Thursday, December 26, 2013

Graphic Novel mini-reviews #16

Fables: Homeland (Volume 6)

Written by: Bill Willingham; Illustrated by: Mark Buckingham, David Hahn, Steve Leialoha

Published: 2006

My Thoughts: My library was missing volumes 4 and 5, but I was in a real Fables mood and decided to skip ahead. There was a bit of a transition period, A LOT happened in those two volumes, but there was a handy little catch up section at the start. As it were, this is almost like reading a whole new story, most of the characters from the first three volumes are no longer part of it (but hopefully will be back). The majority of the book focuses on Boy Blue as he makes his way back to the Fables homelands, armed with the witching cloak and vorpal sword. He's such a small character prior to this, and I loved how bad ass he was. I'm excited to see what he does next. And we find out who the Adversary is. Maybe it's because of the two volumes I missed, but it came as a hell of a surprise to me!

Runaways: Pride and Joy (Volume 1)

Written by: Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by: Adrian Alphona

Published: 2004

My Thoughts: I heard about this series awhile ago when I went through a it of a Brian K. Vaughan phase and when I found out the concept - kids find out their parents are evil super-villains and they have their own powers - and that it was eventually taken over by Joss Whedon. Welp, I. Was. In. I really enjoyed this volume, the story was exciting (who is the mole?), the characters were unique and fleshed out well, and the writing was tight. I wasn't quite as fond of the illustrations, they were fine but I prefer art that was drawn by someone who cares what the human form actually looks like. It's not bad enough to turn me off the series by a long shot, but it's definitely not my favourite style either.

Fables: The Mean Seasons (Volume 5)

Written by: Bill Willingham; Illustrated by:Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Tony Akins, Jimmy Palmiotti

Published: 2005

My Thoughts: I might have skipped ahead two volumes, but that was only until my library could delivery the missing volumes into my hands. Turns out volume 4 exists in no library in Brisbane, for whatever reason, but I'll skip past it for now I guess. Anyway, volume 5 is a transition volume. There are characters leaving, new characters taking on new roles, the ebb and flow of Fabled life in the Mundy world. Snow gives birth, a murderer is hunting down Fables, we meet a spy of Bigbys, and there is a new mayor in town. There's plenty to fill the pages, and it's all really interesting and fun, but the fact that it's a transitional piece is hard to escape. There's also a brief two-part story about Bigby during WWII which was fine, but nothing to write home about.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet

Written by: Sarah Waters

Published in: 1998

Synopsis:  this delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she falls in love with a cross-dressing music-hall singer named Miss Kitty Butler.

When Kitty is called up to London for an engagement on "Grease Paint Avenue," Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and, soon after, dons trousers herself and joins the act. In time, Kitty breaks her heart, and Nan assumes the guise of butch roue to commence her own thrilling and varied sexual education - a sort of Moll Flanders in drag - finally finding friendship and true love in the most unexpected places.

Challenges: LGBT for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge

“Being in love, you know... it's not like having a canary, in a cage. When you lose one sweetheart, you can't just go out and get another to replace her.”

I started reading this months and months ago after Alice gave me the longest list of Lesbian Lit ever written and this was the only book from that list in my library. But even though I was enjoying it I took ages to get anywhere with it (I blame the chapter length, they make stopping and starting ridiculously difficult) and eventually had to take it back to the library unfinished. I then, for whatever reason, took about two months to finally borrow it out again. But eventually, EVENTUALLY, I managed to finish my first Sarah Waters and now feel very up to date with the lesbian goings on in Victorian London.

This book is about two things and the two things rather inform one another. Firstly, the book is about Nan(cy) - Whitstable oyster girl turned stage performer turned rent boy, turned sex slave, turned housekeeper - and secondly, the book is about the various types of lesbian relationships during the Victorian era. As Nan navigates London and the careers and lifestyles unique to it, we navigate the same path, if Nan is in the dark then so are we. We remain unaware of exactly how extensive the lesbian or "tom" lifestyle is in London until Nan learns such things, and while she throws herself into aspects of the lifestyle (which we'll get to) she remains pretty naive until the final third of the book.

The book is broken up into three sections, and as this is something of a coming of age novel, they loosely map the critical moments in Nan's young adulthood. When we meet her she's on the typical Whitstable career path for Victorian females. She's got a sweetheart, she works in her parent's oyster shop and she'll probably be married and pregnant within a year or two. A trip to the theatre changes this when she witnesses Kitty Butler on the stage, cross-dressing and performing as a male. Nan is immediately drawn to Kitty and after spending night after night at the theatre she finally begins a conversation with Kitty and eventually becomes her dresser and then her performing partner in London. This section is all very sweet and awkward and full of blushing and stolen glances, and when Kitty and Nan finally start a relationship it's wonderful.
“We fitted together like the two halves of an oyster-shell. I was Narcissus, embracing the pond in which I was about to drown. However much we had to hide our love, however guarded we had to be about our pleasure, I could not long be miserable about a thing so very sweet. Nor, in my gladness, could I quite believe that anybody would be anything but happy for me if only they knew.”
But, alas, things quickly sour when Nan realises that Kitty is terrified of people finding out the truth of their wicked and naughty ways and ultimately breaks Nan's heart. After Nan runs from Kitty she becomes a rent boy (no need to expand on that) before finally becoming a sex slave for Diana. This section is filthy! I mean, this shouldn't come as a surprise since I described Nan as a sex slave, but woah, Waters does not hold back with the scenes between Nan and Diana. And I'm not exaggerating when I call her a sex slave, because that's exactly what she is. She's "paid" in new clothes and accessories but she has no life of her own. Her movements are resticted, she can't leave the property and she's treated like a performing animal at Diana's parties.
"My dear, I have said: you should have pleasure for your wages! You should live with me here, and enjoy my privileges. You should eat from my table, and ride in my brougham, and wear the clothes I will pick out for you - and remove them, too, when I should ask it. You should be what the sensational novels call kept"
The second section, torrid sex scenes aside, is also kind of heart breaking. Though Nan seems to accept that her sexuality isn't something she can change, she also seems to have resigned herself to see it through Kitty's eyes. So while there are elements of self-empowerment and pleasure in choosing to be kept by Diana, it also seems like Nan is punishing herself for her proclivities. It's as though she believes that lesbians can't have a regular love life and since her sister and Kitty see it as something to be ashamed of she'll prove just how extreme it can be, whether it's actually what she wants or not.

The third and final section is probably my favourite of the three. After living a pretty rough 5 years, Nan is left with nowhere to turn. Luckily she finds Flo who is perhaps one of the loveliest characters to ever be written. After 18 months being spoilt and abused, life in the working class comes as something of a shock to Nan, but she quickly gets used to cleaning house and looking after little baby Cyril. It's in this section that Nan realises life as a lesbian isn't all secrets and sex slavery, and that she's not as unique as she thought. This section is about stability, growth and perspective and it's wonderful to watch Nan navigate her way around.

