Sunday, 31 January 2016

Review: Northern Heat by Helene Young

It's no surprise that Helene Young is one of the most popular Australian romantic suspense authors of our time when her books tick all the right boxes--likeable, but mysterious characters? Tick. Romance? Tick. Nail biting situations? Tick. A unique Australian setting? Tick. Northern Heat ticks every right box for its genre.

Although it can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, Northern Heat opens with Conor, the former accountant and amnesiac who played an important role in Young's previous novel Safe Harbour. This time around Conor takes centre stage. Using an assumed name, he has found safety and quiet in Cooktown, a small town in northern Queensland, where he spends his days working as a deckhand and volunteering at the local youth centre. He also feels, well, some affection for the lovely-but-mysterious single mother, Dr Kristy Dark who has some past secrets of her own. As a storm closes in on the small community, both Kristy and Conor are forced to confront their pasts and put their trust in one another if they want to survive ... and to rescue Kristy's daughter Abby who has found herself in terrible danger.

Domestic violence is discussed within the novel in a very relatable way and with real heart and understanding. 

I enjoyed reading this one, and found myself so caught up in the plot that I read the second half in a single sitting. Conor makes for an interesting hero and it was wonderful to see him take centre stage after his mysterious arrival in Safe Harbour. Kristy was a believable heroine who was quite easy to like and relate to--and she certainly had her hands full with her daughter Abby, a nice kid who is being led astray by another girl. 

Overall, well done. Recommended.

Note: I won this novel several months ago in a competition. Thank you to Helene Young, Penguin Books Australia and Book'd Out for my copy. Apologies for taking so long to post a review.

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

Friday, 29 January 2016

Guest Post: Revealing the Attic Secrets by Lorraine Elgar

Lorraine Elgar is the co-creator and Admin for the Attic Secrets group on facebook, and the author of the fascinating Attic Secrets blog which delves deeper into the original novels by (the real) V.C. Andrews. Today she has written a guest post for us about her love of V.C. Andrews and the creation of Attic secrets ...

Revealing the Attic Secrets 
by Lorraine Elgar

Everyone has a story of how they discovered V C Andrews, my own is pretty standard – a bored nine year old digging through a cupboard and discovering a tattered book with the most amazing cover I’d ever seen.

A dark house with a bright red roof and a beautiful, if haunted, looking girl peeking out. The font, bright white called out to me Flowers in the Attic, Virginia Andrews. The back was a mixture of bright red text – It was a game of happy families – It was a game of hide and seek – It was a case of tender, loving murder – with the black font of synopsis. Ok I was sold, completely intrigued and within three days I’d devoured that book from front to back.

Over the years that book haunted me and I found myself compelled to reread over and over the story I could now probably recite in my sleep. I couldn’t explain why, but something enthralled me, had captured my soul at a young age and wasn’t giving it back. Every time I returned to the attic, I discovered something new, something I hadn’t thought of before and as I matured, through childhood, through adolescence, through motherhood I found new parts I could identify with.

No other book, nor author, has ever been able to achieve that for me.

In late 2013, I excitedly discovered they were to remake Flowers in the Attic into a movie and that there were fan sites on Facebook and fans on Twitter who felt exactly like I did. I also discovered there were many articles and people who tended to jump on the “V C Andrews bashing “ wagon, delighting in insinuating readers of V C A were into incest.

Thank God for Neisha Chetty, co-creator of Attic Secrets, who was the only person who actually stood up online and not only passionately but also intelligently pointed out the subtle genius that was Virginia Andrews. Here was a person that put into words exactly why I found V C Andrews works so compelling, who spoke out of things in the books I’d always suspected but been too embarrassed to say for fear of ridicule. She also expanded my mind and made me re-look at the books and again I felt that initial joy and wonder I did that first time.

After a year of discussing theories and debating, Neisha encouraged me to set up the Attic Secrets group for us to work on together, bringing together fans from all over the world who were fed up of being ridiculed and wanting to discuss the interacies of her works, the hidden symbolism within her text , the psychology of her characters and their complexities.

Attic Secrets main aim is to preserve V C Andrews Legacy, to strip away the incest fest tag, and look at the influences she herself used to create her work. Together with the fans we showcase the fandoms love through their creations , their opinions and discuss aspects of the book.

I’m delighted to say this month Attic Secrets turns one , and within that year we have been able to produce some fantastic exclusives for the fans including access to the cast and crew of FITA The Stage Play which premiered in New Orleans to rave reviews, we've created a successful blog which is followed worldwide, have a popular twitter account and tumblr blog.

