Monday, August 31, 2009

Goodbye Dystopia Challenge ... Hello RIP IV!

The winter of my discontent, or the Dystopia Challenge as it's also known, officially ends today. In the last three months millions have been squished, nuked, plagued, prettied, robotified, starved, dismembered, persecuted, vilified and petrified. And I've loved every turn of the page. The Germans call it schadenfreude: taking delight in other people's misfortune. I prefer to call it Being Prepared for the Imminent Apocalypse ... with just a touch of morbid curiosity.

Thank you to everyone who read and commented on my reviews and made book suggestions, and to all my lovely followers who've found their way here since I started this blog in May. You all have a place in my fallout shelter. It doubles as a zombie-proof fort and a half-way house for persecuted psychics with mad cats.

But it's not QUITE over yet: I've still to post a review of Skinned which I hope to do tomorrow, and I'll be getting stuck into The Ask and the Answer straight away. So never fear, there'll still be plenty of dystopia-lovin' going on around here. There's at least a hundred dystopian works that I'm still chomping at the bit to read, and new ones appearing every day. Highly anticipated in 2010 are The Line by Teri Hall and Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder.

I also plan to have a proper debriefing this week. Which books I loved, which books I learned from, which books made me shed a tear and which make me fear for the human race.

But onto the next challenge! RIP IV, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings which begins tomorrow. How's that for seamless blogging? I've decided on four very diverse titles that I'll read between now and Halloween for Peril the First. They are:

1. World War Z, Max Brooks. How could a Halloween challenge be complete without zombies? (Happy Zombie Appreciation Week!)

2. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield. Ghosties! Ghost are nigh on guaranteed to give me the willies. Multiple people recommended this one to me when I put my first RIP IV post up.

3. The Strange Power, first in L. J. Smith's Dark Visions Trilogy. I read one of these books back in the day and I remember it being a lot darker than her usual stuff. This series is shortly to be rereleased so I thought I kick off the swathe of reviews we're about to see.

4. Monster by Christopher Pike. Teen horror! This is a Book Smugglers recommendation. Ana read and reviewed it after Thea's constant praising became too much for her. Thea has a stronger stomach than me, but if Ana can read it, so can I. I devoured all the Last Vampire books as a teen so it's about time I tried some more Pike.

Nearly 180 bloggers have already signed up and this challenge promises to be huge.

Finally, I bid you a dystopic good morrow with this:

How to Survive a Nuclear Blast

1. DO NOT look at the flash.
2. Protect yourself from flying debris. 1950s refrigerators are apparently good for this, but aren't known for containing a great deal of oxygen.
3. Run into the wind. The spread of fallout depends on which way the wind is blowing. It that's impossible, head for higher ground. Better yet, go underground.
4. Decontaminate. Soap and water is sufficient, and brush down clothing.
5. Wait for rescue. Depending on whether it was a localised or full-blown apocalyptic event, help will be coming soon or never. Avoid men who have bullet holes in their radiation suits but are unharmed themselves.
6. Live in Melbourne. If you happen to live in Melbourne it's perfectly acceptable to frolic on the beach like you've never even heard of the northern hemisphere. Keep the suicide pills handy, ignore all radio transmissions from San Diego and have a jolly good time.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My thoughts on Unwind by Neal Shusterman

For Throwdown Thursday, Lauren at i was a teenage book geek asked whether we preferred Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, or Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I've just read Uglies and my review is here. I read Unwind several months ago after seeing rave reviews all over the blogosphere. I finished it with such a turbulence of feeling that I have been unable to review it. Until I had a good rant at Lauren.

First of all, I'm a pussy. I had to watch Event Horizon and Reservoir Dogs in twenty minute increments. I say "had to" not because someone was making me, but because I was having such a darn good time. I love these films. I was just horrified watching them. Which of course is all part of the fun.

Second of all, I'm a picky bitch when it comes to dystopian works. I am ready to make the most astounding leaps of faith for a narrative, as long as I'm given good enough reason to jump. I am also wary of a writer who seems to be flattering his/her audience.

Lastly, I get unreasonably miffed by books that read like films. Books are not some springboard for getting your ideas onto the silver screen and I hate feeling like they're being used in this way. This definitely comes under the banner "pet peeve" but this is blog and I'll peeve if I want to.

My fundamental problem with Unwind is that I just didn't believe unwinding could be the result of an extrapolation of current circumstances, which is precisely how Shusterman presents it. My difficulty was seeing how unwinding was any sort of compromise between the aims and values of pro-choicers and pro-lifers. Neither group devalues human life already in existence. The difference in ideology lies in where that line is drawn, whether at the very moment of conception, or after a foetus has reached a certain stage in gestation. Then there's the question of whether an unwind is technically alive after dismemberment. The passing of the unwinding Bill is based on the assumption that an unwind is still alive--he or she continues their existence in bits and pieces transplanted or grafted onto others.

I couldn't make these two leaps. To me they just didn't make sense, and I don't think it's my personal ideology getting in the way. I'm a pro-choice athiest and an organ doner, but I don't have any romantic notions about living on in the body of those who receive my parts when I die. I doubt anyone has this notion, though it is a comfort to know that after death you can still do some good in the world. I also believe in the sacredness of the human condition. As an athiest I don't believe in the afterlife, so all that matters to me is this world, my existence here and the people who will exist here after me. And at the other end of Shusterman's spectrum, I have grave doubts that any pro-lifer thinks a teenager will live on in scattered pieces within other people's bodies. Excuse my religious ignorance, but isn't there something in the Bible about being buried whole on consecrated ground to await judgment day? Aren't there Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse even blood transfusions?

The flattery: there's nothing more appealing to teenagers than feeling hard done by. I know I loved to wallow in self pity all the damn time when I was fifteen. No one's had it harder than me. No one trusts me. My family and school and the whole world exists to take away my sense of agency, my freedom, my power. I counted the days until I could finish school and move to the city, and boy was I unbearable in those last few months! My own income, my own home, my own rules were just on the horizon, and I shamelessly rubbed my mother's nose in it.

But back to being fifteen and feeling hard done by. Why do teenagers specifically get unwound? Why between the ages of thirteen and eighteen do children suddenly become second-class citizens, fodder for the organ transplant industry? Sure they're young and healthy and make great doners, but that's hardly a valid justification. Shusterman provides no good reason for why teenagers are the only demographic to be cut up. The only one that I can see is because he is writing for teenagers, and he is tapping into teenagers' feelings of being hard done by. Which is a bloody cheap shot and one I can't respect.

Then there's that scene. How clever of Shusterman to make Roland the central figure, a would-be rapist and a total meat-head. Don't we all want him to suffer, to go away and stop effing everything up? Many people have described this book as emotionally draining, and they're spot on. As a psych graduate I learned a myriad of ways our brains can be reduced to useless grey muck. How different pathologies manifest themselves in brain-damaged individuals. It's fascinating and horrifying at the same time, a combination I find irresistible. But as I said above I can be a total pussy and I have a very definite line. Shusterman crossed my line. To have Roland awake and talking and thinking during the procedure made me want to vomit. He could have been a kitten-torturing paedophile and all I would want to do would be to rescue him, to get him out of there.

And therein lies my quandry. That Shusterman was able to make me react like this is rather delicious, don't you think? I got the same delight from realising that while reading Lolita I was egging Humbert on. I go into this further in Sympathy for the Devil.

