Saturday, 25 May 2019

Review: The Fearless Defenders: The Most Fabulous Fighting Team of All by Cullen Bunn

I can vaguely remember this short lived comic series from about ten years ago that stars a strong female cast. When I found a copy of this graphic novel which collected some of their adventures on a bargain shelf at QBD, I could not resist buying it. (I'll be honest. I mistook it for a different series and I'm so dumb that I didn't realise until after I'd got the book home.)

Unfortunately, I did myself a disservice. First of all, this was book two. Second, while the concept was great, I soon realised that the comics featured a few too many characters, and I felt that I never really got the chance to get to know any of them, most of whom were new to me. And some of whom weren't all that interesting, though I imagine that much of the character building was done early on in the series. Also, it's filled with characters that are more recognisable to hardcore Marvel fans, rather than readers like me.

At times, there was a little bit too much going on and I had difficulty reading it. Still, I liked the whole girl power vibe that the comic had going on.

Overall, this was one of those comics that just isn't for me. 

Friday, 24 May 2019

Friday Funnies


Thursday, 23 May 2019

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Harper Lee & Fred Fordham

Harper Lee's famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird is beautifully adapted as a graphic novel in this lovely hardcover volume published by Penguin Random House. Many of you will already be familiar with the story of Scout, her father Atticus and the events that take place during the novel--and if you have not read it then, surely, at one point or another you would have seen the film. Consequently, I will not retell it here.

This volume retells the story, this time, placing an emphasis on the differences between the carefree childhood experienced by Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill, and that of the huge burden of responsibility felt by their father, who is the defence lawyer for an innocent black man accused of a horrible crime in Alabama in the 1930s. This particular adaption paints an interesting contrast between innocence and responsibility, and how young Scout--and indeed, her father--learn some tough lessons. (And remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.)

The illustrations are beautiful and echo the film in many places.

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Review: Baby by Annaleese Jochems

There is little to like in Baby, a black comedy that is neatly tucked inside an oh-so-innocent looking cover, but maybe that is the point. The story of some thoroughly selfish people whose first impressions of each other are quite wrong makes for uncomfortable reading and takes a lot of time to get going. Told from the third person perspective of Cynthia, a recent university graduate, the story opens with her upping and leaving town with Anahera--a slightly older woman who she has a crush on. Cynthia believes that the two will live in blissful happiness on board a boat named Baby that they have bought with stolen money. For Anahera, however, Cynthia is simply a means to an end, someone who helps her to escape her husband and her job. And then some fairly horrible events occur on an island and a love triangle develops between Cynthia, Anahera and Gordon, a man that they pick up along the way. And soon, the worst parts of each of their personalities come out to play, which provides some dark and uncomfortable humour.

There is little to like about this book, though the second half was strangely addictive as I wondered just how far the author could--and would--push boundaries. Cynthia's behaviour reflects that of a childish narcissist, used to getting their own way and whose fantasies on how she would like the world to be often conflict with how the world is, to the point she is rarely able to see the obvious being played out in front of her eyes. Anahera and Gordon, meanwhile, are as bad as each other--nasty and selfish people, though both have some degree of common sense.

Ultimately, though, this isn't a great book. Certainly, there is some lovely prose, the setting is unusual and the author has a bit to say about the worst parts of human nature, but there isn't much to recommend it. There's little in the way of character development and the whole thing relies on the premise that the people involved are arseholes who deserve everything they get and more. To be in their situation would be intolerable. To be a fly on the wall, however ...

I'm at a loss to explain why this one won an award or has received so much critical acclaim, but obliviously someone or a lot of someones out there see some kind of literary merit in there that I have clearly missed. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Review: The Rabbits by John Marsden & Shaun Tan

The Rabbits is a rarity--a picture book for teenagers. And unsurprisingly, it is about rabbits. Or more specifically, it is about a group of rabbits who decided to come and live in a specific place. They don't know the rules of their new land, so they bring with them their own rules and their own ways. It causes some friction between the land's original inhabitants, eventually there is a fight to be had and the rabbits conquer the land. This story though, is the story of the side that lost, and indeed, just how much they lost, from a way of life to the natural environment that was so fundamental to who they were.

It's heartbreaking, and it's deeply metaphorical. And the illustrations are so very haunting.

