Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why I gave My Soul to Take an automatic fail

I want to discuss the review I gave My Soul to Take yesterday. Not for any particular reason--no mad publicist or author or blogger has threatened to bar me from the interwebs or anything like that. (As if they could, nyah nyah nyah...) But I realised this morning that maybe the review came somewhat out of the blue, especially for some of my newer readers.

I don't subscribe to many "isms" as politics tends to bore the crap out of me, but gender roles are guaranteed to get me ranty in my panties if I feel this gender or that is getting short shrift.

I believe that authors and publishers have a duty of care to their readers. I don't dismiss books as mere stories. Books, and to a lesser extent songs and films and magazines, have the ability to portray real people and real life. Books approximate real life and real emotion closer than any other medium, in my opinion. I know, what a bizarre statement coming from someone who reads speculative fiction non-stop. Ursula le Guin said something witty about science fiction being able to tell truths about our own lives. That's really what the best dystopian fiction is: the truth about ourselves and what we could become.

The problem I have with Kaylee and Nash's relationship is that if you take away the fantasy element (that is, them being bean sidhes) they're a just a couple with a power imbalance. Kaylee is controlled by Nash, and she not only enjoys it, she encourages it. We've hardly got an Ike and Tina Turner situation on our hands, but I hope you see why this makes me uncomfortable.

At the risk of sounding like a Wowser* or an advocate of censorship, I don't believe that this sort of relationship should be presented in literature in this day and age as healthy and something to aspire to. This book is written and out there and people are reading it now, and by all means do read it yourself. It's a good book, apart from the gripes I've stated above and in my review.

Because books have the wonderful ability to represent real life, it worries me no end that a reader will look at Kaylee and Nash and think, "That's just like me and Ted. Awesome, our relationship is healthy as can be." (I know I was highly influenced by the books I read as a teenager. Nuclear war will make me psychic so I can talk to cats, right?)

I'll stress this point again: it's because the relationship is portrayed as healthy and something to aspire to that I get nervous. And cranky. And dismayed.

I'm being hard on My Soul to Take which is unfair in some respects. But I'm like one of those jaded criminal court judges who've seen it all before and one day decides to take her dismay out on the next poor schmuck who appears in her dock.

You tell me: Am I being unreasonable? Or do you feel the same way as I do?

Further reading

Princesses and Pornstars, Emily Macquire. This is a fantastic book for young women that discusses feminism today from a very personal and readable perspective, and bemoans the lack of positive role models for young women today. The princess and pornstar in the title is a nod to that old Madonna/whore dichotomy.

Graceling, Kristen Cashore. Did someone say positive role model? Hello Katsa!

Anything by Tamora Pierce. Her books are absolutely stuffed full of positive role models, healthy, realistic approaches to relationships and sex and are bloody fun as well.

*"One whose sense of morality drives them to deprive others of their sinful pleasures, especially liquor." From Wikipedia. It's an Australian term.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: My Soul to Take, Rachel Vincent

Kaylee gets premonitions when someone is about to die--premonitions in the form of an uncontrollable urge to scream. She thinks she's losing her mind, but in truth she's a bean sidhe, or banshee. When her pretty young classmates start dropping dead for no reason, Kaylee learns the truth behind her heritage from Nash, the hottest guy in school, who's also bean sidhe. The pair must stop whoever it is that is taking the souls of girls before their time.

This is the first book I've read of the new Harlequin Teen imprint. I must say I was thrilled when I heard Harlequin was launching this imprint as I've always had a soft spot for the Mills & Boon paperbacks. At the end of my degree my nanna happened to have a big shopping bag full of them, mostly retro, which she loaned to me, and after all my exams the little paperbacks were a delight. Most of them. Some were awful. But the great thing about M&B is there's so many of them you can pick and choose the sort of story you're in the mood for. I also loved that the books got passed around the neighbourhood and all the local ladies who'd read them had put their initials on the inside cover so they didn't mistakenly read them twice. One of my life writing goals is to write a M&B and get it published. I've tried it once (after reading said paperbacks) and was asked to submit the manuscript based on the synopsis. I sent in but alas! It was not to be. My alpha male wasn't alpha enough I think. He was an archaeologist and resembled Giles from Buffy more than Fabio. What can I say. Giles is alpha to me!

But back to My Soul to Take. I really liked the fact that this book was about bean sidhes. I'm going to favour paranormal books with unusual paranormal aspects from now on. I'll always love my dear vampires and werewolves, but it's time to branch out. And there were grim reapers in this book! Lots of them, as in that fantastic television show Dead Like Me that went for one season (cry!) and that no one else has heard about in Australia (double cry!). It treats the afterlife as just another rat race and is very funny, but also very sad.

The lore behind bean sidhes in My Soul to Take is developed, as is the rest of the supernatural world. Vincent just scratches the surface of the nasties as this is book one and I'm sure she'll go deeper into it in subsequent books.

