Sunday, 31 December 2017

Say Hello to Your Friends ... Remembering the Baby-Sitters Club TV Series

After it was a best-selling series of books, and before it was a movie the Baby-Sitters Club was, you guessed it, a TV series. Comprising of thirteen episodes (unlucky for some,) the series had the same themes of friendship, fun, girl power and, of course baby-sitting.

In Australia the series made its debut on VHS in 1991. For the super well, high, price of $19.99 fans could purchase a video that comprised of a single episode. Unsurprisingly, my parents opted to hire most of the videos from that really big Movieland store that used to be on Dyson Road (keep in mind, this was the early 90s,) and my Grandma bought me a copy of Dawn and the Haunted House for Christmas. I'm not sure how many of the episodes were released here, certainly not all thirteen. Anyway, in late 1993 the episodes finally aired as part of Channel 2's Afternoon Show line up. (Quite possibly, because the Afternoon Show had temporarily ran out of episodes of Grange Hill or Degrassi Junior High to run. And HERE's a bit of trivia for 90s nostalgia lovers. At the time, the Afternoon Show was being hosted by none other than Michael Tunn. Yep. That's right. Tunny from The Request Fest was the host who introduced the Baby-Sitters Club TV series to viewers.)

Obviously, the series debuted in the USA well before it came to Australia. Researching it's history in the US was problematic. Wikipeadia, iTunes and IMDB all offered conflicting information, regarding original broadcast dates, formats, etc. The only consistent information I could find was:  

  • The first episode to air was Mary Anne and the Brunettes
  • The episodes were broadcast on HBO
  • All episodes were released on VHS
  • Meghan Andrews who played Mallory Pike received top billing and is still a working actress.
That was, at least, until I found an absolute gem of an article from none other than the New York Times. The article gives a great history of the series--apparently Scholastic (the BSC's publisher,) was quite keen to develop it into a television series, but television networks weren't quite as keen, and those who were wanted to change the format so that it would appeal to boys as well as girls. Scholastic put their foot down and developed it as a series of videos. The videos proved so popular that it was soon picked up by HBO and all thirteen episodes were eventually broadcast. 

And I still don't have official broadcast dates. (Hey, if anyone who worked on the show is reading this and has anything to add, I'd love to hear from you.)

Over the next few weeks, I'll be reviewing each of these episodes, just for fun. Expect a lot of nostalgia.

PS Do you remember watching the BSC TV Series? Which was your favourite episode? 

Friday, 29 December 2017

Best Books of 2017

Well, it's been a long time since I did a best books of the year post. That's because in 2016 I didn't think that the any of the new releases that I had read deserved the honour. And perhaps that in itself led the choice I made in 2017 to become a more independent reader, one who didn't pay attention to market trends, or who bought and read a book just because it was being talked about. And you know what? It paid off. In 2017 I encountered many wonderful new books and authors.

If I have to pick a favourite, then The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli most certainly deserves the honour. This is a great YA novel about diversity.

Other books I loved this year include:

Quicksand by Malin Person Giolito

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Many Ways of Seeing by Nick Gleeson

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrien Edmonson

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Also this year, I discovered or rediscovered some great modern classics, including The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Maus by Art Spiegelman and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon. 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Anatomy of a Scandal is a well written legal drama with a he said-she said premise. Kate is a hard working lawyer for the crown who has tackled many high profile cases. When James, a spoiled and charismatic politician with an Oxford background, is accused of rape, Kate is keen to see justice served. Meanwhile, James' wife Sophie wholeheartedly believes that her husband is telling the truth. Anatomy of a Scandal is sure to keep readers wondering, while the truth is fed bit by bit to the reader. 

I have no doubt that there is going to be a lot of talk about this novel in weeks to come. This novel is an intelligently written story of wealth, bad behaviour and an unhealthy fixation. None of the characters are perfect--Kate, James and Sophie all have multiple failings. James is as sexist as Sophie is spoiled and weak, and Kate is obsessed with ensuring that James is convicted--and something seems horribly personal about her fixation. There are also some deeper secrets at play regarding James' time at Oxford that weave perfectly into the story and make the drama all the more intense. 

It is difficult to say that I enjoyed this one--the subject matter is quite dark, and is perhaps more topical than enjoyable, given that it examines in detail just how much men in positions of power can get away with. What I did appreciate was the opportunity to think about the subject matter and relate it to a number of real life cases.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Ausrtalia for my ARC

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Aussie Author Challenge 2018!

