Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Books I've Read: The Female Persuasion


This was one of those big, sprawling novels that covers many years and a large group of people, each of whom gets their moment to be the protagonist.  

The main protagonist is Greer, a quiet studious girl who hasn't found anything that really interests her life - except maybe her boyfriend Cory - until after she's in college and sees feminist icon Faith Frank speak.  A chance meeting in the bathrooms sends her entire life on a new path as Greer's life becomes increasingly entwined with Faith's.

But even as Greer discovers her life's purpose under Faith's wing, those around her may be falling by the wayside.  Cory, whose own life is shattered just as it's supposed to be getting started.  Greer's college bestie, Zee, who Greer betrays, sending her off into a life she'd never imagined for herself.  And Faith herself, private to the point of secrecy in the office, but actually longing for all the same things other women want even as she speaks out against them.

The novel follows these characters (and one other surprise one whose role in all these lives remains obscured until toward the end of the book) across decades as they struggle to align their values, their politics, their relationships and their jobs.

I really enjoyed this one.  Greer had an amazing arc, growing from a shy, neglected child into a strong, powerful woman in her own right. Yes, she had to sacrifice some things along the way, but in the end, her life was better for all that.  I liked the way Faith began the book as a shining beacon for Greer, but as her own power and confidence grew, Faith's began to seem dull and artificial.  I think we've all had people we idolise from a distance, only to become disillusioned once we get close enough to see their true colours.

So I'd recommend this one.  

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

To be admired by someone we admire—we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem. But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world.

Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer—madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place—feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Weekly Goals 29-5-23

 I have a lot on this week at work, especially since I was at home all of last week.  I was working all that time, but what I can do at home is different to what I can get done in the office.  So I think this week is going to be about catching up and getting through all those things I need to get done.

I'm still waiting for edit notes from the editor I'm working with, so I'm not really doing any writing.  I've been tootling around with a couple of old things, trying to get them ready to send out and doing some reading to get myself back into the mindset to take another dive into A Stranger to Kindness.  

What are your goals this week?

Friday, May 26, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 26-5-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!  And I can leave the house again!

It has been an extremely boring week, but I'm grateful I never got very sick.  In fact, I've felt like kind of a fraud because I was really fine by Tuesday.  Even Monday, really.  But the rules say seen days of quarantine, so I've done seven days.  

Now, freedom.

I can't wait to get back to the gym and use my body again.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Books I've Read: All That's Left in the World


With the main library in Wellington having been closed the last few years, and only small, pop-up libraries and suburban libraries available, finding new YA books (or in fact any books) I haven't read is getting increasingly difficult.  I'm sure the libraries are buying new books, but they're not on the shelves at the two or three libraries I actually go to regularly.  Or certainly not in any volume.  So I was excited on my most recent library visit to find a few things I had not already read.  Including this one which was actually on my TBR list.

Set in the near future, it portrays a world in which the powers-that-be didn't learn their lessons from COVID and a new, deadly pandemic has wiped out most of the world's population. The book opens only a few months after the event with Andrew caught in a bear trap.  He manages to get himself out, but his leg is mangled and he's pretty much out of food.  He knows he hasn't much of a chance of finding more with his leg messed up, so when he finds what he thinks is an abandoned cabin, he decides to take shelter in there, if only to curl up and die.

But the cabin isn't abandoned.  A boy his own age is there.  Jamie is initially suspicious, but soon realises this injured stranger poses no real threat to the solitary existence he's lived since his mother succumbed to the plague.  He also makes it clear to Jamie just how lonely he's been.

As Andrew heals and Jamie nurses him, the pair strike up a friendship. Jamie knows Andrew isn't telling him everything, but is prepared to overlook that because having someone to talk to again, to care about, is so nice.  But when their sanctuary is threatened by other desperate people, they feel forced to leave and continue the journey Andrew began together.

Life on the road is fraught with danger, but both boys feel strong enough to get through it when they're together.  And as they fight to survive the trip, faced with challenges from the elements, the infrastructure, wild animals and even wilder people, their feelings for each other grow and change.  Both are frightened by these feelings, partly because they're so big and overwhelming, and partly because they've both lost everyone else they loved.

But as they journey gets longer and tougher, they learn to trust one another and perhaps even to accept that they are in love.  And that it can be a beautiful thing.

I enjoyed this book.  It's fast paced and has enough peril inherent in the journey that I kept turning the pages.  Both boys were sweet and I enjoyed watching them fumble around with their feelings while trying to also hold onto their secrets and their hearts.

With a plotline that eerily echoes recent history, I would definitely recommend this one even if post-apocalyptic stories aren't really your jam.

