Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Review: My Life as a Hashtag by Gabrielle Williams

My Life as a Hashtag is a realistic read about how one mistake can lead to a whole lot of hurt, heartache and humiliation. MC (otherwise known as Marie-Claude,) is sixteen years old and is in the midst of a pretty stressful time. Her parents are divorcing and her father is already in a relationship with another woman. Her brother has become withdrawn, while her mother is busy trying to meet men on tinder. To add to the mix, MC is a scholarship kid at a top Melbourne private school. The girls she hangs around with are probably better described as frenemies than her besties, particularly Anouck who treats MC more like a rival and a potential threat than a friend ... because that is precisely what MC is to Anouck, though MC is most ignorant about how her behaviour affects others, rather than being an outright bitch. It's a fairly realistic take on female friendships at that age, where one's closest friends can also be their worst enemies, and where someone can genuinely be ignorant of the hurt that their actions can cause. And, of course, where that hurt can be taken completely out of proportion. Anyway, things come to a head between MC and Anouck first over a boy, and then over MC not being invited to a party that is being hosted by Anouck. MC gets her revenge in what she thinks is a clever but anonymous post online. The post goes viral and both MC and Anouck find their lives being invaded in a way that neither girl thought possible ...

While the possibility of such a post going viral seems very remote, and the fallout is quite harsh, what this story has in bucketloads is a very realistic take on female rivarly, and teenage culpability. MC is portrayed as someone who is genuinely ignorant of her actions--she's not necessarily a bully who set out with an intent to hurt someone. She's a kid who is hurting, who has few people she can lean on for support, and who vents the only way she knows how, using the resources that she has available. Her actions are those of someone who doesn't know any better, and her experiences lead to some pretty harsh life lessons. As for Anouck, she's no angel either, though the way she stands up to her mother in the end--and the way that she listens to MC's apology--certainly suggest some newfound maturity on her part. 

This is an enjoyable realistic read. My only complaint is that the book is going to date very quickly due to its reliance on technology--a pity considering how well-drawn the characters and situations were.

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


Sunday, 25 June 2017

Kathryn's Inbox Exclusive: Man Discovers He Was Not Inspiration For Carly Simon Song

NOWHERESVILLE, AUSTRALIA--Nineteen-year-old Edward Sorrento had his illusions shattered yesterday when he discovered that he was not, in fact, the subject of Carly Simon's hit song, You're So Vain. "I truly thought that she was singing about me," Sorrento told our reporter. "I mean there is even this bit in there that says something about how she bets that I know the song is about me. "I just thought it was about me, because you know, I'm vain and stuff," he added with a whistful sigh. 

Sorrento's illusions were shattered when he discovered that the hit song was first released in 1972, twenty-six years before he was born. The subject of the song has been a closely guarded secret, though an article on wikipedia claims that three different men helped to inspire the song. 

Sorrento has now deleted the song from his iPod.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Review: Dr. Fourth originated by Roger Hargraves

The moment that I saw this clever Mr Men--Doctor Who mash up for sale in Dymocks I knew that I just had to buy it and take it home. There has always been something delightful about the simplicity of the Mr Men universe (after all, the books are aimed at schoolchildren,) from the characters to the chatty narratives. And the worms. (Because one cannot talk about the Mr Men books without mentioning those worms.) In contrast, the Doctor Who universe is complicated and ever changing. What a delight it is, then, to see the Doctor placed inside this simple universe. All of the trademark features of the fourth doctor have been included, his scarf, his love of jelly babies and, of course, Sarah Jane is in the thick of the action. 

In this adventure (which will be one of the twelve volume set,) the Doctor and Sarah Jane use their skills as time travellers to outrun and outwit the Daleks. The Mr Men version of the daleks is a hilarious parody, in this one we see a Dalek exterminate a tennis ball rather than play with it, chase a poor worm, and we encounter Dale a Dalek who isn't quite as good at exterminating things as the others. Dale doesn't quite sync in with the traditional kind of Dalek, but that seems all right because it adds a bit of humour and this story is a bit simpler than your usual Doctor Who adventure.

Anyway, I thought this one was a lot of fun and hope to explore some of the other titles in the series soon.

Recommended.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Best of Kathryn's Instagram




In honour of Garfield's birthday, my Instagram post for this week has a Garfield theme. I love this mug, my brother bought it for me when I was nine, and I still have it all these years later.