Working with the other fan groups and pages we have bought our fans live chats with the ghost writer Andrew Neiderman, interaction with the lifetime movie stars and my own timelines of the Dollanganger Saga and My Sweet Audrina can be found on The CompleteVCA website. Most importantly, working across the fandom bought the most exciting and important thing to happen in the past thirty years when Jessica Zinder of The Lost Angels of VCA managed to find the unpublished works of VCA in the Boston Archives and entrusted myself and Attic Secrets to analyse these works.

Attic Secrets is definitely a labour of love, and its members have become like family.


Lorraine Elgar is co-creator of Attic Secrets, as well as running its successful blog, twitter and tumblr accounts, she analyses and researches all things VCA.

Lorraine lives in the UK with her partner and two children.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Review: Maybe Not by Colleen Hoover

Contemporary romance author Colleen Hoover just can't leave her characters alone, especially if it means that she has the chance to tell another cracking love story. Maybe Not is a short prequel of sorts to her 2014 novel Maybe Someday and tells the story of Ridge and Sydney's obnoxious housemates, Warren and Bridget and how their quirks mean that they are perfect for each other. There are a few sizzling scenes, some touching moments and a whole lot of arguments on this couple's path to true love, though the story is interesting enough.

This one is what it is, and doesn't quite have the impact or depth of a full blown novel, and is probably more of interest to fans than what it is for anyone contemplating reading one of Hoover's novels for the first time. Still, Hoover knows her target audience well and this one is sure to please.

Recommended to fans. 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop

This competition has now closed and all winners have been contacted. Thanks for stopping by!

The Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop, which is hosted by Book'd Out, is on once again, and I'm thrilled to be taking part for the third year running. This year, I'm feeling rather generous so I am handing out a few prizes:

1 x signed copy of Being Abigail
1 x signed copy of Cats, Scarves and Liars
1 x signed copy of Everybody Hates Abigail
1 x signed copy of Poison Ivy

(Let me know if you have any preferences for a particular book and I'll add your name twice to that particular draw. Entry is open internationally.)

Winners will be chosen via Pick At Random

To enter: 

Comment below and let me know what you're planning to read this Australia Day.

And just as a bonus, everyone who visits and comments this year up until midnight 28 January 2016 will receive a free eBook copy of Cats, Scarves and Liars, just let me know which format you would prefer (or you can opt out if you'd rather.) 

Happy Australia Day to all.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Friday Funnies

A zillion points to anyone who gets the joke.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever Yours the debut novel by Irish author Louise O'Neill is a chilling dystopian feminist tale about a future world where women are considered useful only as wives to bare sons, or concubines to satisfy the sexual desires of men. Women are few and far between and are genetically manufactured to be "perfect" and raised in a type of school where they are taught nothing but how to look beautiful. At the end of their sixteenth year, each of the top ranked girls, or eves as they have become known, will be chosen by a prospective husband, while those who are not chosen will become concubines and the occasional one will become a chastity--basically the equivalent of a nun. But this year, something is going horribly wrong and frieda's future is anything but certain ...

This one was quite a disturbing read, set in a world were women are powerless and only a few are bred each year with the specific purpose of pleasing men. The conditions at the "school" where the girls are raised are horrific, there is no solidarity among the girls and nor is it encouraged. Everything for these genetically manufactured beauties is about finding a husband. And then there is the harrowing story of isabel, our heroine's former best friend who suffers the most, thanks to the desires of a selfish and greedy man.

What makes this story even more interesting is that the heroine, frieda, is not a strong character. She is unable to stand up for herself, even in situations when it would be entirely appropriate to do so and is too impulsive to play what few cards she has wisely. Of course, she does not deserve her fate and the ending is a surprising one for a YA novel, though completely appropriate for the story and for the first world, where some women are oppressed by societal expectations to dress and behave a certain way in order to be considered worthy.

Recommended, though not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Writers on Wednesday: Marie Tuhart

It's time once again for Writers on Wednesday. This week I am chatting with Marie Tuhart, author of Bound and Teased ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

I was born and raised in San Francisco, California, and moved to the Pacific Northwest in Washington State several years ago.  I played at writing when I was a teenager and finished my first novel length book at 19.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

Bound & Teased is a committed menage book.  Here’s a blurb:

Eight years ago, a naive Katie Crane ran from Ry and Jed, warned their brand of love would ruin her life. Now she's all grown up and returning home with a better understanding of the BDSM lifestyle. After the betrayal she's faced at her father's hands, she worries she won't be strong enough to submit to the men she gave her heart and virginity to at eighteen. 

Jed Malloy and Ry McCade are surprised and thrilled by Katie's return to Felton's Creek. They'd been heartbroken after her departure and had turned to each other, embracing the BDSM lifestyle without her. Katie's homecoming sparks hope and worry. Ry isn’t sure he can keep his dominant side under control, and Jed fears Katie will see him as less of a man by being a switch and Ry’s submissive.