This is an interesting and unusual paranormal story, but on the downside the characters were difficult to warm to--especially Kaylee herself. She hates on herself, which dismays me. She has little sense of humour and always expects the worst to happen. This isn't so bad in itself; after all, her life has been no cherry. But combined with the gender roles behind Vincent's bean sidhe lore, and alarm bells started going off. The roles go something like this: female bean sidhes are uncontrollable, hysterical screamers; male bean sidhes have Influence (yes, it's capitalised in the book), which they use calm the hysterical bean sidhes. I mean, she's a bean sidhe, for heaven's sake. She's supposed to scream! Again, not so bad in itself, but these roles end up defining Kaylee and Nash's relationship: she becomes clingy and needy and is always looking to him before she speaks. She even asks permission to speak on several occasions. In this day and age this is a book crime in my opinion, irresponsible on the part of author and editor and an AUTOMATIC FAIL.

My Soul to Take is a light, enjoyable read badly in need of a gender role overhaul.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wordle you think about this?

Wordle: Lharmell

Rodden Lothskorn: Would you look at that. She'd have been better off calling it Rodden, not Lharmell.

Zeraphina Prestoral: [rolls eyes] You would think that. This book's about me, not you.

RL: Really? I don't see you anywhere.

ZP: There I am. Top right corner.

RL: [squints] Really?

ZP: There--there you numbskull. Just next to "get". Below "Lharmell".

RL: "Get" gets more of a mention than you. And "back". And "just".

ZP: I'm everywhere! It's all about me: my thoughts, my voice. That's what first person is.

RL: Seems you've been thinking about me a whole lot then! *Cough* obsessed *cough*.

ZP: That's Your Majesty to you. Lets see what else I've been thinking about. "Arrow", "pain", "blood". All things to do with Rodden.

RL: "Really" "good" "looking". Even more things to do with Rodden! I must say, I do like this game.

ZP: Oh, go jump of the battlements...


DON'T MAKE ME COME BACK THERE YOU TWO. I'll turn this car around and we'll go straight back to the castle if you can't play nice!

Author here. In all seriousness, I am the tiniest bit concerned that "back" and "like" appear so frequently. Hmmmm ... Overuse of simile?

Get your Wordle here!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bleak is the New Black

My reading has been rather erratic lately which means I haven't finished a book in a wee while. In between reading The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold for a guest review on The Book Smugglers I've been sneaking chapters of Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce, first in The Immortals quartet. I adore this series so expect a gushy review soon.

Steph Bowe and I have done swapsies with our manuscripts, and I finished These Bones, her novel, last night. May I be the first to "review" it and say that it's excellent. I sat for a long time after thinking about the characters and the final scenes. May we both find happy homes for our labours of love!

I was interviewed on Steph's blog last week, and the interview includes a short blurb for Lharmell, the first time it has appeared anywhere. Not even here! It's the "unofficial" blurb, ie. written by me. How funny, that despite being penned by the writer it's unofficial! Someone I've never even met will write the "official" version. I wonder what they'll make of it. Yes, I am daydreaming about cover art before I have a book deal. Dammit, I'm daydreaming about which bar will host my launch, what I will wear and which pen to use for autographing!

As soon as I've finished My Soul to Take I'll be getting stuck into The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, and I can't wait! Reviews I've seen so far have been pretty positive.

I've also been perusing Stephen King's On Writing for a new feature here called Books For Writers, where I review, well, books for writers. King's explanation of basic grammar has just blown my previous grammar learning out of the water. I haven't read any of his fiction novels, but I'm curious to try them now.

There's a fabulous article here about adults reading young adult books and why they're so popular with people of all ages:

“In the world of young-adult fiction, the problems tend to be solveable,” Leader explained, compared to adult literary fiction, where problems tend to be internally focused. “There's something comforting about that sense of hope.”

It's definitely that sense of hope and growth and looking forwards that I find addictive about young adult novels--and their sense of fun. Even the dystopias are often fun.

Speaking of dystopias, here is a MASSIVE list of YA dystopian novels going back 50 years. There's enough to keep me busy for long time, and the list is only going to get longer. Have you heard? Dystopias are the new bit lit! Bleak is the new black. My most anticipated books for next year are all dystopias released in the first quarter of the year, and I can't wait to see what the rest of 2010 will bring.

Books up shortly for review:
  • My Soul To Take, Rachel Vincent
  • The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey
  • On Writing, Stephen King
  • Fire, Kristen Cashore
  • Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce

Saturday, October 24, 2009

AussieCon4: 68th World Science Fiction Convention

Have you heard? The World Science Fiction convention is to be held in dear old Melbs next year from September 2-6! The program will feature

major Australian and overseas authors, editors, agents, and other speakers. The program will have multiple streams. Program items will potentially contain subject matter such as young adult, science fiction, fantasy, horror, academic, TV shows, science, ecology, and other genre-related topics. Some items will feature more direct contact with industry professionals, such as kaffeeklatsches (small group gatherings with authors for a coffee and a chat), author readings, and signings.

Hurrah for YA authors and books! They haven't announced any YA stuff yet, but the guest of honour are Kim Stanley Robinson (author of the Mars trilogy), Robin Johnson, who is the chair of AussieCon, and Shaun Tan, award-winning artist. His collaboration with John Marsden on The Rabbits is gorgeous.

