Saturday, March 27, 2010

In My Mailbox (25)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

From Bookmooch I received Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl's Adventure Upon the High Seas by Tanith Lee. I adore Lee's young adult novels. They're pure fun.

For review I got With a Sword in My Hand byJean-Claude van Rijckeghem (say that ten times fast) and Pat van Beirs (Allen & Unwin, April 2010). It sounds really lovely, and the cover is gorgeous:

Marguerite's father is desperate for a son. Instead he's stuck with a feisty, stubborn, red-headed daughter who refuses to behave like a lady. This exciting medieval romance-adventure story is based on historical fact about a 14-year-old heiress to Flanders called Marguerite Van Male.
I also got books three and four in the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz, Revelations and The Van Allen Legacy (Atom April 2010). I must read the first two!

I haven't posted a Very Cool Track for you to listen to in some time. Props go to my new man for introducing me to this song. We're at that cute stage where we're lying around playing each other records and comparing music tastes. Well, he plays vinyl, I play my laptop! This is"Me and the Devil" by Gil Scott-Heron, released just last month. This is one awesome song, and the clip is very Mexican Day of the Dead/vampiric. Paranormal tie-in, score!

Shoplifting: I need your help

...Because I'm embarking on a life of crime!

No, I'm not. But I am embarking on a new plot element for my current WIP and it involves characters who shoplift.

Did you ever shoplift as a teenager? Did you ever consider it, or have a friend who liked to steal? Do you do it now?

I'm interested in the emotional aspects of stealing; the "rush"as it's called. How did it feel for you? Also, what reasoning did you use to justify your activities? Did you feel the need to justify them to yourself at all? What techniques did you use? What did you steal? And did you ever get caught? How did you first begin stealing, and how long did it continue?

I want to hear from YOU if you can answer any or all of these questions, or have anything interesting to say on the topic in general. Post something anonymously below (or with your own name if you're not afraid to stand up and say "My name is X and I was a shoplifter") or email me at rhi.hart at

All responses to my email account will be treated confidentially. Credit can be given if your words inspire me, the work is published and the responder desires to be acknowledged. (Nicknames can be used, naturally, to protect your identity.) Your words are copyrighted if you choose to email me and I will not plagiarise them, but as this research may appear in a published book, please keep in mind that I may use what you tell me as inspiration for my writing.

I welcome any and all responses! Thank you for your stories and time.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: The Dead-Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan

Mary is the keeper of the lighthouse, decapitating the Unconsecrated that wash up on the shore at high tide. Her daughter, Gabry (short for Gabrielle), is now fifteen and hears her friends talking longingly of life in the Dark City. But Gabry is happy where she is. And safe. But nothing is safe after the Return, and one rash night changes everything. To discover her mother's secrets, Gabry is going to have to leave all she knows behind her, and enter the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009). I found it thrilling and beautifully written. One thing did frustrate me, however: not knowing what the Sisters "did" to Gabrielle to turn her into the Fast One. Mary's stubborn need to get to the ocean niggled at me as well. It seemed rather flimsy motivation to get through the forest.

But when it comes to The Dead-Tossed Waves, I'm thoroughly satisfied. This is one of the most exciting second-in-the-series books I have ever read. The opening is breath-taking, set amidst a rusting, crumbling amusement park on the other side of the Barrier in the middle of the night. It is just begging to be filmed. Begging. If I was a producer I would scrap filming the first book entirely and start with the second. It's just that good.

I have often said that I am sick to death of love triangles. I loathe them. But from now on I'll add a clause: I'm sick of love triangles unless Carrie Ryan writes them. (And perhaps Aprilynne Pike, but I'll reserve my judgment for once I've read Spells.) The love triangle in The Dead-Tossed Waves is delicious and layered. It serves a purpose, to elucidate Gabry's torn affections towards her home and her mother, as well as an entertaining romance in its own right.

The horror element has been kicked up a notch in this sequel. There are a handful of genuinely gruesome scenes that set it apart, yet again, from The Forest of Hands and Teeth. There are so few YA books of a supernatural theme that contain actual frightening elements. If you're at all inclined towards horror and enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth, this is a YA book for you.

The Dead-Tossed Waves is available in Australia from April 10.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Books for Writers (4): The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim

I adored the Disney adaptations of popular fairy tales as a kid--Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast. I also love reading fairy tale adaptations, like last year's Ice by Sarah Beth Durst. But when I picked up a collection of Grimm Brothers' fairy tales recently, many of the stories left me cold. In their raw form, they seemed to lack the magic and romance that I loved in the adaptations. I was disappointed that I couldn't appreciate the original stories as so many do.

Oddly enough, I was still determined to do what I set out to do: write a fairy tale adaptation. I had found a tale that resonated with me, one that was highly unusual and very inspiring. But I wanted an understanding of what fairy tales are and what they provide their readers with before I got too far into my own project. I came across The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim in an interview with an author of a fairy tale adaptation (I believe the author was Malinda Lo of Ash fame). Written in 1975, The Uses of Enchantment brings a psychoanalytical approach to fairy tales. Bettelheim posits that fairy tales are critical to a child's development and symbolic of crucial life experiences.

Bettelheim, hailing from Vienna and born in 1903 , was greatly influenced by Freud's psychoanalytic theories. We touched on Freud's theories when I was doing my undergraduate psychology degree a few years ago, but he is very much out of vogue in that discipline. (I can't speak for the field of psychiatry, however. I imagine he'd still be popular with psychiatrists, as they seem to be much more case-study focused than psychologists.) It's worth brushing up on Freud's theories of the unconscious; the id, ego and superego; and psychosexual development if you intend to read this book. Perusing the Wikipedia entries is enough.