Initially, I wondered if The Rabbits was a way of explaining the European invasion of Australia, but then I realised that the story could just as easily be talking about many other parts of the world that have been invaded by one group or another at various times. We could just as easily apply the story to the British Colonisation of America or, indeed any point in history where a country has been invaded. It's also a story of a clash of cultures, of differing beliefs about technology and leaves some pretty big questions about what happens to the local environment when we seek to conquer and change it.

Recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2019

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Review: DC Comic Bombshells Volume 1 Enlisted by Marguerite Bennett

Based of a series of collectorables, DC Bombshells re-imagines some of DC comics greatest female superheroes--Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Supergirl and Stargirl--and DCs famous anti-hero Harley Quinn, as they join an elite team to fight the war effort. (Well, okay, there wasn't that much re-imaging going on with Wonder Woman.) This graphic novel tells the revised origin stories of each of the characters and ends with each of them joining the war effort. And the whole thing is quite visually impressive and entertaining.

I enjoyed reading this one, though reading about some of the characters personal relationships became tiresome after a while. I've noticed with DC that there often seems to be a real emphasis on female characters who have intimate relationships with other female characters, to the point where it feels less about exploring interpersonal relationships and more like creating wank fodder for a proportion of the male audience. 

Still, it's a solid story, most of it is told well and the writers and artists expertly juggle a huge cast of characters. 

Friday, 17 May 2019

Friday Funnies: Jeeves Disapproves


Thursday, 16 May 2019

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

My only regret with this book is that it took me so long to read it. Seven years, in fact. The good news, though, is that the whole seven book series has been released and I can read the books at my leisure instead of having to read it at a rate of one book per year. Anyway, this is an enjoyable fantasy read.

The novel opens with eighteen-year-old Celaena, who is serving a life sentence in the salt mines of Endovier, a country ruled by a king bent of power and the destruction of other neighbouring countries. Her crime? She's a highly skilled assassin. So skilled, in fact, that she's managed to survive a year in the salt mines where the luckiest and strongest prisoners last just a few months. And now the Crown Prince and his assistant, Captain Westfall have come to the salt mine to offer her a deal. She can compete in a to the death tournament, filled with thieves and other assassins. If she wins, she will serve the king for four years and then be granted her freedom. Losing is not an option and there may just be a lot more than Celaena's freedom at stake. And she's not the only competitor who wants to win at all costs.

This was an entertaining page-turn with a sassy heroine and some surprising characters and situations. The love triangle is underplayed and consequently, other elements in the story are far more entertaining for it. There is a lot in the story about destiny, one which I imagine will be played out through the course of the series.

Lots of fun. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Review: Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer

Australian author Anna Romer is in fine form with her latest release Under the Midnight Sky. A romantic tale with a mystery at its core and some fine gothic elements, it tells the story of Abby, a journalist, who is haunted by the abduction and murder of her childhood friend many years before. Returning to the small town where she grew up, she finds an injured young woman on the side of the road, but when she summons help, the girl disappears. Was it in her imagination, or is it possible that there is something darker afoot? Abby barely has time to digest the idea when chance leads her to Ravenswood, an old country house and its new owner, Tom, a reclusive man who has carved out a career writing crime novels. When Abby discovers a hidden room in Ravenswood and a page of a diary written by a young woman who went missing with her sister many years before, she realises that there may be something much darker afoot. And what is the connection between the two sisters who vanished in the 1940s and the many young women who have vanished from the area since.

I know I said this about Romer's previous novel, Beyond the Orchard, but I do think that this is the authors best work yet. (In other words, this one is even better than Beyond the Orchard.) The mystery is quite intriguing and reminded me of two of my favourite gothic novels, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, though the author most certainly puts her own spin on things. There is also a lot of romance in there, and a lovely depiction of small town Australian life. The novel itself is written in a way that is pleasing and easy to read and I found myself getting lost in this story on several occasions. 

Highly recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2019

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Review: Not That Bad, Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay

Not that bad is an important, but heartbreaking conversation for our time. Filled with first-person autobiographical essays, it gives a voice to those who have been sexually assaulted, harassed, raped or sexually abused. Many of the victims downplay their experiences, yet each of the narratives show just how much trauma that every one of them has been through. This isn't about what happened to these people nearly as much as it is about the impact it had on their lives.

And it is utterly, gut wrenchingly heartbreaking.

But important.

So very, very important.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Off Topic: I Got Them School Yearbook Blues

Recently, I had a flu vaccination. This isn't exactly exciting, or groundbreaking news, considering that I have my flu jab at the start of every flu season and have done so for years, ever since my horrid experiences with swine flu. But, anyway, one of the consequences of a flu vaccination is that I never quite know how I'm going to feel afterward. Some years I experience no symptoms, other years I feel a bit more tired than usual. One year my muscles became extremely sore and uncomfortable, but hey, it's better than getting the flu, right?

