Thursday, 29 September 2016
Emma Cline's debut novel The Girls is the troubling story of Evie Boyd, a bystander to a horrific crime. The year is 1969. Evie is fourteen years old, about to be packed off to boarding school and suffering both the after-effects of her parents divorce, and the desire to feel important despite her overwhelming mediocrity. When she encounters the older Suzanne and a group of girls in the park, Evie is instantly smitten, and is soon drawn into their life in a commune on the outskirts of town, where all the girls do the bidding of Russell, a charismatic, almost Manson-like figure. And though something dangerous may be brewing, Evie finds herself drawn in deeper and deeper ...
Moving through the summer of 1969, the events that lead up to a horrific mass murder are slowly told to the reader. The author has much to say about feminism, and the role of women, and very little to say at all about Russell, the cult leader who never quite seems to be fully fleshed out or formed. Instead, it's Suzanne who fills Evie's thoughts, though she never quite seems able to see who Suzanne really is. Small portions of the novel are set in present day, and it's clear that Evie has not enjoyed a successful life, instead she lives a dull existence that barely seems interesting--which almost matches her role within the cult and the murders. She's a bystander, and as a narrator, seems to offer very little about the cult that she was once a part of. There isn't a great deal of suspense, or surprises here, rather it's a coming of age tale of an angry young woman who wants to feel important, but eventually amounts to very little at all.
In all honesty, I enjoyed some parts of this novel more than others, the writing felt quite strong in places, particularly when the author was focusing on the role of girls/women and how they can often compromise themselves in order to please boys/men. Other parts of the novel reminded me of a better written and more believable version of Go Ask Alice, more likely than not because of the era in which the story is set. Ultimately, I feel this novel could have been a lot stronger if the author had focused more on Russell and his hold over 'the girls.'
Recommended to readers who want a darker coming-of-age tale.
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Of all of Jim Henson's Muppets that appear on Sesame Street none have a role quite so vital as Big Bird. Certainly, each Muppet whether it be Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch or Ernie and Bert, provide a heck of a lot of entertainment as they educate, but Big Bird provides a role like no other Muppet. Childlike and intellectually curious Big Bird provides young viewers with a character who views the world through their eyes. As Big Bird learns about the world around him, viewers learn with him, whether it be about road safety, or in one landmark episode, death:
A running gag for many years on the show was Bird Bird's friendship with Mr Snuffleupagus, a shy mammoth like creature who was never seen by any of the adult characters on the show, and was considered, therefore to be Big Bird's imaginary friend, as can be observed from this sketch. In the mid-1980s, Big Bird eventually proved to the adults that Mr Snuffleupagus was real. According to wikipedia, the producers of Sesame Street decided to have the adults believe that Big Bird was telling the truth, as they did not want children to think that they would not be believed by adults if they had something to tell them:
While perhaps no longer the star of Sesame Street (thanks, Elmo,) Big Bird remains on of the most important and perhaps groundbreaking characters on the show.
Big Bird has been played by the same actor since the 1960s. His story could have ended very differently however, as actor Carol Spinney was offered a spot on the doomed US Space Shuttle Challenger, but NASA was never able to reach an agreement with the producers of Sesame Street. Lucky for us, and luckier for Spinney, Big Bird is still around today, entertaining and educating children.
Tuesday, 27 September 2016
There is no denying that Colleen Hoover is one of the famous authors of her genre. Her novels have been loved by readers (and this blog,) for their young, working class characters, who triumph against against the odds. There is always a whole lot of heart, and sometimes the hero and heroine bond in an intentionally comical way, one that is pleasing to read. (Very few authors can pull of a line of dialogue such as, "I like you, you stupid fuck-face," the way Hoover can. It's trashy, it's hilarious and it fits in with the characters and their situations perfectly.) There is something human and vulnerable about her characters, who often experience the kind of romances that we all secretly wish we could have against a dramatic backdrop. It Ends With Us remains true to form while, paradoxically, taking a new and darker turn.
Told entirely from the perspective of Lily, it tells the story of a university graduate who has recently moved to Boston. Lily's life has not been an easy one. She grew up with a father who was as important and respected in his community as he was a violent bully behind closed doors. Lily was a sensitive kid with a big heart--she helped out a homeless boy from her school, and kept a 'journal' in which she wrote letters to a popular talk show host, describing her life, and how she eventually falls in love with the homeless Atlas--a love that is ultimately doomed.
