...

Saturday, 19 November 2016

1990s Nostalgia: Caramello Koala Australian TV ad

Perhaps the greatest Australian ad ever made?

Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday Funnies: Classic Sesame Street - Grover Sells Toothbrushes

Sometime between his stint of being a maniac who advertised Wilkin's Coffee and being the straight man, or should we say, frog, at Muppet Theatre, Kermit the Frog was staring in Sesame Street where he was part of a near perfect comic duo. Cast opposite Grover, who played the part of an incompetent salesperson, Kermit found himself subject to numerous sales pitches that nearly always ended in disaster. In this one, Kermit gets his sweet revenge ...

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Random Trivia About ... Behind the Scenes

Welcome to my new semi-regular post, Random Trivia About ... which contains well, random trivia about one of my books. This time around I'm going to be focusing on Behind the Scenes, my third novel, which I re-released with a new cover last year.

1. Catlin's full name is Catherine Theresa Ryan.

Catlin is a nickname given to her by her mother, as she was unable to pronounce Catherine properly.

2. Catlin's birthday is 9 June 1989.

The novel opens shortly before her eighteenth birthday. If you do the maths, this means that novel is set in 2007. (Or if you want further confirmation, Johnny's headstone lists his death date as 13 June 2007.) 

3. The first part of the novel is set in Southcoast, a fictional town south of Adelaide.

Another of my novels, Best Forgotten, is set in the same location.

4. Catlin's address in Melbourne is 10 Baird Avenue, St Kilda.

St Kilda is a real suburb, the street is fictitious. I named street after the inventor of television, John Logie Baird. Behind the Scenes is the only one of my novels to be set in Melbourne.

5. In the original draft, Catlin died of an accidental drug overdose.

I changed it because, frankly, that ending was depressing. 

6. Catlin appears as a twenty-something in one of my unpublished manuscripts.

The grown up version of Catlin has a PhD in Psychology, works at a university and still does the occasional acting gig. She's on hand to give some much needed advice to my protagonist, but at this stage, I'm not certain that the project will ever be released.

7. I named Catlin's baby sister after Keeley Hawes the lead actress from Ashes to Ashes.

I was a big fan of the show and I'd never heard the name Keeley before and wanted to include it in one of my novels.

Behind the Scenes is available from Amazon and all good online retailers. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Review: The Right Track (Girl vs Boy Band #1) by Harmony Jones

Sometimes, it's just fun to read a bit of fun, fluffy middle grade fiction. Particularly when it is the kind that would have had me practically weeing myself with excitement at age thirteen. I loved the concept of this new series and for that reason, I just had to read the first instalment. The Right Track introduces us to Lark, a thirteen year old who is brutally shy, and who has a talent for songwriting--a talent that she does not wish to share with her mother, Donna, an LA based record company executive. Then a new problem arises, in the form of a three member boy band from the UK, who are going to stay with Donna and Lark while they record their first album. How will Lark manage to live with three hot boys and keep her songwriting talent a secret?

This one was sweet and pure fun. Certainly there were a few cliches (including the name of the author, a probable pseudonym,) but these were all handled well. A few moments had me smiling, such as Lark fainting at the airport, and when it was revealed why a certain seat was empty at the school talent show. 

Girl vs Boy Band is a great read for the young and the young at heart. Recommended. 

Monday, 14 November 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Well, that's one way to decorate ...

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Apple Paperback Review: Peanut in Charge (Peanut Butter and Jelly #6) by Dorothy Haas

On select Sundays I will be reviewing some of the old Apple Paperback titles from my childhood. These titles were published, or republished by Scholastic during the 1980s & 1990s and were written and set in the United States. In Australia, these books were typically only available from libraries or could be ordered through catalogues that were distributed through primary schools, though some popular series found their way into various bookshops. Most of these titles are now long out of print or have been updated and republished for later generations ...

I have very clear memories of reading this book when I was a kid--I remember when it came out, our school library got a copy in almost straight away and I was the first kid in the whole school to borrow it. It was the first time I had ever been allowed such a privilege. Proudly, I took the book home that night and read it in one sitting all by myself. Consequently, I thought that it was the best book ever. (Stop rolling your eyes. I was eight years old. Also until that point I had never really taken much interest in books or reading. The next week, I'd return to the school library, find discover a series called the Babysitters Club and the course of my life was changed forever.) 

