Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

The Glittering Court has a brilliant romantic, other-worldly concept that will no doubt appeal to female readers who are on the younger end of the YA spectrum. Our heroine is a well-brought up young lady who, since the death of her parents, has lived with her grandmother. The family fortunes are beginning to dry up and to help the family retain their respectable position within society, a match is made between our heroine and a young man who she is not in the least bit attracted to. Our heroine finds an escape in the unlikeliest places, trading places with a maid and running away to the Glittering Court, a place where impoverished young women are groomed in the ways of the rich and are shipped off as brides to men living in the new world. There, she changes her name to Adelaide and does her best to conceal her identity. And then, Adelaide does the one thing that she shouldn't, and falls in love, with a man whom she cannot marry ...

This was a great idea, and a perfect blend of romantic story telling and a mild fantasy, set in a world that is similar but not quite like ours. The storytelling wore a little thin after a while for me, though I feel a big part of that may have a lot to do with age--after all, this is a book for teens and I'm just a little (actually a lot,) older than that. Some of the plot twists felt a bit convenient at times. Still, this one was an enjoyable enough distraction, and never gave any less than what was promised on the back cover.

Recommended for teens and hardcore Richelle Mead fans.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Unfold and ... behold! It's Rundle Mall in an explosion of colour! In recent times Unfold has been the advertising campaign for Rundle Mall, and a sea of bright colours can often be seen in various parts of the mall. This shot was taken at the stage near Gawler Place.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Apple Paperback Review: Bad Break (The Gymnasts #6) by Elizabeth Levy

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 ...

Following on from my recent analysis of The Gymnasts series a couple of weeks ago, I found a cheap copy of one of the better books from the series at the Salvation Army Op Shop (this is an actual, local church-run shop, not to be confused with the larger and more commercial Salvos Stores,) for fifty cents and decided to bring it home. The book is a bit old and tatty and once belonged to the Inaburra High School Library, but it proved itself to be a fun nostalgia trip.

Book six focuses on Cindi, and how she breaks her leg after going on a ski trip to Aspen with her parents and three of the other Pinecones, Lauren, Darlene and Jodi, and mean girl Becky, who infiltrates the group, as her family is also holidaying at Aspen that weekend. (Ti An and Ashley were always, of course, minor characters and Heidi has not joined the group yet.) The book gives a surprising amount of technical detail on what happens when someone breaks a leg on a ski slop (Cindi is taken to the bottom of the mountain in a special sled that is a little like a stretcher,) but the focus of the novel is the implication that the injury has on her. It's a pretty accurate analysis of what it is like to have an injury, as Cindi experiences moments of frustration and doubt, anger and the odd bit of selfishness, along with a bit of denial. She stays on at Evergreen Academy doing weights and exercising her good leg on a bike, and learns a whole new level of respect for coach Patrick when he asks her to spot her teammates--who are sometimes resentful of her instructions and do not always co-operate. Later, after the cast comes off, Cindi has to overcome her fears to do gymnastics again and prove to herself that she is not going to be forever 'broken.'

Although medicine and technology has changed a bit (plaster casts and crutches are a bit of a rarity for broken legs nowadays,) this is still an interesting read about the implications of being injured--an injury is never fun and the problems that arise from it are not always physical.

A solid instalment in the series.

About the author: Elizabeth Levy started off her career working for Senator Robert Kennedy before turning her hand to writing. A prolific author of books for children, she has published more than eighty titles and has even continued on the Amber Brown series in tribute to the original author (and her friend) the late Paula Danziger. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Off Topic: There is No Perfect Time For An Asthma Attack

As I have alluded to on this blog before, I am asthmatic. And not only am I asthmatic, but I am one of those asthmatics, the kind who can go without symptoms for weeks, or even months at at time, and then suddenly be hit with an almighty attack, the kind that may lead to a hospital visit, or even leave me housebound for days on end. (In late September/early October 2014, I was left housebound for a whopping eleven days. During this period, a book review that I wrote for Caroline Kepnes' YOU received a surprising amount of attention and I had to turn down the opportunity to go on television to talk about my reaction to the book. It's the only offer like it that I have ever received ... sigh.)

