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Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Wildflower' by Drew Barrymore


From the BLURB:

Wildflower is a portrait of Drew's life in stories as she looks back on the adventures, challenges, and incredible experiences of her earlier years. It includes tales of living on her own at 14 (and how laundry may have saved her life), getting stuck in a gas station overhang on a cross country road trip, saying goodbye to her father in a way only he could have understood, and many more adventures and lessons that have led her to the successful, happy, and healthy place she is today. It is the first book Drew has written about her life since the age of 14.

‘Wildflower’ is the 2015 memoir by award-wining actress, by Drew Barrymore.

I’ve found myself in intermittent reading-slumps a lot this year. Sometimes they span a couple of days, or a couple of weeks but I’ve even gone on a month-long bookish drought this year, and mostly because I’m working on projects that are exciting and fun and taking up all my bookish energies! So I wanted to read a book that could be a bit of a palate-cleanser … outside of my usual scope, something I can pretty much guarantee will amuse me and be something I can put down and come back to with long lags in-between. That book has proven to be ‘Wildflower’.

I love Drew Barrymore – who doesn’t? She’s not so much the cute but troubled E.T. child to me and my generation, but I know her as the kick-butt Charlie’s Angel who told a room full of bad guys that; “By the time this is over, every one of you is going to be face-down on the floor, and I’m going to moonwalk out of here.” Or she’s Josie “Grossie” Geller from the (greatest) 1999 movie Never Been Kissed, standing on the pitcher’s mound waiting for her moment and man. She’s the real Cinderella in Ever After, who saved herself – thank you very much! Or she’s the woman tearfully introducing herself in the mirror as ‘Julia Guglia’ in The Wedding Singer, and discovering that true love is giving up the window seat on a plane. Basically, I know the Drew who has made a career out of playing and being the woman that everyone wants to be best friends with …

‘Wildflower’ totally leans into Drew’s infectious likability and aspirations. There’s not a whole lot in here that delves into the darker periods of her life … including being institutionalised as a preteen for drugs and alcohol abuse, emancipated at the age of 14 (and figuring out how leftovers and washing machines work), the intermittent appearances of her hippie-unstable estranged father… and probably because she’s very upfront about writing this book for her two girls to read one day, she chooses the sunshine and silver-linings over the nittier and grittier, which may be a let-down for some who would prefer to know those in’s and out’s of her life.

But for me – I loved reading about her growing up in LA (with these total Francesca Lia Block/ Weetzie Bat feels!) and the trickles of information she has about her family of thespians, including ‘The Profile’ John Barrymore … she may not lean into the darker parts of her history, but she does say that she supports and loves her mother, and it’s interesting to learn of her mother’s background – she was born in a displaced persons camp in Brannenburg, West Germany, to Hungarian World War II refugees.

When she goes into her growing up in the 90s (when she was at her most exhibitionist, seemingly wild-child) it’s kind of nice to read about the oddball family she was amassing behind-the-scenes, and people who she’s still friends with now and built a fantastic production company with;

That’s what we did. It was Los Angeles, and we had a lot of friends, and all of them were at the beginning of their exciting lives too. Some of the coolest filmmakers and the biggest movie stars would come hang at our house, but they hadn’t become those things yet. We were all in the incubation process and in the last carefree times of our lives. We were human Polaroids slowly developing into what other people would see, but for now we were just scrappy kids in no rush to grow up.

I will admit that this memoir isn’t overly groundbreaking, and it’s probably of such little interest to anyone who isn’t a total Drew fan (duh!) … probably a lot of the book’s appeal is just getting to see behind the Hollywood curtain, and discovering that Drew Barrymore is exactly as fictional best-friend worthy as you’d always expected. My favourite chapter is her delving into post-Charlie’s Angels media tour, when she, Lucy Lu and Cameron Diaz were roped into doing a 3-day survival course as part of the publicity trail. Drew (who was also the film’s producer, and weighed down by stress ahead of release) was not the out-doorsy, go-get-em’ type during the trip, thereby making her my *spirit animal patronus;

“This is peelu. It’s a tree and people use it in toothpaste and gum, but you can chew on it for hours and get water and saliva from it. It’s really pleasant. Peelu is your friend. Make a mental picture and let’s find some along our route.” Go fuck yourself.

… And she’s just plain funny. Of course she is – humour is her forte, and it’s a total kick to see that she’s just as clumsy and sarcastic and hilarious in real-life as she is on screen;

“OK, now your turn Cameron!” A born athlete from Long Beach, California, she made her way down like the girl we all know and love. Cool, funny, capable. Everyone roared with delight.
Then came a halfhearted to me “OK, now your turn” – no name, just “c’mon, let’s get this over with and get the unfun one down the rock.” And so I did. And while I was clinging for dear life, my foot slipped and I fell a good ten feet, and then I snapped with a hard jerk as my tether caught, and I was just swinging in midair, back and forth like a stupid metronome in unflattering khakis.
 
This wasn’t a groundbreaking, all-time-favourite read … and there’s a little tinge of sadness to some chapters on her family, given that she and Will Kopelman announced their split this year … but if nothing else, ‘Wildflower’ is a celebration of how many times Drew Barrymore has picked herself up, dusted herself off, learnt to enjoy her own company and keep on keeping on. It was cathartic and enjoyable, and made me want to pull out all my Drew Barrymore DVDs for a binge-watch… and solidified my feelings that we would be insta-BFFs should we ever meet in real life. So, there’s that.

4/5

* Thanks to Diem, for pulling me up on this
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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.

5/5


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.

5/5


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!

2/5