Genie's Weekly News (59) - Shakespeare, shiny new books I need in my life, and shortening my TBR

Sunday, 19 November 2017

After taking a short hiatus after exams, I'm finally back and blogging! Of course, the irony of having a heap of studying to do meant that I wanted to find any excuse to read, and during that time I picked up a few amazing gems which have become some of my favourites of the year. Fast forward to this week which was an exciting one, with bookish events and seeing The Merchant of Venice at the theatre.

Currently Reading

I've seen mixed reviews on The Grip of It, and at around 100 pages in I think I'm still deciding which side of the fence I'm on. It's described as a 'literary horror', about young couple who have just moved into a house whose hidden corners begin to alter their reality. It's the kind of book which I don't think the reader is meant to completely understand what's going on, so maybe that's the charm. I'm hoping there'll be a twist in there somewhere to surprise me...

Previous Posts

Recommendation of the Week

I already gushed about how amazing The Gulf is in my review, but it is honestly the best book I've read this year. I'm always excited to find new reads by Australian authors so if you have any recommendations let me know!

Nevermoor definitely lived up to the hype. I first heard about it at the Hachette Roadshow earlier in the year, and with comparisons made to Harry Potter the stakes were definitely high. Well, while it's near impossible to beat a series that has been going strong for over twenty years, Australian author Jessica Townsend's debut is charming and enchanting in its own right. This is a middle-grade novel which can be enjoyed by people of any age, and it's the type of fun read which has enough adventure and magic to convince even the most reluctant reader to step boldly into this world.

Date a Book Blogger Night Recap

It's been a few years since the last Date a Book event so it was brilliant to see the team organise another one for YA bloggers and readers to come together and hear about all the exciting new releases. The snack table alone was instagram-worthy (as was the fairy floss), but even better was hearing authors Victoria Carless (The Dream Walker), Jessica Townsend (Nevermoor) and international guest Kass Morgan (The 100) discuss their writing journeys and what it's like to find out your book is going to be published. 

There were a few memorable books to look out for in 2018, like A Thousand Perfect Notes by our very own blogger and writer extraordinaire Cait @ Paper Fury! Another mention has to go to The Beast's Heart - my pic of the screen couldn't do the cover justice, so here it is:

The Merchant of Venice

I've been fortunate to see a few Shakespearean productions in recent years - Romeo and Juliet in an ultra-modern, and then a classic production, Hamlet which was minimalist and striking, Othello which captured the striking storyline and A Midsummer Night's Dream which was...abstract (and more than a little disturbing). The Merchant of Venice is the first one I hadn't actually read before watching, but being there to witness it play out on stage with a brilliant cast meant the story all made sense. It was interesting to hear some of the well-known adages of 'all that glitters is not gold' and 'love is blind' in context. The set may have been simple, but the shimmering backdrop and unique staging helped bring the plot to life in a modern style. 

Over to you! Are there any 5-star reads you've read recently that everyone should know about? Also, what's your favourite play by Shakespeare?

Waiting on Wednesday: The Empress

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are waiting to read. This week I've picked The Empress by S.J. Kincaid.

It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress. Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost.

He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?

The Diabolic was one of the best YA sci-fi novels I've read - it's a thrilling space-opera with twisted power-struggles and shocking finale...or so we thought. I'm so glad that there has turned out to be a sequel, I can't wait to see what lies ahead for Nemesis.

Releasing 1st November 2017 from Simon and Schuster

Review: The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan - If there's a book you have to read this year, it's this one.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan
Released: 30th May 2017
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Adult contemporary/coming of age
Source: Library
Pages: 285
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
'He found an egg at the park so he incubated it and this tortoise hatched out.' 

Skye's sixteen, and her mum's got yet another new boyfriend. Trouble is, Jason's bad news. Really bad. Now mum's quit her job and they're all moving north to Port Flinders, population nobody.

'That's a Southern Right Whale. They have the largest balls of any animal in the world.' 

