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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Girl in Pieces' by Kathleen Glasgow

From the BLURB:

A deeply moving portrait of pain and survival.
A Girl, Interrupted for a new generation.
A New York Times bestseller.

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At eighteen she's already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she's learned how to forget it. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep and the pain washes out the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don't have to think about your father and the bridge. Your best friend who is gone forever. Or your mother who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie's heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen to find your way back from the edge

A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

‘Girl in Pieces’ is the debut contemporary young adult novel by American author, Kathleen Glasgow.

I’d been hearing quite a lot of buzz about Kathleen Glasgow’s debut. Every blogger whose opinion I value was giving it 5-stars and warning that this was a book to break your heart and open your eyes, and now that I’m out the other side of it … they’re not wrong.

‘Girl in Pieces’ begins thus;

LIKE A BABY HARP SEAL, I’M ALL WHITE. MY FOREARMS are thickly bandaged, heavy as clubs. My thighs are wrapped tightly, too; white gauze peeks out from the shorts Nurse Ava pulled from the lost and found box behind the nurses’ station.    
Like an orphan, I came here with no clothes. Like an orphan, I was wrapped in a bedsheet and left on the lawn of Regions Hospital in the freezing sleet and snow, blood seeping through the flowered sheet.    
The security guard who found me was bathed in menthol cigarettes and the flat stink of machine coffee. There was a curly forest of white hair inside his nostrils.    
He said, “Holy Mother of God, girl, what’s been done to you?”    
My mother didn’t come to claim me.    
But: I remember the stars that night. They were like salt against the sky, like someone spilled the shaker against very dark cloth.    
That mattered to me, their accidental beauty. The last thing I thought I might see before I died on the cold, wet grass. 

And with an opening that raw and beautiful, I was hooked.

The girl lying on the cold, wet grass is 17-year-old Charlie Davis, whose father committed suicide, her abusive mother kicked her out of home and a tragedy has befallen her best friend – a tragedy Charlie seems hell-bent on repeating for herself. Charlie is institutionalised, and in diary-entry style the book takes us through her group therapy and release.

The comparison to Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir hit Girl, Interrupted (which was adapted into an Angelina Jolie Oscar-winning movie) is absolutely spot-on, but with a perhaps more satisfying examination of why Charlie is existing on the fringe. There’s something generally about ‘Girl in Pieces’ which feels at once 90s retro, but with unflinching YA modernity. Glasgow’s book reminded me of landmark YA fiction – 1971’s Go Ask Alice or Cut by Patricia McCormick, and of Australian YA such as Diary of a Street Kid by Margaret Clark and the works of Scott Monk. It reminds me of the time when authors were first writing about the things teens weren’t supposed to be reading, let alone living … homelessness and drug use, self-harm and sexualisation.

Something about Glasgow’s writing also reminds me of Janet Fitch (and again that 90s feel, for her 1999 White Oleander in particular) mixed with a little How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland – it’s in the raw rhythm and cadence, the look-you-dead-in-the-eye grit on the page and for how these books share female characters who envision a single person can save them, but they eventually realise they need to save themselves and fast.

And yet it’s frustrating for me to keep describing Glasgow in terms of who she sounds like and reminds me of, because Girl in Pieces deserves praise for being utterly unique too, and Glasgow’s voice being a booming debut … it’s just, I think, that to read a first novel that’s this accomplished and assured has me comparing her to well-known writers and coming up baffled that she doesn’t yet have a backlist I can trawl through, a previous book to dive right into. How can a debut be this damn good? Where has Kathleen Glasgow been hiding all this time?!

This book hurts, but it’s what I call a ‘necessary read’ – for I feel better for having known Charlie Davis, and reading Kathleen Glasgow for the first (but surely not the last) time. This one is a favourite of the year, for me.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

'Fight Like A Girl' by Clementine Ford

From the BLURB:

Personal and fearless - a call to arms for feminists new, old and as yet unrealised by one of our most outspoken feminist writers.

'With wit, insight and glorious, righteous rage, Clementine Ford lays out all the ways in which girls and women are hurt and held back, and unapologetically demands that the world do better. A passionate and urgently needed call to arms, Fight Like A Girl insists on our right to be angry, to be heard and to fight. It'll change lives.' Emily Maguire, author of An Isolated Incident

A friend recently told me that the things I write are powerful for her because they have the effect of making her feel angry instead of just empty. I want to do this for all women and young girls - to take the emptiness and numbness they feel about being a girl in this world and turn it into rage and power. I want to teach all of them how to FIGHT LIKE A GIRL. Clementine Ford

Online sensation, fearless feminist heroine and scourge of trolls and misogynists everywhere, Clementine Ford is a beacon of hope and inspiration to thousands of Australian women and girls. Her incendiary debut Fight Like A Girl is an essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women. Crucially, it is a call to arms for all women to rediscover the fury that has been suppressed by a society that still considers feminism a threat.