The book is very well written. Sarah Waters has a gorgeous way with words, bringing life to Victorian London and the excitement of the theatre and the complexities of a lifestyle looked down upon at the time. Though as much as I loved the characters and the actual narrative, I could have happily read 300+ pages of Sarah Waters describing the sights and sounds of Victorian London and the surrounding towns.
"Like our oyster-house, it had its own particular scent - the scent, I know now, of music halls everywhere - the scent of wood and grease-paint and spilling beer, of gas and of tobacco and of hair-oil, all combined. It was a scent which as a girl I loved uncritically; later I heard it described, by theatre managers and artistes, as the smell of laughter, the very odour of applause"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I'm hiding from the cold so here's a post about bookish stuff I've done.

So Canada is cold. Really, really cold. It's about -10 at the moment (a google search says that's 14 F, does that sound right?) and I'm hiding out in my hotel room because I made the mistake in going walking earlier without 15,000 layers on. SILLY KAYLEIGH.

So since I'm sitting here covered in the super warm doona I figured I might as well stop being lazy and write a post. I'll save the full run down for when I get home and grab all my photos off the camera and the holiday is behind me but for now let's talk books. Sounds good right, and so weird for this book blog *nudges you all sharply in the ribs giggling maniacally*

I'm really glad that I decided to only bring the one physical book and rely on my kindle for everything else. Mostly because I have bought TOO MANY books. My bag is about 50kg heavier already and I'm only halfway through my trip. Whoops. But I don't even care, because STRAND! We went back for a second visit after feeling really proud for only buying a single teeny tiny David Sedaris book (Holidays on Ice) and a souvenir magnet. I wasn't so restrained visit 2.

I snatched up a copy of Great Showdowns the Return which is full of adorable illustrations of famous meetups in films, which also happened to be signed by the author. I also found a gorgeous (faux?) leather bound copy of The Woman in White since I loved reading The Moonstone so much. It was also $3, so I can hardly feel guilty about that purchase right? I bought The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni. I actually haven't ever heard about this book before, but I really liked the blurb and the cover and at this point I already had an armload of books and figured another one wouldn't hurt. And finally I bought a teeny little book called Contradictory, the blurb says it is;
A compendium of conundrums, aphorisms and apercus. 
A glossery of capitalist cant and anarchist argot. 
A lexicon for the lawless. 
 It's full of quotes and alternative dictionary definitions and it's equal parts snarky and fun. I actually think I'll save this one to give as a gift to someone, but I couldn't pass it up. And since I spent so much I got a free tote bag, which is maybe partly why I was OK with constantly piling books into my arms.

There was also a bookstore between our hostel and the train station which was awful and awesome. McJ's (which was short for something but I forgot to note it down) was pretty amazing, they had an actual printing press running in the front window which local writers and poets use to make little books and zines of their work. Coolest or what? I also spotted my first celebrity there, Jared Leto was in there one night when we were walking around the shelves.

And of course I couldn't *not* buy a book there, what with my lifelong crusade to keep independent bookstores alive with my wallet. So I bought Jenni Fagen's Panopticon. It comes with a recommendation from Irvine Welsh so I have certain expectations which I hope it'll meet. Watch this space.

6 books, that's not too bad is it? I mean, it's going to be hell to lug home but on the grand scale of bookish purchases made on holiday they aren't any where near extravagant right*? Amazingly I have managed to go into bookstores without buying books though. I went into Ravens bookstore in Harvard Square and listened to an extremely private and ridiculously loud conversation between two girls about the boy one of the girls was seeing and kissing regularly and a best friend who was no longer a best friend. I checked out a Barnes and Noble to see how America does it's Big Box Bookstores. I've also been into about half a dozen comic book stores across the North East hoping that the final issue of Locke and Key had been released (late again, you're killing me Hill, KILLING ME). By far my favourite were the two in New York but then I've only been in Canada for one day (show me what you've got Canada!) so it's probably not fair to lock in anything definite so far.

I've also managed to get to see a bunch of bookish, non-bookstore things too. In San Francisco we went to the Beat Museum which was less museum and more loving collection of all things Beat writers in a single location. They also have a bookstore section separate from the museum, so if you don't want to spend the $8 (which was probably a little pricey) you could still see some first editions and the full range of work by Beat writers and academics. In New York we visited the literary walk and giggled at the statues (you can totally see up Shakespeare's tunic and Robert Burns looks like he's farting - it's not my fault!) but also sighed over the prettiness of it all. We stopped by the Dakota, not because it was the site of John Lennon's murder (which is such a weirdly morbid stop to make on a holiday), but because it was used in the film Rosemary's Baby. It's a really gorgeous building, perfect for a horror film.

We also went to the NY Jewish Museum where they had an Art Spiegelman exhibit. Sadly they had a no photo policy (I tried to get a sneaky shot but they caught me) but it was phenomenal to see his amazing process. Obviously there was a lot of space dedicated to Maus, there was a recording of the interview he had with his dad to get the story and a bunch of early drafts and concept pictures, but there was also a lot of stuff from before and after that. I only really know Spiegelman for Maus, so I was surprised to see what a subversive comic creator he was. I'll have to track down a bunch more of his work when I get back to Australia. We also saw two shows on broadway, The Book of Morman which was fantastic, and Waiting for Godot, which was so flipping amazing I could barely handle it. Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart were phenomenal in their roles and obviously having the best time. Where do I go to apply to be their best friends? Oh and most important bookish thing I did in New York? I met up with Alley! Stupidly we forgot to get a photo but I swear it happened!

And I think that's about enough for one post - I don't want to melt you faces with holiday overload. I've been reading a fair bit since we've been catching buses between the cities we're visiting, so I think I'll do a big post of mini-reviews for them some time in the next week. But just so you know (because I know this is important to you all),  NOS4R2 (Joe Hill) is amazing, The Circle (Dave Eggers) is terrifying and Bossypants (Tina Fey) is hilarious.

Btw, Christmas soon! Is everyone excited?

*You guys need to answer yes here otherwise I'll keep buying more and more.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next #3)

Written by: Jasper Fforde

Published: 2003

Synopsis: Leaving Swindon behind her, to hide out in the Well of Lost Plots - the place where all fiction is created - Thursday Next, Literary Detective and soon-to-be one parent family, ponders her next move from inside an unpublished novel of dubious merit entitled Caversham Heights. Her husband, Landen, exists only in her memories and with Goliath and the Chronoguard on her tail in the real world, the safest place for her to be is inside the covers of a book.

But changes are afoot within the world of fiction. The much-awaited upgrade to the centuries-old book system --- in which grammasites will be exterminated, punctuation standardised and the number of possible plots increased from eight to an astonishing thirty-two --- is only weeks away. But if this is the beginning of a golden age in fictional narrative, then why are Jurisfiction agents mysteriously dying? Perkins is eaten by the minotaur, Snell succumbs to the Mispeling Vyrus and Godot is missing.

There'll be spoilers for books 1 and 2 in this review. Probably. So be warned.

“Anything devised by man has bureaucracy, corruption and error hardwired at inception.”

I know I've been a little hard on this series in the past but I have come fully on board with the Jasper Fforde/Thursday Next appreciation club. All of my issues with the previous two were completely sorted out in this third installment of the Thursday Next series.

Less Deus Ex Machina? Check.
Less dependence on Landon to motivate the plot? Check.
More Thursday being awesome and independent and kickass? Oh my god, check.

