Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In My Mailbox (28)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

It was a long weekend in Australia and I was enjoying myself too much to get online. There was BBQ-ing, movie marathons, enormous plates of nachos and a Muay Thai tournament. I'm not one much for blood sports but I like saying yes to random things and treating it like research. Maybe there'll be a kick-boxing scene in a future novel!

I was given the most stunning graphic novel this week, Fables, the deluxe edition, volume one, by Bill Willingham. It's been put out by Vertigo, the same graphic novel press who published V for Vendetta, which is also sitting on my shelves. It's a beautiful hardback book and full colour throughout.

When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. When Snow White's party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it's up to Fabletown's sheriff, the reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to find the killer. Meanwhile, trouble of a different sort brews at the Fables' upstate farm where non-human inhabitants are preaching revolution – and threatening Fabletown's carefully nurtured secrecy.

From NetGalley:

Living Hell by Catherine Jinks (April 12, Harcourt Children's Books) and The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn (September 6, Clarion).

The Clearing, Heather Davis (Graphia, April 12) and The Mermaid's Mirror, LK Madigan (October 4, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children).

Happy reading!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: The Line by Teri Hall

Rachel lives on The Property with her mother, Vivian, not far from the Line that separates the Unified States from Away. Strange and dangerous things are said to live behind the Line. The net streams are full of the "official" story, but as Vivian says, the official story isn't necessarily the true one. Rachel gets a chance to find out the truth when she discovers a recording of a voice asking for help that has come from across the Line.

As we all know I like my dystopian novels, and it's a very exciting thing to start on this new crop of YA dystopian books. The Line was an excellent beginning as it contained lots of my favourite dystopian elements: totalitarianism, perpetual war and a government that has given itself license to create its own past, present and future with a complete disregard for the facts.

The Line is Teri Hall's debut novel. It's gently paced and gives the reader plenty of time to assimilate the facts of this world and get to know the characters before the story starts to happen. For much of The Line there is a tiny cast: Rachel, Vivian, Mrs Moore (who owns The Property) and Jonathon, the farm hand. Seen through Rachel's eyes, the Unified States doesn't seem particularly ominous--at first. Being isolated on The Property protects Rachel from much of the misery it's hinted that exists in the more populated areas. But as the truth slowly unravels, Rachel--and the readers--see the truth not only about Away, but also the government and her father's death in a long-ago war.

Hall provides plenty of back story in the form of lessons that Vivian drills into Rachel. While it's not the most graceful method of getting information across to the reader, it gets the job done and illuminates the relationship between mother and daughter. I did find some of the interactions between the pair a little too sweet and demonstrative, and on occasion their responses seemed almost stylised. Tears during emotional moments would appear as if on queue.

The Line is a slim novel and is over almost before it's begun. Some readers may find this frustrating, but I enjoyed the "until next time" feel of the ending. (And there will be a next time. The sequel, Away is due out in 2011.) Hall is able to build tension without being miserly with details or hiding things from the reader, which I personally find far more frustrating than a short novel.

And how is it's dystopian-ness? I'm pleased to say that The Line delivers! It gives nods to several classics including Nineteen Eighty-four and The Chrysalids, two of my favourites, while providing a fresh take on the genre. The Line is accessible for older and younger readers too. Never too early to an instill a mistrust of the government, I say.

The Line is an excellent debut novel and an auspicious start to 2010's crop of dystopian books.*

Thanks again to Lenore for sending me an ARC of this book!

*Okay, so really Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder was probably the "start" of 2010's dystopian crop, but my copy is stuck somewhere in the northern hemisphere because of a giant ash cloud. How dystopian is that? Pass the long pig.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In My Mailbox (27): The SQUEE! edition

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

Why am I squeeing? I don't want to make you all spew your guts or anything, but look! The last book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, arrived this week. I have spent the last few days stroking its see-through plastic cover saying "Pretty pretty!" As soon as I'm done with The Line I am bumping this baby right to the top of my TBR pile. "Make way, other pretty books, VIP coming through! No photos, no photos..."

Also for review I got Wish by Alexandra Bullen and Hater by David Moody. Hater is about zombies, looks frigging awesome, and the sequel Dog Blood will be out later this year. Also, it's being made into a film by Guillermo Del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth and Hell Boy fame).

From the library I got Pretties as I can no longer wait to find out what happens next with Shay and Tally. And finally, also for review I got the most beautifully illustrated version of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I've always been meaning to read this classic.

All in all, a very good week! What did you receive?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review: Salomé by Oscar Wilde

Salomé is a one-act tragedy by Oscar Wilde, originally written in French and first published in 1891. The titular character and several other characters are taken from an Old Testament story in which King Herod promises Salomé anything she desires when she dances the dance of the seven veils for him. Salomé promptly asks for the head of John the Baptist, and Herod must oblige.

In Wilde's version, Salomé takes a peverse fancy to Jokanaan (John the Baptist) despite (or perhaps because of) the grim prophecies he has for her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, the Tetrarch (King Herod). It seems as if these prophecies, and the detestation both Herod and Herodias have for the prophet, are the reason for Salomé's sudden obsession--and possibly Jokanaan's immediate dislike of her. Wilde quickly establishes Salomé as a spoiled princess with little regard for human life and far too much awareness of her own beauty.

