Friday 30 September 2011

REVIEW - 'Raw Blue', Kirsty Eager (Penguin, 2009)

Carly has dropped out of her old life - university, family, friends. She spends her nights working as a cook and her days surfing on Sydney's north shore trying to keep her secrets buried. Can the mysterious Ryan bring her back from the brink?

I've read some great things about this book over the last couple of weeks, and have also picked up on the fact that it's a bit tricky to get hold of outside Australia. As I'm currently residing in Brisbane, but only for the next few weeks, I paid a trip to my lovely local library and bingo, a well-thumbed copy arrives for me to peruse.

How difficult is it to review a book that you love? Well, this difficult.

As with all great YA, the voice is just spot-on magical, gets-you-in-the-gut hooked, utterly, utterly convincing and powerful. I don't think I've yet to read a book that has managed to capture that feeling of late-teenagehood so accurately. Even without Carly's horrendous secret, Eager completely nails those feelings of insecurity, loneliness, the desire for solitude, that wobbly feeling when the you know the guy at work fancies you, the wanting of this attention, but running away from it at the same time. Seriously, so many times this book gave me the shivers and took me straight back to being that oddball teenager again.

One of the main characters in this book is the water. It's there with Carly all the time. The passages depicting her experiences on the waves are pretty intense - I know naff all about surfing, and I suspect many who have read this, or are planning to are in the same boat (I'm really, REALLY sorry). But, these pieces of prose, although most of the detailed content goes completely over my head, just make the book...sing. I'm sorry but I'm going to go a bit wanky and up my own arse here, but they have this rhythm and poetry about them and are used to great effect to show the energy of the characters and the situation they find themselves in. She doesn't worry about scaring off any novices, just goes with it, which I think is just BRILLIANT and what great YA is all about.

Ryan, just such a bloke.
Uncomplicated, buy maybe not so much. Possibly my favourite love interest in recent years. God bloody love him.

This whole book feels so honest and instinctive, but is still polished to perfection. At not one point did I feel I was in rambling territory.

Now I just have to go out and buy a copy before I leave these shores...

Wednesday 28 September 2011

REVIEW - 'The Knife of Never Letting Go', Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2008)

Young Todd Hewitt is the only boy left in Prentisstown. The only boy among men. In Prentisstown, all thoughts can be heard by everyone. There shouldn't be any secrets. Until today, when Todd uncovers the biggest secret of all and is forced to flee...

Ok, first up, apologies - this review might be bit on the long side. It's a big book.

After reading a fair amount of buzz about this over the last few months, I happened to stumble across a near pristine copy in the secondhand bookshop where I work.

It is possibly the most beautiful book I have ever set my eyes upon. 

I won't describe it here, but take my word for it - if you decide to track this one down, you MUST get a hardcover copy. You MUST, I tell you.

Anyway, does the content live up to the packaging? Well, it's long. I don't give a toss about this, as long as it doesn't feel long, as long as I'm not aware that I'm ploughing through a book when I'm supposed to be flying through the pages and before I know it, it's 3 o'clock in the morning and I realise I've not done the ironing, or the washing up, and I've left my contact lenses in. And I don't give a crap about any of the above.

Well, I have to admit, in the first half of the book, I was aware of a little bit of ploughing going on. Just enough to distract me. It is very fast paced at the start and maybe I was being a bit unreasonable, maybe it just set too high a precedent, but I just wanted MORE pace, just wanted Todd to get onto the next bit of his adventure/nightmare. Ok, maybe I'm being a bit demanding.

HOWEVER, oh my lord, in the last half, I was hooked. I initially thought the relationship between Todd and Viola could end up being just a tad contrived, but it was so beautifully written, by the time Todd had really crawled under my skin, you felt every little awkward nuance and realisation with him. Just such brilliant simmering tension. It just bloody well better come to fruition at some point....

And the voice! Very distinct. You never forget that Todd is just a kid. And a very sheltered one at that. His journey and his reactions stay true to his character completely. He is stubborn and frustrated with his situation (not entirely unreasonably, I might add). Originally, the style wasn't as seamless as I would have hoped, but it just grew into the story and helped me fall in love with our protagonist that little bit more.

