Monthly Archives: July 2014

Book Reviews Reading

Review: After by Sue Lawson

I love it when I strike it lucky at the library. I wasn’t even going to browse the YA shelves. I was picking up some books on the Philippines, and letting my kids choose some books, when I happened to stroll past and spot this one.

All I saw was the spine but the title, After, made me wonder: after what?

It’s clear from the blurb on the back that something has happened, and we’re going to find out the aftermath. I didn’t even bother reading the first page. I just grabbed it and rushed after the kids. 🙂

afterWhat is it?

After by Sue Lawson

First published 2009

A contemporary, young adult, dealing-with-stuff novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

What happens when you’re not the cool kid at school any more?

CJ has been banished to the country to live with his grandparents. No one asks him if he wants to be there. It seems like no one really cares. And no matter how hard he tries to outrun it, trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.

Why should I read it?

Because when bad things happen they take a toll, and you can’t always run away from them.

The story is told mostly in the present as CJ (Callum) deals with living with his grandparents and starting a new school. But spread throughout are a series of flashback chapters (titled Before…)* that slowly reveal the incident that caused Callum to end up where he is.

It’s fairly straight forward, there are few sub-plots, but we get to see Callum battling his self-hatred. And I’m a big fan of emotional turmoil, so I enjoyed it.

Find out more about Sue at

* I was super excited about this. One of my current WIPs starts in the middle of the story, and then fills in the background with a series of flashback chapters. Now I know I’m not completely crazy and it can be done.


The Playdough Analogy

For me, writing is like playdough (not Play-Doh, which comes ready made and would be so much easier).

First I take the raw ingredients–flour, water, salt, oil–and mix them up together.  Add a little food colouring and set it aside to cool.

Now, I have something I can work with.


photo credit: Frederic Poirot
via photopin cc / Text added

I pull it apart, roll it, stretch it, join it together to make horses, or birthday cakes, or little people.

Sometimes I find things aren’t working. The horse looks like a dog, so I smoosh it up and start again. Maybe I use the tail to be a candle on the cake. Or the mane becomes a little person’s hair.

It would be so much easier if I could just take the flour, water, salt and oil, and turn them into a happy little family (with pets and birthday cakes) and avoid the middle step. But I don’t work that way.

Sometimes (like at the moment) I don’t have enough playdough. I roll it out thin but I can’t make it stretch far enough. I despair that my little family will never be complete.

Sometimes it goes all hard and crusty or dry and mouldy and I have to throw it away.

And sometimes, just when I need it, someone comes along, looks over my shoulder, and says “That’s a nice looking horse you’ve got there.” Or “What a great little family.”

So I go back to the kitchen, grab the flour, water, salt and oil, and make another batch.


Book Reviews Reading

Review: The Fault in Our Stars – Why it didn’t work for me

When I started blogging, I set myself some rules. I decided not to talk about things I don’t like. (1) What’s the point? If I don’t like something, I just toss it aside and move on. No point dwelling on it when there are other, happier things I could be thinking about. And (2) it would probably just annoy the people who do like it. And I don’t want to be responsible for putting negative vibes out into the world (or having them bounce back to me).

But I’ve decided to break that rule, and explain why The Fault in Our Stars didn’t work for me. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, because I’m not the gatekeeper of what’s “good” and what’s “bad”, and I don’t actually think it was a “bad” book. It just didn’t work for me. Here’s why:

the_fault_in_our_starsWhat is it?

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

First published 2012

A contemporary, young adult, romance novel.

Why should I read it?

It’s gritty. And honest. And life-affirming. Nothing like getting into the head of someone who’s dying from cancer to remind you how lucky you are.

Why didn’t it work?

  1. The love story didn’t work for me.
    I didn’t buy it. I didn’t FEEL it. It’s not enough to tell me you’re in love. I need to see the proof. I need the racing hearts, the sweaty palms, the tongue-tied embarrassment. I didn’t feel any of that. It all felt very clinical. We’re in love because the book demands it!
  2. The plot didn’t work for me.
    They go to Amsterdam to track down a reclusive writer of a book Hazel is obsessed with. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the fictional book, I didn’t care about the fictional writer or his self-important monologues, I didn’t care about their supposed intelligent discussions of said book. If I wanted to talk about a book, I’d join a book club.
  3. The characters didn’t work for me.
    Who talks like that? You know who–the Gilmore Girls. And I know people have argued that of course Hazel and Augustus don’t sound like your stereotypical teenagers, because cancer changes you–makes you face things and grow up. Except half the time they did act like stereotypical teenagers. And yes, I’m sure there are actual, honest-to-god teenagers who talk like they’re reading a prepared speech. But it didn’t endear them to me. And if Augustus called her “Hazel Grace” one more time, I swear I would have crawled inside the book and slapped him.

So, what did work?

You may be wondering why I even bothered reading this book if I hate it. But I don’t hate it. I never would have made it to the end if I did. So, I’ll take a minute to tell you what did work for me. Let’s start with the bits that made me cry. (Your edition may vary.)

  1. Page 25 – “I remember my mom telling me it was okay, that I was okay, that I would be okay…”
  2. Page 99 – the grenade analogy
  3. Page 103 – more on the grenade analogy, and Hazel’s parents aren’t sentimental people
  4.  Page 117 – “I won’t be a mom anymore.”

It’s pretty obvious from the above list, that the bits that got me related to her parents. Maybe because I’m a parent, but watching this couple go through the heartache and helplessness of coping with the imminent death of a child hit me where it hurts.

I also really liked Isaac, and particularly the video game/bawling session. I feel your pain, mate.

There you go. That’s why The Fault in Our Stars didn’t work for me.

Have you read it? Did it work for you? And did you cry on the same pages as me? Or have I completely missed the point?