Happy 39th Birthday Garfield. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

There has been no rain in Kiewarra--a small town in Victoria inhabited with people with equally small minds--for two years. The town is also home to a shocking murder, three members of the Hadler family have been shot dead, with baby Charlotte the only survivor. Luke Hadler is the main suspect in this apparent murder-suicide, but when his former best mate Aaron Falk returns town for the funeral, it soon becomes obvious that there is more to the situation than what meets the eye ...

The Dry is an intriguing novel that goes between the present--telling the story of the search for the real killer--and the past--telling the story of the tragic events that led Falk to leave town in the first place. His return is not a welcome one, and the twists of who might be responsible for what, and who Luke Hadler really was, lead the reader on a journey full of twists, read herrings and, eventually, answers.

This one is extremely well written and may be well worth a read for the writing alone. It's not the kindest depiction of life in small town Australia, but it is certainly intriguing. Fan's of Joy Dettman's Mallawindy will love this one.

Recommended.

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

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Review: Why I am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin

In many ways Jessa Crispin's manifesto Why I am Not a Feminist is a breath of fresh air. While I don't necessarily agree with everything she says, this is a book that is unashamed, unafraid and actually contributes something new to the discussion. Crispin challenges what modern feminism really is, how it works and whether it is truly effective. She argues that modern feminism has been dumbed down, popularised and seeks to appeal to the masses, rather than getting on with what first and second wave feminists fought for. Even if I didn't agree with everything she said, her writing forced me to stop, listen and most important of all, to think.

This review is going to be short, because I think that readers should be allowed the luxury of picking the book up without being too bogged down or bothered by what reviewers such as myself think of it, but I will say this. Open it, keep an open mind and see what you think.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Review: Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Pearlman

Seven Types of Ambiguity is a novel that is long, wordy and oddly addictive. Set in Melbourne, it opens with an account by a renowned psychologist about a recent incident in which his patient--a young man who is obsessed by his ex--abducted her son. No harm came to the child, but Simon's fragile mental state and his relationship with his ex are the springboard for this story, which is told from seven different perspectives. Each and every one of these perspectives is a little bit different. The lines between right and wrong--and who is telling the truth--blur until a small, final chapter inserts a very clever but heartbreaking twist. (On that, I wondered if history was doomed to repeat itself with Rachel and Sam.)

I heard of this novel thanks to the recent ABC television series and although I didn't see much of the show, I can see how this one would translate very well on the screen. The author has a lot to say about how lives can be tainted in the pursuit of wealth, sex and a notion of being a person who has it all. The female characters don't have it easy, whether we're talking about Angelique, the prostitute with a heart of gold or Anna, whose choices led her to a loveless marriage. Simon himself is a tragic character--intelligent, charismatic but defined first by the end of his supposedly perfect relationship, then by random incident that lead to the loss of his job, and by a decline in his mental health. It is more difficult to feel sorry for Joe and Mitch, Alex is a character best discovered by the reader, and a big part of Rachel's character is to let us know where the others are some years later, and to ponder, perhaps, if she does not have an obsession of her own.

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of references in the text to its namesake, William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity. 

At more than 600 pages, this one may take a while to read, and the story and characters may become infuriating on more than one occasion, but the journey is well worth it. 

Recommended.

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

Monday, 19 June 2017

Happy birthday Garfield!


Well, it's June 19 once again and as is tradition on this blog, I'm taking time out to wish Garfield the cat a very happy birthday. (Family and friends will get the inside joke, and yes, there is one.)

This year, my favourite comic character celebrates his 39th birthday. The strip debuted on the 19th of June 1978 and is still going strong. Every year on its anniversary a comic is devoted to wishing Garfield a happy birthday. In some instances, Jim Davis will devote an entire week to birthday themed comics, most of which usually involve cake in one form or another.

PS Other famous people enjoying a birthday today include author Salmon Rushdie, musician Paula Abdul and uh ...

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Review: The Great Gatenby by John Marsden

Years after it was first published, The Great Gatenby still packs a punch. It tells the story of Erle Gatenby, a headstrong ratbag with a heart of gold. Gatenby has been getting into a bit of trouble at school, and although he loves his parents, and they love him, he has reached an age where the difference between them are becoming more and more obvious and it is becoming harder for them to live together under one roof. The solution is for Gatenby to go away to boarding school. Linley isn't exactly paradise (his lodgings is known as Crapp House,) and Gatenby doesn't always toe the line, but through his experiences breaking the rules and discovering just how good he is at competitive swimming, Gatenby develops a greater sense of self and for the first time starts planning for his future.

