Review: Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey

The final review for book week is for Jasper Jones. It’s my book of the week!

Western Australia, 1965 and a girl is dead. For Charlie Bucktin, he receives this news before anyone else in the town, when Jasper Jones taps on his window late at night and asks for help in hiding the body. But Charlie’s no accomplice to murder, because the only crime Jasper is guilty of is being half-Aboriginal, and being involved romantically with Laura, the dead girl.

And so begins Charlie’s story, where against the searing WA sun he struggles with the weight of helping Jasper and keeping the terrible secret of disposing of Laura. If that wasn’t enough, Charlie has to deal with racism and violence against his best friend’s family (they’re Vietnamese), locks horns with his irredeemable mother and falls in love for the first time, with Laura’s sister.

Although the story bears Jasper’s name, it’s really more of a symbolic thing, the story is Charlie’s and Jasper doesn’t actually appear that much. But when he does he makes an impact; Silvey has a gift for creating realistic dialogue for characters. I loved Charlie and his best friend Jeffrey Lu’s banter, in particular their discussion about who is best of the superheros.

Charlie is a great character – bit precocious, but that assists us in believing Charlie is the one person in town Jasper would turn to. And Jeffrey Lu dances off the page – I loved him and didn’t even mind that his greatest love was cricket. I mean, I read several pages dedicated to describing a cricket game and actually enjoyed it. Didn’t understand any of it: “The next ball is flipped easily down wide of fine leg” (what?) but I didn’t care because it was entertaining and tense and I was totally in Jeffrey’s corner.

As a coming of age story of course our hero Charlie is a bit of an awkward misfit and his internal thoughts about how he appears to others are at times hilarious: “Jasper pauses to feed a cigarette into his mouth. Wordlessly, he shakes the battered pack my way. I’ve never smoked before. I’ve certainly never been offered one. I feel a surge of panic. Wanting both to decline and impress, for some reason I decide to press my palms to my stomach and puff my cheeks when I wag my head at his offer, as if to suggest that I’ve smoked so many already this evening that I’m simply too full to take another.” I laughed out loud.

A few things to nit pick on – at times the staccato rhythm of too many short sentences at once grated on my nerves, there was never enough Jasper, I never really truly understood why Jasper chose Charlie to help him (although I accepted it) and I was disappointed in the direction Silvey took Charlie’s mother. She ends up as a two-dimensional evil type character when I was hoping for more than that for her.

My copy has “an Australian To Kill a Mockingbird” printed on it, and while I get the similarities: small town, racism, Boo Radley type character, coming of age etc, it’s not quite at that level. Actually I think the prejudice against Jasper could have been pushed even further than it was, for more impact, and to raise the stakes.

However, minor details aside, I loved this story. When my working day was done and it was time to read I couldn’t wait to jump back into the pages and find out what was happening with Charlie, Jasper and Jeffrey. If I’m paying $23.99 for a book than this is the kind of writing I want to read.

Book rating 4.5 sparkly stars out of 5.

Review: Panic, by Lauren Oliver

“Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.”

imagesDo you stop breathing, close your eyes, clench your fists? Or do you give in to hysteria; run in circles, cry, hyperventilate? Whichever option you go with, when you panic you usually don’t go anywhere. Except in the town of Carp, where the game of Panic is one person’s golden ticket out of a dead-end life and into the world.

The annual, high-stakes game of Panic, like an uber truth or dare (minus the truth part) is held every summer when graduating seniors contribute to a cash prize with the winner taking all. For Heather, Panic is an escape, for Dodge it’s his opportunity for revenge.

I really liked Panic, and breathed a sigh of relief when I opened it to find a solid third person, past tense narrative. I’m not a fan of present tense, and the last few books I’ve reviewed have used that.  Combined with a first person show-not-tell style of narrative, I was getting kind of tired of being inside some of these character’s heads (Second Chance Summer, I’m looking at you). I was hankering for some technique and Panic delivered.

