Tag Archives: books

Writing about Writing about Writing (about Death Gods): A Review of Afterworlds


If you’re involved in any writing course or writers’ group you’ll invariably find yourself faced with a seminar of some sort about The Publishing Industry. These are generally informative and terrifying, and detail all sorts of fun stuff like the importance of getting an agent, rejection letters, editors missing the point of the story and wanting to change weird shit, and how you must rewrite everything at least sixty times before it’s ready to hit an appraisal office’s desk let alone shelves. It can all be disheartening and scary and all that business can shrivel your creativity to a raisin-like state, so it was a breath of fresh and intriguing air to find a novel about The Publishing Industry in Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. And one that got really gay, too! Bonus!

Lizzie Scofield survives a terrorist attack by pretending to be dead—and she pretends so well that she wills herself in the afterworld, the in-between grey-scale realm populated by ghosts and spirit guides. This act has planted her in a limbo state between alive and dead that makes her a spirit guide/grim reaper/psychopomp/Valkyrie herself, and she begins to learn how this all works from the sparkling and handsome Yamaraj… this is the plot of Darcy Patel’s debut novel. By luck that even she can’t quite believe, Darcy’s passion project (created for something that is never named NaNoWriMo but definitely is) is accepted by a New York publisher and bought for a huge sum of money, propelling the eighteen-year-old into the world of Professional Writers. Continue reading


Filed under Alex Reads, Uncategorized

Overthinking Bargain Books: The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex


In 1986, a million dollar Picasso painting disappeared overnight. A neat white placard informed patrons of the National Gallery of Victoria that the artwork had been removed by the A.C.T., which many presumed to mean that it had simply gone on a road trip to a be displayed in the Australian Capital Territory… when, in fact, it was being held ransom by the Australian Cultural Terrorists, who threatened to keep and/or destroy the famous painting if the government didn’t raise the abysmal funding it gave to the arts. The painting was found, safe and sound and in fact strangely well cared for, in a locker in a train station some weeks later, and the thieves were never caught.

This is their story, or at least, a story that could have been theirs, tangled up with the stories of several other ordinary people and a South American ghost legend in a great dramatic fishing net and flung into the Yarra River. Continue reading


Filed under Alex Reads

Overthinking Bargain Books: Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers


Now, I’m not especially well-versed in Greek mythology, but I know enough to affirm that the gods were always screwing with people. A contemporary comedy novel about the interplay between ancient gods and the modern world looks like the perfect place to play with this, as well as of course the business of modern romance and the pursuit of happiness, but instead this book left me with the baffling conclusion that none of us have any autonomy and we are all playthings of the selfish divines. Continue reading


Filed under Alex Reads

“Should’ve Read the Book” Elitism

'Augustus Waters dies - should have read the book!' t shirt

I like to think I’m a pacifistic and generally nice person, but if one thing makes me want to start throwing furniture it’s people being snobbish and awful to each other in totally unnecessary areas. One of these is most definitely the brand of elitism that comes from people who read books looking down on those who don’t. I mean come on, there are far more grievous issues in this tumultuous world of ours, and you’re making the time to turn up your nose at people who take interest in non-novel forms of entertainment?

It’s a huge and stupid problem that manifests itself in all kinds of forms, reinforced naturally enough in a lot of fictional character types and translating into the real world. It’s almost a classist thing, if you trace its roots back to past eras where only the privileged were literate. Or perhaps it stems from the (perfectly grounded, if you end up among the wrong crowd of cranky schoolkids) stereotype of people being teased for being bookish, causing said bookish people to retaliate and want to protect their safe space, or take the opportunity to rise up and be the bully they always feared. For the record, not everyone does this. As with most forms of isms, it’s only a select and vocal percentage that manage to ruin it for everyone else. But it is something that’s ingrained in us as readers, I think, whether we notice it or not.

