Monday 31 December 2012

So farewell then 2012...

...or otherwise known as the obligatory end of year post.

I think it's fair to say I haven't been the most diligent blogger this year. I could cite many reasons/excuses, but I think it generally comes down to a touch of laziness on my part. As with many things in life, I love them when I'm actually doing them, it's just the getting there that's a bit of an effort, and in the last few months, I've been trying to concentrate on work and writing my book, so blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat. But this will change in 2013, I promise you! I will strive to become slightly more organised with my time (ha!) and fit in regular posts on a fortnightly basis. I'm also going to continue my Shorts on Shorts feature, which I enjoyed immensely and suits my low attention span.

If memory serves, I think in the post I wrote at the start of 2012, I stated I was going to have a YA Classics month. Yeah, that didn't happen. So instead, I'm going to make it a regular feature next year! I don't think my working habits suit themed months too well....So anyway, in true NYE stylee, here's my round up of the things I've enjoyed in the past 12 months...


Code Name VerityI've read some beautiful books this year, some old, some new, but one that really sticks in my memory was Code Name Verity. Gosh, this was a stunning read - so clever, so intriguing, so different. I bought a copy for my best mate for Christmas (those of you who have read it will know why), and she sent sent me a text on Christmas Eve to say she couldn't wait, opened it early, read in on the beach in Morocco in a couple of hours (alright for some) and promptly sobbed her eyes out for another two hours. You're welcome.


Ok, top highlights...

Skins - I know many have slagged it off in recent years, but I still love it. It's what made me start writing YA and for that I shall remain forever grateful. And the second episode of this series made me sob heaps, which is always a good sign.

Downton Abbey - There are so many things wrong with this programme (miracle recoveries from paralysis, anyone?), but luckily, I got hooked on the first series, before it went a bit weird. I adore Sybil and Branson, which is why it pains me to mention THAT episode. But yeah, still essential fangirl viewing for me.

Britains Got Talent - one word - PUDSEY. Oh, and Loveable Rogues too.

I didn't really watch a huge amount of telly this year, but also mentions to the latest series of Peep Show and Sherlock, which kept me riveted despite me not being able to concentrate or most TV for more than ten minutes these days. Oh, and James Arthur. The only reason I watched the X Factor this year.

And I can't not mention those other big events that you might remember over the summer. Yes, I'm talking about Grace Jones hula-hooping at the Jubilee concert. And who didn't cry when Jess Ennis collected her gold medal? If you didn't, you have a heart of stone and are dead to me.

Blogging Bits...

A peacock. Yikes.
One of my blogging highlights of this year didn't occur on this blog, it occurred here. Writing these was so much fun. Jo, when are we going to do some more please???

But I'd also like to mention all the lovely blogging friends I've made in the last year. You all make me LOL on a regular basis. You know who you are.

So onto 2013. I don't know about you, but I'm excited...

Wednesday 28 November 2012

YA REVIEW - 'Life: An Exploded Diagram' - Mal Peet (Walker Books, 2011)

This is a brilliant coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Cold War and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Clem Ackroyd lives with his parents and grandmother in a claustrophobic home too small to accommodate their larger-than-life characters in the bleak Norfolk countryside. Clem's life changes irrevocably when he meets Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and experiences first love, in all its pain and glory. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, this one's going to be a bit tricky to write. and not because I hated, or I loved it. But possibly both. At the same time. All at once. Let me explain....
Life: An Exploded Diagram
When I first read about this one, well, to say I was intrigued was an understatement. Code Name Verity had given me an appetite for some more exquisitely written twentieth century historical YA fiction and the political angle of this one got my attention, being in the possession of a politics degree myself (although I have never actually used it from the moment I graduated). 

Let's start with the positives - the writing. It was superb. It was funny. I spent the first half of the novel highlighting at least a paragraph a page. It made me want to eat my Kindle it was so damn good. 

Nostalgics believe that the past is nicer than the present. It isn't. Or wasn't. Nostalgics want to cuddle the past like a puppy. But the past has bloody teeth and bad breath. I look into it's mouth like a sorrowing dentist.

The first third builds up a picture of Clem's family history in intricate and personal detail, going back to his great-grandparents. Each member is so brilliantly captured, especially his grandmother Win and father George, and it felt like a privilege to read such fantastically-written characters.

However... as wonderful as this prose was, when it was getting close to the middle of the book and I still knew very little about our protangonist, my mind started to wonder where the hell this was going exactly. The whole family history thing reminded me of Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, but whereas that was like a jigsaw slotting into place as the book went on, this felt like the author was giving us all this background information just because he could. As gorgeous as it was, I just wanted it to have more of a purpose.

My mixed feelings continued when it came to the whole concept of the novel. I loved the idea of this - one of the key events in twentieth century history having an indirect influence on one of the key events in the life of a seventeen year old boy in a remote part of Norfolk. And I really, really wanted it to work. And it sort of did, but, well, it would have been and much more enjoyable read if there was slightly less history and slightly more Clem and Frankie. Every time we got to one of those key moments in Clem's love life, it was abandoned and we're back with JFK for another two chapters. Although I enjoyed the way he made major political figures characters in this story (especially JFK with his randiness and his ailments), it was felt overdone, clunky and forced a lot of the time. What could have been a way of making history more fascinating may well have become, I fear, even more of a turn-off to those who aren't already fascinated with it.