I think I might have to go.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Return to Labyrinth Volume 1

Disclaimer: At Rhiannon Hart, we pride ourselves on providing our readers with thoughtful, objective reviews, presented in a calm and coherent manner. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. Rhiannon Hart has lost her head. (But her heart will always belong to the Goblin King.)

I have gushed about my love for Labyrinth on previous posts, but let me say it again: I LOVE LABYRINTH. It's one of my favourite films of all time, highly influential in my work and utterly, utterly romantic, fantastic, beautiful and INCORRIGIBLE for it's heart-breaking ending. I swear that Labyrinth is single-handedly responsible for my total distrust of babies. When I found out a week ago that there was an official Henson-approved Manga series that is a sequel, called Return to Labyrinth, I couldn't get my hands on it fast enough. It arrived this morning at my office and I had to sit through a whole day staring at it's beautiful cover, dying for home time. Yes, I read it as I walked to my tram, on the tram, in the supermarket queue and all the way to my flat. I demolished its meagre 200 pages in about an hour and promptly ordered volumes two and three from Book Depository.

I am so happy! This is reading bliss! I have read tons of Labyrinth fan fiction (and even written some myself--there, I'm outed, you'll all read about it on Hey! Teenager of the Year in a day or so anyway so I'm just going to say it now: MY NAME IS RHIANNON AND I WROTE LABYRINTH FAN FICTION AS A TEENAGER!) but nothing compares with an official-honest-to-gods-written-edited-printed-hold-in-your-hands version. It feels real. It feels amazing. I'm currently breathing into a paper bag.

The cover, as you can see, is gorgeous. I would have loved to open the book and find similarly beautiful artwork, but obviously the production costs would have been phenomenal. Each volume retails for about AU/US$10, which is another reason I didn't think twice about ordering them. I skimmed the premise of each book on Wikipedia, and while the protagonist of these sequels is Toby and not Sarah, she does cameo in volume one, and has scenes with Jareth in later volumes. What more do I need to hear? Jareth and Sarah meet again!

The premise goes something like this: After Sarah's return from the Labyrinth, Jareth secretly names Toby his heir, as he has no child of his own. Throughout his life, Jareth has been a sort of fairy-godmother to Toby, giving him his heart's desire every time he says "I wish..." Toby, kept in the dark by his big sister, hasn't got any idea about the Labyrinth or Jareth, so when a goblin appears and steal his homework, he chases it and finds himself in a very odd place indeed.

There's a short overview of the film as a prologue, presented half as the Cinderella tale, and half as Sarah tells it to Toby when she's trying to make him stop crying at the start of the film: "...But what no one knew was that the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the Princess and given her certain powers..."

The drawings are lovely, particularly the highly detailed chapter openers. There are many characters from the movie including Ludo, Sir Didymus, Ambrosius, Hoggle (now Prince of the Land of Stench, as Jareth promised) and the Fireys. The human characters themselves are highly simplified, and unfortunately Jareth suffers the most. There's nothing of Bowie about him and he resembles any generic Manga character. Sarah's in her twenties, wears glasses, and in opening sketches resembles Harry Potter. I hope she fares better in later volumes.

There's not a huge amount of meat to the story. It serves more to introduce new characters who will feature in later volumes, including the human girl masquerading as a goblin, Moppet, whom I suspect will become Toby's love interest. There's also Mikuza, Jareth's thwarted bride who is determined to win him back so her foul daughters can rule the Labyrinth, I presume.

Since reading Return to Labyrinth my two decades of Toby-hating have been curbed. I rather like his character in this series. Volume one was published in 2006 (twenty years after the film was released), volume two in 2008, volume three in May this year and volume four, the final installment, is to be published...? So far no date has been set, but all I can say is I better get my Jareth-and-Sarah happy ending soon because I'm not waiting another freaking twenty years to get it!

For die-hard fans. Particularly those with soft spot for romance and think that babies are far better off as goblins.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Peril the First Review #3: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Margaret Lea has never even read a Vida Winter novel when she receives a letter asking her to write the author's biography. The brilliant and popular writer has spent her life behind a veil of lies fed to eager journalists, but at last, she's decided to tell the truth. And she's going to tell it to Margaret Lea. Margaret travels to Miss Winter's house in Yorkshire, a mansion on the moors, and is told a tale of madness, secrecy and tragedy, the legacy of which still lives on. But is it really the truth, and nothing but the truth?

The Thirteenth Tale is a throwback to the Gothic novels of the nineteenth century, something Diane Setterfield acknowledges within its pages with respect as well as humour. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, as well as several of it's contemporaries, are not only an influence on the story, but play a key role in it. As a lover of Jane Eyre I enjoyed the parallels between my favourite Gothic novel and this newer book, and there are many. Setterfield has taken the Gothicness of of the Brontes, their madness and sinisterness, but left the romance out. I must say I'm glad of this because no author could do justice to the romance of Jane Eyre. But Setterfield has done rather well with its darkness and madness. And then some.

