Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday: Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Whenever I get a bad cold I get out my comfort books. But there are only so many times I can read Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. I wondered aloud on Twitter, "Twitter, are there any YA ballet books coming out soon?" Almost immediately Gretchen McNeil and Carolina V. Miller came back with this lovely book.

Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe
Seventeen-year-old Sara's dream of becoming a star ballerina is challenged when she falls for Remington, an older choreographer. Instead of success onstage, she becomes Rem's muse, which is a future she never considered--and one that threatens to break her heart.

Audition is available from Viking October 13, 2011.

Girl Friday also drew my attention to this Australian book published by Penguin last year, Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati.

He tossed her into the air as if she were weightless, and just for a moment she seemed suspended there, defying gravity. I couldn't take my eyes off her. I knew what she was feeling. It was in every movement of every limb.

Here was a power I had never seen before, a kind of hauntin
g loveliness I had never imagined. Seeing it made me long for something, I didn't know what . . .

Ditty was born to dance, but she was also born Jewish. When her strictly religious parents won't let her take ballet lessons, Ditty starts to dance in secret. But for how long can she keep her two worlds apart? And at what cost?

A dramatic and moving story about a girl who follows her dream, and finds herself questioning everything she believes in.

Until Audition comes out I'll have to whet my ballet appetite with Dancing in the Dark.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Zom nom nom nom: The Walking Dead (2010) and Dead Set (2008)

It's been a real nom-fest at our house recently and we've devoured The Walking Dead and Dead Set (2008), a mini-series from the UK. Both immediately follow the zombie-pocalypse, with bitey mayhem.

The first season of The Walking Dead aired recently, a Day of the Triffids/28 Days Later opening falling quickly into Survivor-like squabbling interspersed with some bitey scenes that seemed all too infrequent and fleeting. Stand out episodes were 1, 2 and 6, with the middle of the season frustratingly slow. There's some decent character dynamics going on, which saves it somewhat, but I'm looking for more nomming next season. I have high hopes of this as Stephen King has been asked to pen an ep. Can I get a frak yeah? Lets hope season two has better zombie make-up and direction. They're simply not scary enough as they are.

Dead Set takes place mostly in the Big Brother house. The location is ideal. Where else better to ride out the zombie-pocalyse that an autonomous compound with security fencing? Things quickly deteriorate, however, as these fast moving zombies converge on the studios and in-house squabbling threatens to derail the housemates. Dead Set is not only one of the best zombie-related pieces of entertainment I've watched or read recently, but it's also a stand-out piece of television. The characters are borderline heinous but you find yourself clinging to them as they're forced into smaller and smaller areas and picked off one by one. The parallels with Big Brother itself are too numerous to recount here. Massive props to the writers and directors who took every nomming opportunity they could get to freak out the audience. One of the most frustrating things about The Walking Dead is that it's full of missed opportunities, as if zombies are just a handy prop to have staggering past every now and then rather than the show actually be about the zombie-pocalypse.

Report to the Diary Room ... for nomming.

A word one zombie cliches:
1. The word "zombie" cannot be spoken. It's as if Walt Disney will slap a lawsuit on your arse if the z-word is even uttered. Instead the characters invent naff names like Walkers.
2. No one knows the importance of SHUTTING THE HELL UP. This was by far the most popular reason for yelling at the television while watching both series, second only to HOW ABOUT YOU KEEP A LOOKOUT, MORON?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

REVIEW: Return to Labyrinth 4, Jake T. Forbes

The final installment of the Return to Labyrinth manga! Will it send hearts aflutter or cause a million fangirls to weep tears of despair? Will the labyrinth itself survive? WILL JARETH AND SARAH FINALLY KISS?! And ye gods, would they, COULD they, be together?

It has been the keenest source of pain for many a fangirl (including me) that Sarah defeats the Goblin King and happily trots home (ew) with her baby (double ew) brother at the end of Labyrinth. Was this the film that launched a billion fan-fics? You bet. And were most of them about Sarah returning to the labyrinth, or Jareth following her into the real world as that tantalising closing scene of Jareth in his owl form looking in her window suggests? Absolutely. I was an avid reader, and yes, writer, of such stories. (Not all of them had Sarah. There were a few Mary-Sues as well, as you might guess. All had Jareth though.) I can't remember when I discovered the Return to Labyrinth series. The second volume had already been released, but not the third. I remember rejoicing for here was the OFFICIAL version of events post-film, sanctioned by the people who own copyright. Something about it being "official" made me incredibly excited.