The other thing I was never quite sure of was Clem. We learn so much about those around him, yet I finished the book feeling I didn't know that much more about our narrator than a the start (or more accurately, the middle or thereabouts when Clem finally became a character). His voice didn't half tell a great story, but the overriding impression I got of him was just a boy who was desperate to get his first shag. And that's about it. And I wish we'd got more of Frankie into the story. I learned so much about her from just one sentence (not all of it good, mind), and I would have loved to see more of her character that wasn't only to do with her relationship with Clem.

Despite my critisisms, I would still very much recommend you read this - it's original, beautifully written and doesn't patronise the reader - like with the best YA, I can imagine people of all ages enjoying this (ok, maybe not ALL ages). I just wanted all the elements to gel together more seamlessly and to care just a little bit more about the story and the person telling it.

But it also serves as a very important reminder of a period of history that could well have been the darkest of them all, and for that it must be applauded.

Friday 16 November 2012

SHORTS ON SHORTS - 'Love Letter Straight to the Heart' by Terry Tapp

I was trying to find a story to write about today that I could link to. However, I just could not find anything that grabbed me. This might have something to do with the fact that I'm knackered and reading small print off the screen of my laptop is making my eyes feel scratchy. So, I'm afraid I had to pick one out of an old-fashioned paper anthology and I'm afraid I couldn't find an online link to it. Sorry. Must try harder tomorrow.

Anyway, this one grabbed me in my tired state. I found it in a short story anthology I picked up from a second hand bookshop in Brisbane called Paper Windows. The book was called Paper Windows, no the shop. Although, that would be a BRILLIANT name for a second hand bookshop. But apart from that I can't find that much information on the story, or the author, apart from the fact it was written in 1978 and he is English. And he has a really cool name. Seriously, who wouldn't want to be called Terry Tapp?

In a nutshell...

A man is rifles through his morning mail and comes across a letter from his younger lover. He contemplates his dilemma of whether he could leave his wife for her.

My favourite quote...

She placed the egg in the boiling water, noticed that the shell had cracked and said 'Damn,' causing a cylinder of ash to fall from her cigarette into the boiling water.

If I smoked (which I don't), I could so easily see myself doing this.

Bits and pieces I will take away...

This is short, but very satisfactory. And very clever. And kind of funny. The ending made me gasp and then giggle and then shake my head in a 'you-sneaky-little-short-story-writer so of way. And I can't really say much else about this as I will be a big old ruiner and ruin the smarty-pants ending.

Hopefully I'll find something with a link tomorrow, but I'm not making any promises.

Thursday 15 November 2012

SHORTS ON SHORTS - 'Letter for Carlos' by Michael Morpurgo

Wow, I've managed to keep this up for three days in a row. I don't normally manage this level of blogging commitment. Yay for me. Anyway, today's short story is Letter for Carlos by Michael Morpurgo. This story is featured on the Guardian website as part of there week-long feature for National Short Story Week. It's a bit like my week-long feature for National Short Story Week. But not as good.


Well, I'm a little bit ashamed to admit that I haven't read any of Michael Morpurgo's novels. I have them there, sitting on the Kindle, and I've been toying with the idea of reading Private Peaceful fairly soon (which may or may not have something to do with this), but it hasn't quite happened for me yet. This story originally featured in his anthology Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: A Storymaker's Journey, but you can access it here. And instead of me relaying more background information about it, have a read of this interview where he explains the inspiration behind the tale. And a very interesting read it is too.

Singing For Mrs Pettigrew, A Story Maker's JourneyIn a nutshell...

On his tenth birthday, Carlos is given a bike and a letter from his long-absent father.

My favourite quote...

When I looked down upon you that last time, cradled in your mother's arms, I remember I tried to picture you as a grown boy. I couldn't then and I still can't. For me you are that sleeping child, yawning toothlessly, fists clenched, frowning through your milk-soaked dreams.

Bits and pieces I'll take away...

This is a really interesting take on a very big subject, but I'm guessing that Mr. Morpurgo is rather experienced in writing captivating tales on the subject of warfare for a younger audience. It's a wise and  rather moving account the the reality of war from a disillusioned young man, but I just felt there was something missing  - maybe flipping back to Carlos's perspective would have help the story feel a bit more complete for me. But otherwise, this was a brilliant read, and also suitable for slightly younger readers. You might have already guessed from the title, but a large section of this takes the form of a letter. This is of interest to me personally, as the story I am working on a the moment takes the form of a letter, so thank you Michael Morpurgo, not only have you written a powerful story, but you have also given me a mini-creative-writing tutorial.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

SHORTS ON SHORTS - 'The Paper Menagerie' - Ken Liu

Well, I hope you enjoyed yesterday's post. Today's is going to be a bit tricky to write about. And that's because it's so bloody good. And by good, I mean don't-even-think-about-reading-this-one-on-public-transport-for-fear-of-bawling-your-eyes-out-and-scaring-a-few-people good. Yes, THAT good.

Ken LiuI first read about it when Flannery over at The Readventurer listed it as a must-read in her International Short Story Day post. And me, like the fool that I am, didn't read it STRAIGHT AWAY (which I hope you will do after reading this). And it comes complete with accolades a-plenty - The Paper Menagerie was the first short story ever to win the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. You can find out a little bit more about Ken Liu right here, and here's the oh-so-essential link where you can read and weep..

In a nutshell...

A young man with a Chinese mother and American father reflects on his upbringing and his complicated relationship with his mother, a former mail-order bride.

