Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Review: The Application of Pressure by Rachael Mead

The Application of Pressure brings a very human--and refreshing--side to the kinds of things that we usually hear about in the news. Tash and Joel are paramedics, the people who work on the front line and see all kinds of things, people and situations during a routine shift. Most of the chapters revolve around an emergency of some sort and the effect that it has their mental health and their personal relationships. Both Tash and Joel have a very different approach to life, but with their shared experiences and dark humour, they may just be able to help one another get through.

Told in short chapters that (usually) involve one emergency or another, The Application of Pressure is a fast paced and insightful read, that shows the very human side to those who work on the front line. Joel and Tash (and a few others,) have experiences that are frightening (at one point, Joel witnesses a murder,) touching (Rob gives his son a call after helping a very similar young man,) and sometimes just show the real person who is doing a tough job. (The chapter where Tash gets kicked out of her book club had me raising my fist in the air and cheering. I love how she handled that particular situation.)  

The greatest strength of the story however, is setting. The Adelaide setting and the author's familiarity with the locations mentioned--whether it be Hindley Street, the Zoo, the Adelaide Hills or the North-Eastern suburbs--shows. There are many small subtle things that will be familiar to anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in Adelaide, and I loved the tall tale about the alligator at Adelaide Zoo. 

Overall, this is a moving, insightful read that shows the humanity behind those who work on the front lines. 

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Affirm Press for my ARC of The Application of Pressure

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2020


Monday, 1 June 2020

Friday, 29 May 2020

Friday Funnies: Sesame Street Bathtub Orgy





Sharing another Sesame Street clip this week. So what I am getting out of this one is that Ernie takes a bath and when he starts to sing the other residents of Sesame Street decide to join him in the tub as though it is all one massive orgy. And then they run and hide when Bert expresses some concern for Ernie's welfare by knocking on the door.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Friday, 22 May 2020

Friday Funnies: Dynamite Dance




This short clip was released by Warner Brothers in mid-2019 to advertise that some new Looney Tunes cartoons were coming, ones that were in keeping with the originals, just like this hilarious but explosive
clip! 

I don't know much about the new cartoons, whether they have launched yet and if they are any good, but I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Review: Heartstopper Volume 3 by Alice Oseman

The third volume in the Heartstopper series sees Charlie and Nick travel to Paris with a number of their friends on a school trip. There they are provided with new challenges, in particular Nick, who is slowly coming out as bisexual to his friends ... which in turn means that Charlie and Nick are slowly coming out as a couple. 

Heartstopper Volume 3 gets off to a strong start, but sadly fails to live up to its potential. In particular, a major plot line that involves Nick expressing a desire to come out to his dad, which is then followed by the revelation that his Dad lives in Paris, had a lot of potential, which is then squandered in a few short frames where [[[spoiler alert]]] Nick receives a phone call from his dad to say that he is too busy to catch up this week, and Nick just shrugs it off as though it is nothing and it's not like he and his dad live in different countries and he doesn't have something rather big and important to tell him, and that his reaction (good or bad) could help shape a part of the novel. I have a few other quibbles with the story, for example a subplot where two teachers hooked up on the trip felt somewhat superfluous in a YA novel. Even Charlie's eating disorder appeared to be mentioned purely for shock value, rather than offering readers any real insight into his behaviour or problems. There is a pleasing moment where Charlie stands up to a bully, which will be relatable to anyone who has been on the receiving end of extreme bullying. 

Overall, this felt less like a story that had been carefully constructed and more like a fan fiction featuring the same characters as the first two books in the series. There is no depth, no moments of great insight and no reason whatsoever for me to read on should there be a volume four.

Not really recommended.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Review: In the Time of Foxes by Jo Lennan

The debut short story collection from Australian author Jo Lennan takes readers to places far and wide across the globe as it tells the story of various humans and their complex relationships with the world around them. Cleverly weaved in to each of the stories is the motif of a fox. Sometimes the foxes appear as they are, sometimes as a metaphors. Each time it packs a real punch. The stories vary in their locations and the characters vary in age. 

I read this one over the course of several evenings, dipping in to one story per day, an approach which allowed me to appreciate each story in full. As always in a collection like this, while all of the stories stood up well on their individual merit, I had my favourites. In particular, I loved the third story in the collection, titled Joyride which kept me guessing right up until the end what the clever and cunning Sylvia would do--and I certainly found myself biting my nails wondering whether I would leave the story feeling satisfied or utterly devastated at the ending. (I'm thrilled to report that I loved the ending.) And while Joyride is set in Sydney, many of the other stories gave me a chance to be an armchair tourist as I read about places such as Japan and Russia, which feel so very far away at the moment. 

