Dear Reading, It’s not you, it’s me – TBR Challenge 2017

I am in a fiction reading slump. It is the slumpiest that I can remember since the black hole years back when my sons were babies and the only thing I read were the clues in my Christine Lovatt’s Crossword books. This makes for a very lacklustre start to Wendy’s 2017 TBR challenge – January theme of We Love Short Shorts.

The last book I finished reading was on the 15th of December and I can directly attribute my lack of interest in reading anything at all to the death of my student, my husband being in hospital, my lovely cousins visiting from Switzerland and this hot horrid heat hell called Summer.  Last night was so awful that it did not drop below 30C/86F. In heat despair, I got into my car at 4am with the engine on just to cool down in air conditioning (the plus side to this is that I listened to another chapter of my everlasting audiobook – see my last post).

My last post of the year where I searched for the good things in the year was incredibly helpful as it dragged me out of some of my sadness. I have had several swims, my house is looking tidy and lovely and I have been writing some words towards the PhD. But the ludic reading has fallen by the wayside. I have started many books but I have not managed to proceed beyond Chapter 7 in any of them. This is definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

I didn’t love my “short shorts”, and many of the books were quite long however my reading of them was definitely cut short (heh – see what I did there? There are many ways to link to Wendy’s theme of the month!). The books I partially read are:

Summer Skin Kirsty Eagar

Summer Skin

by Kirsty Eagar

Yeah. I know. Everyone loves this book. This book is now out of print. This book is due for US release in 2018. Fanfare is yes. *sigh* I’m up to Chapter 7 and I am already bored.

It’s not you, Summer Skin.

It’s me.

 

Under the boss's mistletoe by jessica hart

Under the Boss’s Mistletoe

by Jessica Hart.

I thought a sweet romance will do the trick. I’ve heard lots of praise for Ms Hart. But one chapter in was enough for me.

It’s not you, Under the Boss’s Mistletoe.

It’s me.

 

 

Cowboy's Christmas Miracle by Anne McAllister

The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle

by Anne McAllister

This was going to be a reread. What better way that to get out of a slump than by rereading a favourite book by a favourite author. But I couldn’t get past Chapter 2 of this book. It felt navel gazey.

It’s not you, The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle.

It’s me.

 

 

Fantastic Man by PhaidonFantastic Man: men of great style and substance

edited by Emily King

When a super groovy compilation of portraits, profiles and essays  from a magazine on stylish, gorgeous men, with few articles longer than 4 pages, you know you have some hardcore reading slump happening.

It’s not you, Fantastic Man.

It’s me.

 

Boyfriend by Christmas by Jenny StallardBoyfriend by Christmas

by Jenny Stallard

This was a bit of a 10 Ways to Lose a Guy (love this movie) rip off with the main (writer) character being told by her editor that she must get a boyfriend by Christmas and so start her adventures in drunken hookups and regretful relationships just to find the right guy was always there. I read the first 7 chapters and skimmed to the end.

Sadly, with this book, it was definitely Boyfriend by Christmas.

It was not me.

There are at least 15 books in my TBR that I couldn’t even get through the first page but I am not going to bother with listing those. I am stalling my break up with books for now. I think I will need to curate my next choice. I have Tessa Dare’s Do you want to start a Scandal waiting on my shelves and I am going to venture into the world of crime fiction (SHOCK! HORROR! The genre I am least likely to read!) by giving Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness a go purely on the strength of her being the 1980s teen romance author Janet Quin-Harkin who wrote my absolute favouritest Sweet Dreams EVAH! Ten Boy Summer.

And if that doesn’t work – I have Dog eat Dog – an AC/DC biography waiting to be read. In this heat, I might as well read about the men who rocked my 80s as I physically feel like I am on a Highway to Hell.