My favourite quote...

Blimey, where do I begin? Even typing this out is making me well up again..

Mom looked at him. "If I say 'love', I feel here." She pointed to her lips. "If I say 'ai', I feel here." She put her hand over her heart.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, people.

Bits and pieces I'll take away...

This really is a reminder of how powerful writing can be in this form and how vital every sentence, every word really is. I don't really know what else to say, apart from if you think that reading short story just won't give you the full-on emotional whack that a novel will, that reading a short story just won't have as much of an impact, that it will be forgotten as soon as you've finished that last line, then you really need to read this.

Seriously, READ IT.

Wowsers. Well, I hope that tomorrow's story can keep up the standard....

Tuesday 13 November 2012

SHORTS ON SHORTS - 'May Malone' by David Almond

When I made the rash decision to start this feature yesterday, as soon as I wrote my introductory post, I made for the bookshelf and started rifling through a few anthologies. But then it struck me - bloody Twitter of course! Whenever I see a link to a new story, I favourite it with every intention of going back to read it later, but of course, later always turns into next week, or thereabouts. I do get around to it eventually, promise...

Anyway, I noticed this one the other week. It was posted by Thresholds, which is home to the International Short Story Forum. If you haven't had a look yet and you're interested in short stories, please do, as it is a mine of information, including submission deadlines for publications and competitions. And you can follow them on Twitter @ShortStoryForum.

The Children's Hours: Stories Of ChildhoodAnyway, back to the story - May Malone by David Almond. Probably most famous for Skellig (which you can check out a recent review of right here by the lovely Jo), this originally featured in The Childrens's Hours Anthology in 2008 but you can read it here.

In a nutshell...

Miserable teenager Norman decides to investigate the mythical monster rumoured to be kept in the house of local lady with not-too-savoury-a-reputation, May Malone.

My favourite quote...

Ok, so I can't include my favourite quote because it's a bit of a spoiler, so I'll opt for this one instead...

Norman thought about illness and death and dying all the time. He thought about the devil and Hell. And those nightmares! Boiling oil and scorching flames and red hot pokers and devil's horns. He told the priest in confession about it and the priest sighed. Oh dear. Such fears and dreams were common enough amongst his flock. We all had such a cross to bear.

Bits and pieces I'll take away...

Oh gosh, it's all so sad. Is it supposed to be sad? I can't really say much else apart from poor Norman, just when he thinks he's gained an understanding and a new smidgen of maturity, well...

And also, green coat and read nails. I know it's slightly off the point, but is it me, or does this sound rather fabulous?

And also, I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but this is really astonishing writing. So I urge you to click on that link and read it please. I bought a copy of Skellig the other day that was way down on my TBR pile, but now I think it might be moving up a few places.

Anyway, come back tomorrow for another Shorts on Shorts for National Short Story Week.

How many times can I use the word SHORT this week? I might go for the record...

Monday 12 November 2012

A Little Something for National Short Story Week...

So, it's National Short Story Week (you may have already sussed this from the title of this post), and I quite like short stories. I quite like reading them and I quite like writing them. And hopefully you do to. In which case you might quite like to read this post...

In the last celebration of stories in their shortened form, International Short Story Day (gosh, these things have a lot of themed time periods attached to them), I wrote a post about how I was going to spend the summer looking at them. Yeah, well, that didn't quite happen to the extent that I planned  for many reasons that I won't go into here, but now it appears I have been given another chance to redeem myself on the short story front. So to celebrate the week, starting from tomorrow, I'm going to read a short story a day and do a little post containing my random thoughts about it. What form those random thoughts will take, well, you'll just have to wait and see. But hopefully they will encourage all of us to pick up a few more short stories in the future.

To find out a bit more about National Short Story Week, just take a look here. Personally, of particular interest is the recommended reading list for children and young adults, from which I shall attempt to delve into, if not this week, then at some point in the future. Also, the Guardian website is participating by publishing some of the stories from their reading list. At the time of writing this, none have been put up yet, but hopefully I might read one or two at some point in the next few days...but here's their Short Stories page in the meantime for you peruse.

So, I hereby declare Anna's Shorts on Shorts well and truly open...let me just make it clear, there will be no posting of pictures of me in shorts at any point in the next week. Shorts HATE me and I have long since accepted that they will form no part of my wardrobe ever again. Just thought I'd clear that up in case there was any confusion.

Friday 9 November 2012

MY YA CONFESSIONS #3 - I really should be reading more UKYA...

My reading habits fluctuate, much like everyone's else's I should imagine. Although, recently, they've come to a bit of a standstill. You know the usual excuses, life, kids, work, blah blah blah, so I won't go on about it. BUT I really need something to give me a bit of kick start and this post gave me just that the other week. The lovely Flannery over at The Readventurer put together this rather astonishing wall of awesome UKYA titles. when she asked me to contribute my Top Ten, I was like 'yeah, sure, no probs...' but when I actually came to jot them down, something struck me. Some of my all time favourite titles have been written by UK authors, so I had no grappling around for ten titles (although I cheated a bit with Rosoff and Ness, but they live here, so there). But when I noticed that my choices we limited to so few UK authors, I realised I haven't actually read a huge amount of UKYA, in whole the scheme of bookish things..