Fight Like A Girl will make you laugh, cry and scream. But above all it will make you demand and fight for a world in which women have real equality and not merely the illusion of it.


‘Fight Like a Girl’ is debut non-fiction from feminist and DailyLife columnist, Clementine Ford.

Full disclosure: I have no objectivity where Clementine Ford is concerned. It’s not just that she’s represented by the literary agency I now work for, that I’ve written for the same DailyLife where Clementine is a columnist, or was lucky enough to chair a session with her and Amy Gray at Melbourne Writers Festival this year … it’s that I’ve been reading Clementine Ford’s work for about five years now and she’s so intrinsically linked to discovering my feminist voice and viewpoint – I feel like she’s been there for me, and helped me in a myriad of ways. There’s nothing but admiration and respect here, where Clementine is concerned. 

I was glad to read in ‘Fight Like a Girl’ the genesis of Clementine’s own feminism – with the opening line; “Of course I believe in equality … but I’m certainly not a feminist.” This was once Clementine’s worldview, just as it was mine – and for much the same reasons. I attended an all-girl school with fellow classmates who were hyperaware of lesbian connotations, and assumed the word “feminist” was code for “lesbian” and were more concerned with outward appearance than moral compass. I also appreciate that Clementine quotes from ‘How to Be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran – the first nod (of many) scattered throughout the book, where Clementine traces her own origin story, much in the same way that many readers tie themselves to the author for their own feminist beginnings. 

I also loved the chapter ‘A League of Their Own’ – which is close to my heart for Clementine exploring as she often does, the link between pop-culture and feminism. She name-drops the likes of; ‘Parks and Recreation’, ‘Broad City’ and ‘Jessica Jones’ (to name a very few) television shows, for their core focus on the love story between female friends. She brings in Alison Bechdel’s test to discuss women in cinema … and while this whole chapter had me head-nodding along for all our cross-pollination of pop-culture obsessions, it’s also Clementine celebrating these highly visible achievements of women who are bringing feminism to the masses. And in particular; rejecting this notion that women are our own worst enemies;

If women can be convinced to mistrust one another instead of working together, patriarchal order is secure for another day.  

Nothing is off-limits in Clementine’s book. She discusses her past abortions, and the ‘Hate Male’ she receives on a daily basis (with gut-churning examples). And she pulls out her visceral critiques and subversions of a society that would rather teach girls how not to get raped, than boys not to rape;

Keep your legs closed – on public transport, in the living room, while watching TV, while lying in bed, while lying with someone else. Be the gatekeeper. Know that boys can’t help themselves, that it’s your job to help them learn self-control, but you must never, ever, ever tell them that, because it’s not fair to treat boys like they’re dangerous. Sacrifice yourself so that they might become better people. Be the scaffold they need to climb to heights greater than you’ll ever be supported to reach.
Make no mistake; Clementine Ford is a change-maker. She’s undoubtedly responsible for introducing feminism to a generation of women who couldn’t quite get behind their mothers’ Germaine Greer adoration, and she’s been at the forefront of the scarily evolving online dangers and abuse aimed at women … Clementine is up there with; Roxane Gay, Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran, Anita Sarkeesian, Lindy West, Laurie Penny, Margaret Cho, Amber Rose, and so many more firebrand feminists who have taken the modern movement and made it work for them. And if I’m being absolutely honest – I wouldn’t know half those women mentioned above if not for reading Clementine’s columns these last few years, which started conversations for me, and within me … and this book will do the exact same thing for a lot of people. It will make them question everything, even themselves – men and women, boys and girls, non-binary – there is something in this book for everyone.

But more than anything, this book is a balm for the individual reader. Clementine lays herself bare – her mistakes, worst moments, darkest thoughts … she puts it all out there, so the reader doesn’t feel so alone. So I didn’t feel so alone. And for that, and so much more, I thank her.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

'The Beast' Black Dagger Brotherhood #14 by J.R. Ward

From the BLURB:

Rhage and Mary return in the new novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood

His name is Rhage - the deadliest fighter and most voracious lover of all the Brotherhood, whose inner beast could never be tamed. But Rhage found his eternal love in Mary Luce, a woman who once bore a life-threatening curse, while dreaming of eternity with her vampire warrior and protector.

They've made it to hell and back. Now their story continues in a new novel sure to draw fans back into the 'frighteningly addictive' (Publishers Weekly) world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

‘The Beast’ is the 14th instalment in JR Ward’s ‘Black Dagger Brotherhood’ urban-fantasy/paranormal-romance series.

Nope. I did not read 13th book ‘The Shadows’. I saw the controversy swarming around it at the time of release, and so I stayed away – until recently, when I attempted to read, but a few chapters in I started to like Trez and Selena and so I decided to bail. Because I am not putting myself through that. There were enough in-depth romance blogger reviews for me to know exactly what happened in the 13th book, and get the gist of the billion other storylines threaded throughout. And anyway, ‘The Beast’ is revisiting the pairing of Rhage and Mary who we first met in book 2, ‘Lover Eternal’ – so I thought I knew enough about them already to dive into a book revisiting their relationship.