Having Katie back could mean the beginning of everything they've ever wanted or the end to the only family they've ever known.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

I was first published in 2010 by The Wild Rose Press. My first book In Plain Sight was a book I’d written years before for another publisher but never submitted.  When I submitted to The Wild Rose Press I really didn’t expect them to buy it.  I was thrilled and excited when they offered me a contract.  I’ve learned a lot since then.

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

I’m proud that I produce good, quality books.  I want readers to have fun reading my books and while I’m not perfect I want the reader to have the best experience they can.

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

I’m currently working on a two books in a series tentatively titled: Doms of the Silver Screen.  It’s played in the world of movies I have an actor, a director, a graphic artist and a costume designer.

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

I’ve gone more and more to eBooks.  Mainly because I have such a wide selection, and many small publishers do e-Books only.  I occasionally do read paper, but not so much anymore unless it’s a research book.

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

I hope to travel to Australia one day.  I have a couple of online friends who live there and it would be great to meet all my fans who live in a wonderful country.


The Wild Rose Press
Amazon – NOTE: on pre-order for $2.99 until 8/31/15
Barnes & Nobel:

Twitter @marietuhart

Sign up for Marie’s newsletter:

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Review: All That is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster

Australian author Sara Foster is back. All That is Lost Between Us is a tale that is one part psychological suspense and one part a heartbreaking family drama. Anya, Callum, Georgia and Zac all make up a nice, normal middle class family unit but their current situation is anything but normal. Each family member has their own life, and their own secret that is separate from the others--daughter Georgia has experienced an ill-fated affair with an older man; father and husband Callum has been cheating on his wife with a younger woman; son Zac has feelings for his step-cousin Maddie and he knows a terrible secret about Georgia; and wife and mother Anya is struggling as she watches her family drift away from her. Add to the mix a crazy stalker, some bullies and a tragic hit and run, and the story takes some surprising twists and turns.

Reading All That is Lost Between Us was a little bit like peeling back the layers of an onion, as the inner lives of each of the main characters was slowly revealed against the cool and murky backdrop of the English countryside. With exception of Anya and Zac, I found the characters difficult to like and trust, but instead of detracting from the novel, that made the lives of characters like Callum, and even Sophia, far more interesting. I found Callum to be a character who took the easy way out, cheating on his wife when things were tough and then promptly dumping his mistress as soon as he decided that he wanted to reinvent himself as a family man--I actually felt just as bad for Danielle as I did for Anya as both women suffered through his selfish actions. And, of course, a good part of the story belongs to Georgia, who suffers a brutal punishment for doing what any teenage girl in her situation would have done, not being upfront about her age to impress an older man--and yes, her punishment is far more heartbreaking than simply being found out and dumped, as is the fact that her circumstances mean that she has to suffer in silence or risk losing everything that she has worked for. Then, of course, there is talk throughout the story of technology and how it can be misused--from websites designed for people looking for affairs, through to it being a tool that bullies can use to hurt others. 

An intriguing family drama. Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Not really street art this week, but rather some pictures from the recent Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries Costume exhibition that was held at the Ayres House Museum on North Terrace. It was a wonderful chance to see some of the beautiful costumes from the series (nearly all of which were custom made for the show, and yes, they did have Dot's wedding dress on display,) but it was a great chance to walk through Ayres House, which, of course, has been beautifully maintained. The ambiance was quite lovely and it was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Review: Speaking to Miranda by Caroline MacDonald

Speaking to Miranda is a haunting tale of a young woman's search to learn more about her dead mother. Published in 1990 (and later short-listed as a CBBA book for older readers,) the novel is set in 1986 and touches on topics that were relevant for the era that the novel was set, in particular what life is like for those who were born in the 1960s as the children of hippies. Ruby is an intelligent young woman, who has lived in many parts of Australia, and has no close friends, apart from her adoptive father, Rob. She does, however, have an imaginary friend called Miranda who will speak to her on occasions and often, Miranda isn't very nice. Apparently, Miranda gained her name when Ruby was just small and people would see her talking to herself whilst sitting inside pram that was decorated with wildflowers. Ruby's mother, Emma would explain to people that Ruby was "Speaking to Miranda."

Ruby's mother, Emma, was a mysterious hippie-like young woman who died when Ruby was just two, and that is all that is known about her. Ruby has been raised by Emma's partner, Rob, who refuses to speak about her in any detail and most of what Ruby knows comes from her Gran, Rob's mother. And she knows nothing apart from the fact that Rob and Emma met at the beach one day and fell in love almost instantly. Now that Ruby has come of age and it look as though Rob may be marrying the repulsive Evie, she feels that the time has come for her to learn more about her mother. She begins a search that takes her Darwin, to Melbourne and eventually to New Zealand, where some surprising truths are eventually revealed, including the real identity of Miranda ...

