Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Catmas!

Hands up who else is at work on Christmas Eve! And evidently I'm slacking off cos it's gone nine and I'm writing this instead of working on next year's marketing schedule. All in aid of bringing you some purry Christmas cheer...

Merry Christmas! Eat pudding! Flake out with a good book! I'll be getting stuck into The Stand by Stephen King the second I get on the plane tonight. It's going to be a very dystopian Christmas...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Carrie by Stephen King: A review in pictures

OK, white lie. One picture. But it's worth a thousand words, right? That's me on my friend's balcony in Sydney last weekend totally enthralled with Carrie. It was my very first Stephen King fiction read, and coincidentally the first book he ever wrote. And it became a bestseller. Spewing! If only all debuts were as successful.

It's easy to see, reading Carrie, why King's books are so popular. He's done all the hard work for you. Ticked all the boxes. Character, setting, plot. On a platter. All you have to do it eat it up. Perfect holiday reading. I devoured it in the hours between when I woke up and my five other friends did. I fail at sleeping in. I had no idea the above photo was being taken at the time either. It popped up on Facebook the other day and I was delighted.

What I liked best about Carrie was the way King used foreshadowing to build tension. From the very beginning you know that something terrible happens on prom night. That a lot of people are going to die. It's the how and why that pulls you onward, and the pull is very strong. For the squeamish, this isn't a horror novel. It's more a thriller, and the characters and subject matter make it a perfect YA read.

I loved Carrie. I resolve to read more Stephen King. Yesterday I borrowed The Stand from a friend. (And the film adaptation of Carrie.) What a tome. Wish me luck with that one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review: Organ Music, Margaret Mahy

Harley and David find a car with keys in its engine on infamous Forbes Street. But instead of driving it, it starts driving them--to a hidden laboratory deep in a forest. They're told there has been a security breach and they can't leave until they've been cleared. David suspects something is up. They can hear organ music, and the girl Quinta, who can evade the cameras and wander where she chooses, reminds David of the graffiti in Forbes Street: Where's Quinta?

I remember Margaret Mahy from my childhood and I am certain we had lots of her books around the house. I have the feeling they were short story collections full of ghosts, and I think I read The Haunting at some stage. They would have been bought for me as I am the ghostie lover in my family. If these are the books I am remembering, I was very fond of Mahy back then. I don't tend to read a lot of MG fiction, but the stuff I've come across recently is little more than vaguely annoying. One-dimensional characters, caricatures, shallow plot lines. Every line of dialogue ends with an exclamation! Because otherwise! Kids would get bored! Every reaction is an over reaction! It's all just so exciting! Or rather, it tries to be and miserably fails!

Organ Music is an exceedingly well written and genuinely creepy book. I was creeped out. I love situations where a character finds themselves drawn deeper and deeper into trouble, offering resistance but having it stymied at every turn. Mahy has crafted the situation perfectly. Middle Grade novels should all be like this, where no matter what age you are, the writing is evocative and compelling. I believe this about young adult novels too. I find it very sad when juvenile, second-rate writing is deemed "good enough" for children and teenagers.

Beautiful cover design too. Because I'm an Aussie and we love claiming works by New Zealanders as practically our own, huzzah local talent! Local spooky, supernatural talent. Organ Music is available now from Gecko Press.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

CiNeMaSh party at the Glasshouse last night, "come as a film" night. Couldn't resist the chance to go goth. I think the real goths might have confused me as one of their own for a second or two but I ran away when they asked to examine my piercings for authenticity.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ideas and their execution

I am coming to see that there are two main skills a writer can and should have: the ability to generate exciting and plausible ideas, and the ability to execute them. This is hardly a world-shaking revelation on my part. In fact it's rather obvious. But it is a new way of looking at things for myself so I thought I would share it with you.

While reviewing books I have noticed that some writers can take a ripper of an idea and then run it into the ground with atrocious writing. Conversely, a startlingly obvious or unoriginal idea can be elevated to brilliance by its execution. I need hardly give examples--you'll undoubtedly be thinking of your own while reading this. (OK, I'll give one example: this is the second time this week I shall espouse Bill Bryson but I am currently listening to his biography of William Shakespeare in which he writes eloquently, brilliantly and humorously about how we know diddly-squat about the world's most famous poet. This would undoubtedly turn into a cold fish of a book in the hands of a lesser writer.)

For the last few years while working earnestly on becoming published I have spent much time on technique: the sound and structure of a good sentence, grammar, vocabulary and punctuation. I'm rather pleased with the result though I hope for greater improvement in the future. I fear this may mean I will have to start reading and appreciating poetry, as I have heard from several quarters how reading poetry can improve your writing. For some reason I dread the prospect. Poets are so miserly with words, and gosh, how they make you concentrate!

I have read books on setting and character and dialogue and taken much of this into consideration. But the one thing there seems to be a dearth of in the literature of how to be a good, or even great, writer is how to generate ideas. Perhaps this is because there is no way to instruct someone on how have one. So-called writing exercises provide ideas and then ask you to run with them: these are exercises in execution, not idea generation. Stephen King in his wonderful book On Writing instructs the reader how to go about uncovering a plot once the initial idea has been had, but not how to have the idea in the first place.

I have never had an idea for a story out of the blue. They have always arrived in my head after I have said to myself, "Right, for the next five minutes you are going to think of a story idea. Go." And I don't do this very often because gosh, it's hard. I'm not talking about the ideas for the second or third book in a series, mind you. Those are easier as the initial spark has been had and I am building on an existing world and characters etc. But an honest-to-god new story. And when I do think of an idea it's almost always the very beginning of a story and would only cover the first third of a book, or as much as you would read in a blurb. Having a whole idea, including the ending of the story, is elusive to the point of major frustration.

The only course of action, I have decided, is to practice having ideas. GOOD ideas. I am going to tell myself more often, perhaps even once a day, to think of an idea. It seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it, ordering yourself to be creative? But I have little to lose and much to gain, so it is worth a try. I shall inform you of my progress.

Which do you struggle with more, the creation of ideas, or their execution?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Recent Reads

The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Don't believe anyone who promises to explain string theory or M-theory. That's all I'm saying. Cos no one can. Because no one knows what's really going on! And if Stephen Hawking doesn't know what's going on with dark matter and ten or eleven or twelve dimensions and can't posit a cogent theory of everything, well, it just doesn't bear thinking about.*

Hawking and Mlodinow's premise is to address the question of whether the universe was designed or whether it popped spontaneously into existence and continued merrily on it's way to the point we're now at (assuming that time is linear, which we can't of course; that would be far too much to hope for, things being as simple as that), and it's true that this is what at least half this book is about. The other half is gibberish that only physicists would understand. Still, an interesting read. And I felt very brainy holding it up on the train.