I really loved Rhage and Mary – and after Zsadist & Bella, and Rehvenge & Ehlena (I know, I’m in the minority there!) – they’re probably my favourite couple of the BDB. Especially since Mary is one of the only human mates in the brotherhood collective, she reminds me of a better time in this series when it wasn’t all talk about hairless Chosen females who were verily, otherworldly and unattainably beautiful … and I thought all the sacrifices and balances to ensure Mary could stay with Rhage had just the right amount of ‘kill your darlings’ high-stakes (without going overboard, as the Warden clearly did in ‘Shadows’!)

But I gotta say, coming back into this series after not reading a book for two years … I suddenly feel like The Emperor Has No Clothes (or: The Vampires Have No Fangs, to be apropos).

I just … struggled with this one. For starters: I only read the sections pertaining to be about Rhage, Mary, Layla (freakin’ STILL!) has a story going on with Xcor, Vishous has something happening with someone – but I only read his interactions with Butch, Jane and Lassiter … I skipped over I-don’t-even-know-what with Assail, and some reporter (or was she a real-estate agent?) called Jo. The Warden used to be really good at running concurrent storylines – often of our protagonists alongside glimpses of antagonists – but as the series has blown out now to 14 books she feels the need to have about six different stories running together and I just can’t.

But the story itself about Rhage and Mary was … fine? I mean; I saw it all coming from a mile away. And everyone told me that it would work out for them, even as this book sees Rhage asking some really tricky questions of his and Mary’s relationship – I still got cut up reading their struggles and particularly as it made commentary on Mary, motherhood and what it means to be a woman. I do wish that the Warden had poured a little more salt in the wound, however – I could have done with more examination of where Mary (as a human) fits into Rhage’s life in the brotherhood, because she also can’t sustain him with her blood alone and I thought that was a pretty obvious discussion to have, on top of the other hurdles they’re facing in this one. To me, the really raw, emotional scene was pretty much over and done with when Rhage – literally – has a conflicting, rational thought to his emotions and decides ‘cool, I’m all good with this now.’

There were some nice moments in the book – lots of appearances and hints of possible future plots and pairings that I’m sure would have sent die-hard fans into conniption fits.

But suddenly – after a two-year break – I came back into these books and the BDB world and I just had no time for the “bromance” bullshit. I mean;

Manny pulled up a chair. “How we doing, young man?” 
“Hey, old fart. Where’s your better half?” 
“Payne’s having a lie-down. I tired her out, if you get what I mean.” 
The two pounded knuckles…

Ladies and Gentleman; the vampires have no fangs, because suddenly I could not stop rolling my eyes and/or physically sneering at (the many) scenes like the one above. It was when I realised what’s been in these books all along, but I suddenly have no time for – the BDB mansion is basically a frat house.

Also: the Warden’s language. We all know she has a very particular pop-culture vernacular that I’ve never been entirely convinced will stand up, in even a couple year’s time … but not reading that tonal-topical style for a couple years, then coming back into it just made me cringe. Even scenes that I’m sure she wrote to be sweet and emotional just left me scratching my head;
 Sometime later, Mary woke up after a good long rest … and smiled at her decidedly asleep mate. Rhage was out like a light, his eyes closed, one blond brow twitching, his jaw grinding as if maybe he were dreaming of an argument or a pool game. His breathing was deep and even, and yes, he was snoring. Not like a chain saw, though. Or an unmuffled Mustang revving at a red light. Or even anything close to Butch’s wounded-badger routine – which was something you had to hear to believe. 
No, the sounds her man let out were more like Krups coffee pot right as it was finishing a cycle of brewing; the kind of thing that burbled in the background, offering a comforting rhythm of patter that she could sleep through if she wanted to or stay up and listen to if she were stewing again. Come to think of it, his snores were probably the quietest thing about him, considering how heavy his footfalls were, how loud his laugh was, and how much he spoke, especially if he were giving his Brothers a hard time.

What even is?!

Look, I’m pretty sure my reaction to what should have just been a nice, easy revisit of a fan-favourite couple is probably just the signifier I needed that I’m done with this series. More fool me for not realising four or five books ago … but I am going to be a bit sad to say goodbye to this universe, which I first discovered in a haze of paranormal romance binging and once got a real kick out of.  But now, sadly, the shit-kickers are coming off and staying off. Sayonara!


Friday, September 30, 2016

'Mad About the Boy' by Helen Fielding and 'Bridget Jones's Baby'

From the BLURB:

Is it morally wrong to have a blow-dry when one of your children has head lice?

 Is technology now the fifth element? Or is that wood?

Is sleeping with someone after 2 dates and 6 weeks of texting the same as getting married after 2 meetings and 6 months of letter writing in Jane Austen's day?

Pondering these, and other modern dilemmas, Bridget Jones stumbles through the challenges of single-motherhood, tweeting, texting and redisovering her sexuality in what SOME people rudely and outdatedly call 'middle age'.