She'd do anything to keep her ten-year-old brother safe. Things she can't even say out loud. And when Jason gets violent, Skye knows she has to take control. She's got to get Ben out and their mum's useless as. The train home to Adelaide leaves first thing each morning and they both need to be on it. Everything else can wait.

'Ladybirds bleed from their knees when they're stressed.' 

The Gulf is an acute, moving and uplifting story from the inimitable, alchemical imagination of Anna Spargo-Ryan.
I haven't been this moved by a book in a long time. Anna Spargo-Ryan's depiction of the children inadvertently swept up in a dangerously dysfunctional family is achingly real, her writing flawless. I always find it interesting where adult fiction features teen protagonists, and here reading Skye's story as she does anything to protect her ten year-old brother Ben from their harsh reality was no exception. Though this novel deals with some heavy themes, the depth to the characters within it brought a tenderness which left me thinking about them days after I turned the last page.

I went to the door. She was there, folded, on the ground. Knees drawn up to her chest. Her body moved rigidly, statically, and her shoulders slumped as though the air had been pulled right out of them. 

The rule of 'show, don't tell' which exemplifies 'good writing' is a difficult one to master. For a reader, it can be the difference between whether you make an emotional connection with the plot, or simply view the words on a page as a detached bystander. After finishing The Gulf, I can see why Spargo-Ryan has risen to critical acclaim on this point. Every scene she writes, each moment of conflict or reflection which her characters experience is captured through a lens which focuses on how they feel - so you are right there with them. Watching as Skye and Ben were affected by their mother's toxic relationship was at times confronting, however the unflinching portrayal of family violence and spiralling impact of Jason's shady business never veered into territory which was insensitive or contemptuous.

Sometimes all it takes is a few lines to convey the essence of a story, and it's these words which made the biggest impact on me:

I took a deep breath. Watched the hallway slide away from me, pulled myself up as tall as I could. Sucked in all the courage I had, all the bravery I'd ever collected from watching Ben going around in the world exactly the way he wanted. 

What I loved about this book is that alongside the insidious cruelty of Skye and Ben's situation was a glimpse of some goodness left in the world. Jason may have dragged the whole family to a tiny coastal town where they had to start over, but it's there that through the most troubling times came the most heartwarming moments. As their mum grew more distant, Skye displayed a maturity well beyond that of a sixteen-year-old through practically looking after her brother, remaining determined to plan for a brighter future ahead. It was also good to see her defined beyond the challenges she faced at home, through the 'normal' experiences of being a student, and someone on the cusp of a friendship which could be something more.

Then there's Ben: one of the most charismatic, quirky and knowledgeable ten-year-olds I've ever come across in a novel. Getting to see their life through his eyes with an innocence that only a child can possess, brought this book to a whole other level. It was never overly sentimental or lost touch with reality, but gave this story all that it needed to be truly memorable - heart. 


Anna Spargo-Ryan has produced my favourite book of the year so far. The Gulf is impeccably written, but its real triumph is revealing the courage needed to make a better life, and the sacrifices we make to find it. 

Books about Books Part 1 - Living, Breathing, Reading

Sunday, 15 October 2017

I've talked about why reading is so special in itself, and there's no denying that taking the time to sit down with a brilliant story can be the highlight of your day. But what about the stories of the places we get these books from? In this first part of my discussion on 'books about books', I'm taking a look at the booksellers, librarians and writers who have created works which can resonate with bookworms everywhere.

The Simple Act of Reading edited by Debra Adelaide

For it is in the simple act of reading where the living and the dead, the real and the imagined, meet. It is in the simple act of reading where we exercise those two most sacred of human vocations: compassion and creativity. For as we know, without either of these primes there is no possibility for a humanity present or past worth talking about. - Junot Diaz

A collection of essays and memoir pieces on the topic of reading, in particular what it means for writers to be readers and how that has shaped their life.

