Friday, 27 January 2017

Friday Funnies: Kermit Is An Angry News Reporter

Just another Kermit as a news reporter clip this week. Kermit's lesson in anger might not be funny to him, but to us ...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Review: Hot or What by Margaret Clark

Hot or What is one of those rare teen novels that makes me want to whoop with joy--its a book with a simple plot, a loveable lead character and brilliant writing that never takes itself--or anything else--too seriously. Lisa Trelaw is a good kid from Melbourne who has been plucked from the obscurity of her mother's snack van to work as a fashion model for one of Sydney's top modelling agencies. Reinvented as Rebel, Lisa finds herself living a crazy life that she neither likes, nor respects. She finds much of her new world too superficial, but a friend in a very high place (one of the nations former top models and now an esteemed businesswoman who is looking for an Australian model of the year,) may just be the person to turn that around and show Lisa just who and what she has the potential to become ... (and how to stay sane in such a crazy industry.)

This book was originally published in 1995, a time when being a model for a fashion magazine was big business, and when supermodels were considered among some of the most famous and important people in the world. Of course, some things have changed since then--technology, attitudes--but the book, and it's big heart, holds up pretty well. And despite the fact that I had not read Fat Chance, the first book in the series, I was able to follow the story perfectly.

Highly recommended.

PS If the name on the front cover sounds familiar to any 1980s kids out there, it's because Margaret Clark was also the author of best selling teen novel Pugwall. 

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Monday, 23 January 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

I snapped this one several months ago in Victoria Square (yep, that's the Adelaide Hilton in the background,) during the SALA festival in mid-2016. I think it made quite a colourful addition to the square, don't you?

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Apple Paperback Review: The All-New Mallory Pike (Babysitters Club #126) by Ann M. Martin

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 ...

By the time the Babysitters Club got all the way to book #126 the series had well and truly peaked. Key characters, such as Dawn had left the series and gained their own spin-off, and the older characters had repeated eighth grade about ... oh, four times by then. (Except for Claudia, of course, who had been poked down to seventh grade.) The All New Mallory Pike paves the way for the series and it's eventual end. Though, at the time, Ann M. Martin and Scholastic, probably believed that they were recreating the series for a brand new millennium. (After the official series ended, a spin off series began where the girls repeated eighth grade one last time and, finally, graduated from middle school.) Anyway, the All-New Mallory Pike writes a key character out of the series. Mallory first appeared early on as a babysitting charge, later, when she turned eleven she and her best friend Jessi proved themselves responsible enough to be junior members of the club. Intelligent, but often shy and forced to battle with unfair teachers, Mallory did not fit in at Stoneybrook Middle School, and in this novel leaves for boarding school. Riverband Hall is a specialty school that helps kids cultivate artist talent, which is just perfect for Mallory. Unfortunately once she gets there she not only has to battle homesickness and the fact that she misses her friends, but she encounters some bullying from another student, who also happens to be her roommate.

I felt that the subject matter of this one was well-handled for its target audience, and it is realistic in the way that the adults did not step in until they were forced to, and even then, one admits that she did the wrong thing by Mallory by deliberately placing her in a situation where she knew that she might be bullied. And because this is Mallory's last book, there is a suggestion in there that she has truly found her niche, even though she misses Stoneybrook and her family and friends. 

A fitting farewell to Mallory Pike.

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: Ellen Miles is a prolific author of books for children including the Puppy Place and Kitty Corner series. She also adapted a version of The Wind in the Willows for a contemporary audience.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Friday Funnies: Who Was that Strange Wizard?

Love this!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by JK Rowling

Anything that is associated with JK Rowling is bound to be, one of high quality, and two, enormously, massively, mind-blowingly popular. So when she penned her first screenplay, it's no surprise that the script was also soon released as a beautifully bound and illustrated book that feels like an instant keepsake.