The Aussie Author Challenge is back for 2018! Once again, I'm joining this excellent challenge, which is hosted by Booklover Book Reviews (a brilliant book blog--if you haven't stopped by this one yet, I highly recommend that you do.) After smashing the challenge in 2017, once again, I'll be going for Kangaroo, which requires me to read 12 books, four by female authors, four by male authors and four by authors who are new to me, as well as books in three different genres.

And because this is a challenge--and not a competition--there are all kinds of levels of participation, and ways to participate, meaning that readers can pick the way that works best for them. I really hope that you can join me, and we can show the world just how many great Australian books, authors and book reviewers are out there! 

Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

After enjoying two of the BSC Graphix novels recently, I decided to delve a bit deeper into author/artist Raina Telgemeier's work and discovered this cute little gem. It's all about a middle school drama production--but instead of focusing on the actors, it concentrates on the kids who work behind the scenes, in particular Callie, the set designer who is struggling with her first crush and being bullied by one of the other kids who is working on the play. Fortunately, a pair of twins bombastic Justin and shy Jesse offer Callie not only friendship, but a new outlook as well.

Most of the novel deals with how things go wrong (and occasionally right,) behind the scenes, and the characters as they navigate various crushes and their sexuality. As an adult reader, this probably wasn't the best fit--although I could appreciate the good writing and illustrations, the life lessons that the characters learn along the way are more valuable to readers who are in the target audience. I think sometimes, especially in the past ten years or so, adults have become a lot more keen to read books aimed at Middle Grade or Young Adult readers and we forget that these are meant to be for young people first, and us second. That said, there was a lot to be entertained by and to be enjoyed with this one. Telgemeier's illustrations and insights are, at times, quite brilliant.


Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and followers (or Happy Holidays if you prefer!) Thanks for all of the love and support over the past twelve months. May you all have a happy and safe festive season, 

Kathryn XXOO

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Review: Dawn and the Impossible Three (BSC Graphix 5) by Gale Galligan

BSC Graphix is back. Several years after Scholastic re-imagined four of the early Baby-Sitters Club series as graphic novels, the series has made a surprising but welcome return. This time around comic book artist Gale Galligan is the author/illustrator, taking the reins from Raina Telgemeier. Dawn and the Impossible Three is the first novel to be told from the perspective of Stoneybrook newcomer, Dawn Schafer.

Dawn's life isn't easy at the moment. Along with her brother Jeff, she has been relocated from sunny California to a small town thousands of miles away. Although homesick, she tries to make the best of the situation, first by making friends with Mary Anne and joining the Baby-Sitters Club. If club president Kristy (who is Mary Anne's other best friend,) would give her a chance, things would be much easier. Anyway, Dawn finds herself stuck with a pretty heavy duty challenge baby-sitting for the Barrett's, a single parent family with three kids and a mother who is so disorganised and scatty that she borders on negligent. During her adventures with the Barrett's Dawn learns some important lessons about responsibility and speaking up. 

There are also two b-storylines, the first of which is the slightly non-cannon story of how Mallory joins the club. The story is a watered down version of some of the events in Hello Mallory, but told from Dawn's perspective, and with no Jessi to be seen (as yet.) The second b-storyline has Kristy contemplating what impact her mother's upcoming wedding will have on her. The focus on this one feels a little like foreshadowing, so I am wondering if this means we will see a graphic version of Kristy's Big Day, or Kristy and the Snobs (or possibly a combination of the two) sometime in the near future. 

There is also a bit more of a focus on the budding romance between Dawn's mother and Mary Anne's dad. 

Once again, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed reading this one. One thing I really appreciated was Dawn's appearance--in these books she has a real 90s grunge look, which seems entirely appropriate for the character. (I guess that finally explains what the original books meant by California Casual.) I think the Dawn/Kristy storyline was handled quite realistically, where both girls bond slowly as they realise just how much they have in common. The illustrations are great--for me, it was the first time I've read any of the books in the series in colour. I appreciated the attention to detail--in fact, until now I had never realised that Nicky Pike had red hair and glasses like his older sister Mallory. 

Great fun for BSC fans new and old. Highly recommended.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Happy Summer Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice to everyone in the Southern Hemisphere. (Just thought we could all do with a break from the memes with snow and cute fuzzy sweaters.)