This novel was enjoyable, though some of the threads do not tie in together as well as they should--for example there are some inconsistencies about when, and why, Ruby started "speaking to Miranda." (Sadly, the novel never quite makes up its mind whether or not to embrace some of the supernatural themes. A logical explanation is given, however, that explanation discounts the fact that Ruby started speaking to Miranda before her mother died.) For contemporary audiences, this novel also feels very dated and there isn't a lot of detail about the era that it is set--Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s--and some details may leave readers feeling a little lost, for example how was Rob so easily able to adopt Ruby without learning Emma's true identity, and why Emma was able to travel between New Zealand and Australia without a passport. And so much for that cloak being a classic design that never goes out of fashion ... 

The ending is a strange one, with Ruby making some important discoveries, most notably, how her mother became such a free spirit and made the choices that she did. A new identity and life in New Zealand also paves the way for the possibility that her relationship with Rob may change, which is well, rather a surprise. (SPOILER ALERT: Neither seem able to hold successful romantic relationships as they seem to be bound to each other, and Ruby's true identity means that she is not, in fact, the child that Rob adopted many years before.) 

Although this could have been longer, the novel is enjoyable as it is. Recommended, though this one is not necessarily destined to become a modern classic.

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

Friday, 15 January 2016

Friday Funnies: Meme Meme

I found this one recently. It look me a little while to "get" it but after a second reading I found that it had a certain charm ...

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Review: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

There has been a lot of talk about Australian author Charlotte Wood's latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, since it was released in October and it is not difficult to see why. This story is a great many things--shocking, well written and utterly addictive. It also focuses on what is one of the great taboo subjects of western culture, that of the wild woman. 

The novel opens with two women who have found themselves drugged and imprisoned inside desolate outback lodgings. Along with several other women, they have their heads shaved and are forced to spend their days doing hard labour, under the cruel and watchful eyes of two men and one completely inept nurse. Soon it becomes clear that each woman has been involved in a high profile sexual scandal, and they have been sent to this place, run by the mysterious Hardings for "re-education." As supplies begin to run out, the balance of power slowly begins to shift and deadly games of power and politics begin. 

An all ways, this novel is impressive. Wood does not shy away from demonstrating the blatant double standards and hypocrisy that the women are subject to. Their behaviour is considered terrible from the start, while their hapless but violent jailers, Teddy and the disgusting Bouncer, are allowed to get away with all kinds of atrocities. Even Nancy, the incompetent nurse, is never treated as an equal by the men (despite her being an employee and not a prisoner,) and makes the ultimate mistake of trying to make him like her, which leads to her eventual undoing. Its an interesting idea--that of a woman who tries to survive by winning the approval of the cruelest male in the room, and is left pining away in the face of his indifference and wondering what is wrong with her. 

The two strongest women of the novel are the leading characters, Yolanda--a young woman whose scandal involves a football team--and Verla, whose scandal was her relationship with a government minister. It is the objective of Hardings to crush and break these women so that they will never be a "threat" to society again, however, both exert a kind of independence that allows them to outsmart their captors in surprising ways. Yolanda literally becomes the Wild Woman--the thing that we fear most, a woman who is untamed and unashamed, while Verla makes some tough choices. The other women feature as minor characters, though Hetty has her own shocking story. 

Through Hardings (and their gift at the end,) there are also questions about corporate control, as well as that of how much do women really own their own bodies? To what extent is the punishment suffered by the women similar to the way that we often torture and humiliate others for what we perceive as transgressions? To what extent are we uncomfortable when women do not behave in the way that is expected of them?

The Natural Way of Things is a skilfully written novel about a situation that is unjust as it is shocking and will undoubtably stay with me for a very long time. 

Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Writers on Wednesday: Terry Lancaster

Welcome back to another great Writers on Wednesday post. This week I am chatting with Terry Lancaster, author of Better ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

I'm an an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. I write and speak on the power of habit and focus, helping people build better lives, one better decision at a time. 

I've spoken at TedX, and my articles have appeared in multiple forums, including The Good Men Project. I am the co-founder and VP of Making Sh!t Happen at Instant Events Automotive Advertising. For the last 20 years I've been producing the biggest, loudest car dealer commercials in the history of big, loud car dealer commercials, most of that time working from home in my underwear. 

Born and raised in Nashville, TN, I hold a degree in English/Journalism from Tennessee Technological University, where I learned how to program ginormous room-sized computers using a deck of cards and a rubber band, and how to edit newspaper and radio ads using a ruler, a razor blade, and scotch tape. And while all of that may make me sound MacGyver cool, it hasn't come in handy much since graduation. 