Anyway, Peanut Butter and Jelly was an entry level series, published by Scholastic under their Little Apple imprint. The series is about a pair of elementary school kids, bombastic Polly "Peanut" Butterworth and her best friend, quiet and studious Jilly Matthews. Each book dealt with an age appropriate subject, some where lighthearted (such as the one about a Halloween party,) while other, darker subjects were discussed, such as the loss of a parent (in book one, Peanut and her family move interstate after Peanut's father dies,) and peer group pressure (book seven). 

Book six details a misadventure where Peanut and Jilly inadvertently find themselves in charge of three year old twins during a snowstorm. The subject matter is handled in a way that is humorous, but gentle. What makes the book interesting, however, is that during the course of her adventure, Peanut realises that she's not really a little kid anymore. She's capable of caring for others and making some sound and selfless decisions if she has to--and she's probably capable of more than what the adults around her realise. That said, she's still a kid (she's amused and a little revolted by the fact that her twelve year old sister and Jilly's twelve year old brother seem to be attracted to one another,) and the author cleverly demonstrates this by having Peanut and Jilly make snow angels outside while Mrs Butterworth watches, once their adventures are all over. 

I think the subject matter really appealed to me at the time, because I was sort-of going through the same thing. For me, eight was a tricky age. I could not have cared less what pre-teens were doing, but I was also no longer a little kid. I was allowed to walk home by myself. (In reality this meant that I would start walking home with two other girls from my class, who lived around the corner from us, and we'd nearly always be met by a parent somewhere along the way.) At school we were allowed to play in The Big Kids Area which consisted of an oval, some play equipment that would probably be considered a death trap by modern standards, a cement stage, some hand tennis squares and a basketball court. That said, we were also the youngest kids in The Big Kids Area which didn't make me feel terribly big at all. And some of those big kids were, quite frankly, jerks. But when I had to walk through The Little Kids Area, it reminded me that I was a big kid too.

Anyway, this is a well written book. It's very 1980s America, but the message itself is great.


About the Author: Dorothy Haas worked as an editor before becoming a prolific author of books for children and young adults. As well as the Peanut Butter and Jelly series, Haas penned the bestselling Secret Life of Dilly McBean and the picture book adaption of Disney's Pinocchio. 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

1980s Nostalgia: Edward & The Camera

Just wanted to share this clip from the short lived but lovely Edward and Friends television series that was based on Lego's Fabuland theme. I don't know how many times I saw this particular episode as a child, but I surprised myself when I started watching it on YouTube and realised that I could remember every word! On a less innocent note, I can remember making up a dirty version of this as a teenager, where the fuzzy thing in every picture was not Edward's trunk, Hannah was a prostitute and where Wilfred Walrus kept blackmailing him for the cost of the film and ending up at the bottom of the canal wearing cement shoes when Edward's gangster older brother found out what was going on, but that's teenage fan fiction for you ...

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Review: The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

The Girl From Venice may be the first book that I have ever read by best-selling author Martin Cruz Smith, but I am absolutely certain that it will not be the last. I was pleasantly surprised by just how caught up I became in this story of a fisherman who finds a young Jewish girl in Italy in the final days of World War Two. From there begins a fantastic story of two people who beat the odds, fall in love and find themselves in the midst of a nation in crisis. (After all, Italy has picked the losing side, none of it's people are happy about it, and it's dictator is no long a popular man.) The author cleverly shows the difference between the people and their government, and the uglier side of human nature, where everyone does what they can to survive with little thought to morality or personal accountability. (Excluding, of course, our lead characters--but that would not make for such an interesting story.)

Cenzo is the middle of three brothers, and man with a grudge--his older and more charismatic brother, Giorgio, who also happens to be a film star, and an influential army officer stole his wife away. (Gina was later killed in an air raid.) He also has reason to suspect that his younger brother Hugo died whilst trying to drown Giorgio for (surprise, surprise,) seducing his wife. Anyway, Giorgio comes to Cenzo's aid when Giulia, the Jewish girl who Cenzo finds and becomes responsible for, goes missing, but the question is can Cenzo trust Giorgio, and can outsmart the cast of odd and self-serving people that he meets along the way?

The pacing is a little laid back, which I loved, though I am aware that readers who are used to nail-biting suspense and fast paced thrills may find this one a little difficult. I loved the setting, and the juxtaposition of such a beautiful part of the world being subject to such brutality. (And, dare I say, foolishness.)