Burning sweltering man gif

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I’ve got my reading mojo back

I haven’t been able to get to my blog in a long time. I am in the midst of my ethics application at the moment, I am teaching Information and Media students at my uni as well as going out to my super sekrit public library casual job where I get to work on a public desk for a day a week. And that doesn’t even start on home life! Continue reading

Nymph kissing Mortal Boy

A few weeks before I left Australia for Greece, I came across Tonya Alexandra’s Nymph, Book One of The Love Oracles. Being one to judge a book by its cover, I fell in love and then I fell deep deep deeply in love with the blurb:

 

nymphAn Idyllic Greek Island

Obsessed demigods

A fallen nymph

A Mortal Boy

Merope, a beautiful but faded star nymph, is banished to Earth for displeasing the gods. She tries to fit in, go to school and live a normal “human” life. And then she meets Lukas. But relationships between goddesses and men are forbidden.

Will their love grow? Or will Merope and Lukas feel the wrath of the gods?

 

I swooned before I opened the first page. However, I was patient and did not start reading Nymph until I was on a ferry leaving Piraeus heading for Poros, a small island in the Argosaronic gulf near the Peloponnese. The ferry ride to Poros is magical. I sit on the upper deck, the wind is gentle, the sea is calm and the ferry passes by container ships and yachts as it starts its journey first to Aegina, then the volcanic peninsula of Methana before arriving in Poros, an island separated from the mainland only by a 200 metre wide strait. Along the whole way, the sea meets the mountains, the diffuse light filters through the clouds as I am quickly immersed in the story of Merope and Lukas. Continue reading

Fandoms, librarians and readers

I’m talking about fanfiction, fandoms and fanart on the 13th of June on 702ABC with Linda Mottram from 10:30ish am.

 

As many listeners know, I somehow manage to mention fanfiction every time I am on 702Sydney. it is such a huge area of readership that I can’t help but include it in any discussion around fiction. Seeing this month is Fanreads over at ReadWatchPlay I thought this would be a good talking point for the show.
Whenever someone asks me explain to them what “fanfiction is” my favourite analogy is to describe it as a retelling of a story in which you take someone else’s characters and write a story about them. So, any retelling of an original story is fanfiction. Any new authoring of Homer’s Illiad is fanfiction as are Arthurian tales. Novels such as P. D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley is a future fanfic of Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare is swimming in the fanfic pool. In a nutshell, fanfiction are stories of fictional characters that are written by fans and not the original creator. They are derivative works. There are the occasional exceptions like J K Rowling writing fanfics of Quidditch matches over at Pottermore. For a famous authors writing fanfic this Daily Dot article gives you a fair coverage. Of course, the whole fanfic thing also comes from fans of TV shows and movies wanting more of their favourite characters. I just adore this. I love that people are so invested and in love with their TV characters that they seek out stories about them.

 

There's a storm coming/ fanart posted with permission/ Dumblyd0re at http://dumblyd0re.deviantart.com/art/There-s-a-storm-coming-315866735

There’s a storm coming fanart posted with permission from Dumblyd0re http://dumblyd0re.deviantart.com/art/There-s-a-storm-coming-315866735

As a librarian and fan of reading (hehe – did you see what I did there), I happily endorse fanfiction reading to my borrowers and anyone that asks. Actually, in the whole readers’ advisory process, I think that librarians need to look outside of our published book centered recommendations and we should be recommending reading choices in non-profit areas of reading/writing too. I have heard people use the “quality” writing argument here. How, as librarians, could we endorse a story that is not of a high literary quality? My answer is that this is EASY. Reading appeals is NOT about quality reading. It is about engaged, pleasurable reading. As a reader, I have given up on many well written stories that lacked the heart and soul that I seek out when I am reading yet I have found wonderful stories in fanfiction that have sparked my interest or they have challenged me to look at a certain story in a different way. As a reader, I am not stupid. If a story is completely unreadable, the pace, the diction or the writing is completely out of place – I will move on. Just as I have sent may a book to my DNF pile, I have sent many fanfiction stories to that pile too. Of course, there are times that I prefer my commercial fiction as someone else has had to deal with the slush pile (thanks publishers) but if I am looking for an extension of characters who I love and want to see how someone else imagines them, I can’t go past fanfics. Reading fanfic is a bit risky.