The plot is ever so slightly genius. Being able to hear other folks thoughts - a conceit that could so easily produce many gaping plot holes and fall straight down them, but no, not even the whiff of a plot hole. Not even the murmuring of the NOISE of a plot hole. Ok, ok, I have just one question - if it is so important that Todd becomes a man, why do they choose to have thirteen months in a year which just prolongs the process? PLEASE answer this question in the sequels I am yet to read, thank you.

So many big themes here - religion, the grass isn't always greener, what maketh the man. Let me just say, food for thought indeed.

Anyway, you might have guessed that I adored this. You'd be correct in this assumption. I hereby solemnly swear to read more dystopian YA in the future...

Saturday 24 September 2011


Ok, I originally intended this to be a review of this year's Brisbane Writers Festival, but, seeing as I only managed to make it to one workshop and one seminar, I feel that limited attendance does not a review make. (However, this is two more visits than I managed last year, so, yay for me).

So, I decided I would quite like to write down a bit about some stuff that I've learnt in the past year. Just an overview of advice from workshops I have attended since I make the foolish/brave decision to start putting pen to paper on a regular basis.

So, it goes with out saying that I really needed some guidance. This won't be a blow-by-blow account of each workshop, as I suspect that won't make particularly riveting reading, but I'll just share a few points that have helped me, both motivationally and in actually honing any skill that I may, or may not have.

Firstly, the best advice I've been given is to allow myself to write a really CRAP first draft. Maybe I'm a bit dense, but this never occured to me before. I remember writing a paragraph back in 2000 and whatever, shutting down the Word document and cringing at the thought of anyone reading such piffle. Now, I have nearly 65, 000 words worth of possible piffle but that really doesn't matter - I now know I could have the capacity to transform it into non-piffle at some stage in the future. The important thing is that it is THERE.

The second piece of advice has, unlike the above, always been an obvious one, for me, anyway. Write something that you WANT TO READ. The whole process has always been so instinctive for me, that I'm not even sure I would have the desire to emulate any particular trend without falling in love with it first. So, yeah, don't follow a trend. Unless you love it. Or you're some sort of super-manipulative machiavellian genius. In which case, I'm sure you'll be just fine.

Finally, I recently read an interview with a young television writer/actor whose advice to budding writers was to attend as many workshops as possible because you never know what gems you might pick up and where they could lead. My first thought was, yeah, well, if you're loaded, then no problem. Money, or lack of it, is a major consideration for me, as with many, I'm sure. I have no formal creative writing qualifications, and I'm not sure I ever will, so I feel like I have to pick the classes I do attend carefully. I was reluctant to go to a YA workshop at the Brisbane Writers Festival as I suspected it would be going over old ground, but I decided to give it a whirl. And a bloody good job I did, because in a 'first paragraph' exercise, I wrote an few short sentences that put a whole different take on an idea I'd been mulling around for ages. Yes, I did do exercises that I'd done previously, and yes, it did go over things that I already knew. But it was enjoyable and inspiring and got me thinking. So, maybe don't attend EVERY workshop going, but don't write it off without very good reason.

So, the title of this post. Well, I still consider writing a risk of sorts. A risk with my emotions and my confidence. But it gets easier the more I do it.

Oh, and write and read EVERYDAY. Everyone says that. And so they should. It's good advice.

Monday 19 September 2011

REVIEW - 'So Much To Tell You', John Marsden (Hachette Australia, 1987, this edition published 2006)

A young girl with trauma in her recent history starts afresh at a new boarding school. Unable to speak to her teachers, doctors or peers, she begins to confide in her journal...
Another week, another John Marsden novel to attach to my person until every page has been devoured. And this is the best one yet. Am I right in thinking this was his debut? If so, my god... In the last year, with all the edgy YA I've been sifting through, I've become used to my heart being broken and my emotions being ripped to shreds on a weekly basis, but this one really takes the prize. How on earth can he pack so much angst and beauty into such a small book?

At first, our narrator appears to be a painfully shy new girl, apparently invisible to her classmates, just an observer with maybe a few more issues than your average fifteen-year-old. What we do learn, as her story is carefully drawn out, is that she is far from invisible.

Th journal structure allows the author to achieve the honesty and the immediacy that I associate with great YA. Even the supporting characters are so well-rounded and believable - in just a few lines, a girl that could have easily taken the role of the standard, one-dimensional bully, becomes a complex individual that you begin to care about.

