Thursday, 28 November 2019

Review: Generation F by Virginia Trioli

Originally conceived as a response to Helen Garner's controversial non-fiction novel The First Stone and published in 1996 when the author was a young and up and coming journalist, Generation F remains as relevant today as it was when it was first released. This one offers a no holds barred look at the need for feminism, while also examining precisely why many women just put up with sexual harassment, when they shouldn't have to. 

I will be honest. Reading parts of this book made me feel angry. I picked it up knowing that it would make me feel angry. After all, it is the kind of book that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities that are firsthand experiences for many, many women. 

What I did not expect was just how angry I would feel, or that there would be moments when I would have to put the book down and take a deep breath. This isn't the kind of book that offers answers; instead, it unflinchingly tells it like it is. Or how things were for women in Melbourne in the 1990s which is depressingly much like the experiences of many women across Australia in 2019. And obviously, it talks quite a bit about The First Stone and explains the core question at the heart of that book--why the young women involved may have gone to the police and why they didn't just tell the university professor to stop.

I first become aware of this book at about the point when the MeToo movement gained momentum. Aware of its relevance, I tried in vain to source a secondhand copy (after all, it had been out of print for about twenty years at that point,) and was unsuccessful. (Well, I could have bought a copy if I'd been willing to pay a very dodgy amazon seller US$100.) Anyway, it seems that I wasn't the only person on the planet who saw the relevance of this book--it has now been republished by Scribner and comes complete with a new forward and afterword.

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Review: Toffee by Sarah Crossan

Told entirely in verse, Irish author Sarah Crossan's latest novel is a tale of a young runaway desperate to find a place to call home and her relationship with an older woman whose mind is slipping that believes her to be her long lost sister Toffee. Allison comes from a very broken home. Her father is abusive, her stepmother, the only person who ever loved her has left, and Allison made what she now knows is the foolish decision not to go with her when she asked. However, when her father's abusive leaves her with facial scarring, Allison knows that she has to run--far and fast. Determined to track her stepmother down, she finds herself in Cornwall, living with Marla, a lonely and confused old woman. Maybe Marla knows that Allison isn't Toffee, maybe she doesn't. She has good days and bad days. Through their relationship, and her friendship with spoiled Lucy, Allison learns much about the way that people treat one another.

And maybe, just maybe it will all come good in the end.

This is exceptional reading, the kind of YA novel that will be a hit with its target audience while at the same time ticking all the right boxes for adult readers--whether they usually read YA or not. It is a complex tale, exploring the different ways that people can hurt--and heal--those that they care about. Some of the verses left me a bit of an emotional wreak, but they told the story well, emphasising many of the experiences of the characters without going too over the top.

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

Pip's Drysdale's second novel takes a sophisticated walk into the lives of an aspiring actress and an up and coming businessman. On the surface, it would appear that Charlie has it all--a career in marketing, a possible career as an actress and a charming, sexy and most of all, devoted husband. But when Charlie sees a picture of Oliver on Tinder, a photograph that she took on her honeymoon no less, her world comes crashing down. What follows is twist upon twist and, it seems, that Oliver's infidelity may be the smallest problem of them all.

Set in the world of London's sophisticated upper middle classes, this story has lots of intrigue. The twists are quite interesting, the lives of the characters are far from ordinary, it's questionable who Charlie can trust, if anyone. The story itself has a real addictive quality that kept me reading and wanting to know more right up to the very end. I also loved the way that each chapter represented a supposed episode of a Netflix series based on her life that Charlie was creating. The only real problem with this one is its lack of depth, which often felt at odds with the dark subject matter. Still, many readers will find this an enjoyable summer read.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC of The Strangers We Know

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Review: From the Ashes by Rowena Holloway

Adelaide Author Rowena Holloway's Ashes to Ashes trilogy comes to a final, shattering conclusion in From the Ashes. This time around, former weathergirl turned investigative journalist Charlotte Ashe finds herself going undercover at a brain injury clinic. Which is fine, except in a fitting opening to the novel, we know that six weeks after she starts there, a fire breaks out in the clinic, and afterward, Charlotte is missing. From there, the author weaves seamlessly between the duel timelines, crediting her readers with enough intelligence to put together various clues as the mystery deepens.