This was fast paced, with action, some mystery, nuanced relationships and characters and a love story on the side.

The story is told via alternating points of view from Heather and Dodge. In a refreshing move for a contemporary YA story with split perspective, these two main characters aren’t each other’s love interests and this keeps the narrative from becoming too insular. However, for me the story was Heather’s. She was more developed and I found her connection with her little sister and desire to protect her from a terrible home life a little more fleshed out than Dodge’s backstory.

Oliver creates the setting of the hopeless town of Carp realistically, I even found faint shadows of the way Stephen King draws his small towns, with their bubbling undercurrent of violence. Her description of the action is tight and well paced. There were some minor quibbles I had with the writing, in particular some actions became a little repetitively played out. For example, it seemed like every time Dodge smoked a cigarette it was never because he wanted one, but just to use it as a prop in the midst of an existential thinking session. And I’m being super picky here but there was a typo with one heading chapter entitled ‘Dedge’ instead of ‘Dodge’. It’s not a reason to rate the book down however, the obvious mistake did pull me out of the story for a bit, and I’m a bit sad that e-books seem to have a multitude of typos and mistakes in them these days. Where’s the editing love?

The ending was a little rushed, and it’s my opinion Heather was a bit too quick to forgive some major transgressions by her friends, but on the whole the suspense, original concept and complex characters kept me interested. Apparently the movie rights have been optioned. I’d love to see this as a movie, with some Friday Night Lights style cinematography I think it would really work.

Book rating: four out of five: two very enthusiastic thumbs up!

Review: The Edge of Falling, by Rebecca Serle

The-Edge-of-Falling-Rebecca-Serle-UKDisappointment station. I can’t review The Edge of Falling without making some comparisons to Rebecca Serle’s first novel, which I was utterly delighted by: When You Were Mine.

When You Were Mine is a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, from Rosaline’s point of view. You know – the lady Leonardo Di Caprio is utterly in love with before he meets Claire Danes?

I LOVED that idea and its execution, played out in modern Southern California like an episode of The O.C, completely worked. The fact we’re expecting a tragedy gave it depth and darkness. Rosaline is a likeable character who has to mourn for her childhood friend turned boyfriend Rob twice: when he meets Juliet and when he dies. They way she gets through that and finds some hope was both heartwarming and breaking. It was an original take on an old idea.

Imagine my disappointment when I find The Edge of Falling is just a reheated approach, following the same format of taking inspiration from a famous story and retelling it. This time around it’s The Catcher in the Rye that cops it as we’re clumsily introduced to Mcalister Caulfield (or Caggie, as she goes by, which in terms of ‘C’ names in YA books tops the list as the worst). The book proposes Holden Caulfield was a real life person whose story inspired Catcher, and that Caggie is his granddaughter:

“This wasn’t the first time people associated me with that character. Is it true? Was my family somehow the inspiration for his story? That would be impossible to tell. And I wouldn’t anyway. Tell, I mean. This is my story. Not his.”

Except it’s not. It’s The Catcher in the Rye, a watered down version, with a dead sibling and an unstable protagonist. I felt really disappointed by this – as her second novel I was expecting something new and original and the story could have been told as such, without the Caulfield references. It’s not like Salinger owns all the stories about grief, lost siblings and emotional instability and so the only way to write this was to reference him. Serle had all the bones for a story that could stand on its own two feet, instead, she ambitiously chose to ride Salinger’s coattails, which perhaps for the reason that we don’t have 400 years of time separating us from his stories, seems a feat way more ambitious than riding Shakespeare’s.

The Upper East Side Manhattan setting and Serena-like character Claire had me making unfavourable Gossip Girl comparisons and the romance with Astor had me checking my watch. It was very blandly written, no emotion, with a lot of: “he starts kissing me” “when he starts kissing me” “he sits up and starts kissing me”. There’s some more feeling when Caggie kisses Trevor: “His lips feel like relief”, which is nice, but if I’m buying that Caggie is losing herself in some deep dark attraction to Astor Imma need more details than “he starts kissing me” to make it feel real.