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is more or less considered a modern classic these days, so it is somewhat surprising that this one managed to pass me by until recently. Sure, I remember hearing about it when it was released (about fifteen years ago,) and I've seen it included many times on various top 100 book lists, reading challenges and there always seems to be a copy for sale at my usual reading haunts, but for one reason or another, I never bought a copy. In fact, I don't think I ever even picked up a copy until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw it sitting on the shelves at my local Vinnies, and decided that it looked more interesting than the other books on offer. (To explain, the book section at my local Vinnies isn't terribly big.) Anyway, what a joy reading this book turned out to be.

Fifteen-year-old Christopher is book smart, has a photographic memory and understands many complex mathematical problems. What he does not understand is people and how to relate to them. When he discovers that a neighbour's dog has been murdered, however, he decides to put his own detective skills to use, which leads to an unexpected adventure and reveals some surprising--and hurtful--truths ...

This book was short, deceptively simple and overall very well done. It was interesting to get inside the mind of a teenager whose differences mean that he can put a different spin on even the most mundane of situations. Obviously, we're starting to see more and more of this type of literature--it was only a couple of weeks ago that I reviewed My Life is an Alphabet, and earlier in the year I reviewed Counting by 7s, both of which have similar themes. However, something about this one stands out--possibly because Christopher is in a situation where he is not considered to be as high functioning as the protagonists of the other two novels. The author does not gloss over some of the ugly parts of Christopher's life--the having to be in a class full of special needs kids, despite the fact that he has the intelligence to be doing university level classes, the way that he is misunderstood by many others, including the police and what this leads to. 

My only regret with this one is that I did not read it much sooner.

Highly recommended (if you haven't read it already.)

Monday, 18 December 2017

Aussie Author Challenge 2017: Challenge Completed!

Wow. Just wow. What a big year it's been--this time around, I didn't just complete the Aussie Author Challenge, but I absolutely smashed it! In 2017 I read a whopping 41 titles for the challenge--more than three times the requirement for the challenge. Big shout out and thank you to Jo for organising the challege--love your work. Really enjoyed the newsletters too :)

I wonder how many books I will read in 2018 ... 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Review: Claudia and Mean Janine (BSC Graphix 4) by Raina Telgemeier

Longtime readers and fans of this blog may recall that during 2012 I committed to reviewing what was then four books in the BSC Graphix series. For one reason or another, I never published a review of the fourth novel in the series, Claudia and Mean Janine. As a fifth book has just been released in the series (and as of December 2017 is sitting on my to-review pile,) I decided to re-read this one and publish a review. Ps I ramble on a bit in the first paragraph of this review so if you would rather just read a review of the book, it's probably best to skip to the second paragraph. 

The BSC Graphix series was always going to be a little different from the books that inspired them. For one thing, technology has changed considerably since the early novels in the Baby-sitters Club series were published in 1986. And there is also no arguing that Claudia's second novel in the original series, Claudia and Mean Janine, which contains themes of sibling rivalry and illness, packs a far greater punch than Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, which was Claudia's first book in the series. To be honest, Claudia and Mean Janine has always been a firm favourite of mine. This is for two reasons. The first is that for one reason or another, copies of this one were very difficult to find in my part of the world when I was reading the series. My school library didn't have a copy, my local library didn't have a copy and neither did the local bookshop. Anyway, one day, my grandma decided to buy me a Baby-sitters Club book during a trip to Adelaide. She randomly picked one from the shelf and it was ... you guessed it, Claudia and Mean Janine! I still have my copy and it's the only one with the original green cover that I've ever seen, though I've both updated versions around the place from time to time.

The fourth BSC Graphix novel changes the timeline a little and opens with the final week of school. Claudia is not interested in studying, she's more interested in her art classes and the Baby-Sitters Club. This frustrates her parents and is looked down upon by her older sister, the studious and ultra intelligent Janine. The differences between the pair aren't helped by the fact that Janine's social skills aren't great. And while it seems that their parents might like Janine best, at least Claudia has Mimi, her kind and loving grandmother. But when Mimi has a stroke, Claudia feels as though her whole world is crashing down around her ...

