Belated Book Blogger Blackout and Bullies

I am writing this post in support of the Book Blogger Blackout also known as HaleNo. A quick TL;DR for my readers who are not part of the online book community is that a few weeks ago The Guardian newspaper published author Kathleen Hale’s account of her obsession and consequent harassment and stalking of a reader reviewer who gave her a one star review on Goodreads. For those of you who would like more detail I direct you to Sunita’s Blogger Blackout post as well as Dear Author and BookThingo for  longer explanations.

 

Like Ms Bates, I too am small potatoes in the book blogger world. Not only that, but I do not post on a regular basis at all so any claim that I will not blog for a week would be superfluous. However, I do occasionally post thoughts on my reading of books both here and on Goodreads (something that I feel ambivalent about but continue due to laziness and a lack of a better alternative). In all the years that I have been making my reading accessible online I have accepted a handful of ARCs, each time making me feel awkward so I ceased accepting them. For a long time now I have only reviewed books that I have either bought for myself or borrowed from the library or from a friend. This is now my official policy.

 

As for Kathleen Hale’s stalker behaviour towards readers and the support that she has received, I am sad to say that this does not surprise me. People feel confronted when their work is criticised, they tend to get on the defensive. That Hale was given a platform from which to boast about her abuse of a reader and used defending her work as her excuse for her illegal behaviour is reprehensible. Every person who wittingly assisted Hale in her stalking of a reader is complicit in bullying. They are enablers. I was not going to weigh in on what I saw as a serious issue but one that I needed to steer clear of due to other pressing issues. But this kept niggling at me and I needed to exorcise it from my head to be able to move on with other work. (And yes, dammit! Any time that readers are attacked by the media I get angry – that is what makes me a readers’ advocate).

Bullying is, sadly, a discussion that crosses my family’s dining table on a regular basis. I will not go into details except to say that only one person in my family has been fortunate enough to not have experienced toxic, systemic bullying. To add to that one of us having been part of a successful group court case but the years leading up to that and immediately after it were harrowing. All three of us recognise the signs and behaviours of not only bullies but also the people that surround and support them (they are termed “Chicken shit followers” in my home). We also recognise the behaviour of those who should be able to stand up to the bullies but don’t either because they do not see a problem and consider complaints to be irrational and bothersome or because they are exhausted and defeated as the same battles keep occurring or because they are scared that they will be picked on next (we are somewhat forgiving of the last group). But what my family has learnt from our own personal experiences is that nothing gets resolved by keeping quiet. Be loud. Be heard. Report abuse and if the person you reported it to does not believe you, report it elsewhere. And importantly, if you see someone being abused, do not sit around and ignore it. I do believe in picking your battles and choosing to move on and protect yourself rather than fight. Life has too many opportunities to explore for anyone to waste their time trying to stick it to every toxic environment. This “move on” protects those who get bullied but our societies are less vibrant, less creative when their voices are silenced. To date (and to my knowledge), the reviewer in question has not spoken out. If she has moved on, I understand. How does one person who has a hobby they used to like fight a system as strong as a Big 5 publisher and news corporations like The Guardian?

It also makes me think that the traditional literary gatekeepers are nervous. For the author (with her familial, privileged, literary connections) to pick on one tiny review and to stalk and harass that reviewer and for these actions to be endorsed by the closed circle of literary review and commentary is another indication that these gatekeepers would love to revert back to the 20th Century where they had their closed, nepotistic enclave and readers were the adoring from afar masses who could be swayed by their words. If the literary elite can feel challenged and cowered by the small voices, the outlier hobbyists to the extent that they flex their muscle then I say that they are scared of our new breed of readers and I think we should take note. I say this because reader/reviewers, and in particular females, have been infantalised, mocked, taunted, dismissed, patronised, condescended to for centuries. HaleNo ends up being a fuck you to the establishment. A big fuck you to those who try to control reading and try to dictate to people how they should read. This control is unacceptable. The world has moved on and readers do not need guidance in how to perceive written works. Many readers have their own platform and the fact that many of them, like me, do not have a profit imperative is empowering and terrifying as they are motivated by qualities that cannot be quantified. Readers’ perception and criticism and analysis of someone else’s published work and their commodified thoughts are as valid as anyone who is in the embrace of literary circles. Even more so as they are the voices of the culture that surrounds us. The reader reviewer is the true critic for they are the embodiment of Raymond Williams’s Culture is Ordinary. They are the bus stops and the tea shops and the countryside and the world that we all live in and not those figures that live in their glass castles. Frankly, once the products of thought become exosomatic they are independent of the creator. Once they have been transferred from the mind and externalised into a book, story, article, vlog, audio recording, anything at all they are beyond the control of the creator, they are now in the realm of the consumer. It is unacceptable for the creator to harass the consumer for not liking their product. In the book reading world, every reader gets to have a say and should never be bullied.