Things that did work for me: the examination of how different family members cope with grief was done very well. I did get a strong sense of how isolated Caggie felt within her family, and I understood her guilt. The flashbacks drew her sister Haley as a sweet, dynamic character, one that adds some spark to the book. There were some heartbreaking moments: “It doesn’t get better; it gets worse. I miss her every single day. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what about death? What happens when you know there will never come a time when the ache will be alleviated? How do you deal with missing someone forever?” That brought a little tear to my eye.

The ending is strong and helps make up for a lackluster start, but sadly, The Edge of Falling was a bit of a slog to get through and not something I’ll be picking up again soon.

Book rating: two stars out of five. I’ll just be over here rereading When You Were Mine.

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales

ThisSongWillSave300-675x1024Please note this book and review discusses suicide. 

Elise is 16, a little different, a victim of bullying and more than anything, desperate to be seen. After surviving a half-hearted suicide attempt, Elise is back in school, where unfortunately things are no better for her and she continues to be atrociously bullied for the simple fact she is ‘uncool’. However, things improve when she starts DJ-ing at a club and meets some cool kids, including of course, a DJ who goes by the name of ‘Char’.

Incidentally, I’ve read a glut of YA and NA novels lately and noticed a significant number of character names starting with ‘c’.  Is this a thing? You have to have a character named Charli, Charley, Caymen, Callie, Caleb, Chase, Claudia, Chloe, Cath or Char or you won’t get published? Anyway.

This Song Will Save Your Life is another rave reviewed book on Goodreads, but for me it didn’t quite get there.

What worked: the depiction of bullying, what Elise goes through every day at school simply because she doesn’t fit the mould like everyone else was very realistic. Kids and people are this cruel and not one of the bullying scenarios seemed over the top to me. It made perfect sense that Elise doesn’t trust anyone and feels like she’s being punked whenever anyone pays her attention.  I never doubted Elise’s motivations throughout the story.

I also really liked the theme of having music help to pull Elise out of the dark. When you’re a teenager, more than any other time, music makes your world go round. When you find that song that speaks to you, that feels like it was written just for you, something kind of magical happens. For Elise she literally finds it a lifesaver: “When I thought about suicide…I thought about all the songs I had left to discover and all the songs I had left to play.” I love this quote, and the idea that music is a gateway to the tiny, every day, worthwhile things in the world.

What didn’t work: Elise’s meteoric rise to DJ at club Start didn’t seem realistic, in any way, and I had hard time suspending my disbelief. I would have liked a bit more development for this aspect of the story. In addition, I am not a fan of people who think only certain genres of music are cool or worthy. I think the world is a better place now that we have Call Me Maybe in it ok, I don’t only want to listen The Cure or The Smiths. A bit of bubble-gum pop makes the world go around, and so I didn’t enjoy the music elitism.

Elise’s relationships (other than the one with Char) could have been developed more, particularly with her Dad. While I related to Elise, I didn’t necessarily like her – she kind of has a superiority complex that gets in the way of how she relates to people. Maybe a third person narrative would have opened up that aspect of her character a bit more and allowed us some more insight into her relationships, but with first person I felt her view on her relationships was somewhat narrow.

And strangely, for a book with such dark subject matter, that so honestly discusses suicide I sometimes found the emotional reach wasn’t deep enough. The tone of the story was meant to be lighthearted, but this created a barrier. I expected to be put through the emotional wringer when I first started reading, but the story didn’t take me there.

Overall book rating: 2/5, I’d rather watch Empire Records for the nine millionth time than read this one again in a hurry.

Review: Second Chance Summer, by Morgan Matson

second+chance+summerI’ve come to believe that Goodreads + teenage girls = incredibly misleading book reviews. I downloaded this one because of the hysterical “Oh, Em, Gee – all the feels!” reviews, thinking surely this book, with its multitude of five star reviews will pack an emotional punch. You know what though? Not so much.