I have yet to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on the big screen, so reading the screenplay was a bit of a strange experience--where I was free to picture the story as I wanted to, rather than relying on the images created by the filmmakers. That said, I suspect that I also lost out on a number of important visual clues and the kind of atmosphere that can only be constructed by the perfect lighting, choice of background music and quality acting. (After all, this is a screenplay and not a book.) So there were good and bad points to reading this. Overall, it's a great story, telling of Newt Scamander's unpredictable trip to the United States that seems to lead well into the possibility of being the first in a number of films.

Recommended--but probably better if you've already seen the film. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Review: The Mirror Sisters by Virginia Andrews

The latest effort released under the name of long deceased gothic novelist Virginia Andrews is a lacklustre, repetitive tale of sibling rivalry and twisted parenting that is slightly redeemed by a surprising twist at the end. Kaylee Blossom Fitzgerald and Haylee Blossom Fitzgerald are identical twins, living under the iron thumb of their obsessive, perfectionist mother. Mother will go to any length to ensure that both of her daughters are identical in every possible way, fighting against human nature and her husband's not unwarranted concerns about the way his daughters are being raised. Unsurprisingly, this causes both twins to resent one another quite deeply, especially as they are developing radically different personalities. Kaylee, our narrator is the good twin, who wants to break free of mother in a careful, mature way. Haylee, meanwhile, is the reckless twin who resents her sister's cautious nature, and just bloody well wants freedom--despite the cost, and the fact that she has to resort to some pretty damn nasty lengths to get it. The first half of the story is extremely repetitive and gets boring after a while--what would have been pleasant reading in a prologue, or a first chapter, becomes an annoying series of anecdotes about how obsessive Mother is, how weak Daddy is, and how Kaylee and Haylee desire to be different to one another. Kaylee is a good kid who sees a potential steady boyfriend in Matt, a boy from her school who seems more emotionally mature than most of the kids in their class. As for Haylee, she seems to be pre-occupied with two things--proving that she is different from Kaylee, and well, everything and anything that is even remotely associated sex. (If Haylee seems familiar to fans, it's because Kaylee isn't the first VCA heroine to have a nymphomaniac twin. Ruby Landry suffered a similar problem with her nasty twin sister Gisselle.) 

The Mirror Sisters has a few good moments (especially that ending,) but, sadly, it is let down by too much repetition, weak characters, too much repetition, a lack of depth and too much repetition. (See what I did there.) The characters don't seem to have much motivation for their actions, other than them being 'good' 'bad,' or 'obsessive.' (Look! Haylee just slept with Kaylee's boyfriend, whilst pretending to be Kaylee because she is a ba-ad girl.) A good melodrama, in my opinion, should pan out with readers discovering that there is a greater reason (no matter how absurd,) for the actions of its characters. For example in Flowers in the Attic, much of Olivia's cruelty was driven by jealousy and a need to control everyone and everything around her ... lest people find out that she is a weak woman underneath who only wants to be loved.

Another factor lets the book down and that is the sheer abundance of semi-explicit sexual content that is neither erotic, amusing or enjoyable to read. In fact, I'm going to come straight out and say it--most of it is damn uncomfortable, and not in an ooh-err I'm far too prudish to read that kind of a way. Neiderman has a reputation for grossing out readers (in Rain a minor character is forced to wear rubber underpants by his mother, and ejaculates more or less a few seconds after taking them off,) or creating scenes that are unintentionally funny (the term "Crossing the Rio Grande" became a talking point among fans after the release of Secrets of Foxworth for all the wrong reasons,) and there have been countless trashy moments where the heroine has been raped, almost raped or molested by the people who are supposed to take care of her. (Particularly Melody Logan, who, it seemed could barely leave her bedroom without someone coming on to her.) What we get in The Mirror Sisters is something that is lower than trash. Actually, it's just unnecessary. And gross. (And did I mention gross?) On page 130 there is a scene where, unprompted, the twins mother tells her twelve year old daughters about cunnilingus--and then oral sex is never mentioned again anywhere in the narrative. Later in the novel, sixteen-year-old Haylee brags of stealing "one of those vibrators" from her friends mother. (As though someone of Haylee's age who has such an apparent interest in sex would not one, simply describe it quite nonchalantly as a "vibrator", and two, know how and where she could obtain one without having to resort to theft. Not to mention the fact that she probably would have done so some time before her sixteenth birthday.) Meanwhile, Haylee's sexual behaviour itself appears to have no obvious motivation--it's a far cry from Vera Adare from My Sweet Audrina, or Fanny Casteel from the Casteel Saga, whose precocious sexual behaviour, stemmed from being sexually abused as children. (Look closely within the narrative. It's there.) Haylee, meanwhile, fucks at every opportunity and uses it as a means to bully her innocent sister for no other reason than entertainment.