*And even if he could, geniuses aren't very good at explaining things to laypeople. Hawking should have told this book to Bill Bryson, who could have then passed on the important bits to us. And the jokes would have been funnier.

Genesis: The Rosie Black Chronicles, Lara Morgan
Gotta love a YA sci-fi novel by an Australian author, set in Australia! Well, I do. Genesis is an adventure story set in Newperth 500 years in the future, a time when colonies exist on Mars and terrible diseases plague the earth. Though Morgan insists that Genesis, the first in a trilogy, is dystopian rather than sci-fi, I'm inclined to lean towards the latter. Genesis has a definite sci-fi grounding with a post-apocalyptic flavour. After the discovery of a mysterious box, Rosie and her friend set off a beacon and a series of events that will have great importance to the future of the human race as well as shed some light on the death of Rosie's mother. The adventure takes Rosie to Mars, and one of my favourite sequences was a hair-raising planet fall (look at me picking up the lingo) in a tiny pod down to Mars's surface.

The Princess Bride, William Goldman
This one is actually three quarters read and I don't know if I'm going to be able to finish it. It's DARK. Seriously dark. Torture and death and true love not seeming to conquer anything. It started off brightly enough--and I have to say Golding's forewords had me enthralled. Pretending not to be the author, I think that's just brilliant. And the things he said about his ex-wife and son! I saw the film many, many years ago and thought it utter rubbish. Someone made the mistake of saying, "If you love Labyrinth you'll love The Princess Bride." Um. NO. So of course I hated it because it does not hold a sputtering candle to my beloved Labyrinth, and also because it's so CORNY. All those silly asides. The stupid phrases. But the book is beautifully written and actually very just gets rather disturbing and I remember nothing past Wesley and Buttercup tumbling down into the ravine in the film so I can't remember if it has a happy ending or not.

Should I go on and just finish it?

The Last Question by Isaac Asimov
After reading several stories in I, Robot, I moaned to a friend that Asimov couldn't write a decent character to save his life. He agreed, and sent me a link to this story (which I have provided to you; click the title above), saying Asimov's stories are far better when they're pure ideas. How true. The Last Question is pure ideas, and it's a very engaging read.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Review Policy

As much as I adore arriving home to books in the post I have fallen woefully behind in my reviewing. I am not holding up my end of the implicit contract by reviewing these books so as of next week I won't be accepting review copies any longer.

Also, I feel sort of funny about having a book coming out and reviewing...I'm still working out these feelings. Bear with me.

I will still be reviewing books, but these I will have bought myself or borrowed from the library.


If you are an Australian YA speculative fiction author I am happy to be contacted if you're organising a blog tour or want me to review your book or interview you. In fact, contact me for a coffee, a chat, a hug!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blog Tour: The Rosie Black Chronicles: Genesis author Lara Morgan on Writing Sci-fi

Today I am thrilled to have fellow Australian writer Lara Morgan guest blog on writing sci-fi. Lara Morgan is the author of the brand-spanking new sci-fi series The Rosie Black Chronicles, the first of which is Genesis. I'm reading it right now and it is fantastic! So good to read sci-fi with a female MC, and one that is such a rollicking adventure.


When I was a kid I wanted to be Princess Leia. Okay I wasn’t much taken by that buns-stuck-on-the-side-of-her-head hairdo, but she was a princess, she flew around in space ships and got to kiss Han Solo so it seemed like a good deal. Now things have changed a bit, for one I’d rather be Zoe from Joss Whedon’s Firefly, but I still love sci fi and space ships so when I thought about writing a YA series I had a natural inclination toward science fiction.
I suppose that, technically, The Rosie Black Chronicles is more dystopian than sci fi though. It’s set five hundred years in the future after climate change has broken borders and drowned cities and Earth is being slowly overrun by a new incurable disease that has killed Rosie’s mother, but it does also have space travel, a colony on Mars and Rosie’s main ambition is to be a spaceship pilot so if you want to call it sci fi I’m not going to argue.

Writing a book like this involves, as do most, a lot of research. I read plenty of books on climate change, space exploration, Mars, social collapse and physics and spent a ridiculous amount of time on the web going through NASA’s website, Googling Mars and the planets and occasionally getting sidetracked by Twitter and You Tube...okay maybe not so occasionally, but the point is I had to bury my head in some hard science to make sure I was getting at least some of the details right.

That said though, this book is far from hard science fiction. Writing sci fi for me is more about serving up a story that is essentially about how my characters cope in a future world rather than detailing the technical side of that world. I need to know how things work so the world feels authentic when I write about Rosie in it, but I don’t stop the story narrative to go into a long spiel on the specifications of the city’s transport system. That’s called info dumping and avoiding it is one of the unique challenges of writing genre fiction, be it fantasy, paranormal romance or science fiction. You have to be able to insert small details throughout the story that shows the reader how the world in your book differs from the norm, but do it without being obvious. You can’t, for example, have one of the characters suddenly start talking about how their communication system works in their world, it just doesn’t make sense and throws the reader out of the story. It would be like me suddenly explaining to me friend how mobile phones work. It’s just weird and people don’t do that in real life, so you can’t have your characters doing it. It’s also important in writing sci fi that you never let this great dystopian, or super advanced world, you’ve created take over from the characters. Regardless of the wonders that may be in your world, or the over arching theme you might be trying to get across, at the heart of every story is the people. Story is character, as many great writers have said, and you have to make your book about the people who inhabit your world because no matter how shiny your space ship is, no one can care as much about a hunk of metal as they can about a person.


Lara is giving away a copy of Genesis on her blog, so to be in it pop over for a visit, and view the amazing trailer here. I am green eyed with envy over this trailer.

Thanks for being my guest, Lara! The next stop on this tour is at YA Reads.

Look out for my review of The Rosie Black Chronicles: Genesis very shortly.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I just typed

The sweetest words.

I've written all year.


I'm crying. For many reasons. I started it on April 6, 2009 and I have gone through querying, submissions (still going through those, man!), family tragedy, two (TWO!) break-ups and a failed novel. So it feels bloody good to get to the end. Sort of like closing a door on a lot of crap.

70,286 words. They're all sweet of course, but tonight...I like the last four best.

