Monday 27 January 2014

Recap: Garden of Shadows By Virginia Andrews, Part 3

Read Part 1.
Read Part 2.

Malcolm's father Garland arrives at Foxworth Hall after three years of travelling Europe with his 19-year-old wife Alicia. Soooo that means she was 16 when they married. And Garland was 55. Alicia later explains that she's actually known Garland since she was six - he was a friend of her father's - and he began taking her for walks and kissing her ("NOT a peck on the cheek", if ya know what I mean) when she was 14. But it's OK, they were in LOVE. It wasn't an unequal dynamic AT ALL. Especially not because Alicia's family was basically dependent on Garland for their welfare (her dad couldn't work and G helped him out). Yep. It's not squicky at all.

 BRB I need to take a bath I feel really dirty.

OK I'm back. So the two couples finally meet and Olivia gets a shock at how young Alicia is, Malcolm gets a shock when he sees she's heavily pregnant, and Garland and Alicia get shocks when they find out Malcolm is married with two children. Apparently he didn't think it was important enough to tell his own father.

Fast forward to dinnertime and Garland and Alicia are really affectionate and Alicia doesn't have fine manners (she talks and giggles a lot and eats with her mouth open!) which quite shocks Olivia's sensibilities, and she expects Malcolm to snap at any minute, but (un)surprisingly he seems quite taken with Alicia. He's nicer to her than he ever is to his own wife. Olivia is already incredibly jealous of Alicia's beauty, tiny hands and peaches and cream complexion (add that to the drinking game), so Malcolm's behaviour doesn't exactly help. Nor does the love and passion Alicia and Garland so openly exhibit - she's offended but also at the same time really envious that she's never experienced that herself. There's a moment when Olivia stands outside their bedroom door listening to them laugh together that is really very sad. I feel bad for her.

Then she goes and fantasises about Alicia having a miscarriage. Seriously, Olivia?

Of course, she's not so petty as to wish the baby didn't exist because of money - she's not like Malcolm! - no, she wants the baby dead because it might be better looking than her own children.

Let me repeat that. She fantasises about the death of an unborn baby because it might be better looking than her kids.

And there goes a lot of my sympathy for Olivia. OK she is a victim of abuse and probably pretty traumatised by this point, but I don't think that justifies wishing for the death of an infant, especially for such an absurd reason. And she doesn't just wish for it, she actually attempts to make it happen. She suggests Alicia explore the attic, taking her through THE room and telling her to go up the stairs. The light doesn't work because OLIVIA UNSCREWED IT EARLIER and Olivia basically shoves her in before closing the door after her. But she warns her that it's probably not a good idea before she disappears to the other side of the house where she won't be able to hear any screams, so therefore if anything happens she isn't to blame because she DID try to tell her. She goes off to read but poor Olivia can't concentrate  because all she can think about is Alicia tripping and falling and, I quote, "perhaps banging her head against one of those trunks or armoires, and lying there in the throes of a miscarriage." Oh, Olivia.

Unfortunately for our heroine Alicia is just fine. When Malcolm and Garland get home from work, they rush up to the attic after finding out that's where she is, and discover her trying on the dresses of Sluttiest Slut Who Ever Slutted, a.k.a. Malcolm's mother Corinne. Garland laughs it off but Malcolm just gets a daydreamy look in his eyes. Uh-oh...

Two weeks later, much to Olivia's annoyance, Alicia gives birth to a beautiful, peaceful, almost supernaturally aware baby boy, named Christopher Garland. Garland, being an actual nice father and husband, spends more time at home with Alicia and the baby, which annoys Olivia because she is "forced to witness their love". Like the daily afternoon delights they partake of. Olivia doesn't understand how anyone could be so "hot-blooded", so one day she eavesdrops on them and hears Alicia's multiple orgasms and Garland's begging for reassurance that he's not an old man (HAWT). That's all it takes to get Olivia hooked, and soon listening to (and imagining) their sexytimes becomes the highlight of her day. One day she even watches them do it by the lake, and then goes back to her room and cries for an hour because she feels so cheated. OK I am beginning to feel really sad for her again, miscarriage incident notwithstanding.

