Sunday, 28 May 2017

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: Motorist Discovers His Vehicle is Fitted With an Indicator

NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--Motorist Dwayne Phillis was amazed to discover this week that his vehicle was fitted with a small device that allows him to signal his intention to turn left or right to other motorists. "I had no idea this device existed," Dwayne told our reporter. "I'd seen blinking orange lights on other vehicles from time-to-time, but until today I had no idea what they meant or why cars were fitted with them. But after a talk with the local police, who helpfully showed me what that stick near my steering wheel was for, and the meaning of the blinking orange lights, it has all become clear. I'll never need to worry about someone shaking their fist at me again and shouting abuse when I change lanes agains."

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Review: Wonder by RJ Palacio

Wonder received much acclaim when it was initially published back in 2012, which inevitably led to a number of shorter sequels/companion novels being published and possibly some other tie-in merchandise, so it is a bit of a mystery how I managed to not hear of this one at all, until a few weeks ago when I was in Big W and found it on one of those Kids Top 50 Books shelves. Intrigued, I brought it home and then I found myself charmed and occasionally unsettled by this story of Auggie a boy who was born with a severe facial disfigurement. It's also the story of a number of other young people--some kids, some teenagers--who are touched by Auggie in some way. All of the characters have their own problems in one way or another, whether it be a parent's divorce, a first love, feeling unnoticed by their parents or peer group pressure. The narrative is honest, occasionally unnerving and sometimes it made me feel sad. And sometimes I felt that the whole thing was a little bit condescending.

The main plot is about Auggie and how he attends school for the first time. He's ten and in fifth grade, which in his school district signals the beginning of middle school. (This surprised me. I had believed that in the United States kids usually started middle school in sixth or seventh grade, depending on their school district.) Anyway, the school principal is sympathetic to the difficulties that Auggie may encounter transitioning into the school system, and enlists some kids to help him. But not every kid is nice and the transition is tougher than Auggie and, perhaps anyone else, expects, though he comes out okay in the end.

The other plots are shorter. The narrative gives a few chapters each to some of the other characters, Auggie's sister Via who is just starting high school, Via's boyfriend Justin and Via's former best friend Miranda. Auggie's friends Jack Will and Summer also narrate a few chapters. Each has their own problems and story, but this is Auggie's book, so their stories also include him in some capacity.

This one is an enjoyable read, though it is sad in places. 

Recommended. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

I'll be brave and admit, what first drew me to this book was the idea that it was about three astronauts who were to be sent to Mars. Mars. Imagine, three ordinary human beings spending months and months together in a tiny craft, travelling to a whole other planet. There is something intriguing about that. Except that this isn't quite what The Wanderers is about. It tells the story of three experienced and highly skilled astronauts who take part in a seventeen month simulation test, designed to mimic a trip to Mars and back. The Wanderers is, at its heart, a story about human resilience even in the most highly unusual circumstances. The storytelling is detailed and a little slow, and the chapters about Helen, Yoshi and Sergei are interspaced with chapters about the loved ones that they have left behind, and how their relationships are altered. There is a rather ambiguous twist along the way--one that I never did work out, but perhaps that is crucial part of the storytelling.

The difficulty of this one is even a day after I closed the cover for the last time, I am still not sure what I thought about it, or whether I enjoyed reading this one or not. There are certainly some interesting parallels with Mars One and asks some big questions about the human cost of such an ambitious project. 

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of The Wanderers

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong

Darren Keefe is a former international cricketer who has just found himself in a lot of trouble. More specifically, he's found himself bundled in the boot of a car that is travelling down a Melbourne highway and it seems that years of risks and hard living have finally caught up with him. Knowing that he's probably not going to survive, Darren goes about trying to leave some forensic evidence in the vehicle, before going back in time to tell his story--he is the younger of two brothers, born to a plucky, courageous mother who only wants the best for her boys. While Darren grows up to be a larrikin with seemingly few morals who is loved by the press, his older brother Wally is serious about all things, particularly his career as a cricketer. Most of the novel details the difference between the brothers and the careers that may appear quite similar on the surface, and the events and decisions that eventually lead to Darren's fate ... 