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Review: Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer

Beyond the Orchard is a beautiful story of love, loneliness, family and secrets, spanning the twentieth century. Lucy Briar left home in a hurry, keen to get away from a broken heart and past mistakes. Five years later, a mysterious letter from her distant grandfather, claiming that he wants to explain everything, arrives and Lucy finds herself leaving London, and her fiance for her hometown of Melbourne. Her grandfather, Edwin, passes away before she arrives. Her father, Ron, who is struggling with his own problems insists that she travels to Bitterwood, the old estate in country Victoria owned by her grandfather, to retrieve a photo album. What Lucy finds at Bitterwood leads her to uncovering another, much darker, family secret ...

Of all of Anna Romer's novels, Beyond the Orchard is by far my favourite for its dark mystery and surprising conclusion. I loved reading the story of Orah and her tragic arrival in Australia that eventually brought her to Bitterwood, as well as the events that would shape Edwin into being the tragic, lonely old grandfather that Lucy barely knew. I'm a big softie when it comes to reading about unconventional romances, and I loved the pairing of Lucy and Morgan. I think the author handled it in a way that it was believable that a pair with that kind of history and such an age gap could fall in love. 

An enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Around Adelaide (Sreet Art)

This artwork appears at the front of an shop in James Place that specialises in imported confectionary, most of it from the United Kingdom, though I notice that in recent times, their range of imports from the United States has increased steadily. It is one of those places that I stop by "every now and again" and usually find myself buying a small selection of sherbet (from the UK side) and junior mints or almond M&Ms (from the US side.)

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Apple Paperback Review: Kristy and the Copycat (Babysitters Club #74)

On select Sundays I will be reviewing some of the old Apple Paperback titles from my childhood. These titles were published, or republished by Scholastic during the 1980s & 1990s and were written and set in the United States. In Australia, these books were typically only available from libraries or could be ordered through catalogues that were distributed through primary schools, though some popular series found their way into various bookshops. Most of these titles are now long out of print or have been updated and republished for later generations ...

I have a confession to make. I actually have no memory of this particular Babysitters Club title being released in Australia. Perhaps by the time it was released (1994) I had already outgrown or was beginning to outgrow the series. (I know it was definitely a distant memory for me when the Babysitters Club Movie eventually came out, but I think that was in 1995.) After all, it was the year that I actually turned thirteen and I discovered that the books, while well written, didn't really cover the whole scope of thirteen-year-old problems. Like period pain. Or chronic unpopularity. Then again, an important part of the Babysitters Club books was the fact that the target demographic were girls aged eight and up, kids who were, obviously, younger than the five (or in this book, four,) most popular characters. Then again, I also have to confess, that I probably would have bought, and remembered, this book if the cover, title and blurb had actually focused on the more interesting, and important, A storyline.

In this book, Kristy tries out for the school softball team and--unsurprisingly--she makes it. Making the team soon turns sour, however, when some of the more experienced members of the team insist that the new girls take part in a hazing prank--Kristy and the others are expected to spray paint one of the old sheds at Stoneybrook Middle School--or the other girls threaten, they will find a way of kicking them off the team. Kristy and her new friend Dilys do not want to take part (other characters Bea and Tonya think that it's a bit of fun,) but allow themselves to be pressured into doing so. (Yes, Kristy Thomas, president of the Babysitters Club, not only gets bossed around by other kids, but she does something bad. If only, if I only, I had read this when I was thirteen.) The girls sneak out and do their evil deed, during which time Bea and Tonya start smoking. When they are almost caught, they run away and Kristy realises that she has left her can of spray paint behind. 

Then Kristy learns that the shed has burned down. And not only has the shed burned down, but a member of the public was seriously injured when he tried to put out the blaze. 

Then the boys softball team gets blamed for the fire.

The most compelling, and interesting part of the novel, deal with Kristy's feelings about what has happened. Being a good kid, she's quick to jump to the conclusion that it was probably the combination of the left over spray paint and matches that started the fire. She struggles with feelings of guilt, writes herself off as a vandal and all round bad person, before realising that she has to confess. And I think that what's quite subtle here, is that Kristy experiences those feelings because she is someone who has a conscience, who is eager to do the right thing, even if she allowed peer group pressure to get the better of her. It's a scenario that is relatable to many kids. Real life, of course, rarely ends quite as neatly as a Babysitters Club book, something that I learned during my early years of high school. But that's a darker subject that may not be suitable for some of the younger fans of the books. 