For the first time I felt like this was a book actually about Thursday and her literary adventures, rather than just an excuse to put some clever references and ideas to paper. It was more focused, much tighter and infinitely more interesting as a mystery novel. I'm guessing Jasper Fforde finally got comfortable in his voice and role as author, or maybe it just took 2 books to really work out what it was he wanted to achieve with this series. Either way, The Well of Lost Plots was an absolute winner.

Thursday is now living within the literary world, holed away in an unpublished crime novel. As her stay is part of an organised character exchange Thursday has to take on one of the roles, while also juggling her new work as an apprentice Jurisfiction agent, early pregnancy and a memory-worm which is actively trying to remove any trace of her eradicated husband Landon. She has a full plate is what I'm saying. Except that's not even the tip of the iceberg. She's also living in, and maintaining, a flying boat - which I had to google and now I want one - looking after two Generics* and caught in the middle of an treacherous plot which causes the deaths of several Jurisfiction agents. While there is plenty going on here, every story thread leads to the next and none seem extraneous to the central mystery that Thursday explores.

Because the mystery and central story-lines were better tied together in this volume I actually found myself enjoying the little literary mentions even more than before. And it's the little things which make the book so unique and fabulous. It's basically Harry Potter for grown ups,** there are hints and flourishes designed purely for the literary and grammar minded. Like the Mispelling Vyrus being contained by dictionaries, or the lack of U's in American English being due to a U shortage. Fforde clearly loves reading and the worlds you get to explore as a reader, because there are so many loving touches that pay tribute to readers everywhere.
“After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer's breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more.”
I wonder if Fforde spent his youth wondering up these back-stories for classic stories and characters, because some of them are really brilliantly imaginative. Like the counselling sessions in Wuthering Heights. These sessions are mentioned in the earlier books but this time we actually get to witness one. It's not only great because of the catharsis that's given seeing these horrible, horrible characters fight it out, but we also find out that the book has been evolving and getting more angry since its original publishing. I LOVE how fluid Fforde represents fiction as being because it makes sense. As the outside world changes the perspectives and points of view that we bring to our reading changes from earlier generations. Like it or not the way we read Dickens is incredibly different to how the people read Dickens when it was originally published. And why shouldn't that impact the actual story and characters within?

I also really, really loved the women in this book. In my review of The Eyre Affair I accused the series of barely passing the Bechdel test, which was mostly driven by my absolute hatred of the shoehorned relationship. The characters, female and male, in this book are far more nuanced. Thursday is this beautiful mix of hardass go-getter and vulnerability. When it comes to her work she pushes herself to try new things and grasp difficult concepts immediately, but in her personal life she's far less sure of herself. Her dream fight with Aornis and the resulting bad memories which are dredged by repeatedly add such a depth to her character and made me love her far more. The other supporting females, Thursday's nana, Mrs Havisham, Lola and even the villainous Aornis are almost mentors to Thursday, bringing something different, a varying perspective, to help her make sense of the chaos that now surrounds her life. So Fforde I apologise for being mean before, you've proved you can write a female protagonist and a litany of other females. Bravo!

Now that this series has hit its stride I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next. How will Thursday get Landon back? Will she succeed against the Goliath Corporation? What will the fallout from this book's conclusion be? What will Thursday be like as a mother? How many other puns, literary tips-of-the-hat and grammar jokes can Fforde make? If you're yet to launch into this series then you should definitely do so asap, because this is fast becoming one of my favourite series.

*characters before they become characters. Basically blank slates + college students.

**Not that adults shouldn't read HP.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A day in New York


So I've been a little bit more absent than I was expecting but there's so much to do and see! My senses are on complete overload, which has the benefit of sending me off into a deep sleep without worrying about the constant time zone changes I've gone through.

I was going to upload a bunch of photos from the trip so far but most of them are on my camera and I'm far too lazy to download those at the moment. Instead I thought I'd snap a few non-instagram-destined photos and do a bit of a photo-an-hour post. Except it isn't a photo an hour, it's more of a photo-when-I-remembered general gist of how my day went. I always feel like an idiot whipping out my camera on holiday which is stupid because it's not like being a tourist is a bad thing but I always try and snap my pictures as quickly as possible anyway. My camera is good enough to deal with my walk and snaps, my phone camera...not so much. So these are far from being the best pictures ever, but since I'll probably wait until the end of my holiday to upload the proper camera pictures they're the best I've got for now.

Today was a strangely bookish day, which was awesome but not something we set out to do when we left in the morning. There are some killer bookstores in the city, and I'm trying really, really hard not to just buy ALL THE BOOKS and leave myself with no money and no luggage space for the rest of the holiday. But it's hard you guys. It's real hard. Anyway, I'll be back with some reviews and holiday updates soon, promise!

The gorgeous steps up to our hostel.

The mural and cheap shelves at Strand Books (sooooo good!)

Grand Central Station

One of the lions outside the NYPL

Looking through the Midtown comics racks for some gold

Waiting for Book of Mormon to begin!

Going home for the night.

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Written by: Maria Semple

Published: 2012

SynopsisBernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I'm going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I'm about to kick the shit out of life.”

I know this book had been given pretty good reviews by a few of you (Alley and Laura for starters) but what really made me want to read it was that cover. Damn that's a pretty cover. So when I found myself in a bookstore and I saw that cover on the shelf I couldn't not buy a copy could I? And I'm really glad I did. It's always good to know that you guys don't let me down with your recs AND I should totally keep buying books based on pretty covers because it works.

So this book, I really, really loved it. I took it to the beach with me to read and I ended up reading two-thirds of it while I sat on the beach, and then I ended up staying up way too late so that I could get it finished. I felt like it had to be finished that night or else it might lose some of the magic, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't kind of regret that choice the next day when I could barely keep my eyes open. The things we do for books amirite?

What did I love about this book? Umm, everything? I loved the epistolary style. Normally just hearing that a book is written in this style sends me running to the hills, not because I don't like the format, I actually really love it, but 9 times out of 10 it's done terribly and just comes off as kind of lazy. Semple manages to get around this by including all kinds of correspondence, things like email, post-it notes, faxes, reports and also included the occasional 'note' written by Bee as she goes through these documents. I also feel like one of the reasons this worked is that there was a reason for the epistolary format. After the disappearance of her mother (which happens at around the 2/3 point) Bee uses these to try and work out what led to her mother's disappearance and maybe, hopefully, hint at where she might have gone.

So I should probably rewind a little bit. Bernadette Fox is Bee's mum, and she's an eccentric agoraphobic (sort of?) crazy lady. I loved her, I loved her wholeheartedly, and I wanted to be her best friend. She'd absolutely hate that, but maybe if I approached her via email it'd work out okay. She actually reminded me a lot of myself, which is maybe a not so good thing. I mean, I'm not suffering from the range of legitimate psychological conditions she evidentially is, but there was something about her sardonic, grumpy manic energy that was familiar. Which is maybe why I felt so Chris Crocker any time someone was an ass to her.

