Saturday, April 30, 2011

Throat by R. A. Nelson: Last Stop on the Tour

Throat is the fourth book from author R. A. Nelson, a fast paced tale of a girl, Emma, who has a seizure while being attacked by a vampire. Emma becomes a vampire herself--but one who doesn't need to drink blood. Hunted by the vampire who attacked her, Wirtz, she takes refuge at the Huntsville NASA base.

What I loved about Throat, as well as the fiendish Wirtz, was the original take on the vampire trope. Nelson blends traditional vampire lore with astrophysics, creating a world in which vampires worship the sun and can be "healed" by solar storms. There's a rather lovely young man on the base too, called Sagan (named after the brilliant and charismatic astronomer, Carl Sagan), that Emma becomes involved with.

There's something different about Nelson's style of writing in Throat compared to his earlier books. It's just as descriptive and evocative, but the manner is more direct. I enjoyed Emma's fresh voice. In a landscape of vampire literature, or bit-lit, Throat stands out.

I'm very pleased to welcome Russ to my blog to answer a few questions about the book.


RH: Much of the action in Throat takes place on a NASA base where you work. What was it like imagining supernatural creatures in such a familiar place? What do your co-workers thing about it?

RAN: Hi, Rhiannon! I love OZ and I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for having me.

Okay, first question. I’ve been coming to the Marshall Space Flight Center ever since I was a young kid. My dad worked there on the Apollo moon program and later on Skylab. So, counting my day job, I’ve sort of been around the base my whole life! It’s an amazing place full of history colliding with the most modern technology imaginable. A lot of the center is thousands of acres of fields, woods, and cows surrounding all the space center buildings. So it made the perfect setting for Throat where the monster vampires lay siege to my main character in her “tower.” It was a lot of fun setting the story there because I could use so many real details and for the fact that it is a lonely, deserted, HUGE place that can be more than a little creepy at night. Also the Tennessee river runs through the space center, so this ties in perfectly with the story in Throat as well. It’s simply a perfect place for supernatural creatures to battle to the death without much chance of discovery. As for my co-workers, I kind of keep a low profile. I haven’t mentioned Throat to anyone out there, though they do know that I write. There have been some articles in the local paper, though, and I’m always surprised at who will come up to me and mention reading about it!

RH: Your tastes seem very broad and you like to mix vampires with astronomy, ghosts with preachers and so on. What unusual combinations can we expect from you in the future?

RAN: Gosh, I’m not sure what will be mixed in next! But I’m sure something will. I can’t seem to write a book without filling it with ideas from one (or more) of my various passions. But yes, I do love to mix in science and other passions with the stories I write. I feel it adds an air of believability and the concrete details make the sometimes outlandish things that happen in my books more plausible. Also, I love indirectly spreading the joy of science or history or poetry among my readers in such a pain-free way! I’ve always had a passion for these things, but they can be an “acquired taste” for some. J My next book, which has a working title of BEYOND WHERE I CAN SEE,  is going to be extremely different from anything I have ever written before, with a really fresh “voice” that I think will be utterly usual when compared with anything else out there. Still in the thinking stages, though work is proceeding. As I go, I’m sure all those crazy fun thoughts I have about everything under the sun will start to tumble out onto the page as well. So I will probably be just as surprised as anyone else.

RH: Why do you think people like to imagine a world in which supernatural creatures exist, be it good or evil? What do you think these novels can offer that contemporary or "real world" novels can't?

I think sometimes people with big imaginations are a little disappointed with real life. As a kid your head is popping with all these incredible possibilities and thoughts of adventures and mysteries. But all too soon things like school, Little League, safety rules, bullies, etc., start chipping away at that early “sense of wonder.” Some people lose the ability to think this way entirely by the time they get to be 12 or 13 or even younger, while others keep it all their lives. I once had a character in a book say this: “I’m desperate for life to turn out to be more interesting than it really is.” Probably a lot of people feel that way because we get to spend so little time on the passions that really excite us because we are constantly taking care of the day to day necessities. I think that reading about imaginary worlds and creatures is a way to kind of keep that connection open to the infinite wonder contained within the universe (and our own heads). We want to be engaged, alive, challenged, fully “in the moment.” Maybe most of all, we want to be dazzled…feel our jaws drop in collective awe. And reading this kind of fiction is a way of doing this that simply can’t be had in almost any other way.