The adult Lily is in disgrace after ruining her father's funeral with a cold hard dose of truth, and finds herself bonding with an attractive doctor that she meets by chance on an apartment rooftop. Chance and circumstance (including a missed chance with Atlas who is now running a successful restaurant in Boston,) led to a relationship between Lily and Ryle, but it soon becomes obvious that all is not as it seems, and that Ryle and Lily's father may have something in common.
I found this one dark, truthful and occasionally difficult to read. The author gets to the heart of the complexities of violent relationships--and the reason why a woman doesn't just leave him. Through the character of Atlas, the author also shows just how someone can support a woman who is going through the same thing as Lily, with patience and without judgement. Ryle himself is shown as a complex character, who regrets his actions, yet remains unable to control them.
Monday, 26 September 2016
Saturday, 24 September 2016
NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--A local supermarket has decided to get rid of their self-service terminals in a move that has surprised shoppers. "Frankly, I think these terminals are a piece of shit," Grant Gusto, manager of the Nowheresville Food Mart told our reporters. "They're loud, they break down every five minutes and to be perfectly frank I'm sick of hearing a recorded voice telling me to place an item in the bagging area when I've bloody well already placed the item there."
Since the self service terminals have been removed from the store, Nowheresville Food Mart has seen a sharp decline in instance of shoplifting. Other items, such as gourmet truffles are not being mistakenly sold as the much cheaper per kilo brown mushrooms, and shoppers are no longer using the self-service area as an extra entrance to the store. "Best bloody decision that I ever made," Grant Gusto adds. "Best bloody decision ..."
Friday, 23 September 2016
Monday, 19 September 2016
Sunday, 18 September 2016
Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne, Dawn, Mallory, Jessi. If these names mean anything to you, then at some point during your childhood you probably read at least one (if not several or all,) Babysitters Club books. If you're really sharp, you will have also just noticed that I listed the characters in the order in which their first book of the series was released. If you're a true fan, you'll probably notice that I left Abby off the list. And you probably don't care.
All of the characters had their set personalities. Kristy was the tomboy, Claudia was the artsy underachiever, Stacey was the cool New Yorker, Mary Anne was the shy one, Mallory was the awkward kid who dreamed of better things, and Jessi was a dancer with a big heart.
And then there was Dawn.
Of the seven core characters (sorry Abby,) Dawn was probably the greatest enigma. Dawn's role in the BSC as the 'alternate officer' because unlike the other four members she didn't have any particular quality that would make her a good president, vice president, secretary or treasurer, yet she was capable enough to be able to pick up any of the tasks if one of the other girls were absent and it was required of her. She was a vegetarian and her clothing was described as 'California Casual.' (I had no idea what that meant when I was nine years old and I still have no idea now.) Later, she became interested in Environmental issues.
Dawn was introduced to the series in the fourth novel Mary Anne Saves the Day as a new girl who had moved to Stoneybrook from California, where she was essentially a prop for the shy Mary Anne, who is forced to make it on her own after a fight with her childhood best friend, Kristy. We learn that Dawn's parents have recently divorced. Dawn lives with her newly single mother, and younger brother, Jeff. Meanwhile, Mary Anne lives with her father, a widower whose wife died of cancer when Mary Anne was just a baby. And, of course, there is a rather obvious twist, in that it turns out that Dawn's mother and Mary Anne's father were childhood sweethearts. Over the course of the series, their romance would be rekindled and the pair would marry, making Mary Anne and Dawn stepsisters.
The major problem with Dawn's character was that author Ann M Martin seemed to have little or no clue what to do with her. Her stories were an eclectic mix--some focused on her emerging interest in boys, which always seemed to force her to act out (Dawn and the Older Boy, Dawn's Big Date,) while others focused on her struggles with her parents divorce and the fact that her parents now lived on opposite sides of the United States (Dawn on the Coast, Dawn's Wicked Stepsister, Dawn's Family Feud, Dawn's Big Move.) There were also lighthearted moments (The Ghost at Dawn's House) and the downright forgettable (Dawn and the School Spirit War).
Dawn was eventually written out halfway through the series, written back in, and then written out again and given her own spin-off series The California Diaries, a series that was darker, more YA than middle grade, and perhaps a better fit for the character.
Saturday, 17 September 2016
NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--Peta Palmer, a self proclaimed keyboard warrior decided to back down from an argument on facebook earlier this week and concede that, "sometimes people have different opinions."