So what's my problem? Did I like it or didn't I like it? If I didn't like it, why didn't I just write a negative review and move on? Well, that's what I've been struggling to answer. I think my problem is that Unwind is really quite a good book despite its flaws. Look at all the thinking and struggling I've done over it! Months of confusion and pondering! My gut reaction is NO and AWFUL and GET IT AWAY, by my mind refuses to listen to my body. (On the other hand, reading Twilight gave me the opposite reaction. My body was going all squishy and happy, and my mind was saying, "Bella, you suck." Maybe books should be starred in two ways: your body gives a rating and your mind gives a rating!)

In summary, I liked and I hated Unwind at the same time. Notice I didn't say love, only like. But I tip my hat to you, Neal Shusterman. You've certainly given me a struggle.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In My Mailbox (2)

I'm a tiny bit seedy from the dinner party I hosted for my three gorgeous friends last night, so this might be brief. I made good, solid comfort food to bid farewell to winter: roo stew and mashed potatoes, and self-saucing chocolate pudding with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Shona made Athol Brose for our digestif, a concoction she learned from her time in the Scottish Highlands. It's delicious, and tastes almost like a nog: 7 parts water, 7 parts whiskey, 5 parts cream and one part honey, warmed on the stove. Traditionally the water has had oats steeped in it, but we went for the low-fuss version. Doesn't it just make you want to curl up with a big mug and a Diana Gabaldon novel? Preferably while it rains.

This week I got one book for review: The Demon's Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan. I feel the need to read more YA with male protagonists, and the premise sounds fantastic. And how cool is the Australia/UK cover? I love the bird standing on the apostrophe!

I bought The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody and How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier on Tuesday from the Melbourne Writers' Festival, and they were both lovely enough to sign them for me, which I'm pretty stoked about.

My special OS order came in too: a hardback edition of The Hunger Games! Must do a reread before Catching Fire comes out.

I'm getting my dad into YA! This year he became a high-school teacher (mostly because it meant he could talk maths and physics all day to a captive audience, I reckon) so naturally he should have some quality books to discuss with his students. He's a speculative nut like me and has read all the classics in my Dystopia Challenge, so I started him off with the Obernewtyn Chronicles, which he's devouring, and The Hunger Games which I hope he loves as much as me. Then I'm thinking Snyder's Study series, and Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series. He's writing a sci-fi book of his own right now and we read each others work which is pretty cool!

From the library I got Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley, The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, World War Z by Max Brooks (Googling it just now I see it's due out as a movie next year!) and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Can you tell which one I'm most excited about? "TODD HEWITT!!" If you haven't started this series yet now is the time because book two came out recently. The writing style and voice in these books are just so unique. As a reader I adore it and as a writer I'm green with envy. It's good frigging sci-fi.

After having a good rant about Unwind at Lauren on i was a teenage book geek I think I've finally sorted out my feelings about it. If you've read it, you'll know it's a difficult book, and for months I've been unable to review it. Tomorrow I'm going to try to put my blobby, amoeba-like feelings into words. Probably. Unless girls' night tonight turns messy ...

Three days until the US release and ten days til the Australian release of the most anticipated book of the year! A big bowl of strawberry ice-cream* to the first person who guesses which book I'm talking about. Oh, lookee, my first contest. Open to ... THE UNIVERSE.

*BYO bowl and strawberry ice-cream.

Happy Caturday!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #19: Uglies, Scott Westerfeld

In Tally's world, everyone gets to be Pretty once they turned sixteen. Model pretty. After the operation your only job is to have a good time in New Pretty Town. What could be the harm in that? Tally can't wait to turn sixteen and join her best friend Peris over the river. But then she meets Shay, a girl who doesn't want the operation. Instead, Shay runs away to the Smoke and Tally finds herself in a terrible position: either betray her friend, or never become Pretty.

Who remembers when Gemma Ward burst onto the fashion scene as a 16-year-old in 2004? Suddenly she was in every Vogue shoot and in every second ad in every glossy magazine, pouting out at you with her wide mouth and big baby blues. Ward is the very definition of a Scott Westerfeld pretty: she looks like an overgrown infant. As a species we're hard-wired to find babies lovable. And vulnerable. To want to protect them. And we react the same way to grown-ups who look like babies. But that's only part of it what it takes to be a Pretty. We're trained to react to symmetry, as well. Asymmetry often indicates genetic defects, and it's not to your evolutionary advantage to lust after someone who's going to pass on their defects to your offspring.

It's little wonder, then, that Tally Youngblood can't wait to be Pretty and see people's eyes melt when they gaze at her. It's also easy to see why a government would encourage people to aspire to little more than being beautiful and passive. Party people don't think much about overthrowings and revolutions, or murder and violence and theft. This I liked about Uglies. In this way it reminded me a lot of Brave New World.

Uglies is just begging to be turned into a film. Every scene is so cinematic. The lights and fireworks of New Pretty Town. The white orchid helicopter burnings. The fast-paced hoverboarding. Not to mention the Pretties. Wide-eyed, plump-lipped Pretties partying on rooftops and living the high-life.

But I have a problem with the stakes. Part I sets up the world, the Pretties, the bored uglies who are just dying to be Pretty. Part II is the escape, and the resistance. Part III, logically, should be the smack-down. The consequences for defying the rule of law. The Specials wreaking their revenge. The punishment. But it never comes. And right from the beginning I could tell it was never going to come. Tally just gets away with far too much as an ugly, and is then released without even a smack on the wrist. The way in which she's released is laughable, with nothing more than a "You better come back, or we Specials will be mighty angry with you, young lady!" And later, the consequences of the rebels being captured are no worse than getting turned into a Vogue model with some instant anger management classes--both of which are completely reversible! I just didn't feel the fear. Compared to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's nothing. Compared to Nineteen Eighty-Four, it's nothing. Compared to A Clockwork Orange, it's nothing. And though Westerfeld has attempted to recreate it for a modern audience, compared to Brave New World, it's nothing. The consequences are nothing. So I couldn't engage with the story like I wanted to, because I just wasn't scared for Tally and Shay. And it's even more annoying because the superhuman Specials have the scope to be genuinely terrifying, but in the midst of a battle they come across as little more than parental with their now, nows and their "I don't want to hurt you, but I will if you give me no choice". Pfft.

The way I'm talking you're going to think I didn't like Uglies. On the whole I did. I was just horribly frustrated by it at the same time. The story rallies in a major way in the last dozen pages, and because of that I'm going to have to read Pretties to see what happens to Tally and Shay. But I'm not in any screaming hurry to do so.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I invite you to FREAK ME OUT

I heard about RIP IV on Tempting Persephone and My Friend Amy today, and I just have to sign up. This is a Halloween challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. I'm always up for reading more supernatural stuff. Plus my Dystopia Challenge ends on August 31 so a new challenge is just what I need.

But here's where you come in. I need some freaky, scary book suggestions. Something that's going to make me afraid the dark; my own shadow; my mother! Something that will raise the hairs on the back of my neck when I read it home alone. Or perhaps some dark fantasy. Or Gothic mystery. Something with teeth and dank, dark dungeons, and things that go moan in the night. It doesn't necessarily have to be young adult, either.