And people are really nasty to her. Because she isn't your usual cookie-cutter stepford wife, all of the other mothers at Bee's school hate Bernadette and constantly gossip and complain about her lack of school pride. Because Bernadette is so offensive to what they've decided is important in life, they trespass onto her property and complain about blackberry thickets or falsely accuse her of running over their feet. And it made me so mad. Because if Bernadette and her family are okay with her eccentricities, and if her daughter is healthy and happy then why should they even think about getting involved?

Of course, it isn't as simple as that. Semple does such a good job of setting up the good guys and bad buys and then completely destroying those roles. As more emails or letters come to light, you realise that something that seemed selfish perhaps wasn't so selfish. Or maybe that event was actually a lot more one-sided than young Bee's recollection is. Some people remain awful (some are so, so awful*) but none of it is black and white. There are reasons people act the way they do, or act out the way they do and it's so refreshingly real.

But (and this is a little but) I found the ending a little silly. And actually, when you consider that Semple used to write for Arrested Development it's almost to be expected - those shows didn't exactly have a realistic wrap up each week. But while it soured the story for me a little, it wasn't nearly enough to really make me feel any less warm and fuzzy about it. Even Semple being mean to Canada** wasn't enough to make me turn against her and her poppy bright book.

This has been pretty vague, but everyone else (*ahem* Alley and Laura) has already said so much, so well plus I don't want to give away any little details which might temper your view when you decide to read it (which you're going to do right? Of course you are!). But just know this little book about family is the perfect proof that there is always two sides to every story, but more often than not there are actually 5 or 6 or 7 hidden sides that we rarely find out about. So do read it, okay?

*Guys, I NEED to discuss Bee's dad and Soo-Lin. How did you feel about that whole scenario and how it was laid out?

**Don't worry Canada, I've got your back.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Moonstone Readalong - I KNOW WHO STOLE IT

We're supposed to write up a review for the Moonstone readalong and while I might still write a regular review I think I want to write up something a bit more spoilery so that I can discuss all of my favourite bits and pieces about the mystery instead. So I probably don't really need to say it, but there will be spoilers below. Tread carefully, you've been warned.

And double warned in GIF form
So The Moonstone. I absolutely loved it. I'm pretty hopeless at mysteries at the best of times, I'm almost guaranteed to fall for the red herrings littered along the way, so I really didn't guess it at all. I thought that maybe Godfrey was guilty when he broke of the marriage with Rachel (or didn't put up a fight anyway)  and the lawyer was like "oh hell no, that rascally cur" but I decided that'd be too obvious, surely that was a red herring. But even if I had trusted my gut I don't think I could have forseen the road that Wilkie was going to take. Opium sleepwalking and crimes of opportunity? Recreating the scene of the crime? Godfrey dressing up as a scruffy sailor and keeping a woman in a villa? No, even if I had been sure it was Godfrey I don't think I would have guessed all of those threads.

So did everyone immediately assume Ezra Jennings was involved and then feel absolutely awful when it turned out he was actually a gorgeous and wonderful person? It all seemed so suspicious the way he was popping up and having such outrageous hair and maggots in his head (have I mentioned how glad I am Betteredge came back yet?).

But instead of being in cahoots with the Indians he was actually just a man haunted by his past who was dying (of cancer?) and using opium to hold out for just a little longer. Thanks to this lovely, quiet man Franklin's name was cleared and he was able to finally prove to Rachel that he wasn't the guy who stole her moonstone. Or he was, but he did it for the right reasons and accidentally put it straight into the hands of the man who did want to make some money.

Speaking of Rachel. I might have kept suspecting her long after it was clear she wasn't involved. I just had no idea what was a real hint and what was a red herring, so I just suspected EVERYONE. I even suspected Murthwaite, purely because of his connection to India. Shhhhh I told you I was bad at mysteries.

While I loved the mystery and Jennings re-staging of the house to prove Franklin's innocence, Betteredge's sass during the whole thing was absolutely my favourite part. He was so mean to Jennings (and mostly because of his looks - shame on you Betteredge!) but he was so hilarious I could forgive him.
"I want to know who is responsible for keeping it in a perpetual state of litter, no mater how often it may be set right - his trousers here, his towels there, and his French novels everywhere. I say, who is responsible for untidying the tidiness of Mr Franklin's room, him or me?"
Can we just add Betteredge into every book ever now?
Speaking of happy jigs, I totally did one when Cuff wrote down who he suspected on a piece of paper and got Franklin to hold on to it until the bad guy was revealed. That kind of theatrics is so completely my jam, and so perfect for a cop who retired to grow roses on roses on roses. Bravo Cuff, you've got style.

What else? I loved the epilogue when the Indian was taken back to India. I love the idea that this jewel is so important to their religion that three men would sacrifice everything to bring it back to the people who needed it. It's such a selfless act amongst all of the greed and obsession with wealth that happened back in England. And it's bittersweet, because even though the stone is back where it belongs, these three men are now forced to walk alone until the end of their days, while everyone in England (Godfrey excepted) got their happy ending. I guess it could be argued that for the three Indians this was their happy ending, but it was still sad to me.

Alright, so time to wrap it up. I absolutely adored this book. It was clever, funny, brilliantly written and a ripping good mystery. I can't wait to read more Wilkie, and I'm so glad I finally get to nod along sagely when everyone else brings up their Wilkie adoration. So where do I head next? I guess The Woman in White is the logical choice, but I'm open to suggestions!

*if you want to see what I thought in the first half, head over here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Graphic Novel Mini-Review #15

Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood (Volume 3)

Written by: Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col; Illustrated by: Andy Belanger

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: If you've read and liked Fables, you will probably love Kill Shakespeare because it's a very similar concept but with Shakespearian characters. This volume takes place on Prospero's island and I looooooved all of the magic and double-crossing and twisty-twist-twists. The art style and colouring is gorgeous, and the writing is consistent, although I'm kind of hoping this is the last volume. As much as I enjoy it, it is a little gimmicky and I think it'll be a very quick switch from enjoyment to eye-roll inducing. Make sure you read the volumes in the correct sequence for continuity.

Fables: Storybook Love (Volume 3)

Written by: Bill Willingham; illustrated by: Mark Buckingham

Published: 2004

My Thoughts: I really, really dig this series and it just gets better with each volume. Generally I'm pretty bleh towards remakes/reboots/reimaginings but when they're done well, as Fables is, they're fantastic. Yes you know the characters, but it's because you know them that it works. It's brilliant to see these darker or disappointing versions of our Disney heroes and heroines, because we're always complaining about how dreary and unrealistic the Disney effect actually is. But it's not just gritty for grit's sake, there's a complex story unfolding within these smaller narratives and I am so excited to see where it goes. This volume is all about our exile's falling in love and struggling to make connections and I can't tell you how gratifying it is to read about Prince Charming actually being a manipulating asshole, or to learn that the Big Bad Wolf's father is the North Wind. I mean COME ON, that's awesome!

