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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

'Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal' Quarterly Essay by Benjamin Law

From the BLURB:

Are Australian schools safe? And if they’re not, what happens when kids are caught in a bleak collision between ill-equipped teachers and a confected scandal?

In 2016, the Safe Schools program became the focus of an ideological firestorm. In Moral Panic 101, Benjamin Law explores how and why this happened. He weaves a subtle, gripping account of schools today, sexuality, teenagers, new ideas of gender fluidity, media scandal and mental health.

In this timely essay, Law also looks at the new face of homophobia in Australia, and the long battle for equality and acceptance. Investigating bullying of the vulnerable young, he brings to light hidden worlds, in an essay notable for its humane clarity.

‘Moral Panic 101: Equality, Acceptance and the Safe Schools Scandal’ is the new edition of the Quarterly Essay by Australian author Benjamin Law.

The Quarterly Essay, if you don’t know – is an Australian periodical that straddles the border between magazine and non-fiction book. And I will confess, I am not a regular reader of the Quarterly. But given what’s happening in Australian politics right now, and in the lead-up to a marriage equality postal plebiscite – I found myself compelled to read Benjamin Law’s coverage of what has often felt like conservative-hysteria.

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant (or just, not Australian) the Safe Schools Coalition Australia is group of organisations in Australia focused on LGBTIQ people in schools. Its mission is to create safe and inclusive schools for students, families and staff who are in these groups.

But when a national (non-mandatory teaching) program was rolled out, conservative media pundits and pop-culture markers seemed to swirl around the organisation that eventually led to a perfect-storm of – as Benjamin Law perfectly summarises – ‘Moral Panic 101’.

This Quarterly Essay edition is Benjamin Law’s attempt to wade through the “fake news” and op-ed fallacy that has taken hold of the Safe Schools discussion, and especially eclipsed the reasons why Safe Schools was needed in the first place … to help LGBTQ+ youth who are at higher risk of suicide.

I’ve read this Essay about three times now. And bawled my eyes out each and every time. Not because Law uses particularly powerful prose or flowery imagery – but because he does the exact opposite. Offering up a refreshingly straight-down-the-line account of how Safe Schools got started, what good it was doing, and how it all came crashing down thanks to ulterior-motives and dollar-signs, it seems.

Some have asked me if they’ll have to be in the right head-space to read this Essay. Given the years of media beat-up of Safe Schools, and now the marriage equality survey that’s designed to decide human rights by straw-poll … it’s a fair enough question and one I don’t have a perfect answer to.

This is a hard read, but a necessary one. I actually wish ‘Moral Panic 101’ were mandatory reading for anyone about to vote in the marriage equality survey – since so many have wrongly tried to tie Safe Schools to marriage equality and a supposedly hidden LGBTQ+ “agenda” … It might be a nice change for those hell-bent on muddying the plebiscite waters, to read an essay on Safe Schools that relies on facts instead of fears.

But no, the reason I think this is a necessary read – no matter that it’s also bound to be a painful one – is because Benjamin Law treats the group at the centre of the Safe Schools program with the respect they have always been due, but rarely granted in recent years. Kids.

 To read every article of the Australian has published on Safe Schools is to induce nausea. This isn’t even a comment on the content, just the sheer volume. In the year following Natasha Bita’s first February cover story, the Australian feverishly published nearly 200 stories either about, or mentioning, Safe Schools, amounting to over 90,000 words – four times the length of this essay. That’s at least one story about or mentioning Safe Schools every two days. This is a conservative count too, excluding the newspaper’s Cut & Paste sections and Strewth columns, as well as myriad letters to the editor. When I collated every article the Australian had published over this period into a single PDF, the resulting file was so large that my laser printer couldn’t handle it and I had to get it professionally printer and bound. The volume that came back is roughly the size of a standard PhD thesis. No one can claim the Australian isn’t thorough. 
 And yet, across this entire period, Australian – self-appointed guardian of the safety of children – spoke to not a single school-aged LGBTIQ youth. Not even one. Later, queer teenagers who followed the Safe Schools saga tole me the dynamic felt familiar. At school, it’s known as bullying. In journalism, it’s called a beat-up.

Benjamin Law talks to teenagers, especially. Those who are articulate, scared, hopeful, dejected, loving … he listens to them. He listens to how queer communities are helping them, and how Safe Schools worked or would have been appreciated by them.

Again, I will warn that this is a powerful read. If you’re like me and this all hits very close to home, it’ll definitely make you cry. But, look – the final chapter is called ‘The Kids Are All Right’. Because they are, and will be. Because no matter the outcome of this marriage equality survey, or the hate-filled propaganda of those who fear change … it’s still coming. In fact, it’s already here – in the young queer kids Benjamin Law speaks to, and the communities who are supporting and striving to understand them, instil respect for them.

The Kids Are All Right. It’s adults who have to learn to do right by them – all of them.


Oh, and P.S. — not that this has anything to do with Safe Schools continuing to be needed, or exist in some states, but for equality 

'Addition' by Toni Jordan

From the BLURB:

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920); the number of poppy seeds on her slice of orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she’ll take to finish it. Grace counts everything, because numbers hold the world together. And she needs to keep an eye on how they’re doing.

Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (also a 19, with the sexiest hands Grace has ever seen) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her kitchen cupboards without conductng an inventory, or make a sandwich containing an unknown number of sprouts.

Grace’s problem is that Seamus doesn’t count. Her other problem is…he does.

‘Addition’ is a fabulous debut novel. Grace is witty, flirtatious and headstrong. She’s not a bit sentimental but even so, she may be about to lose track of the number of ways she can fall in love.

‘Addition’ was Australian author Toni Jordan’s 2008 debut novel. It is both a romantic comedy and heartfelt tale of mental health and individuality.

I have owned but not read this book since 2008, and have known of its brilliance for that long too. This is partly because Toni Jordan attended the same RMIT writing and editing course as I did (she graduated a few years before I attended though) and all my lecturers raved about her and the breakout success of ‘Addition’ – a few of my lecturers are even thanked in the acknowledgments.

And yet – 2017 is the year of Toni Jordan for me (or, well – technically 2016 was but I couldn’t remember my Christmas read of ‘Our Tiny Useless Hearts’ so … nevermind!) 2017 is the year of Toni Jordan for me. I think I’m going to read all of her books as a treat to myself, and after this – ‘Fall Girl’ will be next!

‘Addition’ is about 35-year-old obsessive-compulsive counter Grace, who is on leave from her teaching job because her counting compulsion came to the attention of parents (“they wanted me teaching their children, not counting them,” she explains at one point). Grace is high-functioning in her compulsion, so long as she sticks to routines and keeps her life patterned by numbers her world will keep ticking along … number of steps to the café, poppy seeds in a slice of orange cake, 10 bananas bought from the supermarket. Her one true love is similarly tortured-by-numbers inventor Nikola Tesla, whose photo is framed and sits by her bedside.

Then Grace steals Seamus’ banana. This is not a euphemism. She swipes it from his grocery basket while waiting in line at the supermarket – to complete her perfect 10. Over the next few days, Grace’s carefully ordered patterns seem to keep leading her back to Seamus … and the two eventually embark on a relationship (Grace’s first in three years).

What follows is both an utterly sexy and tender romance, and a heartbreaking exploration of mental health that questions conformity and normality in the most respectful and humorous ways.

And let’s make something 100% clear – this is a romance (to me, at least – Bookthingo thought differently and that’s okay). But to me – it’s also a *hot* romance. I am coming to quickly admire Toni Jordan’s sweetly sensual stories which beautifully uphold the one true romance rule for me – that is, that our female protagonist has to stand a little taller by the end of the novel. And on her own two feet, with a companion who encourages her autonomy but wishes to be apart of her journey. If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that I would have liked a little bit more – and especially scenes of Grace meeting Seamus’s family.

I am loving my journey through Toni Jordan’s backlist, and I’m not even a little sorry that it’s taken me this long to finally get around to reading her … because these are just the books I needed *right now*. To get me out of a few reading slumps, and to be companionable friends when world events start squeezing in. I’m not sorry that I’ve taken a while to join the Toni Jordan fan-club, I’m just happy that I found my way eventually.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

'Irresistible You' Chicago Rebels, #1 by Kate Meader

From the BLURB:

Hot in Chicago series author Kate Meader returns with her all new, scorching Chicago Rebels hockey series. Three estranged sisters inherit their late father’s failing hockey franchise and are forced to confront a man’s world, their family’s demons, and the battle-hardened ice warriors skating into their hearts.

Harper Chase has just become the most powerful woman in the NHL after the death of her father Clifford Chase, maverick owner of the Chicago Rebels. But the team is a hot mess—underfunded, overweight, and close to tapping out of the league. Hell-bent on turning the luckless franchise around, Harper won’t let anything stand in her way. Not her gender, not her sisters, and especially not a veteran player with an attitude problem, a chip on his shoulder, and a smoldering gaze designed to melt her ice-compacted defenses.

Veteran center Remy “Jinx” DuPre is on the downside of a career that’s seen him win big sponsorships, fans’ hearts, and more than a few notches on his stick. Only one goal has eluded him: the Stanley Cup. Sure, he’s been labeled as the unluckiest guy in the league, but with his recent streak of good play, he knows this is his year. So why the hell is he being shunted off to a failing hockey franchise run by a ball-buster in heels? And is she seriously expecting him to lead her band of misfit losers to a coveted spot in the playoffs?

He’d have a better chance of leading Harper on a merry skate to his bed…

‘Irresistible You’ is the first book in a new ice-hockey romance series called ‘Chicago Rebels’, from author Kate Meader.

Every romance reader has their happy-tropes. Friends-to-lovers, and enemies-to-lovers are two of my faves. I am also partial to kilts and Scottish highlanders generally. I do not like fireman or ice-hockey players. Except when they’re written by Kate Meader. She hooked me on firemen with her ‘Hot in Chicago’ series, and now it looks like she’s got me flipped into a puck-bunny with this new ‘Chicago Rebels’ series.

