Review: Patrick Ness & Tea Bendix – Different for Boys

Different for Boys
Patrick Ness & Tea Bendix

“Anthony “Ant” Stevenson isn’t sure when he stopped being a virgin. Or even if he has. The rules aren’t always very clear when it comes to boys who like boys. In fact, relationships of all kinds feel complicated, even with Ant’s oldest friends. There’s Charlie, who’s both virulently homophobic and in a secret physical relationship with Ant. Then there’s drama kid Jack, who may be gay and has become the target of Charlie’s rage. And, of course, there’s big, beautiful Freddie, who wants Ant to ditch soccer, Charlie’s sport, and try out for the rugby team instead.”

Built on the idea that being a virgin is about having had sex between a boy and a girl, this short story attempts to prove that it’s different for boys who have sex with boys. Unforunately, that’s not what I took away from it. All I saw was a boy refusing to admit he was gay, one poor kid who is clearly gay, one (potential) Ally and one homophobic but horny boy.

Storyline? Boy possibly has sex, but it doesn’t count as sex if it’s ‘just physical’. Kissing could be sex. This uses outdated language and outdated ideas. At least in Australia, I’d think the topic of being a virgin is uninteresting at this point. As a Queer person, I can’t say that losing my virginity was something even worth talking about – I certainly didn’t think about it! Is Ness trying to comment on the statement ‘boys will be boys’?

I don’t get it. This is like a picturebook for teenagers. All the interesting language (read: foul swearing) has been blackboxed out, and it took me maybe 10 minutes tops to read it. Would I want to be caught in public reading it? Probably not. Can I think of someone to gift it to? No. I finished reading it, but only because it was so short. 1 star from me.

Walker Books Australia | 1 March 2023 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Secret Project #2

The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England
Brandon Sanderson

“A man awakes in a clearing in what appears to be medieval England with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or why he is there. Chased by a group from his own time, his sole hope for survival lies in regaining his missing memories, making allies among the locals, and perhaps even trusting in their superstitious boasts. His only help from the “real world” should have been a guidebook entitled The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, except his copy exploded during transit. The few fragments he managed to save provide clues to his situation, but can he figure them out in time to survive?”

This is fun in some ways, but pretty stupid in others. I’m ok with carp diem! Ie. Fish the day. It’s not seize the fish, which is what John thinks/pretends it. One of the best things about these Secret Projects is that this one and Tress are filled with plenty of odd metaphors and random puns. My favourite!

What else positive can I say about this book? Well, Sanderson definitely seemed to have fun writing it. It still has his lyrical prose and multi-faceted characters. I mostly just feel sorry for John since he isn’t the brightest, but he does try to be likeable at times. I’d certainly lose my temper a bit if I ended up in his original home situation (which is gradually pulled out of the text slowly). He’s just too ‘meh’, and I couldn’t care enough in it or the premise of travelling down different dimensions to ‘time travel’.

Go on and bite me, but I didn’t like this novel. That’s not to say that I love everything in The Cosmere equally and was influenced by the fact that this is NOT a Cosmere novel. I just didn’t care for the topic or the narrator. Yes, I’ve read it twice now, but even just trying to explain the plot to my wife made me think ‘Woah, why am I reading this again?’ I don’t think I’m going to revisit it, unless I’m looking for a happily-ever-after that can be knocked over quickly.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Secret Project #1

Tress of the Emerald Sea
Brandon Sanderson

Tress lives on a rock, and feels satisfaction in drinking her salty tea, and catching up with Charlie. When Charlie is sent away, Tress takes it upon herself to search him out. The seas are full of deadly spores, not water, so Tress needs to change herself to find Charlie, and perhaps bring him home.

This is the first Secret Project that has been released as part of the ‘Year of Sanderson’. I had almost forgotten that it would be coming on the first of Janurary 2023, despite being delieriously happy to buy in on the hype when I saw the KickStarter. What a way to start the year! At first I wasn’t very keen on the storyteller’s voice (Hoid, for those of you who are wondering), but I dropped into the story and loved it.

“As the weeks passed, Tress fell into a lethargy. She felt less like a mere human being, and more like a human who was merely being.” I think this 100% decribes the burnout that I’m currently warding off. Trust Sanderson to put in words so gracefully what so many people are feeling about their work! I’m always fond of a good pun, and this novel is packed with them – I found myself grinning wryly at so many parts.