This adaption is very well down. Telegemeier does a great job (perhaps even better than Ann M Martin in the original series,) of highlighting the differences between both sisters, but also showing them both as human. (I think the facial expressions in each frame do that quite well.) Each sister is jealous of the other and neither has a clue of how to communicate with the other. 

There is also a b-storyline which shows the Baby-sitters forming a summer playgroup and introduces another beloved character to the series, Mallory Pike. In a surprising twist [spoiler alert] Mallory is asked to join the club at the end of this novel. There is no sign of Jesse yet, so I'm wondering if or when she is going to be incorporated into the series. (On that, if anyone at Scholastic is taking requests, I'd love a graphic version of Jessi's Secret Language. I think it would be a great educational tool.)

This is an enjoyable re-imagining of a classic series. Recommended. 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Literary Quotes

To say the truth, every physician almost hath his favourite disease, to which he ascribes all the victories obtained over human nature.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)

I spotted this brilliant Christmas tree on Flinders Street in the Adelaide CBD recently. Love the beautiful and environmentally friendly way this "tree" was created.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Review: Darker by EL James

And then there were five. Darker is the newest book in the Fifty Shades series, and the second to be told from the perspective of Christian Grey, the perverse and psychologically damaged billionaire whose love for the innocent and wholly good Ana Steele may just be the one thing that saves him. This novel is essentially the same story as was told in Fifty Shades Darker, but told from the male's perspective. And while Christian Grey may not have any inner goddesses or surprising conscious subconscious's to deal with, he does have his problems, chiefly that he wants to be with Ana, and a couple of women are jealous of that and go to somewhat surprising and obsessive lengths to let him know that. The whole sexual violence and control element is there, though Christian is apparently happy enough to at least pretend to himself and others that he is having a normal relationship with Ana. 

Although the author's writing has improved somewhat, the book itself was not up to much--I didn't feel that I gained anything terribly new or insightful from Christian's perspective. There are no new scenes, or adventures to be had, which seems to defeat the purpose of telling the story from another character. (For example, what if there had been more with his interactions with Leila, Elena and some of the other characters?) The whole thing came across as the author and publisher scraping the bottom of the barrel of what has been a terrible, though wholly successful, franchise. 

For fans who cannot get enough of the series. Or people who buy books because they have a very buff man on the front cover.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Literary Quotes

"Can a husband ever carry about a secret all his life and a woman who loves him have no suspicion of it? I knew it by his refusal to talk about some episodes in his American life. I knew it by certain precautions he took. I knew it by certain words he let fall. I knew it by the way he looked at unexpected strangers."

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is one of those Literary titles. The kind that when read at the right time can be worth more than their weight in gold. The flip side to this is, of course, when read at the wrong time, reading such a book can be a painful, thankless chore. Unfortunately, I read this book at the wrong time, and for the wrong reason. I bought it because it had been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. As we now all know, Lincoln in the Bardo was chosen as the winner. I think that the buzz about the book has settled enough for me to publish my review--something that I didn't want to do when there was a lot of high excitement about the title, and when it was most likely to reach those readers who would cherish it. 

From a shred of historical fact about the death of Abraham Lincoln's ten year old son, author George Saunders creates a rich and colourful world, where the recently deceased Willie Lincoln finds himself living in a cemetery among ghosts, each one quite lively and quite different from the other. In paragraphs that often alternate between the ghostly characters, each tells their life story. Parts of the book a terribly funny, parts are very clever and there is, of course, a great insight into human nature and what life was like for people living in that era. And, obviously, there is quite a lot of magical realism cleverly done. It's not difficult to see why the book won such a prestigious prize, and why so many readers--including those whose opinions I hold in high esteem--were very taken with this book. Unfortunately, something about it didn't work quite as well for me, and I am inclined to think that I may have read it at the wrong time, and almost certainly for the wrong reason. There is little I can fault the book itself on, apart from the fact that it annoyed me occasionally, and I found myself not really wanting to go back to it.

Maybe I'll return to this one another time, and I'll enjoy it then ...

