Friday, 28 April 2017

Friday Funnies: Garfield

The humour in the Garfield comics has always been a bit uneven--some days are definitely funnier than others in the Garfield universe--and this comic is certainly one of the moments that feels more twisted than funny. I think my reaction was about the same as that of Garfield in the final pane. It's more startling than funny. And it also reveals something odd about the comic--none of the male human characters are portrayed as being well-adjusted adults. Jon Arbuckle, for example, is extremely childish and would appear to have a relatively low IQ, and his brother Doc Boy is more or less tarred with the same brush. The women, however, are usually portrayed as fairly capable--Liz the Vet for example, or Jon's mother. The only possible exception to this rule is Lyman, and even he has not been seen in the strip since 1984, which is the same year that Jon went from being a cartoonist with an average IQ to an unemployed idiot whose only role was to look after Garfield and Odie.  

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Review: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eager

Every now and again it happens. A book comes out and everyone is raving about it. Everyone loves, love, absolutely loves it. The book gets loads praise from prominent public figures, and lots of lovely, lovely glittering four and five star reviews and bloggers. Finally, a copy falls into my hands and ... well, I just don't get it. Sadly, Summer Skin, which was so well-received by readers in early 2016 was one of those books. I gave the book three chances, over the space of about a year, before, finally pushing my way through, and wondering what it was that everyone else had seen in it that I had missed ...

Summer Skin tells the story of Jess, an outspoken feminist, set against a back drop of Brisbane Universities and hook up culture. Presumably, Jess is in her late teens. She lives in a co-ed dorm of a fairly modern and liberal university, and her enemy is the all-boys dorm from a different university. She meets one of the boys from Knights College in strange circumstances which leads to a hate at first sight relationship ...

The set up is great and what I did appreciate about this story is that the lead character is a feminist, and the author tries very hard--and succeeds--in having a meaningful discussion of what it means to be a feminist in twenty-first century Australia. It is not used as a cheap backdrop, or as a meaningless plot device to keep the heroine away from her love interest for a little while. Mitch is presented as a character who is tough on the surface, but whose vulnerabilities make him seem very real. Both of these things are rare in a New Adult novel, where the focus is normally ... well, actually some scenes are pretty damn hot.

The problem that I had with this book was trying to follow it. The author and I seemed to be on very different wavelengths. Early on, I felt as though I had just been dropped into a war zone in a foreign country. (Or in that YouTube video that starts off with "Hi, my name's Catrina!) There is no meaningful introduction to the characters or their situations. I would have liked more of an introduction to Jess and the event that led to the her hating Knights College. (Because, frankly, the way the Knights boys treated Farran deserves a lot more discussion.) Also, the experiences of Jess were just so different from my own experiences at university that I found them very difficult to relate to. 

This one was not a winner for me, but plenty of other readers have enjoyed it.

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

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Review: Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

Quicksand had me hooked. Completely and utterly. It's a book that ticked many of the right boxes for me. An interesting premise, check. Well written, check. An impossible situation, check. An unreliable narrator, check. And a blurb that promises what it delivers? Check, check, check.

Maja Norberg has been in jail for the past nine months, awaiting trial for a shooting at her school in Sweden. Her best friend Amanda, and her boyfriend Sebastian are among the dead. So are many of her classmates. But from the outset, as Maja begins to describe the moments following the shooting, I got the feeling that something wasn't quite right. Was she guilty of what she had been accused of, innocent, or have the lines of right and wrong blurred so much that she is something in between? Is she a spoiled rich girl, a victim of an abusive boyfriend, or a bystander too weak, or perhaps complacent, to speak up when she should--not matter what the cost. 

And, come to think of it, what on earth would I have done if I had been in Maja's shoes?

As Maja drip feeds the reader information, I found my theories about what happened that day either confirmed or blown out of the water. That said, this is more than a straight out did she or didn't she situation. There is also a huge level of social commentary throughout the story. Do we treat people better or worse based upon the amount of money that they have? Are they treated better or worse because of where they live? Do we expect certain things from others based upon their education, religion, race and economic situation? Sebastian is the living example of the poor rich kid, the one who has everything and can get away with everything, yet lacks a loving family, proper supervision and respect for others. Maja is equally complex--she is sharp, has an excellent insight into human nature, and yet seems to be a product of both her environment, and her own poor choices. Then again, did she ever really have any choices? She certainly lacks support from the people that she needs most. 

