Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth

Cameron Post is a girl who is struggling with a lot. The sudden death of her parents, the departure of her best friend and her sexuality. As she grows and matures, the latter, coupled with a misplaced sense of guilt, complicates her life more and more until her Christian fundamentalist aunt sends her away to God's Promise, a camp that offers gay conversion for teens like Cameron. Now the race is on for Cameron to be true to herself, but she is not exactly sure who that person is ...

Although a little longer than most YA novels, this one was an entertaining and thought provoking read about a young woman who is struggling with her sense of self. The setting--the early 1990s--brings a sense of nostalgia in some ways, while simultaneously reminding us of how far we have come in that time terms of inclusiveness, respect and understanding. One of the most interesting parts of the novel is the way that the author portrays characters like Aunt Ruth and Lydia from the conversion camp. Instead of demonising them, or creating a character akin to Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Danforth portrays them as women who genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing, and who want to help Cameron. Their efforts may be misguided, but they don't know that, and nor do they know any better. 

Overall, this one is fairly lengthy and a little sad in places, but worth it in the end. 

Recommended. 

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Friday, 14 December 2018

Friday Funnies


Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When American Rachel Chu is invited to go to Singapore with her boyfriend for a wedding, the last thing she expects to discover is that Nicholas is not just wealthy, but crazy rich. In fact, he is from one of the wealthiest families in Asia. Nor does she expect the surprising antics of the idle rich, or the extreme backstabbing that she is subject to. What follows is a crazy, Austen-like comedy set in the world of Singapore's richest families.

This was an entertaining and humourous read that never takes itself or its characters too seriously. Nick and Rachel are a hardworking professional couple. Rachel is completely out of her depth amongst the world of the idle rich--people who think of nothing of flying to Australia in a private jet so that they may enjoy a perfect flat white, or spending millions on a lavish wedding. Very few characters are portrayed as having a strong moral compass and those who do tend to suffer. Still it was kind of amusing to see actress Kitty Pong get brought down a peg or two in spectacular style. It's difficult to talk at length about this one, as much of the enjoyment came from not know what was going to happen next, or who was going to get up to what.

Highly recommended.


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Friday, 7 December 2018

Friday Funnies: Coffee


It may be summer in Australia, but that isn't stopping me from posting this.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is a book with a huge legacy. Written by one of the finest authors of gothic horror of her generation, adapted for the big screen twice and now a hugely successful Netflix series, endorsed by Stephen King, and reprinted as a Penguin Modern Classic, there are very few people who would not have heard of The Haunting of Hill House. 

And it is not difficult to see why.

At a mere 246 pages this is a quietly intriguing tale of a group who are invited to stay for the summer at Hill House by Dr Montague, a man with a keen interest in paranormal activity and its (possible) effect on the human mind. Joining him are Luke, the caddish nephew of the owner of Hill House, Theodora, an artist who likes to live life to the fullest and Eleanor a painfully shy and oppressed woman who has spent most of her adult life caring for her sick mother. Over the course of the next week, the guests begin to experience strange happenings at the house, all of which implicate Eleanor in some way. Is the strangely designed Hill House truly haunted (as the locals and the formidable housekeeper seems to think,) or is Eleanor an attention seeker with a telekinetic ability?

While it would be easy to dismiss this one as just another ghost story, its genius lies in the writing. Jackson carefully offers the reader the evidence and then allows them to make up their own mind--and all whilst making Eleanor the lead character. 

Brilliantly done, this one is sure to appeal to fans of gothic horror from across the globe. 

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Review: Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford

Toxic masculinity is hurting men. How do we raise boys to be respectful to women and treat them like equals when they have a distorted view of masculinity constantly thrown at them?

That's the problem that feminist and writer Clementine Ford addresses in her latest work, Boys Will Be Boys in her trademark style. Now the mother of a young son, Ford is using this novel to break down the stereotypes that men and boys have to behave in a certain way, and how that behaviour can be just as harmful to themselves as it is to others.

This was an unflinching look at the toxic culture that tells men and boys that they must behave a certain way in order to fit in and be considered a man. I read this one in the course of about a day and a half and found myself nodding with agreement at various places. Ford's real talent, however, is taking feminist theory and contemporary issues and presenting them in a way that is engaging and accessible to readers from all walks of life, a rare thing. 

