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.