Unputdownable, intelligent and full of surprises. Highly recommended. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me an ARC of Quicksand.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Around Adelaide (Street Art)

This memorial in North Terrace pays respect to the brave Australians who served in the 8th Division during World War Two--such as my grandfather, Jack White.

These soldiers were involved in the fall of Singapore, found themselves in Changi and some worked on the Burmese Railway. Many died, along the way, but a few made it back to Australia. Although my grandfather was lucky enough to make it back to Australia, where he became engaged twice, married once and fathered five sons, he was plagued with health problems and died when he was still relatively young. He never met his youngest son, my uncle, or any of his grandchildren. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Review: The Golden Helmet by Carl Barks

Well, this was certainly a surprise ... I am a fan of Donald Duck comics (particularly the ones by comic genius Carl Barks,) and I had no idea until I walked inside Dymocks recently that US based publisher fantagraphics has been republishing some of the classic Donald Duck comics in a beautiful, keepsake edition. This particular volume reprinted The Golden Helmet, a Donald Duck adventure penned by Barks where Donald, accompanied by his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, travels by boat to Norway to find the Golden Helmet, thus preventing it from falling into criminal hands. This one is all good fun, with plenty of adventure, along with a bit of wordplay and comic humour (look close at some of the museum exhibits in the background.)

This one was quite pricey (possibly because it was an import,) but I enjoyed it and also the shorter comics that filled the final third of the book. (And damn I hate that Gladstone Gander!)

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Literary Quotes

"Exactly. She does not shine as a wife even in her own account of what occurred. I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind, as you are aware, Watson, but my experience of life has taught me that there are few wives having any regard for their husbands who would let any man's spoken word stand between them and that husband's dead body. Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her."

Friday, 21 April 2017

Friday Funnies

It is Ron ... right?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Review: The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

I purchased Maus a long time ago, back when I had grand plans to do a series of reviews on Pulitzer Prize winning novels that, sadly, never really got off the ground. It seemed like an important inclusion--after all, it is the only graphic novel to have ever won the prestigious and coveted award. Anyway, I re-read Maus recently and decided that it is certainly worth talking about.

In the 1980s Art Spiegelman, an American comic book artist, came up with the idea of interviewing his father about his experiences of the Holocaust. What transpired was a deeply personal story about a Jewish man living in Poland who suffered persecution at every turn, the loss of friends and immediate family members (including his oldest son,) and who managed to survive both by intelligence and a lot of luck. The story was then made into a graphic novel, Maus, featuring Jews as Mice, Nazis as Cats, Poles as Pigs and Americans as Dogs. This novel was eventually followed by a sequel Maus Volume II. 

The brilliance of Maus is that it tells the story of the Holocaust in a very personal way. This is one man's story. One ordinary man, who found himself in the most horrific of circumstances. Despite the odds, he managed to survive. The novel also highlights the after-effects of living through such an ordeal.

This is one of many books that I have read in the past year that I really do think should be required reading for high school students. Maus is an upfront, honest and personal account of one of the most horrific events of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Aussie Author Challenge 2017: Update

Well, it's only April and this year has probably been one of my best yet for the Aussie Author Challenge. I am two thirds of the way there, toward my goal, which is:

To read twelve titles by Australian authors, fiction or non-fiction.
At least four of these titles must be by authors who are new to me.
At least four of these authors must be female. 
At least four of these authors must be male.
There must be at least three genres.

So lets see how I'm doing so far ...

I have read nine titles:

Hot or What by Margaret Clarke (Fiction, YA.)

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire (Literary Fiction, Author is new to me.)

Magpie by Peter Goldsworthy and Brian Matthews (Literary Fiction.)

In Two Minds by Gordon Parker (Literary Fiction, Author is new to me.)

Lochie Leonard: Human Torpedo by Tim Winton (Fiction, YA.)

Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher (Fiction, children's.)

Paris Lights by CJ Duggan (Fiction, New Adult Romance.)

The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster (Fiction, Psyhological Thriller.)

The Case Against Fragrance by Kate Grenville (Non-Fiction.)

Eight titles are fiction. The genres represented include Literary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Psychological Thriller, Children's and New Adult Romance. 

One title is non-fiction.

So far, only two authors are new to me, Emily Maguire and Gordon Parker. Technically, Brian Matthews is a new author as well, but, alas I've read titles by his co-author Peter Goldsworthy. 

Six titles have been written by women; three titles have been written by men.