This was an enjoyable read, and provided a great observation of what can happen when young sportspeople are transformed into celebrities. (And it says much, perhaps, about our national obsession with sports.) While Darren lives a carefree life, getting away with many things that others his own age never could, Wally is cool and calculating, cleverly manipulating those around him--though he is unable to handle it when things do not go his way. I don't know if it because of my gender, but the character I liked best was their mother, a truly loving and courageous women who did everything she could to further her son's careers. I was fairly confident that I knew who was responsible for Darren's abduction, but that did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel at all. The whole thing is a bit ambiguous about the precise years that the Keefe brothers played for Australia, (though only Wally goes on to play test cricket,) one can deduce that they played sometime in the 1990s, which was, of course, a very successful era for Australian cricket. 

Recommended. 

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Friday, 19 May 2017

Friday Funnies: Meme Colouring Book


When I saw this one, I thought that it must be a joke. Turns out that this is an actual product, which you can purchase from Amazon.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review: Bastard by J.L. Perry

Bastard is one of those self-published success stories, where it was initially self-published as an eBook and then became so popular that it was eventually picked up by a major publishing house, and then went on to have even more success. Even better, the author is Australian, and the book is set in New South Wales. Bastard is a trashy romance, the kind that is unashamed of and perhaps even revels in its own trashiness, with plenty of swearing, explicit sex, sexism disguised as romance. In fact, there is probably something in there to offend practically everybody. The writing itself sets a fairly low benchmark, though it has an easy to read and, dare I say it, a slightly addictive quality about it. And, let's face it, people don't pick up a book like this because they are expecting an eloquently written, chaste read with a realistic storyline. It seems almost ridiculous that I am making a judgement about it at all. (I actually picked up my copy after I spied a couple of uni students reading sections out loud at my local bookstore and having a good chuckle. I guess that I am a bit of a well, bastard, because I wanted to know what the joke was. Plus I always think it's good to get out of my reading comfort zone every now and again and try something new, and this one didn't seem particularly difficult or intimidating.)

The novel tells the story of Carter, who was born to a nineteen year old single mother, whose wealthy parents had kicked her out of home. His mother, Elizabeth, is a kind and loving woman who only wants the best for her son, but Carter's life is scarred forever when he encounters his grandfather for the first (and only) time and the old man rejects him on the basis that he was born out of wedlock. Fast forward to 2010 and Carter is seventeen and a half years old. He's a teen who enjoys acting mean, and he's having plenty of run-ins with his mother's new husband, a man who appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever and what Elizabeth saw in him remains one of the novel's greatest mysteries. Anyway, a new husband for Elizabeth means a new house for Carter, and he finds himself unwelcome in his new home in the Sydney suburbs. Fortunately, just next door is Indi, a lovely sixteen year old girl and her father, Ross, who is the local policeman and is also quick to see the good in Carter, and to treat him like his own son. (And he certainly calls Cater "son" often enough within the narrative.) Unfortunately Indi doesn't like Carter much at first and the two spend much time trying to stir one another up until, inevitably, romance blooms. But it might just take a few years, a tragedy and some steamy hot sex for this pair to get together ...

Bastard is an addictive and slightly over the top romantic read that delivers everything that it promises on the cover. My grumbles about this one are that parts of the story did not much depth to them, and some of the plot devices were a little too obvious. Despite the novel being set in Sydney and Newcastle, much of this story seemed to have an American quality about it--for example, Indi is said to have gone to College instead of uni, and early on there is a scene at the high school, where they all seem to be eating lunch at in cafeteria like arrangement. And, as is often the case with books in this genre, Carter proves how much he cares by controlling as much of Indi's life as he can. However, I did enjoy the ending (it was nice to see two other deserving characters get married,) and parts of this story read like a lovely, escapist fantasy.

If you like books with bad boys and hot sex then you'll like this one.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is a sad, funny and touching memoir about a young Jewish American woman who undertakes a birthright tour of Israel. Told in the form of a graphic novel, Sarah perfectly expresses her internal conflicts as she tours a place that she is both in awe of and despises. The author is sensitive, politically aware and nobody's fool, which makes a tour of a place that she disapproves of to be a difficult and, at times, lonely experience. She can see through most of the propaganda that she is presented with on the the tour. Also she is not afraid to ask big questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, even if sometimes the answers are not things that she wants to hear, and she ends up learning that sometimes solutions to the conflict may not be as easy as they appear on the surface.