The mother is a weak character--her interest in keeping her twin daughters identical in every possible way (she even claims that they have the exact number of freckles,) is never made clear. Like every wealthy female in every book ever penned by Andrew Neiderman, she is shallow, vain and possesses one, a deep seated hatred of men and two, no redeeming features whatsoever.

The ending is quite interesting, though--not only does it end on a cliffhanger, but it certainly was not what I was expecting. Let's just say that Haylee finds quite a novel way to get rid of her sister once and for good ...

My copy contained a preview to the next book in the series, which is narrated by Haylee, and appeared a little more interesting than it's predecessor, though whether it will be interesting enough for me to read it remains to be seen.

Not really recommended.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This is another of the refugee artworks that have been posted around Adelaide during the past couple of years. (I've featured these on this blog several times now.) I spotted this one in Franklin Street--it tells the sad story of how one family escaped the Taliban.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

From Summer Bay to the Best Seller Lists ...

It's no secret that a number of former actors from early evening soap Home and Away have gone on to to bigger and better things. Chris Hemsworth, Melissa George, Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts and Ryan Kwanten are just a few actors who found international fame after their characters departed Summer Bay. But did you know that a surprising number of former actors are also best selling authors? Here are four of the most famous ...

Isla Fisher

I'll kick this one off with Isla Fisher for no other reason than I've featured her books a couple of times on my blog already. At age 19, while starring on Home and Away as Shannon, Isla Fisher penned two teen romance novels with the help of her mother, Elspeth Reid (who is also a novelist in her own right.) More recently, (and after making it in Hollywood,) Isla Fisher published Marge in Charge, the first book in a new series for kids. (Read my review here.) Marge and the Pirate Baby, the second book in the series has just been released in the UK and according to Allen & Unwin's website will be available in Australia in February. 

Tristan Bancks

Since Tug disappeared from the screen, actor Tristan Bancks has penned several novels for children and young adults, including the brilliant, award winning   Two Wolves which I reviewed on this blog back in 2014. Some of his novels are semi-autobiographical such as the books in the My Life Series. According to his Australian publisher, Penguin Random Housee, the next book in the My Life series, My Life and Other Weaponised Muffins will be released on 27 February 2017. Bancks is now far more famous in Australia for his work as an author than his past as an actor.

Bancks also co-authored a book with one of his fellow Home and Away alumni, which leads me to...

Tempany Deckert

A few years after Selina Roberts left Summer Bay, Tempany Deckert penned Shooting Stars, a children's book series about some young, aspiring actors. Since then she has written several books for children, including a YA novel with her former Home and Away co-star Tristan Bancks, titled It's YR Life, which was published in 2009 and according to the publisher's website is still in print and is also available as an eBook. These days Deckert teaches creative writing classes at UCLA.

Judy Nunn

Arguably, Judy Nunn is equally famous as an author as she is forher work as an actor. In fact, Nunn was a published author before she starred in Home and Away, having published two children's books using a pseudonym during the 1980s. While still starring on the series, she published three glitzy, Jackie Collins style novels set in the world of television, theatre and film. In the years follow Ailsa Stewart's death on Home and Away, Judy Nunn has turned her hand to writing multiple novels about Australian people and places using simple and accessible prose, thus bringing to life Australian history, people and places to a broad readership. She is also a prolific scriptwriter and has written scripts for a number of Australian television series. Her most recent novel, The Spirit of the Ghan was released in 2015.