And then I looked at my bookshelf and on the old kindle and noticed a few more things, namely the sheer amount UKYA waiting to be read, a lot of it also featuring on Flann's wall. So why do I choose to overlook it so much? The subject matter is intriguing, the covers are striking and original, so why aren't I chomping at the bit to devour them? I think one of the issues I've had in the past with some titles is that sometimes the writing style can feel a bit young and considered in comparison to some titles from Australia, say. Is this me being ridiculously unfair? Or maybe this is just my very narrow opinion as an older YA reader. But it is definitely wrong of me to generalise based on a few off experiences.

So here is my pledge. I will now be much more patriotic in my reading habits and will go on a UKYA binge for a bit. I have kicked off by continuing with His Dark Materials trilogy - something I started with Jo's Pullman Week a little while ago. Although I won't be reviewing them because, well, I wouldn't have the foggiest where to start. I've never read anything like them before and probably never will again. There you go, that was a mini review of sorts.

So here's a few title's I'm going to be picking up in the next few months...

Twelve Minutes to MidnightDoing ItThis is Not Forgiveness
I Capture the CastleSugar RushLife: An Exploded Diagram
AdorkableThe Enemy (The Enemy, #1)Naked

There will be more, but I have temporarily misplaced my Kindle and I can't remember what else I have on there. Let's see how I get on...

Friday 2 November 2012

YA REVIEW - 'The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay' - Rebecca Sparrow (UQP, 2006)

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Hill is the girl most likely to succeed. And the girl most likely to have everything under control . . . that is, until her dad invites Nick McGowan, the cutest boy at school, to live with them. Rachel worries that this could only be a recipe for disaster, but her best friend Zoe thinks it’s the perfect opportunity for lurve. Sparks start to fly for all the wrong reasons. Nick finds Rachel spoiled and uptight and Rachel dismisses Nick as lazy and directionless. But a secret from Nick’s past draws them together and makes the year Nick McGowan came to stay one that Rachel will never forget. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

The Year Nick McGowan Came to StayYou may or may not have noticed me mention Rebecca Sparrow before. If you didn't notice, I will offer you the chance to take note again here, but in brief, I picked up her debut novel, The Girl Most Likely from my local library when I was in Brisbane last year, after reading a short piece in the local paper about local Brisbane authors. And I quite fancied doing my bit for the locality. AND I LOVED IT. It made me proper chortle. Lovely, slightly manic Rachel Hill, closer to 30 than to 20 and finding herself back at home after work and relationship disasters give her a bit of a knock. I remember seeing The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay on a few bookshop shelves before we left Brissy, but as I was under pressure to decrease my own book collection at the time, my grabby, cover-caressing hands had to be restrained and I missed my chance to own a copy on Aussie shores.

This is why I had no clue that this book is actually a prequel to The Girl Most Likely. Do you have any idea how happy this made me? It's possible I may have fallen a little bit in love with this book before I'd even read the first sentence. And a big thank you to Maggie from Young Adult Anonymous for drawing my attention to this, gawd love her.

Well, I'm happy to say that my love-at-not-quite-first-sight did not diminish when I started this. In fact, it continued to turn me into a rather giddy, giggly excitable person, which happens to be one of my top 3 reactions to a book. 

It's 1989 and Rachel is 17, focused, ambitious and fond of shoulder pads and Huey Lewis. But also a bit spoilt and self-centred. Actually, quite a lot spoilt and self-centred. This is a good thing, by the way - Rachel leaps straight off the page with her pithy one-liners and stresshead behaviour. I love it when a writer offers up an unapologetic character on a plate so I can really dig my teeth into them. And the famous Nick McGowan manages to get away with being all fit and mysterious without falling into the usual YA boy-being-fit-and-mysterious traps. You don't want to slap him, for starters. He's a great foil for Rachel - dismissive, witty,, mysterious. Trust me, he's not that YA boy. He's lovely. And fit. And mysterious.

Their story develops at a cracking pace, with the aforementioned Nick-centric mystery bubbling away nicely, along with the changing dynamic in their relationship. My only wee criticism on this front deals with what kicks off their whole interaction - I wasn't completely convinced by some of Rachel's actions - ok, she doesn't want him there, but she does care that he thinks she's dripping with cool. But I couldn't quite tally this up with her taking a sudden interest in his career choice. Whatever, I don't care, it kicked off the rest of the story which was flawless. 

I have two favourite things about this book. And I can't decide between the two, so I shall gush about both in equal measure - 

1) THE DIALOGUE. Bloody hell it was brilliant. If I could write dialogue this good, well, I'd be a good  dialogue writer *fails miserably on the writing front there* It was incredibly funny, sharp, convincing, clever...and if you haven't gotten the idea yet, let me show you...

When Rachel tells her best bud, Zoe Budd about Nick's imminent arrival...

'"This is great. You get to have sex with him."
So I hit her with my three-hundred page Web of Life Biology textbook.
"I can't believe you just hit me. I mean, think about it. You can lose your virginity in the comfort of your own home. Think about Lisa Staples, who did it with Gavin Piper out by Trudy Garrison's pool. On twigs and shit. No, this is much better."

2) This isn't a bog standard YA romance. Without giving the ending away, it's about something that is so much more heart-warming and resonant with a teenage audience, in my opinion, anyway. Sometimes I get so sick of all these 16 and 17 year olds declaring their undying love for each other and that this is the happy ending done and dusted, forever and ever, when in reality, this doesn't tend to happen too often. I love it when contemporary stories are about more than romance, about other types of connections and relationships that are formed in teenage years. 

