Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Review: Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Imagine being a kid looking for eels and stumbling upon an ancient sword. Not only is the sword ancient, but it is enchanted and it can speak. Better yet, it turns out the one who pulls it from the water will be a knight. That's the opening premise of Have Sword, Will Travel, the first book in an exciting new series for kids, written by Aussie Authors Garth Nix and Sean Williams. (Fans of the genre might recognise these two as the authors of the Troubletwisters series.) Odo and Eleanor are out looking for eels when they discover the enchanted sword. Only trouble is, that it is Odo who pulls out the sword and it is Eleanor who wants to be a knight, just like her mother was. As for the sword, well, Biter, just won't stop shouting instructions and he wants to send these kids on a mission to slay a dragon, immediately! Lots of fun and adventure follow.

I absolutely enjoyed reading this one for its clever humour, adventure and the sage lessons that Odo and Eleanor learn along the way. There are a lot of twists and turns (oh that Sir Saskia ...) and each one is well written and the world building is quite thorough. 

This one has a lot to offer readers of all ages. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Sean Williams for my copy of Have Sword, Will Travel.

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

Friday, 27 October 2017

Friday Funnies: Harry Potter Meme


Well, I can't argue with that logic.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Literary Quotes



"I love them," said Dorothy. "They are so nice and selfish. Dogs are too good and unselfish. They make me feel uncomfortable. But cats are gloriously human."


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

The latest Literary YA offering from John Green starts off strong, and ends on a depressingly real note. Aza Holmes is sixteen years old and is basically a good kid. She tries hard at school, gets along well with her best friend Daisy and loves her Mum, who also happens to be a teacher at her school. (Aza's Dad died a few years earlier.) Aza also happens to have anxiety. Aza and Daisy get caught up in a missing person's investigation--the father of Aza's childhood friend Davis has gone missing--and she learns a few important lessons about life, and managing her mental illness along the way.

This is a difficult book for me to review as I very much enjoyed the opening chapters, and the realistic depictions of what it is like to be living with a mental illness. The reader travels with Aza through her obsessions, thought spirals and how she navigates her first relationship when her illness threatens to get in the way. I also liked how the author showed the impact that Aza's illness had on Daisy, and how their friendship can suffer for it. (And Daisy certainly had an interesting outlet for her feelings.) Less strong was Aza's relationship with Davis--there wasn't a lot of chemistry there and at times, it seemed that Davis really only put up with her for lack of somebody else. Then again, Davis was also a kid who had not been raised in a loving household, so maybe it was difficult for him to accurately depict his feelings, hence why his secret blog contained so many metaphors. Overall, though, the Davis/Russell Pickett story felt somewhat hollow to me. And, as is the case with much of Green's work, there is a lot of intelligent teenage philosophy in there as well. 

Green's strong point is his depiction of mental illness and his depiction of Daisy as a strong and likeable character.

Recommended.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Love, Unrequited by Kathryn White



Exciting news! I have a new (very) short story available for download on Smashwords. Love, Unrequited is a Literary short story about a young woman who develops a crush on an older man. She starts to lose her mind a bit, as you'll see as the narrative goes on. I wrote this one a long time ago (back in 2012) but I've only plucked up enough courage to publish it now. Anyway, the link if you'd like to read it is: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/754531

Hopefully the story will be available on iTunes, Kobo, B&N etc. soon.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Friday Funnies: Peppermint Patty


Another great Peanuts moment this week, this time featuring Peppermint Patty. Schoolwork has never been her forte, she's the kind of kid who takes more of an interest in sports and the outdoors, and finds it difficult to concentrate on other things. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Writers on Wednesday: Cher Chidzey

Welcome to another great Writers on Wednesday post. This week I am speaking with Cher Chidzey, author of Ken's Quest.




Tell me a bit about yourself …

I am the youngest of nineteen children, twelve girls and seven boys. My father Huat was born at the end of the Qing dynasty in Shantou, a fishing village.

Father and his three wives, four sons and eight daughters migrated to Singapore when the Japanese invaded China. I was born in a household of over thirty people, in a house built on stilts, in the “House of Ninety-Nine Closed Doors”. Father relocated shortly after with my mother and her two sons and six daughters to a simpler dwelling in Serangoon Gardens, the stomping ground of Australian and British military personnel.