Ten Grand (Issues #2-4)

Written by: J Michael Straczynski; illustrated by: Ben Templesmith

Published: 2013

My Thoughts:  This series pulled me in from the start, but I found it stagnated a little in the centre before finally expanding the story to a place where I really connected with it and the characters. But even when I wasn't actively engaged (and how disengaged can you really be about a former mob enforcer who is returned to life by an angel every time he dies so he can carry out demon slayings on Earth?) Ben Templesmith's art provided the emotional resonance the writing was lacking. God damn he's good at what he does. I've heard that Templesmith isn't going to be involved in the rest of the series, which makes me a little conflicted. I love this series, it's really pretty solid, but without his distinctive art style I'm not sure if it'll be the same. Wait and see I guess.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Links

This is going to be my final Monday Links post until I get back from my holiday (SQUEEE!) because scheduling reviews I can do, scheduling links posts is just bonkers. BUT I am planning to upload a few holiday posts here and there and maybe some holiday mini-reviews. I don't know exactly but the blog definitely won't be empty for the next 5 weeks.

*Guillermo Del Toro's vampire novel The Strain is being made into a TV show for FX. Now I'm even more excited to listen to the audiobook version I downloaded for my holiday! (Via The AV Club)

*Because Christmas is nigh, here is a list of bookish gifts to get the bookworms in your life (Via Buzzfeed)

*In honour of the recently aired Doctor Who anniversay episode, here are a bunch of functional TARDISes (Via Mentalfloss)

*I'm not going to make it to New Orleans on my holiday, but I am bookmarking this "literary tourism" post for future travels. (Via Bookriot)

*One of the reasons I love indie bookstores is the creativity they can use in their displays, take this Perth bookstore Kaleido Books, for example. I LOVES THEM. (Via Buzzfeed)

*Rolling Stone did a huge profile on Charles Manson this last week and it is pretty epic. (Via Rolling Stone)

*Catching Fire is out! I haven't seen it yet (maybe tomorrow night?) but a bunch of bloggers have. Here's Preeti's (Bookriot) take, Belle's (Belle's Bookshelf) gif-filled review, and a non-book-reader opinion (Uproxx).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Film Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World

Released: 2013

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman

Synopsis: Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.


I was really lucky to be invited to an extra-early preview screening of Thor a week before it premiered here in Australia (which was a week or two before America). When Tom and I arrived at the cinema there was a group of cosplay girls dressed up as Loki - and a lone guy wearing an Iron Man glove - a hammer/strength game and a crowd of bubbling, excited fans.

Unlike the excited crowd, I was mostly motivated by the exclusivity of the screening and the promise of free chocolate and popcorn. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first Thor. In fact, given my preference for theatrics I think I was one of few people who really appreciated the campy humour Kenneth Brannagh brought to the film. And even more than that I really, really loved Loki and Tom Hiddleston's brilliant portrayal of that character. Plus, do I need to remind you of how handsome this dude is?

I'm gonna do it anyway because, *drool*
So I don't really know why I wasn't excited for the sequel. Maybe it's superhero fatigue. There are just so many of them and there are no signs of them waning what with Netflix's recent announcement for 4 new Marvel series. Maybe it's because it's Marvel and I tend to find Marvel a little...sterile? Maybe it was Natalie Portman. I mean she's fine, but she was the weakest link in the original film and *yawn* I find her really boring. Maybe it was all three of these things and a bunch of other smaller issues. I don't know, all I knew was that I didn't have high hopes for this film.

But I ended up really, really loving it. It's a well-balanced film that manages to weigh the LOLs with the KAPOWs to great success. Since Batman well and truly won the dark and gritty superhero awards, Marvel - in particular with the Avengers - has really pushed for the comical superheros. While I don't always enjoy this approach (I find it works infinitely better in the actual comics) in Thor it works so well, perhaps because they fully embrace how ridiculous the concept actually is. Thor gets to be the alien-god out of water again, winning laughs when he hangs Mjolnir up on the coat rack in Jane's apartment and then proving himself to be Avengers-worthy when he takes on a monster 4 times his size with a wink and a smile. It's campy and silly but it reigns it in just enough to make it work. The humour also manages to mask some of the larger plot holes or inconsistencies, while also balancing out the family drama occurring between Thor, Loki and their parents.

I guess I should tell you what it's all about right kids? Basically there are a bunch of dark elves helmed by an unrecognisable Chris Eccleston (Doctor Who) as Malekith. For reasons I didn't fully understand, he wanted to eliminate all reality and plunge the universe back into darkness. Would that mean the end of the dark elves too? I don't know, and hopefully one of you can help me make sense of that in the comments. In order to achieve this dastardly plan Malekith needs the Aether - a  shiny red goo looking sentient (maybe) substance - but before he can use it his plans are dashed by Odin's father and the warriors from Asgard. The elves got away leaving the Aether, however since the Aether can't be destroyed the Asgardians decide to hide it away and it's basically forgotten about for centuries. Cue current day. Jane Foster (Portman) is now in London doing her physics stuff and trips across a wormhole and ends up coming face to face with the Aether which melds with her. She returns to Earth, Thor finds her, realises something is wrong and takes her to his home to meet the folks and have some Asgardian medics take a look-see. But when Jane joined with the Aether Malekith and his dark elves were revived from their hibernation, and they come looking for the Aether so they can finally succeed in their plans to return everything to darkness.

The majority of the film takes place in Asgard and the 9 realms, which was a great choice. To see something as beautiful and as unique as Asgard being attacked by dark elves is a completely different experience to the prototypical New York/NY stand-in invasion and fight. Not only is it something you haven't seen 15 times in the past 5 years, but it manages to eliminate the "Superman killed everyone in Metropolis" issue everyone had with the recent Superman film. And while the final climactic fight takes place in London, it also doesn't, which sounds confusing but I can't explain it further without spoiling something. Let's just say that the new and often-changing setting made up for the less-than-phenomenal fight sequences.

Have I talked about enough that I can get to Loki now? While everyone acted well in this film (Rene Russo doing an exceptionally good job) Tom Hiddleston, once again, took the crown. His scenes in the prison cell were so wrought with emotion that they elevated the film to an entirely different level. His portrayal of Loki is so nuanced, so complicated that it will forever change the way Loki appears in the comics and is viewed by audiences. In this film Loki is finally having to deal with the ramification of his actions in the previous Thor and Avengers films and it takes its toll. There are a few brief glimpses behind his mask, but he's so fortified that it's hard to know if we ever actually get to see some genuine remorse or anger from him, or if everything is part of some grand scheme. I've loved Hiddleston in plenty of things, but damn if Loki isn't one of his greatest achievements.

All superhero films look best on the big screen and should be enjoyed in this way, preferably with a bucket of popcorn, and Thor: The Dark World is no exception. There are absolutely problems in this film in terms of plotting and dialogue, but the overall production is one that I can't imagine not enjoying. And of course be sure to stay during and after the credits for the stings. Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the Guardians of the Galaxy film, which is probably the next Marvel film I'm actually excited for.

Also, if someone doesn't re-cut the trailer and/or film to fit this Chinese Thor promotion then I will riot.

Read the whole delightful story here

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Moonstone Readalong - Hittin' the Halfway Point

So I'm a teeny bit late with this mid-way readalong post but I wanted to get to the end of Clack's narration so I could read what everyone has said without worrying about spoilers. Which, I guess shouldn't really need mentioning, but there'll be spoilers for the first 50% of The Moonstone in this post.