The Simple Act of Reading will support Sydney Story Factory by emphasising the importance of reading in shaping an individual’s future. Contributors include; Debra Adelaide, Joan London, Delia Falconer, Sunil Badami, Gabrielle Carey, Luke Davies, Tegan Bennett Daylight, Kate Forsyth, Giulia Giuffre, Andy Griffiths, Anita Heiss, Gail Jones, Jill Jones, Catherine Keenan, Malcolm Knox, Wayne Macauley, Fiona McFarlane, David Malouf, Rosie Scott, Carrie Tiffany and Geordie Williamson.

It's one thing to read an amazing novel, it's another to read a book which captures exactly how that feels. This book takes a whole group of different writers who share the stories which influenced them and the different perspectives on reading they've gained over the years.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown - Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost...

In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

I've adored Jen Campbell's two books about Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, so anything along those lines is something I'm eager to try out. The bookshop featured in Bythell's work sounds like it has so much character - I'm sure it'll make for an interesting read.

Reading Allowed by Chris Paling

Chris works as a librarian in a small-town library in the south of England. This is the story of the library, its staff, and the fascinating group of people who use the library on a regular basis. We'll meet characters like the street-sleepers Brewer, Wolf and Spencer, who are always the first through the doors. The Mad Hatter, an elderly man who scurries around manically, searching for books. Sons of Anarchy Alan, a young Down's Syndrome man addicted to the American TV drama series. Startled Stewart, a gay man with a spray-on tan who pops in most days for a nice chat, sharking for good-looking foreign language students. And Trish, who is relentlessly cheerful and always dressed in pink - she has never married, but the marital status of everybody she meets is of huge interest to her.

Some of the characters' stories are tragic, some are amusing, some are genuinely surreal, but together they will paint a bigger picture of the world we live in today, and of a library's hugely important place within it. Yes, of course, people come in to borrow books, but the library is also the equivalent of the village pump. It's one of the few places left where anyone, regardless of age or income or background, can wander in and find somebody to listen to their concerns, to share the time of day.

Reading Allowed will provide us with a fascinating portrait of a place that we all value and cherish, but which few of us truly know very much about...

What would we do without librarians? I'm really interested in this one for its quirky charm and getting to know all the characters who make the library more than just a space filled with books.

I'd Rather be Reading by Guinevere de la Mare

For anyone who'd rather be reading than doing just about anything else, this book is the ultimate must-have. In this visual ode to all things bookish, readers will get lost in page after page of beautiful contemporary art, photography, and illustrations depicting the pleasures of books. Artwork from the likes of Jane Mount, Lisa Congdon, Julia Rothman, and Sophie Blackall is interwoven with text from essayist Maura Kelly, bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, and award-winning author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett.

Rounded out with poems, quotations, and aphorisms celebrating the joys of reading, this lovingly curated compendium is a love letter to all things literary, and the perfect gift for bookworms everywhere. 

If scrolling through #bookstagram pics on instagram isn't satisfying enough, this book could be just what you need. It's just been released this year, and needless to say - onto my Christmas wishlist it goes.

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

Every bookshop has a story. We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops. Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France; meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains; meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine. And that’s just the beginning.

 From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole). The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.

One day I'd love to travel the world and make a list of all the bookshops to visit in each country I encounter. In the meantime, The Bookshop Book is the place to start - I'm sure there are lots of hidden gems out there to discover!

What are some of your favourite books about reading?

#LoveOzYABloggers - Favourite Covers

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Favourite Covers

A cover might not be the make-or-break in deciding whether you pick up a book or not, but a good first impression when you catch that first glimpse on the shelf definitely helps. As always, it's hard to narrow this selection down to just a few - but these are stories which for me made an impact both inside and out. 

In The Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker

There's something undeniably striking about this cover, and the inside definitely matches it. The bleached colours and feathers add a hint of the surreal, and once you begin reading, the story unravels like no other I've come across before. I agree with what Melina Marchetta's quote says on the front, this is definitely one of the most original reads I've come across in years.

