Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Books I've Read: Addiction

I really didn't like this book.

Hannah is a good girl who falls into a really creepy, controlling relationship with a drug dealer who becomes obsessed with her.  This was the first part of the story that really didn't work for me.  Hannah is a smart girl with a loving family and good friends.  When creepy Edgar starts following her around and insisting she ride in his car, I couldn't believe she wouldn't have said something about it.  Or called the police.

But no.  She starts 'feeling things' for this guy who is essentially stalking her.  And her best friend, despite noticing she's acting weird and disappearing a lot, doesn't even do anything about it, apparently too wrapped up in her own new boyfriend.  Then Hannah goes on a date with Mr. Creepy just to get him off her back.  And he drugs her and she becomes a sex maniac.  In this scene, I was sure he'd dosed her with Ecstasy, but apparently liquid meth is even better at making you horny for a guy you barely know and don't like to the point of tearing your clothes off and basically raping him.  Despite being a virgin with no experience.

The whole Edgar-Hannah relationship was unbelievable.  Any modern girl would be far too savvy and clued up to fall for his brand of bullshit.  It only becomes believable once he's got Hannah hooked on meth and dependent on him to supply it.  And once she's there, he starts using her for all kinds of other things that she doesn't fully understand because her brain is so fried from the meth.

The rest of the book follows Hannah through her addiction and the delusions it gives her.  It doesn't shy away from the terrible things she does and says to people, or the things she does to herself.  And this part of the book was at least a little more realistic than the earlier part.

Overall, this was probably a fairly realistic portrait of meth addiction, but the way Hannah fell into it did not feel realistic at all.  It's far more likely that a girl like Hannah would have been given a taste of it at a party or some other gathering of people her own age.  The way Edgar pursued her and groomed her just felt so wrong, and her reaction to it made no sense.

So I won't be recommending this one.  It seems I'm in the minority - this book has a lot of great reviews from other reviewers - but I'm sticking with my assessment.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Meth, crank, ice, glass, fire, tina, chalk, crystal or crystal meth.
Whatever you call it, it’s the same thing. Addictive.

Drugs ruin people’s lives.
I should know, they destroyed mine.
I’m Hannah and I got hooked on ice. What started as a trickle, ended with a tsunami washing everything away; my family, my life.
I’m not sure you’re ready to read my story; it’s real and confronting.
Open the book, read the pages and see how easy it is for anyone to get addicted.
Ice affects all types of people. It doesn’t discriminate.
It will SCREW. YOU. UP.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Weekly Goals 29-7-19

I'm not going to have a whole lot of spare time this week because of the film festival, so my goal is just to keep working on the book whenever I can.  I think I've made it through the really tricky part, so now it's just tying up all the little things that those changes will have made in the rest of it.

And then the final pass through to add in small details and make sure that it all makes sense now it's been ripped apart and. put together again.

And of course, my other goal is to go to all my films and enjoy them.

I've seen two more since we last met:

Yuli: A bio-pic about Carlos Acosta, a ballet dancer from Cuba who became a worldwide ballet star.  Interestingly, this was kind of a reverse Billy Elliott in that young Costa (called Yuli by his father after an ancient warrior) didn't want to dance but was pushed into it by his father.  The real Costa was a part of the film, playing himself as an older man, choreographing a piece about his life for a dance company in Cuba.  His younger self was also part of the film via television pieces about his career outside Cuba.

A Dog Called Money: A doco about the making of PJ Harvey's album, The Hope Demolition Project.  It follows Harvey through Kosovo, Syria, Afghanistan and the USA where she travelled with an Irish photojournalist and then into the studio where the songs she wrote in response to the things she saw were recorded in a specially-made room where the public could come and watch the recording process.  It was interesting, but even at 95 minutes, I felt like it was a little too long and slightly repetitive.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, July 26, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 26-7-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

I got more work done on the book I ripped apart last week.  After thinking I'd got it all wrong, I figured it out and went back to what I started doing last week.  I think it will work from here.  Think, being the operative word...