**wee spoiler for volume three follows**

My hopes for a happily-ever-after died with the revelation in volume three of just what an ablation is and what it did to Sarah. It was a selfish, one might say evil, thing for Jareth to have done. But he's the Goblin King. He can be cruel, as he so readily tells us. It felt like something Jareth would do. But of course, the bad guy never gets the girl. But he might still be redeemed and restored to his rightful place. And there still might be that kiss...

**end wee spoiler**

This character consistency is what endears me to the series the most. The drawings might look a little funny here and there and some of the puns are killer. But Jake T. Forbes has done a wonderful job of capturing the quirks and silliness of Labyrinth. The darkness and fear. The sense of adventure. There are plenty of original characters present but Forbes hasn't been afraid to expand on both the characters and the world.

There has been a lot of criticism of this series--as Forbes must have known there would be going into the project. It's a film that is dear to so many people and he's dared to mess with it. The criticism is unfortunate though, because the series feels so much like Labyrinth. And I'm thrilled to have been able to spend a little more time in that world.

A little something else to be excited about: At the end of volume four is an ad that promises EVEN MOAR Labyrinth coming "Fall 2010". Hmmm. Or not. But the interwebs assures me that it will happen. But more like fall 2011. So spring for us southerners!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Del-Del by Victor Kelleher

On the anniversary of his sister's death seven-year old Sam becomes inhabited by a malevolent being called Del-Del. The change is gradual, but soon Del-Del has taken control. Sam's behaviour is tearing the family apart and no one can tell if Sam is acting out because of his grief or whether the truth is much darker--possession. Told through fourteen-year-old Beth's eyes, this is a story that takes the reader into the darkest parts of the human mind, and the universe.

Del-Del (1991) is a short novel, not even 200 pages, so I was surprised at the speed with which Sam became Del-Del and the family brought in the inevitable exorcist. Clearly there was going to be more to this novel than pea soup and talking in tongues. The first thing that I found curious was that Sam is purportedly a genius. Being a big spec fic fan I was gunning for there being a supernatural element to this book. But Sam's abilities keep the reader guessing. Is he clever enough to manufacture first a possession, and then an entirely more complicated series of events? And if he is making it all up, then why?

I read Del-Del on the recommendation of a friend who told me about it while reminiscing about his favourite books from his high school years. I can see why Del-Del stuck in his mind all these years later. It's a gripping, fast-paced tale, simply told but highly affecting. Find yourself a dog-eared copy on eBay if you like thrilling, psychological reads.

Two more cool things: Victor Kelleher is Australian (OK, UK born and raised in Africa, but whatever) and Del-Del won Children's Book of the Year in 1992. I particularly enjoyed the Sydney setting for this novel. Fantastic Australian books always get me so excited.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Outside In by Maria V. Snyder

**Small spoilers for book one**

Trella and the Force of Sheep have overthrown the Travas and disbanded the Pop Cops. Insiders now know that they're on a spacecraft travelling through space, on their way to some unknown destination. But they still don't know why, or where, and they're still plagued by the division between Uppers and Lowers. Trella does see herself as a leader but when Outsiders threaten the lives of everyone Inside, she must decide if it's time to step up to the plate. And most importantly, who to trust.

Such a twisty turny book! The plot does get confusing in places and I was mixing up Hank, Jacy, Sloan and Bubba Boom for a while there as characters kept changing their "good guy" hats to "bad guy" hats. There are lots of double-crosses to look out for. I didn't tie myself in knots going back and forth in the narrative and managed to muddle my way through it, mostly because I was just enjoying the ride so much. There's a lot going on in this book and it's all very entertaining. Action-packed and dialogue heavy, it was just the sort of thing to shake me out of my reading slump. Also, there's a bit of raunch. *Fans self* I'm rather fond of Riley, AKA Mr Love Interest, and there's a bit of hanky-panky in places. Nicely done too.

I was pleased to discover the Australian covers of Inside Out and Outside In while I was reading this book (gorgeous; shown above) and that Snyder is way popular downunder, and is coming downunder in August! In less sparkly news, though, Tez tells me there are no plans for a third book as yet because sales haven't been as promising as they'd expected. Sad face. Looks like it's up to Aussies to lift flagging sales and make another worthwhile! The frustrating thing is that there is SO MUCH scope for this series to continue on and on. Trella et al. are a LONG way from their destination. So long that unless they stumble into a wormhole, they themselves will never see it. If I don't find out what the major series climax is, I'll be rather miserable.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Maria V. Snyder Tour, New Books and Obligatory Cute Kitten Photo

It was revealed last week that Maria V. Snyder, the author of several of my favourite books including Poison Study and Inside Out, is coming to Australia and New Zealand in August. Massive huzzahs! I eagerly await tour dates and other info. I assume she'll be here for the Melbourne Writers' Festival. *Please* let there be evening events for those of us who have to work full time!