There are many parallels between Salomé and the moon in the text, often ominous and foreshadowing later events in the play:

The Page of Herodias: Look at the moon! How strange the moon seems! She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. You would fancy she was looking for dead things.

The Young Syrian: She is a little princess who wears a yellow veil, and whose feet are of silver. She is like a princess who has little white doves for feet. You would fancy she is dancing.

Historically, the moon is said to be responsible for madness, or "lunacy", brought about by staring at it too long. During the course of the play several characters, including Herod, are taken over with lust for the princess, despite the urgings of others not to look at her:

The Page of Herodias: You must not look at her. You look too much at her.

And later:

Herodias: You are looking again at my daughter. You must not look at her. I have already said so.
The text is heavily repetitive and the effect on the reader is hypnotic. From the outset it is clear that several characters are doomed, and the constant pleas to look away from Salomé and Salomé's continual vow that she will kiss Jokanaan (the event that will bring about her downfall) raises the dramatic tension to an abrupt climax.

An illustration by Aubrey Beardsley from the 1894 edition of the play. Salomé with Jokanaan's head.

Several years ago I saw a production of this play in which all the characters wore B&D get-up. I have to say I wasn't impressed. The leather collars, whips and studs seemed cheap and nasty in comparison with Wilde's rich dialogue. While there's certainly plenty of lust in Salomé, there's very little about it that suggests dominant/submissive relationships. Salomé has Herod in the palm of her hand from the moment he promises her anything her heart desires, but her control is opportunistic rather than the premeditated fantasy of a dominatrix.

Salomé is a dark, richly worded play. It's a delight to read and I'm looking forward to one day seeing an adaptation that does it justice.


And on a more frivolous note, woohoo! 200 followers! You guys rock :D

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larrson

Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist, is hired by the CEO of the Vanger Corporation, Henrik Vanger, to write the family history. Blomkvist has just been convicted of libel against businessman Hans Wennerstrom. But writing the history is a front. Henrik really wants Blomkvist to discover who killed his niece Harriet in 1966. To entice Blomkvist, Henrik promises to provide him with information about Wennerstrom's shady dealings. During the course of the investigation, Blomkvist crosses paths with the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, a hacker with a photographic memory--and no one is better at digging up dirt than she is.

I read this book after hearing such excellent things about it from my dad. It's only fair, as recently I've been shoving YA books at him like no one's business, including The Hunger Games and Catching Fire (loved them, though suggested at first that THG might have been improved if Katniss and Peeta had actually swallowed those berries!), the Obernewtyn series (up to The Keeping Place) and the Chaos Walking books (not enamored of them, unfortunately, which brought howls of protest from me). I've been aware of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a while as it's a bestseller here in Australia (and everywhere else in the world, too, it seems) but as I tend to avoid bestsellers out of sheer obstinacy I was never going to pick it up myself. But I can report that I'm very pleased this book found its way into my hands.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins slowly, and I found myself less than impressed I waded through pages of financial jargon. Nothing bores me more than stocks and brokers and shares and the book had a less than auspicious beginning for me. Thank goodness for Lisbeth Salander, otherwise I would have given up on Mikael Blomkvist and the Vangers and all the rest before the story had even begun. Salander probably has Asperger syndrome, though it's never explicitly said. She has difficulty with social interaction but has a photographic memory and a knack for digging up information that people are keen to hide. It makes her perfect for her line of work, which is investigations.

In Swedish, the title is Men Who Hate Women rather than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I can't help feeling that this is a more apt title than the one this book is given in English; but far less poetic and mysterious. It's apt because this book really is about men who hate women. Each section of the text is divided up by gloomy statistics of sexual assault and violence perpetrated against women in Sweden. While on the surface this book seems to be a murder mystery, it's really far more than that, and it's this violent theme that holds all the threads of the story together.

Unsurprisingly, this book contains several violent and disturbing scenes. Like The Windup Girl, this book isn't aimed at a young adult audience. I'm reviewing it here, however, because unlike The Windup Girl I found the writing in this book to be highly accessible and some older teens (and you older YA lovers like me) will love this book. (I reviewed The Windup Girl here, on the other hand, because the author has a YA book coming out later this year and some of you were probably curious about his first novel. Okay, I'll stop justifying why non-YA books are appearing on this blog now!)

The mystery itself--who killed Harriet Vanger--is an interesting one to unravel, and while the perpetrator is easily guessed at the hows and whys and even whats aren't as transparent. I love research, and reading about a journalist researching a forty-year-old murder was fascinating to me. It also comes under the heading "Writers Doing Cool Stuff", and I adore that too. If this novel was merely about the murder, however, it wouldn't have been so engaging. What really won me over was Salander herself. It's difficult to say what I liked about her--she's far from endearing in the traditional sense. But she's terribly strong despite the difficulties due to her disorder (if I can call it that) and the handling of it by people who have power over her. She's withdrawn, and other characters often find her cold or stupid, but her reservation doesn't distance her from the reader. I just don't know how Larsson did it, which makes me at once awed and frightfully jealous.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thoroughly absorbing book. Read it on a plane or when you're in a reading rut and nothing else is holding your attention. Once you bust through the yawny financial stuff this book reads itself, taking you along for a very intriguing ride.