This year I ended up feeling as though I'd been hit by a truck and ended up having to spend a day and a half in bed. And the trouble with this arrangement is that while I'm not busy sleeping or reading (yep, any excuse,) my mind wanders off to some pretty weird places. And on this particular occasion, I found myself remembering a conversation that I'd had, oh, about twenty-eight years ago, when I was in grade four at primary school, about how all the smart kids had been placed in the other grade four class. How it rankled, even all these years later, and despite it being over something that was entirely subjective. And probably not true, considering that one of my grade four teachers had, in fact, also taught both of my brothers and had become something of a family friend, and not only that, but there was about ten other kids in the class with similar links to a teacher that was a longstanding and well respected member of the school community. Anyway, after I started feeling better, I found myself reaching for my old primary school yearbook (or magazine as it was known at our school.) Ha! I'd find out exactly who was in which grade four class and whether there was any truth in those rumours at all.

I opened the school magazine and straight away, I was reminded just how unreliable memory could be. For a start, there were three grade four classes that year, and all of them were split classes. The supposed smart kid class was a grade four and five split class, while the other two were grade three and grade four split classes. It made sense. Our particular grade was always the biggest one in the school thanks to some policy changes that happened when I was in junior primary. Anyway, we were otherwise a small school and trying to accommodate a grade that made up almost a third of the school population often presented the teachers and principal with a challenge. Everyone did their best, but some years there were some pretty odd combinations and split classes. Second, the kids who made the four/five split class weren't necessarily the kids I remembered as the smartest, though many of them were very self-confident and went on to have well-paying careers.

Then I found myself looking at the section of the school magazine devoted to my class. And straight away, I received a rude shock.

None of my work was published in the school magazine. Even though there was an entire section devoted to our class, and that over half of the kids in our class had something published. Why wasn't I in there, I wondered. Why wasn't I published? Wasn't grade four the sacred year of primary school, the one where I realised just how much I enjoyed creative writing? Hadn't I previously had a short story published in the school newsletter. Wasn't I constantly being asked to read out my stories to the class? Why was I excluded?

And why could I not remember feeling hurt or angry about this?

As I sat down to write a sulky blog post about it all, I found myself remembering a conversation I had with one of my class teachers. At the time, I had asked the teacher not to include me. For some reason, I had felt shy, and self conscious about sharing my work. And instead of badgering me, my very cool teacher had respected my wishes.

I cannot recall why I felt so worried about my work at that time, though I do remember it was a very lonely time in my childhood. It wasn't that the kids in my class were mean to me, it was more a case of that particular year, a number of friends had moved away to other schools or had been placed in other classes. And I was this odd kid whose desire to be odd often eclipsed her desire to fit in. Plus I was kind of obsessive about the things I liked. I didn't just want to be a writer, I was convinced that I was going to be the world's best writer one day. Same as I was going to be the world's best actor and have my own TV sitcom. And in between, I was going to tour the world and play my recorder to packed concert halls.

At least I wasn't running short of imagination.

And they're kind of fun memories to have. Even if they weren't the ones I expected when I picked up that damn school yearbook. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power by Ryan North & Erica Henderson

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl's first graphic novel is an absolute riot. Collecting Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics 1-4 plus the character's first ever appearance in an Iron Man comic, this is all out, accessible comic fun that never takes itself too seriously. For the uninitiated, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is Doreen Green, a mutant that is half-squirrel, half-human. And with all the seemingly useless powers of a squirrel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has battled some of the greatest enemies in the Marvel Universe and, just like her name suggests, she has beaten them all. 

This title works precisely because it shouldn't. Apperance wise, Doreen is pretty far removed from the stereotypical female superhero (think supermodels in revealing costumes,) and is a proud tomboy and slightly awkward teen. She doesn't win by kicking someone's arse and most of the plot twists happen through humour. Much like the new Ms Marvel, there is a real sense of fun, instead of the dark cynicism that often runs through Marvel titles. Oh, and I love those Deadpool's Guide to Super Villains Cards.

Highly, highly recommended.  