I’m not completely heartless, I did feel somewhat moved by the storyline: Taylor and her family go back to their lakehouse after five years to spend their last summer with their father who is dying of cancer. Taylor’s not too keen on going back to the lakehouse, because she wants to avoid boy next door Henry and former BFF Lucy, who are mad at her for a reason that is built up to be so dramatic, but is actually so minor that I don’t even remember what it is, three weeks after finishing this story.

You’d have to be robot not to find the Dad dying storyline mildly upsetting, at the least. However, I wasn’t really given a chance to work out how I felt about it, because the story banged me over the head every second sentence with how sad and terrible it all was. It was all tell and no show, for example, did we really need the last half of this sentence: “Like every year, the summer was moving much too quickly – but I now had more of a reason to need it to slow down than just not wanting to go back to school” or this whole bit: “But implicit in that was what was staring me in the face every time I looked at the calendar – that this would probably be the last time he would see it.” I would have been much more impacted by this story if I had been allowed to get there on my own – I didn’t need this much help navigating the character’s thoughts.

The ‘tell, not show’ feeling was exacerbated by the first person narrative, which was basically a running commentary describing a series of actions. There’s a lot of: “I kicked off my flip flops” “I pulled an apple from one of the bags” etc. All this description, and yet I never really grasped Taylor as a character. On one hand, she feels quite immature for 17, on the other, her voice is obviously written by someone much older than her. I found all the other characters better drawn than her, especially Lucy and her brother Warren, whose quirks and voices were so much stronger and realistic.

The ending was quite heartfelt, with a genuinely cute romantic gesture from the lead love interest, however unfortunately, Second Chance Summer read like it could have used some more time in the editing process and failed to keep me invested.

Overall, as a don’t-need-to-think-too-hard beach read, Second Chance Summer is fine, but it didn’t make me cry buckets of tears, and judging by Goodreads, I must be the only one.

Book rating: 1.5 bored stars out of 5.

Have you read this one? Did it make you cry?

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012I wish so much I had bought the physical copy of this and not downloaded it. I want to see this nestled on my bookshelf with my other loves, where it rightfully belongs, not locked in its electronic prison being held hostage by a flat iPad battery.

On the strength of Eleanor and Park, which I loved, (but didn’t everyone?) I downloaded Fangirl with high hopes and they were met. Fangirl is a quiet little story, content with meandering along as our main character Cath starts to define who she is. A typical coming of age story sprinkled with some originality, I absolutely loved this book, and that’s because I related so strongly to Cath. If you don’t, you may feel a little impatient with the pace of Fangirl.

Cather, twin sister to Wren (Cather…Wren…this is a bit cutesy but I let it go) is a study in duality. In real life, she’s the president of introverts, completely socially awkward and basically unwilling to engage with others. However, online she’s hugely popular Simon Snow (i.e. Harry Potter) fan fiction writer, with fans of her own.  Cath starts college with one foot firmly planted in her old life, and we follow what happens when she’s forced to let go of her Dad and sister and start to create a new world.

The dialogue really keeps this story cracking along, it’s snappy and clever without being too Dawson’s Creek-like. With the exception of Wren – I felt disconnected from her considering she’s Cath’s twin, but I feel this is deliberate and serves to highlight how Cath feels about her for most of the story – all of the supporting characters were really well established.

In particular I liked Reagan, Cath’s college roommate, who eventually warms to Cath and provides her with some much needed balance, and Cath’s Dad, who won me over with this: “Honey, I’ve watched a lot of 90210. The parents weren’t even on the show once Brandon and Brenda went to college. This is your time – you’re supposed to be going to frat parties and getting back together with Dylan.” Brilliant.