Saying that, I don't like anything sadistic, or excessively cruel, or with hateful, violent sex. I picked up a Poppy Z. Brite book of short stories in my teens and I've never been the same since. And not in a good way. I'd just finished reading everything that Anne Rice had ever written and was looking to branch out. One story (rather regrettably) has stuck in my mind. One character sodomized another with a shotgun, and in the heat of passion the gun went of and blasted the poor boy's guts all over everything. I'll probably still have the memory of this story when I'm eighty.

So apart from stories that deal with shot-gun sodomy, I'm open to suggestions! Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, ghost stories, horror (cruelty free, please) thriller and paranormal.

So go ahead. Freak me out.

District 9

I started getting impressed with District 9 from the moment I realised the events mirrored Apartheid. Apparently it's based on real events that occurred in District 6, Johannesburg in 1966. This was a real dystopian film, then, as it had a "learn from this" undertone.

This is a film that plumbs the depths of human cruelty and greed. It's pretty disturbing at the beginning and there doesn't seem to be a hero at all. Wickus, the main character, starts off as heinous as anyone else, taking delight in the deaths of the alien children by incineration as they "pop like corn". There's a revolting government lab which looks the one Ripley discovers in Aliens 3. (I think it's Aliens 3. The one where the experiments were done to bring her and her wee alien back to life after she jumps into the lava. Come to think of it, it might be Aliens 4. By the way isn't Alien just a fantastic film?) Though I squirmed a bit at the beginning, District 9 has a great pay-off, it's clever and it looks amazing. But it's certainly not one for the faint-hearted.

I saw a couple of previews that looked interesting, and a few more that looked absolute rubbish, including The Final Destination (they're still flogging this dead horse?) and Theta-Pi (a not-so-cleverly-disguised I Know What You Did Last Summer. 2012 looked okay, but I'm a bit over epic cinematic disaster films. It's Surrogates that piqued my interest. It looks like a cross between Bladerunner and The Island. (Hands up who likes The Island? ME!)

Here's the trailer. Tomorrow I review Uglies, by Scott Westerfield. See you then!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'll never wash these eyeballs again!

Today I went to see Isobelle Carmody and Justine Larbalestier talk about the rules of invention--and then I got to meet them afterward and get books signed! I won't lie to you. I gushed.

That's Larbalestier in the middle and Carmody on the right. They were both such good speakers, describing how they came up with their worlds, what fantasy means to them and how they feel about their characters as they write them. The session was part of the schools program so there were lots of kids in the audience, including some from my old high school! I looked for one of my old English teachers but all the faces were unfamiliar.

I brought up with Justine how pleased I was about the new US Liar cover, and here's the "edit" she did for me on one of her promo cards :)

After I picked up a copy of The Stone Key and How to Ditch Your Fairy, I got them both signed! My first author autographs since I went with my mother to meet David Attenborough at the launch of The Private Life of Plants.

For those of you anticipating the release of The Sending, book six in the series, last I heard it was due out in February next year, but Carmody mentioned as she was signing my book that it will probably be later. She also mentioned an Australian tour to celebrate its release, and a masquerade ball! How do I get on that guest list?!

I just got home from seeing District 9. More on that tomorrow, plus thoughts on the trailers I saw for 2012 and Surrogates. Dystopian movies galore right now!

Today was a good day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #18: Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden

Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first book in one of Australia's most popular young adult series. Since its publication in 1993 it has been kept constantly in print and on bookshop shelves, and has been extremely well received elsewhere in the world. It gave me my first taste of dystopian fiction as a teenager and has remained one of my favourite books. I reread it for my dystopia challenge and I'm pleased that it's as good as I remember.

Seven teenagers go camping for a week in a remote, almost inaccessible valley known locally as Hell. Upon their return they discover that their rural hometown of Wirrawee has been invaded by a foreign power and nearly everyone has been taken prisoner. At first the group has no way of knowing the extent of the invasion, but soon discover that nearly all of Australia has fallen to the invaders. Told through Ellie, this is an intense story of the group's fight for survival and freedom.

The charm of the Tomorrow series is in it's characters. Each represents an archetypal Australian teenager. Ellie, the narrator, is the farm girl, practical and resourceful. Fi is the sweet and unpractical "city" girl. Robin is squeamish and religious, but the one to rely on. Corrie is the BFF, the girl next door. Kevin is the blustery, hot-headed young man, the one who radiates "bad news". Lee is a "still waters run deep" sort of guy with a tendency to sulk. Homer is the knockabout, quick to poke fun, but able to keep his head in a crisis.

Marsden puts these seven characters under intense pressure, and that's when the fun begins. I have a bad habit of turning over the bottom corner of a page when I come across a particular telling or witty passage, so I can revisit it later. Tomorrow has got about a hundred little dog-eared corners. Here are a couple:

"Nearly home free," I said, and set off again. I should have touched wood once more before I did. The moment I showed my nose, a clatter of gunfire started up behind me. Bullets zinged past, chopping huge chunks of wood out of a tree to my left. I heard a gasp from Corrie and a cry from Kevin. It was as though I had left the ground with sheer fear. For a moment I lost contact with the earth. It was a strange feeling, like I had ceased to be. Then I was diving at the corner of the road, rolling through the grass and wriggling like an earwig into cover. At once I turned to yell at Kevin and Corrie, but as I did they landed on top of me, knocking the wind out of me.

"Go like stink," Kevin said, pulling me up. "They're coming."

I love that line. "They're coming." Another favourite passage is this one, where Ellie begins to feel the fallout of a kill-or-be-killed situation:

It was hard for me to believe that I, plain old Ellie, nothing special about me, middle of the road in every way, had probably just killed three people. It was too big for me to get my mind around. When I thought of it baldly like that: killed three people, I was so filled with horror. I felt that my life was permanently damaged, that I could never be normal again, that the rest of my life would just be a shell. Ellie might walk and talk and eat and drink, but the inside Ellie, her feelings, were condemned to wither and die.
As well as all the running and hiding and fighting and outwitting the teenagers have to do, regular, everyday tensions arise. Power struggles. Romance. Ellie and Homer? Ellie and Lee? Homer and Fi? Ellie remarks at one point that it's impossible to think about relationships in the situation they're in. But the sexual tension is there throughout the whole series, simmering away and adding another dimension to the plot.

Tomorrow has a great sense of place. The interior of Australia is a harsh, unforgiving land. Most of our population lives on the eastern seaboard in the cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Travel west from any of these places and you will quickly find yourself isolated. The countryside is beautiful: craggy rock formations, gullies, paddocks of dusty sheep. It's these that Marsden describes in Tomorrow, evoking the beauty of rural Australia, but also its unforgiving nature. (Travel further west, right into the interior, and you reach the desert: flat, sharp rocks, spiky plants, and miles of it. Watch Rabbit Proof Fence or Lucky Miles if you want to get a sense of what it's like.)

I also want to explore here two things Marsden makes intentionally vague throughout the series: Who invaded Australia, and when exactly did it happen?