We all know that it is scary to stand up to a bully but one loud voice at a time, we reader advocates can add our support. That is why I support HaleNo.

I’ve got my reading mojo back

I haven’t been able to get to my blog in a long time. I am in the midst of my ethics application at the moment, I am teaching Information and Media students at my uni as well as going out to my super sekrit public library casual job where I get to work on a public desk for a day a week. And that doesn’t even start on home life!

Working back in a library has been incredibly good for my reading mojo. I’ve never been an experimental reader when it comes to buying books. I’ve never felt at ease spending my money on unknown authors in case they are duds and only buy romance fiction keepers. But restricting myself to only reading romance has stifled my appreciation of the genre. I usually need to explore other books, fiction and non-fiction, to juxtapose it against romance fiction to which I always return to, and know that I can rely on it to deliver a satisfying read. The thrill of a well written book with deep characterisation is enhanced by my reading books that may or may not leave me feeling dissatisfied. But those dissatisfied reads are an expensive habit I do not have. I choose through serendipity, and I need a library to fully relax, browse and read whatever I come across without bookshop browser guilt (and let’s face it – picture books aside, it is nigh impossible to escape into a book in a bookshop). However, I am crap at using the library when I don’t work in it. My overdues pile up (I spent over $100 on fines last year) and I get paranoid that I, as a librarian, will be judged much more harshly that anyone else.

So now that I am back on a public library floor I am exploring again. Here I have short reviews of some of the books that I have read in the past month and I have several on the go. There have also been quite a few that I have stopped reading beyond a chapter (and I didn’t bother listing here). Life is too short and I have too much work on to slog through unnecessary reading torture.

Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen

Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shereen This book took me by surprise. It is all sugar and sweetness and I love the fresh colours of the illustrations. A story of how the (anthropomorphised) Good Little Wolf transforms the Big Bad Wolf. The cloying, didactic sense I felt was swiftly dismissed in the last pages and I am now buying this one for my nieces and nephews *evil auntie grin*.

 

 

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

I enjoyed reading Tara Moss’s first foray into non-fiction. Part memoir, part feminist discourse, this was an easy read (which I always equate to being the hardest to write). Relating events throughout her life to feminist issues was a relatable way to discuss the many issues women experience. I think though, that my time on twitter and tumblr following feminist discussions means that none of what Moss had written was new to me. Much of it is part of the Twitter, Tumblr and a number of other online places discussions that many people including Moss take part in. What Moss has done here is collate these many ideas and discussions and related them to her own life and development making these ideas available to readers who are not online. I definitely recommend this book.

 

Manhattan Classic: New York’s Finest Prewar Apartments by Geoffrey Lynch.

Manhattan Classic by Geoffrey LynchI love coffee table interior design books. They are some of my favourite possessions. Most libraries do not purchase many books in this genre as they are pricey and they are also so heavy that most borrowers do not want to carry these heavy tomes home (thankfully, most libraries keep statistics on inhouse use books so their use is recorded). I wanted to mention this book because I actually borrowed it through my library’s ebook collection. It was a beautifully collated book, with floor plans, detailed information about the architects of each apartment and high gloss photography. The ebook experience was a lesser one. I yearned to turn the pages, to run my hand down a photograph, to take my time exploring the floor plans. Some interior design books have embossing and different paper weights and none of this was evident in the ebook version. Frustratingly, I had to enlarge every page to get a better look at the detailing of the plans or the photographs. However, I didn’t have to carry it onto the train for my one hour commute and I read it in bed with my coffee with no fear of staining its beautiful pages.

 

Graveyard Watch by S Carey

A YoungGraveyard Watch by S Carey Adult horror story. A young boy awakens confused about who he is and where he is. His parents explain to him he is sick and they give him medication. He sees a figure in the neighbouring graveyard eyeing him and digging a grave. As the creepy events unfold in this short story, my body had goosebumps. Carey’s description of seemingly normal situations were underpinned with a sense of eeriness. The protagonist does manage to get himself out of his dangerous situation into what he believes is a safer one. This book challenges a kid’s sense of safety both in their home and in their relationships. I loved it and gave it to my son to read. Upon finishing it he told me I was not a very nice mother.

 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow RowellEarlier this year I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) Rowell’s Fangirl. Landline is more aimed at adults and didn’t satisfy me. This may be because my least favourite romance trope is “Marriage in trouble is saved”. The book has some interesting dynamics, balancing the male best-friend against her sometimes engaged and sometimes disconnected husband and there is a touch of fantasy that makes the reading more interesting. To be honest, I was left a little bit flat, so much so that even reviewing it properly feels fruitless. Sigh. I wanted to like it but at the same time, I did not dislike it.