Then it turns out that the fire was started by some high schoolers. Kristy is off the hook, but not before she plans to make some big changes to the softball team and the way it operates.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, the title, cover and blurb focus on what is essentially a subplot. During Kristy's crisis, her stepsister, Karen, who has always looked up to her, begins hanging around a bit too much and copying her in rather an annoying fashion. Eventually after a talk with Kristy, Karen learns that it is best to be herself, rather than copying other people. A note in the back of the book from series the original author, and later overseer of the books, Ann M. Martin backs this philosophy up, and I cannot help but wonder if, as the author of a series about a group of kids who were older than its target market, did she sometimes worry that readers were copying the antics of the BSC characters a bit too much? Was she worried that had the book been titled Kristy the Vandal! that it may have inspired someone, somewhere to cover a shed in spray paint. I guess I'll never know.

A solid enough instalment to the series.

About the Author: Ann M. Martin is the original author of The Babysitters Club series, and has written a number of other books for middle-grade readers and a few books for young adults.

About the Ghostwriter: Nola Thacker is a prolific author and ghostwriter of books for children and young adults. Her notable works include an unauthorised biography of Christina Aguilera and the Skating Dreams series. She wrote nearly all of the BSC books told from Abby's perspective.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Friday Funnies

Seems like pretty good advice to me.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Past and Present: How the Lives of One Generation Shape the Next in Anna Romer's Beyond the Orchard.

Hello and welcome to my stop on the Beyond the Orchard blog tour. I am very, very excited to share this brilliant and insightful post that author Anna Romer has written about her latest novel, Beyond the Orchard. (In fact, it's been difficult for me keeping it under wraps these past few weeks.) Anyway, a very sincere thank you to Anna Romer and also her publisher Simon and Schuster Australia for putting together this brilliant post and the Beyond the Orchard Blog Tour ...

Past and Present: How the Lives of One Generation Shape the Next in Anna Romer's Beyond the Orchard.

When I first started collecting ideas for Beyond the Orchard, all I had was a location – a clifftop guesthouse along the great Ocean Road in Victoria – and the idea of someone guarding a terrible secret. But as the story began to unfold, I realised that the secret keeper, Edwin Briar, would cast his shadow over just about every other character in the novel. His actions would link the central mystery to the next generation and beyond.

I've always been drawn to ‘sins of the father’ type stories, where someone's mistakes ripple outwards and affect everyone connected to them, often in devastating ways. Beyond the Orchard is very much a tale about the choices we make, and how even the best intentions can lead to heartbreak.
Edwin is a quiet, bookish man who's now in his nineties. He hides away in his rundown old guesthouse, tormented by a life he bitterly regrets. Knowing that his last days are approaching, he revisits the past in his mind, brooding over the loved ones he’s lost. He’s haunted by the idea that if he’d made better choices, been less swayed by others, then his life would have turned out quite differently. But actions are the outward manifestation of a person’s inner world. Edwin always did what he believed was for the best; he always thought his actions justified. So even if he could have relived his time over, perhaps his driving emotions would have forced him along the same path as before.

I always find myself returning to the theme of past crimes bubbling up to the surface many years later. In Beyond the Orchard, those ‘crimes’ were mostly committed with good intent. Some may not seem to be crimes at all. When Edwin and his wife Clarice welcome young Orah into their home, they want only to give her the best life possible. They love her and believe they are doing the right thing. How can they know that their kindly intentions will lead to a decision with consequences that will ripple through the next two generations?

The main character in Beyond the Orchard is Lucy Briar, Edwin's granddaughter. Like Edwin, Lucy is haunted by her past. A small lie she told as a child had tragic repercussions, and she blames herself for her mother’s death. As a result, she's spent much of her life running away from conflict with others. Her father, Ron, turned to alcohol when Lucy's mother died, and abandoned Lucy into the care of her aloof and reclusive grandfather, Edwin. Ron always resented Edwin for being an uncaring father; for being obsessed with ghosts from the past while neglecting his flesh-and-blood family. Yet Ron's abandonment of 10-year-old Lucy echoes his own father’s ‘abandonment’ of him.