Recommended.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Friday, 30 November 2018

Friday Funnies


Oops!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Corey and her best friend (and possible soul mate,) Kyra didn't really fit in with the other kids (or the adults,) in Lost, a small and isolated community in Alaska. For Corey, it was a huge relief when her mother found a good job in Canada and she was sent to a prestigious boarding school, where she felt accepted. Kyra was left behind, but Corey knew that she would visit her friend soon. Then, shortly before Corey was due to visit, Kyra dies. What Corey finds when she descends upon Lost for the funeral is most certainly not what she expects.

Told from Corey's perspective, Before I Let Go weaves between the past and the present to tell the story of a closed community and the devastating effect that their views have on a young woman who is suffering a mental illness. All signs of morality go out the window as the town fights to save their vision of Kyra as a kind of prophet and their belief that her entirely preventable death was meant to be. Meanwhile, Corey is in great danger as she fights to find the truth.

This was an engaging novel, told with bucketloads of empathy. Corey and Kyra are not typical teenagers and their experiences--Corey is asexual, while Kyra is pansexual and also suffering from bipolar disorder--serve to isolate them from their small and judgemental community.

There is also a strong moral to how one individual should not have to suffer in order to serve the needs of the wider community.

Recommended. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Review: The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

Based on true events, The Girl They Left Behind is a novel that will break your heart as it tells the story of the much-loved little Jewish girl who is left behind when her parents flee Romania--and certain death--during the Second World War. Adopted by a wealthy childless couple, Natalia wants for nothing. But war is closing in. First Romania will find itself bombed by the Allies and then, when it finds itself under Soviet rule, they are bombed again, this time by the Germans. And following the war, they find themselves in the Soviet Bloc, a place which is neither kind, nor welcoming to people like Natalia's parents. Over time, their circumstances become more and more bleak until Victor, a well-connected friend of the family, makes Natalia a surprising offer ...

As I alluded to in my opening sentence, this novel did indeed break my heart. It is difficult not to feel for Natalia, Despina and Anton as their circumstances become more and more bleak. (These are, essentially, good people who have everything they have worked hard for taken from them, bit-by-bit to satisfy a corrupt regime.) There are moments of hope, though. And simmering away in the background is the story of Natalia's biological parents, also good people, though I cannot offer any more information than that lest I start giving away plot spoilers.

The prose was so engaging that every time I picked the book up, I found myself reading for longer than I intended. 

Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC of The Girl They Left Behind.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Review: Catwoman Soulstealer by Sarah J Maas

In the third instalment of the DC Icons series we take a turn from heroes to one of DC's most beloved anti-heroes, Catwoman. Teaming up with those other two beloved anti-heroes Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, the trio become the Gotham City Sirens and have a great time causing chaos in Gotham City, much to the vexation of Batwing, who finds himself falling for Catwoman ...

Penned by beloved YA/NA fantasy writer Sarah J Maas, this is another winning story and a solid instalment in a series that has been pure fun from the start. Maas offers a sympathetic origin story for Selina Kitt/Catwoman, portraying her as a young woman desperate to help her chronically ill sister and lacking in parental support. (It's reasonably close to her contemporary origin story, whilst maintaining an original--and sympathetic--spin.) What I really liked about this one was that it was told in a way that was accessible to new fans, while also slyly adding a lot of characters and references that hardcore DC fans will no doubt pick up on.

Sidenote: I loved the author's portrayal of Poison Ivy. 

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Review: Ms Marvel: No Normal

No Normal is a graphic novel from Marvel, that tells the story of Kamala Khan, an American teenager of Pakistani heritage who is a huge fan of Captain Marvel. (She even writes Captain Marvel fanfiction.)  In fact, she wants to be Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers. And fate has a strange twist in store when, during a surprise supernatural event, Kamala is discovered to have supernatural powers. She takes on Carol Danvers previous role and appearance as Ms Marvel, but soon discovers that being a superhero means forging her own super identity, one that she is comfortable with.

This is a well written, and well thought out, introduction of a new and thoroughly modern character into the Marvel universe. Kamala is portrayed as a teenager who is struggling with a lot of things--stereotypes, religion, over-protective and over-bearing family members and, ultimately, her own identity. 

Initially, I wasn't going to bother with this one, as the comic and concept seemed to be pitched at a tween, or at least very young teen audience. Eventually, I found myself picking up a copy because well, I'm always impressed by a comic with a strong female lead. This one was no exception. Also one of the things I find with Marvel (and it does seem to be unique to Marvel,) is that no matter how far I am out of the target audience, or how disinterested I am in the subject material, I always seem to enjoy it. I think that is because they have a pretty high benchmark in terms of quality, and appeal.