A teen I was speaking to last week said he hated it because he was reading this wonderful Harry Potter’s twin fanfic, he was loving the story and then he discovered that the writer quit the story. Just like that. No warning. Just a message saying “Thanks but I won’t be continuing”. This teen was a tad bitter (this amused me to no end). Another reader told me they were thrilled because a fave story came back to life after an 18 month hiatus. They received an alert on their phone and they screamed out in joy that the writer had returned 🙂

I find FanArt just as interesting. Fanart is similar to fanfiction but they are fan imaginings of what characters look like or they put they characters into scenes that they would love to see them in. Fanart is similar to fanfiction but they are fan imaginings of what characters look like or they put they characters into scenes that they would love to see them in. I know that there is a lot of comic, anime and manga fanart out there but I was particularly taken by the tweet from Sleepy Hollow (another fab fanfic creation) writers with fanart posted on their walls. Writers don’t ignore fanart. As it doesn’t mess with their head canon (as fanfiction can do) fanart tends to be enjoyed more.

Continue reading

Fangirl Have I Loved

I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl a few weeks ago but it was one of those books that I needed to rest in my mind before I discussed it. I thought I was going to read a sweet boy-meets-girl-who-writes-fanfic young adult book. I was already aware that there was a buzz around this book coming from readers who I trust with their recommendations. I expected humour, angst, family conflicts, coming of age, new friendships and romantic interests. And this book had plenty of all those ingredients in the story of Cather, her relationship with her twin sister Wren and their first year in college and how Cath copes when Wren decides that she no longer wanted to share a room with Cath, who is the quieter, more reflective twin.

Fangirl and Jacob Have I loved

 

The story is told in the third person from Cath’s perspective (I love 3rd POV). Cath struggles to adapt in her new college environment, worrying about her father being alone, having issues with her mother’s abandonment when she was young, meeting her new roommate, Reagan, and her friend, Levi who seems to spend all his time in their dorm room, as well as the freshman pressures of negotiating classes and group assignments. Cath has come to college as a fanfiction writer with a strong following, with fans waiting for regular updates to her story around a Harry Potter-like fictional series with Simon Snow as the central character and his nemesis, Baz. Despite her success at writing fanfiction, Cather’s writing professor considers this writing to be plagiarism and Cath struggles throughout the book to find her authorial voice. Cath’s fanfics punctuate every chapter of Fangirl and the changing relationship of Simon and Baz runs parallel to Cath’s life.
This alone would have made a wonderful read but part way through the book, Levi (the perennial hangaround friend) is assigned Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved for one of his class readings and Fangirl completely came together for me. Jacob Have I Loved, which won the 1981 Newbery award, is a story of twin sisters Louise and Caroline. Told in the third person from Louise’s point of view, Louise is the quieter, more introspective twin. The story runs with the biblical parallel of Jacob and Esau and their contest for being the first born. The twins’ grandmother is shrewish and mean and Louise, who was the stronger twin to the ailing weaker Caroline, keeps being reminded that being the older twin is not a reward. “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated” from the bible showing God hated Esau, the hard working older brother who sold his birthright to his more cunning younger brother for a plate of lentils.
I felt that Rowell depicted twins Cather and Wren in much the way that Paterson depicted the struggles between Louise and Caroline. Neither of them claimed the position of first born as they were a C-section. Nonetheless, Cath observes that “Wren was bigger. She was stealing my juice or something” placing Cath in the role of Caroline and Jacob. In the bible Jacob and Esau do not reconcile, and in Jacob Have I Loved, though Louise finds love from her parents and romance, she and her sister remain distant. Perhaps I am reading too much into the inclusion of Jacob Have I loved in Fangirl but I felt as though Rowell wrote her own fanfiction for these twin sisters who should have been able to be happy, to be linked together in a story that I always loved but felt saddened by the ending. Cath says at the beginning of the book “Having a twin sister was supposed to be like having your own watcher. Your own guardian”. These two sisters negotiate their own relationship and rather than be pulled apart, they too find happiness. I loved this.

Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.

Certainly, this book captures this feeling of not being cheesy for me. Cath gets happiness in this book. Happiness with Levi, with her sister and eventually with her ability to write. This intricately woven story was a pleasure to read and I highly recommend this book.

Things fluttered appropriately – an interview with Sandra Antonelli

A Basic Renovation is available from Escape Publishing, the Itunes Bookstore, and Amazon.

A Basic Renovation by Sandra Antonelli

Two years ago, I met Sandra Antonelli through her writing on Twitter. Here was an author who I thought was funny, smart, relished earworms, rat terriers and spider scares, and could tell great stories all in 140 characters. Following her twitter feed was a given for me and she followed me back resulting in many interesting exchanges. Last week I ventured into reading her first published book with Escape Publishing.

Property renovator Lesley thinks she can combine a little business with her annual visit to her parents in Los Alamos, but that’s before she runs into Dominic. Single father Dominic, quantum physicist turned hardware store owner believes Lesley is A) poison; B) a lesbian who ruined his little brother’s life; and C) the detonator to a 50 megaton secret. What starts as cold fury turns into nuclear attraction, and naturally, they fall for each other, but can their love survive the fallout when Dominic’s little atomic bomb goes off?

This is a contemporary romance set in New Mexico, USA. I already liked Sandra’s writing style (why else would I have followed her on Twitter for so long) but would that style extend to reading a 314 page novel? I was nervous! Well, by page twenty, to quote her character Lesley, “things fluttered appropriately”. I fell in love with this story. And just a teeny weeny bit more in love with Sandra, who was kind enough to agree to being my first ever Shallowreader interview.

Shallowreader: Hello Sandra! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by me today. You are popping my interviewer cherry so please be gentle.

Sandra: ‪I’ll use coffee as a lubricant.

Shallowreader: ‪Oooh! Now you are even more appealing 😉

Sandra: ‪Coffee fixes everything.

Shallowreader: ‪Let’s get straight into your book – there were no cherries popped in this book. Tell me why you chose to write a romance with older characters than you find in traditional romances?

Sandra: A variety of reasons really. First, why not? I’ve always appreciated characters who had interesting life experiences. When I was thirteen I was reading about Jane Eyre and the second Mrs DeWinter (from Rebecca) and they were older than me. When I was seventeen I was reading about women who were older than me. Then in my twenties I was reading about women who were roughly the same age—and they bored the crap out of me because they were so inexperienced. By the time I was thirty I found it harder and harder to relate to the heroines in romance because they were younger with very little life experience under their feet. The harder I looked for a more mature-aged heroine, the more I was led to Women’s Fiction—which to me, is not romance. That annoyed me. Chronological age becomes irrelevant if the story engages you or the reader—if you connect to something. I wanted to read romance not Women’s Fiction ‘relationship’ novels about best friends and cheatin’ husbands. Writers are often told to ‘write what you know’ or to ‘write the book you want to read.’ So that’s what I started doing. I took that life experience and life baggage and jumped on the romance train.

‪Shallowreader: I’m so glad you jumped on that train! As a reader, women’s fiction and finding-one’s-true-self-due-to-broken-relationships books have never appealed to me either yet so few romances depict older women. Do you think cultural expectations (and by default publishers predicting readers expectations) still relate back to the juvenile attitude of “Ewwww! It’s like knowing that your mum and dad still do it“?

Sandra: ‪To some extent yes, there is that ick factor inherent for some. For others it’s a matter of ‘romance is fantasy and I don’t want an ageing body in MY fantasy’ or ‘I want to picture pretty, not as I am, I don’t want a reminder I’m getting older’. Then there are readers (like me) who are fine with more realism in the fantasy, fine with getting older and would like to see that translated into romance fiction. The heroine’s beauty/allure is in the eye of the hero; he finds her crow’s feet sexy or her big ass sexy. People over forty fall in love and have sex like demented bunnies. Why not have that fantasy in romance?

