Lashings of Sauce edited by UK Meet Acquisitions Team

Published: 1st July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
JMS Books LLC
Pages: 270
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology
★   ★ – 2 Stars

We Brits love our sauce, whether it’s what we lash on our food, read on our seaside postcards, or write in our stories. Come and enjoy a buffet of tasty LGBTQ treats!

From marriages to reunions, via practical jokes and football matches, to weresloths and possibly the oddest Tarts and Vicars party in the world, join us as we celebrate the UK Meet in the best way we know: telling the story.

As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed British Flash and Tea and Crumpet anthologies, our talented writers bring you sixteen stories about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer characters enjoying what Britain and mainland Europe have to offer, with their wonderfully diverse range of cultures and landscapes and some incredibly colourful and quirky people.

The most important thing I think any anthology needs is a strong opening story, one that will hook the reader and want them to keep going. I was curious about Post Mortem, the opening story, but it really doesn’t give you anything to grab your attention. It was unengaging and it was only my hope that there were other better stories did I keep reading. It was only by a slim chance did I actually keep going because so many times I was prepared to add this to my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. My DNF pile is small but I was getting the same feeling from the first half of this anthology that I have had with books before. The fact I told myself that I may be missing out on other good stories kept me going, I was eventually rewarded but it was a long road.

The theme of this anthology is a little vague. The introduction states it is to show off how great the LGBTQIA community have it in Britain and in Europe. It was published in 2012 when Britain was on its high from the Olympics and the Queen had her Diamond Jubilee. None of these events are mentioned in the story but 2012 was also the 3rd annual meeting of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet and to celebrate this anthology was created. The idea is sweet enough, a chance to celebrate the good times of being part of the community in Britain at the time and this is reflected in the stories in as much as they are nice stories, things aren’t complicated, there’s no altercations or conflict that I could tell due to a character’s sexuality or gender.

There are multiple trans stories, gay and lesbian romances, as well as a BDSM story. Content warning wise not every story involves sex but some do which are described in detail though not graphic or overly explicit. In a way they are the good examples of stories; the LGBTQ characters aren’t there as a plot point, nothing really centres around their sexuality, it is just a part of the overall story because it affects who they interact with and how. It isn’t an issue of contention or a problem which was refreshing.

Having said that, only half of these stories were actually interesting. Maybe even less. Many were half and half, some parts were interesting but within the same story I was bored to pieces. There were a few exceptions that only barely made the mark: Vidi Velo Vici was good, basic but had a good ending. The better ones were Dressing Down and Zones for the humour and the heart and for something like Zones it is a great story about discovery and acceptance which is subtle, but certainly there. Lost in London was another rare gem as was My Husband and Social Whirl. The rest I was not interested in, and to only have six out of sixteen stories grab my attention, it doesn’t say much about an anthology I was rally expecting more from.

The genres range from contemporary to the paranormal and magical. I found I couldn’t engage with the paranormal as much, I preferred those in modern settings. The genders and sexualities present was a great diversity and something I was impressed with. As I say, without a theme as such, the general acceptance of LGBTQ people in Britain was a great starting point because it normalised these occurrences and while it was a theme, it also showed how to make gender and sexuality naturally part of a story and not only there to be a plot point in itself.

Honestly the second half is better than the first, I am glad I persevered because I found the stories in the second half more enjoyable, certainly more diverse. Even for a LGBTQ anthology there are only so many times you can read about gay men before you start wanting to see something different. But even so, to only like six stories, there’s more issues than just that to contend with.

You can purchase Lashings of Sauce via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Non Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.

A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

I picked up this book because there were stories from authors that I love to read and the premise sounded really interesting. There’s always a risk with anthologies that a reader won’t enjoy all the stories equally and unfortunately this was the case for me. Sometimes it is only a few but I found with this collection I couldn’t engage with a lot of the stories. I wanted to enjoy them, I wanted to read about what books had an impact on these writers but I struggled to get through many of the stories. This may be my own personal issue and perhaps it was because they were personal essays and not fictional stories, but I kept putting the book down and finding reasons to skim.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, there are 32 stories in this anthology and some certainly were engaging; they were humorous and fascinating stories about how a single book, whether it was a massive dislike or a fascination with a concept, changed how the author saw the world and shaped who they wanted to be. Will Kostakis told how his hatred of a set book in primary school inspired him to write his own story, Benjamin Law wrote how he fell in love with Roald Dahl and reading things ten year olds probably shouldn’t be reading, while so many more mentioned that books were their treasures and offered them an escape. There were stories from indigenous authors and how their culture and stories impacted them, and there’s also voices from minorities in Australia who talk about never seeing themselves in books and how the culture of their parents affected the books they were exposed to.