Later that night Malcolm tells Olivia his father has revealed his plans for his will: the house and business are all Malcolm's, but Alicia and Christopher are to get five million dollars between them, with Malcolm as administrator. He doesn't trust his father and asks Olivia to tell him if Alicia reveals any secrets about money or inheritances. She is shocked he wants him to spy and he makes a snarky quip about how she already spies on them. Oops.

Soon the focus is on Malcolm's issues again, as his Oedipal complex rears its ugly head when Alicia decides it would be a great idea to move into the SWAN ROOM and not change a thing from when her husband's first wife lived there. It comes out that Malcolm blames Garland for Corinne leaving, and Garland blames Malcolm. Healthy family relationships right there.

Malcolm also mentions in passing how disgusting things are happening in the SWAN ROOM and Olivia, curious as to how he knows this, and probably wanting to revive her own spying, goes to check out Malcolm's trophy room, which is next to the SWAN ROOM. She discovers a hidden peephole that was "perhaps dugout by a five-year-old boy" and it seems even as a child Malcolm was a pervy lech. And we get this quote from Olivia, on not telling Malcolm what she's discovered: "what would be far worse would be my own embarrassment in letting him know that I knew he was more interested in his father's and Alicia's lovemaking than he was in our own."

Olivia starts to suspect Malcolm has a thing for Alicia (you think?!) and one day, to get to the bottom of things, she follows him as he follows Alicia down to the lake. She hides in the bushes and sees Malcolm being a really pervy lech by taking off his clothes and threatening to get in the water, where Alicia, in her underwear, is yelling at him to stay away. Turns out he frequently makes passes at her, which shocks Olivia and no one else. Alicia manages to run away, threatening to tell Garland if it ever happens again (she hasn't before now because she doesn't want to upset him). Malcolm follows after her a little while later, muttering to himself about sluts and revenge like a cartoon villain. He then proceeds to insult or ignore Alicia all the time, and Olivia almost feels bad for her, except she's mad at her for being so "beautiful and tempting" and I am feeling ragey. She takes delight as Alicia becomes more depressed and there goes all my sympathy again. Olivia is slightly redeemed when she admits to regretting such selfish emotions in hindsight, because they brought "demons" into her house. But only slightly.

Next time: Malcolm becomes even Worse as the Worst of the Worst.

Friday 24 January 2014

Friday Link Dump: The Slap in America, Frozen Censored and Anne Shirley on YouTube

-In the vein of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and The Autobiography of Jane Eyrea new web series has begun based on Anne of Green Gables. It's pretty good so far. (YouTube)

-The Slap is being adapted for American TV (because its native Australian is too foreign, I guess?), as well as a new Wizard of Oz series that sounds fun. (EW)

-Flavorwire lists 25 YA books adults should read. Pretty standard for the most part. (Flavorwire)

-Here are some movie adaptations to look forward to this year. I haven't read any of these books, I think now is probably the time! (Publisher's Weekly)

-The Mockingjay poster is here! Too bad we have to wait 10 months for the movie. (Facebook)

-There's a #readwomen2014 challenge that is a lot like #AWW2014 but not focused on Australian women (obviously). (The Guardian)

-You have to watch Frozen with unnecessary censorship. It's hilarious. (YouTube)

-Also hilarious: what if Google was a real live person? (YouTube)

-These 100-year-old colour photos of Russian are amazing. (Mental Floss)

-The portraits of celebs this guy takes with Polaroids are so incredibly cool. (Tumblr)

-On the more professional side of portraiture are the EW shoots from Sundance. Love them all. (EW)