Spoiler break dance party!
I took awhile to really get going with this book. I'm not sure if it was simply getting used to the language and style, the content, reading it on my new kindle or even the extremely heightened expectations I have thanks to Wilkie's online appreciation club (i.e.. Laura, Alley, Tika etc), but yeah there was definitely an adjustment period. Which is not to say there wasn't things I loved straight away, because there absolutely was!

Dear old Betteredge! He was so sweet and grumpy and I took to him immediately. It's funny, in the hands of a different writer I might have hated him - his views on women are the kind of thing that usually makes my blood boil even taking into account the "it was the way of their times" excuses. But the only time I didn't love Betteredge was when he was professing his dislike of Detective Cuff, and that's only because Cuff is perfect and can do no wrong (TEAM CUFF 4EVA). But thanks to Wilkie's wit, Betteredge's anti-female posturing usually came off as very funny or unintentionally self-deprecating. Funny and self-deprecating I can work with, funny and self-deprecating I get.

Betteredge was a great way to start the narrative because although he'd get swept up with the detecting fever he was also fiercely loyal to his lady. You know what else he was? Hopelessly in love with Lady Verinder, and it's sad that she died without him serving at her side. I wish we'd had a brief glimpse at the funeral so we could have checked he was alright.

I found it so strange that when the moonstone was stolen everyone was all GET THE POLICE and as soon as it became clear one of them was probably responsible they were like HOW DARE YOU DO THE JOB WE ASKED YOU TO DO. I know Cuff was their as a private detective but guys, that's not how policing works - otherwise how would anyone ever get arrested for murder/thievery/assault? "No sorry, I don't accept your theory and I refuse to allow you to do any policing to prove it. Good day to you sir. I SAID GOOD DAY"

They were the best of times, they were the worst of times - clearly.
Clack was equally delightful as a narrator. As a person she was abhorrent, but I laughed and laughed when she'd hide her books around the house and employ her minions to send letters on her behalf. And when she tried to give the tract to Godfrey's father because he used the word damn? I thought I was going to die.There have been a few films adapted from this book and I might have to hunt them down in the hope that they do that scene! I felt a little bad for her though because 1) it's pretty clear that she's in love with Godfrey, and 2) I'm thinking that Wilkie wasn't a big fan of religious evangelism so she was far more exaggerated than any of the other characters in the book. But I will forever love her for her dedication, her inability of knowing when to keep quiet and the fact that she was in groups with names like "British Ladies Servants Sunday Sweetheart Supervision". And one that had something to do with pants. I never quite got my head around that one!

So onto the mystery? I am so glad I'm reading this on my kindle because if it was a physical book I know I would have skipped to the final few pages and ruined it by now. I am the most impatient at these sorts of books, and while spoilers don't bug me it really is best to get to the twists and reveals when you're supposed to. I was a little confused when it all seemed wrapped up by Cuff 20% of the way into the book. Where was it headed? I have to commend Wilkie for turning this into a much more complicated and character driven story than I was expecting. I also suspect that the moonstone, while central to the plot, is going to end up not so important compared to all of the other secrets everyone seems to have. What did Bruff tell Rachel about Godfrey? What did Franklin do to piss Rachel off so much? What's Rachel been up to, and the servant who committed suicide (and I've forgotten her name already - I'm the worst)? Where is the moonstone? Will we ever find out anything ever?


*To see what I thought about the second half, head here.

Monday Links

*A Big thanks to Belle for sharing the new trailer for the Flowers in the Attic film. It looks brilliantly over the top and ridiculous. So everything is as it should be. (Via Youtube)

*A month or so ago Tom and I fell head over in heels in love with a new Anime, Attack on Titan. I had planned to write up a "10 reasons why you should watch..." post for it, but then I found this one which was way better than what I would have done. (Via Bees and Geometry)

*The new cast members of season 4 of Game of Thrones have been announced, although who some of them are playing is still unknown (Via Uproxx)

*This is a brilliant DIY for making a projector out of your smartphone. I am definitely going to give this a try! (Via The Thousands)

*Here's a little run down of 5 geeky lovers in modern literature. You better believe Eleanor and Park are on this list *fist pumps* (Via Buzzfeed)

*Everyone saw the gorgeous little roll-y kitten who barks like a dog right? No, well fix that already! SO CUTE (Youtube)

*Nick Reboot is a website that streams nothing but 90s/00s Nick cartoons. Doug, Rocko's Modern Life, all that cartoonish gold. (Via Nick Reboot)

*You can get Jane Austen temporary tattoos. Do with that information what you want (as long as what you do is buy them) (Via Jezebel)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"I Am Compelled Into This Country," Australian Fiction Post 2

Bet you thought I'd forgotten about this series. But how could I possibly deny you lovely folk the literature of my people? I couldn't, not in good conscious, so here you go an entire post about Australian contemporary literary fiction.

Everyone loves a good Carlton dance.
But in truth, this series is more difficult that I'd thought it'd be. Do I just list a bunch of awesome books with mini-synopses? Do I write full reviews for a collection of the ones I've read? Do I write a historical/biographical approach? So that's why this post has been so long in the pipes, it's been written and rewritten about a dozen times and I'm still not sure if it's going to be interesting and/or helpful for any of you. But oh wells, it is what it is. After this I'll be posting a genre fiction post and then a really huge list of books to read and awesome authors. I'll do my best to post the others so there aren't 10,000 years between this and the next post. Scouts honour.

First things first, I need to introduce you to Patrick White.

Guys - Patrick White, Patrick White - guys
So this sunny faced guy right here is the only Australian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. It was his book The Eye of the Storm which was credited by the Nobel committee as introducing "a new continent into literature". He was also a hell of a grump. At some point early in his career he decided he wanted nothing to do with awards, turning down a bunch of the more prolific Australian titles and didn't even attend when he won the Nobel prize. He was also an openly gay man at a time when it wasn't so great to be an openly gay man in Australia. All in all he was the kind of dude who had no time for your shit, and I love him. David Rice wrote a fantastic piece last year which goes into great detail about White and his books (I recommend Voss as a starting point).
White might seem elitist, fascist even, in his hatred of ordinariness and celebration of a chosen few, but you can feel the compassion and sadness underneath: it wasn't ordinary people he hated, but the cowardice with which people turn their backs on the extraordinary potential of our shared world in order to become ordinary.
Patrick White is sort of the patient zero for Australian literary fiction. Without him you can't have writers like Peter Carey or David Malouf and Australian fiction would be a hell of a lot poorer without these three dudes. Peter Carey is now based in America and a few of his more recent novels have been set in America, but his earlier and most celebrated books are all set in Australia. His 2000 novel The True History of the Kelly Gang is a semi-factual novel told from the perspective of bushranger Ned Kelly. It's HUGE and can be a little tricky to get a hang of the writing style but it's worth the effort. Another of his books, Oscar and Lucinda, was made into a film starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes in the 1990s, so if you want to skip reading you can always go down that route (BOOOO). David Malouf is a Brisbane author (REPRESENT!) and best known for his short story fiction. His book Remembering Babylon is a striking full-length novel about identity and isolation and is just beautifully written. It's all about a white boy who was abandoned and then raised amongs Indigenous Australians before finding himself back among white settlers and struggling to identify and fit it. It's basically mandatory reading in any Australian fiction class and for good reason.