And now to print it out, give it a hug, and pick up my red pen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

REVIEW: The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Stieg Larsson

*Some spoilers for the first two books herein*

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
is the final installment of the Millenium trilogy, Stieg Larsson's worldwide best-selling tale of violence, fascism and journalism in the IKEA capital of the world. At the cliffhanger conclusion of The Girl who Played with Fire, Lisbeth Salander was left for dead by her father, defected KGB agent Alexander Zalachenko, with a bullet in her brain and found at the eleventh hour by her sometime lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Books one and two in this series I loved despite their slow beginnings and preoccupation with Blomkvist's sexual adventures. Oh, normally I find these things quite interesting, but when the story itself hasn't yet got going, being informed that Erika Berger's husband is a little bit gay seems rather far from the point. There is a moment in Larsson's books, however, where everything explodes with a mighty big bang and the story starts to happen. It's in this moment that I forgive any and all of Larsson's indulges and would throw a mighty big tantrum if anyone tried to take the book away from me.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest does not suffer from a slow beginning. Larsson has 600 pages to dig Salander out of a constitutional mess of espionage, cover-ups, corrupt secret police and evil psychiatrists and has little time to waste. But Salander has Blomkvist on her side, crusading journalist extraordinaire. And this is what endears this series to me so much: the hero is a writer. I could read about Writers Doing Cool Things all day.

The Millennium series is pure entertainment. I have been raving about these books to my friends, mostly because they are so entertaining. There aren't many books I have enjoyed more this year. The other reason is that my friends' eyes tend to glaze over when I go on about the apocalypse, zombies or (brace yourself) books for teenagers. This is a series they will actually read upon my recommendation. Oh happy days.

But the Millennium series has also made me rather miserable. I wept buckets at the of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, but I have his next book to look forward to. Larrson died in 2006, shortly before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published. There has been speculation that he was offed by the secret police he so roundly denounces in his books, but the truth is far more mundane: a heart attack. According to his discoverer in English, “Sixty cigarettes a day, plus tremendous amounts of junk food and coffee and an enormous workload would be the culprit. I gather he’d even had a warning heart murmur." I was rather miserable for days after finishing the last book, and though there are rumours of a fourth (which is actually the fifth) I don't hold much hope for it being particularly satisfying. It's gone from "the outlines and initial scribblings of a fourth" in October 2009 to "nearly finished" according to Larsson's family in this article published this weekend, which is perhaps Larsson's most astounding feat yet.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Princess Pink

When I was two or three my mother lovingly made me a pair of overalls with shorts. The fabric had little beetles on it or something equally adorable. My response upon their presentation? NO. Boys wear shorts, and I was a GIRL. I probably didn't come past her knee at the time. What an ungrateful little brat I was.

During my psychology degree there was much discussion of the gender programming we subject children to literally from birth. Pink for girls, blue for boys. Barbies versus Tonka trucks. The ways we encourage play. I had my fair share of pink and dollies, but I also had a big brother (who turned 29 yesterday! Happy birthday!) with whom I played Lego war and block war and Transformer war. We made bows and arrows out of hibiscus branches and rubber bands. It worked the other way too--one year he got a doll for Christmas, because he wanted one. He went to ballet classes.*

But I knew I was a girl, and dammit, all the playing war and little green plastic soldiers couldn't change the fact that Girls Wore Skirts and I Liked Pink. I called it (sigh) "pinky-dinky". I may have done this for a long time after it ceased to be cute.

When I was plotting my novel, originally the main character was a servant to a royal. I knew there was going to be a lot of trekking about in trousers for her and plenty of times she would be filthy and bloodied and half starved. I thought about that for a day or so and then the I Like Pink part of my brain took over: if I made her a princess I could dress her up like a Regency debutante. I don't like to count how many dresses are mentioned in the book (lots; she has more costume changes than Katniss Everdeen) but from that moment on there was an explosion of satin and lace and thorough girliness all over the book.

It's my book and I wanted the best of both worlds: Princess Pink meets Xena Warrior Princess.

Here's Princess Pink herself, in all her pink tutu-ed glory, aged nine at a dance recital.


My dad posted this to Facebook last week and I tried to be embarrassed. I really did. But the Princess Pink part of my brain went into overdrive. Unfortunately I can't get away with tutus anymore.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

In My Mailbox (37) and weekend update

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

Spring has FINALLY sprung! It's T-shirt weather, there's some vitamin D circulating through my body and I bought a pair of new sunglasses. Actually I went a bit nuts on the shopping yesterday. Two new outfits and a bra set from Pleasure State, who make some of the prettiest lingerie around. I am in saving-for-OS mode, but when I went to cancel my mobile phone carrier so I could switch to another they offered me a crazy huge discount to stay. So I did. Which means I had several hundred dollars worth of FREE MONEY to play with and what do you do with free money? YOU GO SHOPPING.

I have been finishing up book two in my series, which is oddly PANIC INDUCING. I have set myself a deadline: October 5. Which is in TWO DAYS. It doesn't have to be perfect then but it needs to be done. There's only about 1500 words left to write and I'm probably going to bawl all the way through them.

There's a video on YouTube that's a friend sent to me this morning and I am dying to post it here, but it's not very PG-13. Actually, not at ALL. It's an homage to Ray Bradbury and it is the funniest thing I have seen all year. Girl after my own heart! If you've seen it you'll know what I mean. Even funnier than the one that came out of Alabama a few months back. ("Run and tell THAT, homeboy!") There are some very funny and talented songwriters out there.

For review:
Embrace, Jessica Shirvington
(Hachette Australia, October 14)

Violet Eden is dreading her seventeenth birthday dinner. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. The one bright spot is that Lincoln will be there. Sexy, mature and aloof, he is Violet’s idea of perfection. But why does he seem so reluctant to be anything more than a friend?

After he gives her the world’s most incredible kiss – and then abandons her on her front doorstep – Violet is determined to get some answers. But nothing could have prepared her for Lincoln’s explanation: he is Grigori – part angel and part human – and Violet is his eternal partner.

Without warning, Violet’s world is turned upside down. She never believed in God, let alone angels. But there’s no denying the strange changes in her body ... and her feelings for Lincoln. Suddenly, she can’t stand to be around him. Luckily, Phoenix, an exiled angel, has come into her life. He’s intense and enigmatic, but at least he never lied to her.

As Violet gets caught up in an ancient battle between dark and light, she must choose her path. The wrong choice could cost not only her life, but her eternity...

Jessica Shirvington is Australian and married to Matt Shirvington, the Olympian athlete and FOXTEL presenter.