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of In the Time of Foxes

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2020

Monday, 18 May 2020

Friday, 15 May 2020

Kathryn's Random Trivia


Random Trivia: The first episode of The Young Ones aired on the BBC on 9 November 1982

Source: BBC Archive

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Review: All At Sea by Decca Aitkenhead

A perfect family holiday very suddenly turned to tragedy for British journalist Decca Aitkenhead when her husband, Tony, drowned whilst rescuing their son who has been caught in the tide. In this autobiography, Aitkenhead recounts her unlikely relationship with Tony, a former drug dealer who had previously been in jail, but had who turned his life around and become passionate about helping troubled teenagers. But it is more than a story of two unlikely people who meet and bring out the best in each other. It is also a story of grieving and how life can change in an instant. 

This was a short but compelling read, tinged with sadness. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is the way that the author makes herself vulnerable, depicting not only her grief, but the inner workings of a less than conventional relationship, one that managed to work despite all odds. 

Recommended. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Curiosity Show: Handy Illusions




Sharing this clip, because I actually remember this one from my childhood. My brother and I had a lot of laughs, pretending that we had two noses! 

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Debut author Kate Elizabeth Russell offers a compelling portrayal of a young woman who is targeted and groomed by a man who should have known better, and let down by the people who her parents trusted to look after her.

When Vanessa Wye was fifteen she fell in love with her English teacher at boarding school. Years later, a number of allegations are made against the teacher by some of his former students. Vanessa is horrified. What happened to her was love, not abuse ... wasn't it? Through flashbacks the author shows the terrifying reality, of a young woman who is selected and betrayed in the worst possible way, and the psychological harm that follows. My Dark Vanessa is not an easy book to read, but my goodness it offers readers a chance to understand how others can be betrayed and why they don't just say no. It also shows how these situations can be compounded, by adults who choose to look the other way for the sake of their own professional reputations--in this case an elite boarding school whose lazy investigation is all about salvaging the school's reputation rather than helping someone who is being abused. 

As I stated at the beginning of the review, the story is compelling. At times it was tough to read, in particular the scenes that described the abuse, showing just how innocent Vanessa was, and just how depraved Strane, her forty-two year old abuser was at heart. My heart broke for the older Vanessa as she slowly began to come to terms with what had happened to her, after being in denial for so many years. 

This is not an easy read, and is most definitely not a book that should be picked up by anyone looking for entertainment, or a book that depicts a bit of a scandal. It is a book written to help better understand what victims go through.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Review: Right Ho Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

Jeeves and Bertie are back, and this time Bertie wishes that Jeeves would jolly well stop interfering, after his suggestions find Bertie's old friend Gussie Fink-Nottle stranded in London in fancy dress. And so, disaster ensures when Bertie decides to help Gussie win the heart of Madeline Bassett, without any help from Jeeves.

As always, this was a fun, lighthearted comedy that perfectly satirises the lives of England's idle-rich in the 1920s. Jeeves and Wooster make for the perfect duo, the dim witted millionaire and his clever valet. This time around, Jeeves' solution to the problem may have had a touch of malice in it in regard to his employer, but, lets face it, working for Bertie would try the patience of a saint.

Overall, lots of fun. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Tragically Forgotten: How Some of the Worst Events of the Twentieth Century Remain Unknown



Here's a strange fact. There are people out there who have never heard of the Holocaust. (Read more here.) It seems bizarre that someone could not know of the one of the biggest and most horrific events to occur during the twentieth century, but sometimes these things happen. Or, at least they happen to other people. People like me can safely blame a combination of lousy parenting, general ignorance and a poor education. Or I can go a step further and use my 'superior' knowledge to question the sources and the biases of those who conducted the survey and whether or not the publication who reported it has sensationalised the article at all.

Or, if I want a truly deeper understanding of how these things occur, I can turn and look within myself. Here's a bizarre fact: Until I was eighteen years old, I had never heard of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident. And no, this wasn't due to some radical Soviet cover up. It was, if anything, a strange reflection of the times where, during the course of my schooling, the curriculum tended to focus heavily on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the nations who, one by one were gaining independence. Unsurprisingly, after I learned about the tragic events at Chernobyl, a number of jokes on The Simpsons made a lot more sense. 

Unfortunately, it is a big world we live in and often many tragic events occur, only to soon be forgotten. I was reading Yellow Notebook by Helen Garner recently, a book made up of diary entries written by the beloved Australian author recently when I stumbled on a short paragraph (on page 43 to be exact,) detailing a terrible motoring accident that had occurred in France in 1982. The event described sounded so horrible [[[trigger warning: no seriously, this is pretty awful and if you don't want to be horrified and then sad for the rest of the day stop reading now]]] where forty-four children were killed on their way to a summer camp when the two buses carrying them collided with several other vehicles. Petrol spilled from one of the vehicles and a spark caused a huge fire. Most of the children were only able to be identified through a careful checking of who had boarded the bus and matching them against the names of survivors. It remains the worst motoring accident in French history. Despite this, there are very few resources available in English that detail the event. (If you really want to know more, here is the Wikipedia article.) It is, I suppose, one those things that is simply too horrible to talk about. 