Cath’s Simon Snow fan fiction was interspersed throughout the novel, which didn’t always work. At times I found it a little too long and I was impatient with it, just wanting to get back to the story, but other times, when the fan fic strongly paralleled what was happening to Cath it did help to heighten the emotion. This especially worked when it came to the love story (of course there’s a love story). The fan fiction aspect was interesting and not something I thought I’d accept as much as I did. I kinda fall on the side of one of Cath’s professors – fan fiction to me seems a little like cheating – someone else has already done the hard yards and created the world and the characters, so is it really an art form that can stand alone? But once I was done with Fangirl I understood a bit more about the passion that can drive fan fic.

I really related to how hard it was for Cath to break out of her enforced inertia and leave her old life behind. As an introvert, the idea that Cath would find walking into her college cafeteria too terrifying, and instead eats protein bars for the first few days is totally realistic to me. It was so great to read about a socially awkward chick, who, in her one-on-one interactions is really witty, sharp and actually not at all awkward. Fangirl is now one of my new favourites.

Book rating: 4/5. Rainbow Rowell writes very lyrically; at times this can be a touch overdone, and she lost me with this line: “She remembered his flannel shirt. And his needy, pink mouth.” ICK. His needy, pink mouth – this terrible, alien-like imagery repulsed me, so one star removed for that!

Welcome to book week! Divergent trilogy review ahead!

Welcome to book week! I have been reading so much Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA) lately that I thought it best to write some reviews of the stories lest they all blend into one super mutant story in my mind. Welcome to my first (but hopefully not last) book week, where I’ll post one review every day this week.

My two rules for book week: It’s my pledge will be as spoiler free as possible. And I’ll keep my criticism constructive – I have great respect for people who’ve sat themselves down and committed to the hard task of writing, so even if I didn’t really love a book, I’m not about to rain all over that parade.

Let’s get started with the Divergent trilogy!

Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

I promise this review will be Hunger Games comparison-free.

photo26

Theo James as Four is the reason I’m going to see Divergent and I’m not about to apologise for that. I never promised to be highbrow…

I have been totally late to the Divergent bandwagon, only reading these because I saw the trailer for the movie, which I thought looked good on the basis of a hot guy (Theo James) and some cool-looking action. The benefit about being late to bandwagons is you can binge read the whole series and avoid the agonising wait for the final. Sometimes this wait can be wonderful, each moment of anticipation made even sweeter by how epic the final product is (Harry Potter). But there’s always the risk you’ll be rewarded with your wait with a Breaking Dawn. So you can see why I like to be late to bandwagons sometimes.

I’d been vaguely aware of the existence of this series and had written it off as a bit too sci-fi for my tastes. However I believe in book before movie so I dutifully downloaded Divergent with minimal expectations.

Overall, as a series I was really into it. A quick summary: it’s a dystopian future, with a city divided into factions: Abegnation, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity and Candor. Each person over 16 must undertake aptitude tests to see which faction they fit into – however they can still choose to go against the results. As indicated by the title, the main character Tris is Divergent: displaying equal aptitudes for three factions, instead of one and able to remain aware and even manipulate the mental simulations that are a part of this society. Divergents are seen as dangerous; unpredictable and uncontrollable they are a threat to the social system. The novels explore what this upset in the system means for this world, examining the themes of power, corruption and how trusting/distrusting a societal system can impact on individual relationships.

One of the things I loved the most about the series was the relationship between Tris and Four. Hooray for a relationship in YA that allows the girl to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time, and establishes feelings based on personality traits, and not just physicality. Veronica Roth allows Tris and Four to fundamentally disagree on many things, to spend time apart without the world ending and gives them room to breath and be with other characters. I thought it was a healthy and refreshing approach. I’m all for epic love in my YA (and in all my fiction actually) but I think it’s really unhelpful for younger readers to be constantly fed unrealistic fairytale versions of relationships of kids in love after a single glance. I liked that their relationship was a slower (if predictable) burn and they clashed and challenged each other every once in a while.