RH: My favourite character in Throat is Wirtz. He's about as far from a kissable vampire that you can get--which I love. A real monster, and a rarity in contemporary young adult fiction. Do you think that monsters such as vampires and werewolves still have the scope to be monstrous in YA lit, or are they becoming "declawed"?

RAN: Thanks, I had a great time writing the character of Wirtz and digging into everything that made him tick. Really I think it all depends on the story and the skill of the storyteller. I definitely think there is room for monsters in YA fiction, as long as it’s done in a unique way. I think if a writer tried to go back and recreate the old Universal movie monsters from back in the day, this would fall flat on its face. There has to be a sense that this is something entirely new, and monstrous characters/villains also work much better if you can “humanize” them in some way, so that the reader experiences the hurt and bitterness inside the rage of the monster. Ruthless, heartless villains are powerful, but also very hard to pull off in an interesting/believable way unless you give them some kind of depth to go along with their “monsterness.” I have no idea if there will be a trend toward this sort of thing. I knew I was taking a risk in doing this in Throat, particularly with vampires, as readers these days are so indoctrinated into the perspective that vampires are glamorous, universally gorgeous, socially dazzling, etc. I didn’t want to be a copycat – I was determined to kind of start at “vampire ground zero” and build from there. If you take the condition at its most realistic, vampires would be bloodsucking homeless people. But I also have some that worship the sun. I love books that surprise me, and this is what I try to do with everything I write.

Thanks again!


Links to previous stops on the tour:

Monday, April 25th : Books with Bite
Tuesday, April 26th : Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Wednesday, April 27th : Bite Club
Thursday, April 28th : SUVUDU
Friday, April 29th : Random Acts of Reading

Most of you will have heard about the tornadoes that have ripped through Alabama in the last week. At the time of posting Russ, who lives in Alabama, has been silent online. I hear much of northern Alabama is without power. I hope he and his family are safe.

Edit 1 May: Russ's little sister has posted on his Facebook that he and his family are safe and well.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Lieu of an Actual Post...

here is a Lolcat.

It's sort of relevant. My heroine, Zeraphina, shoots a bow and arrow in Blood Song. She's pretty nifty with it too.

I will pen a proper post shortly, but until then let me just say THE EDITS ARE DONE! I posted them back to Random House today. Wheeeeeeee! I pity the poor typesetter who has to make sense of two rounds of my scrawl and two editors' mark-ups. And all my see-copy-outs. That second edit had eight--EIGHT--pages of text to be added in all over the manuscript, three or four lines at a time.

That's also the first time I have mentioned the title on this blog. Yep, Blood Song. It has a series title too. I'll reveal that and the release date...shortly. And then there will be a cover not long after. It's so pretty. Zeraphina looks exactly like I imagined she would.

I'm busy planning the launch right now. DJ is booked. "Booked" as in "Hey buddy, wanna DJ my party cos you're super awesome?" It's probably going to be the first book launch with a house DJ, but dammit, the author likes house music!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I'm on a bit of a Victorian Gothic kick right now so the cover of this book would have had me intrigued even if it wasn't written by Patrick Ness. That's right, he of Chaos Walking fame. Automatic order. I didn't hear about this book until last week which is probably a good thing as there's not long to wait until the release, which is May 2.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming... The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

I don't know who Siobhan Dowd is but I'm looking forward to finding out. Can't. Freaking. Wait.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

A lawyer and his friend are strolling through the London streets when one happens to remark on a door. He relates an incident of several nightprior and the man he saw entering there. The laywer, Utterson, is alarmed, and believes he knows of the strange person--a Mr Hyde, a man whom his client, Mr Jekyll, has recently made the beneficiary of his will. Suspecting foul play, Utterson attempts to track down this mysterious man, declaring, "If he be Mr Hyde, I shall be Mr Seek."

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a well-known story even to those who have never actually read it. Most people will know what you mean if you say someone has a Jekyll-Hyde personality. He or she is different from one moment to the next, often unpredictably so. But so often with cultural references, they differ markedly from the original. (It's not Frankenstein who is the monster! Doctor Frankenstein creates the monster!) I remember a Disney animation from childhood in which Bugs Bunny (I think it was Bugs Bunny) swallows a potion and becomes a hulking, evil green rabbit. I wondered how accurate this idea of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was when compared to the real thing.