You can see my review for In The Skin of a Monster here

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

In case my blog look didn't already give it away, I'm a huge fan of floral designs in general, and book covers are no exception! I could get all analytical and say that the petals separating on the cover represent branching out after high school and finding freedom in the world beyond...but even aside from that, there's a fresh, clean vibe to all of Gabrielle Tozer's covers so far which reflect her as a relevant, honest and relatable voice in Australian YA.

You can see my review for Remind Me How This Ends here

Begin, End, Begin

The botanical theme continues with this next pick, but I definitely couldn't go past this stunning anthology! (not to mention, the edition with the foil touches on the cover makes for a case of even more #coverlove). This book looks stunning on any shelf, but it probably won't be there for long - you'll be going back and re-reading it for sure. 

#LoveOzYABloggers is hosted by #LoveOzYA, a community led organisation dedicated to promoting Australian young adult literature. Keep up to date with all new Aussie YA releases with their monthly newsletter, or find out what’s happening with News and Events, or submit your own!

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper - Australian crime fiction at its finest

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Released: 26th September 2017
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Source: Publisher
Pages: 384
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker.

Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case - in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.

Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?
The Dry was hailed as the book of the year at the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards, so any follow-up was bound to come under scrutiny to see how it compares. I'm happy to say that Force of Nature is addictive and atmospheric; suspenseful in a way that you simply have to experience for yourself.

In this book we get to know more about Agent Aaron Falk, a member of the financial crime division of the federal police. Like its predecessor, Force of Nature is at its core a 'police procedural' novel. But far from the constraints of the suburbs where a murder or missing person case can be solved with the aid of CCTV footage, or even the gossip from those in a rural town, out here in the fictional Giralang Ranges it becomes clear that the mystery behind Alice's disappearance will be more difficult to uncover. It's this added complexity of the rugged setting where the group of women begrudgingly set out on a company team-building expedition that brings the drama to the fore.

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russel. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.

Once again Jane Harper has excelled in conveying the essence of a sense of place. In the Australian bush she brings out the ghostly whispers of the trees and unsettling sounds of the wildlife with vivid clarity. Just as the women struggle to orient themselves in an unfamiliar environment which all begins to look the same, us readers are also led on a twisted path to the truth. Harper skilfully leaves crumbs along the way which ramp up the suspense and enormity of the situation where survival becomes paramount - from the discovery of a meagre pool of water to what could be the abandoned cabin of an infamous killer. What is only a few days of the doomed expedition stretches the entire length of the story thanks to the alternating perspective on the current investigation at hand. Each chapter ends on a 'mini-cliffhanger', a device which achieves exactly what it set out to do - make this a book you Can't. Put. Down.

There was a movement outside her sleeping bag and Beth stiffened. She couldn't tell what had made it - woman or wildlife. She lay still and by the time it disappeared, the word she'd been searching for had formed on the tip of her tongue, so real she could almost taste its residue. Feral. 

The characters are equally well-developed, where human nature is examined as people are pushed to the brink. The boiling pot of personalities, from Alice the self-assured narcissist to Bree and Beth who are sisters that could not be more different, morphs into a powder keg ready to explode. These tensions make the plot all the more compelling, brought together with taut prose that is matter-of-fact yet descriptive. When there's no telling if help is ever going to arrive, ethics are questioned as company politics transcend the office, becoming a different beast altogether. It would be easy for a story like this to turn into a merely pragmatic play-by-play of the events as they unfolded, but I liked how there was more heart to the investigation. Falk's connection to his father who also used to hike the trails in the ranges was an interesting touch, bringing some humanity back to a plot which  otherwise highlights its vices through characters that are teetering over the edge.


If you've enjoyed The Dry, you will LOVE Force of Nature. Nonetheless, this book should be recognised for its own well-deserved merits. Jane Harper isn't just an author to watch, she's one whose work has to be read - do that and you won't look back. 