Woo! Aussie books rule! Happy weekend all.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

FILM REVIEW: The Loved Ones

Two Aussie YA films in 2010! This is certainly a treat. Earlier in September the much anticipated Tomorrow When the War Began hit silver screens all over the country and has since become the highest grossing Aussie film of the year. Perhaps, um, by default.

Until now? Last night I saw a special preview of The Loved Ones, directed by Sean Byrne, a horror film that has been aptly described as Pretty in Pink meets Wolf Creek. And it wasn't--OMG!--a book first. Is that even allowed these days?

After a car accident that kills his father, Brent can't help feeling that his mother blames him for the crash. He escapes into a world of marijuana and heavy metal, one that his girlfriend Holly hopes to pull him from. After refusing Lola's invitation to the school dance, the timid girl who wears pink and obsesses over finding her prince, Brent is drawn from one nightmare into one that is far, far worse.

The Loved Ones is funny, racy and stuffed full of torture porn. I adore horror films but I'm very squeamish and spent much of the middle third hiding behind my coat thinking make it stop make it stop make it stop. But gosh it was entertaining! Extremely creative violence. But it's more than just the violence. The Loved Ones has a fantastic storyline, and where this film shines is its ending. Brilliant. Various story threads come together for a denouement that really packs a punch. Combined with a talented cast and shots of the arid Victorian countryside (my home state, yay!) this is unmissable watching for fans of horror, teenage and otherwise.

Last night's special screening included a QnA with the director and the audience showed their appreciation for the film with a rousing round of applause as the credits rolled. The Loved Ones releases nationally on November 4, and is going to give Tomorrow When the War Began a run for its money.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

REVIEW: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

***Spoiler free***

is the final installment in the much-loved Hunger Games trilogy. Does much more need to be said in the way of an introduction?

I hate when things end. I have never read The Last Battle, the last Narnia book by CS Lewis, because if I don't then the end will never happen. Even the title makes me sad, being so final and all. There's the sadness of things being finally over, but dear readers, endings also scare me. Because they can so often be a let down and you're left with this awful taste in your mouth. Endings are hard. Endings are risky. Sometimes it's easier just to avoid rather than risk disappointment. I still have not finished the last disk of the audio version of Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. It's been MONTHS. And I was loving it. I think my tredipation comes from endings that are predictable. Endings that are rushed. Endings that you see coming a mile off, when it's all about wrapping things up rather than doing the characters justice.

There are a lot of things that I loved about Mockingjay. I thought Peeta was handled beautifully. Brilliantly even. I have never been Team Peeta or Team Gale. Because The Hunger Games isn't primarily a romance. I have read swooning posts about Gale tearing my hair out thinking WHY WHY WHY?? Why do we care so much about a character that has 2.5 lines in books one and two combined?

Collins can think up some wonderfully creative violence. And she got the rebels versus the Capitol down to a tee: I loved questioning whether replacing Snow with Coin would be merely a name change, not a regime change. Parts of it was very exciting. As a narrative about the consequences of war and the nature of power and propaganda, I thought it did very well.

There were a lot of things that annoyed me about Mockingjay. It was predictable. Certain parts were rushed. We were left out of key scenes. I have never cared a jot about who Katniss would choose to spend the rest of her life with as she never expressed ONE, not ONE, sweet squishy feeling towards either Gale or Peeta. Anxious, needy, rejecting, confused feelings, but not one word or gesture that made me think she even WANTED A PARTNER. Comfort, yes, human contact, yes, but romance? No. Not once. SO WHY SHOULD I CARE. KATNISS DOESN'T.

Unfortunately, if you don't care who Katniss chooses, a lot of Mockingjay will leave you cold. Because the outcome of rebellion was rather predictable. And the bits that weren't? Hasty. Rushed. Truncated. I have been left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Monday, September 27, 2010

In which there is NEWS! Delicious, wonderful NEWS

I have been sitting champagne-cork-like on this news for WEEKS.


*throws confetti*

Here is the announcement:

Australian and New Zealand rights to Rhiannon Hart's untitled debut about a stubborn, determined princess who fears she might be somehow related to the mysterious and deadly creatures taking over her world -- and could that attractive but irritating young noble have anything to do with them?, to Zoe Walton at Random House Australia, by Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown.

If you're a member of Publishers Marketplace you can see the deal here.

You've probably all heard me refer to this book as Lharmell, but as is so often the way, titles get changed. So for now maybe it should be referred to as The Book Formerly Known as Lharmell?

Or perhaps by this unpronounceable symbol?

I am beyond thrilled that my book has been picked up by such an esteemed house as Random House Australia. I was lucky enough to meet and have dinner recently with Zoe Walton, my publisher, as she was down in Melbourne. She is just MADE of awesome! It so thrilling to have such an experienced, well-read and LOVELY person get behind my book. I know it's going to be such a pleasure working with her and the rest of the team. (I know, had dinner with. How much of an author do I feel right now??)

There are plenty of people to thank, but for now I'd just like to thank one person. My agent, Ginger Clark, for all her hard work, advice, and answering all my needy emails.

You rock Ginger!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

In My Mailbox (36)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

For review: Monster High by Lisi Harrison (Atom)

They prefer to call themselves RADs, but some call them monsters. So far, the "monster" community has kept a low profile in Salem, Oregon, but this year two new girls enroll at Merston High School, and the town will never be the same.

Created just fifteen days ago, Frankie Stein is psyched to trade her father's lonely formaldehyde-smelling basement lab for parties and friends. But with a student body totally freaked out by rumors of monsters stalking the halls, Frankie finds that life in the "normi" world can be rough for a chic freak like her.

She thinks she finds a friend in fellow new student Melody Carver--but can a normi be trusted with her big secret?
Monster High isn't just a book, it's a whole franchise with costumes, films, webisodes, apparel and toys, all aimed at teen and tween girls. Emily the Strange for this decade?

On a personal aspiring writers, have you ever walked into a bookshop and checked
out which authors you'll be sandwiched between? I'll have Lisi Harrison on one side and Sonya Hartnett on the other--two bestselling authors. Oh the pressure!

On a related note, I HAVE NEWS. STAY TUNED.

Also in my mailbox were these gorgeous Jane Austen goodies from Misty, won during her Jane Austen week. Bad Girls of Jane Austen bookmarks...

...and this stunning necklace that I've been wearing everywhere! It's so pretty.

Here's me wearing it with my friend Reannon just before we hit the town. I know, Reannon and Rhiannon. We are a mighty bad influence on each other, let me tell you!

Visit Marsha Laurence's estsy shop.