Pretty accurate, as it turns out. Except for being green. (And a rabbit.) I guess I should do a **spoiler alert** here, but are there really people who don't know that Jekyll is Hyde? In his desire to excercise his darker urges without troubling his conscience, Dr Jekyll creates a potion that separates his good and evil aspects. The experiment isn't a total success, however, as while Mr Hyde is totally evil, Dr Jekyll isn't purely good. I wondered though if Dr Jekyll could ever be completely good, though, if part of him longed to be Mr Hyde for a little while. Surely no one so virtuous could want such a thing.

There weren't a great many surprises reading this short novel, but it was interesting for the manner of its execution and comparing the cultural construction with the real thing. Like a Greek tragedy, none of the action happened "on stage". Most events were related by one character to another or described in letters. The reader is told that Mr Hyde does all manner of sinful things, but with Victorian prudishness we're not told what these things are. 

The characters a a little stiff and homogenous but despite this it's an interesting read. Lots of "themes", you know. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could be a metaphor for drug use or madness, or simply our desire to go a little wild sometimes. 

Audio version streamed via

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday: Swear by Nina Malkin (Swoon #2)

I was just sitting here thinking, I wonder what Nina Malkin has been up to since Swoon? I know a lot of people disliked it, and were quite vociferous in their disliking. But I LOVED it.

And lookie what I discovered! A sequel, Swear.

A promise broken. A bond betrayed. It’s been six months since ghost-turned golem Sinclair Youngblood Powers confessed his love, stole Dice’s heart, and disappeared from Swoon, perhaps from existence. Despite the hurt, Dice has been moving steadily toward ordinary. Dreams of Sin still plague and pleasure her sleep, and the mark of Sin’s love remains on her skin, still sore. But Dice has been throwing herself into music, finding solace in song and sometimes even in the arms of her band mate, Tosh. Life seems almost…normal. The last thing Dice wants is to mess with anything remotely supernatural. But when her best friend’s boyfriend goes missing, Dice has no choice but to become very much involved. She knows that his disappearance was no accident, and it somehow has everything to do with Sin. Because Dice can feel it: Sin is back. And the promises and deceptions he left in his wake have returned to haunt him.

What do you do when an oath of devotion threatens to destroy the one you love?


From my review of Swoon:

I admit to favouring righteous, upstanding but charmingly flawed protagonists. Rather vanilla of me, right? I should get out more. But Dice is flawed all right. She treads the line between flawed and downright reprehensible through every chapter of Swoon, and I lapped it up. Nina Malkin charmed the socks off me. Swoon is told in Dice's rhythmic, luscious and unpretentious manner. She levels with you. She doesn't sugar coat anything or ask for your approval. Sinclair Youngblood Powers has made her go a bit nutty. Which is perfectly understandable as I went a bit nutty for him too.
Available October 18, 2011.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reviews and Generating Traffic...Or Not.

I think every book review blogger has noticed this: it's "other" sorts of posts, not the book reviews, that generate traffic and comments. The memes like Waiting on Wednesday and In My Mailbox. The issue-of-the-week posts. The indulgent what-I-did-this-week-and-what-I-learned-from-it posts. The kitty picture posts. (Guilty. Unrepentant.)

The irony is, book reviewing is what we DO. It's our bread and butter. (I still call myself a book reviewer even though my content is evolving.) I read first Adele's Traffic Report post and Megan's Blogging Stats today, and the thing that struck me was how none of Adele's most popular posts and only two of Megan's were reviews. (It struck them too.) It kept striking me all evening and it's why I'm here thinking with my fingers instead of continuing with City of Bones which I'm kinda loving. I took a look at my stats, which I hadn't done before because I, uh...didn't know you could (I know right, can you say blind?) and there's only one review in my top ten, plus that gush I did about North and South, but that's not a book and not strictly a review.

What gives? Should we give up on reviewing? Are we just crap at it?

I was particularly surprised by my results as until now I've been tracking my traffic in Feedburner and there I have 4 reviews in my top ten posts. (Two are for Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking books--you guys have taste.)