*** I’m going to err on the side of fair-warning, and say there may be spoilers for the movie ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ in this review of ‘Mad About the Boy’ ***

‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ was the 2013 bestselling third novel in British author Helen Fielding’s classic series which began back in 1996 with ‘Bridget Jones's Diary’, and had a 1999 sequel called ‘The Edge of Reason.’

So, this is going to be a bit of a different joint-review of both a book and film, because there’s a bit of explanation required with how these stories fit together, and why it took me so long to read the third book but actually seeing the new film (which is more like the fourth installment in this series) made me leap back into Bridget’s life …

First of all – I was 12 when second book ‘‘The Edge of Reason’ came out, and I was about 14 when I first read ‘Bridget Jones's Diary’. Similarly, I was 11 when the television series ‘Sex and the City’ first aired, and I likewise started sporadically watching that show at about 14 too. Which basically means I was a 14-year-old girl completely enamored and charmed by a singleton existence and desperately wanted to live in either New York or London to get the full experience. This, I think, is totally normal. I adored the ‘Bridget Jones’ series, and can vividly remember belly-laughing while reading the books (there’s a particularly vivid running-joke in ‘Edge of Reason’ of Bridget thinking she’s been sent a lovely new lipstick, which turns out to be a bullet/death-threat that … when I type it out here, sounds slightly horrifying but was genuinely *hilarious!*) At about 13/14 I also saw the 1995 BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with Colin Firth for the first time and decided he was an absolute dreamboat (to the point that I completely rocked up for the Amanda Bynes 2003 classic ‘What a Girl Wants’ entirely for him. Naturally.) Again – all normal. And this probably explains quite a bit of my general outlook on single life (so long as you have good friends, life’s a party!) and appreciation for the romance genre generally. But what this all really leads me to is … I have a very, very fond heart for Ms Jones, and Mr Darcy – and butting against convention for women’s roles in society.

So when ‘Mad About the Boy’ came out in 2013, and there was ample pop-culture coverage and forewarning about the fact that the third installment had Bridget as a widower with Mark Darcy being killed and leaving her behind with their two children … I stayed away. I could not do it. I could not pick up a book knowing Bridget was going through that, and that she had leaped so far ahead from coupled to widowed from the last time I’d seen her.

But when it was announced that a new Bridget Jones film was coming out this year, still featuring Colin Firth in his iconic role, and it was called ‘Bridget Jones's Baby’ in a complete departure from the trajectory of the book series… well, I had to see that for myself.

And I loved the film. I saw it with my Mum, and we cackled throughout. It was genuinely lovely and funny, and the fact that Colin Firth can keep surprising me with his depths (he’s so sad and dear in this film, truly) and I have missed Renée Zellweger like crazy these last few years … it was just great. Even better is that the ‘Bridget Jones’ movie trilogy becomes the first (in HISTORY!) to have all-female directors, and I found there was still so much depth to this character and what she had to say about women’s conventional roles in society … All round, this film left me chuffed.

But perhaps more importantly is that this film encouraged me to go back and give ‘Mad About the Boy’ a try… which means I’ve read/seen Bridget Jones’s life story in order, since writer Helen Fielding admitted they made this film to fill in the gaps bought up by ‘Mad About the Boy’ which leaps into Bridget’s life without Mark, and doesn’t go into how they finally got together and started a family. That being said – ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries’ book is coming out in October for those who’d really prefer a novelization of Bridget’s timeline.

‘Mad About the Boy’ is set five years after Mark’s death, and 14 years after the events of the second novel. Bridget has two children – Billy and Mabel, aged 7 and 5. She’s got the motto “keep buggering on” and is really trying to not let grief swamp her, as it did in the early days of Mark’s tragic death. The novel is of course in the diary-entry style we’ve come to expect from Bridget, but with a bit of timeline leap-around’s as we go from seeing Bridget start to get serious with a younger man/toy-boy (30-year-old Roxster) and then we go back further to see how she got herself into a place where she could start to think about moving on, romantically.

And ‘Mad About the Boy’ is the usual fare of Bridget’s cunning commentary on modern-day curiosities; everything from technology to school pick-up fashions. There is quite a sense of ‘the shoe being on the other foot’, with Bridget grappling with getting older and having a healthy sense of envy for the younger set (of which, she was one – once);

Call me old-fashioned, but I did read in Glamour that one’s shorts should always be longer than one’s vagina.

There’s also still a good smattering of contempt for ‘smug married couples’ as Bridget is in her widow’s weeds with everyone trying to pair her off with the last-man-standing (divorcees in their 60s, before all the 40-year-old women snap them up, apparently). Bridget taking Roxster as her lover completely flies in the face of this, and makes for some fantastic Bridget Jones Gets her Groove Back scenes.