As a mystery, then, this is a very successful book, full of twists and turns and lies and deductions. They are unselfconscious twists, rather than the Twist Goes Here sort of books. They unfold naturally and unhurriedly. I said, mournfully, to a few writing friends the other day, "There's just not enough incest in books these days," and they heartily agreed. Oh, the heady days of Virginia Andrews! I'm hardly a proponent of incest. (Though perhaps I accepted Daisy and Edmund in How I Live Now with a little too much alacrity? Lenore, do you think so? *grin*) I was referring, rather, to the exploration of a taboo subject by a talented author. (Taboos in books are brave and interesting; taboos in films, on the other hand, just seem voyeuristic and squirm-worthy.) The gods must have heard me because I got my wish, and Setterfield handles her taboos extremely well--with just the right amount of scandal and madness.

On the downside, however, the plot moved a little too slowly in my opinion and--horror of all the worst horrors--actually repeated itself at one point. I loathe diary entries within a narrative at the best of times, but when they merely repeat what we already know I start to froth at the mouth. Margaret Lea I couldn't make friends with. See, I'm calling her by her full name instead of just Margaret. Margaret Lea paled into nothing compared to the vibrant, violent, crazy cast of characters she was told about by Vida Winter. I imagine that if Jane Eyre never met Rochester, got depressed and lonely, and fixated on the death of Helen Burns at Lowood, she'd turn out rather like Margaret Lea. Not a pleasant thought.

And may I just ask, where the hell were the ghosts?! This is no fault of Setterfield's, but yours, my dear bloggers! I asked for a chilling ghost story for Peril the First and several of you recommended this tale. But all I got were mad twins and ambiguous mist! Nary a shiver up my spine! Every flit and shadow explainable!

For lovers of English Gothic fiction, classic and otherwise. If you were particularly taken with the mood and characters of Prophecy of the Sisters, you would do well to give this book a go. Though it moves at a slower pace than young adult fiction.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In My Mailbox (8)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

The Warrior's Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold. Ebay. The Book Smugglers have dared me to read this one. I'm not usually one for hard sci-fi or male protags, but so far so good! Place names and social structures not too baffling. I also forgot how easy it is to crush on male leads. Page 23 and Miles has already endeared himself to me.

Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl. Mooched. I read about this on a blog recently (Angieville?) and thought it sounded fun.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. Ebay. Dystopian. Nuff said.

I, Robot, Isaac Asimov. Ebay. After the TRAVESTY that was the film I have to read the book to see how they mangled it. Unfortunately it's the film tie-in edition.

Ariel by Stephen R. Boyett. Ebay. Seen on The Book Smugglers recently. Boys and unicorns and the apocalypse. Never thought they would ever be combined!

Companions of the Night, Vivian Vande Velde. Amazon. I adored this book as a teenager. This is how vampires are best portrayed, in my opinion. I managed to score are hardback first edition too!

The Mayfair Witches Chronicles: Taltos, Lasher and The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice. Ebay. I loved these as a teen, too, and they blow the vampire series out of the water in my opinion.

The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancy. For review. We got the UK cover here *sigh* The US one is beautiful, but maybe the cheese of the UK one fits more with the story. And may I just say YAY to monsters being monstrous and not prom dates for a change!

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. Ebay. Another Smugglers recommendation. (Jeez those girls can be persuasive...) I was hooked from the first page and Rothfuss's description of three sorts of silence when I borrowed it from the library but had to return it. Now to find the time to read the rest.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy. Library. Shellie at Layers of Thought reviewed this one a while ago and I meant to get to it for the Dystopia Challenge. Must read before the film comes out.

Oh Viggo, I adore you even when you're hairy and dirty...

Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose. Library. I haven't read any Prose but Touch created a stir earlier this year, and I saw the forthcoming After on Opinionated? Me? earlier this morning. (Dannie received hate mail from another blogger recently--the ridiculous and disappointing "why do you get all the ARCs" kind. It dismays me that this sort of thing goes on. And always with such a bad spelling. Makes me think it's not a blogger after all, as we take such pride in our posts!)

I have plans for New Year, hurrah! Another festival has been announced for New Years Day, Better Days, and Cassius from France will be headlining. Wheee, French house! Toop Toop is one of their most popular tracks, and I found this clip on YouTube that cuts a Soviet Union fairytale cartoon from 1969 to a remix. It's so freaking adorable, and the cutting is inspired.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dystopia Film Review: V for Vendetta

In this alternate reality film, the UK is ruled by a totalitarian government who perform horrific scientific tests on seditioners, feed lies to the media and rule with an iron fist. V, dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, leads a one-man terrorist plot against the government, entangling Evey, a young woman of treasonous parents, along the way.

V for Vendetta came out in 2005, but I just watched it last night. I'm rather slow when it comes to films. But I was just so blown away by it, and it's dystopian, that I thought it deserved a mention here.

The "totalitarianess" of the society depicted in V for Vendetta seems rather clumsy at first. It borrows heavily from Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its party slogans and ubiquitous television screens, but lacks the darkness of Orwell's novel and the wit and contradiction of Newspeak. It's also rather hammed up, but as this is a graphic novel adaptation, that's not surprising. Though it's not said explicitly, this alternate reality seems to have resulted from Britain losing to the Nazis in World War Two, and many of the events in the film mirror known events that happened during this time, particularly in German concentration camps.