Shallowreader: ‪I agree. I have owned demented bunnies. I loved the part in the book where Dominic points to a hair that Lesley thought she had removed and their ensuing aging body banter. I swooned!

Sandra: ‪I think some people think, as one editor did, that forty plus sex scenes are gong to include long descriptions of sagging boobs and flaccid penises—which of course would spoil any romantic fantasy. As a side note here: One of my favourite romance novels has two romances running simultaneously. Jenny Crusie’s Trust Me On This—to me the more engaging romance was between Harry and Victoria and they were sixty somethings. Harry was so turned on by the sight of Victoria’s skin. It was fantastic! They deserved the entire BOOK!

Shallowreader: I was still in my twenties when I read Jenny Crusie’s Anyone But You. Her female character was in her forties and this was a non-issue for me as a reader as the story was wonderful. I feel the same way about Lesley and Dominic in A Basic Renovation. They are in their forties and this just makes the romance stronger.

‪Sandra: As I said earlier, chronological age becomes irrelevant if the story engages the reader. I have read a few twenty-something heroines who, because of their circumstances have more experience than most women their age, and those stories have enthralled me. In fact, unless it’s specified or it constantly hammers me in the face—which happens more than I like—I forget about the heroine’s age as I read. It’s, as you said, a non-issue because I’ve engaged with the story and the heroine’s age becomes irrelevant. Her age is not driving the plot; the romance is driving the plot. That being said, if I were to read a romance with a mature-aged heroine who was all wrapped up in her age and worried about ageing (and I’ve read two) I would feel hammered in the face. I don’t want to read about someone ageing, I want to read about someone falling in love and getting a happily ever after despite their age because that is what happens in life.

 

Shallowreader: Is Crusie a big influence on your writing? Who else has influenced you?

Sandra: I really love Elmore Leonard. He writes crime and Westerns. Some readers may know him. Movie lovers will know his work like Get Shorty, Out of Sight (and the oh-so-sexy boot/trunk scene with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) and Jackie Brown. He has the most fantastic characters and THE most sublime dialogue. Right now his work is on TV with the show Justified. I adore his character Jackie Brown from Rum Punch—she’s an over forty flight attendant/smuggler who beats the mob. Jackie’s awesome and I can only pretend my romance emulates Leonard. I admire Suzanne Brockmann, Rachel Gibson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jo Goodman because they write such multilayered and engaging stories, so I supposed they influenced me though osmosis. Or I like to think they have.

‪Shallowreader: I certainly see the Elmore Leonard influence – particularly your dialogue. I love that she nicknames Dominic “Walks-with-hard-on” and the verbal slamming was great. Your use of “fuck” and flipping the bird just made me want to read more books by you. I saw, not only Leonard, but a touch of Tarantino too but without the blood and gore, just with all the juicy language and wit. And I found your book really funny. I struggle to find books that are funny. I think writing humour is the most difficult of all writing crafts as timing and intonation is key. The act of reading internally differs so greatly from dramatisations or audio books where the actors or readers help convey the humour. I was snorting and laughing out loud as I read through this book. Did you find the humour writing difficult?

‪Sandra: You’re being very nice to me. I’d like to see a Leonard-esqueness in my writing. My sense of humour is that of a 12 or 13 year old boy, but I have a rule when I write: Sort of. I try not to do fart jokes or poop humour because, while I appreciate them, I know they’re not, uh, everyone’s cup of tea. I laugh like hell when I write the comedy scenes, but I never know if someone else if going to find the scene funny. I can only hope the readers do. Your snorting and laughing out loud is a good sign!

‪ Shallowreader: Farts can even be romantic in the right context

Sandra: Yes, farts can be romantic if the situation is right–say like in a car…

‪Hang on….Tarantino? Me? Oh, if you could only hear MY soundtrack for A Basic Renovation…

Shallowreader: ‪That IS my next question! Music and food are a big part of your book. What would be your soundtrack to your book and what do you recommend your readers to eat while they read it. For the record, I ate lots of cashews and salt and vinegar chips while drinking rosé – I’m a classy shallowreader.