The first thing I noticed when reading Tomorrow this time around is that the invasion occurs on Commemoration Day. Huh? Commemoration Day? There IS no such holiday in Australia. After a bit of Googling I discovered that Commemoration Day is a collective term for several of our national holidays, notably Australia Day (January 6), Anzac Day (April 25) and Remembrance Day (November 11). At some point in the novel Ellie sees fires burning in the distance and remarks that it's too late for burning off (we have fire restrictions over the dry months) and too early for bushfires. Most of our bushfires occur at the end of summer, in February, as with the ferocious and deadly bushfires that occurred earlier in the year that became known as the Black Saturday bushfires. The only holiday that Commemoration Day could refer to, then, is Australia Day. There is a certain irony to this. Australia Day is also known unofficially by Indigenous Australians and their supporters as Invasion Day, as it marks the day that Britain brought disease, murder and abuse to the Indigenous population. It's difficult to say whether Marsden is trying to draw parallels between this event and the events in his series. As I remember there is nothing further in the books that could be taken as supporting Indigenous rights.

The identity of the invaders is also vague, which is understandable. It's not necessary to the story to be able to know who the invaders are. I only wonder for reasons of pure curiosity. All that is said is that they come from a crowded country not far to the north of Australia, and one with a huge military budget. I wondered at first if it could be Indonesia, which is directly north of Australia, but I don't believe their air force is anywhere near as large as the one described by Marsden. Logically, then, it must be either China, Japan or North Korea. Since the inaugural Australia/Invasion Day, this country has only experienced direct attacks during the bombings of Darwin by the Japanese on fifty-nine occasions over 1942/3. The bombings, which occurred during WWII, resulted in a huge loss of morale for Australians. For historical reasons, then, it is possible that the invaders are Japanese. Again, this is speculation for the sake of speculation. I only wonder because I can, not because I'm trying to imply anything about China or Japan or North Korea.

Then again, perhaps Marsden doesn't specify who the invaders are because he doesn't know either--he never intended it to be one nation in particular, but just A Nation.

One last interesting point: When I was reading Z for Zachariah Robert C. O'Brien, the valley Ann and Mr Loomis inhabit remind me a lot of Hell. It's the last place on Earth/Australia that provides sanctuary for the books' characters. To my surprise I found this snippet on page 4o. Ellie and her crew are sitting around in Hell, conjecturing about the end of the world and how cut off they are. It's a rather prescient conversation as a short while later they emerge and discover that the world they know has ended:

"Did you do that book last year in English?" Kevin asked. "X or something?"

"Z? Z for Zachariah?"

"Yeah, that one. That was good I reckon. Only decent book we've ever
If I'd done Z for Zachariah at school I'd be inclined to agree with Kevin.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review: Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Laurel's not like other girls: she's been homeschooled her whole life, she can't stand being cooped up and she can only seem to digest fruits and vegetables. But not only that: she's a faerie, and she doesn't even know it yet. When a lump starts growing on her back at first she thinks it's a pimple, but she's soon horrified to discover that she's actually sprouting a huge flower between her shoulder blades. With the help of her new friend David, she realises that she's not as human as she thought.

Wings is just so sweet. I haven't read widely in the faerie genre; Tinkerbell and the nasty, biting things from Labyrinth make up about the extent of my faerie knowledge. So I'm not sure if it's common to weave Arthurian references to Avalon and Excalibur into faerie stories, as Aprilynne Pike has done. I liked the familiar mythological references, but what I really found interesting was Pike's take on faerie physiology. It's an unexpected blend of science and magic, and because David's such a whiz with a microscope we get to see the process of discovery for ourselves, rather than it be regurgitated as a piece of lore.

There's something relaxing about reading Wings. There's no melodrama; no rushing hither and thither in a huge panic; no prologue that sets an ominous tone for the rest of the novel. Laurel's a bit of a teary girl, but I found her wussiness to be endearing rather than annoying because ultimately she's a sensible girl. I get the feeling she doesn't smile a lot, poor thing. As is common with series right now, there's a love triangle: David, a human boy, in one corner, and Tamani the faerie in the other.* It'll be interesting to see how the relationship pans out over the series as Laurel has priorities in both the human world and the faerie world. There's a sense that larger plot ramifications will dictate down the line where her allegiances lie, and this in turn will affect who she ends up with. I find this rather delicious! I'm pleased to report that after a thorough inspection I found the romance sub-plot to be free of misogyny and passivity, despite Laurel's tendency to melt into the arms of whichever boy she's with. (I'm actually rather jealous of all the melting she was able to do: she might be confused about which boy she wants, but she's getting her fair share of kisses along the way!

After reading Wings I can safely say that Miley Cyrus is NOT the right choice to play Laurel. That girl is going to bring a load of ham, corn and cheese to the adaptation. I'd much rather an unknown who can bring at least modicum of sensitivity to the role. I pictured Laurel to be more like the girl on the cover of Evermore/North of Beautiful. I'm not entirely sure that Wings will translate well to the big screen, either.

Book two in the series, Spells, will be released in 2010, and book three, Enchantments, will be out in (grumble) 2011. No cover yet for Spells as far as I can see, and no teasers either. Has anyone heard anything about it?

All in all, Wings is a pleasant read. It's whetted my appetite for the genre, too. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr and Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog.

*I'll reserve my full judgement until I've read further into the series, but I'm tending towards "Team Tamani". He's a seriously spunky faerie. Though hot-nerd David does have his attractions.

AGENT NEWS: Yesterday a partial manuscript request turned in a full manuscript request, which I'm very pleased about as it means my first fifty pages wasn't a complete turn-off! It also means there's going to be MORE waiting. Gah. For those of you who've just tuned in, I'm writing a YA fantasy trilogy. The first one, Lharmell, has been requested by five agents and been with them for the last four to six weeks, as either a partial or a full. I'm in an agony of anticipation!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

In My Mailbox (1)

This week I received a book to review so I thought I'd join in on In My Mailbox, hosted by The Story Siren. My very first review copy for this blog! It's Wings by Aprilynne Pike, which has just been released in Australia. I also bought a very sweet little edition of Jane Eyre, my favourite book, and the lastest edition of Meanjin showed up in my letterbox. Meanjin showcases Australia's best new writing. It can be a bit dry, but it's a good read.

I also received Tamora Pierce's Immortals quartet from eBay, my absolute favourite of her books. It's been so long since I've read them, though. I hope they're as good as I remember! The covers are a bit naff, but sort of cute too.

I also got Skinned by Robin Wasserman from the library. It'll probably be my last book for the Dystopia Challenge which ends on the 31st. But never fear, there'll still be lots of dystopia books reviewed here!

In other news, it's SPRING! Not officially, but it's sunny outside (if cold) and the cherry trees are blossoming. This is the view from my balcony into my neighbour's back yard. You can see the Hills hoist and shed, too. How Aussie is that.

Happy Caturday! =^..^=

Friday, August 21, 2009

Audacity of Huge

The Melbourne Writers' Festival kicked off today and will run until August 30. The schools' program is fantastic, and features such YA giants as Isobelle Carmody, Scott Westerfield and Justine Larbalestier. And it's not just for kids! I'm going to two sessions next week, the first being The Rules of Invention (2821) with Larbalestier and Carmody at 10.00 am on Tuesday, and Isobelle Carmody in Conversation (2612) at 11.15 am on Wednesday. I get to be in the same room as Carmody! If I squeed, I'd be doing it right now. Fingers crossed for an autograph.

I've organised a couple of events at the festival for the publishing house I work for, so come down to the Festival Club at ACMI this Sunday at 1 pm and 2.30 pm if you're hanging out in the atrium with nothing to do. They're free events: Arcadian Delights (fiction and poetry) and Australian Biography and Autobiography. I'll be the one at the back with a vodka NOT doing a Bridget Jones. That girl gives us book publicists a huge complex!