-BuzzFeed stuff: The very accurate 15 things that happen when you work in an office; 12 historic bars every bookworm needs to visit (I want to go to them all!); This story of two college girls discovering they were actually sisters after becoming friends is pretty freaking amazing; and in honour of Australia Day on Sunday I posted these awesome Aussie manis and these drool-worthy Aussie recipes.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Recap: Garden of Shadows By Virginia Andrews, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. 
Read my (rather confused) thoughts on enjoying problematic things like theses books here. Thanks to everyone who commented on this, by the way. I think upon reflection what it boils down to is that these books are larger-than-life fantasy - they are gothic horror/fairy tales, and enjoying them doesn't hurt others. As long as the snark sticks to the way in which the books handle the subject matter, not the subject matter itself, it can actually be a good thing. I think. Anyway, on with the recap...

Olivia, having woken up the day after her wedding to an absent husband and an in tact V-Card, descends the grand staircase to meet her servants, picturing herself as an Amazonian Queen instead of a hag for once. She gives the servants sass to show how important she is. Then she realises they know more about her husband than she does and she's back to feeling lonely and hag-like once again. 

To pass the time, she decides to explore the place that is now her home. She finds herself drawn to Malcolm's mother's room, of the infamous SWAN BED, and is shocked by how opulent and pink and mauve it all is. She wonders if this is the kind of woman Malcolm wants her to be - all sensual and pretty and stuff - because you should totally get ideas on what your husband wants in the bedroom from his mother's.

Turns out she's pretty accurate though because Malcolm catches her on the SWAN BED and gets mad before revealing his mother didn't actually die, as Olivia previously believed, but abandoned him when he was five to run off with her lover because she was beautiful and therefore stupid and also the Sluttiest Slut Who Ever Slutted (actually the word he used was "harlot" but that's what he really meant). He admits he married Olivia because she would never abandon him because remember she looks like this:

Then Malcolm rapes Olivia on his mother's bed while crying out his mother's name. I forgot how much sexual assualt there is in these books. It is really horrible.

Olivia cries herself to sleep in her own bed while deciding she will be the best wife she can be, and it's heartbreaking. The next day both she and Malcolm act like nothing happened, and Malcolm announces they're going to have a party the following night to celebrate their wedding. Olivia is frozen out of the preparations and decides to wander the house again. This time she comes across THE room adjoining the attic and immediately thinks "this would be the perfect place to hide someone away". As you do. And she goes up to the attic so clearly her claustrophia hasn't hit yet, although she does rush out of there when she has a flashback to being locked in a closet by her mother when she was a kid. It's a bit of a surprise because so far she's mentioned nothing but positive things about her mum. I can't remember if this is explored further later on - I guess I'll find out soon!

The next evening Olivia is excited about the party but that lasts all of five minutes because all the women are tiny and pretty (and obviously stupid) and wearing dresses that are ABOVE THE KNEE. And everyone is bored of her and makes fun of her behind her back but she can totally hear them. Malcolm of course acts as a husband should by ignoring his wife and licking food off other women's fingers, and then disappearing into the library with one of them and coming out very rumpled.

Olivia is understandably incredibly hurt and goes to bed to cry herself to sleep. Sweet, sensitive Malcolm chooses this moment to come into her room naked, command her to give him a son, and rape her once again. It is really, really awful. When Olivia tries to get him to say or do something nice he says that that mushy stuff is for harlots and sluts like his mother and he doesn't want to hear about it ever again.

Nine months and two weeks later Olivia gives birth to a son, Malcolm Jr a.k.a. Mal. Her husband is so satisfied he proceeds to basically ignore his son. Then Olivia gets pregnant again because Malcolm wants a girl, but she has a really tough pregnancy and then has the nerve to give birth to ANOTHER boy who is also sickly and Malcolm takes it as a personal affront. To rub salt into his wounds the doctor says she won't be able to have any more kids, which Malcolm won't accept because he wants a girl and he always gets what he wants.