Friday, 10 May 2019

Friday Funnies


:-)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Review: The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

Shadowhunter fans rejoice. Magnus Bane, the four hundred year old and slightly eccentric warlock with a heart of gold finally has a series of his own. Set immediately after the events in the third novel in the Mortal Instruments series, The Red Scrolls of Magic tells the story of Magnus and his boyfriend, Shadowhunter Alec Lockwood as they navigate their way through the early days of their relationship, whilst fighting some pretty dark forces. And the best bit? This is book one of a trilogy, so there is plenty more of Magnus and Alec's adventures to come. 

The novel opens with the pair taking a much needed holiday in Paris. An otherwise romantic hot air balloon ride is cut short, however, when Alec spies some heavy duty demonic activity in the area. And things take an unexpected turn for the worse when they discover that the activity is due to a cult that Magnus helped to form many years ago, as a joke. Only now the cultists aren't happy to follow Magnus' teachings of goodwill and something very, very sinister is afoot. 

This was a fun, page-turner that never takes itself too seriously. The relationship between Alec and Magnus is handled respectfully by the authors and there are some interesting tie ins with the events and characters from The Mortal Instruments series. This one is a little bit shorter than some of the other Shadowhunter books, and, consequently there isn't quite as much world building, or as many fight scenes. And nor is it quite as serious, but who need to take life seriously all the time, anyway?

Recommended.

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

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Review: 55 by James Delargy

This is most definitely not a novel for the faint of heart. Brutal and unflinching, 55 is for hardcore readers of crime. Chandler Jenkins is a police sergeant in a sleepy country town. One day, a young man named Gabriel stumbles into the station claiming that he has just escaped a serial killer, a man named Heath who claims that he has killed fifty-four people before him, and that Gabriel is to be victim number fifty five. Not long afterward, a man named Heath arrives at the station, and tells the same story, except that in his version, Gabriel is the killer? Which man is telling the truth? 

Reader be warned--you're in for a twisty ride with this one, littered with lots of brutality and plenty of heartbreak, especially for Chandler. The novel is every bit as harsh as the Western Australian landscape that the author depicts in many parts of the narrative. However, some great twists and an intriguing hook are let down in places by the usual crime novel cliches--a police officer with a troubled personal life investigating a horrific crime, an inspector who has it in for the sergeant and an ex-wife who most definitely isn't worth it. As other reviews have alluded to, the novel ends with one heck of a nasty surprise--and the onus is on the reader to decide what it all means.

For fans of Wolf Creek.

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

Note: I have seen some contention online about the nationality of the author. According to the official bio on the publisher's website, he was born and raised in Northern Ireland, and has lived in South Africa, Australia and Scotland and now lives in England.   


Sunday, 5 May 2019

When Write What You Know Isn't the Advice It's Cracked Up to Be

If you're a writer, or an aspiring writer, at some point or another someone would have offered this pearl of wisdom. Write what you know. On the surface, it's great advice. There is a reason why #ownvoices is so popular. I mean who better to tell a story about someone who is marginalised in some way than a person who belongs to that marginalised group? The only problem is that writing what you know doesn't always produce the most interesting story.

When I was writing the draft of my upcoming novel About a Girl, I originally included a chapter on how my main character, Callie was teased and ostracised in primary, owing mostly in part to immaturity on the behalf of her peers. In many respects Callie would make the perfect victim to a predatory clique of ten year olds. She's shy, highly sensitive and often feels overwhelmed by her peers. When the teasing begins, it happens because of an insensitive comment made by one of the parents, which leads the other girls believing that it must be true because an adult said so. The teasing continues until some of the girls start to realise that its gone too far and pull back, while others go harder and pull a prank on poor Callie that leads to them being reported (or dobbed on,) and expelled. The whole thing is easy to identify with--it's rare to find a kid who wasn't teased or bullied at school at some point, just as it's rare to find a kid who didn't go along with the teasing, even when they didn't want to. Those are just uncomfortable realities. 

The problem with this is that it is all too easy to identify with. Yes, I was bullied in primary school. Unfortunately, there were also occasions when I was the bully, just as there were occasions where I was one of those bystanders who did or said nothing, through fear, the foolish belief that the other kid deserved it, or a supposed code of honour. And it reminded me of experiences that still make me feel uncomfortable now, even though it's been almost twenty-five years since my primary school graduation.

When I re-read that chapter I realised something. Yes, it was realistic. But that was all that it was. It was not entertaining. It was not pleasurable to read. The experiences weren't even that crucial to the development of the character. And in real life, those experiences are the sort of things that people try to forget when they look back at the primary school years. As a reader, I didn't want to be hit with quite that much reality, especially in a book that is, essentially, a comedy about two young people who made an epic mistake that they have managed to keep a secret from their quirky and often interfering family members. As a writer, I enjoyed much more the scenes where Callie's Mum kept interfering when it wasn't really necessary, her embarrassment over her father's chosen vocation and all the scenes that would keep the reader guessing about Callie's future with Bill.  