It's the characters and screenplay that really make this film stunning. Hugo Weaving is brilliant as V, an effusive and debonair terrorist. Despite his use of violence, it's a Robin Hood sort of violence: he only goes as far as his enemies. If they shoot to kill, he has no qualms about knifing them in the guts; if the other guy throws a punch, V merely knocks them out. I'm unfamiliar with the graphic novel version, but Natalie Portman's portrayal of Evey was similarly exceptional. She does chaste-brave-and-vulnerable in a very singular way, which is difficult to pull off as we're swimming in chaste-brave-and-vulnerable heroines. The dialogue is sharp, and the pacing it spot on.

There's a huge WTF?? moment about three quarters of the way through that I found difficult to reconcile with at the time. While it's horrifying, in hindsight it works in the way that things can work poetically in films and novels. But if I was Evey I would have landed a few choice punches before moving onto total forgiveness and understanding.

While it took me about half an hour to fully warm to this film, I adored it in the end. It's romantic, heroic and amusing, and very entertaining.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Great Books versus First Books: My Secret Weapon

This is a response to Kelly at Yannabe's How Great Books Destroy Me post:
I’m currently slogging away at my third attempt to rewrite last year’s NaNoWriMo first draft. Meanwhile, this year’s NaNoWriMo is reading the revisions over my shoulder, biding its time to kick my work in progress out of the way. So when I’m reading and a brilliant piece of writing makes me stop in awe, my very next thought is: “I’ll never be this good.”
Kelly compares her writing to Laurie Halse Anderson's and Suzanne Collins', bemoaning that she'll never be as good. As fans of these two titans of YA lit, I readily moan along with her. LHA's descriptions are enough to make me weep. Collins' plotting and world-building keeps my heart in my mouth. Reading their books is a humbling experience.

But both these women have many, many books under their belts. I'm interested to read the first book of the Gregor series by Collins to see if it's as fantastic and gripping as The Hunger Games. Because you know what? If it's her first book, I bet it isn't.

This is my secret weapon, for the moments when the green-eyed monster uncoils within me: I remember The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

Atwood is a speculative queen, a Booker prize winner and the winner of a host of other awards, as well as the author of one of my favourite novels, The Handmaid's Tale. Several years ago I came across her first novel, The Edible Woman, written when she was 23. I read it, and it gladdened by heart no end. You know why? It's exceedingly average. Compared to her later works, anyway. It's certainly a cut above a lot of other first novels. But her later brilliance was born of mediocre beginnings.

It might be petty, but remembering The Edible Woman quietens the green-eyed monster within me. The only way is up from here! If you're working on a first novel, I recommend you pick up a copy to read in those wretched moments when you're thinking of packing it in altogether. It's utterly soothing, and comparatively better for you than hitting the delete button, or finding solace in cartons of chocolate ice-cream.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guest Post: My better half reviews Flood by Stephen Baxter

Because I'm knee-deep in rewrites my reading time has been suffering. I'm halfway through two books, and yes I know if I'd stuck to one I'd have a review for you myself, but we all know reading doesn't work that way, don't we?

So for your amusement I bring you a guest review by my boyfriend. That's him on the right there. You can call him Zapp. Of course, it's just a disguise. I'd tell you his real name, but then I'd have to kill you. Actually, he'd kill me for telling you. He's got a deep suspicion of putting his identity on the interwebs and is the sort of guy who, upon hearing chopper in the sky, shrieks "They've found me!" and leaps theatrically behind the couch. Endless amusement.

Zapster's going to review Flood by Stephen Baxter, a book I got from the library for myself after reading Thea's enthusiastic review.

After five years of captivity four hostages are rescued from a group of religious extremists. During this time the climate has undergone a rapid change for the worse. These people, with the their skills and insight, see the impact on the climate these five years have had after their release from a basement. As they are reunited with friends and family, climate change starts exceeding even the worst climate models. The scientists of the group are whisked from one disaster to another in helicopters witnessing the worst of the effects and conducting all sorts of cool experiments, such as diving in a sub to take readings.

The protagonists are somewhat traumatised by their experience of being held hostage. They do their best in deteriorating conditions and were always firm believers in climate change. Some of the scientists are a little dogmatic and rabid but are predictably proved right.

The science of the story hinges on the hypothesis that a runaway rise in sea levels is caused by H2O trapped in the Earth's crust during planetary formation and sucked down by plate activity. It's not really explained how human activity could cause this release; indeed no one is even sure it has anything to do with humans, but its a good bet that it is. What follows from that hypothesis is solid science: earthquakes caused by the water pressure on the land, tsunamis, starvation refugees and woe. Towards the end the it becomes positively frightening with the Earth behaving more like other planets in the solar system.

I liked how it started as typical climate change scenario and then increased exponentially to become the stuff of nightmares. People's resilience and ability to adapt was also cool: communities binding together to build huge rafts for example. The scenario at the end was pretty out there too. Less appealing were some of the personal tragedies. They were a little obvious and I grew disinterested in them as, after all, everyone is in the same boat.

Compared to other books in the genre, Flood was wildly imaginative and incredibly ambitious. Its depictions of climate change were far worse than anything else I've read or seen; it's a little like Water World but without Dennis Hopper hamming it up.
Flood is a cracking read, shocking and relevant. It's a timely reminder that scientists can be wrong and that ironically by the time humans have a rudimentary understanding of the incredibly complex feedback loops that drive the earth, it can be far too late to do anything about it.