This means that out of the next three titles I read for the challenge, at least two must be by authors who are new to me and at least one of these titles must be written by a male author. It's probable that I'll read other titles by Australian authors that do not fit these requirements in the meantime, but for fun, I'm hoping to link those reviews back to the challenge as well. After all, the whole reason I am doing this challenge is to share my love of Australian books and authors with the world.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: The Case Against Fragrance by Kate Grenville

While author Kate Grenville (best known for her novel The Secret River*,) was on a book tour, she became dogged by ill health. Her headaches seemed to have one common element--they happened every time that she was exposed to any kind of fragrance, whether it be from perfume, an air freshener or something else. She decided to investigate what was in fragrance. The result is The Case Against Fragrance a short, non-fiction work that examines what is in fragrance, how is it regulated in Australia and why are we all so hung up on something that might be bad for us?

The possibility that fragrance might pose a threat to some individuals is something that I have been aware of since I was in my teens. What I was unaware of is just how widespread that threat may be. Certainly, in The Case Against Fragrance Grenville points out some unpleasant realities--that what we find in the chemicals that are used to create fragrance are many, many times more potent than anything that we find in nature, and that some fragrances may be carcinogenic. And if the author's goal is to stop and make readers think about what they are applying to their body, then her argument is compelling. (And that something I might dab on in the morning in small quantities could cause suffering to another person made me pause. Was I as ignorant as someone who lit a cigarette in front of an asthmatic?) The prose is easy to read, and Grenville never bogs the reader down in scientific language. 

If you've ever questioned what is in that bottle of perfume or after shave (or even if you haven't,) this one poses an interesting argument.


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

*Personally, my favourite Kate Grenville novel is The Idea of Perfection. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Friday Funnies

Love this. It's autumn in Australia, and this Peanuts comic, where Snoopy sees such joy in a falling leaf seemed appropriate.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Review: The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

Eleanor is a lonely young Australian woman who is keen to escape the demons of her past. Living with her Uncle and his family in London, she has found a position at a prestigious publishing house. Then Arabella, a glamourous and charismatic employee is found dead in the River Thames after the work Christmas party. No one knows how she died, but Eleanor may have the answers ... if only she could remember what happened that night.

The Hidden Hours is certainly an intriguing novel. In some respects, Arabella reminded me of the title character from Daphne Du Marier's Rebecca (a novel I love,) but this is a very different story, with different outcomes. Eleanor is an interesting protagonist whose life is weighed down by some fairly traumatic events. The author weaves between the past and the present to offer readers a sympathetic portrait of a young woman whose life has been shaped by a tragic event, and her portrayal of Eleanor is commendable. That said, much like London weather in December, parts of this story left me feeling cold. (Then again, I doubt some scenes were suppose to leave readers feeling warm and fuzzy.) 

The eventual answers to the mystery are as satisfying as they are believable.

If you have enjoyed Sara Foster's previous novels then I have no doubt that you will enjoy this one.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of The Hidden Hours.

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

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Review: Paris Lights by CJ Duggan

If books were food, Paris Lights would be one of those frivolous dessert items that some may call a guilty pleasure. Or to put it another way, much like the macaroons that the heroine consumes, this is light and fluffy with some gooey sweetness in the middle.

Clair Shorten is a twenty-five year old Australian living in London, who has always dreamed of travelling to Paris. Then things start to go wrong when her more-than-just-a-little-bit-insensitive boyfriend dumps her under the Eiffel Tower. (Yep, while other men are proposing, Claire's boyfriend is such a dud that he is dumping her. What a bastard, eh?) Anyway, a surprise turn of events leads Claire to a swanky apartment and a job as a Maitre d at a hotel. Then something catches the attention of nasty celebrity chef Louis Delarue ... and it may not just be the hotel that has Louis' eye.

This is light reading, with lots of melodramatic twists, plenty of Australian vernacular and an easy narrative that allows readers to insert themselves into the story. It offered me some light reading when I desperately needed some, and I might check out other two stand alone novels in the series (set in New York and London, respectively) at some stage.