Along with my wife of 28 years, I am the proud parent of three daughters and spends most of my free time, like every other middle-aged, overweight, native southerner, at the ice rink playing hockey.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

BETTER! Self Help For The Rest Of Us combines the science behind habit formation, focus, and flow with personal stories about overcoming a lifetime of addiction, bad habits, and poor personal decisions in an unexpected and fun juxtaposition. By giving up our pursuit of unobtainable, perfect, storybook lives, we can start taking small steps towards making our actual lives ... BETTER! 

BETTER! Self Help For The Rest Of Us shows how tiny changes to just a few foundational habits can cause ripples that reverberate into every area of your life. Exercise. Meditation. Focus. Gratitude. Nutrition. You'll learn how minor improvements in these key areas alter the very physical structure of your brain, making the next minor tweak that much easier. 

You'll also learn about naked yoga, why there's always going to be a little bird poop in the pool and how Jerry Seinfeld can change your life. Yada. Yada. Yada.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

BETTER! is my first book

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

The rule of thumb is that only 10% of the people who would like to write a book ever actually start writing the book. And of all the people who actually start writing only 1% finish.  By my estimation that makes BETTER! one in a thousand. I've spent my entire adult life writing radio and TV ads 75 words at a time. For me to string together 50,000 words in a pleasing, coherent order is something I'll be bragging about for decades,

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

As hard as writing the book was (and it was a massive chore), it'd be easy to throw it out into the world and say "It here it is. Look what I did." But it turns out writing the book is the easy part. Marketing and promoting the book is where the rubber meets the road, and that's what I'm working on now

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

Oh definitely paper. Because of tradition. Because of the tactile experience. Because I spend most of the day staring at a screen anyway for work. When I'm reading and relaxing I try to give my old eyes a break

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

Indie for sure. I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy.

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

My all time favorite book is STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS by Daniel Gilbert

It really changed the way I look at things and details the exact neurological processes that the brain uses to manufacture happiness. We're all seeking happiness, looking for it under random rocks when it turns out our brains are happiness factories if we'd just learn to program them correctly.

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

I hope you'll check out my book and I hope you like it, but even more than that, I hope you'll implement some of the small steps the book gives for you to help build a BETTER! life. Because here's the dirty little secret of the self help business: There's not a single word in that book that can do a single thing to improve your life. That's all on you. Knowledge without action is just entertainment. The digital download will be FREE on Amazon from December 28th until December 31st. I hope you'll take action. Stay in touch and let me know how It goes. Giddyup!


Everyone can connect with me at

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Review: We of the Never-Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn

In 1902 a Melbourne schoolteacher, Jeannie Gunn, followed her new husband to work on a cattle station in a remote part of the Northern Territory. We of the Never-Never is an autobiographical account of the short time that the author spent there. 

Told with a little bit of humour and with some of the details changed and names altered, the article captures the spirit of the times--when European settlement was still essentially in its early days--and the diversity of the Australian landscape and people. The plot, apart from the authors careful account of how initially the men who worked on the station were suspicious of having a woman living in what they considered to be "their" part of the Australian outback, is a bit thin, instead detailing the many quirks of the era and of the place. Although parts of the book would be considered racist by contemporary standards, it is one of the few surviving works from the era that takes a genuine interest in Indigenous Australian culture. The story ends in the wet season and with a hint of trouble to come. (Sadly it did, with Gunn's husband passing away unexpectedly. Gunn was then sent back to Melbourne where she spent the rest of her life as a celebrated activist.) 

An important and understated part of Australian history. Recommended. 

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

Monday, 11 January 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Alice is a firm favourite on this blog (and on my iPhone). I just couldn't resist sharing this snap, which has her surrounded by a ring of yellow flowers. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Audrina, My sweet

I found this utterly haunting clip on YouTube earlier this week, which is a tribute to the V.C. Andrews novel, My Sweet Audrina. The haunting, poetic lyrics retell this haunting gothic tale of a girl who cannot properly remember her past, but knows that something very bad happened to another little girl who shares her name. The clip and lyrics are frightening, but they capture this gothic tale perfectly.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Off Topic: Degrassi Junior High

Like most kids who grew up in Australia in the late 1980s/1990s, some small part of my childhood was spent watching reruns of Degrassi Junior High and it's sequel series Degrassi High which used to air on The Afternoon Show on the ABC. For those of you who don't know, Degrassi Junior High was a Canadian television series made for teens that didn't shy away from discussing some gritty real life issues--such as the time that Wheels ran away from home, went hitchhiking and was groped by some creep who picked him up. (I remember my eleven-year-old self watching this, shocked.) A next generation series of this started production several years ago and has gone on to be quite successful, and like its predecessor gets repeated all the time on ABC3. 