Thanks Zapp! Oh, by the way his real name is-- *cough splutter choke*

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In My Mailbox (7): the food and wine issue

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

This was a huge week for me, but a quiet one in terms of books. For those of you just tuning in, this week I signed with Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. I'm elated. Ecstatic. Every night is like the night before Christmas and I'm just too excited to sleep. I've been knocking myself out with celebratory glasses of red wine, but I'm going to have to switch to chamomile tea before I become an alcoholic! That, or valium.

But as always, the "diet" starts tomorrow, as tonight I celebrate with my friends at Lucky Coq with glasses of Pipsqueak cider over ice and lime, and the fantastic pizza there. The sun is out in a cloudless sky! Perfect drinking weather. And I have a new dress.

Lucky Coq, Prahran

Speaking of diets, I'm going to have to go on one to compensate for the lavish dinner at the Panama Dining Room last night. There were five of us there to celebrate my brother Rory's birthday: me and my partner, my brother and his, and my dad's girlfriend. These modern families! (Rory's a writer too, of sorts. He writes code. And he's just subscribed to my feed, so hi big bro! *waves*) As we were celebrating me being agented too, I went all out. I started with a Bombay and tonic, then ordered a Sangiovese for the table. For entree I had raw slices of Kingfish on these tiny wafers of bread, which was delicious and so fresh. Roz, the dad's girlfriend, had duck terrine and my partner had these amazing prawns. For our mains we had Mulloway, Wagyu beef (to DIE for) and pork belly, plus some sides of lemony beans and mustardy roasted potatoes. The service was horribly scatty, but by the end of the meal we forgave them completely.

Panama Dining Room, Collingwood

I'd visited the new cupcake bakery in Melbourne Central earlier in the evening to buy birthday cakes. Sooooo yummy and adorable! Rory got lemon meringue (his favourite) and I tried red velvet cake for the first time. I'm hooked. I got 5 assorted cupcakes for $20, and they do an in-house special with coffee for $5, which is dangerous as I pass through Melb Central all the time!

The Cupcake Bakery, Melbourne Central

Oh yes, the books. I borrowed The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield from the library, and Kushiel's Dart arrived from eBay. I started reading the former yesterday and the writing is beautiful. I'm having a little break from My Soul to Take. The heroine ain't my sort of gal, unfortunately.

Happy weekend!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

And the Catching Fire winner is...

Number 24, Sheila! I'll be contacting you by email.

Congratulations Sheila, and I hope you like Catching Fire.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The most amazing, fantastic, absolutely spiffing news ever!

I'm really not exaggerating! This week the most amazing thing happened: an agent offered me representation. And not just any agent. I've signed with Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, who specialises in sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal romance.

So of course I immediately said YES!!! to her offer and I've been on cloud nine ever since.

As you can see from my profile, I've been working on a YA fantasy trilogy this year. Book one is called Lharmell, book two is The Harmings, and book three is Queen of Lharmell. I'm very excited about my work being submitted to all the fantastic publishing houses whose books I avidly read. I really hope the trilogy sells--I've got everything crossed!!

I'm not the only Melbourne-based YA blogger to sign with Ginger Clark in the last weeks. Steph Bowe of Hey! Teenager of the Year has just signed with her too!

I don't think I would have stayed sane throughout this whole process without the support and enthusiasm of Amanda Ashby (another fabulous Aussie), the witty and talented author of, among others, The Zombie Queen of Newbury High. Amanda has been generous with not only her advice, but with her time as well, and unflagging positivity. Thanks so much, Amanda!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Peril the First Review #2: World War Z by Max Brooks

This is the history of the zombie apocalypse told by a shattered, residual population. Max Brooks, a roving journalist, interviews various people, from the Vice President of the United States to young woman in an asylum, asking them to describe their experiences of this horrific time.

Brooks tells his story chronologically, from the first signs of the outbreak, the height of the panic, the moment the tide turns finally in our favour, to the aftermath. Each section has a half-dozen or so interviews: soliloquies of anger, shock, fear and desolation. Some interviewees are humorous, and banter with Brooks. Some are simply numb, or their minds shattered beyond repair.

The best interviews are full of description and emotion, or give a broad, intelligent commentary, or are from people who were present at momentous events, like the battle at Yonkers, or the Ukrainians nerve gassing thousands of refugees to weed out the infected. My heart was in my mouth as I read Colonel Christina Eliopolis's hair-raising tale in chapter four. Her plane goes down somewhere between Phoenix, Arizona and Tallahassee, Florida while resupplying outposts. She parachutes into a swamp, or what she calls a Green Sea of Zack. "Zack" is army slang for zombie. The zombies in this book aren't fast runners, but they're verging on the indestructible. The only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. They are relentless in their quest for flesh, and can survive underwater or buried just as well as they survive on land. Eliopolis has a radio on her but has to trek through miles and miles of swamp, sometimes swimming across rivers that could be stuffed full of submerged zombies. A woman's picked up on her distress signal and is guiding her to safety, and the dynamic between the two is gripping. I'm shivering now just thinking about it--all alone in a wintery wilderness, with no-one but a voice on a radio for company, and hundreds of zombies ready to stagger towards her if alerted to her presence. Brooks' zombies only moan when they site prey, and the moan alerts other zombies within a large radius.