#LoveOzYABloggers - Historical

Monday, 25 September 2017


Historical fiction is an all-time favourite genre of mine, and when it comes to Australian YA there are a few standouts which come to mind. The three that I've chosen to feature for this week's prompt are all from very different time periods, but they each capture the societies of their settings in a way which vividly takes you back to eras gone by.

The Raven's Wing by Frances Watts

Set in ancient Rome, our protagonist Claudia is bound by the duty to the family she hardly knows when she is summoned by her father. Plots and scheming ensue, and she must make some difficult decisions on what's more important - love or duty? It's a question which has featured many times over in fiction, but even here the conflict between the two is given a fresh twist which keeps it interesting for teen readers.

You can see my review for The Raven's Wing here

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French

To be honest, I could have filled this whole post with ten or more Jackie French novels. I've gone on about the Matilda saga on here more times than I can count though, so it's time to change things up and give some of her other books time in the spotlight. This unique take on Shakespeare's life before he was the most famous playwright in history was a really interesting read. For her other Shakespeare-inspired works, I'd definitely recommend I Am Juliet and Ophelia: Queen of Denmark.

You can see my review for The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman here

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

And finally we come to a book set in Australia - 1930's Sydney to be exact. It has an underbelly vibe with the mob-warfare and gritty crime elements, but keeps it unpredictable with the ghostly undertones. The old-school slang places you right at the heart of this time, and I loved the inclusion of the map at the beginning. 

You can see my review for Razorhurst here

#LoveOzYABloggers is hosted by #LoveOzYA, a community led organisation dedicated to promoting Australian young adult literature. Keep up to date with all new Aussie YA releases with their monthly newsletter, or find out what’s happening with News and Events, or submit your own!

Waiting on Wednesday: Welcome back to the world of 'The Diviners'

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are waiting to read. This week I've picked Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray.

The Diviners are back and facing ghosts in this thrilling and eerie third instalment in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, set against the backdrop of 1920s New York City and the mysterious mental hospital on Ward Island.

1920s New York. Lights are bright. Jazz is king. Parties are wild. And the dead are coming. After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that nearly claimed two of their own, the Diviners are set to face off against an all-new terror. Out on desolate Ward's Island, far from the city's bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten - ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession pushing New York City to the edge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister forces invading the asylum - a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. Now, as explosive secrets from the past come to light and malevolent forces gather from every corner, love and loyalties will be tested, and the Diviners will find themselves in a deadly battle for the very soul of the nation.

Heart-pounding action and terrifying moments will leave you breathless in this third book in the Diviners quartet by #1 New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray.

First off, can we just admire that cover for a second? I was hooked from the very beginning of this series with The Diviners, and Lair of Dreams was definitely a sequel to impress. 1920s New York was never so dazzling...and dangerous.

Releasing 1st October 2017 from Allen and Unwin

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish. This week it's all about spring reads, and I'm showcasing my top picks for the season.

1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

I have absolutely loved Kate Forsyth's other historical novels Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and The Beast's Garden so the bar is definitely set high for this one. I know she always puts so much research into her work so I'll be looking to see how she incorporates fact into fiction.

2. Like Life by Lorrie Moore

I just reviewed Lorrie Moore's first collection of short stories Self-Help, and can't believe I haven't come across her work before. If that was anything to go by, this is going to be another satirical and darkly funny read. 

3. Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

The hype and early reviews for this one has left it showered in praise, so I'm eager to see the enchanting world come to life on the page. 

4. The True Colour of Forever by Carrie Firestone

The sound of this book with a focus on kindness is really sweet - the perfect YA contemporary read for spring.

5. From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

After reading Formaldehyde earlier in the year, I'm curious to see what weird and wonderful plot devices Jane Rawson has put into action here. 

6. Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

The world-building and pirates in this one have me curious, and if the story lives up to the glowing reviews I won't be disappointed.