The years go by with Olivia doting on her sons and Malcolm ignoring one and openly hating the other. One day she gets a telegram saying her father has died, but Malcolm won't let her go to the funeral because it's not right for a woman to leave her children for even one night and I threw the book across the room in anger.

He finally lets her go but she's five hours too late and all that's left is to learn the conditions of her father's will, in which she realises he knew how awful Malcolm was because he made sure he wouldn't get any of her money. She also reveals all her heartbreak to her creepy cousin John Amos and a beautiful friendship is born.

Back at home, Malcolm drops the bombshell that his dad is moving back into Foxworth Hall with his new wife. Olivia expects that this means she and Malcolm will get their own home with their kids, and Malcolm laughs it off. Because nothing can go wrong in this scenario.

And by now my heart has completely broken for Olivia and I'm kind of overwhelmed by all the abuse. Malcolm is frontrunner for my just-invented Worst of the Worst Men Of VC Andrews Award. And that's saying something.

Next time: Malcolm finds a new mother to obsess over.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Talking Point: On V.C. Andrews And Enjoying Problematic Things

I've got my next Garden of Shadows recap ready to go but something has been playing on my mind today which I wanted to get out there before I continue with that little project. This post is very much me trying to clear my own head and figure things out for myself, so hopefully it makes sense. I'd really like to start a discussion and get everyone's opinions on the matter.

As I get older and learn more about the world, and notably spend more time on social justice hubs like Tumblr and Twitter, I become more aware of the problematic aspects of a lot of pop culture. It can make it really hard to enjoy sometimes, but I think it' important to be sensitive to these issues.

Take Flowers in the Attic. Having loved the books as a kid, I excitedly watched the movie and live-tweeted my snark. It was a lot of fun. I didn't make any direct jokes about incest - but many did. This was triggering for some people, as author C.J. Redwine eloquently writes here. Her post really made me think and is the main reason I'm writing this post. I could completely understand her point, and that this kind of abuse is no laughing matter.

It got me wondering about Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews and indeed pop culture as a whole. If jokes about incest and abuse are bad, does it make it wrong to enjoy movies and books that feature them? V.C. Andrews' bread and butter is incest and abuse. The plots are wrong on so many levels and yet I - and many others - love (or perhaps more accurately, love to hate) these stories. I wouldn't say they glorify abuse, but they perhaps sensationalise it. These are by no means serious reads - you go to them when you want something trashy and fun - and yet they are about very serious subjects. Sure, they can still be very emotionally affecting and horrifying, but the melodramatic nature in which they're written and the over-the-top characters definitely lend themselves to the snark that colours many people's reactions. Including my own.

So. As I said I loved the Flowers in the Attic movie and have really enjoyed revisiting the books and recapping them. But I in no way want to make light of the subject matter or suggest it's something to make fun of. Some truly awful things happen in these books. And they're awful to read about. In the recap I've got in my drafts at the moment (which I wrote yesterday), I talk about how horrific it is to read about Olivia being raped. But reconsidering it in the light of Redwine's post made me really question the fact that I enjoy these books nonetheless! Obviously I am far from the only one who likes them, so they must appeal to something in many of us. I'm just not sure it's necessarily the best part of human nature.

On the other hand, perhaps these stories of abuse can allow people to empathise and understand such issues in ways they wouldn't otherwise. They certainly reflect the very nasty effects of abuse, as well as things like gender inequality. I know my own reaction is always very much along the lines of "this is awful, this is wrong, these people are the worst!", and perhaps in a way such pop culture is compelling because it allows us to more clearly define and communicate what IS problematic. There is something cathartic about reading these stories, exploring what is dangerous, taboo and scary from the safety of a book. BUT I say this as someone who has been fortunate enough to have never suffered abuse of any kind. So I wonder what effect these stories have on survivors of abuse. I would hate for my catharsis or especially my entertainment to come from something that hurts others.