The Great Gatenby was amusing and just as honest as all of Marsden's works. Gatenby's exploits, along with his rule breaking girlfriend Melanie, are hilarious. One of the more interesting take-home messages is that you don't have to be a model student to be a good person, and that some exploits are a natural part of the teenage experience. Gatenby's growth as a person happens on his terms, though he is touched in a positive way by some of his experiences at school. (For example, he gives up smoking because he thinks it will be a good idea to do so, and not because of his teachers hassling him to give up.)

The novel is very short and written in a way that many readers, particularly teenage boys, will find engaging. 

Recommended.

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

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Literary Quotes



Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Friday Funnies: Shakespeare & Austen Spoilers


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Review: The Many Ways of Seeing by Nick Gleeson with Peter Bishop

Nick Gleeson has scaled Everest, been captain of a cricket team, explored the Simpson Desert and is an experienced athlete. He also happens to be blind. After losing his sight in an accident at the age of seven, Nick learned a different way of 'seeing.' In The Many Ways of Seeing Nick shares his experiences with the world. The text, however, is more than that. It also tells the story of how this unique book came to be. Peter Bishop, an experienced editor and publisher shares his insights of the writing and editing process, the challenges that he faced while working on this book, and the many discoveries that he made during the creative process thanks to Nick's unique insight.

I enjoyed reading this one. It was an autobiography with a twist. In many ways, Nick struck me as a natural writer--he has a real talent with words and shares his experiences quite beautifully. I found myself drawn in to several of his stories, in particular the one about his first trip to the shops alone at age eleven. I also enjoyed the account of his trip to the Simpson Desert.

This book is honest, insightful and refreshing. Recommended.

Thank you to Ventura Press for my review copy of The Many Ways of Seeing.

Note: In July 2017, a companion book Back to Broady written by Nick's friend and childhood neighbour will be released. Both books will launch Peter Bishop books, a new and exciting imprint by Ventura Press that will help to foster new and emerging talent based on their literary merit. 

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

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner

There is no getting around this. The content of The Diary of a Teenage Girl is shocking, and even more so due to the fact that it is a fictionalised memoir. But perhaps it is important to put the book into historical context. The story is set in San Francisco in 1976. This is a time and a place where young people had a greater amount of sexual freedoms than previous generations. Contraceptives were available, removing the fear and stigma of an unwanted pregnancy, while HIV and AIDS would not be heard of for a good five years. This is also an era where sexual abuse and adolescent mental illness were not discussed as freely as they are today--Minnie would not have been able to turn to a friend, the internet or anywhere else for answers.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is made up of a combination of diary entries, comics and illustrations that tell the story of Minnie, a fifteen year old whose life is not unlike that of the author. Minnie has just returned home from boarding school and is living with her mother and her younger sister. The story opens with her being groomed by her mother's boyfriend whose intent is pretty clear. And the truly frightening thing about this story is that Minnie isn't frightened--in fact she welcomes the beginning of their sexual relationship. A combination of elements, most notably being neglected by her parents, has led her to believe that she isn't good enough and that no one else would ever want to have sex with her. So if she doesn't sleep with Monroe, she will never get to experience sex. (This is adolescent logic at it's worst--self depreciating, self destructive and ultimately vulnerable.) From there, the reader experiences an utterly tragic year in the life of a young woman whose combination of vulnerability and poor choices leads to her being taken advantage of by a number of different people, which further sets of a course of self-destructive behaviour. (At one point, she tries to start a relationship with a young man who has been institutionalised because he has urges to kill people.) Eventually, Minnie finds some salvation when she realises that she has some very real artistic talent. 

The novel captures how easily young people can confuse sex for everything that it isn't, and why good people can make bad choices. 

I found this book extremely heartbreaking and difficult to read. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Friday Funnies: Garfield Meets Garfield


The first time that I saw this one, I thought that someone has uploaded it to the internet as a joke--after all, cyberspace isn't exactly short of fake Garfield strips, and some of them are in better taste than others. It turns out that this one is a real comic strip from April 21, 2008. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Review: Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson

In Australia more people than not would associate Adrian "Ade" Edmondson with his hilarious comedic roles as Vyvyan Basterd in The Young Ones or as Eddie Hitler in the as politically incorrect as you can get Bottom. However, if anyone so much as scratches the surface of his career, they will soon discover that he has enjoyed a wide variety of serious and comic roles on stage and screen, he formed a folk band called The Bad Shepherds (who toured Australia a few years back,) that he works extensively as a scriptwriter and released his first novel in 1995. Consequently, it is unsurprising that his first (and hopefully not his last,) children's novel Tilly and the Time Machine is a real winner.