In 2015 Judy Nunn was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to performing arts and literature.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Friday Funnies: The Weak Coffee

This Garfield Quickie is worth sharing as it is one of those rare moments where Garfield gets exactly what he deserves after acting like an arsehole.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Review: A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

I was completely unaware of the story of Bob the Big Issue Cat and his fellow Musketeer James Bowen, until my mother loaned me a copy of a biography that she had recently purchased titled A Street Cat Named Bob. I'm a bit of a sucker for a good cat story and this one is absolutely brilliant. Bowen is a %100 bona fide cat person and it shows. Anyway, it the story itself is how Bowen, a recovering heroin addict, discovers Bob--an injured stray cat, and the pair form a friendship that transforms each of their lives for the better.

There are a number of moments that will have cat lovers nodding their heads and saying 'yep.' The story of Bob, and how he clearly felt safe enough with James to be on the streets of London with him, busking and later selling copies of The Big Issue is nothing short of amazing. There is no denying that this is an uplifting read. It's also a good reminder that sometimes, we cannot know another person's story and the full extent of what they have been through. Bowen is honest about his life on the streets, his addiction and the many opportunities that he has missed. He is also honest about the way that people in his situation are often unfairly judged.

The writing style itself is very accessible--enough that readers from a variety of ages and backgrounds should be able to read this one with ease.

Highly Recommended.

PS--A Street Cat Named Bob has recently been made into a film. You can also see some videos of James and Bob while they were still working on the streets here and here

Friday, 6 January 2017

Friday Funnies: Kermit Reports News On Elmo's Idea

Another Sesame Street clip this week. This one features Kermit in his reporter persona, and Elmo in his early Sesame Street persona, where he was not quite as cute and cuddly as we know him today, and a bit wilder, crazier and generally like a real life three year old. Perhaps not the funniest Sesame Street clip out there, but it really highlights the evolution of Elmo's character on the show.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Well, it's 2017 and that means its time to sign up for some more great reading challenges. This year, I'm kicking off with one of my favourite challenges, the Aussie Author Challenge, which is put together and hosted by brilliant book blog Booklover Book Reviews. Even though I fell down a bit in 2016, I'm determined to do a bit better this time around. I will be aiming for Kangaroo, which is the top level of participation--Kangaroos will need to read twelve books by Aussie authors, at least four of them female, four of them male, and four of them must be new to you.

I hope to discover some great books, offer some worthy reviews and most of all to discover some excellent books along the way. If you'd like to participate too follow the link below:

Bonus question: Who is your favourite Aussie author and why?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Review: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Faithful is a story of loss, depression and redemption. Shelby Richmond is an ordinary high schooler living it up with her beautiful and popular best friend Helene, until one day a serious road accident changes the lives of both girls. Helene suffer serious injuries, while Shelby slumps into a deep depression and finds herself abused in hospital. As time goes on, Helene becomes a magical figure around town, while Shelby finds herself making more and more bad decisions.

The story follows Shelby as she moves to New York with a man who she does not love and suffers a number of ups and downs (though, mostly downs,) as she moves toward adulthood. The mysterious postcards, and Helene both hover in the background and it seems that both may be able to offer the young woman the one thing that she desperately needs--redemption. The question is not so much how Shelby will find redemption, but if she will allow herself to have it.

After the second chapter, I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this book and if I should continue with it. I am glad I did, however, as this is, as the author allows the readers to feel a very real sense empathy for Shelby as she fumbles her way though life. 

Keep a tissue handy, this one has some truly sad moments.


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my reading copy.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This colouful laneway runs between Franklin Street and Grote Street in the city and forms part of the Station to Market link. I love the concept of this one, adding a splash of colour to a dull grey footpath and car park.