Friday, 27 September 2019

Friday Funnies (Bringing You the Worst and Occasionally the Best Memes and Comics From the Web)

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

A wife and mother whose one mistake spirals out of control is at the heat of The Lying Room, an intriguing new novel by husband and wife duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Neve is forty-six years old. She is a wife, a mother, a friend and the kind of person that many people warm to instantly and can confide in. For that alone, it is no surprise that Saul, the owner of the successful publishing house that Neve works for, was attracted to her. However, when Neve is invited to his flat one morning, and arrives there to find his dead--and obviously murdered--body, her life begins to spiral out of control. Panic and poor choices are followed by lies and deceptions and the discovery that many of the people around her, from her dear friend and colleague Renata to her own husband, have secrets of their own. And maybe even Saul wasn't the man he claimed to be. But just how far--and for how long--will Neve continue to lie to everyone in order to conceal her affair?

Fans of the authors are sure to love this latest offering from the duo. The Lying Room is, at its core, a story about the human side of the gruesome crimes that we so often hear about in the media and perhaps even find ourselves wondering why certain individuals behaved the way they did. This one was quite intriguing and I found myself reading on, even when I had only intended to read a few pages. I found Neve a wholly sympathetic character--even when I didn't like her choices, the authors portrayed her in such a way that I was able to feel a lot of empathy for her. 

An absorbing read about the human side of a gruesome crime. Recommended. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Review: A Dream About Lightning Bugs by Ben Folds

Autobiographies are not normally my thing but after weeks of hearing, "You should read this one Kathryn," from various people (who for the purposes of this blog post shall remain nameless,) I caved and purchased a copy from an excellent local bookstore. After reading a couple of chapters, I soon realised just why it had been recommended to me. A Dream About Lightning Bugs offers readers a clever and insightful glimpse into a unique artist and an extremely successful music career. More that that, it is honest (well, so far as I know,) and readers get a very real glimpse into the man behind the music. Expect a lot of amusing (and occasionally sad,) stories about his childhood and adolescence and the cheap lessons that he learned as he worked hard to get a foot in the door of the music industry. There is also a few glimpses of what went on behind the scenes--including what went on after the famous piano stool throw on Midday. (If you're not familiar with that one, the best quality clip I can find of the incident is here; read the article too, I'm glad there was a happy ending.) There is a bit of a glimpse as well into his time in Adelaide.* However, where this book really shines is when Folds discusses the creative process--the guy is a genuine artist and his love for music is apparent on nearly every page. 

Folds never pretends that his career has been all smooth sailing, that his choices have never had an adverse effect on others or that his stunts onstage have never gone wrong. The book is all the better for it.

This would be an excellent book to hand to anyone who is at the beginning, near beginning or contemplating a music career, an excellent reminder that the people behind the songs are human and that there are often very real stories and a whole lot of effort behind the songs. Ultimately though, A Dream About Lightning Bugs offers a unique inside into what is also a fairly unique career.

Highly recommended.

*Inevitably, someone is going to ask. No, I did not know or meet Ben Folds when he lived in Adelaide. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

There are no two ways about it--Speak is a gritty and painfully real novel about a very serious subject. Melinda Sordino is an outcast. The kind of kid that all of the other Freshmen at Merryweather High go out of their way to avoid. After all, she is not dressed well, she barely talks and during the summer break she committed the ultimate sin--she broke up a party that she and her former friends were attending by calling the police. But almost from the outset, the reader is given a hint that there are compelling reasons behind Melinda's silence and that perhaps she is not been given a fair trial by those around her--from her dysfunctional parents, her former friends from middle school who are trying hard to reinvent themselves and to fit in and by the many teacher and school staff all of whom are suffering due to needless bureaucracy and a lack of direction. And some of them, like Mr Neck, are just arseholes. Then there is Heather, a fake and perky wannabe whose only goal, it seems, is to be a part of one of the important groups at school. But until she can do that, she'll hang around with her only friend, Melinda. (Who she eventually ditches.)

Melinda's one salvation comes in the form of her Art class and a teacher who truly cares about his subject and his students. Over the course of the year, she works on her project and slowly becomes more and more able to cope with the terrible event that occurred at the party and, finally finds her voice at the exact moment that it matters.

This one is a dark but compelling read that most definitely is not for the faint of heart. There is a stark, brutal reality about this one that, sadly, many readers will be able to identify with. Speak was first published in 1999 and unsurprisingly, remains in print to this day. It has also been the subject of an independent film made in 2004 and more recently has been turned into a graphic novel.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Friday, 20 September 2019

Review: My Name is Not Peaseblossom by Jackie French

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream gets a surprising makeover that features fairies, vampires, Amazons and even a very desirable pizza making selkie in My Name is Not Peaseblossum, the latest novel from Australian author Jackie French. Peaseblossom, has spent his life obeying Queen Tatania and playing his part in her many schemes. A visit to a pizza bar in contemporary Australia, where he meets Gaela, a selkie who makes pizza and is engaged to a vampire soon has him questioning and changing his views. Could it be that Peaseblossom would much rather be known as Pete and that he'd rather be eating pizza?