Bettelheim's use of Freud's theories to analyse fairy tales helped me understand the symbolism contained in them. As Freud turned to classical myths such as Oedipus Rex to illustrate the universality of human development, so Bettelheim uses Freud's theories to illustrate the universality of fairy tales. "Hansel and Gretel" becomes a tale describing the small child's fear of being devoured, or deserted for eating his or her parents out of house and home--a fear, Bettelheim believes, that every child experiences on an unconscious level.

Fairy tales are good for children, Bettelheim believes, as they allow them to indulge in hate and revenge fantasies. This is one reason why fairy tales are so violent. The other reason, which makes excellent sense to me, is that children have an innate sense of right and wrong: goodness is rewarded and evil is punished. You and I can appreciate mercy as we see the world in shades of grey rather than black and white; but Bettelheim is adamant that mercy makes no sense to a small child. The punishment should always fit the crime, which is why the witch who was going to eat Hansel and Gretel should be pushed into an oven, which is symbolic of her being eaten herself.

The Uses of Enchantment is an excellent book for those interested in the symbolic nature of fairy tales. A warning, however: For those with a deep fondness for these tales as they remind them of a more innocent time, a psychoanalytical understanding may ruin them. Wicked stepmothers and handsome princes will become objects of oedipal attachment and jealousy forevermore. You have been warned!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: The Puzzle Ring, Kate Forsyth

Hannah couldn't be more different from her rational, scientific-minded mother: she believes in magic. When they travel to the ancestral home in Scotland, Hannah discovers her family is cursed. The last person to attempt to break the curse was her father, who disappeared thirteen years earlier shortly after she was born. Hannah resolves to pick up where her father left off, reunite the four parts of the puzzle ring, break the curse and put the rightful heir to the fairy court back on the throne.

The Puzzle Ring is one of the coziest books I've read in a long time. The remote Scottish setting, village life and the fairy lore combined to make it a very sweet and exciting adventure. Scottish folklore is so rich with tales of magic, fairies and travel into other realms and times. I think we all hope that such stories are true. Reading about a character who does discover they are true, and that she's the heir to a title as well as a hundreds-year-old curse, is such a delight. Hannah is clever and adventuresome, and at thirteen possesses childlike curiosity and openness, as well as a burgeoning sense of romance and responsibility.

Kate Forsyth has meticulously researched not only magic and folklore, but also Scottish history. Timeslip novels require authenticity and plenty of detail to be successful, and The Puzzle Ring is the most satisfying of its kind that I have read since Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park--another Australian gem. Did I mention that Kate Forsyth is Australian? I'm so proud!

This is the sort of book to curl up with a cup of tea and a supply of homemade baked goodies. Traditional English teas are served up every few chapters and the descriptions of the food will make your mouth water. Especially the marmalade cake. Forsyth provides a recipe for it in the appendix and I'll certainly be trying it. She also provides a discussion of the physics of time travel and several pages on Mary Queen of Scots.

The Puzzle Ring was shortlisted for a 2009 Aurealis award.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Presenting ... Dystopian February! Or at least my wee contribution...

I'm over at Presenting Lenore as part of Lenore's Dystopian February with a post analysing the dystopian genre, its roots, and why I think teenagers love these sorts of novels. Come by and say hi!

Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ah, classic dystopian fiction! Cold War-era dystopian fiction, no less. Published in 1953, Bradbury's short novel tells of a society in which firemen start fires instead of putting them out. The object of incineration is books, the houses in which they abide and, sometimes, even the occupants.

Guy Montag is one such fireman. He lives for the pleasure of burning until he meets a girl who makes him question the purpose of his occupation. Did firemen always start fires, or did they once put them out? Like in Nineteen Eighty-Four, state-sanctioned censorship and the rewriting of history is rife.

Fahrenheit 451 is set against the backdrop of impending nuclear war, but I suspected while reading this novel that it was either a fictional war or a perpetual state of strife that the government encouraged in order to instill fear and obedience into its citizens. A world without writing is a world in which the government can easily dupe it citizens, after all, as there are few ways that dissenters can communicate their doubts and opinions. But rather than a treatise on the sinister uses of censorship by the government, Bradbury is making a statement about that opiate of the masses, television. Human feeling and relationships have given way to parlors lined with massive interactive television screens. Characters on lively and banal shows have replaced family. The Bible, now banned, has been replaced by a televised Jesus who peddles brands alongside his sermons.

Guy Montag, the protagonist, in discussion with Faber, a man who has dared to hold onto his books (p. 82):

"Nobody listens anymore. I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read."

Faber examined Montag's thin, blue-jowled face. "How did you get shaken up? What knocked the torch out of your hands?"

"I don't know. We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I'd burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought the books might help."

It's tempting to believe that books are intrinsically noble and forthright creatures. That they improve minds by their mere existence. But Faber replies, "It's not the books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books."

When I read that I got that delightful yes! feeling that comes from reading something that's so spot on. I've always felt that the people and situations contained in books are much more real than representations of reality that are portrayed through film and song. And fiction aside, how could masterpieces like On the Origin of Species be communicated if not through prose?

Fahrenheit 451 is a character-driven novel, which is unusual for dystopian fiction. Often its events that force the main character into action, but in this case it's the people that Montag interacts with. There's something of the Gary Stu/Mary Sue about him, but that's easily forgivable as the rest of the novel is so exceptional. The writing itself is vibrant, almost melodramatic, in places. I enjoy a dialogue-heavy book, and Bradbury's novel has plenty of banter and just enough description. And the climax is just excellent.