Tress tames her hair with a brush, despite it being curly! So many people have commented that Sanderson had gotten it wrong – that noone with curly hair would brush it… I disagree. I have vibrantly curly hair that I brush! And then the wind separates it into curls when I ride. So I argue that Sanderson has gotten this right, particularly as exposure to all the salt would make beach-waves out of Tress’ hair.

I’ve now read this novel twice, and would consider it to be a bit of a comfort read. Not as amazing as Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, but still an easy read to slip into when I want something familar. 5 stars from me.


Review: Brandon Sanderson – Secret Project #3

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter
Brandon Sanderson

Painter is a lone warrior, isolated from his past friends by a mistake that we don’t know exists. He protects the borders with his bamboo art, and survives from day to day. Yumi is a spirit whisperer, ritually required to do nothing for herself except make art to please the spirits. One exists in darkness, while the other exists on a hot planet. When a Connection is formed between the two, it seems like the spirits want something. But what is it?

I’ve already read this twice, and I don’t even have the physical copy yet. Something about the storyline, the art, and the awkward main characters appeals to me. This is another of Sanderson’s efforts at writing an unconventional romance/love story. Everytime someone complains about the lack of sex in his writing, I wonder to myself why that would be required for a good story. So many TV series seem to rely on people cheating on each other to make the story happen / fill in time!

Who do I like more? Yumi or Painter? I don’t know! I love Painter and the fact that he simply knows nothing about how the world works, but in a different way to Yumi not knowing it either. It’s also good to see Sanderson writing younger characters. Is it a comment on society that Painter seems to have no purpose? Personally, I wouldn’t want to survive as he does.

I’m still a little unclear on how the shroud works, and how/why there are individual sections. Why has it not covered everything? Also, how does Yumi go from the same day to multiple days and not be remade every day at the same town (I can’t give more detail here or I’ll spoil a major plot point)?

It’s no wonder also why I enjoy it when Sanderson says the inspiration was partially Final Fantasy X. That’s the first FF I ever played, and the only one I could kind-of win (but never finished). Why not have a crazy job to a real-world human, but a job that is typical in its story-world? I can see myself revisiting this novel as a comfort read quite often – a much easier read that The Way of Kings or the Mistborn novels.

I pre-bought this novel as part of Year of the Sanderson kickstarter. I’m still loving it, and am dreading 2024 – no more bonus books!

Review: Shoji Morimoto – Rental Person Who Does Nothing

Rental Person Who Does Nothing: A memior
Shoji Morimoto

“Today, I’m starting a ‘rent a person who does nothing‘ service . . . Except for very simple conversation, I’m afraid I can do nothing.  Shoji Morimoto was constantly being told that he was a ‘do-nothing’ because he lacked initiative. Dispirited and unemployed, it occurred to him that if he was so good at doing nothing, perhaps he could turn it into a business. And with one tweet, he began his business of renting himself out . . . to do nothing. Morimoto, aka Rental Person, provides a fascinating service to the lonely and socially anxious.”

I received this tiny little non-fiction in the mail, and couldn’t believe my eyes that it was AU$32. I knocked it down in less than 2 hours, and unfortunately, didn’t get much out of it. There’s also a TV drama.  I’ve dreamed (not very deeply) of being a nude model for art classes, which is pretty much ‘do nothing’ as far as I’m concerned. Mr. Morimoto’s idea is that doing nothing is ok – it’s not what someone does that makes them ‘useful’.

The book implies that he is free to hire, and all you pay is transportation and food if the ‘appointment’ is during meal times. Perhaps this was true when he started in 2018, but a quick google says that he charges 10’000 yen or ~US$80 per appointment. I reckon that’s a pretty good return! He also said in the book that he was living off his savings, but as of 2022 he does make a living from it (on Twitter it says his fee is 30’000 yen).

I don’t think there’s room for a do nothing person in Australia. Plenty of Aussies are very proud they do nothing! I very much doubt you’d find someone to pay you for nothing. I think that maybe Japanese society is fit for this, as you can rent a person for many other things. And perhaps there is more focus on what it looks like to others when you go places alone? Honestly, if I was going to pay someone as company, as a slender white Queer ciswoman, I’d be hiring a proper boyguard who can defend me if needed (particularly travelling in countries not safe for women).

