All around the World

The Internet can be a really great place for a great many things. And friendships is one of them. Of course everyone uses the Internet to keep in contact with their ‘real life’ friends, and to stalk people they met at a party/ kindergarten but haven’t spoken to since (no shame, we all do it). But making brand new friends? Stranger danger! All those online safety seminars from school start to trigger something way in the back of your mind that, perhaps, this isn’t the best idea.

But maybe it is.

Imagine this – you have a friend who you talk to literally every day, you let each other into your respective lives and you find you have lots in common and a real connection. You support each other through everything and it becomes a real solace knowing that you can just pick up your phone and they’ll be there. Wouldn’t you want a friend like this?? Or, if you have one already– another?

The only problem is, that maybe, they live in another city, country, maybe a different continent even. But with the wonderful World Wide Web right here for us, why should we let a few thousand kilometres get in the way?

This is what happened to me! Three years ago, I sent a little message reaching out to someone I followed on Tumblr. On my England trip earlier this month, I was sleeping in her house. In the interim we shared practically everything with each other. We bonded over music and books initially, but soon we were sharing advice and our days and just being great pals. The 17,000ish km proved little barrier to our friendship. Sure the nine hour time difference meant that we were each usually asleep for the majority of each other’s day, but that just means we made time in the mornings and nights.

I was so excited and nervous when they day came to finally meet Lauren, my boyfriend tried in vain to calm me down. After three years, it seemed like we knew each other so well on the inside. But I didn’t even know how tall she was! It was quite an odd experience, but so wonderful. I cried when I got there and I cried when I left. It was so very special to actually be in the same room together, this person who knew me so well – and we finally got to have a conversation with no screen between us.

We are just like old-school pen-pals but in the digital age, although we occasionally do send physical post. We have learnt so much from each other – both on a geographical / cultural level, and on a personal level. I’ve learnt to how to be present without being present. And we still discover differences between our societies all the time (who would have thought England would be that different to Australia?)

In short, be smart – don’t give out personal info to complete randoms on the Internet – but friendships that you make can be some of the best you have. I’m sure we’ll be friends for a very long time yet.

My beautiful friend Lauren and I in her town.

My Sister Rosa || June Review

My Sister RosaMy Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was so hyped that I was a tad reluctant to pick it up. But it just sounded so interesting! Plus – Aussie YA is generally so wonderful. Definitely no exception, this is a crazy gripping and addictive novel.
My Sister Rosa tells the story of Che, as he attempts to control his 10 year-old sister, and suspected psychopath Rosa when his parents move them all (again) to New York City. As he settles in, Rosa gets up to her usual tricks, but things seem to be getting worse – Che is losing control. And after what happened in Thailand who knows what she could do next?
The best thing about this book (for me at least) was the characters. Che especially, seemed like such a relatable and real world teenage boy, struggling with all the regular things and dealing with them in a way that, although often not the best, was always so believable and genuine. It was as though Larbalestier had run each scenario past an actual 17 year old and wrote his reaction. Another massive positive about the characters was the sheer diversity of them all. Aside from Che, the vast majority of the cast were female and a lot were of non-white backgrounds. There is such a mix of racial, gender, sexual and religious identities in this novel that it would have been easy to get bogged down in the writing of them all. However, Larbalestier handled it wonderfully and she didn’t once let any character’s membership of a group or minority be their sole defining feature. Each one was so well rounded and distinct that, despite their number, each held their own and had distinct personalities.
The plotting of the novel was perhaps a little slow to start with, just enough to lull you into a false sense of security. Just enough for you to think that Che is overreacting. And then, bam! Plot twist after twist, but all still a credible turn of events. And it left me questioning.
Larbalestier again worked her “unreliable narrator” muscles although more successfully I believe. I read her novel, Liar in 2010, and came away feeling odd. It was a strange read which left me questioning everything, there could be no faith put in the narrator, and it turned me off her work for a while. Perhaps I was just not ready for a novel such as that, and maybe if I picked it up again now, I might find much more enjoyment in the narrative. Not sure if I’m quite ready for that yet, but I won’t shy away from reading Larbalestier’s other novels now.

** I realise this is way late, I do apologise, but I was on my trip! I shall make it up to you by leaving two July reviews of great books! **

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What is it with sequels?

As far as film categories go, sequels are often the most contentious. Simultaneously most anticipated and often worst received, sequels have the potential to enthral or disappoint viewers, more perhaps than original movies.

When you watch a new movie you are able to explore the world, meet the characters and understand relationships for the first time. You are surprised and your imagination is sparked with interest. As soon as the movie ends, you are able to make your own decisions about the fate of the characters.  With the announcement of a sequel, conjecture becomes rife and arguments proceed about where the story goes and which characters will do what. Fans of the original are usually equally parts excited, to become reacquainted with characters they love, and nervous, that the studio is just using this as an easy money-grab and they will be bitterly disappointed.