Growing up in a household of siblings schooled in the Chinese language I learnt to appreciate Chinese poetry, Teochew opera and calligraphy. My childhood was chaotic with the comings and goings of relatives; the stepbrothers and their families also relocated to the same neighbourhood. The tribal voice, the gossip, the bickering continued but I kept my head down and studied. I was the only child educated in a missionary school run by Irish nuns. I rebelled against the family’s strict Confucian code and converted to Catholicism.

In 1974 I hatched an escape route from the chaos and ended up in Highett High school in Sandringham, Victoria. My political education began in that school under the mentorship of my classmate Harviva and continued when I studied at Monash University. I went to street marches and attended political campaigns despite feeling dreadfully scared of being spied on. The Singapore government uses the Internal Security Act to detain people indefinitely without trial. 

My journey from a strict Confucian upbringing to Catholicism to involvement in seeking social justice is something I’m proud of. I’ve lived both cultures.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

Ken’s Quest is my most recently published book. Before I dive into the bowels of the novel I’d like to tell why I wrote it. I’ve observed the likes of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party lashing out at migrants, pointing fingers of blame but also the reluctance of people to speak up honestly, openly and civilly about their feelings, about the differences in cultures. Keeping silent creates undercurrents and discontent. That build up can lead to the rise of the right wing as we are witnessing now. We have many programs and initiatives to promote multi-culturalism but we could take a further step. Encouraging people to talk openly and honestly about differences is an essential step towards true multi-culturalism. 

Bravo to Betul Tuna who lives in Shepparton, one of Australia's One Nation strongholds, where Islamophobia is rampant and she's got a smoking idea to put an end to it for good. By day she's a community worker and a single mum with three kids. By night Betul and her best mate Suzan Yilmaz are transforming an old caravan into a shisha cafe on wheels. They're gearing up to travel around the country with it, parking in random streets, opening their doors to all Australians who might fear Muslims.

"Forty nine per cent of Australians don't want us here," she says.

"I'm facing my fear and I guess I'm expecting the forty nine per cent to face their fear and maybe come have that cup of coffee."

Ken’s Quest was set in the 1990s. First part of the novel focused on the Ken-Red journey. Ken’s characterisation: he was given poor spoken English. His career profile as chief engineer in Communist China made him authoritarian. His upbringing in a wealthy family made him superior. These attributes created a rigid personality, one that would not adjust to a new environment easily. 

Red was Ken’s assistant at Lucky Security Gate. His xenophobic propensity led him to clash with Ken. The turning point came when Ken saved Red’s dog Fu Manchu. They became friends.

Their conversation began with work related issues, of work procedures, of the meaning of work and the concept of career. As the friendship deepened, the conversation shifted from work place related issues to societal values – familial responsibilities. 

Red discussed his fragmented childhood experience, being passed from one step-father to another like a recycled Christmas present, his fear of displacement by migrants, his loneliness and lack of meaning in life.

Slowly Ken reassessed his assumption about Aussies having it easy and government financial aid should mean success for all. Red exposed Ken’s many flaws: his denials, his lying, his arrogance, lack of social skills. Despite the fiery verbal exchanges Red was touched by Ken’s care and affection, especially after a drug related mugging.

Their cross-cultural exchanges was possible because Red and Ken trusted each other. To get to the state of trusting we need courage to venture outside our comfort zone. And that takes us back to our intention when we speak of differences in our cultures. 

The second part of the novel focused on the Ken-Julia journey.

Julia was Ken’s communication teacher at TAFE, turned lover. The macho Ken was kept on his toes. She questioned his assumed male superiority in bed, his controlling way over his son, over her, his secretiveness, his face saving tendency and his overwhelming jealousy. The cross cultural tension was tipping Ken to the edge but for the first time he was willing to listen, to reassess his male superiority, his tribal voice, the voice of his ancestors and connect with his woman. Through her insistence and interrogation he learned to speak honestly and confess his secrets. Observing Julia made him realise some serious truth about himself. He assumed he had achieved wei-yan (gaining respect without effort) but he was wrong. As chief engineer in his company in China, Ken was able to wield his power over his co-workers. The highly stratified power structure meant workers had to pretend to respect him to get by. That behaviour was misinterpreted as wei-yan. Ken required a different place, a different context to realise that. 