Anyway, what most people do not realise about asthma is that attacks can happen any time, anywhere. In theory, this means that I could have an attack while doing something terribly important, or exciting, but the reality is, the vast majority of asthma attacks happen when I'm doing something completely mundane. There is the time I had an asthma attack while drying some dishes, the time I had an asthma attack while putting a jug in the microwave, and how could I possibly forget, the time that I was sitting at my desk, writing out this blog ...

Some occasions are, of course, a bit more amusing than others. Scrabbling around for an inhaler while one is only in their underwear is never a good look, but it also beats the heck out of dying. Then there was the time I had a nightmare, leaped out of bed and a few seconds later ... sudden asthma attack. Or there are occasions like this evening, when I had a glass of water in my hands, was preparing to take a sip and ... Now that little red indicator on my inhaler is a little closer to the finish line, and my kitchen floor just got an impromptu clean.

That's asthma. Who knows where my next attack might take me?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Thank you Lily and the Octopus for tugging at my heartstrings. You tugged, tugged hard and refused to let them go until the final page. In other words: This book made me cry, but I loved it very, very much.

Lily is an ageing dachshund and a faithful companion to Ted, a single gay man who is in his early 40s. Ted and Lily have a great relationship and it is obvious that Lily means the world to Ted. (And vice versa.) But then an unwelcome visitor appears--an octopus, who attaches itself to Lily's head. And Ted finds himself doing everything in his power to defeat the octopus while it slowly and nastily tries to take Lily away.

Anyone who has experienced the slow and excruciating loss of a loved one (whether that loved one has four legs or two,) will find Lily and the Octopus very easy to identify with. The use of metaphors is absolutely brilliant, as is the way that the author incorporates this clever literary technique with deceptively simple prose. The way that Ted deals with the situation at hand is believable and it is a perfect tribute that the love that humans feel for their pets, and also a study of grief. In the background there is some musings about Ted's past relationships, something that anyone who is past the age of thirty and is single, will be able to identify with--past mistakes and putting up with bad relationships well after their natural expiry date, couple with the conflicting desires of wanting to find a life partner but wanting to remain single. 

Well written and easy to identify with. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel on several occasions.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a copy of Lily and the Octopus.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Review: The Teacher's Secret by Suzanne Leal

Terry Prichard is the much loved assistant principal at a country primary school. Well-respected by the staff and parents and loved by his students, he has carved out a successful career which comes to a very sudden halt after the temporary appointment of a new school principal. Suddenly, Terry has retired, no one knows why and his replacement Nina is not having the easiest time settling in at the school, or into her new life as a single mother. And these are not the only characters who have their own story to tell in this new release by Australian author Suzanne Leal. There is also Rebecca, who arrives in Australia halfway through the year, Mel, a young mother and Laurie herself, a woman driven by rules ... and an agenda.

I enjoyed reading this novel. In many ways, I found it reminiscent of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas where every character has their own story and where blame is often a matter of perspective. The characters are flawed and make mistakes. Sometimes, though, Terry's innocence and willingness to do what he thinks is right with little thought to the possible consequences to his reputation, particularly when he knew that Laurie had a suspicious nature, was excruciating to read and at times had me wondering, is he or isn't he? On the other hand, it was overwhelmingly obvious how much the community, especially the kids, needed Terry and how lost many of them would have been without him. The secret (revealed at the end of the novel,) is completely befitting of the man and his personality--and if you look through the book and see the back story to one of the other characters, you'll see some very clever foreshadowing in there. Meanwhile, Nina's own life story tugged at my heartstrings--it's hard not to feel for a strong woman who finds her life ruined by a weak man (... and who bounces back.) It was also interesting the way that Nina's previous job was complicated by a certain outside factor (... of all the terrible coincidences!) I felt that the author could have given the reader more of an insight into Laurie, but perhaps that would have ruined the character and stopped her from being the antagonist of the piece.

Author Suzanne Leal offers a convincing glimpse into a small coastal town, where not all of her characters are perfect (or predictable) and where bad things can happen to good people. 