Ok, so I've thought of a third favourite thing about this book - even though it's set in the 80s, the whole nostalgia thing is never rammed down your throat with constant cheesy references. The period isn't central to the story (although I did appreciate the occasional Phil Collins reference) and the interaction between the characters never felt dated or forced. 

So you might have guessed that I enjoyed this one quite a lot. It's been ages since I've finished a book in a day and it's such a great feeling when I do. Ok, it's a short read, maybe a bit too short. Although that might just be me being  a greedy guts, as I tend to be in so many facets of life, but I can't emphasise enough how much this book made me smile, right down to the last page. But that might have also had something to do with the mention of the pub in Brisbane where my now husband took me on our second date.

Ahh, memories... 

(of drunken attempts at playing pool and singing along to Crowded House) 

Friday 26 October 2012

YA REVIEW -'Quintana of Charyn' - Melina Marchetta (Viking, 2012)

Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn's unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn's war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles, #3)It goes without saying (although I shall, say it anyway) that this review will contain spoilers-a-plenty for the first two books in the Lumatere Chronicles series. So before you read any further, go to the library, Fishpond site, or wherever, and absorb the Lumatere story up until this point. And the you can come back and read this review. You promise you will come back and read this review? Good, that's settled then...Or you could just go ahead and read this review...

So, the final instalment in the Lumatere Chronicles, and my review is just a touch speedier to appear than my one of Froi of the Exiles. If you're read that review, you may have gathered that I had a few issues with the second book of this series. Not in terms of the quality of writing, but mainly due to the fact that I didn't engage with one of the main characters (see review for more details). Now, I'm fully aware that I'm in the definite minority on this one, but it didn't stop me from wanting more from this vast set of characters and locations so I'm was itching to get my mitts on the last in this intriguing series. 

Whereas I felt Finnikin of the Rock was a rollickingly-addictive page turner and would work as a stand alone novel, the latter two books are so deeply entwined that sometimes it becomes a bit tricky to separate them in my head. Or maybe that's because I read them so close together whereas there was a criminally large gap between my reading of Finnikin and Froi. I had hopes for some full-on Quintana bonding with this one, but my detachment from her continued right through to the end. BUT, in some ways this was a good thing. Let me explain...

Far from having large sections from Quintana's point of view, with are fed tiny little nuggets showing the way her mind works, but for the most part, Quintana is seen through the eyes of others, most interestingly Pheadra, the wife of Lucien the Mont, caught between hiding out and protecting her queen from certain death and her burning desire for her estranged husband. The Pheadra and Lucien story was my favourite part of Froi and the character of Phaedra is developed here. I adore Pheadra. I personally found her the easiest character to engage with. Or maybe that's just because I could so easily picture myself being married to Lucien.....ANYWAY, the friendship between Phaedra and Quintana was my favourite element of THIS book. In some ways, Pheadra provided a sort of world view - as her initial opinion of Quintana transforms from a degree of derision to acceptance to respect and friendship, I grew to understand Quintana more through her eyes, just as Pheadra did.

Let's just talked about Lucien for a bit...LUCIEN. I think my feelings can be summed up in this set of tweets I exchanged with Jo and Rey

Me: Just got to the bit in Quintana I have been waiting for. About bloody time :)

Jo: Lucian taking off his fleece/pants?


Jo: "May I be reminded of how the gods made you?" *LOSES SHIZZ* I know Rey likes that bit too.


Me: *jumps in cold shower*

Jo: *grabs a fleece-clad Mont* WHAT? Fine, we can share. 

Rey: *cue caterwauling* *lascivious grin*

Jo: I love the word caterwauling. As much as I love his bum. ANNA YOU HAVE TO FINISH SO WE CAN SHOUT AT EACH IN JOY!

Yeah, you get the idea. Now, what were we talking about again...?

Oh, yes important literary type discussion that DOES NOT involve fleece and pants. The removal of. More's the pity...

This being the conclusion and all, the story strands gradually come together in an genius, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping fashion, especially one particular scene involving Isaboe (who I had become to get a bit hacked off with since the end of Finnikin, I have to admit) where she does something so astonishing and heart-wrenching that I might have stopped breathing for just a little while.

I still remained a bit detached from this book. I think my opportunity to get hooked by the heart strings came and went with my reading of the Froi. But, much like the previous novel, this is writing of the highest order and it is a complex and intelligent tale that will get your brain juices flowing. With added fleece and sexy Mont. (insert smutty comment about other juices flowing here) (Whoops. I already did).

Monday 22 October 2012

Help Required! Pretty Please...

So I have a favour to ask. I'm doing a bit of research into a few interesting topics for a few interesting reasons (secrets, secrets) and I need some help. I've been trying to get hold of some recommendations  for YA that deals with political issues, be it directly, such as elections or actual proper mentionS of political type things, or indirectly, with broader political themes.
British Politics For Dummies

Also, any YA set in the 1960s, either written back then, or set back then. Or both. Anything. I'm desperate.

And do you know what would be abso-blimmin-lutely amazing? If anyone has any tips for political YA set in the 1960s. Does such a thing exist?

I will love you forever and ever and a day if you are able to help...

Monday 8 October 2012

YA REVIEW - 'Froi of the Exiles', Melina Marchetta (Penguin Viking, 2011)

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home... Or so he believes...
Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.
And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

And now, keeping up the tradition of always being at least one book behind everyone else, I will now post a review of Froi of the Exiles when everyone else will be posting a review of Quintana...

Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles, #2)
I just thought I'd let you know that this is my second attempt at writing this. It's just that kind of book. This is the first review I've ever had to do that required essay-type prep work - making notes of my arguments, drafting out a summary etc etc. Under normal circumstances, I just, well, starting typing and hope I produce something coherent and witty and amusing. *clears throat*

Yeah, well, that didn't quite work with this book. So in honour of all my prep work, I've set myself an essay type question -


I'm in a conundrum. A literary conundrum involving a certain set of broad shoulders (thanks Jo). And here is my dilemma -

Froi of the Exiles is an excellent read. It's complex, it's tightly structured, it's a romance, a mystery, a coming-of-age tale and it manages to juggle all these elements ...

So why didn't it make me go all wobbly?

I read Finnikin of the Rock last year and it was one of those day-and-a-half-constant-devouring-of-book-can't-actually-remove-it-from-my-hands-so-will-try-to-chop-this-onion-whilst-reading-and-oh-whoops-I-appear-to-have-nearly-taken-the-tip-of-my-thumb-off-not-to-worry-I'll-just-sit-and-read-until-the-bleeding-stops.

Yes, THAT sort of book.

Evanjelin completely got under my skin. So much so that I fear I may have neglected my family for a few days in the process. So, boy, did I have high hopes for Froi and his shoulders. Obviously not in the way of neglecting my nearest and dearest again, or maiming myself, but I did fear I may end up in hospital as a result of trying to read a 600 page book whilst carrying the weekly food shop up the stairs, or something.

This book is raw and unapologetic. The first third could have been a much more uncomfortable read if the writing wasn't so bloody brilliant. The character of Quintana, Princess of Charyn is one of the most challenging I have ever encountered. A girl who, since the age of thirteen has been used as a vessel to, not only continue the royal line but to break a curse of infertility that has been placed on the kingdom since her birth. So, in other words, she has been raped and abused for all of her teenage years. It is not only this fact in itself that makes her so confronting, but it is her treatment by all of these characters , including Froi in the early stages of their relationship, that is the most shocking.

In her review of of Jasper Jones, Jo brought up the interesting question of how the way we are emotionally affected by a book may be influenced by a current event we're exposed to. In recent news and for the last couple of months in fact, that has been so much astonishing talk about what constitutes rape and ridiculous questioning about the victim status of abused teenage girls. Rage inducing stuff that, in short, gets under your skin and stays there for a very long time. As it should do.

So how do I relate this back to my question? Well, whereas the first part of the book got my emotions in a bit of a tizz, for some reason, the longer her story progressed, the more detached I felt from Quintana. Her nature and her condition helps her put up her own barriers and maybe this was part of it.
I think the main reason was that her story was so raw and so shocking and because of this, I may have stopped myself getting too drawn in, made a concerted effort to remain detached from her as a character with realising, that maybe her defence mechanisms worked on me as a reader. I don't know. Maybe I'm just talking a load of old piffle.

You know the amazing thing about this book? Even over a week after I've finished, I'm still thinking, still pondering. Let's talk about Froi for a bit. FROI...

When we first met him in Finnikin, I think he could summed up as a right little so-and-so that showed promise. Agree? Well, with a bit of time, a smattering of discipline, and a bucketful of love, some tough, some not so tough, we see a slightly more mature Froi, but still with his macho bravado and teenage boy traits intact. And the genius behind the character of Froi is that I thought I knew him. I thought I had him sussed, but of course, did I heck. By putting Froi next to a character like Quintana, it was like revealing all those dark secrets, all those horrors in his past that we knew were there already, but it still whacks you around the noggin when you are reminded of them all the same. His bravado did such a good job of pulling the wool over the eyes of this reader, and it came as quite a shock to remember what he had gone through to get to this point. (Notice how I talk about him as if he was a real person.) (Because he is)

There's so much going on here. I can't even talk about Lucien and Phaedra. Well, maybe just a little bit. I think I might have just adored their story even more than Froi and Quintana's. Which is why I was just a little bit miffed that there were some sizeable gaps before we came back to their little dance of luuuurve. I know it sounds ridiculous asking for MORE from 600+ pages but I also would have loved a bit more of Beatrice's heartbreaking journey..

Maybe the reason I didn't let myself get too involved was because of all these things going on. Or maybe it was because of the prickly nature of the two central characters. These two are difficult to love but as compelling as they come. I had certain pre-conceptions about such a long tale - surely there would be sections that would drag, lulls in the action? But just I was approaching a section that I thought might not completely hold my attention - BOOM! - dramarama central.

It has taken me bloody ages to write this review. And I'm still tweaking it and pondering over this book. It my not have burrowed it's way into my heart in quite the way I expected it or wanted it too, but it hasn't half set up camp in my brain. And will remain their like a worthy renegade voice speaking up for intelligent, unapologetic stories for, hopefully, a very long time).

(So it turns out prepping for a review doesn't produce much in the way of coherent ramblings. Sorry about that)

Saturday 29 September 2012

YA REVIEW - 'Un Lun Dun', China Mieville (Macmillan, 2007)

Stumbling through a secret entrance, Zanna and Deeba emerge in the strange wonderland of UnLondon. Here all the lost and broken things of London end up, and some of its people, too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas and Hemi the half-ghost boy. UnLondon is a place where Routemaster buses have legs, where Librarians are ‘bookaneers’, intrepid adventurers dedicated to hunting down lost books, and postmen spend years tracking the mobile addresses of the ever changing Puzzleborough. But the girls have arrived at a dangerous time – UnLondon is under siege by the sinister Smog; it’s a city awaiting its hero. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

I was very excited about this one. Very excited indeed. and parts of this book satisfied my excitement immensely. But, blimey, there are a lot of parts to this book.