The film festival has started!  Always my favourite time of the year.  I have two weeks of movie-going paradise ahead of me and have already seen my first two films:

Maiden - a documentary about the first all-woman crew doing the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.  This was the gala opening night film and it didn't sound that appealing to me.  But I actually enjoyed it very much.  The film is well made, exciting, the women interviewed are interesting and articulate and the filmmakers used the limited amount of archive footage available to good effect.  I came out inspired to do something way outside my comfort zone - but definitely not being at sea for over 150 days!

You Don't Nomi - another doco, this time about Paul Verhoeven's much maligned film, Showgirls.  It was again, very interesting, asking the question about whether this film is actually just terrible, or if it's a kind of satire of terrible that's actually quite wonderful.  It positions the film within the entire catalogue of Verhoeven's films and shows how the same themes and motifs appear throughout.  It talks about how Elizabeth Berkley's career was basically destroyed by doing the film, and how it has become something of a cult film now, especially amongst the drag community who have wildly popular live performances based on the film.  I'm not convinced the film isn't just terrible - I remember it being horrible - but I would certainly be willing to go back and take another look at it after seeing this doco.

More films this weekend, so I will tell you about them on Monday.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Books I've Loved: Bridge of Clay

Okay... So I think I've just found one of my new favourite books. You know that feeling, where you finish and you just want to turn around and start reading all over again? It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's breathtaking.

This is by the author of the super-successful The Book Thief. I liked that book very much, so when I saw this in the bookstore while I had a book voucher burning a hole in my pocket, I picked it up. And you know what? I liked it even more than that other book.

Interestingly, I didn't love this book right from the start. It took me quite a while to get into, and unusually, it took me almost a week to read too. But once I settled into the narrative style, and the fractured nature of the storytelling, well... it's well worth that initial struggle.

Bridge of Clay is about a family, the Dunbars. There are five sons, and at the beginning of the novel, they are living alone on the outskirts of Sydney, their mother dead and their father gone, location unknown. They are a rowdy bunch, fighting and scrapping and allowing their pets to pretty much run the household - even the old mule who isn't supposed to be inside, but somehow manages to get in whenever no one is looking.

The story is narrated by the oldest of these boys, Matthew, but the story isn't his, it's his brother Clay's. And it's his mother's. And his father's. And even the girl next door's, the girl Clay falls in love with.

It's a story of grief and love and of forgiveness and about building a bridge. It's about brothers and fathers and sons. It's about first love, and true love.

And it's beautiful.

But it isn't an easy read. The different stories unfold together, in beautifully written bite-sized chunks so no part is revealed quickly or in a linear way. The five brothers begin as one messy, snarling mess of boys and it takes some time before they become distinct, individual characters. And Matthew, the eldest, the one telling the story, takes the longest to get to know. I didn't actually feel like I got a handle on him until right toward the end of the book.

The style of writing initially felt distancing - it was like reading through a layer of gauze - but by the end, my heart was held firmly in the story's vice. Not everyone is going to like the style. It's heavy on metaphor and the descriptions, while beautiful, are sometimes too long-winded. The writing is often choppy and obscure. The whole book feels, at least to begin with, like a puzzle that needs piecing together.

There are references to other books, particularly The Oddysey and The Illiad, and a book about Michaelangelo called The Quarryman and this story mirrors themes and ideas from all three, but not in any way that's simple to follow or recognize.

But it's worth the effort. Oh boy, is it worth the effort! It's one I know I will come back to again and I'll be interested to see if the experience of reading it a second time is different, if some of the things I struggled with this time will be clearer the second time through.

I think I will be recommending this to everyone I know for a while, so I'll shut up about it here for now... Just go and read it. I want to have someone to talk to about how good it is.

But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weekly Goals 22-7-19

After feeling like I'd been really productive in ripping apart that book on Friday, I kept working on it on Saturday.  Then I woke up at 3am on Sunday with the realization I'd done entirely the wrong thing.

So I scrapped about half the changes I'd made, and went back to figure out how I could fix the problems in a different way.  Which I don't believe I've done yet.  And now I'm wondering if the changes I made on Friday might have worked if I'd written a few extra bits in earlier on.