Bryce Courtenay and Thomas Keneally are probably more commercial and less literary than White, Malouf and Carey but since when is that a marker of greatness? Courtenay is actually South African by birth but emigrated to Australia after studying in England and meeting his to-be wife. You may have heard of his book The Power of One which takes place in South Africa during WW2 but as far as I'm aware none of his other novels, and there are plenty, are readily available overseas. Which is a crying shame because he's an epic storyteller who favours multi-generational bildungsroman narratives. As far as I'm concerned his greatest achievement is Four Fires, a book which meticulously represents 1950s Australia and is just SO GOOD. Thomas Keneally's writing is definitely available overseas, likely due to the fact that he wrote the book that the Spielberg classic film Schindler's List is based on. It was originally published as Schindler's Ark, and the story about how Keneally came to tell Schindler's story is fascinating in its own right and worth a read. Keneally writes a combination of non-fiction and fiction, though regardless of format they typically explore the human condition. His writing isn't limited to Australia (as Schindler's Ark attests) though he's written plenty on our people and culture as well.

Most of Australian literary fiction centres around two things. Either they're studies of family, or they're focused on the Australian landscape-either the bush, coast or suburban environments - or a combination of the two. Two prime examples come to mind. First is Christos Tsiolkas. Tsiolkas tends to focus on the family side of Australian life. His book The Slap (which I still need to read) is about the repercussions of a family friend slapping a child for misbehaving at a barbecue. It's also been made into a television series, which again I still need to watch, but I've heard pretty great things about it.  Tim Winton's books typically take place on the West Australian coast and the environment becomes a critical character in his work.
"The place comes first. If the place isn't interesting to me then I can't feel it. I can't feel any people in it. I can't feel what the people are on about or likely to get up to" (Tim Winton on writing)
Cloudstreet is probably Winton's most well-known and well-regarded novel, and it combines the place and the people to great success. Taking place on (you guessed it) Cloud Street between 1940 and 1960, the book focuses on two specific families and how they contrast and conflict with each other when they move into a house together.

In a sense all Australian fiction is about outsiders. We arrived in a country completely incompatible with our previous way of life. The environment was seen as harsh and aggressive, the weather was fierce and intense, and - save an Indigenous population - we were all alone and far from everyone else. Since then we've alienated and turned against just about every culture/sexuality/religion/race at some point in time, and while we've learnt from our somewhat turbulent history we've still got some ways to go. There has been an increase in migrant fiction here over the past 10 years or so, and it often presents a confronting picture of life in Australia as a migrant. The Eastern Slope Chronicle by Yu Ouyang touches on China's Cultural Revolution, life in Australia, multiculturalism and post-colonialism. Benjamin Law touches on some similar themes in his autobiography The Family Law, but writes it from a much more humourous and intimate perspective. Law has a bit of David Sedaris to his style of storytelling, and his recollections of his wild and crazy family provides a neat glimpse into the lives of an Chinese-Australian family.

There was a brief period of grunge youth writing in the 1980s/1990s that seemed to flourish here in Brisbane. It's hardly unique to Australia - it's the style of writing which you find in books like Trainspotting - but as they're often semi-autobiographical it's a fascinating window into the lives of people my age 20+ years ago. Andrew McGahan'Praise and 1988 (debut book and prequel) and John Birmingham's He Died With A Falafel In his Hand are perfect examples of this trend. They're about distinctly unlikable characters, sharehouse dramas, budding and waning relationships, drugs, alcohol and apathy. They're definitely not for everyone, but I unabashedly love this style of writing and the Gen-X whining so I'll always recommend them.

He Died With A Falafel was made into a movie in the late 1990s, and joined the ranks of the many, many Australian books that make that transition. One of the most famous is the Peter Weir helmed Picnic at Hanging Rock. The 1967 novel by Joan Lindsey is the perfect mix of haunting landscape and girls in white dresses. The book is a light mystery about a series of disappearances during a girl school's day trip to Hanging Rock. The events are left very up in the air, is it dreamtime magic, a rip in the space time continuum, murder? Another fantastic Australian novel that was adapted to screen is Luke DavisCandy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film starred the gorgeous Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush and was a very condensed interpretation of the book. Both the book and the film are emotionally charged, but the book will tear your heart out and stomp all over it. It covers 10 years in the life and juxtaposes the narrator's (he's never named) turbulent relationships with heroin addiction and his girlfriend Candy, and explores addiction, obsession and loss.

So I realise I look pretty bad right now, what with not mentioning any female authors (Joan Lindsey aside). But hold your horses, because that was intentional.

Australian ladies are wicked good, and deserve some proper space of their own. Sonya Hartnett is the first that comes to mind. She's one of those crazy people who has a book written at 13 and been published at 15 (you know, the type that makes you feel like you're wasting your life) and writes some of the most unsettlingly good stuff I've ever read. She's pretty controversial, you'll find a lot of sex and abuse and incest in her books, which is doubly controversial when you consider many people think of her as a YA author. Personally I think there's a difference about having young protagonists and writing YA, but regardless of that distinction you check out Sleeping Dogs (super bleak and incesty but gorgeous) and Of A Boy (about mysterious neighbours and loneliness).

Thea Astley is another fancy Aussie lady you should read. I've only read It's Raining in Mango, but she's well regarded as a compassionate and delightfully funny writer here in Australia and I've been meaning to read more of her for years. It's Raining in Mango takes place in 19th Century Australia and it's about so much. It's about people (Australian-born and immigrant), sexuality, racism, Australian culture...and it's done well. It's not an easy read, but I think it's a brilliant one if you're looking for some insight into Australia.

Representing the ladies in fiction and non-fiction, is Geraldine Brooks. I haven't read any of her books (for shame Kayleigh!) but from what I gather she's basically an Australian Hilary Mantel, fictionalising real life people and events to tell or add depth to a story that wouldn't be told otherwise. Actually, a few of you who like Little Women probably do know her. She's the author who wrote March, the book about Mr March's absence from the family during the war. Basically, she writes historical fiction with a literary bent and I'm not sure if Brooks has actually written about Australia or Australian history, but she's Australian so that still counts right? And as a final little nod to Australian lady authors I have to mention Hannah Kent. Her debut novel Burial Rites is blowing up internationally so this is an Australian author you can get in with on the ground level. Like Brooks, this isn't actually set in Australia - it's set in Iceland - but who even cares. READ IT.

So this is probably long enough for the time being. Obviously I haven't even gotten close to mentioning all the amazing Australian authors out there but these were the ones who came to my mind first and I'm pretty sure if you give any of them a shot you'll end up finding similar authors recommended to you on Goodreads or wherever, which is what this is all about right? RIGHT?

Want to see what you've missed so far?

Learning To Love A Sunburnt Country - Australian literature history
Fill Your Ears With Australians - Australian music

*Title quote from Voss by Patrick White

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Murder in Missippissi by John Safran

Murder in Mississippi 

Written by: John Safran

Published: 2013

Synopsis: When filming his TV series Race Relations, John Safran spent an uneasy couple of days with one of Mississippi's most notorious white supremacists. A year later, he heard that the man had been murdered – and what was more, the killer was black.