7. No Way! Okay, Fine. by Brodie Lancaster

This memoir about pop-culture and feminism might be just the thing I need to be get back into non-fiction.

8. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

With Voyager hitting the screens, it's high time I finally got to reading Drums of Autumn! Starting this may be an undertaking (it's another one over 1000 pages), but every time I start a book in this series the length seems irrelevant because they're so engaging.

9. Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

FINALLY the third book in The Diviners series! The 1920s with a paranormal twist and gripping mysteries have kept me hooked on these novels - I can't wait to see what's next in store for the characters.

10. No Filter by Orlagh Collins

You can't go past a lighthearted YA romance to read on a sunny afternoon, and this looks like something which would work nicely.

What books are you looking forward to reading this Spring/Fall?

Review: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore - A whip-smart collection on how (not) to solve life's problems

Monday, 18 September 2017

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Released: 1st May 2015 (original edition 1985)
Published by: Faber
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Library
Pages: 163
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Complicated, awkward, funny, cruel, heartbroken, mysterious; Self-Help forms an idiosyncratic guide to female existence which is just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. These stories are modern America at its most real, with characters sharing thoughts and experiences they could have borrowed from our own lives.

This is how to deal with divorce, adultery, cancer, how to talk to your mother or become a writer, the Lorrie Moore way.
Self-Help is a delightfully ironic answer to the genre which the title comes from. The nine pieces here have narrators which are intelligent and very self-aware, with the reasons for their malaise clearly on display. For the reader, the solution may appear simple, the 'logical' response likened to something you may read about in (you guessed it) the 'self-help' section of a bookstore. However, what makes this so compulsively readable is Moore's insight that the answer to life's challenges are not so easy to come by; no matter how accurately one may recognise the flaws in their reasoning - the same self-destructive behaviour could inevitably occur all over again.

The first story 'How to Be an Other Woman' sets the tone for the other parodies on life-guides to follow, many told in second-person for full effect. The situation changes from 'other woman' to simply 'woman' embarking on a new relationship in 'How'. Mocking the cliches in the course of a romantic rendezvous is something achieved with the blackest of humour and I enjoyed every page.

Feel discovered, comforted, needed, loved, and start sometimes, somehow, to feel bored. When sad or confused, walk uptown to the movies. Buy popcorn. These things come and go. A week, a month, a year. - 'How'

In my personal favourite 'How to Become a Writer', Moore tackles the haughty disdain of an English literature professor and the students in his class in a way that puts it at the top of the list for both humour and accuracy.

In creative writing seminars over the next two years, everyone continues to smoke cigarettes and ask the same things: "But does it work?" "Have you earned this cliché?" These seem like the important questions. - 'How to Become a Writer'

It's not only a doomed love-life and literary institutions that Moore critiques, as in 'Go Like This' she delves into the life of a mother with cancer who wishes to take death into her own hands. The way that the author is able to adapt her style ever so slightly to still be funny but never completely out of order when taking on these sorts of situations is a useful skill.

I am getting into the swing of it. I tell them the cancer is poisining at least three lives and that I refuse to be its accomplice. This is not a deranged act, I explain. Most of them have known for quite a while my belief that intelligent suicide is almost always preferable to stupid lingering of a graceless death. there is silence, grand as Versailles. It seems respectful. - 'Go Like This'

Amid the razor-sharp commentary is always a phrase or two which reminds us of the humanity of these characters - they're not just fictional beings, but people who could just as well be someone you'd pass on the street. Even in 'To Fill' which ends the collection, what begins as a portrayal of a woman who wants nothing more in life than to steal money for the thrill of her material obsessions turns into a deeper investigation of her marriage and connection with her mother who has 'convinced herself she is physically and mentally ill'. Most importantly, all of these stories fit cohesively, and while each may relish in its own quirky charm there's no denying that there is a pinch of reality throughout.