The other theme I really enjoyed was family, and the question of how strong your roots are once you choose another lifestyle. When Tris chose a different faction to her family I expected her to dive into that world and to never really hear much about her mother, father and brother again, but I was pleasantly surprised. They continued to play a major role, especially in her thoughts and I loved she struggled with wanting to please them while trying to carve her own path.

Finally, the action scenes were totally awesome.

Overall, as a series it started off strongly with Divergent, evened out with Insurgent and had a problematic third chapter with Allegiant.

Here are my thoughts on the individual books:

Divergent

The first and best of the series is an absolute cracker. It’s fast paced, but the main and supporting characters are developed nicely.

I enjoyed getting to know this world, in particular the training sessions in the Dauntless faction were fraught with tension and action and helped to really set up the world and the characters, especially Tris.

The story and action kept me on my toes and up way past my bedtime and any complaints I might have had were lost in enjoying a really good story. There’s nothing more to say – I really liked this book and it stayed with me long after reading.

Insurgent

Insurgent is mostly about revealing truths and motivations – both of individual characters and the government of the world they’re living in.

In the second book Tris is bearing the weight of decisions she made during the climatic action scenes of Divergent, losing herself in guilt and grief. She kind of falls into martyr syndrome, believing she has to singlehandedly save the world without any help from her friends. Tris is a bit silly in her decisions and in this way she reminded me of Ellie from Tomorrow When the War Began – a bit too headstrong and rash for her own good. This is a logical progression for her character from Divergent, so while I did find myself a bit impatient with her at times I let it go. She’s been through some stuff ok?

Mostly I found Insurgent a satisfying follow up, it was still action packed and the characterisation was realistic. I didn’t really care too much about plot holes and some feelings of repetition (pacing was a little off in this one) because I was being entertained. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the ending and this feeling extended into Allegiant.

Allegiant

Allegiant just didn’t work for me. It’s hard to constructively criticise what I didn’t like about it without talking about specific plot details, so I’ll try not to be vague, while at the same time not ruin anyone’s life with unnecessary spoilers.

First problem – Allegiant is told from both Tris and Four’s perspectives. When I got to Four’s first chapter I actually said “oh no” out loud and put the book down in disappointment for a few seconds. The strength of this series was Tris and her story. I felt she was a reliable enough narrator that I had always been able to understand events and feelings from another character’s perspective without her getting in my way. And I liked learning about Four through Tris, it added to his mysterious vibe.

Unfortunately, Four’s voice was not distinguishable from Tris at all – several times I was in the middle of a chapter and thought “why would she say that?” before checking the front of the chapter and finding I was actually reading Four.

The Four in my head from previous books also didn’t match the guy on these pages. The split perspective did not work for me at all and once I started focusing on the mechanics of the storytelling, I lost interest in the actual story.

Secondly, their love story started to verge into cliché territory. Sentences like: “She sighs and I feel a wicked smile creep across my face” started dropping into the story and this extra mushiness seemed to sell out the sparsely told, but believable love story in Divergent.

Third problem: character motivations. The landscape kept shifting here. I was never sure from one minute to the other why people were doing what they were doing. And by the end of it I simply didn’t care.

And finally, I didn’t enjoy the change in scenery and can’t really say much more about that without giving vitals away. Let’s just say I thought the plot veered into predictable and somewhat boring territory and leave it at that.

I do give props to Roth for a brave ending though – one that for me felt earned and redeemed Allegiant in my eyes a little, but not enough.

Overall series rating – 3.5/5, plus a sparkle of excitement for the upcoming movie.

Have you read Divergent? What did you think? And who are you most looking forward to seeing come to life in the movie. Obvs, I’m all about Four.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

The hunt for Brisbane’s best fish taco

Hands down, the best thing America has given to us, aside from the Franco brothers, is fish tacos.

