Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review: Magpie by Peter Goldsworthy & Brian Matthews

Odd, irreverent and filled with black humour, Magpie is very much of product of the time and place where it was written and published. Set in Adelaide, this one is Literary fiction, pitched at a fairly limited market. To give it a bit of a broad description, it gets away with a lot of shit that authors could get away with back in the days before the internet, goodreads and book blogs like this one became a thing. (Actually, I can almost hear the authors snort with disdain at my use of the phrase 'a thing.' Or that a graduate of Christies Beach High School would actually dare to read--and discuss--Literary fiction in any kind of public forum. I'm pretty sure that all of my opinions forthwith are now redundant.) Anyway, to give this book a bit of context it is set in 1992, an era when the academic sphere in Australia was changing quite a bit. Universities were merging, becoming less exclusive and spread across a number of campuses. Consequently, many academics found themselves shafted into newer and less prestigious teaching positions. In roughly the same era, there were a number of works of Literary fiction released in Australia which used magical realism to parody the Australian way of life, the most memorable and notable of which is Holden's Performance by Murray Bail.  The authors themselves belong very much in the sphere of old school academia, Brian Matthews is a Doctor of Philosophy, while Peter Goldsworthy studied Medicine at the University of Adelaide, and divides his time equally between general practice and writing. A number of visitors to this blog may already be familiar with another of Goldsworthy's novels, Maestro, which often finds its way on to high school reading lists. 

Magpie is certainly an oddity. It tells of Bennett, a dissatisfied, middle-aged academic who finds himself caught in an nonsensical, ever changing world that works only because this novel is a parody. His story starts easily enough--he's a man facing a big career transfer in a world that seems a bit more darker and a bit more comical than the one we live in. Between chapters, however, letters exchanged back and forth between an author, publisher (and eventually typesetters and lawyers,) make it clear that there is a bit more going on. Bennett's chapters are a story within a story and the authors appear to have great fun fleshing this out as the novel progresses, making each twist and turn sillier and more nonsensical than the last. At one point Bennett gets screwed--in more ways that one--in the back of a taxi, later he finds himself auditioning at the Malley and Daughters Literary Character Agency. (Yes, Malley, I think we can all see what the authors did there.) The novel is clever, unnerving and very deliberately lacks any kind of mass market appeal, which probably made it groundbreaking back in its day. Twenty five years later however, the novel is well ... it's an oddity. Or let me put it this way. I found it in pristine condition at a secondhand book shop and I paid twenty cents for it.

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

Monday, 27 February 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This beautiful artwork is a small part of a mural that fills one of the walls of the Central Market. I think it looks pretty good, don't you?

Friday, 24 February 2017

Friday Funnies: Quaq Quao

Quaq Qauo was a stop motion TV series from Italy that was made totally out of origami. During the 1980s and 1990s, it used to air in Australia on Channel 2 (now better known as the ABC,) in random slots between shows, and was not dubbed into English, meaning that anyone who did not speak Italian had no bloody idea what was going on with that crazy paper duck who seemed able to morph into anything and everything at will.

Quaq Qauo was quite a star in parts of Europe, however, and did particularly well in Norway.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Not since I read Janet Turner Hospital's Oyster back in university has a novel ever left me feeling quite so depressed. And there is no doubt about it, An Isolated Incident is not an uplifting book. It also was not intended to be. This is a proudly feminist novel about sexism, violence, small town prejudice and the media circus that always follows the violent (and unnecessary) death of a young, beautiful woman.

An Isolated Incident follows Chris, a street smart thirty-something, living in a small town halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, whose younger sister is abducted and murdered on her way home from work. It also follows May, a journalist from a start up digital press who is keen to get a lucrative exclusive.  

And mostly it follows both women as they navigate a world where they are both secondary to a sense of male entitlement, and the impact that this particular crime has on them both.

An Isolated Incident has been longlisted for the Stella Prize and it is not difficult to see why. Maguire has a track record as a talented Australian author. And there are no doubts about it--this is an exceptionally well written novel. I found Chris' voice utterly believable, as a woman who has learned to survive in a world that is, quite frankly, hostile to her gender. I found myself feeling sorry for her at times, and angry with her at others, and that's testimony to the fact that this novel is well written. It's also not terribly cheerful and that's something of a challenge for an artsy and vaguely intellectual optimist such as myself. 

Plus I got angry that the book made me feel so damn angry in places.

My final verdict? An Isolated Incident is an important novel, even if it does not make for comfortable reading.

