Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Friday, April 18, 2014

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.
The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things.
When Brimstone called, she always came.
In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.
Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.
I am late to the party. This has been known to happen. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, if you've not read it already, should be on your to-read list. It evokes a profoundly strange and exotic and surreal world, in which creatures can be made from teeth (super creepy, super awesome) and hidden realms can be accessed through magical doors and holes in the sky. This stuff, you guys? I love this stuff. Not quite as much as I love time travel, coma dreams, and everybody getting killed by zombies, but almost as much. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was so extraordinary that my expectations were impossibly high for Days of Blood and Starlight, and while that contained some astonishingly good twists and more of the vivid imagery of the first book, it's pretty difficult for a middle book of a series to be a stand-out, especially after the amazing world-building and utterly mesmerising first novel.
Another thing that happens with series is that with each subsequent book the characters have experienced more suffering and pain - necessary for a good, exciting plot, but if the characters develop properly (i.e. not in soap operas, where everyone forgets five minutes later) characters get dark and tortured really quickly. I think that can make a book a little too draining - and as Karou discovers more and more about who she was, it gets terribly heavy. What I seek in stories is generally some sort of ultimate hopefulness, and Days of Blood and Starlight did not end on a good note. So I'm certainly looking forward to Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the final instalment of the trilogy.

Zac & Mia by AJ Betts

Friday, April 11, 2014

The last person Zac expects in the room next door is a girl like Mia, angry and feisty with questionable taste in music. In the real world, he wouldn’t—couldn’t—be friends with her. In hospital different rules apply, and what begins as a knock on the wall leads to a note—then a friendship neither of them sees coming.
You need courage to be in hospital; different courage to be back in the real world. In one of these worlds Zac needs Mia. And in the other Mia needs Zac. Or maybe they both need each other, always.

I think what was most striking about this novel was the human aspect of it - so often novels for teenagers marketed as realistic are anything but. Zac and Mia, on the other hand, seems profoundly real - people are deeply flawed (Mia most especially), little is romanticised, but their story remains compelling. Unlike so many other books in this genre there does not seem to be an effort to tug at heartstrings - which is not to say that you don't feel anything while reading - anything but. But it seems manipulating the reader's emotions doesn't play into it. Sure, I like books that I can expect an emotional rollercoaster out of, that fit the formula and play up the melodrama - but what is so remarkable about this one is the realness. It's wonderfully crafted and emotionally insightful but it isn't obvious. A very, very human novel and one I wouldn't recommend solely to teenage readers, though it speaks beautifully of the teenage experience.

The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan’s most feared assassin. As part of the Assassins' Guild, her allegiance is to her master, Arobynn Hamel, yet Celaena listens to no one and trusts only her fellow killer-for-hire, Sam.

In these action-packed prequel novellas – together in one edition for the first time – Celaena embarks on five daring missions. They take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, where she fights to liberate slaves and seeks to avenge the tyrannous. But she is acting against Arobynn’s orders and could suffer an unimaginable punishment for such treachery . . . 

Assassin's Blade is the prequel to Throne of Glass, comprised of five novellas which not only function on their own, but also as a whole - telling the story of how Celaena Sardothien came to be in the salt mines of Endovier. I daresay I enjoyed these novellas even more than I enjoyed Throne of Glass - Celaena is described often in both books as the most famed assassin in her realm, but Assassin's Blade actually has plenty of assassinating. I lamented that Throne of Glass was not bloodthirsty enough, but the prequels certainly have a satisfying amount of fight scenes and blood-spilling. Celaena has a whole ton more depth as a character knowing thia huge part of her backstory, which occurs across a range of settings, all beautifully evoked - a crummy nowhere town, the unforgiving desert, the pirate island and the sinister capital - and involves many increasingly shady characters. 

Because you know how the book will end before you even start (the trouble with prequels!) there is a certain inevitability to the ending, but it remained compelling, and often even surprising (not a good surprising. A profoundly depressing surprising). The logical realities of the world tripped me up a bit - they have clocks, and the wealthy have running water, but everything else seemed stuck in the equivalent of the Dark Ages.