Here's my top ten for Blogger:
  1. Waiting on Wednesday: Ness, Pike and Labyrinth
  2. Are you making fun of me Riz?
  3. Rapping at my Chamber Door: Edgar Allen Poe and MC Lars
  4. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  5. Kissing Day Blogfest!
  6. My new hobby, inspired by WIP research
  7. North and South: The BBC Adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel
  8. Literature in Songs: Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straits
  9. Coca-Cola, product placement and The Road
  10. Guest Post: Amy of Addicted to Books reviews The Handmaid's Tale
So what gives? I think it's this: Blogger Stats tracks unique visits to a post. All the popular ones contain incredibly searchable content. It's things that people out there on the interwebs are searching for all the time. The "Are you making fun of me Riz?" post had me stumped for a bit: Why does such a random collection of humorous bits and pieces have the second most number of hits? I looked at it again and realised it's because of that Edward Cullen Venn diagram I included. Never underestimate the lure of the sparklepire.

In contrast, Feedburner tracks the popularity of posts among people who have subscribed to my feed. Most of them, I imagine, are other book bloggers. They might not always comment (and I'm guilty as the next) but they're reading the content.

I like the contrast of the two sets of stats: my regulars like my reviews and memes, and the Dystopian Challenge posts. (Yay! Is great to see them in my Feedburner top ten.) These are the posts I love doing, that I plan and schedule and think of as defining the blog. And then there are the more random posts that happen serendipitously that often have highly searchable content and draw in "them out there". They probably don't stay for long, either. But it's nice to have them visit.

Oh, and so a few of them read this...EDWARD CULLEN VENN DIAGRAM.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

A pragmatic American family purchases Canterville Chase from Lord Canterville, dismissing warnings of the 300-year-old resident ghost which has appeared to and petrified generations of Cantervilles. The Gothic setting and frequent appearances of the ghost do little to unnerve the family, however, enraging the ghost and forcing a confrontation between it and fifteen-year-old Virginia.

Such a delicious story! Oscar Wilde's trademark wit and flourish made this tale a perfect morsel for a Sunday afternoon. I found a reading of The Canterville Ghost on LibriVox, free to download or stream. I streamed it on my iPhone and buried myself beneath quilts on the couch as rain whipped the windowpanes.

As a teenager I was fond of the film adaptation of this novella starring Neve Campbell and Patrick Stewart and was pleased to discover how it differs and complements Wilde's original version. The most marked difference is the belief in the ghost. In the 1995 film, Ginny (Neve Campbell) is accused by her father of orchestrating the ghost in a bid to persuade her family to go home to America--a circumstance that creates plenty of tension between Ginny and her family, and Ginny and the ghost, when she eventually confronts it. In Wilde's version, he subverts the roles of terrorizor and terrorizee: once they meet it, the American family swiftly accept that within Canterville Chase resides a ghost, but refuse to be frightened and even begin to play pranks on it. I like both versions, but particular enjoy Wilde's for the humour of the situation.

The more I discover Oscar Wilde the more I love his work. He banishes tedium and excites the mind. The Canterville Ghost is a perfect little tale.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Teenage Wildlife

Tivali is getting so big she's almost grown into her purr. The other night she was wandering around my room after lights out, navigating the piles of clothes and books. I have a habit of dropping whatever I don't need right at that moment exactly where I stand. It saves time I find.

I could practically hear her kittenish thoughts:

Bored. Bored. Bored.

Then she wandered onto my fluffy robe.

Bored. Bored. Bor--MUMMY!

I could tell it was my fluffy robe as there was an explosion of purring. She loves that robe. Her little paws pistoned away at the fabric. I could hear the claws catching. I should have stopped her but it was a gift from an old boyfriend...

She's growing out of her awkward teenage phase. Slowly. She's had the unnerving habit of leaping just far enough onto something (windowsill/couch/leg) to get the front half of her body up and then scrabbling her bottom half up afterwards. Much wincing on our part. And I thought Siamese were supposed to be graceful.

The end of daylight savings hasn't been received well by anyone in our house, least of all kittens who like to be Fed at Regular Times. I also had a pretty sloshy dinner at the Abbotsford Convent's Lentil as Anything last night and didn't feel like my usual 6am rise. Well. Tiv didn't like that either and wandered around the house trying out her Big Siamese Voice and dragging her toys about.

When I finally rose at seven thirty her toys were tangled in my floordrobe and neither of us could find anything.

Happy Caturday!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alack, Alas and Woe Is Me

Why? Why should I be clutching at my breast and wailing fit to fill a moor? Because I'll be out of the country for Kristin Cashore's Melbourne events.

Suuuuuuuuuuuuucks. Cashore is one of my favourite fantasy authors. It's hard enough waiting for the release of Bitterblue (this year? Next year? Who can say!) without getting the chance to gush at the woman for thirty seconds while she signs my books and hear her speak. New York better be worth it, that's all I can say.