Each of the present-day characters – Lucy, Ron, even Lucy's mother – are all, in their different ways, profoundly affected by the choices Edwin made us a much younger man. Linking the generations together in this way is like piecing together a patchwork quilt; sometimes it takes a lot of shuffling around to get the squares into the right order – an order that’s pleasing and logical and enhances the overall nature of the quilt. Finding that elusive ‘click-point’ – where the story settles into its own rhythm and pace – can take months or work. Yet for me, the task of creating convoluted emotional burdens and scars for my characters is one of the highpoints of writing a novel. (I know. Mean, aren’t I?)

One generation shaping the next is a powerful theme, I think because we can all relate to it; all of us are, in some way, products of the generation who came before us. As a story theme, it provides an endless source of conflict – and also, endless fun for the writer who, like me, enjoys exploring the complex relationships of characters overshadowed by the past.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

The National Australia Bank at Morphett Vale is home to this colourful mural. Not sure how many people will be able to continue enjoying the mural though, as recently after I snapped this photograph, construction of a child care centre began on on the block of land next door.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Review: Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford

If you pick up Clementine Ford's Fight Like a Girl (and I hope that you do,) then be prepared for an unflinchingly honest account of what it means to a woman in 21st century Australia. The opening paragraph--describing how the author regarded feminism as an adolescent--had me nodding my head in agreement, as it may as well have been describing my own thoughts about feminism at that age. From there, the subject matter remained consistently relatable, right to the very last page, as the author explains why feminism matters, what this means for us and how each individual can raise their voice. 

As I said in the first paragraph, Fight Like a Girl was consistently relatable, whether the author was talking about the pressure to look a certain way, harassment or violence against women. Some of the scenarios outlined were spookily similar to my own experiences. For example, in a chapter titled When Will You Learn Ford explains the internal struggle faced by women when they are approached by a strange man. On the one hand, we're told to protect ourselves and not talk to strangers, on the other, we're told that some people are just socially awkward and are trying to be friendly and it's wrong to suspect them of anything. 

Ultimately, this is a book that is very accessible, very relevant and should be required reading for high school students.

Highly recommended.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Friday Funnies

Love this Peanuts comic. Snoopy's ability to think laterally always cracks me up. As does the somewhat exasperated expression on Charlie Brown's face.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Peppermint Patty and the Little Red Haired Girl

I've discussed this series of Peanuts comics before, where Peppermint Patty finds herself face to face with the Little Red Haired Girl, and in an unusual twist for the normally confident Peppermint Patty, she finds herself in tears when she sees in the other girl someone and something that she feels that she can never be. Her feelings of helplessness are deepened, of course, by the fact that The Little Red Haired Girl is the unrequited love of Charlie Brown, who Peppermint Patty not-so-secretly fancies.

Anyway, I found the comics re-imagined as a series of gifs and decided to share a shortened version of them here. (I am not the creator, just a fan. You can see the full version here.)  

Monday, 24 October 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

I am uncertain when this picture was taken, or where, though the paving suggests that it might be in or, very close to, Rundle Mall. Obviously, this is a closed and locked roller door to a shopfront.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Friday Funnies

Who could resist ...?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

It was an usual and amusing concept for a novel. When Ransom Riggs discovered a whole lot of old and unwanted photographs, each one stranger than the next, he shaped them into a young adult novel filled with time loops, children with strange and creepy quirks and one very confused teenage boy who finds himself thrown into the action. And Miss Peregrine, the firm but fair matriarch of the home for peculiar children, which exits in a time loop on a tiny, remote island in the United Kingdom. The only problem with all of this is that it doesn't work. A great concept and characters with huge potential is let down by dull storytelling and a plot that drags.

Not really recommended.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This week I am sharing a picture of the memorial at Moseley Square, Glenelg, taken at sunset.

PS If you look closely, you can see a tram on the far left hand side. The old town hall can be seen on the upper, far right corner.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Friday Funnies

Unfair, isn't it? Happy Friday, everyone.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Happy Labour Day, RAdelaidians! I'm guessing that a few of you might be down at the Bay today, which is home to many great artworks, including this mural, which is located just near the Glenelg Community Centre ...

Friday, 30 September 2016

Friday Funnies

I totally agree. Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Emma Cline's debut novel The Girls is the troubling story of Evie Boyd, a bystander to a horrific crime. The year is 1969. Evie is fourteen years old, about to be packed off to boarding school and suffering both the after-effects of her parents divorce, and the desire to feel important despite her overwhelming mediocrity. When she encounters the older Suzanne and a group of girls in the park, Evie is instantly smitten, and is soon drawn into their life in a commune on the outskirts of town, where all the girls do the bidding of Russell, a charismatic, almost Manson-like figure. And though something dangerous may be brewing, Evie finds herself drawn in deeper and deeper ...