Ken’s quest of gaining wealth and status was shifted furtively. He was awakened to the simple pleasures in life. They rode bicycles in the country, sipped wines, listened to classical music, discussed literature and politics and recited poetry. 

The transformative power of love was for all to see.


Tell us about the first time you were published?

My mother told us stories, which in my mind were unsuitable for the very young Cher because they seeded mistrust. However, those stories became the material for my memoir The House of Ninety-nine Closed Doors, self-published in 2007 after ten years of tears. I had wanted to write the memoir since the age of ten. The whispers, the secrets, the victims’ laments were pleading to get out. My tribal voice reprimanded me for hanging out the dirty linen but I could not ignore the victims’ pleas. It was important for later generations to understand the complexity of such a big, dysfunctional family. 

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

Stories of how migrants struggle against all odds to get here, to seek wealth, status and freedom have been told repeatedly, it is a well-worked over field in the words of Professor Sneja Gunev. 

Ken’s Quest breaks new ground in refugee-literature by showing that migration is a two-way street. I make a timely plea for the acceptance of migrants, but I also remind newcomers to work at being welcomed wherever they go. Rather than telling migrants to fit in, I spell out how refugees, migrants and people newly posted overseas can integrate better into their new surroundings. I challenge the underemployment of professional migrants in the 1990s. I discuss issues of gender, “face” and parent-child relations from the perspective of my old and new worlds. The discrimination against homosexuals and transgenders was revealed through subplots in the novel. I’m very proud of my courage to take a different approach to multiculturalism and encourage people to speak about their differences. 

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

I’m concurrently writing a novel and a play titled Su Su. The work explores the journey of a young student Su Su, a spoilt girl from a wealthy Singaporean family, set in the 1970s in Australia. There were many hurdles awaiting Su Su in the local high school and in the university. 

She was brainwashed by her mother who fed her Confucian philosophy. Su Su was expected to live a monk like life till she graduated from university. In the local high school her sexuality was rudely awakened by her classmate, Trevor, a rebel and a clown. The censored press in Singapore meant Su Su’s political views, understanding of the machination of government and world affairs were that of the government. Eve, her classmate in the Australian high school where she studied, turned those views upside down.

Su Su’s conflict accelerated when she met political activist Freckles, who became her lover. Now she was caught between offending her parents and plunging into political activities or standing back and displeasing Freckles. The1970s saw the political upheaval in Australia, the sacking of Gough Whitlam government, the opposition to uranium mining and the flood of Vietnamese refugees. 

Su Su was warned of the danger of participating in political activities by her mother Zum who declared herself as the decision maker in Su Su’s life. She had said, ‘Parents are traffic lights, warning signs to imminent danger and disobeying them was equivalent to running the red lights.’


Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why? Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

I like the feel of paper books, the aesthetics of a book cover and that the layout enables smoother reading. Having said that eBooks are convenient because I can change the font size. You see failing eyesight comes with aging! 

After reading Katharine Hamilton’s article on Indie versus Traditional versus Self-publishing I’m warming up to Indie Publishing. Traditional publishing is difficult to get into unless you’re established. The way the wholesale-retail operation works, the return to publisher is small and that means royalties are small too. Indie publishing seems to offer the maximum flexibility and you’re boss of the operation.


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

Ba Jin’s trilogy: The Family, Spring and Autumn.

Li Yaotang (25 November 1904 – 17 October 2005), better known by his pen name Ba Jin was a Chinese author and political activist best known for his novel Family. He is considered to be one of the most important and widely read Chinese writers of the 20th century.


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

Stories told by our ancestors, historical events of wars and violence all pointed to an unsafe world. Fear and mistrust is hard wired into the human brain. I also have been influenced by my tribal voices to not trust, to not let on too much. ‘They’ll take you down.’ The voices of my parents echoed in my ears, made me jumpy and edgy, my eyes roaming on the lookout for enemies.