The concept of this one is quite brilliant, taking both a minor character from Shakespeare's play and it's major theme of powerful people interfering in the lives of others of the most trivial of reasons, but at its heart, it's a story for kids in their early teens and the whole thing gets quite tiring early on. I don't want to be too hard on this one--it's a great novel for its target audience and the themes of identity and peer pressure will undoubtably speak to many people in its intended audience. On a personal level, it wasn't such a hit. Then again, A Midsummer Night's Dream was never my favourite of Shakespeare's plays, either. 

Recommended for readers aged 12-14.

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

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Off Topic: Seachange and Silly Schoolteachers

Every now and again, I find myself thinking back to some small incident or another that occurred long ago, that was troubling enough at the time for me to remember it now, but was not so bad that it somehow scarred me for life. In this particular instance, I found myself in bed at six am, having had a almost decent night sleep, when for no good reason whatsoever I found myself thinking about something that happened at school, oh, about twenty years ago. Inevitably, this led to me thinking about all of the things that I wished I had said at the time. Except that, you know, I didn't say them at the time. And that even if I had said them at the time, most likely the only person who would care about it now is me anyway. But I digress.

What happened was this. I was eighteen years old and thanks to circumstances that were beyond my control, I found myself unwillingly suffering through my final year of high school as an adult. This meant that I was someone who could vote (as I did in for the first time in a referendum that was held in November that year,) drink and enjoy a whole host of other responsibilities that came with early adulthood, whilst still being expected to follow school rules and being spoken to by teachers as though I were in my early teens. On that, I'll never forget the day one of the teachers threatened to call my parents over some minor misdemeanour--I told her that I was an adult, but she could go right ahead and call and see how interested my parents were in knowing that I'd skipped a nearly fucking useless school assembly in lieu of studying at the public library across the road. The teacher did indeed call my parents, and returned to the classroom red faced and muttering something about how my dad had basically said that I was old enough to know how to best manage my time. Anyway, year twelve was, without a doubt, a shit of a year, in which I walked a tightrope of desperately wanting to get out but fearing that my exam results wouldn't be good enough, and breaking as many school rules as I possibly could without actually being expelled. But there were also little spots of brightness that year, little things which reminded me that my life was basically okay even if I felt a bit unhappy with it all. I volunteered at a soup kitchen, I wrote the first draft of the book that would become Everybody Hates Abigail and my friend Flamy and I had a few interesting adventures, some of which I have mentioned on this blog before. 

And simmering away in the background was this nice television show on the ABC that my mum watched every week and I had started watching with her.

For the uninitiated, Seachange ran on the ABC for three series from 1998 to 2000 and told the story of Laura, a city based lawyer whose life changes after she discovers that her husband is cheating on her with her sister, and by the way, he's also in trouble for fraud. Taking her teenage children with her, she moves to isolated town (the fictional Pearl Bay,) where she takes up a job as a Magistrate and soon has to navigate life amidst the quirky locals. It was one of those shows that became a surprise hit, and by its second series in 1999 it was topping the ratings, despite airing at 7.30pm on a Sunday and relying mainly on word of mouth advertising. Seachange wasn't really aimed at teenagers, but I found myself drawn to it for a few reasons, most notably its quirky depiction of Australian life. Watching the series also had a surprising secondary benefit--I was close to failing year twelve Legal Studies, but I found myself being able to understand more and more about the workings of the Magistrates Court and the Australian legal system in general. In many ways this proved to be the turning point and I began to feel more confident in my ability and eventually not only passed the subject, but I passed with a high grade and went on to do Legal Studies as part of my Bachelor's degree. Anyway, Seachange is one of those things that should have been a pleasant memory, if it wasn't for one of the teachers at my school.

There is only one word I can think of to describe a teacher like Ms J and that is ignorant. Certainly many of my classmates may disagree with me. Ms J was an extremely popular teacher. Personally, I suspect many of the things that made her popular was her ignorance--she was the type whose interest in her students depended on just how popular or at least mainstream they were. I was neither popular and nor was I a normal teenager. Ms J had difficulty remembering my name while I was in her class, though, apparently, she can still remember the names of some of my classmates almost twenty years after we all graduated. I can also remember one particularly annoying incident in year ten health when she was discussing what life was like caring for those who are visually impaired, and basically dismissed all of my lived experience of having a step-grandfather who was both deaf and blind. I guess Gramps just wasn't normal or popular enough for her or something. Ms J was also responsible for handing out those joke certificates that everyone is supposed to get at the end of year twelve that congratulates them for stupid things like being the biggest chatterbox or having the shortest haircut, etc. Guess which student she forgot? (Is it too late to give this woman a fuck you award?)