There’s also an interesting side character in the children’s PE Teacher, Mr Wallaker … a sour sort who keeps catching Bridget in her most humiliating, terrible-at-motherhood moments. This Mr Wallaker (described as a Daniel Craig-lookalike in a *hint* to casting directors) is simply divine;

'THEY ARE CHILDREN!’ Mr Wallaker roared. ‘They are not corporate products! What they need to acquire is not a constant massaging of the ego, but confidence, fun, affection, love, a sense of self-worth. They need to understand, now, that there will always – always – be someone greater and lesser than themselves, and that their self-worth lies in their contentment with who they are, what they are doing and their increasing competence in doing it.'

I think seeing Colin Firth in ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ completely armored me to go into ‘Mad About the Boy’. There was a nice sense of closure already, before I even started reading … to be reminded of the magic in Mark and Bridget that somehow made it okay to go into this book where his absence certainly made me cry, but also had me rooting for more happiness in Bridget’s life.

Helen Fielding has lost none of the charm and hilarity that so endeared her to me as a 14-year-old, and had me holding Bridget Jones up as a worthy pop-culture idol. It was good – really, really lovely and good – to be back in Bridget’s mind and this world she’s created for herself, and is working hard at rebuilding. I completely recommend seeing ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ and reading ‘Mad About the Boy’ (and in that order actually makes a lot of sense!) and I’m totally going to be here for the ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ book when it comes out … no more delayed gratification and three years between installments, not when Fielding and Jones are still this damn good.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

'Magic Binds' Kate Daniels #9 by Ilona Andrews

Received via NetGalley

From the BLURB:

Mercenary Kate Daniels knows all too well that magic in post-Shift Atlanta is a dangerous business. But nothing she’s faced could have prepared her for this...

Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar...

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules...

‘Magic Binds’ is the ninth book in Ilona Andrews’ epic urban fantasy ‘Kate Daniels’ series.

Next year we’ll be getting the final installment in this series that started way back in 2007 – giving us a very well-rounded ten books in ten years. As such, you can expect that a lot of ‘Magic Binds’ is build-up for what’s to come, tightening that suspense coil and preparing readers for a big finale finish.

There is a lot happening in this book – which of course follows on from the events of ‘Magic Shifts’ with Kate having “taken” the city of Atlanta to keep it out of her father’s clutches. When we meet up with her again, she’s also planning her wedding to Curran, while anticipating a deadly magic battle against her ancient, megalomaniac father who is currently squatting on the outskirts of her land…

There are a lot of important tangents in ‘Magic Binds’ – quite a few quests and pieces of the plot puzzle fit together making a suspenseful whole. But it does feel like we’re getting maybe three or four mini-novellas squeezed into this ninth book … always leading back to the over-arching “Big Bad” of Kate’s father Roland, and a countdown clock to tragedy. If I can relate this installment to anything, I’d point to Ron, Harry and Hermione searching for horcruxes in ‘Deathly Hallows’ before the battle at Hogwarts.

I really, thoroughly enjoyed this ninth book – not least because all the secondary characters I love are coming out to play and gear up for the battle. Raphael and Andrea, Ascanio, Derek, and Julie (who I always, always, always want more of – and desperately wanted a scene with them as a trio!), Jim and Dali, Roman, Christoher and Barabas. And of course, as always in a ‘Kate Daniels’ book – Curran, Curran, Curran. He and Kate are one of the rare examples of a “will they or won’t they?” who existed for so many books with delicious tension and snarky commentary, surviving and thriving after getting together. There are new facets to their relationship that keep deepening and surprising me as a reader, and they just keep pleasing me no end.

But what I really loved in this book was the relationship Kate has to the villain, Roland – her father. I can only really think of Leigh Bardugo from recent times, who likewise gave me a villain to actually – oddly? – root for. Someone who you hope has a sliver of decency, but also whose villainy is so much fun to read that you almost want them to keep carrying on …

“She isn’t alive, Blossom. She is a wild force, a tempest without ego. One can only speculate what damage she would cause if unleashed.” 
Aha. Of course, you buried her away from everything she loves because she is too dangerous. 
We resumed our strolling along the walls, slowly circling the tower. 
“How go the preparations for the wedding?” 
“Very well. How goes the world domination?” 
“It has its moments.”

In this book, Roland does some pretty vile things – we (and Kate) see the true extent of his evil … and yet it sits alongside snappy scenes of dialogue between the two, and weird daddy-daughter bonding. Roland as a villain is up there with Glory for me, from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ season five. Just that great, almost camaraderie (?) between villain and hero that raises all the stakes and makes for pure delight to read.

I adored ‘Magic Binds’ – and while I’m going to be sad when this series is over (…while also forever hopeful of a Julie/Derek spin-off! PLEASE - FOR. THE. LOVE. OF. GOD!) I am also ridiculously excited to read the end now – so close, I can practically taste it.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

'Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil' by Melina Marchetta

From the BLURB:

Melina Marchetta's gripping new novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a cracking fusion of suspense and heart-rending drama.

Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.

Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years ago her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing dozens of people. Her mother, Noor, is serving a life sentence in connection with the incident. But before Violette’s part in the French tragedy can be established she disappears.

Bish, who was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest, is now compelled to question everything that happened back then. And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more he realises that truth wears many colours.

‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil’ is the new novel from Australian author Melina Marchetta.

This latest book is another about-turn for beloved Marchetta, who burst onto the publishing scene with award-winning young adult book ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ in 1992, followed by more YA fare in ‘Saving Francesca’ and Printz-winning ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ (which also has a companion early-reader in ‘The Gorgon in the Gully’). In 2010 she came out with a sort-of sequel to ‘Saving Francesca’ with ‘The Piper’s Son’, which was long-listed for the Miles Franklin award … she then broke away from YA and contemporary tales with critically-acclaimed high-fantasy series ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ spanning three books. And now with ‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil,’ Marchetta is breaking new ground yet again – with an adult crime/mystery-thriller, which I think proves her to be Australia’s most versatile author writing today.  

I’ve now re-read this book three times in three months (as I was kindly given an advance copy) – and I’m continually surprised by how much I love it, and new facets I come to admire and uncover in the story. For anyone who is mildly concerned that they won’t get as much enjoyment out of a Melina novel that’s not in the usual genre or readership for her, let me assure you there’s absolutely nothing to worry about – and also, there’s no such thing as “usual” when talking about Melina Marchetta anymore. And that’s a good thing.

For one thing – Marchetta has always written mysteries. From Josie Alibrandi’s parentage, to the truth of Taylor Markham’s abandonment by her mother and how she came to catch a train with Jonah Griggs when they were 14-years-old, even Lumatere Chronicles’ cryptic “there's a babe in my belly that whispers the valley,” and the curse that was lifted … it’s true that most every story ever told has a mystery somewhere at its centre, and Marchetta’s novels have been no different over time. It’s just that in ‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil’ she’s really immersing the novel in mystery-thriller as the pivot-point.

But Marchetta’s books – whether contemporary, high fantasy, or now crime-thriller –her books will have family at the centre, always and forever. ‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil’ is at once about Chief Inspector Bish Ortley, suspended from the London Met and investigating a bomb attack that came very close to killing his own daughter … but there’s more to the story of Bish; his broken marriage and ex-wife who’s about to give birth to another man’s child, and his daughter – Bee – who has been drifting away from all of them since a terrible accident years ago, and his mother Saffron who has only just come into her own as a grandmother when she was never the maternal sort with Bish growing up. The Ortley’s are one side of this coin, on the other are the LeBrac and Sarraf’s – whom Bish believes to be a deadly crime family paying their dues and serving apt life-sentences for a terrorist act carried out just over a decade ago. But as he starts digging he finds a family full of tragedy and love, history and mystery that needs unravelling – with roots in Alexandria and the Algerian War, who were once a British immigrant success story, condemned in a trial-by-media …

Five dead. More injured. Some badly. It's what happened when you were the son of Louise Sarraf: you became obsessed with victims and numbers and how many people were affected. One dead man meant kids and a wife and parents and brothers and sisters and in-laws and nieces and nephews. Injured kids meant the same. A mother. Father. Two sets of grandparents. Approximately seven aunts and uncles and at least fourteen cousins. Not to mention friends ... Jamal had become a mathematician after his father blew up their lives. The figured tallied based on twenty-three fatalities fucked with his head every time. 

And for those upset that Marchetta has broken away from her YA roots … not quite, either. For one thing – I don’t think Melina is physically capable of not writing about teenagers and young people. And that’s because she clearly has such deep respect for them, and interest in them. When family is always at the heart of her stories, she pays dividends to the important role that younger generation’s play within this dynamic – and that’s never truer than in ‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil’ which is inverting the whole “sins of the father” question, by giving real agency (and the entire pivot-point of the mystery) around young people whose family was torn apart, and who have lived in the fallout of their absence ever since. I don’t want to give too much away about the roles that teenagers plays in this book, except to say that it feels somewhat revolutionary for Melina Marchetta to be bringing them into the mystery-thriller genre as agents of change in the plot, instead of – as is usually the case – purely victims of abuse and neglect. As someone who reads a lot of crime and mystery novels, I can tell you this is not always the case … and actually what Marchetta has done is extraordinarily rare and, quite frankly, brilliant.

Later, restless and desperate not to have a drink, Bish scoured the news online. The Guardian, Al Jazeera, the New York Times. The Australian media hadn't made up their mind how they felt yet. At the moment they were identifying Violette as "the British-born French-Arab LeBrac, who went by the name Zidane, which belonged to her Algerian grandmother." Bish couldn't think of how many more hyphens and details they could use to distance themselves from the world's least favourite teenager. What country did Violette LeBrac Zidane belong to? On Twitter, #princec2 was the most eloquent: "She's Australian, you fuckers." 