I very much appreciated the strong and interesting and multi-faceted female characters, but as with much fantasy I've read (and watched - I'm looking at you Game of Thrones) lately, I really question why women have to generally be subservient in fantasy realms. It's an entirely made up place where magic once existed! There's an architecturally impossible glass castle! It's about assassins and pirate lords and a world very, very different from our own! So why must the poor female characters be forced in prostitution? Why must beauty be a weapon women wield? Why does it have to be surprising that the best assassin in the realm is young and female? Couldn't there be as many fearsome women as there are men? This is not really commenting on this book in particular - it's quite a good representation generally, not damaging in and of itself, and Celaena herself is a stellar character - rather my frustrations with the high fantasy I have read as a whole.

Brace yourself for a devastating ending. Assassin's Blade is worth a read for intrigue and evisceration, but it'll probably hook you in for the whole series. You've been warned.

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside. 

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it... at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

I don't think I've adequately mentioned how much I love time travel stories: I really, really love time travel stories. I don't think I've adequately mentioned how much time travel stories that aren't properly thought through and are full of logical impossibilities irritate me: I am really, really irritated by flawed time travel stories. Looper was very, very annoying. The movie I've seen most recently that does some version of time travel really, really well was probably Triangle, which reminds me of All Our Yesterdays - going around and around in time trying to fix the unfixable.

All Our Yesterdays reads like a movie, but I mean that in the best possible way - it's fast-paced and evocative and tightly-packed - cinematic but not tacky or cliche (they're turning it into a film, which I am not the least surprised about. I look forward to seeing it and not comparing it to the book, in order to avoid disappointment). A little overwrought at times but it works. A little predictable, sure - when I finished the novel I was still so incredibly excited by it, I went to convince my sister to read it. I explained the premise and she immediately guessed the ending. But there's a sort of dark inevitability to it when you're reading, so, yes, you'll likely work out the twist early on but it doesn't take away from your enjoyment of the book.

And the time travel? The time travel's perfect. It all made sense. I couldn't find a flaw in it. Amazingly well-plotted. I don't think you properly grasp how delighted that made me. It functions so beautifully as an action sci-fi thriller that I'll look past the fact that I find the protagonist annoying - I almost always dislike the protagonists in these big blockbuster-y novels, and I think it's possibly because I'm so used to reading character-driven fiction, where it is all about the protagonist rather than a big dramatic plot. It's sort of tricky to do both well, I think - don't really have room for a well-built interior life for a character when they're being shot at and sent through time and so forth. The villains are always my favourite, anyway.

It ends perfectly. Good endings are difficult. I was impressed. You like time travel, you should read it. You like any of the big dystopic YA novels, you should read it. I'm not generally all that enamoured with books in that category (I may just have bestseller prejudice. Is that hipster of me? Apologies), but All Our Yesterdays is a stand-out.

On book launches, book reviewing as a writer and The First Third by Will Kostakis

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life is made up of three parts: in The First Third, you're embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you've made. 

That's how Billy's grandmother explains it, anyway. She's given him her bucket list (cue embarrassment), and now, it's his job to glue their family back together. 

No pressure or anything. 

Fixing his family's not going to be easy and Billy's not ready for change. But as he soon discovers, the first third has to end some time. And then what? 

It's a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.

I have attended two book launches in my entire life, not counting events that I attended without the prior knowledge a book launch would be included in proceedings (you think it's just a party then bam! surprise book launch. Which is preferable to bam! surprise zombie outbreak) which would bring the total to about five. Still, not a lot, especially considering the fact that I know lots of writers and they often write books which they feel compelled to launch. Good on them! I am far too introverted for such things. (I do dream of one day having a book launch, and not being reduced to hiding in the corner for the duration of it. Probably no one would show up, which would be for the best.)

The first book launch was for Emily Gale's Girl Aloud a million years ago (okay, four years ago), and the second was the Brisbane launch of Will Kostakis' The First Third seven months ago (I never know how to place an apostrophe in names ending in S. Correct me if I'm wrong). It was held at the very lovely TLC Books in Manly, which is such a cute little bookshop and I would go there more often if I did not live quite so far away. I had not previously realised there was a Manly in Brisbane. It's a nice place, by the sea. You learn something new every day. I read almost the whole book on the train trip home (it's a long trip), and yet it's still taken me this long to get around to writing a post about it. I'm genuinely terrible.