The film adaptation has just been released here and now I'm dying to see it. I'm rather sad, though, that Larsson never got to see the success that became of his labours, as he died in 2004 before publication of this book.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi

Emiko is New People, a windup girl, heechy-keechy--a Japanese genetically-engineered entity conditioned to obey. Dumped in Bangkok by her owner, Emiko must remain in hiding from the white shirts--officers of the Environment Ministry--who would mulch her for being an illegal piece of trash. The owner of a seedy nightspot becomes her patron and uses her in sadistic performances in order to help pay for the bribes he must give to the white shirts. There seems to be no way out for Emiko until a farang, a foreigner, tells her of a place that New People can live in peace. The foreigner, Anderson, is a calorie man for AgriGen, hunting fruits and vegetables thought to be extinct in Thai marketplaces: bio-terrorism has shrunk the worlds biodiversity to a mere puddle. Though she's thought of as little more than a piece of genetic trash, Emiko will play a pivotal role in future of not only Bangkok, but the human race itself.

I was very impressed by The Windup Girl. Paolo Bacigalupi has created a complex, believable, and--naturally--grim view of the future. The best dystopian novels have their roots firmly planted in what the world is like today, and extrapolate forwards in time. What if all major crops were genetically engineered and controlled by multinationals? What if most biodiversity was wiped out by bio-terrorism?

Because this is a YA blog, a word about the content. The Windup Girl is a book for the adult market and contained all the aspects of books aimed at adults that I dislike. Highly complex socio-political structures. Numerous characters introduced at what seems like warp speed. My poor befuddled brain! Sadistic and violent sexual scenes or acts. Not one--not one--likable character, or at least a character you can gun for. Emiko, the titular character, was far too wretched to be likable.

That said, I did very much enjoy this book. While I dislike sexual violence in books (it's probably redundant to say I dislike it--it's not there to be enjoyed) the scenes were critical to the story and never gratuitous. And it never hurts to stretch the brain with a more complex story now and then. Bacigalupi can write vivid and engaging prose, and while the characters themselves aren't endearing, his turn of phrase certainly is.

I wouldn't recommend this book to young adults, or to anyone getting very excited about all the new YA dystopian books that are coming out this year, including Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker (excuse me while I SQUEE!) Dystopian books for young adults are infused with a lot of hope, and while The Windup Girl isn't an overly depressing read, without ruining the ending I'll say it has a lot in common with the Brave New Worlds and Nineteen Eighty-fours of dystopian fiction.

Ship Breaker is out May 1. Dannie has already given it a rave review.

See Thea's review on The Book Smugglers for a discussion of why The Windup Girl is not steampunk, despite making it onto Best Steampunk Books of 2009 all over the interwebs.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In My Mailbox (26)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

Young adult? Check! Dystopian? Check! Super-squeaky-2010 new? Check!

The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen popped up in my mailbox this week, sent all the way from the US. (Thank you Macmillan!) Apologies for the eeny weeny picture. It's the only one I could find. Released June 2010.

Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children’s book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive. And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.

Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he’s longed for most?

Not so much in-my-mailbox as put-in-a-suitcase-and-given-over-brunch is the Millennium series by Stieg Larrson. Thanks to my dad for these ones! I'm halfway through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I am loving it. I'm usually extremely prejudiced against/insanely jealous of mainstream bestsellers, and yet I am still loving it! It's also the third book in a row for me that isn't YA. Lordy, what's going on?? I'm going to have to antidote with some L. J. Smith or something!

Happy weekend to all!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fictional writer: Kathleen Turner's Joan Wilder

Joan Wilder one of my favourite tongue-in-cheek heroines. She's also a writer--a romance writer who becomes embroiled in adventures straight out of romance novels. The films,
Romancing the Stone (1984) and The Jewel of the Nile (1985), poke fun at the Fabio-era, bodice-ripper romances popular at the time.

Wilder's "Fabio" is Jack T. Colton, played by Michael Douglas, a scoundrel and unlikely hero. Each film concerns the hunt for treasure--or rather, Colton's hunt for treasure, and Wilder's nobler hunt for her sister (Romancing the Stone) and fulfillment as a writer (The Jewel of the Nile).

These films are very funny as well as being great adventure romances. While they parody romance novels it's in a very affectionate manner. Perhaps "homage" would be a better word than parody: while there's a lot of action, in the end these films embrace what they truly are--romances--and give the audience glorious happily-ever-afters.

The Jewel of the Nile has always been higher in my esteem for several reasons: I watched it before Romancing the Stone, Danny DeVito gets a funnier role, and Joan Wilder has a lot more spunk. It's also got a kick-arse sound track. Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going)" was on high rotation on the record player when I was a kid and I just adore it.

Now, over to you: Who are your favourite fictional writers?