 

Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

This is a Spoiled brats by Simon Richseries of short stories about spoiled brats. I love absurdist writing and it is often difficult to come across weird writing that resonates. The stories were well written, enjoyable and yes, absurd but they were not particularly funny (not that absurd writing has to be funny, just that I had seen reviews lauding Simon Rich as funny and hilarious). There were some shorts that I loved such as his Guy Walks Into a Bar and the dark The Tribal Rites of the Strombergs. The stories were enjoyable, disturbing and were reminiscent (though not as absurd) of Mark Leyner’s writing. Oddly enough, they also reminded me of my son’s short stories – this is not a bad comparison at all. My son has been attending creative writing classes for over four years and writes some of the most crazy, bizarre, yet considered and well paced stories I have ever come across. I think that it is more a reflection that if Simon Rich can be published (and yes, I do know of the whole family all is in publishing so he kinda had a foot in the door anyway thing), my son’s current aspiration to be a butcher (!) who writes (Robert G Barrett eat your heart out) is not that unattainable.

 

Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli

OK. SoDriving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli big huge bias alert for this one. Sandra has, over the years, become a great friend.  However, I wanted to discuss this book.

Olivia is a twice divorced woman who is having a career change from racing car test driver to a translator and Max/Emerson is her new employer – though neither of them are aware of this when they first meet when they get stuck in an elevator. I adored the cute meet in the elevator in this book. It was the perfect set up for the novel. As I was reading it, I could envision Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in that scene. From the second chapter though, I did struggle getting into the book. I think this was because I was reading the book in spurts (on trains and buses) on my phone and I really needed some reading immersion. Once I sat down at home to read it, I was much happier. I liked that Olivia had emotional baggage and that she thought in racing metaphors. I loved the hilarious fart scene in the book – so few books even allude to such body functions let alone in romances. And I also loved the sex scene. It was perfect. All tension and allusion and less sex description which these days is just over the top and tiresome. However, I found that there were too many secondary characters in this book that confused the story and felt superfluous particularly with the added confusion of the Max/Em/Emerson/Maxwell the male protagonist. I particularly love category romances for their brevity and lack of secondary characters which is why I tend to avoid longer novels so this might just be a reflection on me and not the book. I also felt the whole wedding/bridezilla setting went for too long – once again, that is a reflection of my reading preferences again. And I was perplexed by the bride’s speech patterns, using Ah/I as though she couldn’t make up her mind if she was a Southern Belle or not. But these are only minor distractions. The main thing is that I love Sandra’s zingy dialogue and pop culture references, something which has become an Antonelli trade mark. It is funny and believable. I also loved loved loved the “show don’t tell ending (which I know that others have not liked).

 

To add to all these books, I have read another 22 other titles (including a number of picture books, interior design books and six novels) in the past month. It was too many to try to fit in the one post and certainly the novels from Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Miranda Neville still settling in my mind.

Having gone through a reading slump for much of the year, reading less than 4 books a month, I am thrilled to have my reading mojo back.

 

 

 

 

 

Classic reads and their literary web series

shallowreader:

I’m a tad obsessed with web series and I was able to indulge myself in writing about my favourites over at ReadWatchPlay. Do you have any favourites or any suggestions for viewing?

Originally posted on Read Watch Play:

Classic novels that are adapted into 21st century web stories are a great way to experience old favourites or to introduce someone to a story they have not yet read as well as lead their viewers to the original text, making comments or to writing fanfictions and creating fanart. Last year, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries went on to win numerous awards inspired a number of other creators to write and produce their own favourites. Some of these series are from production studios and others are high school and undergrad student productions showcasing how awesome and creative teens can be! Web series highlights that productions are possible on a spectrum of budgets and ultimately, it is great writing that is at the core of all good stories.

  1. Nothing Much To Do is a New Zealand adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice and Bennedick spar wittily in this high school…

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Guest post: Seventy-five Days of Phobias Day 67: Vassiliki The Flying Librarian

shallowreader:

I wrote a guest post on my fear of flying over at Sandra Antonelli’s blog. I was chuffed to be included in her “75 days of phobias” posts leading up to her new book release and further chuffed to see that I scored a rather dubious acknowledgment. I’m not sure whether to say thank you or not :D

Originally posted on Sandra Antonelli:

Driving_Final[3] 12.45.14 pmTo celebrate the upcoming release of my romantic comedy, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia— (arriving in 8 days!) I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series.  A massive thank you to everyone who’s been following along and everyone who’s joined in to share. As Olivia, the heroine in Driving in Neutral says to Maxwell the claustrophobe, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” My favourite librarian and Shallowreader, Vassiliki Veros, is sure as hell proof of that.