The book is about three half-sisters whose father has recently died, leaving his bedraggled ice-hockey team in their management and care. First book is about the oldest sister who always wanted to be an NHL owner-manager, Harper Chase – and the Cajun ice-hockey player who turns her world upside down.

Now, it wasn’t just that growing up I had a total crush on X-Men cartoon character Gambit; but also that Remy “Jinx” DuPre is a fine specimen of an alpha hero. He doesn’t overstep the mark into asshole territory, but is instead a steely and considerate male who loves cooking, family and gets turned on by Harper growing into her own as bossy businesswoman. Hell. Yeah!

Harper comes with a lot of emotional hurt, having been burnt by a violent romance with an ice-hockey player in the past. She is also being emotionally dragged down by the mind-games her hurtful father played on her and her sisters when he was alive (and is still managing to play, from beyond the grave).

I loved this first book, and I thoroughly adored Remy and Harper’s chemistry and opposites-attracting heat. I will say that I’m not as excited for one of the sister’s romances, that is set up in this first book, but the second scheduled – ‘So Over You’ coming out in December – is about the athletic middle-sister taking over as coach of the NHL team and coming face-to-face with the Russian player who she had a girlhood crush on, and gave her virginity to … OMG yep. Sign me up!

Kate Meader can do no wrong in my eyes. If you aren’t reading her romances yet, please get on it!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

'Our Tiny, Useless Hearts' by Toni Jordan

From the BLURB:

Henry has ended his marriage to Caroline and headed off to Noosa with Mercedes’ grade three teacher, Martha.

Caroline, having shredded a wardrobe-full of Henry’s suits, has gone after them.

Craig and Lesley have dropped over briefly from next door to catch up on the fallout from Henry and Caroline’s all-night row.

And Janice, Caroline’s sister, is staying for the weekend to look after the girls because Janice is the sensible one. A microbiologist with a job she loves, a fervent belief in the beauty of the scientific method and a determination to make a solo life after her divorce from Alec.

Then Craig returns through the bedroom window expecting a tryst with Caroline and finds Janice in her bed, Lesley storms in with a jealous heart and a mouthful of threats, Henry, Caroline and Martha arrive back from the airport in separate taxis—and let’s not even get started on Brayden the pizza guy.

Janice can cope with all that. But when Alec knocks on the door things suddenly get complicated.

Harnessing the exquisite timing of the great comedies to the narrative power and emotional intelligence for which she is famous, Toni Jordan brings all her wit, wisdom and flair to this brilliant, hilarious novel.

‘Our Tiny Useless Hearts’ is a 2016 romantic comedy novel from Australian author, Toni Jordan.

I did read this in December last year. But I clearly have brain-fog for the entire Christmas month and cannot for the life of me remember the reading clearly … so I spontaneously decided to re-read Toni Jordan’s comedy about love and marriage, and I was absolutely rapt.

This is the first Toni Jordan book I’ve ever read, but after doing so I (must have enjoyed it, back in December?) went out and bought her other novels ‘Addition’ and ‘Fall Girl’, and now that I’ve had a rebooted reading I intend to get stuck into those ASAP too!

I won’t even try to recount the plot of this book – instead I’ll say it’s a sort of modern Melbourne suburban take on Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, except the comedy-of-manners is more a comedy-of-morons who’ve lost their heads and hearts to utterly foolish infidelities and self-inflicted heartburn. It really is wonderful!

Liane Moriarty provides an endorsement quote, calling it “cutting and clever, and yet so very romantic, as though P. G. Wodehouse had satirised life in the suburbs.” This is a very appropriate endorsee – because Toni Jordan’s novel did remind me of Liane Moriarty’s work, minus the seedy underbelly that goes with her explorations of love and betrayal. Jordan takes a much more light-hearted approach, that still manages to cut to the heart of the matter;

‘Something special, I mean. Your moment, whatever that means.’ 
He breathes out in a rush and leans against the side of the house, he tilts his head back and rests his hands on his thighs. ‘I think everybody feels like that.’ 
‘What if it never happens? What if we’re all here, getting ready, like our entire life is the night before the first day of school, and we’re waiting and waiting and the moment we’re preparing for – it never actually comes?’

Jordan’s novel is also a romance. Through and through. Which is great, and also caught me off guard because Toni Jordan is *so* beloved in Australia and especially by indie bookstores (again – wonderful! And what took me so long to get cluey?!) – but generally Melbourne publishing has an issue with romance … insofar as they don’t respect it very much. There’s no doubt that Jordan brilliantly weaves romance with marital dramas, family observations, and general suburban rot too;

‘When you ask the little boys in my class what they want to be when they grow up, none of them say “a man”,’ says Martha. ‘They all want to be boys for ever, but boys who have a magnet in their chest that prevents anything touching their heart. And that also powers their flying iron suit, so they can live in their penthouse with their car collection and play video games with their friends.’

… but all romance does this. Toni Jordan is writing contemporary romance, but I see her often getting labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ – but I hope romance readers of Australia are like me and have found their way to her hot, biting observations of the up’s and down’s of love. It’s totally worth it!


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