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

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Review: Margherita's Recipes For Love by Elisabetta Flumeri & Gabriella Giacometti

Some books just take you by surprise. When I picked up the copy of Margherita's Recipes For Love that I had received in the post, I intended just to have a quick look at the blurb, and maybe the first chapter. I ended up reading the first half of the book in one sitting. Cheerful, romantic and loveably over the top, this is a love story set in rural Italy, Margherita is a spirited and principled woman whose marriage has come to an abrupt end. Returning home to the country, she puts her greatest talent--cooking--to good use and soon finds herself working for a wealthy businessman who has just swept into town. Nicola is ruthless in all things related to his business, but through her cooking--and her spirit--Margherita may be the one to teach him a thing or two about good business and perhaps even love ...

There is a lot of warmth to this story, and it is an excellent choice for lovers of great cuisine and light reading. Parts of it are a bit over-the-top, but not in an offensive way. (Oh come on, how could I not laugh when a squid lands on Nicola's shoulder? It's hilarious start to a relationship that that is definitely hate at first sight.) Some of the conflict resolved a bit too easily, and I did wonder at times if something had been left out of the translation. (On the translation, the writing did feel a bit clunky in places.) Overall though, this story was a lot of fun, and provided me with a nice, easy read at a time when that was exactly what I wanted (and needed.)


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

Monday, 10 April 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)

Meet Avant Garde Dog! I snapped this artistic little pooch a few weeks ago. He is located on the side wall of a dog grooming salon in the southern suburbs.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Friday Funnies: Film vs Book

Well, I think this one describes the whole film vs the book debate quite accurately. A film has about two hours to tell the same story as a book of around 400 pages. Often details are missed for reasons of timing, affordability and the fact that some things just don't translate easily or well on the screen. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Review: My Uncle Oswald Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's only full length adult novel reads like an old man telling an extended dirty joke to a captive audience of young men. It's crude, it's sexist, it's completely over the top and it never takes itself too seriously. The novel is made up from a memoir written by Uncle Oswald, and published by his unnamed nephew some many years after his death. The novel details two thoroughly debauched money making schemes that Uncle Oswald came up with as a young man. The first was the creation of a pill that had extreme aphrodisiac qualities, and the second was to ahem, steal the semen of various rich, famous and influential men and then sell it on to any woman who fancied the idea of having a child by one of these men. 

My Uncle Oswald is not a novel for the faint of heart. It's about as politically incorrect as you can get, quite deliberately in some places, but also full of the kind of unconscious racism and sexism that perpetuated the upper middle classes in the United Kingdom (and other parts of the world,) during Dahl's lifetime. However, the greatest problem with this novel is that after a few chapters it stops being funny. The plot is repetitive, more so than Dahl's many novel's for children. The author's trademark sting in the tale, where no act of greed goes unpunished, is pleasingly present.

I'd recommend this one to adult fans of Roald Dahl. Readers who are unfamiliar with the author would probably get more from his short stories, or his books for children.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Literary Quote of the Day

"Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch."

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Review: Charisma by Jeanne Ryan

From the moment that I picked up my copy of Charisma, I knew that this book and I were going to get along very, if not extremely, well. The heroine Aislyn is an exceptionally smart and sensitive sixteen year old. She also suffers from a devastating, crippling shyness--something that had plagued me throughout my teens. I could understand only too well the problem that she faced in the opening chapter, trying to get her point across only to be let down by her fears and then watching as the prize went to another student, whose ideas may not have been as advanced as her own, but who had the ability to communicate their ideas more effectively.

Then the novel takes a sinister twist ...

Dr Sternfield, Aislyn's mentor, is a brilliant scientist. She's also been developing a new drug, Charisma, which alters the DNA of users, to make them well ... charismatic. When Aislyn gets the chance to test the drug, she takes it, despite the fact that the tests are not strictly legal. The effects are instant. But slower to develop are some serious side effects, one that could cause death. And worse still, it seems that the symptoms are contagious ...

Charisma was an interesting--and smart--page turner with more than a dash of social justice. The parallels between Aislyn and that of teenagers who were HIV positive during the 1980s were quite interesting. (In fact, the narrative mentions Ryan White at one point.) I think the author got it spot on how people are treated when they are suffering a disease that most of the general population do not understand--with suspicion and fear, which ultimately leads to discrimination and intense public scrutiny. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I felt that I could really relate to Aislyn and her difficulties with shyness.

Like the best YA novels, Charisma asks some big ethical questions and places them in a setting that is easy to understand and relate to. 


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for supplying me with a copy of Charisma. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)

This week's picture is of a mural on the side of the Onkaparinga City Council Chambers at Noarlunga Centre. The artists were just putting the finishing touches on this fantastic, double storey building sized painting when I snapped the picture back in February.