I blame all writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, all of you. I do not blame you for my phobia, however I blame you for making it necessary for me to cope with my phobia.

planes

via Lefthandedtoons.com

I have aviophobia. When it comes to flying, I am not a particularly sane person. I fear it beyond fear. It completely fucks with my head. It turns a holiday into a nightmare, anticipation chewing at my…

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Charlotte Lamb retro comfort read

I am home sick with laryngitis and a chest infection AND a sick, feverish son. For the first few days I attended my own pity party and what is better than a comfort read at a pity party? A Charlotte Lamb angsty romance!

 

Charlotte Lamb The Girl from NowhereThe Girl From Nowhere

c 1981

Suki Black is a successful singer who exudes sensuality on the stage. However off the stage she is sheltered by her manager and his wife, Buddy and Rosie who are more like parents than managers. As the story develops, you discover that Suki was abandoned as a baby and was brought up in a refuge/home/school. Having moved out at 16, she was discovered singing in a bar by Buddy and Rosie at 17 and had been living with them for the past 5 years – working her hard but treating her well and lovingly.

Enter the hero after a kickass performance that opens the book. Joel Harlow is a  smouldering, dictating asshat of a hero who keeps turning up like a bad penny harassing Suki. At no time did I feel any warmth toward industrial magnate, Joel (whose description reminded me of Jamie Arrogance Packer). Joel becomes obsessed with Suki while he watched her perform on stage at the beginning of the book and decides that he must have her. Suki keeps saying no to him. I guess Joel is not to blame as he is a hero in a late 20th century romance, but his commandeering and browbeating of Suki was distasteful. Joel kidnaps her, forces her to kiss him, buys the company that holds her contract, buys the villa home she is holidaying in, he does not listen to no means no, in short, he is a stalker. Joel and Suki do not consummate their attraction in this book though there are plenty of punishing kisses.

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While Suki is living with Buddy and Rosie she feels protected and they too go out of their way to shield her from Joel who keeps insisting that she needs to be independent from the couple. Up until the last few pages, I found Buddy and Rosie to be the more interesting romance in the book. There is a comfortable companionship between the two which stands in contrasts to the angry coupling between the main romance protagonists. Rosie is quite the feminist and working woman. She is as much Suki’s manager as Buddy is as they are running the star management business together. It is Rosie that gives me my favourite quote in the book is when she is discussing her dislike of cooking

Cooking isn’t creative…it’s masochism. Why else would somebody spend hours making something for somebody to wolf down in five minutes

This was a magical moment for me. I am going to make a far out inference here and claim that this is how Charlotte Lamb felt about cooking and I am now even more in reader love with her and I will claim that quote as my kitchen motto and I will even embroider the sampler to go with it. But I digress…

It is when the couple discover they are having a baby after 15 years of marriage that Suki’s situation changes. Rosie, at 40, discusses the issues of having her first child as an older woman, the disruption this will have to her life and her concern that her relationship will suffer due to the interference of a baby in their life. This horrifies Suki, not because she doubts the feelings that a mother has but because of her own sensitivity at having been abandoned as a baby and she struggles reconciling herself to her friend doubting her maternal feelings.  This pregnancy causes Suki to feel like an outlier. This is more due to Rosie being sick than the couple rejecting Suki as they are unable to go on their planned holiday together and Suki goes alone….well until the bad penny turns up and asshat Joel plays on Suki’s upbringing and vulnerabilities on this issue of no longer being the centre of Rosie and Buddy’s attention.

Within a few days, Joel browbeats Suki into marrying him but at no time did I feel a love connection between the two of them. And the interesting thing is that though Joel harps on about his need and love for Suki and how nothing gets in his way of getting what he wants and Suki is what he wanted (asshattery), Suki does not declare love for him. In actual fact, she calls him on his obnoxious behaviour and tells him that he would never accept anyone talking to him like that so why should she. There is no love declaration from Suki in this book at all which allows me to imagine that the years after the book ends will be very interesting indeed.

And this makes me love Charlotte Lamb even more.

 

That was then; This is now – travelling for 30(ish) years

James Gleik/The Information

On my latest trip overseas, I noted the way travel has changed. Earlier this year I read James Gleik’s The Information. Gleik explores the birth of the information age and the impact of technology (from the alphabet, dictionaries, user generated content and information theory) on the way we live. In his first chapter Gleick tells of African talking drums and how they were used to relay messages from one village to another. This got me thinking about the way the information age has impacted my travel decisions and experiences. I think it has been easy to draw comparisons between these years because I am not a regular traveller. In 30 years, I have only been overseas 7 times so changes are much more evident. They are not gradual. So here are some of my observations:

Phones and the internet

My first visit to Greece was back in 1985 when I was 16. Though Athens, like all cities, was modern and telephones in the home were a given, my mum’s mountain village was still isolated. My sister and I were visiting with our grandmother, who was blind and mostly housebound, when we heard a PA like announcement coming over a megaphone “Can Vaia and Vassiliki, the Papadima girls, come to the cafenion to receive a phone call from your mother in Australia”. This megaphone kept going until we emerged from my uncle’s house. We took our grandmother with us. We had just been summoned to one of two phones in the village. As we walked to the cafenion all the villagers slowly emerged from the homes and followed us, curious to hear what was to be said. International phone calls were rare indeed and there is no word in Greek that means privacy. The phone line was crackling, we needed to shout down the receiver, my grandmother cried upon hearing my mum’s voice and the whole village was privy to our answers. By 1994, the whole village was connected to their phones and by 2010, due to an EU grant to encourage youth to not leave for larger towns, the whole village has wireless access. In the space of 25 years much had changed in the way isolated villages communicated with the world. They were no longer all that isolated. Youth no longer clamber to escape.