I disobeyed them. I wrote The House of Ninety-Nine Closed Doors to expose our dysfunctional family. I let them down, hung out the dirty linen, felt guilty for a while, felt shameful for a while but decided the truth (the truth I have perceived) was more important than anything else. I risk severing relationship with family members over it but it must be told.

I went on to ask what’s wrong with questioning about other people’s values and beliefs. I decided there was nothing wrong if my motive was to understand them better. In writing Ken’s Quest I’m questioning multi culturalism in Australia and I risk rejection from many people who like to think everything is cosy and fine. 

I’ll cite an example about the harm in holding back. I’m slow in responding. A colleague once said, ‘Why are Singaporeans so Kiasu? They have to be at the top of the queue.’

I did not reply but I was furious and remained so for the next few years. By the way Kiasu is a Singaporean term which means “afraid to lose.” A Kiasu person never misses out on anything. He/she is always grabbing and grasping selfishly. If she had coined her question differently I might have the courage to respond. I was afraid that once I opened my mouth I might lose control. If she had said, ‘I find the go go go energy of Singaporeans difficult to handle. Can you help me?’ I would have been more motivated to explain. 

Communication can be very complex, easily misunderstood so think carefully about your motive. Is it a genuine reaching out? Is it a means of belittling? Even with the best of intentions sometimes communication can go wrong given the complexity of different cultural values. So my guideline: If unclear do not assume, ask for clarification.

Read Ken’s Quest. We need to move out of our comfort zone, explore, engage and grow. Spread the word.


Links

For purchase from publisher please go to

https://goo.gl/hoKrky



For private sale ($26 including postage) please email Cher Chidzey, go to cchidzey@gmail.com

To view author’s talks and posts please go to

https://www.facebook.com/KensQuestbook










Monday, 16 October 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Literary Quotes



The sky aft was dark as pitch, but the moon still shone brightly ahead of us and lit up the blackness. Beneath its sheen a huge white-topped breaker, twenty feet high or more, was rushing on to us. It was on the break--the moon shone on its crest and tipped its foam with light. On it rushed beneath the inky sky, driven by the awful squall behind it.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Friday Funnies


Poor Sally. Often the Peanuts character who has both the most and conversely, the least, amount of imagination, she just doesn't get what is so fun about holding a balloon. (She's obviously not keen to start playing with it.) Oh well, at least we don't have to worry about any Peanuts/It crossovers anytime soon. 



Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

If V.C. Andrews and Gillian Flynn had ever co-authored a novel the result would be something akin to The Roanoke Girls, a sinful tale of murder and incest. The Roanoke girls are rich, beautiful, mysterious, and cursed. All of the girls either run away from the family home in Kansas, or they die.

Lane is a survivor. She fled Roanoke a long time ago, but when her beloved cousin Allegra goes missing, she feels that she has no choice but to return--and hopefully to expose the wicked truth about what it means to be a Roanoke girl.

Despite the ugly subject matter, this novel was captivating. In duel narratives author Amy Engel skilfully moves between the past and the present to tell Lane's story. The first story is that of a fifteen year old girl from New York who finds herself living with her family that she has never met before, following the suicide of her mother. From the outset, it is clear that not one of the Roanoke family is quite sane or normal, not her cold grandmother, her charismatic grandfather, or her crazy cousin Allegra. In the present narrative we read of Lane as a twenty-something who is bitter, and who has every reason to hate her grandparents. The big questions are what happened to Allegra, and whether or not Lane can escape the curse of the Roanoke Girls. And while I won't reveal any spoilers here, I will say that the ending is expertly handled by the author and should satisfy even the most fussy of readers.

This one was an enjoyable read--the subject matter is heavy going, but the author handles difficult topics and nightmarish, quietly menacing situations with class, in the same way that V.C. Andrews did with Flowers in the Attic and Heaven. 

Recommended. 