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

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

Armando Lucas Correa's first novel is a well written tale that weaves between the past and present to tell the story of Hannah, a young and beautiful German girl of Jewish descent who--through no fault of her own--finds herself unwelcome in a changing Berlin. Twelve year old Hannah understands her situation in the way that only a child can, with fear, anger and, surprisingly, optimism. Along with her friend Leo, they travel the streets of Berlin, but danger and prejudice is all around them, and their parents are desperate to find a safer place to life. Soon Hannah's family find themselves as first class passengers on the SS Saint Louis, and a new adventure begins. Hannah's days exploring the ship with Leo are happy ones, but a darker reality--politics and broken promises--await as the ship nears Cuba. Hannah and her mother are among the few people permitted to alight the ship and make a new life in Cuba. Meanwhile, in 2014, eleven year old Anna, is living in New York, when she receives a mysterious parcel from her Great Aunt Hannah whom she has never met, and she begins to unravel a family history stained by disappointment, revolution and survivor's guilt ...

I have been interested in the story of the SS St Louis for a long time, and often point to it as an example of how humanity does not always learn lessons from the past, and consequently, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose for me to read and review The German Girl. In some ways, reading this was tough-going. Anna's story makes it clear that Hannah was one of the few who made it to Cuba, and I found myself wondering what kind of woman she had become in her old age. Had life been good to her? Well, the answer to that one is certainly subjective, and, I think left up to the reader to decide. Unlike many she and her mother were allowed to stay in Cuba. This also meant being separated from a father who later suffers the same horrific fate as the majority of the 900 passengers who eventually found refuge in Europe. (Only the 287 passengers who were given refuge by Great Britain survived the war.) Hannah and Leo are separated and Hannah needs no one to tell her Leo's fate. In Cuba, she remains a stranger in a strange land, though her brother, who is born shortly after their arrival, has a very different perspective. There are some interesting parallels between Nazi Germany and the Cuban revolution. Even in her old age, Hannah seems to be something of a stranger in the country where she has spent most of her life.

The writing is beautiful, and the story is certainly tragic. At times this one was painful to read, but it was also an education and a reminder of the real people and situations that lie behind headlines and some of our lowest points in history. 

It's also a timely reminder to think about the way we treat people who are forced to flee their homes--many of them younger than Hannah and Leo--and what little we know of their suffering, both internal and external.


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of The German Girl.

Armando Lucas Correa will be appearing at Adelaide Writers' Week to talk about the German Girl. Catch him at 1:15pm on Saturday March 4 on the East Stage or at 10:45am on Sunday March 5 on the East Stage.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

It seems that this tree just outside Colonnades Shopping Centre has been bombed with a variety of artwork. I am not sure what it it advertising, but it certainly looks colourful.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Friday Funnies: Ernie And Bert Meet The Martians

Another classic Sesame Street clip. This one is worth watching until the end--Bert's response is completely fitting for his character. (And I, for one, think that he actually believes Ernie!)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Writers on Wednesday: Sandy Vaile

Hello, and welcome to another brilliant Writers on Wednesday Post. This week South Australian author Sandy Vaile is stopping by as part of her Combatting Fear blog tour to chat about her new book and her busy writing career ...

Tell me a bit about yourself ...

Hi, I’m Sandy Vaile, and I’m a motorbike riding daredevil who isn’t content with a book unless there’s a courageous heroine and a dead body.
I’m lucky enough to live amongst the McLaren Vale vineyards, where I can indulge my passion for devising horrible things to do to fictional characters, all in the name of fun, of course.
In my spare time, I run a critiquing group for novelists, judge romance writing competitions, present literary craft workshops, and occasionally write articles and short stories. When I’m not writing for fun, I compose procedures for high-risk industrial processes. (Yep, a word nerd through and through.)

Tell me about your most recently published book?

My books are published by Simon & Schuster in the US, and my latest novel, “Combatting Fear”, will be released on the 20th February 2017.

How far would you go to save a child that wasn’t yours? 
Mild-mannered kindergarten teacher, Neve Botticelli, leads a double life. At home with her paranoid father, she is a combat trained survivalist who lives off-the-grid.
When self-made billionaire, Micah Kincaid, storms into town in search of his four-year-old son, Rowan, he’s pushy, entitled, and stands for everything Neve despises. 
But something far more sinister is lurking in rural Turners Gully, and it has its sights set on little Rowan’s inheritance. It turns out there is one thing Micah and Neve can agree on, and that’s keeping Rowan safe. 
As they work together to free Rowan, they glimpse beneath one another’s guises, and realise that falling in love might be even more dangerous than hunting deadly criminals.
Tell me about the first time you were published?

By the time an offer was made for my first book, “Inheriting Fear”, I had been writing for four years and completed two manuscripts. Naturally there were a bunch of short stories and unfinished manuscripts lying around too, but it had taken me this long to feel confident that I had a saleable story.

I’d like to say the acquisitions editor saw a master piece and just had to have it, but the truth was I was in the right place at the right time. Crimson Romance (a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster) was looking for stories with gritty non-traditional heroines, and I just happened to have a very boisterous heroine called Mya, who rode a motorbike and kick-boxed well enough to put most men on their tails. A match made in heaven!