Friday, September 24, 2010

For the love of learning

On Friday night I realised I'm possibly a bit of a freak. I attended an astrophysics lecture at Swinburne University on gravitational lensing. Now, this in itself isn't particularly freaky, depending on how you like to spend your Friday nights. (After the lecture I proceeded to a bar, met with beings called "friends" and swilled a sparkly clear substance. I hear this is considered normal behaviour for 25-year-old girls. I'm still looking in to this.)

The lecture was given by a professor from Caltech, a rather serious-looking gentleman who, upon rising and opening his mouth, gave one of the most enrapturing lectures I have ever heard. I'm not well versed in astrophysics at all. My research so far has consisted of looking at pictures like this and saying, "Ooh, galaxies. Pretty" and having very little idea about what was going on in them:

Can you see those lines of light in the image, and the way some things look stretched? Gravitational lensing explains why that is, and if you're looking for an explanation you can find one here. I won't attempt to explain it myself. I got the gist of it, but the gist hardly does something like this justice.

About halfway through the lecture I was dimly aware of a warm sensation in my chest. The tingly sensation persisted when I left the lecture theatre and boarded a train. I wasn't paying it much attention as I was busy pondering this RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME phenomena that was TOTALLY NEW TO ME and wondering how I could incorporate it into an idea I have for a sci-fi novel.

I drifted around inside my head for a while longer and then became aware of what my body was doing. Hello, what is this? Why the warm and fuzzies? There was something familiar about this sensation, but I couldn't put my finger on it at first. It was a little like excitement, a little like the apprehension you get when you're stand on the edge of a very high place, and a lot like the sensation you get from drinking the aforesaid sparkly clear substance.

Then I realised what it was.

It's the same sensation I get when I'm FALLING IN LOVE.

There. I told you I'm a freak. I've always loved learning, but really, what the frack?! The psych major in me wants to give myself an fMRI scan and see which bits light up when I read something cool about, I don't know, quarks or something, and the bits that light up when I think about...OK, I don't have a boyfriend right now, but if I did and thought about him I bet the areas would be THE SAME.

I'm reading The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow right now and if things continue as they are I'll probably end up proposing to my paperback copy by page 176.*

What about you? Have you ever had an extreme emotional response to something unexpected?

*Note: I have since finished said book. I do NOT feel the urge to marry it. I very much feel the need to splutter at it wildly saying things like "For laypeople my ARSE." Review shortly.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Across the Universe, Beth Revis

Across the Universe Beth Revis (Razorbill)

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

YA sci-fi! I'm really hoping to see this genre take off in the near future. Across the Universe by Beth Revis sounds fantastic. Coming January 11, 2011 (Razorbill) in the US.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eating Your Words

The best way to discover new cultures and places in my opinion, apart from actually visiting them, is reading about them and eating their food. It's like having a little holiday, and you don't have to leave your couch or your PJs. I had a little "holiday" of that sort this weekend, one of toast and tahini and trackies and books.

After reading a book set in a foreign place I'll often want to try some of the food that is eaten there--even if it's not actually mentioned in the book. After reading Saundra Mitchell's Shadowed Summer (a fantastic ghost story and a really quick read) I got a sudden craving for beans and rice, even though I'd never eaten bean and rice and it wasn't even mentioned in the book. Beans and rice is delicious. I made a cheat's version with tinned kidney beans and bacon, but still. Yum. I love books set in the South, like Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches Chronicles and To Kill a Mockingbird and R. A. Nelson's gorgeous novels. Plus there are TV shows like HBO's True Blood, which is partly set in a restaurant with actual booths. (Below left, the interior of Merlotte's.) I love booths but we just don't have them here! How I want to sit in a booth and eat a "coke float". We call them spiders and my cousins and I used to eat vanilla ice cream and coke spiders at my nanna's on hot Sunday afternoons.

But it's not just books set in America that make me want to eat. (OK, that wasn't a jibe against you Americans. I just tend to read a lot of books set there!) Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl made me crave hawker noodle dishes on the streets of Bangkok. Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, set on the Greek island of Corfu, makes me think of olives and frosty pink watermelon slices. The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini and Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, while heartbreaking stories, make me want to eat flatbread and spiced meats from Middle Eastern street vendors. A friend make Yorkshire puddings for a dinner party a few weeks ago and I was so excited to try them after reading so many of James Herriot's vet novels as a teenager.

Cat told me on Twitter she just has to eat stew with chucks of bread and cheese whenever she reads fantasy adventure novels, which made me laugh and also made me think about all the oatcake-munching and jerky-chewing that goes on in those books. I remember once trying to make mead, which is a type of honey wine, after reading about it one of those pseudo-medieval fantasy books. I was about thirteen so it wasn't alcoholic. I think it had fruit and honey and cinnamon in it and it was rather delicious. Then earlier this winter I spotted Maxwell's Mead (see right) in a bottle shop and had to try it. It's so good by itself or with ginger beer.

Have you ever read a book that makes you want to eat or cook something either mentioned in it or from the same region?

Since posting this I have read a gut-wrenching post on Saundra Mitchell's blog detailing her reaction to Professor Scroggin's thoughtless attack on the Republic School reading list. Please visit her blog and offer your support, or use the #SpeakLoudly hashtag on Twitter to search for more information on this issue (if you haven't, you know, had your blog reader explode all over your face with posts about this in the last twelve hours).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Cliffton has been in drought for a decade and when a wizard arrives, bringing rain, he in return asks for Sydelle. She becomes Wayland North's reluctant assistant on his quest to prevent a war. But North doesn't just need an assistant. He has his reasons for choosing Sydelle, and his secrets and sworn enemies could be her undoing.

Fantasy romances were my staple as a teenager and I love the coziness of magic and quests and kings and queens. Working in fabric I also love the idea of magic that revolves around weaving, as it does in Brightly Woven. Such a beautiful cover, isn't it? That and the fact that it's by a debut author around my age meant that I had to order a copy from the States.

Brightly Woven is a charming read and the plot unfolded steadily with interesting characters and one or two small twists. It was probably the author's intention that several secrets could be guessed at, but there was still a nice surprise near the climax. I loved how everything suddenly came together. The execution was uneven, unfortunately. Some scenes were fleshed out and highly visible, but others felt rushed. The middle third was rather frustrating as a whole, with Sydelle (and the reader) being left out of key scenes, which resulted in a very side-kicky feel. Also in the middle third the romance felt forced and demonstrative rather than natural.

Brightly Woven rallied in the end with a lively climax and a very touching romantic finale. It was on the whole a charming read, and an auspicious start to Bracken's career as an author. I hope we see more from her in the future. Bracken has stated she's working on several projects and some of her fans have set up a petition for a sequel. I would certainly be keen on another story from this author set in the same world.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In My Mailbox (35) In which there is Aussie sci-fi!