So basically I'm confused and unsure and questioning a lot of things and I'd really like to talk about it with all the crazily smart and sensitive people who I am lucky enough to have read my blog.

Let me know what you think.

Monday 20 January 2014

Recap: Garden of Shadows by Virginia Andrews, Part 1

Yes, I am rereading the series that destroyed my innocence taught me everything I know about sex entertained me so as an 11-year-old. Watching the new Lifetime movie (which was amazeballs BTW) made me really want to revisit the books, and I'm starting with prequel because I like chronology. I thought I'd try recapping rather than reviewing, so here we go...

This is not the cover I own but it is the only cover that matters.

We begin with the prologue (derrr), which is an "addendum" to Olivia "The Grandmother" Winfield Foxworth's will, throwing serious subliminal shade at Cathy for "publishing" all their sordid secrets in Flowers in the Attic and forcing her to have to tell her side of the story. I like sassy Olivia.

Like Cathy, Olivia opens her tale by talking about colour - for her, her whole life was gray. She wanted to have a life like the colourful, beautiful family in her glass-encased dollhouse, but alas she couldn't. You see, she was Ugly. Not just Ugly, but TALL with BIG BOOBS. This meant she was an old maid at 24. I kid you not, she describes herself as a spinster. Her dad is constantly trying to marry her off, but his attempts are fruitless because she basically looks like this:

But even that might be acceptable if she didn't have the nerve to be smart and believe women have the right to vote and - get this - actually speak her opinions out loud. Outrageous! Her dad criticises her for challenging "the most treasured of manly privileges" and I popped a blood vessel in my eye. But then he actually does some nice things like put her through college, give her a job and put conditions on his will so that her inheritance is hers alone, to prevent men from wanting to marry her for money. Enter Malcolm Neal Foxworth, who gives her a funny feeling in her lady bits with his cerulean blue eyes (get ready to hear that description a lot) and a face so perfect the sun shines out of it. Also he is taller than her.

Maxwell manages to make Olivia fall in love with him in a matter of days because she is so desperate to be loved, and he does extraordinary things like talk to her and listen to her and say how glad he is that she's intelligent because he can't stand beautiful girls. Coz they're stupid. But Olivia isn't coz remember she looks like this:

So Malcolm asks her to marry him because he is ambitious and wants a wife who is smart and can help with business and stuff, and Olivia is overjoyed even though they haven't even kissed yet and he's never mentioned he loves her, because somebody - somebody really really good-looking - actually wants her. The wedding is rushed because Malcolm is impatient to get on with it and only Olivia's dad, aunt and her creepy 18-year-old cousin John Amos attend (Olivia's mum died when she was a teen and Malcolm doesn't give a fuck about his family). Olivia is excited to finally get a smooch and Malcolm disappoints her with peck that's drier than white dog poo. C'mon Mal, I know she's a hag but you could at least slip the tongue in for a few seconds! Olivia thinks he must just be shy and I'm beginning to doubt how intelligent she actually is, even if she is really fug.

The newlyweds travel straight to Foxworth Hall overnight and Olivia is relieved at not having to consummate the marriage right away because the idea of dirty relations freaks her out. But when they get to Foxworth Hall in time to go to bed for a few hours, she is dismayed to find her devoted husband won't be sharing her bedroom. Turns out she wouldn't mind trying some dirty relations at least this once. She gets all gussied up in her new dressing gown with a SCANDALOUS v-neck anyway, thinking he will come visiting and just didn't want to admit it in front of the German housemaid. But by the time morning comes said housemaid is the only person who greets her, with a judgmental look at her trashy outfit. Dear Mal has already left for the day and poor Olivia couldn't even get the D on her wedding night. Because remember she looks like this:

For real I actually feel bad for her right now.

Next time: Olivia settles in to life at Foxworth Hall and actually gets to know the man she has married beyond his cerulean blue eyes.