Thank you to Allen & Unwin for picking me a as winner on facebook and sending me a copy of The Teachers Secret. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

I know that I have shared this image before, but really is there anything that sums up Adelaide and its art better than this icon at Sempahore? Along with the Malls Balls, this is one of the few works of art in Adelaide that everyone and anyone can name accurately.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Happy Birthday Garfield!

Well, it's the 19th of June and as is traditional on this blog, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Garfield a very happy birthday! Looking forward to reading this year's birthday comic, and to many more laughs in the year to come.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

1980s Nostalgia: Decore Commercial

Australia's greatest earworm is undeniably this annoying, American influenced shampoo ad for a product that (so far as I know) is no longer even available.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Friday Funnies: Ralph Wiggum

Every Simpsons fan knows of Ralph Wiggum, the special needs kid who is the son of the local police chief. Ralph is the character who interrupts the show with dialogue that is unintentionally funny. His teacher, Ms Hoover does not quite know what to do with him, the other kids in his class stay clear of him, and the rest of us get a good giggle from some of Ralph's classic lines, i.e. My cat's breath smells like cat food.

Ralph debuted in the fourth season of the show, as a lonely kid in Lisa's class. She sent him a Valentine, because she felt sorry for him, Ralph took it the wrong way and developed a crush on her, leaving Lisa embarrassed and then angry, eventually breaking Ralph's heart. Later, Ralph wins the respect of Lisa and her classmates by proving himself to be a reasonably talented actor. In this episode, Ralph is perfectly intelligent, despite being socially awkward. In later episodes, the character developed into a kid who was dim, but eternally optimistic. And that optimism is the reason that we all love him.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

Not really street art this week, but an odd looking old building that I spotted at Norwood, near the eastern end of the parade ...

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Apple Paperback Review: The Gymnasts by Elizabeth Levy

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 when I was about ten years old, being absolutely fascinated by this series of books by Elizabeth Levy about a group of amateur but aspiring gymnasts who were all aged between eight and thirteen and all went to the Evergreen Gymnast Academy. The series was a bit different from some of the others available, as the age range of the characters were pretty wide, and although the main characters always tried hard, they were never instant or automatic winners--in fact most of the kids were in the lowest ranking group at the academy--The Pinecones--for the duration of the series. The ages and cultures of the kids were quite diverse and consisted of:

Darlene (age 13) who was black and whose father was an esteemed footballer for the Denver Broncos. She went to an exclusive private school, along with Becky. 

Darlene appears as the narrator of the following books: The Winner, Captain of the Team, First Date, Gymnast Commandos. 

Lauren (age 11) who was half Mexican, a gifted student and whose mother, in the duration of the series ran for mayor. The first book in the series was told from her perspective. She attends the same school as Cindi and Jodi, but is in a special programme for gifted students.

Lauren is the narrator of the following books: The Beginners, Trouble in the Gym, Crush on the Coach, World Class Gymnast, The New Coach?

Jodi (age 11) a goofy girl whose mother helped run the gym. Although Jodi's mother and sister were talented gymnasts, Jodi was barely average. She also got bad grades at school, but was popular with the other kids for her quirky personality and funny jokes.

Jodi is the narrator of the following books: Nobody's Perfect, Tumbling Ghosts, Out of Control, Fear of Falling, Team Trouble.

Cindi (age 11) a redhead and the best friend of Lauren who has recently returned to gymnastics. She has four older brothers and her father is a pilot who late in the series loses his job.

Cindi is the narrator of the following books: First Meet, Bad Break, Boys in the Gym, Nasty Competition, The Gymnast's Gift.

Becky (age 13) is in a more advanced team than the Pinecones and enjoys taunting them at every opportunity. A wealthy girl, she attends the same exclusive school as Darlene. 

None of the books are told from Becky's perspective. 

Ashley (age 9) is an outspoken, bratty bully who looks up to Becky. Ashley lives next door to Ti An.

None of the books are told from Ashley's perspective.