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

Left to right, top to bottom:

Nightshade Andrea Cremer (Atom)
Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything--including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

(US cover on the right. Which do you prefer?)

Clockwork Angel Cassandra Clare (Walker Books)
The Infernal Devices trilogy, a prequel to bestselling The Mortal Instruments trilogy, follows 16-year-old orphan Tessa Fell, whose quiet life is thrown into turmoil when her older brother Nathaniel suddenly vanishes, leaving her alone. Tessa's search for him leads her to England during the reign of Queen Victoria, into London's dangerous underworld, where warlocks throw masked balls for half-demon Downworlders and vampires and supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. When the friendless and hunted Tessa discovers that she herself is a Downworlder, she must learn to trust her natural enemies, the demon-killing Shadowhunters, if she ever wants to learn to control her powers and find her brother. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by – and torn between – two best friends; beautiful Will, a Shadowhunter hiding a deadly secret, and the devoted Jem, whose addiction to a demon drug is slowly destroying him. Tessa quickly realises that love may be the most dangerous magic of all and must draw on all her strength to save her brother and keep herself alive in this deadly new world.

The Rosie Black Chronicles: Genesis Lara Morgan (Walker Books)
Five hundred years into the future, the world is a different place. The Melt has sunk most of the coastal cities and Newperth is divided into the haves, the “Centrals”; the have-nots, the “Bankers”; and the fringe dwellers, the “Ferals”. Rosie Black is a Banker. When Rosie finds an unusual box, she has no idea of the grave consequences of her discovery. A mysterious organisation wants it – and will kill to get it. Forced to rely on two strangers, Rosie is on the run. But who can she trust? Pip, the too attractive Feral, or the secretive man he calls boss? From Earth to Mars, Rosie must learn the secrets of the box – before it’s too late.

Huzzah! Aussie sci-fi! Look out for a guest post from the author in October on writing sci-fi for young adults, as well as a review. Check out the awesome trailer below and visit the website for a sample chapter and other downloads.

Guardian of the Gate Michelle Zink (Atom)
The ultimate battle between sisters is nearing, and its outcome could have catastrophic consequences. As sixteen year-old Lia Milthorpe searches for a way to end the prophecy, her twin sister Alice hones the skills she'll need to defeat Lia. Alice will stop at nothing to reclaim her sister's role in the prophecy, and that's not the only thing she wants: There's also Lia's boyfriend James. Lia and Alice always knew the Prophecy would turn those closest to them against them. But they didn't know what betrayal could lead them to do. In the end, only one sister will be left standing.

Paladin Dave Luckett (Scholastic)
Neither Sam nor Finny, the girl who seems to be hanging around him, are enjoying their lives in Warramar. But Sam could never have imagined how one good deed would take him far, far away from everything he ever knew. Although he doesn't know it yet, he has a gift, and he will need to know how to use it.

More Aussie fiction!

A Curse as Dark as Gold Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)
Upon the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Charlotte struggles to keep the family's woolen mill running in the face of an overwhelming mortgage and what the local villagers believe is a curse, but when a man capable of spinning straw into gold appears on the scene she must decide if his help is worth the price.

Sisters Red Jackson Pearce (Hodder)
Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris-- the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead. Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts fiercely alongside her. Now Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves and finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax-- but loving him means betraying her sister and has the potential to destroy all they've worked for. Twenty-five-year-old Jackson Pearce delivers a dark, taut fairy tale with heart-pounding action, fierce sisterly love, and a romance that will leave readers breathless.

The Grand Design Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow (Bantam)
In the last thirty years of his life Albert Einstein searched for a unified theory - a theory which could describe all the forces of nature in a single framework. But the time was not right for such a discovery in Einstein's day. Neither was the time right when, in 1988, Professor Stephen Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time in which he took us on a journey through classical physics, Einstein's theory of relativity, quantum physics and string theory in order to explain the universe that we live in. He concluded, like Einstein, that science may soon arrive at the long sought after 'Theory of Everything'. In this ground-breaking new work, Professor Hawking and renowned science writer Leonard Mlodinow have drawn on forty years of Hawking's own research and a recent series of extraordinary astronomical observations and theoretical breakthroughs to reveal an original and controversial theory. They convincingly argue that scientific obsession with formulating a single new model may be misplaced, and that, instead, by synthesising existing theories we may discover the key to finally understanding the universe's deepest mysteries. Written with the clarity and lively style for which Hawking is famous, The Grand Design is an account of Hawking's quest to fuse these different strands of scientific theory. It examines the differences between past and future, explains the nature of reality and asks an all-important question: How far can we go in our search for understanding and knowledge?

The Thief-Taker's Apprentice Stephen Deas (Gollanz)
Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the Fagin like master of their band. But there is a twist to this tale of a thief. One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves. He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren becomes his apprentice. And is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he thought he knew. Full of richly observed life in a teeming fantasy city, a hectic progression of fights, flights and fancies and charting the fall of a boy into the dark world of political plotting and murder this marks the beginning of a new fantasy series for all lovers of fantasy - from fans of Kristin Cashore to Brent Weeks.

What's in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

NOT In My Mailbox

I went to buy this book yesterday

and to my horror it wasn't available! Stephen Hawking is so famous we even had a cat named after him , and yet it's not here. Just goes to show bad things can still happen to you if you're famous.

Ten days late and counting!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Do today's dystopian novels have any conscience, or are they money-spinners pandering to fashion?

This essay began as a review of Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. Bear with me while I do my review thang. It's relevant I promise.

Children of the Dust (1985) was sent to me by fellow dystopian lover Lauren of I was a Teenage Book Geek, all the way from the mother country. Lauren loves timeslip novels first and foremost, and I'd sent her an obscure Australian book of that genre, A Breath in May by Robin Hogan, that I'd loved in my high school days. I like that we send each other little known books set in each others countries!

Nuclear war. A dystopian/post apocalyptic staple, especially for books written before the mid-1980s. I realised while reading Children of the Dust, however, that I'd never read a dystopian novel in which a nuclear blast is not only described but also experienced by the characters. The blasts, one of the earliest scenes in the book, is vivid and chilling.

Children of the Dust is divided into three vignettes: three generations of teenagers who live through the war or in the years beyond it. What this book does best is relate the struggle each character has with not only their survival in a world changed forever, but also their place in it. Lawrence questions whether human beings can have a place in a world that they themselves have destroyed. I found this to be both brilliant and thought provoking.