Monday, 4 December 2017

What the Babysitters Club Taught Me About Diversity

It was with great surprise--and delight--that I discovered recently that the first sixteen books in the Babysitters Club series have been reprinted. These books were a huge part of my childhood. I still remember the first BSC book I ever read, and how my reading habits changed--for the better--after I discovered a copy of Kristy and the Snobs at my school library. Before then, I was barely interested in reading. One chapter in and I realised that I had discovered something very different, and special. This was a series about a group of girls who had got together, formed a successful business and were having a lot of fun along the way. Each girl had a unique personality, whether it be Kristy, an ambitious tomboy, artsy Claudia, fashionable Stacey or shy and sensitive Mary Anne. It was totally different from the types of books that I had read up until that point--Ann M Martin had a unique way of speaking to her readers and explaining a number of otherwise complex issues, such as Stacey's illness and the bullying that she had suffered in New York as a consequence. Over the series, many of their sitting charges would experience a number of issues as well, along with various key characters. Through the BSC I was able to discover what life was like for kids who were different from me. But what really makes the series stand out--is the subtle way that the author introduced diversity to her readers. Ann M Martin may not have always got it perfect (almond shaped eyes, anyone,) but it was always a sincere effort that was never shoved down the readers throats. The characters all had unique family units, and at times the characters struggled with their own roles within those units. There was also a very cool, and very diverse range of minor adult characters--in the BSC books there were female police officers and doctors, and gender was never shown to be a barrier for anything. At one point Jessi had a boyfriend who was a male dancer, while Mary Anne's boyfriend, Logan Bruno was portrayed as a compassionate and responsible babysitter. A number of social justice issues were addressed, including racial discrimination, bullying, divorce and illness. If the Babysitters Club were being written today, I have no doubt that the author would be able to--without fanfare--introduce a family unit that had two mums, or two dads. We might even see characters who are Muslim, and the Hobart family may become slightly less stereotypical. (Another sore point--midway through the series an Australian family was introduced and their surname really was Hobart. I'm surprised the Hobart kids weren't named Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Actually they were named Ben, James, Matthew and Johnny.)  Divorce and it's implications for kids pop up on several occasions. Stacey had to cope with her parents divorcing midway through the series, while Dawn and her brother Jeff, had to suffer the consequences of their parents splitting up and their mother's assumption that they would be happy to move across the country, away from their father. 

When the series opens, there are four core characters, who have all recently started seventh grade at Stoneybrook Middle School. The narrator, Kristy has recently turned twelve. She's tomboyish, ambitious, and the one who has the idea of forming the babysitting business that will become the core part of the series. Kristy also has a great backstory. She's the third kid in a family of four and the only girl. Her mother, Elizabeth is a working single mum. Kristy's father left when her youngest brother was just a baby, and the family have scarcely heard from him since. Kristy is struggling with the fact that her mother has embarked on a serious relationship with millionaire Watson Brewer who she suspects is a bad father to his two kids, Karen and Andrew. By the end of the first book, Kristy comes to realise that she's been projecting her resentment of her absent father onto Watson and that he is a very different man. Later story arcs would focus on Kristy's adjustment to her mother's second marriage, which involves her moving to a wealthier part of Stoneybrook where she is treated with suspicion by some of the other kids in her street, though they eventually become friends, and she finds romance with a local boy, Bart. In the spin-off Friends Forever series, Kristy's dad makes an appearance and Kirsty learns another valuable life lesson. Kristy's mother and stepfather adopt Emily Michelle, an orphan from Vietnam, midway through the series. Kristy's stepsister Karen resents this. Emily has some developmental delays due to the language barrier.

The second character is Claudia Kishi, who lives across the road from Kristy. Although she is the same age as Kristy, Claudia is a bit more mature than her friend (unlike the others, she is already wearing a bra and takes an interest in boys.) Claudia lives with her parents, her beloved grandmother, Mimi, and her older sister Janine. Claudia's relationship with Janine is quite difficult. The girls are quite different from one another, and one the surface, it seems that Janine, a studious high achiever, is favoured by their parents. Claudia is a talented artist, best remembered by readers for her quirky fashion sense, and her relationship with Mimi. Claudia is described as Japanese-American, and was born in Stoneybrook.  Claudia struggles with her grades, and concentrating at school, though it is clear that she has a high degree of intelligence. Her resourcefulness comes in handy on a number of occasions.  In one story arc, Claudia is able to identify the source of Emily's learning problems--unlike a number of adults--and is able to address them.