This book is very boysy-military heavy. There's lots of jargon, a frickload of weaponry and soldiers pounding this way and that. It's also very US-centric, though there are definitely a number of interesting tales from Canada, Europe and South Africa. I avidly awaited an interview from an Australian or a Kiwi, but all I got was a Sydneysider (boo!) astronaut stuck up in space on an American space station. There was nothing definitively Australian about the tale at all. In fact, "Sydney" could have been replaced with "Boston" or "New Orleans" without needing to change anything else. No tales from New Zealand either, which is disappointing. (My boyfriend's from the Land of the Long White Line, and he's faithfully assured me that, when the apocalypse arrives, whatever form it takes, we'll retire to NZ and ride it out, completely isolated and completely unharmed. Either in the event of the apocalypse, or Australia running out of water. The latter seems somewhat likely right now.) Some of you Brits will take umbrage to the lack of limey-love in this book too, I'm sure.

The violence and scare-factor never hit my TOO MUCH threshold, though it came close once or twice. I'm vaguely scared of our dark hallway this week, which always happens when I've had a medium-to-high scare. Brooks could have wrapped his story up a bit quicker, and the voices of many of the interviewees often seemed too similar to one another. But despite this, he's written a chilling tale, and it's definitely a must read for die-hard zombie fans.

There's been rumours of a film adaptation since March 2008, and I can't find much that confirms this except a few pages that states the filmplay's had to be rewritten, there's a director (Marc Foster, Quantum of Solace), and it's now in development and due out 2010. I due hope the rumours are true. Here's some artwork from one blog.

REMINDER: Enter my comp to win a copy of Catching Fire here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Competition: Catching Fire

I feel like throwing a celebration! The best sort, in my opinion, are thrown spontaneously, making up the reasons as you go along. So here are my I-feel-like-a-celebration-for-no-reason reasons:

  1. Today I reached 65 followers! Huzzah! Hardly a landmark figure, but gosh I feel good about it.
  2. Sometime recently was my 100th post! I think it was about the time I reviewed The Demon's Lexicon.
  3. I've reached the 1/3rd mark of the first draft of my current work in progress! I think the one that's with agents has ... how does one put it politely? "Died in the ass"? I'm enjoying the new WIP immensely, though, and it has what one calls a "plot", instead of mere flouncing and witty repartee.
  4. I'm taking a week or two off from the WIP to chew through some of my TBR pile, and also because I need a break from the bloody ... *ahem*, DEAR thing.
  5. This will be my very first competition, double huzzah!
What better to give away on a dystopian-lovin' blog than a fantastic new dystopian book? Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is up for grabs, the UK paperback edition. And being "international" myself, of course this competition is open internationally, huzzah huzzah huzzah!

To enter, tell me the name of your favourite dystopian book, and your email address. +1 if you tweet/blog/facebook/buy an acre of the moon and name it after me. (Seriously, the last one would be ace. That's three n's in Rhiannon, by the way.) Just tell me where you've posted about this comp. One point for each.

This competition will be open for exactly four days. Good luck!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Review: How I Live Now

Daisy doesn't get along with her father's new wife and she's not impressed they're about to have a child. A raft of psychologists haven't managed to cure her eating disorder, so as a last resort she's sent to live with her cousins and aunt in rural England. Daisy discovers the pleasures of the simple life and falls in love. Then war breaks out, England is invaded, and nothing can be the same again.

How I Live Now is a stunningly beautiful novel. It's told in Daisy's breathless, bewildered voice, sometimes saddening and often laugh-out-loud funny. This is one of the more "literary" YA books I've read recently, but it's a literary style that doesn't take itself seriously or forget that it's purpose is to entertain teens, not win awards. But because it's just so damned good, it has won awards, and rightly so.

Aunt Penn, Daisy's aunt and the mother of Edmond, Isaac, Osbert and Piper, is called away to Oslo for peace talks, leaving the children, aged between nine and sixteen, to look after themselves, their American cousin and the farm. There's a sense of "we do things differently in the country", and Penn's astoundingly comfortable with her fourteen-year-old son picking Daisy up in a jeep at Heathrow airport. Either that, or she's too consumed with the simmering tensions between just about every country in the world that she doesn't notice who picks her up. Daisy doesn't go into the details. She doesn't go into a lot of things, actually. She reports to the reader only what she herself is interested in. When what seems like World War Three breaks out and England is invaded, Daisy's too busy falling in love with her related-by-blood cousin and learning to have a real life to remark too much on it. At first the whole thing is an adventure for the children: no parents, schools closed down and the faceless, raceless, seemingly harmless invaders present only to drop rations at the end of driveways. But as the war comes closer to home, Daisy and her cousins are forced out of their salad days and into the cruel realities of war.