Ferry docking into Poros

Ferry docking into Poros

My aunt, who lives on an island, has wifi access in her holiday apartments for her clients so as a present I bought her a small tablet so she can Skype with my mum and other relatives. My aunt was quite happy to learn how to use this new technology – though my mum is deeply upset. She does not want to see how her family has aged. She wants to use the phone only so she can keep them young in her mind. However my aunt likes it and Skypes my mum regularly. My aunt’s wifi was fab for me. It allowed me to work from her home and it allowed me to chat daily with my husband and my youngest son (who sadly could not travel with us). I donnot think that I would have ever endeavoured to have a 6 week trip away from half of my family if I was not assured of daily contact with them.

In 1993, my sister, a friend and I travelled to Los Angeles. We arrived on the day of the Venice Beach riots. It was a tense place so we walked to a travel agent, and on a whim booked flights to Mexico City and bought a Mexico Lonely Planet. We always knew we were going to spend some time in Mexico because we had all our immunisations done but the plan had not been for the whole 3 weeks (and how funny that we perceived Mexico as safer than LA). I remember calling my parents perhaps once a week and sending a couple of postcards a week to let them know where we were. I think back to our travels backpacking across the south of Mexico and marvel that we had not organised anything. We had our guidebook and 3 weeks to get back for our flight to Sydney. I think that once my own kids get travelling, I doubt that they will travel with minimal contact over 3 weeks. I am grateful for this change. I am a worrywart and I will welcome their social media updates of any kind. This is not a bad thing.

Where is my greeting party?

Where's my Greeting Party?Both in 1994 and in 1996, I was fortunate enough to be able to go island hopping throughout Greece, so with my latest visit I relished showing the island hopping ropes to my son. However, island hopping has changed. There is now quite a different island hopping thang going on. Not necessarily a bad thang, just different and this is in part due to technological advances. In 1994, the most technology my travel had was my walkman with a mixed tape (no – My Friend the Chocolate Cake and Barry Manilow are not mutually exclusive). Back then, I was able to work out the exchange rate in my head quite swiftly so I didn’t even need a calculator. This time, I travelled with a smart phone (which only functioned as a camera – I had no phone access for 6 weeks), a tablet and a laptop. I no longer automatically exchanged currency in my head but I could record my ideas much more swiftly. I travelled with no music, dependent only on the music provided on the plane and through wifi app choices. In 1994, tickets and accomodation on the Greek islands were incredibly random. Other than a well marked Lonely Planet guide, impulse decisions ruled. You made snap decions, you chanced tickets at the port, once you arrived at your destination there was accomodation spruiking chaos. Owners of pensiones, studios and hotels were all gathered at the port shouting their tariffs and availability. Through this random method I scored both brilliant and dodgy lodgings. Now, the ports are calm, less chaotic. Most people book their own accommodation through a variety of eservices like Booking.com, lastminute.com or just the rooms that advertise on their own island’s webpage. Chancing your accomodation just seems so BI (Before Internet). I feel a sadness at this. The chaos that ensued upon your ferry arriving at an island port also felt like a greeting party. So many locals thrilled at your arrival, greeting, waving, shouting, trying to get your attention. Arrivals this time felt devoid of joy, devoid of the sense of welcome. A queue of taxis and delivery vans are the only quiet observers greeting a summer ferry docking into port.

Chattiness

What ever happened to just talking with the person sitting next to you. I’m a rather sociable
person. I will talk to anyone. I had great conversations while we were in Greece and England with taxi drivers, shop keepers, fruit stall owners and the like. But tourists and travellers now seem averse at striking up conversation. No longer are they open to the “Where are you from?” smile. There is no eye contact at all. Perhaps I am feeling old and bitter, harking back to the “good ol’ days” but there doesn’t seem to be a willingness from other travellers to meet one another. I recall travelling between Santorini and Mykonos in 1996 and meeting 2 couples. The first were really funny Canadian Jehovah Witnesses “Chill out man, we only door knock on Saturdays, today is Tuesday” whom we travelled with for an extra 4 days. We also met an older American couple who seemed intent on showing us their nifty travel clothes with handy zippers converting trousers to shorts and skirts to dresses.