Anyway, I don’t think this memoir is a good fit for the Australia market. Maybe borrow it from the library or a friend, or give it to someone as a cheeky gift! Maybe it’ll be perfect for gifting to that person in the office who never does anything…

Pan Macmillan | 11 July 2023 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Interview with Rebecca Holmes, author of Beyond the Gloaming Pass

Interview with Rebecca Holmes, author of Beyond the Gloaming Pass

Rebecca Holmes is an adult fantasy author from Vancouver, Canada. Her debut novel, Beyond the Gloaming Pass, is a heart-wrenching tale of two women fighting for their place in a harsh world of magic, prejudice, and ethereal beauty. She writes what she loves to read – vibrant worlds, rich cultures and multilayered characters, exploring deeper topics through authentically realized emotions and drawing parallels with the real world. When she isn’t writing or reading, she’s a product manager, ecommerce expert, and avid PC gamer. She shares her home with her mum and her dog – a very cute papillon named Piper.

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

Smaug, from The Hobbit.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

My first book writing attempts were nonfiction which, looking back, did not make much sense as I practically never read nonfiction. I doubt I’ll ever resurrect those. My first fiction book did eventually become a finished product, but it took me eleven years to get there!

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

This is going to sound odd, but… stamina. In the beginning, I found it extremely difficult to write for more than an hour or so at a time. That hour might yield a paragraph if I was lucky, and I’d probably come back and rewrite it later anyway. I had to wrestle with my brain not just to focus, but also to be in the right frame of mind, and to willingly dig into my past experiences to draw up the emotions needed to write convincingly. It was like a muscle I had to exercise and strengthen to the point where I could comfortably pump out a thousand half-decent words in one sitting.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

Now, I think I probably could – assuming I continue to have the same amount of time and energy to invest in writing. I sincerely hope I do! At times, my day job has grown so all consuming it left little space for creative endeavours. Work-life balance is crucial to keep the creative juices flowing productively, but that’s sometimes easier said than achieved. I have ideas for another four books in the same series as Beyond the Gloaming Pass. I’m in love with the world I’ve created for that series: flawed, but magnificent; harsh, but beautiful. I plan to release one book a year for the next four years!

What kind of research do you conduct while writing your books? How does it influence your writing and shape the story?

My stories are set in a fictional world, which gives me a lot of freedom to create my own rules. However, my goal is for the setting to feel historically plausible. I’ll regularly fact-check historical technology, aesthetics and cultures to achieve that grounded, down to earth feeling in my work as an undercurrent to the fantastical elements. In Beyond the Gloaming Pass, the main characters start off in the city of Tunswick, which is loosely based on Victorian London. I found actual video footage from the late 1800s of a London intersection and used this to paint a more realistic mental image of life in my fictional city. I have some very peculiar Google search history – everything from ‘how to dry fish on a rack’ to ‘common causes of warehouse fires in the 19th century’.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I can write anywhere quiet and distraction-free. All I need is my laptop! I used to write in Google Docs, which got the job done but caused me some headaches with formatting later on. Now I use Atticus, which takes care of all the formatting for me and allows me to split into parts and chapters as I go. It’s a lot more organized. Usually I write at home, or in my hotel room if I’m traveling. My most productive hours tend to be late at night.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

I used a combination of friends who like my genre and people who reacted positively to my postings on Critique Circle. I put my prologue up for review on that site and was able to establish a relationship with potential beta readers that way. I had three beta readers in total who did an excellent job between them.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

My reading is almost entirely digital. I’m a member of Kindle Unlimited and get most of my books from there. The best thing about that is I get to read a lot of indie books and find hidden gems that no one is talking about yet. I often review these on Goodreads, so check out my Goodreads profile for some great indie fantasy recommendations! I love the idea of a home library but it has never been practical. I’ve moved around a lot, and a significant book collection is one of those things that multiplies the pain of moving tenfold. Who knows, maybe in the future my book cave dreams will come true!

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I think I’ve always been a fantasy nut as long as I can remember. I’ve sampled all sorts, but I generally prefer the historical kind – whether that’s a version of our world or an alternate world analogous to a familiar time period. I don’t read a lot of romance, and tend to get put off if things get too steamy. Having said that, one obscure book from my childhood that had a huge influence on my writing style wasn’t fantasy at all: Grace, by Jill Paton Walsh, is a novel based on the true story of Grace Darling, an English heroine from 1838. Walsh’s writing style is very unique, and perfectly suited to a first-person narrative from that time period. I think it was her book that started my obsession with the authenticity of historical concepts in fiction.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

I hate social media too, but as an author I have to do it. The technology aspect is fine – I’m very tech-savvy – but it presents a particular challenge for me because I don’t understand the appeal of using the platforms on a personal level. I’m learning about the world of BookTok right now to connect with other authors and readers in my genre as I’m well aware how huge it’s become. Not somewhere I expect to be spending any time ‘just for fun’ though. I’d much rather be writing or reading!