These stories opened my eyes to how different people had access to different books, some read the same books I had read as a kid, and certainly the age ranges between these authors offered a wider range of books again. The reasons how and why these books made an impact were interesting in themselves. I’ve certainly felt this way about books I’ve read. My book was Checkers by John Marsden. I read that when I was in high school and it cemented my decision to want to write so I understand why these essays exist, I only wish I enjoyed more of them.

The format was not only essays, there were lists, comics, dot points, poems, and a few people had more than one book that shaped them. A nice surprise were the Shaun Taun illustrations sprinkled throughout. Tan asked random strangers why they read and seeing the responses sprinkled throughout with an accompanying sketch was an adorable and entertaining way to break up the stories.

Even though it wasn’t my favourite anthology, I still enjoyed seeing how so many books, especially ones I had read myself, had such an impact on these authors. Just shows you the true power of reading and how people can read the same book in so many different ways.

You can purchase The Book that Made Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (#1) by Jonas Jonasson

Published: 12th July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hesperus Press
Pages: 396
Format: Paperback
Translator: Rachel Wilson-Broyles
Genre: Fiction
★ – 2 Stars

It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. 

Having this on my TBR list for years finally ended as I read this and…it’s ok. I guess. Maybe. It’s a Swedish Forrest Gump style book where Allan unintentionally interacts with some of the major points of human history and the roles he played in them. However, despite this premise, the only parts even remotely interesting were the present day events. I didn’t mind the flashbacks in the first half, Allan’s life was funny, strange, tragic and bizarre, but about the half way point my interest was waning and I could not stay focused on the events. I found myself skimming and skipping until the present day picked up again. By the end of it I was skipping those chapters entirely and to be honest I noticed no difference in the story even at the end I was so uninvested I accepted the events and just went with it.

The flashbacks to Allan’s life have very little to do with anything that happens aside from giving us an insight to his previous adventurous life. Even the brief revisit to them in the present day is essentially pointless. They are not even depicted as Allan telling his story so the question of a reliable narrator never comes up, it’s just there as a comparison to his current adventures.

The present day plot is the most interesting part of this semi-interesting story. Allan’s adventures do not go unnoticed, there is a dedicated policeman trying to follow behind and work out what has happened and trying to solve the trail of crimes and mysteries that follow Allan. This gave off strong Monty Python and the Holy Grail vibes which increased my enjoyment.

The writing is filled with dark humour and while you may have to be prone to enjoy such humour it does throw it in your face probably more than necessary. I did not feel much connection to this story and while Allan is a mildly apathetic character, as are most of them in some way, Jonasson relies on the reader finding his manner charming and quirky and as these unfortunate and absurd events play out that should be enough to engage us.

Credit to Jonasson, it is a clever concept and I’m glad it has been enjoyed by so many people. I couldn’t quite engage with the story and I’m wondering now that Allan’s entire life has been explained, the sequels will focus more on his further adventures and less recap of his life.

I watched the movie afterwards and it was a whole lot better than sitting through the book. It is quite true to the events in the book and seeing the events play out on screen made them more enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend that over the book if you are looking to see what all the fuss is about without reading the book.

You can purchase The Hundred-year-Old Man… via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Dark Lands: Requiem (#1) by Lyn I. Kelly

Published: 26th August 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Lulu Publishing Services
Pages: 216
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Life. Death. Time. They have now been circumvented. Welcome to the Dark Lands. In this cataclysmic realm where the most benevolent and most caustic of souls wage war for the rights to eternity, siblings Webb and Sundown Thompson find themselves reborn. If they are to survive they will have to overcome their fears and prejudices, understand the powers inherent within them, and navigate the trials and temptations that surround them. The tide of battle is turning and the influence of evil under the reign of the Dark Man is growing. It is their world. It will effect everyone’s future. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I was intrigued by the premise of this story, a limbo-type world where you’re dead but haven’t moved on. The battle for good and evil rages on and these two siblings have been pulled into the fight upon their untimely deaths. Our introduction to the world is filled with immediate danger and suspense and with no baseline anything could quite possibly happen.