I caught 10 ferries in total while I was overseas this year. I have sat next to so many people and tried to start a conversation but they all seemed much more intent in taking selfies and playing on their devices. I became the too-keen weirdo trying to strike up a conversation where previously my behaviour was the norm. I was saddened by this lack of wanting to meet new people. All the travellers seemed so intent on documenting their trips that they had no interest in the people that they were sitting alongside. I took to chatting with people who were travelling without luggage. They were the commuters who don’t seem to mind a change in their routine – the railway worker who commutes for 2 hours a day from the Isle of Wight to the Midlands to drive a train up to Liverpool and back. His 4 hour commute is bookended by beauty and a quiet place of his own away from traffic to the Santorini local who cannot afford to fly home in summer due to seasonal prices so takes the slow ferry from Athens twice a week. Island hopping has been further curtailed since Greece entered the EU and particularly with service cuts due to the financial crisis. Ferry tickets are exhorbitantly priced and impulse travelling seems much harder. I realise that I am also making these observations while I am in my mid-40s. Perhaps travellers in their 20s are still hopping on and off ferries, talking with new people and making impulse decisions and I just didn’t meet them.

Plane travel is a whole different story for me. I pity the passengers that get seated next to me on a flight. They end up holding hands with a slightly crazed, definitely phobic me. I have held hands with 2 Greek Marias, a New Zealander called Jo, air stewards aplenty and a Reiki master. Though even I edged away from the Spanish bag lady who wanted to hypnotise me. Funny thing is that after such intense hand  holding, none asked to be my Facebook friend.

Chaos and Order

The information age has brought about a lot of changes in travelling. Communication is much easier, it is a relief for parents and friends who stay at home. For the traveller there is a sense of security, an ability to document every moment as it happens but also a sense of big brother, never really being able to escape from the constant need to check in, report back or to lose yourself or reinvent yourself away from the people who have known you for a long time.

I’m not sure which of the two travel styles I prefer. There was much more freedom and friendliness in the 1990s. Travel seems much more controlled and organised in the 2010s. I went all out 1990s by not having a functioning phone but also experimented and for the first time ever I did not use a travel guidebook. I found that in all the orderliness, this allowed for a little bit of chaos. This gave me an unexpected freedom in experiencing places using only locally written information to advise me rather than using the perspective of a travel writer. Locally sourced guides felt much more genuine, less paraphrased and infinitely more informed. I like the orderliness of 2014 travel. Though the random, chaotic shouting was fun, and the sleeping on decks of ferry boats made us look homeless (an accusation I often overhead from the cabin paying passengers as they walked over my feet), the fact that I know I am holding a ticket, I have a secure booking and the fact that I won’t be turned away and forced to sleep in a train station or in a hostel mixed dorm while huddling my valuables in my sleeping bag while a tripped out Norwegian shines his torch into imagined corners around the room, makes me happy. But maybe that is more a sign of me being in my mid 40s and less a sign of liking the convenience of information technology.

My travel reading and a sense of setting

I’m rubbish at reading while on holiday. Where other people relax at the beach with a book, I reject all reading materials as I am either in the water swimming or racing around looking at every museum, shop, historical building that is close by. To add to this, my latest trip was a combination of work and play (I marked student assignments, along with PhD related conference paper writing and archive visiting), which even further lessened my reading time.

However, I did manage to read 5 novels while I was away (I won’t count the numerous picture books I read to my cousin’s kids). So for this blog only I will write about the place I read each book in as well as the book.

Alexander the Great statue in Thessaloniki

Alexander the Great statue in Thessaloniki

Before I discuss these other books I need to point out that I am both impressed and horrified that I have reverted in my reading habits. 4 years ago, I bought myself a SONY ereader and during an 8 week holiday I did not enter a single book shop and I did not buy a single book. All my reads were downloaded from my local library and Project Gutenberg. My luggage was liberated. Hallelujiah to more space for more shoes. But my latest trip has shocked me. Not only did I not use my tablet for reading but I found myself carting print books across the globe. Thoughthey are much more cumbersome, I love them soooo much more than ebooks. I can write in the margins (I don’t but I could if I chose to), I can dog ear pages (I do), I can litter my book with post it notes, bookmarks made of receipts, ticket stubs, serviettes and beer coasters. Each item becoming in itself a souvenir of the moment that I was reading. I am enjoying my reversion. I want a badge that says “Tried ebooks, didn’t work, print is my swag”. I also want to point out that I always forget to take photos when I am on holiday. I guess I am too busy being on holiday to document it.