While writing the book Lawrence was clearly motivated by fears she had about what she saw in the world around her--the very real threat of a nuclear holocaust.

But what motivates today's dystopian authors? Clearly dystopian novels are the books du jour right now. But as I run my eyes over my shelves, I wonder how many of my beloved books have even half the conscience of Children of the Dust, and how many are merely following fashion.

Is there a message in today's dystopian fiction, or has the genre become populated with books that are edgy and cool, but ultimately shallow?

Film Review: Tomorrow When the War Began

The film adaptation of John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began was released in Cinemas last Thursday in Australia. I can't tell you how squee-making it's been seeing buses wrapped with ginormous film posters driving about. Ever since casting for this film was announced I've been excited for this film. See, I've always liked Caitlin Stasey. I thought she was excellent on Neighbours and would make a very good Ellie.

I tried not to get my hopes up too high. They got up there anyway without my permission. I was practically jumping up and down when I bought tickets. And when the credits rolled. I was still twitching in my seat when the planes were flying over Hell. I don't think I calmed down for the entire movie, because I loved it.

I loved it.

My friend loved it too. She hadn't read the books, and she was hiding under her jacket in a few places. She freely admits she's a sook, but it was genuinely nail-biting in places.

It was beautifully shot. It was funny as well as affecting. It was thrilling, and what's more, it was faithful to the novel. Things always have to be changed when a book is translated on to screen, but they were minor things and they were done well. The pacing was perfect. The acting was clunky in one or two places, but forgivably so as it was wonderful in most. The girls in the movie did seem to have these affected British accents in places, which could have been a result of hanging out with Rachel Hurd-Wood, who's a pom. I wonder, though, if it's to make the film slightly more appealing in the mother country. It's weird that it was just the girls though.

I'm so proud, relieved and excited--and I hope they make a sequel.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I am such a sap

I opened up the sequel to Lharmell and I teared up at the thought of getting to work on it again. I think that solves my dilemma about what I should be working on, yes?

Meanwhile, I woke up singing this. Robyn is righteous and awesome. This is going to be my 2010 song. Nothing's going to top this release.

Meanwhile, guess what I'm seeing tonight...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Books are like boyfriends...

You always love the one you're with now the most.

I can't remember which writer said that, but she's spot on. She was referring to her own books, the ones she writes. She possibly said it on Twitter, proving that profound, life-changing statements are uttered on twitter.

I have been struggling with a standalone novel for months and, like my last, ill-fated, short-lived relationship, I am wondering where the honeymoon period went. It's not supposed to be this hard this early, right? I'm only a third of a way through the manuscript and I can't seem to regain that initial excitement I felt when I was first inspired to write the story.

I think the problem is...I'm still in love with my last "boyfriend". (That SO wasn't the case with my last relationship, but the way. Though I may have been, um, rebounding like crazy. Not something I'm proud of at all, but older and wiser now, no?) The last "boyfriend" being Lharmell. Oh how I love thee and thy two sequels!

I have been wavering over whether I should just drop the standalone and focus on books two and three of Lharmell, or keep working on the two projects simultaneously and see what happens.

Can you two-time a writing project like this? I am in an agony of indecision!

How do you make decisions like these? Do you go with your gut? Do you never EVER start a new project til the last one is completely out of you system, or do you have so many WIPs you could fill a library if only you had the time to write them all?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Dystopia Challenge Wrap Up

...will happen this weekend! I need to write one more review, of Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. Thank you to the lovely Lauren for sending it all the way from the UK.

Also, I have NEWS

...that cannot be revealed yet.


But soon. Very VERY soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The book that happened when I was doing other things

When I was twelve I started keeping diaries. This coincided, curiously enough, with the time I discovered boys. I have not read over these diaries, not even once, but I know they are filled with longings for this crush or that one. At times the thought of what is in these diaries has made me cringe and I've nearly thrown them out on several occasions. I'm exceedingly glad I didn't. They came in handy just the other week. I was talking to someone with whom I had a brief entanglement with five years ago and we were reminiscing about our week together. We quibbled over one detail and I ran to get that year's diary--and there it was. We had run into one another at that particular restaurant. And then we had a good laugh as I read him passages down the web cam, him on a sunny New York morning and me in the cold hours past midnight.

I don't keep personal diaries anymore. I have writing diaries instead. Though the line between the two has blurred this year. I'm introducing more of the personal side again, and I like that. (Yep, that does include talking about boys!)

Today marks a momentous occasion for me. The start of a new writing diary. The old one has been with me since February 2009 and I'm very attached to it. It contains all my noted from YA writing class; the scrap of paper that marked the first jolt of inspiration for Lharmell; plotting epiphanies for the trilogy; all the anguish and despair and joy of querying; the exaltation and celebration of various milestones; word counts. It contains love letters and longings. Scraps of memories from my childhood that, though happy, were strangely painful to recall.

It is the stuff of my life--a fat purple notebook, and it is full. So I guess I wrote a book. But this one will never see the light of day beyond my small and infrequent consultations.

Do you keep a writing diary? What do you put in it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Super Freaking Cool Events

There's a Michael Grant signing at Borders in Chadstone on Saturday November 6. It's a good reason for me to read his books, no?! Ha, I'm sorely behind.

And THIS one, this I am spitting chips about because I can't go--a screening of Tomorrow When the War Began with a presentation by John Marsden and a signing. On a Thursday! Remind me why I work again?! Bah!

Tomorrow When the War Began is in Australian cinemas September 2. Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dystopia Challenge Review #7: On the Beach by Nevil Shute

A short, devastating nuclear war has obliterated much of the northern hemisphere. The atmosphere is filled with radioactive dust, and those who didn't perish when one of the 5000 nuclear bombs were dropped on the major cities of the world are now dead of radiation sickness. Those below the equator won't, it seems, be spared for much longer; the radiation is travelling south. Darwin and Cairns are already out. The US Navy, if a handful of officers and meagre crew can be called a navy, has one functional ship left at its disposal: the submarine USS Scorpion. Working with the Australians, the commander of the sub, Dwight Towers, sets out to investigate the extent of the radiation, whether it is subsiding, and the origins of a strange, persistent radio signal emanating from Seattle.