Damn, this writing thing is hard!

So this week, I plan to continue with this project.  I'll either ruin it entirely or manage to fix the problems.  Who knows?

The film festival starts on Thursday, so from then on, I won't have a whole lot of time to write or do anything else for a couple of weeks.  Maybe the time away will help solve all the story problems I'm dealing with at the moment.  I certainly hope so!

What are your goals this week?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 19-7-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

I had two days off work this week, one to spend with the kids while they were on holiday, and one just for me.  And of course I used the 'me' day to write.

I had a super-productive writing day yesterday.  I didn't write the ending to Standing Too Close, but I did rip apart another book that's had issues and put it back together again (almost - I still have a little more work to do on it).  I've been having so much trouble with that ending it felt like a good idea to go and work on something else for a while.  Usually that helps me when I'm stuck.  Let's hope it's the case this time too.

Hoping to get a few more hours over the weekend to keep going because once the momentum is there, it's good to keep going.

The kids go back to school on Monday after two weeks of holidays in which they have done very little.  Hopefully it has recharged them for the term ahead.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Books I've Read: Please Send Help

This was a fun, quick read and it really didn't matter that I hadn't read the first book in the series. In fact, I didn't even realize there was a previous book until I opened up the Goodreads page!

Told through emails and texts between very different friends, we get a fully realized picture of what both young women and their lives are like. Ava, who is interning on a late-night TV show in New York has an anxiety disorder, a stable family and is straight. Her best friend Gen, is bi-sexual and far less stable as she starts her first job as a reporter at a small-town newspaper in some out-of-the-way town in Florida.

While both young women are struggling to figure out how to fulfil their roles at work, at home and in society, their almost-daily communication keeps them going, even if it doesn't keep them on the right track.

Their voices and experiences are spot on, and vividly evocative of that terrible/wonderful period in life when you're out of school and in the real world for the first time and expected to suddenly know how to be an adult despite having no experience, and in many cases, no good role models.

I enjoyed it very much, so thanks Netgalley for letting me read it ahead of release!

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

In this hilarious follow-up novel to the New York Times bestseller I Hate Everyone But You, long distance best friends Ava and Gen have finally made it to the same time zone (although they’re still over a thousand miles apart).

Through their hilarious, sometimes emotional, but always relatable conversations, Ava and Gen are each other’s support systems through internships, relationship troubles, questionable roommates, undercover reporting, and whether or not it’s a good idea to take in a feral cat. Please Send Help perfectly captures the voice of young adults looking to find their place in the world and how no matter how desperate things seem, you always have your best friend to tell it like it is and pick you back up.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Checking In

At the end of 2018 I wrote a letter to myself, outlining my goals for 2019.  It's just past the halfway point in the year, so let's check in and see how I'm doing with these goals.  Original text is in black, my comments on progress in purple....

Dear Me,

2018 was a crazy year and while I somehow managed to achieve most of what I set out to do, it feels like it was more by accident than by design. So my first goal for 2019 is to plan ahead more. Think about what might be coming up before committing to things and set aside time for the things I really want to do.

Well, sort of.  I'm still not great at planning ahead, but at least I'm conscious of that now.

I have a book releasing on 1 February and I really want it to sell better than the last one. So my first goal for the year is to figure out the best way to market this new book, and the other ones, to generate sales. The subject matter for this one is less controversial than in Stumped, so hopefully that will help with sales, but getting reviews and getting them in the right places is crucial.

I worked my little tail off on this book.  I sent out hundreds of emails to reviewers, listed the book on all the free advertising sites I could find (and a couple of paid ones too), but it's got less reviews than any of my previous books and I don't think sales are great (I haven't received my royalty statement yet).  I'm still pushing it out wherever I can find opportunities for it, but it certainly isn't going as well as I had hoped.

I would like to publish another book in 2019. I have three that are very close to being ready to go, so I will endeavor to get at least one of these polished and ready to go out into the world. And send it out. If I'm lucky, I may even have all three ready to go out at some point during the year.

