Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins


I doubt that anyone ever expected that there would one day be a prequel to The Hunger Games, least of all me. And if I had ever, for a moment, expected one, I never would have dreamed that the prequel would focus on a young Coriolanus Snow. After all, President Snow from The Hunger Games was old, horribly corrupt and selfish to the core. And YA heroes are supposed to have a heart of gold ... aren't they?

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes readers on a very surprising ride. Set during the Tenth Hunger Games, the novel introduces us to Coriolanus Snow as an eighteen year old student living in the Capital. On the outside, his family have it all, tradition, a good name and wealth. But as Snow knows only too well, appearances can be deceiving. His family have little money following on from the war and he knows that the only way out is to get a good education. But, it seems, his school will require him to mentor the Female tribute from District Twelve for this years Hunger Games. And, it seems, there are also some very sinister forces at work within the school. Who can Coriolanus trust? 

More importantly, who will he be willing to betray?

Some of the twists and turns in this one amazed me. Lucy Gray was not only a force to be reckoned with, but one too good for her mentor in every respect. Her part in the story is as tragic as what one would expect. Snow is arrogant from the outset, though the influence of a professor and manipulations who is as insane as she is evil, certainly help to bring out the worst in him. Snow's a difficult character to feel sorry for, but he's also in a near impossible situation. 

Although this one isn't quite as memorable as the series that inspired it, I enjoyed the many twists and turns and reading about a main character that I loved ... to hate. 

Recommended.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Review: Clubland by Tara Jenkinson

Adelaide based author Tara Jenkinson's debut novel gives readers a glimpse into a glitzy, glamorous inner city nightclub and the life of a young woman who is a part of the club's privileged inner circle. By day, Lexie Perkins is a cadet journalist with loving parents, a circle of supportive friends and a devoted boyfriend. At night, she lives to dance and to party. Hard. And there's nothing wrong with taking a little something extra to help keep the party going, is there? And all of her friends are trustworthy ... right? As Lexie's life both on and off the dance floor begins to spiral out of control, she learns some harsh realities about trust and addiction.

This was entertaining read and a glimpse into the lives of people whose first years out of high school were very different from mine. Lexie is basically a nice person who has been led astray, and the dynamic between her and Tegan the toxic friend from hell was interesting to read about. Meanwhile, Lexie's relationship with Troy comes with a surprising complication--to the point that I was surprised that he was a passive as he was about Lexie's behaviour. Although the story was entertaining, I felt that the pacing could have been improved and that some situations could have been fleshed out a little more. (For example, the big event at Cosmic Gate is over within a few pages.) On the plus side, the way that Lexie gets an interview with Nick Morano, the organiser of Cosmic Gate left me with a big smile on my face. Clever!

Although this in no way altered my opinion or ruined my enjoyment of the story, the formatting inside my paperback copy is nowhere near as good as it could be and is something that the author will, hopefully, address in future print runs. 

On the whole this is a fun and entertaining read set mainly inside an inner city nightclub. Perfect for fans of Gossip Girl.

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

Friday, 26 June 2020

Curiosity Show: A Coffee Conundrum Puzzle


Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Winter by Kathryn White



Exciting news! I have a new and (very) short story available to download free from Smashwords and a few other awesome sites. Winter is a short sequel to Love, Unrequited and tells the story of how our heroine accepts that the older man she's been crushing on isn't interested and the small but daring step she takes to help herself begin to heal.

You can download your copy of Winter here.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Happy Birthday Garfield!


Today is 19 June and as is a long held tradition on this blog, I'd like to wish Garfield a very happy birthday. This beloved daily comic is now 42 years old and still going strong.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Review: Sick Bay by Nova Weetman

Earlier this year the Children's Book Council of Australia named Sick Bay as a Notable Book and it is not difficult to see why. Sick Bay is a powerful story of two girls who are facing some powerful challenges.

Meg and Riley are two very different girls in their final year of primary school. Meg is a lonely kid who doesn't really fit in. She's also going through some pretty heavy duty stuff at home. Her dad passed away a year ago, and now her mum doesn't really leave the house. They don't have much money and that's proving to be a huge problem as Meg has few clothes that fit, and she's even had to start wearing her slippers to school, which is turning her into even more of an outcast. Her only refuges are books and the school sick bay, where the teachers sometimes sneak her food.

One day Riley, a student from a different year six class stumbles inside the sick bay. Riley hasn't been at the school for long, but she's already become a part of the popular group, run by year six mean girl Lina. Riley is also struggling to come to terms with the fact that she's been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This means a lot of huge dietary and lifestyle changes. It also means putting up with her overprotective mother, and a complete lack of understanding from Lina and the others about what it means to be a diabetic. 

There is no way that Riley and Meg could become friends in the school yard. But maybe, just maybe, each is the friend that the other needs.