I have already blogged about Tonya Alexandra’s Nymph and the island of Poros (Poseidon’s sanctuary and Theseus birthplace making it a perfect backdrop for reading a novel about Greek gods). I’m still in love with Book 1 of The Love Oracles and feel like I am proselytizing to anyone that makes even a passing mention to Greece or Greek gods or hot men or reading or just asking me how I am. As for the rest of the books:

Lynne Graham’s Ravelli’s Defiant Bride and Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

I was in Greece for the IASPR conference and a week before the conference I had completed my paper and all my preparation. I had 4 spare days so my son and I hopped on a 7 hour ferry across the Aegean to, what in my opinion is, the most magnificent island in the world – Santorini. I say this with confidence as I have been to islands in Australia, the Caribbean and throughout Greece and none come close to the stunning beauty of Santorini – and its glamour. So glamorous that I had to read a Harlequin Presents mega-billionaire romance to match it.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.09.46 PMMost people who know me also know that I am so totally obsessed with Lynne Graham that I cannot CANNOT follow her on any social media. She is an author that I deliberately distance myself from as I don’t want to know too much about the minutiae of her life. However she does give a hint to her personal life in her dedication which reads “For Michael and thirty-five happy years”. This gave me “awww” squishy love feelings – a book that starts with its own dedicated HEA.   I love the cover to this book. Both the stunning Australian cover and the UK cover (love me a bride cover). The book is set in Ireland and Italy so my photos are in no way reflective of the book setting. Just a sign of what I was looking at as I read.

Santorini

Santorini

Ravelli’s Defiant Bride is a classic OTT, convoluted, melodramatic plot a la the genius that is Ms Graham. The heroine, Belle Brophy’s mother was a mistress to the hero, Christo Ravelli’s sleep-around father. Belle’s mother has 5 children to the Christo’s father and when both of them die the heroine is determined to keep her brothers and sisters together. Having never met each other they are both on the defensive and behave ridiculously thus setting up obstacles they need to overcome. In actual fact Christo has only just found out about his father’s 5 illegitimate children and is ashamed of his father’s behaviour so tries to hide his father’s indiscretions by adopting out the kids. Of course, this becomes unacceptable to the Belle and the only thing that the two protagonists can think of is to marry to keep their shared siblings together (though as the reader you know that they also have the hots for each other). I loved this story, Christo slowly comes around to understanding the damage that his father’s relationship wreaked upon his younger siblings, and Belle realises that Christo is nothing like his father, a man she deeply disliked. Ultimately, just like all of Graham’s stories, this book is about belonging to a family, not that you are born into but one, that is created through love.

 

Julie Anne Long’s Between the Devil and Ian Eversea and South-East England (Isle of Wight and Berkshire)

 

Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight

Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight

I’m going to take some artistic license here as the Pennyroyal Green series is actually set in Sussex and not the Isle of Wight or Berkshire. However, I did get to Sussex a day after I finished with Julie Anne Long’s book. Firstly, let me say, that I love the Isle of Wight. Not only is it home to my fabulous cousins and aunt and uncle (albeit through marriage but I have laid my claim) but it is also so picturesque that it fills your eyes (this may sound stupid but I can’t think of a better way to translate the Greek saying “γεμίζει το μάτι”). While on the island, I also hit the motherlode of Mills & Boon from the 70s and 80 in op-shops and second-hand bookshops in Ryde. Win!

Between the Devil and Ian EverseaI loved reading this book. It’s depiction of South East England’s rolling, green hills and the flowers and the buildings and homes felt true to the places I was experiencing in my own travelling. The sense of place was certainly captured in this book. And ooooooh! I really like Ian Eversea. He is a rakish tamale. His attractiveness leaps off the pages. And Tansy, the heroine American heiress, just sparkles. But both of them have deeper, tragic pasts. Ian suffers from insomnia due to his battle-scars – both physical and psychological. Tansy has been orphaned of both her parents and is at the mercy of her kindly father’s cousin who is charged with finding her a suitable husband – and Ian Eversea is not suitable at all.

Bodiam Castle in Sussex

Bodiam Castle in Sussex

I love how the surface beauty of these two characters has all the secondary characters loving and admiring them yet it is only these two outwardly beautiful yet inwardly devastated and damaged characters that can see each others’ faults and the pain that they are both harbouring. Suffice to say, it is through understanding the difficulties and vulnerability that both Ian and Tansy hide from all their friends and admirers that ultimately bring them together.

Julia Quinn’s A Night Like This and Kent and London

In Canterbury

In Canterbury

I stayed in Kent with more fab cousins, both in Whitstable and in Bromley and aside from regularly visiting London, I also visited Canterbury, Greenwich and Hampton Court (with lovely tweep Sheila Bounford). If there is anywhere to read a Regency romance, it is while you are being a tourist in Regency London.  I particularly loved London this time around. The recent Congestion Charge has made a huge difference to the traffic on London roads and this was particularly evident on the magnificent Regent Street which is now much more pleasant and quiet to walk around. The bustle of shoppers is there but the bikes, taxis and buses are much less obtrusive than the nightmarish traffic that used to clog its roads. The sense I get when I am in shops that have been around for centuries, established long before English occupation of Australia, is similar to that which I feel in Greece. It is of countries where the importance of documented history is not only evident in their written legacy but in their built legacy.