At first the murder seemed a twist on the old Deep South race crimes. But then more news rolled in. Maybe it was a dispute over money, or most intriguingly, over sex. Could the infamous racist actually have been secretly gay, with a thing for black men? Did Safran have the last footage of him alive? Could this be the story of a lifetime? Seizing his Truman Capote moment, he jumped on a plane to cover the trial.

Over six months, Safran got deeper and deeper into the South, becoming entwined in the lives of those connected with the murder – white separatists, black campaigners, lawyers, investigators, neighbours, even the killer himself. And the more he talked with them, the less simple the crime, and the world, seemed.

"Harold says the explanation given by true-crime books for why the killer killed reflects the era in which the book was written. An author tells the story of how the world works, and that's why we read true crime books."

John Safran is one of my favourite Australians. I feel like I say that a lot about creative Australians, but in this case it's absolutely the truth. I was first introduced to him through his show John Safran's Music Jamboree, which was part documentary series, part comedy sketch show, part celebration of all things musical. Considering the only music shows I'd really known before that were basically just an hour or two of music clips, it was fascinating to see a man in a mole costume provide insider tidbits about the music industry or pranks like Safran getting 9 ordinary men into a nightclub by dressing them up like Slipknot.

After that I became a devout fan of Safran, who is something like an Australian Louis Theroux (who I also love a whole bunch). Safran has a fascination with race and religion, so a lot of his shows centre around both the mainstream and the fringe aspects of these subjects. And like Theroux, Safran inserts himself into his documentaries so they become as much an investigation of himself and his identity as they are about fringe churches, alien languages or racist organisations. And perhaps it's because there's so much of himself in the shows, but they never come off as judgemental of the (often) absurd, bizarre or hateful people he meets. Which is not to say he isn't critical, but as he points out the flaws, contradictions or alternative points of view he also remains (mostly) impartial. He also has a wicked sense of humour, so if you've been looking for a new show, you should absolutely try and hunt down John Safran Vs God because it's fascinating stuff.

Not surprisingly, John Safran has made a few enemies. As his debut non-fiction novel begins, he's hiding out in his home in Melbourne, avoiding the critics of his latest TV show and surfing conspiracy and white supremacist websites for new material. It's one on of these sites that he finds out about the murder of Richard Barrett, a white supremacist from Mississippi that Safran had met during the filming of one of his shows*.

Murder in Mississippi is not your standard true crime book. It isn't an investigation into a heinous crime or the multiple crimes of a charismatic yet evil murderer, and there is neither a large trial to follow or a neat resolution. The case had received a small amount of national press, but Safran headed down this path because he knew the murder victim, and while Barrett, in the world of white supremacists, is pretty small time he'd had a lasting effect on Safran and his crew.
I've spent a decade with Craig and Germain. We've hung with evangelical hucksters, Holocaust deniers and terrorists. I have never seen these two scrunch up their faces like Richard has made them scrunch up their faces.  
When Safran found out that Barrett was murdered by a young black neighbour his interest was piqued. When rumours surfaced that Barrett was killed because he made unwanted sexual advances on his murderer, Safran packed his bags. But when he arrived in Mississippi his expectations of how the book would come about, and the secrets he expected to turn up are dashed. Rather than simply investigating a crime, Safran finds himself struggling against the conflicts and confusions of the southern state.
Mississippi doesn't waste any time. The Jackson in the airport name is President Andrew Jackson, pro-slavery campaigner and master to three hundred slaves. The Medgar-Evers is Medgar Wiley Evers, a black activist who collapsed and died outside his house in 1963 after a Klansman had shot him in the back. You land straight into a race war.
From the minute Safran touched down nothing went to plan. His reputation preceded him and people who knew Barrett closed ranks, and the family and friends of Barrett's murderer, Vincent McGee, had no desire to help Safran get to the bottom of the story. The people who did talk to him give him little more than conjecture, coloured by their political, racial or cultural allegiances. He's stuck driving between tiny Mississippi towns, clinging to the tiniest of details and offering the world for the slightest bit of information to help him uncover the truth.

The result of all of this is a fascinating mess of a book. It's a memoir of John Safran, it's a how-to (and how-not-to) write a true crime novel, and it's a complex investigation of race, sexuality and cultural politics in Mississippi. And that's why I loved this book. You hear the mini-synopsis, "white supremacist murdered by black man" and you think it'd be an open-shut story. But it's not, there are so many contradictions, so many muddled up misunderstandings. You think this is going to be a story about black versus white, but it's less about a passionate hate on either side and more of an indoctrinated expectation of hatred.  For instance, take the fact that Barrett lived in an almost all black neighbourhood, and no one knew he was a white supremacist. How does someone who champions one race over all others live surrounded by the people he hates and then be remembered as a friendly old man?

Similarly, the friendship that Safran ends up forging with Vincent McGee is equally interesting. While making contact proved impossible at first, the promise of Walmart Green Dot cards encouraged Vincent to come out of his shell and Safran finds himself perplexed by the young man accused of Barrett's murder. Vincent is charming and funny, but it's impossible to work out if he's ever telling the truth. His story differs from the one he told his family, which differs from the one he told the cops. Is he terrified of being labelled gay? Is being gay in Mississippi worse than being black? Would he rather spend 75 years in jail labelled a murderer  than go to trial and being found innocent, guilty of only killing a man in self defense after a sexual relationship turned sour? This book doesn't make sense of any of this, it remains perplexing to the very end. But it is a fascinating glimpse into a very difficult and unique state.

As Safran is a film and TV veteran and this is his debut book, there are a few understandable issues. At times it reads like a script, piecing together the necessary visual components with piece-to-camera narration. But I actually really enjoyed Safran's writing style, it's very visual and very personable, much like his onscreen persona. If you've seen his shows and like his style, you will undoubtedly enjoy this book. If you're a huge true crime fan this might be too much of a departure from the traditional format for you to enjoy, but conversely, if you don't usually like true crime, this might be encompassing enough to draw you in.

*Safran got a secret DNA test of Richard Barrett and told him he had African ancestors during Barrett's white-only Spririt of American awards. Barrett, unsurprisingly, was not happy.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Links

*Brisbane has begun to offer free screenings of films in the shady beauty of our parks. It's an initiative designed to protect our skin while also getting us out and enjoying the outdoors. I'm sure this isn't an entirely original concept, but I love it nonetheless. (Via Shade Cinema)

*If you're thinking Twilight couldn't get any creepier, WRONG. Footage has surfaced of the creepy animatronic baby they made to play Renesme. It's horrifying. (Via Uproxx)

*Since I know a few of you are NaNoWriMo-ing and possibly need a bit of motivation, here are 14 published novels that were written during this insane month (Via Mentalfloss)

*Hey Sweden, you're pretty cool, what with creating a new ratings system based on the Bechdel test. (Via Jezebel)

*This is a really cool photo series, even if the actual concept and book deal and purpose behind it is a little icky. But the pictures! Super interesting. (Via Bored Panda)

*Gilliane over at Writer of Wrongs wrote a brilliant post about converting doubters to YA. I've been making an effort to read more YA this year - and be less judgemental of the stuff I read - and this post is really detailed and full of brilliant titles.  (Via Writer of Wrongs)


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