So I cut that chapter. And the story actually works better, now that I'm not bogging the narrative down with details about primary school gossip and the social hierarchy of ten year old girls. Writing what I knew just wasn't right, or necessary in this instance. It just felt overdone. 

Ultimately, I think that as a writer, you need to pick a subject that you love, one that you're keen to research and to talk about. And then you need to find a way to present it in a way that interesting to your target audience. Don't allow yourself to be bogged down in the details--if its boring for you, then its boring for your readers, no matter how well versed you are in the subject. 

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Review: Captain Marvel Earth's Mightiest Hero Volume 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnich

This graphic novel combines the first twelve of Captain Marvel's Earth's Mightiest Hero series, which cover's transition from Ms Marvel to Captain Marvel. And there are challenges aplenty as she travels through time, finds herself betrayed and, basically, fights evil a lot. And, of course, she's determined to prove herself to be the best of the best. This time in a much less revealing costume. 

As was the case with Ms Marvel, these comics have a darker and more serious feel to them than some of Marvel's other offerings. I can't say that I was a huge fan of some of the artwork in the second half of the book--something about the artist style didn't feel to me to blend as well with the character and themes as it could have. That said, the novel itself is enjoyable enough.

Recommended.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Friday Funnies: Bertie Attempts to Sing Puttin' on the Ritz




Keeping with the Jeeves and Wooster theme, just thought I'd share this short from the TV show.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Review: The Mister by E.L. James

I have to be honest here. I went into this one with fairly low expectations. That's not to say I went to the trouble of buying a book in the hope that I would hate it--because that would just be silly--but I expected it to be the kind of thing that doesn't necessarily get reviewed on here, but gets talked and giggled about (in a good way,) with friends. And I certainly didn't expect the writing to resemble Shakespeare. After all, E.L. James stumbled into the business of being a bestselling author quite accidentally. What started out as a controversial Twilight fan fiction became the Fifty Shades series, a trilogy of self-published novels, with Edward and Bella morphing in to Christian and Ana. And then the books became popular, the author scored a large publishing deal. And then the books became a whole lot more controversial and lots of people read them simply because they wanted to know what all the fuss was about. And then the author added two more novels, retelling the same story, but from Christian Grey's perspective.

From there, I don't think anyone ever reasonably expected that EL James would, or could, write a stand alone novel. And then The Mister was published and offered at the discounted price at practically every bookshop I've visited since mid-April.

The Mister tells the story of Maxim Trevelyan, the unlikely heir to an estate and a title, following the deaths of his father and older brother at relatively young ages, and before his brother was able to have children. Maxim lives the life of the idle rich, amusing himself with a few hobbies and romancing women who are only interested in short term flings. That all changes, however, when the company tasked with sending him domestic help appoints Alessia, a shy Albanian woman, as his new daily. What follows is a rags to riches style love story, with the odd tribute to Daphne du Maurier and a few gangsters thrown in for good measure. The story makes for entertaining light reading, and there are a few things for readers to giggle about (pink panties, anyone,) and that's about it. It doesn't have the kink or shock value that made Fifty Shades such a talked about series, and nor is it offensive. The writing isn't exactly comparable with highbrow literature, but then again it's not supposed to be. And, dare I say it, the whole thing is done with a bit more class than the many, many raunchy novels that were published in the wake of Fifty Shades. 

An enjoyable light romance.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Review: Grand Parade by Lilliana Rose

Full of fun, romance and a swoonworthy hero, Grand Parade is rural romance at its best.

Megan is a city girl and an aspiring photographer who gets a little bit more than she bargained for while on her first big assignment at the Royal Adelaide Show. Tasked with capturing the agricultural event, she finds herself on the receiving end of a kick from an outraged bull, one who'd really rather be back in the country. Fortunately, the bulls owner, Jackson, is there to offer assistance. As Megan recovers from her injury, the pair become drawn to one another. But can a clueless city girl and a country boy have a future together? 

This was a fun read. In particular, I enjoyed the South Australian setting and the mention of places and events that were familiar to me--the Royal Adelaide Show being the big one of course. The romance between Megan and Jackson tugged at my heartstrings. 

Recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2019