Sequels unfortunately fall into that disappointing category alllll too often. And I think it is a combination of factors that lets them down. Most films are not made with a sequel in mind (aside from those common book-to-movie adaptations but I’ve got other problems with those!) and so are usually self-contained stories not necessarily lending themselves to any further exploration. It is way too common for a sequel of a well-received film to be churned out way before there was any chance for a properly engaging story to come to fruition. This shortened timeframe often results in the second (or even third) movie to be essentially a copy of the first.  However, just because the formula worked once, does not mean it will necessarily work again and again.


22 Jump Street made light of its own flaws as a sequel


Another predicament faced by sequels is that of the creative team. When the writing team or directing/ producing team is different, or when members of the cast are unable to return for whatever reason, it often leaves the audience feeling dissatisfied. Chemistry, particularly on-screen, cannot be formulated, and when an ensemble is left wanting, even if the hole is filled it never feels quite the same. If a new director, for example, is brought on mid-way through a franchise it often feels as though they never quite realise the dream of the original director and captive audience. Or they again go back to the predictable formula of the first.

The third major problem I often find with sequels is that they are not often standalone films. A sequel is most successful, I find, if it doesn’t rely too heavily upon the audience having seen the first movie. While it is nice for there to be references to the original film, maybe incorporate some running jokes for example, it can be quite an ordeal if every joke is replayed or every scene references events that occurred before this film began– particularly if there are several years between film releases. Not everyone can be an avid fan, and people will inevitably watch the second film without seeing the first, so it is important for the film to be able to be enjoyed alone.

The Hangover trilogy suffers from a repeated formula.

So taking all these things into account, what is a good sequel then? For me, one of the best movie franchises is Toy Story. The three films were created a span of 15 years. This left ample time between helpings for a fully engaging, interesting and believable story to be created within the universe. The creative team was led by John Lasseter for each movie. This ensured the vision of the films followed and continuity was on point. Also, the majority of the wonderful cast reappeared with each instalment and renewed the magic.

A critically acclaimed family favourite

Andd, each film is a touching ride in and of itself. There is no real need to understand the first before viewing the second, or third, but this only heightens the emotions. Each film scored close to 90 on Metacritic and was nominated for at least one Oscar, which in and of itself is quite a feat. Let alone for a movie about toys.

This wonderful tradition is being sustained by Pixar’s latest offering Finding Dory, the much-awaited 13 years-in-the-making sequel to the smash hit Finding Nemo. With the perfect amount of Easter eggs for lovers of the first, and a captivating story for children of all ages making their first trip under the sea, creator of both, Andrew Stanton has created another family favourite and Pixar classic.tumblr_o50nzg5jyh1s68u0xo6_12801

Inspired by this article.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul || May Review

The Little Coffee Shop of KabulThe Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a dear friend and, despite mixed reviews, I came to thoroughly enjoy it. While a bit of a lighter read than I initially anticipated, for a novel set during the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s capital, it was easy to love and full of interesting characters.
The book is centred on a western café in the centre of Kabul, and the lives of the people who find solace within its walls, told from the perspectives of five central women. Sunny is the American expat owner of the shop, who ran away from the US looking for adventure and a sense of purpose for her life. Halajan is an older Afghani woman, yearning for those pre-Taliban days and hiding secrets from her strictly traditional son. Yazmina is a young widow stolen away from her home after her uncle could not repay a debt, she is to be a prostitute until it is discovered her carries her dead husband’s child and is dumped on the street. Candace is a wealthy American divorcee, good at convincing people to part with their cash for noble causes. And Isabel, is a determined British journalist, with a chequered past and a passion for justice. Each woman is fighting her own battle and hoping to save someone. Rodriguez did well to give each character depth and warmth, in some capacity you are hoping for the best for each character. While the secondary characters lacked somewhat, their presence was interesting. I wanted to know more, hear more from each person, and find out why they were who they were.
The plot was a little predictable, especially for Sunny’s story, but I was still happy when things ended up the way they did for her. The weaving together of the stories of the women was sometimes a little forced and implausible, but it was still an engaging read. It was emotionally charged, at times the emotions of one character or another were cut short, or overlooked, due to the cutting between all the perspectives. There were some surprises too, which was nice.
There have comparisons been drawn between Rodriguez and Khaled Hosseini, which I don’t really understand. Yes, they both write about Afghanistan, but that’s about the extent of similarities. While it’s clear that Rodriguez has lived in Kabul and enjoyed her time – it’s equally evident that she was a foreigner. No matter how long she stayed in Afghanistan, she would have always viewed it through a different lens than Hosseini.
Overall though, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a light and enjoyable read, or possibly a (very) gentle introduction into Afghani culture. I am very much looking forward to picking up the sequel.

Life Update #2

It’s probably about time that I update you on everything once more. More to force myself into accountability than because any one actually cares.

I am proud of myself for keeping up the blog schedule as promised, sometimes very few people read them. But that is okay, I am writing to write – not really to be read. Mostly I find myself in the last week of the month not having written, and then just write whatever it is that’s on my mind. There’s no great deal of forward planning, but that’s also okay, because it’s mine and I get to make the rules! And slowly but surely, the number of followers I have is growing – currently sitting at 13. So thank you all!