There isn’t a lot of depth in the characters but you almost don’t notice as there is a lot to take in. Sundown accepts her place in this new land fairly easily but Webb has a lot of questions, as does the reader, about the workings of this place. Webb is used to fill in these gaps as Kelly uses his queries to explain things to readers. There are of course comparisons to Harry Potter’s world in the magical schooling aspect, but there is a uniqueness as well.

With his inquisitiveness a lot of Webb’s personality is brought forward. He is hot-headed, impatient as he wants a result and he wants answers. This is where you can understand a lot of Webb’s feelings, removed from his life into this war with no real say is bound to cause anger and I think if Kelly had both characters accept their fate then this would be unsatisfying. Sundown’s age and nature plays a role in her decisions but it also makes for conflict especially when Webb’s anger has consequences in itself.

The concept is interesting and Kelly has a lot of mysteries which she leaves clues for throughout but I wasn’t entirely captured by it. There is a touch of predictability and while some aspects were engaging, other parts were not. The writing is ok and the premise is interesting but I couldn’t get right into the story. I didn’t really care about the characters and whether that had something to do with their lack of depth I’m not sure. Being the first in a series no doubt things will develop further but aside from a few moments, I’m not really engaged enough to keep going.

You can purchase Dark Lands via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

 

 

December’s Wish by Karly Lane

Published: 7th November 2013
Publisher:
Createspace
Pages: 182
Format: Paperback
Genre: Romance Novella
★   ★ – 2 Stars

Christmas Creek is a small town struggling to stay alive but December Doyle has a plan that will breathe life back into the rural community once more.

Seth Hunter holds nothing but contempt for Christmas Creek.

After being framed and sent to jail in his youth, he returns to town a wealthy businessman with plans of his own for the town… he plans to destroy it along with everyone that ever looked down on him, including, December’s father, Jack Doyle.

Revenge brought him back, but he soon discovers that old insecurities die hard in a place that holds so many painful memories, and all the years he’d spent orchestrating his big plan hadn’t taken into account that December still owned his heart.

A story of lies, betrayal and revenge in the Australian high country. 

This is an easy read, not quite the tale of lies and revenge I was expecting and my second try at a Karly Lane story. I picked this up because I needed a Christmas story for bookclub and it was short. It wasn’t a terrible read, it is idealistic and what these novellas are: quick stories about why two people can’t be together overcoming those reasons and being together.

With novellas there is always a lot to cram in if you want to fully understand the characters involved but there was a balance between understanding who these people are and what their stories were. The Christmas theme was curious. December’s idea to make the town a tourist Christmas spot was on point for the story and very wholesome, even if it’s a little cheesy.

There is a mixture of flashbacks and present day story to show various points in the main two character’s lives. One thing that was frustrating was there was no distinction between these flashbacks and the present day. It is only there a few times but it was quite confusing for a moment thinking some things were happening in the present day. Even a page break or some formatting to clear up the confusion would be helpful.

Lane has done a decent job in giving a well-rounded understanding of these characters, even in such a short story. I liked Seth’s character even though I was perplexed by his reasons for being there. His own bitterness and spite towards the town is a fun thing to watch as he annoys everyone with his charm. His own pettiness is partly justified but also obviously deeply engrained if he is going to put this much effort into his “revenge”. December is a hard working woman who loves her town and doesn’t want to see it die. She is strong-willed and passionate and while she comes off a little innocent she is also a believer in doing the right thing.

If you are looking for an easy read with a nice happily ever after then this is a good place to start. There is charm and a slight naivety in December’s character but nothing overly off-putting. The Christmas theme was a bit cheesy but it has a small town charm as well.

December’s Wish is no longer in print but it was re-released as a full length novel re-titled Third Time Lucky

You can purchase Third Time Lucky via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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