Moving through the summer of 1969, the events that lead up to a horrific mass murder are slowly told to the reader. The author has much to say about feminism, and the role of women, and very little to say at all about Russell, the cult leader who never quite seems to be fully fleshed out or formed. Instead, it's Suzanne who fills Evie's thoughts, though she never quite seems able to see who Suzanne really is. Small portions of the novel are set in present day, and it's clear that Evie has not enjoyed a successful life, instead she lives a dull existence that barely seems interesting--which almost matches her role within the cult and the murders. She's a bystander, and as a narrator, seems to offer very little about the cult that she was once a part of. There isn't a great deal of suspense, or surprises here, rather it's a coming of age tale of an angry young woman who wants to feel important, but eventually amounts to very little at all.

In all honesty, I enjoyed some parts of this novel more than others, the writing felt quite strong in places, particularly when the author was focusing on the role of girls/women and how they can often compromise themselves in order to please boys/men. Other parts of the novel reminded me of a better written and more believable version of Go Ask Alice, more likely than not because of the era in which the story is set. Ultimately, I feel this novel could have been a lot stronger if the author had focused more on Russell and his hold over 'the girls.'

Recommended to readers who want a darker coming-of-age tale. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Character Study: Big Bird

Of all of Jim Henson's Muppets that appear on Sesame Street none have a role quite so vital as Big Bird. Certainly, each Muppet whether it be Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch or Ernie and Bert, provide a heck of a lot of entertainment as they educate, but Big Bird provides a role like no other Muppet. Childlike and intellectually curious Big Bird provides young viewers with a character who views the world through their eyes. As Big Bird learns about the world around him, viewers learn with him, whether it be about road safety,  or in one landmark episode, death:

A running gag for many years on the show was Bird Bird's friendship with Mr Snuffleupagus, a shy mammoth like creature who was never seen by any of the adult characters on the show, and was considered, therefore to be Big Bird's imaginary friend, as can be observed from this sketch. In the mid-1980s, Big Bird eventually proved to the adults that Mr Snuffleupagus was real. According to wikipedia, the producers of Sesame Street decided to have the adults believe that Big Bird was telling the truth, as they did not want children to think that they would not be believed by adults if they had something to tell them:

While perhaps no longer the star of Sesame Street (thanks, Elmo,) Big Bird remains on of the most important and perhaps groundbreaking characters on the show. 

Big Bird has been played by the same actor since the 1960s. His story could have ended very differently however, as actor Carol Spinney was offered a spot on the doomed US Space Shuttle Challenger, but NASA was never able to reach an agreement with the producers of Sesame Street. Lucky for us, and luckier for Spinney, Big Bird is still around today, entertaining and educating children.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

There is no denying that Colleen Hoover is one of the famous authors of her genre. Her novels have been loved by readers (and this blog,) for their young, working class characters, who triumph against against the odds. There is always a whole lot of heart, and sometimes the hero and heroine bond in an intentionally comical way, one that is pleasing to read. (Very few authors can pull of a line of dialogue such as, "I like you, you stupid fuck-face," the way Hoover can. It's trashy, it's hilarious and it fits in with the characters and their situations perfectly.) There is something human and vulnerable about her characters, who often experience the kind of romances that we all secretly wish we could have against a dramatic backdrop. It Ends With Us remains true to form while, paradoxically, taking a new and darker turn. 

Told entirely from the perspective of Lily, it tells the story of a university graduate who has recently moved to Boston. Lily's life has not been an easy one. She grew up with a father who was as important and respected in his community as he was a violent bully behind closed doors. Lily was a sensitive kid with a big heart--she helped out a homeless boy from her school, and kept a 'journal' in which she wrote letters to a popular talk show host, describing her life, and how she eventually falls in love with the homeless Atlas--a love that is ultimately doomed.

The adult Lily is in disgrace after ruining her father's funeral with a cold hard dose of truth, and finds herself bonding with an attractive doctor that she meets by chance on an apartment rooftop. Chance and circumstance (including a missed chance with Atlas who is now running a successful restaurant in Boston,) led to a relationship between Lily and Ryle, but it soon becomes obvious that all is not as it seems, and that Ryle and Lily's father may have something in common. 