The novel opens with Tilly, who is aged seven and a half, discovering that her dad, an eccentric but kind and loving scientist has just built a time machine. Dad says that they can go anywhere in time that Tilly wants to go, but there is only one place she wants to be--at home on her sixth birthday, back when her mum was still alive. Anyway, something goes a bit wrong with the time machine, and Dad ends up stuck in time. Tilly soon finds herself on one heck of an adventure, as she outwits some crooks, and then moves through time in an effort to save her Dad. And be prepared, this journey is a lot of fun, with some genuine laugh out loud moments and loads of clever plotting. Don't write this one off as the efforts of yet another celebrity writing a children's novel. Adrian Edmondson is the real deal--clever, funny and entertaining. I love the illustrations as well.

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Literary Quotes



"Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Review: Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler

Read Me Like a Book is a sensitive portrayal of a young woman who lacks a sense of self and whose journey of self-discovery happens in the most unexpected of ways. Ashleigh Walker is seventeen years old and studying for her A-levels. She has three friends at her local college--the slight wild Cat, straight-laced Robyn, and Luke who sits somewhere between the other two. She has a boyfriend, Dylan, but the reader soon gets the feeling that she isn't really interested in him, and is only dating him because it is what she thinks that Dylan and others expect from her. It's a dilemma that is easy enough for many teenagers to identify with, that sometimes relationships or even hook ups happen not because the pair are truly interested in one another, but because they feel that they should be dating someone. And then, something unexpected happens as Ashleigh gets to know her new English teacher. For the first time, she starts to develop the symptoms of a crush. The only thing is, her teacher is female...

This was an interesting account of a young woman who doesn't have a lot of parental guidance trying to navigate the murky waters of adolescence, her final year of schooling and an understanding of her sexuality--and that the latter is something that belongs to her and cannot be determined by trends or peer group pressure. The response from her parents was quite interesting, one treats her with love and understanding, while the other doesn't. Overall, I found the novel to be quite realistic in its dealings with adolescence--it doesn't romanticise certain things, or shy away from the fact that adolescence can be an icky, awkward time and we know that Ashleigh's problems aren't magically going to go away when she experiences her first relationship. I think this one will be relatable to many teenagers, regardless of who they are attracted to, because the themes of discovering yourself are so strong.

Also, I really, really liked this passage and I think other readers will too:

It's all very well going round with two fingers stuck up at the world. but what happens when the world turns round and sticks them back up at you? The world's a lot bigger than I am. (p227)

Recommended. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)


Friday, 2 June 2017

Friday Funnies


Too funny not to share. (Sorry bird lovers!)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Review: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love is one of those books. You know the ones. They come with a precedent. Glowing reviews from a wide range of trusted sources. Award wins and nominations, including the Stella Prize. And no matter which bookshop I went to, every last copy was sold out. Eventually, I found a copy at Big W (of all places,) brought it home and felt a little too scared to read it. What were the odds of it living up to all of the hype. What if I didn't enjoy it? Was I even buying and reading this book for the right reasons, or was I reading it just to be a part of the in-crowd? Eventually, I picked my copy up and started to read ...

It turns out that The Museum of Modern love is one of those books that works on a couple of levels. On the one hand, it is the story of Arky Levin, a middle-aged composer living in New York whose wife has become seriously ill, and how he becomes fascinated by The Artist is Present, a performance art piece at the Museum of Modern Art, and how this performance helps him to heal and make the right choices for his wife. It is a novel about the commitment that Arky makes to his wife and what that really means. We can also say that it is the story of several other loosely related characters and how, they too, are they are affected by The Artist is Present. On the other hand, it's also a fictionalised account of performance artist Marina Abramovic and offers a biography of the woman whose performance art is often dramatic, controversial and often misunderstood.

At it's core, however, The Museum of Modern Love is a demonstration of the sheer power that art has on our every day lives. Through watching Abramovic, each of the characters are forced to look inside themselves--for Arky, it becomes a question of whether he should obey his wife's wishes, or override them if he knows that deep down, the latter might be what she truly wants. 

I enjoyed this one immensely, in particular, the meditations on the healing power of art. I think that it is a bit of a subjective book, and different readers may come away having learned a different lesson, even if they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Recommended.

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