Recommended.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Friday Funnies


Thursday, 22 November 2018

Review: When in Rome by CJ Duggan

The fourth standalone novel in CJ Duggan's Heart of the City series takes us to Rome. Twenty-two year old Sammi (who is the younger sister of Clare, whose story is told in Paris Lights,) has just impulsively booked a tour of Rome through a dodgy travel agent, but has no idea just how awful her stay in a backpackers hostel will be. While Sammi is a bit on the quiet side, the others on the tour are younger, heavy drinkers and worst of all, Jodie, the group's mean girl has it in for her. And then she meets Marcello, a handsome local. But what they have can only be a fling, can't it? And is Marcello the cause, rather than the solution, of her problems?

Although this was enjoyable lightweight reading, this one felt to me like the weakest so far of all of the Heart of the City novels. The chemistry between Sammi and Marcello never felt quite as strong as it could--in places it felt as though the characters were simply going through the motions because this was a romance novel. I also felt that Jodie's character was never properly explained--there were no reasons given for her nastiness and nor did she get any real comeuppance. On the other hand, there were a few moments that made me smile and the author has a real sense of fun.

For fans of the series.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Review: Jacob's Toys by Claudia Woods

Recently, I was lucky enough to receive a copy this beautifully illustrated book to read and review courtesy of the author, Claudia Woods. Jacob's Toys is a wonderful story for children. When Jacob decides that he is too big to play with his toys, they soon find themselves on an adventure, first in the washing machine, then on the clothesline until the biggest--and scariest--adventure of them all occurs when the toys fall from the line and have to make their way home.

Using, simple rhymes this book tells a story in a way that is both creative and engaging. I loved the unique illustrations that blended mediums. At the end there is a search and find challenge so that the fun can continue after the story is told.

A great one for kids to read on their own, with friends or with a grown up.

Recommended.

Thank you to Claudia Woods for my review copy of Jacob's Toys.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Review: Suitcase of Dreams by Tania Blanchard

After surviving the horrors of the Second World War, and the chaotic post-war occupation of Germany, Lotte, her husband Erich and their daughters travel to Australia with big dreams of new opportunities and starting a new and better life. Arriving in Australia, they discover that the future may not be as bright as what they were promised. Over the years Lotte works hard to create the life that she wants in Australia for her family though this won't be without many hardships ...

If any reader isn't touched in some way by Suitcase of Dreams then they must surely have a heart of stone. It is nearly impossible not to get caught up in the story of Lotte and her family and the many disappointments that they suffer as they try so earnestly to make a good and happy life for themselves in Australia. Author Tania Blanchard based this story on the experiences of her grandparents and it shows though her attention to detail and the careful way that she retells the story.

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for my reading copy of Suitcase of Dreams.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Friday, 16 November 2018

Friday Funnies: Selfie


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Friday, 9 November 2018

Friday Funnies: The Many Faces of Garfield


Garfield appearance has evolved somewhat over the years. It's amazing to think that this strip has been running for 40 years now. Garfield is still penned by his creator, Jim Davis.



Thursday, 8 November 2018

Review: Spinning by Tillie Waldon

For twelve years, Tillie Waldon was a competitive ice skater. Rising before dawn, she would practice each day, before going to school and then returning for more practice afterward. She entered many competitions. Then, eventually, she realised that she was more interested in art and illustration. Spinning is her first graphic novel and is an autobiographical account of her time as a competitive ice skater and why she chose to leave.

I've enjoyed a number of autobiographies told in graphic novel format recently, and while Spinning is no exception, this one felt a little sadder than most. It's difficult to read about someone who works so hard and so diligently at something that makes her unhappy. Unlike a lot of kids in her situation, Tillie was not the product of stage parents, in fact, as soon as she was old enough she went to practice without her parents and they barely seemed interested in her pursuits.

There are also a lot of other things that happen within this coming of age tale, from first loves to school bullying to sexual assualt to coming out. This is very much a tale of self-acceptance, and self-awareness though it takes the author a while to come to that understanding.

Tille Walden was born in 1996. It was a first for me, seeing references to a kid getting their first smart phone and other technologies that can sometimes still seem very new and modern to a reader who was born fifteen years earlier. I guess that's testimony to how the world has changed.