I am becoming hugely depressed. Like last year. Just a month ago I was better, sporting a simpler, terse sort of disenchantment, a neat black vest of sadness. Elegant ironies leaped from my mouth as fine as cuisses de grenouilles. Now he darkness sleeps and wakes in me daily like an Asian carnivore at the Philly zoo. - 'To Fill'


It's been a long time since I've found an anthology this whip-smart and satirical. This is a book which crackles with wit, and an energy which makes you look forward to each quip to arrive on the next line. I've already lined up my next read from this author because I want more. 

{Blog Tour} Take Three Girls: Review & Author Interview with Fiona Wood

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood
Released: 29th August 2017
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: #LoveOzYA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 423
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
3 award-winning authors. 1 compelling book.

ADY - not the confident A-Lister she appears to be. KATE - brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
CLEM - disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies.

St Hilda's antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try - but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

Exploring friendship, feminism, identity and belonging. Take Three Girls is honest, raw and funny.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Take Three Girls provides an unflinchingly honest view into so many of the real issues facing teenage girls today. We've all heard about, or perhaps even experienced the pain and embarrassment which a slanderous post on social media can inflict. We see the everyday sexism and casual misogyny played out both in reality and through the media. We've felt the change in friendships as people's true colours come through, and found the people who make us realise where we truly belong.

From the pop-culture and music references to the even quicker spread of the rumour-mill thanks to technology, Take Three Girls reads as a story which is current and so relevant. How the girls handled relationships with their families and each other highlighted all the conflicts and contradictions which come up at that age. Sibling rivalries, plummeting self-esteem and the need to put on a 'mask' to be around the popular, snarky group were all topics explored with straight-up honesty. The failed relationships with guys who were never going to give them the respect any young woman deserves and coming to the realisation that knowing your-self worth is so important were some of the other key messages that came through.

Older me, please remember how great it felt to have real friends for the first time. Remember that it felt like something cracking open to give you the wider view, more oxygen. Remember that is also, contrarily, felt like a nest where you were comfortable and safe and restored. Remember that it felt so loose and free when you could let your guard down and stop performing that popular girl version of yourself.

It's the unlikely friendship that bloomed between Ady, Kate and Clem through the Wellness program that made this book such an amazing read. Seeing how they supported each other when each of them came to their own particular dilemmas was heartwarming, and an example of girls helping a sister out in the best possible way. While the revelation as to who was behind the 'PSST' site didn't exactly come as a surprise, I think what this book possesses so much greater substance beyond what was going on online. It placed a well-deserved spotlight on the strength of the girls to unite against the comments and prove that they were good enough and would be successful regardless.


Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood are three brilliant Aussie YA authors in their own right, and in this book they've brought together all that talent to create a feminist manifesto with heart.

Author Interview with Fiona Wood

What drew you to the idea of writing a book about the impacts of cyber-bullying? What is the main message you hope readers will be able to take from it?

Our starting point was more to write a book about an unlikely friendship, but the setting of cyber-bullying, and general online nastiness became important for the story. We were inspired by what seemed like a constant stream of stories in the media of misogynistic behavior directed to girls and young women in schools, universities, colleges and the workplace. We wanted to represent that reality, and we hope that one message readers take from the book is that if they are caught up in this type of bullying they are not alone, and it’s not their fault. 

How did the three of you decide to collaborate on this book? What was the best thing about writing with two other authors?

We were already friends who met to talk about writing and we thought it would be fun to write something together. We enjoyed the process enormously, although it did take a lot longer to finish than we had initially anticipated. For me, the best thing was working with two writers whose work I love so much. It was a great opportunity to gain insights into Cath’s and Simmone’s creative processes. And it made a welcome change from the usual isolation of writing.

How does Take Three Girls compare with the other books you’ve written – are there any similarities?

I’m interested in exploring the idea of feminism in my fiction. It plays a big part in Take Three Girls and it’s strongly present as a theme in both Wildlife and Cloudwish. Identity is another central theme in those two books and in Six Impossible Things. Both Van Uoc from Cloudwish and Ady from Take Three Girls are serious art students. Across all my writing I try to write an engaging contemporary narrative, told with a sense of humour, that also deals with some more serious social and political issues.