Being an e-first publisher, the turn-around time was fast (less than 3 months). First my editor marked up structural edits, then another editor did minor copy edits, and just when I thought I couldn’t stand to see the book again, I got the galley proofs to proof read.

Before I knew it the eBook was available on Amazon, followed by print copies, guest blogs and author talks. The best part has been meeting loads of wonderful new people!

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

Honestly, I like to celebrate even small milestones, to remind myself how lucky I am. My family has a “happiness jar”, and we write things that make us happy on coloured squares of paper, and leave them in the jar all year. On New Year’s Day we pour them onto the dining table and enjoy reading each one. It’s a great time to reminisce and be thankful for the joy and achievements, no matter how small.

In literary terms, I thought that first book contract would be impossible to beat, but I can tell you that I was equally excited about the second contract. :-)

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

I subscribe to Sir Richard Branson’s theory of biting off more than I can chew, and then chewing like hell. This year I have five workshops to develop and present, I’m attending the Salt Festival in Port Lincoln, am spending a blissful week on a secluded writing retreat where I’ll be writing the first in an erotic novella series called “Coastal Connection”, and hoping I make a start on the next romantic suspense, “Guarding Fear”.

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

I love the convenience of being able to carry a library of books with me on a slim Kindle, as well as being able to read hands-free while I’m eating. However, paper books will never die. They are sensual and exotic and look amazing spilling out of my bookshelves. These days I save paperback purchases for my favourite authors, or when I go to an author talk/book signing.

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

This is the trickiest question ever. I find it impossible to play favourites, because I have a new favourite every month, and book preferences are very personal. “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) is a story I keep going back to, because Rowling has a gift for layering vivid characters. Although I don’t often have the patience for literary fiction, I couldn’t put this book down. Definitely a worthwhile study in how to write crime.

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

Gidday fellow South Aussies! I have a special treat for you, because both of my books are set on the beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula, because it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet (and I’m not biased at all!).

Although I do change the names of some landmarks and town names, to avoid offending locals (of which I am one), I’m sure you’ll recognise a few. Even a couple of bottles of d’Arenberg Money Spider Roussanne made it into “Combatting Fear”. Worth a tasting if you’re down this neck of the woods one weekend.

Stay in touch with Sandy via her website, Facebook or Twitter.

Buy “Inheriting Fear” here…

Thank you Sandy for stopping by my blog. As part of the Combatting Fear blog tour, Sandy is giving away a copy of Combatting Fear. Enter via the widget below (entries close 27th of February.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Review: Tony and Susan by Austin Wright

Originally published in 1993, Tony and Susan was a minor hit in the United States. Somehow, in about 2011, a secondhand hardcover copy made its way to my bookshelf (a minor miracle, considering that to the best of my knowledge it was never in print in Australia,) where it stayed ... for the next six years. Then a film titled Nocturnal Animals was released and I couldn't help but notice some similarities ... which is fitting, considering that Nocturnal Animals was based on Tony and Susan (basically, it's a more modern version of the book, with a bit more nudity thrown in, and a somewhat altered backstory for Susan.)

The novel opens with Susan, a middle-aged wife and a mother of three. The year is 1990. Out of the blue she is contacted by Edward, a man to whom she was married briefly in the 1960s. The marriage ended in divorce as Susan could not understand Edward's desire to be a writer, and she eventually divorced him to be with Arnold, a heart surgeon who is, well, a bit of a philanderer. (Susan tolerates his affairs for the hope of a bit of security.) Anyway, Edward has finally finished his first novel and has sent the manuscript, titled Nocturnal Animals, for Susan to read. Along with Susan, we read the manuscript, thus creating the effect of a novel within a novel. Seemingly the two stories--Susan brooding over her life and choices, and a thriller about a mathematics professor named Tony who watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are abducted, raped and murdered by thugs--have nothing to do to each other ... or do they?

The concept of this one is clever. However, the execution lacked something The writing is dry, dull and full of cynical, middle aged perversity. I do not think that the author had much idea of female sexuality, and it certainly was neither enjoyable, nor interesting to read about sex written in such a cut and dry fashion. In all honesty, I enjoyed reading Tony's story more than Susan's, but that seems to defy the point of the story.

In many ways, I felt that the story of Tony exposed Susan's vulnerabilities to herself. Without giving too much away, the ending felt as though revenge--not justice--had been served. 