Recommended.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Review: Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu (DC Icons #2)

After an excellent first instalment in the DC Icons series, I was a bit hesitant to pick up the second volume. After all, Bruce Wayne's personal history isn't well, quite as happy as some of the other DC superheroes. He was the classic poor rich kid, the one whose parents died and left him a fortune. What of his story then. Would I get one of a sulking teenager who is dragged into fighting crime kicking and screaming.

Hardly. Author Marie Lu knows what she's doing.

We meet Bruce Wayne as a newly minted adult, an eighteen-year-old who has just come into a fortune and who crashes the new car he's been gifted by Wayne Tech for his birthday by going after some dangerous criminals. It's an ill-advised move--the police are suspicious of his motives and he ends up getting sent to do community service at (where else) Arkham Asylum. There, he meets Madeline, a brilliant killer, but also the one person who may be able to help him save Gotham City from its latest threat ...

This was an enjoyable read, quick, fun and well-written. Lu portrays Bruce as everything a young Batman should be, a young man who mostly well-adjusted and focused on creating a fair and just society for all. Madeline is an intriguing anti-hero, though I have to admit that I hated her at times.

A fun read. Recommended.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Friday, 2 November 2018

Friday Funnies: Gotham City Mourns


Gosh. How positively terrible.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Review: My Best Friend's Exocism by Grady Hendrix

American horror writer Grady Hendrix takes every 80s stereotype and a whole lot of 80s pop music, puts it into a blender and comes out with one very brilliant novel that executes every cliche in a way that is both well written, slightly hilarious and very nostalgic.

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade, when Gretchen was the only kid to show up at Abby's ET themed roller skating birthday party. Since then, despite their differing economic circumstances (Gretchen's family keeps getting wealthier and Abby's family keeps getting poorer,) the pair have shared many things together. Including the first time that they try LSD at a sleepover. From that moment on, Gretchen begins acting strangely, but Abby is the only one who is able to see and understand what is going on. Gretchen has a demon inside of her and needs an exorcism, pronto. Meanwhile, as the town residents ignore Abby and her pleas (remember, she's from a poor family, so she's considered the bad one,) Gretchen doles out punishments to many of the townspeople that are as hilarious as they are sick and twisted. (It really is difficult to feel sorry for Margaret who drank all the tapeworms. As for Glee ... well it's hard not to giggle.) Can Abby save Gretchen before it's too late? 

And will anyone believe Abby.

This was a great read, packed with lots of nostalgia. Each chapter references a different 80s pop song and anyone who grew up in the latter part of the 20th century will recognise any number of pop culture references, from ET to the thrill of reading a Judy Blume novel. The VHS themed cover is an utterly brilliant and atmospheric touch. 

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Review: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Sabrina was a revelation. I was aware that it had been long-listed for the Man Book Prize 2018, and it was the first graphic novel to do so. I knew what it was about. I knew that I wanted to read it.

What I didn't know what just how much this story would speak to me.

Sabrina is a woman in her 20s who disappears. She is last seen on her way home, outside an apartment just one block away. It's everyone's worst nightmare, the horrific stories that we see in the news, become fascinated by, but we are never quite truly able to comprehend. From there, author and illustrator Drnaso takes us into the lives of three people who have been affected by this--Sandra, Sabrina's sister, Teddy, Sabrina's boyfriend, and Calvin, an old friend of Teddy's who opens his home to his old mate. What follows is a story of the characters and how they struggle to cope with the situation. The many frames with no captions are eerily illustrative of the great emotional loneliness that each of the characters feel. They have no one to talk to and no way of expressing their emotions. Meanwhile, the discovery of what happened to Sabrina soon hits the news and more alarmingly, goes viral. From there, Sabrina's murder is discussed endlessly, the public interest becomes intense and soon derails into conspiracy theories, which in turn lead to all of the characters being the recipient of unwanted messages from people who are so unable to comprehend why such horror exists that they instead come up with some of the most outrageous theories. And all of this while they are trying to grieve.

This is a depressing and often grisly look at the worst parts of human nature and contemporary life. It's also a very important reminder that behind sensational news stories there are victims, ones who may be left voiceless and who will no doubt be struggling to comprehend how such a terrible event could happen to them. Drnaso also has much to say about technology and the ways in which, perhaps, it has not enhanced our lives. 

It left me sad, but it also left me thinking that next time I hear a horrible news story, I'll spare a thought for those who are most affected by it.

Highly recommended.