I’m nearly finished my 14th novel this year, which I am quite proud to say, and I have loved most of them! My review of The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul will be up soon as my May read. I have read quite a mix of genres and authors so far this year, and will be endeavouring to continue – rather than be sucked back into my contemporary YA hole where I am safe and comfortable. A complete list of my novels read this year can be found here.

I have finalllllly been able to leave my dreaded restaurant job, not for anything particularly thrilling, but better than what I have had. On the holiday front though, I am very excited!! There’s less than 40 days left until we leave – and that cannot come soon enough. We’ve booked all our flights and accommodation across England now, so just planning all the exciting things to do! If anyone has any suggestions for cool things we should do/ places we should go – please let me know!

Stay excellent x

Shades of Grey || April Review

Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey, #1)Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How does one summarise a Jasper Fforde novel? This is such a tricky task! To simply run down the plot, would, I fear, vastly undersell his work.
Fforde has, again, crafted a new world. This one, vaguely resembling our own, but with a spoon shortage and people-eating swans. A world with a strict social hierarchy based on your perception of colour, and a rulebook crammed with instructions for almost every occasion.
To read only on face value, this novel is a vastly entertaining read, brimming with the ridiculous antics of Eddie Russett as he sets out to redeem himself, and marry into a prestigious String Factory-owning family. However, peeling back the layers of the weird and wacky, there lies a powerful and biting satire. Shades of Grey houses a vicious totalitarian regime, willing to dispose of any citizens who fall out of line with their guidelines.
Fforde’s trademark dry humour, and unique wit drives this novel. His originality is unparalleled in mainstream literature, especially in dystopian novels. He has drawn comparisons to Douglas Adams, which, on the side of absurdity, definitely hold up. However, Adams was seemingly bizarre for the joy of being bizarre. Fforde’s absurdity serves to highlight the almost 1984ish level of ruthlessness displayed by the governing body of Chromatica.
While Shades of Grey took a little longer for me to get my head around, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is undoubtedly eccentric, but herein lies the charm of the novel and the characters. I especially loved the unpredictability and strength of Jane, and the ride she takes Eddie on.
Shades of Grey really has everything you could ask for in a novel; adventure, romance, mystery, humour, creativity – undercut by biting social satire, an investigation into government, gender and class roles. It is, overall, probably the most enjoyable, least soul-destroying dystopia I’ve read. I can’t wait for the sequel, although anything is yet to be announced.

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Feminism in Young Adult fiction

I have recently been thinking about how the stories we consume have the power to shape us, particularly at a young age. The books, films and narratives that surround us as youths can often have long lasting effect.

But it’s the characters that we discover, love and admire most as adolescents that perhaps shape us the most. And revisiting these characters and their stories always leaves an effect. I have always been a reader, but discovering Aussie Young Adult fiction really gave my younger self some inspiring role models.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great characters for young people to look up to elsewhere. Determined and quick-witted Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) has been a lifelong favourite. And of course with the resourcefulness, love and pure magic of Harry P9780140360462otter and co. But they have always been separate from me, by time and space.

When 13 year-old me read Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (published 1992) that first time I immediately fell in love with it. There was no more than 15 years and 50 kilometres between Josie and I. She was growing up in an Italian family in modern Sydney, and so was I. She did not lead a perfect, or even a particularly exciting life – but she was taking charge
of her own destiny, in whichever small way she could, and I admired her. Marchetta’s beautiful prose formed her heroine more real than any I had previously encountered.

A year or so later, I picked up the Tomorrow, When the War Began series (first published in 1993) and found myself faced with another cast of fierce, intelligent, yet still flawed female characters. John Marsden writes painfully realistic teenagers, which is not as easy to do as it sounds. And not only are all the characters believable but they are wonderfully active in their own stories. Too often are female characters reactive, rather than being active themselves even if they are framed as heroines. Ellie, Robyn, Fi and even Corrie are often braver and bolder than their male companions, and it is so important for teenage readers to have characters like them. Despite their action, they are still framed as desirable and feminine, traits that often disappear when the “take charge” attributes are given in novels. (I have just watched the first episode of the new TV series and it is so good!)


Ellie is played by Molly Daniels in ABC’s new series.

These novels were both written before “Young Adult fiction” came into its own as a legitimate genre, rather than just being for “older children”. Now with the YA category thriving, it is important for current authors to take note. Whilst sales in adult fiction are declining, YA sales have been on the up for a number of years. Also, the readership is ageing, with a majority of YA sales going to those over the age of 18. Readers are demanding more realistic, more active female characters. And rightly so.

While we have certainly bridged some of the gap between the sexes in the last 100 years, there is definitely more to go. And there is no better place, I think, than to educate our teenagers, of the importance of feminism, than between the covers of the latest bestselling novel.


Who’s your favourite feminist Young Adult character? I’d love to have a discussion!