I found this one dark, truthful and occasionally difficult to read. The author gets to the heart of the complexities of violent relationships--and the reason why a woman doesn't just leave him. Through the character of Atlas, the author also shows just how someone can support a woman who is going through the same thing as Lily, with patience and without judgement. Ryle himself is shown as a complex character, who regrets his actions, yet remains unable to control them. 

Highly recommended.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Not really street art this week, but a very glamourous coffee that I purchased from the BTS Cafe in Pirie Street a little while ago. There is no denying that BTS is one of the friendliest cafes in Adelaide, and their coffee, teas and cupcakes are almost certain to please.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: Supermarket Removes Self Service Terminals

NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--A local supermarket has decided to get rid of their self-service terminals in a move that has surprised shoppers. "Frankly, I think these terminals are a piece of shit," Grant Gusto, manager of the Nowheresville Food Mart told our reporters. "They're loud, they break down every five minutes and to be perfectly frank I'm sick of hearing a recorded voice telling me to place an item in the bagging area when I've bloody well already placed the item there."

Since the self service terminals have been removed from the store, Nowheresville Food Mart has seen a sharp decline in instance of shoplifting. Other items, such as gourmet truffles are not being mistakenly sold as the much cheaper per kilo brown mushrooms, and shoppers are no longer using the self-service area as an extra entrance to the store. "Best bloody decision that I ever made," Grant Gusto adds. "Best bloody decision ..."

Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday Funnies

Love this!

Actually if you go on Twitter, Woodstock has an official account and will occasionally live tweet various important events. Lots of fun.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

I can't quite remember where I snapped this odd plant stand, other than it was probably somewhere within the Adelaide CBD ...

Sunday, 18 September 2016

1980s/1990s Nostalgia: Dawn Schafer

Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne, Dawn, Mallory, Jessi. If these names mean anything to you, then at some point during your childhood you probably read at least one (if not several or all,) Babysitters Club books. If you're really sharp, you will have also just noticed that I listed the characters in the order in which their first book of the series was released. If you're a true fan, you'll probably notice that I left Abby off the list. And you probably don't care.

All of the characters had their set personalities. Kristy was the tomboy, Claudia was the artsy underachiever, Stacey was the cool New Yorker, Mary Anne was the shy one, Mallory was the awkward kid who dreamed of better things, and Jessi was a dancer with a big heart.

And then there was Dawn.

Of the seven core characters (sorry Abby,) Dawn was probably the greatest enigma. Dawn's role in the BSC as the 'alternate officer' because unlike the other four members she didn't have any particular quality that would make her a good president, vice president, secretary or treasurer, yet she was capable enough to be able to pick up any of the tasks if one of the other girls were absent and it was required of her. She was a vegetarian and her clothing was described as 'California Casual.' (I had no idea what that meant when I was nine years old and I still have no idea now.) Later, she became interested in Environmental issues. 

Dawn was introduced to the series in the fourth novel Mary Anne Saves the Day as a new girl who had moved to Stoneybrook from California, where she was essentially a prop for the shy Mary Anne, who is forced to make it on her own after a fight with her childhood best friend, Kristy. We learn that Dawn's parents have recently divorced. Dawn lives with her newly single mother, and younger brother, Jeff. Meanwhile, Mary Anne lives with her father, a widower whose wife died of cancer when Mary Anne was just a baby. And, of course, there is a rather obvious twist, in that it turns out that Dawn's mother and Mary Anne's father were childhood sweethearts. Over the course of the series, their romance would be rekindled and the pair would marry, making Mary Anne and Dawn stepsisters. 

The major problem with Dawn's character was that author Ann M Martin seemed to have little or no clue what to do with her. Her stories were an eclectic mix--some focused on her emerging interest in boys, which always seemed to force her to act out (Dawn and the Older Boy, Dawn's Big Date,) while others focused on her struggles with her parents divorce and the fact that her parents now lived on opposite sides of the United States (Dawn on the Coast, Dawn's Wicked Stepsister, Dawn's Family Feud, Dawn's Big Move.) There were also lighthearted moments (The Ghost at Dawn's House) and the downright forgettable (Dawn and the School Spirit War).

Dawn was eventually written out halfway through the series, written back in, and then written out again and given her own spin-off series The California Diaries, a series that was darker, more YA than middle grade, and perhaps a better fit for the character.