And that perhaps in that lies the answer of why things are forgotten. We don't want to spend our lives thinking about the events that have happened to scores of other people. Not only are they tragic in their own right, but it can remind us of our own vulnerabilities and how the same thing could easily happen to us. No one wants to be a newspaper headline, the person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And perhaps these things are circular and it comes back to that we cannot stand to see others in the same, vulnerable position.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Friday Funnies: There's a Fly in my Soup!




This week I am sharing a sort of funny, sort of annoying clip from Sesame Street. The intention is to show preschoolers the differences between on, in and around, in a fairly comically fashion, with just enough humour to keep any parents or caregivers who are watching along with their child entertained. Now, with that said, I have one question: Why does the Muppet with the moustache keep going back to the same restaurant where, every week it would seem, he finds himself stressed out by the overly attentive yet highly incompetent Grover? 

Or maybe he secretly got his revenge by sending The Count there one week in his place?




Ka-boom!

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Review: Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

How well do you really know those closest to you? Jess, Liz, Mel and Charlotte all met ten years ago when they were expecting their first child and have been good friends ever since. Then, one night Jess brings her baby into Emergency with a serious injury and a story that doesn't quite add up. To complicate matters, the paediatrician on duty is Jess ... and she is duty bound to call an investigation. But Liz wouldn't hurt her child ... would she?

This novel explores notions of motherhood, friendship and duty, while gently and slowly drip feeding the reader bits of information until revealing a surprising but unsavoury truth.

This was a page turner with plenty of cliffhanger chapters and shifting perspectives. From the beginning I had no idea what the truth was behind baby Betsey's injuries and the reveal at the end certainly surprised me and, if I am going to be honest, left me a bit shaken.

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of Little Disasters

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

1990s Nostalgia




I'm pretty sure I have shared this clip on my blog a time or two before. It hit the Australian music charts in early 1992 and got a lot of airplay, particularly on SA-FM which was the cool radio station of the day. Anyway, my parents hated SA-FM and they hated this song even more, considering it shouty, unoriginal and repetitive. I remember feeling like such a rebel one day, at age ten, for sitting outside, on the back of a Toyota Light Stout that had become a fixture in my parent's backyard and listening to this song on a transistor radio. Good times. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Review: Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

Have you ever picked up a book with low expectations and then been completely blown away by just how good it was, and then read it cover to cover in just a few hours? That was my experience with Please See Us, a psychological thriller about the victims of a serial killer, and the two very different women who try to solve the crime.

Set during summer in Atlantic City, the author paints a bleak picture of Clara, a young woman with psychic abilities who works on a stand with her aunt, a woman who should most definitely not be trusted to look after a teenage girl. Contrasting against Clara is Lily, an artist who has returned home from New York City after experiencing heartbreak and a cruel humiliation. Chance throws the pair together, but they soon find themselves trying to discover what may have happened to Julie, a young woman who is missing, and who may be in Atlantic city. From there, things take a chilling twist ...

This was a fast paced novel, set against a bleak landscape but packed full of characters who I felt a lot of sympathy for. As well as Clara and Lily, there is Luis, a man with a disability who has suffered bullying and discrimination from the local community his whole life and whose talents have gone largely unnoticed, causing him to turn to some desperate until he takes desperate measures to be seen. Then, of course, there are the Janes, the victims of the serial killer, each of whom have their own story. The storytelling itself is gritty, and the author does not shy away from describing the violence and abuse that many of the characters suffer at the hands of others, which is, difficult to read, but written in a way that is compelling and does nothing to glorify those acts.

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of Please See Us.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Curiosity Show: Phosphenes and Blind Spot Illusions




Another interesting clip from the Curiosity Show.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

1980s Nostalgia




I am sharing this clip, because it is almost impossible to listen to this song without smiling. According to YouTube Pop Muzik was one of the earliest new wave songs to make an impact on the music charts.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Review: Yellow Notebook by Helen Garner

As many readers would already be aware through some of her previous works, beloved Australian author Helen Garner often kept a diary. For the first time, the content of some of those diaries has been published. Yellow Notebook features extracts from her diaries covering the years 1978 to 1987.