We never get the full story and there are no tidy conclusions or easy answers here. And that's as it should be. Just brace yourself for the ending...

Even thought this was written nearly twenty-five years ago, apart from the occasional reference to cassettes and tape recorders, this feels fresh and relevant. Vital, even. I just wish I'd read it when I was fourteen.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

REVIEW - 'The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight' (Harper Collins, 2010)

A lonely teenager, Chap, takes on the identity of a missing boy, Cassiel Roadnight, attempting to satisfy his desire to have the family he has always dreamed of. Is this a case of 'be careful what you wish for?'

This is a great premise and the plot here more than lives up to the promise in the brief synopsis. I really can't tell you too much about it as this would make me a major spoiler spoil-sport, so I'll attempt to keep my trap shut and restrain my keyboard fingers.

What I CAN tell you is this - Ms. Valentine stays very true to the voice of a lonesome, sixteen-year-old drifter, struggling to come to terms with the mysteries of his own past, conflicted through his growing sense of danger of the strange situation he has found himself in and his reluctance to leave his new 'family'.

I love a good gradual reveal and this did not disappoint. Even if you do guess at some of the plot developments before they happen, there are still some genuine surprises (for me, anyway - you may be smarter and more perceptive).

I did feel the first half was too slow, maybe the reveal was just a bit too gradual. The plot starts to really pick up some pace in the last third, maybe to the detriment of some of the supporting characters - the introduction of an ally and confidant in Floyd is great for the plot, but the reasons for his involvement are never adequately explained, and he is accompanied by some pretty MAHOOSIVE, gaping plot holes that I couldn't really overlook.

This has intrigued me enough to examine the rest of Valentine's back catalogue, and that's a good a recommendation as any.

Saturday 10 September 2011

REVIEW - 'The Piper's Son', Melina Marchetta (Penguin, 2010)

Thomas Mackee is twenty-one and struggling to cope with a family meltdown. Turning to his troubled aunt for a place to stay when he has burnt all other bridges, he is forced to interact with the group of friends he abandoned at his lowest point. Can he manage to pull all the pieces of his life back together again?

The companion piece to the excellent 'Saving Francesca', this story picks up on the previously supporting character of Tom. Before he was a joker, loveable, immature, laid back. Here, five years later, he is laid back to the point of being commatose, determined to destroy any ties with anyone or anything hew used to hold dear.

'The Piper's Son' traces how and why this young man came to take such a path of destruction and whether he has the desire to turn things back around again.

I adored 'Saving Francesca', so was itching to find out what happened to these characters. This is a much more complex novel than its predesessor, dealing with adult themes in a challenging and confronting manner - Tom lost his Uncle Joe in the 7/7 London bombings, a loss felt deeply by his unpredictable, alcoholic father, Dominic and his rock-solid but teetering-on-the-edge aunt, Georgie. Two years later, the family still has not recovered, Georgie is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend and they are all preparing for the return of the body of Tom's grandfather, lost to the Vietman war when he was only, like Tom, twenty-one.

Blimey, this is a difficult book to review. Complicated family set-up would be an extreme understatement. Add to that the predicament with Tom's former friends - the Francesca of the original taking the lead in this group. And then there's Tara Finke. The one that got away. Or, in this case, the one that Tom dropped like a hot potato when everything went tits up.

Aaaahhhh! Is that enough back story for you?

Anyway, the surprise here was the use of dual perspective. Not only do we get Thomas's side (naturally) but with also get's Georgie's part of the story. This is a very smart move from Marchetta. Although this is technically classed as YA and Georgie is a forty-two year woman (Thomas couldn't exactly be classed as a teenager here either), but FAMILY is the key theme here, and without Georgie's perspective, this story could be very hollow indeed. You need to give the reader the background to Thomas's story and Tom isn't necessarily the one to give it.

It goes without saying that this author is ambitious but more than meet the challenge she seems to set. Again, such strong voices and powerful set-pieces. The prose is intense and beautiful. The potentially tricky problem of introducing a sex scene into YA is handled with such skill and subtlety, without losing any emotion. Genius!

What else can I say? She's great, the book is fantastic. Read it. (After you've read Saving Francesca). (Although it does work as a stand alone book, so you don't really have to... Only if you want to). (But you really, really should, you know).