From the Ashes is one heck of a page turner. I loved the duel narratives and putting together many of the clues. Admittedly, Charlotte annoyed me a little on occasions, however, it wasn't difficult to see that she was a woman who had suffered some huge setbacks (just read the first two novels in the series and you'll see,) and she certainly didn't have many people who believed in her and all that she was trying to achieve. Overall, an enjoyable spine-tingly read.

Recommended.

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

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Review: 488 Rules For Life by Kitty Flanagan

What started out as a joke, and a short sketch on The Weekly, parodying 12 Rules for Life, ended up becoming an actual novel after people kept stopping author/comedian Kitty Flanagan in the street and telling her that the whole thing was a good idea. And the result is absolutely hilarious, if for no other reason than there being a little ring of truth to many of the rules that the author suggests. (Then, of course, there is also the opportunity that one gets to laugh at all of the rules that they don't think are strictly necessary.) Divided into various sections, this one has most faucets of life in contemporary Australia, from the fact that fruit salad is often spoiled by the presence of too many filler fruits, to the inconvenience of walking through a cafe with a number on a stick as one tries to find a table. 

I probably got more than my fair share of chuckles and yes moments out of this one, but I can think of worse things.

Recommended.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Review: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Perhaps one of the most famous works of scandal fiction of all time, Lady Audley's Secret has something to either titilate or offend absolutely everyone. This isn't an academic kind of a classic by any stretch, or even the best of its era, but there is something absolutely addictive about this book. Lady Audley is young, beautiful and mysterious. Everyone, but for her stepdaughter, loves her and she manages to charm all that she meets. Then one day the paths of Lady Audley and that of her husband's nephew Robert and his loyal friend George Talboys, a man who is suffering an intense grief for his recently deceased wife, cross and things are never quite the same. Robert is determined to get to the bottom of why Lady Audley behaved so strangely around his friend, and why George has not been seen since. He knows there is more to the story, but to get to the truth, he will uncover a deception so huge that it involves bigamy, child abandonment, insanity and perhaps even murder ...

This novel most definitely falls into the category of a guilty pleasure read and it works all the better if one is to consider it such. Lady Audley is an intriguing and bedazzling character--though something of an airhead, her ability to manipulate all around her is second to none. In places her character reminded me somewhat of Corrine Foxworth, the vapid and self-centred mother from Flowers in the Attic who locked up and ultimately poisoned her children in the hope of winning back her inheritance. (Given V.C. Andrews love of gothic literature, and her own genius at spinning guilty pleasure tales, I would not be surprised to learn that she had, indeed, read Lady Audley's Secret.)  Robert himself is a fairly boring character, but a useful one who drives the story.

Not every classic has to be a great epic, or an academic work to be enjoyable, and Lady Audley's Secret certainly falls into the category of a guilty pleasure read. Or, perhaps, just a book to be read for pleasure. After all, who doesn't want to get amusement from their reading material from time to time?

Recommended.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Edie's husband Francis was missing in action, presumed dead, in France in 2017. Five years later, however, an envelope containing a picture of Francis arrives in the mail. Believing that this may be the proof that her husband is alive, Edie travels to France and becomes determined to find him. Meanwhile, her brother-in-law Harry, has also returned to France and his hoping to find his brother. What the two discover is something that will change both of their lives.

This book discusses something that not many authors dare to--the after effects of the Great War. The impact that such a raw and brutal war had on those who fought in it, their loved ones who were left behind, and for the ones who returned home and were just expected to get on with things. The sense of loss is all too real, and the story is a compelling one. However, parts of the story are let down by a slightly confusing narrative that jumps around from place to place and storytelling that feels slightly robotic in places. Still, readers looking for a story of everyday people who are trying to rebuild their lives after such a terrible war, will no doubt be intrigued by this one.