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review: The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews

A fascinating setting and a ripping (and often hilarious,) plot make The World of Tomorrow a winning read. In 1939, the World Fair opened in New York. For America, at least, it was a time of hope, optimism and unity with other nations. (Of course, as history cruelly reminds us, what lay in the immediate future was the Second World War.) In the middle of all this is Francis Dempsey an escapee from an Irish Prison, who after a misadventure involving an accidental explosion is now wanted by the IRA. In tow is his younger brother Michael, an escaped trainee priest, who had his eardrums blown to bits in the explosion, but who can now see and speak with none other than William Yeats. Francis also has a suitcase full of cash that he has stolen from the IRA and he's using this to fund his and Michael's escape to America, where they pose as a pair of wealthy Scotsmen and live it up in high society as they search for their older brother Martin who is a poor but talented jazz musician. Amongst this are other characters who do much to broaden out the story Cronin an ex IRA man who has found a better life as a farmer, but finds himself obligated to do one last job, and Lily, a photographer from Prague, whose tragic story reminds us of the atrocities that were already happening in Europe and how ignorant, or perhaps complacent, the rest of the world were to these events. Inevitably, the characters end up at the World Fair, in a storyline that is one, utterly entertaining and two, best left for the reader to discover. (I'll just say that it might have something to do with a royal visit.) 

Although long (551 pages,) and packed with characters and various tangents, this one makes for entertaining reading. I found the exploits of Francis and his alter ego Angus to be quite amusing (and I like that he remained a gentleman to the vulnerable Anisette,) and I loved the many musical references. The author does not shy away from the fact that there was a lot of inequality in the time and place where the story is set, and the story is better for it. The plot itself is a very clever play on real events. 

Highly recommended.  

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

Monday, 9 October 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)


A post shared by Kathryn White (@kathrynsinbox) on

Friday, 6 October 2017

Friday Funnies: Snoopy


Just another Peanuts comic. Poor Snoopy!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Review: Broken Glass by V.C. Andrews

An evil twin, a psychotic mother, a fraught family relationship and a shocking abduction are the themes of Broken Glass, the twisted second instalment in the Mirror Sisters trilogy. And it all goes downhill from there, really. The novel opens from the perspective of the supposedly evil twin, Haylee Blossom Fitzgerald. Haylee has just arranged for her identical twin sister Kaylee to be abducted by a crazy redneck who has marriage--and a honeymoon in a basement--on his mind. Never mind the obvious hell that her sister is about to endure, Haylee is looking forward to the prospect of being an only child. Maybe now her domineering mother will allow her to be her own person, instead of parading her and Kaylee around like a pair of purebred puppies. And no longer does Haylee have to be constantly good like her well-behaved sister.

Meanwhile, Kaylee is coming to terms with one, a massive betrayal from her sister and two, the fact that she's basically trapped inside a rape camp and needs to outwit her captor, Anthony Cabot whose resemblance to Norman Bates so close that he does indeed keep his dead mother in the house. Back at home, Mommy dearest has suffered a breakdown, the girls father is able to assert himself for the first time and everyone is too dumb to realise that Haylee has set the whole thing up. The ending is predictable enough, and the writing itself is quite trashy. 

I went into this one with fairly low expectations and had them confirmed with every twist. At least this time around there was no glorification of rape or sexual abuse, which has been an all too constant theme of many of the V.C. Andrews novels that have been penned by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman. There was also far less repetition than the first novel. It staggers belief that Haylee could keep up her deception as long as she did, especially when it was obvious that the police, and Mrs Lofter, the no nonsense nurse brought in to care for the twins mother, was suspicious. Some parts of the story, such as Haylee's relationship with Ryan felt totally superfluous to the plot. As I said in the previous paragraph, the writing is trashy. This is all too common with the ghostwriter novels, of which there are now more than seventy titles. (It's debatable which titles were penned by Neiderman and which were penned by V.C. Andrews herself in the year or so following V.C. Andrews death.)

One of the most twisted parts of this novel comes not from the story itself, but for its possible similarities to the the disappearance of Tara Calico. It is believed that Calico was abducted and held against her will. Several months after Calico disappeared, a photograph of the young woman surfaced. In the picture, she was bound and gagged--and beside her was a copy of her favourite book, which just happened to be My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews. 

Not really for me, but fans of the series will probably enjoy this instalment.