In other news, I've won two more awards! Thanks so much to Amy of My Friend Amy and WillowRaven of Red House Books for the Let's Be Friends Award.

I'm not entirely sure of the rules, but I thought I'd nominate three people, in no particular order:

Lauren at I was a teenage book geek

Ladybug of Escape in a Book

Adele at Persnickety Snark

As these awards usually stipulate naming a few of your favourite things, I thought I'd go one one big favourite: my new favourite song. 'Audacity of Huge' by Simian Mobile Disco. It makes me want to whip these trackies off and go dancing. The film clip is gorgeously kitsch. Pay close attention to the honey-dipped tennis players!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Voice-over Epiphany

Today a children's television writer, Robert Greenberg, came to speak to my young adult writing class. His claim to fame was working on such classics from my childhood like Round the Twist (based on Paul Jennings' fabulous short stories) and Lift Off. He's latest project is Stormworld which I believe is currently screening in Canada. He showed us a snippet and I got all goosepimpley and awed. It's YA dystopian, what can I say!

Greenberg ran through such writerly principles as setups and payoffs and status. Then he told us about the secret of good voice-overs. This made me sit up and pay attention. I hate clunky exposition, whether it be in film, television or books. There's nothing worse than the narrative stopping so a character can soliloquise for a few minutes. As Greenberg said, unless you're Shakespeare, you probably can't pull it off.

The trick to good voice-overs it seems (and this is more film and TV than books) is that the speaker should either tell the audience something they don't already know, or the voice should contrast with the character's actions. Bad voice-overs, on the other hand, tell the audience what they can already see, and is therefore redundant.

OK, maybe that's totally obvious to everyone but me, but when Greenberg said this the clouds parted and I had one of these eureka! moments. Particularly as it solved this: why I don't like Dexter.

I tried my hardest to like Dexter. When it first came on TV, I watched it. I love cop dramas, and I love black humour and the Six Feet Under and so on. I just didn't like Dexter, and I couldn't work out why. I found myself rolling my eyes and getting that dirty, corny feeling whenever he opened his big, fat, voice-overed mouth.

The clincher came sometime late in one episode when he was handing out doughnuts from a box. He looked down and the last one had been taken, and he thinks, "Oh look. Empty. Like my heart," which is all fine and dandy, except that his face also says, "Oh look. Empty. Like my heart." I gave up on the show right there and then and I couldn't work out why. Until now: the show totally over does it with voice-overs.

Maybe Dexter gets it together in later episodes, and the voice-over thing was just overused at first because the producers were worried people wouldn't be able to relate to a vigilante murderer. When really, aren't we all gunning for someone to go nab the bastards that got away?

Monday, August 17, 2009

REVIEW: Graceling, by Kristen Cashore

Katsa, the niece of King Randa, is Graced with the ability to kill. It's a skill that sees her exploited by her uncle and feared by all. When the father of the King of Leinid is kidnapped for seemingly no reason, Katsa meets Po, the only person whose fighting skills are anywhere near as good as hers. Realising she doesn't want to be the king's thug any longer, she and Po embark on a journey to find out just who is behind the kidnapping, and discovers that the truth is far darker than she imagined.

I have a thing for books about chicks who fight. Blame it on my formative years spent reading Tamora Pierce. It took me a little while to warm to Graceling, probably because I was expecting something like the Alana quartet. I was a little put out at first that Katsa seemed to have everything sorted: she's discovered her special abilities, she's got her fighting skills and her place in court, and she's all grown up. Things aren't supposed to be sorted in YA lit, that's their charm! But, of course, things aren't what they seem.

This isn't a Pierce book, it's a Kristen Cashore book, and when I got over my preconceptions boy did I like it. The moment it clicked for me was on pp. 64-65 of the paperback. Po has been fighting with Katsa, and Giddon, who has a wee (big, fat) crush on her, has taken umbrage to a scratch that Po has given her:

Katsa looked from one of them to the other, the two of them shaking hands, understanding each other's concern. She didn't see where Giddon came off feeling insulted. She didn't see how Giddon had any place in it at all. Who were they, to take her fight away from her and turn it into some sort of understanding between themselves? He should've taken more care of her face? She would knock his nose from his face. She would thump them both, and she would apologise to neither.

I hooted with laughter when I read this and promptly got out my green and purple pom-poms and did the feminists' victory dance all over my lounge room. There are plenty of instances in the book where she stands up for women's rights. Cashore doesn't get preachy about it; I think it just stuck out because between Bianca and her trunk-searching and apocalypses written in the 1950s I've been starved for a character I can be proud of.

This book has one of the most powerful adventure/survival sequences that I've read in a long time, one that really challenges Katsa's Grace. It reminds me a lot of the documentary film Touching the Void* because the events take her to the absolute limits of her endurance. Katsa and Po are still growing into their talents, something that wasn't apparent to me at first glance. But the pair do develop as the narrative progresses, and he's a very likable love-interest. This books is a wonderful romance as well as a great fantasy adventure, and is as satisfying as a standalone novel. Everything is thoroughly fleshed out, dealt with and tied up--apart from one thing. I'm assuming somewhere down the track we're going to see the sequel to Graceling, as things with King Randa are left unresolved. But come October 9 of this year Fire is being released, the prequel, and it's already picked up plenty of platitudes. Is Cashore writing the sequel to Graceling? If she is I'd love to know.

I'm glad I've gotten into Cashore's writing right from the beginning of her career, as I wish I had done with Maria V. Snyder. I hope we're going to see a lot more from Kashore in the future.

*This is a fantastic film from 2003. It switches between interviews with the real pair of mountaineers that climbed, and got stuck, on Siula Grande, and a re-enactment of the events. It's a very frank, gripping and emotional story, and it's also my boyfriend's favourite film. And he's a giant film nerd, so that's saying something.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Library Haul (6)

I'm picking up more books than I can read right now, but I can't help myself! This is my latest haul:

I may end up just browsing the Dr Manhattan scenes in this book. I saw the film Watchmen a few weeks ago and was rather taken with His Blueness.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman just been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award. Congratulations Alison! This title is also known overseas as Eon, or Dragoneye Reborn.

Evermore by Alison Noel has received heaps of blogger attention and seems to be the author's first foray into paranormal fiction.

A older title, Wicked Lovely is the first book in an urban fantasy series that is apparently mandatory to read in order. I'm not a huge fan of UF, but I'll give it a go.

Speaking of older titles, Animal Farm is a classic from 1945. I was scarred for life as a child when watching the cartoon version that is so not for kids. I was horrified by the thought that my Clag glue could be made of ponies.

I'm jumping on the bandwagon! My local vid store hasn't got the series yet so I thought I'd start with the books.

In other news, Sharon at Sharon Loves Books and Cats mentioned me in her Random Saturday post and said some lovely things about my reviews. In thanks here's a Lolcat, from one cat lover to another:

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Last night I was meant to stay in and finish Graceling and write a review for the Book Smugglers Young Adult Appreciation Month Collaboration Day. But it didn't quite work out like that. Let's just say there were many friends, flashing lights and a German DJ ...

So instead of a review I'm going to direct you here, to Steph Bowe of Hey Teenager of the Year who has a profile up on me. It's the second one in a week, with Lenore from Presenting Lenore giving me a Well Worth Watching profile on her blog last week. I feel so famous. I swear there's Paparazzi outside me door!