This was a cute and entertaining read that nails the nature of female friendships at age twelve--the need to fit in with ones peers, the pain and loneliness of being an outcast and the rules that come with being in a coveted position in the popular crowd. At the same time, it deals with serious topics such as grief and living with a serious illness that will require lifelong medical treatment. The author handles the subject matter carefully and realistically, but in such a way that it will not overwhelm the target audience. Some of the side characters are quite interesting, I loved Meg's crazy aunt who ran the local laundromat, and Lina was certainly a spoiled and formidable foe (imagine a twelve year old having a sleepover party at a luxury hotel!) 

Overall an excellent read. Recommended.

This book was read for the Aussie Author Challenge 2020

Monday, 15 June 2020

Friday, 12 June 2020

Kathryn's Random Trivia


Random Trivia: If Kit and Heloise Walker from The Phantom comic aged in real time, they would be turning forty-one this year.

Source: Phantom Wiki

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Review: Please Don't Hug Me by Kay Kerr

Refreshing and insightful, Please Don't Hug Me is an authentic, own voices novel about a young woman with Autism who is just trying to make it through her final year of high school.

Nothing in Erin's life is going quite right. She's looking forward to going to Schoolies, but that may not happen now, thanks to the fact that she lost her job at Surf Zone thanks to a pretty unlikely turn of events that involve a stray poo in the change rooms. Her boyfriend is, well a bit of a jerk really. And although her best friend Dee is clearly a very caring and compassionate person, things aren't going to well for Dee at home and she wants to escape it by partying hard with the popular crowd--people who Erin can barely stand. And then there is some kind of incident with a boat that means that Erin's big brother Rudy no longer lives at home. Erin begins writing letters to Rudy, telling him everything about her day to day life, and the unfortunate incidents that occur along the way, until she eventually learns to be true to herself--instead of the masked version that she thinks everyone wants to see. 

Parts of this novel made me laugh, but parts of it made me cry as well. Erin does not have an easy time of it, and she certainly has difficulty talking about the things that have hurt her the most. And all of this is juxtaposed against her experiences at high school, where she finds herself tolerated by Dee's vapid friends and where it becomes increasingly clear that they are not the best people for her to be around. (I couldn't help but wonder if during the Byron Bay trip Jessica's mother deliberately left her to wait outside. Erin's reaction was, of course quite vindictive, though she cops a harsh punishment, while the others express no sympathy for her earlier predicament at all.) On a brighter note, I loved her new friend, uni student and musician Aggie who gently guides Erin toward being true to herself. And I think her jerk of a boyfriend Mitch got everything he deserved.

Ultimately, this is an entertaining new YA novel set in Queensland that is sure to delight readers young and old.

Recommended. 

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

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Review: A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Every now and again, a book comes along that reminds me precisely why I write book reviews. A book that reaches out, grabs me, surprises me, breaks my heart just a little and has me wanting to shout out to the world that everyone needs a copy of this book.

A Burning is such a book.

Set in contemporary India, it tells the story of Jivan, a young woman from the slums who finds herself charged with terrorism on the flimsiest of evidence, in a place that is desperate to find a scapegoat. For the attack was brutal--members of the public burned to death on a train--and the those responsible have long since fled. Jivan has found herself accused due to a flippant remark on facebook that criticises the government. Of course, it doesn't help matters that she is poor, female, muslim and she was carrying a package at the train station at the time that the attack took place.

Meanwhile, the stories of two other people become entwined with that of Jivan's. There is Lovely, a hirja* who aspires to work as an actor, and who is willing to go to court and testify what was in Jivan's package because she knows it is the right thing to do. Meanwhile, PT Sir, Jivan's former Phys Ed teacher finds himself enchanted by a political party, and the many advantages that come with being in the party. However, his rise to the top is not without plenty of collateral damage, most of it in the form of harming innocent people for political gain. 

A Burning is a heartbreaking novel that explores human nature at its most brutal--where ones success relies on the downfall of another, where innocent people can become scapegoats for political gain, where money talks, and where people are so easily led and swayed by a combination of patriotism, fear and empty promises of a better life. And though the novel is as faced paced as any thriller, it never lacks depth or stops asking big questions.

Of course, it is not for the likes of me, a book blogger, to suggest, or influence, or offer anything more than idle speculation about such important matters, so I will say that I would not be surprised if this novel is considered for the Booker Prize, whether that be on a long list, a short list or perhaps something even more wonderful. (But, as I have said, these important decisions are not up to me.) I suppose my ultimate point is that A Burning is a well written debut that will probably stay with readers from many different walks of life well after they turn the final page.

Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of A Burning

*In South Asia, hirja are people who are intersex, transgender or eunuchs. In 2014 they gained legal recognition as a third gender. Many are considered to be low status and live in the margins of society.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Curiosity Show: Balanced Coins for Lunch




Another great clip from the Curiosity Show. It never ceases to amaze me how many requests I get to keep adding these. Glad you're all enjoying them. 

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