Cashore's two Melbourne events:
  • ‘In conversation’ at the Readings State Library of Victoria bookshop, as part of the Readings Matters Conference, Friday 27 May @ 5pm, State Library of Victoria.

  • Going Global, The Emerging Writers’ Festival, Saturday 28 May @ 11am, Town Hall Melbourne.

I'll be going to Cassandra Clare's event the evening of the 25th of May in Westgarth, however. RSVP here on Facebook. It's the night before I fly out. Maybe it'll give me motivation to, you know, READ HER BOOKS.

Friday, April 1, 2011

In which I defend the dystopian-ness of Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The United States has found a cure for love, now classified as the disease deliria amor nervosa. There are only a few months before Lena undergoes the procedure and she can't wait. That's when the unthinkable happens: she catches the disease. While concealing her "symptoms" of love for a boy named Alex, she begins to question everything her society has told her is right and good.

This started as a regular review, but I found myself wanting to go on the defence right away. There have been many, MANY reviews praising this novel. And it deserves praise. It's beautifully written. The main characters shine so brightly that all others seem to disappear into the background. The world-building is gradual and thorough.

But there have been a number of reviews that dismiss Delirium as not a true dystopia. As an illogical set of circumstances. I would disagree. I found Delirium to be one of the most carefully constructed YA dystopias that I have read of late. What a lot of authors seem to do is take an idea and run with it: push forward from when a time x becomes outlawed with little concern for how that actually happens. But how it happens is kinda the point. We all want a good yarn from our books, but the word "dystopia" promises something more. It promises a chance to examine the world around us. To look closely at our own behaviour, the words spilling from our politicians' mouths, the hysteria our media is feeding us. Even the most gratuitous of the dystopian genre, the zombie novel (if I can lump apocalyptic in with dystopian), can be used to hold a mirror up to society: what would we degenerate into if our survival was on the line? Would the human spirit survive, or would we descend into barbary?

A dystopia is created out of a specific set of circumstances: someone in a position power, usually with misguided good intentions, attempts to create their idea of paradise. A world without Jews, to use a real-life example. A colony on a new planet where wars can be waged for one person's pleasure. A society of Pretty, happy people.*

In Delirium, the powers that be have seized on the idea that the thing standing in the way of an ordered, happy society is love. A cure is found and the people accept it with open arms: a brain procedure that promises to remove all symptoms of the disease. Pain. Jealousy. Heartache. But also the positive emotions too. Joy. Elation. That ache in your chest that makes you want to do anything to be with that person, and that person only.

Here's the rub: the cure doesn't work until a person has reached maturity. Which means there are teenagers running about with all these dangerous feelings. There have been many books for teenagers in which teenagers are persecuted seemingly because they are the intended readers of the book. It's a cheap trick. But it's true that the adolescent brain is still developing so Oliver's premise isn't entirely unfounded, and she does make reference to this in the novel. I'm inclined to be generous in this case as I enjoyed the book and thought Oliver fleshed out her reasoning well. I don't see it as a cheap trick in this case.

If love was the only thing abolished by the procedure I wouldn't be so forgiving. But the truth is far more insidious. Oliver tells the reader that not only are the citizens of Portland "safe" from the disease deliria amor nervosa, but they're more docile too. More willing to follow the rules. Crime is practically non-existent. The people submit to violent, invasive raids into their homes without a peep of complaint. Portland, by the way, is a massive gated community surrounded by an electrified fence. Designed to keep the Invalids (dissenters) out, but also the citizens penned in. Sedition is quickly dealt with by execution or permanent internment in the infamous crypts. Teenagers who attempt to resist the procedure because they have "caught the disease" are taken forcibly, and the procedure is performed against their wishes.

Now, look me in the eye and tell me that's not a dystopia.

There's a telling scene near the beginning of the novel in which Lena's uncle describes a dream he had where he's sealing a window (I forget the American term, caking? coaking?) but the seal keeps flaking off and he has to apply it again and again. Lena's aunt describes a similar dream in which she can't get to the bottom of a pile of dishes. Isn't that what life is without the higher feelings? Without the sparkle of love or headiness of freedom--a long, hard, grind to the grave?


*The Chaos Walking Trilogy, Patrick Ness; Scott Westerfield's Pretties.