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Many followers of this blog may remember my review of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson's brilliant novel about a young woman who suffers through her first year of high school in the wake of a sexual assault that she refuses to talk about. Twenty years after Speak was first published, it has been superbly reimagined as a graphic novel. Coupled with Halse Anderson's haunting narrative, Carroll's illustrations expertly detail Melinda's inner turmoil and sense of isolation during a bleak time. And what makes this one work so well is that it truly brings to life how Melinda's art project offers her a transition from being a victim to being a young woman who is both empowered and a survivor.

There is very little I can say about the plot of this one, as I have already said it in my previous review, except to add just how well this story translates into graphic novel form. This one can easily be read on its own, or as a companion to the original.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Review: Imperfect by Lee Kofman

Imperfect is a raw and honest look at body perception. Author Lee Kofman shares her own experiences, growing up in the Soviet Union where by the time she was just eleven years old she had scars from major heart surgery and injuries sustained in a bus accident. These scars were treated as marks of honour--a testimony to her inner strength. However, when she and her family moved to Israel, she was left to believe that her scars were something that had to be hidden away. This attitude continued when she moved to Australia. But more than being a memoir, this book also takes a deep look into body image and how perceptions of our bodies can become a major influence on our sense of self. Written with a lot of sensitivity, the author explores issues such as extreme body modification, perceptions of body size and, ultimately, what it actually means to be living in a body that deviates in some way from what is considered "normal."

When telling the stories of others, whether it be that of Mia, Andy, Kylie or Frank and Gale, Kofman shows them first and foremost as people rather than being spokespeople for body image. All are much, much more than their bodies. 

I said it on twitter recently, and I will repeat it here. This book should be required reading. I have always considered myself fairly progressive when it came to body image, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how much this book challenged me. 

Highly recommended.

Thank you to author Lee Kofman and to Affirm Press for my reading copy of Imperfect.

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

Monday, 11 November 2019

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Review: A Writing Life Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan

In A Writing Life academic Bernadette Brennan shines a light on one of Australia's most loved--and most brutally honest in the best kind of way--authors. Helen Garner first came to prominence with her novel Monkey Grip (read my review here,) and has often caused controversy through her refusal to adhere to various literary conventions. Garner writes herself into her literary non-fictions and many of her works of fiction have an autobiographical feel to them. But who is Helen Garner really? In this biography, Dr Brennan finds out. With Garner's permission, she accesses various letters, diary entries and other things that ultimately, offer a sensitive insight into a writer whose unusual style and vast amounts of empathy for others have led to a long and often controversial career. (Yes, there is a whole, and rather long, chapter about The First Stone.)

This is the kind of biography that does the author, and her many, many fans proud. For me, a reader who first encountered Garner as a university student some years after The First Stone was published and the controversy more or less forgotten, I have always found her to be something of an enigma. Truthful, earnest, intellectual, a good person, but perhaps not someone with whom I'd implicitly agree with about absolutely everything. (In return, I suspect that she would probably consider me rather childish, but seeing as my path and Garner's have never actually crossed, that's pure conjecture.)

Anyway, even if you're not a particular fan of the author, this is still a truly insightful biography that is well worth giving a chance. 

Highly recommended.

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

Friday, 8 November 2019

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


Thursday, 7 November 2019

Flowers in the Podcast



Exciting news! This week I was guest on the very first episode of Flowers in the Podcast. Hosted by V.C. Andrews expert Lorraine Elgar (who some of you might know from the Attic Secrets blog,) and author Tylor Paige the blog is about all things related to author V.C. Andrews, coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Flowers in the Attic. On the first episode, I get to talk about the life of the author--something which I find fascinating as so little is publicly known about her. I was also thrilled to find out a few things about her life from Lorraine and Tylor, which I did not know previously. I may be biased, but I think this one is well worth a listen for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the author.

Anyway, you can listen to the episode here: 


Lorraine and Tylor will be continuing this as a series, along with Ellie Sanchez in weeks to come, and there will be some other exciting guests from the V.C. Andrews fandom as well. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

Friday "Halloween is Over" Funnies