P.S. Let me know in the comments if you like the recap style or if it makes you feel like Malcolm when he kisses his wife.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Mini Reviews: His Convict Wife and The Convict's Bounty Bride By Lena Dowling

His Convict Wife by Lena Dowling (via Netgalley)
I actually didn't realise this was the second book in this convict romance series - though both are only novellas and you can definitely read this one without having read the first, but certain references made more sense once I did read the other. This book focuses on Colleen Malone, an Irish convict forced into prostitution who gets pregnant and then manages to get virtuous settler Samuel Biggs to marry her. Samuel is still grieving the death of his first wife and wants Colleen more as a housemaid than an actual partner, but Colleen wants to pass her baby off as his, so she has other ideas. I quite liked Colleen's tenacity and the tension between her and Samuel, and the ups and downs of their relationship made for a pretty entertaining read. This is my first foray into romance set in colonial Australia, so I don't know if it's common in the genre, but one thing that put me off a little bit was Samuel's uptightness and slightly controlling behaviour at times. Aside from that he was pretty swoon-worthy.
Rating: 3.5/5

The Convict's Bounty Bride by Lena Dowling
This story actually comes before His Convict Wife, focusing on ex-convict James Hunter, who becomes Samuel Biggs' employer in the later book. James made a deal with a noble family to take the blame for a crime committed by their son in exchange for their daughter's hand in marriage. This is news to Lady Thea, who has no interest in marriage and only wants a career. James decides to show her how good being his wife could be... you can see where this is heading. This novella was half the size than His Convict Wife and there wasn't a great amount of development of the characters and their relationship. The insta-love was pretty unbelievable and I just wasn't invested in their story. Also the whole premise, and the inevitable outcome, left a really bad taste in my mouth.
Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday 11 January 2014

Audiobook Series Review: White Trash Zombie By Diana Rowland

This series is so, so fun. I picked up the first two books on sale on Audible and I was instantly hooked. The narrator, Allison McLemore, does an awesome job capturing all of the different characters - each voice was distinct and believable. As for story, I loved Angel, the heroine, who is a hot mess until she nearly dies and wakes up as a zombie. Becoming undead allows her to finally pull her life together. She's a strong, fierce, imperfect heroine who is easy to root for. She reminded me a little of Sookie Stackhouse - cute, Southern, uneducated but smart, caring, suddenly thrown into the supernatural world - but a way more awesome version. She doesn't get all dependent and stupid around guys. The romance is secondary to Angel's own journey, which I loved. OK, I would have liked a little more action in that department - just a little - because the love interest was pretty freaking hot. But I really appreciated that there was more to Angel and her story than guys.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie
The first in the series, this book focuses on Angel's transformation and her figuring out what the hell is happening to her. While she's dealing with her sudden craving for brains and adapting to her new job at the morgue (convenient for her meal supply), she finds out there's a serial killer on the loose who is decapitating victims. Her zombie senses are tingling and she gets entangled in the mystery. This is an awesome start to the series, establishing the world while also drawing you in to the story. It's a complete arc within itself, while also leaving room for continuation.
Rating: 4.5/5

Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues
Angel is finally getting used to life as a zombie when things get even more complicated. Her past comes back to haunt her and she thinks there's a zombie mafia conducting experiments on people. This is another great mystery with some fun romance thrown in. It's awesome to see Angel develop as a character and become even stronger in herself. I really liked all the secondary characters in this, too. It's a very compelling story, completely addictive to listen to.
Rating: 5/5

White Trash Zombie Apocalypse
After racing through the first two books as fast as my ears could take me, I immediately bought the third in the series. I was a little disappointed in this one, and I think the narrator may have played a part in that. It was the same narrator as the previous two books (who had been awesome throughout both), but I feel like this one must have been recorded a fair time after the others, because the performance was pretty different. The voices were all slightly changed which, having just listened to the first two amazingly consistent books, was quite jarring. McLemore also sounded in parts like she had a cold, which was distracting. It was still a great book, with the mystery this time centering around a zombie movie being filmed in Angel's small town, with a worryingly authentic cast of extras. One thing that did annoy me was the suggestion of a couple of new love interests towards the end - it had been so refreshing to have no love triangle in the series thus far. I hope it stays that way. While I didn't love this book as much as the first two, it was still a lot of fun and I'm really looking forward to the next one, which is out later this year.
Rating: 3.5/5