Stacey McGill is a New Yorker. She moves to Stoneybrook after her father gets a transfer. She is an only child (her parents cannot have any more children,) and is suffering from a particularly serious form of juvenile diabetes. Starting afresh in Stoneybrook, she initially tries to keep her illness secret from her new friends, but she soon discovers that the other members of the BSC accept her just as she is. Throughout the series the other characters are careful to accomodate Stacey's diet. The Truth About Stacey focuses on her standing up to her parents are searching desperately for a miracle cure for her illness, and also to Laine, her former best friend from New York who instigated most of the bullying.

The fourth and possibly most under-appreciated character in the series is Mary Anne. The child of a strict lawyer, Mary Anne was, initially, forced to adhere to a strict dress code. She was also described as a crybaby. In Mary Anne Saves the Day, the first novel to be narrated by Mary Anne, the characters learns to stand up for herself after the members of the club have a spat that lasts several weeks. Realising that she has allowed herself to rely too heavily on the others, Mary Anne begins to branch out, first making friends with Dawn, a new girl at their school, and then taking charge when one of her babysitting charges has to be rushed to hospital. Later, she realises that life is short and finds a way to reform the babysitters club, with Dawn as the fourth member. Her newfound maturity impresses her father, who drops the dress code and repeals some of the stricter rules. Most of the series focuses on Mary Anne's relationship with Logan Bruno. Although Mary Anne likes Logan, she has no trouble standing up to him, and broke up with him at one point when he became too controlling. In the final book in the original series, Mary Anne's house burns down. The spin-off Friends Forever series focuses on Mary Anne coping with the aftermath of the fire.

As the series continued, more members of the club were added, beginning with Dawn, who along with her brother is suffering the after effects of her parents divorce and being relocated to the other side of the country. Dawn eventually makes the decision to return to California, and a number of books in the series are told about her adventures over there. She eventually gets her own, series that focuses on topics that are a bit too dark for the core BSC series, and was aimed at a slightly older audience. The California Diaries later ties in with the Friends Forever series.  

Mallory and Jessi were a bit younger than the other club members. Mallory was initially a babysitting charge, but as the series continued and the characters aged, Mallory became a member of the club, along with Jessi, who had just moved to town. Jessi was the only black character in the club, and indeed, her family were the only black family in Stoneybrook. She suffers some discrimination from this. Jessi is one of the most compassionate members of the club, and most of her stories focus on Jessi helping others--whether it be a fellow dancer from her ballet school who has developed anorexia, learning sign language so that she can communicate better with one of her sitting charges, or her unsuccessful attempts at trying to convince the other kids not to bully a substitute teacher at their school. 

Throughout the series, there was a number of quite believable departures and arrivals at the club. The first member to leave was Stacey, who returned to New York when her father was offered a promotion. Stacey later returned to Stoneybrook with her mother after her parents divorce. By the time that Stacey returned to Stoneybrook, Mallory and Jessi had joined the club. The seven member club continued from book 28 to book 67. Later, Dawn departs for California, and a new character, Wendy joins the club. Wendy finds the club too restrictive and soon leaves. Shannon, a minor character from the series then joins the club in a full time capacity. Only one book--a special non-cannon readers request--is told from Shannon's perspective and tells of her struggles with her overly-attentive mother. Unlike the other characters, Shannon attends an upmarket private school. She initially comes across as quite snobbish. 

Peer group pressure occasionally exists between the characters. In book 12 the other members of the BSC become jealous when Claudia makes a new friend at her art classes. Ashley herself is quite controlling of Claudia, while the other girls become bullies. Later, Mary Anne falls out with the other members of the club after she gets a new haircut. Mary Anne stands up for herself and eventually, it is revealed that the others, particularly Dawn, are jealous.

And then came what was perhaps the BSC's most controversial moment. In book 83 Stacey quits the club just as Kristy is about to fire her. The story itself deals with conflicts of interest and maturity. Stacey has found a boyfriend and some new friends, and is enjoying taking part in normal teenage activities. This leads her to resent her duties with the BSC and their seemingly constant neighbourhood activities. In short, Stacey is enjoying having a life outside of the club, and feels as though she has outgrown it. She starts neglecting her duties and doesn't invite all of the BSC members to a party that she and Robert is hosting. Things come to a head and Stacey decides that it's time for her to leave the club. The timing of the release of this one is quite interesting--it happened just at the point when the generation of girls (and, I suspect, a few boys,) who grew up with the books had outgrown them. In fact, this was the last BSC release that I took much notice of. 
Later, a more mature Stacey rejoins the club--after discovering that some of her newfound friends have been using her. By then, other characters have had a chance to grow and mature as well. Soon after Stacey's return, the club gains another new member. Abby is Jewish, asthmatic and has a twin sister who would rather play the violin than babysit. Along with Shannon, she lives in Kirsty's neighbourhood. Abby's father died some years earlier in an accident. Despite having a solid backstory, Abby has never been terrible well remembered by fans, probably because she arrived so late in the series. 