Anyway, my own fandom/interest in the show was fairly limited, I probably wouldn't have watched it or sought it out had my older brothers not been watching it and it was more or less forgotten after they both grew out of it. I can tell you most of the big events that happened throughout the series i.e. Wheels adoptive parents die, Spike got pregnant and (temporarily) kicked out of school, but I would be struggling to name most of the other characters (with the possible exception of Joey, who I found so annoying that I would much rather erase him from my mind permanently,) and the various social issues that they encountered, with the surprising exception of one character who made rather an impression on me. And I say surprising, because there is probably no one else on the planet who would ever admit to this.

My favourite character from Degrassi is Michelle Accette.

Michelle was really only a minor character in the first couple of seasons, but the character, who was quiet and softly spoken, came into her own after an episode about shyness (something that I could definitely identify with,) and was an important character in Degrassi High. Michelle never stopped being shy, but her character became a surprisingly strong one in spite of this. One storyline had her defy her parents to date BLT (her parents disapproved of the match because BLT was black,) and she continued to date him, because she thought that it was the right thing to do and that her parents were the ones who were wrong. That sort of thing takes guts. A lot of guts. Later, when she found out that BLT had cheated on her, and some of the lies that he had told his new girlfriend, she confronted him in the school cafeteria and set everyone straight. 

Michelle's defining moment, however, was that she was the first character on the series to move out of home.

Michelle in Degrassi High.
Picture source: Degrassi Wiki
If I recall right, this happened when the character turns sixteen. Living alone with her newly divorced father, Michelle was unable to abide by her dad's strict rules. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I always found the parents in the Degrassi universe to be a bit odd and a bit distant, and Mr Accette is definitely both of those things. I also found him to be somewhat creepy, though it is difficult to say how, apart from the fact that he was a bit racist, a bit strict and he did have a right to be annoyed about Michelle's mother walking out on the family to be with another man. (Then again, maybe a careful watching of this scene explains it. Something about the way he takes his daughter's hand makes me uncomfortable.)

Anyway, the storyline about Michelle leaving home is one about independence and shows her finding a place to live and a job, though a year later, she finds that she is unable to cope with her increasing load of homework, whilst trying to study at a busy boarding house and eventually patches things up with her dad, and stands up to him. Yay for Michelle. The shyest and seemingly most insecure character is, deep down, also one of the strongest.

That said, there is also something about that particular story arc that bothers me. When Michelle leaves home, she chooses not to stay in contact with her dad, which, obviously, is her choice even if it does seem a little bit misguided. When she returns to his house, a year later, he seems delighted to see her and it's obvious that the pair have not seen each other or spoken during that time. Huh? Was Degrassi big enough that two people who were related could completely avoid one another for an entire year? Michelle never once bumped into her dad at the supermarket, or even in the street. Mr Accette made a token attempt to visit Michelle at her work, but that was basically it. We're supposed to think that for an entire year this character lived alone with no contact with her family whatsoever. If Mr Accette was so delighted to see Michelle when she returned, did he never make any meaningful attempts to stay in contact, other than one visit to the donut shop where, quite frankly, he acts like a complete tool, laying on guilt trips and never allowing his daughter to tell her side of the story? Because Degrassi was a series for teens, probably, and the whole point was to show that a teenager could live independently if they needed to. Anyway, it's an interesting storyline for a series that broke a lot of new ground and went on to become a classic.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Friday Funnies: These Memes Aren't Half Bad

Just thought that I would start the year off with a bit of honesty. Here's looking forward to some silliness next Friday ...

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Review: The Sun in Her Eyes by Paige Toon

Although I have been aware of author Paige Toon for some time, and had been intending to read some of her books 'at some stage' I was not aware of her connection to my home city, Adelaide, until recently. And when I discovered (thanks to some promotional material,) that her most recent book was set almost entirely in Adelaide, I knew that I just had to ask her publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book. Luckily, Simon and Schuster Australia were kind enough to provide me with a copy, and I'm pleased to report that I rather enjoyed this fun and sometimes sad tale of a woman who is forced to return home to Australia after her father suffers a stroke. 

Amber's life in London is not going so well--she has just lost her job, and her marriage is going through a rough patch. Returning to Australia to her ailing father--and his partner who she has never gotten along with--is tough, but some surprising comfort comes in the form of being reacquainted with Ethan, a bad boy that she had a crush on right through her adolescence. Suddenly, Ned and her trouble marriage seem very far away ... but the answer that Amber might really need to help solve her problems might lie with a mysterious stranger, a woman who was there on the day her mother was killed in a car accident.

The Sun in Her Eyes is chick-lit at its best, with a conflicted heroine and a mixture of happy and sad moments. I loved the Adelaide setting--it's not every day I read a book where the heroine drinks a can of Fruita with her lunch (Adelaide folks will know what that is,) or where she visits a bar that I have walked past many times (although it trades under a different name.) As I said, this one has some happy and said moments and the ending tugged just a little at my heartstrings.