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

What If It's Us meets They Both Die at the End in this postapocalyptic, queer YA adventure romance from debut author Erik J. Brown. Perfect for fans of Adam Silvera, Alex London, and Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.

When Andrew stumbles upon Jamie's house, he's injured, starved, and has nothing left to lose. A deadly pathogen has killed off most of the world's population, including everyone both boys have ever loved. And if this new world has taught them anything, it's to be scared of what other desperate people will do . . . so why does it seem so easy for them to trust each other?

After danger breaches their shelter, they flee south in search of civilization. But something isn't adding up about Andrew's story, and it could cost them everything. And Jamie has a secret, too. He's starting to feel something more than friendship for Andrew, adding another layer of fear and confusion to an already tumultuous journey.

The road ahead of them is long, and to survive, they'll have to shed their secrets, face the consequences of their actions, and find the courage to fight for the future they desire, together. Only one thing feels certain: all that's left in their world is the undeniable pull they have toward each other.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Weekly Goals 22-5-23

 So, at the end of last week I thought it would be nice to slow down a bit.  I think the universe took that request a bit too seriously because I tested positive for Covid yesterday.  I had a bit of a runny nose and because I was going to the classic film which a lot of old people go to, I thought I should do a quick test before I went.

Suffice to say, I didn't go to the movie.

It's the worst timing in the world because this week at work I was supposed to be running focus groups 3 nights, plus catering a function.  And now I can't do any of it which puts a whole lot of extra pressure on my colleagues.  Not ideal.

Luckily I don't feel too bad.  Just sore sinuses and a runny nose.  No sore throat or cough.  Interestingly, it's almost exactly a year since I last had it.

So my goal this week is to support my colleagues as much as I can from home and to kick this thing as soon as possible.  I'm supposed to stay home for a week.  How boring.  Especially since I can tell I'll be feeling perfectly fine by tomorrow.  I don't even feel too bad now.

At least I might be able to find some time to write in there.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 19-5-22

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

And I think I need a weekend.  It's been a big week.  Turns out turning 50 is kind of exhausting!  Or maybe it's just the fact I've been out almost every night for about two weeks. Looks like things might be about to calm down a bit after tomorrow, so that's a good thing.


I quite like this out all the time thing.  I've seen a lot of great stuff - movies, theatre, comedy.  It's been fun!  But I have to say, an early night would also be much appreciated.  I think I'll aim for that tonight, even if I am going to a colleague's farewell.  Shouldn't be late though... Famous last words, right?

I have one last show in the comedy fest to go to tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon I'm going to the classic movie at my local cinema - Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire. Then I promise I'm going to knuckle down and get some actual writing done.  Honestly.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Books I've Read: Stateless

I've been a fan of Elizabeth Wein since reading Code Name Verity many, many years ago.  So I jumped at the chance to read this one when I saw it at the library.

Set in 1937, just ahead of World War II, the book follows a group of European pilots as they race across Europe.  With the political situation in many of the countries they visit uncertain or unsettled, these pilots face danger both in and out of the sky.

Stella North is Britain's pilot and the only woman taking part in the race.  Not only does she have to prove she is as good as the boys, as a Russian national who escaped the Revolution, she has to prove she's British too - and keep the fact she doesn't have a British passport a secret.

When a pilot goes missing on the very first leg of the journey and Stella thinks she may have witnessed what happened, the flight promoting peace takes on a sinister slant.  And as more accidents and near misses start piling up, it becomes increasingly difficult for Stella to trust anyone around her.  Even more so once she begins delving into the various pasts of her competition and it becomes clear that almost all of them have some violent event in their past.

Yet even with his history of violence painted across his skin, Stella can't help but be intrigued by the pilot flying for France.  The pilot who speaks English with an American accent, fluent Spanish and German and virtually no French.  Could he be the one behind the mishaps plaguing the competition?

I enjoyed this book because of Stella.  She's a spunky, driven and whip-smart heroine and won't let anything or anyone stand in her way.  But she's still a young woman and despite being in competition with men, she doesn't try to act like one.  I also liked the fact it was set before the War, at a time when much of Europe was in a state of political unrest with the Nazis rising in power,  the Spanish Civil War raging and the fascist regime in Italy just beginning.  It's a fascinating look at the various forces that led to WWII breaking out.

So I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, particularly fans of aviation.  The descriptions of flight and flying in these vintage aircraft is excellent.

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

A murder mystery set in 1937 Europe with intrigue, glamour, secrets, and betrayal.