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?

I don’t mind, and I know the importance of unique content from a search engine optimization perspective. My goal is to always provide uniquely-worded answers and keep it interesting for the reader, even if the general sentiment of my answers is the same from one interview post to the next. For that reason, I won’t copy-paste answers.

About the Book

That barren, supposedly cursed land everyone’s afraid of? It’s inhabited. Sophisticated. They’re doing just fine, and they’re tougher than you. Are you brave enough to venture Beyond the Gloaming Pass?

In this emotional high fantasy adventure, two women fight for their place in a broken continent with broken systems. Years of hardship have put a heavy strain on Rubriel and Molindra’s friendship. When a contract from a wealthy merchant offers a hefty payout for a dangerous mission in a mysterious land, Molindra seizes the opportunity for a better life. Little do they know, that land has ambitions of its own. The pair find themselves swept onto opposite sides of a bitter conflict that spirals rapidly out of control. Will they reunite and save Bantria from the growing threat, or become unwitting agents of its destruction?

Learn more and purchase this novel at the following links:

Quick Reviews of Fiction eBooks #3

It being Pride month caused my local library to showcase a range of Queer novels in their online BorrowBox (similar to Libby / Overdrive) and I thought I’d better get in on the reading! I’ve been consuming these pretty quickly as eBooks so they aren’t really worthy of their own big review. Here are my quick thoughts on some.

The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom
Allison L Bitz

Bridget’s voice is going to take her places – the first stop being Richard James Academy on her way to Broadway. Her Achilles heel is music theory… and it’s stopped her from getting into the right program. Challenged to not use her voice for the semester, Bridget falls in love with the wrong people, discovers just how selfish she is, and is just her whole huge self. This a quick, cute read about a protagonist who isn’t fat-shamed, just musical-theatre-shamed! Similar novel: Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell

On the Subject of Unmentionable Things
Julia Walton

Phoebe is a straight-A student who loves writing. It’s just that a lot of her writing is a secret because she writes an informational site about sex education. When it seems like her identity will be revealed, Phoebe isn’t sure what to do – does anyone else spend as much time thinking about sexual health as she does?

I loved this book! It’s a female version of Jack of Hearts (and other parts). It’s good to see that ~5 years on, sex ed in schools is still useless, but that teens are getting a bit more comfortable about talking about their problems / knowing how to google the answers. A resource such as Phoebe’s blog is something that is still so important, particularly as our understanding of sex, sexualities, genders and diversity continues to evolve.

Freya Hart is not a Puzzle
Meabh Collins

Freya’s diagnosis of autism is something she doesn’t want to share with anyone. Her parents think that she’s starving herself, or just being odd some of the time – they don’t get why she’s odd. Surely being diagnosed with a problem means that it will go away? Freya doesn’t have (m)any friends and she struggles despite making a list of things not to do wrong. I really empathised with this book and appreciated its next nuanced take on autism in women. The more I read, the more I recognise traits in people I know (and myself). Trying to fit in, yet never fitting in, is hard, and autistic teens will probably love reading this novel.

Boy Queen
George Lester

Robin knows exactly what he’s going to do next – go to drama college and become a dancer. When his plans don’t pan out, Robin sees a year of misery waiting for him as he waits to audition for his dream. But then Robin goes to a drag show, and it turns out his drama might need a different stage!

Aw, this was another cute novel. There were plenty of stereotypes including the asshat homophobic fling, the cute new gay guy crush and a standard straight best friend (and less standard second best friend). The idea of painting on a face was fascinating to me, because I’ve never had much time for makeup. But Drag is really an art – and this novel does a great job of showing it as a profession that takes talent, not just bitching (cue RuPaul Drag Race).

Review: Sarah Kessler – Gigged (S)

The End of the Job and the Future of Work
Sarah Kessler

“In Gigged, Sarah Kessler meets the people forging this new world of unorthodox employment: from the computer programmer who chooses exactly which hours he works each week, via the Uber driver who is trying to convince his peers to unionise, to the charity worker who thinks freelance gigs might just transform the fortunes of a declining rural town. Their stories raise crucial questions about the future of work. What happens when job security, holidays and benefits become a thing of the past? How can freelancers find meaningful, well-paid employment? And could the gig economy really change the world of work for ever?”