I think the diversity works so well in the BSC universe because it is so subtle. It's just there. Claudia happens to be Japanese American. Abby is Jewish. Stacey has diabetes. A professionally employed person that the girls get advice from just happens to be female. It's never pushed on the reader, which allows them to simply accept it. And I think that's great.  

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Goodreads to Charge Authors to List Giveaways

Running a giveaway or two for their book has always been an essential part of marketing for any indie author and for small publishers. Goodreads giveaways allow authors and publishers to go straight to their target audience--readers--who are then able to pick and choose which giveaways they enter, which books they shelves and that small but vital group of readers who are interested enough in a particular book to go out and buy it if they don't win the competition. Goodreads would also create widgets linking to the giveaway that an author could list on their site. The site itself is impossible for authors to ignore, full of a community of passionate book lovers who can speak, largely uncensored, on all of the books they loved and loathed.

Sure there are a few challenges associated with running a goodreads giveaway--stumping up for postage if the winning reader, or readers, live overseas, or competition winners listing their books for sale on Goodreads, but the benefit of the giveaways usually outweighed the cost. Until now. Starting in January, Goodreads plans to start charging authors to run a giveaway. A standard package will cost US$119 and will allow authors to give away up to 100 Kindle versions of their books, while a premium package will cost US$599, and lists the giveaway on a more highly trafficked page. Initially Goodreads plans to only charge this for giveaways to the US, but it is only a matter of time before the charges become a global thing. 

As a small, indie author, I think this is a very bad thing.

Okay. I get that Goodreads is a business and the bottom line is that they are there to make money. In the past, revenue has been gained through advertising--via a small advertisement on the screen, usually tailor made to fit the user's browsing history. Goodreads also discovered a way to create additional advertising revenue--by allowing authors and publishers to advertise their book on the site. Those with an advertising account select a daily budget and bid per click. The higher the bid, the more times that Goodreads will run the ad. Initially, this was a relatively cheap way to advertise--for ten cents, an author could encourage more clicks and views on their book. In fact, I had some success when this first began with Being Abigail. By the time I released Behind the Scenes in 2013, however, this form of advertising was being used by publishers and other people with much bigger marketing budgets, which meant that it was no longer a financially viable option. I could either stick with my ten cents per click and wait a long, long time for my ad to even run, or I could pay more in advertising fees that what I would receive in royalties if that person who clicked decided to buy my book. Plus, I was getting a lot more clicks, reviews and actual purchases every time I ran a goodreads giveaway. Even so, I'd be lucky to recoup US$119 dollars in royalties, especially when you consider that my royalties still have to cover other associated costs such as editing and cover design. The actual profit (after costs) than an indie author can expect to make is extremely small.

In other words, I simply cannot afford to list my book as a Goodreads giveaway.

The question is, can I afford not to list my book as a Goodreads giveaway? 

Certainly, listing a book as a giveaway on Goodreads creates a significant amount of buzz and taps in to new readers--ones who aren't already following me on Goodreads. Certainly, I can--and do--give away books on this blog or on Facebook or anywhere else where readers may be, but I don't get anywhere near the same amount of coverage. Listing a book on Netgalley costs upwards of $500 and there is no guarantee that anyone will even download it. And if I list books for free anywhere else on the web, anywhere that I have the book for sale will usually price match, listing the book for free, meaning that I miss out on sales. 

Goodreads are still allowing me, as an author to do other things for free, such as having an account, and creating widgets for my blog that link to where my book is listed on Goodreads, which provide small, but vital, bits of publicity.
Goodreads giveaways were always a vital lifeline for indie authors seeking free--and fair--publicity. Soon they'll be gone from the US. In the meantime, I can still list a giveaway for free in Australia, but the question is, for how long? 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Friday Funnies

At least Peppermint Patty meant well. Actually, this one is a great reminder of how the advice of adults can be so easily misconstrued by children.