Ti An (age 8) is the youngest and also the most talented member of the group. She used to be a member of the Atomic Amazons, a rival gymnastic academy. She is she and quiet and is of Vietnamese ancestry. 

Only one book is told from Ti An's perspective, Mystery at the Meet.

Heidi (age 15) is an Olympic level gymnast who suffers anorexia and is introduced midway through the series. She later moves in with Jodi and her family and works out at Evergreen academy while she recovers and eventually goes on to compete in the Barcelona Olympics in the final instalment of the series.

Heidi is the narrator of the following books: Tough at the Top, Go For Gold.

Their coach is Patrick Harmon, the owner of Evergreen Academy, who though it was never explicitly said, was single and probably in his mid 20s. In one of the books, Lauren develops a bit of a crush on him and, although it is a bit embarrassing to admit to, at ten years old I had a bit of a crush on him as well, despite him being an entirely fictional character. He always seemed so patient and wise!

Although the main focus of the series was the importances of teamwork, the books often touched on subjects that would affect kids who played competitive sports, most notably the later books which featured Heidi and her struggles with anorexia. In the duration of the series both Cindi and Becky would suffer injuries, a number of the characters considered giving up, and Jodi often had to reconcile with the fact that she was not as talented as her mother and sister, and nor was she academically inclined. Darlene struggles with the idea that maybe she gets more privileges than she deserves because of her famous father. The quality of the series ebbs and flows--about half of them are brilliant, the other half feel very gimmicky--and it all feels like it was stretched out for a bit too long--the series debuted in 1988 and the final book was released in 1992.

The series becomes very uneven after about the first six books--some are a complete write off, whil and does not really pick up again until Heidi is introduced--and even then there are some moments that are definitely better than others. I owned probably about a quarter of all the books in the series and these have all long been given away ...

Saturday, 11 June 2016

1980s Nostalgia: Slip! Slop! Slap!

Well, it might be winter, but here is something to warm the hearts of Nostalgia fans. Who remembers these great Slip! Slop! Slap! ads that reminded us all to be sun smart during the 1980s?

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Review: Deadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne

Deadly, Unna? hooked me almost immediately with it's realistic dialogue (so similar to how kids spoke when I was growing up in South Australia,) and sense of place. Gary Black is a fourteen year old kid just trying to survive life in the Port, a small South Australian town. Surviving means being one of eight kids, putting up with his father's wrath and doing anything to prove that he is not a gutless wonder (the worst possible thing that a teenage boy can be in his small town). This year, Gary is not only playing on the local football team, but he has been picked to play in the Grand Final. The football team is made up of a mix of boys, from the Port and from the Point, a nearby Aboriginal settlement. The team's best player is an Aboriginal boy called Dumby. Gary is terrified of Dumby at first, but the boys bond over unlikely circumstances and become good mates. However, after a grand final win, and seeing the way that Dumby is treated (he's overlooked for a trophy that Gary believes he should have been awarded,) Gary starts to ask some hard questions about the different way that kids from the Point are treated--and then a tragic event leaves Gary questioning everything ... and facing the anger of his old man ...

This book came out when I was in my teens and for one reason or another I never read it. Nor did I ever see the film Australian Rules that was based on the book. And in all honesty, I'm sorry that I never read the book sooner or saw the film, as this one touched me quite deeply. The dialogue may be off-putting for some readers, but I found it perfect for the time and place.

Definitely a winner.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

One night every year, these lanterns adorn the city--as part of the Light the Night walk, which goes to fund vital cancer research. This photograph was taken during the daytime, but at night you will see that they truly do light the night. The walk will happen again sometime later this year, probably in September or October.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

1990s Nostalgia: Arnotts Shapes Advertisement

This advertisement comes from back in the days when there were only six different types of Arnotts Shapes and all of them were actually enjoyable to eat. It's disappointing that Arnotts felt the need to change the recipe of what was an beloved Australian icon, but these things happen, I suppose. Personally, I like the new Chedder ones, but the other new varieties are a write off for me.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Friday Funnies: A Big, Toasty Cinnamon Bun

Today's Friday Funnies is dedicated to all of you who got to be a big toasty cinnamon bun this morning ...