Of course there's all these issues with reviewing books when you know the authors (and I'm not especially great at reviewing books to begin with - my style is basically: here's some stuff that happened! here's what I thought was good! here's what I thought was bad! you decide based on that whether it's a book for you! I'm not an expert on structure or construction or the literary tradition. I just really like stories.), and I'm very fortunate to know lots of Australian YA authors.

I've never said I liked a book I didn't like (okay, not counting Catcher in the Rye, but that wasn't because I didn't want to offend Salinger) and I'm largely fortunate that a lot of the people I think are stellar human beings I also think are stellar writers. It's hard to say whether the fact you like the writers as people affects how you see their work. There are writers who I like as people whose work I don't like, so I just don't talk about their work. It's personal preference rather than anything problematic in the work itself.

The whole thing with blogging/reviewing/etc is that the internet allows a certain level of anonymity and the internet allows writers to connect with readers, and this is great and this is also not great. By which I mean there is no guarantee of objectivity. Personal opinion is patently not objective - how we feel about what we read is very much shaped by who we are and our experiences and nothing inherent in the work. Also, there are tons of non-writer bloggers and aspiring-writer bloggers and bloggers who are mates with writers whose relationships with those writers will shape their perspective. The best way to get a good perspective on a book (if you're the sort of person for whom reviews inform whether you'll read) is to just read a lot of reviews.

tl;dr - I'm friends with writers. But I'll only talk about how much I enjoyed their work if I actually did. Will was the first person to really welcome me into the whole bein' an author thing (before I even was an author, too) and is one of my favourite young writers (always nice when a writer is a stellar human, too. Luckily I have not encountered particularly many mean people who write good books. I'm not sure how I'd cope with that). And now this post is getting long and I've not at all spoken about the book, terrible.

Now: The First Third.

I read and loved Loathing Lola five years ago (six?). I'm not sure I would love it as much now - you know, reading particular books, being a particular age. (I was enamoured with Twilight when I was thirteen.) So, The First Third was a novel I was waiting to read for a very long time (comparable to the agonising wait for Simmone Howell's Girl Defective after I read Everything Beautiful).

I found The First Third to be not only profoundly funny but very genuine and insightful, and if you like contemporary YA fiction, it's well worth a look. The debut novel is usually the autobiographical one, but while Loathing Lola was hilarious, The First Third is also gorgeously earnest and heartfelt. I like stories about families - Billy's family functions better than most in YA novels, and a great deal of it rings true (you know what I mean about your subjective experience shaping how you view novels? I have a close family, their happiness is as important to me as my own, and so when I read a book where teenagers barely speak to their parents, I can struggle to relate).

I think it was worth the five year wait. (I'd rather not wait until 2018 for the next one, though. Must it take so long for people to write books? Gosh.)

All This Could End on the longlist for the 2014 Inky Awards!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I am terribly excited about All This Could End making the longlist for the 2014 Gold Inky award, especially alongside such splendid writers (shamefully I've only read 4 out of 10 of these, including the one I wrote. So clearly I have some reading to do). The Inky Awards are for young adult novels, and they're judged by young adults, so obviously I think they're the best thing ever.

If you're 12-20 and in Australia you can apply to be an Inky's judge. I was a judge in 2009 and it was the most exciting thing ever (I got to go to an awards ceremony and everything. I don't know what happened to that pale pink outfit of mine. I probably gave the dress to my sister). This was during my era of 'I have to have my photo taken with everyone and then put it on the internet'.

I've never been on a longlist before. It's all very novel to me. (To be honest I am probably more excited about a longlisting than people get about winning awards. I'm an excitable person. Do you think I've used the word 'excited' enough yet? Exciting, excited, excitable. Maybe I should start using 'thrilled'.)

I really, really can't stand Girls

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pop culture has an extraordinary ability to affect the perceptions of the masses – you view a whole bunch of TV shows about being stupid and self-involved and immature, and this starts to skew your idea of what is normal and acceptable in the real world. Television cannot accurately represent reality, but it still affects how we perceive the world and people around us.

Here's a thing I wrote for Birdee mag on Girls, how boring and white-washed mainstream TV is, and the perpetuation of dangerous stereotypes.
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