Friday 10 January 2014

Friday Link Dump: Men In Glasses, Shakespeare Rumours And Karl Stefanovic Fan Fiction

-Here's how Tumblr helped one person become a better (and published) writer. (Publisher's Weekly)

-Why YA deserves more recognition in mainstream media. (Kill Your Darlings)

-The Flowers in the Attic movie hasn't even aired yet, but Lifetime is already developing a sequel. And I am excited. (EW)

-Book Riot has some suggestions of activities you can do while listening to an audiobook. (Book Riot)

-Here are some entertaining and probably untrue rumours about Shakespeare. (Mental Floss)

-The Twitter trailer for the new Muppets movie is #amazeballs. Can't wait to see it. (YouTube)

-If you're attracted to men in glasses, this Tumblr is for you. (Tumblr)

-This Snickers bar slice has me drooooling. (Style Me Pretty)

-Hello Giggles addresses the question of why women (and men) prefer male bosses. (Hello Giggles)

-BuzzFeed stuff: How to create a good cheese platter; Great movies you may have missed in 2013; All of the BSC cover outfits ranked; What Are You Afraid of the Dark might be like if it was on now; This Alexander Skarsgard meme is the best ever; The best of the internet's reaction to Cory Bernardi; The adorable exchange between the CSIRO and a little girl who just wants a dragon; and the best moments from the Karl Stefanovic fan fiction you will never be able to unsee.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Review: The Returned By Jason Mott

One day, out of the blue, all the dead return to the living, as though they'd never left. For elderly couple Harold and Lucille, it means seeing their long-dead son again - or does it? Is it really their son? And does it matter? Such are the questions that create the central drama at the heart of The Returned. It's not so much about the dead coming back to life, as it is about the impact the event has on the people around them and society at large. It's about grief and hope and love and fear and horror and joy and death and life.

Going into this, I was expecting it to be creepy, and while there is an uneasy tension and building sense of horror that pervades the novel, as humans react as they always do - by locking away and even destroying what they fear - The Returned is, more than anything, a truly beautiful book.

The writing is lovely, but it's the characters that really get under your skin. I love, love, love the fact that the hero of this book is an old lady - an ordinary old lady, at that. Lucille is one of my favourite characters in a long time. I also appreciated the exploration of Harold's mixed emotions, and the intrinsic sense of good that ruled his behaviour no matter what. A lot of the secondary characters were great, too, and their varied reactions to the Returned felt incredibly realistic.

The setting of a small town in the US was really effective in creating a claustrophobic and increasingly oppressive atmosphere that conveyed the confusion and fear felt by everyone. I also enjoyed the interludes featuring the stories of the Returned around the world - some of them were truly gut-wrenching - but I have to say the subplot involving the Reverend kind of disappointed me. It was interesting at first but just fizzled out. The main story, on the other hand, started out slow but built to a fantastic and memorable climax.The bittersweet ending, and indeed the book as a whole, really makes you think a lot about what it means to be alive, and what it takes to let go of those we love. It's the kind of book that stays with you long after you've finished it.

Rating: 4/5

Fine Print
Published: 2013, Harlequin MIRA
Source: Netgalley
Get It: Book Depository

The Returned has been adapted into a TV series that is apparently coming out in March. It doesn't look anywhere near as good as the book, judging from the trailer, but it still looks worth a watch.