Recommended to lovers of chick-lit.

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

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Writers on Wednesday: Violetta Armour

Welcome to the first Writers on Wednesday of 2016. This week I am chatting with Violetta Armour, author of I Will Always be With You ...

Tell us about your self and your book...

I’m a first generation American. My parents immigrated from Bulgaria and Macedonia in the 20’s and I was born in Gary, Indiana, a steel town that attracted many immigrant families because work was available. There was every ethnic neighborhood you could imagine. I did not appreciate the rich culture I grew up in until I moved away from home and realized all communities were not so diverse.

What or who inspired you to write your book?

In 1999 I wanted to write a book with a pay-it-forward sort of theme.  It was strictly a young adult book with a 16 year old hero, Teddy. I secured an agent but she couldn’t find a home for it. I think it was too sweet for the teen audience of the day. I put it in a drawer for 13 years and re-wrote it in 2013 adding adult characters. Ironically now when adults read it, they say every teen should read it. It has come full circle.

The biggest reward I have received is a connection with friends and acquaintances I have made through the years. Thanks to social media and my personal efforts to contact everyone I ever knew, they are reading the book and responding. It’s like the feeling you have at Christmas when you get newsletters from friends you haven’t seen in years.

One of the most memorable bit of feedback I got was from a lady who said she could not read the book right now because she had recently lost both her husband and daughter and the subject matter was too sensitive.  She did however buy the book and a few months later I received an email saying the book was a great comfort to her and ….and thanked me for writing it.

What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?

What I hope readers will take away is a feeling of hope when life deals them a difficult blow.  That we can control our destiny with a positive outlook which translates into our daily actions.  It is also about how the love of family can help us heal and get thru difficult situations.  The satisfaction of  reading a good story. To paraphrase a quote from JD Salinger is “…when you’re done reading a book, you wish you could call the author on the phone whenever you feel like it.” I would hope my readers would feel that way.

What does being an author mean to you?

Being an author is the realization of something I have dreamed of for many years. I wish I had published sooner.  It means I have a unique story to tell and share. I think everyone does.  A feeling of pride and self-accomplishment.

What has been your biggest reward in publishing?

The biggest reward I have received as mentioned above is the connection with friends and their joy in my success.  I didn’t think of this as such a big deal but everyone else seems to think it is quite the accomplishment.

Holding the book in my hands was a special moment. And another one was seeing it on a bookshelf in one of my favorite bookstores. I used to own a bookstore so that made it even more special.  How did I celebrate the special moment. As I said, the book sale followed within 15 hours of receiving my book so that in itself was a day-long celebration. What made it even more special was that my 13-year old grandson, Kevin, was visiting and he sat at my book table and helped me with the technology—running a charge card through my IPhone—thank goodness.  In between sales he continued to tell me how proud he was of me.  It warmed my heart immensely and hopefully following my dream at age 74 will inspire all my children and grandchildren to have the courage to follow their dreams.

What’s next?  I am working on the sequel but not as much as I should. Too busy marketing and enjoying this ride but I feel better if I write something each day. After the first of the year I will dedicate more time to writing. I wasn’t planning on a sequel but many readers are asking so I feel I should continue the story of this wonderful family I have created.

Ebooks or paper?

I prefer paper.  I like the convenience of e-books on a Kindle when traveling. Can take so many. But there is nothing like holding a book. My love affair with books began when I won the summer library reading contest at age 9. I attribute that to a 4th grade teacher who put classics like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Little Women in my hands at an early age.

What is one book everyone should read?

Ah, so many to choose from. I would say The Little Prince by Antonine de Saint-Exupery.  For children and adults.

Is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?

I hope someday I can visit your beautiful country and you in turn can visit our beautiful America.  Til then, our books and stories are our universal link.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Review: The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter

The Blackboard Jungle is a novel that is best remembered for its film adaption (starring Glen Ford and Sidney Poitier in his breakout role,) that started riots in various parts of the world were it was shown, while author Evan Hunter would later find fame writing crime novels under the alias Ed McBain. (Evan Hunter was the novelists name after he changed it legally from Salvatore Albert Lombino. Throughout his long career he would also use several other aliases.) But what is surprising about this book, first published in the early 1950s, is just how relevant some of the themes of teenage delinquency are today and what little has changed.

The novel tells the story of Richard Dadier, a World War Two Veteran who has recently qualified as a secondary school teacher and now must spend a year teaching at a vocational school in New York. The boys at the school are rough, tough and basically illiterate and most of the teachers are just trying to survive their day job. Initially Dadier wins the respect of his students, but this is soon lost when he steps in and prevents a student from raping a female teacher. From that moment on, Dadier, known disrespectfully as Daddy-oh by his students, must suffer all kinds of shocking moments--a brutal beating after school, anonymous letters being sent to his wife, until eventually the year culminates in a shocking incident where he is stabbed by a student and Miller, the one student that Dadier holds out all hope for, must decide whether he is one of the boys, or if he can stand up and be a man.