I realise they came from Mexico, ok, it’s just I’ve never been there and the Hawaiian fish tacos I tried are just THE BEST. I will spend my life trying to find fish tacos in Australia that are as consistently good as the all the varieties I scarfed in Hawaii. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten far yet. Although a crop of Mexican restaurants have sprung up around Brisbane, and I’m starting to see fish tacos more on menus around the place, it’s still hard to find one that compares to the ones that live in my Hawaiian dreams.

A round up of what I’ve found so far:

5. Primal Pantry

Fish taco - Primal PantryPrimal Pantry in the ritzy Teneriffe area is a paleo café – and this was my first mistake. Ordering a paleo fish taco is basically saying: I would like a pale imitation of the real thing please.

I don’t want to be harsh. The meal itself was ok. The crispy skinned salmon was cooked well and the avocado salsa and dressing were flavoursome. But the “taco”… I’m not sure what it was made out of but it was thick like a pancake, soggy from all the ingredients sitting on top of it and the texture was so freaking weird, I had to eat around it. In reality tv cooking show speak it just added nothing to the plate.

As my one and only paleo meal experience it was fine, but it was no fish taco.

Fish taco rating: Good try

4. Guzman y Gomez

Fish taco - Guzman y GomezSo people go nuts about how great Guzman y Gomez is. I don’t know. Maybe I’m a hard marker but the few times I’ve eaten there it’s been fine, but not over the top amaze. Unfortunately their barramundi taco failed to sway me away from this opinion.

If I’d read the menu more carefully I would have noticed that all their tacos come with black beans included. For chicken or pork – sure, pile em on. But for a fish taco I found the black beans totally overpowering. They just kinda took the taste out of everything else, and created an unappealing black sludge that ran unattractively down my arms.

Fish taco rating: Why so many black beans?

3. Sixes and Sevens 

Fish taco - Sixes and Sevens

Fish taco up front, super delicious prawn sticks up back. (See the hanging lights? Love!)

I know I should be wearing bold framed glasses, vintage clothing and an ironic smirk to be saying this, seeing as this place is hipster heaven, but I love Sixes and Sevens. It’s a beautiful building, fitted out attractively (the hanging light bulbs! I love the hanging light bulbs!) with a diverse and enticing menu.

But the fish taco, available as a house special from the blackboard, not the menu (so confusing. Why do this? Just put it on the menu), failed to completely float my boat. It was just the right amount of spicy, and it was light and not too messy. But their choice of fish put me off – not sure what it was – but it was just too fishy tasting. It put me on edge, I had to dive into the bowl of chips to change the taste sensation that was happening my mouth.

The chips though. Yum. Also, the prawn pick up sticks are super delicious.

Fish taco rating: Fishy fish

2. Beach Burrito Company (West End)

Fish taco - beach burrito company

Which is the fish taco? I don’t know. Their branding is cool though…

I’ve dropped Beach Burrito Company in front of Sixes and Sevens for three reasons: super friendly service, my lack of menu reading skills is responsible for some of what I didn’t like and we got takeaway. I am sure if we ate in I wouldn’t have been eating cold tacos.

I mixed things up at Beach Burrito company, adding pibil pork and chipotle chicken to my tempura fish order. Unfortunately, when it came to flavours I could have ordered anything – they all tasted exactly the same. Sure there was a slight variation – “I think I’m eating the fish one now! Oh, this one tastes like chicken!” but in terms of distinct flavours for each taco, no. Fortunately that flavour was good, if a bit heavy on the tomato salsa.

Because we ordered takeaway the taco shells were soggy – and actually just kind of unpleasant to eat. It was only after re-checking the menu at home we found out the soft shell tacos are gluten free. Dudes. I want gluten with my tacos ok. I know it’s very, very bad for me, but I must have it. If I’d read the menu more closely I would have opted for hard shell tacos.

Fish taco rating: Give me my gluten.

1. Miss Margarita (Byron Bay)

Actually nowhere near Brisbane but two hours south in New South Wales, Miss Margarita tops my list because: DELICIOUS.