A lot of book heroes, for example, are book readers. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s totally cool as it gives the real-world book readers an immediate connection with the character because, whatever magic or adventure might make their lives different, at least they share a hobby. And reading is one of those fantastically immersive hobbies, essentially and easily becoming a way of life. However, the distinction we should make is that it’s those who love stories that share this love, not just those who read (though obviously in things written before movies and the internet and stuff, that’s not an option), and also enforce that your heroes can be perfectly relatable and lovable even if they can’t get through a book. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Things We Need to Stop Doing

Flappers and Philosophy: Alex Reads F. Scott Fitzgerald

F Scott Fitzgerald himselfThe 1920s have always held a glittery fascination to me, an era of great social change in the wake of the society-shattering events of the First World War and an almost literal tossing out the window of the values of the previous century. It was a turning point era when people started to think differently, almost the Twentieth Century’s rebellious teen phase if you will—women cut their hair and refused to look upon corsets again, the classes began to merge and mingle, jazz music caused a sensation, and of course the backdrop to all this was the Prohibition, America’s bright idea to rid themselves of the corruptive devil’s blood that was alcohol by banning it.

It was a time of shifting morals and changing attitudes, iconic for much of the western world, and thus it needed a writer to document and decode it.

And here enters F. Scott Fitzgerald, a typewriter before him, dry wit social commentary in one hand and rolling prose in the other, ready to fuse them together and create an elegant electrical storm that would be immortalised as the voice of the era. Continue reading


Filed under Alex Reads

I’m Just a Teenage Hero, Baby

Sometimes books are a niche interest, but there are some that everyone has heard of: and at the moment those that have achieved this success of world-renown-ment are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight… which funnily enough are all series aimed at the young adult market.

Some may ponder this most academically: why have these teen books become so hugely successful? Some others may fling the obvious answer back at them: they are engrossing stories that have captured the attention and imagination of an audience, an audience that extends well beyond the interest in struggles of teenagers stuck in fantasy or sci-fi settings.

There is in fact a large market for adolescent literature because, contrary to some belief, teenagers aren’t all spending their time popping shots and getting freaky and doing totally radical ollies in the skate park and they do read. And when they do read, they seek out stories that they can see themselves reflected in and relate to.

Teenaged girls with cucumber slices on their eyes, laughing their heads off

Those crazed youth. Just look at them!

Continue reading


Filed under Archetypes and Genre

New Year’s Nerdiness: A Celebration of Books 2012

On the off chance that anyone is interested, I hereby throw my accomplished reading list to the internet for little purpose other than to demonstrate my own widespread bibliophilism. Here’s to another year of devouring fiction in all its forms!

This list, of course, only includes books I finished, and left off are those who tragically never saw me reach the back page in 2012 (unless it was to skip there… come on, I know you all do that too)

*= Re-read

The Night Circus UK cover

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

Many characters, magical realism, a fictional place I long to visit and explore and descriptive prose that makes me cry cupcakes.

2. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman (1999)

A collection of short stories ranging from hilarious to horrifying, all with Neil Gaiman’s unique twist of concepts fantastical and real. And a small seaside town full of worshippers of the Lovecraftian gods.

3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (2010)

I have seldom laughed out loud while reading, but this book did it. Shared between two authors and two narrators, the insightful little novel rolls along without wanting to be put down.

4. Paper Towns by John Green (2008)

Ah yes, my John Green era. Due for a re-read by this late stage in the year, methinks—the story of a boy and the girl he loves and idolises but doesn’t understand, and the world and its façades.

5. Looking For Alaska by John Green (2005)

Manic Pixie Dream Girls who are fawned over, taken to pieces and then killed symbolically. I didn’t enjoy it that much, but if that isn’t a recipe for awards tell me what is.

The Fault in Our Stars

6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

If you want to smile and weep and hug a book to your chest then pick up this one. Like, actually: in the hubbub of your YA shelf this one should magnetise everyone who walks past and wants to think about life, love and death, ponderings delivered to them in John Green’s beautiful introspective prose from shockingly real and lovable characters.

7. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (2006)

And then there’s this asshole. Bit of a shock after the above mentioned in terms of it being a wacky comedy after a story starring cancer patients, but what have you.

8. How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan (2008)

Not a book of love stories, necessarily, but a book of stories about love, in all its shapes and forms. Singular stories stood out and others were shrugged at or forgotten, as oft happens with anthologies. Contains some real gems, especially Skipping Prom, Princes, and A Romantic Inclination.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray  by Oscar Wilde (1891)

The home of one of my favourite fictional douchebags (which, funnily enough, is where you will find the only douchebags I tolerate and enjoy), fallen from his grace in a story of pride and corruption. Also, is it possible to be attracted to a writer’s prose? Because I will passionately wed Oscar Wilde’s. And bear its beautiful children.

10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

I was picking through classics at this point, it seems—lucky for me, as I discovered one of my favourite books. The Beautiful and Damned, however, is still sitting on my shelf, waiting to be waded through and returned to the friend I borrowed it from a year ago. Oops.

11. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

A sparkling little fairy tale, much more fondly believed to be satirical than written by a man who was high, though the latter inclination does rear its head at some points… still, no weirder than anything else that’s ever been written as fantasy for children.

The Phantom of the Opera Vintage cover

12. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1910)

Explored to contrast, of course, the musical, and an interesting thing to delve into. The language was stuffy and the storytelling style sometimes jarring, but reveals a fascinating anti-hero at the centre of it all.

13. Lysistrata by Aristophanes (411 BC…?)

I took a class on satire, and one of the first things they handed me was an ancient Greek playscript full of dick jokes. I knew I was in for a good semester.

14. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (1948)

Also satirical, set in the Hollywood of the 1940s and narrated by a snarky Englishman who may or may not be the author hiding behind his typewriter and shouting insults (albeit wittily) through his characters. Quite funny, in a macabre, toffy kind of way.

15. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (2005)

Read for a course on crime fiction as one of the modern greats, though I could barely stomach it. But! I chewed through the wad of a book and had to compliment its ability to create the unpleasant, bleak and harsh atmosphere of the southern coast of Australia.

16. The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson* (1999)

Ah, Jacqueline Wilson my old friend. One of her more heart-rending and thought-provoking novels, about what happens when children have to look after their deeply flawed parents.

17. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (1623…?)

Misogynistic humour or sassy feminism? We shall never truly know.

Planet Janet cover

18. Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon* (2004)

Deep and meaningful diary of a London teenager who decides to try a “Dark Phase”, wherein she listens to jazz, does yoga, dresses in black and purple and is highly sophisticated. Eye-rolling humour, but riotous nonetheless.

19. Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson (2003)

Similar to The Illustrated Mum in many respects, deals with the fears we face as children forced to grow up far too quickly. Relatable and melancholy, but quality. Most likely won awards. You can tell, because the characters suffered.

20. Planet Janet in Orbit by Dyan Sheldon* (2005)

The diaries of the world’s most hilariously irritating seventeen-year-old sophisticate continue!

21. On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (2006)

This book was confusing as hell when I first started it, and I found myself unsympathetic for the surly protagonist, but as time passed I was hooked into the bizarre and compelling mystery within.

22. Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (1999)

How many adolescent issues can we fit into one book, narrated by a weirdly unsympathetic and unsolid teenage hero? Ms Marchetta has come a long way since the story of Josie Alibrandi.

23. It’s Not All About YOU, Calma! by Barry Jonsberg (2004)

Sequel to The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull and just as funny and heartbreaking. Perhaps I prefer my YA with sassy assholes for protagonists?

The Handmaid's Tale cover

24. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

A fascinating and frightening science fiction world, engrossing at every turn and occasionally just leaving the reader reeling and going “WOW, OKAY THEN”.

25. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (2007)

A vulgar and spitefully tongue-in-cheek tale of the perils of commercialist, religious, contradictory small-town Texas. God Bless America.

26. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003)

The story was a bit odd and weak, but that isn’t what you read this book for. You read it to see, meticulously and believably crafted, the inner thoughts of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome unfurl across the pages, and you come to understand him as a human being, as he completely deserves.

27. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (2003)

Sassy bitches in the fashionable and decadent world of High Society New York. My favourite.

28. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)

I spent half this book laughing at James Bond and his gleeful and strong-jawed sexism. I’m not even kidding. I am not compelled to become a fan since I can’t take the damn thing seriously. Well enjoyed as escapism in the ‘50s and ‘60s I’m sure, but not entirely my cup of tea.

29. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996)

The first in a series of character-driven political dramas set in a wondrously crafted fantasy world. See last week’s post for full spill of heart and soul on the matter.

Struck By Lightning cover

30. Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer (2012)

Refer to above statement about adoring sassy assholes as YA narrators. Turns out the adorable dude can write, not only screenplays but novels; carried along the coming of age story of a deliciously snarky, fierce and apathetic hero who blackmails half his high school into writing submissions for a literary magazine he’s going to send to Northwestern University for a better chance at acceptance and his dream. Laugh out loud along the lines of Will Grayson, except for the ending, which is like a punch in the chest. Thanks, Chris!!


Filed under Alex Reads

It’s Not Love Unless It Transcends Space and Time

Aww a stock photo of lovers in a field

No, the title is NOT a sly, shippy Madoka reference

Can’t we just let characters enjoy their relationship without having to have it be The Greatest Love in the Universe?

People are obsessed with the concept of True Love. It’s a hangover from the reign of fairy tales, I suppose, where that was the basis and endgame of all things (well, in the less horrifying more modern versions, anyway). But, like all hangovers, it’s starting to stink up the place and give fiction a bit of a stale air.

I’m mostly talking about teen fiction, which has taken to promoting the idea that young love is RIGHT AND TRUE AND DEFIES ALL ODDS and is sweet when done well, but when not handled gracefully plunges the characters and their romance into Special Snowflake territory.

Special Snowflake (n): someone who believes, or is expressed to be by their author or creator, even more unique than every other infinitely unique human being on the planet, much like a snowflake in a blizzard wherein every flake has a distinctive shape, but still shouts that they are the most distinctive as they whirl towards earth and annoy the rest of their frozen-water buddies.

Continue reading


Filed under Things We Need to Stop Doing

Everyone Loves a Villain

There’s just something infinitely interesting about evil.

Heroes are all well and good, but let’s face it, if they are merely heroes (and not anti-heroes existing in a story of skewed morality or reformed villains themselves) their one layer of goodie goodness can appear a bit flat. They may be the most lovable, honourable character to ever set foot upon a page, but that doesn’t make them intriguing. Also, the story will often be told either from their own perspective or centring around their workings. The bad guy looms on the edge as a menacing shadow. They’re a mystery.

And people love mysteries.

Like, why is this guy such an asshole? Was he/she made this way by some trauma of their childhood? Or is he/she merely inherently evil? What inspired them to want to take over the universe and/or cause the general unhappiness of other people? Or are they just an unthinking agent of chaos? Or perhaps an Eldritch Abomination?

WTF is That? By HP Lovecraft

Continue reading


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings

Genre Snobbery is Like Racism to Books

"You're all just jealous of my jet pack"

Credit to Tom Gauld

Snobbery irks me in its own right, but if there’s one thing I really can’t stand it’s snobbery of interests.

That thing you like is the wrong thing to like! Really, it’s just silly. Especially when it’s within fandoms, for crying out loud. You all watch/read and enjoy the same series. Why can’t you just soak that up instead of finding things to disagree on and excuses to bicker?!

That is not what this post is about. This post is about  genre snobbery, which is a hell unto itself. Basically, books are books, and the notion that the grouping they come from changes their quality somehow is a troublesome one. If you think about it in a roundabout enough way, it’s kind of racism to inanimate objects. Continue reading


Filed under Archetypes and Genre