What is the best attribute of the character you wrote?

So, Cath wrote Kate, Simmone wrote Clem and I wrote Ady. I created Ady as a character who is just discovering how important her creativity is in her life, how much it is a part of who she is. She is learning to flex that muscle. That is a strong attribute that was fun to write, because when you write an artist, your also get to write their art, in Ady’s case, expressed through clothes and costume.

Do you have a favourite moment or quote which you think really captures the essence of the story?

There are so many quotes I could mention from all three characters, but one I like from Ady is, “Imagine slipping out for a full-moon midnight walk, just because you could. We’d start to swagger. We’d own the streets, own the night.”  

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors out there?

Read widely. When you read something you like, read it again to analyse exactly how the writer did it. Why, and how, does it work? The other thing is to finish your work. Good writing really happens in the rewriting, and it’s only when you have a complete draft that you can start the rewriting. 

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Review: Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm - An artfully written portrait of a mystery

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm
Released: 1st July 2016
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library
Pages: 277
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Andrew, a photographer compelled by 'the honesty in broken things', returns to Australia when he hears that his former girlfriend has disappeared. By the time he gets back, no body has been found. He prolongs his stay in Australia to investigate her shadowy past, putting his current relationship at risk for reasons he barely understands.

At the same time he meets a damaged girl whom he knows will be a riveting subject for his new series of photos. As he struggles to make sense of his motivations, Andrew realises that photography has become an obsession predicated on his need to hold on to the things he has lost in his life. He finds himself re-evaluating his past and his art in this deeply moving and insightful debut novel from a rising star of Australian literature.
He felt suddenly alert. He was assessing the room for light, he realised. It was his automatic reaction to the world, to decide whether it would make a good photograph. He looked up through the staircase towards his own door. There was light seeping out beneath it. It was faint but warm; it was the light they lived by.

Where the Light Falls was an unexpected find for me - a book that had just happened to catch my eye at the library as I walked past it on the shelf. This is a gentle and poignant story which at face value is about a photographer returning to his home to find out what may have happened to his ex girlfriend. Delving deeper, Shirm has deftly explored this main character through his art, bringing to light the disillusionment of his current relationship and what it will take to find his true purpose in life.

This uneasy attraction he felt towards Kirsten, the way he had been drawn to her, he understood where it came from now. He had mistaken the deep sense of empathy he felt towards her for love.

The plot itself is intensely character-driven, revolving for the most part around Andrew's reaction to the news and how he begins to develop his photography through finding the perfect subject. He often seemed somewhat emotionally detached from the relationships in his life, and perhaps even selfish in his quest to further his career. While not entirely likable though, the author navigated his ethical dilemmas and pensiveness with prose which floated off the page. With a story such as this, there was no real 'closure' which I may have been craving, and some elements did perhaps 'tell' too much instead of simply 'showing'. Nonetheless, what I found so captivating about this book that kept me reading for hours was her prose which is so full of imagery, capturing every moment with an artist's eye. It is almost as if just as Andrew 'saw the world in terms that could be framed', Shirm also has the insight to employ just the right turn of phrase to convey emotions and ideas which could otherwise be left indescribable. I have only come across a few writers who are able to do this so well, and it's a skill which as a reader I admire. 

The library smelt of ageing paper. The ceilings were low and the light was fluorescent and sharp. As he walked deeper into the room it felt like a bunker, a place protected from the outside world. He had forgotten this about libraries - that, like galleries, they were places in which quietness is encouraged.


As I'm beginning to notice more clearly each time I come across an unexpectedly good read, it's the books you're not actively looking for which can turn out to be some of the best. I'm always excited to find a new Australian writer to try, and seeing how Gretchen Shirm's nuanced and purposive style came through has put me on alert for whatever she may release next.