In bookish news I picked up a second-hand copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. This is the book that the movie Bladerunner is based on, but apparantly the book is very different to the film. I hope so. Maybe I'll actually understand the book.

I have a wedding to go to this afternoon but more from me tomorrow. There's a couple awards I need to gratefully receive and then bounce back into the blogger community three-fold, and hopefully I'll write that review. So far, Graceling=really good. Happy Caturday!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Politics of Nineteen Eighty-Four

This post has one spoiler (which is flagged) and will be of interest to those who have read Nineteen Eighty-four as well as those who haven't. In fact I recommend reading this (if I do say so myself!) if you intend to read Orwell's book, as I wish I knew the following when I did.

I intended to re-read this book and write a traditional review, but my challenge days are running out and besides, I thought this might be more fun. Before we get started I don't pretend to be very political. Until recently I couldn't tell the difference between communism and socialism. Mind you, I'm still hazy on the details so don't go quizzing me! If I make any glaring errors, do let me know. Nicely of course :)

In a club on Friday night I was rabbiting on to someone about The Epoch Times, a newspaper that's handed out free on the street every Thursday. It's very left-wing and predominantly anti-Chinese Communist Party, and published in several countries around the world. I'm quite fond of The Epoch Times. I don't read it regularly, but I really like the style of journalism that its writers practise. It's very hands-on and anecdotal, and I like a dose of radicalism to get all fired up about now and again. A girl overheard me talking about the paper and asked, "Are you a socialist?" with this I've-found-a-kindred-spirit-at-4am look on her face. I thought about it. Am I? Truthfully, I'm not anything. I want the government to leave me alone so I can get on with my life, really. But I do believe in state-run schools, hospitals and childcare, which is one of the tenets of socialism. (I'd love it if there was free dental care, too. I'm too afraid to go to the dentist right now. Not because of the needles, but because of the potential amount of the bill!)

But when the government gets involved in running things people can get nervous, and rightly so. Can't trust 'em as far as you can throw 'em, governments. The Party (as they are known) in Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, which I read about a year ago now and was published in 1949, runs everything in Oceania (basically the Commonwealth: Britain and so on). It's a totalitarian regime, one characterised by severe rationing, surveillance and the suppression of dissent. They even control history, altering newspapers and archives as alliances shift and non-persons (executed dissidents) "disappear".

Ingsoc is the political ideology of the Party, which is a contraction of ENGlish SOCialism. It'd be safe to assume, then, that Orwell wasn't very fond of socialism, right? But Orwell professes to be a democratic socialist himself. In a letter dated June 16, 1949, he states that the book

is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions ... which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. ...The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.

So why Ingsoc? Why would a self-professed socialist write a book that could be so easily misconstrued as anti-socialist?

As mentioned above, the Party is fond of perverting history for its own purpose. Doing this they turn English socialism from a revolution meant to benefit the population of Britain into a cruel regime. Doublespeak, which is the language constructed for political purposes, distorts and corrupts meaning; the Party turns English socialism into Ingsoc, a movement that

rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it does so in the name of Socialism.

(From The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a book by Emmanuel Goldstein, the former ruler of the Party. The above is quoted from Nineteen Eighty-Four. **SPOILER ALERT** The book doesn't exist outside the pages of Orwell's novel, and perhaps not even there. It, like its author, may have been invented by the Party to flush out dissidents.)

So as you can see, Nineteen Eighty-Four isn't anti-socialist at all, but rather profoundly anti-totalitarian. I would like to tell you that I got all this from simply reading the book, but I didn't. In fact, I defy anyone to actually work it out for themselves, and it seems that no one did judging by Orwell's emphatic letter quoted above.

Random trivia: After reading Nineteen Eighty-Four, David Bowie wanted to turn the book into a musical theatre production. Some descendant of George Orwell gratefully declined to give him the rights, and thank the stars they did. I love Bowie to bits but can you imagine how it would have turned out? No doubt starring himself as Winston Smith. The Goblin King as Winston Smith! Disappointed but not deterred, Bowie wrote an absolute shocker of a song called '1984' instead.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dystopia Review #16: The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008) is one of the strangest books I have ever read. It's also one of the best. I had very little idea of what it was about when I picked it up from the library except that I had heard somewhere that it is dystopian. And is it?

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown. Prentisstown isn't like anywhere else. It's not on Earth. There's no women. And everyone can hear each other's Noise. Noise is thoughts--words, pictures, feelings. So there's no secrets.

A month from his thirteenth birthday, the date when he will become a man, Todd stumbles across a well of silence, and what he finds there forces him to run.

So, no secrets. Well that's a lie! This novel is one big secret. Keep in mind that when I say this book is strange, I don't mean obtuse or confusing. Rather, The Knife was exceedingly easy to read and understand, which is another reason I'm giving this book a great big recommendation. Three cheers for complex but thoroughly understandable plots!

It's written in Todd's Prentisstown vernacular, all yer dog and desperayshun and effing this and that. It's almost a stream of consciousness, but not quite. The writing is far more grammatical than Todd Hewitt could ever manage, and thank goodness for that because actual stream of consciousness writing drives me nuts. Patrick Ness uses just enough slang and bad spelling to give the impression that we're hearing Todd's thoughts, and that's a magical thing for a writer to be able to do.

It's also rather funny:
The girl just looks at me, her forehead still creased, holding her cut.
Which is kinda bleeding a lot.
"Stick, Todd!" Manchee barks.
"And where the hell were you?" I say to him.
"Poo, Todd."
I make a "Gah!" sound and kick some dirt at him.
Oh, the animals can talk too, by the way. But this isn't a fantasy novel. Everything has a scientific basis and the events are set sometime in the future, which makes this a sci-fi novel. A sci-fi novel with a decidedly dystopian flavour. Todd's escaping from one of the most oppressive, religiously fanatical, nutty societies that ever was. And the villain! Oh the villain. He's like one of those horror movie killers that just won't bloody die even though they've been eviscerated and shot and stabbed and beaten to a pulp.

Tangent: I'm going to make a wild stab in the dark here and say that many dystopian novels are written by atheists, for atheists. My reasoning is purely anecdotal: there are so many stories about society collapsing and being ruled by a totalitarian religious faction. It could also be that dystopian fiction wasn't invented until after Charles Darwin cried "Apes!"* because it takes a special kind of gloomy, one particular to atheists, to realise that if you have a shitty life, there ain't no puffy cloud waiting for you in the afterlife. This is it. So it better count for something. And that's a pretty important theme in dystopian fiction. End tangent.

By the time the truth is explained to Todd Hewitt, he's already worked the truth out for himself, and so has the reader. But that's okay. It's rather satisfying to able to say smugly, "I know already. Cheers for the update, though."

One little bug-bear: There's this whole big thing about no one being able to hide their thoughts from anyone else because of the Noise. But things are hidden from Todd his whole life, and things happen, big things, that he should hear because no one can keep secrets. But secrets are kept just the same. Which doesn't make a lot of sense. But, again, I'll go along with it. It's the only tiny weakness in a great big wonderful book.

The Knife is a fabulous modern addition to my challenge. As I progress I keep thinking to myself, "this is my favourite of the challenge" ... "no, this is!" I'm going to have to have a good debriefing post to get it all straightened out. But that aside, if I gave ratings The Knife would get 10 out of 10. Five by Five. Gold stars baby.