When Stella North is chosen to represent Britain in Europe’s first air race for young people, she knows all too well how high the stakes are. As the only participating female pilot, it’ll be a constant challenge to prove she’s a worthy competitor. But promoting peace in Europe feels empty to Stella when civil war is raging in Spain and the Nazis are gaining power—and when, right from the start, someone resorts to cutthroat sabotage to get ahead of the competition.

The world is looking for inspiration in what’s meant to be a friendly sporting event. But each of the racers is hiding a turbulent and violent past, and any one of them might be capable of murder…including Stella herself.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Weekly Goals 15-5-23

 I completely forgot to write my goals post this week!  Must be my addled brain from being elderly now...

Anyway.  I'm still waiting on notes from the editor I'm working with, and until I get those, I'm not touching Guide Us.  So I'm fiddling around with another, older book to see if I think I can get it to a place where it might be publishable.  I'm also thinking about digging A Stranger to Kindness back out and seeing if I might be able to get back into that one and actually finish it.

I'm also writing a story that's just for me, not for publishing.  And I've been really enjoying that.  Writing just for fun is way less pressure than writing to be published.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Celebrate the small things 13-5-23

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!  And it's my birthday weekend, so it's extra celebratory.

My partner bought me a new bike to replace the one that got stolen earlier this year.  It's electric (future-proofing now that I'm elderly) which is kind of exciting.  I haven't ridden it anywhere yet - just around the parking lot at the bike shop - so looking forward to taking it for a proper spin over the weekend. My birthday isn't until Monday, so technically I probably should leave it until then, but I wanna ride it now!

Last night I got to go and see my son's band play at a bar.  Seriously, when did my kid get old enough to even go to bar? It's a pretty small venue, so even though only around 30ish people were there, it looked quite full.  It's the first time I've seen him as the frontman - in his old band he played bass - and it was pretty cool.  He has so much confidence.  I'm just not sure that telling the audience that the next song could be between 30 and 45 minutes long was a great idea...

Got a busy weekend ahead too.  Going out for dinner and to a friend's play tonight, then out to dinner with my family tomorrow.  On Sunday I'm thinking about going to the movies, but I have a screenplay a friend asked me to read to get through too, and I'm just not sure the weekend is long enough.  So we shall see...

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Books I've Loved: I'm The Girl


Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable reads I've had in a long time, the latest from Courtney Summers is a searing and caustic look at privilege and its power.  

Sixteen-year-old Georgia wants to be an Aspera Girl - the name given to the elite team of beautiful women who look after the rich and famous at the exclusive resort on the outskirts of her small town.  Her desire for this is built partly on the fact her recently-deceased mother wanted her nowhere near the place and the fact the resort's owner told her when she was younger that she was beautiful and should come to work for him when she's older.

Georgia has held Matthew's words about her beauty close for a number of years, but is only just beginning to understand that being beautiful gives her power, even if she has no idea how to wield it.

The book opens with Georgia being hit by a car on the road leading to the resort.  She doesn't see her assailant, but he takes her bike and the photographs she's carrying.  Photographs she stole money from her brother to pay for.  Photographs in which she appears nude after being coerced into it by a shady photographer who tells her she has what it takes to be model.

While stumbling away from the scene of the accident, Georgia stumbles upon the body of a young girl in the woods by the road.  Once the police are summoned, the assumption has already been made that the person responsible for Ashley's murder is the same person who hit Georgia with their car.  The person Georgia never actually saw.

Ashley's older sister doesn't accept this and she shows up to ask Georgia questions.  These two have a complex history that has links to Aspera and Georgia's mother who worked there, ostensibly as a housekeeper, but probably as something more.

In order to pay her brother back for the money she stole, Georgia takes a job at Aspera, thinking she'll be an Aspera Girl, just the way she's always dreamed she would.  In reality she's tucked away in a tiny office next to the owner of the resort and given the task of making sure guests get anything and everything they want.  She thinks by being there, she will be able to uncover clues about what happened to Ashley, but as she discovers more about the inner workings of the resort and the kinds of people who stay there, she discovers there is little that money and privilege can't buy.

Meanwhile, her relationship with Ashley's sister Nora is intensifying, and there is something decidedly odd about the way Nora's father is behaving.  And is there a link between the photographer at the mall and Ashley's disappearance?  And how does Matthew's wife, Cleo, fit into all this?

As the mysteries layer up on themselves, it starts to feel increasingly unlikely that Georgia will make it out of this unscathed.

Calling this a queer thriller is a little bit of a stretch.  Yes, Georgia is queer and has a rather sweet relationship building with Nora.  And yes, there are thriller elements in there.  But the story is a slow burn and reveals itself in snapshots that don't quite have the impact a true thriller would have.  There is often as much left off the page as there is on it, meaning the reader is forced to read between the lines to figure out exactly what is happening.