I think I ate there six months ago and I’m still dreaming of the super yum crispy snapper, chipotle coleslaw, mango and fresh lime. Get in my belly. Generously sized, reasonably priced, the beach just up the road, backpackers all around, Corona on the tables – the whole experience added up to what I think I’m looking for in my fish tacos: the feeling of being on holidays, in the sun, relaxed, with good wholesome food on my plate.

If I could be bothered fighting my way through the traffic to get into Byron these days the first place I’d go would be to Miss Margarita to get my taco on. Highly recommend.

I don’t have a photo of my taco experience. I know I took one, of course I did, I Instagram, therefore I eat. But I can’t find it. So imagine it, or head over the Miss Margarita website, they have a link to their own Instagram feed.

Fish taco rating: Almost Hawaiian.

If you feel like making fish tacos I use this recipe and it makes me happy.

Have I said fish taco enough times in this post? Fish taco. Fish taco.

Movie review: Are We Officially Dating? (That Awkward Moment)

This movie has commitment issues.

Movie review: are we officially dating?

My script fix would have been to multiply the Miles Teller time by 10.

A little bit Bridget Jones, a little bit American Pie, this flick, just like the lead characters, can’t make up its mind what it wants to be and instead settles somewhere in a nowhere land that just doesn’t quite cut it.

When Mikey’s (Friday Night Lights fans – it’s Michael B Jordan!) marriage breaks up Daniel (Miles Teller) and Jason (Zac Efron) agree to stay single in a show of solidarity. However, this is not really a high stakes agreement – they’re already totally committed to maintaining their “roster” and kicking chicks off the books whenever it looks like things will get too serious. Of course as soon as the agreement is uttered they each develop Real Feelings for a girl (not the same girl, although that would have been somewhat more interesting). You can guess how it goes from there.

I don’t mind predictability in my rom-coms, as long as I’m entertained on the way. But I’d put the entertainment value for Are We Officially Dating? at mild to medium. It’s a shame because the potential was there (hello Miles Teller! We love you!) but the plot just never kicks into the next gear.

There was a bit to like: the movie is an obvious homage to Sex and the City and features some stunning shots and entertaining walk and talk sequences on the streets. All of the actors were believable – Zac Efron was a revelation for me – he gave an understated but emotional performance that saved a potentially cringeworthy scene, Miles Teller was totally charming as usual and I found myself wanting more screen time for Michael B Jordan and two of the female actors: Imogen Poots and Mackenzie Davis. There was some gross physical comedy that totally worked and some genuine drama.

However, the whole time I was watching I was thinking it would have worked better as a TV show because I just wanted more. More character development, more from the female characters who were fantastic, more drama and more humour. A little more script development early on might have saved the plot from itself and helped make the characters seem a little more redeemable. For example, Jason does something so unbelievably unforgivable that for me as an audience member it would take more than 20 minutes of screen time to work up to forgiving him. I’d need at least 22 episodes of TV redemption to get past it. But this is a movie and there’s not enough time, no matter how remorseful Zac can get his pretty eyes to look, for me to forgive him.

Can we also talk about the weirdness of it having two titles? In a wonderful illustration of how confused and unfinished this movie feels, in Australia it’s being marketed as Are We Officially Dating? while elsewhere it’s That Awkward Moment. That’s mistake number one for me. Australians don’t really “date” like Americans. Well, maybe they do now that internet dating is such a thing, but in my experience we never worried about having a “date” to take to a party or dance. We were masters of the group hang before the group hang was invented. I think Australians would have related more to the That Awkward Moment title, but what do I know? I don’t distribute movies.

Anyway. For an inoffensive way to spend your Saturday night Are We Officially Dating? is not a bad option and the ‘buddy-flick’ element means your boyfriend won’t complain about watching it. Just don’t expect too much and try to stay away from the trailer, because it gives away all the best bits.

Two and a half stars out of five (an extra half a star for Zac Efron’s abs).