I found myself comparing How I Live Now with Tomorrow, When the War Began; Daisy with Ellie Linton. Both are stories of teens in an invasion; both star likable, capable girls. Ellie was always capable, a born and bred farm girl who rises to a challenge as easy as breathing. Daisy, on the other hand, is a city girl who starves herself and never had dirt under her nails. But like Ellie she possesses an innate common sense and a strong will to live and support those around her. This is treasonous talk, but Rosoff may have taken Marsden's most popular character, given her flaws and a sense of humour and made her infinitely more relatable. I can hear the howls of protest in defence of dear, DEAR Ellie, whom I adore as much as any of you. But I'm in the pleasant afterglow that comes from reading an outstanding novel and ready to shun all my old favourites. It's a cruel world, isn't it. I'm sure I'll feel horrible in the morning and have to do ten Hail Marsdens, but until then, yay Daisy.

I recently read Wintergirls, a book about an all-consuming (sorry, bad way to put it) eating disorder. Lia doesn't experience a single thought in that novel that doesn't relate somehow to her anorexia. In How I Live Now, the word "anorexia" isn't present and Daisy's illness is peripheral. Like Lia she won't admit she has a problem, but unlike Lia she doesn't spend her days thinking about not-eating. One of the most interesting things about this novel is Daisy's personal growth, which includes dealing with her eating disorder. I did wonder whether Rosoff handled this aspect of the novel too simplistically, or whether Daisy ever had full-blown anorexia to begin with, but it makes for an interesting sub-plot nonetheless.

This book was a recommendation for my dystopia challenge, and I'm so pleased I finally got around to reading it. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so. How I Live Now is a beautiful book.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

In My Mailbox (6)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

For review:
  • The Battle for Rondo, Emily Rodda
  • Fire, Kristen Cashore (woohoo! Seeing it up close finally, the cover is stunning. Even better than Graceling's.)
  • The Keeper's Daughter, Gill Arbuthnott
  • Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
WonThanks guys!

  • Dreaming of the East: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient, Barbara Hodgson
This one's full of gorgeous illustrations. I'm always interested in women in historical times in exotic places.

I don't know why I picked up more books from the library as my reading time until mid-November is earmarked by Peril the First, the Smugglers' guest dare and review copies, but I just can't help myself!

The Luxe, Anna Godbersen

A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray

Marked, PC and Kristen Cast

I'll leave you now with a bit of nostalgia from my childhood. I was 12 when 'Everybody (Backstreet's Back)' by the Backstreet Boys came out and it was a huge hit here, especially with me. I LOVED it. It was the first CD I ever bought. I still love the film clip, and by the magic of YouTube, I bring it to you now! It's a mishmash of horror references heavily influenced by/ripping off 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson. Especially the dance routine at the end. Several of the moves are straight out of the 'Thriller' clip, actually. My love at the time, Nick, is a mummy, and a rather lame one I have to say looking at him now. Brian is a werewolf, Howie is Dracula, AJ is the Phantom and Kevin is a Jekyll/Hyde man. May I just say HELLOOO Kevin. I never realised it but he is one hawt mofo, and what the hell was I thinking crushing on Nick? Kevin's about the only B-Boy not making a total ass of himself in this clip. I mean, Brian, really. Are the flips and running up walls in a fur coat really necessary?


Friday, October 2, 2009

I've been dared

Smugglers Ana and Thea have laid down the gauntlet and dared me to read a book out of my comfort zone. What me? Have a zone? Be picky? Surely not!

These are my bookish prejudices. Or at least the sort of books I tend to avoid
, by design or serendipity.

  • Urban fantasy. Too edgy. Too urban. I want to get out of the concrete jungle when I read.
  • The women on said urban fantasy novel covers. They're agressive and oversexed and look like a lads' mag wet dream.
  • Epic fantasy. These books are about as gripping as someone reading aloud the Old Testament. "And then Nathaniel begat Oroc, and Oroc begat Farameer, and Farameer begat blah blah blah, and they all live on the edges of the Sunderland, which is north of the Caracas, which is somewhat southerly to Vilok..." ie. Too many people and place names that nanna here can't keep straight so she just gives up.
  • Sci-Fi. People who read sci-fi belong to the Realm of the Giant Nerds. I'm known to take a daypass and have a look around, say hi to my brother and old man (who are Giant Nerds), but I don't stay long. Dystopias don't count. People who read dystopias are way cool.
  • Stream of consciousness/experimental writing. Go away Mrs Dalloway. Just go away and come back when you can construct a sentence that doesn't make my head explode.
  • Stuff by men/male protagonists. Now, I don't have anything against writing by men, or male protagonists. I rather like men, it's just what I read mostly tends to be by women, about women.

So the Smugglers have come up with a list of books they love that normally I wouldn't pick up in a pink fit and dared me read one and review it for them. They are:

Urban Fantasy/Oversexed chicks on the covers:
Succubus Blues, Richelle Mead

Dead Witch Walking, Kim Harrison

Moon Called, Patricia Briggs

The Warrior's Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold

Epic Fantasy:
Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey

Experimental/stream of consciousness:House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski

By men/male protagonist:Good Omens, Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

I'm leaning towards The Warrior's Apprentice because it sounds cool and is both sci-fi and has a male protagonist. Do you guys have any thoughts?