And what is actually happening is more grotesque than anything actually spelled out for the reader.  Which is why a lengthy, fully described sex scene in Matthew's office comes as such a shock. As a reader we've grown used to things being veiled, but this particular scene, which is horrific, gets the full Cinemascope treatment, making it even more awful that it would be if it had been written in the same way the rest of the book is.

This is a challenging book which, if you're the kind of person who requires trigger warnings, should be avoided.  I'm not sure there are enough trigger warning in the world to prepare someone for this.  Yet I found it totally compelling and could not put it down.  Georgia is not a likable character in many ways, yet it was easy to see why she made the choices she did, even when they were often dangerous and self-destructive.  What she wants is so at odds with what she truly needs, it creates a huge amount of tension which drives the book.  And without anyone available to guide her, is it any wonder she heads off down the wrong track?

I'd recommend this book because it is fascinating and frightening and awful in the way it speaks to the way power is used, how power corrupts and the way women continually suffer at the hands of powerful men.  But it is a difficult read and includes rape, suicide, sexual harassment, drug use and many other challenging subjects.  So not for those readers who don't deal well with this kind of content.

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

The new groundbreaking queer thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar-award Winning author Courtney Summers.

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley's older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty—but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the 2018 breakout hit, Sadie, I'm the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Weekly Goals 8-5-23

 I had such a busy weekend I didn't get a chance to even think about writing!  And this week looks like it might be much the same.  Not sure what it is about this time of the year, but there is just so much on in Wellington!  I was out every night last week (except one) and this week is looking much the same.  Not sure when I'm supposed to have time to write!

That said, I am expecting to get Guide Us back from the editor sometime this week, so that will certainly give me some food for thought.  And part of the package is a call to build a plan for actually implementing the suggested edits, so I will need to figure out a time to do that too.

I'm weirdly excited to get into doing that work, even before I've seen her notes.  Perhaps I'm just weird.

Other than that, I don't have a ton of goals for this week.  Too busy to really think about it. 

Maybe you can inspire me.  What are your goals?

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 5-5-23

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I have a busy one ahead of me, but it's gonna be great.  Going to the ballet tonight with a friend and having dinner at a rather flash restaurant first.  Very much looking forward to that.

I have a haircut booked tomorrow which is long overdue.  Can't wait to have a stylish new do.

And tomorrow night I'm going to the opening of the Comedy Festival and taking a friend who is much in need of a laugh.  Looking forward to that too even though I don't usually find a lot of stand-up all that funny.

Went to a really interesting talk earlier in the week with some filmmakers and caught up with a lot of old friends and colleagues. 

Haven't done much in the way of writing as a result of being out almost every night, but maybe next week...  Sometimes it's more important to spend time with friends and doing things that fill you up creatively.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

IWSG - May 2023

 It's the beginning of May (AKA my birthday month) so it's time fore the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 3 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Meka James, Diane Burton, Victoria Marie Lees, and M Louise Barbour!

This month's question is a goodie!

When you are working on a story, what inspires you?

There isn't any one thing that inspires me when I'm working on something. For some books like The Sidewalk's Regrets and the one I'm just finishing off now (Guide Us) there were very specific pieces of music or albums that inspired me and kept me on track through the writing process. I listened to the album that inspired Sidewalks last week and was instantly taken back into that world. Music is amazingly powerful.

I also find films are often a good inspiration while I'm writing, not usually for the story so much as the tone and feel.  Films and television are often my jumping off point for stories, especially documentaries.  But that's usually before the writing begins.  

I generally get so wrapped up and obsessed with my stories while I'm actually writing them that I don't really need anything else to inspire me.  I guess I get inspired by my own imagination, although when I'm writing, I don't feel like it has much to do with me.  My characters take over and go ahead and do whatever the hell they want to do.  Which is actually really great, because if I had anything to do with it, they probably wouldn't make so many terrible decisions and the stories wouldn't be as exciting.

I know a lot of writers say they can't read other books while they're writing, but that has never been an issue for me.  I always read a lot, and sometimes I find inspiration in other books.  A description maybe, or a turn of phrase that strikes me as being particularly eloquent.  That might spark something in me.

Because I draft quickly, I guess I have less need for in-progress motivation than others might.  I tend to live in my story-world as much as possible while writing, so don't need anything to help find my way back in again.  There's just annoying things like work and kids and cooking dinner etc that get in the way of writing...

I'm interested, though.  What do you use to inspire you while writing?  Anything?