I have one that's ready to go out, but it's not my favorite, and after working so hard to get better sales for The Sidewalk's Regrets and not getting anywhere, I'm feeling a little blah about submitting another book to my current publisher.  I'm thinking I'll wait until I finish the new one I'm working on and try to get a new agent with it.

I also have three or four manuscripts in various stages of completion that I would like to go back to and finish. I'm not sure any of them are actually much good, but going back and re-reading them will let me know if there is anything worth salvaging in any of them. And if there is, I will work to finish any of these I feel are worth the effort.

Well that's actually happened.  One of the manuscripts I had lurking in my hard drive was actually really good (actually, a couple of them are, but this one really grabbed me) so I'm working on that and will hopefully finish it soon.

At the moment I don't have any burning ideas for a new book, which is probably a good thing considering how many unfinished projects I have lying around. But should something come up during the year, I will jump on that idea before it squirrels away again. And I will write the hell out of that idea.

Still not 100% in love with any of my current ideas, but it usually takes something I see in a movie or read to make the various threads in my head coalesce into a story.  So you never know...  I've never written a sequel, but I feel like the book I'm working on now might need one, from the POV of one of the other characters.  So we'll see...

I was pretty good with my exercising in 2018, so I want to keep that up. And my weekday intermittent fasting too. I even plan to buy some scales in the new year so I can keep track of my weight, rather than relying on how my clothes fit to tell me if I've gained or lost weight. The goal is to lose at least 5kg by Easter.

Ha ha!  I've lost 2kg by July.  And that's spurious.  I don't have scales so I've been weighing myself when I go to dinner at my folks' every couple of weeks and I have shoes and clothes on every week that probably change the reading.  But I have been good about the exercising and the intermittent fasting...  So it's not terrible.

And my final goal is to read more. I'm not going to get my Goodreads reading goal in 2018, which tells me I'm not reading enough. So I need to get on top of that.

Well, according to Goodreads I'm four books ahead of my goal, so that's got to be good, right?  Kind of amazing too, considering the library in town shut down because it wasn't earthquake safe.  Boy do I miss that library...

What are your goals for 2019?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 12-7-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

After another really busy week at work, I'm looking forward to the weekend.  I've barely seen the kids all week and they've been on holiday, so over the weekend I plan to spend some time with them. If they'll let me, of course.

After making a good start on writing the ending of my book last weekend, I haven't managed to get anything more written since.  So this weekend I hope to manage another little burst of writing activity.  It's been one of those weeks where I've been writing long corporate documents at work and by the time I come home, my word-bank feels like it's been drained and it's almost impossible to write any more.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Books I've Read: What Makes Us

This was one of those books where the subject matter was really fascinating, but the writing didn't really do it justice.  Maybe it's because I had an ARC and the formatting was kind of screwed up, but I think that was only a small part of it.

Eran is concerned with social justice.  He knows he has a problem with anger and blames that on his mother who also has moments where she lashes out in irrational rage.  He never knew his father so has to believe that if he had, his father's influence may have changed him.

That believe is dramatically shattered when, after things get heated at a supposedly peaceful protest, Eran discovers his father was a terrorist responsible for an horrific bombing.

Suddenly the community he has lived in for as long as he can remember is taking sides.  Some want him and his mother driven out of town.  Others support them.

As they deal with the aftermath of this discovery, Eran learns that there are a huge number of factors that make us who we are.

This is important subject matter and very relevant to these times.  The struggle Eran faces is one that thousands of people face every day in some shape or form.  The book tells the story largely from Eran's point of view, but occasionally there is a section from his mother, and a few sections are narrated by a school friend who is also struggling with her identity after discovering some things that don't add up about her own past.

Eran was kind of an annoying character and I never felt anything he thought or said rang 100% true.  Both he and Jade felt younger than the seventeen they were supposed to be.  Maybe this is because they are both quite sheltered, with parents who are both over-protective and secretive about the reasons why.