This is a book best read when you're looking for something a bit different and are willing to overlook a number of shortcomings. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This fence borders the old Le Cornu site in North Adelaide. Once the home of a large and thriving furniture showroom (I'm too young to remember it, but apparently it had a rounded glass window that looked quite spectacular,) the business moved out of the building, which was then demolished. Over the years (I understand Le Cornu left in 1986,) there have been many plans for the site, none of which have ever got off the ground--literally. (The most recent of which was a luxury hotel, which may or may not still happen.) Instead, the site has become a vacant lot in the middle of what should be prime, city real estate. (It's also considered by some to be Adelaide's greatest eyesore.) Anyway, recently, someone decided to pretty the fence. And I think it looks great. A simple message, against a grey background.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldburg Sloan

I found a copy of Counting by 7s at the Dymocks book shop in Rundle Mall, and from the moment that I picked up this supposedly middle grade novel, it started to warm my heart. (I say supposedly, because the writing style and subject matter mean that this book would undoubtably appeal to a much broader--ie adult--audience.) The novel tells the story of Willow Chance, a twelve year old genius who marches proudly to her own beat. A deep thinker, Willow finds comfort in counting by sevens (hence the title,) but does not do well in school and has a lot of trouble relating to the kids at her school. Her adoptive parents accept and understand her quirks, but when she starts middle school, trouble begins. Despite a poor academic record, she aces a test and is soon accused of cheating and finds herself sent to see a barely competent guidance counsellor. Her path--an unpleasant one--seems to be set, until she makes friends with a couple of older kids who have to see the same counsellor. Mai and Quang-ha accept Willow's oddities. However, it's when Willow's parents pass away unexpectedly, and the others (along with Mai and Quang-ha's Mum Pattie,) conspire to keep her out of a system that would only fail this delicate kid, that a quirky, unlikely adventure begins, with Willow inevitably transforming the lives of everyone who has helped her for the better.

I loved everything about this book and read it over the space of about two days, despite the fact that I was a little bit pushed for time to read. Willow's unique perspective made for an interesting way to view the world, and I was surprised by how easily I was able to relate to her--if anything, I think I felt like her at times when I was twelve, able to understand adult concepts, yet completely unable to understand kids my own age. Some parts are a bit schmultzy, but given that the target audience are twelve year olds, it also seems entirely appropriate. 

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Review: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Complete Persepolis was like nothing that I had ever read before. An autobiography written as a beautifully illustrate graphic novel. And not only that, but what an autobiography. Marjane was an outspoken child of Marxists during the revolution in Iran. She was also the great-granddaughter of Iran's last emperor, and her uncle was exiled for a time and later executed. In this novel, she writes of a childhood richly entwined with a revolution and politics. She witnessed all kinds of hypocrisies and was eventually sent away by her parents to study in Europe. (There, she encounters many adventures, including discrimination and feeling like a stranger in a very different place, before eventually becoming someone who she thinks that her family will be ashamed of.) Eventually, she returns to Iran, finds love, studies at university and remains consistently strong and outspoken throughout, against a number of odds, before realising that being married, and living in the new Iran is not for her, journeying back to Europe where a new life will await ...

As I said, this was nothing like I had read before, though I am extremely glad that I read it. This book gave me insight to a side of Iran that I had not truly seen or understood before. I also have a lot of admiration for the author because of her resounding strength. I think this would be a very useful resource for high school students studying modern history.

Highly, Highly recommended.   

Monday, 6 February 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This artwork decorates a tiny portion of a bridge in Morphett Vale, one that forms part of the Christie Creek Trail. Blink and you'll miss it, but I think that it's awesome anyway.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Review: Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher

Ahoy, Maties! Marge the crazy, elderly babysitter with rainbow hair and a penchant for trouble (sorry, I mean fun,) is back for some more quirky adventures in Marge and the Pirate Baby. This time around Jemima Button and her little brother Jake, have their naughty baby cousin Zara in tow and Marge thinks that Zara might be a pirate. (It figures. Zara seems to like stealing things.) And that's just in their first adventure. (There's also a trip to the local pool, and a great wedding disaster to be had.)

Marge and the Pirate Baby is quirky, laugh out loud funny and each of the stories is just long enough to keep kids entertained. (And adults as well.) In all honesty, I enjoyed this volume a bit more than the first, probably because the characters are a bit more established. It was also fun listening to Jemima mention other adventures that she's had with Marge. While the David Walliams quote on the back cover states the obvious, that Isla Fisher is hilarious (figures, seeing as she's had a very successful career as a comedian,) what makes this book special is the fact that the author truly understand her target audience--kids--and how they think and feel about things. Jemima's (and Jake's) reaction to Zara is spot on--both are annoyed by Zara and some of the things she does, yet both also genuinely want to care for her. It also encourages a sense of imaginative play and adventure.

The stories rely heavily on an element of surprise, and the author never allows things to get too complicated, or bogged down in unnecessary detail. I loved the cute illustrations by Eglantine Ceulemans, and cannot wait to share this one with my nieces. 


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