The book titled “Gigged” introduces the author’s concept of freelancing and the autonomy it offers in choosing one’s own jobs. Despite its publication a few years ago, the book is still relevant. The author frequently references Uber as an illustrative example, highlighting the freelance contractors of Uber drivers. Various anecdotes from other companies are included creating a comprehensive narrative.
I found the examples to be quite enjoyable. Initially, the author seems to diverge from the main topic, giving the impression of going off on tangents. However, as one progresses through the book, a rhythmic pattern emerges, allowing for a better understanding of the author’s style. The book manages to deliver a wealth of information in an easily digestible manner.

One aspect that detracted from my overall experience was the book’s heavy emphasis on American contexts, including examples and specific currency amounts. This limited scope is irrelevant to readers from other parts of the world and hampers the ability to connect with the provided examples.

Overall 4 stars. What will the future look like?

Review: AF Steadman – Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief
AF Steadman

So it turns out that unicorns are real! And, they’re limited to just a single island, everyone wants one, and they eat meat and small fluffy animals. Oh yes, and spirit unicorns are deadly unicorns that mean that if you are meant to be a spirit rider, you will fail your entrance exam to unicorn school no matter how hard you study. Skandar’s sister didn’t get a unicorn and it almost broke her – it’s up to Skandar to carry on their father’s unicorn wishes.

Seriously, if the whole island is covered with wild unicorns, how can there be any furry creatures left? There are so many plot holes. So many. Oh look, a book that will teach you everything! Oops, lost it. Wooh, got past one enemy and now assume that I’m invincible! I was very disappointed in the end of both books, particularly the second one. Has Skandar just conveniently forgotten about the other unicorn that he keeps running into?

Other reviewers have commented that it’s so unlikely that the whole world would want to believe in unicorns and watch a race once a year that determines the ruler of the magical island. I’m telling you, those people can’t be Australians! In Victoria, Australia we have The Melbourne Cup, which is horses racing around a track – ‘the race that stops the Nation’. We even get a public holiday to celebrate it! So to me, the notion that a race stopped everyone from doing anything was pretty straightforward.

I was given the first book for review, and bought the second book as a 14th birthday gift. The teenager hasn’t been raised on a diet of Harry Potter (thank goodness), she prefers Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix and other EXCELLENT books. She said that Skandar was better than Percy Jackson, the books looked attractive and there was a gift solved (the age-old gifting problem). If you grew up with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson as a child then Skandar is a weak shadow and not worth it if you are now an adult reader. It’s fine for middle-grade and teens, but I wouldn’t rate it that highly. 3-stars from me, for the right audience.

Simon & Schuster | 28 April 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Quick Reviews of Fiction eBooks #1

Big Boned
Jo Watson

Lori has been the fat girl, with an odd brother, for a long while. But she used to fit in with her artistic talents – then her mom went and uprooted their lives to find the best place for her brother. Can Lori swim? I liked this novel. Go fat girls who end up being ok with being fat. The evolution from fat girl to fat girl with a better attitude towards herself was nice! I love the claimback by Lori of being fat and being healthy not being mutually exclusive. The novel reminded me to some extent of The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge. The ending was pretty much as I expected but it was cute anyway.

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr

I received this as an ARC eBook copy a long time ago but never got into it. I read the first chaper or so, and then got distracted by other physical books. In transperancy though, I did finally read it as an ebook from my local library! I didn’t find it particularly riviting again the second time either. I struggled with Erin just having a single goal of Schoolies and her writing letters to her brother who could be in jail? We don’t even know? Until we do know, and then, oh, I hate Erin’s psychologist. I much preferred Social Queue and the non-fiction Love and Autism (I read them in very quick succession).

Social Queue
Kay Kerr

Zoe’s made it out of highschool with only a few quirks in behaviour that are the direct result of bullying – most is ‘just’ her autism. Or actually, she’s still trying to get used to being a teenager with autism, but she knows that she wants to be a writer. I enjoyed this novel much more than Please Don’t Hug Me because autism is less of a disability and more of a character trait that makes Zoe really good at some things, and not others (just like non-disabled people). Zoe reasonated with me as a character who wasn’t sure of her attraction to other people, but was willing to try going on five new dates! Even if the results weren’t what we/she expected. I think this is a great novel to add to any teenager’s shelf who struggles with being their authentic self, and learning how to love as a neurodivergent human.