"It was a first for me," Peta told our reporter. "Usually when I see a random stranger post an opinion on facebook, I feel the urge to tell them that they are wrong and then post a whole lot of links to prove my point, but today, I decided that it was okay for someone to have a different opinion to me. I mean maybe in her part of the world, potato fritters really are called potato cakes or something ..."
Friday, 16 September 2016
Thursday, 15 September 2016
Blue Dog is a charming story of a boy and his dog set in the Pilbara. Eleven year old Mick has been sent to live with his Granpa following the sudden death of his father and his mother's subsequent breakdown. Set sometime in the late 1960s (or possibly the early 1970s) this short children's novel tells the story of how Mick adjusts to life in the outback and how he rescues a puppy, Blue, after a cyclone and the pair form a strong bond. Over the next two years, Mick has enjoys many adventures in the outback with Blue and whilst riding his motorcycle, taming a horse and a crush on his teacher which has surprising consequences when he finally decides to battle his 'rival' for her affections.
This one was an enjoyable tale that I found myself reading in small, one-chapter-a-night doses and found myself feeling quite sad when I finally finished this slim volume--more than a week after I started it.
Blue Dog is a prequel to Red Dog, (which explains the beloved dog's life before being discovered on the road to Dampier,) and was adapted from a film script. The film will be released on December 26.
Special thanks and shout out to my mum for lending me her copy of Blue Dog to read and review.
Tuesday, 13 September 2016
In Australia, Bill Oddie is best known as a comedian, actor and songwriter who found fame through the hilarious BBC television series The Goodies (a series that was repeated many, many times in Australia, but was never repeated on television in the UK until a few years ago.) In the UK, however, Bill Oddie is deservedly well known for his other career was a twitcher, or bird watcher, and has hosted numerous television series about bird watching and nature. Now in his seventies, Bill Oddie's latest work of non-fiction is Unplucked, a collection of essays, magazine articles and blogs that all focus on his work as a twitcher, as well as offering the odd hint of autobiography.
A laid back and interesting read, some of the articles are quite amusing (such as the one about the tiger,) many others explain various tidbits about birdwatching in a way that is both interesting and accessible to readers like myself who don't know all that much about the native birds of Great Britain, or the particulars about bird watching. Although there are hints of autobiography in there, this book is not intended as such--indeed, Oddie released his autobiography One Flew Into the Cuckoos Egg several years ago. There is also more than a mention of mental illness and bipolar disorder, which, undiagnosed for most of his life, led to Oddie being sacked from a popular nature television series, which became a major career blow.
Ultimately, Unplucked is an enjoyable and accessible read that may inspire fits of laughter ... and a bout of birdwatching.
Sunday, 11 September 2016
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 ...
Initially, when I decided to write these reviews, I made the decision to skip The Babysitters Club series, as it has been mentioned on this blog before, and also because there are already many, many reviews and nostalgia posts on each of the books around the web. However, I decided to make an exception for this one. Mallory Hates Boys (and Gym) is surprisingly well, if not well written, then certainly well intentioned for a series that had well and truly started to lose its shine by the time this instalment was published. Written by a ghostwriter and sticking well to the BSC formula (Chapter 2 features the standard recap on who's who, how the BSC was formed and its current state,) and there are the obligatory two chapters that are about other members and their babysitting experiences. However, the A storyline of the book touches on something quite important--gender differences and the difficulty that some kids face in a co-ed class at school.
Mallory Pike was the dorky, klutzy member of the group. Along with Jessi, she was one of the younger members of the club. Unlike her best friend Jessi, however, Mallory is bad at sports and finds herself in a miserable situation when the boys and girl gym classes (I'm guessing this is what they call Phys Ed in the USA,) merge midway through the school year. In gym class, the boys are rough, intimidating and are quick to hone in on the fact that Mallory is not very good at volleyball. The boys humiliate her on several occasions, the teacher does not seem to care and the other kids are disappointed that Mallory is letting their team down. Anyway, the main focus of the story is that Mallory feels intimidated by the boys and decides that all boys are, essentially, jerks. Parts of the story are resolved in a peculiar fashion (Mallory and her friend Ben "swap" brothers for a while,) and there is a moral about Mallory standing up for herself to the gym teacher, who slowly becomes a bit more understanding and realises that the behaviour from some of the boys is affecting Mallory's ability to learn. And then, because this is a BSC book and there is always some kind of moral, the gym class moves on to do archery, and Mallory turns out to be a natural and even makes the school team.