Initially when I heard about this I was a little cynical. Was Garner trying to play at being Anais Nin? Fortunately not. Yellow Notebook is very much all her own, an eclectic mix of thoughts of the authors thoughts and experiences and carefully edited so not to invade the privacy of others. 

There is little I can offer of critique of this one--how can anyone critique a diary after all--though every entry was beautifully and lovingly written. The author's deep level of empathy shows on every page, regardless of whether she is describing mundane day to day activities, tragic stories that she has seen or heard on the news or various activities in her own life.

Recommended.

Note: I wrote the original review in late 2019, but for one reason or another it did not post, which is slightly embarrassing, given that the date can be seen in the photograph above.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Review: A Conspiracy of Bones by Kathy Reichs

Temperance Brennan is recovering from neurosurgery and trying to cope with a difficult supervisor when she finds herself mixed up in a case involving mysterious text messages and a corpse that is void of any identifiable features. And while she is keen to discover the identity of the dead man, her investigations will uncover some surprising links to some unresolved cases that involve missing children.

I have a confession to make, this is actually the first Kathy Reichs novel I have ever read. I can recall seeing a few episodes of Bones (the television series that was based on the books,) but even that was some time ago. So unlike the many, many fans of the author and series, I came into this one with very little knowledge of the character and setting. Fortunately, Reichs is the kind of author who gives readers just enough explanation to let them know what is going on without it getting in the way of the story. 

The central mystery--the discovery of a corpse that cannot be identified--intrigued me greatly and I found myself relating it in places to a similar event that happened in Adelaide many years ago, known locally as the Somerton Man (read more here.) I was surprised and (is delighted the right word,) to discover a note at the end of the book from the author in which she disclosed that parts of the plot were indeed inspired by the Somerton Man. 

This is a fast and intelligent ripper of a crime novel and one that had me intrigued enough to want to go back and read the series from the beginning.

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of A Conspiracy of Bones.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Kathryn's Random Trivia



Random trivia: War hero Nancy Wake stood as a candidate for the Liberal Party in three separate elections, in three separate decades. She was never elected, but in 1966 missed out by just 250 votes.

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Review: Cocktail Time by PG Wodehouse

Wodehouse's beloved Uncle Fred, or Earl of Ickenham as he is also known, is back in London and causing trouble for well, everyone. And it all begins when Uncle Fred convinces his grouchy in-law, Sir Raymond Bastible to write Cocktail Time, a scandalous paperback that the critics hate and every person in England is desperate to read. And now Bastible wishes to run for Parliament and wants no one to know that he is the author ... From there begins an unpredictable comic adventure as a number of characters find their lives impacted by the publication of the book, from the insipid nephew who is hired to pretend to be the author, a literary agent who just happens to be Bastible's ex-girlfriend and a pair of confidence tricksters from the United States who can see a chance in there to make money somehow. Meanwhile, other characters are having a few dramas of their own ... and it may just be the man who started it all (and a certain book,) who can solve things.

This was an entertaining and lighthearted read, though it doesn't really reach the classic status that has been attained by many other Wodehouse novels. As always there are some clever turns over phrase and some jolly entertaining but over the top situations. Fans of Jeeves and Wooster will be amused to see that both the Drones Club and Sir Roderick Glossop both get a mention in this one.

Overall, a fun read though perhaps not terribly memorable.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

1980s Nostalgia: The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star



Video Killed the Radio Star was old by the time I first heard it (when I was about eight, and got told to look at the TV because, apparently, the little girl in the clip looked just like me,) but it is one of those songs that isn't forgotten in a hurry. It is generally considered to be an "eighties" song, though as you can see at the end of the clip, it was actually released in 1979.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

Picking up shortly after the events of Crown of Midnight, the third instalment in the Throne of Glass series finds Celaena in Wendlyn, now aware of her past and with a new enemy--her ruthless aunt Maeve who has sent her best servant Rowan to test her magical abilities. And the relationship between Celaena and Rowan certainly isn't friendly. Meanwhile, back at the castle, Chaol is preparing his own graceful exit from the castle, but one of the King's guards has a few surprises in store. Dorian is falling in love with a very unlikely lady, who has a secret of her own. And we also meet a new character and a new story arc, Manon a witch who is part of a coven who will serve the king.

Packed with characters, a little romance, this one branches out a bit further than the two previous novels in the series, introducing new concepts and characters, though it can feel overlong in places. (Manon, for example felt like a distraction, though I suspect that she will become pivotal to the series later on.) It takes a while for the plot to come together, though the ending is satisfying enough, and steers readers well toward the next instalment in the series. I would be interested to see how this one compares to Sarah J Maas' other big series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, which many other readers seem to be raving about.

Oh, and expect to love the explanation behind the title.

Overall, a solid read, but perhaps a little overlong.