Sandra: ‪Salt and vinegar with rosé? Coffee. Coffee and cookies. Or Cherry Limes from Sonic. Or apple pies from McDonald’s (if only Oz MCDonald’s had the cherry pies!). Music…well, I had to edit out the references to the songs Lesley listens to because not everyone would care or know the music but I have a playlist. It’s a little long…

Shallowreader: Do share it!

Sandra: ‪Here are a few of the songs. Any more and we’d be here for a week.

  • ‪In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Iron Butterfly–very important
  • ‪From My Head to My Heart Evan & Jaron Evan and Jaron
  • ‪Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
  • ‪Goodbye Girl Squeeze
  • ‪New Shoes Paolo Nutini
  • ‪Phantom Limb The Shins
  • ‪Buy a Dog LUCE
  • ‪Red Dragon Tattoo Fountains of Wayne
  • ‪Seven Nation Army The White Stripes
  • ‪Supernova Liz Phair
  • ‪Worn Me Down Rachael Yamagata
  • ‪Wounded Nik Kershaw
  • ‪You Can Bring Me Flowers Ray LaMontagne
  • ‪That’s Just What You Are Aimee Mann
  • ‪Trust Me To Open My Mouth Squeeze
  • ‪Fought the Law Bobby Fuller Four
  • ‪No I In Threesome Interpol

Shallowreader: Can I say that I started reading your book with a bit of trepidation. We have known each other for a while as we met on Twitter as romance reading and studying followers so reviewing a tweep’s book could have gone belly up for both of us, and you used my least favourite romance trope in that Lesley was married to Dominic’s brother over 16 years earlier. This always creeps me out yet in your book you address this relationship and it is an issue and it isn’t all resolved despite getting past Regis‘s point of ritual death and the betrothal. I was interested to see that you added one of her optional elements “The Scapegoat exiled”. You took this disliked trope and turned it around for me. You also left a couple of unresolved issues which I liked because life is not nice and tidy yet so many books end with a “life will be perfect from here on” view.

Sandra: They were married but not really married and not divorced….I liked playing with that. I like when an author can turn a trope on its ear. I hate Secret babies in Contemporary romance. I mean I really, really hate them, but Susan Donovan took the secret baby (Girl Most Likely To) and make it work for me, and like you, I was shocked that she reeled me in! I’m glad I did that to you!

Hitchcock said you don’t need to give every little detail, you simply have to reel the movie-goer in. It’s a MacGuffin of a sort, to have a few devices or hooks that keep the reader reading… And did you notice that Lesley thought Dominic was having an issue about her past with his brother/her ex Terry before she realised what the REAL issue was?

A very lovely, well-established author was kind enough to look at this book when I stated writing it. She told me she thought readers would have an issue with the two brothers thing—which made me all the more determined to keep it in! Even a character in the book, Fabian, Dominic’s buddy mentions this too.

Shallowreader: Do you kill fairies?

Sandra: ‪Nope. I like to be surprised. And it bugs me if there’s a ‘baby epilogue.’ Come on leave something to my imagination.

Shallowreader: ‪Baby epilogues don’t bother me – and I love a secret baby plot too .

I’ll finish with saying: Your book oozes romance on many levels, from Dominic’s son Kyle on his first dates, Lesley’s still in-love parents and her sharp-tongued grandfather with ‘tude courting a woman for the first time in thirty years, as well as the wonderful primary romance between Lesley and Dominic. Thank you so much for writing this book and for being gentle with my first time interview. I’d like to say that I lay back and did it for my blog.

Sandra: Thank you for reading it and thank you more for enjoying it, for laughing out loud, and thank you for letting me get there before anyone else! I used protection.

A Basic Renovation is available from EscapePublishing, the iTunes Bookstore, and Amazon.

You can find Sandra on twitter @SandrAntonelli

and Facebook http://facebook.com/AuthorSandraAntonelli