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.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In My Mailbox (34)

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.

OS order that arrived this week: Teach Me (for a reread, I adore this book) and Breathe My Name by R. A. Nelson. Nelson is becoming one of those gotta-read-everything-he's-ever-done authors. Plus Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, some newish fantasy that I'm dying to get stuck into. Couldn't resist the pretty American hardback edition.

Happy Caturday!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dystopia Challenge Review #5: Razorland by Ann Aguirre

Deuce has been told her whole life that to go topside means instant death. She lives in an enclave called College in the tunnels beneath the ruins of New York, and she's never seen the sun. Her one desire is to prove herself as a Huntress, one who protects the enclave from the Freaks and provides food. But the Freaks are changing, becoming smarter, and those in charge of College refuse to believe it. With her partner, Fade, a wild boy who survived in the tunnels alone as a child, Deuce is sent to the enclave of Nassau, and what they find there changes everything.

Razorland is an excellent, thrilling dystopian adventure story. Ann Aguirre has created a grim, grimy setting for her apocalypse and it's an excellent place to visit for people who like their stories dank and bloodied. Deuce is ass-kicking fantastic. She wields a CLUB, people. A freaking club! True, she does favour her knives and hand-to-hand combat more most of the book, but there's a bit of skull-bashing amongst the fight scenes. And they're good fight scenes too. Grimy and dangerous and often in these nasty black tunnels or trapped in train carriages.

I really enjoyed Deuce as a main character. Her struggle over her role in life, what it means to be a girl in a world where only the strongest survive, was fascinating. Fade, too, is an interesting, layered character, and the romance arc made sense. Sometimes I tire of the supposed "reasons" preventing two characters from falling in love, but there was nothing tiresome about the romance in Razorland.

On the downside, parts of this book feel scrappy, like it has been rushed through the editing phase. The overall pacing is good, but sections seem truncated and certain characters change their behaviours a little too fast. It's a shame to see a book handled with even the smallest amount of roughness, but I will concede that this is an ARC and hope that it gets a little smoothing over before it goes to print.

One more tiny downside: the beginning is a little slow. It took me eighty pages to get into it, but once I did I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Deuce is a very cool MC and fans of Suzanne Collins, whom this book is undoubtedly aimed at, are going to love Razorland for its action and originality.

Razorland is available January 2011 from Feiwel and Friends. I apologise for reviewing this book so long before it comes out! I got hooked into it before I read the date. I promise you it's worth the wait.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dystopia Challenge Review #4: The Giver, Lois Lowry

The community in which Jonas lives is perfect. The Elders oversee the smooth running of society, organising people into family units and deciding which occupation best suits an individual. Transgressions are dealt with swiftly. The community is a happy one, full of politeness and respect. When Jonas becomes a Twelve he is singled out to be the new Receiver. The Receiver holds all memories, and they are transmitted one by one from The Giver; memories of sunlight, snow, Christmas. But also memories of war, cruelty and pain. And for the first time, Jonas sees the truth about his perfect community.

Not since I read The Road have I been so emotionally affected by a book. The Giver contains only a tiny fraction of the horror contained in Cormac McCarthy's bleak exploration of a "godless" landscape, but like The Road, The Giver directs the reader to consider the fate of a single boy.

The Giver is told with childlike naivety from Jonas's viewpoint. It is a joy to read a dystopian novel in which the author leaves, breadcrumb-like, clues about the society for the reader to follow. Too often lately I have read books in which things are stated baldly: this is like this, and we are persecuted because of this et cetera et cetera. The community does seem like a perfect place to live. The care, respect and love of the Old, for instance, I found particularly touching, and the closeness of each family unit. The idea that everyone's profession is handpicked for them based on their aptitude, while overbearing, seems almost a legitimate way for a society to function. There is the sense that society reached a breaking point making such intervention necessary.

It is because of this childlike voice that when Jonas (and the reader) becomes privy to the sacrifice that must be made by one individual in order to make this "perfect" society function, it is all the more horrifying. The Giver is a story about the ills and joys of choosing ones own path and whether individuals should be protected from unpleasant truths. But ultimately, this book questions whether the comfort of many can justify the suffering of one.

The Giver broke my heart. It is an excellent novel.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In My Mailbox (33): Razorland, Ann Aguirre

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

A special surprise from the States this week...

Ann Aguirre's first YA novel, Razorland. Of course I started reading it straight away, got hooked, and then realised it isn't going to be released until next January! Razorland is a little slow to start but now that I'm about 80 pages in I'm finding it pretty darn thrilling. Freaky things slather about in the dark, and did I mention it's post-apocalyptic?

From Goodreads:

In Deuce’s world, individuals become adults—and earn the right to a name—only if they survive their first fifteen years. By this point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups: breeders, builders, or hunters. As the names imply, each group has definite roles to play for the survival of the group.

As a Huntress, Deuce’s purpose is clear—to roam the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading the ferocious humanoids known as Freaks. This has been the status quo for as far back as anyone can remember; this is, the elders tell everyone, the way it has to be. With the introduction of Fade, a male hunter a couple of years older than Deuce, who had been adopted into her enclave a few years earlier, she becomes aware of the hidden realities of the Orwellian society in which she was born. Deviation from the norm is punished quickly and harshly.

As Deuce’s perception of her world shifts, guided by her complex partnership with Fade, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival in the tunnels. The Freaks, considered dangerous only due to their sheer numbers and ferocious appetite, have long been held as incapable of any level of thought. And yet, as Fade and Deuce encounter them in the tunnels while in a reconnaissance mission to the nearest enclave, the creatures’ behavior is evidently cunning, and therefore more dangerous. It is evident that the danger is imminent, and yet Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she's ever known.

This girl Deuce can kick some serious ass, and she wields a motherfrakking CLUB. No kidding, a club! Too much awesome.

Razorland is available from Feiwel and Friends January 2010.