The Australian cover for Outside In. What do you think?

I'm almost almost done with Outside In by Maria V. Snyder. I left it at home the other day and took Del-Del by Victor Kelleher by mistake. Oops. I will finish and write my (glowing) review soon. Del-Del, by the way, is fantastic. Part one is like a YA version of The Exorcist.

I have passed the 12K mark in my sci-fi novel (!!! yay !!!) and the characters are starting to speak for themselves. I love when that happens and I can just relay the voices in my head instead of stopping every two minutes and going "Um..." It's no longer a chore to write a thousand words.

New books this week ... well, book. Just one. The Quarterly Essay: The Happy Life, The Search for Contentment in the Modern World by David Malouf. I was very fond of his short novel Fly Away Peter and am interested to see what he has to say on the subject.

We just came back from the shops and the kitten jumped into a green bag. I hung it up on the door (one handle only, so she could jump out when she wanted) and she thought it was just fantastic. Kitten hammock that doubles as an aerial attack position.

Happy Caturday!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Inside a Dog it's never too dark to recommend a book

Last week I attended the launch of the new Inside a Dog website at the very schmick Fairfax Media House in the city. For those not familiar with it, it's a social networking site for teens to review and recommend books to each other. The idea behind this is teens are far more likely to pick up a book based on the recommendation of their peers than a teacher or parent. The exciting thing is that it's being used most heavily between 4 and 6pm weeknight, a time when students are getting home from school and logging on. The launch was done by the lovely Adele of Persnickety Snark, and lately of the Centre for Youth Literature. I was thrilled last year when she told me she was going to be their new Program Coordinator because a) she is perfect for the the role and b) she would be moving to Melbourne!

As part of the launch Bernard Beckett, author of Genesis, gave a speech. He's such a wonderful writer and I was thrilled to get the chance to hear him talk. He is a teacher himself and was addressing an audience of mostly teachers, and had some very interesting things to say about literacy. Not literacy in the sense of being able to read and write, but rather to truly understand and connect with a piece of literature, and how the school system has discouraged this. His position was that reading and writing is something students are constantly judged on which can make the task of analysis daunting. I thought it was interesting that this was the main theme of his talk as judgement and analysis are central themes of Genesis.

We were also there to launch Beckett's new book August. I'm looking forward to starting this one very much. It's not YA, but it has strong dystopian themes and I'm sure will be just as thought provoking as Genesis.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Winter Essentials

Winter approaching means two things. The first is being cold. For some reason I have an aversion to buying winter clothes and I end up in the same sad jumpers year after year. It's partly because good winter clothes are so damn expensive, and partly because staying home on a cold day is far more attractive than hitting the shops. I always end up cold and fed up with myself by the end of July. NOT THIS YEAR. I have discovered how economical and convenient buying clothes on eBay can be. Recently I have bought a Saba Merino wool wrap-around cardie and a Zara Woman wool cashmere coat, both near new. $100 combined. Including delivery.

I wish it was as easy to buy boots but I have dicky feet so it must be done in store. I need a 10.5 in a wide-ish style, but usually have to settle for an 11 and an extra sock on my left foot. I was told by one store that they "no longer do elevens" (footist--I was ecstatic a few years ago when elevens started becoming the norm. Don't tell me they're beginning to change their mind.) I went from one store to the next, alarmed at the ridiculous heels or the painfully ugly flats. I didn't realise the Madonna/whore dichotomy extended to footwear. Finally I found these wedges in Joanne Mercer, ordered them in black and got the hell out of there.

The second thing that winter approaching means is the 2011 Dystopia Challenge. I can't believe this will be its third anniversary! I'll have lots of new titles to choose from, plus some classics as well. Maybe I'll finally get to The Sheep Look Up. Such a fantastically creepy title. And speaking of dystopian, did you hear that a prequel/sequel to Blade Runner is in the works? Personally I think this is revolting, can never work and they should leave well alone. Why can't they find a good screenwriter, a good script and make that movie instead of mining the classics for a cheap buck?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Black Swan

It's been a week or two since I saw it, but I need to rave about this movie. Natalie Portman winning an Oscar for Best Actress makes is timely, no? And how divine did she look...