This was an interesting read and one that was certainly thoughtfully read and illustrated. What came through over and over again, is that the author is a good person, who genuinely feels a lot of compassion for others. She is also honest about her feelings, her own prejudices and what she has learned through the tour, which makes for interesting--and enlightening--reading. 

The illustrations are absolutely beautiful, done in watercolour.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)




I recently found some old issues of Vogue and InStyle Magazine and shared them on my Instagram feed. I love this one from 2006 which features Australian actor Melissa George on the cover. At the time, Melissa George was the living example of a local girl made good. A teenage girl from Perth, she first hit our screens in Home and Away, becoming one half of the most popular character to ever grace the series. From there, she moved to Hollywood and by 2006 she had become famous the whole world over thanks to her part in the massively successful television series Alias. More success was to follow, including film roles, a Golden Globe nomination, and a Logie award for Most Outstanding Actress for her role as Rosie in The Slap (George later reprised her role in the American remake of the series.) She also played the lead in US television series Heartbeat and, sadly, has suffered some pretty bad press of late, for things that really aren't relevant to this blog, however, I hope that circumstance will allow this talented actor to return to her career soon.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Literary Quotes



So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Writing a review of The Handmaid's Tale in a time when it seems that there is nothing new or original that can possibly be said about Canadian author Margaret Atwood's brilliant dystopian is one hell of a challenge. Thanks Trump, for creating an era that gives everyone cause to worry, and thanks to everyone who created or watched the recent television series. Oh, and thanks everyone else who has given this novel the reviews it deserves since it was released in 1985. 

No, I'm not bitter about it. The Handmaid's Tale is an brilliant novel and deserves all of the praise and discussion that it has received.

The novel is set in the United States, in what was, presumably, the near future after the novel first went to print. The United States is now known as Gilead and, following war, is now run by a strict Christian fundamentalist regime where women have no rights--women are no longer permitted to read, to have ownership of anything and they are broken up into various roles according to their ability and lot in life. Some women are maids, others are wives, some are Aunts (unmarried, older women whose role it is to govern the others,) some are sent out to clean up the colonies and others, like, Offred, the main character are sent to the homes of wealthy men so that they may bare them children. Offred had a name before the changes took place, but now she belongs to the man of the household where she must stay. She has literally become "Of Fred." (There are also characters called Ofglen, and Ofwarren.) Separated from her husband (her marriage was deemed invalid as it was her husband's second marriage, and her daughter, Offred lives an unhappy existence and does what she can to survive it, which eventually leads to some situations that have more than a touch of black comedy about them. Through flashbacks we learn about Offred's life before becoming a handmaid--in particular her friendship with Moira, a spirited young woman who refuses to let the aunts break her.

And, of course, the totalitarian government of Gilead uses a few carefully chosen passages from the bible to justify all of this.

What really shines about The Handmaid's Tale is how cleverly it demonstrates how the women of the novel cope with their circumstances and the risks they take just to survive. Perhaps the most frightening thing about the novel, however, is how easily something like this could happen. It's not beyond the realms of fiction that--given the right circumstances--that women could find their rights taken away. (After all, in The Handmaid's Tale, all the government had to do was freeze all of the women's bank accounts and make it illegal for anyone to employ women.) 

This one is definitely worth a read or, if you've read it before, a timely second look. 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Review: New York Nights by CJ Duggan

The second stand-alone novel in Aussie Author CJ Duggan's Heart of the City series is a bit sweeter, a bit shorter and a bit quieter than it's predecessor. Sarah, an independent Aussie twenty-something is in New York following both of her dreams--to work as an Au Pair, and to see New York. The only problem with this plan is that her employer and his family and pretty bloody intimidating. Their biggest rule? Ask no questions. But this may prove difficult when baby Grace is so small, her father Ben so sad and distant, and her mother nowhere to be seen ...

New York Nights is a short and sweet story, which is great, but it does lead to one problem. It's so short and sweet that the central plot is resolved a bit too easily--it would have been nice to see a bit more tension build between Sarah and Ben between their first kisses, etc. (On that, I think the author could have created even more tension between Sarah and Ben's mother. And that--dare I say it--jealous house maid.) I guessed half of what the big reveal would be, but the author certainly took me by surprise with that other reveal at the end. 