The other thing I really want to say about Marchetta bringing her voice to this genre is in the character of Bashir “Bish” Ortley. Male leads in mystery-thrillers are nothing new, and quite frankly I’m a bit over them … I tend to gravitate more towards books in this genre with female leads (Dr. Sara Linton in Karin Slaughter’s books, Rev. Clare Fergusson in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s etc). And there was a part of me, when I started reading ‘Tell the Truth’ that was worried Bish would be more of the same that this genre tends to produce – old, grizzled, alcoholic, over-the-hill cop with a heart of gold and inexplicable sway over the opposite sex … but again, this is Marchetta we’re talking about. I came away from this novel with a real appreciation for how much the women steer the story – and Bish. From Noor LeBrac and Violette Zidane to Bish’s mother Saffron, his daughter Bee, wife Rachel, a whip-smart solicitor called Layla Barat ... Bish may be the character we follow for most of the story (with a few chapters from others’) and he may be Chief Inspector Ortley doing all the gum-shoeing on this case, but he’s very much being led by the women. Because they’re smart. And fierce. They know what they want – and they go after it. Bish is really just along for the ride and at their mercy, because the women always rule in a Melina Marchetta novel. Always. And Bish is the better for it by book's end, and I came to completely admire him. 

There’s just something about this novel that has stuck with me, and I can’t shake this feeling of deep gratitude – for another brilliant story from this writer who means so much to me – but also for this story that got me thinking so deeply about issues that are impacting the world today … So much is touched on here; refugees and asylum seekers, trial by media, the dubious justice of anti-terror laws and torture, Islamophobia, vigilantism and social-media, the creep of political power-plays, and so much more. Something about this book and Marchetta’s writing in this genre reminds me of ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ by Eduardo Sacheri (which has been adapted into two films, but I prefer the 2009 Argentine/Spanish version) – in that layering of the personal and criminal, suspense in the crime itself as well as the hair-trigger personalities of the players involved … Marchetta feels utterly at home in this genre, like she’s been writing in it all her life (which she has, to a degree) and I can only hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Bish Ortley and co. There are certainly seeds and threads planted in this book – particularly around the lawless treatment of asylum seekers who are stuck in limbo, and preyed upon for it – that feels like fertile and important ground for more mystery-thriller tales. Displacement, home, identity, and family – nobody writes about this better than Marchetta for me, and her bringing these themes to this genre is acknowledging something truly profound.

There’s so much I loved in this book – not least was the way it fits for me, like a puzzle piece within Marchetta’s other stories … there are lines here connecting them all for me, so I can see exactly how writing all those others bought Marchetta to this book, at this point in time. I loved that Violette Zidane feels like she’d get along like a house on fire with Josie Alibrandi, Francesca Spinelli and especially Taylor Markham. Charlie Crombie was a little shit, but then again I thought Jonah Griggs was too – at first. I loved Layla and Jamal as fiercely as I loved Georgie and Sam from ‘Piper’s Son,’ as much as Trevanion and Beatriss from the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ – because the good ones don’t come easy. I loved reading the family history of the LeBrac and Sarraf’s, as much as I adored when Froi once told the complicated history of his family to Arjuro, which he concluded by saying; “I'd live it again just to have crossed all of your paths.” But most of all I think I loved how ‘Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil’ can be seen as sitting alongside ‘The Piper's Son’ – examining a very different angle of a terror tragedy. And while it wasn’t the same London tragedy that took Joe away from them, part of me hopes the Mackee’s would be the sort to forgive and make peace with a family who ended up suffering just as much …


Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil out in the US on October 11

Monday, September 5, 2016

Interview with Laura Elizabeth Woollett, author of 'The Love of a Bad Man'

Q: Tell me about how you got published (agent or slush pile)?

Neither, actually. I have an American agent who tried selling it over there in early 2015, but the general response was, “great idea, but we’re not doing short stories right now,” and, “tell us when she has a novel.” I ended up going to the US mid-2015 to research my next novel. A couple of months after my return, I did a reading for a Melbourne Writers Festival event and Marika Webb-Pullman, a commissioning editor from Scribe, happened to be in the audience. The next morning, she emailed me asking to see what I was working on, and I had a two-book deal within a month. 

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘The Love of a Bad Man’ - from first idea to final manuscript? 

In 2012, I finished my degree and my first novel, The Wood of Suicides. After that, I had a bit of a fallow period, writing-wise, but was reading more nonfiction, looking for ideas. I think I was committed to the idea of the collection by early 2013 and I wrote a few of the stories that year. In 2014, I got a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship and completed a big chunk of the book over ten weeks. By the end of 2014, I had a final manuscript. So about two years, all up.


Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?

I honestly don’t have that many ideas. There are themes that I find myself coming back to (girlhood, sex, power) again and again, and my stories tend to be ways of exploring these, with shifts in character, setting, and perspective. Sometimes a random image or detail will spark something in me, but it’s rare that it leads to a whole story. With this collection, I was very dependent on research to supplement my imagination, and I think this is how I work best: research-heavy fiction. I envy those writers who are idea-machines, capable of spinning totally original stories from the tiniest inspiration. I personally need a lot of groundwork.

Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?

Plotter all the way – as you probably guessed from my previous response. My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ, aka ‘the Mastermind’. I like to mastermind things, to think them through meticulously before I put them to paper. For this reason, I love research, and always hated those 10-minute creative writing exercises at uni (mostly I’d just draw flowers or fashion girls instead of writing anything).

Q: How did you go about choosing these particular women to focus on - and were you already familiar with all their stories, or once you had the concept for the collection did you have to go digging through the history books for a cast of characters? 

There were some that I encountered in my teens. I remember reading about the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in DOLLY, of all places, when I was 13 or 14. Others I heard of in my early twenties and filed away with the intention of reading up on, though not necessarily writing about. And others I actively sought out, once I realised I had a collection on my hands. There were several cases I read up on but didn’t end up including. Twelve stories seemed like a good amount to explore the theme multifariously, without it being overkill.  

Q: Even though you are writing fictional accounts of these women's lives, you have some meticulous details in here - particularly around historical context. What kind of research did you do, not only for accurate details but to also get into the head-space of some really unsavoury characters? 

I read a lot of true crime and biographies, to start with. The facts that I connected with most tended to be mundane things, rather than gory details; stuff like what these characters wore, ate, watched, read, smoked, etc. Picturing the dailiness of their lives helped me see them as real people, with habits and preferences, and made it easier to get under their skin. In terms of ‘darker’ impulses, that involved more introspection. I don’t think there’s anything particularly mysterious about the feelings that motivate bad behaviour; the invisible lines between feeling and action are where the mystery lies, for me. So often it was a matter of taking a feeling I’ve had and following that thread.  

Q: What was your favourite bit of trivia you discovered while researching? 

Ian Brady gave Myra Hindley a record to commemorate each murder they committed together. The first record was ‘Theme from The Legion’s Last Patrol’ by Ken Thorne and His Orchestra. The rest were pop songs, and all about breakups or being stood up: ‘24 Hours From Tulsa’ by Gene Pitney, ‘It’s Over’ by Roy Orbison, ‘Girl Don’t Come’ by Sandie Shaw, and Joan Baez’s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’. No happy love songs.

Q: Do any of the real women in the collection know that you've written about them? A few are still alive, after all (Veronica Compton, Caril Ann Fugate)

I didn’t try to contact any of them. It was easier for me not to, and seemed like the safest, least intrusive option. Of the women still alive, many have taken pains to live anonymously. Others are still serving time. I did track down one of them online, though decided against getting in touch. Ultimately, I’m a fiction writer, not a journalist, and didn’t feel like such contact was necessary to the composition of these stories.  

Q: What's the hardest part of short-story writing for you? 


Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to his bookshelves?

I’m working on a (long!) novel called Beautiful Revolutionary. It’s about a young couple who join Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in late ’60s California, and follows them all the way to the Jonestown massacre of 1978. It actually began with research for this book, and about one woman in particular, Carolyn Moore Layton, who was Jones’ mistress and most trusted aide. I didn’t end up including a story about her – partly because her character didn’t lend itself well to first-person narration, partly because I felt I needed a whole novel to get her character right – though she does cameo in ‘Marceline’. It’ll hit bookshelves sometime in 2018, which is also the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre.

Q: Favourite author(s) and book(s) of all time?

Lolita. The Bell Jar. The Virgin Suicides. The Secret History. And the Ass Saw the Angel. Bonjour Tristesse. The Beach. Joyce Carol Oates. Marguerite Duras. Elena Ferrante. Gillian Flynn. Stephanie Dickinson.  

Q: What are you reading, loving and recommending right now?

I’ve just finished Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s my first JCO of the year and one of the most recent books (2014) from her super-massive backlist. A Goodreads reviewer described it as “an arthouse redux of Gone Girl”, and there are some similarities, though this is much more bizarre and existential. I saw a lot of myself in the protagonist, Cressida Mayfield – which is a little scary because she’s an incredibly high-strung, antisocial, self-sabotaging character!

I’ve also been reading White Girls by Hilton Als, a writer for The New Yorker. It’s an exploration of Als’ identification, as a gay African-American man, with ‘white girls’ of culture. More broadly, it’s an exploration of gender, race, class, and art. His writing is both intimate and critical, with long, fancy sentences that I love.

Haven’t started yet, but dying to read The Turner House by Angela Flourney. She’s a debut author from the US and a guest of Melbourne Writers Festival this year. It’s a family saga set in Detroit, and the snippets I’ve read on Amazon have been fantastic.    

Q: Do you have any advice for budding young writers?

I think it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses, and to find a style that suits them, without being fatalistic about it. For instance, I always thought I was terrible at dialogue, then suddenly I wasn’t. Read writers whose strengths you share and see how they do it. Read writers whose strengths you don’t share for the same reason. Know that, no matter where you’re starting from, you can only get better and better.