When I was introduced to Zanna and Deeba and at the start of this journey, I was grinning at the prospect of these two young heroines, surly school girls plucked from a rather grotty part of north west London, to take on the seemingly impossible challenge of saving the abcity of UnLondon from the all-consuming Smog. What better heroine than a slightly chavvy ass-kicking one? No better in my opinion.

Un Lun DunWhich was the problem really - all these expectations are bound to leave me a little disappointed as expectations tend to on occasion. For the most part, I found Zanna and Deeba a little bit bland. It's all very very well having surly and uncommunicative typical teenagers as protagonists but that also means they tend to be a bit, well, surly and uncommunicative. I was at least halfway through the book before I really started to warm to Deeba and up until that point, it took a bit of effort to plough my way through the story. But after Deeba gets a bit of gumption and really seems to take to her mission, I began to take to the story a bit more too.

Every time there was a bit of a lull in the action (and there were many times), the author threw in some of the most fantastic imagery I've ever come across in a book. The whole concept of 'moil' - abandoned junk left on the side of the pavement that seeps through to the abcity, the world's most adventurous abseiling librarians, and my personal favourite, the properly terrifying, holy-shizzle-can-I-sleep-with-the-night-light-on-please? Black Windows. I won't go into details, but if you have a phobia of spiders AND double glazing, then you might want to grab your comfort blanket and a vat full of chocolate when you get to that particular bit... And alcohol. I have to admit, I kept drifting away from the plot, but then every time a November Tree or a rabid giraffe cropped up, I wanted to kiss the pages and fall in love with it all over again.

HOWEVER, a constant stream of gorgeous, original ideas is all very well, but I needed something to hang them on and on the whole, this story just didn't match up. When there was talk of a set of god-knows-how many challenges to overcome, my heart sank into my feet, and the constant influx of characters, good and bad, had mixed results. The most fully rounded, Hemi the half-ghost, was a bit of a god send, adding a much needed bit of ironic life to proceedings, but confusing baddies on top of more confusing baddies, cropping up at random times had the result of them being not in the slightest bit scary or interesting. And, unfortunately, the same can be said about the Smog. A great idea, but not a particularly petrifying one and the battle to finish it off for good just felt a bit easy and inevitable.

So, a mixed bag indeed, but this is just my opinion and I know there are many readers who will adore this and justifiably so. With ideas this strong and a central character who comes good in the end (in battle as well as in personality stakes), this is clever, clever, clever with an added high-kicking dustbin's worth of originality. If I was was to use a boy metaphor, which I shall, you can appreciate and recognise all his flaws, but he has enough charming, persuasive words to keep you hooked and lingering in your memory when it all goes tits up.

Can boy metaphors be used for all books from now on?

Saturday 22 September 2012

Summer is Over, Time to Get Back to Business...

I told you I would make it to Brighton one day

So, all my grands plans for the summer didn't quite some to fruition. I did kind of fall in love with the idea of a Short Story Summer but I'm going to use the excuse of a double onslaught of mother AND mother-in-law visits that put paid to my blogging plans over the last couple of months.
And the little matter of a minor reading slump over the last few weeks. I'm not quite sure what happening but my ability to concentrate of pretty much anything has gone out of the window recently. Hopefully this is very much a short term thing and I will be back in the land of the bookish quick sharpish.

And, of course, I had some well-earned family time to be getting on with an enjoying. Which I did. With bells on.

BUT, from this week and going onwards I am going to do my darndest to do pretty much everything I've been putting off recently. So that's picking up books and reading more than a few sentences at a time, sitting in front of my laptop without having a monumental faff and generally being a bit less crap at stuff.

This is the plan...

So, enough about me, how was your summer?

Wednesday 8 August 2012

SHORT STORY SUMMER - 'The Hallelujah Roof' - Belinda Jeffrey

You may of may not have noticed that I've mentioned the lovely city of Brisbane a fair few times on my blog. When I was last rabbiting on about the place during my travel month way back when, I gave a fleeting reference to the fantastice One Book Many Brisbanes short story competition that is run every year by Brisbane City Council to uncover new, exciting and extremely talented writing folk. Well, it won't be much of a surprise when I tell you that the stories featured are all about Brisbane. Sorry, I'll give you a few minutes while you absorb that information.

Anyway, way back in 2006, the second volume of stories was published, and one new writer that was featured was a lady called Belinda Jeffrey. You also may have read my review of Brown Skin Blue by that same lady (and if not, why not?) It's is one of my favourite YA reads and I urge you to DROP EVERYTHING NOW, hunt down a copy and fall in love with every word, if you have not already done so. Go on, off you go... *flaps hands to shoo you out from under my feet*

...Done? good. Well, now we can move on.

The Hallelujah Roof is a story about a young girl, Jane, who moves to Brisbane with her mother and younger sister to live in a ramshackle Theological College in a run down area of the city in the early 80s. Jane tells the stories of her adventures involving rats in toasters, slaughtering pigs and drinking Brisbane River water with her new friends and companions. It's a story about finding the joy in life's little pleasures, even when other people might perceive you to have very little on the surface.