I read this ARC on my Kindle and there were no breaks in the text to let me know when the POV changed, which was confusing, especially when the POV changed to the mother.  Jade and Eran's voices were also so similar it was difficult to understand when they switched too. 

So while I thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this ARC, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped I would.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

A viral video reveals a teen’s dark family history, leaving him to reckon with his heritage, legacy, and identity in this fiery, conversation-starting novel.

Eran Sharon knows nothing of his father except that he left when Eran was a baby. Now a senior in high school and living with his protective but tight-lipped mother, Eran is a passionate young man deeply interested in social justice and equality. When he learns that the Houston police have launched a program to increase traffic stops, Eran organizes a peaceful protest.

But a heated moment at the protest goes viral, and a reporter connects the Sharon family to a tragedy fifteen years earlier — and asks if Eran is anything like his father, a supposed terrorist. Soon enough, Eran is wondering the same thing, especially when the people he’s gone to school and temple with for years start to look at him differently.

Timely, powerful, and full of nuance, Rafi Mittlefehldt’s sophomore novel confronts the prejudices, fears, and strengths of family and community, striking right to the heart of what makes us who we are.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Weekly Goals 8-7-19

The broken record is still spinning, so once again my goal this week is to finish my book.

I'm further along than I have been the last few weeks - I have actually written something toward the ending.  I just need to keep going.

So that's what I will do.  I don't think I'm going to have a lot of time or energy for writing this week because of the amount of work I have on, plus the kids are on holiday from school.  But I will do what I can...

My other goal is to make sure my non-reading kid reads at least one book each week of the holidays and doesn't spend the entire two weeks playing games on his phone.  And that the other one gets out of the house at least once a day and does something physical.

The problem is, without being here it's hard to enforce.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Celebrate the Small Things 5-17-19

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

After a crazy, crazy week at work, I'm looking forward to the weekend.  Even though it looks like I may need to do some work over the weekend because I have something I'm working on that has to be done by 4pm Monday and I was only asked to do it on Wednesday afternoon.  And it's a big 'un!

Hopefully not though...

I booked my film festival tickets which is always an exciting thing for me.  I'm going to 16 films over the two weeks, so time will be at a premium.  Luckily a lot of the sessions I booked for are at the cinema just down the road from my house, so it's handy.

This evening my son and I are going to hear the Youth Orchestra play Holst's The Planets.  I'm looking forward to it.  I love that piece of music.  My sister went to school where Holst wrote it (he was the music teacher) and the desk he wrote it on was still there.

Other than that, I don't have anything much planned for the weekend.  I think the whole family would like to see Toy Story 4, so we might do that.  And my parents are back from visiting my sister in Arizona, so we will have dinner with them on Sunday.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

ISWG - July Post

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post.  And this month's question is:

What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

I think writing yourself into your characters is inevitable.  The way you see the world and experience it is obviously going to filter into your writing.  The things you do and places you go are going to be points of reference that will spill into the world of your story.

I write myself into my characters all the time, but I usually don't realize it until much later when I go back and re-read my stuff after leaving it for a while and recognize certain things as coming directly from my own perspective.

I also write characters that have traits I wish I had...  My MCs often have best friends who are bold, extroverted and unafraid to do or be whatever they want to be, while the MCs tend to be more reserved, like me.

Sacha in The Sidewalk's Regrets is probably the character that is the most like me of all the characters I've written.  She's driven, obstinate, probably a little obsessive and fiercely loyal - all traits I see in myself.  It's how she uses these traits that differs from my own experience.

I find that individual events and stories of my own often best illustrate moments in my stories.  For example, in Stumped, Ozzy is thinking about disappointment and the moment he first understood the meaning of the word and remembers the time his mother took him to a circus that promised a "man eating fish" throughout the show.  With each mention, Ozzy got more and more excited about seeing this mythical creature, only to be horribly disappointed when a man wandered around the ring eating a piece of fish in the final act.  This little anecdote came directly from my own childhood.

Do you find that you write pieces of yourself into your stories?  Do you use your own anecdotes to illustrate points?