On the Beach was written in 1957 and the first thing I noted about the book is that it is decidedly from another era. I have read plenty of books written in all decades of the twentieth century, but I have never been struck by this sort of otherness in quite the same way before. Shute was born in 1899 and lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. He also experienced the strife in Ireland first hand. Nevil, if I may call him that (I feel like I know him so well after reading just one of his books) and I didn't get along so well at first. The characters, the way they talk to each other, the way they behave, is just so dated. I'm not talking about being rankled by gender issues either. There are one or two moments where I was pursing my lips about something or other, but On the Beach is a product of its time, after all, and I was pleased to find Shute doesn't suffer from a fatal case of misogyny. In fact, he writes female characters with much sensitivity. This is even more evident in the only other of Shute's works I am familiar with, the 50s film adaptation of A Town Like Alice, one of my all-time favourite films about a young woman who's trapped in Singapore during the Japanese invasion.

No, it wasn't gender issues making me cringe; what I found difficult to grasp at first was the stiff-upper-lip mentality that just about every character had when faced with the impending apocalypse. Not only their mentality, but the general behaviour of society. I mean, the top half of Australia has been blanketed in radioactive dust, and the trams are still running in Melbourne? Waiters are still waiting on tables? You can book a room in the mountains and go fishing? I had an enormous rant to my father last year at how absolutely ridiculous I found the film--of which I only watched half and turned off in disgust. "What ho! We'll never have time to finish all this ruddy port. Damnation!" etc etc etc. He pointed out that it was written from an entirely different perspective than the one I'm living today. I haven't recently lived through a world war and been faced with my or my loved ones imminent death, the possible invasion of my country, the bombing of Darwin. That "keep calm and carry on" mentality is all-pervasive in On the Beach. It rankled at first, but by the end of the book I found I cherished it. Though it is a little idealised. I doubt that even in 1957 Melburnians would have dealt with the apocalypse with such dignity and good behaviour.

There are four central characters: Commander Dwight Towers, a sweet American who has lost not only his family, but a whole country he can never return to; Moira Davidson, a somewhat drunken and aimless Australian girl; Peter Holmes, the liason officer appointed to the Scorpian to work with Towers; and his wife Mary who, entirely believably, is in a total state of denial about the threat of radiation sickness. There is something infinitely charming about both Towers and Holmes. I find myself wanting to don a wiggle skirt and take them both dancing. How handsome they would look in their uniforms! I'm going quite gooey just thinking about it. And of course I identified with Moira. She is written with much humour and affection and I probably would have reacted to the apocalypse just like her. Parties! brandy! and carrying on all night long.

On the Beach is on the one hand an extremely emotional book and also completely understated. Shute, the devious man, doesn't overtly try and pull your heart strings. We're shown what a character is doing and how they react, and then we're pulled away into the next scene before things can get overwhelming. As a result the story is a little difficult to get into, but by about halfway through I was completely invested in all the characters. It almost felt like Shute tricked me into letting down my guard. I was fooled into thinking that he wasn't going to make me face anything truly awful; that as soon as things reached a certain point I would be whisked away to something more pleasant.

How wrong I was. I was thoroughly devastated by this book. I thought nothing could top the horror and sadness I felt after reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy about this time last year. On the Beach has topped it. Shute had me in floods of tears on a sunny Saturday morning as I finished it. Recommending this book to anyone almost seems a bit mean, but you must read it.

On the Beach has fantastic exploration scenes on the submarine too, and the most believable account of a devastating nuclear war I have ever read. I never really understood how one could get going. Surely it would be suicide to initiate one. Well yes, it is, obviously. But, as Shute describes, it wouldn't be impossible. I'm rather surprised now that I've read this book that it didn't happen. No wonder the Cold War spawned so many nuclear holocaust books.

When I finished this book I was struck with the conviction that it must have done some good in the world. From Goodreads:

On the Beach was the first American-made film publicly shown in the Soviet Union, and may have influenced American public opinion towards support of the atmospheric test ban treaty.

I urge you not to watch the film--at least not until you've read the book. I am infinitely grateful that I turned the film off and didn't know what was going to happen in the end.

There are also these quaint scenes of Australiana in this book, some of which I was familiar with and some that I had never heard of. Apparently, parties in Australia end with the hostess bringing around tea and scones! Funny, I thought they ended when the beer ran out. It was a sheer delight to read a book set in my home city--and a dystopian one to boot. The trams! Shopping at Myer. The Grand Prix in Albert Park. It's still held there today--though it ended up being held in Tooradin in On the Beach.

It is a shame that Nevil Shute's work isn't more popular these days. I don't think I've ever seen his books in stores, but now I want to buy his entire back catalogue--and get around in pin-curled hair, white gloves and full skirted dresses. I have little doubt that On the Beach will be my favourite book of this year's Dystopia Challenge.

Dystopia Challenge Review #6: Hater by David Moody

Danny is trapped in a dead-end job he despises, his kids drive him up the wall and his wife falls asleep on the couch at nine on a Saturday night. He's feeling more and more like a loser as the days go by. A series of violent attacks in the city sets off a string of copycat crimes, and Danny and his family look on as the horror unfolds. With dawning realisation, Danny sees that there's no simple explanation for these Haters, and could there even be a Hater in his family?

David Moody is a highly competent writer and his fluid style allows you to eat up the pages. As most of you know I have rather a long commute these days and I would open this book, get lost in it and then find myself at the end of my journey as if no time at all had passed. Gotta love that.

Danny is an unlikely hero with a fantastic voice. The story is told from right behind his eyeballs; we see exactly what he is seeing, hear what he is thinking. He wasn't only an unlikely hero, but an imperfect character too. Moody didn't idealise him into this wonderful husband and father figure. There's a lot about Danny that is realistic and his flaws make him very likable and relatable.

Now, the Haters. Great premise. The vignettes that begin almost every section show ordinary people transitioning into Haters, and they are great horror flick material. This book is being made into a film, incidentally, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth). I wish I had more news about the film to give you, but there's been no update on this project since 2008 and no release date. I'm unsure as to whether casting has even taken place. I have little doubt that Hater will make a fantastic film. There's a high visual component to this book that will come across very well one the big screen. There's also something about the way that Haters perceive each other and non-Haters that was only sketchily dealt with in the book, and I'm dying to see how it will be handled on screen.

Hater was an absorbing read and I was waiting for that moment it would kick over into sheer awesomeness, but it didn't quite get there. The climax fell a little flat, perhaps because the stakes weren't high enough. Hater is still a great read, and I'll be keen on reading the next one. The closing pages are filled with energy and momentum and I am very keen on finding out exactly what these Haters are.

One thing to note: Hater is not a zombie book. It is, however, a great horror-filled vision of the apocalypse--a very modern apocalypse too. Television and the media play a big part. I would recommend Hater for zombie fans though, and for lovers of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.