Anyway, this is the incident I will always remember Ms J for--she made a comment to a boy in my grade about how she thought he looked like Diver Dan, a character who appeared in the first series of Seachange. I remember laughing, because she was spot on in her assessment. The guy did look like a junior version of Diver Dan. And I don't know what I'd interrupted by laughing, but I can still remember the way she looked at me, frowned, and added, 'You have to be over thirty-five to know what that show is.' I think I flipped her the bird and added it to my mental list of the many ways I consider her ignorant. Television programmes, particularly successful and well made ones will always find viewers who are outside of their target audience. They're generally people who watch along with one or more family members--that's why programmes like Sesame Street with often have a little in-joke for the parents who may be watching along with their child. But I also suspect that wasn't why Ms J mentioned it. Teachers often have subtle ways of cutting down the students they don't like, and it doesn't always have to be relevant to the curriculum.

Recently, Seachange has made a return to television, albeit on a different channel and without Diver Dan. I haven't watched any episodes, mostly because I feel no particular urge to. Whatever it was about the show that appealed to me then does not have the same appeal to me now. Maybe this will change, maybe it won't. In any case, I wonder if Ms J is still out there, telling her students that they cannot possibly have heard of it ...

Friday, 13 September 2019

Friday Funnies (Bringing You the Worst and Occasionally the Best Memes & Comics From the Web)

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Julie B Sets the Record Straight

Exciting news! I have a brand new short story available for download. Julie B Sets the Record Straight is about a morning radio announcer who has to interview her least favourite rock star--the man who may or may not have written a song about her when she is in her teens. The whole thing is pretty short and sweet, and I wrote it mostly because I was struggling with my current WIP and needed a distraction, but I think it is enjoyable enough to share with you all. Because it is so short, I have opted to give it away free. You can find it at Smashwords (here) iTunes, Kobo and a stack of other cool online retailers. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Review: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

Shakespeare's Othello gets a surprising but clever update in New Boy, a story set in an elementary school in Washington DC in the 1970s. Dee is a nice girl, popular with her peers and a bit of a teacher's pet. One morning, however, everything changes for the kids in the sixth grade when Osei, the son of a diplomat from Ghana arrives at the school. Dee is tasked with showing the new boy around, but their newfound friendship soon inspires the jealousy of everyone around them, particularly her friends Mimi and Blanca, and Ian, the manipulative school bully. As Ian twists and turns the situation to his advantage is soon becomes clear that nothing and no one at this school will ever be the same by the end of the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, despite the depressing subject manner and fact that the story moved steadily toward a tragic outcome. The author cleverly reworks many elements from Shakepeare's original and puts them in a setting that is totally believable for a 1970s elementary school--the handkerchief that featured so prominently in the original becomes a pencil case, while the combination of schoolyard politics and characters who are on the cusp of puberty and experiencing their first crushes add to the tension. Osei himself is an interesting character, an intelligent kid who has lived in several different countries, and speaks different languages but is treated as inferior by his teachers and his peers based purely on his race.

Ultimately, this one is a compelling read that is sure to be studied with interest by fans of the original and anyone who is familiar with schoolyard politics.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Review: Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagan

Mona is twenty-three years old, somewhat aloof with her emotions and is working as a cleaner because she loves the repetition of vacuuming. At her volunteer job at a needle exchange she meets--and hooks up with--Mr Disgusting, a middle aged drug addict who breaks her heart. This serves as a catalyst for her to travel to New Mexico where she seeks a fresh start but instead finds herself fighting the demons in her past amidst some dysfunctional people.

I did not enjoy this book. Granted, it is well written and delivers on everything that the blurb promises. It is a twisted novel about a twisted person and it might just give us a greater insight into human nature due to the fact that it doesn't pull any punches. My problem with it is that despite the claims that the book is laugh out loud funny, it isn't, unless you really get belly laughs instead of the odd smirk out of reading about the worst that could happen.

Or maybe it is just me. In the past few months I have read several black comedies, about emotionally adrift young women, written by female authors, that are hailed as works that are fresh, daring and innovative. (Baby by Annaleese Joschams, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. And if you want to go back a couple of years, I could add We Ate the Road Like Vultures by Lynnette Lounsbury and The First Bad Man by Miranda July to that list.) And the reality is, it isn't. Each book shares the same quality of being able to showcase what mental illness, selfishness and a lack of nurturing can do to a person. These may not necessarily be bad things, but stop calling them new when they are almost the same as the last supposedly new and daring release. It's practically a its own genre.

But, as I said, maybe that is just me. Maybe I read it too soon after some of those other titles. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood for it. 

Or maybe I find it entirely fitting that the novel has a respectable 3.59 over on Goodreads.