Nina is a young dancer with a prestigious ballet company who strives for perfection. She lives with her mother, a failed dancer, who shows signs of mentally instability early on. The company director, played by Vincent Cassell, seems to enjoy playing favourites with his dancers, his interest in them not entirely professional. When he begins casting for Swan Lake and his present favourite begins slipping from her throne, Nina seizes the chance to replace her and become the prima ballerina in the company. But can sweet, vulnerable Nina embrace her darker side in order to portray the black swan as well as she can the white swan? And if she does, will it destroy her along the way?

I saw one of director Darren Aronovsky's films a few years ago, Requiem for a Dream. Woah. Full on. I don't think I've seen a more affecting film. The closing scene, for those who haven't seen it, involves Jennifer Connolly (yes, dear little Sarah from Labyrinth) doing something entirely debasing (and I mean entirely...there are no words) for a little packet of heroin. And it was a weird film in a scary, psychologically twisted way. I didn't so much enjoy it as want to scrape it out of my brain. In a respecting way, but still. Scraping.

So you could say I was expecting something similar from Black Swan. I like being freaked out, though. Freaky-scary with ballet really appealed to me. So I had high expectations.

Black Swan was everything I'd hope it would be. Nina is literally being driven mad in her striving for perfection. It's impossible to tell whether Nina's paranoia is all in her head or whether her mother, the director, or Lily, the sultry dancer that could be replacing her, is contributing to her downward spiral. There's plenty of Requiem for a Dream thrillerness with lots of excellent scenes and beautiful dancing. I loved the way we didn't see Portman portraying the black swan right until the end. Those were my favourite scenes by far. They were so astounding, confronting. Portman radiated evil in those moments. It was pure brilliance.

Black Swan was released in Australia on January 20. I could have seen my favourite film of the year already and it's barely even begun.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

5:51 am, March 3, 2011 or, Tivali the Motivational Kitten

5:51 am

Me: Mmfffff. Sleep in today.

Kitten: *bounce*

Me: Go away

Kitten: *purr* *prod*

Me: snuh...piss off

Kitten: [worms under the covers; deploys claws]

Me: Yah! [Hurls kitten out of the room]


5.57 am




Kitten: [shoves favourite toy in my face; rings bell over and over]

Me: Kitten from heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell. You've been watching Simon's Cat, haven't you? Little beast...

Kitten: *tinkle*

Me: [Gets up; slings kitten under one arm, laptop under the other]

[Kitten gets fed. I write.]


Everything's Something

Pop culture references. They're in songs, books, films, vocabulary. I have friends who quote television shows to the degree that the sayings have entered our vernacular. When there's a lull in the conversation someone undoubtedly pipes up "Is that gum?" or "Dust? Dust, anyone?" (100 points for anyone who can name those two television shows.)

Cultural references can be used for parody or homage. They allow a creator to create parallels between their own work and the work they are referencing. They borrow credibility from something that is trendy or well established in the (apologies for sounding like I'm writing a uni paper here) collective consciousness. The audience gets to feel clever at having identified the thing that the creator is referencing and perhaps in turn identify with it.

I love a good pop culture reference. Two that have caught my attention recently are in (and I'm going to lose all my hardened street cred here) Kesha's "Blow" and Lady Gaga's "Dance in the Dark". The first goes something like this:

Drink that Kool-Aid
Follow my lead
Now you're one of us
You're coming with me

Did you get that one? I've been researching cults recently so it jumped out at me right away. On November 18, 1978 Jim Jones orchestrated the mass suicide of 900 of his followers at Jonestown, Guyana. The cause of death was a cyanide-laced drink popularly believed to be Kool-Aid. (It was actually Flavor Aid.)

In Lady Gaga's Dance in the Dark, a song she states is about a young woman uncomfortable with her sexuality (surely it's not autobiographical?) the bridge goes:

Work your blonde (Jean) Benet Ramsey
We’ll haunt like Liberace
Find your freedom in the music
Find your Jesus
Find your Kubrick
You will never fall apart
Diana, you’re still in our hearts
Never let you fall apart
Together we’ll dance in the dark

Jean Benet Ramsey, Liberace, Jesus and (Princess) Diana all met tragic ends. Kubrick ... well, he was a brilliant film director who lived to a ripe old age. No tragedy there, he died in his sleep. But could Gaga be comparing herself to all these famous figures?

Even just the vaguest allusion to something can stuff a whole lot of meaning into something as seemingly meaningless as a pop song. I have to say I enjoy the cultural "borrowing", despite the fact that, in the examples above, it seems to be borrowing for the sake of credibility rather than for something important the artist wanted to say. You could interpret, I suppose, that Kesha was saying something snide about her fans ...

Do you enjoy a pop culture reference, or do you find them tacky and derivative?