Friday 3 January 2014

Friday Link Dump: Tea, Gifs and Hiddles

It's been awhile since I've done one of these - or blogged at all, really - because real life has been kinda hectic. Part of this is because I left my old job and started a new one. Those who follow me on Instagram and Twitter will probably already know that I'm now working at BuzzFeed - and if you didn't, well, now you do! It's pretty much a dream come true. I just need to find a balance between work-internet and play-internet, if that makes sense. Part of that is finding time/motivation to do this blog, and also how to do it - for instance, I wasn't sure what to do with these link posts, because let's face it, half the links have always been from BuzzFeed, and I was worried that now it will just look like I'm pimpin' my place of work. But people always seem to like these posts (I think!), so I want to keep doing them, and unless anyone objects, I will include BuzzFeed links I think my friends will like. OK? OK.

In other news, I got a new Kindle for Christmas after my old one, Betsy, broke, and it finally arrived this week. Her name is Betty Paper-White.
Here's what I've enjoyed on the internet lately:

-Elizabeth at Devoted Eclectic explores what makes her review some books and not others (Devoted Eclectic).

-Steph Bowe released the original ending of All This Could End on her blog and WOW. It is beautiful but I am glad it was changed. Spoilers, obviously. (Steph Bowe)

-This sample of one couple's Christmas portraits over a 40-year period is fascinating and bittersweet. (Flavorwire)

-George Orwell describes how to make the perfect cup of tea. I am much easier to please: boiling water, Lipton black tea, a dash of skim milk, jiggle for 30 seconds and it's good to go. I'm such a heathen. (Brain Pickings)

-Cary Elwes is writing a book about the making of The Princess Bride and I can't breathe. (Time)

-Here's what some popular foreign songs are really about. (Mental Floss)

-The Official Princess Club is probably my favourite Tumblr ever. Someone has created a brilliant comic strip featuring Disney Princess dolls, using Snapchat. Hilarious. (Tumblr)

-Behind the Gifs is a very funny subreddit where people draw how the imagine famous Gifs came to be. (Reddit)

-From BuzzFeed: This person created outstanding visual puns with a cardboard cutout of The Rock; here's a list of the movies and TV shows to get excited about this year; this list of reasons why Tom Hiddleston is a life-ruiner will probably destroy you; here's 16 books to read if you love San Francisco and also my list of the best Australian books of 2013.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014!

Happy 2014! Hope it's a delightful year for everyone. 2013 had its ups and downs for me but I definitely ended the year much happier than I started it, so I'm excited to see where 2014 takes me! However, I didn't blog anywhere near as much as I wanted to in 2013, especially in the latter part of the year. One of my goals for this year is to get back into regular blogging, bring back some of my features, create new ones and review every book as soon as I've finished it! At the moment I'm about 14 reviews behind, eek! So expect a lot of reviews from me in the next week or so because I really want to catch up and start off on a good foot.

I did a lot better on my 2013 challenges than I did on the previous year. Still not perfect, but I'm pretty happy with my progress:

  • Aussie Author Challenge: Aimed to read 12 Aussie authors, and I read 20! Yay!
  • Australian Women Writers Challenge: Aimed to read 10 books by Aussie women and I read 17. An improvement on the year before.
  • TBR Reading Challenge: Aimed to read 36 books from my 2012 TBR pile, and I got through 20. Not awesome.
  • Goodreads Reading Challenge: Aimed to read 75 books, and I finished 71. So close!
All in all I think I did well. The key for me seems to be not doing too many challenges. So this year, I'm focusing on:

Aim: "Kangaroo" level.
- Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you;
- At least 6 fiction and at least 2 non-fiction, and at least 3 titles first published in 2013 or 2014.

Aim: I want to read 20 books by Australian women this year. 

Aim: "Stenographer" level.
-Listen to 10-15 audiobooks.

New Release Challenge (a personal challenge)
Aim: Keeping up with the Publishers 
-Read at least one new release a month, a total of 12 books published in 2014.

Goodreads Challenge
Aim: Read 75 books.

Here's to blitzing goals this year!