Although a little over-the-top at times, I think this one nailed the experiences that some kids, especially quite ones like Mallory, face at co-ed schools. To some girls, the boys can appear rough and cruel, while to such boys, anyone who does not enjoy their antics is considered weak. Unsurprisingly, and as is often the case in real life, it is only Mallory's behaviour that goes punished, while the boys are allowed to carry on, and they are in some senses, encouraged.
This is probably a great book for any kid who has found themselves in a similar situation.
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: Suzanne Weyn began her career as an editor at Scholastic. As well as ghostwriting some of the books in The Babysitters Club series she is the author of a number of varied book and series for children and young adult readers.
Thursday, 8 September 2016
The Forever Girl is a slow and detailed account of unrequited love that begins in early childhood and continues to flourish through adulthood. Clover is a young woman who grew up on Cayman Island. At a young age, she develops a crush on James, a boy from her neighbourhood. Initially the pair are friends, but Clover finds herself devastated when James pulls away and becomes friends with another boy instead. Somehow, Clover's feelings for James continue to develop and grow, and through their early adulthood she follows him right around the globe, always secretly wishing and hoping that something might develop ...
It's difficult to know how I felt about this one. Certainly, the ending felt very sudden. A little more insight into James--insight that did not come from Clover's perspective--would have been helpful I think. Still, the sense of place and location within the novel was quite pleasing and allowed me to travel the globe from the comfort of my armchair.
Recommended to those who like their love stories told slowly and carefully.
Tuesday, 6 September 2016
From the moment I heard that YA author Gayle Forman (If I Stay, I Was Here,) had penned an adult novel, I knew that I just HAD to get hold of a copy. Fortunately I did not have long to wait, as five hours later I found a copy waiting for me on my doorstep. (No, Simon and Schuster Australia have not started up a psychic review request service, they just have a knack for sending me the perfect books to feature on this blog.) Anyway, I was intrigued with this title right from the start, and I'm pleased to report that it ticked all the right boxes.
Leave Me opens with Maribeth Klein, a New York based magazine editor. She is forty-four years old and as well as having a successful career, she is a wife and mother. And she knows only too well that the idea that women can 'have it all' is a complete myth. She struggles with her duel roles, motherhood and career, a scenario that many, many women will be able to relate to.
Then along comes an incident that changes everything.
At work, Maribeth has a heart attack, and she does not even realise it. And what follows leaves her questioning everything. Struggling with conflicting emotions--loving and hating her family, her job and her situation--she makes the decision to flee New York and her family for the small town where she was born, and subsequently adopted.
Forman's greatest talent as an author is her ability to tell realistic stories about people who are struggling to find a sense of self--which may help to explain why she has become so popular with YA readers and why, conversely, novels such as If I Stay have been exceptionally popular with readers who are well outside of their intended audience. Her writing touches readers because it is so easy for us to see ourselves and our vulnerabilities within her characters. Leave Me is no exception. This isn't a story about a "terrible" woman who abandons her children. It's about a woman who, though she loves her family deeply, needs to find a vital sense of self so that she can return and be the mother that she wants to be to her children. And the subject matter is dealt with sympathetically, gently probing at the big questions in Maribeth's life--her relationship with her husband, her children, her best friend and her adoptive mother. One key aspect of the story is left open, but I felt that it was handled well, and quite realistically.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and I hope that it inspires readers who have previously not read anything by this author to consider reading her previous novels.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my review copy.
Monday, 5 September 2016
This week's street art comes courtesy of the Beach Road Cafe. It is a visually interesting piece, combining some abstract tags with a realistic beach scene. I'm not sure that I like it, but it is certainly a change from the drab yellow wall and half-finished picture of Woody Woodpecker that existed in that I can remember being in that spot when I was a kid.
Saturday, 3 September 2016
Otherwise Pandemonium is a short story about a kid who has just lost his virginity. It's also a short story about the end of the world. Originally written and published in the wake of the events of September 11, it tells the story of a fifteen year old boy who is living with his mother in Berkley. He purchases a secondhand VCR (remember those,) which enables him to see the future ... only problem is the future does not look too bright ... in fact it doesn't even seem to exist. Which, though depressing, helps the kid to seize the moment and ...
This is a clever enough story that plays on many of the prevailing fears of the era. Like all of Hornby's work, it suffers one great failing, and that is that it already feels very dated and not in a pleasing way. I found this story included in a volume that was published by Penguin in 2005 and though it may have packed a punch with its original purchaser, for me the volume didn't make for great secondhand reading. Then again, for twenty cents, I probably shouldn't complain too much ...