There are parts of this novel that may as well be set in modern day. The author taps in, and nails, some of the most shocking parts of what makes some teenagers turn bad--most notably, the inability to think independently and outside of the confines of the group. Through Miller's character, we see the importance of bystander intervention and just how difficult it is for that one person who could make all the difference in the world to stand up. The way that some of the teachers are portrayed is as shocking as it is realistic, there is the ironically named Manners who wants nothing more than to be transferred to an all-girls school so that he can perve on, and perhaps have affairs with, the students there, and Solly who has resigned himself to the fact that things are never going to change so it seems pointless to keep trying. And then there is Josh, another graduate teacher who wants nothing more than to teach his students and to share his love of music, but whose dreams are left shattered when the boys in his class break his entire record collection, seemingly because they cannot comprehend its value but understand completely how it would hurt and upset their teacher. And then, of course, there is the troubling portrayal of Miss Havisham, the teacher who is almost raped. When she is introduced, the author notes: Solly wondered if she would wear that blouse on Monday, because if she did there would surely be a rape. Either from the students or the teachers or maybe both. Obviously, this is foreshadowing, seeing as an attempted rape later takes place. But as a contemporary reader, I found it troubling, just as I found her character troubling. Following her sexual assualt, Miss Havisham flirts with Dadier regularly, conveniently ignoring the fact that he is devoted to his pregnant wife Anne. She is, essentially, portrayed as a woman who is 'asking for it' while Dadier seems to be the only male character who is able to sufficiently control himself around her. There is basically no getting around the fact that the character and her part of the story is extremely condescending and sexist.

Despite a few flaws, this one is (mostly) a well written and interesting read. Recommended.

PS Just for fun, I'm including a link to the dramatic stabbing scene from the film. View it here.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Why have an ordinary historical road map, when you can have one put on toughened glass? This one is located on Nile Street at Glenelg, at the Wigley Reserve end. 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Review: Letters From the Inside by John Marsden

Warning, contains possible spoilers.

Twenty-five years after Letters From the Inside was first published this YA novel still makes a huge impact with its haunting cliffhanger ending. Set in an unnamed part of Australia back in the days before email, it opens with fifteen year old Mandy answering an ad that she saw in a magazine from Tracey, asking for a pen pal. The pair start corresponding, but soon it becomes obvious that Tracey is not being entirely truthful about her idyllic life. Eventually, it is revealed that Tracey is in the a maximum security area of juvenile detention centre and that she will be behind bars for a very long time. Cleverly, Marsden does not reveal the specifics of Tracey's crime, leaving readers to put the pieces together and to guess what actually happened. Meanwhile, Mandy, whom Tracey comes to rely on heavily (often referring to her as Manna, which is interesting given the biblical connotations of Manna,) has terrible family problems of her own, mostly to do with her violent and gun obsessed brother, Steve ...

John Marsden has never been an author who speaks down to his readers and he's never been one to treat his female characters like stereotypes, so it is unsurprising that this book has such an enormous impact. He allows readers to join the dots and to guess what happened, such as in the case of Tracey's crime (the implication is that she was an accessory to a violent crime gone wrong,) and what has happened to Mandy at the end of the book, and why Tracey's letters are coming back marked return to sender in an unfamiliar hand. Tracey's dreams, meanwhile, are troubling and full of violence and bloodshed. There is a lot left open to reader interpretation--did Mandy and the others in her family come to a violent end at the hand of Steve? Or are there other possibilities, such as Mandy not wanting to write any more now that she knows Tracey's full story, and she has asked her sister, who works at the post office to return the letters. Or considering Tracey's fraught mental state, is it a possibility that Mandy is someone who she simply made up, and Steve's violent urges were really her own. (In one letter, she mentions a desire to machine gun everybody in A Block.) There are no firm answers, and that's a big part of what makes Marsden such a great author. (In fact, on his website he even encourages readers to put some things together so that they can work out for themselves what happened.)

It is also an interesting account of what goes on inside an all female juvenile detention centre, the alliances, the fight to be top dog and cruel games that the girls play with one another. And then there is the shocking abuse that all the girls suffer at the hands of their wardens, such as one inmate who is forced to inhale her own vomit.

Although a little dated in parts, this is probably one of the best novels that could ever be placed in the hands of a reader who wants to discover how books can be more than tales about heroes and villains, and how sometimes, a careful re-reading can lead them to discovering more about the story.

Highly, highly recommended.

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

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year 2016

Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to wish all of my friends and followers a very happy and wonderful new year. May 2016 be all that you dreamed of and more.