Book two in this series, The Ask and the Answer, was just released last month. So no agonised wait to see what happens next, yippee!

*Actually, "Finches!" would be a better approximation. Here's a bit of trivia for you: On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. The word dystopia was coined in 1860.

Monday, August 10, 2009

GOT IT!! + Book Blogger Appreciation Week Meme + Awards

STOP THE PRESSES! While I've been sitting here writitng this post, that book I was trying to find yesterday has been found! I had so very little information about it, but cywrain suggested I try What Was That Book? at LiveJournal. I posted here and smartycat came back with the answer within the hour. *happy dance*

And what was the book, you ask? John Peel's The Secret of Dragonhome (1998). Ta-DAH!

Has anyone else read this? I'm so going to buy this right now, review it and have a long gush to you all about how good it is.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is on this year from September 14-18. I've just stumbled across it and I'm feeling rather community spirited right now so I thought I'd get involved. The first thing I did is sign up to interview and be interviewed by another blogger. Now I'm going to answer the newbie meme questions...

1) What has been one of the highlights of blogging for you?
Meeting new people from around the world who really like talking about books. I turn into such a hermit in winter (it's winter in Australia. Well, in the lower bits!) and because I've discovered blogging the last three months have been far more sociable than I was expecting!

2) What blogger has helped you out with your blog by answering questions, linking to you, or inspiring you?
Steph Bowe at Hey Teenager of the Year and Adele at Persnickety Snark, two fellow Australian YA book bloggers and very cool girls. I actually got to meet Adele a little while ago at a YA event when she was over from Adelaide. Also, Lenore from Presenting Lenore for doing a feature on me this weekend. It's brought a lot of lovely new people here.

3) What one question do you have about BBAW that someone who participated last year could answer?
Gosh, I don't know ... will there be cake?

In other news I got an award this weekend from Velvet at vvb32 reads:

Thanks Velvet!

The rules state that:
Once you receive this award you are to list seven of your favorite things and then nominate seven other blogs.

Here are a few of my favorite things...

1. Soy chai lattes

2. A really good writing day

3. Jeans that don't need a belt to stay up!

4. Walking down a deserted street listening to music and pretending I'm in the film clip, lip synching and all.

5. Not getting caught suddenly doing the above.

6. The pretty neighbourhood cats

7. Finding my favourite Tamora Pierce quartet on eBay in very good condition with good covers and for the right price. Which I did this weekend, boo-yah! The series, which I may have mentioned before on this blog, is the Immortals quartet. I may also have mentioned that Numair is one of my all time hottie-hot-hot literary crushes.

And the award goes to...(not in any particular order)

1. Aimee at My Fluttering Heart

2. Kelli at OMG! Books!

3. downtown guy at The Year it Didn't Happen

4. Paradox at Paradoxical

5. Shelli at Layers of Thought

6. Sadako at Dibbly Fresh

7. Cate at Sparrow Review

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome! Plus Help Me Find This Book

If you've just clicked over from Presenting Lenore, welcome! Lenore has been kind enough to do a profile of me on her blog. If you've wandered in from somewhere else, welcome too and I hope you enjoy your stay. If you're a regular here, hello again and a very happy weekend to you!

On your left you'll see the Dystopia Challenge. I'm currently in the middle of my own personal challenge to read the best YA/Classic dystopian fiction around. Click on any of the titles to see my review, and the button to see the full list of works. I would be very pleased if someone would like to review a dystopia title here as a guest blog--just email me at rhi.hart at

Besides dystopian fiction I've also recently reviewed Stargazer by Claudia Gray and Wake by Lisa McCann.

I thought I'd take advantage of a bit of extra traffic through here to see if anyone can identify this book for me. This has been bugging me for yonks. About ten years ago I read it, and I can't remember what it was called or who the author was. The book was newish when I got it from the library, so we're looking at about a 1999 release date.

It was YA fantasy and the protagonist was female. (That sure narrows it down.) I don't think the author was/is famous/well known. I'm pretty sure it was first person or a close third. I'm a little vague with the details, but bear with me. This girl and her little brother (I think it was a brother. It could have been a sister/close friend) have to leave home because something happens to their parents or it's not safe at home anymore.

Then stuff happens.

Towards the end there's a scene that has stuck powerfully in my head. The girl and whoever's with her end up in this big gloomy castle owned by this guy who has to wear gloves all the time because if he touches somebody he can see their future, and he doesn't much like seeing how people are going to die. He and the girl have this whole "maybe I like you" thing going on, and one day he pulls off his gloves and touches her.

Girl: What did you see?
Guy: This. (He kisses her)
Girl: I told you, I'm not that sort of girl!
Guy: I know I know. But I saw us naked in bed...with wedding bands on. (Which is either very romantic or one of the most cunning ploys to get an unsuspecting girl into bed.)

And that's the only scene I remember. (I know, I'm such a sap. All I remember from so many books are the romantic bits and everything else fades into the background.)

A bit later they have to get on these big flying birds and save the day somehow.

Any of this mean anything to anyone? I know I'm not giving you much to work with! It would make my day if somebody said, Oh that's blah blah by blah, and I could pop over to BookMooch and snag myself a copy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: Stargazer by Claudia Gray

In Stargazer, Claudia Gray steps it up a notch. The plot is more intense than Evernight, the writing has improved and the atmosphere is genuinely creepy. I'm very rarely scared by a book, but there's one thing that, when it's done well, will raise the hairs on the back of my neck: ghosts. The wraiths that invade Evernight Academy are there for a reason, and Bianca seems to be it.

I love the explanation Mrs Bethany gives about the creation of wraiths and vampires, and why they're natural enemies. It's highly original. But despite being better in nearly every way from Evernight, Gray has carried one fatal flaw from the first book into the second: the characters. I guess it would be too much to ask for her to scrap her bland heroine, her volatile and untrustworthy hero and an even blander secondary love interest. Why does nearly the entire cast have to be so one-dimensional? Mrs Bethany, for example, has the scope to be an incredibly complex and interesting character, but all we get about her is that she smells like lavender and puts her students down in class.

Did anyone else notice that even though Bianca professes to be shy in Evernight, she never acts shy and all pretence of being so is dropped by book two? Our heroine is left high and dry without even one solid characteristic to help her through the second book. Is she meant to represent the Everygirl, a character that all female readers can impress with their own personalities? *cough*Bella*cough* I don't want the Everygirl. I want a real girl within the pages of a book, one that I can care about.

But if Bianca is inconsistent, Lucas is intolerable. I don't trust him one bit. And I just can't answer the question, Why does Bianca even like him? Because of his amazing green eyes? Because he beat some guys senseless for no reason on their first date? Wasn't that a classy moment. It also rankles that he has this "I know best when it comes to vampires " attitude towards Bianca. The scene in the railway station on page 58 of Stargazer is classic Lucas. It's all very romantic to be protective of your girlfriend but there's no reason to be so pig-headed about it. If Bianca wasn't so insipid and had more than one plan up her sleeve (seriously, how far will snooping in trunks of papers get a girl?) I could let it go. But she is insipid, and Lucas is overbearing, and it annoys the hell outta me. **Highlight for spoiler**: It drives me even more wild when he turns out to be RIGHT!