"There mums smiled like they'd just tried sour lemon fizz, while my mum laughed like a tortured cockatoo, and it was so damn funny, you couldn't help but join in."

For those of you who have read a Belinda Jeffrey book, I don't need to tell you that the writing is beautiful and heartfelt and the voice is impeccable. Jane's innocent sense of humour is ridiculously sweet and even thinking about this story makes me grin like a cheesy fool... And wipe away the beginnings of the tears from the corners of my eyes because I'm such a sucker for a bit of childhood nostalgia, especially childhood nostalgia with a touch of genius about it.

The story is SERIOUSLY good folks and I highly recommend you track down a copy, particularly if you're a fan of Aussie YA, and let's face it, who isn't? (If you're not, please go away and educate yourselves in the ways of Marchetta and Eager and then come back and apologise). If I don't stop now, I'll be in danger of sounding like a creepy stalker fan girl, but I strongly recommend you read, not just this story, but everything by this writer.

This tale has inspired my to try and get my short story mojo back again. I'll keep you posted on how I go...

Tuesday 10 July 2012

SHORT STORY SUMMER - 'Night in Paris' - Patrice Chaplin

With all the stories I post about in the next couple of months, I will always attempt to find a link to them online, and indeed I have found one to Night in Paris by Patrice Chaplin right here. My copy of this story came from my rather battered second hand copy of The Minerva Book of Short Stories Vol. 1 (Minerva, 1988), if you ever feel the urge to track down it down

I first read this about 18 months ago, after finding said copy of book in the lovely second hand bookshop I was volunteering in at the time. I was going through a brief short story period (rather similar to the one I am going through now) and decided to pick a few at random. This one stuck in my memory.

I think it's the Englishness of it all - we follow young Lucy from the age of eleven in 1950, right through to her as a young woman, as she experiences first hand the family tradition of professional re-gifting - how her beloved bottle of perfume, along with several other gawdy, tacky items, make their way through the hands of several family members and friends over the years. I'm always drawn to a hideous matriarch in a story and this one is no different - the small references to Lucy's mother, her domineering ways and her own perception of the meaning of Christmas (never loose face, manners are everything, must give present, no matter how bloody awful it is) - is just so well written.

This isn't the most literary of stories, but I loved it. It just says so much about families and what a particular occasion means to different people. And it was such an accessible read.

Just a quick note on the character of Lucy - it's refreshing to read a character like this in short story form - I guess there's not a huge amount of room for character development here - we start off with a good person and end up with a good person who has just a little more understanding of other people than she did at the start - no major lessons learnt or anguish or tearing out of hair. I love her simplicity and uncomplicatedness (yes, I just invented a new word).

So if you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think...

Friday 6 July 2012

SHORT STORY SUMMER - Raymond Carver #1 - 'Cathedral' ('Where I'm Calling From' - The Harvill Press, 1995)

I promised you a Short Story Summer post in July and here it is (a few days late, mind, but here, and that is the most important thing). I thought a good starting point to begin my short story education was with the apparent undisputed master of the form, Raymond Carver.

Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected StoriesI've had a copy of his collection Where I'm Calling From, sitting on my book shelf gathering dust for a while now. I intended to be all literary and high-brow when I first purchased it. By reading it, obvs. But, as you may have gathered from my reviews, I don't do literary and high brow too often. I'd feel like a bit of a fraud if I waffled on about,... well, you see I don't even know where to start with all the high brow stuff and I'd probably just bore you all senseless.

So, I'm going to do this - every so often over the next couple months I'm going to read one of his stories and just jot down a little bit about it and who I think might enjoy it.  Yes, a sort of - SHOCKER - review. Although being a short story, these will more than likely be very short reviews. It comes with the territory.

And you must bear with me on this one, because I'm not used to reviewing short stories and I'll probably sound like a right tit and not in the least bit literary, but I can't pretend to sound like anything else...

So, first up, I decided to read a story recommended to me by Jo. And that was a recommendation in CAPS LOCK form which is how I knew it must be worth a read. I'd seen Cathedral listed in a few short story guides too, so it felt like a natural starting point for my Short Story Summer.

Well, the thing that first sprung to mind when I finished this was VOICE. Oh, and voice. And possibly voice too. Our narrator is a married man relaying his feelings, or lack of, about his wife's close friendship with a blind man. How do I write a review of this without giving anything away? Let's just say this is jaw-droppingly good and I'm still wondering how it is possible to learn so much about our narrator when he himself tells us so little in so few words. I was a bit worried that starting my Short Story Month at such a high level would be a off-putting, but this tale would be such a great read for those who wouldn't think to pick up a short story - this shows how much is capable and the skill involved in crafting such a concise tale.
And even though it's pretty light on description, I could visualise the fifty shades of brown in their home furnishings. This is bleak stuff, but the ending is just the most beautiful of revelations. Just amazing.
Hint: Cathedral fans (and there are lots), it's not just about cathedrals.

Section Where I Write Down Any Short Story Writing Tips I Have Learnt Whilst Reading This Short Story

Actually, reading this has been like a bit of a step back. I am in serious awe of the skill involved and this has scared me ridged. I'll keep you posted when I get my short story mojo back.

But, yeah, like I said before VOICE and MORE VOICE. Need to work on the voice, I think.

Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed my first short story review of sorts. See, I told you it wouldn't be high brow.