Hampton Court Palace with Sheila Bounford

Hampton Court Palace with Sheila Bounford

Quinn’s book is set in London and Berkshire. I had been in Berkshire the week before as I was visiting the Mills & Boon archive in Reading. Reading is far from my favourite place in England – it is very urban and not all that touristy. I have been to the pretty parts of Berkshire on previous visits but I didn’t get a good sense of place from Quinn’s description of the Duke’s country estate (unlike the aforementioned Sussex). However, Quinn is great at describing London and I got a great sense of the city in her writing.

Regent Street

Regent Street, London

*sigh* I really liked most of this book. The second of Quinn’s Smythe-Smith books based on the musically challenged family from the Bridgerton series. I like that both of the protagonists are on the run from problems arising from their own actions against others. Daniel had accidently shot his best friend Hugh in the leg 3 years earlier and was on the run from Hugh’s father who swore to kill him. Anne Wynter has her own enemies so when Anne and Daniel start their flirtations both of them imperil those who are around them. I loved their witty discussions and the way they connected to each other. These two are characters who are so obviously right for each other.

**Spoiler alerts** (Skip to the next review)

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.50.34 PMBut Anne does have a “fault” and that is that she is not a virgin. She was seduced when she was younger and here is where I found fault in the story. I would have loved for this book to not have been consumated. This woman had a trust issue and did not want to lose her job as a governess to Daniel’s younger cousins. I understand the motivations and the promises they made to each other before marrying but I really felt that this story would have been infinitely more romantic if Daniel was to prove to Anne that he was unlike her seducer and could wait until after marrying her. And sure, she did not give in to her desire for him until after her job as a governess was no longer tenable so it was not as though it felt improbable. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the book (and who am I to suggest plot changes to a successful author).

 

Julie James’s It Happened One Wedding and Emirates flight London to Sydney

Emirates Flight

Emirates Flight to Sydney

Julie James is such a fab writer of contemporary romance and her latest book is awesome. I read this book on the plane on my way back to Australia. This may seem like a “no big deal” kinda comment but when you understand that I have not managed to read any book on a plane ever ever ever as I cannot ever focus on planes as I am terrified of flying. So being able to read, to get taken away by a story, and to be so engrossed in a story that I finished the book in 3 hours is quite amazing (Do keep in mind that 3 hours out of 24 flying hours still allowed for 21 hours of nervous twitching). I don’t know if this is an indication that I am slowly coping with flying, that the 4 (or was it 6 – I lost count) shots of whiskey relaxed me or that Julie James writes especially engrossing fiction. Let’s give the kudos to JJ.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 12.50.14 PMI find that few authors can pull off the “dislike each other to fuck buddies to being in love” trope well. Julie James has managed to write a wonderful book with this trope. Heroine Sidney Sinclair awkwardly finds herself as maid of honour alongside best man Vaughn Roberts, a man she forthrightly turned down when he tried to crack on to her a few hours before they met officially when their respective siblings introduced them at the announcement of their impending nuptials. The story develops as the two need to get along while they are part of the wedding arrangements. They actually spark off each other and the dialogue is sparkling. They stop disliking each other, the action gets incredibly hot but at all times both Sidney and Vaughn acknowledge that they want different things out of life than the other is offering. But this changes as they grow to like each other more and more. Vaughn is an FBI agent and even though it is the undercover case that gives him thought as to his direction in life, I loved that this book did not turn into some romantic intrigue and that Sidney at no point gets involved, deliberately or by accident, in his casework.

Gratuitous photograph of pretty gardens at Hampton Court Palace

Gratuitous photograph of pretty gardens at Hampton Court Palace

I also love the detail that James puts into her characters sense of fashion and I was so pleased to read shoe details in this book, from the Ralph Lauren shower shoes to the hero taking his shoes off on his way to bedding Sidney (excuse the cheeky hyperlink). I loved loved loved this book and I may have to reread it sober without the constant terror of plunging out of the sky into a fiery, crashing death playing in the back of my mind.

I am now home and back to reading my uni work. I have some books that are waiting in my TBR but it may take some time before I get to them. In the meantime, I will relish the books I got to read and my fabulous trip.

 

Diagon Alley, Harry Potter set

Diagon Alley, Harry Potter set

 

 

P.S. I also visited the Harry Potter set. This ranks only a side mention as it is vaguely readerly. Though I have not read the books nor have I watched the movies but I went out of 1. Pop cultural curiosity and 2. Deep love for my son who has both read the books and seen the movies and wanted to go. He was great to travel with. Funny, considerate and happy to leave most decisions to me.

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