I'm not on "Team Balthazar" either. He's got as much personality as a glass of water. Tepid water. But while Lucas and Balthazar's personalities leave a lot to be desired, there are several steamy passages involving each of them and Bianca (separately, of course) which I must say are genuinely hot.

I guess I should say one nice thing about one of the characters ... OK, I don't mind Raquel. She's annoying and screwed up, but she feels like she has a pulse if you know what I mean. She feels real, and it looks like she's going to be in this quartet for the long haul which I'm glad about. I want the collage she makes for Bianca, the one with all the lying mouths and guns and knives.

Despite these irritations, I did enjoy Stargazer and will read Hourglass. Gray loves her plot twists. While the twist in the second book isn't quite as eye-popping as in the first, it opens up a whole treasure trove of obstacles for the heroine that makes the prospect of reading books three and four tantalising indeed. I have to find out where this story goes.

If only I didn't feel like boxing Lucas's ears every time he opens his mouth. Well, can't have everything.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hurry, we can CASH IN!

I thought Pride & Prejudice and Zombies was a pretty funny idea. I also thought Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was funny too. Why not have a sequel? I mean, this Abe Lincoln one's at least going to require some original material, so Seth Grahame-Smith's gonna have to really work for his buck this time. Well, good on him for getting a second book option. But what did I see in a bookshop the other day? Sense & Sensibility and Seamonsters. *Groan* Can you say milking it? Captain Wentworth isn't even at sea in S&S, he's returned. No one's at bloody sea. Where are they going to put the sea monsters?

And what do I see on Bookshelves of Doom today? A link to this post about the Beatles being zombified. The title: Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion. *double groan* That's a pun on the "Paul is Dead" you hear when you play Sergeant Peppers backwards or something.

But wait, THERE'S MORE! Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter and I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas. All out this autumn. Doesn't it give you a warm, fuzzy feeling that some bright spark in a publishing house somewhere is taking someone's clever idea and just driving it into the ground in order to squeeze every last freaking drop of cash that they can get out of this cow before anyone can say "exploit"?

And now THIS. A few months ago I read somewhere that French Twihards were going nuts for copies of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte because Bella likes it or something. I don't know, I only read Twilight and that was enough for me. Now look what's appeared at lightening publishing speed. For those of you who can't read it, the little red starburst says "Bella and Edward's Favourite Book". Does everything that has anything to do with this insidious series be Twilightified? I'm sick of black, red and white covers! I'm sick of all this shameless cashing in! Not only is it tasteless but it's disrespectful to the authors who came up with the ideas and writing in the first place, and I'm including Seth Grahame-Smith, Stephenie Meyer and especially Emily Bronte in that statement. Because you can bet that it's not the writers sitting around wondering how they can cash in these books from every possible angle.

(I got this cover from Bloody Bookaholic who got it from A Flight of Minds. Check out their flabbergasted posts and many flabbergasted comments.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

ABCs meme

I've been tagged by Steph at Hey! Teenager of the Year.

The Rules:
- Link to the person who tagged you
- Share your ABCs
- Tag three people at the end by linking to their blogs
- Let the three tagged people know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website
- Do not tag the same person repeatedly but try to tag different people, so there is a big network of bloggers doing this tag.

Available or single?
De facto.

Best Friend?
The boyf. (Really, I'm gagging myself at how sentimental I'm being. I'd put laptop but if he sees that I won't be taken out to dinner this week, ha!)

Cake or Pie?
Cake. Pie isn't so popular in Australia, unless it's filled with cheap beef mince.

Drink of choice?
Soy Chai Latte. Preferably Phoenix Organic Chai from NZ. (What locavore movement?)

Essential item for every day use?
A purse that can hold books up to 500 pages in length, with room for a water bottle too.

Favorite color?
Probably teal. I tend to go for the blues and greens. They look okay with my brown hair and fair skin. And, really, it's what a colour can do for me, right?

I igoogle. It's how I keep up with the blogs I read. I tend to google anything that pops into my head. I think instant research gratification is making me ADD.

Wandin East, Victoria. It's where I left home from, and as my mother's there and I've moved house almost every year since 2001 it still feels like "home". I spent the first ten years in Western Australia, in the Pilbara (red dirt desert, small towns, long drives), so that's a bit like home, too.

Sitting on the couch all afternoon by myself with popcorn and a season of Scrubs. Bliss. But only after I've been VERY productive so I don't twitch about from guilt.

January or February?
January. I'm usually on holiday somewhere beachy.

Kids and their names?
None and no names picked out. I've never even held a baby and the thought creeps me out. Though I do have my future cats' names picked out: Minka, for the cat from Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, and Dinah, from Alice in Wonderland. Not sure what I'll call a boy cat, though.

Life is incomplete without...?
I'm going to be predictable and say a good book to read and several more in an anxious pile on the floor. And a good international house DJ to dance to every weekend or so with a big group of people, or just me and my boy.

Marriage date?
If K-Rudd or some future Prime Minister allows gay marriage (not civil unions, gay marriage) I might consider it. I won't make my gay friends sit through an occasion that they can't celebrate themselves.

Number of siblings?
One. An older brother. He's pretty cool now. I tease him endlessly. It's payback for years of being a little sister.

Oranges or apples?
Apples for convenience of eating. Though I do prefer oranges if I have the time.

Phobias and fears?
Getting my mother's legs (varicose veins exacerbated by pregnancy), and the dark, depending on the recency of watching a scary film. After watching The Shining a few months ago all lights had to be ON near any bath-tubs.

Quote for the day?
From my favourite book, Jane Eyre. I'll paraphrase as I lent my copy to my friend. This is from a scene halfway through the book that I flicked to randomly in a bookshop the other day and is just so romantic (in context. Non-Jane Eyre lovers, go read it now. Better than Austen, Jane Eyre. And Gothic, too.)

Mr Rochester: What love have I for Miss Ingram? What love has she for me? Jane, my wife is here.

Again, paraphrasing. But you get the gist. Most romantic moment in any book EVER.

Reason to smile?
I find lots of reasons. The more the better.

Autumn and Spring. Sunny days, cool, fresh air but no need for heavy uncomfortable coats or sweaty tram rides through the city.

Tag 3 people?
Ana and Thea at The Book Smugglers
Elizabeth and Emily at Underage Reading
Lenore at Presenting Lenore

Unknown fact about me?
I'm a science nerd. Little known fact: people whinge about their wisdom teeth and how they're painful and pointless and expensive to remove, but thousands/millions of years ago when we were evolving, by the time we reached twenty most of our teeth would have rotted away and we'd need these late-onset in order to chew for the next 5-10 years of our lives before we died. For some reason this doesn't console my friends when they bemoan their dentistry bills to me.

Vegetable you hate?
Raw mushrooms, and green capsicum when it's not paired with salami and chilli on pizza.

Worst habit?
Letting my nails grow too long. They're exceedingly strong with a natural white tips (don't you just hate me?) but when they're long it indicates that I haven't been writing as much as I should have. Can't type with long nails.

Xrays you've had?
A few times on my jaw when I got braces, and when I got my wisdom teeth out. And a few times as a baby when I had some sort of nasty chest infection, pleurisy I think.

Your fave food?
Green curry prawns from a good Thai restaurant.

Zodiac sign?
Scorpio. But if you read me my stars a great deal of eye-rolling and sarcastic comments will ensue.