A sweet story featuring wealthy characters, heartbreak, babies and an Aussie female lead.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)



I spotted this chap down on Broadway at Glenelg, not so far away from the Kiosk and, perhaps, not so far away from Abigail's house ;)

Friday, 5 May 2017

Friday Funnies


Ha! I was guilty of this one last night. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited is definitely, definitely one of my favourite reads of 2017. This brilliant, and well thought out coming of age novel tells the story of Molly Peskin-Suso, a seventeen year old who has experienced twenty-six crushes, but never had a boyfriend. Meanwhile, her somewhat more outgoing twin sister Cassie is experiencing her first romance with the quirky Mina, and doesn't seem to have as much time for Molly anymore. Meanwhile, it's finally legal for their mothers, Nadine and Patty to marry and it seems as though everyone else is moving forward with their lives, and Molly is left feeling somewhat clueless.

Author Becky Albertalli nails exactly what it feels like to be seventeen and completely clueless about relationships while everyone seems to be moving forward. Her relationship with her twin sister is changing--no longer is she the most important person in Cassie's life, and, suddenly, there are things which (understandably,) Cassie does not wish to share with her, leading Molly to feel rejected. Molly blames all of the usual factors--her appearance, and being a bit shy--on the fact that she does not have a boyfriend, while being unaware of what factors determine who we end up with. She's willing to be set up with Mina's hipster friend, Will, who the others think she should be with, and seems almost oblivious to what is going on between herself and her nerdy, chubby colleague Reid. (Whom the others do not seem to consider 'dating material.') Things all work out in the end, though, in a way that is both pleasing and realistic.

Perhaps what sets this novel apart from other teen coming of age novels is one simple thing. Diversity. The author moves away from traditional American stereotypes and presents us with one of the most diverse families that I have ever read in fiction. The Peskin-Suso family are jewish, bi-racial and the kids have two mothers and are all conceived from the same sperm donor. (There is a younger brother as well.) Nadine and Patty are reasonably laid back (within certain limits as Cassie discovers at one point,) and they have some excellent advice for Molly at crucial points during the novel. (In other words, they are cool parents.) At some points, I felt like diversity was put in their for the sake of it (Cassie mentions that Mina is Pansexual, and the implication of this was never really touched upon,) but overall, it's an excellent story about finding your own way, and your own path in life. 

Apparently, this novel features some of the same characters that appeared in the authors previous work, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I will be keen to check that one out in the near future.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Literary Quotes



It is to the credit of human nature that, except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Review: A Talent For Murder by Andrew Wilson

The epigraph on the front cover of my copy of a Talent For Murder reads: A mystery worthy of Agatha herself and that, I think, sums up the essence of the novel. It is not a new concept--speculating what happened to beloved British author Agatha Christie during the ten days in which she disappeared--but author Andrew Wilson plots this novel so cleverly and so carefully, blending fact with a mystery that makes one feel as though they really are reading a Christie novel that I found myself entirely caught up in the plot.

The facts, as many of you will already know, is that in 1926 Agatha Christie went missing for ten days. Her car was found abandoned the day after she went missing. Ten days after her disappearance she was recognised by staff at a hotel in London and had checked in under the name of Mrs Theresa Neele. In A Talent for Murder, author Andrew Wilson creates a cracking great read whereby the Agatha Christie is blackmailed by a doctor to poison his wife, and the author has to find a way out. Meanwhile, the local police aren't doing terribly well at solving the disappearance, the story has whipped up a frenzy in the media and a young, aspiring journalist might find herself in harms way ...

In many respects, this one read just like a Christie novel and that, at its heart, it what makes it such an enjoyable read. The writing is clever, as is the plotting. I picked this one up only intending to read a chapter or so, but soon got caught up in the whole thing.

Recommended.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)



This is hardly a great work of art, but I was surprised by just how well this photograph of a tin of diet coke sitting on a table with a plastic gingham tablecloth turned out. In one sense it's a little bit satirical, because I'm claiming something very cheap and nasty as art, in another sense, perhaps that's where the art lies ...

In any case I am not taking it seriously.